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Royal Dilemma

At the end of April, fans in Kansas City were pretty excited. The Royals were 12-11, just a half game out of first place, thanks to the pitching of Zack Greinke and some surprising offensive performances from John Buck, Alberto Callaspo, Mark Teahen, Coco Crisp, and Willie Bloomquist. They had a +13 run differential and stood as one of the early surprise stories of the American League.

Five weeks later, they have the worst record in the American League. Now 24-33 with a -46 run differential, the Royals winning percentage is higher only than the Washington Nationals. If the 2010 MLB draft were today, the Royals would pick second. That’s quite a fall in a short period of time. What happened?

An offensive reality check. Remember those five guys who were hitting better than expected in April? Here’s their month by month slash lines for April, May, and June.

Buck: .300/.370/.700, .159/.260/.227, N/A
Callaspo: .379/.432/.575, .260/.315/.400, .239/.259/.269
Teahen: .300/.391/.488, .273/.327/.414, .200/.200/.320
Crisp: .247/.371/.494, .220/.316/.305, .100/.250/.100
Bloomquist: .333/.439/.424, .259/.308/.387, .333/.368/.444

Turns out that hoping for continued all-star performances from a collection of role players isn’t a recipe for success. Who knew?

When you add in the nothing contributions that the Royals are getting from Jose Guillen, Mike Jacobs, David DeJesus, and Mike Aviles, you have an offense that simply isn’t going to score enough runs to win baseball games. And, unfortunately, this group of non-hitters can’t play defense particularly well, either – the Royals have the fifth lowest team UZR in baseball, which dovetails nicely with their six lowest team wOBA.

Add it up, and the Royals have gotten a total of +2.2 wins from their position players this year. Only the White Sox have gotten less from their everyday guys. The pitching has been strong (+9 wins, #2 in baseball), but despite the cliches about the inflated value of pitching, you can’t win with worst-in-the-league position players.

At some point in the next month or so, the Royals are going to have to throw in the towel on the 2009 season, and when they get to that point, they should just dump Guillen and Jacobs. Their salaries are a sunk cost, and they’re standing in the way of the team getting better. You can’t rebuild with replacement level players making millions of dollars, and unfortunately, the Royals have too many guys that fit that category.