It’s happening again.
Three years after watching Delmon Young win a spot on the roster for the Orioles and get consistent playing time over Steve Pearce, with the team almost losing Pearce to waivers when Buck Showalter inexplicably wouldn’t play him and wanted his roster spot for a pitcher, you would have thought Buck and the Orioles would have learned their lesson. Pearce of course went on to have a career year and was a big part of the Orioles winning the 2014 American League East Division title.
However, once again Orioles fans find themselves watching a battle that should have never been and the slugger currently winning in spite of the hitter being the better fit for the Orioles overall. Of course I am talking about first baseman/designated hitter Trey Mancini (“The Slugger”) getting consistent playing time in left field over the incumbent, career outfielder Hyun-soo Kim (“The Hitter).
The Hitter vs. the Slugger II
The plan at the beginning of the offseason was to expand Kim’s role as after all he demonstrated he could be an everyday MLB player in 2016, with an OBP of .382 (best on the team and 18th best in MLB overall for hitters with 300 plate appearances or more). Kim also exercised the best plate discipline on the team with an O-Swing% of only 23.1%. Showalter even said that Kim would get an opportunity against left-handed pitchers in Spring Training to see if he could be more of a full time player.
As we all know, Showalter didn’t let Kim see much left-handed pitching in Spring Training, always making the same lame excuses. Kim, to his credit, made him look completely foolish again, performing well against lefties that he did face in Spring Training (4-for-9) and continuing to hit them in the regular season in another extremely limited opportunity.
An unexpected development emerged though: not only was Buck going to continue to platoon Kim against lefties, but he was also going to give his playing time away against righties to Trey Mancini. Mancini could supposedly hit lefties but was unproven against righties. The only problem was that besides removing Kim’s on-base ability and patient approach from the lineup, his replacement, Mancini, fit the profile of many Orioles hitters – a free swinger with power who hardly took a walk or got on base.
He’s basically the second coming of Mark Trumbo (minus the large contract).
Now Mancini made it easy at first to bench Kim because he hit seven home runs with 20 RBI in the first 17 games he started. Since then, he only has two extra-base hits against righties with his second extra-base hit in the recent series with the Twins.
In that series, Mancini was 2-for-11 (.182) against right-handed pitchers, with his second hit of the series only coming in his final plate appearance of the final game.
Meanwhile, Kim had one plate appearance against a righty in the 2nd game in the bottom of the 9th inning and only after the Orioles were losing by eight runs. He singled and later scored. Now, imagine if he had played the whole series instead of Mancini.
Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. But maybe it would have. Especially in the final two games, when the Birds really could have used Kim’s patient approach to help drive up the pitch count of Twins starters, who were cruising easily through the O’s free-swinging lineup.
Trey the Latest to be Over-Exposed
Buck Showalter has a very bad habit of overexposing players that belong in a platoon. He did it with Nate McLouth and Alejandro De Aza with left-handed pitchers, and with Delmon Young and Joey Rickard with right-handed pitchers. The end result is that the player that starts out hot quickly cools off and the Orioles lose opportunities to win games they normally would have a good chance to win. Given his recent play against righties, Mancini is now the next in line to be overexposed – at Kim’s and the team’s expense.
The Orioles are 11-4 in games that Kim has started this season and 14-16 in games that he hasn’t. That should be enough to tell you the impact that Kim has on the lineup, but his defense has also been better than Mancini’s, with a +1 DRS in left field in 116 innings compared to the 0 DRS rating (likely to go down after the Twins series) that Mancini has in 120 innings.
Once again in the final game of the Twins series this was on display. Mancini had multiple defensive miscues, one costing the team a run, and he later made his first official error of the season. For all the negative scouting reports about his defense, especially his arm and his range, Kim has never made an error in MLB and makes all the routine plays he needs to make.
That’s probably because he’s played left field for most of his professional career. Of the two, he is the best choice defensively that the Orioles have to play left field because he likely won’t hurt you on those routine plays – unlike Mancini, who is trying to learn the position.
Back to a Platoon – Please!
Kim and Mancini having two different skill sets and two different plate approaches also should also result in them occupying different slots in the lineup. When he plays, Kim should be leading off or batting 2nd because of his contact and on-base ability. He and Seth Smith would form a formidable duo, tiring out starters before they reached the Orioles’ most dangerous hitters to drive them in.
But Buck has batted Adam Jones, one of the worst free-swingers on the team, 2nd instead, with Kim hitting in the 7th or 8th spot. When Kim gets on base, he has to wait for the bottom of the lineup to drive him in, and that’s usually less likely to happen.
So not only is Kim not playing enough, when he does play, Buck is batting him in a spot that doesn’t take advantage of his skill set. It would make sense to bat Mancini lower because of his free-swinging nature, but Buck puts Kim there too.
Showalter hasn’t been afraid to stack right handed hitters in the bottom of his lineup after Chris Davis when Kim doesn’t play, so it makes no sense that he wouldn’t be able to bat Smith and Kim back-to-back at the top of the lineup to maximize the damage capability of the Orioles’ power bats.
As a result of this poor lineup construction and playing time choices, the Orioles unsurprisingly sit 11th in the American League in OBP and 9th in runs scored.
If the Orioles want to improve those rankings and their defense in left field, all they need to do is play their hitter instead of their slugger against right-handed pitching.
They have plenty of the latter and not enough of the former.
By continuing to bench Kim, hit him low in the lineup when he does play, and overexpose Mancini to right-handed pitching, Buck Showalter continues to fail to give his team the best chance to win.
Just like in 2014, the hitter has to beat out the slugger once again.
The Orioles’ 2017 season could depend on it.
all photos: GulfBird Photo/Craig Landefeld