Tuesday, March 10, 2015

If The Boss Were Still Alive

Toward the end of February, the Boston Red Sox signed 19-old-Cuban prospect Yoan Mondaca for $31.5 million. Under baseball's borderline-incomprehensible international signing rules, that amount was doubled to $63 million, half to Moncada, and half to Major League Baseball as a "tax" for exceeding Boston's international spending limit. 

Moncada is a highly-regarded prospect, projected to play second or third base, possibly shortstop, with speed and the potential to hit for average and for power. He doesn't seem to fit in with the Red Sox, who have second baseman Dustin Pedroia signed through 2021, newly-signed Pablo Sandoval under contract through 2019 (with a 2020 option), and 22-year old shortstop Xander Bogaerts under team control through 2019. But Moncada's expected to need a year or two in the minors, and a lot can change over two seasons.

The surprise isn't that Moncada got $31.5 million (and that's just a signing bonus; he'll earn a salary above and beyond that) nor that the big-budget Red Sox got him. But a lot of people figured he'd wind up a Yankee. The Yankees, after all, are the richest franchise in baseball, and they enter 2015 with a 31-year-old second baseman who's played the position only 34 games in the majors and batted .220 over the past three seasons, along with a shortstop platoon consisting of a left-handed batter with a .243 career average and a right-handed batter with a .234 career average. Reportedly, they bid $25 million ($50 million with the penalty), with general manager Brian Cashman wanting to go higher but principal owner Hal Steinbrenner balked.

That scenario led, predictably, into many Yankee fans and pundits moaning that if Hal's father, George Steinbrenner, aka The Boss, were still alive, the Yankees would've signed Moncada. Certainly, the elder Steinbrenner had a reputation for not being outbid for free agent talent that could help the Yankees. Of course, his sons, Hal and Hank, haven't exactly been tightwads, as they committed nearly half a billion dollars last winter, signing outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (seven years for $153 million or, optionally, eight for $169 million)catcher Brian McCann (five years for $85 million or six for $100 million), pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (seven years for $155 million with a player opt-out after four years for $88 million), and outfielder Carlos Beltran (three year, $45 million). Still, there's little question that Moncada would be a good fit for the Yankees, nor that the $13 million by which the Red Sox outbid them isn't that large.

I'm still not convinced, though, that George Steinbrenner would've signed him. No question, the man excelled at signing free agents. He also didn't lose key players to free agency, an key reason for the Yankees' success that often gets overlooked. But he wasn't a big fan of young prospects. Moncada's 19, has never played in anything comparable to American baseball leagues, and, as noted above, is probably two years removed from the majors. That's not the type of player the late Steinbrenner coveted. 

Take the first Yankees world championship team under Steinbrenner, the 1977 team. (That's the year Reggie Jackson hit three home runs in the last game of the World Series.) Left fielder Roy White, catcher Thurman Munson, and pitcher Ron Guidry were drafted by the Yankees. Jackson and pitcher Catfish Hunter were signed as free agents. Every other starting position player, every other member of the five-man pitching rotation, the closer and the key setup man--they were all acquired via trade. Some of them were astute deals involving veterans, but many involved prospects. Steinbrenner traded a lot of prospects for established players, filling other needs via free agency.

Want more proof? Look at the greatest Yankee team of recent vintage, the 114-48 1998 squad that swept to a World Championship. Outside of the Core Four of shortstop Derek Jeter, catcher Jorge Posada, starter Andy Pettitte and reliever Mariano Rivera, the team was assembled by trade (first baseman Tino Martinez, second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, third baseman Scott Brosius, left fielder Chad Curtis, right fielder Paul O'Neill) mostly for prospects, and free agency (DHs Darryl Strawberry and Tim Raines; starters David Wells, David Cone, Hideki Irabu and Orlando Hernandez; reliever Mike Stanton). The only home-grown regular, outside of the Core Four, was center fielder Bernie Williams.

