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January 3, 2013

Skewed Left

Has Baltimore Been Busy Enough?

by Zachary Levine

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If the Baltimore Orioles don’t have the best backup infielders in the American League next season, it certainly won’t be for lack of effort.

Of the six moves made with players on the 40-man roster this offseason, one was a Rule 5 pick, one was the re-signing of Nate McLouth, and the four others all involve backup infield types, including getting rid of Robert Andino in favor of a returning Brian Roberts and/or maybe Ryan Flaherty at second base.

That’s it. Here’s the Orioles’ whole offseason as it relates to 40-man spots after their free agents were declared and the team cleared roster space.

Nov. 2: Claimed INF Alexi Casilla off waivers from Minnesota
Nov. 20: Acquired OF Trayvon Robinson from Seattle for INF Robert Andino
Nov. 28: Acquired 3B Danny Valencia from Boston for cash
Nov. 30: Acquired INF Yamaico Navarro from Pittsburgh for minor league-RHP Jhondaniel Medina
Dec. 6: Selected LHP T.J. McFarland in the Rule 5 draft
Dec. 13: Re-signed OF Nate McLouth to a one-year contract

It is arguably even less of an offseason than the Astros and Mets have had. Baseball’s most generally complacent team at the big-league level at least signed a designated hitter and a closer to come to Houston, and while the Mets haven’t signed a free agent to a major-league deal, they have more than carried their weight in trades.

These Orioles are no 100-game losers. This is a team that pushed the Yankees to the final week for the division, took a wild card, won the coin flip game and pushed the same Yankees to five games in the wild card round.

Yet they’ve done nothing to push past their busy division rivals and close a gap that is much more than the sliver that it appeared last year. It’s been well documented that the Orioles were not as good as their 93-69 record indicated, with their runs scored and allowed more in line with figures of an 82-80 team.

There was still no easy road map to improvements. Below are their ranks in some component-based statistics, which actually match up pretty well with their overall runs scored and allowed even though those runs don’t match up well with their record.

Category

Stat

AL rank

AL East rank

Offense TAv

.259

9th

NY, TB, BOS, BAL, TOR

Starters FRA

4.77

8th

TB, NY, BAL, BOS, TOR

Bullpen FRA

3.92

3rd

TB, NY, BAL, TOR, BOS

(By the way, even as we sit exactly three months out from the regular season finale, it seems incomprehensible that the Rays did not make the playoffs. That chart is absolutely not Simpson’s Paradox, but doesn’t it resemble it?)

Anyway, the Orioles have been stagnant, and it sounds from reports out of Baltimore that fans are frustrated at the pace of this offseason. The problem is that their roster and top prospect outlook combined to put them in a poor position to make offseason moves even with a team that looked so close in the final standings.

First of all, the bullpen wasn’t a problem—despite looking at times like it was built on some shaky ground with saves compiler Jim Johnson, the component-based stats were still very good.

The rotation was below the league median standard, but this wasn’t an easy situation to remedy since there is youth and quantity of starting pitching in house. Zack Greinke or Anibal Sanchez would have been upgrades, but somewhere in the jumble of Miguel Gonzalez, Steve Johnson, (holds breath) Brian Matusz and even Jake Arrieta (4.01 FIP in 2012 despite a 6.20 ERA) exists the back end of a major-league starting rotation to go with Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen and Chris Tillman.

It’s not a very good rotation, though, unless the back-end players age toward the top end of their projection spectrum. With the market price of pitching, the difference between what the Orioles would be getting and their team-specific in-house replacement level might not justify a big contract, and Brett Myers and Francisco Liriano, for instance, might not have even been upgrades. And a multi-year deal for, say, the still available Kyle Lohse or Shaun Marcum at a couple of in-between levels really wouldn’t help if you think Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy will be in the rotation in the next year or two.

Absent a big commitment to a starting pitcher, there was one important place for the Orioles to go shopping, and they haven’t done it. If Baltimore came up short anywhere, it was at the lowest end of the defensive spectrum. They’re fine up the middle if you’re satisfied with the second base arrangement, they’re set in right field with Nick Markakis and at third base with Manny Machado biding his time until J.J. Hardy’s contract expires, but filling the bottom three defensive positions with Nolan Reimold/McLouth, Chris Davis, and Wilson Betemit would be unfortunate. It’s just not a very fun neighborhood to go shopping in the 2012-13 offseason.

If they’re not done, reasonable Orioles targets would include Adam LaRoche or his contingent Nationals first base replacement Michael Morse and…. umm… umm… Lance Berkman? Delmon Young? Maybe an Arizona corner outfielder in the trade market and then get creative?

In free agency the O’s largely missed out on what was an extremely shallow crop of players in the area of most need, big bats with little regard for defensive value—Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, David Ortiz in name only, Cody Ross, a left-field incarnation of Nick Swisher. Given that their draft pick falls in the unprotected portion of the first round, some of those names were dicey anyway.

If there’s one thing to fault the Orioles for this offseason, it’s not jumping into that pool where replacement level in Baltimore really is somewhat frightening and help is not as obviously on the way.

