09 April 2013

Ryan Flaherty Is Not the Answer

One of the biggest complaints of the offseason was why the Orioles weren't more adamant about finding a better solution at second base. With Brian Roberts again on the mend and Ryan Flaherty also on the roster, the O's opted to claim Alexi Casilla off waivers from the Twins last November. And with three other guys capable of playing second, the O's deemed Robert Andino expendable and shipped him to the Mariners later that month.

To be fair to Dan Duquette, I'm not really sure what the O's should have done with the position. I did recommend signing Kelly Johnson, and that may have been a helpful move. But there weren't a whole lot of good players available to sign. Jeff Keppinger received three years and $12 million from the White Sox, which was surprising. The Giants also signed Marco Scutaro for three years and $20 million. I don't think either signing would have made sense for the Orioles. With Roberts's deal coming off the books next season, maybe they decide to improve the position then. Or maybe they simply hope that Jonathan Schoop is ready by then.

So the O's depth chart at second base going into the season basically looked like this:

1. Brian Roberts
2. Uh-oh

Casilla and Flaherty are not full-time players, and they really don't make a helpful platoon either. They're both decent bench guys. Casilla is a good baserunner and rarely gets caught stealing, and he's a slightly below average defender at second, though he's the best out of Roberts and Flaherty. (He's also been much better defensively since 2009, per UZR.) And Flaherty can fill in at most positions on the field, though he's not particularly great at any of them. But he's at least versatile, which is something.

But neither can hit or get on base regularly. Casilla is a career .250/.305/.334 (.286 wOBA) hitter in 1,769 plate appearances. Last year was Flaherty's first in the majors, but in 177 career plate appearances, he's hitting an awful .202/.243/.337. Obviously that's not a whole lot of chances, but he hasn't hit well in a large chunk of a season since his 2011 Double-A stint with the Cubs, when he hit .305/.384/.523 in 344 plate appearances. Since then, he's been striking out way too much and not walking nearly enough. And besides a nine-game stretch in Norfolk during a rehab assignment last year when he had a bacterial infection, he just hasn't been getting it done at the plate.

Because Roberts is out for at least a few weeks with a hamstring injury, Buck Showalter seems to be going with a platoon: Flaherty vs. right-handed pitching and Casilla vs. lefties. On the surface that makes sense, since Casilla is a switch hitter and Flaherty is left-handed. The numbers don't reflect that, however:

Flaherty vs. RHP: 164 PAs, .252 wOBA
Flaherty vs. LHP: 12 PAs, .280 wOBA

Casilla vs. RHP: 1,223 PAs, .291 wOBA
Casilla vs. LHP: 540 PAs, .278 wOBA

Those are mediocre numbers, to be sure. And again, let's note the small sample size in Flaherty's case. But he's been completely overmatched at the major-league level, striking out 27.1% of the time (and walking 3.4%). Last year, he posted a -0.5 WAR, and he wouldn't have received nearly as many trips to the plate if he had not been a Rule 5 pick and been required to stay on the O's roster for the entire season.

Some fans like to think of Flaherty as a prospect with potential, and at some point he may improve. But he turns 27 in July; this is not a Manny Machado-type situation. Casilla is two years older and turns 29 in July, but that should hardly matter considering the O's are in win-now mode. A bad team giving Flaherty regular at-bats  -- at least for a little while -- would make some amount of sense. It's important to figure out if a guy can actually play or not, to see if he can fit in at the major-league level or if he's a 4-A type of talent. But Casilla is a better choice to play more often if Roberts can't stay on the field, mainly just because he's better defensively and on the basepaths than Flaherty.


Matt P said...

I wonder if Buck is intentionally giving Flaherty enough rope to hang himself at this point. I mean, Buck already has a limited bench and Flaherty is one of the few people with options remaining so he could go down.

Maybe Buck figures that he needs his bench so he might as well let Flaherty play until it's obvious to everyone he can't contribute.

The alternative is letting Flaherty sit on the bench the entire year because he didn't have an extended amount of time to prove himself. That's not good for anyone.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Missing Roberts, Reimold, and Betemit at the same time really hurts the bottom of the lineup. Besides Roberts, they've gotten very little at second base, and the DH spot has been a disaster so far.

It's early -- far too early to panic -- but Roberts and Reimold will always be injury concerns, and this team has some holes right now.

Dan Lyons said...

Respectfully, I disagree...at least in theory.

If you look at Flaherty's minor league statistics, he's improved quite dramatically on each level his second year.

For example- in A+ ball in 2010, he hit .286 with 9 homers and 60+ runs and ribbies in 475 AB's. In AA that year, he hit a woeful .183 in 84 AB's.
In 2011, at AA, he bounced back to hit .305 with 14 HR's and 66 RBI in just 344AB's, showing he was able to adjust. That same year, however, he hit only .237 in 186 AB's after making the jump to AAA.
In 2012, he showed again that he would quickly adapt to the higher level by hitting .289 before being called up to the majors.

My point is, Flaherty has been able to cinch up the learning curve, rather quickly at each level at which he's been promoted. While he only hit .206 last year, he showed a little pop, and I wouldn't be surprised if he became more than adequate, offensively, at second base this year or next.

He's also nearing the age (he's currently 26) of when players breakout in terms of power. I believe a 15 to 18 homer season with respectable BA is not out of reach. Just my 2

John said...

Why do we still consider Brian Roberts an option? He absolutely cannot stay healthy, and it's been years since he's had the PAs to prove to me that he can still hack it.

Maybe it's time to use all of that pitching depth we've got spilling out our ears to make the sort of move we should have made during the offseason. Pick up a 3B on the cheap, shift Machado to SS, and Hardy to 2B.