It’s difficult to find many things to tweak about the Orioles’ roster given its performance thus far. Despite losing seven of their last ten games, the O’s still hold the American League’s third-best winning percentage (.578) and the top Wild Card spot. But with over a quarter of the season in the books, a team inevitably starts to look at its roster, the performance of its players, and where everyone best fits. With that thought in mind, here are a few role reversals the Orioles could begin to consider to maximize their output each night.
Starting LF: Hyun Soo Kim over Joey Rickard
Joey Mania has died down considerably in Baltimore after the first few weeks of April, and Kim’s supporters have been increasingly vocal. It’s probably for good reason, too.
After Kim’s three-hit performance Wednesday night, and two more hits Thursday, here’s how his slash line compares with Rickard’s:
Rickard is the superior defender regardless of what any small-sample metrics may indicate, but Kim’s performance at the plate may have earned him a shot at a more regular role. One would certainly think that, at the very least, the plate appearance gap between the two should begin to close if Kim continues to hit at anywhere near his current pace.
Starting DH: Nolan Reimold over Pedro Alvarez
I advocated for signing Alvarez all winter as a righty-mashing DH whose numbers should improve when moving from Pittsburgh’s PNC Park to Camden Yards, a much more favorable environment for left-handed power hitters. But to this point, the jump in production hasn’t materialized.
Reimold, on the other hand, has excelled in limited playing time. His .338 on-base percentage ranks third on the team for anyone with at least 50 plate appearances, as does his .485 slugging percentage. Compare that with Alvarez’s slash line:
Reimold also doesn’t have a platoon split (neither this season nor in his career), so there’s no reason to strictly DH him versus left-handers while Alvarez sits. His ability to draw walks while hitting with authority is somewhat rare compared to his fellow Orioles, a skillset that could earn him more looks moving forward (and perhaps at Alvarez’s expense).
Starting Pitcher: Vance Worley over Mike Wright
This one is a lot more about Mike Wright than it is Vance Worley. I don’t believe that having one versus the other in a starting rotation right now will produce vastly different results. As starters, each are likely serviceable but not dominant, much like a “typical” member of any O’s rotation since their streak of success began in 2012. But it’s Wright’s potential as an impactful reliever that makes this role swap intriguing in my mind.
We all know about Wright’s blazing fastball that can touch 98 mph, and we’ve heard for years from scouts and O’s brass alike that his eventual role may be in a major league bullpen. But consider that while stretched out as a starter, that same fastball that has been clocked as high as 97.7 mph in 2016, has averaged just 93.5 mph over 41 2/3 innings. Of course, such is the life of a starting pitcher, who naturally can’t give maximum effort on each pitch when being asked to throw over 100 of them in a game. But as a reliever? That’s a role where I could see the emotions-on-his-sleeve Wright thriving, “maxing out” in more ways than one to get the most out of his abilities. It’s probably premature for a move to the bullpen, and it’s extremely unlikely that the Orioles would make a rotation change before Yovani Gallardo comes back from the disabled list (assuming he doesn’t experience any setbacks). When he returns, Wright or Tyler Wilson could always shift to the bullpen, making Worley in the rotation unnecessary. But regardless, I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing how Wright could improve any already-strong corps of Orioles’ relievers. And having someone like Worley, who has started 27 major league games over the past 3 seasons, gives the club a capable option for the rotation if Gallardo’s recovery stalls.
When talking about productive part-time players, manager Buck Showalter frequently explains that the two (the productiveness and the irregular playing time) very well may be interrelated. In other words, the production comes from limiting the exposure of the player and manipulating the match-ups in his favor. That could certainly be what’s at play in all three of these instances. But with the dog days of summer approaching, I’m sure these role reversals have at least crossed the skipper’s mind.