Baltimore Orioles: Guarding the corners


Now that the Prince Fielder sweepstakes are over and things have quieted down, I suppose it’s worth looking at the position Fielder plays: first base. Amid all of the chatter with regard to Fielder, Buck Showalter said that Chris Davis would be playing first going into the season, with Mark Reynolds guarding the hot corner at third. So offensively and defensively, where does this leave the Orioles?

Chris Davis (1B) –  Davis came to the Orioles via a trade last summer with the Texas Rangers (which also included pitcher Tommy Hunter and sent Koji Uehara to Texas).  He’s a career..252 hitter with 253 hits, 44 HR’s, and 137 RBI. He came up with the Rangers in 2008 and as I said was traded to the O’s last summer. Defensively Davis has a fielding percentage of .990 at first base, with 19 errors and 1,757 put-outs.

For a young player, those aren’t horrible numbers. The Orioles were sold on Davis because he was a guy who has the potential to hit-for-power. So then if you look at his career batting average you might ask why it’s so low for a power guy. First off he has had some injury problems, including last year with the O’s. However one thing that stands out to me is that before being traded he was hitting .250 with the Rangers. After coming to Baltimore, he hit .276. So he did seem to gel upon his arrival in Baltimore. Comparatively, the Orioles had Derrek Lee as their Opening Day first baseman in 2011. While Lee was a good signing at the time, he posted an average of .246 with 12 HR’s last season until he was traded to Pittsburgh. This is not to say that Davis is a better first baseman than Derrek Lee, however in theory that could work out from a numbers perspective in the Orioles’ favor (year-over-year). Davis is on the upside of his career, while Lee is a veteran. I think the part that “excites” me the most about Davis is that .276 batting average with the Orioles in th second part of last season. He somehow found a better hitting nitche in Baltimore than he had in Texas, so one hopes that continues into 2012.

Mark Reynolds (3B) – In theory, Reynolds is the incumbent third baseman. The Orioles traded for him at the 2010 winter meetings, which at the time was heralded as a good trade. The issue was that Reynolds struck out a lot, although he was also a home run hitter. For the first month-and-a-half or so of 2011, Reynolds was horrific at the plate. There were times that he was hovering well below the Mendoza Line at the plate, which made people wonder if he would remain with the team (similar to Garrett Atkins in 2010). To Buck Showalter’s credit he stuck with Reynolds, and he ended up producing pretty much what the Orioles signed up for once all was said and done. He finished the season only hitting .221, however after a season in which he hit .198 that’s not too shabby. Furthermore he hit 37 HR’s which was more than in 2010, and had 15 fewer strikeouts (this while playing in ten more games than in 2010). Here’s the other thing, he hit 19 more singles than in 2011, along with ten more doubles. As the season went on it appeared that Reynolds became more selective at the plate, which might speak to this. All in all, you’ll take a guy that hits 37 HR’s in a season anyday.

Defensively, Reynolds only posted a fielding percentage at third of .897. After an errorless 2010 with Arizona, Reynolds committed 26 errors at third in 2011 for the Birds. I think the coup de grace on Reynolds was probably a picture that was snapped of him guzzling sunflower seeds while a Boston player was rounding the bases in the background on a home run. Reynolds may as well have been eating tortilla chips with bean dip. However Reynolds also played 44 games at first base for the Birds, posting a fielding percentage of .987 and five errors. So should Reynolds really be playing third? I say yes, because first off Josh Bell is the only other third baseman in the organization, and at this point it’s doubtful whether he’ll ever have the wherewithall to be an everyday third baseman.

More importantly, Davis is a first baseman so that position appears set. In fairness to Reynolds, I can accept that in the first part of last season he was adjusting to a new league and new opponents. In 2010 he posted a .951 fielding percentage at third, and the same in his rookie year of 2007. Needless to say, Reynolds isn’t a gold glove first baseman by any means. Third base is hardly a position where you want someone that could potentially be a defensive liability, so hopefully that’s something that the Orioles work on in spring training. They don’t call it the hot corner for nothing!

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