The improbable success of the Orioles in the first half of 2012 has the team in a precarious position as they prepare for the back end of the schedule. After 14 years of futility, the playoffs are a possibility and the city is feeling cautious optimism, which is still a far cry from euphoria, but a refreshing change from the gloom and doom that’s defined the club for as long as most can remember. Therein lies the rub.
The O’s success is encouraging enough to lead fans to contemplate the team taking the next step toward contention and adding some talent for the stretch run. The AL East is as up for grabs as it’s been in years, and safe money says that won’t last long. And the O’s while successful so far, haven’t exactly done much to suggest they’ll sustain this success for the long term, or even for the remainder of the season. There are encouraging talents in the minor leagues who could be big parts of a suddenly brighter future, or prospects who could be parlayed into major league talent now, while the iron is hot, in an effort to at least put a bookend on the Orioles’ 14-year playoff drought. The fans are divided (no surprise there), and the O’s won’t be able to please them all.
While the addition of talent is encouraging, and certainly good fodder for talk radio, the likelihood that the O’s will stand pat is real. So let’s instead look at some ways that they could be better without adding any players, but by simply putting the talent at hand to better use.
The Joe Maddon style of management is in full effect this season in the AL East as a number of teams, either by design or necessity, have taken to shaking up their lineups in an effort to capitalize on hot streaks, stimulate slumping bats, and force their players to compete with each other in a true meritocracy. Here are a few suggestions on how the O’s could improve theirs.
First they need to do some self-scouting. The Orioles are not a team that manufactures runs. They don’t bunt, they don’t steal bases, and their offense is driven by homeruns. They don’t have a true leadoff hitter, and based on the aforementioned, they don’t really need one. The Orioles most productive hitter overall also happens to be their most likely to swap a base. The Orioles should be batting Adam Jones leadoff. If Jones is the O’s best bat, the Orioles need to get him to the plate as often as possible, Batting him in the leadoff spot insures it. It also allows the O’s to put their less productive singles hitters at the bottom of the order and hope to have Jones knocking them in, in innings after the first.
I put up some numbers the other day, ranking the Orioles production per 100 plate appearances. Some of the numbers were rather interesting, including the fact that Mark Reynolds makes less outs than every Oriole except Jim Thome, and that Adam Jones gets approximately .5 bases per trip to the plate (tops on the team by a lot).
Reynolds has been disappointing in the power department this season, but his career numbers suggest that a correction is in order. Having Adam Jones on base in front of him, and a productive bat behind him might get Reynolds more fastballs to hit too. Maybe Reynolds in the 2-hole isn’t as silly as it sounds, at least against lefties.
Below are my suggestions for the Orioles best lineups vs. left and right-handers, using only the talent available on the Major League roster, based on their production per 100 plate appearances (listed here) and their triple slash splits vs. those pitchers (listed below).
Orioles vs. Lefties
CF – Adam Jones (294/322/471)
1B – Mark Reynolds (240/377/380)
C – Matt Wieters (384/444/575)
DH – Chris Davis (316/328/526)
SS – JJ Hardy (298/337/452)
RF – Nick Markakis (231/322/385)
LF – Steve Pearce (310/344/690)
3B – Steve Tolleson (250/325/472)
2B – Robert Andino (227/275/347)
Orioles vs. Righties
CF – Adam Jones (287/332/555)
RF – Nick Markakis (265/337/476)
1B – Chris Davis (258/311/459)
3B – Wilson Betemit (288/344/497)
DH – Jim Thome (258/361/587) or Mark Reynolds (196/320/385)
C – Matt Wieters (200/287/381)
SS – JJ Hardy (201/239/357)
2B – Robert Andino (233/300/307)
LF – Xavier Avery (257/313/392)