The Royals lack of power seems to be ignored or dismissed by far too many fans. “…but…we went to the World Series, man!” seems to be their argument. The Royals inability to take a pitch, much less a walk, paired with that lack of power is NOT a recipe for success. Things more or less just fell their way in 2014. I struggle very much with the mindset of these fans. Do these people also argue “well…I was drinking and driving last night and didn’t kill anyone or myself…so it’s okay”?
Getting to the postseason and eventual World Series last year with our approach at the plate, was well, for a lack of a better term, a lucky fluke. While it was an exciting ride, don’t expect another from a similar performance at the plate. Their historically incredible bullpen, solid starting pitching, and excellent team defense got them there. Their defense is likely to be among the best in the MLB again. The starting rotation won’t be as good, but they should still be good, not great. By the way…don’t be one of the people that believes Edinson Volquez is, or will be, as good as James Shields. That really makes one look very dumb. There is FAR more potential for Volquez to pitch like Jonathan Sanchez than there is for him to pitch like James Shields. The bullpen should be good again as well, however, they are unlikely to be THAT good again. Rarely, if ever, is a bullpen so good. But, even if they are “not as good” they could still be really good – the best in the league again…just not historically good (the best 3-man tandem in Major League history). But, then again, we thought there was no way, mostly due to law of averages, that the pitching would be better in 2014 than it was in 2013 and the offense could be worse than it was in 2013. So…
Similarly, rarely is a team so lacking in power and patience a playoff team. In fact, the Royals were the first team in MLB history to make the postseason being dead last in the bigs in home runs (95) and walks (380). History and common sense suggests they won’t win many games if they repeat as the most impatient, powerless team in the big leagues in 2015.
Here is a look at history. Since the 1993 MLB season, only SEVEN teams have failed to hit a team total of 100 or more home runs in a full MLB season. Five teams during the strike shortened 1994 season and one team in the 1995 season missed the 100 HR mark as well. They were added for comparison. Those 6 teams all nearly matched or BETTERED the Royals weak power in fewer games.
We have to look back to the 1992 MLB season to find a time where there were annually multiple teams hitting the long ball fewer than 100 times. In 1992, nine of the twenty-six Major League teams at the time “accomplished” 100 or fewer home runs. None of those teams made it into the postseason. 1992 is also the last time a MLB team had a winning/.500 record while hitting fewer than 100 home runs. The Milwaukee Brewers (92-70), Cincinnati Reds (90-72), St. Louis Cardinals (83-79) and Houston Astros (81-81) are these proud powerless teams. We have to rewind even further to find a team to make it into the postseason with fewer than 100 HR. The 1987, 95-67, St. Louis Cardinals, with 94 team home runs, would lose the World Series in that season to the Minnesota Twins.
Now, let’s take a look at drawing walks. This has been a challenge for the Royals franchise for a LONG time. In their forty-six year history, the Royals have finished in the top 10 of MLB in walks only five times. FORTY-SIX seasons of baseball, and only five times finishing in the top TEN. Man…that’s rough. Four of those top 10 finishes were consecutive, 1972 (4th), 1973 (3rd), 1974 (10th) and 1975 (10th). Their other Top 10 finish was in 1989 (8th). The Royals finished dead last in walks in 2014, as stated above, with 380. That number is the second fewest total in Major League Baseball since the Royals inaugural season in 1969. The only team to draw fewer walks during that time, were the 1972 California Angels, with 358. The 2014 Royals 380 walks was the ninth fewest team total dating back to the American League’s adoption of the 162-game schedule in 1961. The Royals have been in the bottom ten in drawing walks in every season dating back to 1998, finishing last four times and among the bottom five, nine times. The last time a Major League team made the playoffs, prior to our 2014 Royals, finishing last in walks (400), was in 1984 when our 84-78 Royals matched up with a heavily favored 104-58 Detroit Tigers in the ALCS. The Royals were beat, three games to none. For what it’s worth, the Tigers finished second in total walks with 602, and went on to beat the San Diego Padres in the World Series, 4 games to 1. I guess there is something to be said for the Royals being the only team in the Major Leagues to make the playoffs finishing last in walks since 1969, and they’ve done it TWICE. I’m not really sure what it means though. Lucky? Fortunate? Charmed? Something of that nature. We don’t have to go back very far, pre-Royals to find a playoff team finishing last in walks. In the season prior to the Royals existence, the 1968 St. Louis Cardinals were last in the big leagues in walks (378) and lost the World Series to the Detroit Tigers. 1968 was the last season the American League’s best record matched up with the National League’s best record for the World Series. League Championship Series were introduced in the following season, along with our Kansas City Royals and three other expansion teams, the Montreal Expos, San Diego Padres, and Seattle Pilots.
