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The Case for More Pie

The left field position in Baltimore has often been cast as a competition between Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie (and to a much lesser extent, Luke Scott). It had been assumed that Reimold had won the spot with his outstanding batting line last year of .279/.365/.466, but you might be surprised to know that Felix Pie was more valuable (1.4 WAR compared to 1.0) with slightly less playing time. Not only that, but Felix Pie might pick up an even bigger advantage over Reimold in 2010.

A lot of Pie’s value last year came from his glove. It’s tricky to definitively say that either guy is better than the other, but what I do think we can agree on is that you wouldn’t play Reimold in center, but you would play Pie there. If center field is a harder position than left field, than how do you logically conclude that Pie is a worse outfielder? That’s a little simplistic, but there’s really little doubt in my mind as to who the better defender is .

But what I came here today to talk about isn’t defense, it’s offense. In 2009 Pie hit .266/.326/.437, which obviously isn’t very good for a former top prospect with a career minor league line of .299/.355/.470.  But there are some very concrete reasons to suspect that Felix Pie is going to bring it with the bat going forward.

Last year Pie was the designated left fielder out of Spring Training, but quickly lost his job to Lou Montanez. He kind of disappeared, but then from July 22nd onwards, Pie played in 70% of the Orioles games and started 54% of them in the outfield. And he was great, hitting .290/.346/.497 compared to .234/.299/.355 before July 22nd. But the real question is why was Pie so much better, and can he sustain that into 2010?

Let’s first examine some basic indicators from both halves of the year, and also from his minor league days:

Category Minors First Half ’09 Second Half ’09
BB Rate 7.4% 8.4% 8.0%
K Rate 19% 22.7% 19%
LD Rate N/A 23.1% 20.6%
FB Rate N/A 37.2% 38.3%
GB Rate N/A 39.7% 41.1%

Notice, first of all, that Pie hit a lot of line drives. If he can keep his strikeouts down where they had been in his seven years in the minors, then those line drives should translate into a high batting average. You’ll notice of course that in the second half of last year he did just that, and it did translate to a high batting average. If he could push his walk rate higher still (which is probably not particularly likely), he could maybe see an OBP in the .365 range.

But anyway, these contact rates don’t really tell us anything. He more or less put the ball in play in the same general way, or so it seems. If the folklore of Pie working with the Crow and bringing a better swing to the table is true, he must have made some sort of better contact, right? It isn’t as if his first half BABiP is the culprit here at .288 (which is low, but not enough to cover a 50 point rise in OBP).

The answer is in the quality of Pie’s fly balls. In the early part of the season, Pie hit 24.1% of his fly balls as pop-ups to an infielder. He wasn’t driving the ball at all. Look at this distribution of all of his balls in play:

Compare that to the second half of the year, when Pie was on fire, only hit 2.4% of his fly balls to the infield, and sprayed his hits like so:

Look at that opposite field power now! Notice, too, that the only times that Pie pulled the ball he hit it deep and successfully. All very good signs indeed. I don’t know what happened exactly to make Felix Pie become a really good hitter seemingly overnight. Maybe it was the Crow’s mentoring, maybe it was getting more comfortable in Baltimore, maybe Luke Scott transferred all of his powers over to Pie like in that one episode of Lois and Clark: the New Adventures of Superman. I guess it doesn’t matter how, just that we can clearly see that Pie is in fact a changed hitter for the better.

What does it all mean, in the end? Well, Pie may stand a very good chance at increasing his value as a left fielder much higher than Nolan Reimold, but don’t get me wrong: there is very much a place for both of them on the Orioles. I absolutely love Nolan’s bat (if not his glove) and could be a very happy camper with both of them getting as many plate appearances as possible. No, the point of all of this is just this: Felix Pie could be really, really good. He just needs to keep getting as many reps as possible out there – and he’s clearly earned them.

(Spray charts courtesy texasleaguers.com)

26 comments to The Case for More Pie

  • dan the man

    Well done, sir.

    Really interesting, that point about when he pulled the ball in the 2nd half, he was successful almost all of the time (at least on balls pulled beyond the right side of the infield). The way he cranks balls into RF reminds me of Corey Patterson, except Pie obviously has the ability to go the other way at times. And when he does, it’s usually for a double or a triple.

