24 June 2014

Need a Cheap Upgrade? Fix Left Field!

There has been a lot of parity in the American League this season. After 74 games the Orioles are 39-35 and are tied for the wildcard spot. The AL East leading Blue Jays have just suffered injuries to Brett Lawrie and Joey Bautista and the other teams in the AL East look weak. The Orioles will have to reassess their situation closer to the trade deadline but at the moment should be buyers.

The Orioles could use upgrades at pitcher, second base, third base and whichever of LF/DH that Cruz isn't playing. Wieters is not expected to return this season and therefore the Orioles are expecting below average production at catcher. Manny Machado is firmly entrenched at third base and the Orioles will be unlikely to trade for a replacement. The Orioles have already made a trade for a catcher this season and acquiring an upgrade at either catcher or second base will require a lot of resources. That leaves left field.

The Orioles hoped that Nolan Reimold or David Lough would be successful. Instead, Reimold is hurt again and David Lough has been ineffective. Instead, the Orioles have received production from Delmon Young and Steve Pearce.

The problem with these players is that they are primarily platoon batters against left handed pitching and have historically struggled against right handed pitching. From 2011 to 2013 they’ve put up the following stats (data courtesy of Fangraphs) against righties:

Delmon Young 1039 3.80% 19.80% 0.29 0.4 0.68 0.29 0.29 82 10.90%
Steve Pearce 201 8.50% 23.90% 0.3 0.3 0.62 0.3 0.28 72 3.80%

These numbers aren’t what success looks like. They’ve been successful against right handed pitching this year but let us take a closer look at their 2014 statistics (data courtesy of Fangraphs).

Steve Pearce 88 6.80% 28.40% 0.39 0.6 0.96 0.45 0.42 167 15.40%
Delmon Young 65 4.60% 21.50% 0.35 0.4 0.76 0.39 0.34 113 6.30%

These numbers look better. The problem is that Pearce’s numbers have been powered by a high BABIP and HR/FB rate. He definitely won’t have a .453 BABIP in his next 100 PAs against righties and probably won’t have a 15.4% HR/FB rate. Young probably won’t have a .391 BABIP in his next 100 PAs against righties. When their BABIPs begin to regress to the mean then these players will cease to be quality options against right handed pitching.

The good thing about preparing for the trade deadline a month early is that you have a month to assess your players. Pearce will be given the opportunity to show that he can outperform his previous production against righties. If he does so for another month then the Orioles won’t need to add another left fielder. If on the other hand he regresses as one would expect then the Orioles can go after a left fielder that can hit righties.

Fortunately, there’s a good platoon option on the market. Seth Smith was given an opportunity to play when Carlos Quentin got injured and took advantage of his chance by having a strong season for the San Diego Padres. But there’s something funny about his statistics.

vs RHP6422018727561448212834.299.397.545.943.329
vs LHP23261923200276.158.385.263.648.231
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/23/2014.

He’s had 220 PAs against right handed pitchers and 26 against left handed pitchers meaning he’s seen as solely a platoon bat against righties. As a platoon bat his value is lower than it would be if he could play against lefties. He’s currently in his last year of arbitration and is making $4.5 million. By the time the trade deadline comes along there will be about $1.8 million remaining on his contract. It seems plausible that the Orioles and Padres could come to an agreement over a relatively trivial amount of money. Many teams will be interested in him and the Padres will want to move him because he will be a free agent next year.

The Padres would almost definitely want a prospect in return for him. But they shouldn’t expect one of our top prospects like Bundy, Gausman, Harvey or Rodriguez. Seth Smith was traded earlier this year for Luke Gregerson . The value for players like that are roughly a B-/C+ level prospect. A pitching prospect like Branden Kline or Zach Davies or Tim Berry should be reasonably close to fair value. These are all prospects that have had some success in the lower minors and have a legitimate chance to become starters in the majors. It is more likely that if these pitchers are successful in the majors it will be as relievers. Cost controlled relievers do have value but should not be considered untouchable.

This deal would strengthen the Orioles lineup and address a potential weakness at an affordable cost in both money and prospects. Generally the Orioles have been willing to make similar trades but have been unwilling to make a huge deal so this seems realistic. And it would allow the Orioles to potentially use their top prospects in a different deal to perhaps get a difference maker at second base.

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