Alcides Escobar should not be the leadoff hitter for the Kansas City Royals. However, this article is not belaboring that point, it simply looks at interesting statistics regarding how the Royals have historically performed by different positions in the batting order. If I have to write 1,500 words to convince you that Alcides Escobar should not be a leadoff hitter, I have already lost.
Statistics used in this article are based on individual event files available at retrosheet.org from 1969 through the conclusion of the 2016 season and constants used to calculate wOBA and wRC+ were obtained from Fangraphs.com. Each event file provides detail for every play of every home game for a particular team’s season. It includes events that do not count as a plate appearance (balk, stolen base, pickoff, etc.) as well as events that count as a plate appearance (walk, strikeout, generic out, home run, etc.). The event files (a separate file for each team and season) were exported to text files using the Retrosheet ‘BEVENT’ program and a PC command prompt (ex. BEVENT -y 1969 1969KCA.EVA>1969KCA.EVENT.TXT) and then combined into one database. The resulting database is then able to be aggregated by any of the variables within the data; such as aggregating offensive production by spot in the batting order.
Plate Appearances and At-Bats
There have been a total of 291,221 plate appearances and 261,930 at-bats by Royals players from their inception through the end of the 2016 season. The table below shows a breakdown of the number for each by lineup position. It can be seen by the table that the leadoff hitter has accumulated over 20% more plate appearances (35,607) and at-bats (32,227) than the batter that occupies that ninth slot (28,883 and 26,084 respectively). It is this type of data that lead people to believe that it is more important to have high quality hitters in the leadoff spot to maximize offensive production as opposed to a speedy guy that can steal bases and ‘disrupt’ the pitcher.
Sacrifice Hits and Sacrifice Flies
As may be expected, the majority of sacrifice hits comes from the last spot in the order (652 of 2,198), which accounts for nearly 30% of all sacrifice hits. This is approximately the same amount as the next two highest combined, which are the second spot (362, 16.5%) and eighth spot (302, 13.7%). The cleanup hitter has the fewest (40, 1.8%), which is less than half that of the next lowest. Believe it or not, the Royals rank 6th among AL teams in total number of sacrifice hits since entering the league; the Angels have the most with 2,776.
The distribution for sacrifice flies is more balanced, with a range from 167 (7.2%) from the ninth spot to 353 (15.2%) for the batter in the three hole.
Walks and Hit by Pitch
Royals Review likes to jest about the need for the organization to root out all things related to getting on base without swinging, but the Royals 7.8% walk rate ranks dead last out of all MLB teams since 1969. In total, the Royals have 20,953 unintentional and 1,758 intentional walks along with 2,028 hit by pitch. The cleanup spot has been walked the most times (2,860, 13.6%), followed closely by the three hole (2,739, 13.1%). The final spot in the order has been walked the least (1,750, 8.4%), while each of the seven and eight spots account for approximately 9.6% of the overall total.
The intentional walk totals show the influence of George Brett, who earned 185 of his Royals best 228 intentional passes while batting third. The player with the next highest total from any batting order slot is John Mayberry, with 73 (48 of which came batting cleanup). The final spot in the order has received the fewest (37, 2.1%), but the next two fewest are the first and second positions, which both account for well less than 10% of the overall totals. There are only five players in Royals history that have received more than one intentional walk while batting last and they are all tied for the most with two (Frank White, Jorge Orta, Cookie Rojas, Gail Hopkins and Hawk Taylor)
It is somewhat surprising to see the leadoff hitter has been hit by a pitch more than any other spot in the order. This is driven primarily by the fact that David DeJesus (71) and Willie Wilson (54) are both in the top 6 all-time for the Royals, with 55 and 41 of those coming from the leadoff spot respectively.
Singles, Doubles, Triples and Home Runs
Among single base hit totals, there is a distinct break between the first three spots in the order and the other six. Positions one (6,434, 13.2%), two (6,248, 12.8%) and three (5,922, 12.2%) each represent more than 12% of the overall totals, while the other spots all range between 9.7% and 10.8%. It is likely that the third spot is influenced heavily by George Brett, who collected 1,439 of his Royals record 2,035 singles from that place in the order. The numbers for the leadoff hitter are driven in large part by Willie Wilson (1,323 of 1,554) and David DeJesus (516 of 678), whom both collected the majority of their singles from the leadoff position.
George Brett has more doubles from the three spot (486 of 665) than the second highest total in Royals history has from all spots combined (Hal McRae - 449). Partially as a result, that spot in the order has produced more doubles (1,735, 13.5%) than any other. Spots four and five were the next greatest source of two-base hits, each accounting for approximately 12.4% of the overall team totals. The last spot in the order produced the fewest (1065, 8.3%) with the eight spot the next fewest (1,181, 9.2%).
Quick trivia question.....which Royals player holds the franchise record for most triples? Easy, has to be Willie Wilson, right? George Brett actually holds this record with 137, with 91 of those coming from his familiar third spot in the order. A fun fact; the Royals have more triples than any other MLB franchise since 1969.
The leadoff spot still leads in all-time triples, however, thanks in part to Wilson, whom earned 119 of his 133 career total while hitting there. Other major contributions to triples in the leadoff spot come from DeJesus (33), Johnny Damon (28) and Fred Patek (26). In a rare instance, the ninth spot in the order accounts for the fourth most triples (208, 10.2%) of any lineup position. This is in large part a result of four players in the top 15 of all-time earning a sizeable portion while batting ninth (Frank White - 17 of 58, Jarrod Dyson - 15 of 29, Alcides Escobar - 11 of 35 and UL Washington - 10 of 28).
Another fun fact; the Royals have the fewest home runs (5,760) of any MLB franchise since 1969 with the exception of the 1993 and 1998 expansion teams.
Despite the top two all-time Royals leaders hitting the majority of their home runs from the third slot in the lineup (George Brett - 250 of 319 and Mike Sweeney - 103 of 197), the cleanup spot has actually produced the largest proportion of home runs over any other spot in the order (1,033, 17.9%). The cleanup spot manages to outpace the third spot as a result of having 8 players in the top 20 all-time in terms of home runs for one particular place in the order. This includes John Mayberry (99 of 143), Danny Tartabull (87 of 124), Mike Sweeney (57 of 197), Billy Butler (58 of 127), Hal McRae (48 of 169), Jermaine Dye (45 of 85), Bo Jackson (43 of 109) and Eric Hosmer (41 of 102). The final spot in the order produces the fewest home runs by far (284, 4.9%), while the leadoff and eighth spots are in a virtual tie for the next fewest. Frank White has the most home runs batting ninth (18) with Terry Shumpert coming in next with 11.
Weighted Runs Created (wRC+)
Across the history of the Royals, only three lineup spots have produced above average offensive value, spots three through five. The highest belongs to the third place in the order (120), followed by the cleanup hitter (113) and the five spot (104). Also included in the chart below are the all-time Royals leader in wRC+ for each position in the lineup (minimum 250 plate appearances).
It is not any great revelation that the top of the batting order is going to get more plate appearances and provide more production than the bottom of the order. However, it is interesting to see how the Royals have performed at each of the batting order positions over the history of the franchise. Hopefully, this article and the statistics contained within it provided some interesting and informative data.
It does seem like a much greater use of time than talking about Alcides Escobar batting leadoff.
The information used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by Retrosheet. Interested parties may contact Retrosheet at "www.retrosheet.org".