"They don’t know how to win," is how one scout put it recently, echoing a cliché that basically means this: these Royals can’t handle expectations, and aren’t good enough to meet the demands of the big leagues. They’re not ready for curveballs in fastball counts, struggle to block outside praise or criticism, and show the occasional lack of focus.
One cruel reality is that Kansas City Sports Culture is extremely toxic. Especially towards losing teams. The Royals haven't made the playoffs in 27 seasons, the Royals haven't had a winning season since 2003, we all know that. We know the Chiefs haven't won a Playoff game since January 1994. We know what happened across the parking lot with the Chiefs this season, when Chiefs fans staged their own effort to get rid of underperforming General Manager Scott Pioli.
Kansas City Sports Culture is toxic. That's what losing does. That toxicity is why the excuse of not knowing how to win is so galling to people who are already mad.
Let's dig into the Media archives.
Omaha World Herald, 5/13/2013:
Repeatedly, Kansas City minor league players and personnel said that winning together in the minor leagues — Class AA Northwest Arkansas won the Texas League title in 2010 — would help those players win together in the major leagues.
"They had a group of kids come up, prospects they kept together," [Yost] said. "They’d won championships at Double A and they’d won championships at Triple A and all of them kind of graduated to the big leagues at the same time.
"…There was still a two- to 2½- to three-year period before it translated to the big leagues. Jumping from Triple A to the big leagues is a huge step, but (winning in the minors) always fostered the sense that, ‘Hey, we won together as a group in Double A, we won together as a group in Triple A, and now we want to win together as a group in the big leagues.’ It’s a mindset. It definitely translates up here. It just takes time."
So, how could a group of kids who were being helped as winning at every level now not know how to win?
The question shouldn't be "Do these guys know how to win", the question should be "Are they good enough to win"
Let's look at this team so far:
Out of the 9 players with over 100 PA, 3 of them have OPS* under .600. Escobar is at .614. Three hitters have OPS+ under 60, Escobar's is 68. That's 4/9ths of the offense that is hitting that badly. Four-ninths.
(* - not sure what the typed plural version of OPS is, sorry internet)
Gordon is the best player on the team. A disappointing Butler is still the 2nd best hitter on the team. Cain is contributing. Perez has been on a hot streak until his recent bereavement. Those four are the only ones above average. The one guy in the middle between Club 500 (Moustakas/Getz/Francoeur), Alcides and the Four Good Players is Eric Hosmer, who mainly hits singles due to some sort of bizarre Mark Teahen Stem Cell injection.
While I will acknowledge that I place some value on guys who have some semblance of experience with winning. I will say that if you had one of those guys on the KC offense, the only way the so-called winner could make the team win despite so many bad hitters would involve getting rid of those hitters.
Someone who knows how to win, someone with the will to win, isn't going to motivate Eric Hosmer to cut down on his swing and start driving the ball again. (If he could, that'd be awesome, but).
There's a lot of factors in play here.
Let me just say this without full investigation. But I don't think there's many winning teams that have 4 hitters with OPS+ under 70.
That's a reality of baseball. If 4/9ths of your lineup isn't doing anything, your team isn't a good bet to do anything
In case you needed more charts, here's how the team hit in their first 27 games
And here's how they hit in the last 21 games:
So to contrast the hitting
Sal has hit well. Hosmer is the same. Getz is worse. Escobar is far worse. (Getz and Escobar are batting 1 & 2 because they're prototypical or some nonsense like that). Moustakas is WORSE somehow. Gordon went on a tear for a few weeks, but did nothing big since he batted behind Getz and Escobar. Cain has cooled off considerably. Francoeur is ridiculously bad. Butler has cooled off a bit.
The quick solution to the Royals offense would be: "stop batting automatic outs one-two". Perhaps they will know a bit more about how to win if that occurred.
How did we get to this point?
It's a wheel of sorrow and blame.
You could blame Ned Yost. Ned Yost changed the lineup when the Royals were 17-12 to get Alex Gordon more RBI opportunities. He has let to find a full-time replacement for Gordon in the leadoff spot, and has seen Escobar go into a deep slump as well. Needless to say, Alex Gordon isn't getting more RBI opportunities. He hit his best of the year for a week and didn't get much out of it. For those who place importance on a consistent lineup, Ned hasn't used the same lineup for two games in a row since April 30th and May 1st.
You could blame Jack Maloof and Andre David. They seem to be a popular focus of rage from people who think the team is just one fix away from getting back on track. This ignores a larger problem in regards to the hitters. There were glaring problems on the offense back when Kevin Seitzer was the hitting coach.
You could blame Dayton Moore. After all, Moore gave Jeff Francoeur can extension through 2013. Moore continues to employ Chris Getz over some other more deserving candidates. Moore has infinite patience with Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.
