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How does Vlad Change Our Expectations in 2011?

So....I guess Vladimir Guerrero is here now.

And you know what? Let's get excited. I don't like the contract he was given and I argued against signing him in the first place regardless of the contract. A couple of people agreed with me. A lot of people thought I was wrong. And maybe I was. I don't know.

But enough. Enough. At the end of the day Vlad Guerrero is an Oriole. For better or worse, Vlad will take over the designated hitter role in 2011 and Luke Scott will slide over to left field. So let's forget the contract and the developmental issues for a moment and let's start thinking about our (hopefully) stronger offensive punch.

Previously, I took a rough and simple look at expectations for the 2011 Orioles offense in terms of "How many more runs can they score than the 2010 Orioles". I figured that it's reasonable to expect next year's Orioles to score about 100 more runs than their predecessor's did. But how does the newest Oriole change things?

A repeated aside: I'm still using simply Weighted On Base Average (wOBA), which is a very simple and powerful means to sum up a player's offensive contribution in a single metric. It is a rate stat, like on base percentage, so it's important to keep in mind that injuries could drastically alters things for the worse. But again, this is just a simple exercise to gain a ballpark understanding of what to expect in 2011.

Why is wOBA a better stat to use than, say, the more common OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage)? An example: in 2010, Billy Butler and Andre Ethier both hit for an identical .857 OPS. Butler got on base more, but Ethier hit for more power. But which was the better offensive player? There is nothing more important in baseball than simply getting on base and keeping the inning going, so we would think that Butler had a slightly better year. And by wOBA, he did: .372 versus .367.

The Orioles' left fielders in 2010 were primarily Felix Pie and Corey Patterson. The duo hit for a combined .319 wOBA over 649 plate appearances. This disturbingly made left field the Orioles' fourth strongest position on offense (after DH and the other two outfield spots). However, Patterson has left for the Blue Jays and Pie has been pushed pretty clearly to the fourth outfielder's role.

Instead, the plate appearances that went to Pie and Patterson will go to Vladimir Guerrero (hopefully), who had a nearly identical amount of plate appearances (643 to be exact) in 2010 with the Texas Rangers. Vlad hit juuuuust a bit better than Felix and Corey, with a .360 wOBA. Fangraphs estimates that that difference is around 20 runs scored in favor of Guerrero. Which brings the new Oriole offense up to around 120 runs improved (give or take) before you consider aging and so on.

Unfortunately, of course, Vlad is turning 36 years old next week and it's far from a sure thing that he repeats his high level of offensive production in Baltimore. So, for some food for thought, consider:

  • 2009 Guerrero had a wOBA of .343, which Fangraphs estimates at around 10 more runs scored than Pie/Patterson, if Vlad stays in the lineup for the whole year (he only had 407 plate appearances in '09).
  • A hypothetical .330 wOBA is not out of the question, but would only add around an estimated 5 runs to the Orioles' total.
  • The nightmare scenario is highlighted by Guerrero's second half in 2010, when he had a wOBA of .318. That is actually worse than what Corey Patterson and Felix Pie managed to do. If that's the Vlad the Orioles get in 2011, well...let's not think about such things, shall we?

I will guess that our newest Oriole adds 10 runs to my hypothetical model (above the 2010 Orioles), which after the Vlad Guerrero adjustments sits 110 runs better on offense than the 2010 Orioles, with a goal of a combined improvement (more runs scored and fewer runs allowed) of 175 or so to target a .500 record. There's a higher ceiling than that, of course, and your expectations are undoubtedly different from mine, but adjust them as you see fit.