01 November 2012

What is on Second Base? The Orioles 2013 Offseason Edition

Several years ago, I came down against the Brian Roberts extension.  It was a difficult stance for me to take as the Depot is a fan of Roberts.  We have interviewed him and think quite highly of his charity to help children suffering from cancer.  However, the cruel reality of baseball decision making led us to conclude that letting Roberts walk or dealing him was preferable to signing him long term.  Our simple analysis was based on his decreasing defensive capabilities and the overwhelming historical weight of data that suggests that almost all second basemen stop being useful past the age of 32.  Further confusing us, was Andy MacPhail's offer of four years and 40 MM, which was arguably above market value.  At the time, Orlando Hudson was a free agent of roughly equal value to Brian Roberts.  He managed to secure a one year deal from the Dodgers for 3.4 MM.  The Orioles appeared to secure their second base position by vastly overpaying and overcommitting themselves to a player type that carried a high risk of completely collapsing in terms of value.

What happened?  In 2010, Roberts' first season of his extension and at the age of 32, his value disappeared.  It was more of the same in 2011 and 2012.  Issues have been related to his back and to concussions.  The historical evidence did not suggest that Roberts would go down with any specific injury, but that it was very very likely to occur.  From my perspective, second basemen get beaten up worse than almost any other position.  Every single game, second basemen (who are typically one of your smaller players on the team) has to take double play balls blindly, pivot, and hit the first baseman.  There is a good reason why second basemen are significantly more injured around the bag than shortstops.

Anyway, the point is that the Orioles have thrown away a ton of money on second and will likely continue to do so this year as well.  Below is another one of the WAR charts I have put together for first base and left field.  It uses Fangraphs numbers to convert positional value over 150 games.  I consider 150 games to be what one should consider a full season for a player.  Regardless of that assumption, it provides a decent visual to understand the spectrum.

What the above graph shows us is that second base was an incredibly weak position for the Orioles.  Robert Andino took the lion's share of the starts (96) and was helped out a little bit by Omar Quintanilla (27), Ryan Flaherty (20), Brian Roberts (17), and Steve Tolleson (2).  Whatever the Orioles tried, it did not work and not much was enticing in Norfolk (i.e., Ryan Adams, Blake Davis).  Andino rode out the year and the team succeeded despite his performance (-0.6).

Second base is actually a position of great possibility.  As we discussed earlier, the level of talent on the Orioles was closer to an 81 win team instead of a 93 win team.  Improvements are needed and, with approximately a -1.5 WAR coming from the position, second is a great place to target for improvement.

First, what options are available internally?

LHP 40g RHP 110g

Age wRC+ wRC+ Defense WAR WAR WAR
Robert Andino 29 76 63 0 0.2 -0.1 0.1
Ryan Flaherty 26 64 80 -5 -0.2 0.5 0.3
Brian Roberts 35 49 61 -10 -0.6 -1.0 -1.6
Omar Quintanilla 31 41 74 0 -0.5 0.5 0.0
Steve Tolleson 29 73 71 0 0.2 0.3 0.5
LJ Hoes 23 81 77 -10 0.1 -0.1 0.0
Jonathan Schoop 22 68 54 0 0.1 -0.6 -0.6
Ryan Adams 26 84 75 -5 0.3 0.2 0.4
Blake Davis 30 41 62 5 -0.4 0.2 -0.2
At this moment, it is clear the organization is without much value at second base for the 2013 season.  Two players with the greatest potential here are LJ Hoes and Jonathan Schoop.  Hoes never really took to second base with the glove and now profiles more as a left fielder.  The bat might currently play at second as a marginal player, but that glove will be a severe impediment.  Schoop's defense is better than Hoes, but not special by any means.  His range is limited and might become even more limited as he fills out.  Right now though, his bat is still likely a year away for second base.

