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Kansas City needs someone to step up to the plate—literally

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They need a breakout season in a bad way

Bubba Starling #11 of the Kansas City Royals singles to drive in Adalberto Mondesi as Grayson Greiner #17 of the Detroit Tigers works behind the plate during the second inning at Comerica Park on July 29, 2020, in Detroit, Michigan.
Bubba Starling #11 of the Kansas City Royals singles to drive in Adalberto Mondesi as Grayson Greiner #17 of the Detroit Tigers works behind the plate during the second inning at Comerica Park on July 29, 2020, in Detroit, Michigan.
Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

There’s a perception among Kansas City Royals fans that the offense is not a problem, or at least not a big problem. After all, last year’s Royals had the guy with the most home runs in the league (Jorge Soler), the guy with the most hits in the league (Whit Merrifield), the guy with the second-most steals in the league (Adalberto Mondesi), and the guy with the most triples in the league (Hunter Dozier). Add to that group a catcher with excellent power at the position (Salvador Perez), and that’s a great lineup, no?

But when you look at the numbers, which don’t care about your preconceptions, you can see that the Royals have had a significant problem in scoring over the past two years. Between 2018 and 2019, the Royals scored the fifth-fewest runs in Major League Baseball, and were the ninth-worst baserunning team per Fangraphs’ BsR metric.

How does that happen, then? What’s the problem? Why is there such a big disconnect?

To answer the first question, all you really need to look at is who came to bat for the Royals during 2020 Opening Day. A total of 11 different Royals had a plate appearance that day, and the team scored zero runs while striking out 18 times. How could a team with so many star position players do that?

The curtain peels away when you look at those players’ career numbers. There are a lot of ways to evaluate offense, but we’re going to use Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) here. While that sounds fancy, it basically just incorporates a player’s total offensive output—including on base ability and power—and sets it on a scale where 100 is league average and every point above or below 100 is a point above or below league average. And of the 11 players who stepped to the plate that day, only three had been league average or better hitters over their career. Here are those hitters:

  • Jorge Soler, 115 wRC+
  • Whit Merrifield, 110 wRC+
  • Alex Gordon, 103 wRC+
  • Salvador Perez, 97 wRC+
  • Franchy Cordero, 96 wRC+
  • Maikel Franco, 90 wRC+
  • Ryan McBroom, 82 wRC+
  • Adalberto Mondesi, 77 wRC+
  • Nicky Lopez, 56 wRC+
  • Bubba Starling, 45 wRC+
  • Erick Mejia, 33 wRC+

The raw numbers don’t tell the entire story; they rarely do. For instance, Mejia doesn’t even have 50 MLB plate appearances yet, and the 36-year-old Gordon hasn’t had an average hitting season since 2015. But the numbers certainly tell the vast majority of the complete picture, which is that the Royals have a lot of crappy hitters.

Expanding it out to the other three Royals with plate appearances isn’t pretty, either:

  • Ryan O’Hearn, 95 wRC+
  • Brett Phillips, 67 wRC+
  • Oscar Hernandez, 35 wRC+

Now, there is some light on the horizon. When Hunter Dozier returns, that will add a solidly above average bat to the lineup. And there is certainly some promise, specifically in Mondesi and O’Hearn, who have the tools to be productive hitters.

But, overall, there just isn’t enough firepower in the Royals lineup to reliably score runs. That was true before the season, and that is even more obvious now that one of their three legitimately good hitters (Dozier) hasn’t been in the lineup. They make way too many outs and they strike out way too much. They lack a lot of the high-end athleticism that they did during the Yost, Hosmer, and Co. years. Worse of all, they aren’t even good at defense—per Defensive Runs Saved, the Royals have been the fourth-worst defensive team in baseball.

If Kansas City wants to harbor any desires of being one of the 16 teams in the expanded playoffs, they need someone to step up to the plate, figuratively and literally. Whether it’s Mondesi’s true breakout season, O’Hearn solidifying himself as the team’s clear first baseman, or Nicky Lopez becoming the contact-oriented plate discipline fiend he was in the minors, it doesn’t really matter. The Royals just need someone to take the next step.