01 March 2018

Leadoff Hitters In The Buck Showalter Era

Colby Rasmus has served as the Orioles' leadoff hitter a couple times in spring training, including in yesterday's matchup against the Cardinals. While it's unexpected that Rasmus ends up as the O's regular leadoff hitter against right-handed pitching during the season -- Buck Showalter has said he's trying to get Rasmus more at-bats right now, and it's not a guarantee that Rasmus makes the team just yet -- it's far from impossible.

Rasmus has a career 111 wRC+ against left-handed pitching, which is good but not great. He also has an on-base percentage of just .318 against southpaws, and that's not what teams want out of their leadoff hitters. Without going too deep, I'll just note that it's now both sound logic and generally accepted that one of the best hitters on a team should bat in the top lineup spot.

Still, Showalter has a tendency to do... interesting things with his lineups. He'll bat someone fast there, just because, or simply try something based on match-ups or feel. Here's a list from the Baseball-Reference Play Index that shows O's players from 2011-2017 (Showalter's full seasons in Baltimore) with 10 or more plate appearances in the leadoff spot:
Rk Player Split From To G PA AB BA OBP SLG OPS
1Nick MarkakisBatting 1st201220142361086982.294.353.402.755
2Adam JonesBatting 1st20142017135610563.281.320.471.791
3Nate McLouthBatting 1st20122013131605539.262.336.399.735
4Manny MachadoBatting 1st20132016120541487.296.362.497.859
5Brian RobertsBatting 1st2011201373330301.213.266.332.598
6J.J. HardyBatting 1st2011201766294277.267.294.523.817
7Joey RickardBatting 1st2016201771289267.240.289.345.634
8Seth SmithBatting 1st2017201756235212.264.332.448.780
9Robert AndinoBatting 1st2011201246207188.
10Tim BeckhamBatting 1st2017201741194181.265.314.448.762
11Nolan ReimoldBatting 1st2011201649190172.250.321.453.775
12Alejandro De AzaBatting 1st20142015229589.258.305.449.755
13Endy ChavezBatting 1st20122012249287.
14Matt AngleBatting 1st20112011187863.190.320.286.606
15Xavier AveryBatting 1st20122012157063.254.309.349.658
16Felix PieBatting 1st20112011134746.
17Craig GentryBatting 1st20172017263530.200.286.333.619
18Gerardo ParraBatting 1st2015201573231.
19David LoughBatting 1st20142015122926.154.241.308.549
20Everth CabreraBatting 1st2015201552523.304.320.304.624
21Hyun Soo KimBatting 1st2016201782117.176.333.176.510
22Austin HaysBatting 1st2017201752120.
23Jonathan SchoopBatting 1st2014201751816.
24Ryan FlahertyBatting 1st20122017111717.176.176.529.706
25Trey ManciniBatting 1st2017201751313.385.385.8461.231
Rk Player Split From To G PA AB BA OBP SLG OPS
26Jemile WeeksBatting 1st2014201431311.273.273.455.727
27Steve PearceBatting 1st201220165129.556.6671.2221.889
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/1/2018.

First, Endy Chavez! Felix Pie! Matt Angle! Xavier Avery! Everth Cabrera! Jemile Weeks! And second, don't forget that the 2011 Orioles were awful (69-93, -152 run differential) before things turned around suddenly in 2012.

It's easy to look back and laugh, but sometimes these decisions worked! In May of 2012, Ryan Flaherty led off a game against the Rangers with a home run. The next two batters, J.J. Hardy and Nick Markakis, also homered, as the O's became the first team to start a game with three straight homers since the Brewers in 2007. (The Diamondbacks also pulled off that feat against Max Scherzer, somehow, this past season.) That doesn't make it smart, necessarily, but it also shows some of the uninspiring options Showalter has had to choose from.

This isn't just a Showalter thing, of course; some teams occasionally use less than ideal options in the leadoff spot. Some teams just don't have high OBP players, while others do and at times choose to fill out the lineup card differently. But as teams become smarter, they're using better options in the first two spots in the lineup and refusing to put players there who make more outs.

Is Tim Beckham that guy for the Orioles? If he puts up anything close to the 130 wRC+ he posted after joining the O's last season, it'll be an easy decision to keep him there. But if he's not the guy, then who is? Perhaps Trey Mancini and his .338 OBP from last season? With so many high power, low OBP hitters filling the lineup, there just aren't that many good options. And that could open the door for Rasmus, or Alex Presley, or someone else.

No comments: