Friday, May 7, 2010

Guest Post: The Orioles' Leadoff Dilemma

Editor's note: Here at TBS we try to get out of our Twins-Yankees bubble whenever we can, so we figured Baltimore's visit to Target Field would be a good excuse to get another fan's perspective on a team that, to be honest, takes some guts to root for. As a lifelong O's fan, John has suffered through plenty of losing seasons since the glory days of the mid-90's, and uttered his first f-word in front of his parents when Jeffery Maier plucked the ball from Tony Tarasco's grasp in 1996. Here's his take on how the Orioles have tried to plug the Brian Roberts-sized hole in their lineup.

As their record reflects, the Orioles have a host of issues on offense. At the time of writing, they have scored the fourth fewest runs (3.41/game) and have the third lowest OBP (.309). These issues start at the top of the lineup card.

Brian Roberts has batted leadoff for the O's for much of the past decade. His combination of speed and OBP (career .355) at the top of the lineup have made him one of the most indispensible Orioles for his tenure. Now that he is out for the next couple months, we have seen just how valuable he is. His injury shows the organizational failure in bringing through talent that can bat in the 1 or 2 holes. The Orioles have done well to bolster their middle order with youngsters such as Wieters, Nolan Riemold, and down the line, Josh Bell, but none who could be a possible successor to Roberts.

Compounding this problem is that Roberts most likely replacement, Felix Pie, went on the disabled list at the same time. The Orioles have had to resort to a patchwork of Reimold, Julio Lugo, and most recently, Adam Jones. Jones has been one of the biggest disappointments in 2010 for Baltimore. The 2009 version of Jones would have been able to fill in nicely, but the 2010 Jones is OBPing .242, nearly 100 points below his average from last year. From his batting at the leadoff spot this past week, it seems that the promotion up the order has caused him to be even more nervous and less patient at the plate. The most glaring statistic of Jones' 2010 season is his meagre 3 walks. His BB% is nearly three times smaller than his career percentage.

More important for Baltimore than production this year is to ensure that Jones continues his maturation into a consistent All-Star that can be a lynchpin of the offense for years to come. I would argue that his promotion to leadoff does not do that. Let him bat at 6 or 7 to allow him to be a bit more patient at the plate without the pressure of leading off. My rather unorthodox suggestion would be to have the surprising Ty Wigginton bat leadoff. He has played well filling in a second base for Roberts and leads the team in OBP. While not the speed presence of a typical leadoff hitter, his presence on base should allow Nick Markakis, Wieters, et al to see more pitches to hit.

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