In the last few years, much of the Royals success has related to putting the ball in play and using a combination of skill and luck to reach base. This seemed to work, as the put the ball in play a lot (30th in MLB in K% from 2014-16) with a nice dose of BABIP luck (8th highest BABIP in MLB from 2014-16).
Obviously, things have changed. The 2017 Royals look a bit different than the ones of previous seasons. They hit a lot more of home runs (close to franchise record) and since their World Series Championship, they have been striking out a tad more. Both of those things will lead to less balls in plays. So with that, I got myself thinking about the luck factor. Let’s take a look.
The Whole Team
I’ll start with the luck on an overall team level. Like I said above, the Royals have been a team built off some BABIP luck the past few years. That has sort of changed in 2017. Rather than finding themselves near the top of the BABIP leaderboard (north of .300), the Royals are ranked 22nd in 2017, standing at a mark of .294.
For those of you don’t the ins and outs of BABIP, this isn’t the only number we look at. Batted ball luck goes farther. The main component of it is how hard/soft the player/team is hitting the ball. Another factors include types of batted ball and speed.
Anyway, the Royals don’t hit the ball very hard, coming in at 20th hard-hit rate. They also make more soft contact than you’d like, with the 8th highest rate in baseball. So looking at these numbers, that 22nd ranked BABIP seems fair.
But I still wanted to dive deeper. I took a look at the website xStats.org (highly recommended). This site comes up with a deserved stats for a player/team derived from Statcast data. For example, I’ll take a look at the Royals’ xBABIP (deserved BABIP). The Royals show up with a fairly average mark of .299. This is a .007 difference from their actual BABIP, which is a fairly unlucky mark when relative to the rest of the league, as the Royals have the 7th biggest differential (BABIP-xBABIP).
As for pitching for the Royals, there isn’t too much to it. They have a pretty average mark of .301 (12th in baseball). The pitching also has reasonably average marks in hard-contact% (15th) and soft-contact% (11th lowest).
Interesting Cases for Players
Royals hitters that have benefited off BABIP luck include Eric Hosmer (.355) and Lorenzo Cain (.339). You can look at both sides with Cain though. Yes, he has a very above-average BABIP, but he is below his career average of .342. His speed is the culprit for this, as he’s 8th in baseball with 19 infield hits.
Eric Hosmer is also a really weird case. His BABIP runs extremely high at .355. This is the highest mark of his career and way ahead of his career average of .315. This is even more odd, considering he has 6th highest GB% in all of baseball.
Some hitters that have been hit with bad luck include Mike Moustakas and Paulo Orlando. Moustakas’ xBABIP is 15 points higher than his actual BABIP. Paulo Orlando looked terrible in April and we knew he wouldn’t be as lucky as he was in 2017. I don’t know if a 158 point falloff in BABIP is right though.
A lot of people won’t like to hear it, but Joakim Soria is one unlucky dude. He runs an extremely high .353 BABIP. He avoids hard contact (27.4% hard-hit rate) and induces a fair amount of weak contact (16.3%). Poor Jack...
In his time with Kansas City, Ian Kennedy has over-performed with his BABIP a lot, posting numbers of .268 in 2016 and .257 this year, when his career BABIP is .285. Another alarming thing is the amount of hard contact he allows. Minimum 100 IP, he allows the second most hard contact in baseball (40.7%), with Robbie Ray being the only one with more. When you’re getting hit that hard, your BABIP should usually be above .300.
So these are just some of the lucky and unlucky players on the Royals. The team as a whole seems close to league average/slightly below-average in batted ball luck. And for a team batting the two worst hitters in the league in their lineup. This seems important because for a team batting the two worst hitters in the league, they’ll need all the luck they can get.