Opinion

Comparing the Royals statistically to 2015

It’s easy to see that the Royals, including second baseman Omar Infante, are struggling when compared to last season, but what do the numbers say?
It’s easy to see that the Royals, including second baseman Omar Infante, are struggling when compared to last season, but what do the numbers say? jsleezer@kcstar.com

There’s been a lot of talk about the Royals not playing up to last year’s standard during a 16-18 start.

So are the Royals really lagging behind their statistical pace from last year? And if so, in what ways?

To help answer that, we’ll be starting a weekly stats column to examine how this year’s Royals compare to the 2015 World Series champions.

Let’s look into the numbers (through Thursday’s game) to see what we can find.

Hitting

2015 — .269/.322/.412 (Batting average/On-base percentage/Slugging percentage)

2016 — .255/.308/.390

Last 7 games — .275/.323/.451

It’d be much easier if we could point to one reason for the Royals’ struggles (fewer walks, lower average, less power), but in truth, the team’s numbers are just slightly down across the board, which has made for a weaker offense. The good news? KC’s numbers are on an uptick, helped by a trip to short-porched Yankee Stadium and Lorenzo Cain’s three-homer game.

Hitting with runners in scoring position

2015 — .282/.347/.426

2016 — .242/.296/.367

Remember all those projection systems that seemingly hated the Royals the past few years? Part of the reason was that computers can’t predict a team raising its level of play in “clutch” situations … which the Royals routinely did a season ago. Logic would tell us that’s not something easily repeatable, and the numbers bear that out so far this season. The Royals haven’t hit as well in prime run-producing situations, which has been part of the reason it’s down from 4.0 runs per game last year to 3.6. This week might have been a start, though, as the Royals were 17 for 47 (.362) when hitting with runners in scoring position.

Starting pitching

2015 — 4.34 ERA, 16.8 K%, 7.6 BB%

2016 — 4.91, 19.1, 11.3

Last 7 games — 8.07, 14.2, 12.9

Needless to say it was not a good week for the Royals’ starting pitchers. The most disturbing trend this season has been the uptick in walks, especially considering that the Royals likely shouldn’t want to give as many free passes because of their strong defense. The starters’ 11.3-percent walk rate is worst in the majors by a wide margin (Miami is second-worst at 10.3 percent) and also is more than double the rate of the MLB-leading Mets (5.0 percent).

Relief pitching

2015 — 2.72, 22.9, 8.7

2016 — 2.83, 23.4, 8.2

Last 7 games — 2.81, 20.8, 5.9

Here’s the good news for Royals fans: The bullpen has been nearly as dominant after a stellar last season. It’s hard to tell the last two years’ numbers apart, as excellent starts from Kelvin Herrera, Danny Duffy (now getting a spot start in the rotation) and Wade Davis once again making this an elite ’pen.

Defense

2015 — 51 defensive runs saved (.315 per game, 2nd in MLB)

2016 — 13 defensive runs saved (.382 per game, 6th in MLB)

Defense is the trickiest of all these to measure, as it takes larger samples to come up with meaningful data. So far, according to Baseball Info Solutions’ defensive runs saved measure, the Royals appear to be strong once again defensively and perhaps even pacing toward a similar mark to a year ago. Part of that could be the defensive upgrade in right field, with Jarrod Dyson’s range and arm giving the team a consistent upgrade over Alex Rios.

Top 5 in Fangraphs WAR

2015 — Cain 6.6, Moustakas 3.8, Hosmer 3.5, Gordon 2.8, Ventura 2.7

2016 — Moustakas 0.9, Gordon 0.8, Hosmer 0.8, Cain 0.8, Perez 0.7

The wins-above-replacement numbers highlight how big a loss Mike Moustakas’ injury is, as he was trending toward a career year and was the Royals’ most valuable player through the first month. Alex Gordon and Cain have rebounded nicely after tough hitting starts, though Cain is not quite at the superstar-level numbers he posted last season. Eric Hosmer also gets dinged a bit here because of the position he plays (there are lots of good first basemen out there) and because advanced stats don’t love his defensive range.

Bottom 5 in Fangraphs WAR

2015 — Infante -0.9, Guthrie -0.9, Almonte -0.4, Gomes -0.3, Coleman -0.2

2016 — Morales -0.7, Young -0.7, Gee -0.2, Fuentes -0.1, Soria -0.1

Kendrys Morales stands out most on this list, and honestly, he’s the been one of the biggest reasons for the Royals’ offensive slide. After posting a 2.1 WAR a season ago with a .290/.362/.485 slash line, Morales is down to .190/.246/.325 — a number that is even worse considering he has no defensive value as a DH. Though it’s still early — and his average exit velocity is actually up this season to 93 mph from 92.7, according to MLB’s StatCast data — the fact that Morales is walking less and striking out more should be concerning.

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell

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