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What will be the Royals starting lineup?

Fill out the lineup card

New York Mets v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

With the addition of Brandon Moss, the Royals have a better idea of who will be in the starting lineup on Opening Day. Moss should DH against right-handed hitters, and may even get some swings against lefties. He will join Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, and Jorge Soler. The only question is who will play second base - Whit Merrifield, Cheslor Cuthbert, or Raul Mondesi.

We have a good idea of who will be in the lineup, but we don’t know in what order. Ned Yost deferred most baseball lineup-related questions at FanFest, saying it was too early to begin making lineups. But that won’t keep others from guessing.

I think spots 2-7 in the lineup are set. Moustakas will resume hitting second in the lineup, which sparked his turnaround in 2015. Lorenzo Cain will hit third. Hosmer is your cleanup hitter. Ned Yost likes to have a lefty-right-lefty sequence in the lineup, so right-hander Salvador Perez seems like the best bet to hit fifth behind Hosmer, with perhaps Jorge Soler a candidate to fill that spot eventually. New DH Brandon Moss would hit sixth with Soler hitting seventh.

The lead off spot could come down to three of the four worst hitters on the team last year, by wRC+ - Whit Merrifield, Alex Gordon, and Alcides Escobar. Let’s examine the case for each.

Whit Merrifield

Whit performed well in 25 games in the leadoff spot last year, hitting .299/.342/.430. Despite a very low walk rate of 5.7%, Merrifield posted an on-base percentage of .323, an improvement over the .296 on-base percentage posted by all Royals leadoff hitters last year, but still under the league average of .333. However there are concerns the league figured out Merrifield after his initial hot start, which could cause him to struggle in 2017. Merrifield hit just .247/.311/.342 over his last 42 games, although he did significantly increase his walk rate over that time.

Merrifield can steal bases and handle the bat, two other attributes old school baseball men like in a leadoff hitter. It is not entirely clear, however, that he will earn the starting second base job or even make the team out of spring training, so it may be a stretch to think he will be entrusted with the leadoff spot.

Alex Gordon

Gordon is the sabermetric choice due to his high career walk rate of 9.8%. Even last year, a disastrous season for Gordon, he managed a walk rate of 10.3%, easily tops on team. However it was still a nightmare season for Gordon, who hit .220/.312/.380 and struck out an alarming 29% of the time.

Gordon has historically fared well in the leadoff spot, with a career line of .277/.352/.449 in 320 games, his best numbers at any spot in the lineup other than #2. However he was pulled from the leadoff spot in a late audition in 2015 when the team struggled in September. Gordon isn’t a huge stolen base threat, but he did swipe eight bases last year, and is still a positive baserunner in Baserunning Runs, despite his age and his groin injury.

Alcides Escobar

All he does is win! The Royals had Alcides Escobar in the leadoff spot for both their 2014 and 2015 runs to the pennant, with Esky winning 2015 ALCS MVP. However it is quite clear their success was in spite of Esky leading off, not because of him. The Royals were second-to-last in on-base percentage from the leadoff spot in 2015, with him in the leadoff spot much of the time. If you take all the hitters who hit in the leadoff spot at least 300 times in a season, Escobar had the seventh-worst on-base percentage (.269) last year since 1969 (Chuck Knoblauch in 2002 with the Royals was slightly worse, if you want some context as to how bad Escobar was).

But Ned Yost may prefer Esky’s "ambush" style and his ability to put the ball in play. Esky had a 14.7% strikeout rate from the leadoff spot last year, while the league average was 17.6%. Esky can also run well as a basestealer with 17 steals, although he was a negative baserunner overall, perhaps due to being overly aggressive.

Here is what I think the projected lineup card will be on Opening Day, with their 2017 ZIPS projection. But Ned Yost can be peculiar. Give us an idea of what you think the Royals will roll out come April.

2017 Projected Lineup AVG OBA SLG BB% K% wOBA
2B Whit Merrifield .257 .297 .364 5.0% 18.1% .295
3B Mike Moustakas .254 .313 .428 6.8% 14.4% .318
CF Lorenzo Cain .282 .330 .407 6.0% 18.9% .327
1B Eric Hosmer .277 .335 .433 8.0% 18.2% .330
C  Salvador Perez .259 .292 .430 3.6% 17.5% .305
DH Brandon Moss* .228 .310 .442 9.4% 28.1% .318
RF Jorge Soler .241 .315 .420 9.5% 28.9% .316
LF Alex Gordon .242 .333 .400 10.2% 23.8% .319
SS Alcides Escobar .264 .294 .356 3.5% 12.9% .285
Others AVG OBA SLG BB% K% wOBA
C Drew Butera .224 .279 .336 6.5% 23.9% .266
IF Cheslor Cuthbert .265 .312 .406 6.4% 17.9% .312
IF Christian Colon .260 .312 .341 6.2% 12.7% .293
IF Raul Mondesi .212 .248 .354 4.4% 31.7% .266
OF Paulo Orlando .269 .299 .368 3.3% 20.0% .295
OF Billy Burns .261 .308 .343 5.2% 15.1% .298
*-numbers projected with St. Louis