Tuesday, March 15, 2011

With Brian Roberts in Limbo, A Way to Cushion the Blow

With Brian Roberts in and out of the lineup this spring, you can't help but be concerned for the offensive prospects of the Orioles this season. There are plenty of mistakes to be made when considering who to bat leadoff should Roberts not be available for the regular season.

Unfortunately, many managers overvalue speed and base running ability when choosing a leadoff hitter. They seem to forget that none of that means much unless the leadoff man.

Can you imagine the team batting Cesar Izturis in the leadoff spot for a significant portion of the season and how damaging that would be to the offense? Before you start to think that batting Izturis leadoff is so ridiculous that no manager would do it, consider this breakdown of Izzy's career and where he and his career .296 OBP have hit in the lineup:

He has hit leadoff more than he has hit 9th or 8th individually. And he's batted 2nd quite a lot too. There are enough managers out there with big league jobs who looked at Izzy and said, "That's a guy I need at the top of my lineup." It has happened and can happen. When you lose a player who embodies the classic leadoff hitter like Roberts, there is an enormous opportunity to do something stupid.

And it can lead to disaster. To demonstrate, using the Lineup Analysis tool at Baseball Musings, I created a probable and pretty traditional lineup with Brian Roberts at the top of the order.

That lineup will score you 5.127 runs per game or 830 runs over the course of the season.

Now, place Cesar Izturis in the leadoff spot and you get 4.877 runs per game or 790 runs per season. In 2010, that difference would have been enough to drop your offense from second in the American League to sixth.

Here's a quick list of the internal "traditional" options and what happens when each of them bats leadoff:

R/G   Total Runs
Izturis   4.88      790
Andino    4.90      795
Hardy     4.92      797
Harris    4.95      801

(In the Hardy leadoff scenario, Izturis is also batting 9th...)

However, leave Izturis in the lineup (he is the most likely to play second base if Roberts can't, at least to start the season) but try a different configuration.

I have recently become more strident in my assertion that Nick Markakis has the skills to be a prototypical leadoff hitter. Let's give him a shot here. And instead of a guy in the 2 hole who "is a good bunter" or "can move the runner along", let's put a decent hitter there. A guy like Luke Scott who can get on base at a fair rate and actually drive in the leadoff man.

That lineup will get you 805 runs for the season. Even choosing the worst possible offensive option at second base, with Markakis and Scott at the top of the lineup, it beats every other option available.

The loss if Roberts will still hurt but it can be mitigated if you assess the skills of the players in your lineup correctly and construct your lineup accordingly...it doesn't have to be a disaster. Now we'll see if Buck can navigate his way through the pitfalls.

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