27 April 2016

Bottom Of O's Lineup Not Pulling Its Weight

The Orioles' offense this year has primarily been carried by three middle-of-the-order bats: Manny Machado (200 wRC+), Mark Trumbo (192 wRC+), and Chris Davis (142 wRC+). Besides success in limited at-bats by Nolan Reimold and Hyun Soo Kim, the rest of the lineup has been around average -- J.J. Hardy (103 wRC+), Joey Rickard (90 wRC+) -- or significantly below.

First, with Hardy, remember that his two home runs near Pesky Pole in Fenway Park are bumping up his numbers. Of course they count, but they are also the only two homers he's hit this season. Still, after his disastrous offensive campaign in 2015, anything close to average production would be a significant improvement.

Let's also have a chat about Rickard. He got off to a scalding start, with an endless array of grounders, bloops, and flares dropping in for hits. But his batting average on balls in play has come back down to earth, he's not drawing walks or hitting the ball hard, and he's striking out as much as Adam Jones. Rickard also hinted that opposing pitchers are being more forceful in attacking him. He's done a pretty good job in terms of pitches seen per plate appearance, but it's much more important to actually get on base.

Of course, you'd take a 90 wRC+ from Rickard, a fourth outfielder type, if he were a plus defensive outfielder. That was the notion passed along from beat reporters during the spring, and I don't think it's out of the question for him to be above average defensively or at worst average, at least in left field. But he's had his missteps, doesn't always look fluid, and early on has rated poorly by both UZR and DRS metrics -- the latter of which has placed him below replacement level on both FanGraphs (-0.4 fWAR) and Baseball-Reference (-0.5 bWAR).

Jones, who still seems to be dealing with a rib-cage injury, has certainly struggled as well (64 wRC+), but so has nearly every other regular who bats sixth and below: Matt Wieters (81 wRC+), Jonathan Schoop (70 wRC+), and Pedro Alvarez (61 wRC+). With Schoop, you can at least point to a low BABIP (.204) for hope for a quick turnaround. He's also been above the league average when it comes to hitting the ball hard. But, obviously, plate discipline will continue to be a concern for him.

Wieters is playing for his next contract, but he's looking the same as always at the plate: above average for a catcher, but not much more than that. The main positive is that he appears to be healthy, and he could pick things up as the season goes along. But you should know what Wieters is at this point, and he's not a star.

Alvarez has picked things up as of late, and he has walked a ton (15.7 BB%). Alvarez has yet to hit his first home run for the Orioles, which is somewhat surprising, because even Rickard has one. Kim, Caleb Joseph, and Ryan Flaherty are also homer-less so far.

In terms of bottom-of-the-order upside in the next few weeks or months, it's probably with him and Schoop. Now would also be a good time to remove Rickard from the leadoff spot and stop playing him every day. It was smart to ride that wave for a while, and if he starts hitting again, he could always move back to that role. A lineup isn't set in stone, and there's nothing wrong with batting Rickard ninth for a while. The Orioles really don't have a good leadoff hitter type for that spot, and maybe ensuring that Machado, Davis, and Trumbo bat as much as possible is the way to go. The second spot is ideal for Machado, but not at the cost of batting a below average hitter first.

Like many fans, I'd like to see more of Kim. Reimold has also made a case for more playing time, but considering his injury history, I think it's smart to spread out his at-bats. Maybe they're being spread out too far. You can also argue that either Kim or Reimold should be playing more than Rickard. Reimold is far from a defensive wizard, and gauging from limited action Kim is clearly not that kind of player either, but the early thought that Rickard was far enough superior defensively to make up for OK plate production doesn't seem to be the case. Trumbo should play right field against right-handed pitchers and DH against lefties (which he basically is), but more outfield at-bats should be up for grabs.


GRob78 said...

Good post. I agree with a lot of. As for Rickard, they probably should moving more to the platooning with Kim and let them both get settled into a MLB level of play. I like Rickard in the lead off spot because Manny is a more natural #2 hitter with Jones after him and Davis in clean up. I just wish Adam Jones wouldn't swing at everything. Hopefully the current power outage is more a symptom of running into great pitching than a long term issue.

Roger said...

Timely article considering the bottom of the order has won two games in a row now.