At the beginning of the season, the big questions surrounding the Royals had to do with the bottom half of the starting rotation and the offense, and at the halfway mark of the season, it’s very clear that the former has been bad but the latter has been a disaster approaching Hindenburg/Pompeii proportions.
Consider that the Royals have hit only 51 home runs this season in 81 games, 24 less than the next worst team in all of major league baseball and 66 fewer than AL leader Baltimore.
The team’s OPS (a measure of ability to reach base safely and hit for power) is .691 – 37 points worse than the league average. The Royals cannot win the division with this level of production. There’s no way. The Royals should be sellers at the trade deadline and reload for next season. Except…
The KC pitching has been pretty good. There’s no reason to think it will not continue to be pretty good, since everyone on the staff, with the exception of Wade, who has been terrible, is performing at or around career norms. Can the offense really be as bad in the second half of the season? Is such futility even possible?
Gordon, Butler, Hosmer and Perez have been league average or better this season. No one is writing sonnets about these guys, but they’re pulling their weight. Gordon and Butler in particular are clearly the gems in the lineup, with Butler’s .385 OBP a shining beacon in the morass of KC’s offensive attack.
Here are the five worst hitters who received more than 150 Plate Appearances in the first half of the season. Bear in mind that .730 is the league average OPS (On-base Percentage + Slugging Percentage) in the American League.
3B Moustakas – .605 OPS
SS Escobar – .608 OPS
CF Cain – .695 OPS
RF Francoeur – .571 OPS (designated for assignment)
2B Getz – .562 OPS (likely benched for season)
Yeesh. Four of the starting nine for KC for most of this season are 120-170 points below the league average in OPS and Cain barely escapes this group by coming in 35 points under the league average. These guys are killing the club, and changes had to happen, hence Francoeur moving on and Getz hitting the pine.
Have they always been so terrible? Is there hope for improvement? Let’s take a look at the combined production for the guys still playing this season from their last two seasons to give an idea of just how far off their production has fallen this year.
Moustakas – 979 Plate Appearances .300 OBP .364 SLG .664 OPS
Escobar – 1246 Plate Appearances .340 SLG .305 OBP .645 OPS
Cain – Only 267 Plate Appearances, not enough to draw any conclusions, but his .732 OPS suggests slightly more is perhaps possible.
We can see that Moustakas and Escobar (along with Francoeur and Getz, who dipped 95 and 110 points this year from last in OPS, respectively) have not just been worse this year, but much worse. Age, injury, diminishing ability, bad luck, etc. all play a role in why they have struggled this season and may not reach those numbers again, but if we take their first half performance in 2013 and extrapolate for the second half based on the last two seasons, we can reasonably predict this level of production for the final 81 games of the season:
Moustakas – .315 OBP/.390 SLG – .705 OPS
Escobar – .320 OBP/.345 SLG – .665 OPS
For Francour and Getz’s replacements, we’ll install an OPS of .670 for the final 81 games, 60 points below the league average.
This predicts that the second half production for the 2013 season will be slightly worse than the total production from 2011 and 2012 combined for Moustakas and Escobar. These numbers seem reasonable given past performance. For the replacements, there’s no expectation of even league-average performance, that seems too much to hope for on the Royals, but rather a prediction of substantially below-average production.
So to be clear, all of these guys are lousy baseball players, but I am confident they will be significantly less lousy in the second half of the season.
What does that mean for the most important number of them all – wins?
In the first half, these five guys cost the team wins, meaning that 5 replacement players – defined as substantially below-average major league players – would have almost assuredly created 1 additional win for the team at the halfway point. Good players would have created 6-8 more wins.
For the second half, if I’m right, and it’s hard to imagine a world where that isn’t the case, the aforementioned projections mean an expectation of 4 more wins than the team amassed in the first half.
That might be just enough to grab the division. The beauty of baseball is the marathon nature of the season, and numbers tend to even out by the finish line. So if you play lousy in the first half, there’s every glass-half-full reason to think you will play well in the second half and by the end, everything will have evened out, the .285 career hitter batting .240 in the first half is likely to hit .310 in the second half.
The Royals aren’t playing in the NL Central, so ending up in the 80’s in the win department might be enough to snake the division away from Detroit or Cleveland. They’re only 5 games out of first place and 4 games back in the loss column.
The Royals haven’t been buyers at the trade deadline in an eternity, but this might be the year to go all in. They already brought in Shields and Wade at a high price, mortgaging a measure of their farm system and future, and they’re undeniably within striking distance of the division. One more bat, combined with the law of averages, might be enough, and while I won’t put money on it, I am saying, with no small measure of confidence, that yes, there is indeed a chance.