24 October 2011

Orioles Year in Review and 2012: C and Infield

As the Orioles off season drags along with fans waiting to see who is chosen as the new general manager and trying to enjoy truly compelling playoff baseball which is once again without the team from Baltimore, it is important to try and see where the team current is.  By only knowing where the team currently is in terms of talent, will we know what likely needs to be done to make them competitive in 2012.  Or, being more sober, realizing that this team stands no chance in competing next year and a longer perspective is required. In doing so, I try to use existing models to determine likely offensive and defensive production as well as how well that fares against league average.  I use a simple predictive model to arrive at production and use 2011 results to determine league average production for comparison.

Catcher: Matt Wieters (4.4 predicted 2012 WAR) and Craig Tatum (0.0)
First Third  >3.4 fWAR (Orioles)
Middle Third  2.2 - 3.4 fWAR (Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays)
Bottom Third  <2.2 fWAR (Rays)

In 2011, Matt Wieters answered the critics who called him a bust.  He answered them by putting up arguably the best season by a catcher in either league.  However, being a great catcher does not mean you will wind up with the best play at catcher.  The Braves are a good comparison for showing off this idea.  Brian McCann put up a 3.7 fWAR while Matt Wieters had a 4.3 fWAR.  The difference between the two teams is that the Braves had Dave Ross rolling up a 1.3 fWAR from the bench while the Orioles had Jake Fox and Craig Tatum amount to -0.2 fWAR.  Yes, backups earning 150 plate appearances can have a small, yet meaningful, effect on your team's performance.  The Orioles may be set at catcher for the next few years, but they could stand an improvement in production from their backup.

For 2012, we see Wieters putting up offensive numbers almost as good as his better months in 2011 (March/April, August, and September) where he hit for a 800 OPS and above as opposed to his poor months (May, June, and July) where he hit below a 700 OPS.  Add in Wieters' defense and he winds up being worth about 4.4 WAR.  That translates into the expectation that he will have another all star level season.  It is a good start, but Craig Tatum still looks like a replacement level player.  His 150 plate appearances are likely to add nothing to the team.

A 4.4 WAR would have placed the team as 7th best in baseball at catcher in 2011.

First Base: Mark Reynolds (2.3) and Chris Davis (0.2)
First Third  >4 fWAR (Yankees, Red Sox)
Middle Third  1.5 - 4 fWAR (Rays)
Bottom Third  <1.5 fWAR (Orioles, Blue Jays)

Last year was a difficult year for the Orioles at first base.  This is a common theme as the Orioles have not had any serious production there since the late 90s.  In 2011, the team ranked 26th in all of baseball according to fWAR with a motley crew of Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds, Brandon Snyder, Jake Fox, and Chris Davis.  So much was anticipated when Derrek Lee was signed in comparison to what was delivered.  Lee was assumed to be able to produce near an average level of performance just a shade north of 2 fWAR, but gave the team 0.5 fWAR before being spun to the Pirates where he wound up crushing the ball.  Fox and Davis accounted for -0.4 fWAR.

We think over a full season, Reynolds and Davis are likely to perform better than they did this season.  Reynolds would have more time to grow into first base.  If he maintains his production with the bat and he becomes merely below average at third, he is likely to be worth an average 1B.  Our system actually predicts better performance for Mark Reynolds (.330 OBP, .480 SLG) than I had assumed earlier.  this is primarily the result of factoring in a lower wOBA for league average (.320 vs .335), it increased Reynolds' batting worth at 1B by a whole win.  The previous value was based on league average production a few years ago.  Chris Davis (average defense, 95 plate appearances, 300/450) adds 0.2 wins to the total.

A 2.5 WAR would have placed the team as 16th best in baseball at first base in 2011.

