Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Royals' Power Propelling Them to Strong Second Half

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Earlier this week, I identified one area of the Royals offense that has significantly improved in the second half of the season, namely, the team’s production against fastballs. While that improvement has been drastic, it only tells a part of the story about the Royals’ last month and a half. The team is scoring more runs, and as a result of that, they’re winning more games, which is kind of the point of the game. I wanted to look at a few other differences in how the Royals are performing to show what is helping during this stretch of baseball.

One of the offense’s biggest problems in the first half was the kind of contact they were making. The Royals were not squaring up anything, as evidenced by their 19.3% line drive rate, which ranked 28th in the majors. They also hit ground balls on 48.2% of the balls in play, which was the 5th highest rate in baseball. They were hitting far too many popups, with an infield fly ball rate of 11.3%, 2nd highest in baseball. And, of course, they showed a complete lack of home run power, with a home run per fly ball rate of 6.3%, dead last in the majors.

Those four days off in the middle of July must have done wonders for the Royals’ bats, because the turnaround since then is quite remarkable.

In the second half, the Royals’ line drive rate is 22.8%, which is the best in baseball. Their ground ball rate is 45.0%, putting them in the middle of the pack, at 14th. They’re still hitting too many infield flies (11.9 IFFB%), but they’ve also improved their home run production to help offset that to some degree. Their home run per fly ball rate since the break is 8.6%, 18th best in MLB.

The better contact has occurred during a time in which the Royals are actually making contact less frequently. It’s not a huge difference, but the team has a lower contact rate in the second half (82.2%) than in the first half (83.3%). They’re also not as patient, swinging at pitches out of the strike zone 32.0% of the time, as opposed to 30.9% before the break. The difference for the Royals has been the number of pitches in the zone they’ve seen. Pitchers have been challenging them far more often in the second half, with a Zone% of 50.2%, much higher than the 47.8% in the first half.

More quality contact on batted balls generally leads to better results on those batted balls, and the Royals are no exception in that regard, although looking at things in general terms may not show it. The Royals’ first half wRC+ was 93, which is identical to their second half wRC+. This is due to a lower on-base percentage, which is a result of a lower walk rate since the break. Normally, showing less patience at the plate is a bad idea, but the Royals have made the most of their opportunities, particularly by hitting for more power.

Prior to the All Star break, the Royals had an isolated slugging percentage of .112, which was, by far, the worst in baseball. They did have the 10th most doubles , but they had just the 24th most triples and, of course, the fewest home runs in the majors. It’s difficult to score a lot of runs when you need to string singles together time and time again.

Since the break, however, the Royals are doing much better in the extra-base hit department. Their .128 ISO ranks a far more respectable 16th, and while they’re just 18th in second half doubles, they have hit the 6th most triples, including one each by Raul Ibanez and Salvador Perez, because that makes perfect sense.

The biggest difference for the team has been their increased home run production, though. No one expected the Royals to lead the league in home runs, but I think it was fair to expect them to hang around the major league average. While they fell far short of that mark in the first half, sure enough, they rank 15th in home runs in the second half. They still have the lowest season-long total in the majors, but at least they’ve put themselves in position to top the 100 home run mark by season’s end, which is a sad thing to have to type.

Overall, the Royals general production may not look drastically different, but the way in which they are scoring runs is vastly improved. They’re making much better contact, and that is resulting in more extra-base hits. It’s much easier to score runs when runners are standing on second or third base, and it’s even easier to score runs when the batters hit the baseball over the outfield wall. I’m not a manager or anything, but that seems like a strategy the Royals should try to keep using. If they can continue to hit for more power, they should be able to maintain their lead over the Tigers in the final month of the season.

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