Should the best hitter on the team bat third or fourth?
By Christopher Heun
“Let’s face it, Miguel Tejada is a great hitter but he’s not a cleanup hitter.”
Joe Angel, during his play-by-play of the Orioles-Indians game, Sunday, May 6.
“That would really be a dream come true [to play for the Orioles]. But at the same time, I have two years here with Texas and I’m going to concentrate on winning with Texas.”
Mark Teixeira, as told to Jon Heyman of SI.com in March.
Joe Angel calls them as he sees them. That’s one of the many pleasures of listening to him describe a baseball game on the radio. Sunday afternoon, he let forth a quick aside about the reshuffled Orioles lineup and the proper place for the team’s best hitter, Tejada, that had us pining for a particular Severna Park, Md. native.
Instead of hitting Tejada fourth, manager Sam Perlozzo has moved him up to third lately, which if nothing else, guarantees that he gets an at-bat in the first inning. Angel may be correct – Miggy is best suited to bat third (despite hitting cleanup for much of his tenure in Baltimore) – but the sad fact is, now there’s a hole in the cleanup spot.
Let’s hope Peter Angelos and the bean counters in The Warehouse are saving up for local boy Teixeira, a free agent after the 2008 season, because he’s the closest the Birds can come to a real cleanup hitter any time soon.
Teixeira, who grew up an O’s fan, slugged 140 home runs in his first four seasons, the fourth highest total in major-league history. He’s hit more than 30 homers three years in a row, and 43 in 2005.
By comparison, the Orioles have had just two players hit 40 or more homers since 1990: Brady Anderson (50) in 1996 and Rafael Palmiero (43) in 1998. In addition to those two, only four other Orioles players have managed to hit 30 or more homers in a season since 1990 (Palmiero did it four times, from 1995 to 1998): Albert Belle (37 in 1999), Tony Batista (31 in 2002), Tejada (34 in 2004) and Cal Ripken (34 in 1991).
Funny that Cal’s name should creep into the conversation. He was the Orioles shortstop who played every day, batted third and won MVP awards. Tejada has picked up the mantle.
This may come as heresy to some fans in Baltimore, but Miggy is fast becoming not just the best hitting Oriole shortstop, but the best hitter in Oriole history.
In just three years wearing the orange and black, Tejada has set the team single-season records for hits and RBI, tied another (doubles) and nearly set a fourth; his .330 average in 2006 ranks among the best in team history.
Because of his high average and declining power, he would look better hitting third if there was thunder behind him. Angel did say Sunday that Ramon Hernandez, who’s filled that spot most games, might not be a cleanup hitter, either, but he’s been hot lately.
Overall, we like that Perlozzo’s not afraid to juggle the lineup a bit, dropping Melvin Mora from the No. 2 spot and substituting Nick Markakis against righties and Jay Payton vs. lefties. Because he sees so many pitches, coaxes walks and gets on base better than nearly all of his teammates, Kevin Millar might be worth a shot batting in front of Tejada as well.
Listen long enough to Angel, and he just might tell you so himself.