2006 Team Preview: Baltimore Orioles, Positional Players

Before we get going with the task at hand, I had my first article at Baseball Prospectus published today. Make sure to check it out; I analyzed the accuracy of the Team Health Report injury risk system in 2005. I hope you enjoy it; it is not the sort of writing I normally do, but I still think it came out well. You be the judge of course.

With less than 40 days before the regular season starts, I figured it would be a good time to get going with the team previews. Today we will start off with the Baltimore Orioles. Why? Because I have an old table graph ready that I want to use in the preview.

The Orioles added a few new position players, while losing no one of any real consequence on the offensive or defensive side of the ball. Gone are Sammy Sosa, who was an offensive sinkhole in 2005, Rafael Palmeiro, who besides his chase for 3,000 hits, was a complete and utter disaster for the Orioles, as well as players who did not cause as much mayhem in Eric Byrnes, Sal Fasano, Eli Marrero, and B.J. Surhoff. That is not to say that they performed well in 2005, because they did not. They just simply did not almost singlehandedly kill the lineup in a production sense, or in Palmeiro's case, in the sense that almost no one on the Orioles felt like playing anymore. I've had conversations with a few Orioles' fans I trust who claim that besides Melvin Mora and Jay Gibbons, the team mailed it in completely at the end. I can't say I blame them after 2005 to be honest. You want to talk about karma, the O's paid it back in spades after a few weeks of lucky run differentials. Take a look:

Enough about the bad in 2005 though; I want to focus on how the team is going to look in 2006. The O's brought in Ramon Hernandez, Kevin Millar, and Jeff Conine via free agency, and Corey Patterson in yet another trade with the Chicago Cubs to replace some lost parts and switch some players around the diamond. We'll take a look at each position, with the production gleaned from it in 2005 as well as their projected production. To do this, positional Net Runs Above Average will be used, as well as the system I am using to project pNRAA using Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA cards. NRAA of course measures offensive and defensive value together in rate or cumulative form, depending on whether or not I leave it in per 100 game form, or if it is adjusted for games played. The idea behind pNRAA is -- you guessed it -- to adjust for positional differences. My favorite example so far is Darin Erstad. Using the raw figures for Net Runs Above Average, Erstad is an above average combination of offense and defense. In fact, he is considered to be worth 2.51 NRAA per 100 games (which from now on, will not have a per 100 games after it; NRAA is in the per 100 game form). Using the positional adjustment, Erstad's value drops all the way to -9.90; first base was the position with the most offensive contribution in 2005, and Erstad's adjusted numbers suffer for that. In fact, if Erstad was a league average defensive player rather than 9 runs above average per 100 games, his pNRAA would be -18.90, which is to say in my Boston speak, "wicked awful". With results like this for various players, I really enjoy what pNRAA brings to the table analysis wise. Back to the task at hand, which is Baltimore. AVG/OBP/SLG will be used along with pNRAA (remember, per 100 game form) and pNRAA/GP (Games Played).

Catcher
2005: Javy Lopez .278/.322/.458; +1.83 pNRAA; +1.89 pNRAA/GP
2005: Sal Fasano .250/.310/.475; -18.36 pNRAA; -11.75 pNRAA/GP
2005: Geronimo Gil .192/.220/.312; -4.10 pNRAA; -2.62 pNRAA/GP

2006: Ramon Hernandez .281/.330/.444; +7.51 pNRAA; +14.71 pNRAA/GP

After a strong showing in 2004 from Javy Lopez, injuries took their toll in 2005, forcing Sal Fasano and Geronimo Gil behind the plate more often than most people would want. In 2006 those problems should be nullified; not only is Ramon Hernandez expected to put up much better numbers (adjusted and unadjusted) than the trio from the previous year, but now Javy Lopez is the backup catcher/Designated Hitter, with Geronomo Gil most likely seeing less action. Sal Fasano is no longer on the roster, so there should be no worries there. Personally I think Hernandez's projection seems a tad optimistic, but we'll see how it plays out. Chances are good he will outplay Lopez v.2005, and he most certainly cannot be as bad as the trio as a whole.

