At some point in the last few days, as the rancid numbers piled up, as the worst offense in baseball searched for … anything, Royals hitting coach Dale Sveum offered a solution to manager Ned Yost.
“Dale suggested we just pull a lineup out of a hat,” Yost said here Monday, in the hours before a series opener against the Tampa Bay Rays. “But I haven’t got that desperate yet.”
No, Yost wasn’t ready to turn his batting order over to random chance, but he did the next closest thing, turning toward the comfort of the absurd. As he made his lineup on Monday, he returned Alcides Escobar — a light-hitting shortstop with a .183 batting average — back to the leadoff spot.
“The numbers don’t suggest it,” Yost said, cracking a smile inside his office. “I think he’s 7 for 15 with three runs scored in his last 15 games.”
But hey, why not? The Royals began the season with Alex Gordon in the leadoff spot. He did not hit. They have used Whit Merrifield and Mike Moustakas in the role. They have shuffled lineups and experimented with different combinations during a miserable offensive on start. Nothing has worked. On Monday, the Royals entered the day having scored just 82 runs in 30 games, on pace to become the worst-scoring offense in baseball history.
Not since 1972 has a team averaged fewer than three runs per game in a season. The Royals began the day averaging 2.73. The offense is also on pace to set historic lows in batting average (.208), on-base percentage (.270) and a collection of other major offensive categories.
The numbers seem unlikely to hold over the course of 162 games, but Yost sought to mix it up on Monday, channeling a version of “Esky Magic,” the strange, counterintuitive formula that resulted in one World Series appearance in 2014 and a world championship in 2015. In a 13-month span, including the 2014 playoffs and the 2015 regular season, Escobar led off in 162 games. The Royals finished 103-59 in those games, despite Escobar posting a .293 on-base percentage during the 2015 season. As the Royals roared through the postseason in October, Escobar was a talisman atop the order.
“It’s a trip down memory lane,” Yost said.
As he sat inside his office at Tropicana Field, Yost understood the preposterous nature of Escobar’s return to the leadoff spot. In addition to hitting just .183, Escobar has posted a .220 on-base percentage and has a track record of free swinging. On the whole, Escobar’s offensive production has declined over the last three seasons. In 2016, he started 82 games in the leadoff spot. He ranked third to last among all qualified hitters in weighted Runs Created Plus, an advanced metric that measures total offensive value. And yet, Yost shrugged as he discussed the move on Monday. He offered a smile. Nothing else has worked. So back to Esky Magic — at least for one night.
“Just trying to throw stuff up against the wall,” Yost said, “see if something sticks.”