02 September 2016

Where The Orioles Miss Joey Rickard

By now, it's well documented that this year's version of the Orioles has not been very good against left-handed pitching. Against right-handed pitching, the O's offense ranks third in the majors with a .340 wOBA. But against lefties, they drop all the way to 27th with a wOBA of .295.

The weird thing about that? The O's have a lot of right-handed power bats. There's Adam Jones (.319 career wOBA vs. LHP), Mark Trumbo (.339), Manny Machado (.334), Jonathan Schoop (.269), Steve Pearce (after the trade), and even the switch-hitting Matt Wieters (.344), who historically has performed better from the right side of the plate. Jones and Schoop have been better hitters throughout their careers against right-handed pitching, but besides Machado (who's been excellent), they've all been below average against lefties. Trumbo, Jones, and Wieters have been particularly awful against southpaws this year.

While much of the early season hype of Joey Rickard has dissipated -- both because he cooled off immensely and he's been on the shelf for a while with a thumb injury -- the Orioles have missed his offense against left-handed pitching. Rickard's .369 wOBA against lefties is second best on the O's behind Machado (.381).

Certainly Pearce has shown throughout his career that he can handle lefties, but Nolan Reimold, who's received some extra work with Rickard on the disabled list, has not. Reimold has a .259 wOBA in 103 trips to the plate against lefties, though it's not like he's a lefty masher anyway (career .318 wOBA, 93 wRC+ vs. LHP). Hyun Soo Kim still has not received many plate appearances against lefties (23), but he hasn't done much with them either. He's walked and struck out four times each, plus he was hit by a pitch, but he has yet to record a base hit. That's a BABIP of zero, if you're scoring at home.

Even though it took Buck Showalter a long time before inserting Kim into the lineup regularly -- and Kim all but forced Showalter's hand by hitting in nearly every opportunity he received -- the Kim/Rickard combination had been extremely successful. Kim has a wRC+ of 136 against right-handed pitching, and Rickard has a 130 wRC+ against lefties. That's how you draw up a platoon.

It's unclear whether Kim and Rickard are really this good against opposite-handed throwers. That will play itself out over the rest of this year and in 2017, which is the last season of Kim's two-year deal. Regardless, while Rickard is out (possibly for the rest of the season) and the O's search for any kind of short-term outfield help in Drew Stubbs and Michael Bourn, don't buy into the hype that the Orioles miss Rickard's defense more than anything. He's better defensively than Trumbo or Kim, which isn't exactly a high bar, but being fast doesn't make you a plus outfielder.


Pip said...

I was under the impression that both his defense and his offense were improving at the time that he went down. Is that incorrect?

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Offensively, he was being used more in a platoon role. That seemed to suit him well. Defensively? I don't know about that. I wouldn't be surprised by any improvement with more playing time, but I don't know if we saw enough to determine that.