17 April 2017

The Orioles Have Positional Depth; Lack Positional DEPTH

The 162 game, 6 month schedule of the baseball season is incredibly grueling, and as a result teams rely on contributions from more than the 25 individuals who initially make the roster out of spring training. In many cases, teams require contributions from more than the 40 players who make up the 40-man rosters. Injuries, ineffectiveness, and fatigue can play a pivotal role over the course of a long season at multiple positions, so it’s important (to the most practical extent possible) that teams fill their 25 and 40 man rosters with players who can provide adequate production at each position in the event the starter goes down, or in a best case scenario, just needs a day off. As MASN writer Steve Melewski mentioned in a recent article he posted, the Orioles have a lot of depth stashed in the minor leagues, particularly on the position player side at AAA affiliate Norfolk.

“The Orioles’ Triple-A Norfolk team is a club with a lot of experience - major league experience. The Tides have seven position players with over 300 games of major league experience: Pedro Álvarez (851), Chris Johnson (839), Robert Andino (481), Paul Janish (459), Chris Dickerson (355), Johnny Giavotella (353) and Logan Schafer (318).
Norfolk’s position players have combined for 3,799 big league games played, which is more than three major league clubs (Padres, Brewers and Reds) opened their 2017 season with. Members of Norfolk’s opening day roster have hit 289 career big league homers, 88 more than the Padres began the season with (201).”

Those paragraphs suggest the organization has a lot of depth. It’s false. Let’s start with Alvarez. After spending last season in Baltimore, Orioles fans are pretty familiar with him. He’s had a solid if unspectacular major league career to this point (career .238/.311/.449 hitter, translating to a 107 wRC+), and he’s actually a really nice player to have stashed in the minor leagues. Signing him to a minor league deal in the offseason is a great move in a vacuum. However, as is also well-known at this point, he’s best suited for a platoon DH role, and based on the make-up of the active roster, he likely sits 4th on the depth chart. Granted, he’s spending time in the minors to work on his outfield defense. But even if you think he’ll become passable in the outfield (while I have not seen him play there yet, I don’t), he’s probably going to need to hit as well as 2016 Mark Trumbo to justify a level of defense that is “not completely embarrassing”. Again, Alvarez on a minor league deal is a good player to have, and one of the better options to adequately fill in case of a rainy day, but he’s a redundant luxury to have in the organization.


While doing a little bit of research for this post, I stumbled on something that surprised me.
I had remembered that the Braves signed Johnson to that contract, but for some reason I thought that had been completed AT LEAST 2 years ago. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. Ryan Flaherty is the only backup infielder capable of playing SS, 3B, or 2B, so the Orioles are essentially a J.J. Hardy (somewhat common) and Manny Machado or Jonathan Schoop injury (less common) away from not only Flaherty seeing significant playing time, but one of these three players doing the same.

Career Statistics (UZR/150 for position noted after player's name)

Of all the options here, Johnson (who is actually injured at the moment) is the most accomplished player of those four. He’s a tick worse than your average hitter, is a lousy defensive third baseman, and at first glance, having him stashed in the major leagues appears like a good idea (especially if someone else is paying that salary, which according to Cot’s, is Cleveland). However, Johnson has not been anywhere near productive at the plate since 2013, when he rode a .354 BABIP to a .321/.358/.457 slash line. His offensive success appears to depend entirely on a favorable BABIP, as the 3 years where he’s had a wRC+ over 100 all involved a BABIP of AT LEAST .334. In the last 3 seasons (with about 2 seasons worth of plate appearances), Johnson’s wRC+’s have been 82, 70, and 63.

Robert Andino and Paul Janish are organizational veterans at this point who (to borrow some scouting lingo), “can pick it” in the field, but can’t “hit a lick”. And while Janish’s glove work makes him a nice veteran to stash in the minors “in case of an (extreme) emergency”, I’m not sure Andino is a viable option to consider for the major league roster at any point of the season. Although, if the Orioles are out of it by August, I suppose you could hope for an Andino call up as an excuse to re-watch this highlight, and to see if his Orioles media photo continues its natural progression.

