Gordon doesn’t fit the typical image of what one might think upon mention of the phrase “leadoff hitter”. Often, that produces the thought of the scrappy, quick player who would open up the game with a drag bunt and try to steal second.
Despite that, Gordon is best suited for the spot at the top of the lineup because he does exactly what a leadoff hitter should do – get on base. Gordon’s .376 on base percentage led all Royals regulars last year. When batting leadoff (as Gordon did for 89 games), he got on base at a slightly better rate (.383) but also produced a .916 OPS. Gordon in the leadoff spot produced in 2011.
Ned Yost discussed what qualities Gordon has that made him a great leadoff hitter when talking with Dick Kaegel of Royals.com – his ability to take walks, drive the ball and produce when the lineup comes back around. Gordon was the most productive player on the Royals last year at the plate, and leading him off also gets him more plate appearances over the course of the season.
For the rest of the lineup, there aren’t a lot of surprises. Behind Gordon, the Kansas City Star projects the rest of the lineup:
- Alex Gordon – See above.
- Johnny Giavotella – Yost told Kaegel that Giavotella’s ability to spray the ball the other way and can take pitches makes him a good fit for the second spot. The first half of that, I agree with, though Gio saw 3.65 pitches per plate appearance last year, below the league average of 3.81. It’s a small difference, but it’s still below average. Perhaps after seeing time last year at the big league level and with the knowledge that he’s slated to be the starter will allow him to settle into that role as #2 hitter.
- Eric Hosmer – Hosmer will probably be hitting in the #3 spot for the next, oh, 15 years or so. He’s the centerpiece of the offense and after a strong rookie campaign, he’s got the highest ceiling of anyone on the team.
- Billy Butler – After the All-Star Break in 2011, Butler had more RBIs (57) than every other major league hitter except for Robinson Cano (61), Matt Kemp (59) and Evan Longoria (tied with Butler). Of that group, Butler’s 37 extra base hits finished second behind Cano’s 40. I think he can handle the cleanup spot.
- Mike Moustakas – Moose hopes to build on his blistering finish to 2011. He’ll likely bat fifth against right-handed pitchers. In 267 plate appearances against righties, Moose had a respectable .289/.327/.414 line. When lefties are on the mound, he didn’t fare nearly as well (.191/.258/.236) so when a southpaw is on the mound he’ll hit sixth in place of …
- Jeff Francoeur – Over the course of his career, Francoeur has hit left-handed pitching than right-handed pitching. Last year, he wasn’t too bad against righties, but his best matchup is against a left-handed pitcher (.934 OPS in 2011, .839 career).
- Salvador Perez – While Gordon’s batting average might slip a little bit and Francoeur could always regress a bit, the one player from last year who is least likely to repeat his numbers from 2011 is Perez. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have the potential to be a productive batter, though. His .362 BABIP is rarely sustainable over the course of a full season and he may end up having some streaky moments in 2012. He isn’t one to look for a walk, so he might go through stretches where he doesn’t get on base often.
- Lorenzo Cain – For me, I’d look to bat Cain seventh ahead of Perez. Cain’s speed is tough to utilize if he’s behind a plodder like Perez. He might strike out more than most would want to see, but he’s been a solid hitter through the minors and did well in half a season in Milwaukee in 2010. He’s going to have trouble duplicating Melky Cabrera‘s 2011 numbers in 2012, but let’s face it, so is Melky Cabrera.
- Alcides Escobar – While the expectations for his bat are low, Escobar hit well enough last year to be of value, especially considering his defensive play. Nobody should be surprised to see him batting ninth all season, but he does still have some room to grow as a hitter. Last year, he had more than 30 extra base hits, stole 26 bases and had stretches of great production. He could walk more, as he reached base at Getz-ian levels.
There’s no solid option for the #2 spot, but Giavotella is probably the best fit considering the rest of the lineup’s makeup. Cain isn’t an ideal #2 hitter but may end up there if Giavotella struggles. If Gio struggles in Surprise, it may put Getz or Yuniesky Betancourt in the lineup more often. That probably sticks Cain in the two spot.
The bottom of the lineup is saturated with right-handed batters, which might cause problems in late situations, but the Royals have lefty Mitch Maier on the bench and switch-hitting Brayan Pena if it comes to it.