First Base
2005: Rafael Palmeiro .266/.339/.447; -2.10 pNRAA; -2.31 pNRAA/GP

2006: Jeff Conine .278/.337/.419; -2.85 pNRAA; -1.94 pNRAA/GP
2006: Kevin Millar .264/.349/.427; +0.39 pNRAA; +0.40 pNRAA/GP

The improvement is slight, but it is there. Also, for all the tedium some may experience listening to Kevin Millar, he isn't Rafael Palmeiro. I did not like the idea of releasing Walter Young to make room for Conine and Millar, but I am also still not entirely confident in Young's ability to handle a major league career. Conine and Millar should be able to handle first base competently in 2006, although I feel like Millar's projection may be a tad high on the offensive side and a bit low defensively. It may end up evening out to the same number in the end, only the way I envision it.

Second Base
2005: Brian Roberts .314/.387/.515; +27.65 pNRAA; +39.54 pNRAA/GP

2006: Brian Roberts .282/.356/.418; +12.47 pNRAA; +19.21 pNRAA/GP

A drop in Roberts' production can be expected, considering his 2005 season splits, but that projection for 2006 is still excellent. PECOTA may be shortchanging him slightly, but his 90th percentile projection does look a good deal like his 2005 season for those who are optimistic. Here are his month-by-month splits from 2005:

  • APR: .379/.459/.726
  • MAY: .358/.440/.569
  • JUN: .356/.407/.534
  • JUL: .226/.308/.396
  • AUG: .264/.333/.382
  • SEP: .324/.390/.515
Maybe there is no reason why he can't come close to replicating 2005 after all.

Third Base
2005: Melvin Mora .293/.366/.497; +2.21 pNRAA; 3.30 pNRAA

2006: Melvin Mora .284/.360/.475; +12.71 pNRAA; +18.04 pNRAA

PECOTA seems to expect a return to 2004 form for Melvin Mora. The Orioles could certainly use that sort of producton out of their third basemen again, especially if Brian Roberts is not able to duplicate his 2005 offensive outburst. For a player who was a utility guy for so long, he has put up some pretty good seasons, and crafted himself a .281/.363/.452 career line eight seasons. Expect more of the same in 2006, with defense as the only real stumbling block.

Shortstop
2005: Miguel Tejada .304/.349/.515; +14.73 pNRAA; +23.87 pNRAA/GP

2006: Miguel Tejada .298/.346/.490; +21.10 pNRAA; +32.28 pNRAA/GP

Tejada was hurt a great deal by his defense in 2005, which continues to fluctuate between well above average, below average, and well, just plain average. This year projects him to be average once again, and considering it expects his bat to be valuable as it has usually is, that would be a massive boost to the Orioles. If the projections are correct, and Tejada and Mora both return to their 2004 values, with Brian Roberts retaining roughly half of his 2005 value, the middle of the lineup will be scary good, considering Javy Lopez will not have to catch everyday and instead gets to focus on hitting as the DH.

I may not gush hyperbole in regards to Tejada like many others do, but that does not mean I do not think he is valuable. On the contrary, when he plays defense well, he is extremely valuable; the numbers from pNRAA show that, as he is one of the superior shortstops in the league. I just feel that the occasional "best player in the game today" title bestowed upon him by some at random intervals during the year is odd, to be frank.

Left Field
2005: Larry Bigbie .248/.314/.374; -14.04 pNRAA; -9.40 pNRAA/GP
2005: Eric Byrnes .192/.246/.299; -31.27 pNRAA; -16.26 pNRAA/GP
2005: B.J. Surhoff .257/.282/.356; -19.32 pNRAA; -17.58 pNRAA/GP

2006: Luis Matos .273/.327/.402; -2.09 pNRAA; -1.80 pNRAA/GP

Luis Matos comes in at below average for a left fielder (in centerfield, he is projected to be +3.50 pNRAA), but light years ahead of the 2005 results from Larry Bigbie, Eric Byrnes, and B.J. Surhoff. When .248/.314/.374 is the standout line from the candidates at left, there is a serious issue. I like Matos more than most; if he can stay healthy, he should be league average. I feel like the projection given here cheats him defensively somewhat, which would more than account for the negative run value presented here. A serious improvement for the 06' squad either way.

