09 March 2016

O's Add Offense, Sacrifice Defense With Pedro Alvarez

The Orioles needed to add a left-handed hitter. Preferably, they needed a left-handed hitter who could also perform adequately in the outfield. The O's knew this; I don't need to rehash the Dexter Fowler saga. So with Fowler no longer an option, the O's turned their attention to Austin Jackson (not left-handed, but an outfielder). That didn't happen either, and apparently Jackson turned down more lucrative offers for the opportunity to play center field. The O's already have someone with the same initials to play there, so it wasn't meant to be.

That left the Orioles with a couple of unappealing trade options: Jay Bruce and Carlos Gonzalez. There have been others mentioned here and there, but those were the names floated the most the past few weeks and months. Either of those players would have helped to some extent, but between what it would take to acquire and pay them, the O's decided to do something else. They added a left-handed bat, all right, but it's not someone you would confuse for an outfielder.

Photo: Keith Allison
The O's reached an agreement with Pedro Alvarez -- pending a physical (insert your own joke at the Orioles' expense here) -- on a one-year, $5.75 million deal. The deal includes various incentives for plate appearances that could push the deal near $7 million.

If there's a category that Alvarez fits, it's left-handed power hitter. Over the past three seasons, Alvarez ranks 15th among qualified major leaguers in isolated power (.217). He sits comfortably between Nolan Arenado and Brandon Moss/Yoenis Cespedes.

Overall, Alvarez has a career wRC+ of 106, and last year he tied his career best of 114. That would have been good enough for third best on the O's last year, ahead of Jonathan Schoop's injury-shortened 112 and Adam Jones's 109. Alvarez also hits the ball hard. According to Baseball Savant's batted ball data for 2015, Alvarez's average exit velocity of 92.6 miles per hour was 24th best (among all players with 50 at-bats with data). Manny Machado was 27th; Chris Davis was 32nd. (In terms of max exit velocity in that same group, Mark Trumbo and Davis tied for fourth (117 mph); Schoop, Alvarez, and Machado were among the 14 players tied for sixth at 115 mph).

Anyway, Alvarez's on-base skills (career .309 OBP) weigh down his numbers a bit, so he's not amazing or anything. Still, his bat is certainly helpful.

But Alvarez has clear limitations. He's a bad defender -- he has rated poorly in Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating metrics at third base and last year at first base -- and is terrible against left-handed pitching (career 68 wRC+). Those are two chief reasons why the 29-year-old former second overall pick is still available at this stage of free agency, and on a one-year deal.

The positive is that Alvarez helps the Orioles on offense against right-handed pitching (career 118 wRC+), no matter how Buck Showalter decides to order his lineup. Unfortunately, the Orioles already traded for a designated hitter earlier in the offseason: Trumbo. Davis is a first baseman and a DH. Trumbo is a first baseman and a DH. Alvarez is a DH. Now Showalter's task is to make these pieces work.

The easy solution is: Alvarez should DH exclusively and only play against right-handed pitching. That means Trumbo will move to the outfield in many of those games (most likely right field, depending on the progression of Hyun Soo Kim). Against left-handed starters, Trumbo shifts to DH, Alvarez heads to the bench, and Nolan Reimold, or Joey Rickard, or Dariel Alvarez, or some other underwhelming right-handed outfielder fills in.

A corner outfield duo of Kim and Trumbo could be a train wreck defensively. Kim is a question mark, and Trumbo is an exclamation point at the end of the sentence, "You don't want him in the outfield." Some have suggested that Davis could play right field instead of Trumbo, and sure, he could. Others have even thrown out the terrifying possibility of a Trumbo/Jones/Davis outfield, which would surely give Showalter nightmares. But August Fagerstrom of FanGraphs covered that point well in the first link above: "Some have suggested Chris Davis might be the better option in right field, which could be true, but the bigger point is that when the better alternative is Chris Davis playing everyday in the outfield on purpose, you’ve got a problem on your hands."

The downside of this move is obvious because defense matters. But it's tough for fans to be too upset by this particular move. Flawed strategy or not, the O's went hard after both Yovani Gallardo and Fowler. The front office apparently thought they had Fowler. So did Adam Jones. So did everyone. You don't get bonus points for trying, but the O's were clearly in pursuit and close to a deal.

Now the Orioles are at least an outfielder short, but they'll try to make due. How? By hitting the ball out of the ballpark, playing strong infield defense, utilizing very good relief pitching, and outmaneuvering opposing managers. But they'll also have to win despite having arguably the worst rotation in the AL East, a bad defensive outfield, and a need for improved team speed and on-base skills.

