30 October 2012

Mark Reynolds: Release, Arbitration, or Use the Option

I think I have it right here...the Orioles must decide whether or not to use Mark Reynolds' 11MM option for 2013 by close of business on Halloween.  If they choose not to bring him back for 11MM, then they can not select the option for 500k.  Here is a visualized set of possible events:

In trying to figure out how useful Mark Reynolds is as a first baseman and what that price might be.  Here is adjusted production over 150 games for all team in MLB (via Fangraphs).

Now, the graph above has its problems.  For example, the Orioles' performance is a weighted mix of Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis' total production, but I do think the above graph is a useful rough estimate of worth.  The green bars are what I would consider to be first division production.  The red bars are what I would think is lower tier production.  A key thing to understand is that if you are planning for a team to be a playoff contender than you want your players to be at least in that middle tier and you will need several on the team to be in that first division range.  This is not a hard fast rule.  The Rangers and Braves had third tier production from first.  The Tigers, Reds, Yankees, Nationals, Athletics, and Cardinals all had first division production.

Two concerns with Mark Reynolds is how well will he hit and how well will he field at first.  This gives us the following table (on left hand side wRC+ and defense across the top):

-10 -5 Average 5 10
120 1.5 2 2.5 3 3.5
110 0.7 1.2 1.7 2.2 2.7
100 0 0.5 1 1.5 2
90 -0.8 -0.3 0.2 0.7 1.2
80 -1.6 -1.1 -0.6 -0.1 0.4

For offensive production, wRC+ for a first basemen needs to be at least 110 for adequate production from first base.  That is not elite performance, but it a level of performance that you would at least feel comfortable having at first.  Last year Reynolds had a 108 wRC+ mark.  Over his career, he had put up 109, 97, 127, 96, 117, and 108.  Those years range from poor production (96 wRC+) to very good production (127 wRC+).

Where Reynolds' offense may not be incredibly dependable or, perhaps, even sufficient for first, his defense would need to pick up.  As we have discussed in our podcasts and in an article or two, Reynolds has developed this narrative where he has risen like a great phoenix from the ashes of third base to become a gold glove first baseman.  This call has come from television announcers as well as at level one former GM in Dan Evans.  BIS mentioned that Reynolds led the league in Good Fielding Plays, which are plays that are assumed to plays where the typical 1B would not be expected to make them.  Good or great glove play would be excellent for his value because it would enable him to produce near his worse season long production and still be considered a threshold quality first division first baseman.

However, I have some concerns with Reynolds' play at first.  Before I looked at his statistics at first, I was taking in the wondrous time of Orioles playoff baseball.  During that time, I would laugh whenever anyone said anything glowing about Reynolds' first base play.  It was not just me.  Actual scouts (I cannot say all scouts, I know awfully few) saw the same thing.  It seemed so readily apparent to me.  Great hands, nothing else.

Let us take a step back.  What made Reynolds fail at third base?  The most apparent thing he failed at was his arm.  His is plenty strong, but his accuracy was awful.  What hurt him often with his arm, and really any hit ball, is that he has horrible reaction time.  What he benefits from are excellent hands.  This would and has played well at first base.  He dives and falls and keeps his glove on the ball.  It looks Sportscenter good, but when you compare him to a truly elite defensive first baseman like Mark Teixeira...you truly see how slow Reynolds' first step is.  I see a first baseman who is below average.  Not awful, but clearly below average.

Looking at stats other than the aforementioned Good Fielding Plays, they seem to match that last sentence.  With the Defensive Runs Saved Model, it converts runs saved from Good Fieldng Plays to 4 runs saved.  Its Plus/Minus system (looks at both range and errors), has him at -6.  Add them together and you have a first baseman who cost you two runs over the course of his 957 innings at first.  Over a full season at first base, you are looking at maybe three runs.  It is a small sample size and it maybe not properly view any growth in competence at first, but this is what one would call a below average first baseman.  UZR pretty much agrees with a -3.8 runs for range, 0 runs for errors, and 0.6 runs saved for turning doubles plays.  UZR puts Reynolds at -3.2 runs for last year and -5.9 if you extrapolate that over a full season.

So this takes us back to the box above.  For Reynolds to be useful as a first baseman with below average defense, he needs to hit on par with his first season with the Orioles (his second best season ever).  Anything less than that would put him more in a stop gap roll until you, hopefully quickly, find someone else to play first base.

A basic estimate this year is that on the free agent market, a win will be worth about 5 MM.  It is a no brainer to opt out of Reynolds' contract and go to arbitration.  That saves 1.5 MM.  Is Reynolds worth 9 MM?  That would have him as a 1.8 WAR player.  I have him more as a 1.2 WAR or 6MM player.  I would expect him to earn roughly 8-10 MM on the free agent market because it seems that some really believe in his defensive abilities.

