03 November 2014

Building a Champion in 2015 - Second Base

According to the Fangraphs Depth Charts, the position where the Orioles received the least amount of production was second base. The Orioles only received 1.1 fWAR from players playing at second base, which was the sixth worst in the majors. Jonathan Schoop had most of the playing time and only put up a .209/.244/.354 line and a 65 wRC+, while Ryan Flaherty put up a .221/.288/.356 line and a 79 wRC+. It doesn’t look to get much better in 2015. Steamer projects Jonathan Schoop to put up a .231/.278/.369 line with an 80 wRC+ and Flaherty to put up a .230/.289/.373 line with an 84 wRC+. Those numbers would be a considerable upgrade for Schoop but would still be considerably below average. Both players are good defenders and will help the club defensively, but finding an offensive upgrade would be helpful.

In order to determine possible upgrades at second base it is necessary to see how other potential targets performed. There were 50 players who played at least 200 innings at second base in 2014. I created a spreadsheet with each of their offensive numbers against left-handed pitchers and right-handed pitchers as well as their fWAR, UZR, and UZR/150. This should let us determine Schoop and Flaherty’s strengths and weaknesses. Here’s a link to the Google Docs file and hopefully this widget will let you look at the data in more depth.

Schoop and Flaherty were both top defensive second basemen. Using UZR/150, Schoop was ranked #12 defensively while Flaherty was ranked #14. Both Schoop and Flaherty have a reputation for being good defensively, so those results aren’t surprising. Likewise, both Schoop (#31) and Flaherty (#23) are roughly average for a second baseman against right-handed pitching. They struggled against left-handed pitching, where Schoop was ranked #41 and Flaherty was ranked #36. This gives the Orioles options because they could either look for an upgrade or they could look for a second baseman who would be a good platoon option.

If the Orioles are looking for an upgrade then there are options available. Rumor has it that the Angels are considering trading Howie Kendrick in return for a starting pitcher. They probably want someone with more service time, but perhaps Wei-Yin Chen would be an acceptable starting point. Asdrubal Cabrera is a free agent and would probably be an upgrade. The Orioles could also see whether the Rays are willing to trade Ben Zobrist or if the Reds are willing to trade Brandon Phillips. All of these are potential options but none are particularly likely.

If the Orioles are looking for a platoon option then Rickie Weeks could fit the bill. He’s no longer as good of a defender as he once was but he has historically done well against left-handed pitching and could potentially be a platoon option.

The option I would recommend is acquiring Darwin Barney. Barney has historically been considered an excellent defender. Eno Sarris notes that from 2012 to 2014 he has been the second best second baseman according to UZR and the best according to UZR/150. Aside from 2010 when he played 54 innings, he has posted excellent defensive numbers. He’s had a positive UZR and DRS each year from 2011 to 2014. He’s only 29 years old and should be able to continue playing at an elite defensive level for at least another two years. This is important because Buck loves defense and a poor defender will probably never see the field.

The data show that Darwin Barney is reasonably good against left-handed pitching. In 2014, he had a wRC+ of 100 and was the 23rd best second baseman and against left-handed pitching. He has a career line of .265/.320/.376 and a wRC+ of 89 against left-handed pitching. Barney is pretty bad against right-handed pitching and therefore is a perfect platoon option.

Barney is in his second year of arbitration and earned $2.3 million last year. He was DFA’d by the Cubs last year and it is very possible that the Dodgers will decide not to tender him a contract given that they already have Dee Gordon at second base. Either way, it should be reasonably cheap to acquire Barney and his contract will not be overly expensive. If the Orioles can acquire him then they’ll control his rights for 2015 and 2016.

The Orioles struggled at second base last year and things don’t look to be much better in 2015. This position will be one of the areas easiest to upgrade for 2015 and is somewhere the Orioles need to improve if they want to increase their chances of making it to the playoffs next year and potentially becoming a champion.


Anonymous said...

