Leadoff hitter has been a massive position of need for the Baltimore Orioles since the departure of Brian Roberts. They’ve fiddled with the role, finding waiver wire pickups, drafting Rule-5 players, and trading for players late in the year, typically all before settling on a player meant to bat in the middle of the lineup.
Now, with a new regime and a whole new roster (albeit a subpar one), the Orioles seem to have finally found a guy to kick the game off: Hanser Alberto. Quite frankly, Alberto has been a revelation, far more successful than anyone – likely even Mike Elias – could have expected. I might be a little bold in believing this, but according to my memory, he’s grown to be the single best leadoff hitter the Orioles have had since the beloved B-Rob.
This might be a hard sell considering the fact that Brandon Hyde has refused to run out the same batting order for pretty much the entire season. Thus, Alberto isn’t exactly an everyday leadoff man. However, it’s worth noting that the leadoff spot has experienced a great deal of turnover since Roberts filled it. As a result, Alberto isn’t hitting there much or any less often than the other names that will be under consideration here.
Just to provide a quick refresh on his season to date, Alberto is batting .312 at the moment I type this (in the middle of Monday’s O’s/A’s tilt), having slugged three home runs and driven in 17. I’ll concede the point that he isn’t hitting for much power or providing much by way of run production, but he’s getting on base at a downright impressive clip, more than many current or former Orioles ever did.
To really dig deeper into my take, however, it’s important to name the other players who spent time in the leadoff spot since Roberts’ departure from it in 2013.
The list goes: Alexi Casilla, Rickie Weeks, Nolan Reimold, Nate McLouth, David Lough, Nick Markakis, Jimmy Paredes, Steve Pearce, Alejandro De Aza, Gerardo Parra, Everth Cabrera, Manny Machado, Hyun Soo Kim, Michael Bourn, Craig Gentry, Colby Rasmus, Seth Smith, Austin Hays, Chris Davis, Jonathan Schoop, Adam Jones, Joey Rickard, Tim Beckham, Cedric Mullins, Stevie Wilkerson, Jace Peterson, Trey Mancini, and Jonathan Villar.
Honestly, the length of that list alone displays the lack of stability we’ve witnessed. After all, it really has only been six years.
Thus, to really dive into this week’s hot take head-on, it’ll be important to distinguish the legitimate arguments against it from those that simply don’t hold weight. After all, the majority of these players either weren’t in the spot long enough (Gentry, Rasmus, Cabrera, Reimold, Davis, Paredes, etc.) or weren’t traditional leadoff hitters for the Orioles (as is the case with Markakis, Pearce, Machado, Schoop, Mancini, and Jones).
Looking at it this way whittles the list down quite a bit, leaving McLouth, De Aza, Beckham, Mullins, and Villar as the primary threats to my take that Hanser Alberto is the best O’s leadoff man since Brian Roberts.
Let’s get into it.
McLouth was actually a fun member of the Orioles for a few years. I’m sure many of you remember his iconic ‘Base Bandit’ promotional shirt… what a classic. Anyway, in McLouth’s two years he batted .268 and .258, respectively, so while he did more while on the bases, Alberto’s got him beat in getting there. McLouth did have a stellar OBP, so the race remains close between them, but if Alberto continues to hit this well over the course of the season, his end-of-year number in that category should be higher.
Secondly, we’ve got an August trade that Duquette made to bolster a playoff team in picking up Alejandro De Aza. In his first stint with the Orioles, De Aza was outstanding, batting .293 in 20 games to close out the regular season. He truly was a part of that push for the Division crown and that will always make him an important player for the franchise. However, his first full year with the birds left much to be desired, as he batted .214 in 30 games before being sent on his way.
In a similar way, Tim Beckham got off to an outstanding start in Baltimore after being traded from Tampa Bay at the deadline. Really, Beckham was a miscalculated and ill-informed last-ditch playoff-push acquisition for a team that was never destined to go there, but he wasn’t necessarily a bad player for the Orioles, even a year later. Still, once he cooled off, he wasn’t doing what Alberto is, even if he did hit for more power.
Next, I can go over Cedric Mullins rather quickly. He might prove to be better than Alberto in the long run, but he certainly isn’t there yet. He’s got the tools, but he hasn’t put them together enough in the majors to this point.
Finally, that leaves us with Jonathan Villar, who I actually think makes the most compelling case against my take this week. Villar doesn’t necessarily hit for the average that Alberto does, but his pure speed makes him dangerous every time he steps into the box, not to mention every time he gets on base. Additionally, Villar actually has the superior power bat, something I’ve been surprised by since his arrival. Further, he brings true leadership to the team, something they’ve been lacking this year. Where Alberto stands apart, in my opinion, is his strikeout rate.
In 306 plate appearances, Jonathan Villar has struck out 73 times, meaning one for every four times up to bat. Meanwhile, in 214 plate appearances, Hanser Alberto has struck out just 20 times. That’s under one for every ten, a significant improvement over Villar’s number. Of course, that’s only one statistic to distinguish the two, but I think it shows what a polished leadoff man Alberto is.
It’s important to note that Hanser Alberto isn’t going down as one of the great Orioles. He’s not a terrific player by any means. But, he does hit very well, and he does so at the top of the order.
In my book, he’s the best true leadoff hitter the Orioles have had since Brian Roberts.