Ever since Eric Hosmer was called up to the big leagues in May of 2011, the Royals have been a one-note team regarding the designated hitter. From 2011 to 2014, Billy Butler loomed in the designated hitter spot, his stellar 2012 All-Star campaign his biggest highlight. Then, after Butler signed with the Oakland Athletics in the winter of 2014, Kansas City signed Kendrys Morales to a two-year deal. Morales, like Butler, took up the mantle of the DH and did so admirably.
The Royals are a bit of an aberration regarding their singular usage of a primary DH. Butler and Morales are the only two Royals to accrue more than 100 plate appearances at DH over the past six seasons. In that same time period, 61 other American League players notched 100 PAs. On average, the other AL teams used almost two and a half more players for the DH role over the past six seasons than Kansas City did.
One of the biggest questions of the offseason was whether or not the Royals would re-sign Kendrys Morales or another similar player or go with a rotating, platoon DH. Last week, the latter got a lot more likely, as Morales signed a three-year, $33 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. That's ok, as Managing Editor Max Rieper points out--that contract is not going to look good very quickly, and Morales' extraordinarily poor baserunning sneakily capped his overall offensive production despite good power and flashy home run totals.
Kansas City could still sign a main DH, as there are a few options still on the market, but the likeliness of that happening with apparent budget restrictions is up in the air. So now the Royals are looking at a rotating DH or a platoon for the first time in years. Let's take a look at what that means.
What do you mean, 'rotating' DH?
Unfortunately, a rotating DH doesn't mean that the batter spins in the batter's box during a plate appearance. Though I would heartily endorse such a spectacle, that seems unlikely at the Major League level.
Instead, a rotating DH means just what seems like it would mean--the guy hitting in the DH spot changes consistently.
For a team like the Royals, that's important. It means that there's no roster spot devoted solely to the designated hitter, which allows for more flexibility there. It also means that the Royals can give their major players rest while still keeping them involved on offense. Consider Salvador Perez, winner of the 2016 Gold Glove Award, Silver Slugger Award, and Radiant Smile Award. If you rest Perez, you get to play Drew Butera, who although may have the Best Hair Award, he is not as good as Perez offensively or defensively. A rotating DH could get Perez rest and still let his bat be in play, and anything that helps Perez' knees to not turn into mushy knobs is a good thing. Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, and Mike Moustakas are the other guys who would be in the regular DH rotation.
But there's a simple rotating DH, and then there's something more: a platoon.
Wait. I thought a platoon was a military thingamabob?
Well, you're not wrong. But a baseball platoon is something, ah, slightly different. I'll let Baseball-Reference take it from here:
A Platoon is when two players share a position. The most common platoon uses a left-handed batter against right-handed pitching and a right-handed batter against left-handed pitching. Other kinds of platoons, like a good fielder/weak hitter and a weak fielder/good hitter are possible, but it's safe to assume a left/right platoon unless otherwise specified.
The key to a traditional left/right platoon is that most batters hit better against opposite-handed pitching than against same-handed pitching. There are several reasons why this is the case. One major reason is that batters have an easier time seeing the ball when it's thrown by an opposite-handed pitcher. Another important reason is that breaking balls tend to break away from same-handed batters and in toward opposite-handed batters, and most batters have an easier time adjusting to inward than outward break.
You don't really think about platoon splits (the difference between right and left-handed pitching) for a particular player until you really take a look at it. Eric Hosmer has a career OPS of .763. His OPS against right-handed pitching is .813, or about the career OPS of 2007 AL Rookie of the Year and 2008 AL MVP Dustin Pedroia. Hosmer's OPS against left-handed pitching is .656, or about the career OPS of journeyman utility player Willie Bloomquist.
For a platoon, you need a right-handed bat and a left-handed bat. These players could play other positions, but would be the primary DH against left-handed and right-handed starting pitching, respectively. Here are some options for each:
The right-handed bat
- Cheslor Cuthbert
- Paulo Orlando
- Hunter Dozier
- Steve Pearce
- Matt Holliday
- Billy Butler
Cuthbert, the fill-in third baseman for Moustakas this past season, is out of options and cannot be sent down to the minor leagues without going through waivers. For the layman, that means that if the Royals want to send him to AAA Omaha, every other team gets a chance to pick him up before he gets there. There is a 100% chance someone grabs Cuthbert. He's still sneaky young and has upside left.
So the Royals may trade him--or they could keep him as the right-handed bat on the platoon, which makes sense, as Cuthbert has a large platoon split. Similarly, Kansas City could utilize Orlando at designated hitter against lefties on days when he's not in the outfield, or Dozier as part of a rotation that could also include time at third base, corner outfield, and third base for him. Both Orlando and Dozier have a history of a pretty big split, too.
Kansas City could look for outside help, too. Pearce has turned a bit into Zobrist-lite, a guy who played multiple games at five different positions last year and who could be more than just a platoon bat. Holliday had a poor year last year, but hits lefties will (and righties, too; he's not a strict platoon guy). Butler could be had pretty easily, and he's cheap, thanks to the Athletics cutting him. He could still hit lefties a bit, and his return would be fabulous.
The left-handed bat
- Eric Hosmer
- Alex Gordon
- Mike Moustakas
- Ryan O'Hearn
- Josh Reddick
- Coco Crisp
There are way fewer options for the left-handed bat. One of them is Hosmer, but he'll be playing first mostly so he's only technically available. Depending on how the Royals roll in the outfield, we could be seeing a lot more DH starts for an aging Gordon. Moustakas could similarly see more DH time, especially early, as he gets back into the swing of things from his ACL injury. Another in-house option is Ryan O'Hearn, who did well and ascended to AA this year. A great Spring Training and hot start could easily earn him a callup in the first half of this year.
Looking elsewhere, Reddick is a perpetual platoon option, and the Royals were interested in him at last July's trade deadline, too. Crisp hasn't been particularly good recently, but the onetime Royal could be an option for a reunion, and would certainly be cheap.
So what's gonna happen?
Who knows. General Manager Dayton Moore has spoke of opening up the DH position in the past, after Butler signed with Oakland...and then Moore promptly signed Morales, who was basically a switch-hitting, Cuban Butler.
The benefits of going with a more open DH are pretty clear; with no Morales or Butler clogging a roster spot, Moore and Yost could have enough room to keep Whit Merrifield and Raul Mondesi and Cheslor Cuthbert and Mike Moustakas.
Of course, the Royals went 81-81 with major contributions from Merrifield, Mondesi, and Cuthbert, and cutting out a good hitter from the lineup in favor of lesser offensive players isn't probably the best move.
But the stove's a burnin'. We will see soon enough. With Morales gone, there are some choices to be made.