07 March 2016

wRC+ By Batting Order Slot: MLB vs. The Orioles

Spring training has begun and after an off-season filled with signings, rumored signings, re-signings rumored trades and agreements that may or may not have existed and fallen through, the Orioles lineup has begun to come into focus.  Barring a last minute signing of someone like Austin Jackson or Pedro Alvarez or a trade for the likes of Jay Bruce (one of which will inevitably happen the minute I submit this article) we can make a decent guess at the Orioles starters and how they’ll line up.  With that in mind it seems like as good a time as any to inspect that lineup and try to project how it ranks against the rest of Major League Baseball.

A couple of notes before I dive in: First, I tried to be as objective as possible in doing this evaluation.  This time of year in particular I tend to see everything through rose-colored glasses, but any ideas I have about Jonathan Schoop hitting 35 home runs or Manny Machado winning an MVP award aren’t particularly useful from an analytical point of view as I’m neither a professional scout nor an expert in statistical analysis.  So for this piece I’ll be dealing with only commonly available projections, specifically ZiPS and Steamer.  And to keep everything as simple as possible, I’ll just be looking at wRC+, an explanation of which can be found here. If you are unfamiliar, wRC+ is a stat that measures a player’s total offensive value, with 100 being league average.

Finally, this is my best guess at what the Orioles most frequent lineup will look like (and not necessarily what I think it should be).  Obviously, the Orioles will like use many lineup variations over the course of the year, but this seems like the best place to start. With that in mind, let’s dig in.

Batting First:
75th percentile: 115              50% 101                25%: 92
Orioles 2015: 122 (5th of 30)
Manny Machado (Projected wRC+: 129)

Machado held down this lineup slot for almost all of 2015, registering 496 PA from the top of the lineup, supplemented by a scattering of appearances from Nolan Reimold (86 PA), Alejandro De Aza (68) and a scattering of others.  Though is future might well be as a middle-of-the-order hitter, Machado will likely return to the lead-off spot this year and it’s actually a hat he wears pretty well; in 2016 he was 2nd on the team in OBP,  1st in steals and 2nd in extra base hits.  His 2016 projection of 129 wRC+ is more than solid for a lead-off hitter and (before accounting for at-bats accrued by others) would give the Orioles the best wRC+ for the lead-off spot. 

Batting Second:
75%: 120              50%: 105              25%: 94
Orioles 2015: 93 (24th of 30)
Hyun Soo Kim (Projected wRC+: 106)

The second spot was a big problem area for the Orioles last year. Jimmy Paredes (202 PA batting second) got off to a hot start but regressed in a huge way as the season progressed and stumbled across the finish line.  Gerardo Parra inherited the lion’s share of the at-bats after the trading deadline but he disappointed, failing to match the level of production he achieved in Milwaukee.  Overall, the Orioles #2 hitters ranked near the bottom of the league; their cumulative 93 wRC+ put them 24th of 30.  This year, I’m projecting Korean free agent acquisition Hyun-Soo Kim to get the bulk of the at-bats in the 2 hole.  Translating Korean stats to the Major Leagues is an inexact science, but projection models are fairly bullish on Kim.  He projects for 106 wRC+, which would put the Orioles right in the middle of the pack at 15th of 30. 

Batting Third
75%: 134              50%: 120              25%: 107
Orioles 2015: 120 (Tied 14th)
Adam Jones (Projected wRC+: 110)

Jones has occupied the third spot for most of his career as an Oriole and there’s every reason to assume that continues into 2016. Jones registered 111 wRC+, which is significantly below the 50th percentile among major league 3rd hitters, but the team got strong contributions from occasional #3 hitters Chris Davis and Manny Machado to finish right in the middle of the pack.  Steamer and ZIPs both think Jones holds right around his 2015 number again in 2016.  Jones isn’t an ideal #3 hitter- he’d be very strong in the 5th or 6th spot- but short of moving Machado or Chris Davis (and weakening the 1st or 4th spots) he is the Orioles best option here. 

Batting Fourth
75%: 132              50%: 111              25%: 106
Orioles 2015: 134 (6th)
Chris Davis (Projected wRC+: 134)

After a protracted contract negotiation and one-team bidding war, Chris Davis returns as the Orioles clean-up hitter and he’s a good one.  Davis was a monster last year slugging 47 home runs and scoring a wRC+ of 147 as the Orioles primary clean-up hitter.  Orioles clean-up hitters as a group scored a healthy 134, good for 6th place out of 30 major league teams.  Davis projects right at that same 134 again, a healthy but slightly regressed number for him that would again put the Orioles in the 80th percentile of the entire league.