Wait, you're saying, that "outside of the Core Four" line is pretty glib. True enough: The Yankees drafted Posada and Pettitte and signed Rivera as an amateur free agent in 1990. They drafted Jeter in 1992. The Boss didn't trade any of them away, so why do I think he had a thing against prospects?

Because he didn't have a chance to trade them away. Steinbrenner was suspended from the Yankees in 1990 for his dealings with outfielder Dave Winfield and reinstated in 1993. During his absence, the Core Four rose through the Yankees farm system; all four arrived in the majors in 1995. And even then, Steinbrenner wanted to trade Rivera for a shortstop who would have blocked Jeter. The man saw prospects more as a means to end, rather than and end.

So would George have spent mid-eight figures for a 19-year-old? It's possible, but I question it. Maybe he'd have more aggressively pursued pitchers Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, or James Shields this winter. I think he wouldn't have let second baseman Robinson Cano depart a year ago, creating a hole that Moncada might have been able to fill. (As I said, I think the Yankees' ability to retain its key players is an underappreciated Steinbrenner strength.) But I think there's a decent chance that Yoan Moncada would be a Red Sox farmhand even if The Boss were still alive.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Reality Check: Walks

I was listening to SiriusXM's MLB Network Radio the other day. (I almost always hear these things in my car, where I can't take notes, so we're relying on my memory here.) The hosts were discussing how to speed up the pace of play at the major league level. One of the comments was something to the effect of, "One of the key problems is all the walks."

Here is a graph of walks per game, from 1901 to 2014:

Source of data: baseball-reference.com

I'm not going to belabor this. Just note that:

  1. Walks per game have declined for five years in a row.
  2. There were 2.9 walks per game in 2014. That's the first time there were fewer than three walks per game since 1968, and only the sixth time in the past 90 years.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The NL West: Time Zones, Ballparks, and Social Investing

My latest FanGraphs post is here. I talk about the National League West, which I view as the most idiosyncratic division in baseball, due to three factors:

  1. Four of the five teams in the Pacific time zone and the fifth in the Mountain zone, resulting in more games played late for those of us in the Eastern and Central zones than in any other division
  2. The most eccentric mix of extreme hitters' parks and extreme pitchers' parks in baseball
  3. The decision by two teams (the Diamondbacks and Rockies) to pursue specific character types, which I liken to social investing
Some of my FanGraphs posts get pretty numbers-heavy. This one isn't.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Twins Trouble

It seems like a generation ago, but the Twins were sort of a model franchise in the recent past. Between 2002 and 2010, the team won the American League Central six times in nine years, with a losing record only once (and that year, 2007, they were 79-83, which isn't that bad). They achieved this success despite being a small-market team with a payroll that ranked in the top half of the league only twice during that nine-year span. 

In the four seasons since then, they've lost 99, 96, 96, and 92 games. The latter record, which landed the Twins in last in the division for the third time in four years, cost manager Ron Gardenhire his job. The Twins enter 2015 with Paul Molitor, St. Paul native and Hall of Famer, at the helm. He's never managed before, but he was the Twins' minor league baserunning and and infield coordinator in 2003 and 2005-2013 (he was Seattle's hitting coach in 2004) and was a coach for the major league team last year.

What's gone wrong? Here's a chart showing the team's rank in OPS+ (that's on base percentage plus slugging, adjusted for home park) and ERA+ (similarly adjusted earned run average) over the past thirteen years. Keep in mind that there were 14 teams in the American League until 2013, when the Astros switched leagues. In the Twins' last pennant season, 2010, represented by the horizontal line below, they were second in OPS+ and sixth in ERA+. They haven't come close to those levels since:
The rankings have bounced around, but what stands out is the collapse of the Twins' pitching beginning in 2011. They've finished second to last, second to last, fourth to last, and last in park-adjusted ERA since their last playoff appearance. The offense hasn't been great, but the problem's been an inability to prevent runs, not to score them.