Again, don’t confuse this concern with the Royals lack of power (and patience) that we feel the Royals need to be a team full of mashers. We know that isn’t going to happen any time soon, and maybe never. They simply need to make noticeable improvements. A better approach at the plate, taking more pitches, drawing more walks would cure a lot of what ails this offense. It sounds simple, but it isn’t. Plate discipline is incredibly hard to change in players at the Major League level, and especially a tall order for this roster of free swingers. It is an order that must be fulfilled though. If this offense can’t make significant improvements, the 2015 season, 72-90 projection from PECOTA may not be as absurd as we’d like to believe. The Royals don’t necessarily need to be among the best in these categories. They do however need to not be last again, in both, because, that’s pretty bad, man and getting back to the postseason won’t happen, again, either. Making it last year defied the odds for the Royals – a minor miracle for a team lacking in power and plate discipline.
Another popular take among Royals fans in defense of the Royals inability to hit the ball over the fence is Kauffman Stadium itself. We also used to think like this – that the spacious outfield (more land area in the outfield than any other park in baseball) makes it a hitter friendly park (which it is), but it was still near the bottom in yielding homeruns and there’s a reason was a reason we hit more bombs on the road than at home every year (more on this below) and it is because our park. That, at the time, was sufficient enough for us. But, back in May of 2013 we dug into a little deeper and we were wrong about how tough it is to hit HR’s at the K, and it is, in fact, a misconception. It’s simply the Royals inability to put the ball over the wall consistently that skews the numbers.
We’re revisiting this issue now with updated research to now include the last two seasons, dating back to 2004. Kauffman Stadium over those 11 seasons – when the Royals moved the fences back to their original dimensions after a failed nine-season experiment with shorter fences – finished near the bottom of the AL every year – only once outside of the lower third in MLB in HR’s allowed; finishing last three times (2006, 2007, 2014) with an average finish of 27th.
One reason is there is no cheap place in the park to get HR’s. Only seven AL stadiums are bigger down the left-field line (330); six are smaller. Only four are bigger to the gaps (387); 10 are smaller. Three are bigger to center (410); nine are smaller. Yankee Stadium may be 399 feet to left-center, but just 318 down the left-field line and 314 down right. Minute Maid Park in Houston is 435 to center field, but 315 down the left-field line and 362 to left-center.
Prior to the 1995 season, the outfield fences in the gaps and in straight-away center field were moved in 10 feet, but were moved back for the 2004 season, Yet, after looking at the numbers, the K is below league average in homers allowed (average finish of 24th, finishing outside the lower third just once (2010) and yielded the fewest HR of any park in 2014) but if the Royals would actually hit some HR’s, it would be closer to league average. We used to think it was more a park effect than it was the Royals lack of power, but the numbers have changed our minds, because, despite what some fans chose to ignore, the numbers don’t lie.
As you can see, the Royals have finished last in the AL in homeruns hit at home six times (last in MLB twice), second to last three more times (second to last in MLB three times) with an average finish of 27th, skewing the numbers of HR’s allowed at home (average of 7th toughest in AL, right at average in MLB) and as a result the park finishes, on average, 24th in the bigs in HR’s allowed, making it one of the tougher park to hit homers in, on the surface, every year.
As mentioned earlier, another indication on how tough a park is to hit HR’s in is how many that said team, in this case the Royals, hit away from home in comparison to home.
The Royals have hit more HR on the road in 10 of the 11 seasons since 2004 and most of the years have had a substantial gap – an average differential of 13 (68-55).
The HR splits are noticeable. So are the Royals season totals, finishing no better than 21st in the majors in HR’s and dead last twice with an average finish of 27th. In addition, the Royals have been out-homered by opponents at the K in each of these 11 seasons – an average differential of 23. Other teams can hit it out of the K, why can’t we? And, we give up homers at home at a rate around league average, while we hit it out well-below league average.
What does this tell us?
The K is not a HR park, but it would be close to the middle if the Royals weren’t so dreadfully bad at hitting bombs. During this span, the Royals have been trying to develop power hitters from the system, and, it is obviously not working. Mike Moustakas still has potential power. You can see it. Eric Hosmer has flashed his power potential, but not enough, and that, along with his high-line drive rate, makes us wonder if he’ll ever be more than 20 HR person – the same one could expect from Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez. Kendrys Morales has done it before, too. So, there is hope. Hope for an organization that that five times in 11 seasons you could double their season total and it would STILL be less than the leading team.
In short, just because we love the Royals and are “Forever Royal” doesn’t mean we should ignore the flaws of our team. For the Royals, offensively, its been their lacking plate discipline and its result of continually ranking in the bottom of homers and walks year after year and NOT the park. It’ll be amazing what will happen if the Royals drew some more walks and increased their on-base percentage, seeing more pitches and BETTER pitches. Homerun totals would increase. How different a game can be with the long ball instead of 4-5 hits just to have a multiple-run inning. It’s a huge part of the game, it’s a game-changer and its something the Royals, along with drawing walks, have not been able to do in a long, long time.
Follow us on Twitter: @KCSportsNation
Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianGraham624
Follow Conrad on Twitter: @ConradMcGorkin