Are The Orioles Wasting Nick Markakis In The Leadoff Spot?
Each week, PressBox baseball writers weigh in on a different question. This week, Stan "The Fan" Charles and Matt Palmer share their thoughts about whether Nick Markakis belongs at the top of the Orioles' batting order.
Since returning from the disabled list, Nick Markakis is batting .353 with five doubles and six runs scored. He may not be a prototypical leadoff hitter, but should he bat leadoff for the rest of the season or are the Orioles missing out on the RBI impact he could deliver lower in the order?
By Stan "The Fan" Charles
This question presupposes that we are talking about the Nick Markakis of his first four seasons in the major leagues. After a shaky first half of season No. 1 in 2006, Markakis ended up with 62 RBIs. But for the next three seasons, he tallied 112, 87 and 101 RBIs, which averages out to 100 RBIs a year. That Nick Markakis might be wasted in the leadoff spot.
But during his last two-plus seasons, Markakis has tallied just 60, 73 and -- to date this season -- 27 RBIs, which averages out to a meager 64 RBIs per year. There are many reasons for the decline, but those are more excuses. At the end of the day, former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick's old saying, "It is what it is," holds true here.
Markakis brings a lot to the table. He is an impeccable defender with a plus throwing arm. His career batting average is .294 and his career OBP is .364. Those two numbers speak to the fact that he is as well suited as anyone the Orioles have to hit in the leadoff spot.
If Brian Roberts were healthy and playing to his old capabilities, he'd have solved the top-of-the-order issues, but he isn't, and may not ever again be, that player. Nolan Reimold was just as interesting to fill the position, and perhaps now we'll never know.
Many teams in the past have made eclectic choices regarding who bats at the top of the order. To me, it's always been paramount to choose someone that would take on the position as a badge of honor and perhaps focus in on the most important aspect of run scoring, which is getting on base.
To date, Markakis has done just that, and his placement there has seemed to have a positive domino effect on the rest of the lineup as well. Coincidence? I think not.
By Matt Palmer
The Orioles have no other options, barring a trade. The club should have considered Markakis for the spot last year, because he is a more natural player at the top of the order than a guy like Nolan Reimold.
Markakis' power numbers early during his career made it seem as if he was destined to do that long term. But the reality is that he's much more of a singles and doubles hitter than someone who drives in runs. Markakis is not as fast as Brian Roberts or even Xavier Avery, who should be considered for the leadoff spot next season.
Manager Buck Showalter recently told reporters here in Baltimore that the traditional leadoff hitters they have in their heads -- Rickey Henderson or Kenny Lofton, for example -- are hard to find these days in Major League Baseball. He has a point. The 2000s have brought a different brand of the game, attracting different demographics than there were during the 1970s, '80s and '90s.
Markakis hasn't looked this comfortable in a long time. Although he was ensconced in the No. 3 spot, he was no longer a natural for it. He has to evolve as a player and change. His base-running error Monday was rare. Seeing his hitting numbers increase is encouraging. He's out of his comfort zone and flourishing. That's been rare this season for most players on the team.
Keep Markakis in the leadoff spot and see what happens next.
Posted July 25, 2012