02 January 2013

Relying on Reimold

by Matt Kremnitzer

The Orioles have not made a major acquisition this offseason, and it’s not likely that they’re going to. They’ve been frequently mentioned as a potential landing spot for free agents, such as Nick Swisher, Adam LaRoche, and a few others. But for whatever reason, they haven’t landed a marquee free agent. In fact, their only notable free agent signing was simply bringing back Nate McLouth for one year and $2 million.

Similarly to last year, Dan Duquette and the O’s have made several minor moves. They claimed Alexi Casilla off waivers from the Twins. They traded Robert Andino to the Mariners for outfielder Trayvon Robinson. They acquired Danny Valencia from the Red Sox for cash considerations. And they also signed a bunch of minor league and Independent League free agents, including Daniel McCutchen, Conor Jackson, Daniel Schlereth, and Travis Ishikawa. Meanwhile, the O’s also non-tendered Mark Reynolds, who later signed a one-year deal with Cleveland.

There is still time for the O’s to make a free agent signing or two, or to put together a trade in which they package some of their young pitching for some offensive help, but it’s becoming increasingly unlikely that that’s going to happen. So instead, the O’s are moving forward with mostly the same team. Some fans are just fine with that strategy, and some are not. I’m not in favor of simply making a move just to make one, but I also thought the O’s could have upgraded their roster without necessarily breaking the bank. But that is a post for a later time.

More than any other position, I’m intrigued by what the O’s did (and did not do) in left field. They could have signed Swisher or dealt for another outfielder, but they brought McLouth back. And while McLouth may end up playing every day (which I hope doesn’t happen), one of the reasons I think they re-signed him is because of Nolan Reimold.

Reimold, 29, first debuted with the Orioles in 2009, but he’s been unable to stay healthy since. In 104 games in 2009, Reimold posted a .279/.365/.466 batting line that showcased his ability to both get on base and hit for power. His 11.4 walk percentage that season was also the best he’s posted in the majors. Unfortunately, he was sidelined in September with an Achilles tendon injury that required surgery. That Achilles injury affected Reimold into the beginning of the 2010 season, when he hit .205/.302/.337 before being demoted to Norfolk in the middle of May. He returned in September but wasn’t much better, and his final 2010 batting line was .207/.282/.328 in 131 plate appearances.

After an injury to Luke Scott and Felix Pie playing like Felix Pie, Reimold got another shot in 2011. He first appeared that season in May and stayed relatively injury-free, playing in 87 games and hitting .247/.328/.453. He rode that momentum (sort of) into the 2012 season when he started in left field on opening day. In 16 games and 69 plate appearances in April, Reimold batted .313/.333/.627 and managed to homer five times in six games in a stretch from April 13 to April 20. But yet again, Reimold had an injury concern. He was eventually diagnosed with a herniated disk and needed surgery to repair the problem. He didn’t play again in 2012 after April 30.

Reimold has power (career .455 slugging percentage), and while his career .338 on-base percentage isn’t great, he will take walks (9.7 BB%). He also has pretty good speed, which is something useful for a relatively slow team like the Orioles. He’s not a very good outfielder though (-10.6 career UZR) and sometimes struggles to get proper reads on fly balls. But, still, there’s never been any secret that most of Reimold’s value comes from his bat, and that’s what the Orioles need from him the most.

Reimold’s ideal spot on this team may be designated hitter, but it may not be possible to simply slot him there every day with Wilson Betemit and Chris Davis around. Both of those guys may get some time at first base (primarily Davis), but they’ll almost certainly DH some, too. Matt Wieters will also occasionally DH, as will Brian Roberts if he’s able to stay healthy and resemble the kind of player he was a couple seasons ago. And there’s nothing wrong with having some extra lineup flexibility (something the 2011 Orioles didn’t have with Vladimir Guerrero).

It’s also worth noting that unlike McLouth, Reimold doesn’t have any drastic platoon issue:

Reimold vs. RHP: .263/.339/.465 (595 plate appearances)
Reimold vs. LHP: .258/.336/.438 (321 plate appearances)

Here are McLouth’s splits:

McLouth vs. RHP: .257/.346/.447 (2220 plate appearances)
McLouth vs. LHP: .223/.303/.346 (762 plate appearances)

That’s a big difference. Platooning Reimold with McLouth in left field – obviously, Reimold vs. left-handed pitching and McLouth vs. right-handed pitching – while also giving Reimold a shot to DH as well at times, might be the best way to utilize both their talents (McLouth is the better left fielder with a career -1.4 UZR in LF) and keep Reimold healthy.

The O’s (so far) have opted not to significantly upgrade the lineup. If Reimold is able to stay on the field and off the disabled list, that will be a big help. But there is no guarantee he’ll be able to do that, and having McLouth as the full-time left fielder is far from ideal.


Matt P said...

Suppose you're right about Reimold being the platoon guy in LF and playing against lefty pitching. Wouldn't that mean that Betemit or Davis would have to play DH against lefty pitching? Given that both of those guys have bad splits against lefties why wouldn't you rather have Reimold play DH or 1B instead of one of those two? None of the three can hit.

Not to mention that if McLouth starts against righties he'll get 450 or so PAs in LF. If he's not good enough to be your starting left fielder then you need an option against righties.

It's more likely that Reimold would start in LF against right handed pitching and DH against lefties. That way, Betemit plays DH against righties and is on the bench against lefties and you get the benefit of his bat while McLouth would be the defensive outfielder who gives Reimold a breather. Certainly, McLouth offers more value than Betemit against lefties.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I don't think Reimold at 1B is a realistic option. I believe the O's had him try this before in the minors and it just didn't work. But yeah, if he could play the position, it would make a lot of sense.

Hopefully, Betemit never plays against lefties. Davis probably will, though, since I'll expect he'll at least start out as the full-time 1B. Betemit DHing against righties is basically what his role should be.

You bring up some good points, and that's also why I was surprised the O's didn't go after Swisher or another outfielder. Again, the platoon option also depends on which other players make the roster. Someone like Valencia, for example, has hit lefties pretty well, but who knows if he'll make the team.

Matt P said...

I think you're right that Davis is considered a full-time player and that Reimold won't play 1B. The reason I brought up Davis is because he has huge platoon splits just like McLouth and Betemit (and Trayvon Robinson). We have a lot of starters who could use a platoon partner against lefties and this is before the inevitable injuries.

Looks like the Os probably didn't think that they could get anyone who was an upgrade at a price they were willing to pay. I suspected that it meant they had faith in McLouth and Reimold but now you've made me wonder.

I don't think the Os know what they're doing yet. They have a lot of options(not good ones but options nonetheless) at the moment. A Valencia/Betemit platoon could work along with a Reimold/McLouth platoon. The Os could also decide to go with McLouth in LF, Reimold at DH, Robinson as the fourth outfielder and Betemit as the utility infielder. Or else we could have a McLouth/Reimold/Betemit platoon like the one I discussed earlier.

They'll probably see what happens during Spring Training before making up their minds.