The Royals offense is scuffling right now, sitting last in all of baseball in runs scored. While there has been a lot of talk about how Raul Mondesi is not ready for the big leagues, we all know that the majority of the problem lies with the big boys making big boys money at the top of the lineup not getting the job done, particularly with runners in scoring position. The Royals are dead last in baseball in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage with runners in scoring position, hitting a paltry .179/.216/.172.
That led to a column today by Lee Judge in the Kansas City Star about why RBI matter. The flaws of RBI I think have been pretty well documented, so I don't want to focus on that, but he did delve into how runners hit with runners in scoring position, which piqued my interest, since the Royals have struggled so badly at this.
That was and still is true, but there’s also another factor involved: hitters often hit differently with runners in scoring position.
Do hitters hit differently with runners in scoring position? This should be easy enough to test. We can look at how hitters fare with runners in scoring position compared to how they hit with no runners on base at all.
There is perhaps a small bump in batting average with runners in scoring position, but the numbers are pretty similar. Sames goes for slugging percentage. The biggest change is pretty obvious - when runners are in scoring position, hitters walk a LOT more.
This holds true even for the Royals over the years. Even though they are almost always near the bottom of the league in walks, they still enjoy a significant bump in walk rate with runners in scoring position.
If you think about it, this makes some intuitive sense. With runners on base, pitchers tread carefully. They don't want to give up the big hit by throwing something right down the middle. They will look to nibble and work the corners, hoping hitters will chase.
So hitters seem more likely to draw a walk, and should probably be a bit more patient. This runs contrary to what Judge advocates - being aggressive in the count.
Standing at the plate, taking pitches isn’t the answer; do that and pitchers will pour in strikes and force you to hit from behind in the count and that means you’ll have to hit their pitch.
Last night's game is certainly not the end-all example, but late in the game, Judge's assumption did not seem to be true. Royals hitters were being aggressive - overly aggressive. Giants pitchers did not want to "pour in strikes." Here is Eric Hosmer’s eighth inning groundout with two runners on against Steve Okert.
Here is Hosmer grounding into a double play against Derek Law in the tenth with two runners on.
And here is Alcides Escobar striking out in the eleventh with a runner at first.
Now, Giants pitchers were attacking some hitters - namely Brandon Moss and Raul Mondesi. But it seems that many pitchers know Royals hitters will chase, and won’t give them anything good to hit early in the count. It is a small sample size, but the Royals have actually shown a lower walk rate this year - 6.9% - with runners in scoring position than with no runners on - 9.4%. They absolutely need to reverse that.
Judge is a pretty good reporter in that he does elicit a lot of interesting information from the Royals coaching staff. I fear his opinions on being aggressive in the count with runners in scoring position is being passed on from what the organization believes. It is certainly understandable that players like Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer are feeling the pressure and are pressing with runners on base. Perhaps a more patient approach to the plate could do them some good and get the offense back on track.