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. 

Steve Pearce
Nelson Cruz
Adam Jones
Chris Davis
Delmon Young
Matt Wieters
Brian Roberts
Ryan Flaherty
J.J. Hardy
Nick Markakis
Nate McLouth
Manny Machado
Johnathon Schoop
David Lough
Caleb Joseph

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.
Ryan Flaherty
Munenori Kawasaki
Logan Forsythe
Omar Quintanilla

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.


King Midas said...

Don't take the name of HOFbardozzi in vain.

Anonymous said...

You can have all of your stats you want, but he does stuff that leads us to the frustration. Before the all star break we had a guy on second with no outs. All he has to do is bunt a guy over. Wiffs three straight times and luckily hundley behind him gets a walk off base knock. It is these types of plays that plague him throughout the season which make him very expendable. I think lombardozzi, who got on base when he was up here which you failed to mentioned, would be a much better replacement.

pfholden said...

I'm not sure how a cherry picked example is a sounder argument than using stats, but have at it if that's what you prefer.
And I didn't fail to mention Lombardozzi, I just didn't specifically mention his OBP. I did, however, cite stats that incorporate his OBP. If you have a quantifiable argument as to how he's a better option than Flaherty, I'm all ears.

Michael Wallace said...

I've always thought Flaherty gets a LOT of undue hate. He's a great bench player to have, and as a super-utility guy, he can fill a lot of positions if needed. Basically everything except pitcher, catcher (although he's the rumored 3rd catcher), and probably CF. And the only guy who could play SS if Hardy went down during a game. He's not an everyday guy, but I hear people calling for him to be dropped to the minors or DFA'd like all the time. It's kind of ridiculous. I don't think a lot of fans understand his value.

Michael Wallace said...

He is absolutely not "very expendable" and Lombardozzi can't even play half the positions Flaherty does and the ones he can, he doesn't play half as well.

Nate Delong said...

nice article. Flaherty does have value on the roster, not only with the years of control, but also that he currently only costs the league minimum (and shouldn't be too expensive in arbitration, if the Orioles do want to tender him contracts during those years)

Ryan Solonche said...

Nice article. I think his glove and positionally flexibility alone make him an adequate utility player to have.

Let's not forget he was a Rule 5 pick that cost this team nothing to acquire and his defensive runs saved alone probably warrants a roster spot.

He's an easy target because, well, he's a career .218 hitter and doesn't have Schoop's upside at the plate.

In any case, there is too much undue hate thrown his way, likely because of some unrealistic expectation of production; but I also doubt he'll do much at the plate put the hate to rest.

ben said...

I think it has quite a bit to do with the way his value is bunched, Flaherty has quite a bit of pop, with 20 career HR now in 604 Pas - that's essentially all of his value. For that reason, while he may produce as much or more as many other utility infielders, his production is highly concentrated in a handful of plate appearances, resulting in a larger than average number of unsuccessful PAs from someone who produces at his .285 wOBA level. Basically, he fails more frequently than most of his comps.

Anonymous said...

Will you stop trying to get rid of Gonzalez yet.?

E2 said...

Do we not remember that this guy does not get to play everyday and does not get to have those consistent plate apperences that everyday starters get. How many times does a started go 0-4 or have 3 strikes outs, or fail to advance a runner and we just let it go, but we bring in a guy mainly for his defensive skills at any position and we get mad because he goes 0-4? There is no logic there? I am not sure if there is a better option defensively for the O's to move around to get guys a day off, or just cover for an injury. It's hard to find a guy to just say "hey your starting at this position, sorry for the short notice." But he can do it. I'm a big Flaherty fan, I just wish he was given an chance to be an everyday starter.

Jon Shepherd said...

E2, isn't it interesting that the most success that Flaherty has seen has been with infrequent play as opposed to the short stints of frequent reps he has seen?

Andrew D said...

Flaherty isn't terrible as a utility infielder, but I'm not sure how you can argue that he's better than Lombardozzi. What you want from this type of player is the ability to get on base, contribute in pressure situations, and move runners when needed as a pinch hitter. Lombardozzi's career AVG and OBP are .266/.297 compared to .219/.281 for Flaherty. Lombardozzi has a career .273 AVG w/RISP, while Flaherty is batting just .238 in those situations. Lombardozzi strikes out in just 13% of AB, where as Flaherty strikes out twice as much, 26% of his at bats. In 277 career games, Lombardozzi has 11 sac bunts and 4 sac flies. Flaherty has just 5 sac bunts and 1 sac fly in 212 games.

Now looking at fielding, both can play second, third, short, and the outfield. The have an identical fielding percentage at 2B and similar percentages at SS and 3B. Lombardozzi has also played almost three times as many games in the outfield as Flaherty, without committing one error.

If you look at all that, plus the fact that Lombardozzi is a switch hitter, and is faster than Flaherty, there is absolutely no reason why he should be in AAA while Flaherty is in the majors.

Jon Shepherd said...

We should probably be using more accurate measures of defense.

pfholden said...

If you want to make an argument for Lombardozzi over Flaherty based off of their similar career wOBA, it can be made. But I'd disagree given the reasons I listed above.
And fielding-wise, I'd take Flaherty's UZR/150 at multiple positions over Lombardozzi.

Matt Day said...

I'm more concerned with his defense, because we can always pinch hit for him. That play out west when Flaherty was playing 2B. An easy force out at second turned into a infield single because he didn't cover the base and assumed hardy would go to first.

Pat Holden said...

I agree he didn't look good on that play. Buck did say that due to the shift, Flaherty and JJ had communicated that Flaherty may not be able to make it to the bag in time. I never saw a camera angle that showed where Flaherty was shifted to, so I can't speak on that.
But it's one incident. And I inferred from Buck that JJ may have had as much to with that as Flaherty, since he apparently knew Flaherty may not be covering the bag.
Flaherty hasn't played enough innings at any one position to be able to make definitive statements on his defense. He's played at 2B more than anywhere else and in just under 1,000 innings has shown to be pretty good there. The only place he looks out of place so far is in the OF, but that's in only 140 innings, so I'd caution against concluding much from that.