Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Before the season started, I took a look at the Royals’ lineup and how their platoon splits – or lack thereof – could be very beneficial to them this year. The numbers are all in that link, but the upshot is that most of the Royals’ hitters have been at least respectable against both lefties and righties. They were particularly successful facing left-handed pitching last year, and with the bats of Danny Valencia and Justin Maxwell on the bench, most assumed the team would be able to do even more damage against southpaws in 2014.
We’re now 30 games into the season, and the Royals appear determined to make that assumption look foolish.
The usual small sample size caveats still apply, of course, and doubly so for the numbers against lefties, which have been accumulated in far fewer plate appearances. But even if you don’t find the current trend all that worrisome, the statistics are still noteworthy, if only for their absurdity. This first table shows the team’s current wRC+ against left-handed pitching.
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That’s right. The Royals only have two hitters who are above average against lefties, and they happen to be left-handed themselves. Nori Aoki is actually one of the league’s best hitters facing lefties, ranking 10th in all of baseball in wRC+. But other than him and Eric Hosmer, there’s just a big ol’ bucket of woof. As a team, the Royals have a wRC+ of 60 against lefties. That ranks dead last in MLB. The closest AL team to that number is the Orioles, at 78.
Since 2002, no team has been this bad against left-handed pitching. That’s 13 seasons, with 30 teams per season, meaning the sample is 390 teams. 389 of them have been better than this year’s Royals’ squad. Again, it’s only 284 total plate appearances, but for a team that’s about to face a few more left-handed starters in the next week, that number is pretty scary.
Billy Butler has always been able to hit lefties well, and even with his terrible start to the season, he’s at least kind of close to average. Possibly the biggest surprise in that table, though, is Salvador Perez. In his career, he’s hit lefties to the tune of a 146 wRC+. His wRC+ has a negative sign in front of it this year. Anytime the name of a stat has a “+” at the end, you don’t want to see a “-” in front of the number. That’s bad. Like, really bad. I don’t expect the trend to continue, but Perez hasn’t been his usual self thus far.
The “lefty masher” platoon bats of Valencia and Maxwell have been disappointing, to say the least, albeit in a very limited sample. I do think they both should get better, but both players’ sole purpose on the team is to provide production against left-handed pitching, and they have failed to do that. One has to question how many chances they’ll receive, if they continue to perform below expectations. Granted, it seems as if many players on the roster have been given more chances than necessary, but that’s a rabbit hole I don’t feel like traveling down today. Simply put, the Royals have to get better against lefties, and they must do it soon.
Of course, when an offense struggles as mightily as this one, you would expect to see poor numbers against the long side of a platoon as well, and that expectation would be correct. Overall, the Royals are still 10% below average in wRC+, which ranks 19th in MLB. However, there are at least a few more bright spots in this table.
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Five Royals, including the apparently healthy enough Lorenzo Cain, are above average against righties. That’s not particularly great, by any means, but it’s a bit better. Some players will likely be regressing to the mean – in both directions – but the composite number seems close to what the team should have, perhaps a bit lower, but not drastically so. I think they may get close to average against right-handers by the end of the season, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they fall short of that mark.
The biggest problem is the team’s line against left-handed pitching, as you can see from above, and they’re about to be tested by them, beginning tonight in San Diego against Eric Stults. Stults hasn’t been exceptionally good this year (5.34 ERA, 6.13 FIP) so hopefully the Royals can start to buck their current trend. Scoring a handful of runs off of Stults won’t guarantee future success, but at least it could be a step in the right direction. And for this scuffling offense, every step is important.