So for now, as largely the same team as last year in the midst of a nearly silent offseason, Baltimore is left in a familiar place. At least Vegas thinks so. Or more accurately, Vegas thinks you think so:

Odds to win 2013 World Series (Source: Bovada.lv)
Blue Jays: 15-2
Yankees: 15-1
Rays: 22-1
Red Sox: 25-1
Orioles: 40-1

Note: solutions to last week's acrostic puzzle are available here.

Zachary Levine is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Zachary's other articles. You can contact Zachary by clicking here

Related Content:  Baltimore Orioles,  Orioles,  Free Agents,  Offseason

9 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Jack Thomas

I read everywhere how bad a fielder Chris Davis is. He was a good defensive 1B at Texas when he player 1B only. It kept him in the lineup when he was struggling with the bat.
How do get worse defensively at his age? Is it the moving around from 1B to 3B to OF? He was not good at 3B at Texas.

Jan 03, 2013 04:59 AM
rating: 0
 
Schere

My impression: his rep in Baltimore for being a bad defensive 1B is from a few errors of the sort that are hard to forget - the inexplicable clang of a couple of accurate throws that just bounced out of his glove. Quantitative defensive measures seem to suggest that he's about average.

I thought he was pretty good in limited time in the OF last year, but I may be alone in that view.

Jan 03, 2013 05:55 AM
rating: 0
 
Schere

In Baltimore's defense, they were much better (and less lucky) in the second half (well, the last third). If Tillman and McLouth's performances in August and September are indicative of their true talent level and Machado takes a step forward, there's some pretty significant improvement (improvement over the full year team stats).

Sure, they still need another young arm to step forward and deliver consistent performance, and none of the core hitters can backslide....but if you squint at it just right, this still looks like a contender.

Jan 03, 2013 06:07 AM
rating: 3
 
Johnson Magic

This is a great point, and perhaps even a true Simpson's Paradox. The O's really did have a tale of two halves. They were inexplicably lucky in the first half (closest I can come to an explanation is they lost blowouts started by guys that they ended up getting rid of, and won close games by guys that remained part of the core...but even that doesn't fully explain their first half record). But in the second half they out scored their opponents and produced a record roughly in line with their second-half-only peripheral stats.

BP kept running the playoff odds based on full season stats, and commentators kept being surprised by the O's continued success, but the second half wasn't nearly as fluky as it was made out to be.

The emergence of Machado, the solidification of the bullpen and starting rotation by ditching the poor performers, the solidification of the defense by moving Reynolds away from the hot corner and having him stand on his head at first...lotta things changed by the all star break. I wouldn't expect all of them to regress in 2013.

Jan 03, 2013 09:10 AM
rating: 2
 
terencem

I have a hard time believing Nate McLouth is suddenly the guy the Braves traded for again. Are there very many cases of positions players being pretty good, then sucking for several seasons and then being pretty good again for an extended period of time?

In any case, Baltimore was so dependent on a nearly historic season by its bullpen, it would be shocking to see them in contention next year.

Jan 03, 2013 09:20 AM
rating: 0
 
Schere

yeah, McLouth is a big if. It easy to like him at his current price, though.

I'm not sure the bullpen was as historic as you think, though.

Luis Ayala had a better season in 2011.
Darren O'Day had a better season in 2009 & 2010
Jim Johnson was just as effective in 2011, and pitched 30% more innings that year.
Lindstrom was about as useful as he'd been in Colorado.
Pedro Strop was the only guy whose performance established a new peak, and he'd been quite effective in limited action before that.

Now, nobody should count on these guys all having good years again, of course. But their collective performance wasn't a miracle, either.

Jan 03, 2013 11:03 AM
rating: 0
 
apbadogs

I absolutely expected Baltimore to crash and burn last year after the all star break, what they were doing was completely smoke and mirrors and 1-run game luck. They kept it going which was cool and a great story though. That said, I think the Orioles are going to take a HUGE tumble this year, regress, whatever you want to call it, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them struggle to win 75 games.

Jan 03, 2013 06:37 AM
rating: 0
 
John Geer
(44)

Reimold being back and Markakis leading off all season (hopefully), along with a full season of the vastly improved D at third should be extremely helpful. Also, Hardy was sub-par offensively, so there may be a bump there, too. The performance, especially defensively, after Machado got called up was not smoke and mirrors.

Jan 03, 2013 07:22 AM
rating: 0
 
ChicagoOriole

I went into the off-season fearing that Baltimore would believe the win-loss record over the runs gotten and allowed. Baltimore was not a team that was a move or two away from the playoffs again. Last season was a special gift for Orioles fans, but one that will not happen again.

It appears that Baltimore has not given up on its underperforming young players. Good for them! I remember the Orioles giving up on young players to get free agents. How much good did Fred Lynn and Lee Lacy do the Orioles? They gave up on John Shelby who had a couple of really good years, and Curt Schilling, well, it just hurts to think about what if Schilling and Mussina had stayed with the Orioles.

Baltimore cannot become good through free agency. It cannot happen. They do not have the money. So I don't fault them for working to make the talent they have develop. I do fault them for not trading Roberts when they could.

Jan 03, 2013 09:54 AM
rating: 1
 
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