Kansas City Royals May Need Lineup Shuffle To Slow Offensive Slide


With the way the Kansas City Royals have hit in 2015, you’d think that a lineup shuffle may be a premature topic, but you’d probably be wrong. Yes, the team has a slash of .281/.330/.422 (.752 OPS) for the season…and that’s really good. How good? The team currently (through May 27) ranks first in average, third in OBP, second in SLG, and third in OPS. So…very good, but… (you knew there would be a “but”)

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From Opening Day through the end of April, everything was fine. More than fine. The Royals had a slash of .306/.362/.450 and an .812 OPS. Now, I think we can all agree that was bound to come down. But while the team was hitting like that, we could all overlook the non-traditional parts of the lineup, such as Alcides Escobar – career OBP (prior to 2015) of .299 – leading off. Mike Moustakas – career slash (prior to 2015) of .236/.290/.379 – batting second. And so on…

Of course, Ned Yost gets some benefit of the doubt after 2014, and some things have paid off (like Moose becoming George Brett, for example). The injury to Alex Rios hasn’t helped the offense, either. Paulo Orlando is a fun story, but being forced into almost everyday use, he’s been exposed as a .250/.283/.398 hitter. Now that Rios is on his way back though, should Yost look at a shuffle, or simply go back to his opening day lineup?

Personally, I’d mix it up a bit. Why? Well, since the end of April, that team slash line has been in a steady decline. From May 1 through 27, the team has produced at a clip of .257/.298/.394 for a .692 OPS. Since May 15, the beginning of the first series versus the Yankees, the team has slashed .260/.297/.373…you’ll notice a sharp drop in slugging there when compared to the slugging since May 1. The Royals, for the year, are still an above average offense, for the last few weeks, they have been below average. The American League average for OBP/SLG is .315/.399 and the Royals, since May 1, fall short in both categories.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a similar lineup change article based loosely on the ideas put forward in The Book. You could go read through that older piece for a breakdown of how this works…but I’ll give another rundown here to make it easy on you.

Basically, the numbers say your three best hitters should bat in the first, second, and fourth spots of the order and ideally your first two guys should have a good walk rate. Your next two best guys should bat third and fifth. From six through nine, just arrange the hitters in descending quality (judged by OPS).

But wait…there’s more.

The Book states that one common issue with lineup construction is that the best hitter (and often the guy with the highest OBP) is often slotted into the third spot in the lineup. The authors, however, found that the third hitter has more plate appearances with two out and the bases empty and theorized that the value of any hit other than a home run (the only way to generate a run in that situation) is lower in the third spot than any of the other top five places in the lineup. Given that info, we should place our fourth best hitter in the #5 spot, while the fifth best hitter bats third.

Using what we know to this point of 2015, then…let’s play with the lineup a bit. I’m thinking, if you take a look at walk rate, Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon are your top two guys, with Kendrys Morales and Lorenzo Cain coming in third and fourth (actually Colon ranks third, but in just 67 plate appearances – and we’ll get to him later). Hosmer, Gordon, Morales, and Cain are also four of your top five hitters ranked by OPS (four of the top six, if you count Rios and his .809 OPS in 29 plate appearances).

Now…you probably aren’t going to have Hosmer lead off, that seems to waste his team high .506 SLG. And you may not want Gordon leading off either, although I think he could be an excellent choice. So let’s go that route, and while I want to leave Moose alone (because I’m superstitious), let’s swap him with Hosmer (who has the team’s best walk rate). Now is where we mix it up even more…I’ll just go ahead and unveil the lineup below, based on the impending return of Rios.

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Alex Gordon, LF (.798 OPS)
Eric Hosmer, 1B (.881 OPS)
Alex Rios, RF (.809 OPS)
Mike Moustakas, 3B (.876 OPS)
Kendrys Morales, DH (.853 OPS)
Lorenzo Cain, CF (.753 OPS)
Salvador Perez, C (.739 OPS)
Omar Infante/Christian Colon, 2B (.589/.682 OPS)
Alcides Escobar, SS (.683 OPS)

Remember I mentioned Colon earlier…well…look at his OPS next to Infante’s and tell me he shouldn’t be playing half the time, if not more. Yes, Omar can be pretty slick in the field, but a .589 OPS isn’t doing much for me (or anyone else, for that matter). Colon also walks 9% of the time versus Infante’s 2% rate. If you can explain to me why Colon has just two plate appearances since May 10, I’ll buy you a beer.

You could make an argument that, as long as Omar gets the majority of work at second base, he should bat ninth…but I put Escobar there to set the table as the lineup rolls back into Gordon, Hosmer, and the other run producers.

So…that’s my brilliant (???) idea for a lineup shuffle. Of course, if the starting rotation doesn’t get on track soon, scoring an extra run here and there from a lineup change won’t matter for the Kansas City Royals.

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