You could blame Ned Yost. Ned bats Escobar 2nd despite his slump. Ned bats Hosmer 5th despite his lack of power. Ned ressurected the old "Death Valley" concept from 2000s Royals lineups where the 7-8 were guys who were doing nothing with their bats at the moment. Ned did bench Getz for a period time, before bringing him back aboard to hit leadoff. Ned did non-platoon platoon Francoeur and appeared to have some attachment to the concept when Dyson was around.
You could blame Dayton Moore for supplying the talent.
You could blame Ned Yost for not playing the mediocre but not actively craptacular Elliot Johnson more over Chris Getz. You could blame him for not giving Miguel Tejada more time. You could blame him for not playing David Lough enough. You could blame him for insisting on giving Lorenzo Cain an offday every week, no matter how much of a better bat he would be over Jeff Francoeur.
You could blame Dayton Moore for giving Ned Yost a bench of Elliot Johnson and Miguel Tejada. I guess you couldn't expect Dayton to have to tell Ned to stop batting lousy hitters in high spots. But eventually he might need to take away some of Ned's toys. But that implies they're not on the same page on the offense.
But ultimately, it is safe to say that batting automatic outs 1 and 2 will not work. Having a lineup where 5/6 guys are not power hitters and the 1/2 guys are not on-base guys is not going to work. Having a lineup dedicated to hitting lots of singles instead of extra base hits (not home runs, just extra base hits) will not work.
What can be done?
Firing Maloof (the hitting coach) or David (his assistant) won't change anything. Bringing Kevin Seitzer back won't change anything, that would actually be the sign of a dysfunctional organization.
Firing Ned Yost is only sensible as a tandem outfit with Dayton Moore. If you have to tell the Manager to change up some of his tactics, that's the sign of a dysfunctional organization. No one has done more to unintentionally hasten his firing in this situation than Ned. From making home run projections for 2013. To the third base tree/instant gratification. To nonsensical lineups. The likelyhood of Ned getting himself fired after a 1 for 11 run is higher now than it would have been if he just didn't do any of these stupid things before and during the slump.
Losing exposes warts. There is no doubt about that fact.
Firing Dayton Moore is more than likely an admission that whatever he was planning to accomplish this year has failed. It would be awkward to can your GM and then have a winning season.
Why did Dayton Moore go all-in? to get himself a contract extension. The plan was to keep it all together into July or August so that Glass could add some years onto Moore's contract. Is that plan on-track right now? probably not quite. Does Glass have more reasons to question Moore? Yes. Is he questioning the plan? We don't know
But let's not forget some facts about the hype going into this season and previous quotes from the front office:
We have to have synergy. We have to have togetherness, very similar to what the Colorado Rockies had three years ago [In 2007]. They had some young, talented players. But they played together, they loved each other, their families got along, and they went out and played hard every single night.
From Last Week:
“We have to focus on winning now,” Moore said. “We made our off-season moves geared to winning now. We owe that to everyone in the clubhouse. It’s a performance-based industry.”
“The moves you saw Ned make [Thursday Night] were geared toward that goal of competing now,” Moore said. “I’m not saying we’re going to do that all the time in the future. But it’s a reflection of where we are right now. We are in a position to compete for our division, and you have to do everything you can to stay competitive.
“Now, if we were way out of first, maybe we don’t make those moves. But we like this group of players and feel strongly that we can stay competitive in our division.
“The bottom line is, if you expect your players to win, you have to manage to win, and your general manager has to do his job to get you winning players. That’s where we are right now.”
If the new excuse is "not knowing how to win", did the General Manager do his job and get winning players?
That's deep question to ponder.
But when it comes down to the matter at hand. This is a brutal correction of reality.
In the first 27 games: The Royals won 7 of 15 games when they scored 3 or fewer runs. No team has won that high a percentage of games when they scored 3 or fewer runs since 1910.
In the last 21 games: The Royals won 0 of 14 games where they scored 3 or fewer runs.
In the first 27 games: The Royals won 13 of 20 games that were within 3 runs either way. The franchise record for win percentage in those games is .621 (1977, finished 64-39 in save-margin games). Only 12 AL teams won over 65% of their save-margin games. The 2012 Orioles topped out at .643 (63-35).
In the last 21 games: The Royals won 0 of 14 games that were within 3 runs either way.
Let there be no doubt, the Royals scored and hit over their heads in the first 27 games, and the last 21 games is the correction to bring their hitting closer to their actual level of talent. The correction obviously won't last forever. It'll subside and they'll start winning some more games within the save margin and winning games when they score 3 or fewer runs. Until then, reality bites.
The correction was not caused by an inability to win. The correction was caused by a talent deficit. That problem was made even worse due to decisions that made the lineup worse than it should have been.
This team won't win games through deeper knowledge of knowing how to win. This team will win games when they stop fielding a lineup where 1/3rd of hitters regularly make outs in 70-75% of their plate appearances. That's just my suspicion, anyways.