When Ned Yost fills out his lineup card, he sees a future that is more promising than the present. His Kansas City Royals are near the bottom of the American League in runs scored, but five of the nine starters are 25 or younger, and none is older than 28. Several have all-star potential.
The former Milwaukee Brewers manager — now in his third year at the helm in KC — has more than the future in mind when he puts together his batting order. He’s also looking to optimize his team’s chances to score runs. Yost discussed his approach to lineup construction during a recent series at Fenway Park.
Ned Yost: “I try to stay consistent in my lineup construction. I try to set a lineup and keep it there as long as I can — as long as we’re getting production out of each individual spot. I don’t believe that it is productive to have a floating lineup. I don’t want guys coming into the locker room thinking that because they went 0-for-4 the day before, they’re going to be hitting eighth. Or that because they went 4-for-4, they’re going to be hitting third. I think it takes pressure off of them to know that they’re going to consistently stay in a spot.
“When I construct my lineup, I want a high-on-base-percentage guy leading off. I’m looking for a guy that gets on base. Alex Gordon fit that bill for us tremendously well over the course of the year. I think that Alex, though, changes his approach in the one-spot and focuses more on on-base percentage. Alex is a run producer. He’s a guy who has the capacity to hit 30 home runs a year. Ideally, I would like him in the middle of our lineup somewhere.
“We don’t have a prototypical leadoff hitter. [Jarrod] Dyson has a lot of speed, so if he gets on, he can steal second, he can steal third. And he can steal the tough base. He can do it when guys know that he’s going to run. He can steal on a pitchout. But as far as on-base percentage, he doesn’t walk enough and he hits too many balls in the air to utilize his speed. That said, right now he and [Lorenzo] Cain fit the bill at number one.
“[Alcides] Escobar is a perfect two-type hitter. He’s walking more, but what I like about him in the two-hole is that he’s very situational. He can bunt, he’s our best hit-and-run guy — we can do a bunch of things with him. Plus, he’s hitting close to .300. When he starts evolving into the next level, and phase, of his game as a hitter — and his approach has already refined to the point where he’s been more productive — he’ll learn to take more walks and his on-base percentage will rise. He’ll be one of the premier offensive shortstops in the league, I believe.
“Ideally, I want my number-two to get on base a lot. I kind of like my number-two hitter taking away some of the emphasis on the leadoff guy’s on-base [percentage]. And if my leadoff hitter can hit the ball out of the ballpark — if he has that mentality, and Alex Gordon does — when the lineup comes back around, you have a guy up there who can put the ball out of the park.
“We have Gordon in the three-spot right now. Ideally, that’s going to be [Eric] Hosmer. The three-spot is where you put your best hitter. In time, I think that’s going to be Hosmer. Right now, he’s going through some things, but eventually that should be where he hits.
“The four-spot is generally my best power hitter, and the fifth spot is my best RBI guy. Billy Butler is the four-spot now, not only because of his power going up, but because he is a phenomenal on-base guy. He’ll take a walk, he can hit the ball to all fields and he’s got power to all fields. And he’s a bona fide .300 hitter.
“I want a guy that I can count on at five. In this lineup, if I have a situation where I need someone to drive in a run, the guy I want at the plate is Salvador Perez. The reason is that he puts the ball in play. He doesn’t strike out much. He finds a way to put the ball in play, and that‘s very, very important.
“You get a guy or two on, and you have your three, four and five coming up. That guy in the fifth spot is kind of your last line of defense in terms of driving in runs. Generally, he’s a higher-on-base-percentage guy who can put the ball in play. A lot of times, he’s also your second leadoff hitter over the course of the game. At least that’s been my experience.
“I’m not saying that I value on-base over power in the five-spot. I’d rather have power and the ability to put the ball in play. Salvador doesn’t necessarily walk as much as he will — once he grows into a mature hitter — but he puts the ball in play. In RBI situations, I’m looking for guys who can do that. I’m not looking for a guy to strike out.
“I like — and we don’t really have it here — a guy with speed in the nine-hole. That way, when the order turns back around, you don’t have any slugs down there. Right now, it’s not ideal for us.
“I view the nine-hole guy as a second leadoff hitter. I’d like a guy with a higher on-base percentage. I think we’ve maybe had more production out of the nine-hole this year than anybody in baseball, because of that mind set. I like to get something going at the bottom order if I can.
“I want to create an offensive sequence. In Milwaukee, for years, our top six hitters were OK, but then we’d get to seven, eight, nine and any offensive sequence that we had would end. We’d always have to restart our sequence back at the top of the order. Once we got beyond six, it shut itself off.
“I always try to create my lineup so that I can have offensive sequence up and down the lineup, so that there aren’t any holes. I want us to be able to start a rally, and continue a rally, anywhere throughout these nine spots. My weakest hitter won’t necessarily be in the nine-hole. He might be eight or even seven.
“Hosmer is hitting eighth right now. One reason he’s down there now is to split our lefties. I always try to protect [Mike] Moustakas and Hosmer — our two main lefties — from the other team being able to bring in a lefthander. I want them to think twice about bringing in a lefty to face both of them. I do that by putting [Jeff] Francouer — who has been more productive throughout his career against left-handed pitching — between them. Same way with Gordon and Dyson. Of course, I have Dyson in a spot where I can pinch hit Cain, so that doesn’t concern me as much. But, overall, I try to protect our lefties against left-handed pitching more than the righties.
“Platooning isn’t something I’m big on. I primarily do it to provide rest. For instance, tomorrow we’re facing a lefty and Moustakas will probably sit out. Hosmer might sit out. But it’s just to give them a break. Normally, like the other night against David Price — or against other tough lefties — right now I want these guys facing pitchers like that. I want them to get the experience that they need, so that when we get into a position where we can contend, they’ve got that under their belts.
“I don’t mind a platoon if it strengthens our lineup. Our idea was to bring [Johnny] Giavotella up and platoon him with [Chris] Getz at second base. Right now we have Dyson and Cain, who we could platoon in center field. Escobar is solid. Gordon is solid. Butler and Perez are solid. Moustakas and Hosmer are solid. These are all guys that I look at, down the road somewhere, as being potential, perennial all-star players. They’re going to be playing every day.”