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Lots of Bad Contact, Historically

We know that the Royals make a lot of contact. How do they rank historically?

Looks a little inside, don't you think?
Looks a little inside, don't you think?
Kyle Rivas

As the rate of strikeouts in the MLB has increased, the Royals have bucked the trend by making lots of contact. The problems with this strategy as employed by the Royals have been documented. I'll skip the long of it and give you the short of it: the Royals are really good at making contact with pitches out of the zone, which leads to easy outs on balls in play.

The fact that the Royals are striking out less while the rest of the league is striking out more piqued my curiosity. I wanted to see how the Royals ranked historically in this whole business. So, what I did was to get the data on a team level for 1969 to now*. I then compared each team's strikeout rate to the league average by dividing the team's strikeout rate by the league average strikeout rate and multiplying by 100. I'll call this K%+. A 100 K%+ means a league average K% for that year. Below 100 means a lower strikeout rate than average, and above 100 means a higher strikeout rate than average. Here is a table of the top 10.

*Data current as of the morning of June 18th, 2014.

Season Team K%+ wRC+
1969 Braves 71.7 92
1986 Red Sox 73.4 103
1982 Indians 74.2 96
2014 Royals 74.4 90
1980 Rangers 74.4 107
2002 Angels 75.6 105
1984 Yankees 75.7 108
1981 Indians 76.8 94
1979 Yankees 77.6 99
1988 Red Sox 78.2 115

You'll notice that your 2014 Royals place 4th. This means that the Royals, relative to league average since 1969, are striking out at the 4th lowest rate. They are striking out about 25.6% less than league average. A fat lot of good that's done them.

Place your attention on the wRC+ column. See the Royals' number. Be disappointed. The Royals have a 90 wRC+. Of the teams who strike out so little, this 2014 Royals team has the worst offense. To find the first team with a wRC+ below 90, I had to go down several rows to the....2000 Royals, who had an 89 wRC+ and struck out about 20.6% less than league average, which ranked 23rd.

Out of a desire to see the car wreck magically turn into a train wreck, I delved further down the list. The 1999 Rockies were the next team on the list with a wRC+ below 90 (it was 84) and a K%+ below 100. The very next team was the 1992 Royals, with a wRC+ of 88 and a K%+ of 83. The 2001 Royals make an appearance with a wRC+ of 82 and a K%+ of 83.8. Here's a line graph of how wRC+ and K%+ have progressed over time for the Royals.


There are a lot of numbers below 100 for both K%+ and wRC+. The point, here, is that the Royals, now and historically, are really good at not striking out, and therefore making contact. The second and much worse point is that the Royals, now and historically, are really bad at turning that contact into a good offense.

To be fair, this analysis has changed as the Royals have accumulated more games under Lord Sveum's tutelage. When I first gathered data, the Royals were at an 81 wRC+. The next iteration had them at an 84 wRC+. They are now at the totally arbitrary but magical cutoff of 90 wRC+. It's fun how much things can change in a hot streak. We're in first place now, and stuff. Their relative suckitude is getting better as the season rolls along, but the larger point still stands.

It seems that some sort of organizational philosophy has pervaded through ownership, GMs, coaches, eras, and decades. Only in the late 70s did the Royals consistently produce an above average offense while striking out less than league average. The Royals are still trying to live in the time of disco. Not this discoThis disco.

Disco is dead.

All data courtesy of FanGraphs.