Generally speaking, baseball fans care more about offense than defense. Offense is easier to measure and understand and that makes the numbers more compelling.
Unless the play is spectacular — and spectacular plays are often the result of poor positioning or lousy pitch location — good defense is much more subtle.
Just look at Monday night’s game against the Cardinals:
In the second inning, Mike Moustakas hit his 32nd home run and everybody noticed.
But in the fourth inning, before the game was out of hand, Lorenzo Cain turned a Jose Martinez double into a Jose Martinez single by cutting the ball off in the gap; few fans cheered Cain’s outstanding play and half of those fans were probably cheering Martinez’ single.
Fans may not notice good defense, but baseball teams do.
In the big leagues, teams don’t care if a player puts runs on the board or keeps them off; both lead to winning.
And the Royals, more than most teams, rely on good defense.
Kauffman Stadium requires good defense
When Dayton Moore took over the Royals and looked at the size of Kauffman Stadium’s outfield, he knew his team would never hit a lot of home runs; the K is just too big. The Royals could invest in a home-run hitter, but they wouldn’t get what they paid for.
People who ridicule Steve Balboni’s single-season record of 36 home runs miss the point; it’s not an embarrassment, it’s physics.
Even now — with the team and Mike Moustakas on their way to breaking the single-season records for home runs — the Royals only rank eighth in the American League when it comes to the long ball. The Royals at their home-run best are still in the middle of the pack.
So if home runs aren’t going to put a lot of runs on the board, good defense needs to keep runs off the board.
The Royals needed outfielders who could cover Kauffman Stadium’s spacious outfield and turn doubles into singles, or better yet, doubles into outs. Compared to home-run hitters, good outfielders are a bargain.
The 2015 World Champion Royals were second-to-last in American League home runs, but made that work because only two teams allowed fewer runs.
The Kansas City Royals depend on good defense and in Game 1 of Sunday’s doubleheader against the Mariners and on Monday night against the Cardinals, we all saw what happens when they don’t get it.
Walks and errors: how big innings are built
If the Royals allow four runs or less, they have a winning record; if the Royals allow five runs or more, they have a losing record.
On most nights, the Royals have to keep the score low to have a chance; this season they’re 12th in runs scored, so if the opponent has a big inning the Royals will have a tough time matching it.
So how do the Royals avoid big innings?
Limit the walks and errors.
There are always exceptions, but it’s difficult for a team to build a big inning by getting hit after hit.
On Sunday, in the second inning of the first game of a doubleheader, the Mariners scored four runs on just two hits; a walk, a botched rundown and a passed ball kept the inning going.
On Monday, in the fourth inning, the Cardinals scored six runs on just three hits; two walks and two errors kept the inning alive.
If big innings were brick walls (and I’m about to stretch a metaphor here) hits are the bricks; walks and errors are the mortar that holds those bricks together.
The Mariners’ team batting average is .258; St. Louis’ is .256. If the Royals avoid walks and errors — easier said than done — the Mariners and Cardinals would still score, but they wouldn’t score runs in bunches.
Why we take good defense for granted
When a player makes a diving catch, it’s often the result of one of two things; the player wasn’t standing in the right spot to begin with or the pitcher missed location with a pitch.
Those spectacular plays make the game highlights, but the best defensive plays are boring; the pitcher makes a good pitch and the ball is hit right at a defender.
Watching good defense is like having a car that starts every morning; we tend to take it for granted ... until the car doesn’t start.
The 2017 Royals are currently ninth in team batting average, 15th in on-base percentage and 12th in runs scored. If they’re going to make those numbers work, they have to play good defense.
Even though we might not notice.