Alex Gordon’s on-base percentage is .383, best on the Royals. He hits sixth in the batting order.
Alcides Escobar’s wildly fluctuating on-base percentage currently sits at .322. He hits lead-off.
Last season, the number one spot in the batting order came to the plate 85 times more than the number six spot in the order.
Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Frankly, most of us are thinking the same thing. Some, however, are more bothered by it than others.
To be honest, when I first actually looked at the situation, 85 plate appearances seemed like a LOT. It is, roughly, twenty games worth of at-bats and, with the possible exception of the new Mike Moustakas, there is no one else on the roster I would rather see get that many extra chances than Alex Gordon. That said, what does 85 extra plate appearances really mean?
Using this season’s on-base percentages, Gordon would get on-base 33 times in those 85 plate appearances. Escobar would be expected to reach 27 times. The Royals are currently plating about 37% of the runners they put on-base. In theory, Gordon would score two, maybe three, more runs during those 85 extra plate appearances than Escobar. TWO RUNS.
Now, there are plenty out there who really love to dig deep into the statistical analysis. I don’t have the patience. I would expect that getting on base at the top of the order, with Moustakas et.al. coming up behind you probably leads to scoring a greater percentage of the time than the lower part of the order. That said, we only have six additional baserunners to play with here, so do we add a run and say Gordon would score three more runs than Escobar? I would, if only because I think Gordon should be batting at the top of the order.
We can also make the case that Escobar, a career .301 on-base guy, will not keep up his ‘lofty’ .322 OBP. We could make a similar case for Gordon, who is clipping along 35 points above his career on-base percentage. You can slide the scale however you wish and add a baserunner for every 10% difference between the two players. Is the difference four runs, even five? Is that a difference maker?
You can make an argument that in baseball, especially in the Royals’ world of get a lead early and hand it to the bullpen, that you should not turn down even just a handful of runs. Is even five runs enough to make a change to a team currently in first place? While we like to be snide about the mental aspect of the game and the supposed fragility of players’ minds, let’s not kid ourselves into thinking something that is not statistically quantifiable does not exist. Baseball give a player a lot of time to sit around and think and worry and get all worked up over, say, batting lead-off all year and suddenly coming to the park and seeing your name down at seventh. It might be silly, but I think you are kidding yourself if it is not a factor a manager would need to consider.
Another consideration is that you can make a very viable case that those 85 extra plate appearances would all be packed into the last two innings of a baseball game. An extra plate appearance in the ninth inning of a 7-1 game doesn’t mean much, but they carry a lot of weight in a 2-2 game with Wade Davis and Greg Holland in the bullpen.
All in, what is the difference between batting Alex Gordon first instead of sixth? Is it one win? The standard theory is that 10 extra runs equates to an extra win, so we are stretching the stats considerably to even get to one win (not to mention we are closing in on the halfway point of the season already).
In the end, it makes sense for Alex Gordon to be leading off for the Kansas City Royals. I’m just not sure it makes sense to make the change or has the impact that is seems like such a move should.