It took eight left fielders to make me appreciate one even more

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BJ Surhoff Card

Eight different players have started in left field for the Orioles through 55 games this season. Here's the rundown ordered by total starts: Endy Chavez (16), Xavier Avery (15), Nolan Reimold (14), Wilson Betemit (5), Ryan Flaherty (2), Steve Tolleson (1), Bill Hall (1) and Steve Pearce (1).

None of the aforementioned Orioles octet is an All Star. B.J. Surhoff was the last O's left fielder to make an All Star team. He did so in 1999 as part of a season when he established career highs in home runs (28) and RBI (107). Forget about his bat for a minute, and consider instead what he did in the field.

Surhoff played all or part of eight seasons in Baltimore. During two of those seasons, 1998 and 1999, he played in each of the team's 162 regular-season games. He made 157 starts in left field in '98 and 148 starts there in '99. This year, the O's haven't had one player start in left field for even a third of their games.

And Surhoff did more than occupy space. He posted a perfect field percentage during those 148 left field starts in 1999, recording no errors in 298 chances. He had a .989 fielding percentage in 1998, making three errors in 272 chances. All this from a guy who made the majority of his starts at catcher during the first six years of his major league career.

Meanwhile, the 2012 Orioles' eight-headed monster in left field has a combined five errors in 65 chances. Reimold has three errors, while Betemit and Chavez have one each. That translates to three more errors than Surhoff in 505 fewer chances. Put another way, that's five errors in one-third of a season versus three errors in two entire seasons.

It wasn't so long ago that the O's seemed to have the opposite problem than they do now. In 2009, the team had five left fielders from which to choose in spring training: Felix Pie, Luke Scott, Nolan Reimold, Lou Montanez and free agent Justin Christian. Now only Reimold, who is currently injured, remains with the team, and the O's are using spare parts to make repairs in his absence.

The progression - or, more accurately stated, regression - at the left field position over the course of three seasons makes clear the importance of organizational depth. Moreover, it makes me appreciate the reliable option the O's once had.

I always liked Surhoff. There were times during his Orioles career when I would have put him at or near the top of my list of favorite players. These days, I appreciate him more than ever. It seems I took for granted having a left fielder who was often good, sometimes great and always game to play.

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June 6, 2012

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