The Orioles are looking to club teams into submission. With a struggling closer an a beat up and slumping starting rotation, they realize that the only way for them to make the playoffs this season might be to bash their way into the second season. They already have a lineup filled with batters that can make that dream a reality, but they are not going to rest on their laurels. To that end they've decided that they need another bat, another masher, so they've claimed two guys off waivers to accomplish their goal of rostering the best daily lineup in baseball. Who are those two players, what are their outlooks, an is it possible the club could end up with both of them?
ORIOLES CLAIM TWO HITTERS
Looking to solidify their lineup for a playoff push, the Orioles have claimed two veterans off waivers who have had down seasons this year in Michael Morse and Josh Willingham. Let's take a look at both right handed power hitters.
Michael Morse was a fantasy monster in 2011 hitting .303 with 31 big flies and 95 RBIs... off the waiver-wire in most leagues. Expectations were set too high in 2012 as anything less than bettering those numbers and many would view him as a failure. Even if you had muted expectations though he was a failure. He hit .291, perfectly acceptable, but injuries limited him to 102 games so he only went deep 18 times with 62 RBIs. He went from one coast to the other in the offseason, ending up in a place that has swallowed many bats over the years – Safeco Field. The results have predictably been less than impressive as he's hit a pathetic .226 with 13 homers and 27 RBIs in 76 games this year. Let's go through his season and try to figure out why he has struggled.
(1) Morse started out on fire blasting eight homers by the end of April. People thought 35-40 homers were coming with that hot start. He's hit a total of five homers over his last 52 games. Why the power outage? Well, he's not a 35 home run hitter folks. Despite an impressive 18.1 percent HR/F ratio, the mark has been over 21 percent the past two seasons, he just doesn't hit the ball in the air enough. Even this season with his down power numbers he's still sporting a strong 17.3 percent HR/F ratio it's just been the lack of air he's getting under the ball that is holding him back. Currently checking in with a 36.8 percent fly ball rate, a total that would actually be a three year best mind you, he's still just two percent above the league mark. When you don't lift the ball a lot you're pretty much at the mercy of your HR/F ratio.
(2) Morse is batting .226. Why is this the case when he's a career .284 hitter? His 6.5 percent walk rate is half a percentage point of his career rate. However, he's striking out a ton with a K-rate over 26 percent, nearly four percentage points above his normal rate. As a result he's languishing with a 0.25 K/BB ratio which, unfortunately, it's right in line with his career norm of 0.27. He's just not a patient hitter. When you approach the game like that, when you aren't discplined, you are greatly dependent on a solid BABIP, and Morse has always brought that (the man owns an impressive .333 career mark, and he's never finished a season below .303). This season? Try on a .267 mark for size. Can't blame a lack of liners either as his 19.6 percent season long line drive rate is actually one tenth better than his career mark. The fact is that he's just not finding the holes like he normally does, and with that his average has tanked (don't forget that homers aren't counted in BABIP, so his lack of homer production has also hurt his average a bit). It could easily rebound the final month if he's healthy and finds a grove because you just don't see guys who post 3-straight years above .330 fall to under .270 unless something is wrong (injuries are likely playing a part here as well).
(3) He's played only 76 games and that will kill anyone's value. He's been foiled by a wrist issue, he missed some time with an eye issue too, there was that broken pinkie finger as well, but it's a quad issue that has hampered him most of late. Can't say that injuries occurring are a total shock though. He's only got two seasons of 100 games in his career, and the past two years he's only averaged 124 games a season. He's yet to prove he can consistently play, day after day, in the big leagues.
Josh Willingham was a beast the past two seasons. There were only two outfielders who had more RBIs than Willingham in 2012 and they were named Josh Hamilton and Ryan Braun. There were only four outfielders who had more homers – Hamilton, Curtis Granderson, Braun and Giancarlo Stanton. That's some pretty heady company, no? In case you missed it, Willingham had 35 homers and 110 RBIs last season. He was more than just a one year wonder. Over the past two seasons, 2011-12, Willingham was 11th in baseball with 64 homers and 8th in RBIs (208). That's way more impressive than you had any understanding of, right? Of course, he also was 92nd in batting average (.253), 133rd in steals (15) and 55th in runs (154), but boy was that power something.
So what about this season for Willingham? A knee issue dogged him for a while and finally he ended up needing an arthroscopic procedure. The result is that to this point of the season he's only appeared in 89 games. It's not a shock that he's missed time, his back has been wonky for years and he's always missed time. In fact, last season was the first time he'd ever appeared in 145 games, and from 2008-12 he averaged 126 games a season. However, even if we say 'OK, injuries are part of his game,' we aren't willing to accept his utter slowdown offensively.
He averaged 32 homers the past two years with a homer every 15.7 at-bats. This season he has 12 homers in 316 at-bats, or one every 26.3 at-bats. Physical woes obviously are playing a part here. He's lifting the ball as much as ever, his 45.4 percent fly ball rate is slightly above his career mark, and his 0.84 GB/FB is a deal on match. It's just that when he does lift the ball he's having a hard time concerting the fly balls into homers. His current mark of 12.2 percent in the HR/F category is solid, but it's exactly three points below his career mark, and the last two seasons he jacked the rate up to 17.5 and 21.2 percent. That's the easy explanation of why his homers aren't there.
That conversation leads to his lack of RBIs as well. The last two years he averaged an RBI every 4.84 at-bats. This season that number is one every 7.02. The lack of homers is one thing, but he's also not driving the ball at all. His current .386 SLG is awful an it would be the first time since 2006 that the mark was under .455. If he suddenly got healthy perhaps he'd revert to his normal levels, but right now he's just not able to drive the ball effectively, and that's what he is paid to do.
If either or both ends up with the Orioles, provided they are in the lineup on a daily basis, their offensive outlook will improve greatly. The Orioles have a strong offense anyway, more on that below, and that home park is a big offensive boost as well for two guys coming from less than stellar hitting yards (especially in the power hitting category). Here are some Park Factors for the 2013 season.
Seattle: 0.936 runs, 0.797 homers
Minnesota: 1.075 runs, 0.844 homers
Baltimore: 1.017 runs, 1.221 homers
Remains to be seen if the Orioles will add one, either or both batters though as they are still in dialogue with both clubs about the sluggers. Here is what a projected lineup could look like for the Orioles.
C Matt Wieters
1B Chris Davis
2B Brian Roberts
3B Manny Machado
SS J.J. Hardy
LF Nate McLouth
CF Adam Jones
RF Nick Markakis
The club would seem to have one open spot in their daily lineup at designated hitters. You could argue there might be two spots as the club could decide to slot McLouth into a reserve role since he's hit only .256 with three homers, 11 RBIs and five steals in his last 33 games, but given that he's hit .270 with 69 runs scored and 29 steals on the year the club may not want to remove him from the daily lineup. Regardless, adding either of these power bats, if healthy, would make this an absolutely intense lineup. If they added both guys, and both were healthy and playing on a daily basis, there wouldn't be a better 1-9 lineup in baseball. If they added just one guy they might still be able to lay claim to being the best lineup in baseball.
Can Man beat Machine? The Oracle takes on The Machine tonight, Rd.2 of the Royal Rumble! ow.ly/onUZr
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Friday. For more of Ray's analysis you can check out BaseballGuys.com or the BaseballGuys' Twitter account where he tirelessly answer everyone's questions.
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