That doesn't mean the Orioles can't win. It does mean they have flaws, and that they spent an awful lot of money to put together a very similar roster to last year's.

Stats via FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, and Baseball Savant. Contract information via Cot's.


Pip said...

Fan graphs said it best:
" The Orioles needed an outfielder, so they went out and signed a DH ."

What a fiasco

Unknown said...

None of these guys can be worse in the outfield than Delmon Young, can they?

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I've seen more of Young in the outfield, but I would guess Trumbo is comparable or worse. Young's body of work is much larger, though.

Anonymous said...

Worse? That's a pretty strong statement!!!

Sessh said...

I would not consider Rickard to be in the same sentence as Reimold or Alvarez. Rickard has shown the ability to hit for average, carry a high OBP and steal bases which is something the Orioles have not had since Brian Roberts was at the top of his game. If Rickard can translate that to the majors, he would hardly be underwhelming and would be an actual leadoff hitter. Neither Reimold or Alvarez are that kind of player. Rickard is having a decent spring, so don't be so hasty so dismiss him. He should make the team and considering Kim still has no hits in the spring, it's looking like Kim won't make the team and Rickard will be our starting left fielder and his D is outstanding.

Also, why is it "a problem" in this situation to have Davis in right field? On one hand, we have Trumbo in right and Davis at first. The result is outstanding D at first base and a liability in right field. On the other hand with Davis in right and Trumbo at first, you have solid D at both positions plus Davis has a cannon of an arm which is being completely wasted standing around at first base. The problem is choosing the option with the liability as Buck has done. Davis is better suited in right field than Trumbo is and there are no liabilities this way and no wasted arm strength either. It makes more sense to have Davis in right field with these options for several reasons.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

"it's looking like Kim won't make the team " ... I'm not sure that's accurate, but I guess it's possible. Anyway, Rickard seems fine and a good defensive option, but I'm not sure I'd get that excited about a Rule 5 player.

Chris Davis is not outstanding at first base. He could be considered anywhere from average to good, I guess. But he's far from a defensive wizard. Also, Davis would provide average defense at best (and likely not even that) in right field. You're right about his arm; that would be the best thing going for him in right field. It would be his range or ability to track the ball, because he's not an outfielder.

Davis in right field and Trumbo at first base may be a slight improvement and make a bit more sense; I wouldn't really argue with that logic. But moving around your high-priced first baseman to accommodate someone who can't play the outfield is a problem, and the real issue is that the O's needed a real outfielder. They tried; it didn't happen. Moving Davis around would mostly be trying to fix a problem with no real solution available.

Roger said...

Jose Bautista and Johan Santana were Rule 5'ers. There are a few gold nuggets in the stream. It hink it's about 100% certain Kim will make the team, Too much potential to waste. He'll get at least a half season to make good. But I think Rickard is a player. I disagree that Reimold is not a leadoff option. Markakis was pretty good at it. Stolen bases and speed are not the primary qualifications. OBP is. Reimold performed very well at leadoff last September.

Jon Shepherd said...

First guy had to completely fail and have his swing redone. Other guy was a rule five under different rules. Rule fives now are different entities.

Sessh said...

While Kim did get his first hit today of the infield variety, if he does not step it up in these final three weeks of the spring, I would not be surprised to see him start the season at Norfolk and bring him back up once he gets hot down there. At this point in time, Kim is not major league ready and I can't see Buck putting him on the roster while struggling so badly that he can barely even get a hit especially when there are a bunch of other guys in line for left field who will have done more to earn it. He took Jimenez out of the rotation when he was stinking it up despite his $50M contract, so he certainly would do the same with Kim by sending him to Norfolk to start the year if he has not improved enough by opening day.

About Reimold, he has had year after year to prove himself and has failed. I was rooting for him as much as anyone, but his time is up and he is not doing anything this spring to change that. I think it's time to move on. He is not a prospect anymore. Potential has taken him about as far as it should without results.

Rickard took a step back in 2014, but rebounded nicely in 2015 putting up some pretty nice numbers. In the spring so far, he is showing a quick bat and has done well defensively. He's not running yet which is understandable considering it's March, but I like what I see out of him so far. TB simply has too many good prospects that haven't had setbacks which leaves Rickard out. I know the probability is low for R5's, but I just don't feel comfortable labeling all R5's as failures just because they are R5's. Rickard showed potential last season to be a major league player and he continued that in winter ball. Now in ST, he is continuing to show the same thing. I think he deserves a fair shake here until he proves he doesn't deserve it.

