KANSAS CITY, Mo. – While the focus the past few days on the Royals, at least by some observers, has been on the team’s leaky bullpen and Ned Yost’s decision to pull James Shields for Greg Holland in Monday’s gut-wrenching loss, there remains a far greater concern for Yost:
His toothless offense.
It should be agreed that less than 30 games into the season is far too early to panic. But we should also agree that it’s not too soon to adjust.
It is time for Yost to make some hard decisions at second base and in right field, and also with the batting order.
The Royals’ pitching thus far has been exceptional (second in the league with a 3.33 ERA), even with a few hiccups lately from the bullpen. But those missteps by the relievers can be partially explained, perhaps even forgiven, by the staggering amount of high-leverage situations the bullpen has been exposed to.
Even the best bullpens stumble now and then, and any weaknesses the Royals have in their pen have been magnified by their anemic offense. The Royals have scored three runs or less in 17 of their 29 games. That’s a staggering trend. If not for the team’s outstanding starting pitching, the Royals easily could be eight games under .500 instead of 17-12.
How bad is the offense?
Well, the Royals are not only last in the American League in home runs with 17, they are last in all of baseball. Like last year, the Royals are predominantly a singles-hitting team again that is impatient at the plate (14th in walks with 74) and hard-pressed to score (12th in runs with 125).
To be fair, we must credit Yost with the discipline to stick with his young players through tough times (i.e. see Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas).
But the Royals’ situation has changed now, especially after upper management’s all-in approach to the off-season. The Royals are in a win-now mode, and decisions must be made presently based on what’s best for the team, not individuals.
With that in mind, there are some obvious changes Yost could implement immediately, starting with inserting Elliot Johnson at second base over Chris Getz.
Actually, Johnson and Getz are similar players, and no one is suggesting Johnson is the key to a Royals’ offensive resurgence. But the rest of the Royals’ offense cannot carry Getz’s offensive shortcomings (.216 average, an unsightly .247 on-base), especially if Getz isn’t providing Gold Glove defense, which he is not.
Johnson is as good of an athlete as Getz, can run (18 steals last year), has some pop (six homers last year), is a switch-hitter, and plays comparable defense (Johnson even may have a better arm).
The second obvious change is to immediately begin platooning Jarrod Dyson and Jeff Francoeur, who simply is too often mismatched against right-handers (.213 average, .250 on-base).
Francoeur’s numbers against left-handers (.296 average, .345 on-base) are appreciably higher, and while Frenchy’s arm is still a weapon in right field, the Royals would improve their outfield range with Dyson in center and Lorenzo Cain in right.
The third obvious change – and I admit to be hesitant on this one – is to also platoon Moustakas and Miguel Tejada at third. There have been signs lately that Moose is slowly – I repeat slowly – coming out of his funk. But again, the Royals are no longer in development mode, and Moose might regain confidence in his stroke even more quickly facing only right-handers for a while.
The last change is always a fan favorite: Revamp the order. Here’s one suggestion:
1. Alex Gordon: Yes, I know, there’s a strong argument to move Gordon to the No. 3 hole or to cleanup. But the Royals tried that the past two seasons, and Gordon didn’t particularly like it. Gordon has grown to love the leadoff spot, and it’s risky to mess with one of the few hitters who is actually producing.
2. Alcides Escobar. There should be no argument here. Escobar can handle the bat, runs well, and shows occasional pop.
3. Lorenzo Cain: OK, maybe I’m contradicting myself by suggesting that Yost most Billy Butler out of his beloved No. 3 hole. But Billy isn’t getting any protection now in the order, and Cain would get protection hitting in front of Billy. Plus, you get a little more speed toward the top of the order – always a good thing.
4. Billy Butler: Don’t like the fact that the team’s best pure hitter isn’t guaranteed an at bat in the first inning, but at least Billy would have a chance to see more runners on base, and that might give opposing pitchers some pause to keep walking him.
5. Sal Perez: I admit to some blind faith that Big Sal is going to blossom into a power threat. Right now he at least tends to give you a solid at bat, which could offer some protection for Billy.
6. Eric Hosmer: Hoz may find his old stroke at some point this summer, but it’s too hard to live with his no homers, four doubles and nine RBIs in the cleanup spot.
7. Mike Moustakas/Miguel Tejada: Not ideal to bunch up the lefties, but if you commit to a platoon, Tejada can pinch-hit late in games.
8. Jarrod Dyson/Jeff Francoeur: Again, hate to bunch up lefties, but Dyson could be a speedy weapon at the bottom of the order.
9. Elliot Johnson: His switch-hitting ability helps here, especially late in games when opposing managers normally opt for left-handers as Gordon waits on deck.