Wednesday night against Chris Tillman and the Baltimore Orioles, the Kansas City Royals once again got shut out and as Rex Hudler says, it’s hard to win when you don’t score. The Royals have now lost seven in a row and over the past six games they’ve scored a total of four runs.
So what’s happened to the Royals offense?
Well, I’m paid to have theories and here’s one that might actually be right: the Royals are pressing and since that seems pretty obvious, allow me to elaborate.
Go back to 2014 and the Royals struck out less than any other team in the American League; 985 times. They had 6,058 plate appearances, so in 2014 Kansas City hitters struck out 16.2 percent of the time.
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The next year the Royals were once again the hardest team in the league to strike out; they whiffed 973 times. They had 6,116 plate appearances, so the Royals struck out 15.9 percent of the time in 2015.
So far in 2016 the Royals struck out 422 times in 2,181 plate appearances. If my fancy new phone is right, that means the Royals are striking out at a rate of 19.3 percent, a decent increase over the past two seasons.
And in the past six games it’s worse; the Royals have struck out 53 times in 208 plate appearances. And just in case you don’t feel like doing the math, that means they’ve struck out more than 25 percent of the time.
After the Royals won the 2015 World Series, a champagne-soaked Rusty Kuntz told a group of reporters that they had shown the value of getting the ball in play — over these past six games the Royals are getting the ball in play less.
What happens when you try to do too much
The Royals offense is best when it just tries to “keep the line moving.” That means each hitter is just trying to find a way to get to first base; don’t worry about hitting a home run, that’s hard to do in Kauffman Stadium and if you’ve tailored your stroke to keep the ball out of the air, that might be hard to do on the road, too.
Don’t try to do too much; just cover that first 90 feet and give the next guy a chance. But that’s easier said than done; especially when you’re in Baltimore and you come in riding a four-game losing streak.
Camden Yards is much shorter in right field and the gaps than Kauffman Stadium and that helps explain why the Orioles lead the American League in home runs hit at home. When you play in a small park you can make fly balls part of your game; some of those fly balls will leave the stadium and the Orioles hit seven home runs in the three-game series.
The Royals hit none, but it wasn’t for lack of trying — or at least that’s how it appeared.
At least two things happen when a hitter tries to do too much:
1. The hitter probably wants to pull the ball so he can hit it into a corner of the field and have a chance at a home run. If a hitter is trying to pull the ball he starts his swing sooner, and if he starts his swing sooner he has a better chance of getting fooled and swinging at a bad pitch. That would explain the Royals increase in strikeouts.
2. When a hitter tries to do too much he also tends to over-swing and that’s probably the No. 1 reason for not squaring up a hittable pitch. The hitter’s muscles tighten up and that includes the neck; when the swing starts, the head moves and you see the hitter swing-and-miss or foul that good pitch straight back. If a right-handed hitter finishes his swing looking down the third-base line, that’s a sign that he was over-swinging.
So it appears the Royals are chasing bad pitches and over-swinging when they get a good one.
How do you fix that?
If I knew I’d apply for Dale Sveum’s job. Assuming I’m right (which is a huge assumption) the Royals need to get back to what works for them; each guy just trying to keep the line moving and not trying to hit a general admission beer vendor in the head.
Assuming Sveum agrees that trying to do too much is at least part of the problem, I’m sure it’s being discussed. Anyway, here’s what you can look for once the Royals start the series in Chicago:
A. (We already used numbers.) Do the Royals chase bad pitches, especially with a runner in scoring position? With a runner on second or third base pitchers will try to use a hitter’s aggression against him; throw a pitch out of the zone and see if the hitter will chase it.
B. When the Royals hitters get a pitch in the heart of the zone, do they hit it? If they’re swinging and missing or fouling the pitch off while finishing the swing with their head turned away from home plate, they’re pressing.