Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Royals' Speed Helps Compensate for Offensive Woes... For Now

The Royals’ offense hasn’t exactly been tearing the cover off the ball. Despite their 9-run outburst in Baltimore on Sunday, the team only has a wRC+ of 86, which is good for 23rd in baseball. We know all about their complete lack of power (.101 ISO), and they rank just 25th in walk rate, at 7%. They make weak contact frequently, with a line drive rate of 15.5% (worst in the majors), and 51.8% of their batted balls are on the ground (highest in the majors).

Looking at all of the relevant numbers, it’s kind of amazing that the Royals are at .500 right now. Granted, much of the credit goes to the pitching staff and defense, both of which have been terrific. But the offense has actually produced more offense than you might expect, considering the information above. In the face of all of that, the Royals are roughly in the middle of the pack in on-base percentage (.314, 18th in MLB). There has been one aspect of the Royals’ offense that has kept them from plunging to historically-inept levels: speed.

When you aren’t hitting for power, and when you aren’t drawing walks, you have to find a way to get on base. The Royals’ lineup has been using their groundballing ways and their elite speed to try and compensate some. Through 24 games, they have 30 infield hits, which is the most in the major leagues. Of course, infield hits aren’t all about speed, considering Danny Valencia and Billy Butler each have two, while Salvador Perez has one. Generally speaking, though, the team’s leaders in that statistic are fast players.

Beyond the infield hits, the Royals also have 9 bunt singles, trailing only the Nationals (14!) in that category. Those are more concentrated, as Alcides Escobar has two, Nori Aoki has three, and Jarrod Dyson has four. I’m of the opinion that bunts are generally a poor idea, but a well-placed bunt by a player who doesn’t have much power isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world. I’d prefer the Royals have better hitters overall, but I understand the strategy their current players are using.

Now, this isn’t to say I love what the Royals are doing. Slapping the ball around the infield and hoping for defensive miscues is not a sound plan for success. As I said, the team should employ better hitters, because the current way of doing things isn’t going to be enough to get this team to the playoffs. They’re going to need more offense.

Much in the same way that Escobar has picked up the slack from the struggling hitters in the team’s lineup, the team’s speed has helped make up for those underperforming players, too. Say what you will about Moose and Butler, but they’re not going to be this bad all year. They probably won’t be Silver Slugger candidates, but their true talent level is quite a bit higher than their current level of production. In addition to those two players, Hosmer, Perez, and Alex Gordon are hitting fewer line drives and more ground balls, so if those rates regress to their respective means, the team’s infield hit percentage will decrease.

The Royals are hitting far too many ground balls this season, but they have been able to use their speed to partially make up for the lack of power and hard-hit balls. It’s not a sustainable method of producing runs, but until the bigger bats in the lineup wake up, this slap-it-and-run approach is keeping the Royals from being even worse than they already are.

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Tags: Kansas City Royals

  • unclejesse40

    Hunter, realistically what do you think would have been the answer this off season to fix the Royals weak bats? While I completely agree that we need to hit better, I also think that GMDM was putting a lot of stock in the defense when he signed or didn’t sign certain players. The truth is I don’t think I would have wanted guys like Mike Morse, or Cory Hart playing in the outfield. Beltran would be the closest thing to a power hitting good average guy that could still play passable defense. There is such a weird and crucial balance at work currently in Kansas City between offense and defense that if one is slightly out of wack the team will lose. I would say you could put that on GMDM because to many variables are in play to win but unless he would have restructured the whole team last off season I am not sure what the answer was suppose to be.

    • Hunter Samuels

      It is tricky, mostly because DM obviously had a lot of faith in the young bats taking a step forward, and that hasn’t happened. Butler, and to a lesser extent, Gordon, haven’t been as good as expected either. I would have loved Hart in RF, even with his defense. The defense may not be great with him, but he more than makes up for it with his bat. I also advocated for David Murphy as a platoon guy to pair with Maxwell. I wasn’t really in love with the Beltran idea, so didn’t really worry about that, and it’s not that I don’t like Aoki. I just think they probably could’ve done better. I still think the offense could be average if/when some guys step up, but better hitters give the team a better chance of being better than average.

  • moretrouble

    The KC team, for better or worse, is built on pitching, defense and speed. That may not be the result of strategy so much as payroll issues. They made a play for Beltran over the winter, which I thought was a refreshing change of strategy, but once that failed, they went back to the same concept that worked last year.

    It will work this year, too. Speed is a weapon that never takes a day off. However, it is unusual that KC doesn’t stress walks. You’re right … they need to improve that part of their game.

    • Marcus Meade

      Excellent point! Speed is a market inefficiency, which is why guys like Dyson are so cheap (Dyson specifically is cheap because he hasn’t hit arbitration yet, but guys like him are cheap on the market too). Sure, they aren’t as valuable as someone who bombs homeruns, but that doesn’t mean they have no value, which is the extreme to which some take it. I think you’re absolutely right in your assessment of the team’s aversion to walks. It makes very little sense. But really, I think it’s better to think of the team in pieces. Everyone should be more disciplined in their approaches; that’s just good baseball. But walking means more to people with more speed. That means it should be of vital importance to Dyson, Cain, Aoki, and Escobar. A walk from Dyson is actually more valuable than a walk from Butler even though they both end up on first. And luckily, Dyson seems to understand this. He has decent walk rate the last two years.

      Right now, it’s the speed guys who are carrying their weight. It’s Butler, Moustakas, Perez, and even to some extent Gordon and Hosmer, who aren’t providing the offense needed for the team to really hit a stride offensively.