Royals Winning Model Hurt By Year Of The Dinger
By John Viril
The Royals loaded up on fly ball pitchers to take advantage of playing in a home park with the largest outfield area in baseball. That strategy backfired in 2016 when major-league hitters blasted home runs at a record rate.
The roster construction strategy made sense. Not only does Kauffman Stadium have the biggest outfield in baseball, the KC Royals deploy the best defensive outfielders in the game measured by Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). Unfortunately, hitters have slammed home runs in 3.06% of their plate appearances across baseball. Major league hitters have never before cracked the 3% barrier.
Hitters are unlikely to surpass the total home run record set in 2000; but, teams had around 5,000 more plate appearances due to a favorable run scoring environment. Even so, Jeff Passan at Yahoo.com estimates that hitters will finish 2016 with the second highest home run total in major-league history. Plus, the overall home run rate is the highest in baseball history.
This homer-happy environment hasn’t helped the Kansas City Royals one bit. After giving up 155 dingers in 2015, that total has zoomed to 203 in 2016 with four games to play. On the other hand, KC hitters increased their home run total by a mere seven over 2015.
That’s a 48 to 7 trade-off.
The strange thing is, no one really knows why the home run rate jumped so suddenly. In 2014, hitters only hit home runs in 2.28% of their plate appearances. Batters then enjoyed an unusual surge in home runs the last two months of 2015 and the playoffs. That jump continued throughout the entire 2016 season.
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One thing seems rather certain, however: a big jump in home run rate isn’t good for a team loaded with fly ball pitchers. Kansas City went from second to last (14th) in home runs surrendered among AL teams to sixth.
Chris Young gave up an absurd 26 home runs in 56.0 innings as a starter before moving to the bullpen. Hitters blasted 21 round trippers against Ian Kennedy in the first half of the season. Fortunately, he adjusted to limit them to 11 in the second half.
The new home run reality hit the KC Royals starters hard. The 149 moon shots they have allowed in 2016 are the most in the American League.
Improving their ability to keep the ball in the yard has to be one of general manager Dayton Moore’s goals this off-season. Unfortunately, his 2017 rotation looks poised to deploy another array of fly-ball pitchers in Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, and Jason Vargas. Injured Mike Minor, who figures to be part of the 2017 rotation, is also a fly ball-heavy hurler.
Next: Is Danny Duffy Fighting Fatigue?
Maybe praying for a batch of loosely-wound baseballs from the Rawlings factory might be the Kansas City Royals best hope in 2017.