Despite minor league success, Johnny Giavotalla hasn’t shown an ability to hit or field in the major leagues and is limited to second base, so that’s not ideal. I know what you’re thinking; “Hey, that Giavotella guy is a former prospect so at least he’s probably young and maybe has some upside”. He’ll turn 30 in July. Time comes for us all.


As mentioned, there is plenty of (defensively challenged) outfield depth on the major league roster, so let’s take a quick look at the minor league outfield depth.

Career Statistics (UZR/150 is the combined number for all OF positions)

I probably shouldn’t even include Michael Choice here, but as a former top prospect, I decided to throw him in. He’s not even playing regularly in Norfolk, which gives an indication on where he’s at on the depth chart. Logan Schafer has some defensive value, but not enough to make up for a non-existent bat. Of these three outfielders, Chris Dickerson looks like he could be interesting as legitimate outfield depth who can also actually play defense, but he hasn’t played in the majors since 2014. It’s worth noting as well that the majority of his accumulated fWAR came from 2008 and 2009 (those seasons were accompanied with BABIP’s of .410 and .360).

I realize that this article is likely a little nit-picky. None of these players are even currently on the 40-man roster, so they are only considered depth in theory. Additionally, every organization employs players with MLB experience in their upper minors (sometimes as actual depth and sometimes as roster-filler). And to be honest, the lack of outfield depth in AAA isn’t an issue as long as the Orioles don’t care about outfield defense (and to this point, they haven’t), since there is plenty of outfield depth in Baltimore (not even accounting for the re-signing of Michael Bourn). In my opinion, it’s the infield that is particularly concerning. After Ryan Flaherty, there isn’t a single option in AAA that should see playing time. This is where the lack of prospect depth could really hurt the Orioles. Yes, the players discussed in this article have major league experience, but they are known quantities. They offer no surprise upside that a fringe average or better prospect could provide upon their call-up. Additionally, the majority of these players have not been productive for 3 years (if ever), so I find it unlikely they would even be replacement level if called upon. So while some out there may prefer major league experience despite what I just outlined, I think we can all agree to hope for good health, so these players don’t accrue major league service time in 2017.


Unknown said...

Pedro Alvarez is playing right field for Norfolk. I've seen him play four games. If nothing else, he's a better outfielder than Christian Walker was.

FearItself said...

Here's hoping Trey Mancini has a previously-undiscovered genius for playing third base, just waiting to emerge in a major-league setting. So the next time Hardy's back locks up, it would be: 3: Davis, 4: Schoop, 5: Mancini, 6: Machado; I could live with that.

In the more likely event that Mancini played first base in college and throughout the minors for good reasons, I'll be sacrificing chickens (in the form of Buffalo wings) on game day to keep JJ's lumbar aligned.

Unknown said...

Joe, was hoping you'd have some thoughts (or maybe even a future post) looking at Alvarez in the outfield. I am curious to see how he looks based on the multiple views you'll have. I know he has a good arm, and your statement of "better than Christian Walker" is at least...something.

Unknown said...

#Nate - Four games isn't a strong basis for a comment on an outfielder's defense, and i'm scheduled to work five games on the next Norfolk homestand (April 25-30.) I'm considering a post on Alvarez' defense after that set.

Another teaser, subject to the limitation that I haven't seen Hyun-Soo Kim in the outfield much more than Pedro Alvarez, is that I think Alvarez is better than Kim.

Anonymous said...

Giovotalla is Rod Carew compared to Flaherty, should have made the team, don't know what flahety has on the Orioles that makes him there, year after year! Mario Mendoza could give him hitting instructions!

Josh Josephs said...

Part of the debate here is what is the depth going to be used for.
I see the guys listed as professional players as opposed to prospects meaning that if you need a guy for a couple games to spell Hardy, Schoop etc they are not going to embarrass the team with horrible fielding, boneheaded base running, inability to lay down a sacrifice bunt etc.
Sure I would not want any of the above playing more than a couple games but if late in the year JJ needs someone to take a couple games Id much rather have the experience of Paul Janish than some no name.

Roger said...

This article fails to mention that the infield depth is coming, some of which is already at AA where teams often keep their best and brightest young prospects. Jomar Reyes is tearing the cover off the ball and Adrian Marin is out there too (although he's not much of a hitter). The AAA reserves can cover a short period of DL time for one of the MLers but if a long term problem develops then someone at AA might fill the bill better. While I agree that Flaherty is not much of an answer, if he were better then he'd be a starter and you'd have the same problem all over again. And Alvarez's potential for defense in the outfield might also be answering the question from the prior post...... why is Kim disrespected?

