Lorenzo Cain

Wherefore Art Thou, Offense?

Think back to late last season and the postseason and try to remember all the praise heaped upon the Royals offense. They were talked about as relentless, deep and just generally excellent. And the praise was correct. From August 1 on, they averaged 4.9 runs per game (4.7 in the regular season and 5.6 in the postseason). They got on base, they hit for average and they even averaged about a home run per game.

Now fast forward to this season. It’s obviously been a successful start to the season, but the offense has been sort of infuriating at times. It just seems like they’re not the same as they were to end last season. Of course, they’ve replaced Ben Zobrist with Omar Infante, which hurts. They’ve also replaced Alex Rios with a combination of Jarrod Dyson, Reymond Fuentes and Paulo Orlando, which probably doesn’t actually hurt.

Through it all, they’re averaging 3.7 runs per game, which was good for 22nd in baseball. Okay, so the offense isn’t as good to start the season. It happens. Lorenzo Cain has had a rough start. Alcides Escobar has been even worse getting on base than he was last year. Alex Gordon struggled for the first two weeks. Kendrys Morales hasn’t been great. That’s not really a story. That’s a slow start. But there’s more to it. The Royals, while ranking 22nd in runs per game, rank 12th in batting average, 19th in OBP and 15th in slugging percentage.

If you were wondering, last year they ranked 2nd, 11th and 11th respectively (and 7th in runs per game).

There are two explanations for why the Royals have struggled to score runs when it seems like they should be doing at least a little bit better. They both relate to sequencing. That’s a big topic we talk about a lot with this team since they don’t hit for a ton of power (though they do get their fair share of extra base hits as evidenced by their slugging percentage rank the last two seasons). The Royals don’t get a lot of help from the long ball, so they have to string hits together. In 2015, it worked for them. In 2014 (4th in average, 15th in OBP, 19th in SLG with 4 runs per game),  it didn’t really.

So why hasn’t the sequencing worked for them this year? The biggest reason, to me, is probably the most obvious one. Look up and down the lineup at who is hitting well this year and who isn’t. The leadoff man is doing poorly, the second hitter is doing well, the third hitter is doing poorly, the fourth hitter is doing well, the fifth hitter is doing poorly and the sixth hitter has already been hot and cold this season. It’s tough to sustain rallies when every other spot in the lineup is filled by a struggling hitter. It’s not impossible, obviously, but it can certainly cause some problems.

So how does that issue get resolved? That’s not quite as simple. Actually, maybe it is. The honest answer is wait and hope they come out of it. Cain was a top-three MVP finisher last season. Morales won the Silver Slugger at DH. Those two I’m not so worried about. Escobar, on the other hand, statistically has no business leading off. The issue is that the Royals are convinced (to the point that it might actually be something; the mind is a crazy place) that they win with him leading off and lose when he doesn’t. If they don’t get it going, you can always shuffle the lineup around to optimize sequencing possibilities.  I could see the Royals shifting Escobar out of the leadoff spot at some point, but that’s not happening for at least a little while.

The other side of the coin is that they simply aren’t faring as well right now in situations where you need to fare well in order to score runs. That’s part of sequencing too, so it all fits together, but the Royals have some interesting splits.

Overall .255 .309 .400 71
Bases Empty .241 .291 .393 12
Runners on Base .277 .336 .410 59
RISP .220 .282 .293 45

So they hit better with men on than with nobody on, but when that runner suddenly gets in to scoring position, they turn into a team full of 2013 Chris Getzes? That seems odd to me. So let’s take it one step farther and look at their production with various runners on base.

Man on 1st .358 .414 .575 14
Man on 2nd .263 .323 .316 10
Man on 3rd .176 .190 .176 6
Men on 1st and 2nd .122 .204 .222 9
Men on 1st and 3rd .462 .467 .692 11
Men on 2nd and 3rd .500 .700 .667 6
Bases Loaded .000 .000 .000 2

Anything stand out to you there? There’s some great numbers and some bad numbers, but there’s one number that’s so drastically terrible that it sticks out like a sore thumb. Of course, being so early in the year, the sample is small. The Royals have batted 13 times with the bases loaded. They’ve made 12 outs, hit one sacrifice fly and scored two runs total.

Last year, the Royals hit .299 with the bases loaded in 105 plate appearances. They scored 86 runs with seven doubles, a triple and two grand slams to go along with their 17 singles. Just for fun, let’s change history and give the Royals three hits with the bases loaded with one of them being a double and add six runs to their season total. That gives them 77 runs in 19 games. That puts them up to 4.1 runs per game and ranks them 17th in baseball. That looks much better given their slash stat rankings.

My point here is not that the sample is too small to make conclusions, but that I think there will be some regression to the mean for the Royals in the near future and things will start to look up with this offense. I think the middle of the order bats struggling will eventually find it and the Royals will get the big hit where they haven’t all that often in the early going.

I sit somewhere in the middle when it comes to the clutch hitting argument. I do believe that some hitters are able to do more in those situations, but on the whole, I think a team that can hit will hit in the clutch and a team that can’t hit likely won’t. I don’t think this is a bad Royals offense, quite the contrary,so they should theoretically be able to hit well enough in the clutch.

If and when Morales and Cain get it going to match up with Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Gordon and Salvador Perez, I think the sequencing will be back and the Royals will find a way to get back to similar numbers with men on base that they had last season. I don’t think there’s potential for greatness in this offense, but there’s potential for much more, and a lot of that should come when things start to even out as they tend to do over a long season.

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