Center Field
2005: Luis Matos .280/.340/.373; +5.60 pNRAA; +6.10 pNRAA/GP

2006: Corey Patterson .261/.305/.435; +3.69 pNRAA; +4.54 pNRAA/GP

As you can see, Matos was more valuable in 2005 in center than he would have been in left, due to the difference in the average hitter at the respective positions.

Patterson should be able to rebound somewhat, although I am not entirely sure where you want to put a .305 OBP in the lineup. He has his uses, and certainly, along with Matos in left, should be able to improve the outfield in 2006. We'll see how he reacts to his new environment; for all we know, 2006 could look an awful lot like Patterson's 2003 if he is happy, minus the injury.

Right Field
2005: Sammy Sosa .221/.295/.376; -19.65 pNRAA; -20.04 pNRAA/GP

2006: Jay Gibbons .267/.322/.449; -0.53 pNRAA; -0.55 pNRAA/GP

You may be asking why I only have Sosa listed as the right fielder from 2005. Gibbons and Sosa made up the majority of the starts in right field, and also shared a great deal of time at DH. I figured rather than double counting their contributions, I would let the system work itself out and let common sense rule the day.

Sosa's 2005 was one of the worst seasons by any player in the majors, and Gibbons is capable of a league average or better season. The Orioles' outfield looks to be much, much improved in 2006, simply by subtracting the disasters in left and Sosa in right. The caveat with Gibbons is that he needs to stay healthy; he has back and hip problems that requires days off. The Orioles are lucky enough to have multiple players already on the roster capable of splitting time between the corner outfield spots, first base, and DH. They also have some younger players, like Jeff Fiorentino, who may be able to make a contribution if Gibbons' season goes awry.

Designated Hitter
2005: Jay Gibbons .277/.317/.516; 1.54 pNRAA; 2.14 pNRAA/GP

2006: Javy Lopez .285/.329/.465; -0.92 pNRAA; -0.98 pNRAA/GP

Technically, since Gibbons split his time between right field, first base and DH, and Sosa spent some time at DH, the loss that is shown in this setup is not really there in my mind. If Lopez is essentially league average for the whole season, he is an upgrade over the Gibbons/Sosa combination, although Gibbons by himself may be better on an individual basis. For the sake of the team, having Javy Lopez (backup catcher) as the DH is a very good idea, especially if he can hit.

Overall, the lineup looks promising. The only real issue seems to be the lack of a credible leadoff hitter. Brian Roberts would work perfectly, although that may lessen the depth in the lineup somewhat. Without him up top, the choice is Luis Matos though.

On Edit:I should know better, considering I talk about the importance of using actual research in articles, but I somehow didn't think to check up on just who the Orioles leadoff hitter was last year. It was, of course, Brian Roberts, in 637 PA. Thanks to TUKid04 over at Orioles Hangout for pointing that out to me. I assumed Roberts moved down in the order after his offensive explosion. At least it didn't make an ass of anyone else, right?

  1. Brian Roberts
  2. Kevin Millar/Jeff Conine
  3. Miguel Tejada
  4. Melvin Mora
  5. Javy Lopez
  6. Jay Gibbons
  7. Ramon Hernandez
  8. Corey Patterson
  9. Luis Matos
Something to that effect may be the most effective, although I wish I had a simulator so I could play with some new ideas. On Edit:I got my wish for a simulator! Expect the O's lineup to score a good deal of runs if these projections ring true; the pitching is another story, but that is a post for another day.

On Edit: There has been some mention on OriolesHangout.com that my conclusion for the O's was sort of weak, and I can see that and agree with it. I think the problem was that the pitching and positional players are analyzed separately, so I couldn't draw a conclusion for the entire team in this article. How do I think the O's will finish? If the offense clicks like I expect it to (and the lineup is assembled correctly), I think they can finish in fourth. With Toronto's improvements (or, at the least, a healthy Roy Halladay) I don't see Baltimore finishing higher than fourth. The pitching can be league average I feel, and the offense better than that, but I'm not sure it will be enough to really compete. If another high quality starter could be added, I may feel more confident, but they are certainly in the wrong division.

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