Written by Kerry Leibowitz
There’s been a great deal of concern expressed recently about Nolan Reimold and understandably so. Let’s examine the facts. Thus far this season, Reimold has been used primarily as a designated hitter, with an occasional start in left field against left-handed pitching. Essentially, Reimold’s on the roster because of his bat. The problem, of course, is that said bat has been awfully quiet this year. To date, Reimold has put up a .188/.257/.327 line, with an OPS+ of 57 and an Offensive Winning Percentage of .228. This is well below a replacement level performance by a player who has essentially no defensive value. If you’re on a major league club for the express purpose of contributing offensively, you better hit.
Over the last few days, Reimold has been replaced in the lineup by Steve Pearce, who has put together some good at bats (he’s 5-for-10 in his last three starts, entering the finale of the San Diego series). But Pearce is almost certainly not a full-time replacement for Reimold. Pearce has been kicking around the fringes of the big leagues since 2007 and sports a significant career platoon split. In 454 career big league plate appearances, Pearce has managed the following against right-handed pitchers: .219/.293/.314. There’s a reason that the 30-year-old Pearce has had trouble staying on a big league roster despite spending most of his career affiliated with bad clubs. It’s highly unlikely that he’s become a long-term viable option against right-handed pitching.
It’s probably worth remembering at this point that Wilson Betemit was supposed to be the DH against right-handers, but his spring training injury essentially turned the job over to Reimold full-time. It’s possible that part of Reimold’s struggles with the bat thus far this year revolve around adjusting to the DH role. Prior to this season, Reimold had started only 27 games as a DH in his entire career, spread over the period from 2009 through 2011. Reimold certainly wouldn’t be the first player to have trouble adjusting to a new routine that involves spending the vast majority of the game in the dugout. In his career as a DH, Reimold is .212/.304/.376 in 194 PAs. As an outfielder, he’s .266/.337/.460 in 816 PAs. Even this year, in a limited sampling, Reimold’s DH/OF splits are noteworthy. In 20 games as a DH: .143/.215/.243. In eight games as a left fielder: .300/.364/.533.
The Orioles do have some other options in the minor leagues. At Norfolk, Russ Canzler and Danny Valencia are both hitting well from the right side; Jason Pridie and Travis Ishikawa have been productive from the left side. As is the case with Pearce, none of these players are likely long-term solutions. None are younger than 27 (Canzler) and all are roughly in Reimold’s age range (some are older), and all have fought the label of AAAA player. Valencia and Canzler are on the 40-man roster, for what that’s worth. And Pridie left Tuesday night’s game with a strained groin. It’s unclear when Betemit will be available; it was recently reported that he won’t be ready to go when he’s eligible to be activated from the 60-day disabled list (May 30).
Reimold is 29 years old and is out of options. He would have to clear waivers to be demoted and it’s unlikely that he would go unclaimed. But while Reimold does have more success as a big league hitter than any of the other immediately available in-house options, there’s no point in overstating the case. A 29-year-old player who has yet to firmly establish himself as a major league regular has only so much value. In addition to inconsistency, Reimold has had all kinds of problems staying healthy, and has only accumulated as many as 400 big league plate appearances in a single season once—in 2009.
In watching Reimold, he appears to have lost the parameters of the strike zone—a classic slump status. This is fixable, and I suspect that the Orioles will give him a chance to repair the problem. I assume that Buck Showalter will ride Pearce as long as he can—and I doubt it will be very long against right-handed pitching—and then return to Reimold, who will be given an opportunity to right the ship. If he’s able to do so, he’ll likely retain a role in the lineup for as long as he’s able to remain healthy. If not—if Reimold’s struggles persist unabated for another four weeks or so—the Orioles will probably pull the plug and experiment with internal options before going outside the organization for help.
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