Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Can George Brett fix the Royals Offense?

                              New Royals hitting coach George Brett with Eric Hosmer

Coming into the season I thought that the Royals could be a surprise team this year. The Royals improved their pitching in the offseason, trading for James Shields and Ervin Santana. Kansas City finished 10th in the American League in pitching last season. Dayton Moore's moves to acquire more pitching paid off and the Royals are 1st in the American League in ERA coming into today. Shields has a 2.81 ERA with a 1.04 WHIP and Santana has a 2.99 ERA with a 1.03 WHIP. Those are good numbers but their records don't indicate that. Both pitchers are victims of poor run support as Shields is 2-6 and Santana is 4-5. After starting the season off well, the Royals slumped badly in May, going 8-20.

The big problem with the Royals is their putrid offense. They are 13th in the AL with 237 runs scored. They don't hit for much power and are dead last in the AL with a .367 slugging percentage and in home runs with 31. They don't get on base enough either and are 11th with a .312 on base percentage. The Royals have 4 everyday players with a  sub-.300 OBP with Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Chris Getz, and Jeff Francouer struggling this year. The Royals didn't make any major additions on offense, hoping that some of their younger players would improve.

Dayton Moore drafted Moustakas in 2007(2nd overall) and Eric Hosmer in 2008(3rd) in the first round. A lot of expectations were put on these guys, but they haven't lived up to them yet. Moustakas has really struggled this year. He is batting only .180 for the season and leads the AL with 8 errors at third base. He's lost some playing time to Miguel Tejada, who was out of the league last year. Hosmer is batting .276 this year, but is only slugging .346. He has not developed the power that was expected. Hosmer is one of the weakest run producers at first base in all of baseball. He is in danger of becoming a hitter like James Loney or Casey Kotchman, or even worse Justin Smoak.

Brett's two biggest projects will be trying to get these players to live up to their potential. Moustakas would be thought to be in danger of being demoted to the minor leagues, but the Royals don't have many other options. This organization is concerned that two of their biggest prospects in Moore's rebuilding plan could be busts. A third prospect, second baseman Johnny Giovatella, has been in Triple A this season. This makes me wonder if the organization has a player development problem.

Two other weak spots in the lineup are Frenchy and Getz. These are two guys who are clearly not everyday players. I'm not sure if David Lough or Jarrod Dyson are improvements in right, but Francouer has been one of the worst everyday hitters in the game this year. Getz has also been a major weakness in the lineup. He splits time with Eliot Johnson, who is equally light hitting. Alcides Escobar hasn't hit as well either after hitting .295 last season. Escobar is terrific with the glove and has good speed. Brett will attempt to get Escobar hitting again.

Alex Gordon and Billy Butler were the proven commodities coming into the year, and are two of the Royals best hitters this year. Gordon has cooled off a bit after a hot start, but still is batting over .300. Gordon will likely make his first All Star appearance this year. Butler hasn't hit for as much power this year, but he does have a .381 OBP. Salvador Perez has been a good defensive catcher and leads the team with a .318 average. Lorenzo Cain has played well this year, batting .291 with 8 steals. Cain has hit leadoff on occasion, but they also put Gordon in that spot. The Royals are unsure whether they should use Gordon as a leadoff hitter or a #3 hitter. Gordon gets on base a lot, but also leads the team with a .449 OBP.

Kansas City just had a 6 game winning streak snapped against Detroit today. A six game winning streak was unthinkable in May. However, those wins were against the Twins and Astros. The Royals currently sit at 29-33 in third place, 5.5 games back. The AL Central is the weakest division in baseball, with Detroit being the only good team. Cleveland is a decent team, and the White Sox and Twins are mediocre. Manager Ned Yost is on the hot seat and the team will need to improve to keep his job. In 10 years of being a manager, he only has 2 winning seasons on mostly rebuilding teams. One of those years he was fired with 12 games left to go.

Moore took over as GM in 2006 and has yet to have a winning season under his watch. He has improved the farm system, but some of their top prospects have not produced as expected. Guys like Hosmer, Moustakas, and Luke Hochevar have not turned out to be stars. Hochevar flopped as a starter, but has excelled in the bullpen. Still, the team expected much more when they drafted him. Even Gordon had to be sent back to minors for a stint, before coming back up and excelling. Moore probably has a longer leash than Yost, but could be in trouble if this team finishes below .500 again. Not to many GMs can survive eight straight losing seasons at the helm.

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