The Royals are playing lousy baseball right now, there is no doubt about that. They have dropped ten of their last thirteen, getting outscored 66-35 over that time. They have hit just .243/.292/.335 over that time with just two walks per game, striking out 20% of the time. Their starting pitchers have an ERA of 6.86 in that time with 5.0 walks per nine innings and are averaging just 4.8 innings per start.
The poor play the last two weeks has been troubling, but we should be reminded that good teams can have bad slumps over the course of a 162 game season. Why just last September, the Royals went through a dry spell that caused some fans to panic. The Royals still have well over four months of baseball to get right, and we shouldn't forget that they were well under .500 in late July and managed to win a pennant in 2014.
Perhaps more troubling is that the Royals are not only losing, but they look terrible. All the balls that bounced their way last year are bouncing the other way this year. All the little things the Royals did last year to win games are being bungled this year. Defensive miscues, baserunning blunders, a lack of clutch hitting, even bullpen issues have plagued the 2016 Royals in uncharacteristic fashion.
The Royals themselves have recognized they are not playing the way they did last year, and Ned Yost held a meeting last week.There are a myriad of things that could be wrong with the Royals - injuries, regression to the mean, adjustment by the league, or just a plain ol' slump like most any team goes through. However, some fans think they have identified the problem - heart.
@Royals No Heart no inthusiasim =Lost Season— Richard Holbrook (@RichardHolbro14) May 7, 2016
Not like they don't have the talent to win. They did it early in the season. Right now they aren't putting in the effort to win. #Royals— Matt Bartlett (@matt_bart) May 7, 2016
Royals season is over.— Chiefs_All_Day (@Chiefs_All_Day) April 28, 2016
It is one thing to analyze this team based on readily available data. There are more numbers available to crunch than ever before. Not only that, but he have data like batted ball data, spray charts, Pitch f/x, and a host of other variables to measure the game and analyze performance from the comfort of our own home.
What we do not have access to however, is what is inside each player's head. We can look at a player and try to pass judgment on effort or heart based on how he reacts or how he hustles. But invariably we end up projecting upon him. Not every player busts water coolers with a bat like Paul O'Neill when they're angry. Some players laugh at moments of adversity, to ease the discomfort of embarrassment. As Sam Mellinger put it on the Border Patrol on 810 WHB, in response to Lorenzo Cain laughing off getting caught at second base:
"There are certain guys who are always going to be super intense and maybe a little bit pissed off and that's their baseline. Lorenzo Cain - I'd be worried if he wasn't smiling. I know he's frustrated, but that's his default setting, smiling and laughing. That doesn't mean he's not working hard."
As for hustle, it is ridiculous to expect Major Leaguers to bust their rear on every play of every game in a 162 game schedule. Players get tired - that's why greenies have been a rampant, under-reported problem in baseball for decades. Players learn to pace themselves, as Lorenzo Cain has admitted, to keep himself healthy and on the field. A hustling Lorenzo Cain does the Royals no good when he misses a month of action with a strained groin on a routine ground ball.
And that's the thing about clubhouse chemistry and effort and hustle. It may have an effect on performance, but we, sitting at home, have no earthly idea about what is going on. We have no access to that clubhouse, only getting peeks through beat writers. Even in that clubhouse, the players themselves have little idea what is going on in the minds of their teammates. To try to evaluate anyone's desire or heart would be folly.
But that hasn't stopped fans from trying to make that diagnosis in the past. And they have been very, very wrong.
Royals have quit they can't do much right at the current time— Trevor Lininger (@TLKU1993) September 20, 2015
I honestly think the Royals don't care anymore— Caleb Butler (@Caleb_Butler11) September 24, 2015
@kcroyalsfan22 they quit at the end of August— Eccentricbull (@eccentricbull) October 12, 2015
The Royals have officially given up.— Courtney Elston (@courtney_elston) October 12, 2015
#Royals deserve to lose, they played with NO heart all series! Go Cubs!— Brendon Ramseier (@royals71) October 12, 2015
Royals are done. No heart left in them.— Mike Davis (@maddog9810) October 12, 2015
With that kind of track record on evaluating player effort and heart, forgive me if I haven't sounded the alarm bells on the effort of this team. I know I've been a broken record on this, but it's a long season. The players are trying. The championship ring ceremony is yesterday's news and losing is enough embarrassment to keep any team motivated.
Maybe at some point they will give up. I find it hard to believe the team that has given us the most exciting comebacks in recent memory could do that, but it is possible. I'm just skeptical anyone watching nine guys on television can make that assessment sitting on their barcalounger.