Baltimore Orioles 2013 in review: Ryan Flaherty

Rob Carr

Whether due more to careful platooning or real improvements in his game, Ryan Flaherty was a surprisingly valuable part of the 2013 Orioles.

For the Baltimore Orioles, second base felt like a void waiting to be filled all season. Yet, between Ryan Flaherty, Brian Roberts, and Alexi Casilla, Orioles' keystone players put up 2.2 - 2.5 WAR, which is about what an average (or slightly better) everyday player would put up over a full season. As we've already discussed Roberts and Casilla, let's look at Flaherty's contributions.

The Flahrt was worth 1 to 1.4 wins, depending on whether you like Baseball Reference's or FanGraphs' version better. Much of that value came from simply playing good defense at second base for 515 innings (and assorted other positions for 87.1). UZR rated Flaherty as 5.9 runs better than the average second baseman, while DRS gave him a more modest +3.

Still, that's pretty good, as a full season's worth of innings would nearly triple those values; to put that into perspective, J.J. Hardy has averaged 10-12 runs above average over the last three seasons with both UZR and DRS. So, on a rate basis, Flaherty was about as good at playing second base as Hardy has been with the O's. That's nothing to sneeze at.

Of course, unless you're Mark Belanger, great defense isn't going to keep you in the lineup by itself. Fortunately for Flaherty, he hit a lot better this year than last, and there are some promising signs that he's genuinely improved. He nearly doubled his walk rate (3.6% in 2012, 7.0% in 2013), cut down on strikeouts (25.7% to 22.9%), and found a little more power (.144 ISO in '12, .167 in '13).

Now, those improvements still only added up to a .224/.293/.390 batting line, which calls to mind J.J. Hardy's 2012 (.238/.282/.389). But it's still a lot better than Flaherty's .216/.258/.359 line from 2012, and perhaps even better, improvements in things like walk and strikeout rate are more likely sustainable than a simple BABIP inflation (and Flaherty's BABIP hardly changed, from .257 to .259).

This isn't all to say that Flaherty is suddenly an everyday second baseman. Buck Showalter was still very reluctant to use him against lefties, even though he was a bit better against them than last year; given the presence of Casilla and Roberts on the roster, that made sense. But the overall improvement in Flaherty's game should make O's fans more comfortable with the idea of him being in the lineup regularly, which is good, since he'll likely be needed for most games in April if Manny Machado isn't ready for Opening Day.

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