As of Tuesday morning theRoyals are tied for ninth in the American League when it comes to doubles (40). They’re also tied for 10th in slugging percentage (.383) and tied for last in home runs (21).
So much of the time the Royals have to string at least three good things together in a single inning to score a run; a walk and two singles might do the trick. Or a walk, a sac bunt and a single, or three singles, a single, a stolen base and a single, or … well, you get the point.
The old baseball formula for scoring a run: “get ’em on, get ’em over, get ’em in” very much applies to the Kansas City Royals, especially early in the season. But right now the Royals are not consistent at the plate and are having a hard time stringing three good things together — the line isn’t moving.
The Royals have been shut out in three of the last four games and during that stretch it’s been rare for them to have more than one base runner an inning.
So the Royals aren’t getting that many chances to drive in a run and when they do have the chance, some of them are trying to do too much. When a hitter tries to do too much he usually tries to catch the ball out in front and pull it into the short part of park. Get that ball elevated and bingo; you got a home run.
Lately, when the Royals have a runner in scoring position they’ve been striking out or pulling the ball and those two are related. To pull the ball you have to swing sooner and if you swing sooner you’re more apt to get fooled.
Contrast that with maybe the most well-known example of the Royals keeping the line moving:
In Game 4 of the 2015 Division Series against the Houston Astros, the Royals came into the eighth inning down 6-2 and facing elimination. There was no reason for anyone to over-swing and try to hit a bomb, because they were down by four and needed base runners.
The Royals opened the inning with a pulled single to left field and then three straight singles to center; nobody was trying to do too much. Eric Hosmer pulled a single to right, but Kendrys Morales got right back to a high-percentage approach and hit the ball back up the middle; it was a hard-hit ball that got by Carlos Correa to keep the rally going.
Mike Moustakas struck out, but then Drew Butera had a very long plate appearance and walked. The four pitches Butera walked on were all sliders and you don’t lay off sliders if you’re trying to hit the ball out in front and do damage. Butera took a high-percentage approach and it worked. That set up Alex Gordon’s at-bat; he pulled the ball to second base for an out, but the Royals took the lead and the rest is history.
Now here’s the point (assuming I can still remember what it was).
When things go badly people tend to panic; they want to fire the manager or the hitting coach — they want to change horses in the middle of the stream. But most of the time you don’t need a new horse, you just need better execution. (And by mixing metaphors I may have just advocated shooting Seabiscuit).
You probably don’t need a new game plan; you just need to do a better job of executing the game plan you have.
Lorenzo Cain had admitted he’s a better hitter when he goes up the middle and the other way and this year’s numbers bear him out. When Cain puts a ball in play to left he’s hit .250, to center it’s .344 and to right it’s .350. (And bear in mind that a lot of Cain’s strikeouts probably come when he’s in pull mode.)
Same thing with Morales; he’s not hitting much when he goes to the opposite field as a left hander, but the Royals DH still hits better when he goes up the middle and the other way.
And the same thing is true of the Royals as a team: They hit for a higher average when the hit the ball up the middle or to the opposite field.
On Monday afternoon, Rusty Kuntz and I sat shivering in the Royals dugout and Rusty said the ball just doesn’t carrying in that kind of cold, damp weather. And if you saw Morales crush a ball and have it die on the warning track, you know Rusty was right.
So forget trying to pull the ball and do damage until the weather warms up; for now, hit the ball back up the middle or to the opposite field. If you accidentally catch a pitch out in front, great; but for now, keep the line moving.