24 July 2014

Would You Pay More for Tickets If the Orioles Paid More for Players?

Writers for Camden Depot have written a number of articles discussing how the Orioles could improve their team for the playoff run. These articles have primarily focused on the fact that the Orioles should consider trying to find upgrades because they're currently in first place. But there's another factor that the Orioles and other teams consider when they decide whether it makes sense to buy and sell that hasn't been discussed --- money.

Most fans want to see a winner and Orioles fans are no exception. The Orioles had an average attendance larger than 40,000 fans per game from 1992-1999 when they were reasonably good. From 2006 to 2011 attendance was nearly half of that at about 21,000 to 26,000 fans per game. What's interesting is that attendance has been increasing from 2012 to 2014. Attendance has increased from 21k fans per game in 2011 to 29k fans per game in 2013 and 2014.

According to Baseball Reference, Orioles attendance is down slightly in 2014 from 2013. Baseball Reference determines this by comparing how many fans showed up in 2013 through the number of games played at home in 2014. They're comparing 2013 attendance through 49 games to 2014 attendance through 49 games.

There are problems with this approach. More fans attend games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday then attend games on Monday through Thursday. More fans attend Orioles' games against the Red Sox, Yankees and interleague teams then they do against the Rays and Royals. If a double header is played due to a game being postponed and tickets are good for both games (which has happened once this year) then Baseball Reference considers the second game as having 0 attendance. While this is technically accurate, it is unhelpful when trying to determine trends. Without finding a way to account for these issues it really isn't possible to compare 2013 attendance to 2014 attendance.

What I decided to do was build a dataset with all Orioles home games from 2006 to 2014 and determine average attendance based on the day of week that a game is played as well as the opponent type in order to be able to compare attendance from 2006 to 2014. The chart below shows the season, attendance above average season and attendance above average season through 48 games. The reason why I use 48 games instead of 49 is because I omit all games with an attendance of 0 due to a double header.


Year Extra Fans Full Season Extra Fans Looking at First 48 Games
2006 76640 104549
2007 107976 64095
2008 -37139 2204
2009 -150904 -58753
2010 -310915 -253807
2011 -278696 -272159
2012 101641 112653
2013 250777 317547
2014 401421 401421

The chart shows that when these factors are taken into account we should expect the 2014 Orioles to have 100,000 to 150,000 more fans in attendance than the 2013 Orioles and about 650,000 to 710,000 more fans in attendance than the 2010 Orioles. The reason why the numbers look different can be explained by the following two charts. The first chart shows the number of games that the Orioles have played against different types of opponents on different days of the weeks.


Opponent Rank Day of Week 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Average Fri/Sun 16 17 16 18 18 19 19 16 14
Average Middle 35 33 32 33 32 27 29 32 16
Average Saturday 8 9 9 9 9 10 10 8 7
Elite Fri/Sun 10 8 8 8 8 6 6 9 2
Elite Middle 7 9 9 9 9 16 12 10 8
Elite Saturday 5 4 4 4 4 2 3 6 1

The Orioles haven't played very many elite opponents on the weekend yet this year and it's showing in the attendance numbers. On the other hand, this team hasn't played a lot of home games during the middle of the week against average opponents. The next chart shows the attendance for each type of game.



The chart shows that the Orioles are seeing an increase in attendance in just about every category from 2014 to 2013 with the one exception being average games on a Saturday. It also shows a large increase in attendance in 2013 and 2014 compared to 2008 through 2011.

Orioles' fans have shown they'll go to games to support even a competitive team. The Orioles only made it to the playoffs once in that two year span and didn't win the AL East in either of those years. If the Orioles can win the AL East and/or advance in the playoffs then it seems reasonable to expect an even larger increase in attendance. Management will need to consider that when making decisions about the team. It means that another reason why they'll want to buy is because they see the benefits of having a good team.

