April 6th and Opening Day is coming ever closer for the Baltimore Orioles. Following their 2014 AL East Title, how do the O’s currently compare vs. their fellow Divisional foes?
We will start our comparisons with a look at the respective starting infields.
Baltimore – Matt Wieters
Boston – Christian Vasquez
New York – Brian McCann
Tampa Bay – Rene Rivera
Toronto – Russell Martin
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Thoughts on AL East C’s:
After Boston parted ways with AJ Pierzynski last year, Vasquez had 55 games in the Majors. Sox Prospects rated him a plus defensive catcher. It will be interesting to see where is bat with everyday playing time in the bigs.
In his first year as a Yankee, McCann played in his most games since 2010, but posted an OPS under .700. If the 31 year old can rebound to the 2013 level of production he had with Atlanta; that would be a big boost for New York. I wonder if the Yankees might try and give him some additional time at DH this year?
Rivera signed a 1 year, $1.2M contract with TB this this Winter after being traded from San Diego. With the Padres last season, Rivera had an fWAR of 3.0 in 103 games. 32 at the end of July, Rivera is not a long-term fix, but perhaps he can provide some value this year.
The current 32 year old catcher in the division is Martin, who returns to the East after two seasons with Pittsburgh. Those two years as a Pirate were very productive (an average of 4.7 fWAR), but he was limited to 111 games last year. It can be expected that his 5 year $82M deal with Toronto will be part of the baseline used for Wieters’ next contract.
Prior to his 2014 season ending with Tommy John surgery, Wieters was having a nice start to the year with the bat. In the early part of his career, Baltimore’s switch hitting catcher hit RHP better. Over the years, his splits flipped (in ’13, had had a .628 OPS vs. RHP in 360 ab’s). Last year, with his hands lowered, his bat path seemed to be quicker through the zone. Besides missing him in-general, the other disappointment of losing him to injury was not getting to see if those early offensive improvements could have been sustained. As Wieters is a pending FA, there is sentiment from many to run him into the ground this year. The O’s have done that before (Wieters averaged 144 games played per year during 2011-13). With Caleb Joseph having shown to be a quality defensive catcher, I think there is something to be said for going the other way. Giving Joseph more starts than Wieters’ backup traditionally has had, and seeing if that additional rest helps get more offense out Matt. Coming off of the TJ surgery, the other question is what impact that will have on on his defense? Here in the middle of Spring Training, he’s just now getting behind the plate. He’s not behind schedule, but it is something to watch further. Hopefully he finds a level of comfort these next few weeks. Wieters, who turns 29 in May, saw his fWAR go from 4.6 in ’11, to 3.9 in ’12, to 2.5 in ’13. Where will he be in ’15? Hard to prognosticate without knowing how his defense will be impacted. Even so, it’s clear he is no worse than the 3rd best catcher in the division, and it would not be shocking if he was the best.
Baltimore – Chris Davis
Boston – Mike Napoli
New York – Mark Teixeira
Tampa Bay – James Loney
Toronto – Edwin Encarnacion
Thoughts on AL East 1B’s:
Interesting article from MLB.com Saturday about Napoli having off-season surgery to cure his chronic sleep apnea. Also mentioned in that article is how he also dealt with toe, finger, and back issues this past year. With nearly 3,200 career ab’s, Napoli has a .850 career OPS. He’s always been a masher of LHP. Curious to see if his numbers vs. RHP rebound from ’14 (.739 OPS, in 305 ab’s).
2013 was a total lost of a year for Teixeira as he battled wrist injuries, ultimately having surgery to end that year in July while only playing 15 games. In 2014, Texieira was healthy enough to play in 123 games, but had a poor season .216/.313/.398. In the off-season I recall him guest hosting on ESPN’s Mike & Mike. He talked about how the wrist injury had impacted his ability to lift, and train. That things had changed this off-season, and he was working out regularly. If you look at ways the Yankees could surprise, one key would be getting more out of their soon to be (April 11th) 35 year-old switching hitting 1st baseman.
