It’s been a long week for the Royals. Good thing they were able to take care of business at home because that trip to Anaheim was a stinker that we’d be best served to pretend like it didn’t happen and just go about our days. The offense is going through a rough stretch, but in a different way than we’ve seen in the past. I said on Twitter on Wednesday that they seem to do this a couple times a year, but this one is different because they’re actually hitting okay, just not scoring. Too bad they don’t award runs for other rankings. The Royals ended play on Wednesday third in average, sixth in OBP and fourth in SLG in the American League. They were 11th in runs after the game. That’s…not good. Let’s get to the notes.
- I know I sound like a broken record, but at this point I don’t really care. The problem starts at the top. The idea that the Royals need Alcides Escobar to lead off, no matter how bad he is, to win is ridiculous. Let me rephrase that. If he’s getting on base at a .320 clip (which would be amazing for him), I can deal with the rhetoric. He has a .250 OBP right now. He has a .275 SLG. Nothing about what he’s doing (or what he’s ever done) says he deserves to hit leadoff. It’s causing a problem for this team. Mike Moustakas has seven home runs and 11 runs batted in this season. RBIs are a silly stat to judge a hitter on, but they certainly tell a story about the guys hitting in front of him. The guy has a .600 SLG and is on pace for 85 RBIs this year. That’s hard to do. The question is who moves to the leadoff spot. I think there are a few options. You could just shift everyone up one and move Escobar to the bottom, which might be interesting. You could move Alex Gordon and his .325 OBP to the top. You could move Jarrod Dyson and his .394 OBP (and 0 strikeouts in 34 plate appearances) to the top. You could even shift Cain to the top in the hopes that a move gets him going. Even Omar Infante is a better leadoff option at this point than Alcides Escobar. So my point here is that it doesn’t matter who it is, someone else needs to hit leadoff for the Royals offense to get going. It’s not normal to be top half of the league in average, OBP and slugging and be bottom third in runs scored. The good news is that means they’re likely to regress to the mean a bit and score some more runs, but getting a good leadoff hitter could help.
- I mentioned this on the Baseball Tonight pregame show on 810 the other night, but it seems like a big issue with Cain has simply been timing. He’s not hitting more fly balls or less ground balls than in years past. He’s getting the same number of infield hits as he has in the past. He even is hitting the ball moderately hard (lower hard hit percentage, but his soft hit percentage isn’t crazy high). What he is doing is getting behind on fastballs and ahead on off speed stuff, which is obviously a problem. The biggest thing I noticed is that he’s hitting more balls to the opposite field and pulling the ball more than last year, but he’s hit the ball up the middle at a rate that’s 10 percent lower than last season. When you look at the strikeouts and when you just watch him bat, it’s clear this is completely a timing issue for him. And I tell you this because I wanted to give you some good news. Timing issues can be fixed. It may not be today or tomorrow (or it may be), but it can be fixed, and I trust the Royals coaching staff to be able to fix it. There’s a lot of talk that Cain is bulked up too much or that he’s swinging for the fences. I don’t think that’s it at all. I think he simply is just completely out of whack with his timing. He had a hit late in Tuesday’s game that looked much more like the Lorenzo Cain we know and love, and hopefully that combined with the two days off for him will help get him turned around. I think it’ll all be okay for him soon.
- I’ve mentioned this before, but I want to dive into a statistic that really piqued my interest, and that’s the Royals ability to convert fly balls into outs. We always talk about how the outfield defense is so great for the Royals, but it’s really jarring to see it quantified. Royals’ pitchers have allowed a .099/.098/.337 line on fly balls this season. Of course, numbers are nothing without context. The league hits .173/.169/.517 on fly balls. It really is unreal how good the Royals outfield defense is, and it’s gotten better with the return of Dyson to the every day lineup. I don’t need to tell you this, but for a pitcher to know they can give up a fly ball and that the outfield is going to find a way to track it down is something that gives pitchers so much confidence. That’s a big reason why I thought Kennedy would be a great fit for the Royals (and why he’s done so well to this point too).
- How about Eric Hosmer? He has a 17-game hitting streak, he’s started to hit some lasers and all in all, he looks like he’s going to break out just like we had all hoped. But here’s what’s crazy. Up until a couple days ago, it didn’t feel like he was doing all that much with the bat. It seemed like there were an awful lot of his usual groundouts to second and some thrown away plate appearances by him. But you look up, and he’s hitting .333/.379/.531 and you start to wonder how much better he can actually be. If he finishes the year with that batting line, he’s finishing top five in the MVP vote, that’s for sure. I don’t want to say he can necessarily be better than that because those are some ridiculous numbers, but it’s very weird to me that he hasn’t even looked that impressive for the most part and is where he is. We could be watching something very special this season with him.
- It looks like the Royals have shuffled the bullpen a little bit with the struggles of Joakim Soria. I’ll admit that I didn’t think too much of his rough first few appearances because of the fact that he wasn’t getting hit hard and that he had a great track record. I still have 100 percent confidence that he can turn things around and get it right, especially now that they’ve come out and identified a mechanical flaw that was leading to his struggles. But I do think it’s the right move to get him out of the late inning role he was in. Personally, I never understood why he was the eighth inning guy. I didn’t think Luke Hochevar was better than him at the beginning of the year, but I thought Kelvin Herrera was at least. But you know, credit the Royals for getting it right and getting it right quickly. Hopefully Soria can regain his footing and the bullpen can be as dangerous as we all thought it could be this season.