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The myth of Royals hitting with runners in scoring position

The organization and media continue to beat the drum that the Royals don't hit well enough with runners in scoring position. Its a myth.

Ed Zurga

The Royals had numerous baserunners on Friday night - collecting eleven hits - yet scored just one run. This prompted Kansas City Star columnist Lee Judge to write this:

Coming into Saturday’s game the Detroit Tigers were hitting .283 with runners in scoring position and the Royals were hitting .193. Those numbers didn’t get any better after the game: the Royals were 0-5 with runners in scoring position while the Tigers went 3 for 6.

That might be why the Tigers won this one 5-1.

Those numbers seem pretty alarming until you realize they are not true. The Royals as a team are hitting .265/.328/.392 with runners in scoring position while the Tigers are hitting .283/.341/.428. The Royals actually have the fourth best batting average in the league with runners in scoring position.

Now, I'm not going to hammer Lee Judge too much for this, it was probably an honest mistake. He saw a statistic the Royals telecast put up and misinterpreted it. He's a political cartoonist pulling double duty because the McClatchy Corporation has slashed the Star's payroll, and frankly, this is something an editor should have caught. Besides, Judge is simply parroting the line the Royals brass are spoonfeeding him about the offensive struggles.

See, the organization believes they would be a pretty darn good offense if they were just better at hitting with runners in scoring position. Remember Dayton Moore's quote a few weeks ago when the team was slumping?

"I'm as frustrated as anyone," Moore told by phone. "It's very simple why we're not winning as much as we should be -- we're getting plenty of base runners but just not driving them in.

"It's quite simple for us. We need to be having our best at-bats when it matters most, when runners are in scoring position, and that's not happening now."

The Royals earnestly believe they are getting enough baserunners, but that clutch hitting is a repeatable skill, and that the Royals need to improve that skill.

And its complete poppycock.

The Royals are tenth in the league in runs scored per game, at 4.07. Like I mentioned above, they are fourth in the league in batting average with runners in scoring position with a .265 average higher than the league average of .253. To be as good as the Tigers, they would need fifteen more hits. That's it. That would be the best batting average in the league with runners in scoring position.

You may think that perhaps the weak Royals bats would mean their slugging percentage with runners in scoring position would be a problem. This is also false. The Royals .265/.328/.392 line with runners in scoring position is actually better than their line overall at .264/.315/.376. Their .392 slugging percentage is right in line with the league average slugging percentage of .391 with runners on scoring position. The Royals are actually a better hitting team with runners in scoring position than they are without.

Maybe you think the Royals are bad with runners on scoring position and two outs. You'd be right, they're hitting just .202/.299/.323 in those situations. But the league average is .213/.316/.399, so the Royals are worse, but not tremendously worse. It turns out hitting in those situations is hard for everyone.

There are all sorts of situational hitting stats you could come up with that show the Royals are or are not clutch, but most of them have sample size issues or are too obtuse to really draw any conclusions from. The Royals offensive problems are not a clutch hitting problem. They're a "lack of baserunners" problem. They're a "lack of power" problem. And really, there are only five people to blame for that.

Eric Hosmer struggled to begin the year, but has been on a tear lately. Nori Aoki is well under his career averages, but still has a decent enough on-base percentage to be useful. Mike Moustakas is still under the Mendoza Line, but has begun to hit some home runs. Billy Butler is having a career worst season, but did have a few weeks of a hot streak going.

And then there is Dayton Moore, who continues to construct offenses with low on-base percentages, little power, and then wonders why his teams don't score more runs. I'm not sure he's going to hit his way out of this slump.