Loney has been Tampa Bay’s 1st baseman the last two years, and signed a 3 year $21M extension this Winter. 2014 saw his offensive and defensive numbers regress over his first year with the Rays. Generally you would expect good average, plus glove, and limited power.
Encarnacion is a big power bat (34 homers, 128 games in ’14) who slashed .268/.354/.547 this past year. 2014 was his third consecutive season with an OPS of at-least .901. With that level of consistency (and his recent MRI showing no structural damage with his back); I think he should currently be looked at as the Division’s best.
If Encarnacion is to be supplanted as the East’s best, the likely candidate would be Davis. We’ve been a broken record this off-season stating that we believe Davis will rebound from his supremely disappointing 2014 season to post numbers in-between his 2012 (solid) and 2013 (herculean) years. The O’s won the East running away last year with little from ‘Crush.’ I don’t see that happening again. It would be surprising to me if Baltimore again contended, if Davis doesn’t have the bounce-back I’m anticipating. As our colleague Rob Shields has pointed out, one reason to expect a better year from Davis is that his BABIP in ’14 was .242 vs. .320 for his career. Clearly there has extended conversation about Davis and opposing shifts. With him having true 80 power to all fields, there is no reason for him to be overly pull happy. As a pending Free Agent, Davis figures to have all the requisite internal motivation to prove himself all over again.
Baltimore – Jonathan Schoop
Boston – Dustin Pedroia
New York – Stephen Drew
Tampa Bay – Nick Franklin
Toronto – Maicer Izturis
Thoughts on AL East 2B’s:
Pedroia became an everyday starter in 2007. That would be the first of five straight years with an OPS over .800. In 2008 he was the American League’s MVP. In 2011 – with an OPS of .861 – his fWAR was 7.7. In the three following seasons, his OPS has dropped from .796 to .787 to .713. He has continued to be a very valuable player though, with his UZR/150 averaging 14.2 in that time frame. The drop in slugging in ’14 (.376 vs. .444 for his career) has been blamed on the wrist injuries he dealt with. FanGraphs recently wrote about to quickly tell if Pedroia is back when this 2015 season begins.
After the 2013 season, Drew turned down a qualifying offer from Boston. He then went unsigned until agreeing to terms with the Red Sox in late May. At the end of July, he was traded to New York. My basic inclination would be to waive off his 2014 season as irrelevant, and the result of not having a Spring Training. That said, he did have 271 ab’s, and his dismal numbers only got worse when moved on to the Yankees. A career SS, Drew had his first 31 starts at 2nd with NY last year. The metrics (-20.3 UZR/150) show it was a difficult adjustment. I would expect that the defense will improve having had a Winter and this Spring to prepare. As he was an average ish defensive SS, it would not surprise me if he became an above-average 2nd baseman. His offensive output in ’13 (.776 OPS) was a significant part of Boston’s World Championship team. He looks like a swing player for the ’15 Yankees.
Franklin was a 1st round pick of the Mariners in 2009, who became part of the Rays in a three team trade which also included Detroit last July. He’s been on prospect lists for years, with people liking his offensive potential. He’s just turned 24, so maybe he finds himself with extended playing time with Tampa Bay. That said, I might be jumping the gun to say he has the job. He’s never been looked at as a strong defender, and Logan Forsythe is said to be pushing him in Rays camp.
FanGraphs broke it down to the simplest terms in a recent review on Toronto’s 2nd baseman, “The Blue Jays need Izturis to be useful.” From that article, “He was, by WAR, the worst position player in the game in 2013, and then he missed all but 11 games in 2014. Ankle and knee injuries were culprits, though the ankle injury in 2013 may not explain the near-career low walk rate and career-low pitches per plate appearance. Either way, Izturis hasn’t gotten good results for awhile.”
