The Kansas City Royals have been one of the most enigmatic teams in the last few years. Not because they’re small market or because they’ve been a perennial punching bag for the rest of the American League, but because expectations have been on the rise for some time now and they consistently fail to deliver. Once the worst farm system in baseball, the Royals were suddenly flush with all of this great, young talent. We saw the debuts of players like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas and watched as they added key pieces like Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar. They hadn’t quite put it all together over the last two seasons, but this year, with a revamped rotation, the Royals became darlings in the American League and some even thought they could compete for a wild card this year. But while James Shields and Jeremy Guthrie did their part early on, the hitters failed miserably. The young studs were a disaster and after a modest 14-10 April, things spun out of control as the Royals went 8-20 in May and opened June 1-2. Manager Ned Yost was at a loss. He shuffled the lineup dozens of times without success. They fired their hitting coach and replaced him with the legendary George Brett, hoping that some Royals royalty would jump start the offense. But instead, it was the nerds who got things going for the Royals. Yost put the lineup decision into the hands of the sabermetric boys and the next thing we knew, Kansas City was on a six-game winning streak.
When Yost turned in the lineup card on June 5th, it was unlike any of the permutations he had presented in any of the previous games. The number-crunchers left Alex Gordon in the leadoff spot and recently “demoted” Escobar down in the nine-hole. But Hosmer found himself hitting in the two hole, Salvador Perez was batting third, Billy Butler was the clean-up man, followed by Cain, Moustakas, David Lough and Chris Getz. The only thing Yost did was flip-flop Moustakas and Cain to change up the lefty-righty configuration. Blasphemy in some mathematical circles, but the tweak seemed to do the trick. With this new lineup, the Royals went on to win six straight games and fell just short of another victory Tuesday night as a questionable third strike call halted a potential late rally.
It’s a big win for the saber-community, right? Well, maybe so, maybe not. Obviously the loyalists in Kansas City are preparing another key-to-the-city ceremony for Brett whose homecoming is the obvious reason for the turnaround. Forget about the fact that we’ve had numerous instances where we’ve seen great hitters make for lousy batting coaches and vice versa. And there’s also the fact that, as my “glass is half-empty” colleague and staunch Royals afficianado Jeff Zimmerman points out, the Royals have actually scored fewer runs per game during this streak than they had throughout the earlier part of the season, small sample size be damned. And, of course, there’s the simple explanation of natural regression — if you can’t win ’em all, you can’t lose ’em all either. Based on talent, it was only a matter of time before these guys started to hit. So while everyone sits and debates the reasons for the turnaround, most of us in the fantasy community just want to know one thing — are some of these guys useful for fantasy purposes. Should I pick them up?
Now guys like Butler, Gordon, Perez and even Escobar are all owned in at least 82-percent of all leagues on both ESPN and Yahoo, so the likelihood of being able to grab one of them is pretty slim. But Hosmer is owned in less than 50-percent of all leagues, Moustakas in approximately 20-percent, Cain in just over 50, and Getz, well, no more than one percent. So most of these guys are probably available to you and each one of them has been relatively hot since the streak began.
But in truth, Cain seems to me to be the only one worth exploring in the immediate future. He’s a decent blend of both power and speed and should he genuinely be heating up, whether it’s because of the revamped lineup or the all-powerful Brett, he’s still capable of hitting another 10 home runs and stealing another 10-15 bases. I’ll taker that in some of my deep, mixed leagues. Should Getz actually be handed the second base job instead of this “whoever is hot” platoon with him and Elliot Johnson, then he might have some stolen base value which is always nice from the middle infield. Moustakas and Hosmer, though, I’m not so sure.
I know I was high on a potential turnaround for Moustakas at one point, but I guess I had picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue. The glue was actually helping. I cited some changes I noticed in his batted ball data that were different from the year before and thought that his extra work in the cage and general regression would fix things up. But his line drive rate is still pathetic and throughout May, he was still popping everything up in the air. I mean really…a 17.3-percent infield fly-ball rate? Come on. His line drive rate has been better through this little streak (18.2-percent), but he’s also got almost a 60-percent ground ball rate and a 20-percent infield fly-ball rate, so is he really improving or is he just finding a new way to start sucking again? With his batted ball data such a mess right now, I have a very hard time believing that he’s actually going to turn things around, and if he does, it’ll be too little, too late. Maybe if he finishes with a reasonably decent June, you might look to him for a better second half but I just can’t recommend him right now.
And Hosmer, well he’s just a hot mess himself. While he’s been surging during this recent hot streak, I’m looking more at the fact that his ground ball rate is at just over 67-percent here in June (up for the third consecutive month) and he’s being helped out by a .387 BABIP. An overall fly ball rate of 18.3-percent (9.7-percent in June) isn’t doing anything for improving his home run total and he’s still pulling the ball like Downtown Anderson before Gus Cantrell fixed his swing. Considering the type of production you expect from the first base or even corner infield position, I just can’t see a use for him right now. This surge might be encouraging and you always want to pick up the guy just before he really heats up, but in looking at the numbers, I just can’t justify the roster spot for him.
June should be a very interesting month for this team. We already know that they’re loaded with potential, but they have a long way to go to prove themselves. Maybe they get it, maybe they don’t. Maybe Brett is the savior or maybe it’s the number-crunchers and this lineup that save the day. Whatever the case may be, outside of Gordon, Butler and the pitchers, these boys have another few weeks to pick it up before fantasy owners can abandon them altogether.