Morning Coffee: Gordon Needs to be Royals Leadoff Hitter
On a team pretty well set around the diamond, the minutiae of lineup construction and other items are sure to be discussed early and often. While I’m pretty hesitant to throw out a projected lineup, it is fun to think up scenarios in your head and attach statistics that are nearly unreachable as best cases for each player. One player I’m fairly passionate about in terms of where he belongs in the lineup on this particular Royals team is Alex Gordon. I believe he is best served as the leadoff hitter for the 2013 Royals, which is a point that has been debated time and time again since the 2011 season when Ned Yost first made the unorthodox move to put him there.
I’m not sure if there’s a particular order my points are to be made in, so let’s just work under the assumption that these are in no particular order. I think it’s pretty well understood that in order for a team to score runs, people need to be on base unless you’re going to count on at least four solo home runs every night. And it stands to reason that the players who hit higher in the order will get more at bats than those who hit lower in the order, which makes this point kind of a combination of the two. Alex Gordon will be challenged in the on base percentage department by probably only Billy Butler in 2013. Eric Hosmer could potentially rise up and challenge him, but even if he does, of those three, Gordon is best suited to hit leadoff where you’d like to have your best OBP if you can. Add in that Gordon is one of, if not the, best offensive players on the team and getting him the most at bats makes sense.
I mentioned in my first paragraph that Gordon fits best in the leadoff spot on this particular team. The Royals simply don’t have a leadoff hitter. In a story with a similar theme to this one, Pete Grathoff of The Kansas City Star got a quote from Ned Yost regarding Lorenzo Cain last season that I think applies to Gordon heading into 2013.Â â€œIf I had a leadoff hitter, he wouldnâ€™t be hitting leadoff. Itâ€™s just a spot where he kind of fits right now,” Yost said of Cain. Cain fits more in the bottom half of a lineup, not the top half. Gordon, on the other hand, fits right at the top. If the Royals hope to succeed offensively, they’re going to need somebody on base at the top of the lineup, and quite frankly, options such as Chris Getz (.312 OBP), Alcides Escobar (.331 OBP), Lorenzo Cain (.316 OBP) and Jarrod Dyson (.328 OBP) just don’t do the trick.
That brings me to a point I’d like to make regarding the counter argument to Gordon hitting leadoff. Many will argue, and I don’t think it’s a terrible argument, that Gordon is better served in the middle of the order due to his ability to drive the ball. With 142 extra base hits over the last two seasons, it’s hard to argue that his extra base power isn’t appealing in the middle of the order. The issue is that the people who argue for this talk about how Gordon needs to produce runs and that’s why hitting him leadoff isn’t a good idea. Well, my argument is that if you put out a batting order of, say, Chris Getz followed by Alcides Escobar and then Alex Gordon, he’s going to bat with nobody on and two out an awful lot of the time. Yes, I understand that batting leadoff, he’ll be up with nobody on every time in his first at bat, but I’d rather he set the table with nobody out than have to extend an inning to maybe get to Billy Butler. And even though Gordon’s OBP over the last two years of .372 is just about 40 points higher than Escobar’s last season, that’s a huge difference when you really think about it.
In addition to that, perhaps the key point I mentioned in the paragraph above is the fact that the leadoff hitter is only the leadoff hitter once in a game. Like I mentioned earlier in the post, hitting leadoff means Alex Gordon gets the most at bats every single game. Over the course of a season, that can mean about 40 more plate appearances than the number three hitter. Last season, Royals leadoff hitters stepped to the plate 753 times while the number three hitter batted 717 times. Over 162 games that seems small, but who would you rather have getting those extra plate appearances? Alex Gordon or Chris Getz? I think the answer to that is pretty obvious. And Lee Judge, if you’re reading this, the answer isn’t Chris Getz.
Now let’s get back to just making some points rather than arguing the opposition to my point. Depending on who you ask, this could be the least important or the most important, but Alex Gordon is most comfortable hitting leadoff. He’s a big league baseball player making a lot of money, so whatever the team wants him to do, he should do, but it’s also the Royals responsibility to put him in the best position to succeed. Over the last two seasons while hitting in the leadoff spot, Gordon is a .306/.380/.501 in 799 plate appearances compared to .288/.353/.432 in 612 plate appearances in all other spots in the lineup. The latter number is a perfectly fine batting line, though not great while the former is absolutely outstanding, providing on base percentage and pop that you don’t get out of the leadoff spot too often.
I think a big factor in where Alex Gordon hits in the 2013 season is how well Eric Hosmer hits. In 2011, it was easy to leave him at the top of the order without Yost reaching back to his traditionalist ways because he had a player hitting third who was putting up solid numbers. Once the Royals were working with a revolving door of number three hitters in 2012, Yost gave in and moved Gordon there. If Hosmer’s hitting, then Gordon probably hits leadoff. To add even more fuel to the fire, many lines of thinking believe the number three hitter is not even the most important position in the lineup due to coming up with nobody on and two out more often than any other spot in the lineup. The fourth and fifth spots are actually believed to be more important, but I’m not sure with Ned Yost at manager that we’ll see a team constructed with that thinking in mind.
Ideally, Gordon’s best spot in the lineup is probably the number two spot because he does have that power that I’ll admit is wasted at times at the very top of the order. You’re really only giving away 15-20 plate appearances when moving from leadoff to the second batter, so it’s not a huge difference. To me, though, it comes down to the fact that there just isn’t anybody else worth hitting at the top of the order. So maybe when thinking about this whole thing, that’s the biggest reason why Gordon should hit leadoff. I just don’t see this offense clicking at its full potential unless Alex Gordon hits at the very top of the order to set the table and maybe clear it a little himself, too.
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