O's good fit for Vladimir Guerrero
After scoring the fewest runs in their division, the second-fewest in the American League and fourth-fewest in the majors last season, the Baltimore Orioles have made a concerted effort this winter to bolster their offense.
Enter Vladimir Guerrero, who follows Derrek Lee, who followed Mark Reynolds to Maryland. That's 80 home runs and 280 RBIs (2010 stats) -- an average of 27 and 93 -- added to a lineup that didn't have anyone exceed either number last season. Guerrero signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Orioles on Friday, presumably taking over as the team's everyday designated hitter and cleanup hitter.
Let's get to your immediate reaction first: But what about incumbent DH Luke Scott? Guerrero's arrival doesn't necessarily signal the end of Scott's productive days in Baltimore; Scott is expected to return to left field, perhaps earning an occasional start at first base or DH when Lee or Guerrero needs a night off. Projected left-field platoon mates Felix Pie (the left-hander) and Nolan Reimold (the right-hander) are the ones who suffer a hit to their playing time. Pie becomes the team's fourth outfielder -- he'll probably make the team because he's out of options -- while Reimold will likely return to Triple-A Norfolk.
But it's Guerrero who is the headliner in terms of fantasy value. He's coming off a career-rejuvenation season of sorts, having registered his most home runs (29) in four seasons, most RBIs (115) in three and highest slugging percentage (.841) in two, though at the same time many will remember that he turns 36 years old Wednesday and slipped to more modest .278/.322/.426 rates with nine homers and 40 RBIs in 69 games following the All-Star break (.267/.308/.398, 9 and 46 in 84 if you include his lackluster postseason).
It's Guerrero's gaudy full-season numbers that should remind you what he's capable of, even as his advanced age, but it's his sluggish finish that should keep your expectations in check. Consider his batted-ball breakdowns ("2010 2H" includes Guerrero's postseason statistics):
2009: 18.3 LD%, 11.5 HR/FB%, .313 BABIP, 4.7 BB%, 14.6 K%
2010 1H: 20.1 LD%, 16.7 HR/FB%, .299 BABIP, 5.9 BB%, 9.3 K%
2010 2H: 15.8 LD%, 9.7 HR/FB%, .286 BABIP, 4.6 BB%, 14.0 K%
It seems Guerrero's first half last season is probably the outlier, so be prepared for a return to closer to 20 homers and 80 RBIs than 27 and 115. Fortunately, he keeps picking hitter-friendly ballparks as his home; Camden Yards actually outranked Rangers Ballpark in terms of runs, home runs and hits on our 2010 Park Factor page. That, again, is a help in easing his career regression.
A final note on Guerrero's arrival in Baltimore: Might it improve things for Nick Markakis, the Orioles' projected No. 3 hitter? Markakis most often had Ty Wigginton hitting behind him in 2010 (also Miguel Tejada and Scott, on occasion), and saw 4.2 percent fewer pitches in the strike zone than his career average. Meanwhile, Josh Hamilton, who batted ahead of Guerrero most often in Texas, saw 3.2 percent fewer than his career average, and don't think his gaudy numbers weren't at least somewhat responsible for pitchers' fear. Markakis could see a few more quality strikes, so if you were already on his bounce-back bandwagon, you've got reason to toss an extra buck or two in his direction.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.
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