06 November 2017

The Orioles Need Better Outfield Defense

The Orioles outfield defense was considered poor by defensive metrics. Per Fangraphs, the Orioles outfield had a UZR of -21.1 runs, ranked 29th out of 30 teams. I’ve been known to be skeptical of UZR in the past, but this year UZR has just three teams with an outfield defense worse than 10 runs (1 win) and six with an outfield better than 10 runs. This is a significantly different from other years, suggesting a drastic change in methodology. Statcast’s outs above average metric tells a similar story as it ranked the Orioles outfield defense as worth -15 outs above average, tied for second worst in the majors. According to its sprint speed metric, the Orioles outfield was very slow and this helps explain its ineffectiveness.

Adam Jones has been the foundation of the outfield defense for the past ten years. He’s been fast enough to play center field while having above average offensive production. But good things can’t last forever and Jones has finally faded defensively. Statcast ranked Adam Jones as being worth -7 outs above average, 201st out of 210 outfielders. The reason why he was so ineffective was because he’s now slow. Per Statcast, his sprint speed was only 27.1 feet per second ranking 53rd out of 58 center fielders. It isn’t clear whether his defensive positioning had a detrimental impact on his speed, but this suggests that he needs to be a corner outfielder going forward. This could be problematic because his bat isn’t good enough to make him any better than an average right fielder offensively. Depending on his 2018 performance, the Orioles probably shouldn’t offer Jones a qualifying offer, nor should they extend him unless he signs a short-term deal at a significant discount from his current contract. There’s only so much a team should pay for leadership.

Fangraphs ranked Trey Mancini’s outfield defense as being worth -7.9 runs per 150 innings while Statcast valued him at -5 outs above average. Trey Mancini ranked 39th out of 58 left fielders with a sprint speed of 26.9 feet per second. That’s probably fast enough to play left field for the next few years, but it does mean he’ll need defensive help. With Trumbo and Davis on the squad for the next two years, Mancini will be forced to play left field barring an injury or a platoon.

Fangraphs ranked Trumbo’s outfield defense as being worse than -10 runs per 150 innings, while Statcast valued his defense as -5 outs above average. Mark Trumbo was graded as a DH, but had a poor sprint speed of 26.3 feet per second. Trumbo clearly has no business playing in the field, but his inability to hit as a DH suggests that he needs to play in the outfield. A center fielder with good speed and range can make up for Trumbo’s inability to run, but that center fielder isn’t Adam Jones at this point in his career.

Fangraphs ranked Smith’s outfield defense as being worth -5 runs per 150 innings and he ranked 49th out of 51 right fielders with a sprint speed of 26.4 feet per second. Seth Smith is a free agent this offseason and will likely not be a factor in the Orioles’ 2018 plans. However, his limited speed certainly contributed to the Orioles outfield defensive woes.

There is limited help on the roster. Chris Davis, with a sprint speed of 25 feet per second, was the 45th slowest out of 48 first basemen and now is about as fast as Matt Wieters. Davis has played in the outfield before, but can’t do so in the future if he is so slow. It would make sense to use him as a DH at this point. Austin Hays has had limited playing time as a major league outfielder, but had poor defensive results according to both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference as a right fielder. Statcast doesn’t have enough information to have a useful opinion of his speed/defense. He appears to be a defensive upgrade over Mancini/Trumbo but still below average.

The sole bright spots were Rickard and Gentry. Joey Rickard ranked 28th out of 51 right fielders with a sprint speed of 27.5 feet per second and Craig Gentry ranked 5th out of 51 right fielders with a sprint speed of 28.5 feet per second, suggesting that Gentry would be a valuable pickup on a minor league contract. However, Rickard’s .241/.276/.345 line suggests that he’s most valuable as a defensive replacement/pinch runner. In addition, he’s merely bad against left-handed pitching, suggesting that he could even be a platoon outfielder in a pinch. 

Camden Yards isn’t a large outfield, but even the Orioles need some outfield speed in order to play adequate defense and it is unlikely that anyone on their roster can provide that speed with acceptable offense. This will have to be a factor when the Orioles look at free agent outfielders if they want to improve.

The Orioles have been linked to Carlos Gonzalez, and MLBTR predicts that the Orioles will sign him for 1 year and $12 million. This would be a poor decision as Gonzalez’s sprint speed ranks 45th out of 51 right fielders at 26.6 feet per second. Not only is Carlos Gonzalez extremely slow, but he was ineffective last year against left-handed pitching with an .206/.241/.321 line with a 3.6% walk rate and a 30.7% strikeout rate. He was decent against left-handed pitching in 2016, but was terrible against it in 2015. With his limited speed, I’d expect his BABIP to plummet in future years. At this point in his career, he’s a defensively challenged outfielder that can only play against right-handed pitching. This has value to some teams, but the Orioles should probably pass given that they already have speed challenged players like Mancini, Davis and Trumbo on the roster and are lacking a fast center fielder to make up for their inability to cover ground.

