09 August 2013

Can the Orioles Afford Mark Reynolds' Strikeouts?

Mark Reynolds in 2012 / photo: Keith Allison
Last year, Mark Reynolds was the Phoenix.  Whether he was rising from the ashes of his first half of a season or rising from one of his signature toe anchored flops at first base, he embodied the team last year.  He did not look good and probably really was not all that good, but he wound up successful over and over again.  In the fall, we took a hit from some of our Passengers at the Depot (not all, just a few) about our conclusion that Reynolds' option should not be picked up and that the team should let him go.  They did that and he wound up taking a pay cut with the Indians.

Here are his month by month slashes:
April - 301/368/651, .427 wOBA, 179 wRC+
May - 218/310/386, .310 wOBA, 98 wRC+
June - 187/288/253, .250 wOBA, 57 wRC+
July - 098/233/098, .178 wOBA, 7 RC+
Unsurprisingly, the playoff hoping Indians designated Mark Reynolds for assignment.

The presents the Orioles with a potential opportunity to provide some offense, which is something they failed to do when the regular trade deadline came and went in July.  In case you forgot, the Orioles have the third worst hitting DH performance in the American League:
Houston Astros - 185/266/313, 32.4 runs created
Oakland Athletics - 211/303/338, 40.8 runs created
Baltimore Orioles -  210/269/389, 41.1 runs created
New York Yankees - 208/293/350, 41.2 runs created
Chicago White Sox - 225/289/397, 43.8 runs created
It would be incredibly beneficial to the team to improve their weakness here.   True, this level of DH performance will not exclude them from making the playoffs as the Oakland Athletics are trying to illustrate, but it certainly makes things easier when your DH is not repeatedly relegated to the bottom of the lineup.

Recently, the Orioles have been employing the tandem of Henry Urrutia and Danny Valencia (now, Steve Pearce).  Mark Reynolds, over his career, tends to show a slight platoon with him hitting better off of southpaws.  This means that his addition would be to replace the mish mash of Valencia and Pearce.  However, he probably would be not incredibly worse than the Human Opposite Field Single hitter Henry Urrutia.  None of the current batch is a solid fielder, but having Reynolds in place of those two would enable the team to have a more capable defensive player on the roster.
After a monster April, Reynolds has been utterly horrific and that is being kind.  The Indians, fighting for a space in the playoffs, finally decided to let him go.

Now, it has been argued that Mark Reynolds is horrible.  Sure, he is.  He also has something like a one in twenty chance of being mind blowingly good.  The team is currently 1.5 games behind Texas or Oakland in the chase for the second Wild Card.  They also have Cleveland right behind them.  I think we can all agree that the Indians are playing over their head and that the race is essentially something like the A's, Rangers, and Orioles.  Of those three teams, two will make it.  How comfortable are you with the current offensive output from the DH slot?  Should the team be satisfied with the low grade chill that Uruttia and Pearce will provide?  Pearce can probably deliver a slightly below league average DH for the team, but it seems fairly obvious that Uruttia's bat needs a bit more seasoning at least.  With that in mind, maybe it makes sense to give Reynolds a chance to correct himself and go on a tear no matter how unlikely.  I mean, it is difficult to get much worse and, if Reynolds does nothing for a couple weeks, the September roster opens and you can bury him.

Another concern has been about having several high strikeout guys on the team.  Currently, the Orioles have one batter (Chris Davis) in the top ten for strike out percentage (29.2%).  Having Mark Reynolds on the team would increase that to two as he goes down on strikes 32% of the time this year so far.  This contention about having multiple big K guys on the team is somewhat of an issue that draws sides.  Some people think that too many people with high amounts of strikeouts would result in a lot of runners stranded without the opportunity of a batted ball to challenge the other team's defense.  Others think that with the high level of defense in the Majors that how you make an out is far less important than what you do when you are not making an out.

To try to test this, I decided to use a formula that Tom Tango came up with relating wOBA to runs scored per plate appearance.  The idea here is that if we find teams who had multiple high strikeout bats that if this actually poses a linear issue in run production then we should expect that those outs will not be properly accounted for in the wOBA formula.  In other words, the projected amount of team runs will be consistently greater than the actual runs a team scores.

