Baltimore Orioles: Both Corner Outfield Spots Could Use Some Assistance
By Josh Linn
While the Baltimore Orioles haven’t attacked this off-season as proactively as most would have hoped, EVP/GM Mike Elias has upgraded certain areas of the major league roster and added a handful of potential bench depth options via minor league contacts. Adam Frazier was signed to fill the spot vacated by Secretary of Vibes Rougned Odor, providing a tremendous defensive upgrade. Kyle Gibson represents a marginal improvement over Jordan Lyles, and Mychal Givens strengthens the middle of the bullpen.
The corner outfield is one department that hasn’t received much attention up to this point, which could prove problematic if the Orioles truly want to contend for a playoff spot. Frazier can adequately cover either corner defensively, but his offense cratered in 2022. Some may write it off as an outlier in the middle of otherwise above average offensive seasons, but bottom-of-the-leaderboard marks in categories like average exit velocity, HardHit%, and wOBA make a return to anything near Frazier’s All Star form a long shot and a half. Anthony Santander is one of the Orioles best hitters, but there's not a euphemism fit to describe his defense which leaves a lot to be desired (wait, that's one!).
The Baltimore Orioles could benefit from the addition of another proven corner outfielder.
Austin Hays has shown flashes of being an above average everyday outfielder for stretches, but is he just too enigmatic to be counted on as a starter for a hopeful playoff team? I would argue yes. Hays was very good through the first half of the season - at one point a case could have been made for him as the Orioles All Star Game representative - but his offense cratered in July and never truly recovered. A .779 first half OPS was followed up with a lackluster .626 OPS during the second half.
This chart from the wonderful folks at Baseball Savant shows his average exit velocity from month to month last season. His late season slump coincides with his exit velo absolutely cratering in August and September. It’s no surprise that his production diminished when he was hitting the ball nearly 4 miles per hour slower than the average batted ball during those final months.
Hays will have stretches where he performs at an above average level, but his ceiling is an average everyday player. On a contending team, his fit may be best as a fourth outfielder and given the current composition of the roster (I’d argue Ryan McKenna is a better backup option), Hays’ roster spot is one Elias should look to upgrade.
Kyle Stowers showed enough to earn an opportunity at a starting role for the 2023 Baltimore Orioles. The former Stanford Cardinal finished his short trial run with a .256/.318/.418 slash line with three home runs. Who could forget his two-out, two-strike, game-leveling home run against White Sox closer Liam Hendriks? What a time to hit your first major league longball.
Stowers’ batted ball data, though limited, is encouraging. His average exit velocity, expected batting average, expected wOBA, and expected slugging were all well above MLB average. His plate discipline still needs some work - he struck out in nearly one third of his plate appearances - and will likely be the determinant of whether Stowers becomes an above average regular or not. Stowers should receive ample time to claim a starting outfield spot, but the Orioles would be unwise not to have a backup option.
Ideally, an upgrade would be in the form of a cost effective veteran on a one, maybe two year deal. First and foremost, Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad aren’t far away. Secondly, there isn’t a free agent left that’s worthy of a substantial, long-term commitment. Are there any remaining free agent outfielders worth pursuing at all?
I would argue for one: David Peralta. The 35 year old Peralta is a left handed bat who, despite his age, would represent a significant defensive upgrade over Hays, Frazier, or Stowers. Though his UZR/150 declined a bit last season, Peralta was one of baseball’s best outfielders according to Outs Above Average. While not a standout athlete, Peralta’s acute judgment of fly balls enables him to react quicker (nearly half a second quicker than average) and get a better jump to balls than the average outfielder.
David Peralta would bring a capable bat with excellent defense to the table, should the Baltimore Orioles choose to pursue the 35 year old.
Hays and Peralta had incredibly similar seasons offensively. Hays finished with a .314 wOBA, Peralta .315. .163 ISO for Hays, .164 for Peralta. Peralta accumulated 1.7 fWAR, Hays finished with 1.5. Having Peralta or Stowers in the lineup versus righties would be preferred over Frazier, unless you’re certain he will revert to his 2021 form.
Even if Hays isn’t traded, Peralta wouldn’t necessarily “block” Stowers if Brandon Hyde allows the young lefty to face left handed pitchers, against whom he’s thrived in the minor leagues. Stowers could also shift over to right field while Peralta or Hays (whose fit may be better as a platoon bat anyway) plays in left, allowing Anthony Santander to focus primarily on hitting and strengthening the lineup as a whole.
If Peralta can be had for a one year deal in the range of $3-5 million, the Orioles should at least kick the tires to see if he were interested in joining. His combination of bat and glove would provide the Baltimore Orioles with outfield depth they sorely need, unless you see big things in Frazier or Nomar Mazara’s future.