The Worst Offensive Month in Royals Team History

I didn’t realize the Royals have lost nine games in a row. When it’s come to disappointing baseball, most of my attention was focused on teams like the Blue Jays, Giants, Mets, and Mariners. Every team mentioned here has under-performed, but sure enough, the Royals stand at 7-16, with baseball’s worst record. The upside, I suppose, is that they were once 7-7, but that’s damning with faint praise, since losing nine straight can derail even a wonderful season. The Royals have had a horrible week and a half.

As you examine things, it’s not like the Royals have experienced some kind of team-wide collapse. The defensive metrics paint a confusing picture, and the rotation has been better than the bullpen, but the Royals’ run prevention has surprisingly been a tiny bit better than average. The Royals aren’t out there just constantly getting smoked. Nearly the entirety of the problem is captured by the headline just above. Hitting. Teams need to hit. The Royals haven’t hit. It’s not unreasonable to suggest they’ve actually hit worse than ever.

The Royals are tied for seventh in terms of fewest runs allowed. They’re perfectly even with both the Orioles and the Phillies. However, the Royals are dead last in runs scored, and that doesn’t paint the whole picture, because the team in second-to-last place has outscored the Royals by 24. The difference between the Royals and 29th place is the same as the difference between 29th place and 14th. Here’s every offense in baseball, for April, expressed in average runs per game:

Maybe if I’d slept more, or had something different to eat, this article would be a happy one, about the Nationals. There’s a story at the front of that plot, but there’s also a story at the back, with the Royals so far behind the Giants. It’s been a problem of both reaching base, and advancing after having reached. Baseball-Reference tracks a stat that measures the percentage of baserunners that eventually score. There’s a clear relationship between this plot and that one above.

The Royals have scored just 20% of their baserunners. That’s five points behind the next-worst team, 10 points behind the average team, and an incredible 19 points behind the best team. How have the Nationals already outscored the Royals by more than 100 runs? Pick something an offense can do well. The Nationals have done that thing better than the Royals have. I haven’t actually fact-checked the extent to which that statement is true, but I’m pretty comfortable assuming it holds up without looking at the full scope of the data. One offense has been a juggernaut. The other has been a juggernaught nevermind, that’s terrible

The Royals have existed as a major-league franchise since 1969. Using the Baseball-Reference Play Index, searching through the Royals’ whole history yields 287 individual months. Here I’ve plotted all of those months in terms of average runs per game, divided by league-average average runs per game. So, a mark of 100% would mean the Royals scored runs for the given month at an average rate. A higher number means more runs, and a lower number means fewer runs.

The Royals’ run-scoring in April finished at 62% of the league average. That’s their third-worst-ever mark, behind April 1972 (60%) and April 1981 (50%). However, in those months, the Royals played just 14 and 13 games, respectively. In *this* April, the Royals played 23 games. So it was their worst-ever offensive month for a month in which they played at least 15 times. To look at that in a related way, but in a way that strips out some of the noise, here’s a plot of OPS against league average. I just took the Baseball-Reference stat of sOPS+ and expressed it instead as a rate.

By OPS compared to the average, the Royals just finished April at 68%. That’s their worst-ever mark by five percentage points, beating out August 2005. The Royals had never hit so poorly. Don’t get me wrong, the Royals had hit very poorly, but this was probably their worst calendar month. And this is not a ballclub with a short history. It took some effort to come out this bad.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was one of the worst months of all time. Shifting to the more familiar wRC+, the Royals finished April at 65. That’s quite bad, but since 2002 — which is as far back as our splits leaderboard goes — there have been 23 worse offensive months. In April 2004, the Expos somehow posted a 37 wRC+, and they scored runs at just 39% of the league-average rate. In April 2003, the Tigers posted a 39 wRC+. As recently as June 2014, the Padres achieved a 40 wRC+. They scored runs at 55% of the league-average rate. The Royals have made team history, but I don’t want to exaggerate.

Now, there is one thing, though, I can’t just let go by. How have the Royals scored so few of their baserunners? With the bases empty, they’re 25th in wRC+, at 78. But with runners in scoring position, they’re in last, with a wRC+ of — wait for it — 16. 16! That’s the third-worst month since 2002, again using that splits leaderboard. I recognize that this post is just number after number after number, but there’s no superior alternative. In April 2004, those Expos had a laughable wRC+ of 6 with runners in scoring position. In September 2002, the Tigers had a 14 wRC+ in the same situations. Then you get the April 2017 Royals. 16. Very obviously, the Royals are not truly that bad. Very obviously, they’ll improve, because every terrible performance is likely to regress up.

It’s just, this isn’t just any team. This is the Royals, and the Royals seemingly came into the season with a limited margin of error. I know all about the recent history of the Royals and projections and expectations, but this didn’t look like a strong ballclub. It still doesn’t, and now the Royals have dug for themselves a deep hole. Never mind the Indians. The Royals are already six games out of the second wild-card position. And, sure, Jorge Soler will appear eventually, and he’ll slug some dingers, but there’s been so much more bad news than good. Eric Hosmer‘s doing nothing. Alex Gordon’s doing nothing. Brandon Moss is doing nothing, as the Royals have just about wasted a Mike Moustakas power surge. Talent remains, but all the worrying questions about the Royals are still there, with greater urgency and intensity. There’s so little room for anything else to go wrong.

There’s an argument to be made that, right now, no other baseball team is in a worse position. There are, of course, counter-arguments. It’s nothing that’s certain, that’s set in stone. But a nine-game losing streak locked in a miserable April in which the Royals didn’t hit. And if they don’t start hitting some pitching soon, the necessity will shift toward having to hit on some trades. Trades that would be fairly difficult for the ballclub to stomach.

We hoped you liked reading The Worst Offensive Month in Royals Team History by Jeff Sullivan!

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Hosmer has grounded into 7 double plays, trailing only Solarte and Puig, with 8.