I guess this is the time of year when bloggers start casting about for topics other than whatâ€™s happening on the field, especially for a team 15 games out of first place. Iâ€™ll be honest, itâ€™s more fun to write about the Royalsâ€™ 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 havenâ€™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 Royalsâ€™ history. I filed that idea away and, well, here we are.
Iâ€™ll look at each of the nine spots in the batting order. This week weâ€™ll look at the leadoff hitters, next week the number two hitters, and then Iâ€™ll continue the series off and on.
I used baseball-reference.comâ€™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 didnâ€™t include the 2012 season in these numbers.
So here are the best seasons for a leadoff hitter in Royalsâ€™ history. Plus one that stunk:
1.Â 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 Royalsâ€™ 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 hitterâ€™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 semblanceÂ of pitchingâ€¦
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 wasnâ€™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 KCâ€™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 Wilsonâ€™s 1980 season. Willie demonstrated a little more power in the leadoff spot this season, but obviously wasnâ€™t as successful stealing bases (Iâ€™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 Royalsâ€™ 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 itâ€™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 isnâ€™t the highest slugging percentage for a Royalsâ€™ leadoff hitter, but the two ahead of him (George Brett in 1977, Aaron Guiel in 2003) didnâ€™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, didnâ€™t he? Not that his 1981 and 1983 seasons werenâ€™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.
Freddie Patek, 1971
George Brett, 1977
David DeJesus, 2008
Jose Offerman, 1996
Aaron Guiel, 2003
And one that stunkâ€¦
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. Thatâ€™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 unluckyâ€”a .190 BABIP as the leadoff man. But still, you canâ€™t have a leadoff hitter for essentially half the season get on base at a .262 clip.