After opening with 16 wins in their first 25 games and after finding themselves in first place in the AL Central as late as May 5, the 2021 season for the Royals went completely off the rails.
Since peaking with a .640 winning percentage in the season’s first month, the Royals have tumbled to 44 losses over their last 64 games. That span where they’ve gone 20-44 is one of the worst stretches of Royals baseball of the Dayton Moore era. Recently, they won just 17 out of 64 at one point in 2018 and won 19 out of 64 in a stretch early in 2019.
We’ve kind of gotten accustomed to watching bad baseball from the team that plays their home games at Kauffman Stadium.
Yet for a team that made positive moves in the offseason, for a team that talked about contending, for a team that sprinted out of the gate, the stumble this year has been disheartening. The bad baseball was supposed to be firmly in the rearview mirror…at least the extended stretches of bad baseball. Instead, we have another season of a team treading water in the flooded basement of the AL Central.
There isn’t one particular reason the Royals have been so poor. Sure, the injuries have hurt. So have a couple of no-show bats. (More on that in a moment.) And the pitching—both starting and relief—has been bad. The failure has been total.
I don’t need to do the report card thing or a high-level first-half assessment. This team is bad and you know they’re bad. Instead, I thought I’d dive deeper into some numbers to find a handful of stats that define 2021 and how the Royals finished the first half with a 36-53 record, 18 games out of first place and in the cellar of the AL Central.
This is the Royals’ success rate on stolen base attempts. It’s a good number, not a great one, but a rate that looks even better when learning that in the majors in 2021, only the Padres, Marlins and Rays have attempted to swipe more bags than the Royals. Of those clubs, the Royals have the highest success rate.
The success rate has been inflated by three Royals. Whit Merrifield, obviously, is having a fine year swiping bases. He’s 24 out of 25 attempts, including a perfect eight for eight when he breaks for third. Nicky Lopez hasn’t been nabbed yet, successful in all eight of his attempts. Jarrod Dyson has seen limited action but has gone six for seven. Total up those three and you have 36 steals out of 38 stolen base attempts. That’s a 95 percent success rate that you’d take all day, every day.
On the flip side, it’s fine if Andrew Benintendi doesn’t attempt another steal. He’s just seven for 13. Michael A. Taylor is the only other Royal runner who has been caught more than once. (He’s six out of nine.)
This is the number of hits the Royals have that have been classified as “infield hits.” It’s the most in the majors so far in 2021.
The “infield” classification is a bit misleading. It’s actually hits on balls in play that were first touched by an infielder. So that includes a Jorge Soler double…
And a Salvador Perez single…
Not exactly what we think of when we talk about infield hits, but the playing field is level. However, when looking at the numbers, I realized that those 109 infield hits are a mighty percentage of the Royals’ overall total of 716 hits. It works out to 15.2 percent of all hits being classified as “infield” hits. Seems high. So I crunched some numbers.
I’m beginning to think there may be a correlation between the percentage of hits being classified as infield hits and overall offensive ineptitude. The Royals outpace the next closest team by a full percentage point. That team—Pittsburgh—features the worst offense in the majors. And the Royals are almost four percentage points higher than the league average.
Although it should be noted the team with the lowest percentage of infield hits—Detroit—is only minimally better at scoring runs than the Royals. Carry on.
This is the Royals collective OPS+ they’ve received from the sixth spot in their batting order. That’s uniformly dreadful. Wait…dreadful isn’t strong enough of a word. Abysmal. Unfathomable. Crap.
Here are the worst-hitting lineup spots in 2021. I set the parameters on this search at Baseball-Reference for a sOPS+ (the OPS+ calculated against the league split) to 50 or worse. Turns out there are only four teams with a spot in their lineup carrying a sOPS+ of below 50. Two of them, as you would imagine, are National League teams with the ninth spot reserved for pitchers hitting.
Hunter Dozier has spent the bulk of the time at this spot in the batting order and we all know 2021 has been a struggle for him. He owns a 59 OPS+ when he hits sixth. The recently departed Kelvin Gutierrez has seen the second-most plate appearances at this position and was even worse—a 38 OPS+.
