Thursday, May 28, 2009

Matt Wieters is Coming: The Orioles Will Be Pulling a Switcheroo

The Matt Wieters debut/anointment/coronation happens tonight and has been or will be covered is every way imaginable by then. So I may as well cover yet another facet of Wieters' call up; Wieters will give the Orioles the unusual option of putting four switch hitters in the starting lineup at once.

But first, let's backtrack and take a look at Oriole teams of the past with switch hitting prowess


From 1954 to 1983, the Orioles featured few switch hitters and rarely even trotted out three switch hitters at a time. That changed in the early 1980's. Eddie Murray and Ken Singleton were already switch hitting fixtures in Baltimore and the addition of CF John Shelby as a regular in 1983 gave the O's three guys in the lineup who batted from both sides of the plate.

Enter rookie outfielder Mike Young. Young was a corner outfielder who had a pretty good rookie season in 1984 finishing 5th in the AL ROY voting. He started playing regularly in mid-May and gave the Orioles their first quartet of switch hitters. Singleton, Murray, Young and Shelby appeared together in the starting lineup 22 times in 1984.

Murray .306 .410 .509 97 29 10
Singleton .215 .286 .289 28 6 0
Shelby .209 .248 .313 44 6 12
Young .252 .355 .431 59 17 6

With Ken Singleton's retirement before the 1985 season, it appeared that an Oriole quartet of switch hitters would be a footnote of the '84 season alone. Not so. A mid-season trade for 2B Alan Wiggins and the promotion of rookie catcher Al Pardo gave the Orioles five switch hitters on the roster and injuries to Fred Lynn and Jim Dwyer allowed Shelby and Young more at bats than they would have gotten otherwise. On July 6th, the quartet of Shelby, Young, Wiggins and Murray took to the field for the first time. Adding Pardo, these five players combined to field lineups with at least four switch hitters 42 times during the second half. On 5 occasions, all five switch hitters were in the starting lineup, happening for the first time on July 8th. It was the first time in Oriole history that the starting lineup boasted five switch hitters.

Murray .297 .383 .523 111 31 5
Shelby .283 .307 .434 28 7 5
Young .273 .348 .513 72 28 1
Wiggins .285 .353 .349 43 0 30
Pardo .133 .167 .147 3 0 0

1986 would see the continued combination of the above five players to run out a lineup with at least four switch hitters 27 times including all five of them twice.

Murray .305 .396 .463 61 17 3
Shelby .228 .263 .364 54 11 18
Young .252 .342 .371 43 9 3
Wiggins .251 .309 .272 30 0 21
Pardo .137 .137 .216 3 1 0

The drug problems of Wiggins, the trading of John Shelby to the Dodgers and the demotion of Al Pardo meant the foursome of switch hitters only took the field once in 1987. The Golden Age of Baltimore switch hitters was over.


The next quartet of switch hitters wouldn't arrive until 1995 and consisted mostly of part time players. Brett Barberie was a utility infieder. Gregg Zaun was a rookie. Kevin Bass was a fourth outfielder. But when Baltimore traded for swtich hitting slugger Bobby Bonilla, they all made it into the starting lineup just once, August 4th, 1995.

Barberie .241 .351 .325 32 2 3
Bass .244 .303 .336 32 5 8
Bonilla .333 .392 .544 47 10 0
Zaun .260 .358 .394 18 3 1

In 1996, Bass and Barberie were gone but Roberto Alomar came to town and when the O's traded mid-season for aging veteran Eddie Murray, they once again had a four switch hitters on the team. They took the field together three times late in the 1996 season and Baltimore took the AL Wild Card.

Alomar .328 .411 .527 132 22 17
Murray .257 .327 .439 36 10 1
Bonilla .287 .363 .491 107 28 1
Zaun .231 .309 .352 16 1 0

Now, Matt Wieters will join Brian Roberts, Gregg Zaun and Cesar Izturis as the fourth switch hitter on the 2009 Baltimore Orioles. Will they take the field together as often as those mid-80's teams? No. Zaun and Wieters play the same position. But I imagine we'll see Wieters DH on his off days with Zaun at catcher. So I think we'll see that alignment more than the three times we last saw it in 1996.

Now let's hope that Wieters is better than fellow 1st round drafted catcher Al Pardo...

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