Earlier this week, manager Ned Yost revealed what he planned on writing down on his lineup card when Opening Day rolls around, and our own David Hill discussed that here. One thing that Dave mentioned with this lineup is that it gives Yost his preferred order of alternating left-handed and right-handed bats, so as to not allow opposing managers to stick with specialist relievers for too long. While I understand that strategy, it’s something that I think doesn’t carry as much importance as some managers may believe, and I think it’s even less important for this year’s Royals’ lineup.
I wanted to see how big the current group of starters’ platoon splits actually are, so I first looked up each hitter’s 2013 statistics against both lefty and righty pitchers. Obviously there’s a lot of data to sort through, but I used wRC+ to try and simplify it all down to one number. Then, I looked up each hitter’s career platoon stats, since a single season’s worth of platoon plate appearances isn’t all that much, and weird things happen in small sample sizes. The results are below, and again, the number you see is the wRC+ for each category.
|2013 vs LHP||2013 vs RHP||Career vs LHP||Career vs RHP|
|Norichika Aoki – L||120||98||106||110|
|Omar Infante – R||124||113||95||91|
|Eric Hosmer – L||119||119||83||115|
|Billy Butler – R||112||118||143||112|
|Alex Gordon – L||140||83||99||115|
|Salvador Perez – R||136||93||161||92|
|Mike Moustakas – L||48||85||64||90|
|Lorenzo Cain – R||68||84||85||91|
|Alcides Escobar – R||65||42||74||69|
The first thing I noticed here is that four Royals had reverse splits last season, and a fifth (Hosmer) was equally productive against both lefties and righties. If the Royals have as many reverse platoon splits this season as they did last season, opposing managers going “by the book” may get burned more often than not. Of course, as I mentioned, weird things can happen in small sample sizes, and those things may not repeat themselves. Aoki and Gordon both had significant reverse splits, though both of their careers tell a different story. Gordon struggled mightily against changeups last season, but an improvement there should help his numbers against right-handed pitching. Butler’s career split is a wide one, so I would expect his performance against lefties to improve in 2014. Only Cain has a reverse platoon split for his career, which appears to be due to his ability to hit breaking balls competently. Cain has a career .409 slugging percentage and .161 isolated slugging percentage against breaking balls from right-handers, which is what one would expect a right-handed hitter to see more of.
Using career numbers against left-handed pitching, the Royals have a couple of mashers, three roughly average bats, a couple of below average guys, and a couple of disasters in Moose and Escobar. A lefty reliever wouldn’t have many breaks against the top 6 in this lineup, with the possible exception of Hosmer, though I do think he’ll be about average against southpaws this year. Basically, all 6 guys can handle themselves against lefties, so making sure the batters alternate by handedness isn’t necessary.
That is even more evident in looking at their career numbers facing righties. None of the players are exceptional there, but the team does feature 4 guys who are solidly above average and 4 more who won’t embarrass themselves against a right-handed pitcher. If those 8 guys are in almost any order, opposing managers wouldn’t be able to use a right-handed specialist without facing a batter who can do some damage. Maintaining a left-right-left order doesn’t really matter.
Having said all that, I don’t have too many complaints about the order, with the biggest exception being Infante in the second spot. While Infante had a very good season last year, I don’t know if he’s going to get on base often enough for a guy getting the second most plate appearances on the team. Because I’m sure you’re dying to know, the way I would remedy the situation would be to drop Infante to 6th, move Gordon to 2nd, and move Perez to 5th. I initially thought of pushing Hosmer to the second spot, but he hits a lot of ground balls, and with Aoki not having a ton of power, that might result in too many double plays, which would result in Butler coming to the plate with no one on base. That’s not ideal. Gordon gets on base at a great rate, hits a lot of line drives, and isn’t as much of a double play risk. Even if he regresses to his normal splits against lefties, he still should perform well enough to offset any perceived disadvantage of having three left-handed hitters in a row. Plus, if small samples and recency bias are your thing, Aoki, Gordon, and Hosmer all had a wRC+ of at least 119 against lefties. As long as Hosmer doesn’t revert to his 2012 self, opposing managers would need to think twice before bringing a LOOGY into the game for the top of the order.
As it stands, Yost has a good lineup. It could be better if he were to ditch the preconceived notions of what a player’s platoon splits should be based on which side of the plate he stands on, but it’s not bad right now. If Yost focused on optimizing the lineup’s run-scoring potential, he would give the best hitters more plate appearances. If Infante struggles early on, I’ll be interested to see if Yost tries someone like Gordon or Hosmer in that spot, or if he sticks with the typical baseball strategy of having a speedy contact hitter in the two spot. With the Royals’ current place on the win curve, they can’t afford to be leaving runs on the table, so an underperforming lineup will need to be shaken up. Let’s just hope Yost doesn’t have to worry about that.