It appears that any decent solution for the Orioles at second will come from outside the organization. 
Free Agency
LHP 40g RHP 110g

Age wRC+ wRC+ Defense WAR WAR WAR
Ronny Cedeno 30 65 70 5 0.1 0.6 0.8
Mike Fontenot 33 58 95 -5 -0.3 1.3 1.0
Kelly Johnson 31 89 93 -5 0.4 1.2 1.6
Jeff Keppinger 33 116 65 -10 1.0 -0.7 0.3
Freddy Sanchez 34 75 96 0 0.2 1.8 2.0
Marco Scutaro 37 86 95 -5 0.3 1.3 1.6
* - Originally, the model I used neglected that Sanchez missed the entirety of 2012 with a back injury.  I need to rerun those numbers as it would significantly drop his value.  Off the top of my head, I am thinking that he profiles more as a spring training invite sort of player.
** - The Keppinger splits were flipped.  That has now been corrected.  Sorry for all of the post-publishing edits.  I noticed that I had flipped some values and thought I had corrected them.

All six of these free agents are projected as providing better performance than any of the Orioles' internal options.  Fontenot would need to sit against southpaw starters and Keppinger would sit against right handers.  Both provide cringe inducing defense, but the offense is good enough to compensate if deployed properly.  Johnson and Scutaro project as more full timers in the field.  Some concerns about this group is the age of the players.  Free agent second basemen are often a risk because of age.  A general manager needs to think long and hard before going ahead and offering a multi-year deal.  From my perspective, I think none of them will require a multi-year deal except for Marco Scutaro whose uber-McLouth redemption with the Giants may have raised his profile for a few teams to consider as a free agent.  I would imagine something in the neighborhood of 3-8 MM for one year would be sufficient depending on how the money rolls out this off season.

Is there a cheaper model available in the non-tender candidates?
LHP 40g RHP 110g

Age wRC+ wRC+ Defense WAR WAR WAR
E. Burriss 28 5 62 0 -1.3 -0.2 -1.4
Alexi Casilla 28 91 58 0 0.5 -0.4 0.1
Brent Lillibridge 29 41 34 -10 -0.8 -2.5 -3.3
Jayson Nix 30 86 72 5 0.6 0.8 1.3
Ian Stewart 28 70 81 -10 -0.2 0.2 0.0
Luis Valbuena 27 68 76 -5 -0.1 0.2 0.2
I would say the answer is a comfortable 'no.'  Jayson Nix might be the only player worth signing to a MLB deal.  I would entertain any of them as Spring Training invites.


If I was in control of the team, I would non-tender Robert Andino and focus on the free agent class.  I would talk with Kelly Johnson, Jeff Keppinger, Freddy Sanchez, and Marco Scutaro to determine what their asking prices would be.  I would hope to secure one of them for a one year deal at less than 5 million.  Keppinger should come at an even lower cost.  I would entertain the possibility of an option year with buyout.  As a backup, rolling the dice on is Valbuena or Alexi Casilla as a spring training invite to compete with Flaherty, Schoop, and Andino (if he accepts to come back at a lower cost).  I would also give LJ Hoes one last shot to be guided by Buck's staff in playing second base.  Additionally, I suggest the same offer as I mentioned last year, which would be to ask Brian Roberts to transition into a coaching/scouting role with the team or finding a business related position in the front office.  He is a Baltimore Oriole and has been a wonderful member of the organization.  It is unfortunate what he has had to suffer over the past few years, but he seems to be a solid individual and any organization could use someone like that.


Fundamentals said...

Another option would be to move Hardy to second base, return Machado to SS and find a 3B option elsewhere (though pickings are maybe even slimmer at the hot corner).

Jon Shepherd said...

If two SS are in the lineup, why are you putting the one with better defense at 2B?

Matt P said...

"If two SS are in the lineup, why are you putting the one with better defense at 2B?"

People think that since Hardy is such a good defender that he for certain can play second base. However, they're not sure Machado is able to do so but they do think he can play shortstop. Therefore, they want to put Machado at SS and Hardy at 2B because they think that will work.

Also, Hardy is getting old while Machado is the future. If second baseman get injured more frequently than shortstops, then it makes sense to put Hardy in the position where he'll be more likely to get hurt while putting Machado in the situation where he'll be more likely to stay healthy.

