...And climb on every rung.
(From "Forever Young," Planet Waves)
The Star had a couple of interesting stories this morning on two of the biggest keys to the Royals' season: Alex Gordon and Billy Butler. As you would expect from spring training stories, they are upbeat and hopeful. As you would expect from a baseball fan, I usually let these stories get me a little too excited for the upcoming season. Spring training is notorious for the stories about how Player X is in the best shape of his life or Player Y is going to have a breakout season and as a result Team Z has started printing playoff tickets.
If the Royals hope to be Team Z in 2009, there needs to be some truth in these stories. KC has a chance to contend, even if it is not a great chance. In the last post I looked at the kind of offensive output the Royals could expect from various lineups this year. Using last year's numbers for the lineup I expect, the Royals projected to score 4.96 runs per game, while a slightly rearranged version projected to score 5.06. But as the articles linked above point out, one of the best-kept secrets of the 2008 season was the second half stats Gordon and Butler compiled.
Although he missed a few weeks with an injury, Gordon increased his numbers from .253/.334/.407 to .277/.392/.496. Even more promising, his K/BB ratio went from 89/39 to 31/27.
Butler's numbers also improved dramatically. After a first half of the season that was so difficult (.249/.310/.330, 2 HR, 19 RBI) he was sent to Omaha, Butler put up a .305/.341/.476 line, with 9 HR and 36 RBI.
If you put Butler's and Gordon's second-half numbers into the Baseball Musings Lineup Analysis tool, you get a lineup that scores 5.194 runs per game (I used a lineup of DeJesus, Aviles, Gordon, Jacobs, Butler, Guillen, Olivo, Callaspo and Crisp). Over a full season, that is 32 runs better than the lineup I used before. The stats people who are way smarter than I am say an improvement of 10 runs equals a win, so that's 3 more wins if Gordon and Butler can produce like they did after the All-Star Break over a full season. In a division that looks to be a tight 5-way race, 3 wins could be huge.
It seems like we Royals fans have been waiting forever for Gordon and Butler to develop into the mashers we were promised. It's hard to remember they are 25 and 22 (turning 23 in April), respectively. They still should have years of improvement ahead of them. If that light goes on over one or both of their heads this spring, it could be a most interesting summer.