The Five Best Leadoff Seasons In Royals History Reviewed by Momizat on . I guess this is the time of year when bloggers start casting about for topics other than what’s happening on the field, especially for a team 15 games out of I guess this is the time of year when bloggers start casting about for topics other than what’s happening on the field, especially for a team 15 games out of Rating:
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The Five Best Leadoff Seasons In Royals History

The Five Best Leadoff Seasons In Royals History

I guess this is the time of year when bloggers start casting about for topics other than what’s happening on the field, especially for a team 15 games out of first place. I’ll be honest, it’s more fun to write about the Royals’ history than the present right now, and a lot more fun to think about the past than try to figure out when the bright future will finally get here.

The genesis for this series came in one of the first podcasts Clint and David did (and if you haven’t checked out any podcasts yet, you should). They were discussing Alcides Escobar batting second this year and briefly wondered who had the best year batting second in Royals’ history. I filed that idea away and, well, here we are.

I’ll look at each of the nine spots in the batting order. This week we’ll look at the leadoff hitters, next week the number two hitters, and then I’ll continue the series off and on.

I used’s records of batting orders for this series. I just looked at whichever player had the most starts in the particular spot in the order (or both players if there was a tie). Thankfully, bb-ref has batting order position as a split, so that made this series easy. Therefore, all stats listed are for the player in that particular spot in the order. And I didn’t include the 2012 season in these numbers.

So here are the best seasons for a leadoff hitter in Royals’ history. Plus one that stunk:

1.  Johnny Damon, 2000
740 PA, .327/.381/.495, 136 R, 16 HR, 88 RBI, 46 SB, 9 CS

I know lots of Royals fans are still bitter, maybe just a little bit, about how Damon left KC. But before that happened, Damon put up this monster season, leading the AL in steals and setting a Royals’ record for runs scored (which still stands). In fact, the 2000 Royals set a franchise record for runs scored. Yes, it was a hyper-inflated offensive era, but a leadoff hitter’s role is to ignite the offense, and Damon certainly did that in 2000. This is pretty much the total package for a leadoff hitter: a high on-base percentage (Damon walked 64 times and struck out 60 in 2000), some power, and a terrific success rate on stolen bases. If only the 2000 Royals had had any semblance  of pitching…

2. Willie Wilson, 1980
741 PA, .327/.357/.422, 131 R, 3 HR, 49 RBI, 79 SB, 10 CS

Willie Wilson must have been so much fun to watch in 1980 with that absolute blazing speed on that artificial turf (I turned 5 towards the end of the 1980 season; I wasn’t paying attention yet). Wilson never was the most patient hitter, so I gave Damon the slight edge because he had more power and a better walk/strikeout ratio. But Wilson was nearly as good in this season, sparking the offense for KC’s first American League championship team (yes, that Brett fellow had something to do with it, too).

3. Willie Wilson, 1982
621 PA, .332/.365/.431, 87 R, 3 HR, 46 RBI, 37 SB, 11 CS

This was almost as good, rate-wise, as Wilson’s 1980 season. Willie demonstrated a little more power in the leadoff spot this season, but obviously wasn’t as successful stealing bases (I’d love to know if he was a little injured that year; 48 stolen base attempts seems low for a runner like Wilson in that era).

4. Alex Gordon, 2011
422 PA, .305/.383/.532, 64 R, 18 HR, 56 RBI, 10 SB, 6 CS

This might be the best power display from the leadoff spot in Royals’ history. Sure, being a good leadoff man involves more than power hitting; you want someone who can get on base a lot and run well enough to create runs if needed. But it’s also nice to be ahead 1-0 one batter into the game, or have a runner at second with no outs right away. Actually, this isn’t the highest slugging percentage for a Royals’ leadoff hitter, but the two ahead of him (George Brett in 1977, Aaron Guiel in 2003) didn’t bat leadoff as often as Gordon did last year.

5. Willie Wilson, 1984
588 PA, .301/.350/.390, 81 R, 2 HR, 44 RBI, 47 SB, 5 CS

Willie kind of had the Bret Saberhagen every-other-year thing going on, didn’t he? Not that his 1981 and 1983 seasons weren’t good (they were), but they were a notch below 1980, 1982, and 1984. For whatever reason, in 1984, Wilson walked a bit more and struck out a bit less than he had in the past. And check out that success rate on steals! Maybe Willie should have run more often. As it was, he played a huge part in carrying a pretty mediocre team to a division title.

Honorable Mention:

Freddie Patek, 1971

George Brett, 1977

David DeJesus, 2008

Jose Offerman, 1996

Aaron Guiel, 2003

And one that stunk…

Chuck Knoblauch, 2002
315 PA, .188/.262/.280, 34 R, 6 HR, 20 RBI, 14 SB, 3 CS

Just consider that: Chuck Knoblauch made an out almost 75% of the time in the leadoff spot in 2002. That’s Yuni-esque. Certainly Knoblauch was a better player than Betancourt, but not in this particular season. At least he hit a few homers and had a good stolen base success rate. And really his walk/strikeout ratio was decent (26/31). And Knoblauch was incredibly unlucky—a .190 BABIP as the leadoff man. But still, you can’t have a leadoff hitter for essentially half the season get on base at a .262 clip.

About The Author

I grew up in Topeka, and learned to love the Royals over many summer nights listening to Denny and Fred. Of course, the Royals were much easier to love back then. They got their claws in me some 30 years ago, then they went to the playoffs in 1984 and won it all in 1985. And I thought to myself, "This is easy. This team is always going to be good!" Sigh. But what can I say? If I've made it this far, I suppose I will always be a fan. But whenever they get good again, I'll be sure not to take it for granted. I promise. I'm also a fan of the Chiefs, Jayhawks (even the football team), Sporting KC, and the Nashville Predators. By day, I'm a mild-mannered project manager for a publishing company, and every night I'm lucky to come home to my amazing wife Michelle. We've been married since 2005 and live in Overland Park. Fun fact, she grew up in Memphis watching many future Royals when Kansas City's AA team was there. So it didn't take much to make a Royals fan out of her. We don't have kids, but we've got three cats (one named after Alex Gordon) and a dog. Follow me on Twitter! @Darin_Watson

Number of Entries : 480

Comments (2)


    meant *really looking forward to these


    Good stuff Darin….really looking for to these….on a side note since he was mentioned in the honorable mention, DDJ is underrated and underappreciated as a Royals player and recent leadoff hitter. DDJ is having a very DDJ season in Chicago this yr and is signed to a real fair deal. With Gordon doing well in the 3 hole I would love to have DDJ back leading off again…

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