So what's gone wrong with run prevention? Well, you know how fans and commentators are upset about risking strikeout rates? Say what you will about the team, the Twins pitchers have stayed clear of that controversy. Here's the team's strikeout rate (percentage of batters struck out) for its starters compared to league averages:
Again, the solid line corresponds to the Twins' last pennant. As you can see, after hovering around league averages, the Twins' starters' strikeout rates have plummeted. They improved some last year--welcome the the Twin Cities, Phil Hughes!--but they're still way below average. 

How about the relievers? Same thing:
This, I think, explains a lot of why the Twins have run into trouble. Their pitchers don't miss bats. In the modern game, that's important. For the 30 major league teams last year, the correlation coefficient between strikeout rate and park-adjusted ERA is 0.60, which means that strikeouts are a significant component of run prevention. The more batters you strike out, the fewer runs you allow. The Twins aren't striking out enough batters to have an effective pitching staff. 

Gardenhire's pitching coach, Rick Anderson, wanted Twins hurlers to "pitch to contact and trust your defense, throw strikes and minimize walks to pitch deep into games." Pitching to contact means trying to induce batted balls rather than strikeouts. That's at odds with the trend of rising strikeouts, but I don't think you can assign all the blame on Anderson. As the charts above illustrate, Twins pitchers apparently didn't listen to him much during the Twins' winning years under Gardenhire; the team's strikeout rates weren't out of line with league averages. The Twins' collapse in the standings has corresponded to a collapse in team strikeout rates. That's not a product of just what's going on at the major league level, it's a reflection of an organizational philosophy that has guided both drafting and player development. Twins pitchers don't strike guys out because, well, that's not what they do. The problem is, it simply isn't the way you win ballgames.

In a somewhat notorious case, Gardenhire and Anderson tried to convince pitcher Francisco Liriano to pitch to contact. Liriano was a sensation as a rookie in 2006, going 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA (less than half the league average of 4.56) and striking out 30% of the batters he faced. Unfortunately, that season ended early for him, when Liriano blew out his ulnar collateral ligament, and he missed 2007 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He pitched only 76 innings in 2008 and was shaky in 2009, going 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA. He had a pretty good year in 2010, though (14-10, 3.62 ERA) and his strikeout rate rose from around 20% in 2008-9 to 25% in 2010. Yet at the beginning of the 2011 season, Gardenhire and Anderson had their talk with Liriano, who responded with a 9-10, 5.09 ERA record as his strikeout rate fell to 19%, the lowest of his career. The Twins gave up on him in 2012, trading him in the middle of a 6-12, 5.34 ERA season to the White Sox in July. He's had a career renaissance since signing with the Pirates before the 2013 season: 23-18, 3.20 ERA, 25% strikeout rate over the past few seasons.

Now, it's not entirely fair to blame Liriano's problems with the Twins, nor his success with Pittsburgh, on the Twins' pitching to contact philosophy. It's true that he had his worst year, from a strikeout perspective, in 2011, after he got Gardenhire and Anderson's pitch-to-contact lecture, but his 24.9% strikeout rate with the Pirates in 2013-14, when he's been good, isn't that much different from his 24.1% strikeout rate with the Twins and White Sox in 2012, when he stunk. As I've written, his turnaround in Pittsburgh is largely due to an overhaul of his pitch selection, junking his fastball in favor of a sinker that generates lots of ground balls. Those grounders get gobbled up by Pittsburgh's infielders, who have aggressively employed shifts in order to position themselves where the ball's likely to be hit, as I wrote in 2013. As the article to which I linked pointed out:
Shifts are only as effective as the number of groundballs hit into them. The second prong of the Pirates' comprehensive run prevention strategy was tied to increasing their pitchers' groundball rates. Defensive change began on the mound. 
So that's how pitching to contact can work: Get the pitchers to generate grounders, assemble a strong defense, and shift the infielders a lot. It's worked for Pittsburgh. How about Minnesota?

