With the injury to righty-mashing DH Wilson Betemit for at least a month or two, the Orioles' platoon situation became a lot less clear. Now that Chris Davis is entrenched as the full-time first baseman, the team lacks a true full-time DH, and it has several hitters with noteworthy splits against right-handed and left-handed pitchers. I thought it was worth trying to get into Buck Showalter's brain at the season's outset, to examine how the Orioles' hitters would be optimally deployed against opposing pitchers.
First, a few disclaimers: Not all splits are meaningful; some guys don't have enough at-bats to call their career splits predictive. But it's all we have to work with. Second, and obviously, Buck can't just put out the nine guys with the best splits against LHPs or RHPs each day. They need to fit into the eight positions on the diamond, and certain veterans and key defensive cogs (Jones, Markakis, Hardy, Wieters) are givens every day if they're healthy. So in reality, we're just tinkering at the edges of the lineup.
Without further ado, let's look at the splits:
|OPS vs RHP||OPS vs LHP|
|Matt Wieters (S)||.722||.818|
|Chris Davis (L)||.792||.727|
|Brian Roberts (S)||.788||.712|
|J.J. Hardy (R)||.715||.813|
|Manny Machado (R)||.716||.801|
|Nick Markakis (L)||.843||.769|
|Adam Jones (R)||.804||.698|
|Nolan Reimold (R)||.804||.775|
|Nate McLouth (L)||.793||.649|
|Steve Pearce (R)||.597||.807|
|Ryan Flaherty (L)||.613||.667|
|Alexi Casilla (S)||.649||.621|
|Taylor Teagarden (R)||.676||.689|
As much as I hoped I might stumble into a shocking revelation here, there is no earth-shattering news that a tuned-in fan wouldn't already know about. McLouth shouldn't be put up against lefties; Pearce has no business hitting against righties. The rest of the splits on the team are about what you'd expect for a right-handed or left-handed batter. Some of the less impressive splits from the team's stars (such as Jones and Davis) are deceptive, because they improved drastically in 2012.
So, if I'm Buck Showalter, how do I deploy my resources? Actually, Buck's Opening Day lineup looks pretty good to me against LHPs (I'm offering a few tweaks below, but they're just tinkering). Against RHPs, I'd essentially just sub in McLouth in LF, and shift Reimold to DH (dropping Pearce). The defensive difference between McLouth and Reimold is probably a wash, but less time in the field is less injury risk for the fragile Reimold.
|RHP lineup||LHP lineup|
|Nick Markakis - RF||Nick Markakis - RF|
|Nate McLouth - LF||Manny Machado - 3B|
|Adam Jones - CF||Adam Jones - CF|
|Chris Davis - 1B||Chris Davis - 1B|
|Nolan Reimold - DH||Matt Wieters - C|
|Matt Wieters - C||J.J. Hardy - SS|
|Manny Machado - 3B||Steve Pearce - DH|
|J.J. Hardy - SS||Nolan Reimold - LF|
|Brian Roberts - 2B||Brian Roberts - 2B|
Getting the most juice out of the roster will require smart use of the backups as well. The ideal way to spell Brian Roberts would be with off-days against key lefties and subbing in Ryan Flaherty (though as a lefty, it will be interesting to see whether Flaherty's splits hold given more playing time). Taylor Teagarden's splits are negligible, which will allow him to spell Wieters on those Sunday day games after Saturday night games. A lot of smart folks have already said this about the club, but it's not entirely clear what Alexi Casilla will add to the equation. Unless the team is dying to get Flaherty everyday at-bats at AAA, or sees Casilla's value as a defensive sub, it seems he'll add the least value to the club when Betemit returns from the DL.
In years past, the Orioles have put up some real forfeit lineups against LHPs. It's encouraging to see that the team has the right pieces to deploy a fairly balanced lineup against either type of starter. Equally exciting for Orioles fans, Buck has given an early showing that he's not wedded to keeping guys in certain lineup slots (dropping Hardy from the two-hole right off the bat, for example). Used with just a few wise tweaks, this appears to be a roster of hitters without a glaring platoon weakness.