Orioles Should Aggressively Pursue Oswalt

Roy Oswalt is getting closer to signing a contract, and while his reported preference is to pitch for one of the Rangers, Cardinals or Braves, the surprising first-place Orioles are quickly emerging as a dark horse candidate for his services. The Orioles may have lost a recent waiver claim to the Rangers based on their better record — which is still strange to type — but an aggressive pursuit of Oswalt, with a relatively lofty salary for three months, may pry him away from the Rangers, the current favorites in his sweepstakes.

The Orioles have been diligent in their pursuit to date, with Dan Duquette avoiding the topic or speaking in generalities when Oswalt is mentioned. Though he may not want to reveal his hand, the club has to have interest in Oswalt on some level.

Pitching is one of their biggest needs — despite relatively strong performance early on — and he is the perfect type of pitcher for the Orioles to pursue: he won’t cost a ton for half of a season, won’t require a commitment beyond this season, and is frankly better than some currently staffed rotation members.

Oswalt would help the Orioles as, at the very least, a better fifth starter than Tommy Hunter. Were he to achieve his pro-rated Fans Projection of ~1.5 WAR from July to September, he also figures to prove as valuable as anyone else in the rotation.

The Orioles starting core has produced 3.5 WAR to date, which ranks 6th in the American League. However, it’s tough to expect Jason Hammel to continue pitching at this high of a level; there are always injury concerns about younger pitchers like Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta; and not enough is known about Wei-Yin Chen‘s true talent level with respect to how he’ll fare from here on out. Suffice to say, standing pat is foolish for the Orioles, but so is upgrading this team by surrendering prospects. By signing Oswalt, the Orioles would bring in a solid, veteran pitcher without having to part with any member of a top-heavy farm system still undergoing renovations.

Though 2011 was the worst season of Oswalt’s career, he still pitched effectively and produced 2.5 WAR over 24 games (23 starts). His peripherals were solid, with a below-Oswalt 16% strikeout rate, a 5.5% walk rate that matched his career mark, and a 45% groundball rate in line with seasons past. He pitched well, but wasn’t an ace, and somewhat declining performance coupled with injury concerns and his limited list of desired teams kept him from signing a player-friendly contract this offseason. Now, as the season has played out for almost two months, Oswalt has far more leverage in contract negotiations and it’s becoming clear that even the watered down version of himself from last year could prove very valuable, especially to a team like the Orioles.

From Oswalt’s standpoint, however, the Orioles aren’t an ideal fit. Despite starting the season off at 28-17, they are still regarded as a quasi-contender, if a contender at all. The Orioles aren’t strangers to hot starts, and as Rany Jazayerli recently noted, 2012 may play out similarly to several other seasons this millennium in which they looked strong early on and faded down the stretch. From Jazayerli’s piece at Grantland:

The 2005 Orioles won 17 of their first 24 games, and on the morning of May 27 they were 30-16 and leading the AL East by 4.5 games. They were 42-28 on June 22 and still led the division by two games. They were knocked out of first place three days later, and eventually lost 60 of their last 92 games to finish 74-88.

While the Orioles have played well through 8-14 games in various seasons since 2000, the 2005 campaign described above is most similar to their current run. At 28-17, they hold a slim one game lead over the Rays for first place, but have played solid baseball for far more than a week or two. Despite their good play through May, there are reasons to expect the same story to unfold.

The Orioles bullpen has a collective .246 BABIP and 83% strand rate. Their -5 UZR ranks towards the bottom of the league. Their lineup has the highest strikeout rate in the league and a bottom-half walk rate. Based on their runs scored and allowed, they are closer to a 24-21 team, which, while decent, would put the team in third place.

For Oswalt, the Rangers, Cardinals and Braves all represent better options as their playoff odds are greater. Those three teams are also more likely to play this way two months from now, and Oswalt probably wouldn’t want to spend what could amount to his last major league season playing for a 79-83 team that looked great through 45-50 games.

Oswalt is also unlikely to sign with a team that could fade down the stretch and look to trade him, as he has leverage now and can simply sign with someone less likely to experience that fade.

This isn’t to say the Orioles will absolutely finish the season under .500 and out of the playoff picture. It’s entirely possible this is just one of those years where they defy expectations and win a very tough division. But they’ll need guys like Oswalt to stave off regression while keeping the farm system in tact.

