We’re in the home stretch now. Or, in baseball terms, we’re rounding third on the off-season. Only about a month and a half before pitchers and catchers report. Thank God. I can’t stand all this lack of baseball. I’ve probably watched 15 archived games from last season—more if you include some games from James Shields and Wade Davis I’ve watched. That’s how starving I am for Royals baseball. I’m watching games I already know the outcome of.
Today, I watched a game from September and got to see my boy Irving Falu play. I just love Falu. He’s got this energy that makes him fun to watch. Also, he hit .341/.371/.435 last year, which kind of adds to the energy. In the game I watched, he also played a mean second base.
Watching Falu, and Jarrod Dyson in center, got me thinking about what I want the Royals 2013 lineup to look like—not what I think it will look like—but what I want it to look like. Of course, the concept is purely academic. Dayton Moore does not consult me on roster construction (YET!), and Ned Yost does not call about the lineup each day (though he should). But I think it might be a decent conversation starter to tell you how I think the lineup should be constructed. Then, you can tell me I’m wrong if you want.
So, here’s the lineup I’d like to see the Royals use starting the 2013 season:
Alex Gordon (7)
Alcides Escobar (6)
Eric Hosmer (3)
Billy Butler (DH)
Mike Moustakas (5)
Salvador Perez (2)
Lorenzo Cain (9)
Irving Falu (4)
Jarrod Dyson (8)
*I included the bench because I want to show who I’d like on the 25-man roster as well.
I think there are three major points that I should support with this lineup.
1. Falu at second base
Why not Falu at second base? Seriously, in what way has his performance over the last two seasons not been worthy of a shot at second base? I know people like him as a utility man, but I can’t see a second baseman on this roster better than him. Chris Getz? Uhhh, no. Johnny Giavotella? He’s looking more and more like a AAAA player every day. Falu’s numbers last season were most certainly the result of a small sample size, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t follow the same formula for success that a free swinger like Salvador Perez has. Falu only walked 4.4 percent of the time in his 97 PA in 2012, but he only struck out 9.9 percent. He puts a lot of balls in play. His BABIP was an astronomical .382, which led to his high batting average, but his might be consistently high if he keeps putting so many balls in play.
The knock on Falu is that he may need a high BABIP to maintain a high batting average and on-base percentage because he doesn’t walk that much. That’s fine because it looks like he might be able to have a BABIP higher than .300 fairly consistently. Plus, his walk rates in the minors have typically been in the 8-9 percent range, indicating that once he settles into a role, he may feel more comfortable taking walks.
In Falu, the Royals have a mixture of Getz and Giavotella. Falu can defend like Getz and hit like the ideal Giavotella (I say ideal because he hasn’t hit yet). In my ideal lineup Falu is the starting second baseman, and I think he can put up a .290/.340/.415 line in that role. I put Tony Abreu on the bench because he can play more than just second base. I put Getz on the bench because, in theory, he could play third base, and that gives the team a little flexibility. So, if Alcides Escobar needs a day off, Getz could take second and Falu could move to short—and a whole bunch of other combinations.
2. Dyson in center; Francoeur riding pine
This is probably not too shocking. I don’t know anyone who thinks that Francoeur should be playing every day. Then again, I don’t know anyone who thinks Dyson should be playing every day either. But Dyson has the potential to be an every day player. Francoeur has fulfilled his potential, and it’s not everyday material.
I put Dyson there because I think even if he has a season like he did in 2012 (.260/.328/.322) he’ll be more valuable than Francoeur. According to Fangraphs, in 330 PA, he was worth 1.6 WAR last season, mostly because he was worth 7.9 baserunning runs above average and 2.4 fielding runs above average. Even in Francoeur’s standout 2011, he was only worth 2.9 WAR in 656 PA, and his OBP was only .329—one point higher than Dyson’s from last year. I don’t expect Francoeur to be as bad as he was in 2012, but I don’t expect him to be as good as he was in 2011. I do think Dyson can at least reproduce his 2012, but over 660 PA instead of 330, meaning he should be able to make it toward the 3 WAR range.
I also have faith that Dyson can improve on 2012 a little bit. He did ok in 2012 without fully understanding the approach he should be taking at the plate. If he continues to work on that, he could be even more valuable. I made that point a little bit in an early post when I described how Dyson should become a more effective bunter.
With his baserunning ability, defense, and even his bat, Dyson is just more valuable than Francoeur. So, put him in center field and shift Cain over to right. I left Francoeur on the bench because he can hit lefties a little so if they want to rest Dyson against tough lefties, they can move Cain back to center and put Francoeur in right.
3. Gordon leading off
Despite the fact that I like Dyson—maybe more than most—I don’t want him leading off. He doesn’t get on base enough for that, yet. The fact is a lineup needs to give the best hitters the most opportunities. Those who hit at the top have more plate appearances over the course of a season than those at the bottom. So, good hitters at the top, worse hitters at the bottom. It’s pretty simple.
Gordon is one of the best leadoff hitters in the game. It’s weird, but it’s true. He’s not a major stolen base threat, which is fine because he’s a big-time doubles threat. He’ll put himself in scoring position with doubles instead of doing it with stolen bases. But the thing that makes him a very good leadoff hitter? He gets on base consistently—.376 OBP in 2011, .368 in 2012. Yes, he strikes out too much, but that’s not as big of a deal as people make it out to be for a leadoff hitter. I don’t care if he strikes out as long as he gets on base.
And though Gordon isn’t a base stealer, he runs well. He takes extra bases, and he doesn’t clog things up like Butler does. Frankly, there are only two consistent on-base guys on the Royals active roster—Butler and Gordon. Since Gordon can run a little, he’s perfectly placed to lead off. Would it be ideal if he had Dyson’s speed? Sure, but it’s more important that he gets on base.
There are some who think Gordon should hit lower because he can be a run producer. It’s true that Gordon can hit virtually anywhere in the lineup, but it’s tough to produce runs when no one is on base. Gordon’s value to this team is as a do-everything type. He can score 100 runs and knock in 80 runs in the leadoff spot. In 2011, he scored 101 runs and had 87 RBI; 64 runs and 56 RBI in 89 games as a leadoff hitter. As a leadoff hitter in his career, Gordon has a slash line of .306/.381/.501. That’s an OPS of .883. I want that level of production getting a very high number of plate appearances, and I want that guy on base when Butler hits.
* * *
That’s all I have for the lineup. As for the bench, I chose 13 for the position players because I think they’ll need fewer bullpen arms. I’d like Manny Pina to win the catching job instead of Hayes, but that’s not a huge difference maker (unless Perez gets hurt, in which case this whole thing is kinda screwed). I kept Francoeur on the 25-man roster because I’d like this to be semi-realistic, and though he’s not a very good fielder, he does provide a good arm in right field and can sort of hit left handed pitching.
This lineup also seems to indicate that I’m pretty much off the Giavotella bandwagon. I hate to say that, but he’s had 376 PA, and the numbers are atrocious. I like Giavotella as a guy; I had very high hopes for him, but I’m just not seeing it. I’d like to be proven wrong, and I’m open to that happening. But Giavotella is either a starter or a AAA player. He’s not a backup infielder because he can only play second, and he doesn’t even do that very well. Maybe he’ll prove me wrong with a strong showing in Spring Training. But if not …. FALU!