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.