With the acquisitions of Ubaldo Jimenez and Suk-Min Yoon, the Orioles have fixed – or at least attempted to fix – some weaknesses of theirs in 2013 which were the number of quality starts and amount of innings pitched from their starting rotation.
However, there is still one glaring weakness, and that’s team on-base percentage (OBP). The Orioles ranked 19th in MLB and 10th in the AL in team OBP with a mark of .313.
Why is team OBP so important as compared to AVG and SLG? Last season, only four out of the top ten MLB teams in either AVG or SLG made the playoffs. However, eight out of the top ten teams in OBP made the playoffs. The Orioles were in the top ten in both SLG (3rd) and AVG (10th) and as we know missed the playoffs. The top two teams in team OBP (Red Sox and Tigers) were in the ALCS and that top team battled the third best OBP team (St. Louis) for the World Series. Generally if you have a good team OBP, you’ve got a pretty good shot at the playoffs unless your pitching is absolutely terrible.
Some stats that go along with OBP are pitches per plate appearance (P/PA) and walk percentage (BB%) and those are going to be crucial to separate those who get on base purely due to their batting average or those that get on base because they work the counts and are willing to take a walk if they don’t get something they like. The latter is what the Orioles need because they have too many of the former, and that’s why a lot of opposing starting pitchers are able to last longer vs. the Orioles than some other teams like the Red Sox.
So with that background, the Orioles can only improve their OBP externally via a few positions as many are filled with long-term options. There are a ton of candidates for left field and multiple candidates without MiLB options, so it seems pretty unlikely the Orioles would add OBP in the outfield. Second base has multiple candidates as well with some promising options in Flaherty and Weeks, so there’s another spot that is unlikely to be upgraded. That leaves the DH spot, which does have some internal candidates, but not really any that have a good OBP in MLB, save for Steve Pearce who could be an option vs. LHP only.
There are four external options that have been talked about as solutions: Free agents Nelson Cruz and Kendrys Morales and the Mets’ Ike Davis and the Mariners’ Justin Smoak as potential trade options.
We’ll look at all four in the following categories: OBP, BB% and P/PA for their career and what they did in 2013 as well as their splits vs. RHP and LHP.
So taking a look at this, Ike Davis has the best total career stats in these categories, and career splits vs. RHP, while Nelson Cruz has the best career splits vs. LHP. Let’s see how they did last season.
So looking back at 2013, Morales held the overall lead in OBP only, Smoak had the best OBP vs. RHP, but only .005 better than Davis, who had a terrible first half but still managed an overall .356 OBP vs. RHP. Davis’ BB rate vs. RHP and P/PA were simply outstanding and he would have easily led the Orioles in both categories. Cruz did well against LHP as his career numbers show and only missed the sweep by 0.05 P/PA.
What does this all mean? Who is the best fit for the Orioles?
Out of all four options, there is no one outstanding option vs. both RHP and LHP, so the best option still appears to be a platoon.
Let’s bring Steve Pearce back into the conversation. Here are his career stats and also what he did in 2013:
Looking at his stats vs. LHP, he easily is the best option internally or externally, and last year he also improved vs. RHP as well in terms of his patience and his on-base ability.
So if Pearce is one part of the platoon vs, LHP, who should bat vs. RHP?
If you look at both career stats and what they did in 2013, Ike Davis is the clear favorite, followed by Justin Smoak. Davis and Smoak are both under team control through 2016. They could both backup Chris Davis at first base and also be part of a future platoon solution if the Orioles can’t extend – and thus need to trade – Chris Davis in the next few seasons. Considering both are in competitions for their job as the Mets and Mariners have other options for first base, the price for their services shouldn’t be that high and a one for one deal for somebody like Zach Britton or Brian Matusz would likely work.
As for Cruz and Morales, not only would they be more expensive and cost a second round draft pick, but they wouldn’t have the stats like a Davis/Smoak and Pearce platoon could. As platoon partners, they are also too expensive to justify the cost.
Cost is also a key for considering Davis or Smoak as the Orioles would still have some financial flexibility for future acquisitions during the season if they acquired one of the pair that they wouldn’t have with a deal for Cruz or Morales.
For the Orioles to fix the weakness in team OBP they’ve been unable to address this offseason, it’s clear a trade for either Ike Davis or Justin Smoak is their best option.