If anything, the Twins have gone the other way. Twins pitchers yielded ground balls on 42% of batted balls last year, 12th in the 15-team American League. They were eighth in 2013, 5th in 2012, and eighth in 2011, so they've gotten worse. Not only don't they have pitchers who generate strikeouts, they don't have pitchers who generate grounders. Again, that's an organizational thing, not just a major league level thing.

How about employing defensive shifts? The Twins shifted 85 times in 2013, second fewest in the league. They increased to 478 shifts in 2014, but that moved them up to only 12th in the league. The average American League team shifted 590 times. So they haven't employed shifts, which, as I pointed out, decrease opponents' batting averages on ground balls and soft liners by 30 points, as much as other teams.

As for defense, I looked at the team's defensive efficiency ratio, or DER. DER is a calculation of the percentage of balls in play that get turned into outs. It's useful because it looks that the defensive performance of the entire team. During the Twins' successful run from 2002 to 2010, they ranked eighth or better in the American League every season except 2009. In other words, they were pretty consistently at or, more often, above average. Since then, they've been 13th in 2011, 13th in 2012, 12th in 2013, and 15th in 2014. 

So let's put it together: The Twins have emphasized a pitching philosophy, pitching to contact, that's of questionable merit in a strikeout-driven environment. The three tenets of pitching to contact are ground balls, defensive shifts, and fielding. The Twins don't generate ground balls, they don't shift, and the defense stinks.

This isn't a matter of a manager or a pitching coach. The Twins have been building the wrong kind of team. They've botched drafting, player development, and/or roster construction, resulting in a team that's not positioned for success. General manager Terry Ryan, who held the position from 1994 until after the 2007 season, and again beginning in November 2011, and Bill Smith, who was the team's GM in the interim four years, bear the blame for creating a roster of pitchers who can't miss bats and fielders who can't catch balls. They appear to have been way late to the game of using advanced metrics to position Twins fielders in order to increase outs. It's true that the Twins have a highly-regarded farm system--ESPN's Keith Law ranks them second in baseball--but their two top prospects played only 31 games between them in injury-riddled 2014 seasons. They've been bad for four years because the manager's been given a team that has the wrong type of players for contemporary baseball.

But by all means, blame Gardy. Gotta be his fault, right?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Thing With Shifts

Sunday was the first day on the job for new baseball commissioner Rob Manfred. He wasted no time in wading into controversy. In an interview with ESPN's Karl Ravech that day, he said,
For example, things like eliminating shifts, I would be open to those sorts of ideas.
He later backtracked a bit, but the idea of eliminating shifts is now on the table.

This isn't new. Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci proposed eliminating shifts last summer, and I responded to his idea then. Then, as now, I don't think it's a good idea, but let me unpack the argument a bit more here. 

What kind of shifts are we talking about?

This isn't the usual shifts, like infielders guarding the line to protect against doubles, or outfielders playing shallow when a low-power hitter like the Phillies' Ben Revere is at the plate. These are what some call "extreme shifts," generally defined as three infielders on one side of second base. Take the example at right. That's a game between the Astros and the Mariners in April 2013. The Mariners' Franklin Gutierrez is at the plate. The Astros' second baseman, shortstop, and third baseman are all playing on the left side of second base. 

Why are they doing this? Because Gutierrez has a pronounced tendency to hit ground balls there. Here's a chart showing the location of his batted balls in 2012 and 2013. (Source: FanGraphs.) The green dots are grounders. As you can see, Gutierrez hits the vast majority of his ground balls to the left side. Put another way, if Gutierrez hits a grounder, he's likely to hit it within range of the Astros fielders above. That wouldn't necessarily be the case in a traditional defensive alignment, with the second baseman on the first base side of the bag and the shortstop further toward second.

How prevalent is this?

