Prior to that whole Ravens winning the Super Bowl thing we took a look at some of the players we expect to be on the Orioles roster in 2013, and what exactly they might be able to put together in the upcoming season. Our post about Troy Patton took a look at one of my favorite underrated arms on the Orioles roster, and today we’re going to take a look at one of my favorite underrated Bats.
You might be asking yourself: Why in the world would someone who uses stats as often as Jeff does like a guy like Ryan Flaherty? That’s a really good question. In 2012 Flaherty struck out in 25.7% of his plate appearances (to put that in context, Mark Reynolds struck out in 29.6% of his PAs last year). Of course with Reynolds those Ks came with quite a few walks, something that Flaherty did not do last year, taking a base on balls in only 3.6% of his plate appearances. Not to mention that according to fWAR he was worth sightly less value than a replacement level player would have been.
As a major leaguer last year, Ryan Flaherty hit for a triple slash of .216/.258/.359 and produced a wRC+ of just 64 (that is 36% below average of course). However, those were only over 167 plate appearances and while playing 6 different positions on the diamond. In fact, the only places Flaherty didn’t play in 2012 were centerfield, catcher and pitcher. This defensive shuffling and lack of consistent playing time likely hurt Flaherty’s performance. Flaherty got a bit more regular playing time in the second half of the season, and also likely began to acclimate to big league life. The proof is in the numbers, Flaherty posted a wRC+ of 105 in the second half last season, including posting the following numbers down the stretch:
July: 128 wRC+
August: 90 wRC+
Sept./Oct. 123 wRC+
In the second half, Flaherty also saw his strikeout rate drop, and his walk rate rise, both settling in much closer to his career numbers from the minor leagues. One main factor? His ISO (isolated power) more than quadrupled from the first half of the season to the second half, going from just .064 to .271 after the all-star break. Flaherty also had a BABIP of just .257 last year, so there might be some room for that to improve naturally, thus buoying his batting average and OBP a bit.
He’s also only 25 years old, and has performed in the minor leagues at a high level previously. Take these with a huge grain of salt, but he’s posted wRC+ of 139, 128, 127, 143 across four levels of the minors as a Cub. Flaherty showed flashes of brilliance last season, which is what you would hope to see from any young player making his MLB debut. As I illustrated above, he really came on after the all-star break looking less overwhelmed at the plate and putting up much better power numbers in the second half.
Speaking of power, Flaherty hit 6 HRs in his 167 plate appearances last year. It would seem to me that with regular playing time there’s the potential for 20 HR power out of the starting second baseman, which would be huge as that position has generally been a black hole for the O’s the past few years.
Can he play the position? The eye test tells many people that he can’t, or would at least be a below average defensive second baseman. I disagree, as I think he can be at least average, if not better. The advanced stats agree with me, although the sample size is way too small for this to be definitive. That said, fangraphs has his UZR/150 at second base as 24.8. Let’s assume that regresses with more playing time there, he’d still be among the top 5 guys at second basemen in UZR/150 as Darwin Barney lead full-time second basemen last year with a UZR/150 of 15.1.
Baseball Reference likes Flaherty at second base too, they have him saving nearly four times the number of runs as the average second baseman over the course of a full season. I know, small sample size is an issue, especially with fielding metrics. All I’ll say is that he made 1 error at second base in his 170+ innings there last year, and showed very good range if you believe the numbers have any value.
Ryan Flaherty likely won’t hit for a high average any time soon, but he makes up for that with above average power for a second baseman with good fielding as well. I’m not going to take a shot at predicting his numbers as I’ve done for others guys in this series, but I will say that if I were Buck Showalter, Flaherty would be my starting second baseman. I think that Flaherty has a good chance to add value to the team at second base, and having a guy who you can rely on out there is something the Orioles haven’t had since Brian Roberts’ heyday.