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Hard-Hitting Baseball Analysis

What the hell are the Orioles doing with their outfield?

The Baltimore Orioles 2016 season ended abruptly with a blast off the bat of Toronto Blue Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion in the 11th inning of the AL Wild Card game. After starter Chris Tillman lasted just 4.1 innings, Orioles manager Buck Showalter called on six pitchers out of the bullpen, none of whom were Cy Young Award candidate Zach Britton. Showalter’s controversial decision not to use his Britton put the oft-praised manager in the crosshairs following Baltimore’s season-ending loss, but the front office had to move on to 2017 immediately with key roster decisions looming.

After being flanked by plodding corner outfielders throughout 2016, center fielder Adam Jones requested more athleticism in the outfield for the upcoming season. He did not get his wish. Instead, Baltimore re-signed reigning home run king Mark Trumbo to a 3-year deal, traded for power-hitting outfielder Seth Smith, and re-signed Pedro Alvarez to a minor league deal with the intention of playing him in the outfield. Against right-handed pitchers, Baltimore plans to flank Jones with Smith and Hyun-Soo Kim, both of whom are defensively challenged. This arrangement would leave Alvarez, whose one major league skill is mashing right-handers, toiling away on the bench or in AAA.

Adam Jones requested more athleticism

Orioles center fielder Adam Jones requested more athleticism in the outfield in 2017, but didn’t get his wish. (Photo by Keith Allison)

The O’s plan against southpaws is even more murky. Presumably, Trumbo will remain the full-time DH. With Kim, Smith and Alvarez all offering little against southpaws, where does Showalter turn for Jones’s outfield mates? One option for Showalter is to summon two right-handed hitters, Joey Rickard and non-roster invitee Craig Gentry, into the lineup. This would provide Jones with the sort of athleticism he requested, but would deplete the Orioles potent offense. Another option would be to plug Rickard in and hope one of Kim, Smith and Alvarez manage to hit lefties at a decent clip — an unlikely proposition. The final option for Showalter would be to shift Trumbo to right field, play Rickard in left, shift catcher Wellington Castillo to DH, and start Caleb Joseph at catcher. This would cause Baltimore to carry a third catcher on its roster. None of these options seem particularly appealing, even for an organization that prides itself on getting surprising production out of gritty, unheralded players.

Even after accounting for all these options, there does not seem to be a roster spot for Alvarez. With utilityman Ryan Flaherty, Joseph and Rickard as the three locks on the bench, Alvarez appears to be competing with Gentry, outfielder/first baseman Anthony Santander and second baseman/left fielder Johnny Giavotella for the 25th roster spot. Since Gentry, Santander and Giavotella all bat from the right side of the plate, they each complement the Orioles roster much better than Alvarez does.

Regardless of what Showalter decides to do at the corner outfield positions against left-handed pitching, the Orioles have their work cut out for them this year to keep pace with AL East rivals Boston and Toronto. But if anyone has proven over the last few years that he can do more with less, it’s Buck Showalter.

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Updated: March 17, 2017 — 12:10 am

2 Comments

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  1. Do you think Rickard is a lock for the bench? Also I wouldn’t say Kim can’t hit lefties just yet, he hasn’t really been given the opportunity last I checked. His splits against lefties in the KBO were basically the same as right handers (not that it is a direct translation).

    1. Given what Rickard brings to the table (defense, speed, right-handed bat), I see him as a lock because of how well he complements the starting outfielders who are plus hitters, left-handed and weak on defense. And he’s also athletic enough to play CF when Jones needs a day off. Michael Bourn could be an option in place of Rickard, but as a lefty, Rickard seems like a better fit.

      One thing that could complicate this is Craig Gentry, who has had a good spring. Perhaps the O’s keep Gentry (I think he’ll make the 25-man roster regardless) as the speedy RHH outfielder, start Rickard in the minors, and use the vacant roster spot on either Alvarez or Bourn. I don’t expect this to happen, however, because it would still leave the O’s with only one RHH bat (Joseph) off the bench assuming Gentry starts against lefties. I think the bench will look like this come Opening Day: Joseph, Flaherty, Rickard, Gentry. That gives Buck the opportunity to have two outfielders who can complement the LHH options, pinch run, or play center field if needed.

      As for Kim, you’re right about that. I should have worded it differently. We don’t know if Kim can hit lefties at the big league level because he hasn’t been given a chance. With that said, it’s hard to see Kim being the O’s answer (or even an option) against LHP simply because of how reluctant Buck was to use him in those situations last year.

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