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Talkin’ bottom half of the batting order blues

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Why is Chris Owings

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The rancid Royals bullpen has overshadowed another area of deficiency with the early 2019 edition of this team. It’s not unlike when the spoiled fish is so awful smelling, you don’t notice the rotting cabbage.

(I’d apologize for the disturbing metaphors, but you’ve watched the 2019 Royals in action. They’ve lost eight in a row and are 0-for April. You get it.)

Yes, in directing your ire at the bullpen, you may have overlooked the bottom half of the Royals lineup. That would be a mistake. It’s probably just as abysmal as the performance you’ve seen from the relievers. Maybe even worse.

Tuesday night was actually kind of productive. Hitters five through nine combined to go 2-16 with a pair of runs, two walks and an RBI. Well, “productive” is a relative term when it comes to this group of hitters.

You’re not going to get stellar performances from the entire batting order on a nightly basis. All lineups have holes, or weak links that can—and should—be exploited. It just so happens that the starting with the fifth hitter in the Royals lineup, you’re entering an offensive abyss. A black hole. The entire bottom half of the Royals batting order has been dreadful to this point of the season.

Let’s break it down by position in the batting order. Because we’re that depraved.

Batting Fifth

.194/.293/.306

4 runs, 4 RBI

This is actually a difficult call including this position in the Lineup Of Dread because the potential is so clearly there. Ryan O’Hearn has seen the bulk of the time at this spot, and mainly against right-handed pitching. He’s done well enough reaching base at a .357 clip and actually owes a positive sOPS+ at 132 (sOPS+ measures against the league at that particular split.) Frank Schwindel, in limited action as the right-handed hitting side of the platoon, has reached base just once in 11 plate appearances. That puts the hurt on this particular split.

Batting Sixth

.111/.200/.167

1 run, 2 RBI

Hey. Did you know Royals fans have already tired of seeing Chris Owings in the lineup every single day. Yes, his veteran presence harkens back to the halcyon days of Willie Bloomquist. Owings has seen 20 plate appearances in the sixth spot and delivered .111/.200/.222 with six whiffs. That’s an sOPS+ of 19. That’s malo... muy malo.

Hunter Dozier hit here on Tuesday and continued his run of bad luck. He’s 1-10 in this spot. Lucas Duda has made his most appearances here and gone 1-8 with three strikeouts.

Batting Seventh

.139/.179/.250

2 runs, 4 RBI

If Owings isn’t hitting in the sixth spot, he’s batting seventh, where he’s performed even worse if you can imagine. (You probably can imagine, but why would you? Masochist.) He actually picked up a couple of hits on Tuesday, so his overall numbers in this slot aren’t all that bad. Wait… Actually they are that bad. Even after Tuesday.

However, it’s Dozier who is the prime offender in this spot, hitting .118/200/294, but he does have three RBI which is the second-highest total among those hitting fifth and lower.

Batting Eighth

.194/.237/.222

2 runs, 0 RBI

God bless Ned Yost. He doesn’t believe in upsetting the lineup apple cart. The eighth spot in the Royals lineup belongs to the catcher. Martín Maldonado has hit here in all nine of his starts. Cam Gallagher got a Sunday courtesy start and hit here. It is what it is. Don’t ask questions. The catcher belongs here.

With reason. Maldonado isn’t exactly accomplished with the bat. He’s hitting .207/.233/.241 in the early going with a handful of TOOTBLANs. In fact, he’s out-TOOTBLAN’d his RBI total. That’s a bad stat. Bad! But we knew that the Royals would be getting this kind of production out of Maldonado when he arrived once Salvador Perez underwent Tommy John surgery.

Batting Ninth

.265/.297/.265

5 runs, 1 RBI

The ninth spot is owned by the Royals unofficial second leadoff hitter, Billy Hamilton. No other Royal has hit here, and it’s difficult to imagine that changing until they travel to St. Louis in mid-May.

Hamilton has performed pretty much as expected with an OBP around .300. He’s swiped a couple of bags and even scored from second on a sac fly on Tuesday. Alas, you can’t steal second if you can’t get on first and with an on base percentage below the league average, it is always going to be a bit of a struggle to be a disruptor on the bases. He’s walked just twice to go along with nine singles. It’s an sOPS+ of 94. Not great, but respectable compared to his fellow travelers in the lower half of the order.

With the names named and their decencies uncovered, let’s revel in the whole gory detail.

Batting Order Positions
Split PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip sOPS+
Batting 1st 46 44 12 16 2 2 1 4 2 4 .364 .391 .568 .959 25 .385 168
Batting 2nd 45 43 6 12 4 3 1 8 0 12 .279 .273 .581 .854 25 .355 101
Batting 3rd 44 33 9 11 2 0 2 11 6 4 .333 .455 .576 1.030 19 .310 157
Batting 4th 42 39 2 8 4 0 1 7 3 15 .205 .262 .385 .647 15 .304 56
Batting 5th 41 36 4 7 1 0 1 4 5 6 .194 .293 .306 .598 11 .207 75
Batting 6th 40 36 1 4 0 1 0 2 3 13 .111 .200 .167 .367 6 .174 7
Batting 7th 39 36 2 5 1 0 1 4 2 11 .139 .179 .250 .429 9 .160 19
Batting 8th 38 36 2 7 1 0 0 0 2 5 .194 .237 .222 .459 8 .226 25
Batting 9th 37 34 5 9 0 0 0 1 2 7 .265 .297 .265 .562 9 .321 86
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/10/2019.

Without diving too deep (that’s for some future articles), there are some depressed BABIPs on that table. Things have to improve. The hits will come eventually, and some will actually come with runners on base. The dry spell will not last the entire season.

But the lower half has become an anchor on the offense. Particularly the sixth position. Overall, the Royals are hitting .234 which ranks 11th in the AL with an .291 OBP (12th) and a .377 slugging percentage (10th). Yet they’re averaging 4.3 runs per game, which is just below league average at this point in the season. Thank goodness for Whit Merrifield, Adalberto Mondesi and an offensively resurgent Alex Gordon.

But with the team having lost eight games in a row and going winless in the first nine days of April, it’s a race between the lower half of the batting order and the Royals bullpen for the group that’s sabotaging this team the most. It’s the worst kind of battle royal.