I have given a lot of thought to this, and I know not a lot of Orioles fans will agree with me, but I think Nick Markakis is the Orioles best option to bat in the lead-off spot. Markakis has always been a patient hitter who sees a lot of pitches. In 2009 he seemed to get away from working the count and drawing many walks. It seemed like Markakis felt pressure to be more aggressive and drive in runs more regularly, which is not a bad thing. The problem was it took Markakis away from what he does best. This season has seen a return to form for Markakis. He has drawn a team high 32 walks and his OBP is .410, the best among Orioles regulars. At the same time, Markakis is not driving in many runs this year. Markakis has only 15 RBI’s despite hitting over .300 with runners in scoring position and his power numbers are down. It could be a matter of time before Markakis starts driving the ball, but right now his approach reminds me more of a lead-off hitter and he is the Orioles best option.
Corey Patterson has filled in admirably as the Oriole lead-off hitter since being called up from Norfolk, but how long before he returns to his .250 hitting ways? Patterson is also likely to find getting regular AB’s tough if and when Felix Pie returns and stays healthy. Pie is certainly not a top of the order hitter, but his presence should make Patterson the O’s 4th OF’er. Pie has an aggressive approach that is better suited to the middle of the line-up. My thought is that Dave Trembley should move Markakis now. We are not likely to see Brian Roberts anytime soon. There is a need for a permanent solution for that spot in the line-up.
You could argue that the Orioles will miss Markakis’ bat as a run producer, after-all he has been billed as the big bat in the middle of the O’s line-up. Well, as I mentioned earlier, having Markakis in the #2 or #3 hole has resulted in few RBI’s. The Orioles need a spark offensively. While Markakis is not going to be a disruptive force on the bases, he is the best the club has at getting on base. The Orioles are likely to struggle with RISP all season. A good way to counteract that is to have Markakis become the official table-setter, a role that he is performing well already.