You can point to any number of reasons why the Royals watched the playoffs from home this season, but one of the big reasons, and the one I’d say deserves the majority of the blame, is the offense. With runs per game up, on average, by about a quarter of a run per game per team, the Royals saw their offense average nearly one-third of a run per game less than 2015. Why did that happen even though it was roughly the same cast and crew as 2015? They missed Ben Zobrist, but he was only on the team for a couple months. It’s pretty clear that it had to do with injuries first and sheer ineffectiveness second.
But we don’t need to rehash the why. We’ve done that quite a bit over the course of the season. Now it’s on to how to fix that. The hopes took a bit of a dash with the news that Kendrys Morales has agreed to a three-year deal with the Blue Jays, but that doesn’t mean they still can’t put together a good offense in 2017. And for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t have given Morales three years either. I was looking toward a two-year deal for $20-$24 million or so from him. Three years and $33 million is too many years and too much money, so I get them not matching that, if they even had the chance.
I’ve harped on the Royals getting a switch-hitter a few times this off-season, and one big reason is that I think the Royals can counteract not having a star on the offense with having great balance up and down the lineup. If you look at the 2015 team, one of the reasons they were effective offensively is because the lineup was pretty darn deep, especially after acquiring Zobrist. In that lineup, they had quality hitters in one way or another from the two spot through the eight spot. And even Alex Rios hitting ninth was probably better than you remember.
In that lineup, the Royals were able to alternate lefty and righty hitters. We joke sometimes about Yost’s desire to alternate L-R-L-R in the lineup, but in this age of bullpen specialists and managers willing to use four pitchers in an inning, that setup can allow a team to cause some big matchup problems for every manager. Hopefully having Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain back for a full season will help that a lot because when your two-hitter is a lefty and your three-hitter is a righty, that lends itself to obvious balance, but there’s more they need to do.
To show why the balance is important, let’s take a look at the numbers from 2016 when the Royals have the platoon advantage and when they don’t.
|RHB vs. LHP||1217||1116||.286||.331||.453|
|LHB vs. RHP||1792||1605||.247||.318||.407|
|RHB vs. RHP||2608||2437||.263||.301||.373|
|LHB vs. LHP||435||394||.239||.300||.391|
You can see the Royals had the platoon advantage in 49.7 percent of at bats this season. They hit .263/.323/.426. They hit 94 of their 147 home runs. I’ll do the math for you. Without the platoon advantage, they hit .259/.301/.375.
In 2015, the offense was better and it shows in the platoon splits below. One thing to note is that a full season of Moustakas at third compared to Cuthbert for the most of the year obviously changes some of the right-left numbers.
|RHB vs. LHP||1396||1294||.270||.313||.395|
|LHB vs. RHP||1804||1583||.282||.361||.469|
|RHB vs. RHP||2232||2087||.254||.290||.375|
|LHB vs. LHP||684||611||.277||.342||.429|
The platoon advantage was had in 52.3 percent of plate appearances in 2015. They hit .277/.340/.436 in those situations with 79 of their 139 home runs. Without the platoon advantage, they hit .259/.302/.387. That looks awfully familiar. So who knows? Get the platoon advantage more often in 2016 and maybe they win a few more games. It’s no guarantee, but that seems to be some of the issue.
As it stands at this particular moment, the Royals have three left-handed bats in the lineup (Moustakas, Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer), four right-handed bats (Cain, Cuthbert, Alcides Escobar and Salvador Perez) and two unknown spots. Those are the third outfielder, whether that’s right field or center field, and second base. But, see, it’s not just about balance. They need to find good hitters for those spots. But, that said, I think they need to find good hitters for those spots who contribute to the balance the Royals have.
Personally, I’m not enamored with the idea of using Cuthbert as the DH many days while rotating the DH the rest of the days. It’s not so much that I don’t think Cuthbert can hit enough to nail it down, but rather what happens offensively on the days where one of the outfielders sit and it’s someone worse than Cuthbert or Moustakas as the designated hitter. That’s why I was talking about what a nice fit Neil Walker could be since he could theoretically play multiple positions and allow you to rotate without losing a big bat. Of course, he got the qualifying offer which would make me shy away from him now. (Editor’s Note: And now Walker has accepted the qualifying offer from the Mets, so he isn’t an option anyway.)
Plus, I still think this offense needs one more bat that they just don’t have right now without Morales, and the best spot to find that bat is in the DH role.
So to me, it comes down to needing a switch hitter or a right-handed bat. Obviously a switch hitter is preferable because they never don’t have the advantage, but a right-handed bat would balance the lineup well. As things currently stand, the Royals number five hitter is likely Perez, who has a .286 OBP the last three seasons and doesn’t have the power to make up for that to hit in the middle of a good lineup.
The choices appear to be Carlos Beltran, Mike Napoli or even maybe Mark Trumbo. All have their issues. Beltran will be 40 within the first few weeks of the season and hit just .280/.325/.451 after being acquired by the Rangers. Napoli doesn’t really fit the Royals offensive style as he’s a strikeout machine, though the home runs would look awfully nice and he’s a great clubhouse guy. It’s an arbitrary endpoint, but he also hit .157/.292/.279 in his last 40 games an he’s no spring chicken either at 35-years old. And with Trumbo, you’re paying for a 47-home run season in an offensive environment that makes that a bit less impressive. Plus, he hit .214 with a .284 OBP after the break. You’re paying for a career first half and you’re paying a lot. Another possible name is Jose Bautista, which on the field might make some sense as he’s a different type of hitter than the Royals have, but with a qualifying offer extended, I’d be surprised if the Royals jump in the fray. Add in that his asking price is going to be through the roof, and he’s likely not worth it.
I could see Beltran working, but I think if the Royals want to go that direction, they should pounce now. There’s news out of Boston that they’re waiting to learn about what the luxury tax threshold will be before they make big signings. If it goes up, it appears they might have interest in jumping in the Edwin Encarnacion sweepstakes (no, he’s not a real option for the Royals even though that would be amazing). If it doesn’t, Beltran seems to be the fit for them. If the Royals want to get Beltran, they’d be wise to make an offer quickly and undercut the Red Sox.
So I’m not sure who the guy is for the Royals, but I do believe they need either a switch hitter or a right-handed bat to slot into that fifth spot in the lineup to separate Hosmer from Gordon and allow Perez to be almost a second cleanup hitter as his inability to get on base won’t be as big of a hindrance in the bottom of the order. That move can come in free agency or by trade, but I don’t think the Royals offense can click at its highest possible level without that one addition. And without that, it’ll be even harder to regain the AL Central crown.
1 comment on “Royals Offense Needs Balance”
Beltran is playing to get into the HoF so likely has zero interest in a big park.
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