Danny Duffy was masterful on Saturday night. He retired the first 20 batters he faced, and while he only collected 2 strikeouts, he generated a ton of of weak contact throughout his 7 innings of work. Wade Davis and Greg Holland were excellent as well, striking out 5 batters in their 2 combined innings. Despite all of that, the Royals were left sweating out a one-run victory in the 9th inning, because the offense once again was disappointing.
Many of the problems for this lineup have been covered, but I noticed some interesting numbers that are too depressing to keep to myself. Much has been made of the Royals’ groundballing ways, and they do have the 2nd highest ground ball rate in the majors, at 49.3%. They also have not hit as many line drives as you’d like to see, evidenced by their line drive rate of 17.5%, which is the 3rd lowest rate in baseball. Those numbers, by themselves, give some indication about how poorly the offense has performed. But it doesn’t stop there.
The Royals also lead all of baseball in infield fly ball rate, at 13.4%. In other words, 1 out of roughly every 8 fly balls hit by the Royals doesn’t leave the infield. Infield fly balls will very rarely fall for hits, and, unsurprisingly, will never fall for a home run. Of the possible batted ball outcomes, an infield fly ball is the least desirable for an offense, and it’s not particularly close. A ground ball can find a hole, and a fast team can reach base with those grounders more frequently.
Infield fly balls offer no real upside. It’s generally the weakest form of contact, and the Royals have hit them, on a per fly ball basis, more frequently than any other team. That’s not a good way to score runs.
Additionally, as you may have heard, the Royals are not very successful at hitting home runs. They’ve hit just 18 of them on the season, and their HR/FB rate is currently at 4.5%. That means that 1 out of every 22 fly balls is resulting in a home run.
The Royals are nearly three times as proficient at hitting infield fly balls than they are at hitting home runs.
No other team comes even remotely close to that pitiful level of production.
Combine everything together, and it’s really quite easy to see why the Royals are one of the worst offenses in the league right now. They simply have too many hitters not squaring up enough baseballs. Among players currently on the roster, only Billy Butler, Jarrod Dyson, and Johnny Giavotella have infield fly ball rates under 10%. Omar Infante and Salvador Perez both are hitting infield flies on more than 20% of their fly balls.
It’s possible to still be successful with an above average infield fly ball rate, but an offense must possess some other skill to counteract that. Whether that’s hitting a ton of line drives, or hitting more home runs, or something else. It doesn’t matter all that much what that skill is, but a team has to do one of those things to score runs while they hit infield flies at that kind of clip. Unfortunately for the Royals, they’re not really doing any of those things, which is why they’re in the position they’re in. And until they start making solid contact more consistently, the offense is going to continue to struggle.