06 January 2015
O's Offense Isn't as Bad as You Might Think
Posted by Matt Kremnitzer
There's been discussion lately about who the Orioles should rely on to hit in the leadoff spot now that Nick Markakis is gone. At the moment, the most likely option, at least against right-handed pitching, is Alejandro De Aza. But against left-handed pitching? Perhaps Steve Pearce or Manny Machado. David Lough could get another shot at some point mainly because he's fast. Or maybe the club's leadoff man (Nori Aoki?) isn't yet on the roster.
But whatever Buck Showalter decides to do lineup order wise won't have a large effect on how the O's offense performs as a whole. Lineup construction doesn't matter all that much over the course of an entire season -- at least to the extent that many fans argue about it. (I'm also guilty of this at times.) Every run counts, but lineup order doesn't affect run expectancy much. So, sure, the leadoff spot is somewhat of a question mark, but what that really means is that on-base percentage and speed, to a lesser extent, are areas of concern. Last season, the Orioles were tied for 17th in OBP (.311), and they'll obviously be without the services of Nelson Cruz and Markakis going forward. They also weren't a base-stealing team at all; in fact, they were last in the majors in steals (44), 12 behind the Giants.
Still, even without Cruz and Markakis, the Orioles have a starting lineup of mostly average to above average hitters. Assuming a healthy team, the only potentially disastrous spot could be Jonathan Schoop at second base, but Schoop is also just 23 and could take a step or two forward next season. There's no guarantee that he will improve just because he's young and has a full season under his belt, but it would also be difficult for him to perform much worse. Last year, the average major league second baseman had a 88 wRC+; it's not unreasonable for Schoop to get there.
O's hitters listed by career wRC+ (with 2014 position average in brackets):
Chris Davis (115) 
Steve Pearce (110) 
Adam Jones (109) 
Manny Machado (104) 
Alejandro De Aza (99) 
Delmon Young (98) 
Matt Wieters (98) 
J.J. Hardy (95) 
Jonathan Schoop (67) 
The Pearce figure is for right field. De Aza's is for left. Young's is for designated hitter.
So, to clarify, the above figures include career wRC+ vs. 2014 MLB player averages. It's far from a perfect comparison. But, except for Schoop, the O's have average or slightly above average options at every position. De Aza and Young are both lower, but they also represent platoon options for Showalter. They aren't full-time players. De Aza has a career 103 wRC+ vs. right-handed pitching, while Young has a career wRC+ of 114 against left-handers.
The O's have been linked to free agents Colby Rasmus (103 wRC+) and Aoki (106 wRC+). Either player would make sense, though Rasmus is five years younger, is in the prime of his career, is seemingly willing to sign a one-year deal, and is likely the superior defender.
The main concern for the Orioles in 2015 is health. Wieters and Machado are coming off season-ending injuries, and in all likelihood they will need both to stay healthy and contribute to have a shot at making the playoffs. The O's already didn't have superstar talent on the roster, and while they should be able to get by without Markakis, they didn't adequately replace Cruz's bat in the lineup. Showalter and Duquette are likely counting on Wieters and Machado to produce, Pearce to play a bigger role (with not necessarily the same high level of production), and a bounce-back campaign from Davis.
Considering the team's defensive talent and pitching staff that has mostly stayed intact, if the Orioles finish close to 2014's team offensively, they'll be ecstatic. That probably won't happen, but Machado and Wieters possess the ability to perform extremely well. So does Davis, as he showed in 2013. All three of those players underwhelmed or got hurt last season. If the Orioles stay in the postseason chase over the summer, they could always trade for a bat then.
Photo via Keith Allison