20 November 2014

The 2015 Orioles Outfield Will Be Fine Without Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis

Photo by Keith Allison

Two key members of the Orioles' 2014 outfield, Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, are free agents. Cruz, as expected, rejected the club's qualifying offer, which means the Orioles will get a draft pick as compensation if he signs with another club. The club declined Markakis' mutual option and did not extend him a qualifying offer, so there is no compensation if he signs elsewhere.

Many people still think the Orioles are the favorite for Cruz, and he has made it clear that his first choice is to return to Baltimore. While most people around the team still expect Markakis to return to the club, that outcome seems less likely than it did a week ago.

Losing both of these players would mean a loss of 6.4 fWAR from the Orioles outfield (For the sake of simplicity, I'm considering Cruz, Jones, Markakis, and Lough the Orioles 2014 OF. Yes, Cruz did DH. And Pearce played some OF, but Lough played a lot more innings in the OF than him). This is obviously a noticeable loss and it would be understandable to start scouring the list of free agents and potential trade candidates to replace this loss of production. Here and elsewhere, the name Nori Aoki has been thrown around as a possible replacement.

But, the Orioles outfield will be perfectly fine in 2015 as it stands right now. This isn't to say that they won't or shouldn't make any moves, but there's no need to panic if they don't.

‘14 wRC+
‘15 Projected wRC+
De Aza
wRC+ weighted by PA
wRC+ weighted by PA

While the loss of both Cruz and Markakis feels significant, the drop in offensive production would not be too significant. The Orioles outfield was 18% above league average last season, offensively speaking. In 2015, they are projected to be 13% above average,

The main issue would be the fact that De Aza and Lough both struggle against LHP, but the impact of this could be softened by bringing in a Delmon Young-type player for some AB's against LHP. Those concerned that Pearce will fall harder back to earth than projected raise a fair point, but a spot in the everyday lineup is his to lose entering 2015.

And this says nothing of the defensive improvements this potential 2015 outfield could bring. The positive impact of giving Lough more innings in the outfield has been touched on here before. Swapping out Markakis (career -0.6 UZR/150) for De Aza (3.6) would also provide an upgrade defensively. On top of that, Pearce is an adequate outfielder (career +5.0 UZR/150), while Cruz (+ 2.9) has okay numbers, but he's 34 and not getting any more agile. On top of that, Cruz sure looked a lot worse than +2.9 UZR/150 outfielder last season.

It's still entirely possible that the Orioles will bring back both Cruz and Markakis. If both players leave, I'd expect the team to do something to address the outfield position through trade or free agency. But the need to do so isn't urgent and there's no reason to panic if they enter 2015 with the outfield currently on the roster.


Anonymous said...

So, a four percent decline in performance that is hinged on Pearce's breakout and Lough short track record means that the outfield offense will be fine?

I would think the actual conclusion would be that there appears to be a minor decrease in offensive production based on projections, but the projections have a lot more to work with the old outfield as opposed to this potential version. Also, one could say that the Orioles' outfield, according to projection, has about a 55-60% of being worse than last year's squad with it being capable of being much, much, much, much worse...or maybe a lot better (to a lesser chance).

Erik said...

It is a question of price and years. The Orioles are not in a position to take on risks that other clubs are. Nelson Cruz, for all his virtues last season, is a risk to the mid-term competitiveness of the Orioles for the contract he wants. He is primed to be overpaid, and he is worth a first-round draft pick to us if he is signed. We could use that after giving up our first two last year.

Markakis wants money for his reputation, not his play. To the extent he actually sells more tickets than his salary costs in Baltimore that is justified. I am doubtful the market research shows that with the emergence of Manny. He is valuable in the playoffs as he showed the ability to play to his full ability in that situation in an early batting spot. That should be considered.

Pat Holden said...

I think people generally undersell De Aza and Lough (due to his awful start last season) and thus think the O's must improve their OF this off-season. They likely will and probably should. But I don't think it will doom this team if they don't.
And Pearce's breakout was last season.

Pat Holden said...

It wouldn't be a bad move to bring back either guy, but I doubt I'll like the term & $ it takes to do so.

Anonymous said...

We need to be careful when talking about money because money takes on different meaning with a team in playoff contention. A single win or two is worth a lot more to a club like Baltimore than the average club. Paying more for a guy like Markakis is about paying more for the slightly higher level of certainty in getting a certain level of performance.

Matt Perez said...

I'm not sure that it's fair to not include Pearce in the 2014 outfield numbers. I went to fangraphs and determining the weight wRC+ for the Orioles outfield based on how many PAs they had when playing in the outfield. When I considered all the outfielders that just had 100 PAs the wRC+ was 118. Turns out that including Pearce has little impact on the overall numbers because Cruz played so much at DH.

So the average team scored 658.7 runs last year and had 6131 PAs. The outfielder you have listed are projected to have 2286 PAs and therefore on average should score 245.6 runs.

If we subtract the 2014 wRC+ from the projected 2015 wRC+ and multiply by expected runs/100 then we should expect to lose about 17.5 runs from the change in outfielders. There were 9.1 runs in a win last year so we're talking a loss of nearly two wins.

Not terrible. Of course, the difference between Cruz/Young and whoever you get to DH plus the difference between Pearce and Davis could be more problematic.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

If Delmon Young truly expects to get a two-year deal, it won't be from the Orioles (per Roch: http://www.masnsports.com/school-of-roch/2014/11/notes-on-young-jimenez-de-aza-minors-and-more.html). Getting him back for another year would be fine. But anything more than that would be silly.

It's worth wondering what the O's would add if Markakis, Cruz, and Young all surprisingly walk. They don't have a much to promote from within, so they'd have some interesting signings or trades to make.

Pat Holden said...

Matt, I went with the top 4 by innings played in the OF. Cruz had over 500 innings in the OF and Pearce was about 200.

Matt Perez said...

The point I was making was less wondering why Pearce wasn't included and more noting that even if Pearce is included the numbers still stay the same if you look at "outfield PAs".

Eric said...

Good article. Never realized the breakdown wasn't as drastic. I actually started to come around on De Aza later (not gonna lie, a decent postseason helped). He did have a good year for the Chi-Sox 2 years back, and he was good in Baltimore at the end of the year. The Orioles could do worse, so I wouldn't be mad. I have hope for Lough but it is waning. If they could bring in another platoon partner like you said, Id be happy with it.

Plus I would rather not bring back Cruz because the money will be too much. And as much as I have been grateful for Nick and his service and hard play, the logical side of me says it may be time to part. And that kills me.

Pat Holden said...

Thanks, Eric.

I was kind of surprised, too. I'm a De Aza believer, as well. I hope he gets the chance to play regularly, although I understand why some would be uneasy with that idea.

As for Lough, he only got 57 PA's in the 2nd half, but he was a much better hitter than during the first half.

Anonymous said...

Is Delmon Young a candidate to simply DH full time or are his splits against RHP not good enough for that? That would take the edge off of losing Cruz wouldn't it?

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Some team may view him like that, but he shouldn't be used that way. He seems to work best as a part time player.

Unknown said...

I like Chris Davis in right if we have to. Cannon!