Did the Royals just get a little better, again?

Patrick Smith

A few days ago the Royals signed Omar Infante to play second base, which led me to write somewhere that they've now got legitimate major leaguers at every position, with the possible exception of third base. What I didn't suggest was that they replace Mike Moustakas, or find a platoon partner for him. The first seemed impractical, the second unlikely.

Well, the unlikely has become the possible:

Who led American League rookie hitters last season in Baseball-Reference.com's Wins Above Replacement? I'll give you three guesses...

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

It was Kansas City's David Lough. The Royals were so terribly impressed, they a) traded for Norichika Aoki, and b) traded Lough for a second-string third baseman.

Both moves were good ones. Much of Lough's "value" derives from his fielding statistics, and fielding statistics for 80 games in the outfield don't really tell us much. Also, Lough was 27 last season; he probably had his career year. Which doesn't mean he's not a legitimate major leaguer. He's a perfectly legitimate fourth or fifth outfielder. But the Royals need a second-string third baseman more than they need a fourth or fifth outfielder.

And as second-string third basemen go, Valencia's pretty good. He played exceptionally well as a 25-year-old rookie with the Twins in 2010, and even better as a part-timer with the Orioles in 2013. In between, he was terrible. But there's some hitting ability there, at least against left-handed pitchers, against whom Valencia's got a .329/.367/.513 career line.

Valencia's been just brutally awful against right-handed pitchers. We do have to regress things because that's what smart people do. Valencia won't have the same platoon splits in future. But he's probably a better-than-average hitter against the southpaws. Meanwhile, Moustakas hasn't been good against anybody, but he hits like a shortstop against lefties. Or has, anyway. If the Royals want to score the maximum possible runs in the short term, they should simply platoon these guys. I know there aren't as many roster spots these days for guys who don't throw 95 miles an hour, 15-20 pitches at a time. But every team should still have room for one platoon, and (again) the Royals have every-day players set for every other position.

I don't expect them to open the season with a platoon. Moustakas still has the draft pedigree and he's still only 25 and he's just one season removed from solid numbers, so I expect management to present a brave face this winter, with everyone saying it's Moose's job to lose, etc. Generally, teams are loath to consign a touted young hitter to platoon duties. But a Royals fan can at least hope that Valencia isn't merely a stalking horse, and will eventually pick up 200 plate appearances next season, with nearly all of them against those pesky southpaws.

Would that really be asking too much of Dayton Moore and Ned Yost?*

* rhetorical question

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