Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Party's Over

...and there's less and less to say.
(From "Highlands," Time Out Of Mind)

First off, let me apologize for not having a more regular posting schedule the last few weeks. Buying a house and packing for a move is rather time-consuming, I've found. Also, when you're a neat freak like me, having boxes piled everywhere really takes you out of your comfort zone. Finally, the Royals haven't been really inspiring lately. In fact, they've pretty much resembled our apartment the last three weeks: unorganized, discombobulated, upside-down, a work in progress.

So, allow me to address the last three weeks of Royals baseball thus: What the hell happened? On May 7, the Royals won their sixth game in a row to move to 18-11 on the season. Since then, they've won a total of five games, while losing 14.

Obviously, a collapse like that is a total team effort. No one or two players can make that much difference. As evidence, I present this chart, A Tale of Two Months (Offense Division):

PlayerApril OPSMay OPSDifference

As you can see, several of the Royals' regulars have had a tough month. Some of them should have been expected--Willie Bloomquist, John Buck and Alberto Callaspo were all over 200 points over their career averages. A dropoff was inevitable. Of course, now the pendulum seems to have swung too far the other way for a lot of these guys.

I see three big problems with the Royals' offense in that chart. First, David DeJesus is obviously struggling this year, even though he's been better in May. But DeJesus is only 29, and as far as we know, he's healthy. His career OPS is .775; there is no reason to expect him not to be around that this year. But in the short term, having a left fielder with a .670 OPS is not helpful. In fact, DDJ ranks 15th among AL left fielders in that stat. Since there are only 14 teams in the AL, this is bad news.

The second thing killing KC's offense right now is the possibly injury-related struggles of Coco Crisp. Remember, when the Royals were on fire in late April and early May, it seemed like Crisp was always on base; in fact, his on-base percentage in April was .371, which seemed promising, given his .247 batting average that month. It's true his OPS 125 points higher than his career average, but in May he's almost that many points below it. Crisp has missed the last few games with a sore shoulder; perhaps that has hindered him offensively. His last extra-base hit was a triple back on May 14. The good news is that Crisp's batting average (currently .233) is likely to rebound when he's healthy. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is only .248 this year; his career average is .309. So an important, possibly the most important, cog in the Royals' offense should improve from his performance this month.

The most baffling hitting performance by a Royal this year has to be Mike Aviles' freefall. Last year, when Aviles was called up and finally inserted in the lineup in Tony Pena Jr.'s place, the Royals offense improved greatly. The Royals put up better OPS numbers in the last four months of the season than they did in the first two. But this year, Aviles has done a terrific impersonation of Pena. TPJ posted an OPS+ (that's OPS normalized for league and position; 100 is league average) of 7. Yeah, 7. This year, Aviles so far has put up a 21. He did finally admit a while back that he's had a forearm injury this year; I hope that has been the source of his problem. I didn't expect him to duplicate last year's numbers, but I was hopeful the Royals would have at least a league average hitter at shortstop this season.

With the loss the Royals finished off while I was writing this, KC is now tied for third in the AL Central and three games under .500 for the first time this season. Sure, it's just three games, and the Royals are not as bad a team as they have played the last three weeks, just like they weren't as good as they looked the first five weeks. But I can't see them climbing back into the race. Detroit looks really good now, and I'm just waiting for the Twins to get hot. The Royals still need to improve their offense if they want to contend.

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