There's really only one problem. The Orioles were eligible for Wednesday's Competitive Balance Lottery. The only teams available for this lottery are those that are in the bottom ten in either market or revenue. According to the CBA, the Orioles' market is considered the eleventh smallest meaning that the Orioles revenue is in the bottom ten. Given the Orioles payroll is 14th highest in the majors already it's hard to see the team spending a lot more money on payroll when the team simply doesn't have that kind of revenue.

The reason why the Orioles have such a large revenue problem is simple. Their average ticket price is one of the lowest in the majors. At a cost of $25 per average ticket and $45 per premium ticket, the Orioles are charging considerably less than the average MLB cost of $28 per average ticket and $93 per premium ticket. One reason why the Red Sox can spend so much money on players is because they charge $52 per average ticket and $176 per premium ticket. Each Red Sox fan brings in at least twice as much revenue as each Orioles fan. And when you consider that the Red Sox attendance is usually greater then the Orioles by about 500,000 fans it is clear why they can afford a larger payroll then the Orioles.

If the Orioles' attendance increases by a million fans from 2011 to 2015 then the team would see an increase of revenue between $25 and $30 million dollars. Realistically, all of that money wouldn't go solely to payroll so we're talking enough revenue to add some talent but not enough to make a real splurge.

The Nationals charge $34 per average ticket and $187 per premium ticket. Suppose the Orioles attendance was 3,000,000 in 2015 and they charged the same ticket prices as the Nationals. In that case, the Orioles might see an increase of revenue of about $80 million dollars which is easily enough to make a splurge. With that kind of increase in revenue a payroll of $130 to $140 million is very possible and with that kind of money the Orioles could go after a top free agent.

Which begs my question. Would you pay the same average ticket prices that Nationals fans pay if it meant the club could spend $40 million more on payroll?

23 July 2014

Dan Duquette's Trades in 20/20 (2013)

The last post covered Duquette's deals during the 2012 season and found that five of his seven deals were simply parts with minimal value dealt for other parts with minimal value.  The two deals that differed were very much in his favor: (1) Jeremy Guthrie for Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom and (2) Matt Lindstrom for Joe Saunders.  Five pushes and two pluses are a track record that any first year General Manager would enjoy having.

In this post, we progress to the 2012 season and see how things shake out.

November 20, 2012
INF Robert Andino for OF Trayvon Robinson

This was one of those deals where each team wants to check out an uninspiring piece the other team owns to fill a place of organizational need.  Andino's four years in baseball hate some highlights, such as a game winning hit that knock the Red Sox out of the 2011 playoffs, but largely was a long trial that showed that Andino was a Norfolk shuttle type of player who had no options.  Seattle gave Trayvon Robinson two extended shots in a pretty meager outfield, but his free swinging and marginal defense were poor fits in SafeCo (and likely everywhere else).  So, the clubs exchanged pieces they were quite willing to simply release.

Robinson wound up playing well in Bowie last season and was then granted free agency status where he quickly returned to his first club, the Los Angelos Dodgers.  Andino had a miserable stint with the Mariners and is now organizational filler for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Depot Thoughts at the Time: The Orioles didn't give up much in Andino or probably get much in Robinson.
Conclusion: 0.2 bWAR, Push

November 30, 2012
RHP Jhondaniel Medina for INF Yamaico Navarro

Second base has been a sore subject for the Orioles ever since Brian Roberts's extension became an albatross of medical calamities.  Each season, some hope was placed on Roberts to fulfill his annual 10 MM salary with some useful play at second, but age and conclusions can be cruel.  To provide a bit of a cushion the Orioles tried to use players like Robert Andino and Ryan Flaherty in 2012 to varying success.  They now looked for a new collection of second basemen to provide a safety net for Roberts.

