Baltimore Orioles: The Leadoff Position and 2015 Batting Order


Oct 2, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) catches a low throw to get Baltimore Orioles left fielder Alejandro De Aza (12) out at first base in game one of the 2014 American League divisional series at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

One thing for certain for the 2015 version of the Baltimore Orioles is that there will be a new leadoff batter in the absence of Nick Markakis. The new Atlanta Braves right fielder had a great deal of success in the leadoff position for the O’s, even if he was not the prototypical speedster desired in the first spot in the order.

It is now forgotten that there was a time when Markakis was NOT thought of as much of an option for the Orioles to use in the leadoff position. Just three years ago, going into yet another season with the health of long-time #1 guy Brian Roberts in question, there was much angst as to who could leadoff for the Birds. 

Markakis was little thought of as a leadoff hitter just three years ago.

I wrote at that time, in the midst of spring training, “Markakis is the best OBP guy of the choices (.365) and he works pitchers, though I grant he is not the typical leadoff batter, especially in terms of outright speed – but, this is the problem we have.”

Three years later, seeing Nick as a successful leadoff hitter is a no-brainer; but it was not always this way.

So, in the category of “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” who will bat first for the Orioles in 2015, barring a move we do not yet know about? And yes, the argument can be made that whoever is discussed in the following paragraphs has as many, or more, prototypical deficiencies than Markakis had in 2012, thus describing why Duquette needs to make a move to get a true leadoff batter in Baltimore.

That could happen, I suppose, though I wouldn’t bet my Caribbean yacht on it.

Frankkly, Alejandro De Aza is the only current logical choice. Yes, he has some flaws. Actually, in his much shorter career, De Aza has been a leadoff batter in the lineup 296 times, versus 236 for Nick. But for the sake of comparison and evaluation, let’s compare the two players by looking at their career batting averages and OBPs in various situations …

Career BA / OBPDe AzaMarkakis
Overall.268 / .330.290 / .358
Batting order #1.271 / .334.294 / .353
Leading off game.266 / .338.336 / .373
Leading off an inning.275 / .348.316 / .370
Vs. RHP.274 / .335.291 / .364
Vs. LHP.247 / .310.288 / .344

Without doubt, Markakis has the better numbers in every way, especially in his unique ability to hit for a high average when leading off in the game.

But it could be argued that at least some of what De Aza lacks in BA and OBP he makes up for with speed on the bases. For example, he has stolen 79 bases in 566 career games. By comparison, Markakis only has 61 career steals in 1,365 games.

Postulating a Lineup

What if the unthinkable happens – that Dan Duquette does not get anyone new beyond who we know right now will be with the Orioles in 2015?  What if the following were to be the basic lineup?

More from Baltimore Orioles

De Aza – RF

Machado – 3B

Davis – 1B

Jones – CF

Wieters – C

Pearce – DH

Hardy – SS

Lough – LF

Schoop – 2B

Is that lineup really that bad? No, it lacks the pop of 40 home runs by Nelson Cruz and the comfort of Markakis leading off. But it is still a lineup that could be imagined to be a top three order in the American League in home runs.

Actually looking at this lineup reminds us of a major premise I believe to be true:  that the success of the Orioles’ offense in 2015 is going to be based far more more upon the return to health and production of Machado, Davis and Wieters than whomever DD might secure in a trade or free agency signing.

Extra stat at no extra charge:  When batting eighth in the lineup, Lough for his career is 21-for-57 with six doubles and three home runs, for a batting average of .368 and OBP of .422.  Small sample size, but give me points for trying to be cheerful at this stage of the annual offseason.