Tuesday, February 15, 2011

3 Questions: Baltimore Orioles

By Bill

The Orioles are our second-to-last AL team to be questioned. They've made a bunch of fairly big moves this offseason, which you think would make them one of the more fun ones to talk about. You'd be wrong, though. Like, really wrong.

1. Is a good last-place team better than a bad last-place team?
Maybe that's not fair. PECOTA, after all, likes them to finish fourth, six games ahead of the Blue Jays. I just can't see it; the Jays have probably gotten a bit worse and the Orioles have gotten a bit better, but not to the tune of a 25-game swing from 2010.

The point, though, is that even that very rosy projection has the Orioles at 82-80 -- ten games out of first, nine out of a playoff spot, and stuck behind probably the three best teams in the league. So what are they doing acquiring three players -- Derrek Lee, Vladimir Guerrero and J.J. Hardy -- who will be free agents after this season? With those three guys, they've spent $21 million for, basically, a chance to move from a distant fifth place to a distant fourth.

And this is fun: a few days ago, GM Andy MacPhail was speaking to some law students when he said that Alex Rodriguez's huge 2001 contract with the Rangers was "the worst signing in the history of baseball in my view." And why? Because "the needle didn't move at all. The team didn't improve. Attendance didn't go up." MacPhail hasn't spent anywhere near A-Rod money this offseason, but it's hard to imagine these moves turning out any differently.

2. How Good Is Matt Wieters?
And speaking of PECOTA: in 2009, before he'd played a game in the big leagues, the system saw Wieters as putting up one of the greatest seasons a catcher has ever had: .311/.395/.544, with 31 home runs. Of course, that didn't happen, though he was about an average hitter in 2009, which in itself is impressive enough for a 23 year old catcher. But then he took a step back in 2010.

Wieters is still the same guy who was taken fifth overall in the draft, was the #1 prospect entering 2009, and hit an incredible .343/.438/.576 in his minor league career. We're still a couple years from being able to say he won't be a star in the major leagues. I get the sense people are writing him off already, but if you're going to bet on somebody to come up with a huge year out of nowhere this year (and its coming "out of nowhere" pretty much means you shouldn't bet on it, or whatever), Wieters would seem to be a pretty good choice.

3. Can Mark Reynolds Hit (in the AL East)?
I've written about Reynolds several times already (here and here and here), because he's fascinating. The point was basically that while strikeouts by hitters are overemphasized, it is really, really hard to remain a productive player while striking out as ridiculously often as Reynolds does. And he went a long way toward proving that last year, going .198/.320/.433. I think he's an amazingly talented hitter and there's a good chance he turns it around, but I also think that in a division with Sabathia and Burnett and Lester and Beckett and Price, he could strike out 250 times. I'm going to forget all that and just hope that proximity to his alma mater (and mine, sort of), the University of Virginia, helps him somehow.


Anonymous said...

Bill, I think a lot of that 25 game swing can be explained by the fact that 2010 records didn't exactly capture the talent level of either squad. OK, that's not a fact, but it is my working theory. But I do feel justified in saying that the 15-3 HTH record in 2010 probably reflects more than a little luck, and a more ordinary 11-7 HTH record last year would have reduced the 25 game swing in BP's preliminary projection by a third.

Tim Schere

Anonymous said...

I also think when you talk about moving the needle you don't have a full grasp of the stadium in Baltimore.

This team has a state of the art facility that people don't come to any more. Creating buzz and atmosphere from a team that won less than 70 games last year is doing something.

While from a statistical analytics side that's something you don't think about, the home crowd means something to the future of this team too.

Bill said...

Tim, I think you're probably right. And with the additions plus improvements I think it's fair to expect from Wieters, Jones and Markakis, they're certainly better. Maybe I'm just too high on the Jays.

On the second comment (is that Tim again?), I can certainly see that -- and it's an amazing stadium, I want to go back -- but I question how much this is really going to help. You've got a team that's better, but that's still going to be out of the race by the ASB. Are people really going to come out for a chance to see Vladimir Guerrero (or for that matter Hardy or Lee) when they know he's probably a one-year rental and won't be around for the next winning team? I can see it with a superstar still in his prime, or with a true legend (give Barry Bonds a call!), but I just don't think late-career Vlad Guerrero, and a handful of extra wins for a non-contending team, are what it takes to get butts back in seats. I could be wrong.

Theo said...

As an Orioles fan, I think you're selling them short on how much they improved. I think they do have a realistic shot at fourth this year. However, what I haven't gotten is why everyone assumes that these moves were made to put them in contention for this year. If the Orioles get lucky and have a hot start, that's fine.
More realistically, I think their goal for the year is to get around .500 (and hopefully break their losing streak) and flip some combination of Guerrero, Lee, Hardy, and Luke Scott at the deadline to replenish their farm system. Hardy, as a shortstop who can field AND hit, should be a fairly hot commodity (especially given the lack a amazing shortstops in the league right now). And Guerrero made the All-Star team last year; hopefully, he wins the DH slot again, which will drive up his value. (didn't they just pass some rule putting a DH in every All-Star Game, or am I imagining that?) As TCM noted at Sweetspot the other day, signing one-year deals and trading at the deadline is a good strategy (http://espn.go.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/7148/ways-teams-screw-things-up). If the Orioles can turn these four into three to four A or B prospects, I'll be thrilled.
As for Mark Reynolds, I don't know if saying he's facing harder pitching is necessarily true. He did come from a division with three horrible hitter's parks, and regularly had to face Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Ubaldo Jimenez, Mat Latos, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, etc. At the very least, Camden Yards should play to his strengths.

Anonymous said...

The second comment is an anonymous anonymous - it's not me.

I do agree with him, though - they have to stop the free-fall in attendance of the recent past, and filling replacement-level holes with 2-3 win players is a decent way to do that. In the meantime, the minor league system has to get a lot better...that's the part that still worries me.