MLB Handicapping: Royals Lack of Offense Presents Fade Opportunities
by Robert Ferringo - 06/09/2009
It wasn't supposed to be like this for the Kansas City Royals.
See, at the end of the feel-good stories the forever-struggling nerd is supposed to get the girl, outsmart the "better" preppy jocks, and restore everyone's faith in humanity. And in the world of Major League Baseball there may be no bigger nerd than the Royals. So when K.C. came out swinging to start the year it looked like we were set for a little more Revenge of the Nerds. (Where have I heard that phrase before?)
On May 7 the Royals were sitting pretty at 18-11, a full three games up in first place in the American League Central. They had the best pitcher in baseball in Zach Greinke and they were winning games by all means - comebacks, close calls, blowouts. Everyone in baseball was ready to anoint them as This Year's Rays. It was grand.
But then it's as if this sad sack franchised realized who they were: one of the worst sports franchises of the last 20 years. And they started playing like it.
The Royals are in the midst of a 6-21 free fall and are presently in fourth place in the Central at 24-32. Kansas City is 3-14 in their last 17 games and they are fresh off an eight-game losing streak that mercifully came to an end on Saturday - only to watch them get dominated by Roy Halladay and the Blue Jays on Sunday.
Now, the good news for this team is that it is only 6.5 games back and isn't ready to adopt the fetal position that it so often finds itself in for most of the summer. But the bad news is that there is no prime culprit for the slide. There is neither an injury-ravaged roster to pin blame on nor some brutal, meat-grinder schedule to point to. The fact of the matter is that Kansas City just isn't very good right now and they don't show many signs of getting better.
The most obvious factor in Kansas City's fall is that they have one of the worst offenses in the Majors. They simply cannot score runs. The Royals have managed to score more than four runs just three times over the course of their last 16 games. They actually won two of those three games and I think that it's little coincidence. The Royals have scored five or more runs just 21 times this year, the lowest total in the league. Kansas City is 16-5 in those 20 games but they are just 8-27 when they manage four or fewer.
Further, the Royals offense managed four or more runs in 16 of their first 29 games. So they managed to go 16-13 against a total of four runs in their first 29 games and the team's record was 18-11. Then recently they went just 4-12 against scoring four runs or more and their team's record was 3-13. Do you see a correlation?
But unfortunately for K.C. backers, once again, the only real reason that anyone can point to for their floundering attack is that this team is not good enough. The Royals do not have a .300 on their roster and light-hitting Alberto Callaspo leads the team at .293. The meat of the order is Mike Jacobs (.240), Jose Guillen (.255) and Mark Teahen (.275). The Royals are not terrible with runners in scoring position or runners on base, sitting at No. 18 in the league. However, the problem is getting runners in scoring position to begin with, as they are No. 29 in the Majors in team on-base percentage.
These problems in the batter's box are exacerbated on the road. The Royals are hitting nearly 30 points lower away from Kauffman Stadium and are No. 29 in the league in team batting on the road. With that in mind it's no surprise that the Royals are just 5-16 in their last 21 road games and since a solid 7-5 road start to the year the Royals have dumped 14 of their last 16 away from home.
The strain from a lack of run support and constantly having to play from behind has taken its toll on a pitching staff that started the year looking like one of the best in baseball. Kansas City went from having one of the Top 8 ERA's in the league to a very mediocre No. 15. Their bullpen is rated No. 20 and despite being very solid on the road (No. 8 in team ERA) the Royals pitching staff has been suspect at home (No. 20).
The only serious injury that the Royals have had to endure was the loss of stud closer Joakim Soria. The all star only made three appearances in May before his return last week. Losing a closer is never easy and it has a definitive ripple effect on a bullpen. But that has not been the reason that everyone from the starters to the middle relievers has been getting hit harder as the season wears on.
Criticism of manager Trey Hillman has gotten longer and louder over the last month but I doubt that any moves will be made to shake up the team's leadership. Hillman does appear a little over his head at the moment but I definitely don't think that it's his "fault". If you excuse a poker metaphor, it's as if Hillman is being dealt nothing but a pair of threes or a suited 8-9 and trying to make those hands pay out. Right now it's just not happening for him.
So where do the Royals go from here? Will they continue the downward spiral that's become as familiar in the summer as hot dogs, sun block and underage drinking? Or can this team recapture the magic that it had through the first month of the season when it looked like Everyone's Sleeper? I'd have to say that I'm leaning on the former and that I'm set to play the Royals the same way that I've played them for the last several seasons. Which is to say that I'm ready to start blindly fading them (with the exception of Greinke, who is ridiculous) with little regard to price or opponent.
What further deflates the Royals value is the question over whether or not this team will be buying or selling as we head toward the trade deadline. While the sum of the parts has been substandard there are still some decent pieces on this club. And it's pretty safe to say that if this team starts selling off those parts to build for the future then it will train any of the remaining Happy Happy's out of this clubhouse.
I'm pulling for the Royals. I really am. That is, you know, except when I'm trying to bank on their ineptitude. I still think that this team has the pitching to compete in what is a muddled and middling A.L. Central. But if the Royals don't go out and get some help for their limp offense then they are going to continue to get their glasses broken and their lunch money taken by the bigger, stronger lineups in their division.