Well, shifts like this have been around for a long time. The first instance I could find was used in the 1920s against Phillies outfielder Cy Williams. The most famous one was probably the 'Williams Shift" that teams employed against a different Williams, Red Sox slugger Ted. A left-handed batter, he tended to pull balls to the right side of the field, so teams would line up fielders there. It began in a 1946, in a doubleheader in July. In the first game, Williams went 4-for-5 with three homers and eight RBI in a game against the Indians. In the second game, Indians manager Lou Boudreau moved his team into a crazy alignment when Williams came to the plate. (I figure Boudreau effectively said, "Shit, I don't know, let's try this" as a last resort.) The outfielders shaded to the right with the rightfielder playing deep. The shortstop (Boudreau) moved between first and second, the third baseman played to the right of third, and the second baseman was in the short outfield, near the right field line. There were effectively four outfielders (two in right), three infielders to the right of second base, and none to the left of second. Williams got two walks and a double in four trips to the plate, scoring two runs in a 6-4 Red Sox victory, so in the context of Ted Williams, maybe it worked. One of the baseball card companies, Fleer, commemorated it with a card, shown above.

Anyway, the Williams Shift had limited success, given that the Splendid Splinter finished his career with arguably the best hitting statistics of all time. Shifts like this didn't really catch on widely until recent years, as baseball analytics have enabled teams to chart every batted ball, resulting in charts like the one I showed above for Franklin Gutierrez.

The 2015 Bill James Handbook has a section on shifts, full of bad puns (e.g., the title is "Who Gives a Shift?"). I'm not going to reproduce everything here--buy the book, it's really good, if you want details--but one of the interesting figures is that there were 2,357 shifts employed in 2011 but 13,296 in 2014. That's a 464% increase in three years. In terms of shifts per game, that works out to 0.97 shifts per game in 2011 (that's the total for both teams) and 5.47 shifts per game in 2014. In 2014, the Houston Astros shifted the most, 1,341 times, or 8.3 times per game. That's extreme, and there were only six teams (Astros, Rays, Yankees, Orioles, Blue Jays, and Pirates) that shifted more than four times per game.

So to answer how prevalent shifts are: Growing rapidly, but other than a few teams, not deployed all that often.

How much have shifts suppressed offense?

The Bill James Handbook answers that pretty clearly:
If you look at the league as a whole, the average decrease in batting average when players are shifted is 30 points.
That's a lot. When Boston's David Ortiz, who faced a shift in 95% of his plate appearances, hit a ground ball or a soft liner--the types of batted balls the shift is designed to turn into outs--he batted .201 when the shift was on but .250 when it was off. 

The Bill James Handbook estimates the impact of shifts in 2014 was 195 runs. In other words, shifts prevented 195 runs from being scored. Thirty points in batting average, 195 runs--no wonder Manfred's thinking about stamping out shifts, right?

Except that's not really big, as Ben Lindbergh points out in this article and Dave Cameron does in this one. (For comic relief, read this post by Grant Brisbee.) That 30 point suppression of batting averages, as I pointed out, occurs in only 5.5 plays per game, on average. And 195 runs scored...well, there were 19,761 runs scored in 2014. 195 equals a shade under 1%. Teams scored 4.07 runs per game last season; adding back 195 boosts the figure only to 4.11.

And I want to reiterate a point I made in July. Let's look at the league-wide batting average on balls in play and the batting average on grounders. (The difference between overall batting averages and batting averages on balls in play is that the latter excludes strikeouts and home runs, neither of which can be defensed.) Here's the table over the past ten years, from FanGraphs:
           Batting Avg   Batting Avg
   Year   Balls in Play   Grounders
   2005      .295           .233
   2006      .301           .236
   2007      .303           .239
   2008      .300           .237
   2009      .299           .232
   2010      .297           .234
   2011      .295           .231
   2012      .297           .234
   2013      .297           .232
   2014      .299           .239
Do you see a pattern there? I don't. Batting average on balls in play went up in 2014 despite the explosion of shifting. And the batting average on grounders was the second-highest in the 13 seasons for which FanGraphs has data (.2386 compared to .2394 in 2007). What gives? If shifts are hurting batting averages, why aren't these batting averages going down? And if the averages aren't going down, why are runs being suppressed?

