30 August 2014

Where Is the O's Boost in DH Production Coming From?

Full disclosure: I sat down to write a post about how Nelson Cruz and Delmon Young have given the Orioles exactly what they needed at the designated hitter position. But, as is often the case, the data does not align with that narrative.

Since the (bizarre) days of Luke Scott, the Orioles have been searching for a competent designated hitter, or at least a group that could perform well enough. (Remember the Vladimir Guerrero experience?) Danny Valencia was effective in limited DH duty in 2013, as was Chris Davis in more than 250 plate appearances in 2012. But Valencia was merely a strong matchup against left-handed pitching, and Davis has shown that he's able to adequately handle defensive duties at first base. Since 2010, when their overall DH production ranked third in wRC+, the Orioles haven't finished better than 10th. But right now, the Orioles are fourth in wRC+ and first in home runs (41).

Orioles' DH production the last five years:


Nine different Orioles have stepped to the plate as a designated hitter in 2014. Cruz and Young have received most of those opportunities, but several other players have at least a handful. Overall, Cruz (127 wRC+) and Young (122 wRC+) have clearly been effective offensive weapons. But it's also true that both have performed much better as position players in 2014, which fits with their career patterns.

2014: Cruz as LF ( 240 PA): 156 wRC+
Career: Cruz as LF (436 PA): 130 wRC+; as RF (2,875 PA): 117 wRC+
2014: Cruz as DH (288 PA): 104 wRC+
Career: Cruz as DH (405 PA): 103 wRC+

2014: Young as LF (60 PA): 137 wRC+
Career: Young as LF (2,257 PA): 100 wRC+; as RF (923 PA): 94 wRC+
2014: Young as DH (136 PA): 89 wRC+
Career: Young as DH (802 PA): 89 wRC+

Cruz and Young have hit much better than their overall numbers -- but only as position players. At DH this season, they've both performed essentially the same as they always have. It's worth noting that Cruz has never been a DH all that often until this season, while Young had more than 660 plate appearances at DH. So, as always, note the sample size.

The average major league DH in 2014 has a 103 wRC+. Cruz is right at that mark, while Young is below. Obviously they have contributed much more when adding in their plate appearances while playing in the outfield (though they have looked like designated hitters playing the outfield), which has certainly been valuable. Cruz will end up making around $8.75 million ($8M in base salary plus roster bonuses, per Cot's), while Young is under contract for $1 million (and could make $0.75M more depending on various performance bonuses). They turned out to be shrewd signings.

Still, the O's have a combined 125 wRC+ from their designated hitters, and, as established, that isn't all coming from Cruz and Young. Cruz and Young have 424 of those plate appearances, but seven other batters have combined for 100. Here's the breakdown:

Steve Pearce (36 PA): 207 wRC+
Nick Markakis (23 PA): 79 wRC+
Matt Wieters (18 PA): -17 wRC+
Adam Jones (11 PA): 238 wRC+
Jemile Weeks (9 PA): 175 wRC+
Chris Davis (1 PA): 358 wRC+ (he walked)
Steve Clevenger (2 PA): -100 wRC+

Davis also pinch-hit for the DH twice, hitting a three-run homer.

That's just a limited sample of plate appearances for each player, so looking at that list is more amusing than anything. But hey, of course Steve Pearce would be involved somehow. Also, nice work, Adam Jones. And Jemile Weeks -- remember his early season cameo?

The Orioles have gotten some useful production from some unlikely sources in 2014. It's not guaranteed to continue, but it sure has been fun to watch.

Photo via Keith Allison

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