The Kansas City Royals weren’t expected to win the American League Central, and at 46-51, they’re still in reasonable striking distance of their first winning season since 2003. So it could be taken as unfair for today’s MLB coverage to tear into them as a disappointing. But coming into Wednesday’s games, I think this team should be in much better shape and the blame has to be pinned on the offense.
Kansas City made a lot of big moves to get veteran pitching help in the aftermath of the 2012 season, from acquiring James Shields and Wade Davis from Tampa, to signing Ervin Santana away from the Los Angeles Angels, to adding Jeremy Guthrie for some insurance. Between the veterans and a bullpen that’s been pretty good amidst their recent bad years, the Royals have the sixth-best ERA in the American League. The problem isn’t there.
But the offense, which was supposed to be good, as heralded young talent came into its own, has been a positive disaster. The Royals are 13th in the league in runs scored, and dead last in slugging percentage. Between this team and the football Chiefs, the sports fans of Kansas City might as well just mail it in every time they fall behind early.
The question then becomes, who’s to blame? To a certain extent everyone, but here’s how I would classify the various failings…
NOT BAD, BUT WE NEEDED MORE: That’s what Royals’ fans need to be saying to Alex Gordon and Billy Butler. The leftfielder and designated hitter are having nice years getting on base, with on-base percentages of .349 and .370 respectively. But for Kansas City’s offense to function, both need to be all-around players and neither has hit for power. Both are in single-digits for home runs, with slugging percentages hovering around the .400 mark.
BAD, BUT WE UNDERSTAND: Salvatore Perez’s stat line of .314 OBP/.393 slugging percentage isn’t good, but this is the catcher’s first year in the majors. What’s more, his batting average is .282, so we know he can swing the bat. The issue is his plate discipline and drawing walks, which can hardly be considered a shocking development for a young hitter.
I would also include Alcides Escobar in this group. The shortstop’s stat line is .272/.321, but defense is going to be his calling card in the major leagues. Second baseman Chris Getz is horrible, but it reminds me of a line from Oceans 13. Al Pacino’s character, the bad-guy casino owner Willy Bank looks at an employee who screwed up and said “Don’t blame yourself. He should have fired you long ago.” Seriously, who actually thinks Getz is good enough to be a contributing hitter on a contending team?
A PAIR OF CULPRITS: Here is where we get to the meat of the blame. Centerfielder Lorenzo Cain has failed to become a consistent on-base threat, with a .318 OBP and he doesn’t hit for power. Mike Moustakas at third base has been nothing short of a disaster this season. The stat line is .282/.348, and his actual batting average is just .225, with seven home runs.
Cain and Moustakas are highly touted young players, with enough major league experience to be expected to contribute. The fact they aren’t makes them the primary culprits in Kansas City’s offensive woes.
SOME HOPE ON THE HORIZON: We’re going to close this on an upbeat note. First baseman Eric Hosmer spent the early part of the season ready to join Cain and Moustakas in the scapegoats category. But Hosmer has turned his season around. The overall season stat line is now a respectable .335/.420, and he’s hit six of his nine home runs in the last month. It’s still not where Kansas City needs him, but he’s steadily trending upward.
Then there’ s rightfielder David Lough. The 27-year-old his getting his first real opportunity in the bigs, after Jeff Franceour finally washed out, and Lough is making the most of it. The stat line is .314/.437, and he’s batting .295 over the course of 52 games. Like Perez, the only thing he’s not doing is drawing walks, and like Perez, we can assume that will improve with some more experience.
THE OFFENSE BY COMPARISON
It’s one thing to bash Kansas City’s offense, it’s another to do it in context. Here are the season-long rankings for everyone in the AL Central. The primary number is American League rank in runs scored, with the secondary numbers being OBP/Slugging.
Kansas City: 13th (11th/15th)
Detroit: 2nd (2nd/3rd)
Cleveland: 4th (4th/8th)
Minnesota: 11th (10th/11th)
Chicago: 15th (14th/12th)
Perhaps the biggest indictment of Kansas City’ s power game—or lack thereof—is that it trails that of the light-hitting White Sox.
THE STATE OF THE RACE
If I’d told you at the start of the year that Detroit would futz around and that 55-44 would lead this division, you could reasonably expect that Kansas City would be right on their heels. Instead, the Royals trail by eight games and it’s Cleveland who’s just 3 ½ out of first coming into today.
The Royals should be embarrassed to be just 2 ½ games ahead of the Twins, and I find it stunning than Ned Yost still has his managerial job. He must have some kind of dirt on the Kansas City front office. At least his team is well ahead of Chicago, in the rearview mirror at 39-58.