I can recall the halcyon days when a newly appointed General Manager arrived and discussed on base percentage as a stat he used when he evaluated players. Good times were ahead.
The immediate results weren't encouraging.
But in the previous two seasons, the Royals enjoyed a bounce in OBP. It was a needed change and one that brought the Royals some offensive success. The club hasn't been as successful this season, and OBP has taken a tumble. We are again in the lower regions of the league when it comes to reaching base.
Of course, one way to elevate on-base percentage is to take a walk. (It's not the only way, but it's one way.) However, the Royals have always seemed to struggle in this category. And their on-base percentage has suffered.
We are now six years into the tenure of Dayton Moore. (#Year6!) It seems like a good time to check the progress. What follows is a look at the evolution of the Royals walk rate and how it relates to on-base percentage. The players Moore acquired and the success they have had in reaching base.
Join me on our adventure...
The Royals team OBP was .322. The second worst in the AL.
Mostly the same crew from the previous year, but Gordon shows some plate discipline and moves to the head of the pack. Hidden because he didn't get the required plate appearances is Alberto Callaspo who was acquired by Moore for Billy Buckner. He finished with an 8.1 percent walk rate, just a shade below league average. Dayton Moore signee Jose Guillen didn't make his millions by looking at pitches. He did it the old fashioned way: Suspicious packages and a desperate GM. Two seasons in, a limited number of Moore players and two last place finishes in walk rate. I smell a trend.
The Royals shed two hundredths of a point off their collective OBP. Their team .320 OBP was third worst in the league.
Moore signee Coco Crisp was doing good work at the leadoff spot with a 13.5 percent walk rate before hitting the DL. Gordon was in the process of being injured and getting jerked around despite his 11.1 percent walk rate. So that left only Mitch Maier with enough plate appearances to qualify for this list as an above average walker.
This is the first season Moore started turning over the lineup to what we be a majority of his guys. They contributed like Willie Bloomquist and Miguel Olivo who swung early and often. Bloomquist was more of an Alcides Escobar type who was able to get the bat on his pitch more often than not. His 77 percent in play rate (a plate appearance that resulted in a ball picked up by a fielder) was second best on the club behind the contact artist that was Callaspo. Olivo was just awful. I'm surprised that Mike Jacobs was barely below league average.
It's not surprising that the Royals lost another couple of points off their OBP, falling to .318. Second worst in the league.
This is striking to me. Nine guys accumulated enough plate appearances. Five of them were picked up by Moore. All five of them finished with below average walk rates. Meanwhile, three of the four Baird holdovers finished with an above average walk rate.
To be fair, Moore acquisitions Wilson Betemit and Gregor Blanco were finished with above average rates. If he hadn't spent part of the season on the DL and in the minors learning to play left, Gordon would have led the team at 12.1 percent.
Despite this, the Royals team OBP explodes to .331. That was the eighth best mark in the league and above average for the first time since Moore took charge. But not much of that had to do with walks. Their collective walk rate rose just a tenth of a percent from 2009 to 2010 (from 7.5 percent to 7.6 percent.) The improvement came in the form of batting average. Their .274 team average was second highest in the AL.
Oh noes... Baird guys on one side. Moore guys on the other.
To be fair, I believe that plate discipline is a skill that can be learned. The 2011 team was the youngest in the league, and it was reflected in the walk rate. But on the positive side, this group made some serious contact. Their 73 percent in play rate was the best in baseball. Read that again: They were the best team at making contact and putting the ball in play in 2011. Impressive.
Team OBP takes a slight hit, down to .329, but with offense down across the league, it's the fifth best mark in the AL.
My hypothesis of young players learning the intricacies of the strike zone looks good (although incomplete) with improvements by Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar. Yes, however slight, there has been improvement. That's the good news. Now for the bad: The team walk rate of 6.6 percent is on pace to be the second lowest since Moore arrived in Kansas City, rivaling only the 6.4 percent his team posted in 2008. Yet, their team in play rate has gone up. It's currently at 74 percent. That's the best in baseball again. Second place belongs to the Twins at 71 percent. A huge margin.
But team OBP is down to .319 as their batting average has tumbled.
Let's sum this up with one more table. One that illustrates how walk rate, batting average, on base percentage and in play rate have evolved on GMDM's watch.
So does Moore value OBP? I'm sure he understands it's importance. Yet he (more likely the organization) is going about it the wrong way. They look to be emphasizing contact at the expense of working the count. The result is the Royals OBP is highly reliant on batting average which we know tends to fluctuate on a number of factors that are out of the batter's control. A below average walk rate translates to a below average on base percentage when those balls in play don't fall between a fielder.
One stat that caught my eye... For the last three seasons, the Royals have led the majors in the rate of putting the ball in play. That's what happens when a team can't hit home runs and refuses to take a walk.