Navarro was an interesting prospect who was continually not living up to expectations and frustrating clubs with his behavior.  However, it was clear to see there was talent there and that keeps a guy employed.  After a season in Pittsburgh where he dominated AAA and was dominated in the Majors, the Pirates saw him as a commodity they no longer saw as part of their future.  They were willing to ship him to the Orioles for a hard throwing pitcher in rookie ball named Medina.  It was a commodity that most teams have in spades, a hard throwing pitcher in the low minors.  However, it is a commodity that the Orioles largely lack.  That said, these guys rarely pan out, so losing one is not a big loss.  Though, having no stable full of hard throwing relief arms in the low minors is an issue, but that article is for another day.

What happened?  Navarro appeared in a couple games for the Orioles while performing well in AAA.  He is now toiling in the Yankees system.  Medina has moved up to HiA ball where his stuff plays well against the hitters, but he has little clue where his pitches are going.  He does not look destined for the big league club yet.

Depot Thoughts at the Time: The Orioles find themselves with a player who used to be an interesting prospect and has failed multiple times at the major league level, but gives them more options for filling second base.  The Pirates get more flexibility in their 40 man roster by dealing a guy two other teams had given up on in the past two seasons along with acquiring an slightly interesting, but certainly not unique, arm.
Conclusion: 0.2 bWAR; Push

April 10, 2013
RHP Luis Ayala for LHP Chris Jones

Luis Ayala is one of the pitchers who seems to always find himself gainfully employed as the third or fourth righthander out of the pen or as someone who is earning some money in AAA, waiting for a spot to open up.  After a strong 2012 season where he prevented his own baserunners from scoring, but not others, he was a someone extra arm in the pen for the 2013 squad.  The Braves, however, needed another decent and cheap arm in the pen.  They offered a talented and erratic southpaw reliever by the name of Chris Jones.

Ayala proceeded to produce well for the Braves, making the Orioles kind of wish that Pedro Strop was dealt instead and led to more dealing that now looks somewhat poor now to make up for a lack of right handed bullpen depth.  Jones has been strong in AAA and is on target this year to throw more innings in season than he ever has.  Ayala returned to the Orioles this year, but was released and was most recently throwing for the Blue Jays in their minor league system.

Depot Thoughts at the Time: No comment was made.
Conclusion: -0.4bWAR; Arguably the Braves benefited.

April 28, 2013
RHP Rob Delaney for C Chris Snyder

This was a deal done simply for depth and a chance to see if a player could regain former glow at a position of need while dealing out a player who did not fit the organization.  That sentence could be written for the Orioles' side as well as the Angels'.  Delaney was a smart right handed pitcher who succeeded everywhere in the minors except AAA where his stuff came across as average.  Two short stints in the Majors were largely full of trouble.  Chris Snyder used to be the future of the Diamondbacks organization with a profile of being an exceptional offense first talent.  However, by the time the Angels got him, the Diamondbacks, Pirates, Astros, and Nationals had given up on him.

This deal also wound up being a lot of nothing.  Delaney struggled to finish his year and is no longer with any organization.  Chris Snyder played in nine games for the Orioles and held his own, but it was nothing special.  He retired after the season.

Depot Thoughts at the Time: Chris Snyder has operated long under the guise of being an offensive catcher.  He does have a little pop, but that was more present his first few years in the league.  Since 2009 though, he has had issues with power, contact, or both.  This, combined with slightly below average skills behind the plate and you wind up with a veteran playing in AAA without a MLB contract.  You can say that Snyder is no worse than Teagarden, which is largely true.  Both are essentially replacement level players.  Exposito caused concerns because his offensive calling card simply has not shown up and his defense is worse than Teagarden’s or Snyder’s.  For the Orioles to only have to give up a fringe MiL relief pitcher, it was a good move.  You should expect Snyder to be DFA’d upon Teagarden’s return.
Conclusion: 0.1 bWAR; Push

July 2, 2013
RHP Jake Arrieta, RHP Pedro Strop, and international money for RHP Scott Feldman, C Steve Clevenger

As July opened up, the Orioles were clearly in trouble.  Their starting pitching was a bit in shambles.  This was particularly true with Jason Hammel's regression and the imploding of Jake Arrieta whenever he took the mound.  The bullpen was also on shaky ground with Pedro Strop looking more like his Rangers' enigmatic self as opposed to the often dominating form he showed for the Orioles in 2012.  Yes, the talent was there, but they were not productively using it and the team was seeing their playoff opportunity fade.