Second Base: Robert Andino (1.1) and Ryan Adams (0.7)
First Third  >3.2 fWAR (Rays, Red Sox, Yankees)
Middle Third  1.8 - 3.2 fWAR
Bottom Third  <1.8 fWAR (Orioles, Blue Jays)
2011 saw Brian Roberts try valiantly to play through a few ailments before he was shelved for the season with lingering effects from concussions.  He managed to play a quarter of a season and put up an unspectacular 0.2 fWAR.  Blake Davis and Ryan Adams provided replacement level production or worse.  Finally, Robert Andino was able to actually put up respectable defense and had some timely hitting for the team.  Already a favorite of Buck Showalter's, Andino probably sealed his place on the team based on an impressive string of hitting performance against the Red Sox in September during Boston's collapse.  The squad managed to put together production that ranked 21st in baseball.

2012 will be difficult.  Brian Roberts is likely to take up somewhere between 10 to 15 % of the payroll while likely not giving any meaningful production.  The team may misguidedly show Roberts respect by not attempting to resolve the situation at second.  If this is the case, then we are likely to see Robert Andino and Ryan Adams manning the position.  We have Andino with 400 plate appearances at second, but would get time at other positions as well.  We have Adams as his back up.  Andino pulling in a 330/345 slash and league average defense over that time period would be worth 1.1 WAR.  Adams filling in the rest of the way with below average defense and a 330/360 slash tacks on 0.8 wins.

A 1.8 WAR would have placed the team as 20th best in baseball at second base in 2011.

Third Base: Chris Davis (1.6) and Josh Bell (-1.1)
First Third  >3.4 fWAR (Rays, Red Sox, Blue Jays)
Middle Third  0.6 - 3.4 fWAR (Yankees)
Bottom Third  <0.6 fWAR (Orioles)
Last year there existed a wide range of talent at third base around the league.  This is evidence by the middle tier starters being worth at least 0.6 fWAR.  The Orioles missed that by a comfortable margin with a -0.6 fWAR.  Mark Reynolds, Chris Davis, and Josh Bell did the Orioles no favors.  They each have rather shoddy defense at third base.  Davis and Bell showed little to no acumen when it came to figuring out how to get on base and send others home.  The Orioles ranked 27th overall in baseball for third base production.

Even with the expectation that Chris Davis' bat will return after surgery and that his defense would be merely bad, he is not a good solution for the hot corner.  His production is likely to be below average and the team has no useful depth.  Just as last off season, a solution needs to be found to properly fill out this position.

A 0.5 WAR would have placed the team as 28th best in baseball at third base in 2011.

Shortstop: J.J. Hardy (3.6) and Robert Andino (0.1)

First Third  >3.8 fWAR (Orioles, Blue Jays)
Middle Third  1.6 - 3.8 fWAR (Red Sox, Rays, Yankees)
Bottom Third  <1.6 fWAR
J.J. Hardy produced a season the Brewers dreamed of his first few season in Milwaukee.  For the Orioles, Hardy earned the highest fWAR (4.8) of his career while only playing 129 games.  Simply put, he had a career year and was given mid-season a three year contract extension.  Cesar Izturis, Robert Andino, and Pedro Florimon Jr. spelled Hardy when he was injured or resting.  As a group they provided only replacement level production.  The Orioles had the 6th best production at shortstop.

Our prediction system is not convinced that J.J. Hardy will likely duplicate his 2011 performance, putting up numbers more typical of his career (.320/.440; 500 plate appearances).  However, we do see him as a fringe first division shortstop with an outside chance of putting up similar numbers.  Hardy is a plus defender and has plus plus power for a shortstop.  The concern has always been over whether or not he can hit the ball as he has little ability to earn walks.  We have Andino filling in for 200 plate appearance at shortstop.

A 3.7 WAR would have placed the team as 11th best in baseball at third base in 2011.

2011 fWAR: 10.3
2012 predicted WAR: 12.9

A target of 15.8 WAR should be identified.  This would be an infield that would be straddling the line between first and second tier performance.  Third base is the most obvious position to upgrade with second base and first base also being potential targets for an upgrade.

Next - Outfield and DH . . . then Starting Pitchers . . . and then Relief Pitchers.

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