Well Royals fans, we’re a couple weeks into the season now and if you’re anything like me, you’re probably feeling a little underwhelmed by the Kansas City Royals performance thus far, particularly on offense.
That said, as we take stock of what’s occurred between the lines this season, we need to fight the compulsion to draw conclusions, about the team in general, and about some of the transactions made during the off-season.
A 4-4 record coming off a road set with the defending division champion Detroit Tigers, an improving Chicago White Sox squad, and the always tough Tampa Bay Rays, a team many have picked to possibly win the AL East this year, isn’t all that bad. Could it have been better? Absolutely!
One could make a compelling case that this team should be AT LEAST 6W-2L right now. The starting pitching has been lights out, better than any of us could have imagined entering the season. Royal starters have posted a ridiculous 2.03 ERA over the first eight games of this season. Moreover, one of Dayton Moore’s key acquisitions this off-season, pitcher Jason Vargas, has led the charge.
So far, Vargas is far out-performing his career line right now posting a 1-0 record in two starts and producing a Bob Gibson-like 1.20 ERA coupled with a .73 WHIP. Expect him to settle down a bit, particularly once the Royals turn over the schedule and teams get a second and third look at him.
James Shields has been every bit the staff ace you’d expect him to be. Yordano Ventura, robbed of the start during the home opener, had an exceptional outing in his one start going 6 innings, yielding no runs on two hits and ringing up 6 batters in the process. Indeed, the Royals starting pitching has out-performed even the most optimistic predictions.
Ah, but the baseball gods are a fickle lot and they don’t generally like bestowing ridiculous success on teams not named Yankees, Cardinals, or Red Sox. Thus, here’s the rub; while the starting pitching has been simply magnificent, the bullpen has been just a hair better than mediocre thus far.
One could definitely argue they have under-performed thus far. Perhaps that was to be expected. A number of articles in recent month have been written about the difficulties associates with maintaining a consistently successful bullpen from year to year and suggesting that the Royals should expect a bit of a drop-off. So let’s assume that’s happening.
The more troubling element of the season thus far has clearly been the offense. Again, it’s too early to draw conclusions but it is safe to say that things have not gone the way the Royals anticipated.
Nori Aoki is striking out an unprecedented rate for him having been rung up 7 times so far which puts him on a pace for more than 150 strikeouts on the year. He’s never had anywhere near that number in the past and this year will be no different, but it is somewhat reflective of how things have been going offensively this year.
Alex Gordon finally broke the Royals’ home run drought in game 8 of the season. For anyone who’s curious, that is a record home run drought to start a Royals season.
Again, that is not likely to continue, but I don’t think it comes as a surprise that this team is challenged to an extent when it come to the long ball.
The lack of punch in the lineup last season had everyone thinking the Royals were going to try and sign an “impact bat” to insert in the middle of the lineup. That didn’t really happen and thus was born the “we’ve already got an impact bat” theory alleging that Alex Gordon and the collective pieces around him will all step up their productivity.
In truth, the whole theory is something of a domino effect. IF Aoki and Infante get on regularly, and IF Eric Hosmer becomes the 25-30 HR/40 doubles, kind of guy they think he is, in turn giving Billy Butler a better chance to return to his 2012 form (presumably due to the increased protection around him in the form of Gordon, Hosmer, and Perez), and IF third baseman Mike Moustakas, catcher Salvador Perez, and shortstop Alcides Escobar all make even modest improvements over last season, THEN the Royals offense will be better.
I’m not sure if you noticed but there are an awful lot of IFs in that equation. Are these things all plausible? Yes. Are they likely? Probably not, at least not all of them, but perhaps some of them are.
Either way, the offense to date, has performed an awful lot like last year, with the exception of the top of the order where the Royals are getting solid offensive production out of both Aoki and Omar Infante.
While we’re on the topic of Infante, it’s probably safe to say the Royals and Infante are counting their blessings right now that the injury he sustained when hit in the face with a pitch was not more serious. Still, it is yet another example of how things have not really gone according to plan for this team.
It also seems like another example of how the baseball gods always seem to be conspiring against the Royals. Perhaps it is the curse of Don Denkinger. Either way, you’d think an organization as snake-bit as the Royals would catch a break at least a few times over the years. Even a blind squirrel find an occasional acorn right?
Of all the positions the Royals could least afford an injury, it was in the middle-infield. Danny Valencia, is a nice option at third base, but he is very clearly not a second baseman or shortstop. His lack of range/mobility has already exposed the Royals, costing them a game against Tampa Bay.
Heck, even the vaunted defense is having a troublesome time of things so far this year. The Kansas City Royals have already registered 4 errors this season, placing them right in the middle of the AL pack in that stat.
Similarly, the Royals fielding percentage, .987, also places them in the middle of the pack. In and of itself, this isn’t a terribly bad thing but when a critical facet of how you win games is your defensive prowess, it becomes a little more problematic. Especially when you don’t have a masher or two in your lineup who can be the great equalizer.
While errors (or the lack thereof) and fielding percentage don’t always reflect defensive prowess, they do generally mean that opponents are being given second and third chances and thus far, they’ve taken advantage of it.
Then there’s that other part of the Royals offense that needs to be clicking if they are to win games; the run game. At the moment, the Royals are tied for the league lead in stolen bases with 7—that’s a good thing.
However, they also hold the lead in caught stealing with 5. That success percentage needs to be much higher if it’s going to be a staple of your attack.
Whitey-ball worked back in the 70s and 80s in part because there were great base-stealers surrounded by good base-stealers all up and down the lineup (of course, it didn’t hurt that there was also a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer in the three-hole either). I hate to break this to manager Ned Yost but there is no Willie Wilson, Freddie Patek, Vince Coleman, or Willie McGee in this lineup.
The Royals best base-stealer is reserve outfielder Jarrod Dyson but he doesn’t play regularly and at this point, has only stolen base and has one caught stealing (that CS was a critical one possibly costing the Royals a win against Chicago last week).
The rest of the lineup is stacked with decent base stealers in Lorenzo Cain, Nori Aoki, and Alcides Escobar, but none of these guys has catchers quivering in fear behind the plate that they might take off.
So, a lot has gone “not so well” for the Kansas City Royals thus far. Yet, they are 4-4 going into an imminently winnable series with Minnesota. Given all that has gone against this team so far, Royals fans should consider that a lot of these issues will resolve themselves and this team will do just what we all expect; compete for the division title and a playoff spot. Tell me what you think Royals fans.