Batting Fifth
75%: 115              50%: 100              25%: 89
Orioles 2015: 107 (11th)
Mark Trumbo (Projected wRC+:  108)

Trumbo, Matt Wieters and a sampling of others will likely occupy this spot, depending on who is hot and who is pitching, but in the name of simplicity, I’m slotting Trumbo here in the 5th spot.  Wieters was the most common #5 hitter for the team last year, but with only 191 PA and the 5-hole’s production got a healthy assist from early season Chris Davis appearances to end up at 107 wRC+, 11th best in the majors.  Trumbo projects right at that same level (108). 

Batting Sixth
75%: 102              50%: 91                 25%: 80
Orioles 2015: 76 (26th)
Matt Wieters (Projected wRC+:  94)

This is where things started to get hairy for the Orioles in 2015. The first five spots were relatively strong but the bottom half of the lineup was a catastrophe, largely due to the major holes offensive holes at DH, right field, left field, short stop and 2nd base prior to Schoop’ s return.  The 6th spot, occupied most frequently by JJ Hardy but really by no-one on a consistent basis compiled a wRC+ of 76, ranking a dismal 26th of 30 teams.   Things are looking up slightly heading in to 2016.  Matt Wieters accepted the qualifying offer to return and looks to be healthy heading into spring training. His projection of wRC+ of 94 isn’t world-beating by any stretch, but would be good enough to move the Orioles into the top half of the league and represent a significant improvement. 

Batting Seventh
75%: 101              50%: 86                 25%: 78
Orioles 2015: 66 (30th)
Jonathan Schoop (Projected wRC+:  94)

Orioles 7th hitters were there worst in the majors last year (see what I mean about the bottom of the lineup being a catastrophe?).  Like the 6th spot, this was another revolving door with JJ Hardy getting the most at-bats (his bat really was a big problem last year, more on that later).  For 2016, I’m projecting Jonathan Schoop into this lineup spot, though he could foreseeably end up hitting anywhere from 6th to 9th depending on how Buck wants to stack it up.  It’s an article of faith among many Orioles fans that Schoop is a potential all-star on the verge of a break-out campaign after he posted a very solid 112 wRC+ in 321 trips to the plate in 2015.  That very well might be the case, but so far the projection models aren’t seeing it, deterred by his K-to-BB% (an ugly 24.6-2.8) and high BABIP. Still, his average projection of 94 puts is positively Ruthian relative to last year’s #7 hitters and would put the Orioles a much improved 10th in the majors. 

Batting Eighth
75%: 91                 50%: 81                 25%: 68
Orioles 2015: 60 (26th)
JJ Hardy (Projected wRC+:  72)

Notice the trend?  The bottom of the Orioles lineup really was a sinkhole for most of last season. Hardy, Ryan Flaherty and Caleb Joseph hit from this spot a roughly equal number of times in 2015, but with their results ranging from bad to abominable.  I’m plugging Hardy in here for the purpose of this analysis.  He really should probably be the 9th hitter, regardless of who plays right field, but I think the Orioles keep him out of the 9th spot to start, out of respect for his reputation.  Hardy projects for 72 wRC+, somewhat of a dead cat bounce from the career low 49 he posted in 2015).  The Orioles are hoping for a bigger bounce back from a hopefully-healthy Hardy, but it’s very possible he’s in a similar spot to Brian Roberts a few years ago, where a series of injuries have obscured or excused a drop in performance that has just as much to do with natural aging.  Hardy’s lineup spot is safe though, as his solid glove work makes him a respectable option at SS for at least a bit longer.  His projection of 72 wRC+ would put the Orioles 20th of 30 for the 8 spot. 

