Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
We were told to expect a step forward offensively. We were told that the young nucleus of the Kansas City Royals would figure it all out in 2014. If we could see more games like Sunday’s against the Baltimore Orioles, we’d all feel a little better. But those kind of games have been few and far between.
We should have known better.
The Royals have played 24 games now, and for all the worries we had about the starting rotation with the loss of Ervin Santana, they have the second lowest ERA in the American League, and yet they are only 12-12. It is the offense that has held this team back.
James Shields has been exactly what we expected him to be, and the same can likely be said for Jeremy Guthrie and Bruce Chen. Yordano Ventura has been outstanding and Jason Vargas has exceeded any and all expectations thus far. Yet, offensively, this team is still stuck in the mud.
In 24 games, the Kansas City Royals have only 10 home runs, which is obviously dead last in all of baseball. Jose Abreu has 10 himself as a rookie for the Chicago White Sox.
And it’s not just the lack of home runs that’s disheartening, because we’ve grown used to low home run totals as Royals fans. It’s the complete inability to even hit the ball hard. The Royals also dead last in baseball in line drive percentage at 16.1% and have the highest percentage of ground balls hit at 51.9%.
According to Fangraphs, the Royals lead baseball in infield popups, with 14.0% of the flyballs the team hits failing to leave the infield. The Royals lead baseball in infield hits, with 29—which is hardly a sign of strong offense.
The Kansas City Royals have scored the second fewest runs in the American League and have also walked the second fewest times in the league.
The heart of the Royals lineup, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler and Alex Gordon have combined to hit one home run and grounded into 13 double plays. Alcides Escobar has the highest OPS on the team and Omar Infante leads the team in RBIs with 17. I could have just led with that because that in a nutshell describes how pitiful the Royals have been offensively in the first month of 2014.
Sure, approximately 15% of the season has been played, so the sample size is rather small, but as the weather warms up, the Royals’ bats better too because the pitching staff can’t be counted on to keep up the pace it is on now. The Royals have yet to win a game in which they score less than four runs, 12-0 when they score four or more, 0-12 when they don’t. It’s a remarkable statistic.
So what do the Royals need to do to make this season as fun as many of us hoped it would be? Start with hitting the ball in the air more and hitting it with some authority. According to fangraphs.com:
"“Line drives are death to pitchers, while ground balls are the best for a pitcher. In numerical terms, line drives produce 1.26 runs/out, fly balls produce 0.13 run/out, and ground balls produce only 0.05 run/out.”"
In other words, leading baseball in ground balls and hitting the fewest line drives is a recipe for a putrid offense and that’s what we’ve got. It’s hard to score runs when all you do is pound the ball into the ground in nearly 52% of your balls put into play. Occasionally it feels like the Royals are getting close to hitting for some more power. They hit three home runs in last weeks four-game series in Cleveland against the Indians. But when they traveled to Baltimore, the power was turned off again, the only ball hit over the wall coming off of the bat of Infante, who had six RBIs in Sunday’s 9-3 win over the Orioles.
In 14 games in the previous three seasons, the Royals had hit 21 home runs in Camden Yards. The mere one homer this weekend continues the disturbing trend that we’ve seen in the first 24 games of the season. The Royals haven’t hit their stride offensively yet.
We all assume they will at some point. At least we hope they do. So far the American League Central is the tightest division in all of baseball, and the Kansas City Royals are obviously still in it. But how long can they survive with pitching and inconsistent offensive output? I don’t want to find out. It’s time to start depositing some balls over the wall.