The Orioles Infield: Wieters and the Machado Man* by Karl de Vries January 30, 2015 It’s time for our Depth Chart Discussions to begin. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, bullpen, and rotation) and will begin breaking them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find them gathered here. The Baltimore Orioles offer fantasy owners an array of usable infield options, with one of baseball’s best upside bets at third, a veritable mixed league shortstop, a three-time all-star behind the dish and a true bopper at first base. And that’s before you factor in a home ballpark that’s known for boosting offense. What’s not to like? Catcher / Matt Wieters / 28 PA HR RBI RUNS SB BB% K% AVG OBP SLG BABIP wRC+ 2014 season 112 5 18 13 0 5.4 17 .308 .339 .500 .329 134 2015 Steamer 476 17 56 54 3 8.4 17.9 .246 .311 .418 .268 103 OK, so one of Wieters’ three all-star game appearances was last year, when he was a sentimental vote by fans, but still, we can agree that he’s previously been a solid option at what’s typically a difficult position to fill in fantasy. Unfortunately, after a hot start, the backstop lasted only five weeks in 2014 before going down with a tear of his ulnar collateral ligament, which necessitated the dreaded Tommy John surgery. The good news is that he expects to be ready for opening day, and the reports so far this month have been positive. Overall, he’s been a relatively healthy man; the only other DL stint he’s had in his career came in 2010 for a strained hamstring, and from 2010 through 2013, he appeared in 561 games, the most of any catcher in that span. How will his elbow hold up? Jay Jaffe offered a particularly dire forecast back in June, though Jeff Zimmerman was more optimistic a few months ago, believing that Wieters will retain his hitting ability, even if he has to DH occasionally. Obviously, we’ll know more as spring training gets underway, so we’ll keep an eye out. But fantasy owners certainly hope he’ll make a full recovery, because entering 2014, he was coming off a three-year period in which he averaged 22 home runs and 77 RBIs. The average might be middling, but fantasy owners won’t grumble too much if he brings the pop. Catcher is relatively deep this year, and owners seem to look as Wieters as a low-end No. 1 option in 12-team leagues. Given the balance of his injury risk and his track record, that sounds about right. First base / Chris Davis / 29 PA HR RBI RUNS SB BB% K% AVG OBP SLG BABIP wRC+ 2014 season 525 26 72 65 2 11.4 33 .196 .300 .404 .242 94 2015 Steamer 551 30 79 71 3 10 31.1 .242 .326 .477 .304 122 Davis led baseball with 53 homers and 138 RBIs two years ago only to suffer through a dismal 2014, which ended with him being suspended for violating the league’s amphetamine policy. To say that Davis was disappointing coming off such a sensational season would be to grossly understate the obvious, even if 26 homers and 72 RBIs still have a place in plenty of leagues. But such numbers were nowhere near enough to offset a horrific .196 average, which Mike Podhorzer suggested owed much to teams shifting against him in a whopping 83% of his plate appearances. Jeff Sullivan also took note of his problems hitting offspeed pitches, which contributed to him striking out in one out of every three times he stepped up to the dish. It helped somewhat that Davis maintained a good walk rate, which kept his OBP in the atmosphere of acceptability, and his FB%, while down from his magical 2013 campaign, was still a healthy 40.9%. The fly ball distance was still there, and when he did put the bat on the ball, he struck line drives at a 24.6% clip, so perhaps he was cheated a bit on his .242 BABIP. But assuming teams keep shifting against him, the batted ball luck is going to continue to suffer, making Steamer’s projected .242 average something of a best-case scenario. If everything were to fall apart for Davis, Steve Pearce, who spotted him at first base after the suspension, could step in, as could rookie Christian Walker, who is considered perhaps the team’s best position prospect. Second base / Jonathan Schoop / 23 PA HR RBI RUNS SB BB% K% AVG OBP SLG BABIP wRC+ 2014 season 481 16 45 48 2 2.7 25.4 .209 .244 .354 .249 65 2015 Steamer 506 15 53 52 5 4.9 21 .226 .273 .366 .258 77 In Schoop’s rookie season, he surprised owners in deeper leagues with 16 homers, the most he had produced in any level in professional baseball. Problem is, those bombs accounted for essentially half of his extra-base hits, so although he finished fourth among second basemen in long balls, he managed a measly .354 slugging percentage and a 65 wRC+. Schoop also struck out