28 February 2018

Should Pedro Alvarez Just Be The DH?

The Orioles can never have enough 1B/DH types, so it's no surprise that Pedro Alvarez is back with the O's on a minor league deal. Let's have some fun with it.

Imagine for a moment that Mark Trumbo didn't have two years and $26 million left on his contract. If you had to pick between Trumbo and Alvarez as to who'd have the better numbers as the O's DH in 2018, who would you choose? I asked this very question in a Twitter poll on Sunday. You may be surprised with the results:
It's not so crazy, though! The two players' Steamer and ZiPS projections are close: 105 and 101 wRC+, respectively, for Trumbo, and 112 (!) and 98 for Alvarez. Trumbo is 32 years old and has a career 106 wRC+; Alvarez is 31 and has a career 107 wRC+.

As Jon and others have discussed numerous times on this site, the knock on Trumbo is that he's a bad outfielder who struggles when he's forced to DH. He could play first base on another team, but the Orioles have Chris Davis locked into that position. That means Trumbo is likely to see the bulk of his at-bats as a DH. In his playing career, that hasn't gone well:

Trumbo career DH: 88 wRC+
Trumbo career non-DH: 112 wRC+

Have things been better recently? No. Trumbo has been with the Orioles since 2016, and in his two seasons in Baltimore, he has a 81 wRC+ as a DH (713 PA) and a 133 wRC+ as a position player (554 PA). (For reference, the MLB average DH had a wRC+ of 94 last year.)

For Alvarez, the opposite has been the case. He's performed much better as a DH:

Alvarez career DH: 124 wRC+
Alvarez career non-DH: 107 wRC+

Most of Alvarez's DH work has come with the Orioles, and his DH numbers look even better when counting just the 2016 and 2017 seasons: 129 wRC+ (360 PA). In his 31 non-DH plate appearances, Alvarez has a 73 wRC+.

Career wise, Trumbo has more than 1,000 plate appearances as a DH while Alvarez has just over 400, so the case is stronger that Trumbo hits worse as a DH than it is that Alvarez is much better as a DH. Also, of Alvarez's 410 plate appearances with the O's, 365 have come against right-handed pitching, while just 45 have been against lefties. In his career, Alvarez has a 117 wRC+ against right-handed pitching but a wRC+ of only 70 against southpaws. Trumbo, meanwhile, has not been used as a platoon bat.

So what matters more: Trumbo's shortcomings as a DH, or Alvarez's struggles against left-handed pitching? Probably Trumbo's DH issues, especially since, if Alvarez were the main DH option, the O's could opt to use a right-handed hitter at DH when the O's face a lefty. (That could give some regulars a rest from playing the field that day.) It's tough to get around carrying a DH who's not going to hit as well.

Back to reality. Trumbo does indeed have $26 million left on his deal, and if another team wanted to take him and his salary off the O's hands, it maybe would have happened already. (And it looks less likely now that someone like Logan Morrison had to settle for a one-year, $6.5 million deal with a 2019 vesting option.) Still, if the O's could find a taker for Trumbo's remaining salary (or even, improbably, eat some of it) and then use Alvarez as the main DH, would you do it?


Anonymous said...

This is not an easy issue with an easy answer. One of the possible answers no one wants to consider is moving Davis to DH and Trumbo to 1B. That would potentially solve both problems (a LH DH and Trumbo not being a DH). If Trumbo plays a passable 1B then the downgrade fielding-wise won't be that bad and maybe you get both Trumbo and Davis to hit better. How does Davis stack up as a DH? [not that Buck would let this solution play out]

Also, what do you want to do with the OF? Is Colby enough that you don't need to sign Jay? This question sets up a discussion about whether you are looking for speed and defense or another low OBA power hitter. To sign Jay, disposing of Trumbo becomes an imperative.

And how many platoon players can you keep on a roster? Does Colby have bad splits? Do you have enough roster slots to play Mancini/Hays/Trumbo against LH and Mancini/Colby/Alvarez against RH? Do you want to keep Gentry or Rickard against LH and sit Davis against LH?

I think Dan needs to pull off another one of his "Gallardo for Smith" type miracles with Trumbo.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Davis is just going to play 1B most of the time if he's healthy. I can't see that changing. It would be nice to get Trumbo some more time in the field at first, though, since he should not be in the outfield.

I don't think Rasmus is going to work out, so I'd take Jay over him. But that's just a guess. Rasmus only has a career 81 wRC+ vs. LHP.

I don't see any way the O's can deal Trumbo unless he has a monster first half or the O's are willing to throw in cash -- or both. They're probably stuck with him.

Pip said...

Jon's earlier suggestion that the best among the bad options would be a first base platoon with Mark and Chris, which would be very expensive but productive.
The Rockies still need a first baseman, they don't want to bring up their prospects yet. I really wish Dan would call them up and just ask them what it would take to ship Trumbo over there.
I am very opposed to having Alvarez on the team as part of a DH platoon, but if he's the only DH, sure why not?

Unknown said...

Orioles plain botched this. After 2016 season, they gave Trumbo 37.5 million, when they could have had Alvarez for about 5. OOPS!

O's Brose said...

I thought the point of Rasmus was to potentially platoon with Hays who crushes lefties and let Rasmus play against RHP. Also Rasmus can spell OF at other positions because he is a good defensive OF at CF and can play LF. Of course there's no guarantee Hays will be a great hitter at the MLB level but he would be playing less often as he get acclimated as we'll see more RHP than LHP. I just wish we could do the same thing with Alvarez and Trumbo as a platoon DH. We can't support that many platoons however.