In all three of the Orioles' opening games against Tampa Bay, the Orioles faced a right-handed starter and batted Alejandro De Aza at the top of the lineup. Considering the options that the O's have, De Aza is certainly a solid choice to fill that spot, but Buck Showalter has a tougher call to make today in the home opener. The Birds will face their first southpaw of the year in Mark Buehrle, and there's a good chance De Aza will not be leading off this time around. Who should? Here's an overview of Buck's options.
Alejandro De Aza
|2014 vs. L||95||.138||.194||.207||.400||9|
|Career vs. L||459||.247||.311||.366||.677||85|
De Aza has always struggled somewhat against lefties, and he took that to new heights in 2014. He was a nightmare against southpaws last season, with an even .400 OPS and a wRC+ lower than his jersey number. Sure, it was only 95 plate appearances, but that number would have been larger if Buck Showalter started De Aza a single time against a left-handed starter (he did not). That fact alone tells us just about all we need to know about what Showalter thinks of De Aza's abilities against lefthanders. On the plus side, you'll have someone with decent speed and a decent glove in the lineup in left field. On the other hand, it's clear at this point that the Orioles would be getting well below-average production from the top spot in their lineup. Personally, I doubt they'll go this route very often.
|2014 vs. L||111||.327||.405||.704||1.109||209|
|Career vs. L||470||.280||.364||.515||.878||
This would sure be an unconventional choice, but it's not as insane as it sounds. Pearce is a good hitter, but it's almost impossible for him to replicate his 2014 numbers. Even if he regresses significantly he could still be well above average, but he may not be a guy who HAS to hit 2nd-4th the way he may seem based on last year's numbers alone. Pearce has always had solid on-base skills - even when he hit poorly earlier in his career he was taking walks. He's also faster than he looks, although not enough to be a credible stolen base threat at the top of the order. Pearce will clearly be in the lineup somewhere, so taking the guy with a career .364 OBP against lefthanders and sticking him at the top is certainly a viable option. The downside, of course, is that he'll be driving in less runs hitting behind the likes of Caleb Joseph and Jonathan Schoop than he will hitting in the middle of the lineup. While I don't believe he's the guy Buck will choose, he's done crazier things and there's definitely a case to be made for going with Team Steve in the leadoff spot.
|2014 vs. L||92||.253||.292||.349||.642||84|
|Career vs. L||526||.261||.327||.353||.680||
The switch-hitting Cabrera was just awful last year in his follow-up to an all-star campaign in 2013. Despite his horrid numbers he was considerably better against lefthanders, and has been for his entire career. Looking back to 2013, he hit .365/.421/.513 in 115 plate apperances from the right side. These are both small sample sizes, but even splitting the difference between '13 and '14 would be a pretty good leadoff guy. Cabrera also brings a speed element that no one else on the current roster can match; he stole 44 bases in 115 games in 2012 and 37 in only 95 games in 2013. The issue for Cabrera will be playing time - when J.J. Hardy returns, starts will be much harder to come by if the O's stick with Jonathan Schoop as their primary second baseman. Until then, or if someone else gets injured, Cabrera should see a good bit of starts against lefties since Flaherty tends to ride the pine in those games. One way to work Cabrera into the lineup alongside Hardy would be to give him some looks in the outfield - the O's did try to get him some innings there throughout the spring.
|2014 vs. L||47||.381||.435||.619||1.054||200|
|Career vs. L||278||.252||.302||.406||.708||
The left-handed Snider is another choice that would seem odd right off the bat, but is more reasonable once you dive into the stats. First off, his numbers against lefties in 2014 are essentially meaningless with only 47 plate appearances, but over the course of his short career he has been essentially the exact same hitter against left-handed and right-handed pitching. His at-bats against southpaws were limited in Pittsburgh, but between him and De Aza, Snider will probably be more likely to start these games for Baltimore considering De Aza's extreme platoon splits. If he continues to hit well like he did last season, Snider could definitely be a candidate for this spot. In 2011 for the Jays he stole 9 bases in only 49 games, so even though he doesn't look like a base stealer, he can run a little bit. Snider actually did lead off in six games for Pittsburgh last season.
|2014 vs. L||102||.240||.277||.365||.642||76|
|Career vs. L||379||.277||.310||.425||.735||
Manny could also end up in the leadoff spot against lefties if needed. He's right-handed, although he doesn't seem to be a whole lot better against pitchers from either side. He definitely has some speed as well, but with his injury history the question is: do the Orioles want to use it? Considering how important he is to the franchise and how easily his knees have gotten injured, I doubt Buck would be having him regularly try leadoff hitter-type plays like stealing bases or bunting for a hit. Manny certainly could end up in the leadoff spot by the end of the year, but for now, it seems like the O's feel his bat is more suited for a spot lower in the lineup where he can drive in some more runs.
These five players are the only guys on the active roster that, at least in my opinion, are viable options to lead off against left-handers. It's possible that the Birds might rotate through multiple players from this group, but I doubt you'll see many leadoff appearances from anyone outside this list. The only other possibilities are a few players who aren't currently on the 25-man roster, namely David Lough or Nolan Reimold. For the Orioles, the bottom line is they have several options, none of them ideal, but all of them better than when the likes of Robert Andino and Endy Chavez were leading off games. It's a good problem to have, and Buck will figure it out.