Opening Day is a great day for baseball fans, but a difficult one for analysts. We know that one game is nothing in the grand scheme of the season, but we cannot resist overreacting to the smallest sample size available after a dormant offseason perusing the statistics of the previous season. Thankfully, some things are more permanent than others, and there are some lessons to be learned in the first series of the year. The way the manager sets the lineups and deploys the bullpen is one thing, meaning if nothing else, we can see how Buck Showalter will use the players on his team.
When Evan Meek made the roster coming out of spring training, many, including me, believed that he would be the mop-up guy along with Josh Stinson. On Opening Day, however, he came in to pitch the eighth inning in a one-run game, instead of Darren O'Day or Ryan Webb. This could a worrying sign. Meek did not pitch at all in the majors last season, and Buck is looking too much into spring training stats in trusting Meek. In the last game of the series, he was called upon again in a one-run game with a runner on base. I just don't trust a guy who has not faced big league hitters for a full year, and neither should Buck. On the other hand, O'Day appeared in a game that the O's were losing by four runs, and did not appear in either one-run game.
Britton is a bright spot in the bullpen. The opening series shows that Britton is not going to be used a LOOGY; instead, he could be a multiple-inning reliever. I envision him to fill the gap between the starter and the set-up man (ideally O'Day) if the starter does not last to the seventh inning. He is replacing Troy Patton in the bullpen while he is suspended, and is essentially taking over his role too.
Jonathan Schoop / Steve Lombardozzi
Second base was a question mark coming into spring training. Ryan Flaherty was the frontrunner to be the starter at second base. Then, Manny Machado went on the DL. Flaherty became the starting third baseman, and second base remains an open race. Late acquisition Steve Lombardozzi and top position prospect Jonathan Schoop end up with a platoon at 2B. Jemile Weeks is not a clearly superior option than either. The question will come when Machado returns to 3B. Would Flaherty claim the position full time, or just the left-handed side of the platoon? Steamer's projection of Flaherty against left-handed pitching is so bleak (wOBA of 0.259) that I hope Schoop would remain in the major league or even claim the position outright.
David Lough / Delmon Young
The other question in the lineup entering the season is the LF/DH position. The signing of Nelson Cruz seemed to ensure that DH is filled up. David Lough had the left-handed side of the platoon locked up, and the spring training was a battle between Delmon Young and Steve Pearce for the other side of the platoon. Now that the opening series is over, we have our answers. The O's are employing an unconventional platoon between LF and DH. Against southpaws, Cruz starts in LF and Young at DH. Against right-handed pitchers, Cruz starts at DH and Lough in LF. Is this the optimal use of the players?
First of all, Pearce is likely a better hitter than Young. Steamer projects Pearce to have a wOBA of 0.344 against southpaws while Young is projected for a wOBA of 0.335. Secondly, Pearce is likely a superior defender in LF than Cruz. Cruz has posted a UZR around -5 runs for the last three seasons, while Pearce is about average in his limited time in the field. The better O's lineup would have a straight platoon of Lough and Pearce in LF. Hopefully Young would hit himself out of the lineup soon and restore the optimal lineup for the O's.