Yearning for baseball, and fearing that watching the MLB Network 24/7 might make my cable box freeze, I actually ventured around the dial a couple of evenings this week. Of course, after watching 32 reruns of "Law and Order: SVU", I again went searching - and settled on MASN. It caught my eye for good reason. As I flipped through, I saw a young Eddie Murray, mutton chops and all, standing at the plate facing Al Holland in the 1983 World Series. I was not touching the dial! Those were the days. Cal with hair! Dipper behind the plate. Eddie, Rich Dauer, and Todd Cruz in the infield. Disco Dan Ford in RF (with an occasional Jim Dwyer sighting), the Bee - Al Bumbry in CF, and of course, the two-headed monster in LF - John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke. That got me to thinking about a lot of things. Does that really sound like a championship caliber line-up? Of course, Cal and Eddie were stars then, and both have busts in Cooperstown now. But, offensively, the rest of that team is not exactly the 1927 Yankees. A rotation of Jim Palmer, Storm Davis, Scott McGregor and Mike Boddicker certainly was above average, though not dominant (but after scoring only 9 runs in the series, the Phillies may contest that ‘not dominant' thing.) Where was I going with this, besides on a stroll down memory lane?
Oh yea - the current Orioles. Guess one of the points is, for all the statisticians and sabermetric gurus out there, the reality is that any team can be greater or lesser than the sum of its parts. See the 2012 Orioles as the poster child for the former. Chemistry, defense, good baseball sense, strong leadership, timely hitting and pitching, and of course, some old fashioned luck can overcome other deficiencies that manifest themselves boldly in the ERA, batting average, and homerun columns that everyone hyper focuses on (don't even get me started on OPS!). But, even with all of those ‘little things' in large quantity - you still have got to get sufficient production out of the players to be competitive. The 2012 team did that, just like the 1983 team. When I look at parallels between this 2013 version of the Orioles and our last World Series team - I am immediately drawn to left field. Can Nolan Reimold and Nate McLouth become the 2013 version of Lowenstein and Roenicke? Channeling my 1989 memories - "Why Not?"
In fact, perhaps the current day version of the "two-headed monster" can be even better than the 1983 version. That season, Brother Low, playing almost exclusively against right-handed pitching hit .281 with 15 HR and 60 RBI in 310 AB. Roenicke hit .260 with 19 HR and 64 RBI in 323 AB. Generalizing a bit (as Roenicke did get 116 AB vs. RHP), let's look at those numbers as a full-season in LF (633 ABs is a slightly high 162 game figure, but work with me here!)
Earl* Combined, the Orioles got .268, 30 plus homeruns and 100 plus RBIs out of the position. Last I checked, we have not gotten that kind of production out of leftfield lately.
So, what can we expect out of Reimold - McLouth? Well, the first question is - will they platoon? Or, will one or the other seize the full-time job, relegating one to fourth outfielder status? And, of course, given Nolan's injury misfortune in the past, that may wind up being a factor as well. But, presuming good health for both guys, what could we expect? Looking at the splits, McLouth is a career .257 hitter with 73 HRs versus RHP. He is a career .223 hitter with 15 HRs versus LHP. Reimold is less of a one-trick pony at the plate. Over his career he is a .258 hitter versus LHP and .263 versus RHP. 24 HR versus RHP and 12 against LHP - in roughly half the at bats. So, he is essentially the same guy versus both RHP and LHP. McLouth brings more speed and defense to the table, but the power potential Reimold shows is intriguing. So, how will it wash out? At this stage, no one knows for sure, but here are a couple thoughts.
Despite his gaudy OBP in limited at bats in the leadoff spot before his neck injury last year, it does not appear the organization really views Nolan as a leadoff hitter. McLouth much more closely fits that bill. So, one of the keys may be Brian Roberts. If Brian is Brian, and becomes a presence in the 1 spot again - that may affect the thinking about left field slightly, and turn the tables more toward Reimold being a near everyday player. But, without Brian in the top spot, then McLouth may well be the next best option leading off. So, no Brian, perhaps McLouth leads off and plays leftfield against all RHP. From another angle, given the Orioles failure to get a bopper for the middle of the line-up, will they be more inclined to play it out further with Reimold to see if he is going to live up to that 30 + HR potential many see in him? McLouth's career struggles against LHP also limit him a bit as an everyday option. Barring a Reimold injury - it is very unlikely that McLouth plays LF every day (though if he plays against all RHP, that will give him more ABs than Nolan.) Buck is likely to play a healthy Reimold in LF against LHP regardless of how the spring goes. Lastly, McLouth's versatility plays into this as well. But, it may well play against him in his quest to be the everyday leftfielder. Need a late inning pinch runner who is a big threat to steal a base? Much more McLouth than Reimold. Need a fourth outfielder who can play all three outfield positions well? Somebody to give Adam Jones a rest against a tough righty (even though he does not seem to be too keen on taking a day off!)? Someone to give Nick a rest once every 7 or 8 games? McLouth ‘wins' again.
My prediction? Like Earl, Buck likes three-run homers, versatility off the bench, and strong defensive options in the late innings. Seems like Reimold as the starting left-fielder and McLouth as the fourth outfielder serves all of those things a little better than any of the other options. That is not to discount the hard-work that Nate put in to resurrect his career, nor the production he provided after Markakis went down. All of those things put me firmly in the McLouth corner. But, I am not sure this will develop into a Lowenstein/Roenicke-like situation. A lot can happen over the next 6-8 weeks, but I believe that when camp breaks, Reimold will emerge as the everyday leftfielder - as long as his body holds up. This will be the year he gets the opportunity to play regularly - and to amass 500 + ABs. We will finally know about Nolan Reimold after this season. As for McLouth, I see him playing a significant role as the fourth outfielder, getting 250 - 300 ABs across all three positions, occasionally leading off, and being near the top of the team in stolen bases. Let's set the odds of it like this (CAVEAT - this is as UNSCIENTIFIC as possible - and also probably why I am a bad gambler!)
Reimold regular leftfielder, McLouth fourth outfielder - 50%
Pure platoon situation - 30%
McLouth as everyday leftfielder - 20%
That's how I see it. What is your take?
*Editor's Correction: While it was Earl Weaver who was the master of the platoon, he retired at the end or 1982 and Joe Altobelli managed the Orioles in the World Series winning 1983 season. Of course, Earl was a genius with that kind of thing, so it's an easy mistake to make. Apologies.