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Is Markakis or McLouth the answer atop the Orioles batting order?

By Eduardo A. Encina

The Baltimore Sun

7:32 AM EST, December 13, 2012

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The Orioles will likely officially announce they’ve resigned outfielder Nate McLouth to a one-year deal today, assuming everything goes well with his physical.

And now that McLouth is back in the fold, one major question is whether he would return to the leadoff spot where he flourished for the last month of the season after Nick Markakis went down with a broken left thumb.

Needless to say, McLouth’s production out of the leadoff spot played a pivotal role in getting the Orioles to the postseason, and once the O's made the playoffs, McLouth was arguably the team’s best hitter.

But all things being equal, Markakis seems to be the better fit. Here’s a look at how each returning Orioles leadoff man fared last season. Endy Chavez and Robert Andino also started games from the leadoff spot but aren’t returning. Xavier Avery also started at leadoff for 15 games last season, but all signs point to Avery beginning the season in Triple-A.

Nick Markakis (33-21 record in 54 starts) .335/.390/.420, 15 2B, 5 HR, 28 RBI, 20/14 walk-to-strikeouts, 0 stolen bases

Nate McLouth (15-8 record in 23 starts) .263/.342/.455, 4 2B, 5 HR, 6 RBI, 11/22 walk-to-strikeouts, 6-for-6 stolen bases

Nolan Reimold (8-6 record in 14 starts) .308/.328/.631, 6 2B, 5 HR, 10 RBI, 2/13 walk-to-strikeouts, 1-for-1 stolen bases

Brian Roberts (7-10 record in 17 starts) .182/.233/.182, 0 2B, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 1/3 walk-to-strikeout, 1-for-2  stolen bases

Ryan Flaherty (3-0 record in 3 starts) .154/.154/.385, 0 2B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 0/6 walk-to-strikeout, 0 stolen bases

While McLouth hit five of his six regular-season homers from the leadoff spot and was 6-for-6 in stolen base attempts, Markakis was just a completely different hitter from the leadoff spot. He’s not your prototypical leadoff man because he doesn’t steal bases, but Markakis is a solid baserunner.

He recorded a .335/.390/.420 line from atop the order while hitting just .256/.333/.452 from the No. 3 spot. Markakis was a doubles machine and would have projected to hit 45 doubles over a full season in the leadoff spot. Of all the impressive stats, his .390 on-base percentage, highlighted by 20 walks and just 14 strikeouts, says that he fits the role better than McLouth.

Before replacing Markakis in the leadoff spot, McLouth received most of his starts at the No. 3 spot, where he hit .244/.305/.360 in 22 starts there. But a better fit might be seventh in the order, where he recorded a .353/.436/.529 line in nine starts.

Earlier this week, Markakis said it didn’t matter to him where he hit in the order.

“It is what it is,” Markakis said. “Wherever he wants to put me in the lineup, that’s where I’m going to be. I’m not going to complain or moan about being somewhere in the lineup. Buck’s going to put me where he thinks I’m going to help this team the best and that’s what I’m going to look forward to and that’s the mind set I’m going to have.”

The stats say Markakis is a better fit, but what do you think? Should Markakis or McLouth be the Orioles' Opening Day leadoff hitter?