2012 All-Star Billy Butler will once again be the most imposing threat in the Royals lineup. Photo from CBSSports.com
With just two days remaining until Opening Day, the Kansas City roster is completely set. The Royals offense will trot out the same lineup that we thought we would see for most of 2012, but the order may look a little different. Many thought that Ned Yost would keep a basic structure that went about like this:
LF Alex Gordon
SS Alcides Escobar
1B Eric Hosmer
DH Billy Butler
3B Mike Moustakas
C Salvador Perez
RF Jeff Francoeur
CF Lorenzo Cain
2B Chris Getz
However, as Bob Dutton pointed out, Yost may have tipped his hand that the lineup is going to have a bit of a new look for 2013. It looks like Yost will actually factor in player performance to give the lineup its best chance at run production. The most important aspect to the new look is increased protection for Billy Butler. The Royals will want to avoid having opposing teams pitch around he slugger in the later innings. Here is a short breakdown of each player, in the order they will most likely appear in the Royals lineup.
1) LF Alex Gordon
When Gordon was shifted to the lead off spot, many were surprised as he did not resemble the typical lead-off hitter and had not proven to be consistent with the bat at that time. However, Yost hit a home run with the move as Gordon has now reason to the top in the American League. Alex provides pop at the top of the order (leading the AL in doubles last year) and is smart enough to have a high on-base percentage the last two years. Gordon’s elite defense and base running skills makes him a top performer for the Royals.
2) SS Alcides Escobar
In just two years in KC, Escobar has come a long ways from a fringe major league player with poor offense to a key asset for a young ball club. The 26 year old finished last season with a .331 on-base percentage and added some power with 42 extra base hits. If Escobar can keep his strikeout rate low, he will be able to stay in the two spot. The most important job for the righty is to make sure to provide runners in scoring position as the team gets into the heart of the order.
3) DH Billy Butler
Butler will once again be the best hitter in the Royals lineup. The designated hitter has developed into the best at his position and that should not change as Billy set career highs in slugging %, home runs, and RBI’s just a season ago. It will be the team’s job to make sure opponents continue to pitch to Butler throughout the game. The 2012 All-Star, “Country Breakfast,” is a clutch performer that should have the team excited about a legitimate threat teams will have to deal with throughout the year.
4) 3B Mike Moustakas
Moustakas was a pleasant surprise at the start of 2012. The young left-handed hitter has shown the most power potential on the roster. Moose, or any other option in the clean-up spot, may be the most important hitter for the 2013 Royals offense. In addition to being the most traditional run producing spot, the clean-up hitter for the Royals will change the dynamic for the lineup. A solid 4-hitter will make pitchers go after Butler more in front of him. Furthermore, the third baseman will be followed by some free swingers making it even more important to have base runners in front of them.
5) C Salvador Perez
Initially a defensive specialist, Perez has earned his role as the Royals 5-hitter with performances early in his career. Perez is the prototypical free swinger. The powerful right-handed hitter had a strong .301 batting average last year (league average was .256) but his on-base percentage was just .328 (league average .320). Just 12.8% of Perez’s plate appearances ended in either a strikeout or walk. This indicates the ball will be put in play the majority of time and the last two years it has gone well. If Perez can stay healthy and maintain his power, the low plate discipline will be overlooked with his high production.
6) 1B Eric Hosmer
Just two years ago, Eric Hosmer was considered the golden boy of the Royals minor league system. Following a season long sophomore slump where Hosmer batted just .232 on the season, he will have to earn some of that back. Hosmer’s slugging percentage dropped by over 100 points from his rookie year to his sophomore campaign. Hope hasn’t been lost for Hosmer. Decreased burden may allow the left-handed hitter to loosen up at the plate as the team anticipates that the 23 year old will get back to driving the ball and being the dangerous hitter he is capable of being.
7) Lorenzo Cain
Due to an injury plagued season, the Royals were not able to fully gain an understanding of what they have with Cain at the plate. Cain only played in 61 games games in 2012 and struggled to ever gain consistency. His vast range in center-field and potential to be a reincarnated Mike Cameron (3-time Gold Glove winner with 278 career home runs). If Cain can maintain some plate discipline, his quick batter could be a great addition at the bottom of the order.
8) RF Jeff Francoeur
There is not a more maligned player in the Royals lineup than Jeff Francouer. The lifetime .266 hitter, who has hit more than 16 home runs just once since 2007, was able to avoid any competition for his starting job this spring. Advanced stats show that Frncoeur was actually three wins worse than the average AAA outfielder would have been last season. Unless the 29 year old can find a way to recover the jolt of production he had in 2011, Francoeur will be a burden to the Royals lineup throughout the season. Unfortunately this year, there is no minor league All-Star waiting to be called up.
9) 2B Chris Getz
Getz was able to beat out Johnny Giavotella for the starting job during the spring, much to the dismay of many. However, Getz production last season (when healthy) and this spring has shown that the decision can be warranted. When healthy, Getz batted a career high .272 last season and increased his extra base production by eight total bases although he had 219 less plate appearances. Getz will provide zero power as he only has two home runs in 1309 career plate appearances. If Getz struggles, do not be surprised to see Gio inserted into the everyday lineup midway through the season.
The Royals did not make any player changes from the previous season to the lineup. The hope of another season under their belt and players living up to expectations have the front office believing this team is ready to compete for a playoff run.