Why aren't batting averages and grounders and balls in play lower?

Because batters are really good. Seriously. I mean, we hear all the time about how pitching's dominating the game. The average fastball velocity last season was 91.6 mph, the highest in history. Pitcher struck out 19.4% of batters, the most in history, and walked only 7.1%, the fewest since 1921, which is just crazy. But at the same time, starting pitchers are typically done after six innings. (2011 was the last time starters averaged more than six innings per start.) The reason? Yes, there are pitch counts and eight-man bullpens and all that, but also, there aren't easy outs. Despite all the challenges for hitters, they're still batting about .300 on balls in play and in the .230s on grounders. That hasn't changed, and it's a reflection of the skill of major league batters.

So why is scoring down?

Well, let's look at that batting average on balls in play in two ways. First, let's consider the type of hits that batters get. I'm going look at the number of singles, doubles, and triples batters get when they hit balls in play. Add them together, and you get the total batting average on balls in play. Here's the table: 
Season         1B         2B       3B      Total
2005 0.221 0.067 0.007 0.295
2006 0.225 0.069 0.007 0.301
2007 0.226 0.070 0.007 0.303
2008 0.224 0.069 0.007 0.300
2009 0.224 0.068 0.007 0.299
2010 0.224 0.066 0.007 0.297
2011 0.222 0.066 0.007 0.295
2012 0.223 0.066 0.007 0.297
2013 0.226 0.065 0.006 0.297
2014 0.227 0.065 0.007 0.299
Singles and Doubles per Batted Ball, 2005 = 100

That's not very helpful, is it? But given that triples are pretty rare events, occurring in about 0.7% of plays, let's focus just on singles and doubles. In 2005, when balls were put in play, batters got a single 22.1% of the time and a double 6.7% of the time. Let's use that as our baseline, and set those years equal to 100. Look at the chart at right. Over the past few years, singles are up and doubles are down. Overall batting averages on balls in play, as we've seen, are holding steady. But there are more singles and fewer doubles. That's not because of shifting--shifts suppress singles, not doubles--but it affects scoring overall.

Home Runs and Strikeouts per Plate Appearance, 2005=100
Now, let's look at batting averages on balls in play another way. What's excluded? Home runs and strikeouts. Here's another chart like the one above. But this time, let's look at home runs and strikeouts per plate appearance. This one's more pronounced. Home runs are in decline, while strikeouts have moved unremittingly upward. When batters are hitting balls in play, they're getting more singles but fewer doubles, as the chart above demonstrates. When they're not hitting balls in play, they're striking out more and hitting fewer homers.

So are shifts the problem?

There is no question that offense is down. Teams scored 4.07 runs per game in 2014, the lowest in a non-strike year since 1976. The reasons, as I've shown above, are clear: More strikeouts, fewer homers, fewer doubles. Shifts have played a minor role and are pretty insignificant compared to the other factors. If the new Commissioner wants to address scoring, he should look at ways to promote more contact, and more hard contact, by batters, not worry about where the fielders are standing.

(Thanks to JBM for inspiring me to write this.)

If the Orioles Are Really Going to Do Something

I think the Orioles should trade for San Diego's Carlos Quentin.