What would I do?  I would let him go and ride with the following platoon:

SP Player Games Offense Defense WAR
RHP Wilson Betemit 118 133 wRC+ Awful 1.8
LHP Chris Davis 44 112 wRC+ Poor 0.3


This setup saves the team roughly 9 MM to be spent in other areas.  Against right handed starters, there will be issues later in games as Betemit could walk up to the plate armed with a soup ladle against a southpaw reliever and do just as well as he does with a bat.  This would need to be resolved with a bench bat that could play first and handle lefty relievers.  Nolan Reimold would fit that role incredibly well.

Using the Reynolds money and a few thousand more Benjamins, the team may be able to sign a legitimate left fielder in the mold of Nick Swisher, Melky Cabrera, or Angel Pagan.


The Oriole Way said...

Are you saying DH Davis against righties? Wouldn't it make more sense to put his "poor" defense out there rather than Betemit's "awful"?

Jon Shepherd said...

Correct, if both Betemit and Davis are in the lineup then it makes most sense to pencil in the guy with worse defense as a DH.

kgwill said...

Was planning on arguing for offering Reynolds arbitration and playing Davis/Ford platoon in left and Betemit/Reimold at DH, but I like your scenario also. That assumes the team can sign one of those three in LF, with arbitration you know you have Reynolds.
Maybe you've written on it before but I'm curious what your thoughts on Cabrera's value are compared to the other two, two outstanding seasons on top of a few mediocre seasons plus the PED issue.

Chris in Hawaii said...

My issue with having a Davis/Betemit platoon at 1B is both of those guys have awful hands. While there may be not much drop off defensively from balls hit to 1B, I wonder if there may be a big difference (especially with Betemit) as far as thowing errors from other infielders. Those good hands of Reynolds allow him to do a pretty decent job of scooping the ball (as well as the Reynolds flop, where he'll fall down, toe on the bag to grab a throw). With Betemit or Davis there, I wonder how many balls Reynolds would grab are gonna skip past them.

I wouldn't be opposed to getting an overall quality D, steady non-exceptional bat (Keppenger?) at 1B over Reynolds (as it would probably be cheaper), but I would dread seeing Betemit out there at all (and I'd cringe with Davis).

If I were the O's, I'd try to work out a 3 year $18m-$20m deal with Reynolds after declining the option and offering arbitration.

Anonymous said...

One thing I've noticed about the arguments for saving money on behalf of the team you support is, NOBODY KNOWS how much money these teams profit, and what their appropriate spending levels are to continue profiting at whatever amount of money they want to profit.

Chris in Hawaii said...


Saying Player X only deserves Y amount of money is not about saving the team money, but rather being smart when it comes to assessing market value. Also, your actions paying Player X will go towards determining what Player Z will earn on the market in the future. You may not be able to afford Player Z's production if you overpay for the lesser production of Player X.

Also, whether we know the amount the team desires as profit or not, there is a finite amount they will be willing to spend. Paying Player X less money means there will be more money left over for a number of things, including Player Z.

Jon Shepherd said...

kgwill - It is in the latest podcast, give it a spin.

Chris - I am trying to project that with the defensive assessment, so in the WAR above...it is included (it certainly is a rough estimate).

Anon - Owner's profit really doesn't matter too much to the discussion. We can imagine the payroll to be roughly what it was last season, so it gives us an idea what sort of room Duquette has for maneuvering. We can sit here and declare that the Orioles should be a 140MM roster, but that has not happened yet...so, I find that to be not likely to be a useful discussion to have.

Liam said...

Wait a minute. How do we figure a 1.8 WAR for Betemit in 118 games? He hasn't been worth a whole win since 2005, and even then he was just 1.4. Moreover, he's on the wrong side of 30 and coming off wrist problems, which we know can be bad news for hitters. Do the rules of injury and age apply to Nate McLouth but not Wilson Betemit? You're predicting someone who's been in the majors for 10 years to finally break out in his 11th year?

Its just not realistic to say "oh well look as his splits, if he only hits righties he's a superstar!" Over the course of the season injuries will happen and other situations will present themselves, forcing him to hit lefty pitchers. Buck tried to use him as a platoon this year and he still wound up with close to 100 PA's against lefties. His defense is an absolute horror show.

Betemit is solid depth but not a guy who's going to start 118 games and produce close to 2 wins. My main problem with letting Reynolds walk is that we don't have anyone to replace him. If Davis could reproduce his 2012 numbers and play solid D (as he was supposed to when we got him). I'd be happy letting Reynolds go after 2013.

