It is reputed that baseball legend Leo Durocher is the originator of the famous adage that “nice guys finish last.” Factual substantiation of that claim yields results about as diminutive as the former Cubs manager. And hey, look no further than the 2012 Orioles to see that the statement is not a timeless truth.
But, do nice guys bat last? Well, for the 2013 Orioles, the answer is “yes.” It has been announced that Brian Roberts will hold down the number nine spot in the order for the foreseeable future. In a clubhouse of likeable personalities, Roberts may be the prize nice guy of them all. And beyond that, no less than this writer believes he will appropriately occupy and excel in the nine hole!
Before we analyze that, let’s pause for a second to simply reflect upon this moment in time where Brian Roberts is back with the team in what certainly appears to be full health. What were the odds of this? Well, not impossible, but neither were they certain – probably better than “that one in a million talk” … to quote the famous film Dumb and Dumber. I am not shocked, but I would not have actually anticipated Roberts having this very fine spring – playing frequently, while posting a .310 batting average. The man deserves all the credit in the world for his hard work that has brought him to this place.
Over the years, Roberts has been the prototypical leadoff hitter – working pitchers, getting on base, stealing, and in a whole variety of ways setting the table for those coming behind him. There remains an active fan club of Roberts-as-leadoff enthusiasts. These are people who will state the points above, and who see Nick Markakis as having less speed and a bigger bat. But it is difficult to argue against Nick’s success as a leadoff hitter, and it is where I have long believed he best contributes for this lineup.
As it stands, speculation (as listed on 3/28 on the Orioles mlb.com site) is that the top four in the lineup will be Markakis, Nolan Reimold, Adam Jones, and Matt Wieters. I sure hope this is true, as that looks formidable to me. It is a fact that the leadoff batter is actually only the leadoff hitter for sure just once in a game. And so, for those who believe Roberts should leadoff and Markakis hit second, you will actually have this happen about 75-80% of the time as the lineup turns over throughout the game. This is a significant point, as the number nine hitter is critical in turning over the lineup to get the top of the order back at the plate with people on base. This is HUGE for any team.
MASN writer Steve Melewski wrote briefly on this subject Saturday morning. Steve’s columns are often filled with unique statistics seldom reported in other places. He pointed out that the AL batting average for ninth place batters is .232 with an on-base-percentage of .294. Even a sub-par Brian Roberts should be able to blow away those numbers, and that is a HUGE advantage. Yes, logically, if the seventh and eighth hitters are totally dreadful, then this advantage is largely negated, though I do not think that will be the situation with Orioles – not with people like Hardy, McClouth, and Machado in those spots.
So where do you readers fall out on this? Roberts? Markakis? McClouth? Reimold?