MLB: Kansas City Royals at Houston Astros

Frozen

Swings and roundabouts.

Baseball can be such a cruel game to follow. One week, your team is coming back from deficits in three consecutive games, dealing a division rival crushing losses in rapid succession. Then, your team follows that up with a thorough curb-stomping against good competition. Six wins in six games. You’re not necessarily staking out your position along Grand Avenue at this point, but you’re feeling pretty good about the state of the franchise, injuries be damned.

Then, Cleveland happens.

By any baseballing measure, last weekend sucked. The lock-down bullpen wasn’t so lock-down without Wade Davis and lost a late lead. Then, the bats turtled up and went completely missing in action. After setting a franchise record of 10 consecutive games with a double-digit hit attack, the offense banged out only 13 hits over their next three games. Jeepers. A trip to Baltimore hasn’t gotten off any kind of a better start. On Monday, the Royals were held in check by a guy who was demoted a few days ago because he was gifting home runs.

The projections still frown up on the Royals. PECOTA has upped the win total, but barely. The circuit and wire gang has them at 79 wins and a 16 percent chance to qualify for the postseason. Their 3rd Order winning percentage stands at .454 with 25 expected wins against the current reality of 30 wins and .536. This will come as no comfort, but the deeper statistics indicate the Royals have had a fair amount of fortune on their side to even be above .500 at this point.

We’ve played just over a third of the season. Enough time has passed we can look at some numbers to identify some trends. Most disturbing is the Royals offensive production. Kansas City is plating 3.96 runs per game, well under league average of 4.44 R/G. Their collective .318 on base percentage is close enough to league average (.320) that reaching base isn’t so much a concern. However, hitting for power is. Their team slugging percentage of .401 is 10th out of 15 clubs, while their team .133 ISO is dead last. Some of the blame for the power outage can fall on the absence of Mike Moustakas, the dreadful slow start and subsequent injury to Alex Gordon, and the season long disappearing act of Kendrys Morales.

Alone, a team could weather the loss if one of these guys went down. Patch it together like they did last year when Alex Gordon went down with the groin injury. Or the year before when Eric Hosmer was lost for a month with a broken wrist. Together, that’s one-third of a lineup that is missing some potency. There’s not enough depth in baseball that can stand up to this kind of lineup adversity.

This isn’t to offer excuses for the Royals. The offense stinks at the moment.

Raw numbers say they have had a grand total of 1,202 batters reach base this year. AL average is 1,265. A deeper dive into the numbers shows the Royals are scoring 29 percent of those baserunners; just a touch below league average of 30 percent. Not only do the Royals lack the power to produce runs on a consistent basis, they are reaching base less frequently than the “average” team. Fewer opportunities plus less production equals a lack of run support. We saw it again on Monday night in Baltimore. The Royals turned a pitcher named Mike Wright, who has been worth 0.1 WARP in his 49 innings, a pitcher who was farmed out just a week prior with a 5.88 ERA and 111 cFIP, into the year 2000 version of Pedro Martinez. It was depressing to watch, yet predictable. The Royals themselves are less than a week removed from running out a lineup that featured Omar Infante batting fifth. That didn’t happen because Ned Yost is some sabermetric genius who stumbled upon the latest batting order inefficiency. It happened because the Royals lineup is void of quality bats.

True Average, which is our metric for total offensive value scaled to batting average (a .260 mark is always league average), tells the same story as all the other team stats I’ve listed above. Through a third of the season, the Royals team TAv is .257. The offense isn’t near as good as last year (they finished with a .262 TAv), but they can best be described as “a little below average.”

Of course, it doesn’t feel that way at the moment.

What is it with this offense where it’s not one or two players who are slumping, it’s the whole damn lineup? It can seem like the team (Yost especially) can lean on this as a frequent excuse, but it sure seems there’s a nugget of truth to the statement. How else do you explain what we’ve seen the last four-plus games?

Problems, but no obvious solution.

One thing that is clear at this point is there will be no 2015 style romp through the AL Central again. Last season was special from start to finish. Each year takes its own personality and the 2016 season is all about grinding out the wins. The division is decidedly mediocre, with contending teams all with deep flaws. There are arguments to be made for any of the four non-Twins teams in favor of them winning the division and there are equally persuasive points that can be made for those teams not making it through the season.

Baseball would be boring if it was easy. And this year is shaping up as anything but easy.

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