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Royals hitters and contact percentage

Taking a look at early-season returns in contact percentage to see if we can spot any trends amongst Royals hitters.

Ed Zurga

It's still too early in the season to make big, sweeping claims about the Kansas City Royals and how they will do this season, all though that certainly isn't stopping people. If you want to make predictions about how the Royals will perform this year, it's important to use data that is already reliable, like how often a hitter makes contact at the plate.

Contact% is a useful statistic early in the year because it is one of the first hitting statistics that stabilizes over a small sample; it only takes around 100 plate appearances for a hitter's contact percentage to become stable. That does not mean hitters cannot change their contact rate over the course of the season, but it does mean that we can use the data available after 100 plate appearances to project how the players will perform for the rest of the season.

Only Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar have crossed the 100 plate appearance threshold for Kansas City this season, but almost all of the Royals top-nine hitters are close. Billy Butler's 99 plate appearances are still useful when determining reliability, as 100 plate appearances isn't some magical threshold where data becomes reliable.

The table below lists Royals hitters 2013 Contact%, then compares it to their contact rate from last season:

Player 2013 PA 2013 Contact % 2012 Contact % Difference
Billy Butler 99 87.3 82.5 4.8
Chris Getz 71 86.8 92.9 -6.1
Alcides Escobar 112 86.7 81.6 5.1
Salvador Perez 93 84.6 90.8 -6.2
Lorenzo Cain 94 83.3 74.7 8.6
Mike Moustakas 91 82.1 77.9 4.2
Alex Gordon 114 77.9 80.1 -2.2
Eric Hosmer 88 77 81 -4
Jeff Francoeur 96 67.6 80.3 -12.7

The data looks nice, but isn't particularly useful without some interpretation:

- Billy Butler looks absolutely poised for a monster year. His increased Contact% coupled with a jump in his BB% suggests that the designated hitter has improved his plate approach this season. Butler's .ISO and BABIP currently sit below his career average, so his batting average and slugging will likely improve as the season progresses. His current triple slash line is .278/.414/.430, so any improvement is just gravy.

- Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain both look more comfortable at the plate this season and both have boosted their Contact% so far this season. Neither hitter is likely to post above-average walk rates, so making contact and avoiding strikeouts will be particularly important skills for both

- On the flip side, the drop in contact rate experienced by Salvador Perez and Chris Getz is problematic despite the fact that both still own above-average contact rates (league average is around 79%). High contact rates have fueled Perez's success at the major-league level, so the drop in contact and rise in strikeouts is going to hamper the young catcher's success at the plate more than others.

Getz's only skill as a hitter is his ability to make contact. He wasn't even an average hitter with a 93% contact rate, so the decrease in contact only makes him less useful than before. It was a fun couple of days when some people decided to pretend that Getz was anything other than a replacement player masquerading as the Royals starting second baseman, but that phenomena appears to be over.

- Alex Gordon is fine. He is striking out a little more so far this season, but it has yet to impact the outfielder negatively at the plate.

- While it's nice to see Mike Moustakas making more contact and a little discouraging to see Eric Hosmer make less, it shouldn't make a big difference for either hitter. Both hitters are currently walking at an above-average clip, which is especially nice to see from Moustakas, but neither hitter has hit for any power so far this season. How often the young corner infielders can drive the ball with consistency will be more important for their success this season than their Contact%

- Finally, Jeff Francouer. It seemed impossible that the nad-tapping rightfielder could be worse offensively in 2013 than he was in 2012, but there is a very real chance that ends up happening. Frenchy's 12% drop in contact has scary implications for his value moving forward. Francoeur is currently hitting 20 percent below league-average, and has a BABIP almost .50 points higher than his career average. Once his BABIP starts to regress towards his career rate, the drop in contact and increase in strikeouts will really start to be noticeable

Bob Dutton told us that the Royals are giving Francouer two months this season to prove his worth. Unless something drastic changes between now and June, I see a few articles in the future begging Dayton Moore to keep good on his promise to keep the rightfielder on a short leash.

Looking at the Contact% for Royals hitters reveals some positives and negatives. I would argue they trend more positive than negative, since Getz and Francoeur could theoretically be replaced if the team continues to win. It's not exactly a bold claim, but one a feel comfortable making.