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The Royals currently have one of the best records in all of baseball. The only question is how long can they keep this up?
The Kansas City Royals are off to a hot start this season which is not something a lot of people expected from them this season. With the additions of guys like Andrew Benintendi, Carlos Santana and Mike Minor, the team was definitely poised to be an improved squad. Holding the best record entering the month of May was probably a bit more of an improvement than expected, but Royals fans aren’t complaining.
Baseball season is a marathon and each team is going to have to deal with ups and downs over the course of 162 games. What separates bad teams from good teams — and good teams from great teams — is the ability to sustain success.
Royals hot start doesn’t appear to be sustainable
There are a variety of reasons why the Royals start isn’t sustainable, starting with their offense. They got off to a hot start posting a team wRC+ of 101, which was the 12th highest in baseball from Opening Day to April 18. Their offense has since fallen off a cliff with a wRC+ of 83 entering Saturday. On the season, their 93 wRC+ is tied with the Mets for 19th in all of baseball. Whit Merrifield, Salvador Perez and Carlos Santana are the only three players with a wRC+ above 100 with a minimum of 50 plate appearances.
The most glaring problem they have is the fact that they rarely walk. This makes sense because they have the fifth-highest swing rate in baseball, but that also makes them heavily reliant on luck. Unfortunately, luck hasn’t been on their side lately because they’re 18th in BABIP. Combined with their lack of power outside a select few guys, and they’re not really setting themselves up for sustained success.
Their contact rate should theoretically offset their inability to draw walks a little bit, but they don’t hit the ball all that hard when they do make contact, ranking 17th in hard hit percentage. As we’ve learned over the years, the harder you hit the ball the more likely you are to get a hit.
So far this season when they leave the friendly confines of Kauffman Stadium, they forget to pack their bats with them, causing their road splits to be dreadful. They’re 28th in wRC+, 29th in ISO, 28th in wOBA and 24th in OBP on the road.
Their starting pitching is middle of the pack, and they’re carrying the bullpen right now. Their starters rank 14th in SIERA and xFIP, and they’ve managed to outperform their xFIP as well. After tossing seven innings of one run ball on Saturday, Danny Duffy now has an ERA of 0.60. That’s the good news, the bad news is that entering Saturday Duffy is 39th among starters with at least 20 innings pitched with a 3.47 xFIP, and he’s managed to wildly outperform that number so far.
His teammate Brady Singer isn’t too far behind him with a 3.52 xFIP. Outside of those two and Jakub Junis, who’s turned in a handful of solid starts, there isn’t much to be excited about from their starting pitching. Having three solid starters isn’t that bad at all, but all three of them are bound for regression, especially Duffy who will probably see the worst out of the three.
Assuming these guys regress back to the mean, the bullpen’s shortcomings will become that much more prevalent. They’re 21st in bullpen ERA, 28th in SIERA, 24th in walk rate and 21st in strikeout rate. Their inability to strike guys out (or even get them to swing and miss) mixed with their propensity to walk guys is an eventual disaster waiting to happen.
Unfortunately, they’re not likely to start hitting the ball harder anytime soon, simply because that’s not the kind of roster they’ve constructed, so they’re going to have to continue to string together multiple hits to score runs. Frankly, that’s not an efficient way to consistently score runs.
Their pitching staff is what it is. Their starting pitchers are good, but not great. It’s not likely that their starters can keep up the good fortune for much longer, leading to their bullpen being even more exposed than it already is.
The Royals are better than they have been the past few years, but they’re not what their record currently indicates.