On the Cubs' side, Scott Feldman was emerging with one of the better pitching performances in the National League.  With a 3.46 ERA, he looked to some to be a decent option as a front end or middle rotation starter on a playoff club.  It was a performance that was not wholly unexpected, but one that certainly was not especially exceptional.  Still, h appeared to be one of the shining arms available on the market.

What happened is that the Cubs wound up running away with this deal.  The international money helped them avoid penalties for their amateur spending.  Strop has put in very good 2013 and 2014 campaigns.  Arrieta has emerged as a good starter who could a no hitter when the moment strikes him.  For the Orioles, Scott Feldman produced below average production for the rest of the season and Clevenger has performed at a replacement player level.

Depot Thoughts at the Time: This deal is about the Orioles giving up on a good international prospect or two along with two pitchers full of promise and irritation in exchange for more catcher fodder and a backend rotation arm.  It is an improvement as it means no more Freddy Garcia, but not a great one that will change the fortune of this club.  They would be better off using Strop in mopup duty and giving Arrieta more time to sort himself out whether it being in Baltimore or in Norfolk.
Conclusion: -4.2 bWAR; Cubs

July 12, 2013
INF Russ Canzler for RHP Tim Alderson

There is not much to say about this trade.  Canzler was a bit redundant in the Orioles organization with the club already employing marginal right handed bats without much fielding acumen in Steve Pearce and Danny Valencia.  The Pirates however wanted more depth there in case they needed a bat for their bench.  Alderson was more or less a decent organizational bullpen arm.  The Orioles had been shuttling pitchers through Norfolk trying to catch lightning in a bottle ever since saying goodbye to Pedro Strop and maybe something would click with Alderson.

Neither player played in the Majors for the other club.  Canzler is currently being a professional hitter with the Phillies on their AAA squad while Alderson has struggled greatly this year in Norfolk before being given his release.

Depot Thoughts at the Time: No comment.
Conclusion: 0 bWAR; Push

July 23, 2013
INF Nick Delmonico for RHP Francisco Rodriguez

Salt was in the wound.  The Orioles dealt out Strop as part of the package for Scott Feldman.  At this point, Feldman was struggling and Strop had found his form again.  More so, the Orioles had trouble with their bullpen options.  Their fourth right handed option was largely Jairo Ascencio and that was not working out well.  Meanwhile, the postseason hopes of the Brewers fanbase had been dashed and the club was looking to deal out pieces.  Francisco Rodriguez was enjoying a stellar two months after being promoted to the Majors just before his opt out clause would go into effect.  He had had a rough go of it the year before with the Brewers and had issues with violence toward teammates and his family.  That said, he was effectively performing at a low cost and that is what baseball teams like to see.

Delmonico has been a bit shaky with the Brewers and has yet to escape HiA ball.  He is not bad, but the odds grow longer each day of him being a meaningful big leaguer.  Rodriguez wound up being wholely less than average for the Orioles, giving up the long ball a bit too often.  He did not meaningfully impact the Orioles', which was to be expected because they were simply upgrading their fourth righthander in the pen.

