We are now less than two weeks before Opening Day and recent additions have given us a better idea of what hitters will be in the lineup when the Royals take on the White Sox on March 29. While there are some familiar faces returning, the lineup will feature a few new names. How will they line up against the White Sox?
Who are the nine starters?
I think we can figure out who will be in the starting lineup, even if we don’t know the order. Salvy will catch. Every. Day. Lucas Duda will try to avoid flashbacks to the 2015 World Series at first. Whit Merrifield will play second, if he makes the team. Alcides Escobar at shortstop is as inevitable as death and taxes. Mike Moustakas, who will earn less this year than Brandon Moss, will man third base. Alex Gordon and Jon Jay will be in the outfield.
With Jorge Bonifacio suspended due to a horse steroid, right field and designated hitter could be open to some combination of Paulo Orlando, Jorge Soler, and Cheslor Cuthbert. The Royals may finally be committed to more flexibility at designated hitter, at least until Bonifacio returns.
This is not a young lineup. When Orlando plays right field, the Royals field seven players age 29 or older. While the DH spot is usually where teams dump an old fat guy to swing the bat, for the Royals it will be their youngest position player with Jorge Soler at age 26. It is not ideal for a rebuild, but the Royals are just getting started.
What does the lineup analysis say?
The lineup analysis developed at Baseball Musings was developed to try to assess the ideal lineup based on analytics. However the model is a bit outdated - the era runs from 1954-2002, and hasn’t been updated to include the modern home run spike. And the only inputs are on-base percentage and slugging-percentage, with no account for home, making it a very simplistic tool.
Still, it can be a fun tool that can at least give us an idea of where batters should hit in the lineup. I plugged in the Royals lineup, assuming Cheslor Cuthbert at DH, using ZIPS projected numbers.
Royals Optimal Lineup
LOL, there is no chance that Ned Yost uses that lineup. It breaks so many of his lineup construction rules.
What are Ned Yost’s lineup construction rules?
There are no hard and fast rules, but a Ned Yost lineup typically has a few recommended guidelines. They are:
- The leadoff hitter must be able to get on base. LOL, JK
- The #2 hitter must be able to “handle the bat”
- The lineup must alternate left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters
- Don’t feed the #4 hitter after midnight
- Salvador Perez cannot be taken out of the lineup, or else the bus carrying Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock will explode
So, will Alcides Escobar lead off?
I feel like Esky’s days of leading off are finally coming to an end. Jon Jay was signed earlier this month and he has a .354 on-base percentage over the last four seasons, higher than any player the Royals have employed over that time. Jay got on base 161 times last year - eight fewer than Esky, but in nearly 200 fewer plate appearances. If you took their career on-base percentages and gave them each 600 plate appearances, Jay would get on base 213 times, Esky just 176. That is 37 more RBI opportunities Jay presents.
But, have you seen the Royals’ win-loss record when Esky leads off?
Yea, he had Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, and Kendrys Morales back then. They won in spite of him leading off, not because of him.
But, ambush hitting
Okay, so Esky is not leading off, how will the rest of the lineup look?
Whit Merrifield seems like a good bet to hit second. He led the league in steals last year, so he can provide some nice speed at the top of the lineup. He can bunt, hit-and-run, do all the things Yost loves a #2 hitter to do. Plus he is a second baseman, and I think subliminally managers like second basemen to hit second because of the name.
Because of his speed, you might think Merrifield might be more suited to leading off with Jay hitting behind him, so he can swipe bags without Jay clogging the basepaths in front of him. But the top candidates to hit third are Lucas Duda and Mike Moustakas - two left-handed hitters - and Yost will not want to bat the left-handed Jay in front of another left-hander. Expect those two lefties to be split up in the lineup by a right-handed power bat in the four spot - probably Salvador Perez.
Jorge Bonifacio was probably going to hit sixth, but with his 80-game suspension, Jorge Soler will likely move up to the #6 spot. The bottom three spots will probably depend on who is hot at the time, but Cuthbert, followed by Gordon, and Esky is likely a good bet. So your projected Opening Day would be:
CF Jon Jay
2B Whit Merrifield
3B Mike Moustakas
C Salvador Perez
1B Lucas Duda
RF Jorge Soler
DH Cheslor Cuthbert
LF Alex Gordon
SS Alcides Escobar
What do you think? Are you ready for the Plaza Parade? How would you line them up?