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Fact/Opinion: O’s Don’t Need to Focus on Left-Handed Hitters in Free Agency

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There is a growing excitement in Baltimore for the upcoming MLB offseason. Fans all over social media, message boards and media outlets are giving their two cents on what the team should do this offseason.

The one thing that everyone should agree on is that the Orioles have so many ways they can go. They have depth in key areas, players that can be in different roles, money to spend and pieces to trade.

To kick off some offseason writing, I am going to start with a pre-offseason fact/opinion.

Fact:  The O’s decided to move the LF wall back prior to the 2022 season.

The result was less offense in the stadium and far fewer homers hit. As a result of the wall moving back, many fans are clamoring for the Orioles to add lefty hitters this offseason. The thing is, the stats don’t back that up at all. When you look at the Statcast park factor numbers, right handed hitters are still more effective.

The park factor for righties is 99. For lefties it is 94 (if you aren’t familiar, 100 is average, over 100 favors hitting and under 100 favors pitching). xwOBA for righties was 102 and for lefties it was 94. OBP park factor for righties was 103. For lefties it was 97. In terms of comparing it to other parks, extra base hits were about the same for lefties and righties. So, the idea that the O’s need to focus on lefty bats because of the wall is factually not true. Now, lefties will hit more homers (they hit the same amount as righties but in far fewer plate appearances) but they new dimensions likely hurt lefties and their ability to use all fields for power.

Now, it is fair to say that park factor numbers for one year aren’t really something to hang your hat on. However, while that is true, the fact is that this particular discussion is based on the idea that Walltimore is the problem for righties and we can only use one year’s worth of data to prove this.

Maybe the data changes over time but we don’t know that, especially to draw the conclusion the Birds must sign lefty hitters.

Opinion: My #1 FA target is Jose Abreu.

He can spell Ryan Mountcastle at first at times and DH most of the time. Taking away 2020, he has appeared in 152 or more games every year since 2015 with the exception of 2018. He is a high BA/OBP guy, which is something the Orioles lineup lacks. While he is older than you’d prefer and he is coming off a down power year, he should still be a productive hitter for at least a few more years. A two-year deal in the area of $20M per year should get it done (or at least get you in the ballpark and you go from there in negotiations).

Fact:  To go along with my first fact, a popular name for Orioles fans is Joc Pederson.

He is a lefty (again, this is something O’s fans seem to be targeting) and just had a big year in a notoriously difficult park to hit in. He had an .874 OPS, a .274 BA and a .353 OBP.

Opinion: Signing and relying on Pederson is asking for trouble.

Sure, it’s possible that he has changed things and is better, but prior to his .274 average in 2022, the best average he had ever posted was .249. He is a career .237 hitter. And while I know batting average has become completely devalued in today’s game, it is still an important stat. On top of that, in three of the previous four years, he has an OBP under .325.  It’s not that he is a bad signing, it’s just that he isn’t someone I want to rely on to be good.

He has been very inconsistent in his career and I feel this team needs to add some good BA/OBP players to the lineup.

Fact: Carlos Rodon (who is going to opt out of his contract) is another popular O’s fan target.

He is a high strikeout pitcher that has honed in his control and command in recent years. He doesn’t give up many homers and has been an elite starter the last few years. On a team that really could use some upper level starting pitching, he makes a lot of sense for the Orioles. The problem is, since 2017, he has only gone over 20 starts twice and this year he threw a career high 178 innings and the only other year he was over 140 innings was in 2016.

Opinion: Rodon is an excellent pitcher but he is about to cash in on a big contract.

He will likely get 30+ million a year and likely for four or more years. That is way too big of a risk for a guy with a checkered injury history. While I agree that the O’s need to add pitching and pitchers in general are always risky, this guy’s combination of age (he turns 30 next month), contract, and injury history make him a bigger risk than the O’s should take on.

Fact:  Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson showed very well this year.

The Orioles are extremely fortunate to have both and they should help form the core of the next great Orioles teams. Orioles fans have been calling for a long term extension for both this offseason.

Opinion: The Orioles do not need to sign them long-term this offseason.

While it would be nice, it’s not the necessity fans make it seem. You have them both extremely cheap for four or five more years and they will still be relatively inexpensive after that (in their last year or two of arbitration) before they hit free agency. I would like to see both players signed to seven or eight-year deals. But at the end of the day, by signing them for that amount of time, you really are only buying just one or two free agency years. Is that worth it? And before you say, well sign them for longer, my answer is “ok but at what cost and what risk?”

An eight-year deal for Adley gets him until he is 32. He is a catcher and most catchers fade by that point. Do you really want to sign him for longer?

As for Gunnar, sure you can sign him for longer since he is younger, but his agent is Scot Boras and its unlikely a Boras client would sign a deal taking up his best years and well into his 30’s. So, unless you want to put out some kind of Fernando Tatis Jr.type deal (which is likely a mistake waiting to happen)….

So, while it sounds nice on paper, the reality is these deals don’t always work out and the Orioles have them very cheap to for a long time anyway. If it happens, great. If it doesn’t, it’s not a big deal.

Fact: A popular name out there, in terms of a trade target, is Pablo Lopez of the Miami Marlins.

Lopez is a guy I have been talking about for a year with a deal centered around him and Cedric Mullins. I think it makes sense for both sides to explore this. That said, Mullins is the more valuable player, as he has a higher WAR, plays a premium position and, more importantly, has an extra year of service time. Any talk of this should be predicated on the idea that Miami is sending Baltimore more in the deal, not the other way around.

Opinion:  While I still want Lopez and would welcome a trade, I think the Os fan base is overrating him.

He had a shoulder issue last year and this is the only season he ever eclipsed even 25 starts and while he threw 180 innings this year, his previous high was 111.1. He saw his K% drop this year and the homer rate increased. The BB rate stayed very good. He was worth 2.8 fWAR in 2022. He is a very solid pitcher but he’s not a #1 and you can debate how good of a #2 he is. I hope we get him but we need to temper the expectations down and not feel that we have to trade a boatload to get him.

Fact:  Ramon Urias just won the Gold Glove for AL third baseman and while he wasn’t nominated for a Gold Glove (although he did win the fielding bible version of it), Jorge Mateo should have been in the running.

Throughout their pro careers, Mateo has been looked at as the better and more talented prospect, but Urias has proven to be the better player, with his combo of good defense and solid hitting. Mateo has more tools but Urias has better results. Both are valuable pieces to have.

Opinion: With all of the Orioles IF prospects either ready to come up or soon to be ready to come up, it’s hard to envision a scenario where both of these guys are on the team in 2023.

The question is, does some team out there believe in either of these guys to offer up enough in trade to justify moving them? How they are looked at around the league will determine if either is moved. I just mentioned Miami as a trade partner; well, either of these guys makes sense for them as well. A much larger, expanded deal is there for the taking with the Marlins.

Fact: To keep his bat in the lineup, the Orioles used Rutschman as a DH at times last year.

Orioles fans have clamored for a very good backup catcher so that they can keep Adley as fresh as possible, while also leaving his bat in the lineup. As a result, many Orioles fans have said they don’t want a dedicated DH.

Opinion:  Adley is a good offensive player who has still has a lot of room to grow and improve.

His exit velocity and hard hit% weren’t that good and he struggled against lefties, like much of the team (another reason to add Abreu, by the way).

His bat is very good for a catcher, but it’s not overly great for a DH. Now, while I do expect improvement, Rutschman’s value is that he is such a special talent behind the plate and that is a rare commodity.

He needs to catch 110-120 games, right up there with the league leaders. No reason to have him DH more than 20-25 games.

Mike Elias on his laptop.
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