Judging the Royals

Lee Judge: Do the Kansas City Royals need to hit more home runs?

The Royals added outfielder Jorge Soler, who could provide some needed punch to their offense, in a trade with the Cubs.
The Royals added outfielder Jorge Soler, who could provide some needed punch to their offense, in a trade with the Cubs. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Last season the Kansas City Royals were dead last in the American League when it came to hitting home runs. Dead last sounds pretty bad until you remember the 2014 Royals were also dead last in home runs and still managed to win the AL championship and make it to Game 7 of the World Series.

And in 2015 the Royals were second-to-last in home runs, but once again won the AL Championship and the World Series.

When the Royals were losing, some people blamed the lack of home-run power, but the 2014 and 2015 Royals showed that if they excelled at the other parts of the game the Royals could win without hitting a lot of home runs.

But now that the Royals have added Jorge Soler and Brandon Moss — two guys with pop — we’re once again talking about the Royals hitting more home runs.

The last time the Royals made a big deal out of hitting more home runs was in 2012, right after they fired hitting coach Kevin Seitzer; but changing hitting coaches didn’t change the dimensions of Kauffman Stadium.

In 2012 under Seitzer the Royals hit 131 home runs and scored 676 runs; after Seitzer was dumped, the 2013 Royals hit 112 home runs and scored 648 runs.

Jack Maloof — Seitzer’s replacement — said that trying to hit home runs in Kauffman Stadium doesn’t get rewarded; better to hit line drives, plug the gaps for doubles and run like hell.

Maloof lost his job the next day.

But replacing Maloof didn’t help; since 2012 the Royals have either finished last, tied-for-last or second-to-last in home runs in the American League.

So how come Kauffman Stadium doesn’t limit opponent’s home runs?

Actually, it does. Visiting teams out-homer the Royals when playing in Kauffman Stadium, but:

▪ In 2013 only one AL team allowed fewer home runs in its home park.

▪ In 2014 only one AL team allowed fewer home runs in its home park.

▪ In 2015 no AL team allowed fewer home runs in its home park.

▪ In 2016 — a year in which the Royals were ninth in team ERA — it was still hard for visiting teams to hit the ball out of the yard; only three AL teams allowed fewer home runs in their own ballpark.

Turns out it’s hard to hit home runs at the K no matter who you are, but visiting teams still have a home-run advantage when playing in Kansas City.

Why?

Because visiting teams that play their home games in smaller parks might find power hitters a good investment; paying a power hitter to play half his games in Kauffman Stadium is a risky bet.

Nevertheless, after the Royals signed Brandon Moss they assured everyone that the power Moss has displayed in the past will transfer to Kauffman Stadium. Maybe so, but if you see a whole bunch of Brandon Moss fly balls being caught on the Kauffman Stadium warning track, that’s a bad sign.

The downside of trying to hit home runs

But what’s the harm in at least trying to hit more home runs?

Let’s start with batting average:

Look up the numbers and you’ll see the 2016 Royals hit .170 and slugged .490 when they hit a fly ball; when the Royals hit a line drive their average was .679 and their slugging percentage was 1.013. Those numbers are fairly typical.

So do you have your hitters try to lift the ball and hit a homer knowing if a fly ball doesn’t leave the yard it’s probably an out? Or do you have your hitters try to hit line drives and hard grounders and go for average?

In recent year the Royals have gone for average and getting the ball in play.

And that brings us to strikeouts:

In 2014 and 2015 the Royals were the hardest team in the American League to strike out. As a team the 2014 Royals struck out once every 5.6 at bats; the 2015 Royals struck out once every 5.7 at bats. Getting the ball in play puts pressure on the other team’s defense and it’s how the Royals won Game 5 of the 2015 World Series.

To hit home runs most guys have to pull the ball, and that means swinging sooner and that means getting fooled by a pitch more often. Jorge Soler strikes out once every 3.2 at bats and Brandon Moss strikes out once every 3.3 at bats.

And finally, signing guys to hit home runs often means less team speed.

There are exceptions, but home-run hitters tend to be big guys and big guys tend to be slow. That means fewer stolen bases, fewer extra bases taken and less ground covered on defense.

If Soler and Moss are as slow as their stolen-base numbers indicate — 13 combined steals in a combined 13 seasons — they’re not going to help much on the base paths or on defense.

The point of the game is not to score more runs; it’s to score more runs than your opponent. And you can do that by putting runs on the board or keeping the other team’s runs off the board.

▪ In 2014 the Royals were ninth in runs scored, but only three American League teams allowed fewer runs.

▪ In 2015 the Royals were sixth in runs scored, but only two teams allowed fewer runs.

You can be middle-of-the-pack in runs scored if you’re good enough at preventing the other team from scoring. So if you add Soler and Moss to put runs on the board but they can’t keep runs off the board, you might not come out ahead. So keep an eye on how often either one of these guys is the DH; that keeps their gloves on the bench — and if they are in the field watch for a defensive replacement in the later innings.

What comes first: the players or the philosophy?

Teams that are consistent over a long period of time tend to have a philosophy and acquire players that fit that philosophy; teams that aren’t so consistent tend to sign whoever looks good at the time and change their philosophy based on the players acquired.

Recently Royals GM Dayton Moore said the Royals are not abandoning their philosophy of speed and defense, but would like to hit more home runs — and while we’re at it, I’d like to lose weight, but continue to eat pepperoni pizza and drink beer.

It may not be possible to do both things at once, but Dayton and I are willing to give it a shot.

Stay tuned.

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