Royals' offense lacking charge of home run power
Club has belted just nine jacks through first 21 games this season, but it's early
CLEVELAND -- The Royals did not hit a home run in Thursday's 5-1 loss to the Indians.
This was not particularly newsworthy, both in the context of the season and the game itself.
It was a cold day at Progressive Field (certainly not an uncommon occurrence), the wind was blowing in and Corey Kluber, whose home-runs-per-nine-innings rate dating to the beginning of 2013 is slightly below the league average, was on the mound.
In keeping with that context, the Royals got an unearned run in the seventh but, otherwise, looked pretty punchless and impatient at the plate, like a team with looming dinner reservations on getaway day.
"You can look at our offense today," said Alex Gordon, "and say we stunk."
And you can also say that Kluber, who tossed a complete-game gem, was an almost-untouchable, strike-throwing, emotionless assassin on this afternoon. So just put it in the past and move on.
Frustratingly, though, the lack of offensive sizzle also has not been all-that-uncommon an occurrence for the Royals in these early days of 2014. They rank in the lower rung in runs per game (3.6), with a slugging percentage 27 points below the AL norm. When they did have a small breakout on Wednesday night, with Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas launching back-to-back solo shots (increasing, with two swings, the season home run total by 28.6 percent), it didn't impact the bottom line in a 5-3 loss.
Now, here's where we helpfully note that the sample size is, of course, smallish. And yes, the mere topic of the power outage is a negative one for a Royals team that does offer plenty of positives.
That said, those of us who like this Royals team enough to have picked it to win the AL Central this season did so on the premise that a young and multi-faceted lineup was ready to break out in a substantial way. And that obviously hasn't happened yet this season. All the Royals have done so far is prolong an upsetting organizational trend (Steve Balboni holds the club's single-season home run record ... with 36).
Nine team home runs in 21 games is not a binding statistic, by any means. But it is an early trend that's difficult to outright ignore.
So, do the Royals have considerably more power than they've shown, to date?
Or more to the point, is the early power outage a cause for concern?
"The whole object of the game is to score runs," Gordon said. "We want to drive the ball, but if we hit 20 singles in a game and score 10 runs, we're happy with it. Obviously, we want more power, but the whole point of the game is scoring runs. You can't come in here and focus on the negative. This game is a negative game. It's about being positive and staying within yourself, and knowing it's going to come."
A totally understandable assertion at this still-early juncture of a long season. But absent a string of those ultra-rare 20-single, 10-run games, the Royals certainly need to more frequently capitalize on opponent error.
"You can't ever go up there looking to uncork one," manager Ned Yost said. "In your approach, you want them aggressive, with a plan, and you want to take advantage of mistakes. [Danny] Salazar hung a split [Tuesday night], and Moose [Moustakas] deposited it. That's what we haven't been doing. When pitchers make mistakes, we're popping them up or rolling over on them instead of driving it out of the park. That will happen as the season goes on."
Yost insists the Royals will be fine, from the power perspective, and I, for one, am inclined to believe it's much better than they've shown, having seen first-hand the strength shown by Moustakas, by Gordon, by the still-homerless Eric Hosmer in BP (Yost joked that he's told team owner David Glass he needs to increase the BP ball budget as these young hitters mature). Billy Butler's power is not what it was in 2012, when he had a career-best .510 slugging percentage, but the ol' "water finds its level" argument would certainly lead you to believe he's substantially better than the .233 SLG mark he carries today.
And yes, the Royals do play their home games in a park that suppresses power. So there's that.
The slow slugging out of the chute, though, is a little bit alarming if taken in the context of historical precedent. The Royals are averaging a home run just once per 76.7 at-bats. Among AL teams in the designated hitter era, only 25 have finished March/April with a worse mark, and the AL average in that span is substantially better -- once every 35.9 at-bats.
In the expanded October field of the Wild Card era, no team has gone more than 51.3 at-bats between home runs in March/April and gone on to reach the postseason.
This seems like an awfully good time to introduce a little optimism into this picture, so here goes: The Royals are now en route to Baltimore's Camden Yards, a place that has promoted power from them in the recent past. Over the last three seasons, the Royals are averaging 47.1 at-bats between home runs, yet that mark decreases significantly to 19.2 at the home of the O's.
So maybe the big breakout will happen this weekend.
"It's going to come," Yost said.
History would seem to insist that time is of the essence.