New Platoons Will Help Royals Win


The Royals are 19-5 since the All-Star Break.

May 1, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Minnesota Twins third baseman Jamey Carroll (8) at bat against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

There is no way to type that sentence with the amount of excitement it deserves. There’s not enough bold in the world. There aren’t enough italics. Endless exclamation points and emoticons can’t capture its importance to fans, the emotion of overturning two decades of losing, the excitement of a playoff race, an underdog narrative, the hope it gives for the future, the confidence it breeds in the organization, or the looks the team gets out of the corner of ESPN’s eye . It’s just too awesome for font.

The Royals are 19-5 since the All-Star Break.

Just a few weeks ago, fans and analysts (including me) attempted to urge the Royals to trade away valuable pieces for a second baseman and outfield prospects. Dayton Moore ever so kindly flipped us the bird, and said he would stand pat. He didn’t want to trade away pieces that will help the team reach .500 this season (his primary goal). The thought crossed his mind, he said, but he didn’t want to face a losing season and think “what if” he hadn’t made a move. He said the team could win 15 of 20 and be right back in the race. Sure, it was possible, but he would be certifiably insane to count on it. Well, he counted on it and the Royals went 16-4 in the next twenty games.

The more he seemed to think about it, Dayton Moore must have believed that standing pat was not the right move. The Kansas City Royals became buyers. He acquired right-handed bats to create an impressive advantage against left-handed pitching that the Royals had been missing all season long.

Moore shrewdly kept Ervin Santana while trading for Justin Maxwell. Many fans seemed confused about why Moore would not trade Santana, and why he would pick up another outfielder when the Royals already had five.  Sam Miller put it best in his analysis of the Justin Maxwell trade.

"It’s hard to turn two mediocre parts into one good starting pitcher, but teams turn two mediocre parts into one good corner outfielder quite frequently. Maxwell is probably someone cheap who can hit in a corner-outfield spot, with his floor being someone cheap who can hit lefties in a corner-outfield spot."

The value of players who can hit lefties but not righties is usually limited because most pitchers are right-handed. Players who can’t hit righties probably won’t have long major league careers. In the past, teams could snag those players cheaply. This season, they’re somewhat rare, but the price still hasn’t gone up. Dayton Moore gave up only one prospect, who projects as a middle reliever, to get a relatively rare piece. The acquisition of Justin Maxwell undoubtedly bought the Royals cheap additional runs against left-handers. The Royals couldn’t improve much against righties in the current market. But now against lefties, they can make up some ground. Below are the three Royals outfielders who rotate in and out of center field and right field when compared to Justin Maxwell against lefties.

CF/RF vs. Left handers for past three years (AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS)

Jarrod Dyson .180/.286/.202/.488

David Lough .278/.305/.407/.712

Lorenzo Cain .247/.315/.291/.606

Justin Maxwell .277/.373/.484/.857

Maxwell’s OPS is .145 higher than the next best outfielder against lefties.

Even though second base has been a relatively weak position in the past few years, the Royals are in a different tier of suck. This year, Royals second basemen have a combined .586 OPS, which ranks 28th out of 30 teams. Last year, they ranked 24th. In 2011, they were 26th. There weren’t any available starting second basemen in the market this season, leaving it impossible to upgrade against righties. However, Jamey Carroll has been consistently good against lefties for his entire career. Even if the Royals won’t have a good-hitting second baseman against righties, Carroll will provide some offense against lefties.

Second Base vs. Left handers for past three years.

Miguel Tejada .250/.263/.355/.618

Elliot Johnson .191/.265/.308/.573

Chris Getz .265/.286/.267/.553

Pedro Ciriaco .258/.293/.350/.643

Jamey Carroll .322/.382/.405/.787

Carroll’s OPS is .144 higher than the next highest second baseman against lefties.

The inclusion of around 290 points of OPS into the lineup against lefties is a drastic improvement. It will help the Royals against the improved Tigers bullpen, who have a lefty-killer in Drew Smyly, and the Indians, whose lefties rank sixth best in OPS-allowed against righties. With a combined seventeen games against these two teams, these matchups could determine division winners and wild cards.

The lineup versus righties has always been decent, with Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, and Mike Moustakas‘s splits leaning heavily in their favor. Cain hits righties slightly better than lefties due to his tendency to go the other way and Butler, of course, hits them well.

Lineup vs. right-handers (career split)

Cain (CF) – .279/.329/.407/.736

Hosmer* (1B) – .278/.334/.452/.786

Butler (DH) – .292/.352/.436/.788

Gordon* (LF) – .279/.359/.451/.810

Perez (C) – .287/.314/.400/.714

Moose* (3B) – .253/.306/.407/.713

Lough* (RF) – .288/.311/.408/.719

Escobar (SS) – .257/.291/.350/.641

Getz* (2B) – .246/.308/.310/.618

That’s a respectable projected average OPS of .725, which is exactly league average.

On the other hand, the Royals have had a weak lineup versus lefties, because (historically) Hosmer, Moustakas, and Gordon are worse against lefties. Without their bats carrying the team, Getz’s struggles with the bat and David Lough’s average output are that much less permissible. Since the arrival of the Royals farm system in 2011, their OPS against lefties has hovered just above .700, which is below average. This season, it is a dismal .685. Carroll’s numbers against lefties are so much better than any of the other Royals second basemen, that he could bat leadoff. The beefy Justin Maxwell replaces Lough, giving actual power to what is supposed to be a power-position in right field. It surrounds the two legitimate power-hitters (Butler and Salvador Perez) with two players who have a combined OBP of .369. One of whom gives powerful protection to the heart of the lineup.

Lineup vs. left-handers (career split)

Carroll (2B) – .296/.368/.371/.739

Hosmer* (1B) – .259/.306/.351/657 (.331/.362/.455/.817 this season)

Butler (DH) – .317/.398/.536/.934

Perez (C) – .324/.360/.522/.882

Gordon* (LF) – .249/.320/.407/.727 (.311/.370/.507/.877 this season)

Maxwell (RF) – .252/.371/.447/.818

Moose* (3B) – .221/.275/.334/.609

Cain (CF) – .256/.319/.348/.667

Escboar (SS) – .272/.322/.338/.660

The inclusion of Maxwell and Carroll has increased the average career OPS to .744 against left-handed pitching, making it better than the Royals’ lineup against righties. If the Royals actually achieve this level of play for the next two months (which is likely, considering most of the players are improving, not regressing), they will be among the best offenses in the American League against lefties, behind Detroit, Tampa Bay and Cleveland. Any category in which the Royals make up ground the Tigers and Indians is most welcome. If Moose, Gordon and Hosmer keep swinging the bat as well as they have, the Royals now have a case for best lineup against lefties. Moore’s two so-called minor transactions could have a major impact on the Royals playoff chances.