by John Viril—
Yesterday, Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore blamed his team’s historical low walk rate on their big home ballpark.
In an interview with Fox Sports columnist Jeffrey Flanagan, Moore said, “We have the largest ballpark in terms of square footage of any ballpark in baseball. When pitchers come here, they have the mindset to use that park — put the ball in play, throw strikes, attack the zone. There isn’t the same fear factor of getting beat deep that you might have elsewhere.”
The clear implication was that low home walk rates were holding down the overall numbers, making Royals hitters look less patient than they actually were.
Moore and director of player development J.J. Piccolo went on to deny that the reason might be that the organization has failed to emphasize walks in scouting, drafting and developing players.
Former Royals hitting coach Kevin Seitzer explained to Flanagan, “”Pitchers mainly fear the long ball,” he says. “If your lineup isn’t hitting home runs, pitchers aren’t pitching around you. They’re going after you. There’s no need not to.”
All of this sounds reasonable until you do a little research, and find out that the Royals have walked more in Kauffman Stadium than they have on the road.
Using fangraphs.com, I searched team walk rates from 2002 through 2013 (the farthest back the database includes home and away splits). The Royals indeed have the lowest BB% of any team in baseball at 7.3%. However, in the “big” ballpark of Kauffman Stadium the Royals walk 7.6% of the time and only 7.0% on the road.*
Kansas City is also dead last in road walk rate over this period. This isn’t just a Kauffman Stadium thing.
Turning my attention to opponents, I found that enemy hitters do indeed walk less frequently at Kauffman Stadium (8.6%) than they do in their home stadium against KC (9.1%). If we are to believe Moore’s logic, only Kansas City pitchers are emboldened by the roomy confines of Kauffman and go right after hitters.
Certainly, Kauffman Stadium has affected how successive general managers have built teams in Kansas City. But that goes right back to organizational choices rather than the home park.
As excuses go, this ranks right up there with a burglar who tearfully confesses his crime and tells the court his criminal behavior is due to being raised in an orphanage. The plea seems somewhat reasonable until his loving parents arrive to post bail.
What seems clear to me is that Moore is starting to feel threatened. The club that he constructed to make the playoffs is failing to score runs—in large part due to their inability to get on base. Apparently, he senses that his regime is in danger if the team does not produce soon.
No one can deflect blame forever. Eventually, you have to perform—even when you’re general manager of a team that has not tasted the post-season in 28 years.
*[Note: the Royals do have a lower walk rate this season at home (6.6%) than on the road (7.0%). I considered this result an outlier since the Royals walked more at home than on the road 10 of 11 full seasons going back to 2002. Consider that the Royals endured an franchise-record 11-game home losing streak in May. Unusually poor play might be driving a small sample size effect.]