The KC Royals can improve their club several ways in 2017 without signing anyone new or trading away for a star.
Last season Kansas City went 23-25 in one-run games, good for the ninth-best mark out of 15 teams in the American League. Not great, but not horrible.
As we all know, though, the Royals can’t afford to be slightly below average in tight games. They don’t have the talent or the payroll to overcome small miscues that are the difference in a 2-1 or 3-2 ballgame.
We’ve focused on key plotlines for the offense and the rotation in previous articles this month, now we’re looking at three managerial moves or philosophies we’ll be looking at could be key to the Royals’ postseason hopes.
Hit someone other than Escobar at leadoff
Sure, we’re beating a dead horse here, but having the Royals’ worst hitter lead the team in at-bats seems like a bad idea. You’ve heard the numbers before but they’re worth repeating. Escobar, who hit leadoff for Kansas City 82 times last year, finished 2016 with a .292 on-base percentage. As a team, the Royals had the second-worst OBP from the leadoff spot of any team in baseball, thanks in large part to Ned Yost’s insistence of leading off with Escobar.
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So who leads off in 2017? If Whit Merrifield wins the second base job, he’ll have a shot. But the best choice would be Lorenzo Cain. Despite a bit of an off year last season, Cain still posted an on-base percentage of .339, the best mark on the team behind Jarrod Dyson’s .340 mark.
Cain’s never been a classic No. 3 hitter, but he’s easily the Royals’ best all-around bat. So why not get him as many at-bats as possible?
Don’t let Soria pitch
We’re not trying to be mean, but this one’s pretty simple.
Joakim Soria blew seven saves last year and managed a pretty impressively terrible 12.5 percent save rate.
What’s frightening is that the way the roster’s currently constructed, Soria is schedule to be either the Royals’ seventh or eighth inning specialist.
For Kansas City to contend for a playoff spot, Soria can’t pitch meaningful innings.
Give Salvy a day off
Over the past three seasons, Salvador Perez has caught 435 games during the regular and postseason. the most games of any catcher in the Major Leagues over that stretch.
Here’s Perez’s first half and second half triple slash splits over that same time:
2014: First half – .283/.329/.437. Second half – .229/.236/.360
2015: First half – .262/.273/.453. Second half – .258/.289/.391
2016: First half – .283/.318/.500. Second half – .201/.248/.357
Yes, unfortunately, Salvy is human. Yost and his staff have got to keep Perez fresh with regular days off or Kansas City will end up with a below-average catcher after the All-Star break.
This decision should be even easier to make because Drew Butera is a decent backup. Last season in 56 games, Butera managed a very respectable .285 average, .328 OBP and .480 slugging percentage. Granted that’s in limited time, but that’s a lot better slash line than the Royals’ No. 4 hitter, Eric Hosmer put up in 2016. Hosmer went .266/.328/.433.
No we’re not trying to say Butera is the second-coming of Johnny Bench, but the man is more than capable of catching every fourth game.