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Orioles building outfield platoons with Seth Smith, but next move just as important

The Orioles' trade for a strong platoon bat in outfielder Seth Smith helps provide a clearer picture of what their roster will be as spring training nears. But the wisdom of the team's offseason moves so far won't be determined until they make one final addition — if they do at all.

With the team still looking to add one more outfielder, one who could also likely get some time as the designated hitter, there seems to be a commitment to at least one platoon in the outfield. They do run the risk, however, of being overspecialized, and the next move will decide that.

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Smith, 34, was an attractive option for the Orioles to replace Mark Trumbo in right field before the Seattle Mariners exercised his $7 million option in November, but the interest clearly didn't die there. He's a left-handed hitter who can play both corner outfield spots capably and hasn't had a below-average offensive season in his past six.

His 16 home runs a season ago were one off his career high, and his 63 RBIs were a high water mark as well, all coming in a year when he batted .249/.342/.415 with a 108 OPS+. Smith joins a spring training corner outfield mix that also includes Hyun Soo Kim, Joey Rickard, and Rule 5 picks Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander.

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While the production of Trumbo (47 home runs in 2016) will be difficult to replicate with those pieces, there are at least the makings of some interesting platoons at the corner outfield spots.

If last year's production at the corners is what the Orioles will be trying to recreate with that crew, the baseline isn't necessarily counting stats, though 50-some home runs from the corner spots would be a pleasant surprise.

Last year, the Orioles right fielders compiled a wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) of 105, which means they produced five percent more runs than league average at that spot, and 96 wRC+ in left field, meaning they were four percent below average.

Add in the defensive issues, and it speaks  to the idea that there's room for improvement -- despite the Trumbo-sized hole in the lineup -- that steadier bats, smart platoons and better defense could provide.

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If you're under the impression, like I am, that Santander will be the harder Rule 5 pick to keep because of his youth and possible lingering effects to his surgically repaired shoulder, the foursome of Smith, Rickard, Kim and even Tavarez fit tidily into a pair of platoons.

Smith, on his career, has been a much better hitter of right-handed pitching than lefties. He's a career .272 hitter off right-handers, with 104 of his 113 home runs coming off them. In 2016, he hit all 16 of his home runs off righties.

For his career, he has produced a wRC+ of 121 against righties, and it was 117 last year — both well above average.

The same splits can be ascribed to Kim, who didn't have a hit in any of the 22 plate appearances he made against left-handed hitters last year. When playing in his native South Korea, he wasn't nearly as split-heavy as he was in 2016, and the Orioles have said they expect him to get more chances against left-handers in 2017. But he can certainly hit righties, with a .321 average and 129 wRC+ last year.

Together, though it's not the major defensive upgrade the Orioles probably sought this offseason, that's a competent set of corner outfielders against right-handed pitching. And they can be overall more productive because manager Buck Showalter will be able to protect them from left-handed pitching.

That was something he couldn't do with Trumbo last year, as he posted an insane 146 wRC+ and killed righties all season but had a 54 wRC+ against lefties — and he played every day.

Part of that was for a lack of alternatives, though he was spelled in right field by Rickard against left-handed pitching. Although the rookie Rule 5 pick endured an up-and-down year, one thing he did steadily well was hit lefties. Rickard hit .313 with a 131 wRC+ against left-handed pitching as a rookie, and could be the small part of a platoon in either right field or left field, depending on who he's paired with.

If it's Kim, as the Orioles promise it could be, there's some strong on-base capability there. An unabashed optimist might say Tavarez, despite being a left-handed hitter, could carry on the reverse splits he began showing in 2016 for Double-A Portland at the major league level, but that's hard to count on.

At this point, it seems a hitter who could play some outfield and serve as designated hitter while holding his own against left-handed pitching is the final piece to this puzzle, a puzzle that Smith makes fairly complete on his own.

All that's left to determine is who that last piece would be, and where he fits.

Assuming Caleb Joseph and Ryan Flaherty continue as backup catcher and utility infielder, respectively, and assuming Kim and Smith as the starters at the corners on Opening Day, you're left with two bench spots for Rickard and a possible Rule 5 pick, to say nothing of Trey Mancini or whichever hitter they decide to sign.

A four-man bench, which has long been the Orioles' preference because of the bullpen flexibility it provides, is hard to swing with a pair of outfield platoons. That doesn't take away from the fact that Smith is a smart addition (for the cost of Yovani Gallardo, no less), but makes the next move that much more meaningful.

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