Saturday, August 9, 2014

We Want a Homer, Just a Little Homer

Hosmer hasn't developed into a slugger, and neither have the other Royals
The other day Joe Posnanski, while examining the Royals' struggles on offense, wrote that a big reason why they have issues scoring runs is because they're an “average conscious team." After perusing yesterday’s box scores, I have to agree with him. Kansas City has the third-best batting average in the American League and of the team’s top 11 hitters in terms of plate appearances, all but one (Mike Moustakas) are batting over .260. However, only one—Lorenzo Cain—is over .285.

The problem with that approach is that those averages are largely empty. KC ranks dead last in homers and walks and second-to-last in OPS. Seeing as how they rank 11th among the 15 AL teams in runs scored, it's clearly not working. All those singles and doubles aren't putting points on the board, even with the Royals hitting a more-than respectable .267/.331/.402 with runners in scoring position.

They’ve made up for their light-hitting ways by stealing a bunch of bases, most in the American league, but aggressive baserunning can only help so much. At some point you have to drive guys in, and that’s always easier when the ball goes over the fence. It's much more efficient to get a single, walk, and three-run jack than it is to string together multiple hits with a steal or two mixed in.

Kansas City doesn't have guys who can do that. Their top home run hitter is Moustakas with 14, and he shouldn't even be on the field with his .263 OBP. Eric Hosmer hasn't built on the promising power he displayed as a rookie in 2011. Billy Butler's always been more of a doubles guy, and so has Alex Gordon. Salvador Perez has good power for a catcher, but you never want your backstop to be the best power hitter on your team (unless he's Johnny Bench). The Royals, more than anything else, desperately need somebody capable of going deep every now and then. It’s something they haven’t had in a long time and probably won’t have for a while, given inability to acquire big name sluggers and stupid deal for James Shields that sacrificed Wil Myers, the minor leagues' second-best home run hitter in his last full year on the farm.

The Royals play in a park that encourages singles and doubles, rewards speed, and suppresses home runs. Their offense reflects this. But they play half their games in other parks, and still the results have not been pretty (.388 road SLG). If the Royals could just be an average home run hitting team and draw some walks every once in a while, they’d be a playoff team. But they don’t, and so they’re not.

It’s bad enough that they can’t afford to even be in the conversation when a top power bat hits the free agent market. It’s even worse that they haven’t been able to develop hitters with game-changing power. The Red Sox just traded Jon Lester, a free agent in two months, for Yoenis Cespedes, one of baseball’s best raw power hitters. With James Shields set to join him and command much, much more than Kansas City can possibly afford, there’s no reason the Royals couldn’t do that trade, except that they’re the Royals, and they never make trades like that, and the one time they did, it was a colossal mistake.

When you’re a team like the Royals, a team that rarely walks and can go weeks without hitting a home run, then it isn’t enough to have the league’s third-highest batting average. You need to have the best, and by a considerable margin. You need to have multiple .300 hitters, guys who can be counted on to get hits with runners in scoring position and produce runs that way. But in an age where better defensive positioning and tougher pitching are stealing countless base hits every day, that’s a tough strategy to follow. The Royals are living in the past, playing an AstroTurf style of baseball on grass, trying to make the 1980s brand of baseball work in the 2010s. Maybe that's why they haven't made the playoffs since 1985.

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