Judging the Royals

The Royals haven’t done very well with their pitch selection

The Royals’ Billy Butler walked away from the plate and Chicago White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers after striking out in the second inning on September 17, 2014, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
The Royals’ Billy Butler walked away from the plate and Chicago White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers after striking out in the second inning on September 17, 2014, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Star

If you’re worried about the Kansas City Royals offense, worry less about how they swing the bat, but more about what they choose to swing the bat at. Being selective at the plate does not mean standing there watching hittable pitches go by; if a hitter always takes the first pitch, word gets around quickly. Pitchers will split the plate with a fastball and the hitter will always be hitting down in the count.

Being selective means looking for your pitch and hitting it when you get it, and it just might be the first pitch you see.

But that depends on what you’re trying to do. If you have runners at first and third and one out, you want to stay out of a double play, so your pitch is one that’s up in the zone; something you can drive to the outfield, something that runner on third can tag up on.

Yet you see hitters chase a pitch down in that situation; it’s what Billy Butler did on Thursday night. With runners on first and third and one down, Billy chased the first pitch he saw—a sinker down, and hit what should have been an inning-ending double play. But the White Sox threw the ball away and the Royals took the lead.

Hitting coach Dale Sveum came in preaching the merits of getting a pitch up in the zone and yet you still see some of the Royals chase pitches down before they have to. So what goes wrong with pitch selection?

A couple things.

With runners in scoring position, some hitters get hungry for RBIs; they’ll expand the zone so they can be the one to drive the run in. Or instead of trying to drive in one run, they want to drive in everybody—themselves included. They’ll over-swing, pull their head off the ball and miss a hittable pitch.

And reliever Wade Davis says with a lot of hitters, if you throw strike one, the at-bat’s over. Guys don’t like to strike out, so once they have just one strike, they start to expand the zone; they’ll chase an 0-1 borderline pitch because they’re trying to avoid a two-strike count. That’s why the Royals as a team don’t strike out much. It’s also why they don’t walk much; they’re not around long enough to do either one.

As you watch the rest of this season — however long it lasts — pay attention to pitch selection. If the Royals get good pitches to hit, they’ll usually score runs. If they start chasing pitches — especially before they’re in a two-strike count — the offense will scuffle. And a playoff run may not last very long.

To reach Lee Judge, call 816-234-4482 or send email to ljudge@kcstar.com.

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