Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

What To Do With the Crowded Royals' Outfield


Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into this offseason, the Royals front office didn’t seem to think right field was as much of a priority as finding a solid starting pitcher or second baseman. Many fans felt a powerful bat in right field was a bigger need, but most comments from Dayton Moore indicated that was not terribly important. If the team wasn’t able to sign or trade for an outfielder, they could have gone with a platoon of Justin Maxwell and either David Lough or Jarrod Dyson in right field. With Norichika Aoki seemingly placed atop the Royals’ lineup and slotted into right field, what was already a somewhat crowded outfield just got a bit more congested.

As of right now, the Royals plan to start Alex Gordon in left, Lorenzo Cain in center, and Aoki in right. Obviously they’ll want to carry a fourth outfielder, and all three of Maxwell, Lough, and Dyson could fill that role capably. However, all three players are out of options, meaning at least one of them could find themselves with a new organization before next season. Who will the Royals choose?

Maxwell offers a few things the other players don’t. He’s right-handed. He draws walks at a higher rate (10.6 BB% for his career). Even though he doesn’t hit righties as well, Maxwell’s ISO is actually higher against right-handed pitching than it is against lefties (.209 compared to .191), and that kind of power is always a great asset to have on a bench. Maxwell doesn’t have a ton of speed, but he is an above average baserunner. On defense, he had mixed results with the Royals. Maxwell made a few really difficult plays, but he also didn’t seem to have excellent range or instincts, and overall he was 1 run below average in DRS in his time in Kansas City. However, this was the first season in which Maxwell was below average defensively, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he bounces back in 2014.

Lough came up to Kansas City last season after Dyson was injured in May, and he immediately made an impact, posting an OPS of .785 in May and .816 in June. The next two months weren’t quite as kind to Lough. After a .281/.290/.404 line in July, Lough hit just .246/.286/.277 in August. He did have a nice September, putting up an OPS  of .801, though in just 45 plate appearances. Lough did well for what the Royals asked of him. He played very solid defense and ran the bases well, accumulating 2.4 fWAR along the way, although I have some doubts about Lough duplicating his offensive performance from 2013, especially if he doesn’t improve his plate discipline. Lough walked in just 3% of his plate appearances, and while his contact skills are above average, he doesn’t have enough power to make up for a lack of on-base ability. While Lough isn’t terrible at anything, he’s also not elite at anything, which makes for a perfectly adequate fourth outfielder.

I’ve been a big fan of Dyson since I first saw him play in Omaha in 2010. His speed is so incredible to watch, especially in person. On defense, Dyson doesn’t make great reads – although he has improved in the last couple of years – but his speed helps mask a lot of mistakes he might make, and overall he’s a terrific centerfielder. He has a strong arm to go along with excellent range, so covering all that ground at the K isn’t much of a problem. Offensively, Dyson is about what you would expect from a 5’9”, 160 pound baseball player. He hits the ball on the ground a lot, doesn’t have a ton of power, but can take an extra base here and there because of his speed. Despite only posting a wRC+ of 90 in 2013, Dyson’s offensive value overall was positive because of what he brings to the basepaths. In the last 2 seasons, Dyson has appeared in 189 games, stolen 64 bases, and has only been caught 11 times. He’s been worth 14.7 baserunning runs above average in what amounts to just over a full season of games. Here’s a comprehensive list of players in all of baseball worth more runs on the basepaths in the last two seasons: Alcides Escobar, Jacoby Ellsbury, Rajai Davis, and Mike Trout. That’s it. And among those four players, only Ellsbury accumulated that value in less than 250 games. It’s fair to say that Dyson is one of the very best baserunners in the game, and he’s an incredibly valuable asset to have on a team’s bench.

So which direction will the Royals go?

Dyson’s elite speed and defense are too valuable to not have on the bench, so unless someone offers enough in a trade, he seems like a strong candidate to be in Kansas City. However, keeping Dyson doesn’t necessarily mean that Maxwell and Lough are both out. The team could choose to carry 5 outfielders, using Dyson more as a pinch runner. It would be easier to do if any of the three candidates could also play on the infield, but I’m guessing that’s not a realistic option. Regardless, if the Royals do go with 5 outfielders, I would want to keep Maxwell’s bat around as some right-handed pop for late-inning situations. He and Dyson can each give Cain a day or two off each week to keep legs fresh, with Aoki moving to center on days Maxwell starts. Unfortunately, this would leave Lough on the outside looking in, meaning he would need to be traded or designated for assignment. I like Lough and what he brought to the club last season, but there are just other, better options ahead of him right now.