    I’m excited to see him get more time – just stay healthy, Felix.

  • dan the man

    On a more general note, I can’t believe we actually have a decent starting 5 and they all pitch pretty well (under 4ERA on average, I think), and the offense goes dead. On the other hand, that only bodes well for the future if it keeps up. This isn’t a 3 runs/game offense, is it?

  • Andrew

    Thanks Dan. It’s shocking how much hard work putting something like this together is (my admiration for the real SABR dudes went up a lot) and it’s nice to know that I’m not just talking to hear the sound of my own voice. So, I appreciate your appreciation.

    As for the pitchers, except for Bergesen I’m pretty enthused. Certainly Guthrie and Hernandez looked much better than I expected. Now, can they do it again and again?

  • dan the man

    I think the O’s probably would love to have Pie force his way into being the every day left fielder. But they can’t just hand him the job after Nolan’s good season.

    Man, I can’t wait until these guys all start hitting. Miggles has 6 RBI and Markakis has 9 BBs and Wieters is doing well, but the outfielders aren’t pulling their weight yet. Which is weird, considering that is our strength. When they do, though, the wins should come.

    Having Lugo and Izturis back to back is just killing me. Absolutely killing me. But that’s another story.

    I wonder what the O’s will do when Koji is ready to come back.

  • MarkH

    Nice article Andrew, I enjoyed reading that.

    One question, how do you think Montanez would have compared last season to the numbers Pie and Reimold put up, assuming he was healthy and given a similar run of playing time?

    I can’t recall how well he was doing before he got hurt last season or the numbers he put up before being called up. Both are probably easy to look up, but I’m not able to do so right now. I’m not sure if there were some type of projections for him or not.

  • Andrew

    @ MarkH:
    I honestly don’t put that much thought into Lou, even though he seems like a heckuva guy and would (off the top of my head) make a very solid fourth outfielder for some team. His problem is mostly that he’s already 28 and that’s usually the peak year for most players.

    Well, his problem is also that in 208 PA in Baltimore he’s tallied up a .285 OBP. That’ll hurt. He also hasn’t been able to do very much with the bat in AAA, where he’s got a .325 OBP in three seasons. That’s the number of a minor league lifer (and probably not even a viable fourth outfielder on a serious team, unfortunately)

  • dan the man

    My thought on Lou is that he’s a great guy to have for depth. I think he’d crack an NL team that needs an outfielder. Solid bat, not a lot of patience, but won’t strike out a lot if I recall correctly.

  • Greg

    Batters with an OPS+ > 100:
    Wieters – 172
    Atkins – 128
    Reimold – 103
    Markakis – 102

    Pitchers with an ERA+ > 100:
    Millwood – 197
    Albers – 183
    Hernandez – 144
    Berken – 138
    Johnson – 138
    Matusz – 122
    Guthrie – 101
    Hendrickson – (no ERs yet)
    Ohman – (no ERs yet)

    Pitching has been pretty stellar so far, outside of Meredith, Bergesen and Gonzalez. Outside of Wieters and Garrett Action, the offense is miserable across the board.

  • Andrew

    @ Greg:
    There are a lot of low-ass BABiPs to go with those bad offensive numbers:

    Tejada .217
    Jones .263
    Markakis .231
    Scott .182
    Roberts .167
    Reimold .200

    They’ll bounce back.

  • dan the man

    Anyone else pumped to see Garza again tonight? Sigh.

  • MarkH

    @ Andrew:
    Regarding Montanez…Your thoughts and numbers sound about right to me and what I have read elsewhere regarding him.

    I keep wondering if he’ll be shipped somewhere, but I’m not sure how much (or what) he’d bring in return (of value).

  • Miles

    Atkins won’t keep up this level of production all season, but wouldn’t it be nice to see one of our patented “Low Risk” signings or acquisitions (see: Rich Hill, David Pauley, Alex Cintron, etc.) actually pay off?

  • Miles

    BP’s 2010 projections for Felix and Nolan:

    Pie’s projected VORP: 11.5
    Reimold’s projected VORP: 12.7

  • Greg

    Lou Montanez is the kinda guy who could take a career path to that of Garrett Jones in Pittsburgh. I think that Lou, if given a starting opportunity would be an above-replacement level outfielder for a team. Unfortunately for him, outfielders are not in short supply in Baltimore.

