As the major league baseball season approaches its midpoint (most teams having played about 80 games), it is time once again for the Royals report card.
The team has certainly seen its ups and downs since the “1st quarter report card” back in May. There have been winning streaks and losing streaks, highs and lows. Now, at roughly the “semester mark”, where do the Royals stand with reference to their goal of challenging for a championship?
PITCHING— The pitching continues to be outstanding. The staff currently leads the AL in ERA with 3.51, solidly ahead of the next on the list, the Texas Rangers at 3.72. A lot of the credit has to go to the starting rotation, as James Shields and Ervin Santana continue to pitch well.
Shields finally qualified for a win the other night as the Royals offense provided him with plenty of run support for a change. The Royals have won the last 6 games started by Shields even though Shields himself did not statistically qualify for the win except for the one time..
Downside: Wade Davis, Luis Mendoza and Jeremy Guthrie have been erratic at times. Still and all, the rotation has done a good job.
The bullpen has shown some chinks in their armor recently, particularly with Kelvin Herrera getting clobbered recently. He has now been sent back to Omaha for the 2nd time in an effort to get him back on track. Greg Holland as closer has been nails, but Herrera’s demise has upset the set-up man applecart for KC, and Tim Collins and Aaron Crow have been coughing up too many leads lately.
And when Ned Yost has to bring in Bruce Chen and/or Luke Hochevar in high leverage situations, it’s Katy-bar-the-door. Although serviceable as long relievers, neither Chen nor Hoch has shown the ability to shut down the opposition in crunch time. Still and all, the Royals pitching has been plenty good to date although recently there have been some concerns about the set-up men and the back of the rotation. Grade: A-
DEFENSE— The Royals defense has improved recently. Although KC has a lot of talent defensively, it was not being shown early on as they were making too many errors on routine plays. SS Alcides Escobar in particular went through a stretch where he seemed like he was on drugs. Lately, though, the defense has been one of the reasons why the pitchers have been so effective. The Royals currently rank 5th in the AL in defensive efficiency ratio, which measures how many balls you get to. A batter hits the ball, there’s a good chance a Royal is going to get to it.
They have improved their fielding numbers as well. At one time dead worst in total errors committed, KC is now 6th best in the AL. Grade: B-
Page 2 of 3 - HITTING: Many were hoping that the change to George Brett as batting coach would solve the Royals offensive woes. As Sarah Palin was known to say, “How’s that ‘hope-y, change-y’ thing workin’ out for ya?”
Unfortunately for the Royals faithful, the Brett coaching tenure has to date met with what could be most charitably be described as “mixed results.”
Kansas City scored 4.0 runs per game and hit .261 with a .689 OPS in 50 games before firing hitting coach Jack Maloof. And in the first 25 or so games since Brett took over, the Royals scored 3.7 runs per game and hit .247 with a .658 OPS.
On the plus side, Eric Hosmer has been hitting the ball better lately. He went yard twice the other night, and has been squaring many balls up— hitting it where it’s being pitched.
Another positive, Moose has finally gotten himself over the “Moustakas line”. (I am on a crusade to begin calling .200 the “Moustakas line” instead of the “Mendoza line”. Who’s with me?!?!) Anyhow, it’s good to see Mike Moustakas getting some hits lately.
But on the downside, Alex Gordon has been on a slide for several weeks, dipping below .300. Lorenzo Cain has been awful of late and Billy Butler continues a fairly mediocre season at least by his standards.
The weak-hitting 2B Chris Getz has been demoted to AAA, and replacement Johnny Giavotella has gotten himself off to a good start in this his third call to the big leagues. Maybe the third time will be the charm for Gio and he will be able to bring some spark to the Royals offense.
David Lough, a call-up OF whose play gave the Royals front office no choice but to designate for assignment the season-long-slumping Jeff Francouer, has been a breath of fresh air in right field— not just playing great defense, but hitting. And hitting with power. He went 4-4 recently with 4 extra base hits including a jack.
However, back-up infielder Miguel Tejada is but a shadow of his former self, and seems incapable of playing effectively more than a couple of times per week at his advanced age. SS Alcides Escobar has reverted to his norm: “hits ok for a middle infielder.” Utility infielder Elliott Johnson only seems to be able to hit against his former team, the Rays.
The return of speedster CF Jarrod Dyson from the DL could bring a needed spark to the KC line-up. C Salvador Perez has been hitting well in the middle of the order— a pleasant surprise.
As a former coach, I can attest that there is often a period of diminishing returns whenever a coach asks an athlete to try something different. You have to get worse before you get better, in other words. It takes awhile for the new adjustment to take hold.
Page 3 of 3 - Perhaps if the Royals stick with it, they may be able to buy whatever it is that new batting coach George Brett is selling. Recent games have seen a resurgence of KC’s offense, and especially in the power department. The Royals cracked four home runs in a game last week—a total that exceeds a week’s worth of production for them most of the time.
So perhaps the Royals offense really is on the verge of ‘coming around’ this time—something the Royals have been telling us all season.
Overall, even if Brett gets them hitting better, the Royals just haven’t got the firepower to compete. At least they haven’t shown it to date. Only two teams in the AL have scored fewer runs than KC, and the Royals are dead last in home runs. They simply will not be in the running unless and until their offense improves. Grade: C-/D+
INTANGIBLES: The Royals are still seeming to be enjoying themselves, their team chemistry seems good. I’m a big fan of the Billy’s Barbecue Sauce shtik, not so much of the hand-gestures-after-a-base-hit shtik.
I haven’t been on the “dump Ned Yost” bandwagon as are many Royals fans, but I have been questioning his decisions more lately. I think he still leaves pitchers in too long and I’m not sure what effect his continual tinkering with the batting order has had. I guess if he had a line-up of good hitters, it wouldn’t be an issue. He seems to be struggling to put together a puzzle with pieces that just don’t fit together, no matter how he tries to arrange them. There’s still no true lead-off hitter and nobody who rakes when he’s put in the 3-hole. Grade: C+
In summary, not much has changed since the last Royals report card. Pitching A-, Defense B-, Hitting C-/D+, Intangibles B-/C+. Averages out to about a C. They still appear on track to finish a little below .500, around 3rd in the AL West.
The upcoming series with division-leading red-hot Cleveland will give us a good insight into how the Royals currently match up against good teams. If they win 2/3, I’ll maybe start to believe.