Judging the Royals

The 2017 Royals: Nobody knows what’s going to happen, and that includes you

Kansas City Royals second baseman Raul Mondesi dropped his bat after striking out in Thursday’s game.
Kansas City Royals second baseman Raul Mondesi dropped his bat after striking out in Thursday’s game. The Associated Press

Moberly, Mo., is 162 miles from Kansas City and I’ve never been there. So if I drove 3 miles in that direction and then told you what Moberly was like, you might be slightly skeptical of that description.

But after three games of 162 a whole bunch of people are willing to predict how the Royals season will turn out.

People love to make predictions, but the truth is nobody knows what’s going to happen.

In 2015 — a year that ended with a parade — the Royals lost three games in a row in April, four games in a row in May, three in a row in June, four in a row at the end of June and beginning of July, three in a row at the end of July and four in a row in September.

And people freaked out every time.

So without running around screaming that the sky is falling, let’s try to understand what’s happened to the Royals in the first three games of 2017.

Too many walks by Royals pitchers

Royals pitchers have issued way too many walks in the first three games and that means the Royals pitchers have to make adjustments.

To understand what kinds of adjustments need to be made, let’s look at Matt Strahm.

Strahm says he’s “spinning off” which means his front shoulder is flying open too soon. This is so common that catchers have a sign for it; they’ll point at their own glove-side shoulder to let the pitcher know he’s flying open. It often happens when pitchers get too amped-up and overthrow the ball.

Flying open sets off a chain reaction that has a pitcher’s hand on the side of the ball instead of on top of the ball and that makes the pitcher’s arm late and he’ll miss the target on his arm-side and his pitches will come out flat, with little downward movement.

Strahm can try to overcorrect and aim right, but he’s still not real sure where the ball is going.

Twenty-three walks in three games is awful and if the Royals pitchers were to continue to giving up 7.7 walks per game, freaking out would be justified — but the Royals pitchers won’t do that.

Matt Strahm and the other pitchers will make adjustments or the team will use different pitchers.

An offense that’s probably trying too hard

Three games is an awfully small sample size, but it’s all we have at this point and looking up batting splits might help us understand what’s happened to the Royals offense.

In 2015, when the Royals hitters were ahead in the count they hit .318 and slugged .525.

When a big-league hitter gets ahead in the count, he can look for a specific pitch in a specific location and when big-league hitters get what they’re looking for, they tend to hit the ball lopsided.

But in the first three games of 2017 when Royals hitters are ahead in the count, they’re batting .179 and slugging .286.

Even when the Royals are in good hitting counts, they’re not producing and that usually means over-swinging and trying to do too much.

You get the pitch you’re looking for and try to crush it, your body tightens up and that includes the muscles in your neck, that makes your head move just when it shouldn’t and you either miss the ball entirely or pop it up.

Some fans like to see players try hard and smash water coolers when they fail, but baseball doesn’t work that way; it’s a game that has to be played in a relaxed fluid manner. And with the team off to a poor start, it’s not hard to imagine the hitters trying to make up for that with a big hit.

The image of a big-league player just going through the motions and cashing a check is a popular one, but it’s inaccurate.

Once in a while you’ll run into a guy like that, but for the most part big-league ballplayers are some of the most competitive people on earth and they don’t like being embarrassed or losing.

Unfortunately, trying harder doesn’t work.

Sloppy play that needs to get cleaned up

In the first three games, the Royals have messed up a simple cutoff and relay (Raul Mondesi), got in a hurry and failed to turn a double play that would have saved them a run (Mondesi again) and failed to tag up and score from third on a ball to the outfield (Lorenzo Cain).

The team isn’t pitching or hitting well enough to cover mental mistakes.

But once again, the Royals coaches see everything I see and more, so they’ll try to clean this stuff up and make adjustments. And if that doesn’t happen, players will be traded, cut or demoted and coaches will be fired.

But it’s way too early to predict which one will happen.

We’re still 159 miles from Moberly.