  • Andrew

    @ Miles:
    Like I said, a lot of Pie’s value (and what got him past Reimold in 2009) is in his glove – something VORP doesn’t calculate. Still, those are some pretty close offensive numbers…which seem rather low don’t you think? Last year, BP has Reimold at 20.8 VORP. What gives?

  • Tomás

    I got all excited when I saw the title of this post until I realized I was reading a baseball blog. There is always a case for more pie.

    But seriously though, I do like Pie and if the Treasurer spot for his fan/booster club is still open, I’ll take it in a heartbeat.

    I miss seeing him in those black knee-highs though, they make him look even more awesome in a scrappy kind of way. Which is also amusing since he’s the only non-white player I can think of that I’ve ever applied that term to. LOL

  • hdgmike

    This is useless, except for the purposes of positioning defenders against opposing hitters. To use this data and chart for the purpose you suggest is nonsense and shows a lack of baseball experience and knowledge.

  • Andrew

    @ hdgmike:
    Fair enough, mike. Though I’d be interested to hear more specifically what is nonsensical. Can we not use any contact rates or k/bb rates? Is it just infield flies? Should we just focus on OBP and SLG? Or something else?

  • Looks like you picked a great day to post it! Great game for Pie today.

  • hdgmike

    @ Andrew:
    Agree with your conclusion that Felix should play more. Disagree with the agrument you presented. A spray chart shows where opposing hitters have hit the ball in the past. The value of this data is used on defensive to determine how to pitch a hitter and how to set the defense for that particular player. Use any offensive or defensive measure you prefer to justify your position on more playing time, not the spray chart. Even the spray chart has its limitations for defense because its two demensional.

  • dan the man

    @ hdgmike:
    I’m no stats wiz, but why can’t a spray chart be used to show that a player who once was only pulling the ball with no power is now hitting the ball with more power and to all fields? Which is what those charts imply about Felix Pie. Seems logical to me.

  • Andrew

    @ hdgmike:
    If I can clarify, I was making two points, separate but most probably related (and hopefully I made them well!):

    1) Pie’s increased batting average/on base percentage was a result of cutting down on his strikeouts to his career levels and sustaining a high rate of line drives. I also noted that his walk rate was higher all of last year than previously (something that I still hold some hope can continued to be improved, though I’m not sure it’s rational)

    2) Pie’s increased power numbers, while I’m not certain of the exact reason, were no fluke. I didn’t mean to say he was hitting it more to one side of the field, but rather that overall he was hitting balls deeper (making stronger contact), and in the second spray graph you can see a relatively larger amount of balls that went deep in the outfield. Which is to say, his slugging increase wasn’t some kind of statistical aberration but indeed due to increased power.

    I’m glad we agree at any rate. When it comes to Felix Pie, I’m the Head Machiavel of his fan club; I don’t care how you come to get on board, just get on board.

  • Miles

    Andrew, the man was listening to you last night, no doubt…

  • dan the man

    It’s funny… something no one (including me) ever thought of is that Pie might force his way into a starting left field gig by succeeding as the only other legitimate leadoff option with B-Rob out. That is, if he keeps it up.

  • Andrew

    @ dan the man:
    eh…I’m not sold on him as a leadoff guy. Just because he’s fast doesn’t make him a leadoff guy. I’d rather see Markakis and his superior on-base skills up there.

    But yes, tomorrow we’ll talk about Luke Scott and Adam Jones. Gotta get them off the schneid.

  • dan the man

    @ Andrew:
    I’m not sold, either. But if he can keep up his lack of strikeouts and continue to find base hits, he can at least be better than Izturis or Lugo (ugh). Markakis is certainly a legitimate leadoff candidate, but apparently not to Trembley. Which is ok, I guess, considering it would be nice to have Markakis drive in runs. What bugs me more is that Jones should not be in the 2-hole. It just doesn’t make any sense. Is his speed the only thing that warrants him being in the 2-hole? If Reimold is being kept out of the 2-hole because his power is better used in the middle or lower third of the lineup, then why doesn’t that same logic apply to Adam Jones?