Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and the leadoff dilemma
Orioles manager Dave Trembley has gotten plenty of criticism for keeping Adam Jones in the leadoff role, and it's understandable why. After all, Jones is hitting .218 with three homers, six RBIs, three walks, 29 strikeouts and 12 runs, while recording an on-base percentage of .242.
In 15 games as the Orioles leadoff man in place of the injured Brian Roberts this season, Jones is 12-for-64 (.188) with three walks and a .224 on-base percentage. In his career as a leadoff hitter, Jones is 22-for-94 (.234) with a .280 on-base percentage.
Jones said that he doesn't change his approach based on where he hits in the lineup and it doesn't matter. But the numbers clearly show that he is much better in the two spot.
Trembley has said that his reason for keeping Jones at leadoff is the young center fielder needs to learn to be a better all-around hitter, to show better plate discipline, work the count and use his speed more. He's an important player for the organization's future, and if he is going to realize his potential, Jones has to learn these things. And with Roberts out for an extended period, what better time for Jones to learn than now?
I understand the logic, but Jones is showing no signs of doing any of those things after several weeks in the leadoff spot, and he looks like a shell of himself. The frustration has clearly set in, and I think Trembley is going to have to make a decision and get him away from the top of the lineup if Jones doesn't start showing signs of breaking out. He is currently hitless in his last 13 at-bats.
The question is who do you use at the top of the lineup, and there is absolutely no clear answer right now. The club would like to use Nolan Reimold there, but he's hitting under .200 and is having enough problems without worrying about the pressure of leading off. Cesar Izturis can handle the bat and run a little, but he has a .221 average and a .259 on-base.
The Orioles have considered moving Nick Markakis to the leadoff spot. He is hitting .312 with 19 walks and a .411 on-base, and his current power numbers (2 homers and 9 RBIs) are more suited for the top of the order right now than the middle of it.
But I'm not sure I'd be comfortable with that either. Markakis has clearly settled comfortably in the No.2 spot, and he's 22-for-55 (.400) over his last 14 games. He has never hit leadoff in his career and Markakis is very much a creature of comfort. I worry that an elevation to the top of the lineup would completely mess with his head and take him out of his comfort zone. Plus, ask any opposing pitcher what Oriole they fear most, and they'd tell you Markakis. I really believe him hitting where he is, has helped both Ty Wigginton and Miguel Tejada.
It's quite a dilemma the Orioles have on their hands and Roberts isn't coming back any time soon. But for Jones' sake, something needs to change.