Swydan is probably right that Devon Travis could be pushing for the job soon. Will be interesting to hear where Izturis’ defense is this year. In somewhat limited innings, he rated as an outstanding defensive 2nd baseman in ’12, but his numbers were beyond horrific the following year. Have to think he is somewhere between those extreme extremes.
What are you expecting from Schoop this year? To me, the primary reason he was able to stay in the lineup for 137 games last year, was that he proved to be a very solid defensive 2nd baseman. Based on the scouting reports we heard about him in the Minors, his defense exceeded my expectations. He was excellent around the bag. Outside of Robinson Cano, his arm compares well with most 2nd baseman in the league. He even showed decent range. Coming up, we were told time and again that what would keep Schoop in the Majors was his bat. During the year we saw flashes of potential with the stick. Outstanding bat speed, plus power when he squared up. The brutal finish (.527 OPS in September) deflated his overall numbers. He finished with an OPS under .600, and had just 13 bb’s against 122 k’s. He was a dead red hitter, whose struggled with off-speed offerings. Most hitters do not do well once behind in the count, but Schoop’s splits at 0-2, and 1-2 were insane. Will Schoop take a leap this year? Maybe. He is a talented guy. There is also something to be said about being a year older, and being that much more experienced. That alone won’t carry the day though. He will have to make adjustments, and focus on being more patient. If he doesn’t, maybe Everth Cabrera pushes him at some point during the year.
Baltimore – JJ Hardy
Boston – Xander Bogaerts
New York – Didi Gregorius
Tampa Bay – Asdrubal Cabrera
Toronto – Jose Reyes
Thoughts on AL East SS’s:
The future is bright for Bogaerts. 21 all of last year, he had 41 xbh’s during the year. He also had adequate defense at SS (though his numbers at 3rd were poor). He got off to a great start, and then struggled mightily during June, July, and August before ending the year with a positive September. Don’t know if he leaps forward this year at age 22, but he looks like a player that will provide power and get on-base at a decent clip as he progresses towards his prime.
Replacing Jeter’s ghost will be harder than replacing Jeter the player. Gregorius doesn’t have to be a good defensive SS to be better than what Jeter was (especially at the end). Being the new guy though, he is going to have plenty of eyes on him. NY is basically hoping he can be average ish for the position. It’s possible he winds-up in a platoon with Brendan Ryan. Rotoworld had an interesting point that if he bats 9th, the Yankees could be batting four lefties in a row.
After a long career with Cleveland, 2x All-Star Cabrera was traded to Washington last July. He signed with Tampa Bay on a 1 year deal in December. He’s consistently rated as a negative defensive SS. His slugging has dropped from .423 in ’12, to .387 last year. Still, he should be good for around 140 games, 15 homers, and 70 rbi.
Reyes was able to stay in the lineup consistently (143 games) after missing some time to start the year. He still runs well, the defense is not good – but isn’t going to kill you. He gets on-base at an okay clip, and has some pop. The last three years he has produced and average of 3.16 fWAR per year; equating to $15.67M in annual value. Reyes is signed through 2017 with a club option year for ’18. Starting this year he is making $22M annually.
It’s not out of the question that Hardy quickly becomes an aged Middle INF, but I liked the extension. The back spasms he had last year are the biggest concern in my opinion. It impacted his playing time to begin the season, and influenced his offense for most of the year. Despite that, he did have his highest UZR/150 ever with the O’s, and continued to stay in the lineup consistently overall. While he has generally regularly gone to post as an Oriole, the question is about what happens going forward, not what has.
It’s probably fair to be concerned that his somewhat limited range will diminish further; but I think with his positioning, arm, and quick release – that he’s likely to remain at-least a plus defender during these next few years.
