A pretty fair amount of pop tart outrage was heard when Ned Yost recently moved Alex Gordon from the lead-off spot into the number three hole in the batting order. The move was accompanied by the proclamation that Gordon was 'really more of a number three or five type' and also that the move was for the long-term.
The idea that Gordon needed to be moved down in the order because he does not fit the prototypical lead-off hitter mold is pretty ridiculous, but Ned and the Royals are hardly the only organization in baseball to have trouble shedding longstanding baseball doctrines. Frankly, it is kind of amazing Yost came up with the idea in the first place and then stuck with it for so long.
Adding to the curiosity of the move was that it followed a pretty recent quip by the Royals' manager about how important it is to score first in a game. Given that, it would seem to make sense to have your best on-base guy (Gordon) bat first and assure that your best hitter (Butler) would come to the plate in every first inning you play (as opposed to moving him down to fourth to accommodate Gordon in the three spot).
Still, there were some calmer heads that wrote this off as the blogosphere overreacting once again. That, in the end, the difference in plate appearances and overall results was virtually nothing. That might have some merit. According to Rany, the difference over a season as you move down in the batting order is 18 plate appearances per slot.
Moving Alex Gordon from first to third in the order will, if done for an entire season, cost him 36 plate appearances. Does that really add up to anything?
When you are down to just 36 plate appearances, the difference between Alex's .364 on-base percentage and Chris Getz's .312 really comes down to two extra baserunners....for the season. Seems like we should maybe stop worrying about it right there, except I'm not so sure that really tells the story.
If you think about it, more often than not (that's a scientific term of measurement by the way) would not those extra 36 plate appearance almost always occur in the eighth or ninth inning of a game? There simply is no other way for the lead off position to acquire 36 more plate appearances over a season than the number three position without lead-off being the last or next to last hitter of a game.
As of yesterday, right at one-fourth of Kansas City's games have been decided by five runs or more, meaning a ninth inning Alex Gordon bat would be basically irrelevant to the final outcome in nine of the 36 games in which he would have an extra plate appearance in the lead-off spot. So, now we're down to 27 games and, honestly, there have to be another six or seven where Kansas City was up 8-4 or down 2-6 with no one on and two outs when the lead-off spot came up. That leaves 20 games where Chris Getz or Jarrod Dyson or Lorenzo Cain hits and extra time instead of Alex Gordon.
Statistically, the difference between what Getz/Dyson/Cain accomplish versus what Gordon does probably comes down to something like one additional walk and one extra double over the course of 162 games - maybe not even that. That's what the numbers say and, it is hard to argue with math.
Except, I would rather have Alex Gordon at the plate in the ninth inning twenty extra times a year and, oh by the way, Billy Butler comes up in the ninth 18 less times batting fourth instead of third. Does it impact the bottom line won-loss record? Not enough to matter this year, but I would still rather have those two get more at-bats than less.
Especially in the ninth inning.