I tend to focus on batting lineups a little too much when something seems off. And I wouldn't say that batting Manny Machado second is necessarily a bad decision, but I was legitimately surprised when the opening day lineup was announced yesterday. Maybe I simply dismissed that move as an unrealistic option. For anyone who missed it, the O's will be sending out the following lineup against lefty David Price and the Tampa Bay Rays today:
Nick Markakis, RF
Manny Machado, 3B
Adam Jones, CF
Matt Wieters, C
Chris Davis, 1B
J.J. Hardy, SS
Nolan Reimold, LF
Steve Pearce, DH
Brian Roberts, 2B
A few notes on the lineup:
1) I'm glad to see Markakis leading off. He's the best on this team at getting on base, and he should be batting as many times as possible.
2) I'm also a fan of Roberts in the ninth slot. Sure, he used to bat leadoff and was very good at it, but until he can prove himself again, there's nothing wrong with him hitting last. Regardless, it'll be interesting to see how he plays and it's hard not to root for him to both stay healthy and contribute.
3) Buck Showalter smartly moved Hardy down the lineup. Hardy's not adept at reaching base (career .314 OBP), so he certainly shouldn't bat second like he did all of last season. It would be helpful if his power returned, though.
As hinted at above, the unexpected part of the lineup is Machado batting second and Reimold batting seventh. One reason I can think of for the decision is this:
Machado vs. LHP: 53 PA, .344 wOBA
Reimold vs. LHP: 321 PA, .339 wOBA
Sample size is an issue, but their numbers aren't that different, anyway. Then again, Hardy has a career .351 wOBA against lefties and he'll be batting sixth, so the split stats explanation might be inconsequential. Machado being the everyday third baseman also may factor in, though Reimold should be in the lineup as much as possible as well, either in left field or as the designated hitter.
The Orioles are expecting Machado to eventually be a better hitter than Reimold, but I'm just not sure that will happen this season. Reimold has already demonstrated the ability to get on base more often and hit for a bit more power, and he's probably the team's fastest runner (at least down the first base line). But he just hasn't been able to stay on the field, so I wonder how much Showalter actually trusts him. The Orioles have also been steadfast in challenging their young stars whether in the minors or majors the last couple years, so maybe this is just another case of seeing what a young and promising player can handle.
It's important to note that while lineup concerns can be fun to complain about, they aren't THAT significant. Per Baseball Musings' lineup tool, the O's opening day lineup is projected to score 4.795 runs per game. The best two lineups offered for these nine players (Markakis-Reimold-Wieters-Davis-Jones-Machado-Hardy-Pearce-Roberts and Markakis-Jones-Wieters-Davis-Reimold-Machado-Hardy-Pearce-Roberts) are projected to score 4.865 runs per game. So, yeah, not a big difference -- maybe worth one win over a full season, but that's assuming Showalter sticks to the same lineup and never adjusts, which won't happen.
And before getting too upset, let's also note that 1) it's the first game of the season, and 2) Showalter will deploy a different lineup against right-handed pitchers. Nate McLouth will most likely be in the lineup for most of those match-ups, as will Wilson Betemit when he comes off the disabled list. (I'm intrigued to see where McLouth bats in the lineup.) It'll probably take Showalter some time to find the lineups he likes the most, and I'd still be surprised to see Machado batting second every day. Then again, I didn't think Machado would handle his initial debut as well as he did, and it's possible that he starts the season out well and is comfortable batting behind Markakis for the entire season. Maybe Machado has a fantastic second season and keeps hitting for power while improving his getting-on-base skills.
That's the fun part, after all. We don't know what's going to happen.