Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Being swept by one of the worst teams in baseball is never a good thing. Three straight losses to the Twins doesn’t mean the Royals’ season is over, of course, but considering this was looking to be a weaker part of the schedule, it hurts to head to Houston with a 4-7 record.
But, if you know anything about the game of baseball, you know that weird things happen sometimes. Good teams win more games than they lose, but good teams still lose games.
I thought before the season the Royals would be a good team, and I still think they’ll be a good team when all is said and done, so in the grand scheme of things, dropping a few games to a bad team doesn’t bother me that much. However, there was a trend from the last series that does concern me, and it’s something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
The offense has been struggling to score runs early on, but prior to the last three games, there were a few encouraging signs. In the first two games against the Tigers, the Royals drew walks in 8% of their plate appearances, and saw 3.8 pitches per plate appearance (P/PA).
Against the White Sox, the Royals had a walk rate of 10.9%, while seeing 3.87 P/PA. While facing the Rays, Royals’ hitters posted a walk rate of 8.4%, and they saw 3.72 P/PA.
Over the weekend, the Royals drew walks in just 5.8% of their plate appearances, and saw just 3.51 P/PA.
The usual small sample size caveats apply, of course, but the Royals appeared to be far too aggressive facing a Twins pitching staff that lacks any real strikeout threat. Of the Royals’ 34 plate appearances on Sunday, 10 saw the hitter swing (or bunt) at the first pitch. Of those 10, only 2 came against the bullpen, meaning that Royals hitters swung on the first pitch from Kevin Correia 8 times.
For those unfamiliar, Corriea struck out fewer batters than Greg Holland last season, despite pitching 118.1 more innings. In other words, getting down in the count to Correia isn’t that dangerous. Instead of making the pitcher work, hitters were far too anxious to hack away.
Rather than wait for a pitch to drive, many Royals were content with just trying to make contact. For a team with several BABIP-dependent hitters, they would be much better served by being selective at the plate, until they see a pitch they can hit with some authority, particularly against a pitcher who doesn’t have swing-and-miss stuff. They can afford to be even more selective in that case, since the threat of a devastating two-strike pitch isn’t there.
As for the walks, Twins’ pitchers typically won’t give out very many free passes, but the Royals absolutely helped them out by being so aggressive. The team had shown terrific plate discipline in spring training, and in the first week of the season, but for whatever reason, that patience went out the door when they stepped foot on Target Field in the last two days.
There was some semblance of discipline on Friday night, when they drew 4 walks in 35 plate appearances (11.4%), but they completely abandoned that approach in the following games. Part of it is likely due to players pressing mentally, and thinking they need to “make something happen,” and this all could reverse itself if they start to have a bit more success at the plate.
I never expected the Royals to start leading the league in walk rate or in pitches seen per plate appearance, but I was hopeful they would improve in those departments this season. In the back of my mind I knew they had the potential to revert to their hacktastic ways, but I did think they’d be better.
And honestly, they very well could pick it back up. This may be nothing more than a small bump in the road for their approach, and perhaps the hitter-friendly confines of Houston’s Minute Maid Park will be just what they need to get going again.
Even if that is the case, though, the Royals do need to make sure they are working on their approach, because a team that lacks power, like this one, must find more ways to get on base. Taking more pitches can put a hitter in a better situation to see something he can hit with authority, which will usually result in a player reaching base.
Taking more pitches can also put a hitter in a situation in which he can draw a walk, which will always result in that player reaching base. As always, the goal of an offense should be to get on base, because scoring runs is very difficult to do when there are no runners on base. For the Royals, getting back to seeing more pitches could be just the thing they need to do to get the offense moving.