Lineups are a tricky topic, especially on a team like the Royals, with so many developing hitters. One thing
we know for certain – Alex Gordon is a heck of a hitter, whether leading off or batting third. But where SHOULD he hit?
Many fans are happy to see such a productive bat now hitting third, feeling Gordon is a run producer who was being wasted in the leadoff spot. Others will say he was great batting first, so why move him?
A case could be made either way. I’ll argue, with our current batch of position players, if Gordon’s not the leadoff hitter, who is?
It looks like the current lineup is likely to be intact in 2013, with the exception of Wil Myers being swapped in for Jeff Francoeur (Myers BETTER be our opening day right fielder). We have a pretty good idea of where most of these guys should fit into the lineup. That being the case…who is the leadoff man in 2013?
Candidate number one would be, in my opinion, Alcides Escobar. Escobar’s had a breakout 2012 at the plate, spending a great deal of time batting second. He’s got great contact skills, and while he doesn’t walk much, he puts the ball in play a lot. He’s got great speed, which most baseball people will tell you is key for the leadoff role, although it’s certainly not a requirement. Out of legitimate candidates for this spot, Escobar’s got a solid OBP, but still…it’s only .333 vs. a number like .360 for Gordon.
Next I’d like to nominate Lorenzo Cain. Yes, he’s had a rough season with injuries to his legs, but in his career as a professional, he’s not shown a tendency to be injury prone. I’m a believer that he’ll play a lot next year, after taking this winter to get healthy.
Like Escobar, Cain has fantastic speed. He put up some good numbers for Milwaukee in 2010, including a .348 OBP, which is higher than Escobar’s put up this year (although Escobar has done it over a much longer stretch). Cain’s shown quite a bit more pop than Escobar. Some would say his power would be wasted in the leadoff spot, although nobody said a good leadoff man can’t drive the ball (Gordon being a prime example). Until Cain shows he can get on base at a rate comparable to Gordon, though, I don’t think he’s the man. If he can stay healthy and prove he can get on like he did in 2010, he could be the guy.
I think we can safely rule out most of the other hitters on this team. Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez…not really leadoff material. We know those guys ideally make up the middle of the order.
That leaves us with a couple more options. We’ve got Chris Getz, should he get the bulk of playing time at second base, and we’ve got Jarrod Dyson, who could play CF if Cain doesn’t prove to be durable. Maybe Dyson and Cain split time in CF, in an attempt to keep them both healthy and play the lefty/righty splits.
Looking at Getz, I’m not a believer. The Royals want Johnny Giavotella to win this job. He’s their guy. And it’s not like Getz has set the world on fire. Sure, he hit .275 this year in 64 games, but only got on base at a .314 clip. Dyson performed better, with a .333 OBP through 92 games, and has blazing speed.
So, are you sold on anyone yet? Or, like me…are you thinking to yourself, “Why NOT Alex Gordon?”
Look at this way, the lineup is an infinite loop. The guys who start it off will hit again before anyone else, meaning they hit more often. You want Gordon hitting more often than Getz, right? This means you want your best guys at the top, stacked up one after the other, driving each other in again and again.
To me, as the roster currently stands, the only real choice is Alex Gordon. Sure, he can drive the ball and collect RBI when in position to do so. But he can also be the guy who sets the table. Yes, Gordon with the third best SLG on the team, and the third best OPS on the team…but also the second best OBP.
“But all those doubles are meant to drive in base runners,” is what you’ll argue. Well allow me to retort.
Those same doubles put him in scoring position for guys like Escobar, Butler, Perez, Hosmer, Moose, etc. Is it wasting his ability to drive the ball into the gaps, when those doubles put him in scoring position? I don’t think so. Let Gordon hit 48 doubles and 5 triples from that spot. Let Escobar slap a single and drive him home, or just put the ball in play and move him to third. Then let the big boys knock him in. And hey, if Gordon hits a leadoff home run, what’s wrong with that? Nobody complained when Rickey Henderson did it. Isn’t Gordon just as valuable with an .800 OPS and 100 runs scored as he would be with an .800 OPS collecting RBI?
I think he is. And until someone else makes it obvious they can do the job…if not Gordon, then who?