The Orioles are heading into the 2012 season with an extraordinary hole at the top of their lineup. Brian Roberts may never be the same player he once was. Some would argue that Roberts may not ever play again. Regardless of whether Roberts does play again, the Orioles will still have to find out who can be their lead-off man if/when Roberts is out of the lineup. There are a few options that the Orioles have on their current roster right now.
JJ Hardy: While he is not the ideal lead-off candidate, he did an alright job last season in the role. Hardy offers an interesting approach to the typical lead-off guy. He has power, doesn't get on base too often, and has minimal speed. Last season in 293 plate appearances batting first, he had a line of .268/.295/.525 with a BABIP of .260. That does not indicate the type of numbers that the typical lead-off guy would have, although he also had 18 HR. It remains to be seen whether the Orioles truly feel that Hardy is an actual candidate to bat first, although I expect that they probably began looking for an alternative this off-season.
Robert Andino: The logical replacement for Brian Roberts is also a candidate to take over his spot in the lineup. Andino has some speed also, which is something that Hardy did not bring to the table. In 128 plate appearance leading off, Andino posted a .239/.299/.308 batting line with a .298 BABIP. Those numbers are not exactly lighting the world on fire either. However, when you dig deeper into Andino's stats, you see that he could potentially be effective against LHP, as he has been his entire career. Last season against LHP as a RHB he posted a .306/.367/.354 batting line. Compare that to his.243/.308/.339 batting line against RHP as a RHB and you can see the noticeable difference. This leads me to believe that Andino could certainly work as a lead-off guy against LHP. Obviously the question after that is who leads off against RHP?
Endy Chavez: Endy is a new face to the Orioles, but fills a few roles on the club that the Orioles lacked last season. Chavez has a career batting line of .267/.299/.369 while leading off games. Against RHP as a LHB, Chavez has a career batting line of .270/.310./375. His career batting line against LHP as a LHB is .287/.325/.366. Chavez may not be the best fit at the top of the lineup, but he does provide the Orioles with another option. He probably would work in a lead-off platoon with Andino at the top, although his numbers are not exactly leagues ahead of Andino's.
Nolan Reimold: Reimold is an interesting case for the Orioles at the top of their lineup. He has the on-base skills that the typical lead-off guy has, and brings speed and power as well. Reimold only has 21 plate appearance as a lead-off guy, so it is tough to grasp how well he would do in the position. His splits offer something for us to look at though. Against LHP as a RHB, Reimold has a career batting line of .225/.276/.404. Against RHP as a RHB, Reimold has a career batting line of .258/.353/.478. Could Reimold be a possible platoon option with Andino at the top of the lineup? The numbers indicate that it would more than likely work.
I was going to put Nick Markakis on here, but at this point in time I honestly doubt that he gets the chance to even attempt batting lead-off since it would just leave a hole at the 2 or 3 spot in the lineup. Of course, now that I have written that, he will probably lead off every game. Matt Angle could be another option, but at this point in time, I doubt he starts the season with the Orioles since they acquired Jai Miller, and Chavez. He needs to beat one of them out, otherwise he spends time down in AAA.
In conclusion, I am intrigued by the possibility of an Andino/Reimold platoon at the top of the lineup. A .306/.367/.354 and .258/.353/.478 batting line at the top of the lineup sounds effective enough. I think it would work, and allow us to keep Hardy down in the 5th/6th/7th spots in the lineup.
(all statistics are from Baseball Reference)