Opinion

Is this the Royals’ worst July ever?

Kansas City Royals designated hitter Kendrys Morales walked back to the dugout after striking out with the bases loaded to end the fifth inning on Monday.
Kansas City Royals designated hitter Kendrys Morales walked back to the dugout after striking out with the bases loaded to end the fifth inning on Monday. jsleezer@kcstar.com

This is the continuation of a weekly stats column to examine how this year’s Royals compare to the 2015 World Series champions. All numbers through Tuesday’s game.

Maybe it’s time to blame the calendar.

The Royals have fallen to 48-51, and if you’re looking for a scapegoat, this month might be it. The Royals’ offense has completely cratered in July, as it’s posted a .229/.288/.356 triple-slash line in these 21 games.

So how bad has it gotten for the Royals?

▪ This month, the Royals are last in the majors in average, on-base percentage and slugging. Keep in mind that this includes all 30 teams, and NL teams have to bat their pitchers in non-interleague games.

▪ This is the worst batting average and on-base percentage for the month of July in Royals history, which includes the 1969 expansion team. The Royals’ slugging percentage ranks 41st in those 47 seasons, and remember that this a much better run-scoring environment than some earlier years.

▪ Among American League players this month who are qualified for the batting title, two Royals are in the bottom five in on-base percentage — Eric Hosmer (fourth), Salvador Perez (fifth). Two in the bottom 10 in slugging percentage —Hosmer (fifth) and Alcides Escobar (10th).

▪ Using the all-encompassing measure weighted-runs created plus, only two Royals have hit above major-league average this month: Cheslor Cuthbert (40 percent better than league average) and Drew Butera (only 13 plate appearances). Toward the bottom, Whit Merrifield hit 70 percent worse than league average, Hosmer has been 56 percent worse and Paulo Orlando is 53 percent worse.

▪ According to Fangraphs, the Royals’ positions players — including defense and baserunning — have combined for negative-0.1 WAR this month. This essentially means a team filled with readily available players off the waiver wire and making the league minimum would have been expected to perform better.

Even considering former manager Buddy Bell’s famous words, I feel safe in saying August will be better for the Royals. It’s hard to imagine there’s much further to fall.

Let’s take a look at this week’s team numbers.

Hitting

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

2016 — .267/.317/.401

Last 7 days — .201/.262/.304

Not surprisingly, each of those three slash lines above are worst in the majors over the past seven days. As a whole, the Royals offense has been 49 percent worse than league average in that time, mustering just 14 runs in its last six games.

Hitting with runners in scoring position

2015 — .282/.347/.426

2016 — .268/.329/.392

The #RoyalsDevilMagic has seemed to run out this season, as KC is roughly the same team hitting with runners in scoring position as it is without. Because of that, the team hasn’t been able to greatly outperform what has proven to be a below-average offense.

Starting pitching

2015 — 4.34 ERA, 16.8 K%, 7.6 BB%

2016 — 4.99, 20.7, 8.8

Last 7 days — 5.91, 16.2, 10.1

An update on our Danny Duffy discussion: The left-hander told me last week that his harder breaking ball came about partly because of his admiration of a former teammate.

“I’ve been trying to figure out Greg Holland’s slider for years now, and I think anybody in their right mind would try to figure that out,” Duffy said, “because it’s one of the nastiest sliders I’ve ever seen.”

Last year, while playing catch in the outfield with Kris Medlen in September, Duffy was tinkering and figured out he could throw his own version of Holland’s pitch.

Medlen gave immediate feedback: “Dude, you need to throw that in a game.”

Duffy says he debuted the pitch in last year’s ALCS. He grips it with four seams — across the laces — and moves his thumb up a little bit from his fastball grip to give it late movement.

Instead of “shaping” the pitch, like he previously did with his curveball, Duffy says he can simply throw this one without worrying about slowing the velocity. And because it has less horizontal movement, he has better command.

In fact, he remembers the last time he left the pitch up: April 19 against Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who hit a three-run homer that Duffy jokingly estimated went 600 feet.

Since then, Duffy has felt confident with locating his new, harder breaking ball.

“That’s been my equalizer, man,” Duffy said. “It’s been great to have.”

Relief pitching

2015 — 2.72, 22.9, 8.7

2016 — 3.37, 22.4, 8.1

Last 7 days — 7.77, 16.2, 11.4

The back end of the Royals bullpen continues to struggle, as the trio of Chien-Ming Wang, Joakim Soria and Peter Moylan combined to allow 13 runs in 6  2/3 innings over the past week. Wang in particular could be designated for assignment soon if he doesn’t improve, as he’s lost his ability to miss bats, striking out one of the last 31 batters he’s faced. His 14 percent strikeout rate also is second-worst in the AL among relievers, ahead of only Matt Albers.

Defense

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

2016 — 22 defensive runs saved (.222 per game, 6th in MLB)

Interestingly, the Royals are the only AL Central team with an above-average defense, according to DRS. Cleveland is the next-best (negative-4, 17th), followed by Chicago (negative-14, 21st), Minnesota (negative-43, 28th) and Detroit (negative-46, 29th).

Top 5 in Fangraphs WAR

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

2016 — Perez 2.2, Cain 2.1, Duffy 1.7, Herrera 1.6, Volquez 1.5

Perez, who was clearly the best player at his position two months ago, can’t as easily make that claim following an extended hitting slump. Perez has dropped to fifth among catchers in Fangraphs WAR, dropping behind Wilson Ramos, Buster Posey, Jonathan Lucroy and J.T. Realmuto. While his defense remains elite, Perez’s strikeouts are way up this season, which will make it difficult to maintain the higher average he had earlier in the year.

  

Bottom 5 in Fangraphs WAR

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

2016 — Young -1.4, Escobar -0.4, Soria -0.3, Fuentes -0.1, Pounders -0.1

The paradox of Alcides Escobar continues. Among the 25 qualified shortstops, he ranks 24th in WAR, ahead of only Alexei Ramirez. He’s hitting 40 percent worse than league average, which is tied for last among shortstops with Adeiny Hechavarria. Yet, Escobar has the second-most plate appearances at his position with 437, just eight behind Xander Bogaerts.

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell

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