Much attention has been given this off-season about how the Royals desperately needed to upgrade their starting rotation. The offense has been overlooked despite the fact the Royals scored just 4.17 runs per game, the third worst offense in the league. The expectation is that the offense should improve internally due to having a full season of players that were hurt last year (Salvador Perez, Lorenzo Cain), younger players on an upward trend in performance (Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar) and players bouncing back from a dreadful outlier season in 2012 (Eric Hosmer, Jeff Francoeur who did not really have an outlier season, but whatever).
However, even if you assume these optimistic scenarios and no regression from top established hitters like Billy Butler and Alex Gordon, this does not appear to be a top-tier offense. The Royals will likely have to scratch and claw for runs (which Ned will interpret to mean MOAR BUNTING!) The Royals will have to squeeze every bit of offense they can out of their grit-filled gamers. So what would be the most optimal lineup for Ned to write out every day?
I took ZIPS projections for 2013 available at Fangraphs and plugged them into the Baseball Musings Lineup Analysis. Now there are limitations and reservations about the Lineup Analysis, so it should not be taken for gospel. However it can give us an indication of what might be the best arrangement of hitters to send out there. I used the 1959-2004 model rather than the 1989-2002 model to avoid the silly-ball era.
The Best Lineup
LF Alex Gordon .269/.352/.434 (ZIPS projection)
DH Billy Butler .295/.362/.476
3B Mike Moustakas .261/.310/.430
1B Eric Hosmer .273/.336/.435
C Salvador Perez .286/.316/.422
CF Lorenzo Cain .259/.311/.383
SS Alcides Escobar .271/.312/.366
RF Jeff Francoeur .261/.305/.413
2B Chris Getz .259/.310/.316
This lineup projects for 4.54 runs per game, or 738 runs per season, good for fifth in the league last year, although you have to discount that because these nine players will not play all 162 games and the bench will provide less offense. Butler in the #2 hole is an interesting idea many on here have proposed for years. While some push for it because it would be hilarious to see Billy be asked to bunt all the time, the real reason it makes sense is because Billy is our best hitter at getting on base, and that's really what hitting at the top of the lineup should be all about. Lee Judge and other old school baseball men (many of which run the team) would argue that Billy would clog the base-paths with his slow-as-molasses speed. A power hitter like Billy Butler has conventionally been in the cleanup spot, or the #3 spot. Having this lineup would require bucking baseball orthodoxy.
Aside from that, this lineup probably isn't too terribly far from what we'll actually see this spring. The lineup puts lefty hitters back-to-back in Moose and Hosmer, which managers like to avoid. Also, nobody puts Frenchy in a corner. As an aside, our ZIPS projections for on-base percentage are disturbing.
The Worst Lineup
RF Jeff Francoeur
2B Chris Getz
C Salvador Perez
CF Lorenzo Cain
SS Alcides Escobar
1B Eric Hosmer
3B Mike Moustakas
LF Alex Gordon
DH Billy Butler
This lineup projects to average 4.372 runs per game, or 708 runs per season, which would have been tenth in the league last year, and 32 more runs than the Royals actually scored. So we're not talking a huge difference - about a run every five games. A 30 run improvement last year takes the Royals from a 74 wins to 75 wins Pythagorean win expectation.
But that's not to say its nothing. With two wild cards at play, and the Royals supposedly "close", a win or two could certainly make the difference between making the playoffs (and TOTALLY vindicating Dayton Moore's gamble) or staying home in October (which would just mean we haven't turned the corner yet!) Like I said, without a great offense, we probably have to squeeze every ounce of offense we can out of these guys.
The Probable Lineup
DH Country Breakfast
Cain or Escobar could hit second if Getz doesn't win the starting second base job from Johnny Giavotella or Miguel Tejada, but I still think Getz and his buntastic ways are the odds-on favorite. I think Ned will give Frenchy a chance to redeem himself higher in the order before moving him down (to "take the pressure off of him"). Perez could be our cleanup hitter by June.
Ned's probable lineup is projected to score 4.489 runs per game, or 727 over a season.
Oh, and just for fun, let's look at Detroit's probable lineup:
CF Austin Jackson .263/.341/.418
RF Torii Hunter .287/.344/.438
3B Miguel Cabera .313/.394./561
1B Prince Fielder .284/.397/.499
DH Victor Martinez .286/.339/.431
LF Andy Dirks .276/.319/.418
SS Jhonny Peralta .258/.315/.395
C Alex Avila .248/.349/.407
2B Omar Infante .278/.308/.387
This lineup projects to score 5.178 runs per game, or 839 per season.
Better get those boys bunting Ned.