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The Royals offense and that familiar sinking feeling

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It’s grim around the bat rack.

Kansas City Royals v Detroit Tigers Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Let’s start with some positive news: The Royals offense isn’t the worst in the league.

It’s understandable if you doubt the above statement. Especially if you’ve watched any of the games against the Chicago baseball clubs.

The Royals are currently zero-for-the-Windy-City, scoring 14 runs in six games. They’ve lost two contests by one run and another by two. But even the close games have been drab, lifeless affairs. A chronicle of an offense running on fumes. A brutal stretch.

Yet the Royals are not alone in their offensive struggles. Through almost two weeks of real baseball, offense is down by almost a half run a game. On base percentage and slugging is down league-wide. The Royals, a team not built for offensive excellence even in the most optimal conditions, has predictably scuffled.

The following table highlights the 12 teams scoring below four runs per game. It gives a perspective of where the Royals fit within the bottom feeders of the league.

Team Standard Batting Table
Tm R/G
BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
LgAvg 4.37 .230 .311 .392 .703 100
NYM 3.92 .261 .350 .381 .731 114
BAL 3.82 .225 .306 .390 .697 100
DET 3.80 .205 .273 .396 .669 90
STL 3.60 .217 .281 .382 .663 88
ARI 3.58 .216 .294 .329 .623 75
KCR 3.46 .233 .274 .374 .648 84
MIL 3.44 .206 .302 .324 .626 80
WSN 3.33 .243 .295 .394 .690 91
PIT 3.25 .189 .255 .309 .564 59
TEX 3.20 .194 .283 .339 .621 80
TOR 3.11 .220 .273 .369 .642 85
CLE 2.62 .181 .284 .262 .546 56
4.37 .230 .311 .392 .703 100
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/6/2020.
TABLE

Misery loves company, but it’s still an unpleasant snapshot.

Manager Mike Matheny, the man in charge of the lineup card, hasn’t submitted the same batting order two games in a row since… the first two games of the season. After Game Two, he’s been on some kind of quest for the ideal lineup. Through thirteen games in 2020, the Royals have utilized 12 batting orders. Hell, they had three different lineups submitted on Wednesday alone. (Obviously, player injuries had a role in the sundry lineups. But symbolism cares not for sore wrists and the IL.)

Aside from Whit Merrifield hitting at the top of the order and Jorge Soler moving to the second spot after the third game of the season, the rest of the lineup remains a work in progress. The good news is the aforementioned Merrifield and Soler are the two best hitters on this team. Merrifield, as noted last week, is just a goddamn professional hitter. Soler hasn’t been hitting the bombs you may be craving, but has settled in with an 11 percent walk rate and is getting on base more than any other Royal. Merrifield owns a 134 wRC+. Soler has a 118 wRC+. Matheny may eventually come into criticism for lineups and such, but so far, recognizing his best bats and putting them at the top is a good thing.

Except what’s the point of having table setters if no one is around to eat?

Batting Order Positions
Split BA OBP SLG OPS sOPS+
Bat1-2,non-P .252 .289 .421 .710 90
Bat3-6,non-P .250 .285 .426 .712 94
Bat7-9,non-P .193 .245 .259 .504 59
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/6/2020.

Honestly, I’m a bit surprised at the above table, if only because the three through six spots in the lineup compare favorably to the production of Merrifield and Soler at the top. Both sections, however, are below league average in production, as evidenced by the sOPS+.

Salvador Perez has been a mainstay in the top half, rotating between the third and fourth spot. As noted earlier this week, Perez is stinging the baseball, but he’s settling in to a neighborhood of close to optimal offensive production. He needs his power to tick forward, and if that happens, he could be on track to have his best offensive season since 2017.

Ryan McBroom has made seven starts and has hit anywhere from cleanup to sixth in the lineup. He’s the Royals’ third-best hitter in this young season. As the right-handed side of a “soft” platoon, McBroom has had plenty of opportunity against same-side pitchers, but has shown less patience and power in those face-offs.

If there’s a reason for optimism, it could be found in the bat and approach of Adalberto Mondesi. Mondesi is a vagabond in this lineup, but since the first week of the season, has refined his approach and is starting to get results. In the arbitrary endpoint selection of the last eight games, he’s hitting .407/.429/.556. On Tuesday at Wrigley, he was key to two of the three innings where they actually put runs on the board. Most importantly, he looked up to the challenge presented in those at bats. The uncertainty of the season’s first week has been replaced by the confidence of the second.

The club misses Hunter Dozier to be sure, but not even his return can rescue this flotsam of an offense.

However, one bat alone won’t salvage this offense. And individual bright spots cannot provide cover for the failures of the collective. The Royals walk rate of 4.2 percent is last in the league. Their Isolated Power of .141 ranks 25th. If they fall behind in the count with the first strike, the plate appearance is pretty much over. After an 0-1 count the Royals are posting a .193 OBP, the only team in the league below .200 in that situation.

It feels very much like the 2020 Royals are the offspring of the 2019 version—a few good hitters at the top with a void at the bottom. The disparity between the quality and lousy is such that the overall performance of this offense leans to the latter. No amount of lineups from Matheny can change that. Even in a down year for offense, the Royals can’t lift themselves out of the abyss.