Judging the Royals

Walks and errors doom the Royals as they lose to the Indians 6-3

The Indians’ Francisco Lindor scored on a sacrifice fly by Lonnie Chisenhall past Royals starting pitcher Edinson Volquez and catcher Drew Butera in the fifth inning Saturday at Kauffman Stadium.
The Indians’ Francisco Lindor scored on a sacrifice fly by Lonnie Chisenhall past Royals starting pitcher Edinson Volquez and catcher Drew Butera in the fifth inning Saturday at Kauffman Stadium. jsleezer@kcstar.com

When I first started covering the Royals in 2010 I spent an awful lot of time writing about walks and errors. Small wonder the 2010 Royals went 67-95, and there were plenty of walks and errors to write about.

In baseball, there’s so much you don’t control that you have to concentrate on controlling what you can; walks and errors are on that list.

The fact that I haven’t spent so much time writing about walks and errors the past few years is one indication of the Royals’ improvement, but Saturday afternoon against the Cleveland Indians the Royals did some backsliding.

Royals pitchers walk eight, three of them score

Back in 2010 I was using a system that kept track of stats that don’t make it into your average box score. All big-league teams have things they want to track, and I wanted to introduce that idea to Royals fans; so I kept track of leadoff walks and walks that score.

Baseball teams consider leadoff walks worse than other walks because a leadoff walk gives the other team a runner and three outs to move that runner around the bases. On Sunday, Royals pitchers walked the inning’s leadoff batter five times. Three of those leadoff walks came around to score.

Now if you’re thinking: “Hey, that’s how many runs the Royals lost by!” welcome to the club. Back in 2010 Tim Bogar, currently bench coach for the Seattle Mariners, suggested I keep track of walks that score, and it turns out to be a fairly important number. Over the years I saw a team’s margin of loss correlate exactly with how many walks they allowed to score.

And on Sunday the Royals also allowed a non-leadoff walk to score, so there’s the four runs the Royals needed to prevent to win the game.

If you’re now thinking: “Yeah, but if you didn’t walk those guys maybe one of them would have hit a home run,” I’ll grant you that. But in that case at least, you made the other team beat you instead of beating yourself.

Errors, triples and wild pitches

The box score says the Royals made one error: Whit Merrifield let a ground ball get past him in the eighth inning, and that allowed the Indians to break a 3-3 tie and take the lead they’d never give back. After the game Merrifield was beating himself up over the play.

But there were a couple other plays that weren’t made that hurt the Royals chances of winning.

The box score also says Lonnie Chisenhall tripled with two outs in the third inning. Jarrod Dyson got to the ball, but not without difficulty. It wasn’t an easy catch by any means, but the ball did land in Dyson’s glove; unfortunately it hit the heel of his glove – the part that has no give – and bounced out while Chisenhall was tearing around the bases.

Then, with Chisenhall 90 feet from scoring, Drew Butera called for a back-foot breaking ball to Coco Crisp. Crisp was batting left-handed, so that’s a pitch Butera would catch to his backhand side.

Unfortunately, Edinson Volquez didn’t get it all the way to Butera’s backhand; Volquez bounced it short of the target and in the dirt, and that left Drew trying to turn his mitt over while blocking the pitch at the same time. The blocked ball caught Butera off center and bounced away from home plate, allowing Chisenhall to score.

So don’t walk anybody, catch the triple or block the wild pitch and make the play in the eighth inning, and the Indians don’t score at all. Like I said at the beginning: In baseball you have to control what you can. The Royals failed to do that and lost their 80th game of the season.

It seemed like old times.

And 15 strikeouts didn’t help

In the third inning Alex Gordon was called out on strikes, and home plate umpire Mike Estabrook missed two pitches badly; they were called strikes on pitches well outside the zone. It wasn’t the only questionable call Estabrook made, and the Royals were giving him dirty looks all day.

But whatever the umpire decides to call a strike, a hitter’s job is to walk or get the ball in play, and 15 strikeouts means the Indians’ defense didn’t have to do much to record five innings’ worth of outs.

The Royals’ claim to fame the last two seasons was getting the ball in play and forcing the other team to play defense.

In 2014 the Royals were the hardest team in the American League to strike out with 985.

In 2015 the Royals were once again the hardest team in the AL to strike out with 973.

In 2016 the Royals are the sixth-hardest team in the AL to strike out with 1,219 and counting. Even if the Royals do not strike out a single time in the last game of the year, that’s still 246 fewer balls in play. That’s 246 fewer chances for a hit, for the other team to make an error or to move a runner 90 feet with a productive out.

It appears the Royals are going to miss a Wild Card spot by a half-dozen or so games; if the Royals had put an extra 246 balls in play at the right time, any chance they’re in the postseason?