Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Royals Showing Improved Plate Discipline in Spring Training

I try to avoid looking at spring training stats. Most of the time, they’re completely meaningless, so instead of trying to sort through all the noise, I tend to use them quite sparingly. Despite the numbers not really being predictive of anything, I do think it’s interesting to occasionally note when certain things stand out. For instance, the Royals have never been a franchise that relies upon walks to get on base. The current roster has a few players capable of drawing walks at a decent rate, but, for the most part, the Royals will employ players who have a more contact-dependent approach. In spring training, however, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Thus far, the Royals, as a team, have drawn 83 walks, which translates to a walk rate of 9%. That rate is the 6th highest mark in spring training, among all teams. If you eliminate the players who are not likely to make the Opening Day roster, the Royals’ walk rate goes up to 9.4%. That’s really, really good. Granted, the sample size is very small, and I’m definitely not predicting this kind of thing to continue in the regular season, but simply seeing that high of a walk rate is a nice break from the norm. Combined with the team’s great contact skills and .300 batting average, their high walk numbers have helped the Royals to post the best on-base percentage in spring training (.367). Again, I don’t expect to see that when the season starts, but getting on base is always better than the alternative.

You may recall, of course, that the Royals had a torrid spring camp at the plate in 2013, which clearly did not carry over to the regular season. Last March, the Royals led all teams with a .335 average and .387 on-base percentage. Despite those lofty statistics, however, Royals’ hitters were not walking as frequently as they have done this year. The team’s walk rate in last year’s spring training was 7.6%, which isn’t terrible, but not nearly as high as one would hope to see. Using just the position players on the Opening Day roster from 2013, the Royals had a walk rate of 8.2%. Once again better than usual, but still lower than this year’s squad.

As you might expect, drawing more walks has resulted in longer plate appearances, though not drastically so. The Royals have seen 3.08 pitches per plate appearance in 2014, compared to 3.01 pitches per plate appearance in 2013. I don’t think that difference is significant, really, but I took the time to calculate it, so now you get to take the time to read it.

There were two specific players I also wanted to point out for their walk rates in spring training. Jarrod Dyson is leading the team with a 25.6% walk rate, drawing 10 walks in 39 plate appearances. Justin Maxwell, who has a career walk rate of 10.6%, has yet to draw a single walk in 49 plate appearances. I’m guessing you wouldn’t have predicted those players to be at the top and bottom, respectively, of the walk rate list for the Royals.

So what does all of this mean?

Probably nothing.

I think the 2014 Royals will have a walk rate better than the 6.9% they had last year, but they still won’t be near the league lead in that category. The offense shouldn’t need to walk 9% of the time to score runs, but any extra bases they can get that way certainly couldn’t hurt. And who knows? Perhaps some of the Royals’ hitters are finally starting to learn how to take pitches more often. Color me skeptical of that, but I suppose it’s possible. If nothing else, these noteworthy spring training stats are interesting, even if they are mostly meaningless.

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