The Royals finished off May with a leisurely three games in six days – what is this? The NBA?
After winning five games in a row, Kansas City proceeding to lose four in a row and five of their last six games. While that has caused the Royals to fall out of first place, they did blow through the Memorial Day barrier with one of the best records in baseball. If you believe in the ‘you don’t know anything until Memorial Day’ mantra, then you now know that your Kansas City Royals are pretty decent.
The Royals remain right on my quirky path to 90 wins, by taking 7 of 13 games three times in succession (they are currently 1-1 in this new thirteen game stretch) and have done so despite erratic starting pitching and an offensive swoon that has seen them score two runs or less in five of their last six games. Of course, if you can win 90 games by simply going 7-6 all year, why not go 8-5 once in a while and win 95 games? Seems like a smart idea.
The obvious place to jumpstart a ‘plus 90′ campaign would be the starting rotation. However, the Royals do not seem to be motivated to make a big move on the acquisition front and, to be honest, I doubt any potential trading partners are ready to help them out, either. A rival general manager may know that his team is not a contender by Memorial Day, but seldom is one ready to give up in public before Independence Day. With every impact starting prospect in the system either hampered by injury or simple ineffectiveness, the Royals are pretty much stuck. They will have to grit their teeth and hope some combination of Ventura, Volquez, Young, Vargas, Guthrie and Duffy turns into a better rotation than what they were in April and May.
While it seems odd to cast a critical eye at an offense that leads the American League in runs per game, the time may be coming (or already here) for a shuffle. While Sunday was a very non-traditional lineup for the Royals they did bat Alcides Escobar first (.310 OBP) and Omar Infante second (.241 OBP)….on a team with five guys with on-base percentages north of .350. Now, Infante batting second was a fluke of the day – although why not put Christian Colon there for a day and see if that .348 OBP holds up? – but Escobar batting lead-off is the rule.
Let’s get one thing straight, I love Alcides Escobar. He might be my favorite Royal. That does not make him the Royals’ best player and it probably doesn’t make him my everyday lead-off hitter. He runs the bases well, he fields tremendously, he can handle the bat (I actually would not mind seeing him bunt for a hit more), but he doesn’t walk. On a team that loves to swing, Escobar stands out as one of the swingiest (yeah, swingiest – that’s a technical term). When it comes to batting order construction, I kind of like to have guys who are more likely to get on base get more at-bats than those that don’t.
That discussion, however, often has a ‘well, you can’t have two lefties in a row’ and that mindset derails a lineup that has Gordon and Moustakas at the top or Gordon and Hosmer or Hosmer and Moustakas back to back. Should we care? Is there too much concern about running into the dreaded LOOGY?
In the American League, these are your left-handed reliever leaders in games:
- Glen Perkins MIN
- Aaron Thompson MIN
- Justin Wilson NY
- Marc Rzepczynski CLE
- Nick Hagadone CLE
- Fernando Abad OAK
- Andrew Miller NY
- Aaron Loup TOR
- Blaine Hardy DET
- Zach Britton BAL
- Zach Duke CHI
- Charlie Furbush SEA
- Dan Jennings CHI
- Tony Sipp HOU
- Brian Duensing MIN
Those are the relievers in the American League who have appeared in more games than the Royals’ Franklin Morales. If, as the Royals are prone to doing, you have great angst over changing the batting order in any way, then it makes sense to construct a set lineup based on facing your divisional foes.
In Minnesota, Perkins is worse facing lefties than he is against right-handers. Thompson is tough on lefties, but in a relatively small sample (both 2015 and for a career) and there is no reason to ever factor Brian Duensing into your lineup making decisions. In addition to old friend Blaine Hardy, against whom lefties are hitting .184 this year, the Tigers offer Tom Gorzelanny who is graciously allowing both left and right-handed batters many pitches to hit this season. Of course, they close with the resurgent Joakim Soria, who is tough on all hitters, but moreso against righties.
Chicago? Dan Jennings is being lit up by lefties this season. Zach Duke is much better against lefthanded hitting (but not dominant) and is the set-up man for David Robertson, who gets everyone out, but lefties at a higher rate than their right-handed counterparts.
Cleveland? Hagadone is a lefty killer with a big platoon split. Rzepczynski’s splits for his career show him very good against lefties as well, very average (or worse) against righties. His 2015 splits are less skewed for what that’s worth. The Indians’ closer, Cody Allen, also has a much more success (over his career) against left-handed hitting than against right.
While my perception was that the fear of running into a lefty specialist with the game on the line was overblown, it certainly does not seem like one wants to be done one to Cleveland late and have three lefties in a row coming up. Of course, maybe relievers are not really the issue at all.
In the American League, thirty-two starting pitchers currently are holding left handed hitters to a batting average of .240 or less (two of those are Royals, by the way). Only twenty-one starters hold right handed hitters to a the same paltry average. Ten pitchers (Edinson Volquez among them) appear on both leaderboards, which leaves twenty-one starting pitchers who carry a hefty advantage against left-handed hitters, with ten of those taking up residence in the American League Central.
It is admittedly shotgun research at best, but it shows that the idea of not bunching your lefties has some weight and that causes some issues when it comes to switching up the order. If you are hellbent on L-R alternation it is almost unavoidable to not have one of your best on-base guys (Gordon, Hosmer or Moustakas) at least hitting fifth, if not sixth. Also, in the thirst to get more at-bats to your best hitters it is practically impossible to avoid a vortex of on-base ineptitude at the bottom of the order. One could go weeks without a Perez-Escobar-Infante bottom of the order getting a walk.
That’s over a thousand words with no answer for the batting order and, honestly, the team does lead the league in runs per game AND run differential. Perhaps the answer really is: ‘Don’t Touch Anything! You Might Break It!’