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What went wrong: The offense

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It was a tough season for the bats

Cleveland Indians v Kansas City Royals Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Royals had high hopes going into the 2017 season, but the season got off to a thud thanks to a completely impotent offense in April. The Royals averaged just 2.7 runs-per-game that month, and dropped 14 of their first 21 games, likely dooming their chances of making the post-season.

The Royals did set a franchise record for home runs this year with 193. That was only good for eleventh in the league and below the league average due to the home run spike this year, but was still impressive considering they play half their games at Kauffman Stadium.

Despite the improved power, the Royals actually got worse in runs scored per game compared to the league average. They scored just 4.33 runs-per game, ranking 13th in the AL, eight percent worse than the league-average. In comparison to league run scoring, that was their worst season since 2009, when they were 12% below the league-average.

Royals offense vs. AL average

KC vs. AL R/G HR/G BB SO wRC+
KC vs. AL R/G HR/G BB SO wRC+
2014 -3.8% -33.7% -19.5% -19.0% 92
2015 1.8% -20.4% -18.6% -20.2% 99
2016 -7.7% -25.4% -22.1% -3.8% 89
2017 -8.1% -8.5% -24.7% -11.7% 91
Royals offense vs. American League average

The Royals have always been a low-walk team compared to the league, even in 2015, when they managed to be above-average in scoring. But while the Royals had a strikeout rate 20% lower than the league in 2015, their whiff rates have crept back towards the league-average the last two seasons.

The lineup continues to be overly aggressive at the plate. They were the only team in baseball that swung at over half of all pitches they saw, and they lead the baseball in swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. Despite all their hacks, they have become an ordinary team at making contact, a far cry from 2015 when they were the best in baseball. For the fourth consecutive season, they were dead last in the league in walks.

Kauffman Stadium can suppress home runs, as it did for the Royals, who managed 105 dingers on the road, to just 88 in Kansas City. However the Royals did manage to post a better on-base percentage at home (.315) than on the road (.308) as well as a higher slugging percentage as well (.421 to .418). They did score more runs on the road, however, 4.48 per road game compared to 4.19 per home game. They were the seventh-best team in the American League in runs, home runs, and OPS on the road.

Leadoff was a big problem for the Royals. They were dead last in the league in production from that spot, with Royals leadoff hitters collectively hitting .247/.279/.376. That was the fourth-lowest on-base percentage any team has gotten out of leadoff since 1994.

The mantra of “keep the line moving” was a rallying cry in 2015, but was severely lacking in 2017. The Royals were dead last in OPS with runners on base this year, hitting just .254/.308/.407. Compare that to 2015, when they were third in OPS with runners on, hitting .286/.341/.437.

The Royals were also dead last in the league in OPS from three positions on the field - shortstop, left-field, and designated hitter. The culprits were Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon, and Brandon Moss, all of whom finished with an OPS+ below 85. Only the Blue Jays had more hitters with at least 300 plate appearances with an OPS+ below 85. Despite career seasons from Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, and strong seasons from Lorenzo Cain and Whit Merrifield, the bottom of the lineup was bad enough to drag the offense down.

The Royals were not as dynamic on the basepaths as in the past, attempting just 122 steals, their lowest total since 2009. They were successful at attempts 74.5% of the time, an acceptable rate, but their lowest success rate since 2010. Losing Jarrod Dyson was a big contributor to this decline, as well as aging players.

The Royals offense has never been a world-beater, but the slumps in 2017 gave the team little ability to compete, even as the starting rotation was pitching well to begin the year. Their over-aggressiveness continues to be a weakness, with hitters failing to draw walks and swinging at poor pitches and making poor contact. With their top three hitters all eligible for free agency, and with Brandon Moss signed for another year and Alex Gordon signed for two, next year’s offense could have even more struggles.