03 November 2015

Why The Orioles Should Add Pedro Alvarez And Yonder Alonso Instead Of Chris Davis

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Orioles’ fans are distraught at the idea that Chris Davis may leave the team in free agency because of the consequences this could have for the Orioles’ offense. In a poll on Camden Chat, 60% of fans said that the Orioles should be willing to spend as much as $160 million on a Davis signing. John Heyman has reported that Peter Angelos wants to resign Davis and the Orioles are making an effort. On the other hand, doing this would take away much of the Orioles’ payroll flexibility and make it harder for them to sign other players.

This begs the question of whether offenses are better off with elite and replacement level batters or a more average but consistent offense. Are the Orioles better off with Davis and a replacement level DH or acquiring Pedro Alvarez and Yonder Alonso?

Pedro Alvarez is eligible for arbitration for the last time this off-season and is coming off of a season where he was historically bad defensively at 1B. His 23 errors this year were the most allowed by a first baseman since 1977 despite playing at first in only 124 games and 906 innings. His UZR is the fourth lowest at 1B ever out of 279 other first basemen. He is an awful defender at 1B and is a non-tender candidate because he can’t DH in the NL.

As a left handed batter, he is better against right-handed pitching than left-handed pitching, but has improved against left-handed pitching lately. After having an OPS in the .500-.540 range in 2013 and 2014 against lefties, he had a .712 in 2015 despite the fact that his walk rate dropped from the 8-9% to 4.6% while his K% stayed the same. Alvarez was more aggressive against left-handed pitchers in 2015 than he has been in the past.

Likewise, against right handed pitching in 2013, he was more aggressive than in 2014 and 2015 which resulted in fewer walks and a higher home run percentage. It is possible that Alvarez bats his best when he is aggressive and therefore fits right in with other Orioles like Adam Jones, Jonathan Schoop and Jimmy Paredes.

Alvarez is known for his power as he hit 27 home runs in 2015 despite playing in a stadium that is unfriendly to power batters and therefore has an OPS of .724 at home and .794 away. A move to Camden Yards, which is an excellent stadium for left-handed power, would mean that he’s playing in an appropriate environment and could help increase his power output.

Yonder Alonso is a singles and doubles hitter with excellent plate discipline with injury issues. With the exception of 2014, Alonso has had an OBP against righties around .360 since 2012 and can be a potential high OBP player. He is a possible non-tender candidate and likely would be a buy-low trade candidate given his inability to stay healthy, his defensive inflexibility, his weakness against lefties and his projected arbitration salary.

Steamer projects that Alvarez will end up with a .243/.320/.454 line and a wRC+ of 112. If traded to the Orioles, I think he’ll beat that mark due to the friendlier playing environment and I have him putting up a .250/.314/.487 line. Steamer projects that Alonso will put up a .269/.340/.401 line with a wRC+ of 108 in a surprisingly high 495 PAs. The method I used projected that Alonso would put up a similar .278/.350/.394. 

Steamer also projects that Chris Davis will have a .245/.337/.499 line with a wRC+ of 124 which is quite a drop from his 2015 line of .262/.361/.562 and a wRC+ of 147 probably due to his poor 2014. I put less weight on his 2014 season and therefore predict that he’ll have a .264/.345/.524 line.

I presume that Chris Davis will play 85% of all at bats at first base or about 570 PAs.  After all, there is always the possibility of injury or suspension and therefore it makes sense to presume that he’ll miss some time. He’s only had more than 600 PAs in two of the last four years.

I presume that Alvarez will play 75% of all at bats at DH or about 500 PAs. Unlike Davis, Alvarez hasn’t broken 500 PAs in any of the past three years. I do feel that playing DH will make it less likely that he’ll be a defensive substitute. Due to Alonso’s injury issues, I project him to play 90 of the 162 games.

Once I input these numbers into the lineup simulator tool, using my projections suggests that adding Davis will be a 35 run upgrade over the current roster while Steamer’s projections suggest that he’ll be a 27 run upgrade. My projections also suggest that adding Alonso and Alvarez will be a 38 run upgrade over the current lineup while Steamer suggests that they’ll be a 31 run upgrade. Either way, the lineup simulator suggests that adding Alonso and Alvarez will be more productive than adding Chris Davis but having a replacement level DH.

