Judging the Royals

The Royals are on pace to set home run records — but it isn’t helping

Kansas City Royals designated hitter Brandon Moss scored on a single by Drew Butera during a game earlier this month.
Kansas City Royals designated hitter Brandon Moss scored on a single by Drew Butera during a game earlier this month. jsleezer@kcstar.com

In 1987, the Kansas City Royals hit 168 home runs; the 2017 Royals are on pace to break that team record and hit 183.

In 1985, Steve Balboni hit 36 home runs; in 2017 two Royals – Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez – are on pace to break that individual record and hit 39.

But despite hitting more home runs, the 2017 Royals are also on pace to score 539 runs; that’s 136 fewer runs than they scored last season and 185 fewer runs than they scored in 2015.

The Royals are on pace to set home run records, but it isn’t helping them score more runs.

Why?

More home runs, but fewer hits

Let’s start with a few disclaimers and explanations:

All the numbers we’re going to look at come from Baseball Reference and ESPN. We’re going to talk about “on pace” a lot, but there are quite a few reasons those numbers might not turn out to be accurate.

And, finally, we’re going to compare the 2017 team to the 2015 team because we know what the Royals did in 2015 was good enough to win a World Series.

So let’s get started:

The 2015 Royals had a team batting average of .269, tied for second-best in the American League; the 2017 Royals have a team batting average of .227, worst in the AL.

The 2015 team collected 1,497 hits, the second-highest hit total in the AL; the 2017 team is on pace to collect 1,222 hits and that would probably put them at the bottom of the league barrel.

Fewer hits, fewer runners, fewer rallies

In 2015, the Royals had an offensive philosophy that worked: keep the line moving. Don’t worry about doing something extraordinary; just find a way to get on base and get the next guy to the plate.

In 2015, the Royals had on-base percentage of .322, seventh-best in the league.

In 2017 Royals have an on-base percentage of .288, dead last in the league.

Fewer runners means there’s less chance someone will be on base when someone else hits a home run; 36 of the Royals’ 53 home runs have been solo shots.

And if you’re thinking the Royals need to walk more, here’s something to complicate your thinking: the 2015 team was last in the league with 383 walks, the 2017 team is once again last in the league with 118, but it’s on pace to walk 416 times.

Hitting home runs isn’t the problem, but trying to hit home runs might be

A team that depends on home runs will often have problems in other areas.

The 2015 team was second-to-last in home runs, but only struck out 973 times, less than any other team in the AL; the 2017 team has worked its way up to a tie for 10th place in homers, but is on pace to punchout 1,236 times.

Home runs and strikeouts often go hand-in-hand.

To hit home runs most guys have to pull the ball, and to pull the ball you have to start your swing sooner and if you start your swing sooner you’re more likely to get fooled by a pitch.

And fewer balls in play mean less pressure on the other team’s defense.

Kauffman Stadium rewards line drives, but tends to punish fly balls

Former Royals hitting coach Charley Lau believed that over the course of a season a line-drive hitter would do more damage than a fly-ball home run hitter.

The following numbers explain why.

In 2015, the Royals hit 77 home runs on fly balls, but their fly-ball batting average was .149; line drives accounted for 62 of their home runs, but their line-drive batting average was .648.

If you hit a fly ball and it doesn’t leave the yard, big-league outfielders have a good chance of catching it; if you hit a line drive and it doesn’t leave the yard, it’s got a better chance of falling in for a hit.

So when it comes to hit trajectory, how do the two teams compare?

The 2015 Royals put 1,185 line drives in play; so far the 2017 Royals are on pace to hit 986 of them. The 2015 Royals put 1,284 fly balls in play; the 2017 team is on pace to hit 1,377 of them.

Fewer line drives and more fly balls mean more outs.

When the 2017 Royals put a fly ball in play they hit .148; when they put a line drive in play they hit .629.

And over the course of 2015, line drives were more productive; fly balls accounted for 204 RBIs, while line drives accounted for 336 runs driven in.

Line drives might have produced fewer home runs, but made up for that in doubles and triples.

Charley Lau had a point.

In conclusion

I’m not sure I have one, but the evidence would suggest that if the 2017 Royals continue on their current path, they’ll hit more home runs, but still manage to cross home plate less often.

And that’s a tough way to climb out of last place.

Facebook Live with Trevor Vance this Friday

Assuming everything goes right, I’ll be doing a Facebook Live this Friday at 3 p.m. My guest will be Royals head groundskeeper Trevor Vance.

And if I can get Trevor to tell you some of the stories he’s told me, it’s going to be amazing.

See you then.

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