Alex Gordon is a fixture in left field for the Kansas City Royals, but the other two spots have been in flux most of the season. About the time Lorenzo Cain firmly staked his claim to center field - mainly on the strength of some truly exception defense - he was injured once again. When Dayton Moore finally cut ties with Jeff Francoeur, David Lough moved in as the quasi-regular right fielder, but has since cooled off dramatically.
Now, with the season running out and every game - every at-bat, frankly - being critical, Ned Yost finds himself with four players (Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, Justin Maxwell and David Lough) to play two spots. For a while, it was actually five players, with Emilio Bonifacio spending time in center as well. However, including Bonifacio in this discussion means talking about someone else playing second base (none of whom can hit), so let's not go there.
On the surface, the Royals find themselves with two left-handed hitters and two right-handed hitters for these positions, but the splits - particularly for this season do not necessarily follow conventional thinking:
|Career vs. LHP||2013 vs. LHP|
Obviously, the Lough 'career numbers' are mostly the result of his 2013 season results. After having pretty dramatic and conventional platoon splits early in this minor league career, Lough hit 287/339/438 against lefties his last three years in AAA (307/352/459 versus righthanders). Maxwell destroyed southpaws during his time in the minors the last three seasons (318/483/636) and flailed against righties (210/273/455).
How about that right-handed pitching?
|Career vs. RHP||Season vs. RHP|
One season of splits for four players, none of whom have played every day, certainly falls into the category of 'small sample size'. However, the Royals have thirteen games left to play. No one would deny that a 13 game stretch is a small sample size and the most critical small sample size stretch of the last ten years (twenty?) years. Do you manage for the statistical regression or via the 'what have you done for me lately' principal?
Over time, I have to believe Justin Maxwell will hit lefties far better than right-handers, but he has slugged .457 over 145 plate appearances against righties this season. At this moment in time and probably for only this moment in time, don't you get him at-bats against some right-handers over David Lough even though the conventional and long-term wisdom says otherwise? Frankly don't you do the same with regard to sending Lough up against a lefty right now?
One thing seems very clear: Jarrod Dyson should play against any right-handed starter and never, ever, not once, against a southpaw. Since starting Dyson against a left-hander on September 1st, Yost has not done so since. Sure, the Royals have only faced three lefty starters the entire month so there is time for Ned to go all Frank on us. Here has been Ned's lineup for the month:
|9/1 vs. LHP||Dyson||Maxwell|
|9/2 vs. RHP||Dyson||Lough|
|9/3 vs. RHP||Dyson||Lough|
|9/4 vs. RHP||Dyson||Lough|
|9/5 vs. LHP||Bonifacio||Maxwell|
|9/6 vs. RHP||Dyson||Lough|
|9/7 vs. RHP||Dyson||Lough|
|9/8 vs. RHP||Dyson||Cain|
|9/9 vs. RHP||Dyson||Cain|
|9/10 vs. RHP||Dyson||Lough|
|9/11 vs. LHP||Cain||Maxwell|
|9/13 vs. RHP||Dyson||Lough|
|9/14 vs. RHP||Dyson||Cain|
|9/15 vs. RHP||Dyson||Cain|
Yost, as you might expect, has pretty much set his lineup using conventional wisdom: starting Lough against right-handers and Maxwell versus the southpaws and, probably correctly, leaning towards Cain almost everyday once he came back from his injury.
Given his defensive ability and potential for a hot bat (now and then, anyway), I would think Cain needs to play everyday no matter who is pitching. Dyson, obviously, should start against a right-hander and never against a southpaw. So, who do you go to when facing a lefty? Maxwell or Lough? I might go with David Lough based completely on recent history.
With just 13 game left, I might leave the statistical regression to 2014 and play the recent history instead. Perhaps, however, the offensive impact of any of these four is not significant enough to care. If that is the case, then you play your best defensive pair (Cain and Dyson) and not worry about it.