In that regard, this situation, like most others that have come before it, takes on a Catch-22 feel. The quasi-contender needs the player to maintain that status or increase their playoff odds, but the player prefers to go somewhere that has a better shot at making the playoffs without the effects of his production.

There is plenty of incentive for the Orioles to aggressively pursue Oswalt. They are by no means the favorite to land him, but with the Rangers looking more and more like the favorites each day, it’s time for the front office to make a concerted effort to bring him in. It’s time to throw generalities and vague niceties out of the window and negotiate.

The Orioles season doesn’t hinge on his signing, either way, but there is such little risk here for the Orioles — even if he gets hurt after one start and misses the season — that pursuing him is a no-brainer.




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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.


22 Responses to “Orioles Should Aggressively Pursue Oswalt”

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  1. Andy says:

    Two points to add to this comparison.

    One is that 2012 management is better than 2005 management by several factors. We’re talking Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette compared to Lee Mazzilli/Sam Perlozzo (far too many Z’s) and Jim Beattie/Mike Flanagan.

    The second is the 2005 lineup regulars could be one of the “juiciest” groups in recent years. We know that using such supplements can foster short term success but can also lead to physical problems over a 162 game season.

    Javy Lopez
    Rafael Palmeiro
    Brian Roberts
    Melvin Mora
    Miguel Tejada
    Larry Bigbie
    Luis Matos
    Sammy Sosa
    Jay Gibbons

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  2. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    I simply don’t understand the Rangers’ pursuit of Oswalt. Darvish, Lewis, Harrison, Holland, Ogando, Feldman, Feliz on the DL: yes, Oswalt might be good insurance, but how many starters are they going to push to the bullpen? Moreover, in the playoffs, they’ll need only four starters (presumably Darvish, Lewis, Oswalt, Holland) which puts Feliz, Ogando, Feldman AND Harrison into the ‘pen.

    …wait, it’s scary how good a team that is. Never mind. I get it.

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  3. Casey says:

    Mr Seidman, where do you think Zach Britton fits into this equation if they sign Oswalt?

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    • Steve says:

      I’m not Mr. Seidman, but Zach Britton should replace Hunter upon his return. That would leave Britton, Chen, Hammel, Matusz and Arrieta for the rotation. Add in Oswalt and you can move Matsuz or Arrieta to the minors (or Britton) depending on performance. You can also move Hammel to the DL if his leg is still an issue.

      These things have a funny way of working themselves out. Oswalt (even if signed today) would not be back in the big leagues til mid-June at the earliest. A lot can happen between now and then.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      I agree with Steve. This is a good problem to have. Just because they would have 6 starters with Oswalt and a healthy Britton doesn’t mean they should avoid improving the team. Someone could get hurt in the next two weeks. Britton could experience a setback. Matusz could revert to whatever happened last year and merit a demotion. Any number of things could happen.

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  4. chaotix382 says:

    I’m not convinced the Cardinals are a great chance to reach the postseason. Guys like Beltran, Yadier, Craig, and even Freese (his recent slump notwithstanding) are hitting way over their heads and are due for regression. That’s not to mention their SP core of Lohse, Lynn, and Westbrook — do we really expect all three of these guys to continue putting up those kinds of numbers?

    Carpenter’s a complete question mark, so really Waino is the only guy on the team underperforming. When these guys come down and Reds players (I’m looking at you, Latos and Phillips) start playing up to their talent level, I fully expect Cincinnati to take the division.

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    • chuckb says:

      Saying that the core of the Cards’ starting pitching consists of Lohse, Westbrook, and Lynn is a little disingenuous. You neglected to point out that the team’s #1 starter is recovering from injury and improving with every start. Their #2 starter is on the D.L. and their #3 starter should, like the #1, improve as the season goes along. The point is, just as it’s reasonable to expect Lohse, Westbrook, and Lynn to regress to their means as the season goes along, it’s equally likely that Wainwright and Garcia will regress to theirs and that Carpenter will pitch for 2-3 months this season.

      I’ll agree their hitters have hit over their heads this season but there’s no reason for their pitching to get worse as the season goes along.

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  5. jrogers says:

    Not a single mention of the benefit of calling him O’s-walt?

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  6. Richie says:

    The Orioles should not outbid everyone else for Oswalt. Money is chronologically fungible, meaning whatever money is spent in 2012 is unavailable for prior years, never mind other 2012 uses.

    Given the choice between paying Oswalt 8 million $$$ or dumping it into international scouting, or even just putting it in the bank and then having 9 million $$$ to spend next year, Oswalt is definitely the worst choice for the Orioles. Unless you/they think they actually are legitimate contenders.

