Numbers Don’t Lie. If you want to lose weight, it’s a good idea to measure daily calorie intake. In the same way, if you want to score runs in baseball a good metric to track is how often a team gets men on base (think Moneyball). The MLB average for OBP hovers around .320 each year. So just for fun, what if the Royals based their opening day roster on spring training on-base percentage?
You may think that you can’t trust spring training stats - agreed. Consider last year: The Royals were second out of 30 teams in spring training with a .353 OBP, but then finished the regular season with a .305 OBP, good for only 24th out of 30 teams. What went wrong? Well, last year the team broke camp with 5 of 12 players that historically don’t get on base very often:
.293 Alcides Escobar
.289 Paulo Orlando
.274 Ryan Goins
.274 Cam Gallagher
.258 Drew Butera
It is interesting to note that as of the writing of this article, the Kansas City Royals lead all teams in OBP in spring training at .375. In the championship year of 2015, the Royals were 11th in OBP and 7th in runs scored. In 2016, the team plunged to 26th in OBP and 23rd in runs scored. So, if the Royals want to win games this year, they will need to score runs. And in order to do that they need players to get on base. And in order to do that, they need to break camp with 12 players who are good at getting on base. So based (primarily) on spring training OBP (using the criterion of 30 ABs as a minimum), here are the 12 players who should head north this year:
- Humberto Arteaga has an eye-popping .543 OBP this spring, which leads the team. You may be thinking, there is no way the Royals can put this minor leaguer on the opening day roster. Not so fast. In 2018 at Omaha, Humberto Arteaga played 31 games at shortstop, 51 at third base, 28 at second base and even 9 games at first base. He is my utility infielder.
- Alex Gordon has a .459 OBP this spring. Even seasons his batting average has been below average, he has still been about league average at getting on base (and he owns a .339 career OBP). Left field.
- Bubba Starling is third on the team down in Arizona with a .432 OBP - surprised? (pun intended). Okay, this is probably an outlier since he only has a .276 OBP the last three seasons in Omaha. But has Bubba possibly figured things out at the plate? He will start in right field.
- Chris Owings has built a .429 OBP this spring. I feel like this is Ryan Goins 2.0 (Goins had an eerily similar .420 OBP last spring, but it was a mirage. His OBP in 2018 was .254 with the Royals). Owings will start at third base until his OBP returns to his career .291 OBP (which is .002 worse than Escobar’s career OBP) and he gets DFAd.
- Ryan O’Hearn has a .409 OBP. This rights a wrong from last spring training when he had a .447 OBP, but didn't make the club. First base.
- Jorge Soler has a .396 OBP. Designated Hitter.
- Terrance Gore has somehow accrued a .379 OBP this spring while hitting just .182! If he makes the team - and every indication points to him having a spot - then Gore will have made the Royals 25-man opening day roster 3 of the last 4 years as the fourth outfielder. He’s my fourth outfielder.
- Billy Hamilton has a pleasant .375 OBP this spring. However, a .298 career OBP does not portend sustained success. Center field.
- Frank Schwindel has a .372 OBP. You may think this is another outlier, but he has a .338 OBP over the last two years in Omaha. He has power (a commodity the Royals MLB roster needs). The question is what position will he play? The Royals were kicking around the idea of him playing catcher. If he could suffice as a backup catcher to start 30 games, his offense would make us forget about Cam Gallagher and his career .274 OBP.