Jon Shepherd said...

Liam...I may not have explained myself well in the article above. The point here, as well as the point in the McLouth piece, is to ask a question: Do the Orioles already have an internal option (already paid for) that is as likely to produce a level of performance that Reynolds or McLouth could perform?

As I tried to convey in this article, what the team is dealing with is a first baseman whose bat barely is adequate for the position and whose glove is suspect. That guy will cost you 9MM. Is there a better way to deploy that money? The most conservative thing you can do is play with what you have and the Orioles have components that are just as likely to put up similar value, which is all likelihood is probably coming in around 1.5 for both. I'd prefer the free option and use that 9MM elsewhere (perhaps even getting someone who can prevent Betemit from having to face so many lefties).

Betemit's injury? It is much discussed how wrist injuries hurt power production, but way too much is made of this. Many players suffer wrist injuries and have just as much power within six months of surgery as they did before the injury. And again, the point is that Betemit is already on the team. No new money has to be committed to him.

To me, the most reasonable thing to do is to get an extra 9MM to deal with more serious issues with the team. First base simply is not the worst hole on the team.

Liam said...

"Do the Orioles already have an internal option (already paid for) that is as likely to produce a level of performance that Reynolds or McLouth could perform?"

The answer to that is no. A full season of Betemit, Davis and some Nick Johnson type would yield significantly lower production from the DH/1B spot. To replace Reynolds' production after injuries and unexpected struggles have occurred would require us to sign another 1B/DH. Swisher, Napoli and Laroache would be slight upgrades, but would probably cost more and demand long-term deals. All three of Reynolds, Betemit and Davis played close to a full season last year so if we remove one we have to account for the loss of basically a full time player.

Jon Shepherd said...

So Liam...based on my assessment and talking to scouts, Reynolds needs to have somewhere between his best and second best seasons at the plate to be considered a threshold first division 1B.

In all likelihood, the Orioles would be paying 9MM for a 1-1.5 WAR player. That simply is a poor use of payroll in my estimation.

Maybe you think he has an elite glove. That would hide some of the deficiencies of his bat playing at first.

Liam said...

I just have a hard time seeing how we could use that money to improve other areas by more than the DH/1B situation would suffer, which I believe it would substantially. Second base there's not much on the market. Left field we've got some young cheap talent that could light it up if given the chance, plus maybe McLouth depending how much he wants. $9 mil might be enough to re-sign Joe Saunders and a 4th outfielder, but its not going to buy us an ace.

You've convinced me his glove is average at best but relative to our other 1B options, which is really what you have to compare it against, its pretty good. I still get flashbacks of watching Betemit play the field.

Jon Shepherd said...

OK, so Reynolds' glove is average. What do you think his bat is? His best season with the Os good? Then he is worth about 2.5 wins (that is solid). Is it an average of his career? Then he is 1.7 wins. Or is it as bad as it was last year? 1.2 wins.

At 1.2 wins, the Orioles would be paying twice the market value for Reynolds. That is equivalent to a full season of Chris Davis there.

So, you believe in Reynolds' bat?

Liam said...

I guess you could say I believe in his bat. There's no doubt he was banged up this year and struggled out of the gate. For a guy entering his age 29 season I'd expect him to at the very least match his career wRC+ and maybe surpass it. At 1.7 wins we'd be overpaying by 500k, for good clubhouse guy and sometime fan favorite.

The point I was trying to get at earlier is that the way the Orioles are constructed, it seems to me that the marginal cost of a win is greater than $5 mil. Quality depth is one of the more cost effective ways to spend money, and it appears we're just about maxed out in that department. For example, if we were to buy, say, a left fielder, we would have to look at it in terms up wins above what we have, which is not replacement level but at least on win above replacement level.

Jeremy Strain said...

Don't mean to change the subject, but on the thought of Davis in LF, that thought frightens me. He's pretty lost in the OF, and was a trooper to do it here and there when we needed it, but if you're counting on him even half a season I think it's going to cost some runs.

He plays everything safe because he takes terrible routes, letting balls drop that avg. OF would get to. His arm is strong, no doubt there, but his range, and his instincts are pretty awful in the OF.

Jon Shepherd said...

Yes, we discussed this in the podcast at least. Ceiling is a prime Luke Scott range...bad range, but good self awareness of that bad range which makes it serviceable.

Camden said...

Maybe we can get Youk for a year at 8 million. Also provide option at 3B if we decide to trade Hardy and move Machado to SS

Matt P said...

Why would you possibly want a Davis/Betemit platoon? Neither of those guys can hit lefties and both do well against righties.