Unknown said...

Thanks for the comments.

Anonymous - Flaherty can play passable defense at 2B, SS, and 3B whereas Giavotella can only play 2B (and according to the defensive numbers, not very well), so I would think that would play a lot into the decision for Flaherty as the bench player rather than Giavotella.

Josh - The fact that they're not on the 40 man means (in my opinion) that they are there as long term solutions in the event of an injury. Adding them to the active roster means someone else loses their 40 man roster spot and sending them back down requires passing them through waivers. Maybe they go unclaimed and stay in the organization, but they aren't there to provide a breather unless it's September

Roger - I don't see any more depth in AA. General thought on Reyes (who is not in AA yet) from publicly available scouting reports is that he's moving to first base. Also talked to a couple scouts at the winter meetings who thought he'd definitely need to be moved off third. I haven't seen him play 3rd this year, so I can't say whether that outlook as changed since December, but I'm guessing not). Orioles don't need another 1B/DH. Marin's glove can't make up for his deficiencies at the plate.

Unknown said...

With all due respect, and correct me if I'm wrong, it kind of feels like the central thesis of this post is "the Orioles replacement players are replacement-level players." Well, ok...

Seriously, outside of the 7 or 8 wealthiest teams in baseball, organizations can't afford to intentionally stash above-replacement-level veteran talent in the minors. Moreover, above-replacement-level veterans generally don't want to accept minor league assignments. The real issue, which you allude to a few times but largely gloss over, is the lack of high-minors prospects, but that's not a quick fix. The best option was probably to fill in for that with acceptable veteran talent.

Realistically, from my perspective, Janish is a pretty good guy to have available in AAA. The contingency plan for a Hardy injury is presumably to start Flaherty (maybe at 3rd?) and bring Janish up to take a utility infield role. Given the quality of his glove, he wouldn't be the worst utility infielder on an MLB active roster. That makes for a more than acceptable replacement option in my eyes.

Another important question here is how we stack up with the competition in this regard. Obviously the Orioles can't hang with the Red Sox for depth. Very few teams can. Realistically, we probably aren't competing with the Sox anyway - most projections have them comfortably winning the division. If we're competing with Toronto for a wildcard again I don't see them having a depth edge. Their starting shortstop is at least as fragile as the Orioles' and their ostensible backup is Darwin Barney, who has about as much bat as Flaherty and less glove. Or Goins, who hits about like Janish with, again, a lot less glove. The other guys on the 40-man are Urena, who's 21 and not ready for even an emergency callup, and Ty Kelly, who has a whopping 3 starts worth of career minor league experience at SS.

It's hard to say who else might be in the WC race this early, but against many potential candidates we're even if not ahead in terms of backup and minor league options. In short, I think you've set up an artificially dark perspective through comparison to some idealized scenario which frankly isn't particularly realistic. Only a handful of teams in the majors can lose their starting SS or C and not take a huge step back somewhere. There just aren't an abundance of really good players at those positions. By definition, your next guys up from AAA should be, on average, replacement level players. It's not a knock against the team when that's exactly what it has available.

Unknown said...

Jacob, appreciate the comments and you make some good points.

I think the main point(s) I was hoping to get across were the fact that just because some writers or the team (in this case Melewski) tout depth by citing MLB experience doesn't mean it's true, and that the real issue is lack of prospect depth (even if they're fringe prospects). With the exception of Alvarez and possibly Janish, I do think these players would be worse than replacement level, which is something I should have stressed more than I did.

I admit in the final paragraph that the article is picking nits and that every team needs to fill out rosters with these types of players. Based on the way that the farm system is currently set up, the Orioles have been kind of forced filling out their AAA team, and that's really alright, especially since they've been winning at the MLB level.

We just can't equate experience with depth in this case.

Unknown said...

I like the OF depth the ML team has. AAA is another story. I think Janish may be adequate replacement for one season. Chris Clare in Delmarva looks like a future infield depth player. The OF and catcher depth below AAA is impressive too.