The Royals have been upon hard times lately, last night's walk-off win notwithstanding. The came into last night's game having scored just 11 runs in their last seven games, and overall are second-worst in the American League at 3.38 runs per game. Depite having the fifth-best batting average in the AL, the Royals are 12th on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Even more troubling is their inability to have the same clutch hitting as they had last year. After finishing second in the American League in batting average with runner in scoring position last year, the team is second worst this year.
The culprits are numerous. Omar Infante and Alcides Escobar have gotten off to slow starts (although Escobar is coming around), but at this point many fans have just accepted them for what they are, hitters with poor plate discipline who will spray a hit now and then. What concerns fans more is the slow start by middle-of-the-order hitters like Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon, and Kendrys Morales. Some of these players are bound to snap out of it and bounce back to career norms. Others might struggle all summer and have a career worst year. Which of the slumping Royals hitters worries you the most?
Lorenzo was probably due for some regression after a career year in which he finished third in MVP voting, but no one expected him to crash this hard. Lorenzo has a crazy high strikeout rate of 26.7%, a huge spike from last year's 16.2%. Lorenzo is actually swinging at fewer pitches than last year, but is making far less contact when he does swing, according to data provided by Fangraphs.
Ned Yost says he does not see a mechanical flaw to Cain's swing right now, but it does appear as if he's using his lean-back power swing too much, leading to more whiffs. Cain has had a few more hits this weekend by taking the ball the other way, but his lack of any power pulling the ball is concerning. Cain is not pulling line drives or fly balls to left, which suggests his timing could be off.
Another possibility is that Lorenzo's age is catching up with him or he has been playing hurt. Jeff Zimmerman at Fangraphs has a formula to determine if a player is playing hurt and Lorenzo Cain shows up on the list. With his history of injuries, it would not be surprising if Cain had some nagging injury. This past April was the second-worst month of Lorenzo's career, so we should expect him to bounce back, but if there is an injury here, that could spell trouble for the Royals.
Gordon has always been a high strikeout guy, but his 32.4% rate this year is alarming and ranks ninth among all qualified hitters. It should be no surprise that only eight hitters have swung and missed at more pitches this year. The change up seems to be giving him the most problems this year, although he has struggled keeping up with the fastball, sinker, and curve as well.
|Alex Gordon 2014-2015||Alex Gordon 2016|
|Pitch Type||Count||Whiffs||Pitch Type||Count||Whiffs|
|Slow Curve||22||9.09%||Slow Curve||1||0.00%|
(source: Brooks Baseball)
Alex Gordon turned 32 years old in February, so age is a concern with him. He does keep his body in excellent shape, but the twitch skills needed to get around on a fastball can erode for any hitter. Despite hitting just .207, Alex Gordon's .322 on-base percentage is tied for third on the team, so he is a least helping the team by getting on base.
Kendrys turns 33 next month - sense a common theme among these hitters? He was a disaster in 2014 with both the Twins and Mariners, but the Royals attributed his poor season to the lack of a spring training due to Morales not signing a contract until the summer, and gambled on him with a two-year deal. Morales rewarded the Royals' faith by putting up his best numbers since 2009, when he finished fifth in MVP voting. However this year, he has actually regressed below his disastrous 2014 numbers to a line of .208/.257/.323. A designated hitter who doesn't hit provides zero value to a ballclub.
Morales has seen his line drive rate drop and his medium contact rate drop significantly from last year's numbers.
His splits are massive this year, as he is hitting .360/.414/.480 in 29 plate appearances against left-handers (when Morales hits right-handed) compared to .155/.197/.268 in 76 plate appearances against right-handers (when he hits left-handed). Morales has never had much of a split in his career, and last year he actually hit right-handers better, with a .901 OPS against them.
Hopefully this is one bad month of hitting that these hitters will snap out of soon. But the Royals have little margin for error in their offense. They must get productive seasons out of some or all of these hitters if they hope to conetnd again in 2016.