For most of the 2015 season, the Baltimore Orioles have utilized their best player, Manny Machado, as the leadoff hitter. In the midst of a breakout season, Machado has batted .304 with 22 of his 26 home runs and 52 of his 64 RBI’s in the 100 games that Buck Showalter has penciled him in atop the order. Machado has truly blossomed when given the crucial responsibility of setting the table for the rest of the batting order. His plate discipline has improved dramatically, as has his ability to draw a walk. Now, with the Orioles desperately trying to hang in the race for the second Wild Card spot, it may be time to give Machado even more responsibility.
Machado was moved into the leadoff spot due to necessity. Alejandro De Aza was not cut out to handle the role, and was sent packing. Without De Aza, there was really no one else around to put at the top of the order, so the duty fell to Machado. That’s no longer the case, as Gerardo Parra, who has hit second since coming over at the deadline, is more than capable of leading off and providing some of the same power Machado has brought from that spot in the batting order.
With Parra serving as the primary table setter, Machado could move down into the three-hole where he would be given more opportunity to drive in runs. On the season, Machado has had only 96 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. In those 96 plate appearances, he has driven in 35, nearly as many as the 41 RBI’s Adam Jones has managed in 25 more plate appearances with RISP. With two outs and RISP, a situation in which the Orioles have struggled to convert all season, Machado is batting .308 to Jones’s .216. Overall, Machado’s batting average with RISP is 41 points higher. Machado’s patience pays off more in those clutch situations, whereas Jones is susceptible to getting himself out on pitches outside of the strike zone.
In his fourth season, Machado has blossomed into the best player on the Orioles. There has been a shift towards utilizing your best player from the leadoff spot to maximize at-bats, but the difference in number of trips to the plate between the first batter and third batter is insignificant over the course of a season. Far too often, Machado has come to the plate with the bases empty because he has followed an illustrious list of number nine batters that has included Ryan Flaherty, David Lough, Travis Snider, and Nolan Reimold. The only reason the Orioles’ nine hitters rank in the middle of the pack with a .221 batting average is because Caleb Joseph has hit .289 when batting last. Everyone else has essentially served as an automatic out.
If Machado does slide down into the three-spot and Parra moves up to leadoff, Showalter could get creative and move Jones to second. That type of move could actually benefit Jones, who has appeared to be pressing on many at-bats this season. The eagerness to chase all season could dissipate slightly with a little reduction in pressure. Or, if Showalter still wants Jones in the heart of his order, the All-Star centerfielder could slide to fourth with any number of candidates moving to the two-hole. Steve Pearce has swung the bat well since returning from an injury and did handle the duties of second hitter well last season. If Showalter still wants to platoon in left, Henry Urrutia has the look of a polished hitter who could get on base and help set the table for the heart of the order. It would still likely be preferable to keep Jonathan Schoop lower in the order to help offset the black hole that has been the seven through nine spots this year.
There’s any number of ways Showalter can go with Machado, and perhaps he won’t do anything. In some ways, it’s best not to upset the apple cart this late in the season. Manny Machado has embraced the leadoff spot, but there are options worth considering if he needs to be given more opportunities to drive in runs. The Orioles remain in the thick of the postseason hunt, and any little spark that could put them over the top should be considered, especially when it involves giving your best player more run producing opportunities.
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