No, it’s not like this is the leadoff spot or one of the other top four positions in the lineup, all of which are universally more important than whoever is hitting sixth. Sixth is just one of those afterthoughts…well, I guess he’s supposed to be better than the guy hitting seventh. But to be this bad? Woof.
I just thought of another adjective: gross.
This is the average number of pitches seen per plate appearance for Carlos Santana. Santana has been everything as advertised when the Royals acquired him on a two-year deal last offseason. His 118 wRC+ and 116 OPS+ lead the team. As does his .368 OBP. His 15 home runs are second and his .421 slugging percentage ranks third.
Remember all that talk last winter about the Royals’ desire to “lengthen the lineup?” The addition of Santana would have accomplished that, had the rest of the lineup lived up to expectations.
This is how often the Royals are swinging at the first pitch they see in a plate appearance. It’s the second-highest rate in the AL and third-highest in MLB.
While it may sound notable that the Royals are close to the top of the league when it comes to offering at the first pitch, there’s not a ton of space between first and worst.
Even though, I know exactly what you’re thinking: Same old Royals, no discipline at the plate! But hang on…It’s actually a good thing they’re so aggressive on that first pitch because it’s where they’re getting a ton of production.
Overall, they’re hitting .370/.378/.670 when they resolve their plate appearance on the first pitch. (The OBP is higher than BA thanks to eight times batters have been hit by a pitch.) The league is hitting .343/.353/.578 on the first pitch. Crunch all the numbers and the Royals are good for a 123 OPS+, which means they’re 23 percent more productive than the average MLB team on this particular split.
Royals batters have launched 27 first-pitch home runs, fourth-most in MLB behind only Atlanta, Toronto and Minnesota. Those three teams are among the top six in dingers in 2021 so you would expect them to have a bushel of home runs hit on the first pitch. The Royals? They’re 24th out of 30 teams in home runs. The ambush…it is happening.
This is the Royals’ batting average with runners in scoring position.
This has really been a focus of late as it seems like in almost every loss the Royals have put up something like an 0-4 or 1-7 with RISP. The overall batting average in this situation is, as you would expect, less than ideal. It ranks 25th in the majors. To go a little deeper, with runners in scoring position their team OPS+ is 81, so their production is 19 percent below the league average in that situation.
It’s not surprising, but the guy you want up in an RBI situation is Santana and his 123 sOPS+. Andrew Benintendi is another with a 114 sOPS+. As for the rest of the team? They all produce at a below-average clip.
Would you be surprised to learn that Perez owns a 63 sOPS+ with RISP? For a guy who has come up with some large hits, including three walkoffs, he’s largely been unproductive with runners on second and third.
This is the cumulative bWAR for Royals’ right fielders. It’s the worst bWAR for that position in all of baseball. The next closest is the Pirates right fielders at -1.8 bWAR.
Of course, this has mostly been the domain for Soler. I’ve been banging the drum that he shouldn’t step foot on the field with a glove. I remain steadfast in my argument.
Perhaps the secret to unlocking Soler’s bat is not allowing him to use a glove.
Dozier has spent the second most amount of time in right and has been only marginally better at the position. I guess the solution would be to play Merrifield out there full time. At the risk of angering Buddy Bell…it couldn’t get any worse.
This is the number of losses the Royals have racked up in losing streaks of six games or longer. So far in 2021, they have lost 11 games in a row, nine games in a row and six games in a row. They also have a five-game losing streak for good measure.
The fact the Royals have losing streaks of 11 and nine games would be notable, or even impressive, but the Diamondbacks are outdoing them, having lost 13 consecutive games in late May and following that up almost immediately with a 17 game skid.
There have been 29 instances of losing streaks of six games or more in 2021. The Royals, the Diamondbacks and the Pirates are the only teams with three of those streaks.
This is the average runs per game scored by the Royals. That’s second-worst in the American League, ahead of only the Seattle Mariners who are scoring at a 4.08 R/G clip. Overall, the Royals mark ranks 25th in MLB.
If your offense is going to be that inept, you would be served by having some quality pitching to keep you in games. And…yeah. Look for a newsletter on pitching numbers later this week.