KC Royals outfielder Ben Zobrist has been a big hit so far with his new team. Acquired July 27 in a trade with the Oakland A’s, Zobrist has slashed .333/.444/.549 since playing his first game with the Kansas City Royals on July 30. But, something funny has also happened to the rest of the Royals hitters. They’re suddenly taking walks.
Could something that I want to call, “The Ben Zobrist Effect” actually be occurring?
For the season, the KC Royals have posted a mere 5.9% walk rate—which is the lowest in the major leagues. However. halfway through August, the team is suddenly taking walks 7.9% of their plate appearances, which is 10th in major league baseball for the month.
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A big part of that jump is due to Zobrist alone. He’s drawn 8 walks in 55 plate appearances in August, out of the 41 total walks drawn by the Kansas City City Royals during the month. Yet, if we strip away Ben Zobrist, the rest of the lineup is still drawing walks at a much-improved 7.1% rate (I did the math myself).
Did Ben Zobrist deliver a clubhouse speech that inspired his new teammates to discover their patience at the plate? Last season’s now-famous locker room oration from mid-season acquisition Raúl Ibañez, that helped the 2014 KC Royals to believe in themselves, makes me think that it’s at least possible Zobrist did something similar.
Whatever the cause, let’s just hope it’s not just a small sample size artifact. Because if the Kansas City Royals have indeed become a much more patient team, then they’re an even more dangerous playoff opponent than the club that won the AL pennant in 2014.
For years, we’ve known that the KC Royals don’t take walks. Us sabermetrically-inclined fans have been condescendingly told by the organization that the coaches don’t want to take away the lineup’s “aggressiveness” every time we pointed out this shortcoming. Now, suddenly, the Kansas City Royals have become much more patient at the plate. And the offensive results have improved, not suffered.
Through 14 games in August, the KC Royals have scored 69 runs—which works out to a healthy 4.92 runs per game. The team has slashed .269/.334/.432, which is good for a wRC+ (adjusted runs created) of +112 (12% better than league average). That run total is 7th in major league baseball, and third in the American League. To put this in perspective, the Kansas City Royals have scored more runs in August than the Toronto Blue Jays.
Maybe it’s Zobrist, or maybe the Royals young hitters just happened to collectively mature just when the team dealt for Zobrist. The reason, I suppose, doesn’t really matter.
The hopeful part about this improved patience is that when Alex Gordon returns, the KC Royals figure to walk even more. Gordon had the highest walk rate (and OBP) on the team when he injured his groin on July 8.
If the rest of the Kansas City Royals have, indeed, learned to channel their inner Zobrist at the plate due to some kind of clubhouse voodoo, they will be more formidable in October. Limited power will be the team’s only real weakness.