Last season the Royals hit only 102 home runs, the lowest total in the Majors by a wide margin (Minnesota was 29th with 118) and 59 below the American League average of 161. (Oddly, the NL out-homered the AL last year, a signal of how many "defense/small ball first" wiseacres now reside in the Junior Circuit.) As I wrote in the 2007 Season Review, that total of 102 round-trippers was the lowest total by an American League team since 1992 (strike years excepted). Despite a few attempts to share this fact with larger audiences, I don't think it really got enough play.
Routinely, in any given season something like a fifth of the teams in the Majors will hit twice as many dingers as that. While scoring runs does depend on more than just home runs (or can) by any relative measure, 102 homers is a pathetically low total, and no matter whatever the other attributes of your lineup if you only hit 102 homers, you're not going to be productive. Basically, having so little power is like having the best band in the world that just happens to have a lead singer who can't sing and can't remember the words to any songs: that killer bassiest doesn't really mean anything.
Heading into this season Dayton Moore acquired Jose Guillen, Miguel Olivo, Alberto Callaspo, brought back Ross Gload and Mark Grudizelanek and handed Billy Butler a full-time slot in the lineup. Despite a considerable amount of chatter about playing like the Angels, the Front Office also acknowledged that the team needed an impact bat in the middle of the lineup, and this appears to have driven the pursuit of Jose Guillen especially.
So are the Royals doing any better this season? This season, through 136 games the Royals have 96 homers and are on pace to hit something like 114 total by season's end. By the standards of WWI land battle success and terrotory acquisition at least, the plan is truly coming along.
|AL Average HRs/game||0.99||1.00|
As you can see, despite a slight dip in scoring levels this season, home run levels are essentially the same, if not higher. Apparently, steroids destroyed our national innocence to such an extent that math and reality itself is now compromised. Don't let the facts get in the way of the narrative however.
Returning to the Royals, this slight improvement nevertheless still represents a disapointment, especially when we factor in another season of supposed development from Mark Teahen and Alex Gordon was supposed to bolster the offense as well. While Guillen has been a mild disapointment, his 18 homers to date is essentially in line with what he's done throughout his career. Assuming Guillen has a functional final month and ends up with something like 21-24 homers, he'd really only be slightly below his established norm of 25-30. Again, by the pathetic standards established by the fulility of this franchise, he has been an upgrade over Emil Brown.
Nor is Mark Teahen entirely to blame. To put it about strangely, he's neither a part of the solution or the problem. Thanks to a recent flurry he's climbed up to 12 homers and may very well end up with something like 15 on the season, which is an upgrade from his 7 in 2007. Sure, we'd want more, but he is accounting for some other team's modest improvement. Similarly, in spite of other holes in his game, Miguel Olivo has contributed with 11 HRs in part-time duty.
If we really want someone to blame (and isn't that what we always want?) we should look no further than the limp quartet of Joey Gathright, Ross Gload, Tony Pena Jr. and Billy Butler. (Toss an honorable mention to Grudz.) On a team with no true elite hitters, the Royals have wasted too many plate appearances on guys who are, at best, secondary or tertiary contributors to a real lineup.
Although these players come from a number of different positions on the defensive spectrum and career arc, they all represent serious enervating influences on the team's pursuit of potency. That the Royals have 12 homers total out of their primary DH and 1B is a stunning non-achievement, and the kind of failure that would be hard to reach even if directly attempted. But hey, you can't put a measure on Gload's glove. When you mix in Grudz's mere three homers and the donut put up by Callaspo and German, we may be looking at a Royals infield of a truly remarkable vintage.
Of course, in both the long and short views, this has been a chronic, even defining aspect of the Royals franchise, with the Curse of Balboni and all that. The Royals have not had a player top 20 homers since Mike Sweeney did so in 2005 with 21 (bonus power!) and have not eclipsed the modest 25-homer barrier since 2003, when Carlos Beltran inspired a nation with 26 homers. Although its now too late to do, had the 2005-7 renovation plans included a dramatic moving back of the K's fences the team may been drastically helped on the field.
Heck, Mark Teahen might even have more homers right now.