Morning Coffee: Building the Royals Lineup
If you’ve followed Royals news over the long off-season, you know that the Royals have decided on a lineup that they’ll start the season with. It likely won’t be tampered with barring injuries during spring training, so get used to it now. I have a concern, though, with it. I don’t think it’s the best possible lineup to score the most possible runs. I think the pitching staff will regress from where it was a year ago, and that means the Royals have to find runs any way they can. I know that lineup construction can be overrated, but if one lineup scores even ten more runs throughout the course of a season, that’s likely an additional win at the end of the year. Like I’ve said all winter, every win will just be so important that they can’t leave any on the table.
The Royals will likely run this lineup out there, at least early:
At first glance, it’s nice to see the top six guys all as legitimate big league hitters as opposed to some lineups that have been run out there over the last few years. I look at that lineup, though, and I have some concerns. For one, I think Alex Gordon is too good to bat in the fifth spot in the lineup. He had a rough 2013 season. We’ve talked about that in this space an awful lot. After May ended, he was pretty much a disaster in the batter’s box. I don’t know about you, but I’d be surprised if that’s the Alex Gordon we see come March 31 in Detroit. I think he’ll bounce back in a big way. Another thing I don’t like is Omar Infante hitting at the top of the order. I like Infante, I really do. I’m not a fan of him hitting second. To give you an idea of what the spots in the order mean in terms of times players come to the plate, here’s a list of plate appearances by lineup spot for the Royals last year:
This should effectively illustrate why it matters that Gordon is dropping from the top to the middle. The Royals are essentially eliminating 70 Alex Gordon plate appearances. By batting Omar Infante second instead of, say, seventh, they’re giving him about 80 more plate appearances. I like Infante, but if he’s not hitting around .300, he’s going to put up an OBP of below .320. And if he’s doing that, he doesn’t belong at the top of a lineup.
So you might be asking me what I’d do. I’ve always been very interested in lineup construction and really enjoy the ideas put together by Sky Kalkman a few years ago in this piece. Taking these into account as well as mixing in some older school baseball ideas, here’s the lineup I’d run out there. Actually, let’s just start with the top five:
Let’s dive in to this top five before I give you the bottom part of the order. The book says the leadoff hitter should be one of your three best hitters. I don’t believe Aoki is one of the Royals three best hitters, so I’m already going against the link I just complimented. But it’s okay. I won’t tell if you won’t. I like Aoki in this spot because he gets on base (career .355 OBP) and he has a little speed. Truthfully, the speed isn’t that important in this spot because of who I have hitting behind him, but considering the four other guys, Aoki is the best fit at the top. I like that he can get on base and that he can run a little bit. If he’s on base 35% of the time, the four behind him will have a lot of those magical runs batted in.
Two through five is where things aren’t all that crazy, but do deviate from the Royals plans. Having a guy who strikes out here isn’t that big of a problem because with a runner on first, a strikeout is a preferable outcome to, say, a double play. Gordon works here because he also gets on base at a really solid clip (though last year was troubling) and doesn’t hit a ton of ground balls. Aoki is fast enough to score from first on some Gordon doubles and Gordon is good enough that getting him the second most at bats is solid business for this team.
Hitting third, I have Billy Butler even though I think he’s the better hitter between him and Salvador Perez. Even if Butler’s power numbers don’t bounce back, his OBP is needed toward the top of a lineup and gives the Royals three guys at the top who should get on base more than 35% of the time. I love Salvador Perez, but he was only able to muster a .328 OBP when hitting .301 in 2012. The guy is one of my favorite players on the team, but he needs to be down in the order until he can consistently get on base more than he does now. The book wants a guy who can avoid hits hitting fifth, but with the bottom of the Royals order looking fairly weak, Butler’s OBP wouldn’t play up as well hitting fifth due to his lack of speed.
Hosmer and the aforementioned Perez round out my top five. I think Hosmer has a chance to be the best hitter on the team this season and I wouldn’t be opposed to him hitting second over Gordon. I like him fourth because I think he has more power potential than Gordon and with three good OBP guys ahead of him, he’d have a massive season. Again, I have Perez fifth simply because I want more OBP out of that third spot and because Butler’s OBP in the fifth spot would be wasted more times than not. If Perez could show an affinity to get on base a little more, he and Butler would be nearly interchangeable, but that’s not happening any time soon.
Here’s my bottom part of the order:
Truthfully, these last four spots are pretty interchangeable based on how the players are hitting. The only hitter who probably stays put among these four is Escobar. I like Cain up at sixth for now because when he gets hot, he’s one of the few players who is actually capable of being a middle of the order bat. Moustakas is as well when he gets going, so those two can flip on nightly basis for all I care. Infante’s another guy who could hit anywhere from sixth through eighth and provide value to the Royals.
Maybe I’m crazy, but I really think that lineup above adds 10-15 runs to the Royals over the course of a season. Like I said above, that may not seem like a whole lot, but an extra 10-15 runs could be the difference between breaking a 29 year playoff drought and sitting at home hoping that one or more of the young pitchers can put it together in 2015 to break a 30 year playoff drought.
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