I've spent a lot of time recently reading about the Kansas City Royals, because the Royals fans I follow on Twitter have been so despondent that it's difficult to ignore. After starting the season 17-10, they start today residing in the AL Central cellar at 21-29. They've lost eight in a row, and they've lost 10 home games in a row. It's right in the Royals fans' faces, and so they're hollering at anybody who will listen.
The team's leadership hasn't made it any easier. Ned Yost called Royals fans impatient for wanting to see black holes addressed, and that didn't go over well. Not with Chris Getz, Jeff Francoeur, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar all carrying an OPS+ under 70, and Eric Hosmer showing zero power at first.
"There is just no reward here (for us) to try and hit home runs," Maloof said. "We try to stay down on the ball, be more line-drive oriented, and do more situational hitting at least through the first two or three rounds (at home) here. That's why I'm not overly concerned because I think we'll lead the league in fewest home runs again this year. We don't have a 40-homer guy in the middle of the lineup.
"We've got kids. Billy Butler is a doubles machine. No one has told me he is a home run hitting guy. If we try to do it too much, we'll get ourselves in trouble. Same thing with Alex (Gordon). They'll hit home runs on the road, and yes, they'll hit some here. They have. But the risk for them to go out and hit a home run in one of 80 at-bats, the reward isn't great enough.
"Baltimore? Better reward. I'm not using it as an excuse. But it is a mindset."
And that's not even all of it. If you want to see how well this played, just read Rany Jazayerli's tweets from yesterday (warning: it'll take more time than you think).
The Royals have been outhomered 32-11 at Kauffman Stadium this season, which is why everybody on the outside sees the lack of home runs as a critical flaw. The man directing the offense is trying to pitch it as a source of comfort, which led Rob Neyer to drop a classic line: "Boy, if home runs were bullsh-t, the Royals would be the '61 Yankees."
Let's pull a sample tweet from Jazayerli:
Gee, if "the same swings" pay dividends for them at home AND AT KAUFFMAN, maybe the ballpark isn't such an impediment to hitting homers.— Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli) May 29, 2013
It's worth examining what's happening to the Royals for a couple of reasons. In the spirit of the "immediate gratification" attitude Yost complains about, I'd rather rubberneck at somebody else's problems than review what the Sox have done against the Cubs this year.
But when another team's funfortunate decisions are so rife for mockery and scorn, it's good to think about whether your team is doing the same thing.
This is all to say the Sox should probably start phasing out Adam Dunn for good now.
That's not particularly controversial, because people have demanded that Dunn be traded or cut when he had 3½ years remaining on his contract.
But the Sox hitched their wagon to him with no reserves in sight, which means they've just had to wear it. Unless a power-hitting dynamo emerged from the minors out of nowhere, there was no escape plan.
You could see it in the way "All In" shifted to pragmatism. While the Royals and Indians girded their loins for now, the Sox's biggest outside acquisition was Jeff Keppinger. The re-signing of Jake Peavy sorta counts, but even then, they were able to retain him for a two-year commitment that didn't alter their long-term picture.
This isn't to say they couldn't turn it around and make it interesting -- I still want to see what the Sox look like when Gordon Beckham gets back. And even if I were convinced the Sox are on a slow slide to 2007 rather than something closer to 2010 or 2011, I wouldn't start writing "break up this team" posts now, because there's still a month before the market really forms, and I'm not much for kicking and screaming for show.
Even with the currently dismal outlook, the Dunn problem stands out. Robin Ventura keeps doubling down on him while his last truly dynamic month fades out of what could charitably be described as his "recent" history.
Last May, Dunn finally started delivering on his promise when he hit .230/.386/.590 with 11 homers for the month. With a .986 OPS, Dunn finally had a month that would fit among his classic upswings from seasons past, and when combined with an encouraging April, he put himself on track for a surprising All-Star bid after two months.
And today, we can no longer include any of Dunn's last strong month in his "Last 365 Days" line. And technically, we could have started a day earlier, since he went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts on May 30, 2012, and the Sox were off the next day.
Either way, that ended the last month Dunn had an OPS that even started with an "8," and it's officially out of the rear-view mirror. Look at his last 365 days, and you're left with a line of .177/.287/.409.
Dunn's May 2013 has been a review of everything that's happened since. He failed to homer in his first nine games, but then put together a strong stretch on a road trip through Minnesota and Los Angeles that suggested he had figured out a working approach.
Then he suffered back spasms that stomped on those flickering embers of hope, and while he was able to convince Ventura he deserved a (surprisingly quick) return, to what end? He's 2-for-31 with four walks and 18 strikeouts since his back betrayed him on May 18. Both hits are homers, and that kind of sporadic power is the only thing that's separating his 2013 from his 2011:
- 2011: .159/.292/.277, .266 wOBA
- 2013: .153/.245/.388, .277 wOBA
His strikeout rate is at an all-time high (35.9 percent!), his walk rate is at an all-time low (9.9 percent!), and his BABIP ... my God, his BABIP. That sits at .156, which is the worst in the league by nearly 40 points.
The second-lowest? Moustakas, who has a .192 BABIP and a legion of fans demanding that he be demoted to Omaha.
Instead of guffawing at the Royals, it's more useful to act while they stand pat. There's not a lot of high ground when Dunn is starting over Paul Konerko at Wrigley Field at a time when the lack of DH offers a perfect opportunity for a clean benching.
The Sox can't send Dunn to Charlotte, and it doesn't make financial sense to cut him as long as they don't have somebody in Charlotte knocking the door down. The good/bad news, though, is that Dunn's been so awful that it's hard to imagine any possible major-league or AAAA platoon combination being worse.
Take Dewayne Wise and Casper Wells. They have received four plate appearances between them since Dunn started playing with a bad back. There's a reason why they can be so easily ignored, but if Dunn is reverting to his historically awful form and Ventura can feel justified in letting two other roster spots wither away ... that's either uninspiring managing or an incredible roster crisis.
Perhaps Wells and Wise are that bad to force the latter, but Dunn has redefined that bad to an unfathomable extent. At the very least, the last spots of the roster should be exercised before they're excised. Figure out if the Double-Dubs have anything to offer before Beckham gets back, and upgrade the defense on a given day by moving Dayan Viciedo to DH. When Beckham gets back, Conor Gillaspie and Jeff Keppinger can start spelling Dunn, too. And after that, perhaps that's a way to get Josh Phegley involved. Dunn can still play three or four days a week while this happens, but the Sox have to yank some playing time if they have learned anything from 2011.
A serious reduction might be short-lived no matter what, mind you. If it gets to the point that Phegley and Tyler Flowers are involved in the DH mix, it probably means the Sox are selling. And if the Sox have sold, that's an environment in which Dunn can play without harming anything -- they'll just be running out the clock, both on their season and their commitment to Dunn. But as long as the Sox are maintaining the facade of a competitor, they really can't justify centering their lineup around a hitter who just hasn't been competitive over the last calendar year, or his White Sox career as a whole.