Do you propose having Schoop, Flaherty, AND Barney on the 2015 Orioles? Seems to be a bit much to have all 3.

Matt Perez said...

I do. Both Schoop and Flaherty both have options remaining and could be sent down to the minors. They don't have to be on the 25 man roster.

I think my plan would be to go after Aoki and Young. Do that and the Os would have five outfielders on the 25 man (Aoki, Jones, Lough, Pearce and Young) to go with that middle infield depth.

Would be willing to option one of Flaherty or Schoop if we added someone in the Rule 5 draft or if we added a player that can play first and third better than Parades. I don't think that's going to happen though.

Berdj Rassam said...

I agree that Schoop with his BA of .209 as well as OBP of .244 just don't cut it in the the big leagues.

Eric said...

What about considering Schoop getting better naturally. This past season he played all in his age 22 season. He is a relatively high regarded prospect before, not exceptional but on a few top 100s. Anticipating some growth with age isn't out of the question.

This is my one qualm with the site. Most times with players like Schoop (or other players, mostly young guys) expected natural growth with age/experience is disregarded and instead an outside FA is always the answer.

Personally Id much rather have Schoop/Flaherty mix than Barney, Weeks, Asdrubal, or an older Kendrick (which would also cost a decent player like Chen).

Matt Perez said...

Schoop was at best barely a top 100 prospect. Position prospects ranked 51-100 from 1998-2007 have about a 33% success rate (worth an average of 1.5 fWAR or more). Given that Schoop wasn't that good and his underwhelming performance his rookie year and we're probably talking a 10-15% shot.

His projections do predict some growth. But he had a 48 wRC+ against lefties last year. He'll need a lot of improvement to be even decent. Predicting that he'll be decent against righties is a leap of faith. I would make that leap but I'd also hedge my bets.

This post discusses how Schoop and Flaherty don't make a good combo because neither can hit lefties. And it discusses a Schoop and Barney combo because they compliment each other.

Did you read the post or just decide to comment?

Jon Shepherd said...

Ha. Jeez, how many times has this site been criticized for prospect worship? Eric, you may be having qualms with another site.

Mike Bonsiero said...

I would be very surprised if the Orioles added another 2nd baseman this offseason (aside from more of the Phelps/DeJesus/Weeks depth acquisitions). They didn't do anything to address the position last off-season and it was a lot more unsettled then. Duquette doesn't tend to do the type of $3-4MM moves to make marginal upgrades to the roster.

On Schoop, while his projections don't look great, they would represent a pretty substantial improvement on his part. If he meets or slightly exceeds them, that makes him about the median second baseman in the AL if you factor in his value on defense. There's a really strong 7 person tier in the AL at 2B, and he'd be well below that tier, but among the best of the rest.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I think we all expect the Orioles to start the 2015 season with Schoop as their starting second baseman. But just because it's his second full season doesn't mean he's going to improve. We all hope he does.

Matt Perez said...

All teams do more minor league signings than deals for a few million dollars. This is because the minor league signings are less expensive and don't need to be placed on the 25 man roster.

The Os have made signings like Wada, Chen and Yoon. They also signed Webb and Betemit under DD. And certainly DD isn't above making a trade to get a platoon piece.

If Schoop does have a 20% improvement than he'll still be bad against left handed pitching. He'd need to have an 80% improvement to be decent. Do you really want to bet on that? And now that DD has seen Schoop play he'll know more about him.

Schoop won't be close to the best of the rest if he meets his offensive projection. He'll be easily below average even counting defense.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be averse to the O's standing pat at 2nd. This year, you had multiple positions that were below average offensively, partly due to injuries (specifically, Wieters and Machado). With both scheduled to return, you can stand to have one lineup spot in which you expect to be below average, that being 2nd base.

Assuming they do stay with what they've got, you can then use 2015 as sort of an audition for Schoop, to see if he will progress offensively.

