The KC Royals kept the line moving in 2015. For the 2016 Royals the line is moving along about as well as it does at the DMV.
As of May 23rd, the 2016 KC Royals have scored 152 runs. That is better than only the Phillies and Braves. With a run differential of -13, the Pythagorean win/loss expectation for KC is 20-23. In other words, their current record of 22-21 is slightly better than it should be given the run differential.
So exactly how bad has the KC Royals offense been? Well, the table below shows some statistics of the 2014, 2015, and the current 2016 Royals, as well as the league average from 2014-2016. The data for the table was retrieved from fangraphs.com.
We know the KC Royals aren’t scoring and in fact they are a full run per game (R/G) behind the 2015 Royals. A more concerning observation is that they are 1/2 a run behind the 2014 Royals who had a struggling Billy Butler at DH, a pull-happy Moustakas hitting into the shift, and Nori Aioki in RF.
The one big culprit for the offense woes has been a spike in the Kansas City Royals strikeouts.
Obviously the KC Royals batting average is down from 2014 and 2015 and it appears much of the reason for that is the strikeout rate (K%). The 2016 Royals are striking out 19.1% of the time which is a bit better than league average, but more often than they are accustomed too. The Kansas City Royals are striking out 2.8% more often than 2014 and 3.2% more than 2015 which translates to about one more unproductive out per game.
Last season, the KC Royals might have been the best contact hitting team the game has ever seen (at least relative to their time). This season, they’ve lost the special ability that allowed them to pull off late-inning rallies like no team in post-season history.
Usually higher strikeout rates lead to more walks as players take borderline pitches. However, the increase in strikeouts hasn’t helped the walk rate (BB%) as the Royals are walking at a slightly lower rate than the previous two seasons.
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The Royals are also hitting for less power. Right now the Kansas City Royals 2016 slugging percentage is .387 which is below league average and well below the 2015 KC Royals. It isn’t just bad luck and strikeouts responsible for the power outage. The soft contact rate in 2016 for the Royals is higher than either 2015 or 2014, and higher than the league average as well.
Striking out more and making softer contact is a certain formula for failure.
The KC Royals haven’t been a home run hitting team at any point since they began making the playoffs so it is no surprise that they are near bottom with 38 homers. They had however been a gap to gap hitting team, but in 2016 the Kansas City Royals are near the bottom of the league with 66 total doubles.
So it appears the solution to the Royals sagging offense is simple right? Hit the ball harder and stop striking out so often. Now while that is much easier to say than do, a good place to start working is on Alex Gordon and Kendrys Morales who are hitting .211 and .190 respectively. Especially Morales who has an OBP of .244 which is good enough for worst on the Royals and the 3rd worst in all of MLB among hitters with at least 150 plate appearances.
The fact is a defensive minded team like the Royals can’t afford to have a DH and LF who aren’t producing. Gordon still plays a gold glove caliber LF, and just signed a new contract so the Royals can wait on him to come around (which he will).
Kendrys Morales, however, being a DH means the Royals may have to find someone else to pick up his slack. Perhaps The Jay Bruce or Nick Markakis trades mentioned by John Viril would help fill the need for a bat in RF and fill in at DH until Morales gets things together.