It was a dark and stormy April.
That reads like the opening line of some poorly written fiction, doesn’t it? Except it wasn’t fiction. It was reality for the Royals in the season’s opening month.
Blame it on the offense, of course. An average of 2.7 runs per game was a drag on some strong starting pitching. You know the final carnage: Seven wins in 23 games. A season of moderate promise circled the drain within the first four weeks.
Then, something happened. The Royals started hitting. They started scoring and the wins piled up. Nine wins in 15 games and, result on Tuesday against the Yankees aside, counting.
It’s a ying and yang of the Royals offense. Let’s take a 10,000 foot view. First up, the abysmal April numbers.
Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez provided the power and the OPS+ relative to the league. Lorenzo Cain was getting on base. But other than those three, it was a long month on the struggle bus. We all saw it. Sorry. Didn’t mean to trigger flashbacks.
Flip the calendar and things are a little different.
Cain is continuing a superb start to his season. Eric Hosmer has, thankfully, joined him in the productive bat department. And Perez isn’t hitting with the same kind of power, but he’s still providing value by reaching base at an absurd (for him) .377 clip.
Look at the monthly averages. The Royals are hitting .251/.320/.394 and are scoring an average of four runs per game. A quick check of the American League numbers for the current season reveal the league hitting at a .246/.320/.404 clip and scoring an average of 4.4 runs per game. So the Royals have gone from abysmal to average. Roughly. As good as it seems they’ve been going since May 1, the Royals are still hitting at a below average rate, as evidenced by their 91 sOPS+.
In the course of the season, the tendency is to isolate the highs and the lows. A team (or player) isn’t as good as their hottest stretch, nor are they as bad as their worst. The truth lies somewhere in between. As bad as April was for this club, there was no way they could maintain that level of offensive futility, right? They had to fall up to the mean. So they weren’t as bad offensively as we saw. Right now, the Royals are hitting like an average AL team. Average. Does this mean they have yet to have a sustained collective hot streak? Or, if you prefer a more frightening thought, what if this is the hot streak? In the search for the true Royals offense, what if the truth lies somewhere in between what we’ve seen so far?
That’s a sobering thought. Then there’s this. After Tuesday’s loss, the Royals run differential for the month is now -5. Somehow, the Royals have a 9-6 record. Granted, two of those games (including Tuesday) were Jason Hammel starts where the Royals were outscored 19-2. Sometimes, things in baseball get a little wacky. As the temptation may be to isolate those two starts and say something like, “Ignoring Hammel starts…” except it doesn’t happen that way. Those losses are part of the 2017 record. Again, a balancing of the highs and lows. Jason Vargas has two starts this month where the Royals outscored their opposition 12-1. Take just those four games and the Royals run differential is -6. See how that works?
As we approach the quarter point of the season, we have a picture of the Royals offense that is clearer than we had when they opened the season in Minneapolis. Yet we still do not possess a complete portrait. Where the offense goes from this point is anyone’s guess. The thought here is the current stretch is the best we will see from this team. It could be sustained for a nice stretch of time, but to expect this group to put up a continued run of games where they average much more than four runs per game, seems to be asking a little too much. Likewise, it’s unlikely we’ll see a return to the depths of April. It seems like this team will settle in somewhere around their current rates in May – a little below average. Good, but not good enough.