This is the 5th of 12 posts on the season past – my personal reflections upon some of the really stupid and few really smart things I wrote since last winter. I actually did nail a few topics, so this is the first of six postings we can all celebrate about the season and what went well.
I wrote quite a bit throughout the season on the issue of Orioles leadoff hitters. This of course, before the season began, brought up the subject of Brian Roberts quite a bit. I never really had hopes that Roberts would come back, stating that if he did, it would not last long. For example, I wrote on March 5, 2012:
Regarding leadoff hitters: A regular Brian Roberts at second base and leading off for the Orioles this season would be a bonus beyond our reasonable hopes and expectations. Clearly, the Orioles approach is to plan as if he will not be available. My own view is that he will return at some point, but it will be short-lived – as the first hard slide or collision with an outfielder in right-center will shake it all loose one last time. That is my fear; that is not my hope or prayer for the guy.
So I called that one quite accurately, though the issue was not a recurrence of the brain injury. Yet the result was the same, and I believe we are at about the same level of negative expectation for Roberts a year later.
The Orioles started the 2012 season with a mix of Nolan Reimold and Endy Chavez at the top of the order. Reimold was quite effective until injured, but at 30 games into the season, Chavez was batting a paltry .133. Next came Robert Andino, Xavier Avery, and a second round of attempts from Chavez – none of whom established an acceptable on-base pattern. On June 12, Roberts came back with a 3 for 4 game … though cooled off just as quickly and was soon gone after hitting .182/.233/.182 with five RBIs in 66 at-bats. Back to the rotating personnel went the Birds. Then finally, they listened to my advice … which is? Follow my writing:
3/5 – Markakis is a consistent on base guy – displaying that with the long list of consecutive series wherein he had a base hit. He has a great eye and works pitchers, yet for some reason (the injury only?) his power numbers have been dropping over the past several years. Maybe he can now help the team most by leading off.
3/16 – projecting Markakis as the leadoff hitter: Markakis is the best OBP guy of the choices (.365) and works pitchers, though I grant he is not the typical leadoff guy, especially in terms of outright speed – but, this is the problem we have.
… Then again at the halfway mark of the season on 7/5: Leadoff Batter – OK… call me crazy on this one. Hey, I know the name coming up is not the quintessential leadoff guy … I argued for this actually all the way back to early spring training … OK … here it comes: Nick Markakis. I know he is not the base stealing threat that is desired, but he works pitchers and gets on base at a decent percentage. And remember, this person only really leads off once a game most times.
On July 13th, Markakis came back from injury and batted leadoff for the rest of his 2012 campaign. He raised his season average from .256 to .298 when his season was ended by that stinking C.C. Sabathia pitch that “got away from him.” The Orioles were 33-21 with Nick in the leadoff position. Those 54 game equal exactly 1/3 of a season and would project to a 99 win total. No, we can’t say that 99 wins would have happened, but we can say that no other Oriole player came close to what Markakis did, though Nate McLouth was certainly a good addition.
So, should Markakis bat leadoff in 2013? We don’t know if McLouth will be signed or not. Even so, I would stick with Markakis. And if Reimold is a regular in left field, again, I’d stick with Nick. I’m sure there will be much more written on this subject before opening day!