Let me rewind a bit. It's been a very quiet offseason for Baltimore. They lost three regulars from their 2014 American League East championship squad to free agency: Right fielder Nick Markakis, designated hitter Nelson Cruz, and left-handed reliever Andrew Miller. They replaced them with...well, they haven't done much of anything. Until yesterday, their biggest roster move was to re-sign free agent left fielder/DH Delmon Young, who had 255 plate appearances last year. Like every team, they added some fringe-type players, mostly signed to minor league contracts. But until yesterday, when they traded for Pirates outfielder Travis Snider, who started 47 games in right field for Pittsburgh last year, they've done nothing to replace the three players I listed above. And while Snider had a decent year in Pittsburgh, with a .264/.338/.438 slash line in 359 plate appearances, it was his first above-average season since 2010. 

There've also been questions raised about the reason for their inactivity. The Toronto Blue Jays wanted to hire Baltimore's general manager, Dan Duquette as their CEO. Duquette is under contract with the Orioles through 2017. Orioles owner Peter Angelos reportedly demanded a king's ransom (three top prospects) from the Blue Jays in order to take Duquette. (Not that this is a common occurrence, but the industry standard appears to be to let a front office employee depart for a promotion, and to get perhaps one prospect as compensation for a lateral move. This would be a promotion for Duquette, who is the Orioles' executive vice president of baseball operations, so Angelos insisting on compensation is a bit aggressive, and going for elite compensation is pretty out there.) This leaves the Orioles in the bizarre position of having their top everyday executive apparently desirous of working for one of Baltimore's American League East opponents. In turn, there's a question as to how dedicated Duquette is in improving the team. Yesterday, the Blue Jays announced that their incumbent CEO, Paul Beeston, will stay on through the end of the current season, after which he'll retire. That, of course, leaves open the question of who'll fill the role in 2016.

Lost in this controversy is the fact that the Orioles didn't do a lot last winter, either, until the very end. In December 2013, they traded for outfielder David Lough, who was basically a late-inning defensive substitute in the outfield (112 games played, but just 47 started) and signed right-handed reliever Ryan Webb, who pitched 49.1 innings of middle relief spread over 51 games. They traded their closer, Jim Johnson, to Oakland in what turned out to be a brilliant move, as Johnson turned into a pumpkin, going from 50 saves and a 2.94 ERA in 2013 to two saves and a 7.09 ERA in 2014. They signed the aforementioned Delmon Young in January. That's pretty much it. Their big moves--signing free agents Ubaldo Jiminez and Cruz--didn't occur until late February, and only the Cruz signing worked out. Jiminez, signed for four years and $50 million, was 6-9 with a 4.81 ERA last season. Cruz, signed to a one-year $8 million contract, led the league in home runs with 40 and finished seventh in the MVP voting. The Mariners signed him to a four year, $57 million contract in December.

So maybe the plan is, like last year, to more or less stand pat and then make some moves once spring training starts. Still, the team is down a right fielder (unless Snider takes a big step forward), a DH, and a middle reliever. Middle relievers are pretty fungible in modern baseball--every team has young guys in their system who can throw gas for an inning. They probably can't do it a skillfully as Miller, who compiled a 2.02 ERA over 73 games split between Boston and Baltimore, striking out 103 and allowing just 53 baserunners (hits, hit batters, and unintentional walks) over 62.1 innings last year, but the Orioles at least have options there. As for Markakis, I wrote back in December that Alejandro de Aza, whom the Orioles acquired last August, may provide comparable value. So I don't view those as glaring holes.

Plus, the Orioles will enter the season with a presumably healthy catcher Matt Wieters (who played just 26 games last year before undergoing Tommy John surgery last June) and third baseman Manny Machado (who missed half the season with various knee ailments). First baseman Chris Davis is done serving a drug suspension for Adderol. So three key players will be back, although Davis was pretty bad last year (.196/.300/.404 slash line and 26 homers after hitting .286/.370/.634 with 53 homers in 2013). If Davis falters, Steve Pearce, who had a .293/.373/.556 slash line last year, easily the best of his career, can play first.

