Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The inflexibility of the Orioles

I was going to give this post a title of "The inflexibility of Buck," but I don't think all of these problems/issues are solely his fault. For example, it wasn't Buck Showalter's decision to sign Vladimir Guerrero (more on that below). Also, I like Showalter (who now has a 69-64 record in Baltimore) and think he's the best manager the O's have had in years. But as the Jim Riggleman-Nationals fiasco recently demonstrated, it's easy to overrate baseball managers and believe that most of them are difference makers. Some of them are, sure. But most of them? Probably not.

Basically, the O's are a below-average team. This is not news. The O's need to get better in several key areas, and even the players and front office personnel would admit that. But after signing a player to fill a specific role, a team sometimes needs to understand that it made a mistake. If no other options are available, then it's normally acceptable to keep using that player in that role. But when other, more intriguing options are available, it only hurts a team to compound that initial mistake by continuing to use said player in a role that just isn't working. Yes, that's a vague description, but here's how it relates to the O's:

Vladimir Guerrero

Guerrero is one of the most exciting baseball players I've ever watched. It would have been a real treat if he had played on the O's during the prime of his career. Sadly, that time has passed. When the O's signed Guerrero to a one-year, $8 million deal in the offseason, I was mostly against it. The issue wasn't just that the O's were overpaying Guerrero, but that as the team's designated hitter, he would clog the roster with a player who can't play in the field anymore. Essentially, he's done just that. With the exception of games in NL stadiums, Guerrero has been in the lineup in most O's games. The O's rarely decide to bench Guerrero and DH someone else, meaning that Luke Scott has to play in the field if the O's want his bat in the lineup.

If Guerrero were hitting, that wouldn't be very important. But he's not. Guerrero is currently batting .282/.313/.386 with six home runs, which is not the kind of production the O's want from their designated hitter. (Here's more on Guerrero's mediocre season from Daniel Moroz of Camden Crazies.) So Guerrero is not hitting for much power or getting on base at a high rate, and yet he's in the lineup every day as the team's DH. Oh, and he continues to bat fourth -- another perplexing decision.

The initial decision to sign Guerrero is not looking good, and unfortunately there's no way to go back and un-sign him. But just because he's on the roster doesn't mean that Showalter has to keep putting Guerrero's name in the lineup every game -- especially in the fourth spot. Not only should Guerrero be moved down in the batting order, but he should sit more often as well. The argument that the O's are trying to pump up his trade value by putting his name in the lineup so often, at this point, is ridiculous. It's not impossible that some AL team in a few weeks makes some kind of offer for Guerrero, but the O's would get next to nothing in return. In fact, they should be happy if another team simply agrees to absorb the rest of Guerrero's salary ($3 million of which, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts, is deferred without interest until the 2016-2017 season).

Guerrero's presence on the roster is not helping the team, and it's actually negatively affecting the O's in other ways (listed below).

Nolan Reimold

The O's treatment of Reimold is baffling. I won't make the argument that he's some kind of defensive wizard in left field. But as a 27-year-old who has demonstrated the ability to hit major league pitching, he deserves the chance to play regularly.

In 2009, Reimold hit .279/.365/.466 with 15 homers in 411 plate appearances. Unfortunately, he battled several injuries in 2010 and only batted .207/.282/.328 in 131 plate appearances that season. But the injuries obviously affected his play across the board; Showalter has admitted (a few times, actually) that Reimold wasn't the same player in 2010. Then, because he still had an option left, the O's decided to keep Reimold off the roster at the start of this season and have him report to Triple-A Norfolk. Because of a few injuries to other players, Reimold was recalled in May, and he's been on the roster since. He got off to a quick start, and in 56 plate appearances he's batting .261/.375/.478 with three home runs. Sure, that's not many trips to the plate, but that's the problem: Why is Reimold not playing more? He gets on base, draws walks, and hits for power. And yet he's been relegated to the bench and pigeonholed into being some kind of lefty-hitting specialist who only gets in the lineup when a southpaw is on the mound.

Here are his (albeit brief) career splits:

vs. RH: 357 PA, .260/.342/.429, 13 HR
vs. LH: 241 PA, .264/.357/.447, 8 HR

So he has slightly better numbers against lefties, but in fewer plate appearances. Overall, those are pretty good numbers against both types of pitchers, and it's not any kind of outrageous split. That's not to say that Showalter (hopefully) believes Reimold hits much better against lefties. The reason he's only playing against lefties is that it pushes Scott to the bench, because Scott doesn't hit lefties quite as well (though that's overblown as well).

I'm not arguing that Reimold is a superstar and that it's a crime against humanity for him to sit on the bench so often. But it doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense to keep Reimold on the roster if he's going to sit out a week at a time. I'm not a big believer in Felix Pie, but I believe that Reimold has the talent to be an effective major league hitter. And hopefully the O's give him a chance to prove that he either is or isn't before the end of the season.


Here's another point: Before the season, the O's made it known that they wanted to win games now. They weren't going to mortgage the future to do so, but the Guerrero and Derrek Lee signings, along with the Mark Reynolds trade, were made to improve the on-field product for this season in an attempt to reach a .500 record (or close to it). But here's the odd part of that: If the O's are trying to win now so much, the decision to play Guerrero less should be made anyway. His plethora of singles would be nice for, say, someone like Robert Andino, but they're not what the O's want out of their cleanup-hitting designated hitter. Putting Scott at the DH more often gets Reimold's bat in the lineup, and it also saves Scott from having to make throws in the outfield that would put extra stress on his injured right shoulder.

Just like the decision to use Kevin Gregg in situations when either Koji Uehara or Jim Johnson (or both) are available, Showalter and the O's are being rather inflexible when it comes to dealing with Guerrero and the DH position.

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