Jose Guillen was designated for assignment over three weeks ago and still leads the Royals with 16 homeruns. The next closest is Yuniesky Betancourt with 13 after an inexplicable post-baby power surge in the middle of August. Billy Butler, the Royals marquee hitter, has a mere 11 in 536 plate appearances.
Why is this franchise so power starved?
Someone pointed out on Twitter on Wednesday that the Royals lineup that day – which feature Willie Bloomquist batting third – had less combined homeruns among all nine hitters than Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera.
I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of tired of staring at Steve Balboni’s 36 homeruns in 1985 and feeling diminutive as a fan about it. Did you know that Bret Boone hit more homers than that in a season? We all know Brady Anderson’s incredible 1996 season when he hit 50 homers. The closest the Royals have come to reaching that team record came in 1995 when Gary Gaetti hit 35 out.
It’s been ten years since Jermaine Dye hit 33 and other than that, nobody’s approached 30.
This year, it might be notable if anyone even gets to 20. It’s like Mike MacFarlane is back, leading the team with 17 homers.
Historically, when the Royals had the deep green turf, they constructed their teams to fit the conditions of their home park – speed and defense were the goals. Add a bit of gap to gap power from George Brett and John Mayberry, and otherwise, let Willie Wilson and Amos Otis and Freddie Patek run wild. Then Royals Stadium was a cavern, a place where the fences were pulled way back and balls that would have been homers in other stadiums turned into doubles and triples (of the Royals top ten leaders in triples in a single season, all but one came after 1985, Jose Offerman‘s 13 in 1998). So they never set out to be a power hitting team.
But in the 1990s, they pulled the fences in, added natural turf, and as the homerun era beckoned, the Royals tried to keep up somehow. They brought in older sluggers Chili Davis and Dean Palmer and after Dye, Carlos Beltran and Mike Sweeney started coming around, they had some power hitters for a change. But the financial issues of the game and the lack of strong ownership of any kind forced the trade of their best run producers and again the Royals were left without a true power threat.
Royals Authority looked at Billy Butler earlier today and his proficiency to hit doubles (and into double plays) and showed how Butler was able to (slightly) hit a few more line drives while reducing his ground ball percentage, but that over the last three years, he’s only hit a flyball about a third of the time when he puts the ball in play. The contact skills are there, and when he gets his pitch, he crushes it, so the power and strength is obvious. Kauffman is still a touch more friendly to pitchers than hitters, so that has a slight impact on his homerun rate, but a lot of it is technique for Butler.
But still, if Jose Bautista can come from out of nowhere to hit over 40 homeruns, you’d think someone on the Royals could have done something similar one of these years. Maybe the franchise is just cursed.
At his current rate of one homer per 43 at bats, Butler might get a chance for three more homeruns. Last season, he hit a homer every 29 at bats. That might add four homers at that rate.
Our franchise first baseman might only hit 15 homers in a full season. Sure, Butler is only 24 and big power develops late sometimes (similar to Paul Konerko and others, as I examined back in June), but it’s frustrating when you consider that Yuniesky Betancourt is very likely to lead the team in homers.
Next season, we should see Alex Gordon all year in left field (barring injury), Kila Ka’aihue and Butler exchanging turns at first base and DH and potentially a full year of Wilson Betemit (though if he hits like he has this season, I’ll be shocked). I can’t see any of them surpassing 30 homers, so we may have to look yet again to the prospects to pull Kansas City out of the dark ages and into the light.