in more than one out of every four plate appearances, and his 2.7% walk rate was the lowest among American League hitters with at least 450 trips to the plate. When he did make contact, he popped up frequently and his 13.9% line drive rate was the lowest among that aforementioned group, weighing down that ugly batting average. Is the power legit? In October, Brad Johnson noted Schoop’s impressive batted ball distance and HR/FB rate, and just three of those homers were considered “just enough” or “lucky” according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker. And although Camden Yards plays more favorably to left-handed hitters so far as home runs are concerned, it still helps right-handers in their quest to send baseballs flying into the stands. It’s probably optimistic to bank on Schoop replicating 16 homers, but double digits is not out of the question, and if he can improve on his contact rate, he could prove to be an interesting middle infield option in deeper mixed leagues in his sophomore year. Shortstop / J.J. Hardy / 32 PA HR RBI RUNS SB BB% K% AVG OBP SLG BABIP wRC+ 2014 season 569 9 52 56 0 5.1 18.3 .268 .309 .372 .317 90 2015 Steamer 616 17 64 65 2 5.6 15.5 .253 .298 .392 .276 92 Since arriving in Baltimore in 2011, Hardy had been a dependable source of power at a typically power-hungry position, which makes the nine home runs and 52 RBIs he produced in 2014 very disappointing. The average was on par with his career norm, but the putrid .104 ISO was the lowest of his career, as was his walk rate. Meanwhile, thanks to a sharp drop in his contact rate and an increased propensity to take called strikes, he tied his career high in strikeout percentage. And just in case you needed more bad news, his average batted ball distance of 277 feet was his lowest in four years, resulting in the lowest HR/FB rate of his big league tenure. Two and a half months into the season, Blake Murphy found that Hardy was being pitched away more frequently, and while his O-Swing% stayed flat compared to past seasons, his contact on pitches outside the strike zone plummeted. The power would surface somewhat in the second half, thanks largely to a torrid August in which he blasted five home runs, but overall, it was a depressing offensive season for a guy who’s starting to leave his prime years. Hardy, just re-signed to a three-year contract, will be in the lineup every day due to his outstanding glove, and Steamer and the fans believe he will bounce back, expecting about 17 homers and 65 RBIs with a .260 average. That would have placed him among the top five at the position last year, but it’s asking a lot given his 2014 campaign. Third base / Manny Machado / 22 PA HR RBI RUNS SB BB% K% AVG OBP SLG BABIP wRC+ 2014 season 354 12 32 38 2 5.6 19.2 .278 .324 .431 .317 111 2015 Steamer 610 18 69 76 6 6.1 16 .271 .319 .436 .298 111 Machado hasn’t produced the fantasy magic of wunderkinds like Mike Trout or Yasiel Puig, and he’s now had major operations on both knees, but that doesn’t mean owners should write him off. His overall line might suggest that he didn’t take that much of a step forward from his 2013 breakout season, but a closer examination finds that he caught fire after his first month back, producing a 139 wRC+ with a .307/.350/.505 slash line from June until mid-August, when he suffered a partial tear of his medial patellofemoral ligament in his right knee, ending his season. Machado’s injuries — and perhaps his ability to stay on the field in general — should rightly give fantasy owners pause, but he believes he’ll be all set when spring training begins next month and will be there for the start of the season. Steamer expects him to build on his 2013 season, when he finished 10th among third basemen, according to Zach Sanders’ rankings, but fantasy owners in early mock drafts seem scared away by the injuries, leaving him for 16th at the position. If good news trickles out of spring training, that ADP will surely climb, but as of right now, it seems safe to say Machado will be a terrific buy-low draft target with the upside to finish among the top five at the hot corner. *** Finally, just to round out this list, the current 25-man roster includes backup catchers Caleb Joseph and Steve Clevenger, middle infielders Jimmy Paredes, Rey Navarro and Ryan Flaherty, as well as the aforementioned Walker. Of this group, Walker’s upside makes him by far the most alluring were he to receive regular at-bats; it’s worth noting that Davis is in his final year before he becomes eligible for free agency, so a trade wouldn’t come as a huge shock. *Yes, this was a poor attempt at a Traveling Wilburys pun.