22 January 2018

For The Orioles, Has Corner Outfield Been A Wasteland?

The most-viewed article in the history of Camden Depot is simply titled, "How to Solve the Orioles' Corner Outfield Problem." It was a May 2015 post by Matt Perez that discussed the lack of outfield options in the O's farm system, and Matt suggested trading for Shane Victorino. Somehow, whether it's the SEO-friendly headline, some error in pageview counting, or a combination of things, that post has been viewed more than four times as much as the next-closest post on this site.

The Orioles never traded for Victorino and 2015 ended up being his final season in the major leagues, but they are still dealing with corner outfield issues. After the 2014 season, the Orioles decided to move on from Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. I was fine with both decisions, though obviously the move not to bring back Cruz looks worse now. Somehow, Cruz has been even better than his rebound season in Baltimore, and his four-year, $57 million deal with the Mariners looks like a bargain. Maybe you wanted him back; maybe you didn't. His career turnaround his still been stunning, and no other team was willing to top that Seattle offer.

The same can't be said for Markakis's time with the Braves. He has maintained solid on-base numbers the last few years, but he still has very little power. Markakis has posted a wRC+ of 106, 98, and 95 in the last three seasons, respectively, and his fWAR has fallen each year as well, from 1.5 to 1.1 to 0.9. Considering his four-year, $44 million contract, Markakis may have helped the O's marginally, but that's it.

We don't need to rehash everything the O's have done to try and get production out of the corner outfield spots. From 2015-2017, O's right fielders have accumulated 5.5 fWAR (17th in MLB). In left field, things have been much worse: -1.8 fWAR (29th).

If you're curious, here are all the ranks for the Orioles in that span:

C: 7.7 fWAR (8th)
1B: 8.4 (7th)
2B: 6.5 (17th)
SS: 4.8 (21st)
3B: 14.4 (7th)
LF: -1.8 (29th)
CF: 5.7 (23rd)
RF: 5.5 (t-17th)
DH: 0.2 (t-13th)
SP: 40.5 (27th)
RP: 22.6 (5th)

A couple of things jump out. First, it's not surprising at all to see the starting pitching rank so poorly. Second, the center field production seems low. Adam Jones has posted a combined fWAR of 7.0 in those seasons as he's received far and away the bulk of playing time. In that period, Jones has 1,875 plate appearances when playing center field; the next closest player is Joey Rickard, with 67.

Of the 10 other center fielders who have seen time the last few years, only two have positive fWARs: Nolan Reimold (0.4) and Joey Rickard (0.1). The O's have really needed it, but they have never really had a competent backup for Jones in center field. That's one reason why the brief playing time given to Junior Lake (-0.2), Austin Hays (-0.4), David Lough (-0.5), and Gerardo Parra (-0.6) is weighing that number down a bit.

Back to the corner outfield discussion. In right field, the main contributor has been Mark Trumbo - or, to be clear, Trumbo in 2016. That year, he was a revelation (offensively). In 2017, he quickly came back to earth. Trumbo's outfield defense will always be a concern, but he has a 135 wRC+ when playing right field for the O's. When slotting in at DH, it drops to 81.

While the O's have made things respectable in right field, the same can't be said for left field. The last three years, they've used 21 different players out there. The best fWAR of the group goes to Trey Mancini, at 0.4. Thirteen of the 21 have posted a negative fWAR. Three others posted an fWAR of 0.

Maybe that's a little confusing, because Hyun Soo Kim posted a 120 wRC+ overall in 2016 and Mancini put up a 117 wRC+ overall in 2017. But when playing left field, Kim's wRC+ was 100 and Mancini's was 101. Kim's infrequent playing time and poor hitting in 2017 dropped his wRC+ significantly, while Mancini has a 157 wRC+ at first base (157 PAs) and a 148 wRC+ at DH (87 PAs). Most of Mancini's best work has come when he isn't playing in the outfield. Plus, while each looked OK at times, neither would be confused for a good defensive outfielder. Mancini seems to be an average defender, at best, while Kim was less so. Still, that Mancini is recognized as average (or close to it) shows improvement on his part.

During the season, I didn't notice that Mancini's best offensive production came at first base and DH. Because it's a small sample of plate appearances, maybe it means nothing. But since Chris Davis is locked in at first base and Trumbo is slated to get the bulk of the at-bats at DH, Mancini is scheduled to be the team's opening day starter in left field. The hope is that Mancini's overall offensive production carries over, and that he'll hit no matter where he plays without doing much harm with his glove. He's really only an outfielder due to the O's roster construction, and it would be more suitable to have him split time at first base and DH while the O's put a better outfielder in left. But unless Trumbo is traded, that's not an option.

With Austin Hays waiting in the wings, there's certainly promise in the O's system for help in right field. But the O's could clearly use more (especially defensively) given that there's no guarantee Hays is ready for a full-time role now. Hays has upside but is unproven, Trumbo will surely still see time in right field, and then behind them there's Jaycob Brugman, Joey Rickard, and Anthony Santander (who needs to spend 44 days on the active roster to fulfill his Rule 5 requirement). There's also Cedric Mullins, who could find himself in Baltimore before the season ends.

The O's current (though maybe misguided) plan is to compete in 2018, and if so, they must do better than relying on Brugman and Rickard. They maybe shouldn't even be relying on Mancini as a full-time outfielder. Brugman and Rickard are fine depth pieces, but more experienced players like Carlos Gomez, Jon Jay, Carlos Gonzalez, Jarrod Dyson, Cameron Maybin, and Melky Cabrera are still out there. Curtis Granderson would have made sense as a low-risk addition, but he just signed with the Blue Jays for $5 million. I'd prefer Dyson or Jay, but almost any of them would be preferable to relying on Rickard again. (Sorry, Rickard fans.)


Anonymous said...

I've been riding the Dyson bus, but I looked at Carlos Gomez's stats yesterday and he might be a better answer. Of course, Dyson may be cheaper. Either would be OK for me and would fit the mold of the blueprints we all designed earlier in the offseason. And, of course, we still need 2-3 SPs. I'm still on the Cobb/Lynn, Garcia, and Tillman bus. Most of the options are still out there.

O's Brose said...

Dyson is a way better defender and will probably steal 25 bases and bats from the left side. He's the better fit

Unknown said...

Yes, just not a teenage one.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

New site rule going forward: If you post a non sequitur or something that has nothing to do with the Orioles, a recent Depot article, or furthering the discussion, it's going to get deleted.