Last night’s four run outburst not withstanding, the Royals offense has struggled for most of this season. Let us face facts – 33 runs in 12 games is not conducive to winning baseball, unless a team is somehow running five Greg Maddux clones to the mound. Yet, despite their inability to score runs, the Royals are somehow close to .500 at 5-7 this season.
There is certainly a lot of blame to go around. Five players in the Royals starting lineup are hitting .250 or lower, with Mike Moustakas and Billy Butler both hitting under .150 thus far. While it was hoped that Moustakas would be able to channel his excellent Spring Training and actually be productive this season, Butler was practically considered a lock to produce. After all, over the past five seasons, Butler had produced an average batting line of .302/.372/.469. A professional hitter, Butler was expected to help drive the Royals offense this season.
Instead, Butler’s production has taken a nosedive. None of his six hits have gone for extra bases, and Butler has almost as many RBIs (four) and times that he has grounded into a double play (three) this season. In fact, Butler has hit the ball in the air all of four times this season, leading to a truly horrific ground ball rate. It is one thing to hit a high percentage of ground balls if you happen to be Nori Aoki or Jarrod Dyson, but it is something else entirely when one has the speed that Butler has.
Right now, with the Royals offense in a general slump, Billy Butler may be trying too hard to make things happen. Instead of waiting for his pitch and hitting it hard, Butler may be feeling pressure to deliver. When he doesn’t, he may be trying harder. If anything, the best thing for Butler may be to take a step back and relax, perhaps hitting a bit further down the lineup until he is back to his normal self.
Fortunately for the Royals, for as cold as Butler has been, they have someone that has been equally hot with the bat. Salvador Perez, despite batting directly in front of Moustakas, has been the Royals best hitter this season. Even with minimal protection, Perez still leads the American League in doubles, and is in the top ten in batting average, on base percentage and OPS+.
Having that type of production in the cleanup spot could not only jump start the Royals offense, but it could help to get Billy Butler going. Sliding Butler down in the lineup, as teams do when a player struggles, could relieve any pressure that he is putting on himself to produce in a lineup that has been struggling to put runs on the board. Then, perhaps Butler can get back to hitting line drives and being the type of hitter we saw over the previous five seasons, instead of a groundball machine that has been rolling over on pitches away and missing the pitches that he used to crush.
It is still early in the season, but it is time for Ned Yost and the Royals to do something about their lack of production. Moving Billy Butler down in the lineup, for at least a couple of games, may be the easiest option.