Judging the Royals

Why Balboni’s HR record was so hard for Moustakas (or anyone) to beat

Mike Moustakas has tied the Royals’ record for home runs; one more, and he’ll surpass Steve Balboni’s 1985 mark of 36 in a season.
Mike Moustakas has tied the Royals’ record for home runs; one more, and he’ll surpass Steve Balboni’s 1985 mark of 36 in a season. jsleezer@kcstar.com

In 1985, Steve Balboni hit 36 homers and set the Royals’ record for home runs in a single season ... a record a lot of people have ridiculed.

How could the Royals’ record for home runs in a single season be so low, and why hasn’t anyone broken that record in the past three decades?

If you want to know the answers to those questions, keep reading.

Hard to homer at The K

The foul poles in Kauffman Stadium are 330 feet from home plate, which isn’t all that unusual, but the stadium wall drops off sharply after the foul poles — and that is unusual.

I’ve asked how far away the bullpen gates are from home plate and I’ve heard estimates of around 375 feet. The Kauffman Stadium right and left-center gaps are 387 feet away, so those estimates of 375 feet sound like they’re in the ballpark. (Good estimate, bad joke.)

Centerfield is 410 feet from home plate, so every time you see an outfielder make a catch on the Kauffman Stadium warning track, there’s a decent chance that fly ball would be a home run in some other park.

This season the Royals are on pace to set a team record for home runs, but they’ve hit 86 of those homers on the road and 77 at home.

Last season the Royals hit 83 home runs on the road and 64 at home; in 2015 the Royals hit 77 home runs on the road and 62 at home.

Every year since 2010 — and I’m arbitrarily stopping there because that’s when I started covering the Royals and I’m tired of looking up numbers — the Royals have hit more home runs on the road than they have at home. Sometimes by a lot, sometimes by a little, but over the past eight seasons the Royals have consistently hit more home runs on the road than they do at home.

Same guys + different park = more home runs.

One year the Royals went to Baltimore, hit some home runs and people were saying the Royals had suddenly found their power stroke. Maybe, but Camden Yards’ right-field foul pole being 318 feet away from home plate didn’t hurt.

I’ve written about The K’s dimensions before, and after posting one of those articles, a reader left a comment saying he didn’t “buy” the idea that it was harder to hit a home run in Kauffman, which is kind of like saying you don’t “buy” math or physics.

If you don’t think it’s harder to hit a baseball 376 feet than it is to hit a baseball 319 feet, I’m guessing you haven’t hit a lot of baseballs.

Royals don’t invest in home run hitters

A few years back, the White Sox were visiting Kauffman Stadium and Adam Dunn hit a long home run. That led a reporter to ask why visiting players could hit home runs while Royals players had such a hard time doing the same thing.

That question led me to ask Dayton Moore a question of my own: if Adam Dunn played in Kansas City, how many home runs would he hit?

Moore said Adam Dunn would never play in Kansas City; Dunn made a living hitting baseballs over fences, and he wouldn’t want to play in a park the size of Kauffman Stadium.

The Royals could try to tempt Dunn to Kansas City by overpaying him, but then the Royals wouldn’t get what they paid for. Dunn would still hit home runs in Kauffman, but considering the dimensions, he’d probably hit fewer of them. Paying a home run hitter to play in Kauffman Stadium would probably be a bad investment.

That’s one of the reasons some people were surprised by the signing of Brandon Moss. In 2016, Moss hit 28 home runs for the Cardinals, but some people (OK, me) wondered if that power would translate to Kauffman Stadium ... and so far this season, Moss has hit 18 home runs.

Launch angle has become a big deal recently, but this season, when the Royals put a ball in play with a fly-ball trajectory, they hit .185; they also slug .573, because most home runs are fly balls. But are those home runs worth making outs 82 percent of the time?

When the Royals put a ball in play with a line-drive trajectory, they hit .643 and slug .939; 162 of those line drives turned into doubles, 11 were triples and 32 were home runs.

One of the reasons the Royals’ home run record is so low us because most Royals hitters don’t try to hit home runs; they know line drives have a better chance of paying off.

Not an embarrassment

On Friday night against the Minnesota Twins, Mike Moustakas hit his 36th home run of the season and tied Balboni.

Moustakas now has 29 games left in the season, and if he hits one more home run, he’ll set a new club record. Moustakas has hit 22 of his home runs on the road and 14 at home.

However many home runs Moustakas hits this season, the Royals’ single-season home run record is not an embarrassment or pathetic or ridiculous.

The Royals single-season home run record is the result of playing in a large ballpark that doesn’t often reward hitting fly balls.

Enjoy tonight’s game, which, lucky for Moustakas, is being played in Minnesota.