The Orioles Over The Next Five Years

Steve Sommer and Satchel Price recently finished a project over at Beyond the Box Score looking at projecting who the top 50 players in baseball will be in the next 5 years, and Steve was kind enough to make the full data set available. Here’s how it worked:

“For position players I used pre-season CHONE projections to derive wOBA which I then aged over the 5 years using results from MGL’s aging study.  For the defensive component I used my own defensive projections when available and CHONE for players that I hadn’t projected.  I did not account for position switches over the course of the five years that were projected.  Playing time was the most difficult component to project.  Since the list is meant to be a “playground style list” it made sense to me to give all position players “starter caliber” playing time.  To that end I found the average of the top ten in PA by position over the last two years.  I then averaged each players last two years of PA and regressed towards the positional average.  The modeled PA was the maximum of the positional average and the regressed averaged.  Applying that playing time across all of the WAR components leads to the overall WAR value.

For pitchers I used CHONE’s context neutral ERA and an innings pitched projection that mirrors the PA projection above.  The only difference is I looked at the top 80 starters and relievers to get the positional averages.  For aging I leveraged this blog post from MGL.  The cliff notes are that the curve is flat from 21-26 and then goes up 0.2 runs allowed per season.

A couple caveats worth mentioning

  1. The projections are the mean projections and do not address the uncertainty levels.  This is especially important since we are projection a lot of young players where the uncertainty level is going to be very high.
  2. The same aging curves were applied to all players.
  3. The playing time estimations were not aged (i.e. same number of PAs/IPs over the 5 years).

So how did the Orioles’ players come out?

Matt Wieters: 21.9 total WAR (#23 amongst all position players)

Y1 Y2 Y3 Y4 Y5
Offense 13 16 18 18 16
Defense 1 0 -1 -2 -2
WAR 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.5 4.2

Satchel’s comments:

“While the projections for Wieters are no longer otherworldly and borderline god-like, there are still a lot of reasons to believe that Wieters has a bright future in front of him. While the expectations bestowed upon Wieters were sometimes pretty unfair given the nature of prospects, there’s little doubt in the baseball community that Wieters is a truly special talent.

After being arguably the top talent in the 2007 draft, he embarrassed minor league pitchers for all of 2008 and part of 2009 before putting up league average numbers in the majors as a 23-year-old in his second professional season. He’s off to a rough start again this season, the power still isn’t translating to the majors and his BABIP is fairly low right now, but he doesn’t need to be an absolute monster with the bat to offer value at the catcher position.

Our projections have Wieters as a roughly average defensive catcher, finishing a few runs below average in Year 5. But more importantly, we see Wieters bouncing back from his underwhelming performance thus far in his MLB career. Like with many other players, the next five years eat up a good chunk of the catcher’s prime, so we don’t see a whole lot of improvement or decline. In Year 1 he’s a roughly average defender and a +13 RAA bat, improving up to a +18 RAA bat by Year 4. Then again, these kind of numbers would make Wieters easily the best catcher in the AL not named Mauer, which is exactly what we project.”

Perhaps you’re a little hesitant about the offensive projections, but they projected Wieters as only average defensively and I think that’s likely low.

Brian Roberts: 10.1 WAR (#127)

Y1 Y2 Y3 Y4 Y5
Offense 9 4 -1 -5 -10
Defense -3 -4 -5 -6 -7
WAR 3.1 2.6 2.0 1.5 0.9

I’m more bearish on Roberts’ actual production given that I don’t think the playing time assumptions will hold well for a second-baseman in his mid 30s with back problems. Taking a full Win away each year might be more accurate.

Josh Bell: 2.4 WAR (#384)

Y1 Y2 Y3 Y4 Y5
Offense -9 -5 -2 0 0
Defense -14 -15 -16 -17 -17
WAR 0.1 0.4 0.6 0.7 0.6

I think those defensive projections are worse than his actual play will be at third, and if you cut them in half then you get WARs of 0.8, 1.1, 1.4, 1.5, and 1.5 for a total of 6.3 (which would rank 233rd instead). That doesn’t seem unreasonable to me.

Felix Pie: 8.5 WAR (#163)

Y1 Y2 Y3 Y4 Y5
Offense 2 4 5 2 1
Defense 1 0 -1 -2 -3
WAR 1.8 1.9 1.9 1.5 1.4

I think those defensive projections are way low considering Felix is being counted as a corner outfielder – he’s got a career +8.5 UZR/150 in left-field. Adding five runs with the glove moves him to #108 with 11.0 WAR – right behind Cap’n Jeter). I sure hope Pie gets a chance to show if he can be a 2-2.5 WAR player in a full-time role.

Nolan Reimold: 10.8 WAR (#111)

Y1 Y2 Y3 Y4 Y5
Offense 18 18 16 15 13
Defense -8 -9 -10 -11 -12
WAR 2.6 2.5 2.1 2.0 1.6

Those defensive marks are bad enough that Reimold wouldn’t lose value being DH’ed (so the Win totals would be about the same if you pretended that that was his position). Given his .213/.289/.307 line in Triple-A this year though, the offensive projections look pretty high. Decreasing those offensive numbers by 67% pretty much cuts the WAR numbers in half to 1.4, 1.3, 1.1, 1.0, and 0.8 – totaling 5.5 WAR.