Curtis Granderson is another player linked to the Orioles, but his sprint speed ranks 57th out of 58 center fielders at 26.6 feet per second. In addition, his low BABIP of .228 in 2017 and .256 in 2016 suggests that his speed is perhaps slower than it seems or that he’s vulnerable to shifting. In any event, he’s not fast enough to help solidify the Orioles’ defense playing right field.

A number of other free agent outfielders have the same issue. Jay Bruce might be an interesting addition, but his sprint speed is 47th out of 51 right fielders at 26.5 feet per second. Jonathan Jay is an interesting option, but his sprint speed ranks 56th out of 58 center fielders at 26.6 feet per second. Cameron Maybin ranks 43rd out of 58 center fielders with a sprint speed of 27.8 feet per second. Austin Jackson ranks 46th out of 58 center fielders with a sprint speed of 27.6 feet per second.

Maybin and Jackson are potentially decent corner outfield options with the ability to help the Orioles defense improve its range slightly. Neither of the two are considered top 50 free agents by MLBTR, while BORAS thinks they’ll each receive roughly 2 years and $20 million. 

Carlos Gomez ranks a passable 36th out of 58 center fielders with a sprint speed of 28.1 feet per second, but that’s a significant drop from his 2016 speed of 28.7 feet per second and his 2015 speed of 28.5 feet per second. At 33, one needs to wonder how long his speed can hold up. MLBTR projects him to earn 2 years and $22 million while BORAS has him at 3 years and $31 million. Gomez has been better against right-handed pitching than left-handed pitching over the past three years and could be platooned with Rickard. He’s a definitely reasonable free agent option for the Orioles.

At 32, Lorenzo Cain is one of the fastest runners in the majors with a sprint speed of 29.1 feet per second and would almost definitely help the Orioles outfield defense. He’s been above average offensively in the past and would be a strong leadoff option. MLBTR and BORAS are nearly in agreement about what Cain will earn, roughly $65-70 million over 4 years and will likely receive a QO. The Orioles will need to decide whether they can afford to sign him and whether it’s worth giving up the draft pick necessary. They’ll also have to see how long they think Cain can retain his elite speed.

Jarrod Dyson is another fast runner with a sprint speed of 28.8 feet per second. Jon recommended signing him in his final blueprint, and I think that he’d make sense. BORAS projects Dyson to earn a prohibitive 3 years and $32.5 million, but MLBTR has him receiving 2 years and $12 million. Dyson is old, but is above average defensively in center field and would allow the Orioles to use Jones in right field. Dyson historically struggles against left handed pitching, making him a viable platoon option with Joey Rickard. The Orioles almost certainly won’t offer 3 and $30 million to Dyson, but offering 2 years and $15 million would be an offer I could see them make. Dyson should be the Orioles first choice given their payroll situation and the fact that they need three new starting pitchers even if Cain is the better player.

The Orioles outfield defense was poor last year because their outfielders were slow. Their outfielders are only getting older and slower and so their defense will only continue to degrade without adding talent from outside the organization. Signing a player like Jarrod Dyson, Carlos Gomez and Lorenzo Cain would be a definite upgrade to the Orioles’ outfield defense and help them compete in 2018.


Anonymous said...

Dyson without a doubt. One of the best thing about math/statistics is proving what we already know. One thing you don't mention is how a significant upgrade in OF defense might possibly have the effect of upgrading the pitching staff. I would wager that upgraded OF defense could have as much effect as acquiring a decent #5 SP. In other words, whatever you pay Dyson might be a bargain even the 3/$31M.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and what does Santander bring to the table speed-wise?

Unknown said...

Way too many SOS Slow as**** guys on this team, lack of athletes.

Matt Perez said...

I don't believe that Santander was ranked by Statcast. However, he isn't known for his speed. I'd expect he's slow.

Sure, upgraded outfield defense would likely prevent runs which would make pitchers look better. At least their ERA/wOBA if not their FIP.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, well, OF defense won't help with walks.

Unknown said...

Santander is a speed burner compared to Trumbo and Seth Smith.

gorav114 said...

Cain would be the ideal candidate and also would allow Beckham to slot into the 9 hole adding better defense, better offense, and more team speed. Signed with a combo of Alex Cobb and Jamie Garcia/Vargas/Chatwood and this team could push back to around 90 wins.