Depot Thoughts at the Time: Delmonico does not need to be a meaningful prospect to have value.  I’d suggest that his ability to augment a trade package is probably worth more than him being traded straight up for a reliever who at best makes the 2013 Orioles a +1 win team.  It is difficult to ever know what is possible in trades and it is an illness in the brain that us followers of the game tend to want to believe in an abundance of trade opportunities, but I do think that a package of Delmonico plus one would likely bring back to the Orioles a player of greater importance than Rodriguez.  Of course, this contention is somewhat unfair.  It is difficult for the addition of Rodriguez to stand up against a comparison of something that does not exist.  The vagueness of the unknown is certainly a draw for many to embrace and questioning Oriole front office authority has been a talent that has been thoroughly developed over the past decade and a half.  That said, I maintain that the health of the franchise is better served when second tier prospects are stacked instead of being doled out one at a time. 
Conclusion: 0.1 bWAR; Push

July 31, 2013
Josh Hader, LJ Hoes and competitive draft pick for Bud Norris

The Orioles at this point were still in a discussion for the playoffs and still needed rotation help.  Feldman was a sure starter every five days, but had not been putting the team in a position to win.  The Astros were an awful team and had an expensive player in Bud Norris who was also in his arbitration years.  He had broken out somewhat to be considered a mid-rotation arm on a playoff team.  Their original asking price of a top 25 prospect was steadily depreciating as the deadline neared.  The Orioles offered MLB filler in LJ Hoes, a highly valued competitive draft pick, and a low probability, high upside arm in Josh Hader.

Norris would up pitching rather poorly for the Orioles in 2013 and has really been only been somewhat average this year with some disconcerting peripherals.  For the Astros, Hoes has been a useful stand-in as an outfielder and the competitive draft pick helped buffer the team's misplay of not signing major pieces of their draft.  That said, the low probability high upside arm of Josh Hader has been all upside this summer.  Some scouts are thinking he has established himself as a top 100 pitching prospect.  Maybe that is a worthwhile cost for being able to employ Bud Norris, but it would be possible to imagine that Hader might be off limits in a deal now.

Depot Thoughts at the Time: This is a team in need of a push and the play of Norris is unlikely to be much better than what a random collection of arms from Norfolk could produce.  You could argue that these moves are for stability and to shore up against potential injuries in the stretch run.  I would argue that would make sense for a team that sat slightly comfortably in first place. That team is not the Orioles.  Maybe that is the new inefficiency and Duquette figured it out before everyone else.  To me, it looks like a Dutch boy sticking a finger in the dike when doing nothing probably has the same result.
Conclusion: 0.6 bWAR; Push

August 30, 2013
OF Xavier Avery for UTL Mike Morse

The Orioles had about a 1 in 7 chance to make the playoffs as August drew to a close.  They were in need of a pick-me-up to improve their chances, but that was a hard thing to find past the unrestricted trade deadline.  They now had to sort through various broken and overpaid pieces to find something.  That thing was Mike Morse, a player who had made a living off of one good year.  At that point in time, he was terrible with the Mariners as he had a known leg injury that sidelined him, but was hiding a wrist injury.  The Orioles held a speedy potential fourth outfielder piece in Xavier Avery that the Mariners could use in their cavernous park.

Morse wound up hurt the Orioles' chances by about a game.  It was a poor move to make and giving him time to show how bad he would be ate into the ability of other right handers on the club who had already shown they could hit.  Avery had a decent time finishing the year in Tacoma, was designated for assignment without anyone claiming him, and now has been on a month long tear at Tacoma.  Interestingly enough, he has actually been mentioned in trade rumors as a complimentary piece in the Mariners' attempts to get into the playoffs.

Depot Thoughts at the Time: I think this is a meh deal, but that it was a marginally bad deal in a greater context.  Right handed hitting opportunities were available for cheaper in terms of money and prospects than what the Orioles wound up paying.  They gave up on a marginal prospect (of which they have very few in their system) in exchange for a player who does not seem to be an upgrade over what they already have.  I am not a fan of movement for the sake of movement.  I understand that with the team's playoff chances so low that a bet was a good idea to make.  I simply do not see Morse as the bet I would like to make.
Conclusion: -0.4 bWAR; Push, but -0.4 bWAR is awful in less than a month's play.

