It’s not quite true to say that the Kansas City Royals offence has been scuffling in the first month of the season, but it isn’t too far off either. The Royals have been winning with regularity, but they have been reliant of their pitching to keep opposing teams close and just occasionally getting big numbers to make the games easy. To an extent, this is to be expected: the pitchers always start the season ahead of the hitters.
It has also been an unusually cold April, something that has been exacerbated by the Royals playing in a lot of northern cities early in the year. Cold weather almost always makes it harder to hit; not only is the hitter’s approach compromised by the conditions, the ball does not carry as well in the cold. Drives that would be home runs in midseason have a tendency to be caught on the warning track in April.
But, it would be a major error to simply write off the offense’s sluggishness as a product of the early season and cold weather. The Royals have been getting production from some of their players and while others are still warming to the task, the fact remains that the lineup does not quite seem to have ‘set’ yet. Nearly every game seems to be a close pitcher’s duel and that may be down in part to the number of hitters batting out of position.
Manager Ned Yost set a very odd looking lineup coming out of Spring Training with the goal being to force the opposition to pitch to Billy Butler. Not only has this not had the desired affect (Butler is near the top of the American League in walks), it has had some deleterious side effects.
Right now, Alex Gordon is leading off. This does not necessarily mean a lot as it only applies for the first inning usually, but it is a ‘table-setting’ position rather than an RBI position.
The problem is that Gordon is a great RBI hitter and actually leads the American League in batting average with runners in scoring position. He is being wasted at the top of the order, while Lorenzo Cain has been blazing hot for the first part of the year and would fit that role much better.
If Yost were to move Gordon to No. 3 and leadoff with Cain, that would put not only solid, but hot hitters at one through three. It would not solve the problem of there not being a lot of protection behind Butler, but it actually might make it irrelevant. A team can only walk a hitter when there is an open base and if Cain, Alcides Escobar and Gordon are getting regular hits (as they are now), then there will simply be nowhere to put Butler.
And if teams have to start pitching to him, then the offense will suddenly look quite strong indeed.