The Royals offense was 20th in runs scored last year, and in the American League they were 10th out of the then 14 teams (Houston as an AL team will take a little time to get used to). There are many reasons to believe the offense will be better this year including Salvador Perez hopefully not missing a lot of time, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas heading back toward expectation, and getting above replacement performance in right field. The problem with all of the optimism is that there is one giant cloud over this offense. As a team the Royals are still terrible at taking a walk.
For a history of the franchise’s struggles with walks go check out this post by Rany last year. Last year the Royals were dead last in the majors in walk rate at 6.6%, while the average rate is typically 8 to 8.5%. As constructed the line-up in 2013 will not likely improve significantly in walk rate:
Salvador Perez has never shown a propensity to walk. A 4% or so walk rate is the expectation, and getting above 5% would be shocking and exciting.
Eric Hosmer coming through the minors was supposed to have good pitch recognition, and his walk rates were great, walking 11.6% of the time. He will probably have a walk rate of 9% or better and be a bright spot on this team for this particular facet.
Chris Getz has been named the 2B starter as expected. He has been around long enough that we know what he is, and that is a below average walker. He will have a 7% walk rate, give or take half a percent.
Alcides Escobar has managed to put up 6.5% walk rates only twice in any major or minor league season. The last two years he has walked in 4.2% of PAs, so better than 5% is not likely.
Mike Moustakas may actually be able to put up average walk rates at some point in his career, but so far he has not at the major league level. His major league time, about a year and a half, says that a 6.5% walk rate is the expectation with some hope for improvement as he ages.
Alex Gordon knows how to take a walk. He finished 35th in the majors in walk percentage last year with a 10.1% rate.
Lorenzo Cain has gone back and forth on walks. Projections have him hanging around 7% mostly. He may be able to be better than that, but it remains to be seen in the big leagues.
Jeff Francoeur’s disdain for the walk has been well chronicled. Hopefully there is a platoon partner at the least to offset him. Jarrod Dyson seems to be decent at walking, but David Lough, not so much. The plate appearances for the outfielders not named Gordon or Cain could help if Francoeur does not get a majority of the plate appearances.
Billy Butler is almost certainly going to be above average in walk rate. He has been, and he is a very good hitter. Last year he walked at an 8% rate, but he was better than that in each of the three seasons prior. That puts him with Alex Gordon and Hosmer as the only players we should expect above average walks from.
Those players are going to cover the majority of Royal plate appearances in 2013 unless injuries or something unforseen changes things significantly. If more than three of the nine places in the line-up are above average it would be surprising. Even if that happens, Perez, Escobar, and Frenchy are likely to be way below average, and Moose and Getz will likely be below average, which is going to be hard to make up for. Getting this team to an 8% walk rate would be amazing, and I am not expecting it.
This one thing could preclude the Royals from being an above average offense this year. Typically there are only two ways to make up for a lack of ability in getting on base, and one of those things is luck. Counting on luck aside, power is the only way to make significant headway. Last year the Royals were a middle of the pack team in slugging if you look at the major leagues, but only 10th in the AL. That says to me that the only way this offense is above average is for more power to come from Moose, Hosmer, Cain, and Perez. The others are either already sources of power (Billy), or will never be (Getz). Off-season comments from Ned Yost make me think the Royals are at least aware of this, and in a week we will start to see if a more powerful version of your Kansas City Royals can make this team more competitive.