Not to mention that fans want the Os to increase Machado's value by putting him at shortstop because if he starts there now, he may stay there for the next fifteen years.

As for Andino, we don't need to offer him a contract until Nov 30. Free Agency starts this weekend. There's no reason why we can't both focus on the free agent class and work on resigning Andino if we strike out. If Keppinger or Johnson is willing to sign a reasonable deal to come here then that's good and you can non-tender Andino. Otherwise, it makes sense to offer Andino arbitration while getting Flaherty and Schoop ready for the bigs. I don't think the Os think Hoes can play at second base.

Jon Shepherd said...

People are right to doubt Machado being able to play well defensively at second. People should also consider the same with Hardy. They are both the kind of players whose skills lead them to third before second. If they are your double play combo...then I think whatever plans A, B, and C were...none of them worked out.

Point I am trying to make is that a strength is being turned into potentially a weaker lineup. Of course, that depends on who is acquired for third base a sopposed to what is out there to be had for second base.

So, to be clear, I do not see either Hardy or Machado ever playing second base until they become old utility players where they may have to fill in at second in a pinch.

I would also say that putting Machado at short now versus putting him there in a year or two will likely not have a great effect on his future defense. If the plan is to put him there, there are ways to keep himself fresh. Yes, there will be a transition period when he does shift, but it is not like he turns into someone else if he is left at third.

Re: Andino...sure. Any arbitration level player should have their decision held off until what is figured out in free agency depending on how quickly things move. Often the market does not really jump until arbitration decisions are made. The new compensation rules may change all of that now, I don't know. But, yeah, where you have time, you have time. No need to rush decisions.

I agree that Hoes is almost certainly never going to work out at second. He would have to really develop that bat to offset his defense. Schoop? I think he is maybe ready by the end of summer. I doubt any earlier. Flaherty? He is not a major leaguer in my opinion.

Liam said...

Moving Machado and Hardy over one stop to the right would hurt our defense at short, massively hurt it at third, and may not even help it that much at second. How many teams are even considering moving a gold glove winner out of his natural position? More importantly, the hole that opens up at third would be a disaster. Did everybody forget how bad it was before Machado got here? What would we do, drag Tejada back to spring training for his 6th stint with the team?

I think Jon's solution is the only reasonable way to look at this. We sign a FA for one year and wait on someone to develop. I like Flaharty and I think DD does too, and with steady time at AAA he might figure it out. Schoop should be ready for 2014 at the latest, and Ty Kelly is kind of a darkhorse candidate as well.

We can improve 3 wins at second simply by figuring out a 1.5 WAR solution there. A 3 win bump at any other position would cost in the tens of millions and require a long-term deal, so spending some money at second base would be an excellent investment. The market options aren't great, but they aren't expensive either.

Jon Shepherd said...

Last year, I suggested that the Orioles should sign Jamey Carroll to a 2 year deal for three or four million a year. The Twins nabbed him and the majority of the press thought it was an awful move.

He had a 3.2 rWAR last year for the Twins. Even if you back off his dWAR component...he is still a 2 WAR player. Solid move.

I wish we would have done it. I think one or two year cheap deals on veteran 2B can be a savvy move if you are using the right tea leaves.

Liam said...

So what specific FA would you go after for 2013? BR lists Fontenot as under team control for one more year, and I think Scutero is about to get handsomely overpaid. Sanchez will be 35 and has been out of baseball for a year (sound like someone we know?).

Kelly and Johnson seem to be the clear favorites, and would provide huge upgrades over our current situation. I think a pretty decent case could be made for either of them.

Jon Shepherd said...

I have Fontenot as a free agent. Did he get on a 40 man after being DFA'd from the Phillies?

Oh wow...Sanchez didn't play last year, did he? I should have looked at that more closely. The model has some pretty simple assumptions and neglected that he missed all of 2012 with a back injury (it read 2011 as 2012).

I would target Jeff Keppinger and Kelly Johnson for a one year deal. Fontenot is a possibility and might even be able to be had for the minimum.

Matt P said...

"I think Jon's solution is the only reasonable way to look at this. We sign a FA for one year and wait on someone to develop."