The 2015 Angels explain why this makes sense. Their offense had strong offensive players like Mike Trout, Pujols, Calhoun and Freese while guys like Giavotella and Cron weren’t terrible.  However, players like Aybar, Iannetta, Joyce, Perez and Featherston were all pretty bad and brought down the quality of the offense. The Angels tried to strengthen their weaknesses by trading for Davis Murphy, Shane Victorino and David DeJesus with little success and ended up scoring 661 runs or the 20th most in the majors.

The 2015 Mariners scored fewer runs than the Angels despite receiving great production from Cruz, Gutierrez, Cano, Marte, Seager and Smith while guys like Trumbo, Miller and Jackson were adequate. Problem is that Morrison was mediocre, Ackley was bad and guys like Zunino, Sucre and Montero were terrible. They were unable to find decent options at catcher and first base and it cost them.

It is easier to find an average player rather than a star and therefore it would be easier for the Orioles to improve upon a Davis/replacement combo rather than an Alvarez/Alonso combo. The problem, as illustrated by the Angels, Mariners and the Orioles 2015 outfield woes, is that there are no guarantees that a replacement level player will provide average or at least decent production in a given year. It’s possible that the Orioles will play a replacement level player in LF and he’ll turn into 2014 Steve Pearce or that he’ll turn into 2015 Delmon Young. Arguing for the Orioles to resign Davis means that one needs to think that DD will be able to find a few above-average replacement level players.

An Orioles’ team that does resign Davis will be in the same position as the 2015 Angels or Mariners because such a signing will eat up much of their cap room while only addressing one weakness.  If a player like Walker and Mancini can hit for league average and Davis has a strong offensive season, then DD would look like a genius. If not, it could be a long season because elite hitters can only do so much.


Jon Shepherd said...

WAR is position dependent.

Matt Perez said...

I'm a Park fan as well although he may end up out of the Orioles' price range soon. He'd probably be an upgrade over both Alvarez and Alonso although much more risky.

Unknown said...

Good article. I'd like to have Davis back, but not if it's going to prevent the Orioles from adding other pieces they need. If they bring back Davis, they likely will not have too much to spend for new starting pitching and outfield players. I've seen a lot of fans act like if the O's don't bring him back then the sky is falling. I think they can definitely be a better team in 2016 without Davis (assuming they make the right moves) than they were in 2015 with him having an excellent year. Not a knock on CD at all, but it's probably more valuable to sign two players like you suggested, add some quality SP, and pursue a full time OF.

Jon Shepherd said...

@Michael - That was explicitly our strategy in the final post in the Blueprint series, so we do not take offense to that.

Anonymous said...

We wouldn't niss the 205 strikeouts!

Unknown said...

I like Davis, but not at some of contracts being floated around. One man doesn't make a team, look at KC and there well rounded team both on the hill and at the plate. At first I thought it was a no brainer to resign Davis, but no I'm not so sure, good article!

Matt Perez said...

Thanks much.

I think the most important thing to do is find the best pieces at a good price in free agency and try not to overpay. The Orioles have enough weaknesses that they shouldn't be focusing on a specific one and I'm a bigger fan of the available mid-tier free agent pitching than hitting. I'm a bit worried that the Orioles biggest weaknesses are in areas where I think the free agent market will produce busts.

A guy like Chris Davis makes sense for a team with a better farm system.

Phil said...

I am confused by your calculations. Can you clarify how the lineup projection works? If Alonso and Alvarez are a DH committee and come to a wRC+ of about 110... how do they add more runs than Davis at wRC+ of 130ish in similar # of at bats, especially considering I assumed you were placing a replacement level player at either 1B or DH in both situations.

I agree with the sentiment that using those two who will likely cost what, $10M combined, over Davis at $22M gives the availability to then maybe sign a mid-tier pitcher (or re-sign Chen)... but I don't think that those two alone make the team better. By actual runs created, they should be worth less. It would really be about flexibility for the rest of the team, not their actual value.

Am I missing something?