Batting Ninth
75%: 74                 50%: 72                 25%: 65
Orioles 2015: 74 (Tied 4th of 14 AL Teams)
Nolan Reimold (Projected wRC+: 81) among others

The ninth spot falls to the right fielder, whoever that ends up being.  I suspect it will be a revolving door this year, at least until someone emerges as the leader of the pack at that position.  Orioles 9th place hitters actually performed reasonably well relative to the rest of the AL in 2015, led by a strong performance by Caleb Joseph from that spot.  Candidates this year include Reimold, Joey Rickard (78 Projected wRC+) and Dariel Alvarez (a surprising 93!) among a score of other internal and external candidates. 

wRC+ by Lineup Spot
2015 Orioles
2016 Player
2016 Proj.
122 – 5th
Machado – 3B
129 (1st)
93 – 24th
Kim – LF
106 (15th)
120 – Tied `14th
Jones – CF
110 (22nd)
134 – 6th
Davis – 1B
134 (6th)
107 – 11th
Trumbo – DH
108 (11th)
76 – 26th
Wieters – C
94 (15th)
66 – 30th
Schoop – 2B
94 (T-9th)
60 – 26th
Hardy – SS
72 (T-20th)
74 – 4th (of 15)
Reimold - RF
81 (4th)
*The stats for the 9th slot are relative only to American League teams

The projected Orioles lineup is very solid.  They are above the league median at 7 of 9 positions and 25th percentile or better for 3.  The current lineup compares favorably to last year’s edition, which accumulated a wRC+ of 94 (21st in the league) but over-performed that number to score 713 runs (9th best in baseball). With a decent run of health, this year’s squad should be better on the basis of more depth.  Healthier seasons from Schoop and Hardy mean less plate appearances for Ryan Flaherty (wRC+ of 71) and the additions of Trumbo and Kim hopefully add stability and competency to positions that were revolving doors of disaster in 2015. 

This is not, however, an “elite” lineup, at least as it presents according to projections.  Only Machado and Davis are particular standouts relative to their counterparts across the league.   Some of previous years problems- high strikeout rates, low on-base percentage- will likely continue to 2016 but on the bright side, so will the strengths (home runs, and lots of them).  Taken as a whole, it appears we’re looking at a better version of last year’s offense, but likely not enough improved (on its own) to take the Orioles from 81 wins to where they would like to be in competing for a division title. 


Roger said...

Good analysis. Thanks for the comparisons. Maybe the next post could be how to make this lineup better. I realize the wRC+ lines up really well this way, but I think Reimold is a candidate for a breakout season as a leadoff hitter. A Markakis-type leadoff. If he can get to wRC+ of 100 to give as an average leadoff hitter, we can move Machado to third, Davis to fifth and Trumbo to seventh (Schoop at 8th and Hardy at 9th). THEN the lineup looks much more elite even if the other predictions are used as is. I really think the O's could go this direction with either Reimold or Rickard.

Of course, that's why Fowler WAS a big deal...... not just for the wRC+ prediction but because of what he could do for the rest of the lineup positions.

Jon Shepherd said...

We ran that last Monday.

Mike Bonsiero said...

I can't make myself expect or entertain the Reimold breakout at this point, but I have liked him as a player since he debuted. If we're looking for a wild-card in the right field spot, I was surprised that Dariel Alvarez projected very similar to Austin Jackson offensively. But that might say more about Jackson than Alvarez.

Anonymous said...

Reimold is a JOKE, a one year, brittle flash in the pan, why not bring back Mark Hendrickson while we are at it, for Chrissakes, as Earl would say!

Anonymous said...

reimold must have his brothers on here!

Roger said...

I knew my Reimold suggestion would bring the trolls out. But I'm not sure that Pedro Alvarez is a better answer. Can't see right now how this lineup plays out except for Machado to lead off. Alvarez will have to bet eighth (and Hardy ninth) to make it all L-R-L-R.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

There's no way Alvarez should bat eighth against right-handed pitching.

Roger said...

It's either Wieters or Alvarez at 8th. Buck will only bat L-R-L-R. I think he will be loyal to Wieters at 6th but that is the only other way. Do you see any other option to keep Buck's normal pattern?

Anonymous said...

Alvarez is HOF worthy compared to Reimold!!!

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Could always bat Alvarez second.

Roger said...

Alvarez doesn't make enough contact to bat second. I'd rather have Wieters batting second as a switch hitter. Then you could put Alvarez at 6th and Kim at 8th.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Agree to disagree, then. I'd rather have the better hitter higher in the order.

Roger said...

Wieters is not the better hitter? Alvarez's BA and OBP suck. He must be in the lower part of the order solely for the purpose of driving

Jon Shepherd said...

Wieters is a platoon hitter. He struggles greatly against right handers. Alvarez is a platoon hitter. He excels against right handers.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

The difference is the O's will likely use Alvarez as a platoon bat. They have never used Wieters that way.