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Royals Ups and Downs: Approaching Contention Edition

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There were some really hot hitters, last month!

MLB: All Star Game-Batting Practice
Salvador Perez muscled up to earn his way to his fifth straight All-Star Game.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals have gone 17-10 since we last checked in on the hitters on June 10. Over a stretch like that you’re usually going to see plenty of good offense and that’s definitely the case this time, despite the recent slump around the All-Star break. Since not everyone can be considered the “Good” on the team one or two guys who might have been playing well enough to make it earlier this year are going to be dropped into the “Bad” category. Hopefully their egos can stand it.

The time period for these stats goes from June 11 through July 15. All stats are courtesy of FanGraphs.com and baseball-reference.com.

The Unqualified

3B Cheslor Cuthbert - Key Stats: 6 K, 5 GP.

Cheslor only reached base only 3 times in his 5 games before going on the DL but struck out 6. That’s now what you want to see.

C Drew Butera - Key Stats: 10 GP, .512 OPS

Ever since I suggested that maybe Drew Butera had figured out how to hit some as a backup catcher he’s done everything he could to prove me wrong.

OF Jorge Soler - Key Stats: 40.5 K%, 1 HR, 2.7 BB%

Soler was absolutely crushing AAA and Moss was continuing to struggle so he was returned to the big league club when Cuthbert went down with the injury. He looked fairly good to start with five hits including a double and a home run in his first five games with only four strikeouts. Since then he’s struck out nine times in six games, two of which were pinch hit appearances against the dodgers. He’s also stopped walking which was boosting his offensive performance earlier. Combine all that and you get a guy who has somehow been worth a team worst -0.5 fWAR over his last 11 games.

The Bad

DH Brandon Moss - Key Stats: 1 HR, 16 K, 5 BB

Brandon Moss is here to do two things, strike out and hit home runs. Those were always the two things any reasonable person expected him to spend most of his time doing when he was signed. Unfortunately, he continues to spend a lot more time striking out and a lot less time hitting home runs than anyone hoped. At this point even the people who were the most down on him probably didn’t expect him to be this bad. He did add some walks to his repertoire to buoy his performance a bit but a 77 wRC+ is not even close to acceptable production from a DH all the same.

IF Ramon Torres - Key Stats: .050 ISO, .333 OBP

Ramon has been a perfectly acceptable utility infielder since being promoted. He seems to have absolutely no power but he’s drawn his share of walks in limited playing time. He’s been a negative as a baserunner and a positive as a defender overall this season, but those stats are notoriously volatile with so little data so there’s really not much to read into them.

OF Alex Gordon - Key Stats: .690 OPS, .214 ISO 5.4 BB%

If this was Alex we’d seen all season people probably would be a lot less worried about him even as it’s still considerably less than we’d hoped for from him. He continues to gradually improve from that terrible start but he’s going to probably need a real hot streak if he wants to finish the year with stats that look remotely like anything anyone has ever expected from him. If this was based on improvements and slumps instead of good and bad he’d be in a happier place.

OF Jorge Bonifacio - Key Stats: 21.7 K%, 10.4 BB%, .189 ISO, 104 wRC+

Jorge is a slightly above average hitter who plays - poorly - a defensive position that usually requires a premium offensive player. He’s been considerably more valuable than anyone else the Royals could have put in that spot, so far this year, but he’s probably not the long term answer there for a competitive team that isn’t completely stacked everywhere else.

On the other hand, the Royals seem likely to be rebuilding for a while in the near future so he’ll be an excellent cheap asset in right field to allow them to focus their resources elsewhere.

The Good

2B/OF Whit Merrifield - Key Stats: 90 wRC+, .170 ISO

Here’s the thing, Whit was really not good in June, largely because he still doesn’t walk and because his BABIP is a low-for-him .313. The thing is he still has a 90 wRC+ because he’s continuing to prove that he has gap power and he won’t strike out a ton. He only has one home run since we last checked in on him, but he has a whopping 12 doubles and 2 triples which is more total extra base hits than any other Royal in this stretch. He also adds 8 stolen bases, easily leading the team over that period and provides a solid defense at second base. He is, essentially, everything the Royals hoped they would get from Omar Infante when they signed him plus a bit of speed and he’s signed for the league minimum for a while, yet.

SS Alcides Escobar - Key Stats: 109 wRC+, 1 BB, 1-for-2 stolen base attempts

A certain incredibly handsome and talented writer pointed out during the off-season that Escobar seems to be at his best when he bats seventh or eighth in the lineup. Since we were last here he’s batted in one of those two spots every time except twice. So of course he’s been on a huge tear, for him, anyway. There’s still no plate discipline, and he still isn’t even really even trying to steal bases but he has gone from being a complete black hole to actually the most valuable member of the lineup over the last 30 days by fWAR with 0.6 wins.

CF Lorenzo Cain - Key Stats: 20 R, .343 OBP, 5 HR

Now Cain is hitting for power and taking his walks. He’s been in a bit of a cold stretch since entering July and he’s only stolen 3 bases but he continues to be productive in the heart of the lineup while playing extremely good defense at a position that puts defense at a premium.

3B Mike Moustakas - Key Stats: 10 HR, .340 ISO, 16.3 K%

Moose brought his strike out rate down a little and went on an absolute tear to destroy his previous season record of 22 home runs. He had 25 coming into the All-Star Break and while he doesn’t yet have any since, I continue to feel really good about predicting him to break the Royals’ team home run record this year. If he could get just a handful more walks and the defensive stats liked him a bit better he’d probably be in some MVP discussions, at least peripherally. It might help if his team was doing better, too.

C Salvador Perez - Key Stats: .304 AVG, .250 ISO

Sal has always been a first half monster and his first halves get better every year. He’s also usually been a terrible player in the second half and, though it’s only been 2 games, he has yet to record a hit since the All-Star Break. Hopefully he can break the second trend a bit and continue to help carry an offense that badly needs him to continue producing.

1B Eric Hosmer - Key Stats: .934 OPS, 10.1 BB%. 145 wRC+

Hosmer has hit like the guy everyone thought he would be for a while, now. If you pro-rated his stats from the last month out to an entire season he would hit .321 with 30 home runs and 95 RBIs. Maybe not triple crown worthy but it’s easily starter at first-base worthy, even with poorly rated defense. If he can find a way to avoid any more cold streaks he might just earn himself a much more significant chunk of that $200 million contract he desires than any of us expected. He has a 30% HR/FB ratio. 3 of every 10 flyballs he hits leave the park. His power is for real and means he can be a well above average hitter even if he only does what he’s doing right now - hits only half of his balls on the ground.

If the Royals could convince their good hitters to stay good and get a spike of productivity from even one of the currently bad hitters they could really get something going on offense. That’s going to be necessary because if the Royals continue to lose games where their starting pitcher goes 8 innings and allows only a single run they’re not going to make it back to the playoffs.