- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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Matt Wieters will miss the rest of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. While it's certainly a tough blow for the Orioles, it's hardly a season-ending blow for them.
Despite his respected reputation and two All-Star appearances, Wieters is a good player, not a great one, especially last season when he hit .235/.287/.417. That's not criticism; there's a lot of value in being a good player. He had been off to a great start in the 26 games he played, hitting .308/.339/.500, but that was well above his career norms and way above what he did last season, obviously. There was little reason to expect Wieters to keep hitting .300 all year.
Baseball-Reference valued Wieters at just 0.5 WAR in 2013. He was better in 2011 (4.9) and 2012 (3.5). FanGraphs had him at 2.4 WAR last season, but similar totals in 2011 (4.5) and 2012 (3.9). Let's say last year was just a bad year and that Wieters is roughly a four-win player. That's hard to replace; good two-way catchers don't exactly fall off trees. The other three catchers the Orioles have used -- Steve Clevenger, Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley -- have combined to hit .184 with no home runs and 12 RBIs. That's pretty bad, certainly about replacement-level offense if not below. Collectively, the three have been worth minus-0.3 WAR heading into Monday's game, according to Baseball-Reference.
Throw it in the mixer and those three should provide at least replacement-level performance, possibly better depending on how Hundley does, if he gets to play. Last year with the Padres Hundley produced a batting that was basically a replica of Wieters', especially when you adjust for parks: .233/.290/.389. The Orioles will take that. Anyway, we're talking about a lot of possibilities and variables here, but the difference in value could be four wins, or it could be one win.
So Wieters' injury hurts, and that's without recognizing that there may be some relative intangibles we risk missing here. StatCorner.com has rated both Joseph and Hundley as better pitch framers than Wieters in 2014. Wieters didn't rate well last year in pitch framing. It's possible the Orioles don't less anything defensively and actually improve with Joseph.
Anyway, I would argue the Orioles have other issues as important or more so if they're going to chase down the Blue Jays in the AL East.
1. Manny Machado has to start hitting and fielding better. We know what he did last year, hitting .283 with 14 home runs and a league-leading 51 doubles. We know he played Gold Glove defense at third base, deservedly winning with what the defensive metrics said was one of the best seasons ever by a third baseman (the eye test agreed).
My gut says he'll improve in both areas from where he's at now, especially as his knee continues to get better after he injured it late last season. I do worry about the overaggressive approach at bat and the inability to lay off breaking stuff off the plate, but he also has a low .265 average on balls in play compared to .322 last year. His line-drive rate is actually higher than last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information (23 percent to 20 percent). He hit .757 on line drives last year but is hitting .531 this year. The MLB average is .675. That looks like some bad luck to me.
Defensively, he's making 3.07 plays per nine innings this year; he made 3.05 last year. His error rate is up, but you have to dig deep into the metrics to figure out why he's not grading out near as well this year as last year.
2. Chris Tillman needs to get people out. Maybe he's not an ace but he's supposed to be the Orioles' No. 1 starter and he's 5-4 with a 4.80 ERA and impossible to figure out. On May 16 he pitched a shutout; his next start he gave eight runs and got three outs. On May 31 and June 10 he allowed one run each time; in between those two games, he again got just three outs. In his last start on Sunday he gave up three runs in seven innings but didn't record a strikeout.
Here's the concern: His hits and walks are up from last year, while his strikeouts and home runs are down. Overall, however, the package is similar: He had a 4.42 FIP in 2013 and is at 4.61 this year. He managed to outperform his FIP in 2012 (2.93 ERA) and 2013 (3.71 EA), but isn't doing so this season. Regardless, a staff leader can't afford five-inning starts let alone one-inning starts.
3. Chris Davis and J.J. Hardy: Where's the power? Last year, with Davis hitting 53 home runs and Hardy 25, the Orioles clubbed 212 long balls, the most in the majors. That was the basis of their offense. They don't walk much (next-to-last in the AL last year and last year this year), so they have to the ball over the fence to score runs. Davis has 11 home runs (he did miss 15 games) while Hardy is sitting on zero. Overall, the Orioles are on pace to hit 36 fewer home runs that last year, and that's with Nelson Cruz playing the Chris Davis role with an MLB-leading 21.
4. Big hole at second base: Baltimore's second sackers are hitting .245 with a .289 OBP. Buck Showalter loves Ryan Flaherty's defense and rookie Jonathan Schoop has some potential, but this position was an issue last year and remains a problem. An upgrade -- like trading for Arizona's Aaron Hill? -- is a possibility.
5. Ubaldo Jimenez: The big wild card. Among 99 qualified starters, he's No. 99 in walk rate. His walk rate is 13.5 percent, up from 10.3 percent last year and way up from the 7.8 percent in the second half of last season when he went on the great roll with Cleveland, his first consistent stretch since he began the 2010 season red-hot for the Rockies. Who is the real Ubaldo Jimenez? I'd suggest that what he has done over most of the past four seasons is a better barometer than three months.
What's it all mean? The Orioles are clearly a team with some fatal flaws: They don't walk so they are too reliant on hitting home runs; they lack a No. 1 to lead the rotation; and now they potentially have a hole at catcher. That's without mentioning the bullpen, which lost Monday's game in the eighth inning.
Look, this team could get hot, for all sorts of reasons: Davis goes on a tear, Machado improves, Tillman or Jimenez get straightened out, the bullpen settles down. But right now, the Orioles are 35-34 and that's what they look like to me: a .500 team.