30 June 2012

2012 Playoffs: Should the O's Stay or Should They Go?

I think it is safe to say that the Orioles performing at a .550 winning percentage is something none of us anticipated.  Well, none of us except for the true believers.  Though a true believer probably foresaw Matt Wieters developing a little bit more into the best catcher in baseball, perhaps Adam Jones streaking his way into a possible breakout year, and Wei Yin Chen showing everyone that baseball is baseball no matter what side of the Pacific you pitch on.  However, I do wonder whether anyone anticipated the pitching revolution that has happened with Jason Hammel.

At the time, the Hammel/Lindstrom/Guthrie trade was a dog of a deal.  Baltimore dealt the consistent lunch pail hero that is Jeremy Guthrie for the inconsistent and below average Jason Hammel.  The Rockies also put in the hard throwing, but well hit Matt Lindstrom.  In total, the Orioles shifted a 200 IP league average pitcher at 8.2 MM for a 170 IP below average pitcher and a 50 IP average reliever for 8.5 MM.  That led to this column that I wrote.  The main conclusion follows:
So...why do I not like the trade if it looks like a push in so many ways?

It kicks the talent can another year.  Guthrie's worth has been converted into Hammel and Lindstrom.  Hammel's peripherals last year concern me.  I am not certain that he all of a sudden gained an ability to depress BABIP rates.  I more believe that he has lost his ability to strike batters out.  In that regard, I do not see a Guthrie for Lindstrom trade being worthwhile as it places too much value in a somewhat hittable flame thrower.  I think this move runs counter to building this franchise into a winner.  Young, cost-controlled talent would be preferable even if that talent had a low probability of being a difference maker.
 So...no, I did not see Jason Hammel becoming a solid 2/3 pitcher.  True, it is still early to suggest that what we see is what we get with Hammel, but he has become a different pitcher.  His pitch usage has completely changed.  He dabbled with a two seamer in the past, but now throws it a third of the time (last year at 13.1% was the only other recorded season where he threw it more than 6.3% of the time).  His velocity has also ticked up.  His 4 seamer is the 7th hardest one thrown by a starter in baseball at 93 mph.  His change up has jumped up 3 mph and is the third hardest change for a starter at 88.1 mph and behind only Stephen Strasburg and Felix Hernandez. 

Now, keep in mind that although velocity is good, it does not equate to a great pitcher.  However, it should be noted that the harder a pitch is thrown the amount of time a batter has to react is reduced and the amount of time a ball crosses the plate is reduced.  Those two acting together helps result in swings and misses.  Anyway, the point here is that a good bit of the Orioles' success is on Hammel's shoulders and that his performance was completely unexpected.

That all said...the Orioles find themselves in second place in an intensely competitive AL East.  They are the only division where every team has a winning record.  In fact, none will have a losing record through June, which has to be a record of some sort.  At 42-34, the Orioles are four games behind the Yankees.  The team currently has many soft spots.  By fWAR, the Orioles have the second worst position player value in baseball with 6.6.  That is about 4 wins below average and 12 wins behind the first place team, the Rangers.  By contrast, their pitching is roughly average at 8.0 wins.  If one is to believe in fWAR, the Orioles are a team ripe for a collapse.

Catcher
This position is Matt Wieters and no one else.  He is on pace to bring in about a 4.3 fWAR, which would result in top 5 performance for that position.  No other team in the AL East has production anywhere near that level.  As long as Wieters' name can be penciled in the lineup, the Orioles will be set.

First Base
There is not a lot to like here.  Chris Davis visually has a lot of offense to offer, but it is primarily limited to the long ball and the whiff.  He simply does not prevent outs and preventing outs by safely hitting the ball or walking is incredibly important.  His defense is poor, but not as poor as Mark Reynolds.  What Davis looks like at the plate is what Reynolds looks like in the field: impressive, but hollow in value.  As such, the two make for a relatively below average first baseman.  Neither are great choices and both as passable.  The O's have a bottom barrel solution here, but it is not much different than what the Rays have in Carlos Pena or how Adrian Gonzalez has done so far this year.  I would expect AGon to improve.  I have my doubts as to whether the Orioles' tandem has a higher gear to shift into.

Second Base
This position is full of nostalgia for the Orioles.  Robert Andino is the Red Sox Killer and Brian Roberts was one of the best 2B in baseball for a decade.  This season has made readily apparent that Andino is a good utility player.  He simply does not have the offensive package to start.  He also does not have the defensive package to make up for his inadequacies on offense.  Full time and he may give you 1 fWAR and this was in no way unexpected.  What was unexpected was Brian Roberts playing baseball.  What was not unexpected was Brian Roberts not playing baseball well.  His range (especially his first step) has greatly collapsed.  Maybe this is him getting back into game shape, but I do not see a lot of promise here.  It has also been impressive to see him get back into hitting the ball, but he simply just does not do that at a MLB level anymore.  This is a major hole in the lineup.

Third Base
The only thing that needs to be said is that platoon DH Wilson Betemit is the starter at third.  This position has been a black hole ever since Melvin Mora became old.

Short Stop
J.J. Hardy is a very good shortstop.  He is a solid second tier guy.  The Orioles probably have the best SS in the AL East, but it is arguable with Yunel Escobar and maybe even the season Mike Aviles is putting together.  I think of the three, Hardy has the best shot of maintaining his production.  Escobar is not far off.

