The Royals offense hasn't been good at this whole scoring thing. Not just lately, but all year. Going into yesterday afternoon's game, the Royals had been scoring 3.38 runs per game. If that sounds low, that is; last year, that mark would have been dead last out of all 30 teams. This year, it's fourth worst. And it's not just the average, too. They've been shut out four times, and they've only scored five or more runs in a game five times. The Royals have yet to hit double-digits in the score column.
There are a bunch of reasons for this, and we've discussed a lot of them recently. Usually they involved Alcides Escobar, Omar Infante, Alex Gordon, and lineup construction.
But the biggest problem on this current team, and probably the scariest, is Kendrys Morales' utter lack of production.
Let's go back in time a little bit, before tackling what's going on now.
Today's date is December 11, 2014. The Kansas City Royals are a month and some change from a magical run at the 2014 World Series, losing down one run in the bottom of the ninth in Game Seven. Billy Butler, the Royals' designated hitter since 2007, has just signed with the Oakland Athletics to the tune of three years, $30 million. The Royals have need of starting pitching and a right field, in addition to designated hitter. Kendrys Morales is coming off the heels of a horrifically nightmarish season in which his triple slash was a ghastly .218/.274/.338; his 'traditional' stats were poor as well, as he managed only 8 home runs and 42 RBI.
The Royals just signed him to a two year, $17 million contract, both years and money guaranteed. Money is tight this season. Morales will turn 32 this year. It's not being received well. Here's a list of some of the things that people have said about it in the comments:
This kind of kills the "Dayton Moore has learned from his mistakes and is improving" argument
Odds we will be itching to DFA him in March of 2016- High.
Terrible. Just terrible. Borderline god awful.
The arguments for Morales' signing are there, but slim. The argument goes that all offense is expensive this winter, and that Morales' 2014 was so far out of character that, combined with him missing all of spring training and a chunk of the first part of the season, he is likely to bounce back. The arguments against his signing are twofold: opportunity cost suggests that money could have just been spent better elsewhere, and Morales has a single skill and just probably isn't good anymore.
How it's going to turn out?
It is now Sunday, April 3 of 2016. Time travel is weird sometimes.
Today is Opening Day for the 2016 season. The 2015 World Series banner has been raised. Despite possessing several fantastic nickname possibilites based on anagrams and/or wordplay, such as Cubanoid, Dreamy Snorkels, Cuban Breakfast, and My Role: Darkness, nothing really sticks. It doesn't matter, though, as Morales was great the entire year.
Morales seemed to personnally read every negative comment tossed his way over the internet and use that as fuel for the second-best season of his career. He hit for average and power, coming through time and time again. His triple slash was .290/.362/.485; by wRC+, Morales hit 31% better than league average. Traditional stats were kind to him as well. He clubbed 22 home runs while knocking 41 doubles, and he accrued 106 RBIs; his 100+ RBI season was only the second such season in the nine years since Dayton Moore became General Manager, second only to Billy Butler's 107 RBI 2012 campaign.
For his deeds, he was awarded a World Series ring and a Silver Slugger award, again the second such award to be given to a Royals player in Moore's time, again alongside Butler's 2012. He had definitively proved the doubters wrong.
Or...maybe not, actually.
Today is Cinco de Mayo, and one thing that is absolutely not partying is Morales' bat. In the first 27 games, Morales has started every game at designated hitter in the fifth spot in the lineup and is doing an exceedingly poor job of it.
Morales' triple slash after yesterday's snoozefest of a beatdown is....200/.248/.310. Here are is a more conclusive list of things that Morales is doing compared to his career:
- Average - .200 - career worst
- On base percentage - .248 - career worst
- Slugging - .323 - career worst
- Walk rate - 5.5% - career second-worst
- Strikeout rate - 22.0% - career second-worst
- Isolated slugging - .110 - career worst
- WAR - -0.5 - career second-worst (in 27 games)
Morales is doing everything poorly. He's not hitting for average, he's not walking, he's not hitting for power, and he's striking out more than usual. He's hitting balls hard more often than he did last year, but he's also hitting balls softly more often than he did last year.
One thing that is going on is that Morales' balls in play are turning into outs higher compared to his career numbers. The TV and Radio announcers would say that it's due to bad luck, and while some of that is true, I'm not sure that explains it all. Last year, Morales played against the shift in 36% of his plate appearances. This year, that number is 49%. And it's working - against the shift last year, Morales hit 11% below league average. This year, he's hitting 66% worse than league average. For reference, Tony Pena, Jr. hit, in his (short) career, hit 74% below league average. Morales is approaching TPJ offense against the shift this year. This is ah, not ideal.
What's scary about this is that, very recently, we've seen Morales be very bad over the course of an entire year - 2014. It's what allowed the Royals to get him at 2 years/$17 million, after all. But it's also why he was a risk to sign. The problem with designated hitters is that they are usually unathletic and only offer one skill: hitting. If a DH does not hit, they are useless. And Morales isn't just 'not hitting,' Morales is now 17th worst among all qualified players this year by overall hitting performance.
Escobar, Gordon, and Cain haven't been good. But they all offer varying ways of helping the team, either through defense or baserunning. Morales has been worse than all of them.
So what next? What should the Royals do?
Well, at the moment, probably not much. Maybe give Morales a day off, or a day in the field or something. The Royals aren't stupid, but they don't have any other, better options right now. In two months, if Morales is still on the strugglebus and, say, Cheslor Cuthbert is still tearing AAA to pieces, or if Hunter Dozier is still decimating AA hitting, then you can try something.
But we all know Ned Yost. He will give his players, at least his favorite ones, every chance to fail. When they have exhausted that supply, he will then give them more chances to fail. Morales was a key cog in the 2015 World Series victory. He may not be a key cog in the Royals' 2016 playoff run, though. He sure isn't right now.