To be clear, I don’t think the Orioles have an actual problem in their outfield. Much like the six starting pitchers they have for five spots, they instead seem to have an abundance of options available to them. Adam Jones is firmly set in center field, but there are several ways they could use Steve Pearce, Alejandro De Aza, David Lough, Travis Snider, and Delmon Young to fill spots in left field, right field, and at DH. I decided to look at some of these different combinations, including the use of platoons based on whether a lefthanded or righthanded was pitching, to determine the best way to utilize these players. Before looking at any data, it appears all of these players have different skills that can be utilized and if done correctly can provide at least replacement level production at those three positions. Since most of the talk of the offseason was the departure of Nelson Cruz (LF/DH) and Nick Markakis (RF), correctly replacing their production (or exceeding it) is a key to reproducing the success they had last season.
To begin, I looked at their Steamer600 projections available on Fangraphs. Now – even though most of the analytics world has moved beyond ‘Moneyball’, there’s still a basic principle I remember from the book/movie that I think can get overlooked a lot. Simply put, one of the best predictors of wins and losses is how many runs you score and how many you allow. The Orioles scored 705 runs in 2014, good for 8th in MLB. That, coupled with their 593 runs allowed, would predict 94 wins. I’m going to assume every Orioles fan would be happy with 94 wins in 2015, so I’m going to try and get them there by predicting how many runs different outfield/DH combinations could get by using the Steamer projections.
There are multiple positions that are not up for debate, specifically: C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, and CF. Some people may think 2B is up for debate…I’m assuming Jonathan Schoop is the everyday second baseman for now. Using the projections, these positions should yield 401 runs. That leaves 304 runs that need to come from LF, RF, and DH.
For the five players mentioned above as possible players for these positions, these are their projections (as of the time of my research):
Player 
Plate Appearances 
Runs 
Pearce 
514 
76 
De Aza 
468 
60 
Lough 
381 
42 
Snider 
101 
12 
Young 
307 
32 
Based on this, it seems Steamer assumes Pearce and De Aza are mostly everyday players, with Lough and Young splitting time, and Snider a bench player. This seems a little off, with my best guess being Snider would be splitting time with Young while Lough would be playing off the bench. But that’s exactly the objective of this analysis – what is the best combination?
Since I don’t accept the projections’ PA numbers, I can’t use the projected number of runs either. But I can use the two to determine a rate of runs per plate appearance. Then, by multiplying that rate by my own estimate of how many plate appearances each player could see I can estimate how many runs they could generate.
Players are generally platooned with someone of opposite handedness, with the handedness of the starting pitcher determining who is going to play. Since the goal is generate runs (at least initially) and since any combination of the three players above could fill in the three positions (LF, RF, DH) without a known starter, I started by looking at the career OPS of each player against lefthanded and righthanded pitching and picking the best three against lefties and righties. That data is highlighted below:
Career OPS 

Player 
vs LHP 
vs RHP 
Pearce 
.878 
.700 
De Aza 
.677 
.748 
Lough 
.620 
.717 
Snider 
.698 
.720 
Young 
.806 
.715 
Just some quick observations – Pearce and Young seem to be the best hitters. Even against fellow righties, they’re not that far off of the three lefties, but they’re much better against lefthanded pitching. Still, I’ll assume for a minute it would make more sense to start De Aza, Lough, and Snider against righties and Pearce, Snider, and Young against lefties. Based on what I already kind of know of these players, I’m going to assign one to the DH from each group and the other two to the corner outfield positions…it likely doesn't matter which one. Assuming that the same standard was followed all season long, we can assign each player a season’s worth of plate appearances. I still need two things – how often the team would face lefthanded pitchers and how many plate appearances a player would see if he played every game. According to my research, lefthanded pitchers come up about 28% of the time. As for the total number of plate appearances, it’s a little trickier. According to Steamer, a presumably everyday player like Chris Davis will only have 554. Adam Jones is projected to have 652. For reference, Adam Jones had 682 last year and Nick Markakis had 710. Since Markakis spent all season at the top of the order, this makes sense. I’m going to go conservative and assume these three positions would see Manny Machado’s projection – 608.
Using those inputs yields the following new projections for each player:
Position 
Player 
Steamer PA 
Steamer Runs 
Runs/PA 
Assigned Split 
Baseline 
Proj PA 
Proj Runs 
OF 
Pearce 
514 
76 
0.15 
0.28 
608 
170 
25 
DH 
De Aza 
468 
60 
0.13 
0.72 
608 
438 
56 
OF 
Lough 
381 
42 
0.11 
0.72 
608 
438 
48 
OF 
Snider 
101 
12 
0.12 
1 
608 
608 
72 
DH 
Young 
307 
32 
0.10 
0.28 
608 
170 
18 
Note: Rounding was used to the nearest whole number in some cases
This combination produces a total of 219 runs. Not bad, but well short of the 304 needed to get the team back to last year’s total. As I said before, this was done simply by playing the best career hitters by OPS against lefties and doing the same against righties. But as you can see, Steve Pearce is only playing about a quarter of the time, but at 0.15 runs per PA is the most productive hitter. I’m going to try another iteration, but make him a fulltime player. To do that, someone else needs to lose some playing time. In this case, that’s going to be Travis Snider.
Position 
Player 
Steamer PA 
Steamer Runs 
Runs/PA 
Assigned Split 
Baseline 
Proj PA 
Proj Runs 
OF 
Pearce 
514 
76 
0.15 
1 
608 
608 
90 
DH 
De Aza 
468 
60 
0.13 
0.72 
608 
438 
56 
OF 
Lough 
381 
42 
0.11 
0.72 
608 
438 
48 
OF 
Snider 
101 
12 
0.12 
0.28 
608 
170 
20 
DH 
Young 
307 
32 
0.10 
0.28 
608 
170 
18 
By substituting the (projected) better hitter and giving him more playing time, we've added 13 runs to get up to 232. Even though that means playing Steve Pearce more against righties, remember that his career OPS against them wasn't that much lower than Snider’s, despite the disadvantage being on that side of the plate. So, this projection seems to hold up. And there’s zero chance Pearce is getting platooned with anyone after his 2014 season.
Just for fun, let’s try one more combination:
Position 
Player 
Steamer PA 
Steamer Runs 
Runs/PA 
Assigned Split 
Baseline 
Proj PA 
Proj Runs 
OF 
Pearce 
514 
76 
0.15 
1 
608 
608 
90 
OF 
De Aza 
468 
60 
0.13 
1 
608 
608 
78 

