Jason Vargas

Underachieving Overachievers

The Kansas City Royals have six wins and seven losses through 13 games. That record indicates that this team has been thoroughly mediocre through the first eight percent or so of its schedule. And as a team, the end result has been mediocre, but how they’re getting there can leave fans wondering if they should be happy their team has a record that good or upset that it isn’t better. Rather than mediocre, I think this team has actually been borderline remarkable, which isn’t always a good thing.

No team in baseball has scored fewer runs than the Royals, and it’s important to note given the disparity in games played early in the season that no team has averaged less runs per game than the Royals. They’re averaging exactly three runs per game, but they’ve actually only scored more than three runs in a game four times all season long. It’s actually kind of a shock that they’ve only been shut out once. Make no mistake, this offensive blackout is on just about everyone. Looking at the team’s true averages (TAv), you can see that they’ve struggled up and down the lineup. Note the dropoff below from the third best (well, fourth with Whit Merrifield) to the next best. It’s almost shocking.

Player TAv
Whit Merrifield .677
Mike Moustakas .315
Lorenzo Cain .315
Salvador Perez .292
Brandon Moss .217
Alcides Escobar .196
Alex Gordon .192
Eric Hosmer .184
Cheslor Cuthbert .179
Raul Mondesi .147
Paulo Orlando .128

I decided not to include Drew Butera and Christian Colon, but just know that they both carry a .000 TAv. This team has some power. They even aren’t quite as allergic to walks as they have been in the past. But man are they not hitting. This article isn’t to figure out why they aren’t hitting, but just to illustrate how bad they’ve been offensively. Part of it is bad luck and part of it is just a team-wide slump. They have a .248 BABIP and I mentioned their average on balls hit 100 MPH or harder the other day being about 30 points lower than the rest of the league. But that’s not all of it. There are some real concerns on this offense that hopefully are going to begin to be alleviated with the addition of Merrifield and hopefully Jorge Soler in the near future.

Still, those numbers. Woof.

There’s some good. I mentioned the walks and power. Their current 8 percent walk rate is the best the franchise has seen since the 2002 team walked 8.4 percent of the time. Let’s not pretend it’s anything great, but last year’s team had a 6.3 percent walk rate, so that’s a big improvement. And the power is there. The Royals are on pace to obliterate their previous team record of 168 home runs. Of course, most of them are on pace to be solo shots.

Even with some positives, this offense has been abysmal. And the team is hovering around .500. That’s not so bad.

But hold up. The Royals pitching has been kind of amazing. Okay, maybe that’s not the right word because the bullpen has struggled so badly at times (mostly in the Minnesota series), but it’s been really good. The Royals are carrying the eighth best ERA in the big leagues right now. They’ve allowed less home runs than anybody. The starting rotation, in particular has been breathtakingly good through the first 13 games. The 2.25 ERA that unit has put up is the best in baseball by almost a full run. The Twins of all teams are second best at 3.18. And the Royals haven’t even played the White Sox yet!

Looking only at numbers as a starter (because Nate Karns had a disaster relief outing), the fourth best starting ERA belongs to Ian Kennedy at 2.37. DRA isn’t quite as kind to the staff with only Danny Duffy featuring a DRA below 3.00, but the results have been absolutely stellar through the first two plus weeks of the season. The starters have given up more than two runs just three times all season and in two of those three, they’ve given up just three runs. This is actually a pretty incredible run of starting pitching.

At some point, this offense will start to hit. Whatever you think of guys like Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, Brandon Moss or even some of the few who are actually hitting, there’s far more talent on this offense than an overall .214/.282/.348 line. They’ll score more than three runs per game and they’ll likely take some of the pressure off their starting rotation and a bullpen that’s starting to come together. Of course, the rotation seems like a pretty big lock to come back to earth at some point as well. The last time a team had a starting rotation ERA of 2.25 or lower was in 1919 when both the Reds and Cubs did it.

So it brings up the question of whether the Royals are overachieving because of their brutally bad offense or if they’re underachieving because of their spectacular starting rotation.

The answer, of course, is yes.

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