Saturday, January 1, 2011

Derrek Lee Joins the Orioles

Derrek Lee has joined the Orioles, agreeing to a 1-year deal worth $8 million and could reach $10 mil with incentives.

Once the Orioles lost out on Adam Dunn, signing Lee or Adam LaRoche to a one year deal were the two best outcomes I could hope for. Paul Konerko would have been a expensive mistake and outbidding the Tigers for Victor Martinez would have been a bad overpay.

Lee and LaRoche were attractive for different reasons; Lee has a better upside, LaRoche was a more predictable, steady commodity. Now, I didn't like LaRoche much on a two year deal and even less at the rumored three year $21 million offer. LaRoche is OK...not worth making a commitment to.

So now the Orioles have Lee for 2011 who does not arrive without his own set of concerns and risks. He is coming off the worst full season of his career, will be 35 next season and was hampered by hand injuries all last season. There is a real chance he doesn't rebound from his 2010 levels.

But if he's healthy (and perhaps playing some games at DH will help him stay that way), Lee adds another intriguing right handed power bat to the Oriole lineup. Camden Yards rewards right handed power as the home run factor for RHB at the park is 129 for 2006-2009 (second highest in the majors over that span) according to the Bill James Handbook. They did build OPACY with Cal Ripken in mind, after all. Wrigley allows home runs to right handed batter at about the league average. There is also evidence that Lee was swinging the bat a bit better than his final numbers indicate, that while his power was diminished, he was also pretty unlucky with his line drives.

The more interesting thing is that the addition of Lee and Mark Reynolds give the Orioles one of the best groups of right handed power hitters that they have had in the last 20 years. Reynolds, Lee and Jones could all slug more than .450 (and ISO .175) becoming the only the second trio to do so since Camden Yards was built. (Javy Lopez, Melvin Mora and Miguel Tejada did it in 2004.) Add to that the outside shot of Nolan Reimold and J.J. Hardy doing the same...let's just say if you get seats in the left field bleachers, bring your glove. A lot of balls are going over that fence.

There is no first base prospect in AAA knocking on the door to Baltimore. Lee isn't blocking anybody in 2011 and even if he hits like he did in 2010, it's still a big upgrade. Oriole first baseman combined to OPS .625 last season, the lowest offensive output from any position on a team that was not exactly filled with offensive stars. He's a good stopgap and should help the Oriole offense approach something resembling respectability in 2011. Reynolds, Jones, Lee and Scott at the heart of your lineup with Roberts and Markakis setting the table? It could be fun.

4 comments:

The Oriole Way said...

Markakis could easily slug .450, too (can't tell if you meant righties only in your "trio").

Heath said...

Right, I was referring to right handed hitters. And I am no longer willing to concede that Markakis can do anything "easily" when it comes to slugging.

The Oriole Way said...

Fair enough, but he did slug .436 last year (Adam Jones: .442) and has .463 career slugging percentage. Perhaps "it is well within statistical probability that Markakis could slug .450, but he'll probably hit just 12 home runs again and thus we'll all be disappointed" would be more accurate!

Heath said...

Love for Nick to hit .450 again. Not holding my breath but he could.