Thursday, January 13, 2011

Can Derek Lee fix the Power Outage in Baltimore?

The Baltimore Orioles are once again coming off another disappointing season. 2010 marked the 15th consecutive year in a row that the Os finished with a losing record. Baltimore's season also included three different managers, although fortunately the Orioles were able to finish strong down the stretch going 34-23 under Buck Showalter. And of course anyone who follows baseball knows that the O's pitching is worse than a Robert Pattinson movie. Their starting pitching was just atrocious, with not a single one of their starters (who had at least 10 starts) posting a winning a record. Even their bullpen was pedestrian at best, with closer Alfredo Simon accumulating a measly 17 saves in 49 appearances and a glaringly bad ERA of 4.93.

To be fair Baltimore's pitching had very little run support. The case could easily be made that the Orioles offense was just as bad as their pitching. I know a big part of baseball is the ability to manufacture runs and get people on base. Getting on base is not as much of a problem as one might expect. Everyone in the starting lineup except for shortstop Cesar Izturis posted an OBP of over 300. The main problem with Baltimore's offense was its power numbers, particularly from the right side. Not a single player got to even 80 RBI. First baseman Ty Wigginton (who has since departed for Colorado) led the way with a pitiful 76. Meanwhile DH Luke Scott topped the team in HR with 27 and Nick Markakis had the most doubles with 45. An analysis of the team's offensive output had to have indicated to the top brass a desperate need to acquire power in the offseason.

And the Orioles front office's master plan was to bring in none other than--Derek Lee??? I'm sorry did I miss something? I thought this was 2011 not 2005. How could any team possibly think that Derek Lee would help their power numbers? Apparently the Orioles, for whatever misguided reason, do. Again this is just another demonstration of why the Baltimore Orioles have consistently been one of the worst teams in baseball over the last decade and a half. Their moves are more myopic and perplexing than Mr. Magoo at a rave.

Look at the facts. Derek Lee is 35 years old an age where most first basemen's careers are on the downward slide. Lee's statistics over the last few years bare that out. Aside from a resurgent season in 2009 where Lee hit 35 HR and drove in 111 RBI, he hasn't hit over 22 HR or 90 RBI since 2005. Part of that has been due to injury but that is just a further indicator that Lee is not as durable anymore. Although his SLG in 2010 was a robust 428, he didn't crack 20 HR and barely hit 80 RBI. It was clear that the Cubs saw the writing on the wall. That is why they traded Lee to Atlanta last season. The Braves, not surprisingly, didn't re-sign him.
Granted Lee is a solid defensive first baseman and Luke Scott, another first baseman, mostly DHs. Also it is important to note that Lee will now be playing in the AL East where the ballparks on average are smaller than other divisions in baseball. Camden Yards in particular is intriguing because left field is only 333 feet.
However, Lee's 2010 WAR was 2 which is the worst of his career. Add that to a career low 340 OBA, his age, and some lingering questions about his durability, and all points indicate that Lee is unlikely to repeat his 2009 performance. In fact I kind of see Lee's 2009 season as a bit of a fluke, kind of like Derek Jeter's MVP type campaign in 2009. For both players I see the drop off continuing.

Despite everything I've just written however, Buck Showalter today said that he would bat Lee in the middle of the lineup in 2011, most likely in the third or fourth slot. Personally I don't see that lasting too long. I like how Adam Jones is starting to come along and I believe at some point he will be inserted into that number three slot.

The bottom line is that Derek Lee is not the solution to the power outage in Baltimore. He barely qualifies as electrical tape.

1 comment:

  1. @Corrye I respect your opinion greatly, but I disagree your opinion of DLee.

    You bring up an excellent point that he's 35, and likely on the decline. Still, there's a school of thought (in particular my own) that says Lee was incredibly unlucky on balls in play. His batted ball rates in 2010 were very similar to his rates from his previous five seasons. His high line drive rate (combined with his low pop-up rate) implies that he should've hit an for an average closer to .290 than .260. His walk rate is still around 12%, which means that if he repeats his batted ball rates in 2011, he'll likely produce a much healthier triple slash line.

    Also, the contract is only for one year. If they he doesn't produce, they can let him go via free agency after 2011. No harm, no foul.