Black holes. Vacuums. Individual vortex of suck. They are all over this Royals lineup.
Earlier this month,
Frank Ned Yost supposedly took the advice of his statisticians and built a lineup a sabermatrician could love. It looked something like this:
It just made so much sense. Take your best hitters and stack them at the top of the order. Because this is the Royals and the Royals offense, there isn't much to choose from, so you're best hitters are really just your top four. It's a flaw of Dayton Moore and his roster construction that he's built a team that is devoid of a true number two, a couple potential number threes (key on potential) and absent a real power threat, lacking a cleanup hitter. So for the personnel assembled, the above lineup was one that seemed to work. This new sabermetric inspired lineup - first seen June 5 - averaged 4.2 runs per game. It's a tick better than their 3.9 runs per game they've averaged for the whole season.
It was fun while it lasted.
On Tuesday, Yost juggled his lineup again. Most notable was the reinsertion of Alcides Escobar in the number two spot. Yes, Escobar and his .277 on base percentage is now in a position to increase his plate appearances. Because if you can give more at bats to one of your offensive vacuums, you have to do it, right?
And of course that new lineup has to come into play immediately, as Escobar was up with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth with a chance to tie or win the game. He swung at the first pitch and flied out.
I understand Eric Hosmer has retooled his swing and approach at the plate and is finally flashing the power potential we thought had dried up forever. The Royals opened the season hoping he could be their third place hitter and really want to drop him in that role. Now he's on the upward plane, Yost couldn't wait to move him back to third. That leaves a void at second in the lineup.
It's a void that will be filled by Escobar. Irony.
According to Bob Dutton, Escobar is back in the second position because that's where the Royals think he "fits best."
Let's play "spot the outlier" and take a quick look at Escobar's career stats.
|162 Game Avg.||162||629||583||69||154||22||8||5||48||29||83||.263||.303||.354||.656||79|
Obviously, we discard 2008 and 2009. That leaves us with three full seasons and part of a fourth. In those three-plus seasons, he's topped .300 in on base percentage once. It's not represented above, but he's topped .290 in wOBA once. (I bet you can guess which season.) And he's compiled better than a 75 OPS+, you guessed it, once. We look a little deeper and we see that his 2012 season was fueled by a .344 BABIP. Again, the only time in his career he's topped the .290 BABIP mark.
I'm not really going out on a limb when I declare Escobar's 2012 season an outlier. It was the best offensive season of his career where he reached heights that will be difficult for him to find again, given his profile as a hitter. The Royals, however, ignore the stats that indicate he struggles with major league pitching. While Escobar has accumulated over 2,200 plate appearances, the only ones that count are the nearly 650 he had in 2012. Because that was the only season where he was offensively average. Just another clue this regime doesn't - and won't - get it.
The Royals think Escobar is qualified to hit second. That's where he fits best.
It's a cruel game the Royals play with us, isn't it? After months of frustration, it appears the light goes on and the Royals make a move that clearly makes their offense better. (OK, maybe not clearly, but it was a better lineup with Escobar buried at the bottom.) And once the team shows a glimmer of offensive light, they switch back to the old, broken way. How very Royals.
There are a lot of bad - or wrong - choices for who should hit second in the Royals lineup. There are just too many black holes. Too many automatic outs. Escobar is probably the worst of the choices. His true spot should be at the bottom of the order. If you like the idea of a "second" leadoff man, maybe that should be Escobar. Really, the fewer times he puts the lumber in his hands, the better this team will be offensively speaking.
Sadly, Yost just can't help himself.
I'm not sure who the best choice is for the Royals at second in the lineup. Maybe it's Jarrod Dyson. Maybe it's David Lough or Lorenzo Cain. Maybe it's still Hosmer. Who knows? As I said before, there are a bunch of options, all of them underwhelming.
One thing I do know: Escobar is a bad choice to hit second.