We Can’t Not Talk About the Royals

The Royals lost on Monday, 9-3. No big deal — the Royals lose a lot, plus, the opposing starter was Corey Kluber. You’re going to lose most of the time to Corey Kluber. Earlier, the Royals lost on Sunday, 1-0. Also no big deal — they’re still the Royals, plus, the opposing starter was James Paxton. You’re going to lose most of the time to James Paxton. As the calendar has flipped from June to July, the Royals have been given an impossible task, and there’s little shame in defeat. You could forgive the Royals for what they’ve most recently done.

But there’s recent-recent, and then there’s just regular-recent. “Recent” is a subjective word, absent any cutoff. As far as early July is concerned, with the Royals, there’s nothing to talk about. It’s when you fold in June that the situation starts to look embarrassing. Over the past several weeks, at the plate in particular, the Royals have been historically bad. I’m not using “historically” to get your attention. I’m using it because the Royals’ struggles have been historic.

You don’t always know where the leaderboards will take you. I don’t often spend a lot of time perusing the Royals’ team statistics. I was tipped off when I looked at the numbers over the past 30 days, for all qualified hitters. The second-worst hitter in baseball has been Salvador Perez, with a wRC+ of 14. The single-worst hitter in baseball has been Alcides Escobar, with a wRC+ of — hold on — -31. Perez and Escobar, naturally, are Kansas City teammates. One thing led to another, and, well, here is a plot of every team’s wRC+ since the beginning of June:

Credit to the Dodgers: It’s not just the Max Muncy show. The Astros are back to being a beast. It’s fun to see the Reds in third place here, as their season has somewhat turned itself around. But we all know why we’re looking at this. The Royals are in last, having managed a team wRC+ of 48. To be more precise, 47.6. The nearest team is the Tigers, with a wRC+ of 72. Over this span, the Royals are the only team to have batted under .200. They’re the only team with an OBP under .250, and they’re the only team with a slugging percentage under .300, and so they’re the only team with an OPS under .550. The Royals have been caught in an offensive tailspin, and the only thing that’s allowed them to avoid too much attention is the fact they were expected to be bad in the first place. Once the expectation is there, people don’t care so much about the degree.

The Royals’ last outburst, if you will, came in a 9-6 loss to the Angels on June 4. They scored those six runs, and they managed twice as many hits. Then they went 19 consecutive games without ever scoring more than four runs, which has been the longest streak of the season. The Royals also have an active 24-game streak of not scoring more than five runs, which is the longest streak of the season. And to top it off, the Royals have an active 24-game streak of not producing more than nine hits, which is the longest streak of the season. The second-longest such streak has gone 15 games. At the plate, the Royals just haven’t been able to get a single thing going.

When you don’t hit, you don’t score. That much should be obvious. So, since the beginning of June, the Royals have scored all of 61 runs. The next-lowest total for anyone is 92. There are three teams that have outscored the Royals by at least a hundred runs. Not all year. Over just more than one month. The Royals’ pitching hasn’t been especially bad of late, but it’s not at all a team strength. The Royals don’t have very many good pitchers. Therefore, since the beginning of June, the Royals have gone a baseball-worst 5-23. If you can believe it, their actual winning percentage is slightly higher than their Pythagorean estimate. Over this span, the Royals’ Pythagorean winning percentage is .168. No one else is below .349. It’s come apart, is the point. The Royals have somehow stuck with the Orioles at the bottom of the league.

On May 1, 2017, I wrote a post titled “The Worst Offensive Month in Royals Team History.” These days, it feels almost quaint. Back then, I was writing about the Royals’ April, in which they posted a team 58 wRC+. In just this most recent June — therefore excepting the most recent two losses to Paxton and Kluber — the Royals posted a team 50 wRC+. It’s a new worst offensive month in team history, in other words. And we can stretch this out, using the Baseball Reference Play Index. The stat of choice, for me, is sOPS+ — a number that compares a given player or team split to the league average. Here are the worst calendar months in known baseball history, given a minimum of 15 games played:

Worst Hitting Months in History
Team Month Year Games sOPS+
Tigers March/April 2003 24 38
Padres June 2014 27 42
Expos March/April 2004 24 45
Orioles June 1955 26 45
Rangers Sept/Oct 1972 29 46
Braves Sept/Oct 1924 27 49
White Sox March/April 1942 15 52
Orioles March/April 1976 15 52
Dodgers June 1911 25 54
Colt .45’s June 1963 29 54
Royals June 2018 26 55
Tigers Sept/Oct 2002 26 55
Dodgers June 1936 25 56
Browns Sept/Oct 1910 36 56
Mets Sept/Oct 2003 26 57
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
Minimum 15 games played. sOPS+ compares the team split to the overall league average.

The Royals show up 11th-worst. Maybe you’d prefer to see them in the top ten, but, remember just how many teams, and just how many months, there have been. It’s not the very worst month ever; the Royals have nothing on April 2003’s Tigers. They have nothing on June 2014’s Padres, or April 2004’s Expos. The Royals have so far avoided that kind of history. But being among the worst isn’t much better than being the actual worst, and so none of this should be good news. Perhaps the only consolation is that, realistically, the Royals couldn’t sink any lower.

I guess there’s further consolation. For some of June, Jorge Soler was hurt. For some of June, Lucas Duda was hurt. For some of June, Jorge Bonifacio was inactive, and, during the month of June, Jon Jay was traded. And the overarching consolation is that, in a way, this doesn’t matter. The Royals were never going to be competitive, and they presumably knew that. It’s a year of transition, with priorities somewhere other than the standings. The Royals will eventually develop into something, and June of 2018 will be forgotten, just as June of 2014 is forgotten by the Padres. All we’re talking about here are numbers. The Royals might not care much about the numbers.

But if you’re a fan, and if you’ve continued paying attention, know that your feelings are validated. Watching the Royals these past few weeks, you’ve probably thought to yourself that this has looked like one of the worst teams in memory. Your instincts have been rather accurate. Here’s to a better July, from this point forward. I don’t know how it could ever get worse.

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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5 years ago

And maybe you could say the Royals really shouldn’t be this bad, on a talent level basis, but remember, the Royals front office thought they’d be ~25 wins better over the full season than they are on pace for.