Final Tally
-3.8 bWAR

Costing your team four wins is pretty awful, but that margin would not have gotten the club into the playoffs.  It was good to see Duquette move pieces around and try too make things work, but the team basically got Bud Norris for Josh Hader, Pedro Strop, Jake Arrieta, a first round pick, a decent international amateur prospect, and maybe even a more emergent Xavier Avery.  That is quite a difference from the previous season when Duquette squeezed blood from stones.  Of course, 20/20 hindsight makes it easy to see that these moves hurt the Orioles and that the team perhaps could have figured out another way to spell Bud Norris' 0.3 bWAR in 2014.  That said, at the Depot, I certainly was not in favor of any of these deals.  They seemed like deck chair shuffling to me and that has been borne out to be true.

One thing that has amazed me was how much the success of Duquette's first season has created this halo of him in many a fan's eyes.  Yes, it is difficult and I have no idea if a year is a proper sample size to judge how successful a general manager is, but with a sunny 2012 and a stormy 2013 on the trade front it appears that Duquette might be more run of the mill.

22 July 2014

Expanded Roster: In Defense of Ryan Flaherty

Article was written as part of our Expanded Roster series.  If you wish to contribute, write to us at Camden Depot.

In Defense of Ryan Flaherty
by Patrick Holden



For some reason, many Orioles fans seem to save a special kind of vitriol for utility infielder Ryan Flaherty, particularly his offensive contributions. I haven’t done any sort of official sampling on the subject, but whether it’s conversations with friends, comments on Twitter, callers on talk radio etc., the general tone on Flaherty that I hear is one that is both negative and frustrated. How and why are expectations of a utility infielder so high that, regardless of his performance, many fans find him to be one of the most frustrating players on the roster? On top of that, when taking a look at Flaherty’s performance, it may not be just the expectations that are out of whack, but the evaluation of his performance as well. While a more detailed look at Flaherty would reveal a more nuanced evaluation of his production, even a glance at his offensive numbers shows that he’s plenty adequate at his job and undeserving of much of the frustration sent his way.

Over the last calendar year, the Orioles have 15 players who have stepped to the plate 120 times or more. Of those 15 players, Flaherty’s wOBA of .313 ranks 8th (general sample-size disclaimer applies, but he’s not an everyday player, so relative sample-size issues are generally unavoidable). The stats below only include a player’s performance for the Orioles within the past calendar year. 

Player
PA
wOBA
wRC+
Steve Pearce
257
.412
163
Nelson Cruz
397
.393
150
Adam Jones
691
.353
122
Chris Davis
619
.339
113
Delmon Young
123
.335
111
Matt Wieters
354
.321
100
Brian Roberts
241
.318
97
Ryan Flaherty
238
.313
95
J.J. Hardy
614
.312
94
Nick Markakis
724
.310
93
Nate McLouth
247
.303
88
Manny Machado
549
.301
87
Johnathon Schoop
303
.266
63
David Lough
133
.263
61
Caleb Joseph
125
.258
57

Flaherty also ranks 7th in OBP and 8th in SLG during the same time period.  His 1.0 fWAR ranks 8th, ahead of the likes of Nick Markakis (0.7), as well the beloved former Oriole Nate McLouth (0.5).
Any questioning of whether Flaherty deserves a spot on the roster has to include a look at what other resources the Orioles have within the organization that could replace him. The two players on the 40-man roster, who could potentially fill a utility role, are Steve Lombardozzi and Jemile Weeks. Lombardozzi saw time with the O’s earlier this season while Manny Machado recovered from his off-season knee surgery. In the second half of last season with the Nationals, in 113 PA, Lombardozzi posted a .327 wOBA (107 wRC+). However, this is well above his career wOBA of .281 (74 wRC+) in 829 PA, as well as above the .278 wOBA (71 wRC+) he posted in the 74 PA’s his has seen with the Orioles so far this season. 