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    • NatsFan73 says:

      “Unless you/they think they actually are legitimate contenders.”

      [/obvious]

      The fact that they are bidding on Oswalt clearly means they think they’ve got a shot. They may be wrong, but simple money is the most easily replaceable asset they’ve got. Even if they fall short, selling a few more tickets for a few months would cover much of the $8M Oswalt might cost.

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      • Richie says:

        Simple money is irreplaceable. Once it’s spent on ‘A’, it can no longer be used for anything else.

        If the O’s give Os (say) 8 million $$$ then fade from the race, no way on God’s green earth will they get 8 million $$$ of value out of that. Or anything near that. It’ll be money peed away because, yet again, the O’s are overrating what they have in place.

        6 weeks from now a half-dozen MLB teams will be trying to dump salary. If the O’s sign Os, they’ll have (say) 8 million $$$ less to play with in that market. There are many, many ways to improve a roster that require money. Really, money is the key resource, not the most replaceable one.

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      • Chris in Hawaii says:

        The O’s regularly draw about 12,000 fans a game. If staying in the race over the course of the season means they can sell 7,500 tix more per game (they could viably sell more) at an average of $20 a ticket, over the course of 50 games they can generate $7.5 million right there on tix alone.

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      • NatsFan73 says:

        Richie:

        I said simple money is the most easily replaceable asset. e.g. A hell of a lot more replaceable than talent. It MAY be true that Oswalt money would come out of the 2013 budget, or it may not be. The O’s have a budget, but there’s nothing stopping Angelos from throwing some more of his own cash in to supplement team expenses. Yes, the money would have to come from somewhere, but somewhere doesn’t have to be a pile of cash otherwise allocated to team development.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        how long do they have to stay in the race before the fans start showing up though? There isn’t a nice equation like “ranking in attendance=ranking in W/L”. They could be in first place at the beginning of August, but unless they’re like 7 games up, I doubt people believe it. It’s how good people think they are. That’s why tickets go up after huge signings.

        I think that Oswalt is a better fit than trading any young players underperforming or farm players for a player. I’d probably cap it at 8M though, which I don’t think will land Oswalt in Baltimore. He wants to stay in the south.

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  7. Kennan says:

    Mr Seidman, run your pythagorean again excluding the outliers from the series with the Rangers. Outliers in a SSS can greatly distort reality.

    The Orioles are going to come back down to Earth because the bullpen and starting pitching will regress to the mean, not because they’ve been “lucky”.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      Only if you stop calling me Mr. Seidman, it’s making me feel old. And I believe I mentioned all as possibilities for why they could eventually fade, especially the bullpen.

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  8. JD says:

    I like reading Fangraphs but I am not really a big stathead and was hoping to ask a question that has been bugging me. In talking about the O’s this year a lot of folks reference 2005 and what happened that season because of the similarity in records. But outside of that similarity is there any statistical or scouting basis on which to make such a comparison? Every single player is different, the manager is different, everything has changed but the owner. So what if anything does it help to talk about 2005 when predicting what will happen the remainder of this season? I hope this doesn’t come off as a rant I am genuinely curious and have seen the 2005 season referenced ad nauseum.

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    • Steve A says:

      I think it’s more of an example of why fast starts do not necessarily translate to future success. You are completely correct that this season is independent from 2005. Using that team as an example is probably more convenience than it is a relationship.

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  9. Scott says:

    I simply don’t see how the 2005 Orioles are relevant at all to the 2012 Orioles. As far as I can tell; there is only one player from the 2005 team that is still on the current team (Brian Roberts); and he hasn’t played an inning this year.

    If you think the Orioles will regress based on the current talent that is on the team or the management team; then thats legitimate. But to think they will fade because the 2005 faded makes absolutely no sense to me; unless you believe there is something magical about the team that causes them to fade. Personally, i don’t believe in magic.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      I think they more closely resemble last year’s Diamondbacks. Good offense from the year before, bullpen performs way better, young pitching gets better, young(ish) core offense players get better. The only difference is, the NL West was weak sauce once Posey went down.

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  10. shthar says:

    Agreed!

    Patton Oswalt would really liven up the clubhouse.

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  11. Antonio Bananas says:

    Atlanta should sign him and trade for another bat. Holy crap their June schedule is brutal (as of 2 days ago, their next 27 games were against teams that were at or above .500 at that point in time).

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