At long last, Nick Markakis has been made the team's leadoff hitter. I have suggested such a solution several times on this blog but it's hardly a revolutionary idea. Since the collapse of Brian Roberts' performance and body, there is no one else on the team who demonstrates such patience and on base skills as Markakis does. Nolan Reimold was the only player who comes close and he can't stay on the field. But instead, Buck Showalter has favored speed over on base skills and given the majority of leadoff at bats to the like of Endy Chavez and Robert Andino.
Among Oriole leadoff hitters with more than three games in the spot, only Xavier Avery (.309), Nolan Reimold (.328) and Nick Markakis (.411) have OBP's higher than .300.
Let's take a closer look at that .411 mark for Markakis. Splits for Nick based on batting order for 2012:
Split G GS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB Batting 1st 12 12 5 1 .353 .411 .451 .862 23 Batting 3rd 50 50 22 37 .256 .333 .452 .786 90
That batting average is aided by a high BABIP (.360) but that's not too much higher than his .321 BABIP for his career. The bottom line is, he just looks more comfortable in a role at the top of the order.
And this is not new. Career splits for Markakis based on batting order:
I Split G BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip Batting 1st 12 .353 .411 .451 .862 .360 Batting 2nd 296 .313 .384 .489 .873 .336 Batting 3rd 545 .281 .355 .438 .794 .310 Batting 4th 52 .273 .314 .417 .731 .282 Batting 8th 22 .456 .538 .588 1.126 .525 Batting 9th 65 .264 .312 .364 .676 .303
The thing that's important is to look at the split between Markakis when he's batting 1st/2nd versus his numbers when he's batting 3rd/4th. He has been quite a bit better at the top of the lineup than when he is in the heart of the lineup.
I am ususally of the opinion that a player is the hitter he is regardless of where he is in the lineup. Frank Thomas had the approach of a #3 hitter and when he was batting cleanup for Toronto late in his career, he was criticized for walking too much and not swinging more. But he was what he was and that wasn't going to change. If you bat Mark Reynolds leadoff, he will take the same approach he always does.
But I think Nick is a player who does change his approach based on his spot in the lineup. He may feel more pressure to be aggressive at the plate in the 3 or 4 hole to drive in runs. But he does not seem to feel that pressure as a 1 or 2 hitter. And his natural talents (working the count, drawing walks, good baserunning) are well suited to that role.
And while all of this seems obvious, it did not appear to be obvious to Buck Showalter. Markakis as lead off hitter may have come too late to make a difference to the Orioles' fading playoff hopes in 2012.