Kyle Isbel deserves a shot at the KC Royals leadoff spot

As Kansas City looks for another option, why not try the centerfielder?
Kyle Rivas/GettyImages
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Here is the list of MLB teams that get less offensive production from their leadoff man than the KC Royals.

Oakland Athletics

That's it. That's the list.

Infielder Maikel Garcia's struggles at the plate this season have been well-documented and discussed. After a hot start to 2024, Garcia has gone ice cold and currently sits as one of the worst everyday batters in MLB. Yet, an improved plate approach made him an ideal leadoff man. The Venezuelan's process may be better, but the results are much. much worse.

The KC Royals are in desperate need of a new, or temporary, leadoff man.

The struggles in Kansas City's leadoff spot have created uncertainty and challenges for the team. Manager Matt Quatraro has tried a few names in Garcia's place. Veterans Adam Frazier and Garrett Hampson both have at least one start in the leadoff role, while Nick Loftin has made three appearances there since June 20. None of those three have run away with the role, keeping the conversation going about who Quatraro should try next in the pivotal role.

Based on his recent performance and specific skills, I believe Kansas City should strongly consider giving outfielder Kyle Isbel the opportunity to bat before shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. Sure, some fans will say he is already serving that role as a pseudo-secondary leadoff man, batting ninth in 70 of his 72 games this season. His recent run at the plate, plus his existing tools, tell me that he could be a short-term solution by batting first.

Why Kyle Isbel deserves a shot

No one is going to see Isbel's .233/.281/.373 career line and shout that he should see the most plate appearances on any given night. Isbel's bat has always held him back in the eyes of Royals fans, and for good reason. But a hot bat still has value, and Isbel's bat is steaming right now.

The lefty is posting a .833 OPS since the home stand began on June 24. That ranks fifth among all qualified Royals batters, which sounds low but isn't considering who he has in front of him. Quatraro isn't going to move one of Witt, Vinnie Pasquantino, or Hunter Renfroe to the leadoff spot due to their established roles in the lineup. Freddy Fermin, meanwhile, is hitting well, but he can not lead off every game due to his role. That trickles down to Isbel, who is not only in the lineup more often than not but deserves to move up in the lineup.

Also, Isbel has a knack for picking when to grab that extra base on any given hit. He may not have the raw speed Hampson or Witt possess, but his sprint speed is well above league average, affording him an edge in trying to turn a double into a triple.

Isbel isn't a perfect leadoff man like many other winning teams have on the roster, but his potential impact can still be significant for the Royals. The outfielder still strikes out plenty in his recent hot stretch. He isn't turning into Luis Arráez overnight. But Kansas City doesn't need him to make that drastic turnaround. The Royals simply need a productive bat in the leadoff spot with above-average speed who can actually get on base.

While a minor detail, moving Isbel would not only diversify the top half of the lineup but also provide strategic advantages in creating favorable matchups against opposing pitchers. The alternating left-right order of Isbel/Witt/Pasquantino/Perez/Massey provides the Royals with a strategic advantage in the lineup, creating favorable matchups against opposing pitchers. There are several different directions Quatraro could go from there, but putting a right-handed batter in the sixth or ninth spot could extend that alternation further. It isn't a surefire solution, but it is another minor edge that Kansas City would exploit with Isbel batting first.

The Royals have other priorities to spend their trade capital on this month before addressing a leadoff specialist. The bullpen and outfield are inarguably bigger concerns right now. Isbel isn't a sure thing batting leadoff, but knowing for sure either way can only help the Royals down the stretch.

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