Royals Showcase Textbook Bad Baseball
- Updated: June 20, 2009
When I last reported on the Royals, the team was sitting just one game out of first place in the American League Central with a respectable 20-18 record. Sure, Kansas City had dropped seven of their last nine games to get to that mark, but all was still well in the land of blue. My, my, my, what a difference a month makes.
Over the last twenty-seven games, the Royals have lost eighteen. Fourteen times they have scored three runs or less and nine times they have allowed their opponents to score eight runs or more. After showing signs of life last week by winning five of six, Kansas City fell back to earth with a thud by dropping back to back games by the identical ugly score of 12-5.
I ended last month’s column with two keys to watch: the healthy and productive return of closer Joakim Soria and the performance of slumping outfielder David DeJesus. Soria was activated from the disabled list on June 2nd and since that time has appeared in just five games and only one of those appearances was with the game on the line. Of course, in that one game, Soria was tagged with the blown save. As for DeJesus, he has posted a line of .253/.302/.384 since May 18th: hardly the resurgence we were looking for.
To be fair, the Royals have been hammered by injuries as of late. Coco Crisp went from day
to day status, to the bereavement list, back to day to day and then, finally and thankfully, to the disabled list. His absence robs the team of its leader in walks, stolen bases and, by far, of its best defensive player.
Crisp was joined on the disabled list by last year’s rookie phenom, shortstop Mike Aviles, whose stiff forearm injury remains a mystery. Backup catcher John Buck also is on the disabled list with a back injury which, with Alex Gordon out since mid-April and not due back until the All-Star Break, leaves the club without three regulars and a key bench player.
It is hard to blame the injury bug too much (except in the case of Crisp) given that Alberto Callaspo, who got playing time only when Mark Teahen slid over to third to cover Gordon’s absence, leads the team with an .822 OPS and Teahen himself is hitting .284/.347/.441. Add to that the performance of Willie Bloomquist, now getting most of the reps at short, who has stolen 12 of 14 bases and checked in with a .290/.348/.386 line.
The injuries would not have devastated the Royals had the middle of their order produced anything at all. Check out the batting lines of Kansas City’s three-four-five hitters since May 18th:
Billy Butler – .299/.321/.421
Mike Jacobs – .210/.304/.358 – 2 homers/25 strikeouts
Jose Guillen – .253/.317/.411
Pretty easy to see why this team is almost allergic to scoring runs, isn’t it?
All the starting pitching in the world won’t help a team win if it cannot score runs. Despite struggles by Brian Bannister and Kyle Davies since last month (6.15 and 5.39 ERA respectively since May 18th) and a return to mere mortal status by Zack Greinke (3.95 ERA over his last 41 innings), Kansas City’s starting rotation still boasts the second lowest earned run average in the American League. Despite pitching in front of the second lowest scoring lineup in the league, Royals’ starters have managed a respectable 23-25 record – and that includes six starts by Sidney Ponson and one by Horacio Ramirez! Take those two out of the equation and KC starters are 22-19.
Lack of run support is not a starting pitcher’s only problem in Kansas City. They are faced with the specter of a bullpen that ranks 11th in the American League with an ERA of 4.65 and a WHIP of 1.51. Royals’ relievers have posted a 6-11 record with 10 blown saves. Given manager Trey Hillman’s curious use of bullpen arms when they are going good, imagine the debacle when he has few (if any) options in relief. It is unsightly to say the least.
Like a bad commercial, however, THAT’S NOT ALL! The Royals add to their problems by being one of the worst fielding squads in baseball. According to data from The Hardball Times, Kansas City is dead last in the American League in Revised Zone Rating. The infield is 12th in the league with a RZR of just .753 and the outfield is tied for 10th.
Using the Plus/Minus fielding rankings, Kansas City has cost itself 24 runs thus far: only Baltimore at -27 is worse. By comparison, the league leader is Texas, who has saved 37 runs. We do not need the newest defensive metrics, however, to illustrate how bad the Royals are defensively. Over the course of the season, Kansas City has been tagged with 38 unearned runs – EIGHT more than the next worst team.
So, they can’t field, don’t hit very well and have suspect pitching beyond the one-two duo of Zack Greinke and Gil Meche. Hopeless, right? Same old same old in Kansas City?
Not quite. You see, this Royals team was playing good baseball as recently as six weeks ago and, despite the litany of awful that has been Kansas City recently, they remain just five and one-half games out of the AL Central lead. Without much work, I can find almost as much wrong with the three teams in front of the Royals as I can with the Royals themselves.
So, this writer, like most Royals’ fans, is discouraged but hardly resigned to the usual fate. A little dose of good health, a hitter or two getting hot and someone stepping up in the bullpen (the acquisition of a competent shortstop wouldn’t hurt, either) could put Kansas City right back in the race.
I left you with two keys to watch last month. I will leave you with three this time.
First, will Mike Jacobs continue to flounder or will he begin hitting with power once more? Second, will Juan Cruz, who has allowed 15 runs in his last 16 innings, bounce back and become a reliable set-up man as he was in April? Third, will Luke Hochevar, who is 2-2 with a 4.50 ERA since his recall from AAA, develop into a reliable number three starter over the next four weeks?