Opinion

Royals stat check: Here’s why it seems like you’ve seen a lot of home runs

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura waited for Tyler Saladino of the White Sox to round he bases on a home run in a game last month.
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura waited for Tyler Saladino of the White Sox to round he bases on a home run in a game last month. jsleezer@kcstar.com

This is the continuation of a weekly stats column to examine how this year’s Royals compare to the 2015 World Series champions. All numbers through Tuesday’s game.

The Royals are a game out of first place. And that probably should be considered somewhat miraculous considering the home-run struggles of the team’s starting pitchers.

Through 64 games, KC starters have surrendered 1.59 home runs per nine innings — a pace that is almost historic.

There have been 2,835 MLB starting pitching staffs since 1871. Out all those rotations, these Royals starters are tied for second in HR/9 rate. The 1987 Angels had a 1.60 HR/9 rate.

This is amazing in a few ways. For one, in the late ’90s and early 2000s steroids were a bigger issue. Kauffman Stadium also is third-best in the majors when it comes to suppressing homers, and home runs also typically soar in the summer months, as warmer temperatures lead to longer fly-ball distances.

Though Royals starters hypothetically should benefit from those factors above, that hasn’t done much to help them this year.

It’ll be something to keep an eye on moving forward, as it’s unlikely that KC stays in the playoff race if this home-run issue persists.

Let’s take a look at this week’s team numbers.

Hitting

2015 — .269/.322/.412 (Batting average/On-base percentage/Slugging percentage)

2016 — .270/.317/.404

Last 7 games — .298/.322/.473

It was a weird offensive week, as the Royals posted dreadful walk (3.2 percent) and strikeout (26.9 percent) numbers while still getting above-average production across their triple-slash lines. KC was helped by a power surge and perhaps some good hitting fortune, posting an AL-best .370 batting average on balls in play.

Hitting with runners in scoring position

2015 — .282/.347/.426

2016 — .259/.312/.372

After going 8-for-54 in this situation last week (.148), KC didn’t fare much better this week, going 8-for-46 (.174). The two-week slump has moved the Royals well off their “clutch” pace from 2015.

Starting pitching

2015 — 4.34 ERA, 16.8 K%, 7.6 BB%

2016 — 4.80, 20.3, 9.3

Last 7 games — 3.63, 23.2, 10.6

Royals starters appeared to be a bit fortunate this week, working around an AL-worst walk percentage while still keeping their ERA below 4. Even with encouraging strikeout numbers, KC’s starting staff remains the team’s biggest weakness, posting the worst home-run rate and third-worst walk rate in the majors this season.

Relief pitching

2015 — 2.72, 22.9, 8.7

2016 — 2.57, 23.9, 8.5

Last 7 games — 1.04, 20.6, 7.9

The biggest difference between the Royals starters and relievers has been — as you might expect — the ability to limit homers. Royals relievers have given up 0.63 HR/9, a mark that is second in the majors behind the Chicago White Sox.

Defense

2015 — 51 defensive runs saved (.315 per game, 2nd in MLB)

2016 — 16 defensive runs saved (.250 per game, ninth in MLB)

Whit Merrifield appears to have had a major impact on KC’s defensive numbers. In 23 games, he has accumulated 5 defensive runs saved, a number that is tied for second among all primary second basemen (Boston’s Dustin Pedroia is first).

Top 5 in Fangraphs WAR

2015 — Cain 6.6, Moustakas 3.8, Hosmer 3.5, Gordon 2.8, Ventura 2.7

2016 — Perez 1.9, Cain 1.6, Volquez 1.1, Merrifield 1.0, Duffy 1.0

Jeff Sullivan had a great piece about Danny Duffy’s emergence as a potential ace, a development that has come partly because of his ability to throw more strikes. In six starts, Duffy has a 2.90 ERA with 38 strikeouts and five walks, and he’s also leading all MLB starters in first-strike percentage (71 percent), a number that further shows his commitment to attacking the strike zone.

Bottom 5 in Fangraphs WAR

2015 — Infante -0.9, Guthrie -0.9, Almonte -0.4, Gomes -0.3, Coleman -0.2

2016 — Morales -1.1, Young -0.9, Escobar -0.8, Wang -0.1, Cruz -0.1

Among MLB hitters, Alcides Escobar has the worst WAR over the last two weeks (-0.7), the second-worst WAR over the last month (-0.7) and the 10th-worst WAR over the last calendar year (0.2). It makes you wonder: If Raul Mondesi had not gotten his 50-game suspension, would he be on the verge of a callup in KC?

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell

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