Roger said...

The end of last season was the first time Reimold's been fully healthy in three years. There is more to him than his stats suggest. Kim has a major league contract and can't be sent to the minors without going through waivers. He will be on the roster come hell or high water. Jimenez was demoted to the bullpen but never sent to the minors because he would have to pass through waivers.

The roster on both the pitching side and the hitting side is pretty much set. Wery little question about who will be kept. About the only decision to make is whether to keep Wilson, Wright, or Worley in the majors. Probably Worley since both Wilson and Wright have options and need to stay stretched out to start (at AAA). I'm also interested to see how they handle Parades who clearly does not have a roster fit with Alvarez onboard.

Sessh said...

At the end of last season, Reimold put up a .247/.344/.394 line in 61 games fully healthy as you say which is not good enough. So far this spring, he isn't doing much better. I understand the high expectations for him as I shared them up until last season, but the guy is 32 and has been injury prone his entire career to the point that he has not been able to prove anything over an extended period of time. Enough is enough.

Kim would only go to waivers if he did not consent to being sent down. Considering Kim's situation and that he comes off as reasonable as well as Buck's authority and ability to be convincing, I believe in a situation where Kim is not ready that he would consent to going to Norfolk which would eliminate the waiver possibility. I know Jimenez didn't go to the minors, but he saw no action at all for most of the second half despite technically being in the bullpen. It's not like anyone would have claimed him anyway if they sent him down.

Paredes I think was exposed last season big time. He can't lay off of anything and was not able to make an adjustment. I am personally not all that optimistic about him anymore. Worley isn't that great really and had no success at all in his only AL stint with the Twins, but stranger things have happened. Mike Wright was horrible after his first three starts and was not able to make an adjustment. He hasn't had a great spring either along with Worley. It's always that first adjustment and the inability to make it that stops rookies in their tracks and neither Paredes or Wright have been able to make it. Realistically, I agree with you that Worley will likely get the nod between the three, but that he won't last long. I think Paredes is done as an Oriole barring an injury to open a spot for him.

Anonymous said...

Roger, Reimold stinks, that ship has sailed, aka Mark Hendrickson!!!

Jon Shepherd said...

Kim's contract would not be a waiver situation. It would be an agreed release and he would not be able to play on MLB until 2018.

Sessh said...

I found a few highlight reels for Kim and he was obviously a great hitter in KBO. Uses the whole field, power to all fields, covers a lot of ground in left and a strong arm. I hope this start is all nerves and not about MLB pitching being too much for him. I didn't expect him to look so bad early on. It's hard to imagine Buck putting anyone on the team that hadn't earned it or wasn't ready, so I really hope it doesn't come to that. If Kim can do for us what he showed in the highlight reel, he'll be a great asset. I hope the infield single he got today was enough to get him going.

Jon Shepherd said...

Emphasis on highlight reel. You will not find yourself a single person in Korean baseball who says that he has good range or a strong arm. His whole thing has been his hit tool and not much else. The hit tool was very loud in Korea. The rest not so much, which is what was reported widely and what the scouts have communicated.

Sessh said...

Hehe, well I'll admit that he doesn't look pretty running around in left field, but at least he can do it for now at least and he can throw guys out. I do think his D will be the first thing to go with age and will ultimately be a DH judging by how he looks out there, but for now he can still get around and isn't afraid to run into a wall to make a catch. I consider that a plus. Maybe Kim only looks solid to me because of the cast of left fielders the Orioles have graced us with in recent years, but I'm satisfied with Kim's effort alone.

I have seen his offensive stats and they are incredible, but as we all know, those stats don't always transfer over to this league and so I chose to use the eye test which is why I put emphasis on the highlight reel. Seeing is believing as they say and on top of the hitting, Kim has an outstanding K/BB ratio as well. If he does end up being a full time DH in 4-5 years, he could be a damn good one.

MktGuru said...

Trumbo is fine in RF. Kim has played outfield is an average OF. The ball flies the same way in every country. You have to get use to the stadiums. There are a lot more pros to Pedro. Lots of chips to trade for a playoff run

Jon Shepherd said...

Well...Trumbo might be the worst defensive RF this year. I would be pressed to call that fine. Defense does differ between countries because there are fewer people with MLB quality exit velocity. And the club has basically nothing to trade. Other than that, I agree.