Left Field
Nolan Reimold gave the team some hope, but his body fell apart on him again.  Xavier Avery is trying to show he is more than a fourth outfielder.  This is an area where an improvement would be hepful.

Center Field
Adam Jones is a good offensive oriented center fielder.  The Orioles are set here for a few years.

Right Field
Nick Markakis is the right fielder and that is that.  It may be optimistic to expect him to continue putting up league average numbers.  His wrist injury is something that could sap his already meager power potential.

Starting Pitching
Right now the Orioles' mantra could be "Hammel and Wei Yin and then a monsoon we are a prayin'," which is indeed better than last year's "Rain, rain, every day."  It is uncertain if Oswalt has any interest in coming here, but it would have been nice to add to the starting pitching without depleting an already thin minor league system.  There has also been talk about engaging with the Cubs on either Ryan Dempster or Matt Garza.  It is unlikely the Orioles have the pieces to grab a top tier pitcher without forking over Dylan Bundy or Manny Machado.

Bullpen
The Orioles have one of the best pens in baseball and have several arms in the minors (and in the MLB rotation) who can help when needed.

Conclusion
As it stands the Orioles need help at 1B, 2B, 3B, LF, and SP.  Peripherals suggest (WAR and run differential) that the team has been exceptionally lucky and faces a high probability that they will collapse.  To prevent a collapse, two things needs to occur:
(1) The team will need to trade for two or three solid pieces
(2) Internal solutions that are not currently known need to appear
If these two things happen then the team has a legitimate shot of getting one of the two wild cards.  However, does it make sense?

I try to take a three year view of whether or not it makes sense to push for a run.  Bundy and Machado are clearly pieces that will need to be part of a successful team 2-3 years from now.  They cannot be dealt.  A player like Jonathan Schoop would be nice to keep, but is not essential.  The same is true for someone like Nicky Delmonico who may also be a fringe top 100 guy by the end of the year.  If you can deal Schoop and/or Delmonico for a player who is valuable to the team this year, but also further on in the three year window then it makes sense to act on it.  This is particularly true if you can find solutions for 1B, 2B, LF, or SP.  All four of those positions do not have great solutions in the future.  I leave 3B out merely because Machado may be pushed to third or, perhaps, Hardy.  I think the only 3B move that makes sense to me is if you can deal for someone like David Wright.

It has been an enjoyable run, but I just have difficulty is seeing this team being able to sustain it or finding the pieces to make it work.  It is important to simply enjoy the season as it is and really ask nothing in return.  They have done well and there certainly is a lot of fight in this team.  It has been a wonderful season so far.  Maybe they continue to defy common wisdom of peripheral metrics and qualitative measures of player value.

6 comments:

The Oriole Way said...

I think it's a pretty reasonable assumption that the Angels are better than the Orioles, and that LAA (or TEX) will win one of the two wild card slots. That leaves the Orioles, Red Sox, and Rays as the prime contenders for the second slot (with TOR, CLE, DET, KC, and OAK as dark horses at the moment). The Orioles July schedule consists largely of the AL West (9 games, incl. 3 with LAA) and AL Central (11 games), plus 3 with the Rays and 2 with the Yankees. This is an opportunity for the club to keep winning and perhaps expand their current lead (the Red Sox have 16 games against the Yanks, Rays, Blue Jays, and Rangers; the Rays have 9 games against the Yanks, Rays and Angels). You could make the case that bolstering the rotation, 2B, or LF now would be advantageous ahead of a relatively softer portion of the schedule, but I think it might be better to keep the option open until later in the month. Come the final week of July, if the Orioles have had a strong month and held or expanded their grip on the 2nd wild card, making an upgrade with just 60 games to go (while leaving less time for the marginal difference to manifest in the win column) would likely mean that each potential win has more value. I think the Orioles should wait and see.

Ching said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jon Shepherd said...

I have no issue with people leaving links in the comments, but at least contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way.

Chris said...

Assuming the Orioles don't shift into seller-mode, how big of an opportunity are they missing out on by not trading their bullpen arms who for the most part have been great all season?

c4fba37a-bd8a-11e1-aa1b-000bcdcb5194 said...

I discovered your blog while reading the Power Rankings. I discovered the Orioles last year on the final day, when they took down those wretched Red Sox(patooie)
I have enjoyed following them ever since, at least as much as my Beloved Rangers.
I enjoy your comments very much, though I don't understand any of the advanced stats.

The Baltimore Success this season is inexplicable... everything has been working, despite terrible defense, speed, average, etc.
but the decline has begun, and the main thing is to shoot for .500 this season, and not get rid of anything.

Ron Washington took over the Rangers in 2006, and they went 75,79, 87 and then 90 wins and a WS appearance. Jon Daniels assembled the pieces, and the rangers are not the team to beat and will be for the near future.
Tell Buck to be patient. He is assembling the pieces.

This year, shoot for .500. If the Orioles go just 39-44, they'll finish at .500 for the first time snce gas was 85 cents a gallon, and that would be excellent.
Don't get rid of future pieces for a quick fix that probably wouldn't amount to anything beyond a second wild card anyway.
Finish .500+, and ahead of the Bosox and Jays, and that will be worth some champagne.

PTCello@yahoo.com said...

PS
1) "The rangers are NOW the team to beat"
2) No way are the Angels going to catch the Rangers.