For the last couple of years, all of the stat nerds have projected the Royals to be bad. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Could this finally be the year that their projections are correct? We’re about 20 percent of the way into the MLB season, and the Royals are 15-17, which puts them in third place in the AL Central. They’ve lost seven of their last ten games, and they’re six games under .500 away from Kauffman Stadium. They also have a run differential of -19, and only three teams in the American League have been worse — the Angels, the A’s and the Twins. That’s pretty bad.
But why are they bad? Well, first, you have to ask why they were so good last year when they won the World Series. Timely hitting, defense and an elite bullpen. Their starting pitching sucked last year, and they still got a title out of it. Royals starters had a 4.34 ERA in 2015, which ranked 12th out of 15 teams in the American League. This year, Royals starters have a 4.73 ERA, which is worse than last year, but still 12th out of 15 teams in the American League. So, we’ll call that a wash.
I’m not a huge believer in defensive metrics, but since they exist and some people like to use them, we can use them here for the sake of argument. As a team, the Royals have a UZR/150 of 9.7, which is tied for the fourth best in all of baseball. If you’re a defensive metric guy, then it would check out that the Royals are one of the best defensive teams in baseball. Again. So, that’s not the problem this year, either.
The offense has let Kansas City down immensely to this point. The Royals are 25th in the majors in runs scored (112), despite having the 12th best batting average in the big leagues (.254). But while they’re above the fold in batting average, they’re still 24th in on-base percentage (.304), and 22nd in slugging percentage (.388).
How about that timely hitting that buried the Mets in the World Series last year? Remember how the Mets had the lead in 24 innings during the World Series, and the Royals only led in 13 innings, yet the Royals won the series in five games? Yeah, timely hitting. The Royals, as a team, are hitting .237 with a .639 OPS with runners in scoring position this year. Last year, the Royals hit .281 with a .772 OPS with runners in scoring position. So, there ya go.
Their defense has been great, as always, and the bullpen is right up there among the game’s best, too. But they were playing with fire last year by not having good starting pitching. Their offense bailed them out by coming through in the big spots, but they’ve yet to do that in 2016, which has resulted in the Royals being a below .500 team in the second week of May.