A column regurgitating our thoughts sounded quite boring, but we were inundated with requests to put this all into words and try to gain a corrected view as to where the Orioles are and where they are going or maybe even what would have been. Avid followers of the media have heard the official line of Adam Jones, which can be paraphrased as it is all good, no harm no foul, and now we have money available to address needs that become more apparent mid-season. That should resound a bit as last year Tommy Hunter was almost assuredly jettisoned in order for payroll to appear for Gerardo Parra.
I also asked a couple of folks in the industry: one an analyst and the other a pro scout. What is transcribed is more or less my memory of those chats (I will correct if they tell me if my memory is poor):
JS: What is your take on the Fowler to Cubs news?
Analyst: Surprising, very surprising. The Cubs were up there running laps with their talent and somehow they get him at half the QO price. Demoralizing a bit. It also must stink for those in the Orioles front office.
JS: Specifically, what?
A: He was a guy they wanted. They were not getting much, if any, discount on him. They were going to give up a draft pick. As much as you can for a guy like that, they had internally come to terms with the cost and appeared eager to get him. When you lose out on that at the end of the year when nothing else is out there, it hurts. I imagine they are pinging agents and general managers, but they have little to give.
JS: Where do you think the Orioles are now without Fowler?Those are only two voices, but they fall in line with my general thoughts on the matter. I also decided to gin up some batting lineup modeling that takes into account batting and baserunning. These are not perfect models, but it suggests how certain players may affect the production of the lineup.
Pro Scout: Where were they before?
JS: You think he would not have helped the team?
PS: Listen, he is a good player. A guy who can put up fringe first division numbers is a good player. A role player. You do not set your watch to him. He complements the rest of the squad. If he is making or breaking your season, then you probably do not understand who Fowler is. With the Orioles, he has a skill set that would make a number of things easier. He fits the lineup well and he can provide some backup help in center if anything happens to Jones. With the Cubs, he is a 0-20 away from becoming a fourth outfielder. They have depth and they meant more to them than a comp pick. My guess is they are taking the three month look at this and will have outfielders to deal to fill in any holes in June. This is the kind of guy who is around at the end of the year. QOs do not impact meaningful players.
JS: Why did he turn down the Orioles money?
PS: I don't know. Some guys want flexibility. His family supposedly liked it in Chicago and he had a better experience there than some of the other places he had been. He obviously was not excited to come to Baltimore and do you really want a guy on a three year deal coming into the clubhouse whose heart you have to win over. I am not saying chemistry is everything, but it is not nothing.
Here is a handful of players I thought up and plugged into the model:
The above obviously does not take into account fielding prowess of any of the players. The Baseline is defensively worth about -10 runs, which would be the same as the David Murphy, Pedro Alvarez, David Freese, and Matt Kemp options. At -5, Dexter Fowler, Jay Bruce, and Nick Markakis. Austin Jackson and Oswaldo Arcia fall in either at league average or +5. Marcel Ozuna is either at +5 or +10. Anyway, that is the rough way to look at it through this one data science way of looking at it.
xRuns Change Baseline 747 Dexter Fowler 760 13 Austin Jackson 747 0 David Murphy 749 2 Pedro Alvarez 754 7 David Freese 754 7 Jay Bruce 749 2 Matt Kemp 759 12 Nick Markakis 759 12 Oswaldo Arcia 758 11 Marcel Ozuna 756 9
If you want to look at it from a win perspective, about 9 runs is the value of an added win.
In conclusion, the loss of 13 to 18 runs is obviously not good, but the larger question of how good a team the Orioles are is a bit more open ended. Analytics range on this from a distant fifth (thanks, PECOTA) to perhaps a mid AL East table team (hi there, ZiPS). For a team like that, 13 to 18 runs is not all that meaningful because so many other things needs to go right for the club to make that jump up into the next realm. Those things going right include Chris Davis maintaining performance, Jonathan Schoop taking another step, J.J. Hardy actually having two working arms, and the rotation not repeating last year. It is a steep order, but one that might well happen.
This brings up back to Adam Jones and the value of having money left to spend mid-season. So many of those things have to go right, that we should assume that some will go wrong. Having money mid-season means that under that more restrictive market, you still have the financial wherewithal to fill an actual need as opposed to a projected need (which is what signing Dexter Fowler resolved, a projected need). That might well be the best way to go about it. We shall see.