You'd be better off calling up Pearce and hoping he's not a fluke. At least Pearce has a career .806 OPS against lefties albeit in limited time. He very well may bust but unlike Davis or Betemit he has a shot against lefties.

I think Reynolds should be expected to be slightly better than Nate McLouth while costing twice as much. If you think McLouth is a ripoff then of course Reynolds is a ripoff.

It would be interesting to see if Davis improved as a LF if he got a shot to try.

Jon Shepherd said...

The point here is to develop an internal baseline. A 1B platoon of Betemit and Davis is likely to produce what in total Reynolds would produce. It simply is not a vacuum analysis. If there was no alternative to Reynolds then the assessment might have come out differently.

Also, while Davis hits worse against lefties...he is the best the Orioles might have there unless Reimold can play first.

Remember...the question is whether the Orioles already have the production Reynolds can provide. That simply is it. From there we can move forward and figure out how to improve the team. Maybe that spare 9MM us spent here or 2B or LF or SP.

kgwill said...

Still haven't had a chance to listen to the podcast - but as far as Davis in left, my opinion based just on observations is he's probably a better defensive LF than 1B. As someone pointed out his hands are bad at 1B, he won't be able to save a lot of bad throws, but in the outfield where he'd not relying on reflex so much I think his hands are OK. I haven't seen him misplay balls he was in position for like I've seen from Reimold and even Avery. He's also a good athlete overall and capable of making diving catches.
I think with poor range and routerunning, decent hands and a plus arm he is below average right now in LF but not terrible and it's reasonable to think he would improve his routes to the ball over time. He's definitely no Aubrey Huff or Adam Dunn out there.

Matt P said...

I misunderstood what you meant by the platoon. I thought you were saying Davis would only play against left handed pitching. Instead, you meant Betemit would play against right handed pitching while Davis plays a different position. Fair enough.

I'm not disagreeing that Davis is as valuable as Reynolds at a third of the cost.

The one thing bothering me (and why it's impossible to completely eliminate the possibility of resigning Reynolds) is that I'm not sure how all of our pieces fit together.

Reimold can play LF, 1B or DH provided he's healthy. But I have no idea which the Orioles think he is. Can he stay healthy in LF? I'm a huge fan of his bat and think if he can stay healthy he's our best option at all three. I also have no idea whether he's healthy. I don't think he's a left fielder at this point in his career.

Davis can play LF, 1B or DH. He isn't good defensively but it's not like we have a gold glove winner. I have no idea where the Orioles want him. I think he's our second best option at all three.

Betemit can play 1B or DH or be on the bench. I have no idea where the Orioles want him. Do they consider him a starter? Having McLouth or Reynolds or a different FA in the starting lineup would be an upgrade (ignoring cost for now).

Avery or Hoes can play LF but neither is very good. Maybe they catch lightening in a bottle but most likely they choke. Any of the guys listed above is an upgrade although they are the best in LF defensively.

I think that even with Reimold and Davis in the starting lineup somewhere, that still leaves room for at least one of either McLouth, Reynolds or a different player in FA or trade candidate to be given a starting job. That way at least you've got Betemit on the bench and Hoes/Avery in Norfolk trying to earn their way up to the bigs. Having Reimold or Davis plus Betemit on the bench isn't a bad thing.

If that guy(s) is better than McLouth or Reynolds then go with that. Certainly it's possible to find some. Otherwise, I'd rather see McLouth or Reynolds than seeing this team pocket the money or go solely with pitching and going with Avery, Adams, Mahoney and/or Hoes.

Anonymous said...

How do you figure Reynolds' estimated arbitration value? It doesn't seem to me that he should be worth any more than the 7.5 million he earned in 2012.

Davis had better defensive metrics than Reynolds at first base in 2012(according to fangraphs.com), so I think the Orioles could go with Davis as a full time 1B. The metrics though, I believe, do not measure ability to scoop or dive for errant throws while keeping a toe on the bag.

Reynolds has made so many spectacular plays that I would miss him sorely if he did not return. Plus a player in his last year before free agency usually exceeds his average production.

That said, a healthy Reimold at DH combined with a McLouth, or other outfield signing, could force Chris Davis to 1B which in turn could force a 7+ million dollar player in Reynolds to the bench. However unlikely that scenario is, it's a risk the ownership must be willing to take. I say it's worth the risk since competition for playing time usually brings out the best in everyone.

Betemit does hit righties well enough to DH against them if needed, and he could occasionally fill in as a back-up at 1B, but I view him primarily as a pinch hitter.

Jon Shepherd said...

Arbitration values come from the guys over at MLBTR whose model was impressively accurate for almost all of the players that went to the hearing.

Last I looked...as a population players typically exceed average career value slightly, but much of that can be explained by aging/peak.