Furthermore, Lombardozzi has struggled in Norfolk this year, with a .273 wOBA (61 wRC+) in 207 PA, well below his AAA career wOBA of .340 (109 wRC+) he had posted in 325 PA’s prior to this year. 
Weeks’ ability to fill a utility infielder role is questionable, given that 2B is the only infield position he has played in the majors.  In 363 minor league games, Weeks has played just 36 games at an infield position other than 2B (all at SS), with 13 of them coming this year. Weeks has not seen significant PA’s in the majors since the 2012 season with the Athletics. After posting a .333 wOBA (111 wRC+) in 437 PA’s in 2011, Weeks’ production dropped to a .276 wOBA (74 wRC+) in 511 PA’s in 2012. Weeks has been fairly productive at AAA in both 2013 and 2014. In 614 PA’s last year, Weeks had a wOBA of .347 (105 wRC+). In 2014, Weeks has a .367 wOBA (125 wRC+) for Norfolk in 209 PA’s. While this compares favorably to Flaherty’s minor league numbers, it is important to note that Flaherty hasn’t seen significant minor league PA’s since his age 24 season, while Weeks is currently 27. And again, Weeks has never been asked or shown the ability to play a utility infield role in the field. 
 
Here is a look at how Flaherty compares to a few utility-type infielders over the past calendar year.
Player
PA
wOBA
wRC+
Ryan Flaherty
238
.313
95
Munenori Kawasaki
173
.308
90
Logan Forsythe
331
.274
74
Omar Quintanilla
225
.238
49

I realize selecting these 3 players may seem random (it kind of was) or even as if I was cherry-picking. My point wasn’t to select players that Flaherty has out produced, but only to show that he’s perfectly adequate, relative to his counterparts.  However, regardless of what utility infielder-type players you compare Flaherty to over the last calendar year, it remains apparent that the negative narrative on Flaherty’s offensive effectiveness in his role is off-base.  

Ryan Flaherty is more than adequate as a utility infielder for the Orioles. While his versatility and defense are generally not questioned, his bat is often attacked for being inadequate. Even when assuming that the bat of a utility player is worth so much frustration, Flaherty’s bat is perfectly adequate when compared to his teammates (considering his role) and other internal options for the Orioles, as well as his counterparts around the league.

21 July 2014

A Trade for Martin Prado Solves a Present and Future Problem


Since the calendar has turned to July, Camden Depot has looked at several ways the Orioles could improve through the trade market, including the starting rotation, which has needed an upgrade for a couple of seasons now.  Similarly, second base has been a position that has needed an upgrade since the peak Brian Roberts years, which ended after the 2009 season.  In 2014, Jonathan Schoop, Ryan Flaherty, Jemile Weeks, and Steve Lombardozzi have manned the keystone for Baltimore, with Schoop taking the majority of the playing time appearing at second base in 80 games.  Collectively, they’ve been about replacement level (0.1 fWAR), thanks primarily to their defense, since each of them have been a well below average hitter in the first half.  As mentioned above, Schoop has played the most at second base, and has been 40% worse than the average major league hitter (60 wRC+).  For a team that is currently in the driver’s seat of the AL East and likely to contend for a playoff spot, they need to get more production out of the position.

Luckily for the Orioles, there are a lot of second base options out on the trade market this year, which would drive the theoretical price of acquiring one down.  However, there are also a lot of contenders that need help at second base, which drives that same theoretical price back up.  Consider the fact that the Athletics, Yankees, and Marlins all rank lower in second base fWAR than the Orioles, in addition to the Braves, Indians, Cardinals, Giants, and Royals who are all above the Orioles, but still located in the bottom half of the rankings.  Now, all these teams won’t make a move at the deadline for a second baseman, but they’re definitely in the market for one.

