The overall offense numbers for the Royals thus far are eerily similar to last year’s incarnation of the team. In the first 17 games of 2013 the Royals as a team have hit .264/.314/.388 and scored exactly 4 runs per game. Last year they hit .265/.317/.400 with 4.17 runs per game. This has led to some panic among a segment of the fan base. For example, go listen to any of the Royals related podcasts on Soren Petro’s show from Monday and Tuesday and you can hear it for yourself. This reaction to the Royals early season performance is way too much. Beyond the fact that 17 games is way too few to draw any real conclusions, there are plenty of other reasons that this offense is likely to still be average as expected.
The run environment of baseball has been a topic of conversation for several years. Over time the number of runs per game has been dropping, and many people have speculated that this is due to things like increased PED testing or increased quality of pitching. Whatever the reason(s), the last three years have seen this trend stagnate.
As you can see, the runs scored in 2010, 11, and 12 were basically identical per game in the American League. So far this year the runs have been slightly less per game. This is not surprising since run production tends to be suppressed due to things like cold weather early in the season. The overall run production this year is down 3.9% per game from last year, so the Royals run production being down 4.1% from last year is right in line with the league drop. This is not comforting in that it says the offense has not progressed, but I wanted to start by at least showing that it has not regressed before pressing on.
Another thing to pay attention to is who the Royals have faced. Their overall strength of schedule is 12th according to ESPN (last year they ended up at 17th), so their schedule has been a little tougher than average. Not only that, but over half their games have come against some pretty tough starting pitching (Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, Cole Hamels, R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Clay Buchholz, and Ryan Dempster). Don’t be surprised if the Detroit series does not help the offense bring its numbers up as they will add Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Anibal Sanchez to the tally. Tough competition and low scoring games sounds like playoff baseball, and so far the Royals are above .500 in that situation. This to me is a good sign.
Now to the actual player performance and composition. Due to Ned’s love of changing the line-up and two trips to National League parks it is hard to say what the typical starting 9 in order are, but roughly it is this:
Only one of these players does not belong on any major league team as a starter, and my assumption is that Francoeur will get less playing time as the season goes on and more will go to Jarrod Dyson (or David Lough who is raking in Omaha). Less Frenchy over time will help this offense. Also, only one player is at a level that is unsustainably good, Lorenzo Cain, but I don’t expect him to fall off of a cliff, just come back to Earth. That leaves two groups, those doing as expected and those under-performing.
The expected group includes Gordon, Escobar, and Getz. Gordon might not continue quite at the level he is at, but he has produced at a similar clip for a whole season before. His OPS+ is 141 and in 2011 his season OPS+ was 140, so he is at or only a tiny bit above what he should be. Alcides is continuing what he did last year only with slightly more power. If he develops a little above last year no one should be shocked as that is fairly common of 26 year old players. Chris Getz is a mediocre hitter, and will probably continue to be a mediocre hitter. His average will likely come up and his slug will likely come down with no discernible change in team performance due to him. That is fine since he bats ninth.
Now the under-performers. Billy Butler will be fine, and as he rises back to his level the offense will improve. I would move Lorenzo
Cain behind him to try and keep pitchers from walking him so much, but either way this is not a concern. That leaves the young guys. Salvador Perez is the only one nobody has been vocally down on. Sal is hitting .258/.269/.348, so I’m not sure why he has been ignored by those concerned, but whatever. He is a stud defensively and I guess his last two partial seasons are enough that everyone is giving him the benefit of the doubt. Hosmer and Moose on the other hand are struggling mightily and every Royals fan knows it. There is more concern here due to their performances last year, Hosmer the entire 2012 campaign and Moustakas’ second half.
Eric Hosmer is doing poorly, but there are signs that he is going to get right because he is still getting on base. The power is the major concern here. Way too many ground balls and only one extra base hit, and only a double at that, are keeping his numbers from being okay. I am still optimistic that he will have a decent season, especially since one good game, say a double and home run in the same day, would make everything look a lot better very quickly.
Mike Moustakas is another story. His line, .158/.226/.193, is atrocious. There is no sugar coating the results when you aren’t hitting, or getting base, or showing any power. His past and age make me think that it is just a slump at a bad time, but that doesn’t mean I am not concerned about the short term. Worst case scenario is that he needs a remedial session in AAA to get back on track if in a couple of weeks he is still looking this bad at the plate. Gordon and Butler, among others, have had to do this sort of thing so don’t freak out if Moose gets sent down it does not mean he is never going to be any good. There is no way that the final line for all third basemen ends up looking that bad by the end of the year, and up is really the only possible direction.
What I take from the players themselves is that there are a lot more players or positions to expect improvement from as the year goes on than there are expected regressions. In other words, despite the struggles of a significant portion of the offense, this team has pretty much replicated last year’s offensive output. This offense should therefore be better than last year’s once all 162 have been played. We already know how much better the starting pitching has been, and should be expecting them to come backward a little bit due to a pretty fantastic start. Hopefully as the starting pitching starts to find their level, which still should be pretty good, this offense can do the same and we can continue to watch good baseball. Then come June we can start talking about trades and such to bolster any continuing weaknesses.