How Walks Lead to Runs: A Royals’ Mystery
The Royals’ offense is struggling.
Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
This isn’t news to you. If you’ve paid attention at all this season, particularly over the last couple of weeks, you know that this team has difficulty scoring runs. This difficulty stems partly from not having enough power threats in the lineup. A team without a ton of power can still be productive, however, if they get on base frequently enough to have more opportunities to drive in runs with singles and doubles. It’s tougher than hitting home runs, but it can work. The problem with this strategy is that Royals’ hitters are apparently allergic to taking walks, as they currently have the fewest walks in the league. This isn’t a new trend, of course. Finishing at or near the bottom of the league in that category is as much of a Kansas City tradition as eating barbecue. Since 2000, here is where the Royals have ranked in walks in the AL: 14, 14, 8, 9, 13, 12, 10, 13, 14, 13, 9, 11, 14.
In the previous 13 seasons, the Royals have finished in the bottom 2 in walks in the American League 7 times. Seven. That’s over half the time. That’s bad.
For whatever reason, this organization doesn’t value walks. They are seemingly unable to recognize the fact that getting on base is a very important skill. Scoring runs is literally impossible to do without reaching base. Trust me, I’ve done the math. When hits aren’t falling, having the ability to draw a walk can still be relied upon to kickstart an offense. Plus, drawing walks is great for reasons other than just getting more players on base and in position to score. Drawing a walk means the pitcher threw at least 4 pitches in that plate appearance, which can drive pitch counts up faster, which can get starting pitchers out of the game sooner. Typically, getting into the opponent’s bullpen earlier is going to be very helpful in coming out of the game with a victory. Also, when a player works a count and sees more pitches, that player will normally start to have a better idea of what kind of stuff the pitcher has, and his teammates may be able to learn about the pitcher’s tendencies and patterns. Having more data on a pitcher can lead to being ready for better pitches to hit, which can lead to more extra base hits. Similarly, when a pitcher gives up a walk, he may be more inclined to stay around the plate more, which will give the next batter more pitches he can drive. Generally speaking, the strategy is simple:
See more pitches. Work more counts. Hit more home runs. Draw more walks. Score more runs.
It isn’t foolproof, of course. The Royals have actually seen more pitches per plate appearance in their losses (3.85) than in their wins (3.72) this season. Granted, that isn’t a huge difference, and I would expect that trend to reverse at some point.
When it comes to walks, there is a much more significant difference. In the Royals’ 21 wins, they have drawn 2.95 walks per game, while scoring 6.14 runs per game. In their 22 losses, the walks per game average drops to 2.09, and the runs per game average drops all the way down to 2.5.
It doesn’t take a complex sabermetric formula to see that those numbers are staggering. One would think that someone in the front office would have noticed the correlation by now: As walk numbers rise, runs scored will typically rise, too.
To be fair, Ned Yost did hold a meeting last week to address the team’s patience, or lack thereof. It’s still too early to say for sure if it was effective, but in the 7 games since that meeting, the Royals have drawn 25 walks (9 in the 2 wins, 16 in the 5 losses). In that small sample size, the Royals have only scored 27 runs (16 in the 2 wins, 11 in the 5 losses). The overall numbers are improved, but, in short, the pattern still holds: The team is drawing fewer walks and scoring fewer runs in losses than in wins.
In order for this offense to get going, moves are going to need to be made. Some moves may be difficult for the organization to make, for whatever internal reasons, so even if the necessary roster changes aren’t made, this team needs to start hitting for more power, or at the very least, start drawing more walks. They can’t go much longer using the current strategy if they still have aspirations of playing meaningful baseball in August and September.