Offensively, he wasn’t able to get through his hips last year. It will be disappointing if that doesn’t change. The doubles stayed consistent, but he wasn’t able to really pull and attack the LF seats. Hopefully that returns this year. I tend to think it will. Would be nice if that returns, and he is also able to incorporate the approach he had to use last year where he was more willing to go to RF (which he was doing by necessity) that helped him stay effective overall (especially with RISP… which might be fluky, but it did seem approach based to me).
Baltimore – Manny Machado
Boston – Pablo Sandoval
New York – Chase Headley
Tampa Bay – Evan Longoria
Toronto – Josh Donaldson
Thoughts on AL East 3B’s:
The glamor position among AL East teams is the hot corner.
It appears that Sandoval did not have many friends in the San Francisco clubhouse, but he does leave the Giants having helped them to multiple rings. Sandoval says he works hard, others question his work ethic. The last three years he has been between .739 and .789 with his OPS. He should add depth to the Boston lineup, and be a multiple win player even if there is nothing overly exciting about his game. That 5 year $95M deal he signed seems like a bit of an overspend, but not enough to hurt a high revenue team like Boston unless he misses significant time during the duration of the contract.
Several years ago, there was near obsession at the BSL Board on the prospects of the O’s trading for Headley. That desire was reduced, but not eliminated when his numbers dipped in ’13 following his career year of 2012. Last July, Headley was traded to New York. He turns 31 in May, so he’s not ‘young’, but he has a very good chance in my opinion of providing value back to the Yankees on the 4 year, $52M extension he signed in December. He’s going to get on-base, he has pop, and he is a plus defender. Even if he never again reaches the highs of his ’12 year, he’s a nice addition for most any team.
It’s somewhat hard to believe that Longoria has had seven full seasons in the big leagues already. He seems to carry the tag of being injury riddled, but over the past two seasons he has missed just two games. 2014 was by far his worst season yet in the Majors, as he slugged just .404 (90 points off his career average). Even his defense was off, with the first negative UZR/150 of his career. Will ’14 prove to be an aberration, or the start of a noticeable decline? My guess is the 29 year old has several seasons left in him where he looks like one of the elite overall players in the American League.
Donaldson followed-up his 7.7 fWAR season of 2013, with a 6.4 fWAR year in ’14. Despite those gaudy numbers, Oakland traded the 2014 All-Star for 4 players in November. He’s a high quality fielder, who gets on-base (.352 career wOBA), has power, and has played 158 games each of the last two years. That’s a significant addition for the Jays. Surrounded by Toronto’s offensive talent, should only help him pile up further numbers. The 29 year old lost his arbitration case with Toronto in January, and will make $4.3M this year – an incredible bargain for the Blue Jays.
The most talented member of the Baltimore Orioles in my estimation is Machado. For the second consecutive season, Machado saw his season end early with a knee injury. In our recent Media Survey, of the 26 people who responded – the voting was exactly 50/50 on if the O’s 3rd baseman would provide an fWAR of 4.5 and above. (He was at 6.3 in 2013.) I don’t think he will have much trouble reaching that level. Steamer’s projection of a .271 /.319 /.436 slash line matches what I believe should be the minimal expectations for the O’s 3rd baseman this year. Last year Machado was impacted by not being able to train last Winter, and missing all of Spring Training. While he joined the O’s lineup on May 1st, that entire Month was essentially spent working his way back into game shape. Still years away from what should be the prime of his career, Machado enters ’15 with nearly 1,200 MLB at-bats under his belt. My anticipation is that we see his offense take a leap production wise with gains in both his on-base %, and slugging %. I look for his LD%, and ISO to increase, and for his K% to decrease. I expect his defense to be back at Platinum levels as well.
Chris Stoner founded Baltimore Sports and Life in 2009. He has appeared as a radio guest with 1090 WBAL, 105.7 The Fan, CBS 1300, Q1370, WOYK 1350, WKAV 1400, and WNST 1570. He has also been interviewed by The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Business Journal, and PressBox (TV). As Owner, his responsibilities include serving as the Managing Editor, Publicist, & Sales Director.