Lough struggled mightily as a fairly regular starter in the months of April and May last season, his first with Baltimore. The former Kansas City Royal hit .172 over 58 at-bats in April and then .133 over 30 at-bats in May.
After that, he seemed to be relegated to bench duty, making a spot start here and there to give a guy a day off, but he was mostly a ninth inning defensive replacement or pinch runner for some of the bigger boppers.
In 2015, Lough was competing to even make the 25-man roster for most of Spring Training and then began the season on the disabled list with a hamstring injury.
Since returning from the DL, Lough has appeared in 10 games, but in four of those he has not had a chance to swing the bat. Although he had a huge at-bat on Saturday in which he hit a walk-off home run.
It was a chance that manager Buck Showalter admitted after the game that he almost took away as he contemplated pinch-hitting Steve Pearce for Lough if Adam Jones had not scored in the previous at-bat.
While I wouldn't say that Lough is in danger of losing his spot on the roster as he has an obvious role, it feels like he could be used more often, or at least that is the case I am going to try and make for you. Cool? Cool!
There isn't much of a dispute here. We can all agree that Lough is an exceptional fielder. But take a look at this chart (if you're not sure what a stat means, click on it at the top of the column, and it will take you to the magical land of Fangraphs).
Cumulative Career Defensive Statistics as an MLB Outfielder (From Fangraphs)
|Alejandro De Aza||-6.1||19.8||-1.3||12.5||3.6||-18|
Of all of these guys, Lough has the least service time, yet he boasts the highest cumulative zone rating, defensive runs saved and range runs saved. That is a big deal, especially when you consider that it's much better than the four-time Gold Glove winner Adam Jones.
It means even more considering how bad the Orioles defense has been thus far and the way the pitching staff is struggling. The lineup could use another glove to get all the help they can get.
This is the part of his game that has really been criticized since he became an Oriole, but he was actually pretty phenomenal from June on in 2014, batting .337 from June 1 through the end of the season with all four of his home runs and four of his six doubles.
His propensity for the slow start reemerged at Spring Training this year in which he hit just .185 over 13 games. He even went hit-less in his first seven regular season at-bats with the Birds before getting three straight hits to bring his season average to a nice-looking .300.
However, the case can be made that he is at his best when he gets to play everyday. As a rookie with the Royals in 2013, Lough played in 96 games and got 335 plate appearances and batted .286 and garnered a few Rookie of the Year votes.
And while Lough doesn't seem like he is ever going to put together a ridiculous stolen base number in the Bigs, he does seems like the fastest guy on the Orioles when I use the naked eye (apart from Delmon Young for the first 10 yards). For what it's worth, he did swipe 26 bags for the Royals Triple-A affiliate in 2012.
Basically, it's a free-for-all in the Baltimore outfielde apart from the center fielder Jones. On any given day you could see all different combinations of Lough, De Aza, Pearce, Young and Snider in the corner positions.
As I showed earlier, Lough is quite clearly the best defensive option among those options. The following chart will make it easier to compare the group by their offensive capabilities.
162-Game Career Averages (From Baseball Reference)
OK, this basically confirms what we already knew. Lough is probably the weakest with the stick, but it's not by much is it? I would argue that it's not enough to bridge the gap of defensive ability.
Regardless of those career numbers, with such a clogged outfield it may seem to make the most sense to go with the hot hand and that very well may be Lough.
After starting the season on fire, De Aza has struggled over the last week or so, getting two hits in his last 22 at-bats and striking out 18 times already this season, the second-most on the team. It's not something that can be tolerated at the top of the lineup.
Pearce also has struggled mightily (.196 batting average) and has paid the price with his playing time, serving more as a bat off the bench than an everyday starter lately.
Snider has provided a nice reliable bat thus far (.275/.362/.412) and, while he has had his misadventures in the field, has fared better with the leather than I personally expected.
Young is the best hitter of the bunch, (.368 average with two doubles and seven RBI) and he has the "clutch gene", but he is also by far the worst in the field. Plus he has a remarkable record as pinch-hitter (i.e. not a starter). Maybe he is best off the bench.
Lough is secretly a premier defender and, given some time to get comfortable, could provide some good things at the bottom of the lineup as a sort of "second leadoff" hitter.
For the moment, Young and Paredes are both likely hitting too well to take them out of the lineup. Offense still tends to be more valuable than defense. However, things won't stay that way forever. Both will come back to earth and it will force Showalter to rotate the DH spot and put someone who can field in left.
Meanwhile, Snider has not been awful in the field yet and he is doing some nice things with the bat. Not to mention, I like Lough a bit better in left rather than right, but I say Snider is likely a fixture, for now. That is until next week when I change my mind.
It's my opinion to give Lough a three- or four-game run in left field to see what he can do. You know what he is in the field, but there is still plenty to learn about him with the lumber. Bringing him in sporadically hasn't seemed like the best strategy, but then again, I'm a blogger, so what do I know?
What do you think Camden Chat? What do the Orioles do about left field? Is the answer in-house or does a trade need to be made? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.