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Orioles’ fans are distraught at the idea that Chris Davis may leave the team in free agency because of the consequences this could have for the Orioles’ offense. In a poll on Camden Chat, 60% of fans said that the Orioles should be willing to spend as much as $160 million on a Davis signing. John Heyman has reported that Peter Angelos wants to resign Davis and the Orioles are making an effort. On the other hand, doing this would take away much of the Orioles’ payroll flexibility and make it harder for them to sign other players.
This begs the question of whether offenses are better off with elite and replacement level batters or a more average but consistent offense. Are the Orioles better off with Davis and a replacement level DH or acquiring Pedro Alvarez and Yonder Alonso?
Pedro Alvarez is eligible for arbitration for the last time this off-season and is coming off of a season where he was historically bad defensively at 1B. His 23 errors this year were the most allowed by a first baseman since 1977 despite playing at first in only 124 games and 906 innings. His UZR is the fourth lowest at 1B ever out of 279 other first basemen. He is an awful defender at 1B and is a non-tender candidate because he can’t DH in the NL.
As a left handed batter, he is better against right-handed pitching than left-handed pitching, but has improved against left-handed pitching lately. After having an OPS in the .500-.540 range in 2013 and 2014 against lefties, he had a .712 in 2015 despite the fact that his walk rate dropped from the 8-9% to 4.6% while his K% stayed the same. Alvarez was more aggressive against left-handed pitchers in 2015 than he has been in the past.
Likewise, against right handed pitching in 2013, he was more aggressive than in 2014 and 2015 which resulted in fewer walks and a higher home run percentage. It is possible that Alvarez bats his best when he is aggressive and therefore fits right in with other Orioles like Adam Jones, Jonathan Schoop and Jimmy Paredes.
Alvarez is known for his power as he hit 27 home runs in 2015 despite playing in a stadium that is unfriendly to power batters and therefore has an OPS of .724 at home and .794 away. A move to Camden Yards, which is an excellent stadium for left-handed power, would mean that he’s playing in an appropriate environment and could help increase his power output.
Yonder Alonso is a singles and doubles hitter with excellent plate discipline with injury issues. With the exception of 2014, Alonso has had an OBP against righties around .360 since 2012 and can be a potential high OBP player. He is a possible non-tender candidate and likely would be a buy-low trade candidate given his inability to stay healthy, his defensive inflexibility, his weakness against lefties and his projected arbitration salary.
Steamer projects that Alvarez will end up with a .243/.320/.454 line and a wRC+ of 112. If traded to the Orioles, I think he’ll beat that mark due to the friendlier playing environment and I have him putting up a .250/.314/.487 line. Steamer projects that Alonso will put up a .269/.340/.401 line with a wRC+ of 108 in a surprisingly high 495 PAs. The method I used projected that Alonso would put up a similar .278/.350/.394.
Steamer also projects that Chris Davis will have a .245/.337/.499 line with a wRC+ of 124 which is quite a drop from his 2015 line of .262/.361/.562 and a wRC+ of 147 probably due to his poor 2014. I put less weight on his 2014 season and therefore predict that he’ll have a .264/.345/.524 line.
I presume that Chris Davis will play 85% of all at bats at first base or about 570 PAs. After all, there is always the possibility of injury or suspension and therefore it makes sense to presume that he’ll miss some time. He’s only had more than 600 PAs in two of the last four years.
I presume that Alvarez will play 75% of all at bats at DH or about 500 PAs. Unlike Davis, Alvarez hasn’t broken 500 PAs in any of the past three years. I do feel that playing DH will make it less likely that he’ll be a defensive substitute. Due to Alonso’s injury issues, I project him to play 90 of the 162 games.
Once I input these numbers into the lineup simulator tool, using my projections suggests that adding Davis will be a 35 run upgrade over the current roster while Steamer’s projections suggest that he’ll be a 27 run upgrade. My projections also suggest that adding Alonso and Alvarez will be a 38 run upgrade over the current lineup while Steamer suggests that they’ll be a 31 run upgrade. Either way, the lineup simulator suggests that adding Alonso and Alvarez will be more productive than adding Chris Davis but having a replacement level DH.
The 2015 Angels explain why this makes sense. Their offense had strong offensive players like Mike Trout, Pujols, Calhoun and Freese while guys like Giavotella and Cron weren’t terrible. However, players like Aybar, Iannetta, Joyce, Perez and Featherston were all pretty bad and brought down the quality of the offense. The Angels tried to strengthen their weaknesses by trading for Davis Murphy, Shane Victorino and David DeJesus with little success and ended up scoring 661 runs or the 20th most in the majors.
The 2015 Mariners scored fewer runs than the Angels despite receiving great production from Cruz, Gutierrez, Cano, Marte, Seager and Smith while guys like Trumbo, Miller and Jackson were adequate. Problem is that Morrison was mediocre, Ackley was bad and guys like Zunino, Sucre and Montero were terrible. They were unable to find decent options at catcher and first base and it cost them.
It is easier to find an average player rather than a star and therefore it would be easier for the Orioles to improve upon a Davis/replacement combo rather than an Alvarez/Alonso combo. The problem, as illustrated by the Angels, Mariners and the Orioles 2015 outfield woes, is that there are no guarantees that a replacement level player will provide average or at least decent production in a given year. It’s possible that the Orioles will play a replacement level player in LF and he’ll turn into 2014 Steve Pearce or that he’ll turn into 2015 Delmon Young. Arguing for the Orioles to resign Davis means that one needs to think that DD will be able to find a few above-average replacement level players.
An Orioles’ team that does resign Davis will be in the same position as the 2015 Angels or Mariners because such a signing will eat up much of their cap room while only addressing one weakness. If a player like Walker and Mancini can hit for league average and Davis has a strong offensive season, then DD would look like a genius. If not, it could be a long season because elite hitters can only do so much.