How are the Baltimore Orioles going to improve team offense and the need for an additional corner outfielder?
To the surprise of many, the news broke yesterday that the San Francisco Giants are signing outfielder Denard Span to a three-year contract. He was at least a consideration as a possible inexpensive outfield option for the Orioles, perhaps on a one-year deal.
This news also comes a day after Alex Gordon had been announced to be returning to the Kansas City Royals for a lower-than-expected four years at $72 million.
Does this activity grease the market a bit? Orioles fans have voiced some encouragement over these events as limiting not only the number of outfielders available, but removing as well some competitors for the remaining free agents such as Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton, Dexter Fowler, or Gerardo Parra.
And no Orioles article these days is complete without mentioning Chris Davis, noting that his indecision or continued rejection about the previous offer by the O’s is essentially an offseason clog for forward motion in rounding out the roster.
Putting all of this together, there are two major issues and categories of need in terms of offensive production. There is the need to maintain power on a team known for hitting the long ball, and there is a need to address the issue of having become very right-handed dominant. Of this latter concern, the fear is that the Orioles will be very much thwarted by strong right-handed pitching. The primary prescription is to have left-handed hitters salted in the batting order (OR, right-handed hitters who are not necessarily impacted by RHP).
Much has been written and analyzed about Cespedes and Upton, but not so much about Fowler.
Dexter Fowler will turn 30 just before the season begins. He is a switch-hitting outfielder drafted originally by the Rockies in the 14th round in 2004, with whom he played six years, followed by one each with the Astros and Cubs. Fowler had exclusively played center field, batting leadoff more than any other place in the order. He is a .267 career hitter with 65 total home runs (though 17 in 2015). Beyond that he has good speed and a career .363 OBP – probably his best asset.
But getting back to the two issues today — power and hitting left-handed pitching — let’s chart the names mentioned so far. The four categories are: plate appearances per home run (PA-HR), batting average against right-handed pitching (BA-RHP), career batting average (AVG), and career on base percentage (OBP).
Davis is of course the one with the best power. Fowler has the best OBP. Parra hits right-handers the best by just a bit. Cespedes has good power and is surprisingly a better hitter against RHP than LHP, though he himself bats from the right side.
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But the player with the best overall blend of these various numbers that are of such importance for the Orioles is Justin Upton. Many O’s fans sense this and comment in this regard, though maybe not knowing the way these statistics would support that innate feeling.
The other factor is naturally the cost associated with each of these players. I think a reasonable analysis would also say that the offer having been presented to Davis is really quite fair. And there may well be more total bang for the buck in Upton or Cespedes. Fowler would not look to have quite the attraction, though he is clearly a fine player. And there is less to applaud about Parra, other than he might be a cheap last-ditch option.