With a week of baseball in the books—which is like 2.7 weeks of non-Covid baseball—and with the Royals wrapping their first road trip of the season, it’s a good time to take stock of the offense.
Through seven games, the Royals are scoring an average of 4.43 runs per game, which has them in shouting distance of the league average. Kind of stunning they’ve been that productive given their .274 OBP ranks 29th in MLB. But they’ve hit nine dingers, which is tied for eighth most and their team slugging percentage of .407 (fueled partially by Thurday night’s doubles barrage) is above league average.
Let’s take a trip through the lineup to see how things are going.
Read the following as if Ted Williams said it: Whit Merrifield is a goddamn professional hitter.
There is absolutely no empirical evidence to even remotely suggest this is possible, but it feels like Merrifield is the type of guy who saw the 60 game schedule and thought he could actually hit .400. The guy doesn’t give away an at bat. And so far, it’s working.
What a luxury for a major league manager to write a name in at the top of the lineup, knowing he’ll get five quality plate appearances.
The slow start of Mondesi is a bit like when the interest starts compounding on the money you borrowed from that friendly loanshark. As of this writing (before Thursday’s game), Mondesi owns a wOBA of .145 which is in the bottom four percent of the league. It’s not like he’s getting cheated or hitting into poor luck. Entering Tuesday his xwOBA was .215 which was in the bottom three percent of the league. Not great.
From time to time I get invited on the radio and prior to the start of the sprint of 2020, a common question was something along the lines of, “Who is the key player on the Royals for this season?” I would routinely give my answer as Mondesi, given his potential, electric presence on the field when everything is clicking, and his history of injury. My reasoning went that now that he is healthy from the shoulder injury that short-circuited his 2019, he desperately needed to get off to a hot, or even average, start.
As you know, that’s not happening. And I wonder if the longer this continues, the deeper he sinks. Getting caught in no-man’s land on his popup on Tuesday was inexcusable. The attempted bunt in the top of the second on Thursday was dumb. And then... two singles going away and a third into right-center and he suddenly looked locked in. Those numbers above will improve. Maybe, just maybe, this game is the one that jump starts his season. Baseball is strange.
The Statcast numbers may still be a little wonky, but through the first week of the season, nobody is hitting the ball harder than Jorge Soler. At least that’s what my TV-watching eyes say. (Fangraphs says otherwise, but just roll with me.)
There’s always going to be a ton of swing and miss in his game, but there’s plenty of room in a lineup for a guy with light-tower power. And that’s Soler, which you already know. You just have to ignore the batting average and pay attention to the slugging percentage (which is currently about 175 points above league average) and his ISO (which at .308 is a few points above where he finished 2019.) When the weather warms up and the ball starts to carry... Oh, wait.
Let’s start with a simple statement: Perez has looked good.
When making contact and putting the ball in the air, he’s really squaring things up. Dig his small sample size spray chart.
The results haven’t been there but it’s fair to say even based on 21 batted balls, he’s been a bit unlucky. According to Fangraphs, he’s the Royals’ leader in hard hit rate among regulars in the early going. Yes, his hard hit rate is higher than Soler’s.
Let’s finish with another simple statement: Perez has looked the same.
Meaning his approach at the plate is the same old, same old. Through the first seven games, we’ve seen plenty of plate appearances where he takes the first pitch down the chute and then never sees a decent pitch the rest of the PA. Perez has fallen behind in 14 of his 24 plate appearances and has recorded just a single hit when falling behind 0-1. Contrast that to the five first pitches he’s put into play, with two dropping for a base hit.
Perez is swinging at just over 65 percent of the pitches he’s seen. Think he’s making up for lost time?
So this is what a locked-in Franco looks like. Since Opening Day when he whiffed three times against Shane Bieber and Brad Hand, Franco has struck out just three other times.
Franco is another Royal stinging the baseball in the season’s first week. He is making what Fangraphs says is either medium or hard contact in nearly 95 percent of his at bats. That’s impressive, no matter the sample size.
Franco got off to a powerful start last year too, hitting seven of his 17 home runs in the season’s first month. That’s nothing to draw a conclusion from, more just a “fun fact.” And a reminder that an un-locked-in Franco is always lurking around a dark corner.
It was nice to see a double from Gordon leading off the second inning on Thursday. Weird to call out something relatively unremarkable, but that was the first time has reached second base in 2020.
He got three hits on Thursday and scored two runs, but it’s not looking good.
The advertised “soft” platoon is off to a lumpy start. Ryan O’Hearn and Ryan McBroom are a combined 5-26 with one extra base hit—a double by O’Hearn. O’Hearn has also registered the lone walk from this duo.
It has to be difficult to be a player trying to break into the league and you can’t get regular playing time because the team’s best player plays your position. Of course Merrifield can play in the outfield as well, but with the numbers of outfielders on the roster and Mike Matheny’s desire to get those guys playing time, Lopez finds himself rotating between the field and the dugout. And he’s not helping himself by not producing when he’s actually in the lineup.
Bubba Starling/Brett Phillips
Both players are out of options and have rotated the playing time in center field. Both have had a couple of good at bats and some... not so good. With a glut of outfielders, the Royals don’t really have the luxury of throwing both out there at the same time on a regular basis, but that’s probably what they should do to get a fair assessment of where each is currently as an everyday player. Because it feels like the Royals will have to pick one at some point this season. Damned if I know what they’re going to do.