One of the beauties of baseball season is how long “it’s early.” At some point, things flip and everything that’s happening has relevance, but that moment sort of catches everyone off guard. All discussions begin with “It’s early, but…” until they don’t. I say this to remind everyone that it’s early, but the returns on the Royals season aren’t exactly great to this point, though a win Thursday was nice. I imagine the offense will find their groove eventually. There are just too many talented hitters for it to not get better. But, oof, this has not been the most fun first week and a half to watch.
- I guess we’ll start with the topic du jour of this week, Raul Mondesi. Craig wrote about him. I mentioned him. Lots of other people have some hot takes on him. I hope Wednesday’s big offensive night (for him) jump starts him to make this conversation look absolutely ridiculous in a few weeks, but my gut is that doesn’t happen. I still believe strongly that Mondesi becomes a very good every day player in the relatively near future. He’s just not there yet. And what’s worse is that I think the Royals are hurting themselves in 2017 and beyond in 2018-2022. And what’s even worse than that is I think the Royals might be hurting Mondesi’s development as a whole. I don’t always agree with, but I understand, the concept of letting a guy learn in the big leagues. Sometimes it does make sense. In a situation like that where Mondesi seems to be spending more time trying to lay down bunts than to actually swing the bat, I just don’t see the value. If he moves away from that approach and starts swinging, I have no problem giving him a little more time at the big league level. The talent is undeniable. You saw him turn a 99 MPH fastball around and hit it almost 440 feet to basically dead center. You can see the athleticism and the sparks of defensive excellence. If he’s still bunting multiple times per game, though, he’s not developing at the big league level and he needs to go for this team, for future Royals teams and for himself.
- It’s easy to look at the leaderboards and see that the Royals had the worst BABIP in baseball heading into play on Thursday and wonder if some of their offensive struggle is just a lack of good luck. Given that the worst BABIP in franchise history came in their inaugural season and it was .269, I think it’s fair to assume things will start to even out relatively soon. That’s the joy of the baseball season. It’s long enough that most things even out. I wanted to dig a little to see if the Royals really did have bad luck or if they just aren’t hitting the ball well. Using the wonderful Baseball Savant, I looked up all balls hit with an exit velocity of 100 MPH or greater and found that the Royals have 39 such batted balls. On those 39, they have 22 hits for an average of .564. That doesn’t seem too bad. But then I looked at the rest of the league and saw that everyone else had a .606 average on those balls. It’s only a week and a half, so there’s a lot of normalizing to happen, but that’s a fairly sizable gap. That’s one of those numbers I’m going to keep my on throughout the season to see how that progresses. It’s worth noting that the hardest hit ball of the year in all of baseball was off the bat to Eric Hosmer. You probably guessed it was on a groundout.
- I don’t mean to take away everything Moose might have to say, but boy has Jason Vargas been great in his two starts this season. He’s now 2-0 with a 0.66 ERA over 13.2 innings with only an Alcides Escobar error keeping him from eight shutout innings against Oakland. His changeup has been an absolute monster in his first two starts, which is both a great thing and a reason to at least be cautiously optimistic with him. When that pitch is on, there’s no team he can’t shut down. The issue with Vargas is the stuff outside of the changeup isn’t very good, so if the change isn’t on that night, he might have some troubles. Still, he’s the fourth starter in this rotation and if he can give you starts like he did against Oakland, that’s a very good thing. It’s easy to overlook this, but Vargas has been really good for the Royals throughout his entire tenure with the team. He was every bit as good as James Shields and Yordano Ventura in the first half of 2014 and even was successful in his limited outings in 2015 before the elbow injury. I may have been too quick to overlook him when thinking about this rotation before the season.
- For all the talk about Mondesi and his place on the roster, a lot of people on the wonderful community that is Twitter have pointed out that it’s kind of silly to complain about the number nine hitter when the cleanup hitter and six-hitter are performing just as poorly, if not worse. First, I’ll say that it is possible to focus on two things at once, so I think it’s silly when people say you can’t worry about one thing when something else is going. But second, I’ll agree. We definitely wouldn’t care nearly as much what Mondesi and, to a lesser extent, Escobar, are doing offensively if Eric Hosmer and Brandon Moss were actually hitting. Instead, Moss is getting himself out way too often while Hosmer is going to force Trevor Vance to plant new grass way earlier than expected because he’s killing it with all those ground balls. And let’s not let Alex Gordon off the hook either. From the leadoff spot, he was getting on base one-quarter of the time through the season’s first eight games. The only three bright spots in the batting order – Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez – haven’t really been able to get anything going this season because nobody has been on around them. Something has to give, and it starts with Hosmer to me. He appears to be expanding his strike zone too often, swinging early in the count too often and just generally looking like a shell of the player we all once thought he could be. I feel like once he gets going, so will the rest of the offense. Until then, I’m worried about how rough it could get.