Baltimore Orioles: Should Brian Roberts Go Down, Who's the Best Leadoff Hitter?

Alex SnyderContributor IIMarch 22, 2011

Brian Roberts (right) has been worrying his teamtes, coaches, and fans with his recent health issues in spring training.
Brian Roberts (right) has been worrying his teamtes, coaches, and fans with his recent health issues in spring training.Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Veteran second baseman Brian Roberts was limited to 59 games last season due to a herniated disc in his back.

During the time the that he was on the DL, the leadoff hitter role was a revolving door, with no one filling in adequately.

This spring, Roberts has again been having back trouble—spasms that he says are unrelated to the herniated disc that troubled him so much last year, it limited him to just five games.

Though he played on Sunday after missing some time and is likely to play today, it still makes Orioles fans uneasy, as Roberts is the offensive spark plug of the team.

Without him on top of that lineup most of the year, it'll be much more difficult for the O's to have a successful season, even with the offensive upgrades they made over this past offseason.

So we, as Orioles fans, sit and wonder: If Roberts goes down, will anybody step in to provide a good leadoff option until he's healthy again?

Enter Nick Markakis.

I know, you probably can't believe you didn't think of that before. I couldn't believe it took me so long and I'm praying that manager Buck Showalter has the same idea.

Last year, that same idea wouldn't have worked. The Orioles had a pretty lame middle of the lineup, capitalized by Luke Scott. As good of a hitter Scott is, he shouldn't be any good lineup's No. 4 guy.

It was necessary to keep a hitter like Markakis in the middle of the lineup. Even with his down year, he was still one of the most productive hitters in the lineup, as he always is.

Now that the Orioles added Mark Reynolds, Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero, however, they can afford to move Markakis to the number one slot should it be necessary. He's already projected to bat second in a pretty stacked lineup (at least on paper), so moving him up one slot works.

Markakis has gotten at least 182 hits in each of the past four seasons, remaining in the top-10 in the AL in hits each of those season and hasn't hit lower than .291 during his five-year career, an average that came in his rookie season back in 2006.

He draws the walk and probably has the best knowledge of the strike zone of any player on the O's roster, working the count in almost every plate appearance he makes.

The lowest single-season OBP he's ever had during his career was .347, during his 2009 campaign, which is still a pretty okay number.

His career batting average when leading off an inning is .313 and he's hit lefty pitchers at a .294 clip, which is important and impressive due to his batting left-handed.

He can hit the ball the other way, something he was forced to do all the time during the 2010 season.

One of the most important things for a leadoff hitter to do is to his the ball into the gap, and Markakis does that better and more consistently than anybody in the league by slapping at least 43 doubles in each of the past four years, becoming just the third player in major-league history to have at least four consecutive 40-plus double seasons.

And he can even steal a base once in a while, amassing 43 of them during his career.

With much better lineup protection now, Markakis should be able to rediscover the power stroke he appeared to have lost last year. With more feared hitters in the lineup hitting behind him, he should be getting better pitches to hit and 15-25 homers from your leadoff hitter is a nice luxury to have.

With moving Markakis up to the leadoff slot, Showalter could move either Adam Jones up to the two hole, where he has thrived throughout his career, albeit a small sample at that batting slot, or J.J. Hardy.

It also would give Showalter more flexibility with the three-four-five slots, being able to bat Lee, Guerrero and Scott in any of those slots, without having to worry about back-to-back lefties.

To me, a replacement leadoff hitter couldn't be more obvious than the one stated and argued for above. No more revolving door of Robert Andino, Jones, Cesar Izturis and anyone else who's sitting on the bench that happens to be playing that day.

Markakis has been one of the most consistent hitters in the MLB the past five years.

Take advantage of that, Buck.