Quarterly Review

We’re just a touch past the first quarter of the 2010 season so it’s not a bad idea to take a look back at our Royals and how things stand relative to expectations.

To date, the Royals are sitting at 17-25, which projects to a range of 65-70 wins on the year. That’s in line with most projections before the season began. We knew going in this wasn’t going to be a contender.

One of the concerns going into 2010 was the offense and how it might keep up in the American League. For the most part, the Royals bats have been surprisingly average (hey, that’s what counts as good with this franchise lately).

Royals AL hitting rankings (before start of 5/21 games)
Runs scored: 9th (179)
Batting Average: 2nd (.275)
Base hits: 1st (402) – in fact, this leads MLB
On-base percentage: 7th (.332)
Slugging percentage: 7th (.408)
OPS: 8th (.740)
Strikeouts: 2nd (227)
Stolen Bases: 5th (32)

The Royals walkrate of 7.1% is the lowest in the league, so their OBP is mostly driven off a high number of basehits. The good news is that the Royals BABIP is normal (.304) so there’s not much correction on basehits to be expected. A larger than normal proportion of those hits have been singles, so unless they string those together or happen to get an extra base hit, those runners have often ended up stranded.

To their credit, the Royals have made contact. Their 227 strikeouts is second-lowest in the league and their strikeout rate of 15.5% as a team is lowest in the AL. With Billy Butler, Alberto Callaspo and Yuniesky Betancourt, a high contact rate should stay high (though in the case of Betancourt and Butler when he rushes his swing, that’s usually going to result in a groundout.) Now if they can make better contact and find a gap to turn those singles into doubles, that’d be much appreciated.

Royals AL pitching rankings (before start of 5/21 games)
ERA: 14th (4.80)
Walks: 14th (175)
Hits against: 12th (387)
Homers against: 8th (42)
Strikeouts: 11th (266)
BABIP: 11th (.305)
K/BB ratio: 13th (1.52)
Blown Saves: 14th (10)

The pitching staff has been…bad…is that the nicest way to put it? There’s a pretty strong correlation between walks and ERA. Add in that the Royals aren’t missing a lot of bats and aren’t getting very lucky on balls put into play, and that’s going to lead to a lot of runs against. These numbers are trending upward in the last few weeks as the bullpen has settled down and the guilty parties have been sacked, but the games lost are already lost. Keep in mind, these numbers also include another stellar season by 2009 Cy Young award winner Zack Greinke, and the Royals are still in the bottom half of everything. Yikes.

That’s problematic considering preseason expectations led fans to believe that the Royals strength – perhaps their only strength – would be the pitching staff. Brian Bannister, Kyle Davies and Luke Hochevar have been stellar part of the time, average most of the time and bad often enough to cause concern when they take the ball to start a game. Until very recently, Gil Meche had been awful. So we’ve been betrayed by our pitchers.

Davies, Hochevar and Bannister aren’t strikeout pitchers by any means, so they’ll always have some issue with getting batters out without relying on the suspect defense behind them. But they, and the bullpen, have hurt themselves just as often, as the staff’s 175 walks is most in the AL. Just not good.

Surprise Performers

While his advanced skill numbers don’t look much different than any other year, Yuniesky Betancourt has kept his average at or near .270 all year and has chipped in some RBIs and some home runs. Jose Guillen went on a tear in April and his bat speed has looked much improved from last year. Mitch Maier, filling in for the injured Rick Ankiel, has done a capable job in center field, though his batting average is low. He’s driven in runs and played excellent defense, which is about what you’d ask of him and the rest is gravy. The most surprising performer has been Scott Podsednik, who’s kept his average above .300 all season while stealing 14 bases and even showing some power, slugging two homers.

Dusty Hughes, in his first full season, has had some rough spots, but for the most part has been a consistent arm out of the bullpen. Kyle Davies has been more consistent than he’s ever been. Heck, even Kyle Farnsworth‘s keeping the ball in the yard.

Most surprising about the pitching staff is the high turnover, mostly due to ineffectiveness. None of the starters have missed a start and the bullpen has stayed healthy, too, with only John Parrish hitting the DL (unless you count the shoulder surgery by Juan Cruz, who hadn’t announced the procedure until after the Royals had released him).

The Rest of the Way

So what does it mean for the rest of the season? At the start of the day, the Royals were ahead of Cleveland and tied with Chicago in the AL Central (and they were percentage points ahead of the White Sox), but nobody realistically expected the Royals to contend for a playoff spot in 2010.

The pitching staff has to rein in the walks. With the majority of the starters and much of the bullpen (I’m thinking Brad Thompson, Bryan Bullington and Bruce Chen mostly) pitching to contact, a lot of those balls will sneak through for hits, which just compounds the problem if you put batters on for free with a walk. Other than Greinke, the starting rotation needs more consistency, and in the case of Davies and Hochevar, they need to figure out how to get out of jams, or, even better, how to avoid them altogether. They’ll be two of the starters the Royals will likely rely on before Michael Montgomery, John Lamb and the rest make it to the big leagues.

As for the offense, the way they’re built, they’ll never be in the top half of the league in walks. Plate discipline like that exhibited by Kila Ka’aihue is rare in the organization, and absent that, the Royals either need to figure out if they’re going to be a scrappy, speed-based team (as in the first two weeks of the year) or if they’re going to try to slug out a big inning (which I have a hunch is the way Ned Yost sees them). Either way, they may need to change their approach, as it’s rare to single a team to death. Some of those hits have to go to the wall.

Ten days ago, this rundown would have been more pessimistic. To look at the Royals today, though, they look like a more energetic team, playing stronger defense and generally taking advantage of opportunities and sustaining rallies. That could be due to a wakeup call after the firing of Trey Hillman, the influence of a new regime under Ned Yost, both of those, none of those, or it could just be their week. The jury’s still out.

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Topics: AL Central, Alberto Callaspo, Baseball, Billy Butler, Brian Bannister, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, David DeJesus, Dayton Moore, Gil Meche, Joakim Soria, John Lamb, Jose Guillen, Juan Cruz, Kansas City Royals, KC, Kila Kaaihue, Kyle Davies, Kyle Farnsworth, Luke Hochevar, Michael Montgomery, Mike Aviles, Mitch Maier, MLB, Ned Yost, Royals, Scott Podsednik, Trey Hillman, Yuniesky Betancourt, Zack Greinke

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