It's nearly the end of May, and while the Joey Rickard experiment resulted in some fun moments, it's past time for a change. Rickard quickly caught fire to start off the season, but since mid-April his complete inability to hit right-handed pitching has caused his batting numbers to plummet.
Rickard is now hitting .253/.306/.365, good for a wRC+ of 82, which in layman's terms means he's been hitting at a level 18% below an average major league hitter. Combine that with his worse-than-expected defense, and quite frankly you have a player who just isn't good enough for the role in which he's currently being used.
In fact, Rickard's -0.8 WAR on Fangraphs is the 5th-worst in all of baseball, behind the corpses of three power-hitting first basemen (Kendrys Morales, Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard) and Erick Aybar, who's been trotting his .433 OPS out to shortstop every day for the worst team in baseball.
I still believe that Rickard has a place on this team, but it's not as the everyday leadoff hitter. As Alex Conway pointed out in his article yesterday, Rickard has been a completely different hitter against righties (.608 OPS) vs. lefties (.862). Sure, he only has 47 plate apperances against left-handers, but he's done well enough to earn a shot to stick in the lineup when there's a southpaw on the mound.
Meanwhile, it looks like Buck is finally warming up to the idea of playing Hyun Soo Kim more, as he's now started two games in a row for the first time all year. Kim is now hitting .444/.512/.528, and while he's obviously going to come down to Earth, the underlying numbers still make him look like a pretty good hitter.
First of all, his average exit velocity on batted balls is 93.6 MPH, which is well above league average. The sample size is extremely small (Adam Wainwright has a similar number of batted balls and a 93.8 MPH average exit velocity), but it still goes to show that the early narrative of him getting a bunch of lucky infield hits and bloopers doesn't exactly tell the whole story.
He's also walked five times already in just 41 plate apperances, while striking out only three times. Again, small sample size, but those numbers are very promising and they jive with the scouting report on Kim from his days in Korea. His plate discipline was supposed to be his biggest strength, and we're seeing that carry over so far.
Buck obviously likes Rickard in the leadoff spot for some reason, and he's hit lefties well enough, so leave him there for now against lefties until we know whether those early numbers against southpaws were a fluke.
Meanwhile, every single plate appearance this year by Kim has been against a right-handed pitcher. The answer here seems obvious: Kim has been used exclusively against righties, we know he can get on base, and he's hit the ball well in his limited playing time.
Thus far the Orioles have used Manny Machado in the leadoff spot when Rickard sits, and with Machado's power it sure would be nice to have him hitting behind someone other than Ryan Flaherty or whoever else happens to be batting ninth that day. Machado should be hitting second or third, and the O's have a guy who might just be good enough at getting on base to lead off. Why not try it?
Joey Rickard has been a fun story and he still deserves a spot on this team, but the Orioles simply can't continue to bat him at the top of the lineup against right-handed pitching, especially when there's a player on the roster who seems like a natural replacement for that role. It's past time to see what Hyun Soo Kim can do. A platoon of Kim and Rickard in left field and at the top of the lineup makes too much sense not to try.