Judging the Royals

You better hit home runs if you strike out a lot, and Aaron Judge did

FILE - In this July 31, 2017, file photo, New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge hits a solo home run during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium in New York. Aaron Judge of the Yankees and Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers are favored to win Rookie of the Year honors when the votes are announced Monday night, Nov. 13, 2017.
FILE - In this July 31, 2017, file photo, New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge hits a solo home run during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium in New York. Aaron Judge of the Yankees and Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers are favored to win Rookie of the Year honors when the votes are announced Monday night, Nov. 13, 2017. AP

Let me start by saying I am not related to Aaron Judge. Then let me add that absolutely nobody has asked me if I am.

After seeing 6-foot-4 Eric Hosmer standing next to 6-7 Aaron Judge at first base, I asked Hosmer about the experience. Hosmer said Judge was not only big, he was fast. When I said I was going to look at my family tree and find out which branch Aaron belonged to, Hosmer said: “Lee, you have nothing genetically in common with that kid.”

Turns out Hosmer was right; Aaron Judge was adopted.

52 home runs will earn you some hardware

On Monday, Aaron Judge won the American League Rookie of the Year award and the vote was unanimous; hitting 52 home runs as a rookie will earn you some hardware. Judge also drove in 114 runs, scored 128 and hit .284 while doing it.

Judge also led the AL in strikeouts with 208, but considering everything else he did for the Yankees, do those strikeouts matter?

Pressure and productive outs

Apparently there are some baseball fans — and some baseball players — who aren’t bothered by strikeouts. Fewer and fewer hitters have any kind of two-strike approach; these days, how many hitters do you see choke up on the bat in order to get the ball in play?

But strikeouts are not just another out.

A strikeout puts no pressure on the defense and eliminates the possibility of a productive out — an out that advances a runner 90 feet — and that matters.

During the 2015 World Series, a Royals front office exec said that if the Royals hit the ball on the ground and pressured the Mets infield, the Mets infield would crack under that pressure. And as every Royals fan who watched Eric Hosmer’s sprint home in Game 5 already knows that front office exec was right.

If Salvador Perez had struck out instead of getting the ball in play, Homser would have been left standing at third base and the Royals would have lost Game 5.

More home runs, more strike outs

Everybody likes home runs, but, as I might have said before and definitely will again, it’s not hitting home runs that causes problems, it’s trying to hit home runs and failing that gets you into trouble.

Guys who hit home runs tend to strike out more often because they swing hard and usually start their swings sooner; that makes them easier to fool.

Coming out of spring training there was a lot of talk about the Royals hitting more home runs and some people within the organization think that’s why the team hit .210 in April, struck out almost 22 percent of the time and went 7-16.

Too much swinging-for-the-fences; not enough keep-the-line-moving.

But wait, there’s more:

In 2017 the Royals set a team record for home runs with 193 and scored 702 runs; in 2015, the year they won it all, the Royals hit 139 home runs, but scored 724 runs.

54 fewer homers, but 22 more runs.

If you’re wondering how that happened at least part of the answer would be the number of strikeouts: in 2017 the Royals struck out 1,166 times, in 2015 that number was 973.

That’s 193 extra balls in play, 193 extra chances for a hit, an error or a productive out.

And that brings us back to where we started:

For some guys — and Aaron Judge is definitely on the list — the home runs, runs batted in and runs scored make up for the strikeouts; but for other guys — and most of the Royals would be on that list — they’re not going to hit enough home runs to make the strikeouts worthwhile.

Strikeouts do matter.

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