Balance can add up to production

The big topic of debate with the many passionate Orioles fans this offseason has been the desire to add a “Power Bat” to the middle of the O’s lineup for the 2010 season.

While I agree with the benefits that type of hitter would bring to Baltimore, the Orioles lineup this season will bring something just as effective in winning games. And that is balance on the mound, in the field, and at the plate.

Let’s start with the lineup and agree a “bopper” is a player with at least 30 home runs. Last season in the American League there were just 15 hitters with at least 30 home runs. Only five players hit at least 35 homers. Carlos Pena and Mark Teixeira tied for the league lead with 39. Luke Scott led the O’s last season with 25 home runs. The bottom line is scoring more runs and winning more games. A team can do that with balance.

Let’s use the 1998 Yankees as an example. The Yankees set a franchise record with 114 wins on their way to a World Series title. New York did not have one player hit 30 home runs that season. Not one “bopper”. New York did however have incredible balance in four players with at least 24 home runs and 8 players with at least 17 home runs.

The Yankees had a team ERA in 1998 of 3.82, but David Cone was their only 20-game winner. Again, it’s about balance, as each of their regular five starters that season won at least 12-games. Jeremy Guthrie led the O’s last season with 10 wins.

As I look at the Orioles’ potential 2010 lineup I see six everyday players with 20-home run potential in Matt Wieters, Garrett Atkins, Nolan Reimold, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Luke Scott. Quite possibly with healthy seasons, any or several of that group could top 25 home runs. Brian Roberts hit 16 home runs last season while also leading the AL in doubles and is always consistent. The O’s will add one more player with at least 15-home run potential, giving the lineup a look of consistency and balance.

The Orioles’ team pitching last season struggled through growing pains and inconsistency, leading to an AL-high 5.15 ERA. Everyone in the organization knows that has to improve. The 2010 staff is expected to be much more consistent. Kevin Millwood brings a veteran presence and will be so valuable talking with the talented young pitchers. The O’s have quality depth with their pitching prospects. Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman are the first wave already in the big leagues, and they’ve gained valuable experience. Guthrie is likely to have a rebound season pitching lower in the rotation and the bullpen is expected to be more effective with the addition of Mike Gonzalez.

Winning is easier with balance and depth. The Orioles are deeper and more balanced for 2010 and fully expect to improve.