We all remember April. April was not kind to the Kansas City Royals and in large part it was due to the lack of offense. The Royals were last in almost every offensive category in the American League (outside of home runs and ISO) and produced a wRC+ of 57 as a team (league average is 100). While almost the entire team was struggling, the most glaring weakness was the bottom of the lineup, which consisted of Brandon Moss, Alcides Escobar and Alex Gordon. The last third of the lineup continued their struggle through May before June started to see a bit of life. But over the last few weeks, this trifecta that was denoted ‘The Black Hole of Death’ has awoken from their slumber and helped guide the Royals to where they now sit 1.5 games out of first place in the American League Central and tied for the second wild card spot in the AL. So how has this group gone from basement dwellers to driving forces behind a Kansas City Surge?
Let’s start by looking at where this group started at in April with a look at their slash lines:
Moss: .167/.250/.367, -0.3 fWAR
Escobar: .171/.200/.220, -0.4 fWAR
Gordon: .184/.268/.218, -0.3fWAR
The numbers didn’t see a big uptick in May:
Moss: .203/.266/.508, 0.0 fWAR
Escobar: .197/.220/.248, -0.5 fWAR
Gordon: .164/.307/.192, -0.1 fWAR
Now remember, WAR factors in defense and Moss for the most part doesn’t see a whole lot of time on the field. So what might be the most telling sign of how badly Escobar and Gordon were performing is looking at the WAR statistic; both players are former Gold Glove winners and are still great defensively. The fact that both put together below replacement level performances really shows you how lackluster they were with the bats. Also, take a look at Escobar and Gordon’s slugging percentage in April and May: both months, Escobar had a higher slugging percentage than Alex, which shows that Gordon wasn’t driving the ball at all in those two months. Escobar is not known to get a bunch of extra base hits while Gordon in the past has been known as a guy who can rack up a decent amount of doubles and home runs. At that point, one would wonder how much better this Royals team could be just by getting replacement level play from the bottom third of the batting order. Luckily, June would see their bats start to wake up.
All it took was a trip to the west coast and warmer weather to get a pulse from these three (or at least two of the three):
Moss: .156/.240/.178, -0.5 fWAR
Escobar: .294/.301/.412, 0.5 fWAR
Gordon: .231/.295/.436, 0.3 fWAR
Moss’ June was not pleasant, as he only drove in one run the entire month and had a wRC+ of 13. Gordon actually went deep three times and a lot of his production can be attributed to hitting coach Dale Sveum working on his stance and having Gordon use his legs a bit more to help him drive the ball. The Royals as a team had a great offensive month in June but the best was yet to come in July:
Moss: .326/.392/.630, 0.5 fWAR
Escobar: .271/.320/.414, 0.4 fWAR
Gordon: .254/.318/.407, 0.3 fWAR
While Moss was almost invisible in June, his July has seen his numbers drastically move upward, thanks to something that doesn’t have a stat to quantify it: confidence:
“Before the last couple of weeks, I’d get to two strikes (and) not to say that you knew it was over, but you knew you probably missed your chance,” he said, smiling and adding, “Been seeing the ball a lot better and have better balance at the plate, so it’s not a panic any more.”
Escobar has gone with a more balanced attack, spraying the ball all over the field. In July, Escobar is pulling the ball 30.7% of the time, hitting the ball up the middle 35.5%, and the opposite way 33.9%. Gordon appears to be taking the ball to the opposite field more, 28.6% compared to 13.1% last month. Gordon is also focusing more on off-speed pitches to hit, as his wCH/c (which is a linear weight against change-ups) is sitting at 1.69 in July, compared to -3.67 in April. Gordon has always been a better hitter when he isn’t pulling the ball as much and most of his big hits in the last week have been to the opposite field:
So for the month, these three are almost all above the league average for wRC+ (Moss is above with 168, Escobar and Gordon are almost there with 94 and 91 respectively) and all have a wOBA of .313 or higher. Kansas City has sought any offense from the bottom three and it has finally come to fruition. The next big question is ‘Can they sustain?’ this pace?
With a little over two months left in the season, there is no reason to think these three hitters can’t continue this pace of production or something close to it. Moss might not slug at a .620 clip but as long as meets a happy medium between his low and his high that should keep him at a respectable level. Both Escobar and Gordon are performing at levels that are very sustainable and would be more than accepted if they can keep it up. Moss and Gordon are well-known to be streaky hitters so the highs and lows could be a bit extreme, but as long as they evened out to respectable numbers it should mark an improvement. The Royals have waited all season for these guys to hit and now comes the hard part-maintaining it. These three don’t need to carry the offense, they just need to contribute.