That, and whatever production you get from whomever is the backup catcher (presumably either Joseph or Clememger), would then help to make your upcoming decision on Wieters (which I believe comes after next season).

If Schoop progresses to the point where you're comfortable with him going forward (which I personally think he will), you can then spend what is necessary to resign Wieters and not worry much about 2nd, as Schoop's still under your control for several more seasons and presumably won't get to the point where he gets huge raises via arbitration.

If not, then the O's will have to decide whether to spend at both positions, which I don't think they want to do. If they decide to spend at just one, they at least would then have options as to which position they want to fill via free agency.

Hopefully, they won't need to fill both.

Matt Perez said...

I've gotta say that I'm surprised with how many people think we should stick with Schoop as a fulltime player after his .209/.244/.354 line. Young players do have the potential to improve but it isn't a definite. I'm surprised that so many people aren't interested in at least having a Plan B.

What happens if he regresses? How would you feel about him if he has a .150/.200/.300 line come June? It's very possible that could happen.

Anonymous said...

16 home runs from a second baseman at the age of 22? and he plays stellar defense? I'll take my chances with Schoop at 2nd everyday. Ryan flaherty is a poor man's Ben Zobrist and a perfect utility guy.

We don't need to pay for an aging second baseman right now. It would be better to wait until mid season. If Schoop is really struggling at that point we can easily trade for a veteran 2nd baseman.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Ryan Flaherty is in no way, shape, or form a poor man's Ben Zobrist.

Matt Perez said...

Why do you think that 16 home runs is more descriptive than pointing out his overall line of .209/.244/.354? It clearly indicates he has power but can't get on base. Does it matter if he has home run power vs doubles power?

There is a difference between paying for an aging second baseman and signing someone on the cheap in order to implement a Plan B in case things go wrong.

Eric said...

Excuses me Matt, I did actually read the post. I think your statement there is insulting, so please don't criticize people who disagree with you like that.

I still feel no weight was put into the fact he played all year as a 22-year old (which I said before but it was omitted from your rebuttal). That made him one of the youngest regulars in the league last year. And if you go by WAR his ranking was just below the top 13 (based on Baseball Ref). That's a 2nd baseman in the top half of the league or starting on a decent portion of teams. And yes the percentages of those top prospects being successful is lower but how many 24 or 25 year olds does that count, not 21 or 22 year olds like when Schoop was ranked? I don't argue he can't play every single day, but he isn't a "lets just give up on him because he wasnt a stud from the get go" candidate. Please he plays plus defense at 2nd (not 3rd) and so does Flaherty (who showed during the playoffs he does have some pop and could be a decent streaky hitter at times).

As for the argument, "what if he doesn't improve?", that can be made so many other ways. Whats if Kendrick drops off a cliff due to his aging? What if Ricky Weeks isnt good anymore like he showed the last few years? Those can be made either way. Id rather ride and hope for an improvement with a very young MLB guy than and older one or someone who has had only one good year before (Barney 2012 was 4.1, nothing else over 1.7). His WAR on Fangraphs predicts growth, even with a 5 point loss in defense (which we can probably say is wrong due to him not playing 3rd as much, where he isn't as good and instead playing majority 2nd where he is good).

Schoop had a high K rate last year 25%, but many young players have had numbers in that area improve with more time in the majors. That will also help him .249 BAPIP, which was low, and his walk rate which was uncharacteristically low compared to his minors ranks which had his lowest at 4.5% and his next lowest at 6.7%. You also expect his line drive percentage to even out slightly due to his FB and GB percentages being so high. That will also help his BA. You say he wont be even best of the rest and I cant agree with that AT ALL. Because he struggles in one area of the game against one type of player doesn't mean he is bad. Most players have holes, deal with it. Im not interested in a Plan B because it is not better in my eyes. It just throws a blanket over something, it doesnt get rid of anything.

