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The Continuing Offensive Malaise

The Royals saw their first winning streak of the season come to an end on Monday. During said winning streak, the offense showed some signs of breaking out of a month-long malaise. It’s true. In that time, the Royals collected six hits in 26 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. That’s a .231 batting average. It resulted in 10 runs. Ten! It may not seem much, but if you think that’s not good, you haven’t met the 2018 Royals. 

The winning streak, we should note, was two games.

There’s a lot wrong with the Royals offense. An easy stat to find and point to is the fact that entering play on Monday, the Royals were batting .215/.287/.301 with runners on base. Narrow that down to runners in scoring position and it gets even uglier. The Royals offense was hitting an anemic .181/.265/.264 with RISP. That’s with their weekend offensive outburst folded in. Imagine what it was before they reeled off those two wins in a row.

Some of this can be explained away by a little bit of poor luck in the early going. We only have one month of data, after all. Besides, we’ve seen underwhelming offensive Aprils before. This just feels kind of familiar. Yet some of this can’t be explained away at all. We had our suspicions at the outset that the 2018 edition of the Royals offense would struggle to plate runs. You can’t remove two quality bats from the heart of the order and not feel some sort of pain.

The splits with runners on only tell part of the story. 

If you’ve visited this space enough, you know the RBI doesn’t tell you a damn thing. A more useful stat is percentage of base runners driven in by a particular batter. Baseball Reference tracks this as BRS%. Because it folds in all runners, not just those in scoring postion, the major league average tends to be somewhere around 14 percent. Let’s check in with the Royals, to see who’s doing the heavy lifting. 

Team PH/HR/Situ Hitting*
Base Base Base
Name PA BR BRS BRS%
Abraham Almonte# 44 33 5 15%
Cam Gallagher (40-man) 25 20 3 15%
Mike Moustakas* 121 71 11 15%
League Average 14%
Drew Butera 58 42 5 12%
Paulo Orlando (40-man) 49 43 5 12%
Jorge Soler 94 50 6 12%
Lucas Duda* 97 68 7 10%
Alex Gordon* 53 31 3 10%
Jon Jay* 110 54 5 9%
Whit Merrifield 118 67 5 7%
Cheslor Cuthbert 86 63 4 6%
Alcides Escobar 105 63 4 6%
Salvador Perez 31 20 1 5%
Ryan Goins* 35 27 0 0%
Team Total 1026 652 64 10%
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/30/2018.

Here’s the sliver of good news. Mike Moustakas is not only coming to the plate with the most runners on base, he’s bringing home those runners with the highest rate on the Royals. That’s some hardcore lineup optimization right there. Abraham Almonte is doing quite well for himself as a first week waiver selection, and has shown to be a reliable run producer. After that, the positives kind of evaporate. 

The next regular is Jorge Soler at 12 percent, which is two percentage points below league average. It’s certainly less than ideal that the Royals have so much of their lineup below the league average in BRS%. But turn your gaze to the men toward the bottom. Alcides Escobar, Cheslor Cuthbert and Whit Merrifield each have had more than 60 opportunities to drive home a run and each are succeeding seven percent or less of the time.

That’s notable because no team has more than one player with this statistical profile. Here is the entire list of players who have had more than 60 base runners on in front of them and have brought them home at a clip of seven percent or less.

Player Team BR BRS BRS%
Brandon Crawford Giants 60 1 2%
Addison Russell Cubs 63 3 5%
Carlos Gomez Rays 63 3 5%
Miguel Rojas Marlins 65 4 6%
Alcides Escobar Royals 63 4 6%
Cheslor Cuthbert Royals 63 4 6%
Trea Turner Nationals 75 5 7%
Whit Merrifield Royals 67 5 7%
Edwin Encarnacion Indians 61 4 7%

There are only nine players who fit the profile. That means most teams don’t have a single player with this kind of ineptitude. The Royals have three.

It’s difficult to mount any kind of offensive charge when a third of your batting order can’t drive in a run.

Is there a silver lining in any of this? Well, if we expect the Royals at some point to move closer to league average in BRS%, that means the laggards will pick up the pace. There’s going to be a week or two where the bats come to life. Most regulars will move to above 10 percent. (For reference, last year’s Royals team had over half their regulars above the league average, paced by Merrifield’s 20 percent.) On Monday in Boston, the Royals collected three hits in 10 at bats with runners in scoring position. That’s a good rate and they were able to score six times. It wasn’t enough as Jason Hammel couldn’t keep the Red Sox in line. He surrendered eight runs in 4.2 innings.

Therein lies the problem. As awful as the lineup has been for the Royals, the pitching has been worse. Their starters have kept the team in games, bless their heart, with a 4.29 ERA. The relievers own the worst ERA in baseball at 6.57. DRA is likewise brutal for the Royals pitchers. Their starters possess a 6.50 DRA. The relief corps has a 5.90 DRA. Add them together and their team pitching WARP is -3.07. It’s not the worst in the league (it’s the third worst mark in baseball), but that doesn’t really matter so much.

What matters is this means you simply can’t depend on any aspect of this Royals team to provide the margin necessary to regularly win a major league baseball game. In this, the season of We’re Not Tanking (But Maybe We’re Tanking), 100 losses remains a strong possibility. 

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