There are two major aspects of winning a baseball game: scoring runs and preventing runs. There are obviously many different components of each of these aspects, but everything in baseball comes down to one of these two things. Given that the Royals pitchers are doing their share of run prevention so far, I am going to write about scoring runs. However, since the season is only 17 games in, I am going to write about the Royals run scoring capabilities since 2002, giving me a much larger sample to analyze such that conclusions may be more meaningful.
In this analysis, I will be looking at some of the components of scoring runs, but certainly not all. These are ones that jumped out at me whilst perusing FanGraphs.
First, for a frame of reference, I looked at runs scored per game. It’s fairly simple, but of great importance, since scoring more runs means more wins. From 2002-2013 (remember-only 17 games in 2013), the Royals have scored a below average number of runs per game every season except in 2003 and 2011, which has certainly contributed to the generally abysmal seasons in those years. In 2003, the Royals scored 5.16 runs/game, which was the highest in those years, while so far this year the Royals have scored only 4.00 runs/game, which is the lowest in those years.
What is interesting here is that the Royals have had a massive amount of roster turnover from 2002-2013, including managers, GMs, position coaches, and players. Despite these changes, the Royals offense remained below average. Is there some organizational philosophy that just won’t go away? Digging into the data, it seems to be so.
During those years, the Royals have consistently had an above average GB%, which has led to a consistently above average BABIP. The Royals have had a fairly consistent above average contact rate, which goes hand-in-hand with the relatively lower K% and BB%. Like I have said in a previous blog post, I can live with a lower BB% if a lower K% comes along for the ride as well. Having a higher contact% can help compensate for a lower BB% as well.
So that’s all good and fine and dandy, but the Royals still score a below average number of runs per game despite those numbers. Why? The answer lies partly with pitches outside the strike zone. Unfortunately, the Royals have generally swung at pitches outside the strike zone more often than average and make contact on pitches outside the strike more often than average. Swinging at pitches outside the strike zone leads to weaker contact. So, while the overall contact rate is above average, some of that contact is pointless. The other part of the answer lies with the Royals’ HR/FB%. Every single year, the Royals’ HR/FB% was below league average. Fewer home runs equals fewer runs.
What happened in 2003 and 2011, then? In 2003, the Royals had a jump in BABIP and were as close to league average in HR/FB% as they ever were. In 2011, the Royals had an extremely high BABIP.The Royals’ offensive philosophy revolves around making lots of contact at the expense of walks. Thankfully, the Royals have emphasized ground balls in their contact, which leads to the consistently higher BABIPs, which helps compensate for the lack of walks. However, in emphasizing ground balls, the Royals have in effect de-emphasized home runs. Basically, the Royals’ offense relies on run scoring components somewhat out of their control, as the location of defenders and the pitchers themselves have some degree of control over BABIP. The Royals need to sustain a BABIP much higher than league average in order to have an even average offense. While the Royals have sustained a higher than league average BABIP, it doesn’t seem to help them score more runs. A change in philosophy is needed. The Royals need to emphasize limiting swings on pitches outside the strike zone and emphasize hitting a few more home runs.