Well, if you didn’t already know that it’s easier to hit home runs in Yankee Stadium than in Kauffman Stadium, you do now. In New York it’s 314 down the right-field line and 318 in left; compare that to 330 at Kauffman. And straight-away right field in New York is much shorter to home plate than straight away right at The K. The dimensions in Yankee Stadium are one of the reasons there were 18 home runs hit in the four-game series.
But home runs are only part of the story; as of Friday morning the Kansas City Royals pitching staff led the American League in walking batters.
There are times walking a batter is the smart move; avoiding certain hitters, refusing to throw a cookie to a hitter in a hitter’s count or setting up a double play — those can all be good reasons for putting a man on first base. But walk too many batters (or the wrong batter at the wrong time) and those walks can come back to haunt you. And walk a guy right before someone else hits a home run and those home runs hurt even worse.
One of the basic strategies of the game it to make the other team beat you; don’t give them extra base runners by walking people or making errors. But during the Yankees series, Royals pitchers were walking people and those people were scoring; and in Tuesday’s game it was the same thing with an error and a hit by pitch.
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Walks also moved runners into scoring position, prolonged innings and ran up pitch counts. A bases-loaded walk scored a run Thursday.
When a pitcher is pitching in a bandbox, he might tend to nibble and nibbling at the strike zone can lead to falling behind and walking people. But the Royals are back home now and the Royals pitchers won’t have that excuse; they’ll be pitching in park that allows them to be aggressive, throw strikes and let their outfielders run down those fly balls that were making it to the cheap seats in New York.
The Royals have Gold Glove candidates all over the field, but if a pitcher walks someone, those great defenders are useless — you can’t defend a walk.
So when the Royals play in a small ballpark, can’t they hit home runs, too?
Sure, and in New York they did.
But smart hitters tailor their swings for the park they play in and a fly ball-trajectory is less likely to get rewarded in Kauffman Stadium.
When Kevin Seitzer was the Royals hitting coach he had a curtain of netting added to the front of the Royals batting cage. Too many fly balls in batting practice and Seitzer would have the net curtain dropped down, covering the top portion of the cage. Any ball that left the bat with a fly-ball trajectory would hit the curtain and drop at the hitter’s feet; it was a reminder to the Royals hitters to hit line drives and hard grounders — those were the two trajectories that would go under the short curtain and make it to the field.
In 2015, only one American League team had fewer home runs than the Royals, but only two teams had more doubles. Those far-away fences might make home runs tough, but a ball that got in the gap could roll a long way. Line drives were rewarded (a .648 batting average), fly balls not so much (.149).
So after this rough stretch of road trips it would appear that the Royals need to get back to their style of play: hit line drives, force the other team to swing the bat and let the Gold Glove defense take care of you.
And the Royals need to get back to that style of play starting Friday night at 7:15.