Honestly what my point was, is that we aren't expecting him to turn into Cano. That is out of the question. Rather I would prefer to expect a bit more improvement than to bring in a player to take up a spot on the roster when he is marginally better at a position at best. You can't have 9 all-stars on a roster as great as that would be. For what his position on the team is (low 7-9 hole hitter, mostly 9 hole who plays good defense) there are a lot of worse players and I am happy with it. Even a slight improvement will help the team but its not like the early 2000s when we needed to drastically improve. The team won the division and played well, even with some expected regression this can be expected to be a good team who can win again next year. As showed this year with the Royals and Giants, just get into the playoffs anything can happen. And with what we have at 2nd I feel we are still a quality team and it isnt a fatal flaw. That was what I meant, yes I did read the post, and I respectfully disagreed. Now Im not as respectful because you obviously are a bit on your high horse. Don't insult readers and commentors due to disagreeing Matt.

Eric said...

Also John, I do understand the site does value prospects that are in the minors, but it seems as soon as young players come into the Majors (and I dont mean cups of coffee in September, I mean real season action) they are thought of as finished growing. I see people criticize all the time, and I agree and disagree in many ways. But here I feel Schoop is just seen as he is what he is because he played a full year in MLB and not a prospect anymore, and not what he can still be as someone just one year removed from MiLB and still close to a prospect.

If that makes sense.

Jon Shepherd said...

Erik - I just disagree with that assessment. This site has included both myself and Nick Faleris, both of us write for Baseball Prospectus now. Stuart Wallace now works for the Pirates and their prospects. We discuss at length throughout the history of this site growth curves and how growth curves change over time. I think what can be confusing at times is that growth curves are population based concepts, not individual based concepts. Additionally, probable growth is not a grand unknown full of exceptional possibilities. Likely results are rather limited.

Regarding Schoop...history is not kind. If you look at players with similar offensive performance in their age 22 year coming from 2B, SS, and 3B...you get these guys: Jack Brohamer, Ozzie Guillen, Rick Auerbach, Omar Vizquel, Benji Gil, Enzo hernandez, Cesar Izturis, Mike Caruso, etc. Essentially, your meaningful players were guys who were exception defensive SS who never really got their bats in gear. Schoop could be different. It may be that it takes him a year or two or three to learn how to handle the new weight he put on. That said...evidence leans more in the disappointment direction than the excitement direction.

Matt Perez said...

I proposed acquiring Barney because he'd be a good platoon partner with Schoop. You use Barney against lefties (against whom Schoop had a 48 RC+) and Schoop against righties (against whom Schoop was decent) and you've got a good grouping.

I did state that the reason why I wanted Barney is because he'd be a good platoon option. But I didn't outright state that I was envisioning a Barney/Schoop platoon. In retrospect, I see that wasn't clear and is causing confusion.

Steamer's projections did give weight to the fact that he's 22 years old and therefore predicted his offensive production to increase by roughly 20-25%. By using Steamer, I did give weight to the fact that he's 22. It suspects that he'll improve but still be below average. I did get the impression that people thought that a 20-25% increase was an underestimate.

I've written a number of posts about prospects on this blog including one about the impacts of age. Unfortunately, that blog isn't at all helpful to this discussion. Looking back at that old data set I see a 28% success rate for prospects whose highest ever rating was from 51-100 that reach the majors from 1998-2006 when they were between 20-22. It's about the same for those of all ages. The criteria used in that data set and the ones used for the stat I posted earlier are significantly different.

Baseball Reference likes Schoop primarily due to giving him an extremely high fielding score. Fangraphs ranks him as the 26th best 2B (all players with 200 PAs) and nowhere near the top 13. I'd go with Fangraphs because it's less dependent on one year of defense.

The fact is that he can improve significantly offensively and still be below average offensively.

Z Segal said...

De Aza is staying on the team so David Lough is probably out but i would see the O's sticking with what they have at second base because Flaherty will be the UTIL and Schoop is only gonna get better