Rooting for Reimold

If you are a fan of the Baltimore Orioles, then you probably find it easy to root for Nolan Reimold.

In his 2009 rookie season, Nolan was a beacon of light in what was otherwise a dark and miserable season.  He batted .279/.365/.466 in 411 plate appearances in a season where the Birds won only 64 games and went 6 – 20 (!) in the month of September.  Nolan’s patience and hustle made him stand out among many of his teammates.

Then of course, there was September 28, 2011.  Chris Davis might have started it and Bob Andino might have ended it, but it was Nolan Reimold who landed the big blow to the Red Sox’s playoff hopes that night with his two out, two strike 9th double to tie the game off of Jonathan Paplebon.  Like Andino, regardless of what – if anything – Reimold provides to the Orioles in the future, he will always be fondly remembered for his role in that landmark game.

It is often forgotten that Nolan was the Orioles’ best hitter for the first month of the 2012 season.  Prior to going down with his career altering neck injury, Reimold had a slash line of .313/.333/.627 in 16 April games.  It is also worth remembering that he sustained that neck injury while diving into the stands to make a catch in Chicago.  There are those that like to talk pejoratively about Reimold being made of glass, but the truth is his major injury resulted from an all-out hustle play and not an inherent inability to remain healthy.

Now that Reimold is (almost) back in the fold for the 2015 season as a minor league free agent, there are a lot of reasons to root for his success beyond the fact that we root for the success of every Oriole player.  He has meant a lot to the franchise in the short time he has been on the field and was injured going all-out to help the team win what (at the time) might have seemed like a meaningless April game.  It would be nice to see him make it all the way back and do it as an Oriole.

Reimold has not officially signed his minor league deal with the Orioles, yet I have already read some people scoffing at the notion that he can add any value to the team.  Maybe those people are right.  Certainly the odds are not in his favor that he can produce a bounce back season at age 31 after spending much of the prior two seasons on the shelf.  It is far from impossible, however, and there are several factors working in Reimold’s favor.

For one, Reimold has proven to be an effective player when healthy and playing.  81% of his major league plate appearances occurred between 2009 and 2012.  During that period, Nolan hit .261/.338/.455.  The Orioles are not betting on Reimold finally figuring out major league pitching at 31 years old.  They are betting on him being healthy enough and not having a significant age/injury related decline so that he can produce what he has proven capable of in the past.  That might seem like splitting hairs, but there is a significant difference.  I would much rather take a chance on the player who has hit major league pitching before but has been injured for the last two seasons over the guy who has never shown the ability to hit major league pitching at an above average level.  Maybe that Nolan of 2009 – 2012 is gone due to injuries and age, but if he did it once, there is at least reason to believe he can do it again.

Reimold also profiles as a hitter who could have some value even if his average and contact skills take a dive.  Nolan’s strikeout rate has been way up the past two seasons, but that is over a very limited sample and was conceivably due in some part to his injury.  However, even if he is less of a contact hitter in 2015 than he was earlier in his career, he also has legitimate power (career .188 ISO) that he has maintained in recent seasons (.203 ISO n 2014).  In addition, Nolan is a patient hitter (3.94 pitches per PA for his career) who is willing to take a walk (9.3% career walk rate), which are skills that usually remain even if other skills erode.

Lastly, we only need to look around at Nolan’s potential teammates to show that a 31 year old is not incapable of having a surprisingly strong season.  Reimold and Steve Pearce are not the same hitter.  Pearce was strictly a platoon player prior to his breakout 2014 season while Nolan has not historically had significant platoon splits.  Reimold was thought of as the better prospect of the two and had far more major league success in his mid-20’s than Pearce.   They do share some common traits.  Both have demonstrated an ability to draw a walk and their career slash lines (over a similar number of plate appearances) are not far off.

Pearce is not Reimold, but what Pearce’s 2014 successes show us is that guys with strong skillsets can have career years even when they scoot past the dreaded age 30 mark.  Pearce accomplished this feat through a stance change that allowed him greater success against RHP than he had ever enjoyed before.  Perhaps for Nolan, simply being healthy will be enough.  On a minor league deal, it is worth finding out.

Reimold has his work cut out for him to even make the team.  There would probably need to be an injury to an outfielder or an outfielder would need to be traded in order for Reimold to make the club out of Spring Training.  He reportedly will have an opt-out clause.  If that clause is not at the end of Spring Training, than that buys some time for a spot to open up for him, but even then he’ll still need a trade, injury, or poor performance to get an opportunity.  There is a lot that has to happen for Reimold to go from where he is now to an important cog of the 2015 team.  As we have seen the past several years with Pearce, these things sometimes have a way of working themselves out.

Regardless of the outcome, I’ll be rooting hard for Nolan’s success next season with the Orioles because there are not many players that deserve it more.