Baltimore Orioles
Chris Davis (30.1%) and Mark Reynolds (29.6%)
Tampa Bay Rays
Carlos Pena (30.3%) and B.J. Upton (26.7%)
Cincinnati Reds
Drew Stubbs (30.1%) and Jay Bruce (23.8%)
Washington Nationals
Danny Espinosa (25.2%) and Jayson Werth (24.7%)
Arizona Diamondbacks
Mark Reynolds (35.4%), Adam LaRoche (28.0%), and Justin Upton (26.6%)
Tampa Bay Rays
Carlos Pena (27.1%) and B.J. Upton (26.9%)
Los Angeles Dodgers
Matt Kemp (25.4%) and Casey Blake (24.2%)
Arizona Diamondbacks
Mark Reynolds (33.7%) and Justin Upton (23.3%)
Tampa Bay Rays
Carlos Pena (28.6%) and B.J. Upton (24.3%)
Philadelphia Phillies
Ryan Howard (26.5%) and Jayson Werth (23.1%)

Out of those ten teams, we should expect that five would wind up scoring more runs than expected and five would score fewer if the number of high strikeout players on a team does not matter.  Just eyeballing it, if we wind up with 8 in either direction then I think it seems likely that there is an effect.

Year Team wOBA Runs Difference
2012 Orioles 0.317 712 13

Rays 0.311 697 30
2011 Reds 0.322 735 -6

Nationals 0.305 624 -15
2010 Dbacks 0.325 713 -24

Rays 0.326 802 50

Dodgers 0.309 667 5
2009 DBacks 0.324 720 -23

Rays 0.342 803 -14

Phillies 0.339 820 1

Five teams scored more than was expected and five teams scored worse.  Now, this is simply a pilot study, but this tends to suggest that there is not really an overwhelming impact on run production when a team has several high strikeout players in the lineup.  That concern is one that is likely overblown simply because strikeouts are a rather visual thing.

We often tend to take for granted how good MLB defenses actually are.  What is more important is not making outs and what happens to the ball when it is hit.  With that in mind, Mark Reynolds probably is a decent bet to take in hopes of leap frogging over the second wild card slot as well as making a break for the first wild card and maybe the division.  To do that, I think the team needs to be bold.  I do not think bold means Henry Urrutia or Steve Pearce.  I think bold means letting Mark Reynolds ride out August with his bat in the lineup and then reassess.

To put it another way, over the rest of August the tandem of Urrutia and Pearce look to be worth replacement level.  Urrutia so far has been worth -2 runs above replacement over 44 plate appearances with the bat (please, let's ignore his horrible baserunning for the moment) and Pearce's bat has been worth 2 runs above replacement over 99 plate appearances.  Zero seems like a fair number.  If Reynolds puts up a 40 wRC+ over the next 60 plate appearances to finish out the DH slot in August, the team stands to lose 4 runs of offense in comparison to Urrutia/Pearce.  I do not see how you could do anything other than taking a chance on Reynolds.


Unknown said...

I don't know why anyone would even consider bringing him back. He has a great month a year and slumps for most of the rest of year.

Cleveland made the mistake of playing him at 3rd a few times - we know what a disaster that it.

Jon Shepherd said...

Well, as I tried to write in the article above. The Oriole simply have horrible options for DH, so the chance for a great month as a bet probably outweighs the greater likelihood that he will be awful. Why? Again, everyone else is awful.

I have a hard time seeing any downside on running him out at DH for a few weeks to see if you can get anything out of him.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

As long as they don't give up anything for him, I have no problem with it. As bad as Reynolds has been this year, he'd probably be better than the O's other DHs. Plus, he has a .330 wOBA vs. LHP this year (small sample), which would be an upgrade as well.

Triple R said...

He's fairly low risk. If I were Duquette, I'd take a lesson from the Ravens' handling of Vonta Leach--let him test the market, realize he can't get a good offer elsewhere, and then sign him to a low-price contract once he's reduced his aksing price.

In a somewhat unrelated matter, I recently penned a piece on Fangraphs Community about historical players who are similar to Reynolds. You may read it if you are so inclined.

Jon Shepherd said...

Just a note...if Reynolds is released, Indians are responsible for the contract above the league minimum.

Triple R said...

Really? I'm not too knowledgeable on contract rules, so I'll take your word for it.

Unknown said...

More precisely, the Indians would be responsible for the difference between his current contract and whatever amount his new contract would be. Almost always, that would be the league minimum.

Jon Shepherd said...

Right. For practical purposes it is not almost always, but always the pro-rated minimum. The player gets paid the same up to the point of his old contract, so he is looking for the best place to play. If a team valued him more than the old contract, then they would have claimed him on waivers.

Liam said...

I was one of the "passengers" who argued that Reynolds was actually a great defender and we should take him back in 2013 for like $9 mil or so. Would have been a disaster on a number of levels.

Reynolds would be a total crapshoot over the next 6 weeks, but if he was in a situation where he was really comfortable he might be more likely to succeed.

My question would be whether or not baltimore is a place where he'd be comfortable- does he feel disregarded and undervalued by our FO, or would be happy to be back in a place where he presumably had a lot of fun last year. Would he struggle in an unfamiliar role (part time) or feel less pressure to perform and actually do better? The answer is probably a little bit of each but this is one time where I think statistics offer only a small part of the answer.