Orioles New Look Infield:
With this week’s official signing of Derrek Lee, the Baltimore Orioles have reshaped their infield basically from top to bottom this offseason and quietly positioned themselves to be a dark horse this year. Let’s take a look on how this year’s infield might be a ‘wee bit’ better than last year’s, using Fangraphs’ WAR.
Last year: Ty Wigginton was the primary first baseman, though he also logged significant time at second and third base as well. Wigginton showed some pop early in the season, but his numbers collapsed as the season wore on and he finished with a .316 wOBA. Wigginton did help himself defensively with a combined -7.7 UZR (including a negative rating at 1B) and a 0.3 WAR. While those numbers weren’t impressive, they were superior to those of the Orioles other options, which include Rhyne Hughes, Scott Moore, Jake Fox and Garrett Atkins.
This Year: Derek Lee should be a night and day improvement over the replacement level players the Orioles had manning the position last season. While injuries are a slight concern, with the exception of 2006, they are more of the nagging variety than those that would cause a significant amount of time lost. He is one of the better defensive first basemen in the league, consistently putting up positive UZR numbers. Lee should also be a consistent offensive threat, as even in a down year he posted an solid .340 wOBA, and is consistently above .360 throughout his career. Lee’s WAR of 2.0 isn’t outstanding, but it is far better production than the Orioles received. I would also expect Lee to have a bit of a bounce back year this season, and could have a WAR closer to the 3.5-4.0 range, which would be pretty impressive.
Last Year/This Year: While Brian Roberts returns this season, it is almost like the Orioles acquired a new second baseman since injuries limited Roberts to just 59 games last season. In his stead the Orioles played Wigginton, Julio Lugo, Robert Andino, and Scott Moore, which led to almost no offensive production and below average defense. While the injuries are a continuing concern for Roberts, he proved that if healthy he can be very effective. He posted a .340 wOBA which while being a bit low for him, is still very impressive for a middle infielder. He played above average defense and in just over one third of the season posted a 1.5 WAR (by comparison the replacement players were basically all to the negative, making it an almost neutral output for the Orioles). If healthy and if the defense stays on the positive side Roberts should see his WAR value in the 4.5-5.0 range, and should be no worse than a 3.0+. That is a huge jump in value from last season and a big key for the Orioles.
Last year: Cesar Izturis handled the majority of the shortstop duties and flashed a very good glove like usual. He ended up with a 5.1 UZR rating which left him tied for 6th among qualified shortstops. Unfortunately Izturis’ bat was his downfall as he posted a wOBA of .248, which led to a WAR of -0.5. While Izturis flashed great leather, his bat in the lineup was just about as bad as having a pitcher hit.
This Year: The Orioles traded for J.J. Hardy from the Twins and should be quite pleased with the results. Hardy missed about a third of the year last year, but still managed a WAR of 2.4. And despite the missed time Hardy posted a UZR of 8.1 which is very impressive. Hardy grades out as a better defender than Izturis and a much better hitter. Early in his career Hardy put up big offensive numbers, but those have declined in the past few years. Hardy’s worst offensive season is still much better than what Izturis put up last year, and I could even see a slight increase in Hardy’s numbers. Regardless of where they fall, he will be more valuable that Izzy (who will return as his backup), and if he stays healthy he should be good for a 3.5+ WAR.
Last Year: Miguel Tejada and rookie Josh Bell split time at third base with Tejada playing 93 games before he was traded and Bell 40 games down the stretch (Wiggington and others played there as well). Tejada didn’t take well to third base where he was a -6.5 UZR and had a .295 wOBA. That led to a -0.1 WAR during his time with the O’s. Bell actually handled himself well defensively for the Orioles with a respectable 2.9 UZR. That was an encouraging sign considering defense was never his strong suit. What wasn’t an encouraging sign was his offense (which is supposed to be his strength). In 161 plate appearances Bell managed just a .228 wOBA, and flashed very little power. Now long term it isn’t a huge deal as he still has a bright future, but Bell probably needs at least some time in the minors to work out his issues.
This Year: While Mark Reynolds won’t bring any Brooks Robinson comparisons, but he should stabilize the hot corner for the Orioles. While Reynolds has never been a great defender, he did post his best UZR last season at 1.7, and if he continues keeping it on the positive side it will be a huge boost for the Orioles. Reynolds real value lies in his bat where he has big time power and should hit 35-40 home runs. Now some of his other skills declined last year and he hit an anemic .198 and posted a .328 wOBA (which would have been a big improvement than the O’s number last season), but that could be very fixable. He will never be a complete hitter like an Albert Pujols, but he should be a good impact bat for the O’s. If his defense remains to the good, I could see his bat rebounding to the point where he’d be a 4.0 WAR player. My guess is he will be slightly less valuable than that, but he will be a major upgrade over the Orioles production from last season.
Analysis: These moves might be panned by some, or not thought of as significant but the Orioles infield should be vastly improved this season. Not only will they be better (and it would have been hard to be worse), but they will be more balanced as well. Lee and Hardy are very good defenders at their positions, that should save a number of runs. Even if Roberts defense slightly decreases back to his norm, it is better than Ty Wiggington playing 2nd base. Reynolds is the one non-defender, but he also has the highest offensive upside. All around these are great moves for the Orioles and should help ensure that they finish out of the A.L. East basement (and in some divisions would challenge for a title).