Adam Jones: 22.7 WAR (#19)

Y1 Y2 Y3 Y4 Y5
Offense 20 23 25 25 23
Defense 1 0 -1 -2 -3
WAR 4.4 4.6 4.7 4.6 4.3

Satchel:

“At the moment, Jones is just one of many Orioles players struggling to keep their head above the replacement level waters, with a 0.1 WAR mark through 56 games thanks to some solid defense in center field. His hitting on the other hand? Pretty scary, with a .283 wOBA thanks to poor showing in terms of contact, power and plate discipline.

Jones came over to Baltimore in the well-regarded 2008 Erik Bedard trade, routinely considering one of the great trading heists of recent memory with trades like the Teixeira deal and the Colon deal. He established himself as the team’s primary center fielder in 2008 at age 22, flashing a plus glove but a bat that needed a good deal of work still. That work appeared to manifest itself in 2009, as Jones improved in nearly every facet of his offensive game, managing to land on the AL’s All Star Team. He finished the season with a 1.8 WAR that was identical to his 2008 WAR though, as his defense went from +6 in 132 games to -7.5 in 119 games according to UZR, although it’s worth noting that he’s never posted a negative DRS mark (+5 DRS in 2009 compared to -7.5 UZR).

2010 was supposed to be Jones’ breakout season, as evidenced by me choosing him in our Ball on a Budget draft. Of course, the projections also had huge expectations for Jones coming into 2010, with CHONE and ZiPS being the most bullish, as each projected Jones to post a wOBA of at least .355, an improvement from his .343 wOBA from 2009. Our projections are equally optimistic on Jones, projecting similar offensive improvement even if his glove never really projects as plus again.

We have Jones as a +20 RAA (runs above average) bat in all five projected seasons, peaking with a +25.4 RAAin Year 4, with his WAR never dipping below 4.3 in any season. His defense is projected as roughly average, with an accumulated UZR of just -4.3 over the five seasons in center field. His total projected WAR of 22.7 would easily put him among the best center fielders in the game. “

So that’s pretty optimistic in my opinion, especially in the near term. If we make the offensive projections +5 runs, +7, +9, +11, and +13, then Jones’ total WAR would drop to 15.5 (#60, just ahead of Carl Crawford) – at about 3 WAR a year.

Nick Markakis: 20.2 WAR (#36)

Y1 Y2 Y3 Y4 Y5
Offense 26 26 24 23 20
Defense 3 2 1 0 -1
WAR 4.5 4.4 4.0 3.9 3.5

Satchel:

“While he doesn’t get a whole lot of attention, probably not even as much as his center field counterpart Mr. Jones, Markakis is one of the biggest reasons that there’s hope for the O’s in Baltimore. After establishing himself with a strong rookie season in 2006, Markakis emerged as one of the best players in the AL in 2008 with a monster 6.3 WAR season.

In 2008, his second straight season with 40+ doubles, 20+ homers and a .300+ batting average, he nearly doubled his walk rate to over 14%, which along with a +12 UZR made him the second-most valuable outfielder in the American League, behind only Grady Sizemore (who conveniently placed No. 41 on this list). Expected to maintain that performance in 2009 as a 25-year-old, Markakis saw his walk rate plummet back down to an even worse mark than in 2007, which combined with a lower BABIP and a poor defensive effort gave him easily the worst performance of his MLB career.

Even so, Markakis was still a league average player in 2009 with all of his struggles, leaving reason to be optimistic going forward. His walk rate in 2010 is currently identical to his 2008 mark, and he’s essentially all the way back from his 2009 struggles with the exception of his power, which is something that Daniel actually touched on in detail a couple weeks ago. Our projections have him bouncing back with consecutive ~4.5 WAR seasons in the first two years followed by a solid decline. Markakis is projected to see dips in performance as a 28-year-old and as a 30-year-old, primarily in the form of offensive decline.

The Orioles are probably hoping that this is the least that they get, considering that they owe Markakis a hefty $61M through 2014.”

Speaking to that last line, even with low expectations for the price of a Win going forward ($3.5 M next year and just a 5% increase thereafter), Nick is still easily worth his contract and then-some. Markakis was the third of three Orioles on the top 50 list (of all players, including pitchers). Not bad.

That’s more or less it amongst position players that look like the may be on the Orioles for the foreseeable future. The WAR totals for those seven guys – missing a shortstop and a first-baseman – are 20.8, 20.8, 19.8, 18.7, and 16.5, which is an OK base of talent to start with. Using my adjusted total where stated knocks things down to 18.3, 18.2, 17.5, 16.6, 15.1 – a difference of about 2.5 Wins in the early years but only 1.4 Wins in the fifth season.

I’ll go through the pitching side quickly, but those are a little screwy based on playing time (Erik Bedard is 21st, for example) and the lack of improvements anywhere seems not quite realistic (though correct when looking at the pitchers in aggregate).

Pitcher 5 Year WAR Total Initial Runs Allowed Rank Amongst Pitchers
Brian Matusz 9.9 4.75 #41
Brad Bergesen 7.0 4.92 #78
Chris Tillman 6.2 5.20 #91
Jeremy Guthrie 4.2 5.07 #137
Jake Arrieta 2.1 5.45 #219

Even though the numbers for Matusz don’t look good, being the 41st best pitcher in baseball makes you a decent #2 starter, assuming there are thirty #1’s, thirty #2’s, and so on, right? That would make Bergy a #3, Tillman right on the #3/#4 border, Guthrie a #5.

If the position players turn out about as well as projected above overall, the Orioles seem like they’ll get about as far as their young pitchers take them.