Aug 9, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals center fielder Justin Maxwell (27) is congratulated by catcher George Kottaras (26) after scoring in the sixth inning of the game against the Boston Red Sox at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

A Small Shift In Philosophy

He’s a very good situational hitter, and somebody we’re thinking of putting in the leadoff spot against left-handed pitchers. He’s got a real high on-base, hits lefties really well.Ned Yost on the acquisition of Jamey Carroll

Did you guys read this on the Kansas City Star’s website today? I was astonished. I immediately checked with Bob Dutton via Twitter to confirm that Yost had actually said this. He did not respond … but still. I didn’t think Yost knew what on-base percentage was.

I expect to read the situational hitting stuff, which is just a coded way of saying “He’s a real good bunter!” But I didn’t expect Yost, the man who saw value in batting Alcides Escobar second for so long, as capable of thinking in such progressive ways.

I know it sounds crazy to bat Carroll leadoff in any situation. His slash line (.230/.283/.262) is really terrible. He’s 39 years old, and a .283 OBP doesn’t scream leadoff man. But against lefties this year he looks much more competent, .326/.370/.372. That’s pretty good, and that split is in line with his career production against lefties, .296/.368/.371. So maybe it’s not that crazy of an idea after all.

But even if it is crazy to bat Carroll leadoff against lefties, what I find significant about Yost’s statement is that it tacitly affirms something that I’ve been feeling about the Royals decision-makers lately. It feels to me like their philosophy is shifting a bit. Not completely, a team that continually sacrifice bunts and pitches lefties against lefties without consideration of numbers cannot be considered wholly converted. But it seems like the Royals brass is taking a closer look at some things they may have ignored a little too much in the past.

Justin Maxwell is a great example. He is a very un-Royals-like player because contact is not his game. He’s not a high batting average guy. He’s not the do-everything guy the Royals try to cultivate in all their young hitters. He’s good against left-handed pitching. He takes walks. He hits for a little power, and he strikes out a lot. Very un-Royals-like. And yet, the Royals went out and traded for him. Another point in favor of unconventionality, they didn’t care that it gave them five viable outfielders. They did it anyway. That was an atypical decision from what appears to be very typical thinkers.

Look how that decision has worked out. Maxwell is on fire, and the outfield has been a huge factor in recent success. Lorenzo Cain injured himself, and now having Maxwell seems necessary. Big props to Dayton Moore and company. We criticize him a lot for the mistakes he makes so we should praise him equally for his good decisions. Maxwell is looking like a very good decision right now (even though I really like Kyle Smith a lot and think he is tremendously underrated).

Carroll could be the same way. He’s had a down season, but this new philosophy seems to rest on the basic approach of putting players in the best situations for them to succeed. If they let Carroll take second base against lefties, he might be able to add some value. He certainly will if he plays decent defense and gets on base like his OBP against lefties suggests he can.

Putting players in the best situations to succeed seems like basic logic, but I can remember a time when Yost was against platooning Jeff Francoeur despite the fact that his splits and terrible play demanded it. There was certainly a time when someone like Maxwell would not have garnered attention from the Royals front office and Yost wouldn’t have liked the notion of platooning him.

This new philosophy is the continuation of a pattern that really started, I think, with the signing of George Kottaras. He is the most un-Royal-like player I can think of (yes, I’m going to end my sentence with a preposition … deal with it). He only walks, strikes out, and hits homeruns, and he’s a subpar defender at an important defensive position. The basement dwellers (myself included) debated whether or not the Royals would chuck conventional thinking and go with an offense-first backup catcher, let alone a sabermetric darling like Kottaras. They did, and in only 99 plate appearances, he’s been worth .8 WAR. That’s ridiculously good for a backup catcher in such limited playing time. Extrapolate that to 600 plate appearances, and he’d be worth roughly 4.8 WAR, which is nearly All-Star level. It’s not the most reliable extrapolation, but it gives us the sense of how valuable that signing has been. And it’s a signing that seems counter to the conventionally held notion of how the Royals front office sees baseball.

But I love it. I love that there seems to be a shift. I strongly believe that this shift has led, at least in a small way, to more winning, and it gives me more confidence in the team as a whole. I no longer have to feel the players are winning in spite of the manager and general manager.

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