Of course, this is all based on the current roster construction, and with the way this offseason has gone, who knows what might happen at the Winter Meetings next week that could make everything you just read completely moot. With my recent track record, that seems like a probable scenario.

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Tags: David Lough Jarrod Dyson Justin Maxwell Kansas City Royals

  • Ed Connealy

    yep…Lough is going to go.

  • moretrouble

    My compliments on a well written article. The analysis is good. One more reason to keep Dyson – I’m not sure KC will want to move Aoki over when Cain is out. Dyson would be the guy they want out there.

  • hemroid

    I really like Lough, he seems to give it his all on the field. I really did like watching him play, I didn’t always like the results though. It will be sad to see him go. I wish him the best of luck, IF that is what the Royals chose. I think they will deal Maxwell as they can probably get more for his power than they can get for Lough’s hustle.

    • DownUnderFan

      Unless a trade happens, I will wait until spring training. Lough is one of those guys who knows the score and does everything within his power to prove himself. I won’t count him out yet.

      Maxwell had a good time in KC in 2013, but I question his ability to do that over a full season as well, even more than Lough in fact.

      Dyson is a quandary. Like his speed, don’t like his hitting or defense.

      In the end, I just hope the decision is based on what these guys put up in the spring and not on who is Ned’s favorite. That is a disaster too often written already the last few years.

  • jimfetterolf

    With six OFs, two will have to move. I thought Lough had an option left, but not sure. Without an option, they keep Maxwell for right handed power and have to trade Dyson and Lough. Seattle supposedly needs OFs and has young arms and a prospect 2B that may end up being Gio v2.0 in Franklin, but hope we don’t have to DFA two talented young players to make way for three more walks per hundred PAs.

  • cardsfanatik

    I’m not sure which direction Dayton will go, however, I won’t be very happy if they keep the non-hitting Dyson over they guy with power. Power is the one thing this team does NOT have. They have speed with Aoki, Bonifacio and Escobar. Hosmer is not a terrible base runner and neither are Cain or Gordon. Really the two worst base runners are Perez (which in close games won’t be taken out) and Butler. So to keep a guy around JUST for a runner is a waste of a roster spot anyway. They would be better off just keeping 4 outfielders, but 5 is nice because of Cain’s injury history. I love what Lough did this year, but for him to repeat and actually get better is probably not going to happen. Its not like he’s 23-24 years old. He will be 28 at the start of 2014. Which isn’t to say he’s an old man, but he is not a “prospect” anymore either. I can’t stand to watch Dyson at the plate, he looks like my kids trying to catch moths with a net. Between Dyson and Lough, I would keep Lough. But between them all, it would be Maxwell. While Maxwell is not a “prospect” anymore either, I would be terribly pissed to see him traded to Seattle just to hit 25 HR’s. Power is something they don’t seem to be able to sign, so why trade it, or worse yet, give it away?

  • Brian J.

    Based on 2012 and 2013 season stats (numbers from fangraphs)

    AGE
    1. Lough 26
    2. Cain 26
    3. Gordon 28
    4. Dyson 28
    5. Maxwell 29
    6. Aoki 30

    BATTING
    Plate Appearances
    1. Gordon: 1421
    2. Aoki: 1262
    3. Cain: 686
    4. Maxwell: 614
    5. Dyson: 569
    6. Lough: 400

    Offensive
    1. Gordon: 29.2
    2. Aoki: 9.6
    3. Maxwell: 8.6
    4. Dyson: 3.9
    5. Lough: -3.1
    6. Cain: -10.2

    Batting
    1. Gordon 23.2
    2. Aoki 12.9
    3. Maxwell 6.1
    4. Lough -4.4
    5. Dyson -10.8
    6. Cain -11.0

    K%; Average 18.5%
    1. Aoki 7.8%
    2. Lough 15.3%
    3. Dyson 17.8%
    —————————
    4. Gordon 19.8%
    5. Cain 21.3%
    6. Maxwell 31.3%