Which leaves designated hitter. That's where Quentin comes in. He was awful for San Diego last year, and only a half-time player the two prior seasons:
2012 29 86 340 284 44 74 21 0 16 46 36 41 .261 .374 .504 .877 146
2013 30 82 320 276 42 76 21 0 13 44 31 55 .275 .363 .493 .855 145
2014 31 50 155 130 9 23 6 0 4 18 17 33 .177 .284 .315 .599 75
SDP (3 yrs) 218 815 690 95 173 48 0 33 108 84 129 .251 .352 .464 .816 132
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/28/2015.

So why should the Orioles trade for him? Here's my logic:
  • The Orioles can buy low on Quentin, given his lousy recent performance.
  • The Padres have a serious logjam in their outfield. They added three full-time players via trade (former Dodger Matt Kemp, former Brave Justin Upton, and former Ray Wil Myers). They still have Will Venable (146 games played last year) and Cameron Maybin (95 games). They need to deal somebody.
  • Quentin is signed for $8 million this year, the same as Cruz earned in 2014. His contract has a $10 million mutual option for 2016, subject to a $3 million buyout if he plays 320 games in 2013-2015, which he won't. In other words, he'll cost $8 million in 2015 and $10 million in 2016 if all goes well, nothing if it doesn't. That's pretty reasonable.
  • The reason he's missed so much time is that he's had a series of injuries. Since joining the Padres, he's been out with knee, wrist, shoulder, and groin injuries, including three stints covering 152 games on the disabled list. Quentin is a bad outfielder, enough so that he'll probably be healthier if he doesn't have to spend half the game running around chasing balls while wearing a glove. (He also gets hit by pitches a lot.) Paul Molitor and Edgar Martinez are Hall of Fame-caliber players who went from oft-injured to extremely durable once they became full-time DHs. Not that Quentin's another Molitor or Martinez, but a full-time DH role could keep him in the lineup more.
  • Amplifying that point, prior to playing in San Diego, Quentin played for the White Sox, mostly as an outfielder but also as DH, with better durability:
    2008 ★ 25 130 480 96 138 26 1 36 100 66 80 .288 .394 .571 .965 149
    2009 26 99 351 47 83 14 0 21 56 31 52 .236 .323 .456 .779 98
    2010 27 131 453 73 110 25 2 26 87 50 83 .243 .342 .479 .821 119
    2011 ★ 28 118 421 53 107 31 0 24 77 34 84 .254 .340 .499 .838 122
    CHW (4 yrs) 478 1705 269 438 96 3 107 320 181 299 .257 .352 .505 .857 124
    Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
    Generated 1/28/2015.
  • The Padres' home field, Petco Park, is the most extreme pitcher's park in baseball. The 2015 Bill James Baseball Handbook estimates that it suppresses home runs by 12%, home runs by right-handed hitters like Quentin by 24%, and runs by 17% compared to the average NL ballpark. In his three seasons there, Quentin slugged just .394 at home but a robust .510 on the road. His overall numbers were clearly dragged down by his home park. Oriole Park, by contrast, is more hitter-friendly, boosting runs by 5% and righties' homers by 7%. Quentin's overall numbers would benefit from a move.
  • Quentin is good at getting on base. Among the 168 players with 2,500 or more plate appearances between 2008 and 2014, he ranks 47th with a .352 on base percentage. The Orioles led the majors in home runs last year, easily, with 211, and were second in the AL in slugging percentage with .422, but only sixth in runs scored, with 705. The reason is that their .311 on base percentage was fifth worst in the league. They didn't get enough guys on base to take advantage of the long balls. The current Orioles roster has only three hitters with 30+ games played last year with a 2014 on base percentage better than the league average of .316: Pearce (.373), Young (.337), and Machado (.324). Quentin would address the team's key offensive weakness. 
Track record as a DH, buy low, reasonable contract (always a plus for Angelos), fills a need...all the Orioles need is for Duquette to continue to show signs of life. Do it, Dan. You're not going to work for the Blue Jays this year anyway.