Flanny’s Five: Royals’ 12-12 start is respectable considering offensive issues

Norichika Aoki is a slap hitter who knows how to bunt, works counts and is a solid addition at the top of the order.

Mark Duncan/AP

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — True, Royals officials were hoping for a quick start in April and for the team to be four or five games over .500 by now.

But they also were crossing their fingers that the team would avoid any major injuries or a disastrous start.

And considering how poorly the team has hit, 12-12 is actually a nice, safe start to 2014.

THE MAGIC NUMBER

Nice to see Rex Hudler of FOX Sports Kansas City start to pick up on our mention of the "magic number," which, of course, is four. We harped on that magic number most of last year — when the Royals scored four runs or more, they were 64-13. This year, they are 12-0 when they hit their magic number. With their pitching and defense, scoring four runs makes the Royals almost impossible to beat. Let’s not forget, either, that four runs per game is usually right around the league average. (To paraphrase the team’s "Be Royal" marketing slogan this season, the offense must only "Be Average.")

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ROYALS HAVE GIVEN AWAY 37 FREE OUTS

Another one of my favorite statistics is the number of free outs the Royals tend to give away. These free outs come from hitting into double plays, getting picked off base, getting caught in a rundown after reaching base safely, getting thrown out trying for an extra base, swinging blindly at 3-0 pitches, etc. When you have an offense that can’t hit many home runs — the Royals are last in the American League again this year with 10 — and an offense that doesn’t produce in the clutch, you certainly can’t afford to give away outs. Yet the Royals do.

The Royals have been either caught stealing or picked off base 10 times. They have hit into 22 double plays. They have been thrown out on the basepaths six times. And they have swung at five 3-0 pitches (one single and five outs, thanks to one double play). They also are only 5 of 10 in the sacrifice-bunt department, meaning five times the bunts didn’t advance the runner(s). That’s five more free outs (or 10 if you hate sac bunts to begin with). Splitting the double plays in half (11 outs) leaves the Royals with an estimated 37 free outs so far in April. That’s almost a game and a half by itself.

To be fair, the caught stealings and some of the outs on the basepaths are aggressive outs, and those will happen in the game, especially for a team trying to manufacture runs. Not all of the 37 free outs are careless.

THE NEW GUYS ARE JUST FINE

Seriously, you can’t argue with what general manager Dayton Moore did in the offseason. His three main pickups — second baseman Omar Infante, pitcher Jason Vargas and right fielder Norichika Aoki — all have been doing their solid-to-superb jobs.

Watching Infante play is simply a joy — what a professional — and Moore filled a monstrous hole at a position that has been an issue for years (and could have been for years to come). Vargas, of course, has been nothing short of brilliant (1.54 ERA, 1.00 WHIP). He’s cool and calm, not unlike Ervin Santana, the only difference being that Santana was a clubhouse jokester and infinitely more vocal than the reserved Vargas. You won’t see Vargas going crazy on Twitter, either. But Vargas’ cool demeanor is a nice mix with James Shields’ fire. As for Aoki, he’s been pretty much as advertised. He’s a slap hitter who knows how to bunt and he plays a slightly-above average right field (but has only a so-so arm). Aoki also isn’t a great base stealer (he stole 20 bases last year but was caught 12 times) and one can see why — he’s far from a burner. But Aoki does work counts and he’s a solid addition at the top of the order.

GIVE MOOSE MORE TIME


I get it that some fans want Mike Moustakas to be hitting .280 right now (or even .250) and driving in a ton of runs. But the truth is, he’s leading the team in home runs with four (Infante is next with two) and he is third in RBIs with 12. And after that horrific start, Moose has been squaring up balls (four doubles, four homers and several lineouts since April 11). It will take a while for Moose to get that average to climb over .200 — that happens when you start the season 1 for 30. Let’s at least wait until June before we write him off, send him to the minors and give the job to Danny Valencia, OK? I’ve seen signs in the last two weeks that suggest Moose will be fine.

STILL WAITING ON THE BIG FOUR

At some point, the Royals’ Big Four of Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon and Sal Perez will all click, perhaps at the same time, and the Royals consequently could go on a helluva run. Moore added two key ingredients to the offense at the top of the order with the belief that his nucleus — the Big Four — would all have strong 2014 seasons. And the guess here is that it will still happen, perhaps when the weather warms up and when those four start to relax a little more. Those four have combined for only two homers, which tells you they obviously are pressing right now.

You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at jeffreyflanagan6@gmail.com.