    BB%; Average 8.5%
    1. Dyson 9.0%
    1. Maxwell 9.0%
    3. Gordon 8.8%
    —————————-
    4. Aoki 7.8%
    5. Cain 7.0%
    6. Lough 3.5%

    wOBA (Weighted on-base average) Average = 0.320
    1. Gordon .342
    2. Aoki .334
    3. Maxwell .332
    ——————————
    4. Lough .308
    5. Cain .301
    6. Dyson .297

    SLG (Slugging)
    1. Maxwell .450
    2. Gordon .438
    3. Aoki .399
    4. Lough .396
    5. Cain .374
    6. Dyson .341

    ISO (Isolated power; raw power) Average = 0.145
    1. Maxwell .211
    2. Gordon .158
    ——————————–
    3. Cain .118
    4. Lough .118
    5. Aoki .112
    6. Dyson .081

    UBR (Ultimate base running) Average = 0
    1. Dyson 6.8
    2. Gordon 6.3
    3. Maxwell 2.4
    4. Lough 1.2
    ———————————
    5. Cain -1.0
    6. Aoki -4.2

    wRC+ (Weighted runs created plus). Average = 100
    1. Gordon 114 (14% more than league average)
    2. Aoki 109 (9% more than league average)
    3. Maxwell 108 (8% more than league average)
    ———————————-
    4. Lough 90 (10% less than league average)
    5. Cain 86 (14% less than league average)
    6. Dyson 84 (16% less than league average)
    ____________________________________________

    FIELDING
    Defense
    1. Cain 27.6
    2. Dyson 13.6
    3. Lough 13.2
    4. Gordon 8.9
    5. Maxwell 1.1
    6. Aoki -9.2

    Fielding:
    1. Cain 27.3
    2. Gordon 23.2
    3. Lough 16.7
    4. Dyson 12.8
    5. Maxwell 3.4
    6. Aoki 2.3

    DRS: (Defensive Runs Saved) Average = 0
    1. Gordon 40
    2. Cain 23
    3. Aoki 18
    4. Dyson 11
    5. Lough 10
    ———————–
    6. Maxwell -2
    _________________________________________

    VALUE
    WAR (Wins above average)
    1. Gordon 9.0
    2. Cain: 5.2
    3. Aoki: 4.2
    4. Dyson: 3.4
    5. Maxwell 3.1
    6. Lough 2.7

    Clutch
    1. Cain 0.59
    2. Lough 0.47
    3. Maxwell -0.41
    4. Dyson -0.91
    5. Aoki -1.25
    6. Gordon -1.65

    Based on WAR alone: LF: Gordon, CF: Cain, RF: Aoki

    Offensive ranks: Gordon, Maxwell/Aoki, Cain, Lough, Dyson
    Defensive ranks: Cain, Gordon, Dyson/Lough, Maxwell, Aoki
    Value: Gordon, Cain, Aoki, Dyson/Maxwell, Lough

    Conclusion:
    Gordon: (LF: no need to evaluate)
    Cain: Best overall of the remaining five (CF if not traded)
    Maxwell: Best offensively (narrowly beats Aoki), sub-par defensively, (DH)
    Dyson: Speed, decent OF, worst offensively (4th OF due to speed)
    Lough: Decent OF, sub-par offensively (DFA/Traded unless Cain is dealt)
    Aoki: Gets on base, worst outfielder (RF by default)

    RF: Aoki
    2B: Franklin/Bonifacio (Franklin traded to Royals, Bonifacio moves to UTL)
    1B: Hosmer
    LF: Gordon
    C: Perez
    DH: Maxwell/Butler (predicting Butler traded to Seattle)
    CF: Cain
    3B: Moustakas
    SS: Escobar

    Shields
    Santana (Royals will get him)
    Guthrie
    Vargas
    Duffy/Ventura

    Moves:
    Butler to SEA for Franklin (others may be involved)
    Wade Davis traded
    Bruce Chen, Miguel Tejada, Carlos Pena sign elsewhere

  • KCMOWHOA

    I would agree that Lowe is the odd man out, but it’s a shame because I think he’s a good player to have around. Even though we didn’t give up much, the trade for Maxwell seems pointless now. Dayton doesn’t seem to have much of a plan with his recent trades. Shame that Lough can’t play second base.

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  • Eric Akers

    I pretty much agree here. I think we have to have Dyson for late game situations and the replacement for an injured Cain. Then I think we also keep Maxwell because of the power. I see Maxwell as more of the 4th outfielder and Dyson as the pinch runner / defensive replacement.