Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Coming into this offseason, the Royals were looking to improve an offense that was among the worst in the league in 2013. According to wRC+, only 3 AL teams were worse than Kansas City, so Dayton Moore had to make the lineup a priority. The team has definitely improved offensively, adding Norichika Aoki and Omar Infante, along with Danny Valencia as a potential platoon player. Now, barring any unforeseen trades, the Opening Day lineup appears to be set:
As I’ve mentioned before, I’d prefer dropping Infante to about 6th, while moving Gordon to 2nd, and Perez to 5th, but the Royals will likely go with the above lineup when they meet up with the White Sox in April.
If you’re looking at that order and thinking that it looks like one of the better lineups the Royals have had in recent history, well, that’s because it is.
I looked up every lineup the Royals have trotted out for Opening Day since 2000. Then, I looked up each player’s performance from the previous season. The table below shows the number of players in each year’s Opening Day lineup who hit at an above average level (by wRC+) in the previous season.
|Year||# w/wRC+ >100|
A few things stood out to me while I was doing this research. First, the 2011 team looked absolutely dreadful heading into the season, but excellent seasons by Melky Cabrera, Jeff Francoeur, and Gordon helped that team to an above average wRC+ by season’s end. Second, Brandon Berger, Desi Relaford, and Brian Johnson apparently were the best options for the Royals at their respective positions at some point in the franchise’s history because of course they were. Third, the average wRC+ for the current team’s lineup is actually below average, wholly due to Escobar’s disastrous 2013. But the biggest thing that jumped out at me was the fact that the Royals haven’t had 6 players coming off above average offensive seasons since 2004.
That 2004 season, of course, came with quite a bit of hype after the Royals finished 2003 with their first winning season in a long time. They had added a couple of veterans to their lineup in the offseason, and most fans were likely expecting them to build on what they did the year before.
Now, before you start yelling at your computer screen like a crazy person, I’m not suggesting this 2014 Royals team is destined for the same fate as the 2004 squad. Last year’s record didn’t seem to be a fluke like the 2003 record, and the pitching in 2014 almost certainly won’t be the raging dumpster fire it was in 2004. I just was fascinated by the parallels.
I also found it quite depressing that so many recent Royals’ teams have employed so many out-machines on Opening Day. Is it really that difficult to find hitters who are just average at the plate?
Regardless of how long it’s taken the front office to finally build a lineup that shouldn’t embarrass itself every day, it is so incredibly refreshing to see two-thirds of the lineup contain legitimate major league players. I’m not expecting too much from Moustakas, Cain, or Escobar, although there could be some improvement from them as well, so the Royals’ lineup in 2014 should certainly be better than last year, and it could be one of the best offenses they’ve had in a very long time.