Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Nolan Reimold Goes to Norfolk

One of this spring's most intriguing roster battles was over the 4th outfielder spot between Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie. In reality, however, the decision was a no brainer: Pie, capable of playing center field and out of options, won the job over Reimold despite Nolan's much better offensive performance this spring. Reimold's fate was likely sealed the day Vlad inked his $8mm deal to wear the black and orange, cementing Luke Scott, Derek Lee, and Vlad into the LF, 1B, and DH slots for the Opening Day roster. This has been a point of contention for many observers that would prefer to see Reimold get his everyday at-bats in Baltimore instead of Norfolk. While I agree that signing Vlad was a poor decision by the organization, I'm not especially worried that Reimold will miss out on much valuable development time in 2011, for several reasons.

First, Nolan was pretty terrible last year. He hit .207/.282/.328 in 131 MLB plate appearances and .249/.364/.374 across 401 for the Tides. Of course, his poor performance may well have been due to lingering effects from his 2009 Achilles surgery; the solid plate discipline figures and lack of power are certainly consistent with that story. He has looked better in Spring Training this year, but nothing in his performance last year suggests he should have been handed a Major League job this spring.

Next, I fear that Nolan Reimold has become a bit overrated. In 2009, he hit .279/.365/.466 in 411 MLB plate appearances, good for a 118 wRC+ (wOBA+ adjusted for league and park). Among MLB leftfielders with at least 300 plate appearances, that was good for a tie for 18th. That's a nice line and guy you're happy to have in the lineup, but the bar for being an above average hitter in left or at first base is set really high. For 2011, ZiPS has Reimold projected for a 103 wRC+, well below average for the position. Even in 2009, Reimold was good for just 1.2 WAR in 104 games, or about 1.8 per 150 games. Given his minor league numbers, a repeat of his 2009 season is probably on the slightly optimistic side of likely. At 27, there's likely not much more development left; he is what he is.

Finally, as the 2010 Orioles showed, depth is a good thing for an organization to have. What are the chances that Luke Scott (128 games in 2009, 131 games in 2010), Vladimir Guerrero (100, 152), Adam Jones (119, 149) and Derek Lee (141, 148) all avoid the DL? I'm guessing they aren't very high. What if Luke Scott really struggles against lefties (.325 career OBP)? Do I think the Orioles should have signed Vlad? No. But given the very high level of uncertainty surrounding Reimold's abilities and health, bringing in another player for LF, 1B or DH was not at all unreasonable; unfortunately, that player should have been someone eminently able to be cut or sent to Norfolk if Reimold proved his health this spring.

Still, I think that if Reimold heads to Norfolk, proves he's healthy and has rekindled his power stroke, he won't be in AAA for long. Whether it's because of an injury in Baltimore, a desire to evaluate at the MLB level, or even if he just forces the club's hand, there are plenty of at-bats to go around. Days off, platoons, injuries; for left field, first base, and DH, there will be about 2,000 plate appearances this year, and they can be filled many different ways. I wouldn't be surprised if Nolan Reimold gets four or five hundred of them.

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