Getting Runs When You Need Them

May 22, 2012; Bronx, NY, USA; Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost (3) in the dugout against the New York Yankees during the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium. Yankees won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

I remember thinking about how the Royals might go about winning games with such a terrible starting rotation before the season began. It’s hard to win when you can’t pitch, and it looked like for a majority of their innings they’d be getting bad pitching. I thought then that with such a good offensive lineup they would need to win a significant number of high scoring games—6-5, 8-6 and so on.

Right now, the Royals are 23-30, not good, but not out of the realm of where most people thought they should be—especially considering the 12-game losing streak. But when I reflect on how they’ve won those games, the high-scoring battles aren’t ringing any bells. Why? Because they haven’t won any.

That’s really not fair; they have won one. Yes, one. The Royals record when their opponent scores 5 runs or more is 1-20. That’s not very good for a team whose lineup was suppose to carry them.

Now, obviously, the offense hasn’t produced as expected. They’ve scored 214 runs all season, that’s 4.03 runs per game. Eric Hosmer has been a shell of himself, though he’s shown some signs of life lately. Alex Gordon struggled early and is starting to turn it around. Jeff Francoeur also struggled early. The Royals also had an abysmal time hitting with runners in scoring position (though their overall team batting average is good enough for ninth in MLB, another piece of evidence to support the notion that BA isn’t everything).

The offense has been weaker than expected, but that alone doesn’t tell the story either. In Saturday’s loss to Oakland, the Royals got down early thanks to another Luke Hochevar-like effort by Luke Hochevar. They were down 6-1 after the fourth inning. I’ve heard players on this team say they have the fire power to come back from deficits like this, which is good because they’re going to have plenty of them.

It all fell apart though after the Royals scored two runs to make it a game at 6-3. At that point, it looked like they might actually mount a comeback, but they couldn’t make those 1-run innings 3-run innings. Then, Louis Coleman, Aaron Crow, and some really terrible defense gave us a glimpse of Royals teams past, and it was over 9-3.

As those of you who watch baseball know, the game is played in context. Different elements of each game impact other elements of that game. Think about the rally-killing sac-bunt Ned Yost called for in the fourth inning tonight. That had huge ramifications throughout the game. That took a potential 5 or 6-run inning and made it a 3-run inning. If Yost had been thinking about how his team would probably need many more runs to win that game, he probably wouldn’t have called for a sac-bunt.

So, the issue isn’t that the Royals aren’t scoring a lot of runs—they’re not—but that they aren’t scoring a lot of runs when they need to. This isn’t necessarily a solvable problem, but it’s not necessarily something to be written off as unsolvable either. People would be very wrong in tossing this issue aside by saying Well they can’t control when the runs come. They come when they come. Not true.

Managers have a pretty good idea of when they’re going to have to play for 7 or 8 runs (anytime Will Smith is pitching for example). Maybe that means fewer sacrifice bunts or playing more offensive players on a given day. Maybe it means running less to wait for extra base hits, knowing that a stolen run won’t do much for you. Maybe it means keeping spirits high when the team is down by the third inning.

For players, this issue seems more psychological. Last season, when the team was 8-20 through 53 games when opponents scored 5 or more runs, it felt like they were in every game—even when they were down 5 runs. The same sort of “overcoming all odds” mentality is lacking this season. Maybe it’s because some players have struggled at the plate, and they feel less confident about their ability to recapture a lead. I’m not sure. But it just doesn’t feel the same.

Obviously, a team is going to lose more games than not when it gives up at least 5 runs. But for this very unique team, they have to win more high scoring games than they are currently. They have to feel comfortable playing from behind. With a bad rotation, that’s going to happen a lot. Yost needs to make decisions with this in mind. His mentality with virtually every starter, except maybe Bruce Chen and Felipe Paulino, needs to be one that focuses on getting into the other teams bullpen early and playing for big innings. Otherwise, this team will not flirt with .500 this season like they should.

Topics: Aaron Crow, AL Central, Alex Gordon, Baseball, Bruce Chen, Eric Hosmer, Jeff Francoeur, Kansas City Royals, KC, KC Royals, Luke Hochevar, MLB, Ned Yost

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  • jim fetterolf

    Rally killing sac bunt? What killed the rally was Dyson and Quintero walking back to the dugout with bats on shoulders. The sac traded one out for two bases. For the game the Royals averaged 1.11 bases per out, the Twins averaged 1.75 bases per out, which is why they won. One reason the Royals lost was that Escobar, Dyson, Quintero, and Gordon were a combined one for a whole bunch. I understand that “sac bunt” is the web-wide talking point du jour, but it is just wrong in this instance.

