Judging the Royals

Why runs scored matters less than you might think

Kansas City Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain made a catch against the wall on a ball hit by the Angels’ C.J. Cron on Sunday.
Kansas City Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain made a catch against the wall on a ball hit by the Angels’ C.J. Cron on Sunday. jsleezer@kcstar.com

A lot of people have expressed concern about the Royals offense and well they should; the Royals are currently 14th in runs scored and there are only 15 teams in the American League — thank the Lord for the Toronto Blue Jays.

But the Royals do not have to be awesome at scoring runs if they’re awesome at preventing them.

In 2014, the Royals won the American League championship despite being outscored by eight teams; but only three teams allowed fewer runs.

In 2015, the Royals once again won the American League championship despite being outscored by five teams and that’s because only two teams allowed fewer runs.

As I might have mentioned a couple hundred times before, fans tend to get overly whacked out about offense and ignore defense.

That’s because hits and runs are easy to count, but a first baseman scooping a throw in the dirt doesn’t move the needle. If Lorenzo Cain or Alcides Escobar or Mike Moustakas make a great play — robbing the other team of hits and preventing runs — it doesn’t show up in the box score the next day.

Fans often focus on offense, but big-league ballplayers pay attention to both sides of the ball.

The 2017 Royals might be 14th in runs scored, but only three AL teams have allowed fewer runs.

On Sunday, the Royals got back to .500 when they scored one measly run in nine innings, but if you shut out the other team, one run is plenty.

Runs scored matters, but so do runs allowed.

Why Nathan Karns did not throw seven innings on Saturday

Quick recap: Nathan Karns threw six innings on Saturday night and left the game with a pitch count of 85. So with a low pitch count and a wobbly bullpen, why not send Karns out for the seventh?

On Sunday morning, pitching coach Dave Eiland explained.

From his point of view in the dugout, Dave could see Karns’ pitches were beginning to flatten out. That can happen when a pitcher’s arm gets tired; his arm slot drops and his hand is on the side of the ball, not the top.

And Karns’ history said it was time to get him out.

In the fifth inning, hitters have batted .200 against Karns, in the sixth it’s .317 and in the seventh it’s .418. From pitches 51 to 75 batters hit .191; from pitches 76 to 100, it’s .309.

So why not just follow the numbers and pull Karns after five innings every time he pitches?

Because those numbers are averages; on some nights Karns might be able to go deeper and that’s one of the reasons you pay someone like Dave Eiland to watch him pitch: Dave doesn’t have to follow the averages, Dave can see when Karns’ stuff is good and when Karns needs to be pulled.

And Saturday night after six innings and 85 pitches, Dave could see it was time to go to the bullpen.

Why Soria is pitching better

Rustin Dodd has a piece about Joakim Soria and why he’s pitched better in 2017 than 2016 and it’s well worth reading. On Sunday morning, Eiland talked to Rustin and me about Soria and the answer sounds simple, but the explanation isn’t: Dave said Soria has been stronger on his front side.

OK, what the heck does that mean?

If you have a baseball handy — and if you don’t, what’s wrong with you? — pick it up and hold it like your about to release the ball toward home plate. Your fingers should be behind the ball.

Now rotate your front shoulder toward first base (third base if you’re a lefty), but don’t do anything with the rest of your body.

Look at the baseball.

Because you rotated your front side open your hand will now be on the side of the ball and if you throw a breaking pitch it will come out flat; if you throw a fastball it will miss the target on the arm-side.

That’s what was happening to Joakim Soria last year and is currently happening to Matt Strahm this year.

It’s a tiny flaw that has big results and it can happen to any pitcher at any time. Soria fixed that flaw and so far his 2017 results have been very good; Matt Strahm is working on it at Class AAA Omaha because so far his 2017 results haven’t.

Guess who’s in last place?

The Cleveland Indians — last year’s American League champs — are currently 6-7 and in last place in the AL Central.

And they have plenty of company: the Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants — all playoff teams in 2016 — are currently in last place in their divisions.

But what applies to Kansas City also applies to Cleveland, Toronto, San Francisco and Arlington…

It’s way too early to freak out.

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