Lough 
381 
42 
0.11 
0 
608 
0 
0 
DH 
Snider 
101 
12 
0.12 
0.72 
608 
438 
52 
DH 
Young 
307 
32 
0.10 
0.28 
608 
170 
18 
Putting Lough on the bench does help, but it’s only good for six more runs, bringing the total to 238. But as we know putting Lough on the bench has consequences in the field. And since this lineup only added five runs, is it possible going with the previous lineup could save more in defense then the latter added in offense? After all, a run saved is just as good as a run earned.
The analysis so far has been based on projections for next year (each player’s career OPS above was only for reference and not used in the actual analysis). In order to get data that could be more easily compared to the runs scored, I decided to use past data to determine runs saved. Basically, I calculated the average of each player’s Rdrs (defensive runs saved as calculated by Baseball Info Solutions as listed on baseballreference.com) playing in the outfield for every season they played and then normalized it to a full season (assuming 1200 innings played in a full season). Below are three options I presented above with defensive data added in:
Option 1
Position 
Player 
Steamer PA 
Steamer Runs 
Career Season Rdrs Avg 
Runs/PA 
Assigned Split 
Baseline 
Proj PA 
Proj Runs 
Proj Runs Saved Above Average 
OF 
Pearce 
514 
76 
15.78 
0.15 
0.28 
608 
170 
25 
4 
DH 
De Aza 
468 
60 
4.9 
0.13 
0.72 
608 
438 
56 
0 
OF 
Lough 
381 
42 
22.46 
0.11 
0.72 
608 
438 
48 
16 
OF 
Snider 
101 
12 
4.28 
0.12 
1 
608 
608 
72 
4 
DH 
Young 
307 
32 
9.18 
0.10 
0.28 
608 
170 
18 
0 

TOTAL 
219 
24 
Option 2
Position 
Player 
Steamer PA 
Steamer Runs 
Career Season Rdrs Avg 
Runs/PA 
Assigned Split 
Baseline 
Proj PA 
Proj Runs 
Proj Runs Saved Above Average 
OF 
Pearce 
514 
76 
15.78 
0.15 
1 
608 
608 
90 
16 
DH 
De Aza 
468 
60 
4.9 
0.13 
0.72 
608 
438 
56 
0 
OF 
Lough 
381 
42 
22.46 
0.11 
0.72 
608 
438 
48 
16 
OF 
Snider 
101 
12 
4.28 
0.12 
0.28 
608 
170 
20 
1 
DH 
Young 
307 
32 
9.18 
0.10 
0.28 
608 
170 
18 
0 

TOTAL 
232 
33 
Option 3
Position 
Player 
Steamer PA 
Steamer Runs 
Career Season Rdrs Avg 
Runs/PA 
Assigned Split 
Baseline 
Proj PA 
Proj Runs 
Proj Runs Saved Above Average 
OF 
Pearce 
514 
76 
15.78 
0.15 
1 
608 
608 
90 
16 
DH 
De Aza 
468 
60 
4.9 
0.13 
0.72 
608 
608 
78 
5 
OF 
Lough 
381 
42 
22.46 
0.11 
0.72 
608 
0 
0 
0 
OF 
Snider 
101 
12 
4.28 
0.12 
0.28 
608 
438 
52 
0 
DH 
Young 
307 
32 
9.18 
0.10 
0.28 
608 
170 
18 
0 

TOTAL 
238 
11 
While listening to ESPN's Baseball Tonight podcast the other day, I heard Roch Kubatko say one of the options the Orioles are considering to solve this problem was to have Alejandro De Aza play everyday in left field. Based on his career below average defense, I certainly hope that isn't the case. Note that while the two totals for each scenario cannot be compared directly because one is measured in total runs and the other in runs above/below average, I think the results can be subjectively compared to figure out the best option. And to me, the extra six runs scored the third option yields don’t make up for the extra runs that would be surrendered due to poor defense. So, I’d go with Option 2. That would make Steve Pearce an everyday outfielder (let’s say RF), Young and De Aza a platoon at DH, and Lough and Snider a platoon in LF. Will that actually happen? Probably not. I could see Pearce playing everyday, and I’m sure Young will be platooned with someone at DH, but I don’t expect it to be De Aza. And I expect Travis Snider to get more playing time than David Lough. And that may not be wrong…the analysis above is hardly as thorough as I’d expect the Orioles to be doing themselves and hopefully if the lineup is what I expect (instead of what this analysis thinks it should be) its because they've done that more thorough analysis to justify it. I started this analysis off by saying the goal was to get 304 runs from these positions. The ideal option above doesn't do that, and I haven’t looked at how to allow sufficiently few runs to still get to 94 wins, but that would require looking at other positions – and a different analysis.