O's need to be good hitters, but also smart hitters

The Orioles scored just 613 runs last season and that was next to last in the American League. Many fans are expecting that total to make a major jump after the additions of Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy. Plus, the O's hope to have Brian Roberts for a full season and perhaps see hitters like Nolan Reimold and Matt Wieters hit more like they did in 2009. If all that happens, the club could score a lot more runs in 2011. But in addition to being better hitters this coming season, let's also hope the Orioles become smarter hitters. For most of last year, the team was very poor at situational hitting. Not a good sign for an already offensively challenged club. But after Buck Showalter took over, the club seemed to be more willing to advance runners, lay down a sacrifice bunt when needed and just be smarter at the plate. That includes working the count. For years, the O's seemed to watch the Yankees and Red Sox hitters work the count and be tough outs throughout their lineup, but they also seemed unwilling to use a similar approach. Every season, it seems, fans go crazy when they see O's hitters making outs on the first pitch of an at-bat. It doesn't bother me as much, as I know that sometimes the first pitch you see turns out to be the best pitch you see, as pitchers look to throw strike one and get ahead. But we've also seen O's hitters come up and swing at the first pitch when a hurler is struggling to throw strikes.That almost never seems like a good plan to me. If the guy has walked the last two batters, why not take one strike and make him earn an out? The O's lineup next season could turn out to be one of its best in years at working the count and escalating a starter's pitch count. As a few readers have pointed out, the new players were all solid last year in working the count. In fact, Reynolds was second in the National League in pitches per plate appearance at 4.31 and Lee was fourth at 4.24, while Hardy averaged 4.10. The only Orioles over 4.00 last season were Roberts and Nick Markakis. Next year's lineup will have five over 4.00. 4.34 - Reynolds 4.24 - Lee 4.20 - Roberts 4.10 - Hardy 4.04 - Markakis Reader Tom McAllister took it a step further in a recent response to one of my blogs and computed that the new O's lineup would see 36.27 pitches per plate appearance, adding up all the hitters. Last year's Yankees' lineup averaged 35.62. Most nights, you face a decent starter and most teams have good eighth- and ninth-inning pitchers. But if you can get that starter's pitch count up and get into a club's middle relief, that can really help win a game and also a series as you get deep into your opponent's pen. Often, good hitters are also smart hitters. It appears the O's have added some of both to their offense.

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