Entering the 2015 season, the most worrisome position — make that two positions — for Baltimore Orioles fans were the corner outfield spots. That’s to be expected when the club loses a 40-home run bat in Nelson Cruz and a franchise cornerstone in Nick Markakis. Unlike most Orioles fans, however, I remained pretty positive when looking at the Orioles’ outfield options to replace the departed players.
Steve Pearce, Alejandro De Aza, and Travis Snider all seemed capable of stepping into the Orioles’ lineup and producing at least marginally close to the combination of Cruz and Markakis. Throw in the speedy David Lough and the veteran hitter Delmon Young, and it seemed like the Orioles were pretty set to have a respectable corner outfield group.
The production that I thought would materialize from the combination of Pearce, De Aza, and Snider has not. Through 42 games this season, Orioles’ left fielders have put up a paltry .209/.274/.320 slash line with only four home runs. Cruz, who the Orioles passed on at less than $15 million per season, already has 17 home runs this season, and is slashing .341/.398/.688. There might be a little regression coming, but man, Cruz would look good in black and orange right now.
De Aza and Snider have seen the most action in left, with Lough serving primarily as a late inning defensive replacement, as evidenced by his 34 plate appearances in 26 games. Pearce has been shifted to the infield due to continued injuries to Baltimore second basemen. As of late, Snider has been largely reduced to a few-times-a-week type of player for the Orioles. After starting 15 games in April, Snider has started only ten games in May. De Aza has been given the chance to start 13 times in May, and has racked up a .160 batting average and struck out in nearly 40 percent of his plate appearances.
The problem with a De Aza-Snider platoon, is that they are virtually indistinguishable in terms of their value based on their splits as used primarily by Buck Showalter. De Aza has batted .239/.307/.402 in his 24 starts against right-handed pitching. Snider is just a touch better, at .260/.360/.364. De Aza’s next base hit against a left-handed pitcher this season will be his first. Snider, however, has six hits in 17 at-bats against left-handed pitching. He also owns a better career batting average against lefties than De Aza.
Platooning two left-handed corner outfielders does not make that much sense for the Orioles. The Orioles appear content to hold their breath every time Young puts on a fielding glove and heads out to right field for now. Showalter started the season with hopes of using De Aza in the leadoff spot, an experiment that has thankfully come to an end. Snider was a nearly everyday player in April, and produced reasonably well in that role. His suffering power numbers in May appear to be more a result of inconsistent action than a prolonged slump.
Really, though, neither De Aza nor Snider are the Orioles’ best option in the outfield. The Orioles are wasting way too many outfield at-bats on the mediocre De Aza, and have not even made use of his most valuable asset — speed. Snider might warrant a longer look, but I don’t think he is going to get it. Young has hit well enough to warrant a spot in the lineup every day. Those at-bats will continue to come at the expense of Snider, and will be even harder to come by when Matt Wieters returns and needs to DH a few times a week to protect his surgically repaired elbow.
The Orioles will find themselves in a pinch when Jonathan Schoop returns as well. Schoop could be back before the All-Star break, as he’s recently begun baseball activities again. That puts Jimmy Paredes, the force keeping the Orioles’ offensive head above water, in limbo. The best option when Schoop returns is to play Paredes in the outfield, something he has done in 55 career games. Paredes is suited for a corner spot. Let him take it and hopefully continue batting .336. If Pearce, who hit two clutch home runs in the past week, continues to show signs of awakening from his early-season slumber, he should play the other corner outfield spot with occasional appearances by Snider or De Aza.
Too much depth can be a bad thing, and that has been the case for the Orioles this season when it comes to the corner outfield positions. The team has been spared an even worse logjam due to the injuries in the middle infield, but Everth Cabrera is already back, and Ryan Flaherty and Schoop will not be out too much longer. By that time, the Orioles need to have their outfield roles defined more clearly. May has been a rough month, with the Orioles batting only .230 as a team and scoring only 3.4 runs per game. Figuring out the corner outfield positions will go a long way to pointing those numbers upward in June.