Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
For the next three games of the World Series, we’re going to have to endure one of the few atrocities left in the game of baseball: pitchers hitting. If you even want to call it hitting, of course. Despite the silliness of it all, the Royals are going to have three straight games in which their starting pitcher is slotted into the ninth spot in the order, and Billy Butler will be relegated to the bench. It’s a rule that I could argue against for hours, but I’ll save those points for a snowy day. Right now, the Royals simply must adapt.
Before getting into the various options in front of Ned Yost, I think it would be prudent to point out that the most likely decision is for Salvador Perez to slide into the fifth spot in the order, while moving Omar Infante and Mike Moustakas into the seventh and eighth spots, respectively. This would maintain the righty/lefty balance that Yost prefers, and that can pay dividends when Bruce Bochy starts digging into his bullpen toward the later innings.
The safe bet, in my opinion, is that Yost only makes that minor change for all three games, and that he saves Butler for a high-leverage pinch hitting situation each night.
With that being said, there are some other adjustments Yost could make, unlikely though they may be.
Eric Hosmer is seeing the ball pretty well, and with the Giants having two right-handed starters in the next two games, we know Hosmer will be starting at first base. But when Madison Bumgarner returns for Game 5, Yost could opt for Butler, in an effort to get an extra right-handed bat in the lineup. This could also give him the chance for a double switch later in the game that also happens to upgrade the defense.
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I doubt Yost makes that move, but it is an option available to him.
The other potential change is a bit more complicated.
First, it’s important to note that right field in AT&T Park is a tricky one. There’s an odd corner in right-center, and for fielders unfamiliar with that area, it can be difficult to play balls hit to the warning track and/or wall. As you likely know, Nori Aoki isn’t the most graceful right fielder in baseball. This could be an entertaining combination for an impartial observer, while spelling disaster for the Royals, particularly with fly ball pitchers Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas taking the hill in the next two games.
To counter this, Yost could insert Jarrod Dyson into the starting lineup as the center fielder, and put Lorenzo Cain in right field. This is the best defensive outfield in baseball, and considering the spacious confines of the park, it could increase the chances that Guthrie gets through his start in good shape. It’s an idea someone presented to me yesterday on Twitter, and also something David Schoenfield wrote for ESPN.
With a righty on the mound, Dyson would have the platoon advantage, and since Aoki has a reverse split, Yost wouldn’t be sacrificing too much offense, at least in theory. In 2014, both players had a wRC+ of 88 against righties, with the only real difference being that Aoki struck out less often. If you assume the players are offensive equals in the matchup, going with the better defender is certainly an appealing option.
However, this strategy wouldn’t come without some drawbacks. Despite their single-season numbers, Aoki is the superior hitter between the two, and with Guthrie facing a lefty-heavy lineup, it may be necessary to sacrifice some early defense in an effort to scratch some runs across. Aoki may not be hitting all that well in the playoffs, but he’s made solid contact very frequently, and he has terrific plate discipline.
Starting Dyson also limits Yost’s flexibility slightly for the later innings. Aoki is a fine baserunner, and despite his adventurous routes, an adequate defensive outfielder, so he could be relied upon to fill Dyson’s usual role if need be. But he’s not Jarrod Dyson, and Yost likely wouldn’t want to deploy his best bench weapon right off the bat.
It’s a complicated situation, because there are so many factors to consider, and I’ve been going back and forth on the idea for hours now.
Initially, I wasn’t fond of the idea of starting Dyson, but the more I think about it, the more I think it could work. Aoki would present Yost with another pinch hitter on the bench, and unlike Butler and Josh Willingham, he wouldn’t necessarily need to be removed for a pinch runner right away. If Bochy goes with a LOOGY to face Dyson in a late-inning situation, Aoki could pinch hit and handle the right field duties while the Royals’ bullpen strikes out everyone in the city of San Francisco.
It’s very tempting, and even though it could work out, I’m still not totally sold. I have been a huge Dyson fan for the last 5 years, and I love what he brings to the table. But I think I like Aoki’s bat a bit more in this situation, and even though the defense would be worse off, I think Guthrie’s going to need quite a bit of run support tonight, so any slight downgrade would be a worthwhile risk.
What I’m saying is I have no idea what I would do.
This is something that would make sense, and Yost could use this strategy in both Games 3 and 4, but this may be a moot discussion, since Yost likes to stick with as much consistency as possible. He has shown the ability to adapt on the fly, though, so maybe he’ll surprise us one more time.
Games 3, 4, and 5 will still be baseball, but the change in ballpark and league will force the Royals to adjust. Losing Butler’s bat for the next three games is going to hurt, so Yost will need to figure out how to make up the difference. He may choose to sacrifice some defense in Game 5 to add a right-handed bat. He may choose to sacrifice some offense in Games 3 and/or 4 to tighten up the defense for Guthrie and Vargas. Or, he may choose to make no significant changes.
It will be tough to balance the offense and defense under a different set of rules, but if the Royals plan on avoiding an elimination game before coming back to Kansas City, it’s a balance they’re going to have to find right away.