Why are you so certain we'll be able to get that FA for a year?

My understanding is that despite Roberts' injury problems, he's already been promised the starting role presuming health. If a guy like Kippinger gets an offer from us and the Blue Jays, do you think he'll choose the option where he may be the backup or the one where he'll be the certain starter? Why wouldn't he go with the Blue Jays? Sure, Roberts will probably be hurt, but why take the chance?

Fontenot will be interested but will the Os be interested in him as a starter? Can he get a major league deal? As long as Fontenot can't play against lefties, then you'll need someone else in any event. I'm not sure signing him means that you should non-tender Andino.

Jon Shepherd said...

I have not heard Roberts being promised anything. Furthermore, I would find it to be an awful baseball decision to promise a starting role to someone who really hasn't played much ball in the past three years.

If the team is preparing for Roberts at second...it is being held hostage by the situation.

The chances he can provide this team any value are next to nothing.

Liam said...

I think its pretty obvious to everyone other than perhaps Roberts that his playing career is over. Sad but probably true.

Part of what I argued in the Reynolds post was that we should be paying for wins above what we have, not the universal wins above replacement. Upgrading at 2B from -1.5 to +1.5 wins would be a 3 win upgrade, a shift that would be virtually impossible at any other position. If I were the Orioles I would happily overpay Johnson or Keppinger. In addition to being overpaid, they would get to play for a contender and a very popular manger. It may be a little awkward hiring a clear starter with Roberts still "starting," but that line of thinking has screwed us over pretty badly the past two years.

Camden said...

How can you project Keppinger to have WRC+ of 65 against lefties. He has a OPS of 0.923 against lefties this year, and has always hit better against lefties. Is it just a typo? I sure hope so

Jon Shepherd said...

Ha. Wow, I need to edit these things. Yeah, Keppinger numbers need to be flipped.

1.0 WAR against lefties and -0.3 for righties.

0.7 total.

Matt P said...

It's not obvious to everyone that his career is over as Britt Ghiroli reported that the Os expect Roberts to be healthy for Spring Training. This implies that the Orioles and Roberts both think he can still play because they think he'll be healthy enough for Spring Training to be relevant. Everyone else may understand his playing days are over but those are the only two relevant parties.

It is a stretch to state that Roberts is promised the starting job based on that but I find it highly likely. They're not going to save a roster spot for an injury prone player if they think he's only going to be a backup at most and that he's unable to provide any value. I could be wrong but I like my chances.

I guess I'm just overly cautious.

Jon Shepherd said...

It probably is a rather delicate situation. I have a hard time taking those words at face value.

Anonymous said...

Wow! What a list. I'm pulling my 2B glove out of closet!
INTERNAL: None of guys that played this year are the answer for a winning team. Hoes/Schoop never be more than barely avg.
Free Ag/Non-Tend---No Thanks
How about trading some combination of prospects and pitching (Saunders, Wolf, Hunter--retreads; Britton, Arrieta, Patton, Ayala) to a team who needs everything like the Cubs for a young defensive star like Barney? Other possible upgrades thru trade: Ellis, Kipnis,(another team that needs everything), Uggla. Think Arron Hill probably untouchable. This is the one position where O's need to aggresively take a shot. Tom C

Matt P said...

"The Orioles claimed second baseman Alexi Casilla off of waivers from the Twins, Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports (Twitter links). The Orioles have confirmed the move.

Casilla had been a non-tender candidate in Minnesota since he projects to earn $1.8MM following a disappointing season. The 28-year-old hit .241/.282/.321 in 326 plate appearances in 2012. Orioles executive VP Dan Duquette said the acquisition of Casilla means the Orioles won't pursue other second basemen, Connolly reports."

Read more at http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2012/11/orioles-claim-alexi-casilla.html#C3Z6ZLk3DVFaDJki.99

Call me crazy, but I think this means I'm correct about Roberts. Unless you seriously believe that Casila or Andino would start over Roberts if he's healthy.

Jon Shepherd said...

Cadillac and Andino are better than Roberts.

Jon Shepherd said...

Oh autocorrect.