As I stated above, there are plenty of second baseman available, including (in order of highest fWAR at the break) Chase Utley (3.1), Ben Zobrist (2.8), Daniel Murphy (2.5), Emilio Bonifacio (1.1), and Aaron Hill (-0.6).  It’s unclear whether the Phillies will trade Utley, though I’d bet against it (and if they do I’ll have to repost last year’s Ode to Utley with updated statistics) and Baltimore would likely have to pay the dreaded intra-division premium for Zobrist, ruling those two out.  Unless you COMPLETELY missed the title of this post, I would propose trading for a second baseman that isn’t even on this list, because he’s only played at second base for a total of 35 innings in 2014.  That player is Martin Prado.

Prado has played all over the field in his professional career, logging innings at every position except for centerfield and catcher.  According to advanced defensive metrics, Prado is an above average defender at every position he’s played except for second base.  Over almost 2,000 innings at the keystone, he’s been worth -6 Defensive Runs Saved, slightly below average.  With the bat, he’s an extreme contact hitter who doesn’t strike out much, walk much, or hit for much power, so his ability to get on base is dependent on his batting average.  Batting average can sometimes be finicky, but with a career triple slash of .291/.340/.425 (AVG/OBP/SLG) in nearly 4,000 PA’s, you pretty much know what you’re going to get out of him.

While Prado is having a down year (.274/.320/.367) despite a BABIP (.310) that is nearly his career value, his 89 wRC+ in 2014 is much better than any other Baltimore option*.  Not counting Jemile Weeks, who only has 13 PA’s, Ryan Flaherty is the closest with a 78 wRC+.  It’s true that both Schoop and Flaherty have been above average defenders this year.  So while Baltimore would lose a little bit defensively by sliding Prado in at second (a loss that is mitigated by the fact that the Orioles pitching staff does not give up many ground balls), you gain much more offensive production, especially if Prado returns to his career levels.  When adjusting for the same number of PA’s, the Zips projection system at Fangraphs sees Prado as being worth 0.5-0.6 wins more than either Schoop or Falherty the rest of the 2014 season.

*the decrease in production appears to be from an IFFB% of 14.1 (4.5% higher than career level) and a HR/FB% of 5.1 (2% lower than career level)

But wait, there’s more!  Following the 2014 season, Prado is under contract for two more years at $11 million per year, covering his age 31 and 32 year old seasons (i.e. he’s not that old).  After this season the Orioles could easily let J.J. Hardy become a free agent, move Manny Machado to shortstop, and slide Prado over to third base, which opens up second base for…Jonathan Schoop.  This is what makes a Prado acquisition so beneficial to Baltimore.  While the Orioles have several high upside pitchers in their farm system, there aren’t any position players who are close to helping the major league club.  Prado’s positional flexibility also allows Baltimore to offer Hardy a qualifying offer (if they want to), knowing that if he accepts it, Prado could move to potential openings in left or right field.

Last week, Jim Bowden of ESPN looked at Martin Prado in his “What Would it Take to Get…” series (ESPN Insider required and recommended).  He listed the Blue Jays and Giants as possible destinations.  He mentioned that a Toronto deal would likely be centered around CF prospect Dalton Pompey (plus a throw-in), while a Giants deal would likely need to include relief pitchers Heath Hembree and Steven Okert.  If that’s the case, maybe a Josh Hart and one of Mike Wright, Tim Berry, or Zach Davies may do the trick.  As a writer, proposing a trade is usually a terrible idea, but I think that package would at least have the Diamondbacks considering the proposal.

Adding Martin Prado in the middle of a playoff race will definitely help the Orioles, but it certainly won’t instill confidence in Jonathan Schoop.  Having said that, playoff opportunities don’t come around every year and the team needs to take advantage of this chance while they can.  Jonathan Schoop is still a big part of this team’s future, but Baltimore needs to upgrade second base for 2014.  A trade for Martin Prado will provide that upgrade in 2014, while also filling potential roster holes at third base or in the outfield in 2015 and 2016.