by John Viril—
Coming into the 2013 season, the Kansas City Royals hitting instructors Jack Maloof and Andre David insisted that their goal for the season was to produce more power from their hitters. Closing in on the quarter-pole to the season, the Royals are once again at the bottom of MLB in home runs (28th) and 10th in the American League in slugging. So far, the Royals have pretty much failed in their primary goal on offense.
Why are the Royals once again a weak-hitting team?
Royals fans have heard the same explanations year after year. Kauffman Stadium has the biggest outfield area in the league. The team needs to be built around speed and defense. We need contact hitters and doubles power. We want our hitters to be aggressive at the plate.
None of those excuses really wash. The reason Kansas City fails to hit for power is because they are an undisciplined team. Instead of waiting for a good pitch to hit, they hack at pitches outside the zone and put a lot of weak batted balls in play.This is as much an organizational philosophy problem as it is a talent or coaching problem. Instruction at the major league level can only do so much.
Right now the Royals are DEAD LAST in walk rate in MLB at 6.3%. Unsurprisingly, they average the fewest pitches seen per AB at 3.75. They rank 4th in swing rate at pitches out of the strike zone at 32.3%. Most importantly, their 71.2% contact rate with pitches out of the strike zone is the highest in MLB.
The bottom line is that Kansas City batters are hitting pitcher’s pitches more often than any team in the major leagues. No wonder they aren’t driving the ball.
Conventional wisdom suggests that part of this can be attributed to youth. Walk rates tend to increase as players age. However, that explanation doesn’t apply to the Royals. Most of the hackers are seasoned veterans. Jeff Francoeur‘s 2013 walk rate of 3.1% is even lower than his abysmal 5.0% career rate. The formerly-patient Alex Gordon came into the season with a career rate over 10% and is currently at 3.6% this season. Utility infielders Elliot Johnson and Miguel Tejada boast BB rates of 4.3% and 4.2%.
Meanwhile, young players Eric Hosmer (9.4%) and Mike Moustakas (8.6%) rank 2nd and 3rd on the team in walk rate. However, 23-year-old catcher Salvador Perez has been the Royals’ biggest free swinger. Perez has drawn a walk in a mere 2.2% of his 2013 plate appearances.
The offense has not been a complete disaster despite their lack of power. In fact, the Royals rank slightly above-average (14th) in runs per game (4.36) in MLB and 9th in the American League. This performance can be attributed to a solid batting average (.268) and good baserunning (6th in MLB according to fangraphs.com’s baserunning efficiency stat BsR).
Yet the Royals will fail to reach their offensive potential unless they improve their plate discipline.