The Kansas City Royals offense has been absolutely dynamic lately as the team is 4-1 in its last five games. Jorge Soler, Whit Merrifield, and Salvador Perez, the stalwarts in the lineup, have been fantastic all year. Hunter Dozier has looked great since returning to the lineup. Ryan McBroom and Ryan O’Hearn have been a more than serviceable platoon at first base. Nicky Lopez has come around lately and Adalberto Mondesi has had some success in spurts.
The most obvious weak spot in the Royals lineup this season has been in LF. The man that patrols LF for Kansas City every day is probably going to have his number retired by the team when he retires, but his prime is long gone by now. (Read this piece about Gordon’s decline.) It sucks that we’re having to watch the swan song for this Royals legend, but what sucks even more is the hole that it leaves in the middle of the Royals lineup.
The beef of the current Royals lineup is almost entirely right-handed. Dozier, Soler, Whit, Salvy, McBroom, Franco, all bat solely right-handed. Here are how their career wRC+ splits look vs RHP and LHP:
- Whit: 130 vs LHP / 103 vs RHP
- Soler: 116 vs LHP / 117 vs RHP
- Dozier: 102 vs LHP / 106 vs RHP
- Salvy: 99 vs LHP / 97 vs RHP
- Franco: 88 vs LHP / 91 vs RHP
- McBroom: 136 vs LHP / 103 vs RHP
Nicky Lopez is obviously not a right-handed hitter, but he has reverse splits in his career and has been better vs LHP than he has RHP (121 wRC+ against LHP this year). The point being, while the Royals have some balance in their lineup vs RHP, they really only have one hitter in the lineup who specializes against RHP, and that’s Ryan O’Hearn.
Alex Gordon in his career has provided that lineup depth vs RHP. Without a good Alex Gordon, the lineup’s biggest hole is not only in LF, but they’ve now only got one guy who really specializes in lighting up RHP. I don’t really think that we’re going to see a bona fide “benching” of Alex Gordon this year, but the end is definitely near.
The Royals could look to add a bat via trade, but they’ve got a couple of really good left-handed bats that can play LF nearby. Kyle Isbel and Khalil Lee, KC’s top two outfield prospects, are both participating in the satellite camp and are one injury away from a potential call up to the big leagues. Both outfielders are great defenders with strong offensive profiles from the left side of the plate.
I asked Royals Assistant GM JJ Piccolo about the possibility of Kyle Isbel seeing big league playing time this year, and he noted the current logjam of outfielders at the big league level. While it doesn’t appear likely that either Isbel or Lee reach Kansas City this season, their continued development could add a huge boost to the lineup as early as next season.
This 2020 season has felt a lot like the 2011 season for me. You’re starting to see some of the future arrive in the big leagues in Singer, Bubic, Zuber, and Heath. The team has been more competitive than in year’s past, but they more than likely won’t be a playoff team this season (though the 16-team playoffs certainly add a wrinkle). They’ve got some veterans in place for the long haul and a good mix of kids making their debut, as well as some high level prospects knocking down the door.
If the Royals are in fact on a similar path as that 2011 team, that means they’re only a couple seasons away from being legitimate contenders in the AL. That means they’ve got a couple seasons left to evaluate in-house talent before deciding if they need to trade from within to fill holes on the roster.
Kyle Isbel and Khalil Lee are going to be massive pieces of the evaluation process. If one or both of them can prove to be a solid everyday player in LF, then Dayton Moore’s targets in a trade become limited to just a position or two. The current Royals lineup is missing another impact bat from the left side of the plate, and the ability to fill that hole in house would be a huge development for the future of this team. While guys like MJ Melendez and Nick Pratto are probably still a few years away, Kyle Isbel and Khalil Lee could provide a boost to the lineup very soon in Kansas City.
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