Coming into the 2016 season, Adam Jones was the only "sure thing" about the Orioles outfield. Surrounding him were nothing but question marks; a Korean import, a salary dump, a veteran getting his last shot, and a Rule 5 pick. But through the season's first month, they have been one of the best groups in all of baseball.
A look back
This came a season after the Orioles were seemingly throwing names at the lineup each day and seeing what stuck around their center fielder. The team had lost veteran Nick Markakis that winter and never really replaced him in right field. In left, the hope was David Lough would step up and feature the skills he showed in Kansas City as a rookie, but that never happened either.
Only the Athletics assembled a worse-hitting left field than the Orioles in 2015. As a unit, the group batted .210 with just 53 RBI. But it took 11 different players to even get to those numbers. ELEVEN! Only two teams (Rangers, Angels) had more names written into the lineup at the 7-spot.
Here is the full list of guys who gave it a go: Travis Snider, Steve Pearce, Nolan Reimold, David Lough, Alejandro De Aza, Henry Urrutia, Gerardo Parra, Junior Lake, Delmon Young, Ryan Flaherty and Jimmy Paredes.
The other corner outfield position was left in a bit better shape last year. All of the same guys listed above saw time in right field; except swap out Lake for Chris Parmelee and Lough for Chris Davis. Together, they were actually one of the ten-best hitting right field groups in MLB, slashing .275/.318/.449.
However, there was little stability and it forced manager Buck Showalter to constantly search for the "hot bat" or to dive into what Norfolk or the waiver wire had to offer, neither of which was particularly impressive.
You know about the offseason and its theatrics. The club was now left with four outfielders in addition to Jones: Joey Rickard, Hyun-Soo Kim, Nolan Reimold and Mark Trumbo.
Rickard was a Rule 5 pick who killed it in the spring, but had never played in the majors. Kim was an offensive force in Korea, but had an abhorrent time in Sarasota and was asked to head to Norfolk. He declined. Reimold had always showed promise, but had never been able to put it together for an entire summer. And Trumbo was a prodigious power hitter, who the Mariners deemed not worth his not-so-ridiculous salary.
Jones himself was a bit of a risk. Now on the wrong side of 30 and coming of a season in which he missed much of the last month due to injury, some wondered how much he had left in the tank.
It has been a continuation of that for Jones this year. The gold glover has missed five of the team's 25 games completely and been kept out of the starting lineup two additional times because of a "rib area" injury. Jones, who typically hits well in April (.289/.331/.480 career) has stumbled out of the gates (.225/.304/.324). Luckily, he has a better supporting cast this year.
The .359 batting average by the team's left fielders is the highest in Major League Baseball. Their .394 on-base percentage is good for third-best in baseball. And their .522 slugging percentage has them in a respectable sixth-place.
That success is due to Reimold, Kim and Rickard. The Rule 5 pick has been the most common starter and, while he has been far from perfect, he has filled in well, slashing .320/.327/.400 with four doubles over 50 at-bats. Reimold has gotten the second-most time and has been quite impressive, boasting a line of .381/.435/.714 with two home runs and five RBI. And then there is Kim, who despite his many detractors, has done nothing but hit, going .538/.600/.615 over 13 at-bats.
In right field, it has been a joy to watch Trumbo hit day in and day out. Sure, his fielding is downright atrocious, but the man can swing a baseball bat. Over 58 at-bats as right fielder, he is hitting .362/.393/.448 with a home run, two doubles and five RBI. Rickard (.227/.292/.364 in 22 AB) and Reimold (.286/.286/.643 in 14 AB) have also seen a bit of time there as well. Together, the three players have a .319 batting average, which is the third-best in MLB by a team's right fielders.
Can it last?
Man, I hope so, but probably not. Rickard has already showed signs that he is slowing down at the plate, which was expected, but his advanced fielding metrics say that he is not especially good in the field right now. Fangraphs has him as having cost the O's 1.5 runs with his arm, four runs with his range and 5.2 runs overall.
All of this from a guy that was supposed to be a speedster with good instincts in the field. Will Showalter sit by and watch that happen? Not unless he is absolutely scorching at the plate.
Trumbo has a batting average on balls in play of .410. He has been hitting the ball hard a lot, so it's possible we could see him being in the low .300's all season, but that number should start to creep down. Not to mention, April has been the best month of his career (.284 career in April). And, in case you could not tell, Trumbo is not a good fielder and that won't go away.
Who really knows what is to come from Reimold? His BABIP is outrageously high too (.429), but so is his strikeout rate (29.7%), while his walk rate (5.4%) is pretty low. He is making his case to be an everyday outfielder at the moment. A return to the 2009 form of Reimold (.279/.365/.466 with 15 homers, 49 RBI) would be more than serviceable, but can he stay on the field? We'll see.
Kim won't hit .600, and his BABIP is going to dip from .692. Sorry if that bummed you out. However, he will hit some home runs eventually. He has to, right? Currently he has just the one double. Everything else has been singles. Yikes. That said, with Rickard struggling and Kim streaking, perhaps the Korean is due for an extended stay in the lineup.
The injury to shortstop J.J. Hardy throws a monkey wrench of sorts into the entire lineup. It seems likely that Ryan Flaherty will return from Norfolk, take his place at either shortstop or third base (with Manny Machado moving to short) and things will keep moving. But if the Orioles want the most potent lineup possible, they should figure out an alternative set-up.
Moving Machado to shortstop is fine, but instead of Flaherty, slide Davis to third from first base. This allows Trumbo to play his more natural position of first base. You now have two corner outfield spots to fill. Kim is hot right now and deserves a longer look; give him the left field spot. And you have to have Reimold's bat in there right now so he starts in right field.
That allows Pedro Alvarez to keep a fielding glove off of his hand. If it's a lefty pitcher, sit Alvarez, put Rickard in left and DH Kim. VOILA!
Maybe it's a good thing I'm not the manager...
*Statistics referenced were taken at the conclusion of all games on Sunday May 1