Well, Opening Day is over and in the books. The Royals have never been a good team on Opening Day, but this was perhaps the worst season opener of them all, as the team gave up 14 runs, most in franchise history to start the year.
After a cold winter and six months without baseball, you can forgive us for overanalyzing one game, especially with an off-day today. Let’s try not to overreact too much to one bad loss, instead, let’s take away these five reasonable takes from Game 1 of the 162-game schedule.
Home runs could be an issue for Danny Duffy and the entire rotation
The Royals are on pace to give up 972 home runs after the six-dinger outburst by White Sox on Thursday. I wouldn’t expect them to finish anywhere near that, but Royals pitchers could have a problem with the longball all year.
We don’t know if the ball is juiced, but it seems to be as lively as ever, considering how many home runs were hit in Kauffman Stadium, a pitcher’s park, in terrible hitting weather. The Royals have built up a rotation full of flyball pitchers, which could spell doom if the ball keeps leaving the yard at the rate it has over the last year.
Danny Duffy was 18th last year in flyball rate among all starting pitchers with 140 innings, with Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel ahead of him. Out of all those pitchers, he had the lowest home run-to-flyball ratio in baseball. Some of that may be due to how Duffy works or perhaps the ballpark, but much of that is likely luck - it’s a thin line between a warning track shot caught for an out and a three-run home run.
Duffy has a pretty proven track record, so his Opening Day struggles should be chalked up to one bad game. But his home run rate should be something to watch all season. If his luck runs out, there could be many more balls flying into the seats.
The bullpen is going to be a work-in-progress all season
HDH is dead. Long live HDH. The vaunted Royals bullpen has been replaced by the Coy and Vance Duke of relievers. It is a motley crew of has-beens and never-weres and there will be a lot of growing pains as Ned Yost figure out roles and Dayton Moore figures out who has no business pitching in the big leagues.
Already the Royals have figured that Wily Peralta has no place in the pen, designating him for assignment despite guaranteeing him $1.5 million. Expect them to have a rather short leash for many pitchers if they can’t cut the mustard. Veteran status shouldn’t keep the team from being afraid to lose Brian Flynn on waivers or the leadership of Blaine Boyer if they can’t get hitters out.
The Royals also have the advantage of having quite a few bullpen candidates in the upper minors they can audition this summer. Miguel Almonte, Heath Fillmyer, Kevin Lenik, Richard Lovelady, Kevin McCarthy, Andres Machado, Trevor Oaks, Josh Staumont, and Eric Stout could all end up in the Royals pen by the end of the year. Expect a lot of traffic on I-29 between Kansas City in Omaha this summer.
Lucas Duda has big-boy power
Eric Hosmer was a fantastic player, but if there was one thing you wanted to criticize him about, it was that he absolutely pounds the ball into the ground. His 55% groundball rate was third among qualified hitters last year, and in an age of elevated swings and launch angles, his approach seemed antiquated and an impediment to unleashing his full power.
Lucas Duda has no such issues. Out of all hitters with at least 400 plate appearances, only four had a lower groundball rate than Duda. My man likes to elevate, to the tune of a 48.6% flyball rate, sixth-highest in baseball. Duda was 32nd in baseball last year in exit velocity, and he was 23rd in longest average distance for batted balls.
His power was on full display in the first inning of Thursday’s contest against the White Sox. With two runners on, Duda blasted a James Shields pitch 410 feet to right center in cold weather to give the Royals an early lead. Duda may not come with the same defense as Hosmer, and his batting average could be close to the Mendoza Line much of the year, but the dude can mash.
Alex Gordon is capable of playing centerfield
Ned Yost has not committed to playing Gordon in centerfield every day, but Alex did get the Opening Day assignment, and could spend substantial time there. We know Alex is a Gold Glove-caliber left fielder, but could he make the adjustment to center at the age of 34?
Well it is just one game, but so far the answer is “yes.” Moving to center is no easy task - there is more room to cover, different angles to read, and compounding the issue is the fact he has two new outfield mates to communicate with.
But Alex Gordon proved up to the task, cleanly fielding three put outs, including a nice sliding catch in the fourth.
Gordo has played well in center in limited action, and having him able to play there adds to the positional flexibility Ned Yost desires. Expect to see more Gordo covering ground, and while he may not be Lorenzo Cain out there, no one is.
It is just one game, don’t read much into it
The Royals were obliterated Thursday, but it still counts as just one loss in the standings. They are 0-1, tied with the Cardinals, Dodgers, Indians, Red Sox, and Twins - all teams expected to be contenders this year. They have the same record after one game as the 2014 Royals, a team that puttered around for four months before becoming the hottest team in baseball and winning a pennant.
On the other hand, a poor April can bury you. A 7-14 start last year probably cost the Royals a playoff spot, despite a hot summer that saw them claw their way back into the race. Of their first 22 games this year, 19 come against teams that had losing records last year, including nine games against the White Sox and Tigers.
The Royals played poorly on Thursday, but tomorrow is a new day and a chance to get into the win column. Each day presents a clean slate. The Royals may or may not be very good this year, but Opening Day was just one data point of 162 we will have this year.
But man, I wish they had played better.