  • michael.allen.engel

     @jim fetterolf The pitcher was not throwing well. They had opportunity to get a big big inning out of him. They took someone who is third on the team in hits and took the bat entirely out of his hands in favor of two much worse, much less productive bats. 
     
    Sac bunts surrender an out. It’s willingly giving up an out. Again, I’ll reiterate, because I feel it’s this important. The Royals gave the Twins an out in a situation where they were under no pressure to do so, in a game that was not feeling like a one run lead would be safe, against a pitcher that hasn’t been effective through his minor league career. This isn’t like facing Justin Verlander where one run might be all you can ever get, so you HAVE to manufacture it. This was Colin De Vries. 
     
    Giving up an out is akin to willingly taking a knee to start a drive in football. It’s like willingly taking a shot clock violation in basketball. Outs are the “time clock” for lack of a better analogy. Taking someone like Escobar, who gets on base more often then Dyson or Quintero, and again is third on the team in base hits, and giving up his bat in favor of Dyson and Quintero is lunacy. If it’s setting up Mike Moustakas, Billy Butler or Eric Hosmer, that’s a different story. I still don’t like it, but I can see how a manager might see those run producers as potentially driving in two runs with a hit. Asking Dyson or Quintero to do so was a tall order and one which they ultimately couldn’t answer. Call it “web-wide talking point” all you want, Jim, but that’s what it is. There’s usually a reason for such large outrage over an idea. 
     
    It wasn’t just us internet geeks, either. Traditional media types asked about it too, questioning the call. Justify it how you want, but the Royals took one of their more productive bats out of the rally intentionally. That approach is just wrong and its wrongness is enhanced by the final result. The Royals gave up one of their better hitters by the numbers this year for the sake of some “by the book” tactic. I don’t like that.
     

  • jim fetterolf

     @michael.allen.engel Traded an out for two bases. You did note that that pitcher on the rocks fanned the next two batters?
     
    As for Esky, his combined DP and K rates about equal his BA, so a coin flip at best. He didn’t have much of a night last night, nor did the three hitters following him.
     
    As for the bloggers, I do notice that they tend to run in herds following the daily talk radio points. I see the same things on about every site and among the commentators.
     
    You do handle the points well, probably the best mash-up of the conventional wisdom I’ve seen today and I’ve seen dozens.

  • michael.allen.engel

     @jim fetterolf Looking at Dyson and Quintero’s career numbers and 2012 numbers, yeah, it’s not a surprise that they made outs. It’s what they do. One more hit by Escobar and the Royals have a lead, maybe a first and third, and sure, maybe the two batters still strike out but then you still have Alex Gordon coming up. 
     
    Who would you rather have up with a chance to drive in a run, Alex Gordon or Humberto Quintero?
     
    As for bloggers, I want to note that I don’t listen to sports talk radio. Period. I can’t stand it generally unless they have a specific guest on. I want that on record. If others hear them and want to parrot, fine, but you do this all the time, bringing up that it’s a “talking point” – but it’s the running discussion from all sources during the game, not something others are waiting to take their cues on in the morning. Give us nerds some credit. 
     
    A large bunch of our kind don’t cater to the traditional wisdom that existed in 1971 when, yeah, pitchers struck out 5 batters all night and you had to scratch out that third run of the night. The point of the article originally is to show that the Royals give up a lot of chances to score runs. They’re right around league average in OPS and other stats, yet near the bottom in runs scored. Overzealous running and giving up outs factors into that in my opinion. Yost puts the Royals in position to give away outs almost nightly, either by giving them the green light indiscriminately or instinctively going for the bunt. I can’t think anyone within the entirety of Jackson County was surprised that Yost was bunting in that spot, it’s that obvious. 

  • mmeade17

     @jim fetterolf I think the thing to consider is what the sac-bunt gets you. What’s the plan strategy behind the sac-bunt? Typically, it’s thought of as a way to get a run or two, but not as a way to start or continue a big inning. When it’s still pretty early in the game, and Will Smith is pitching, you play for big innings. I agree that Dyson and Quintero striking out was bad, but Ned Yost should have never, ever decided to take the bat out of a .300 hitters hand in favor of Dyson and Quintero. I’m not against the sac-bunt as a rule. I’m against it when it’s a terrible idea. Doing it in that moment was a terrible idea because it took that moment out of context.