Matt Perez said...

I have Alonso playing first base and Alvarez playing DH. Now that you mention it, I can see how I wasn't clear in the article and should have mentioned that Alonso was playing first instead of just implying it. Fair enough.

Alvarez would receive 475-500 PAs while Alonso would receive about 380 PAs. Davis would be expected to receive 570 PAs. We're talking another 300 PAs or some 150% of the amount that Davis would have which isn't similar at all.

Phil said...

OK, with that in mind, at this point, wouldn't the known quantity of Pearce be of greater value than Alonso? They shouldn't be too far apart in price and I think Pearce has a better upside and the O's have the inside injury knowledge vs. Alonso. And for platooning and AB fills, Walker will still be around.

Unknown said...

My thought has been that with the Brewers not likely to be going anywhere next year, they may well make Adam Lind available. I haven't seen whether they picked up his option yet, but at $7.5 million it's hard to envision them not exercising it after the solid season he had for them this year. Since it's their last year with him, though, they should let him go for a reasonable price. You might be able to get him straight up for Mike Wright, whom I for one don't think has much Major League future, almost certainly not as a starter. But still has enough stuff to maybe be worth a shot for a totally rebuilding team, which if the Brewers are smart, they will be. My feeling all along has been that if any bat on the market is worth Chris Davis type money, it's either Alex Gordon or Jason Heyward. Gordon has much better old-guy skills than Davis, so he's a better bet to age well. Also might be looking at one or two fewer years on his next contract. Heyward is just a great deal because of his age and his undervalued skill set. He's grown better at drawing walks, so his OBP is solid, and his defense is just as good as the advanced metrics suggest, if not better. Because he doesn't have great pop, I've seen projections with him getting under $20 million/yr. That's a really good price for his prime seasons, and even on a 10-year deal you'd only have him through age 35.

Matt Perez said...

I think one could argue that Pearce is a better option than Alonso. I wasn't trying to argue that we should sign Alonso and Alvarez. I was really arguing that two decent bats are just as good as one elite bat and one replacement bat. Alonso wouldn't be my first choice.

I'd love Gordon at 5 and $95M. I thought he'd get 6 and $132M easy. I would have changed my whole midseason plan if I thought Gordon would come so cheap. I don't like Heyward. Advanced fielding metrics work in general. My research suggests that they're absolutely useless in evaluating corner outfield defense. Even if you do buy them, defense degrades quicker than offense. I'm staying away.

Lind is interesting although I wouldn't trade Wright for him. Probably. I'd have to think about it more.

Unknown said...

My guess is that we differ substantially on our valuations of Wright, not Lind. I just don't like Wright very much, and nothing he showed this year helped at all with that. I never liked him when I watched him pitch in the minors, and his lack of adjustments pitching in the Majors was pretty obvious and exploitable. He could be a guy that in a 1-inning role could come out and throw 98 and get away with some of the fastballs he leaves up in fastball counts, but as a starter I just don't see it working out. He doesn't have the command or control to work hitters, his secondary stuff isn't good enough, I just don't see a weapon to get ML hitters out. Again, maybe with stuff playing up out of the bullpen, he could be solid. But bullpen arms are always available cheap anyway. If you could get even a year of a known commodity for him, I'd jump on it. Half a year.

Matt Perez said...

We disagree slightly on Wright. We both agree that he's likely a reliever. I think he can be a late inning guy while you seem to think he's a middle inning reliever. Good bullpen arms at minimum wages are harder to find then you'd think.

It sounds like you're valuing Wright at $2 to 3M while I'm valuing him at $6M. Technically, it's double but in reality it's a small amount. I don't think it would be a terrible trade though and the Os do have plenty of potential bullpen arms.

Anonymous said...

I guess Park is out of the running now. So now who do we get? Davis and Pearce is better than Alvarez and Alonso.

Matt Perez said...

Davis and Pearce will also cost three or four times as much. Davis counts towards the 2017 payroll as well when money will be tight. Not saying that Davis and Pearce aren't an option to be considered just that you get what you pay for.

Suspect the Os will wait to see who remains after the first few weeks and try to get someone for cheap.