I imagine most that have opened this piece are already angry that I decided to write a piece on Ryan Flaherty as a starter; or are depressed that I decided to write a piece on Ryan Flaherty as a starter.
Relax, there are more important things in life to find anger and depression over!
Either way, there is a strong chance that Mr. Flaherty will walk into 2014 as the incumbent at second base. He has some competition in Jemile Weeks and possibly Jonathan Schoop, but they are less than ideal at this point for various reasons. Unfortunately for Orioles fans, Brian Roberts is close to signing with the Yankees.
Allow me to walk you away from the ledge now.
His fielding has absolutely been the biggest improvement since his arrival to Baltimore. When he was selected in the Rule 5 draft, it was said that “he doesn’t have a defensive position locked in, but he probably would be serviceable at a handful of positions” and “He’s played second, third and corner outfield. He may not excel at second or third but he can handle it capably and could move around some.”
While that was certainly true in his first season with the Orioles, Flaherty has slowly evolved into a formidable defensive player at second base, and that looks to be his main position going forward. Flaherty has improved his footwork up the middle, which has helped his range turn from average to a tick above-average. This is easily the strongest improvement in his game, and illustrates the hard work that the Orioles and Flaherty have put in over the past year. He has always displayed a strong arm, which allows him to make up for some of his athletic deficiencies. Flaherty is certainly athletic, but he is a bit larger in frame than your typical variance of players at second base. However, it is the same concept as past players such as Cal Ripken Jr. and Troy Tulowitzki. Another noticeable improvement has been the decision-making. He was quick with his movements and more fluid with his actions.
The defensive statistics also seem to fall in line what what we can see with the eye. While I do not love defensive ratings, they are fun to look at and sometimes can help illustrate a point from a scouting perspective. Below are his defensive ratings at second base for the season of 2013:
Just to put these in perspective, Flaherty ranked 14th out of 32 second basemen with his 3 DRS. He ranked 6th in UZR. Obviously Ryan Flaherty is a much improved player at second base, and I am comfortable with his glove in the future.
It is no secret that Flaherty has some work to do with the bat. While he has above average raw power, his plate discipline against right-handed pitchers is average and below-average against left-handed pitchers. He does not always get good reads on secondary offerings such as change ups and curveballs from lefties. Sometimes, he looks lost at the plate against them, but he has gradually improved since his arrival to Baltimore. He most likely will not be a high OBP type of player, but I think it is possible for him to be a J.J. Hardy type with the bat – hit some homers and provide some pop in the lineup. He can absolutely crush fastballs and I find it odd when pitcher’s throw him a fastball back-to-back. He has above-average bat speed and the plate discipline is truly the only negative with him at the plate. Unfortunately, that is a large area of concern and it will hinder him at times.
The numbers essentially illustrate the same concerns with plate discipline. He played mostly against right-handed pitchers in 2013 until Brian Roberts returned. It will be curious to see if the Orioles find someone to platoon with Flaherty or let him take over the reigns. He has the tools to perform as a starter, but he may be better off not playing every single day. Either way, his bat is clearly the bigger question mark.
Flaherty can probably be a 2 WAR player for the Orioles in 2014, which would be a solid stop-gap for a team that has a bunch of holes left still. The defense will likely be the carrying factor, but defense has clearly been an importance asset for the Orioles the past two seasons, and Flaherty fits that mold. He may not be the on-base guy they need, but he provides useful options for a club that seemingly wants to spend money on pitching rather than second base. I would have to think the Orioles understand this and are comfortable knowing that they have other options behind Flaherty in the minors with Jemile Weeks and Jonathan Schoop. Schoop needs extra time in the minors, but if Flaherty falters, he could see time in the second half of the year.
Just keep in mind that the Orioles starting Ryan Flaherty is not the worst thing in the world. While he may not be a stud, he can provide some solid defense and maybe run into 15-20 homers if he gets enough playing time.