Judging the Royals

If RBIs don’t matter, why does hitting with runners in scoring position?

Kansas City Royals second baseman Raul Mondesi was tagged out by San Francisco Giants catcher Nick Hundley on a dropped third strike to end Tuesday’s game.
Kansas City Royals second baseman Raul Mondesi was tagged out by San Francisco Giants catcher Nick Hundley on a dropped third strike to end Tuesday’s game. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Some guys who have apparently never held a bat in their hands have decided that driving in runs is not a skill.

Big-league ballplayers emphatically disagree.

The non-ballplayers figure that an RBI is a better measurement of a teammate’s ability to get into scoring position; the guy that drives in the run just got lucky to have such a talented teammate.

But many of the same people who think driving in runs is not a skill are now complaining that the Royals aren’t very good at it.

So if you drive in runs, it doesn’t matter, but if you fail to drive in runs you stink.

Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

Hitting with runners in scoring position

In an earlier post, I pointed out that pitchers will often pitch differently with runners in scoring position. They’ll throw plenty of fastballs with nobody on base, but once there’s someone on second or third, they’ll throw more off-speed pitches.

That was and still is true, but there’s also another factor involved: hitters often hit differently with runners in scoring position.

As a team, the Royals are hitting .214 which isn’t good; but put a runner in scoring position and they’ve hit .149, which is even worse.

On Tuesday night against the Giants, the Royals were 1 for 11 with runners in scoring position.

Look up all 11 at-bats and a pattern emerges: only two batters got into a good hitting count — Mike Moustakas had a 2-0 count and lined out to right field and Eric Hosmer got into 3-1 count and grounded into a double play.

In the nine other at-bats, Royals hitters were behind in the count and swinging at off-speed pitches or borderline fastballs; the Royals were swinging at pitcher’s pitches.

Standing at the plate, taking pitches isn’t the answer; do that and pitchers will pour in strikes and force you to hit from behind in the count and that means you’ll have to hit their pitch.

Hitting with runners in scoring position is the same as hitting with the bases empty; until you get two strikes, ignore the pitcher’s pitches, look for a certain pitch and when you get it, don’t miss it.

And if that pitch comes on the first pitch of the at-bat, so be it.

In the ninth inning, Raul Mondesi had the game-winning run in scoring position and took a first-pitch fastball down the middle. It was the best pitch of his at-bat and he watched it go by.

In the 11th inning, Mondesi was swinging at anything the pitcher threw to the plate and struck out without ever getting a strike.

Letting the good pitches go by and swinging at the bad pitches is an excellent way to fail.

Mondesi is the scapegoat

After the Royals 11 inning, 2-1 loss to the Giants, Ned Yost was asked about pinch-hitting for Mondesi in the ninth and 11th innings.

Ned said the coaching staff liked Mondesi’s chances and then pointed out the entire team was scuffling with runners in scoring position; Ned said Mondesi was not the problem.

But Mondesi is a convenient target.

As of Wednesday morning Alex Gordon is hitting .192, Paulo Orlando is hitting .128, Cheslor Cuthbert is hitting .143, Eric Hosmer is hitting .200, Brandon Moss is hitting .147, Alcides Escobar is hitting .217 and Mondesi is hitting .114.

So why pick on Mondesi?

Because disgruntled fans want to see something done and those other guys aren’t going anywhere.

Game notes

▪ In the first inning, Alex Gordon doubled, but Mike Moustakas failed to move Gordon to third. So when Lorenzo Cain hit a fly ball to the outfield, Gordon did not score. Move Gordon 90 feet with the Moustakas at-bat and the Royals win in nine innings.

▪ Eric Hosmer saved Alcides Escobar an error, but as I’ve pointed out before and will no doubt point out again, that play did not improve Hosmer’s rating in some of the “advanced” defensive metrics. If they can’t factor in a great play, those metrics don’t seem all that advanced.

▪ Lorenzo Cain made a catch up against the wall and the Royals middle infielders helped. Mondesi and Escobar go back well, so Cain can play deeper and — as Rusty Kuntz pointed out — that means Cain isn’t running into walls going full-speed.

▪ Brandon Moss stole a base, but it was not a straight steal; it was a hit and run. Whit Merrifield swung through a change-up and the pitch’s low velocity helped Moss beat the throw.

▪ At least one fan was complaining about Ned not pulling Jason Hammel before the seventh inning, but that’s where the Royals bullpen has had trouble. The relievers can cover the eighth and ninth, but if they have to cover the seventh, things get funky.

▪ Nevertheless, on Tuesday night the Royals bullpen did cover the seventh courtesy of Peter Moylan and Travis Wood. If the starting pitcher comes out before the eighth, Ned will have to mix-and-match his way through the seventh.

▪ After the game one outraged caller to Josh Vernier’s postgame show said Mondesi has absolutely no ability to hit major-league pitching; I guess that caller missed Mondy’s 436-foot homer on April 12. It would be more accurate to say Mondesi has yet to show the ability to hit major-league pitching consistently.

Wednesday night Madison Bumgarner is schedule to start against the Royals, so it should be an interesting game, but don’t be surprised if the Royals don’t improve their batting average with runners in scoring position.