Well, most important when it comes to the world of the Kansas City Royals as it pertains to the 2016 season.
Of course, who is the most important player when it comes to 2016 success is an intricate question. One can go a number of different directions and not be wrong and, let’s face it, no ONE player is going to cripple the Royals, nor will just one player ensure success. However, I thought I would try this exercise just for fun and because it’s the first Tuesday in March and because it is the last day until pretty much October when we won’t have a game of some sort to discuss.
You could go in a lot of different directions here. Yordano Ventura came to mind instantly for me. If he could emerge as a true top of the rotation guy that quite obviously give the Royals something they do not have and really did not have all of last year. That said, they won 95 games and a World Series with pretty much the same rotation they are rolling out this year. If Ventura is a 175 inning guy with an ERA and FIP around four, does that spell doom?
Going from someone emerging to someone going down, the case could be made that a Wade Davis injury (knock wood) or implosion (although cyborgs typically have a long shelf life) would be jarring to the team. Still, with Kelvin Herrera and Joakim Soria (what the heck, throw in Hochevar and maybe even Danny Duffy) still in the pen, it would seem the Royals could overcome something happening to the their closer.
How about Salvador Perez? My guess is if you pinned Dayton Moore or Ned Yost down and made them answer you, they would say an injury to Perez would be the most devastating blow the team could conceivably deal with. For that matter, how much better would the Royals’ lineup be if Perez could reverse the offensive decline we have seen over the past few seasons? Certainly he is the most important man this year, right?
Or is it Omar Infante? Or Jarrod Dyson?
In the case of Infante, one would hope that the organizational tolerance level for an aging second baseman who hits .220 is something less than six weeks before they hand the job to Christian Colon. With Dyson, can your most important player be a guy who no one expects to play every day? Jarrod posting good numbers against every right-hander the Royals face would be huge, but no matter what the term ‘soft platoon’ means, Dyson is not going to see much action against lefties.
No, in my mind, the most important Royal this year is Alcides Escobar.
The Royals believe – and listen, who’s to doubt right now? – in the voodoo magic that is Escobar batting leadoff. Even the non-stat inclined Yost admits it doesn’t seem like a good idea to bat a guy with .298 career on-base percentage lead-off. Yet the Royals win with Esky batting first. You don’t have to tell me that those wins probably having very little to do with where the Royals’ shortstop is written in the lineup, but the Royals believe. They tried to disbelieve in the middle of last season, lost some games and went back to the voodoo. I shudder to think how bad Escobar would have to hit and for how long before Yost will move him out of lead-off this year.
Since becoming a Royal, this is the on-base percentages Alcides has supplied his team: .290, .331, .259, .317 and .293. Those are not good numbers, folks. Along with those, without question, Escobar has played tremendous defense. He is probably the best overall baserunner on the team, bunts well (if that’s your thing) and he pretty much plays every single day. Escobar does not have to be a very good hitter to be an asset to his team.
The fly in the ointment very simply is that should the Royals bat him first all season long, Escobar might come to the plate 700 times and quite likely will not walk 30 of those times. Even a little regression (and let’s not kid ourselves, opposing pitchers are going through Escobar some really nasty out of the zone crap early in the count this season) and you could have your lead-off hitter accounting for 550 outs this season. And have him doing so, coming the plate (after the first inning, obviously) after Salvador Perez, Omar Infante and the rightfielder have batted.
A lot/most teams get a little skinny down at the bottom of the order, but a flailing (.260 OBP kind of flail) lead-off hitter would routinely have a four batter void in their lineup. You better hope that Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain are battling for the league MVP if that is the case or the 2016 season could be all kinds of 3-1 losses.
The most important man in the world? I think it is Alcides Escobar, if only because he is going to be right in your face, batting first….every single day.