It is a number that looms large in Royals franchise history, because it is the embarrassingly low record for home runs in a season by a Royals player, by far the lowest for any franchise. Steve Balboni set the mark in 1985, and since then 341 different players have topped that mark. The record stands as a testament to the franchise’s inability to develop big-time power hitters.
But at least several players have come close to reaching Balboni’s mark. Darin Watson at Baseball Prospectus Kansas City recently wrote about the players that have flirted with the franchise record, including Kendrys Morales this year. Since Balboni, eight different Royals sluggers have reached the 30-home run plateau, with Gary Gaetti falling just one home run shy in the strike-shortened 1995 season.
But perhaps overlooked in the shadow of Balboni’s record is the franchise walk record, which seems much more insurmountable. In 1973, Royals first baseman John Mayberry drew an astounding 122 walks, leading the league by 15 walks. It was one of two seasons Mayberry would lead the league in walks, perhaps because he was such a feared hitter. Mayberry hit 107 home runs from 1972-1975. The only sluggers to hit more over that time were Johnny Bench, Willie Stargell, Reggie Jackson, and Bobby Bonds.
"Walks don't bother me unless they come in bunches. That's respect, and that's something everybody wants up here."
It should not be too surprising that no Royals hitter has topped Mayberry’s 122 walks in 1973. What is surprising, is that the record has been seriously challenged just twice. The first run at the walk record came two seasons later by Mayberry himself, when he drew 119 walks, once again leading the league. Darrell Porter made a good run, falling just short with 121 walks in 1979.
Since that season, just two Royals hitters have even topped 100 walks in a season - George Brett in 1985 and Kevin Seitzer in 1989. That’s right, no Royals hitter has drawn 100 walks in a season since George H.W. Bush’s first year as President. Since that time, 192 hitters in baseball have drawn at least 100 walks. None of them wore Royals blue.
In fact, no Royals hitter has even drawn as many as 80 walks since Jose Offerman drew 89 free passes in 1998. Since Dayton Moore’s first full season in 2007, only nine players have even drawn 60 walks - four of those seasons coming from Alex Gordon (Billy Butler twice, David DeJesus, and Eric Hosmer are the others).
It is clear the Royals have long adopted a strategy of going for high-contact and eschewing walks. Here is their walk rate compared to the league walk rate since they began play in 1969.
The main culprit seems to be the stadium. Many have pointed out to the cavernous outfield and reasoned that putting the ball in play makes more sense when half your games are at Kauffman Stadium. Dayton Moore explains his club’s low walk rate in those terms.
“We have the largest ballpark in terms of square footage of any ballpark in baseball. When pitchers come here, they have the mindset to use that park -- put the ball in play, throw strikes, attack the zone. There isn't the same fear factor of getting beat deep that you might have elsewhere. I think that plays a huge factor in that walk statistic."
There may be some truth to that, but Royals hitters don’t draw walks on the road either. Here is their road walk rate compared to the league walk rate.
Perhaps the lack of a fear factor from opposing hitters comes not with the stadium, but from the Royals hitters. As former Royals hitting coach Kevin Seitzer explains:
“Pitchers mainly fear the long ball. If your lineup isn't hitting home runs, pitchers aren't pitching around you. They're going after you. There's no need not to."
That may be part of the issue as well. Opposing pitchers don’t fear Royals hitters. Like Mayberry says, issuing walks is a sign of respect. And when no one in your lineup can top 36 home runs, no one is going to draw 100 walks.
However, Kevin Seitzer was not exactly a feared slugger and he drew 100 walks for the Royals. Other players who have drawn 100 walks since then include Brett Butler, Tony Phillips, Chone Figgins, Brian Giles, Daric Barton, John Kruk, and Lenny Dykstra, not exactly big sluggers. The fact is, the Royals have never placed an emphasis on drawing walks in player development.
Fifty-four hitters have bested Mayberry’s 122 walks since 1973, but none have been in a Royals uniform. Don’t expect any one to reach that mark any time soon.