The Royals are winding down the year, but with the young kids impressing down the stretch, the team and fans are thinking about how next year’s team might look. With an infusion of talent, the club is thinking they might try to get back to their roots, according to a recent article from Sam McDowell at the Kansas City Star. Rather than empasize power, the Royals will go back to a combination of speed and defense, the formula that was credited for their success in 2014-2015.
“Every park should be a home-field advantage to the home team,” Yost said. “So it was a home-field advantage for us in ’14 and ’15 when we had speed and athleticism and we could steal bases, we could manufacture runs, we could drive the gap, we could cover the gaps defensively. That’s what we have to get back to.”
It should be remembered that the 2014 Royals, who were dead-last in home runs, were only ninth in runs scored. The formula worked largely because the pitchers were fourth-best in runs allowed, and frankly, the team was a bit lucky - their pyhtagorean run expectation was only 84-78.
The 2015 squad was a much better offense squad, finishing sixth in runs scored, the first Royals offense since 2003 to finish higher than the American League-average in runs scored-per game. They weren’t much better in the home run department, finishing second-to-last.
I wanted to see if there was any correlation between Royals runs scored with a few other offensive variables. I took Royals per-game numbers and evaluated them compared to the American League-average. In the chart below, 10% means the Royals were 10% better than the league-average, while -10% means they were 10% worse than the league-average.
There will be a wide fluctuation in stolen bases, while on-base percentage is going to be more stable. It can be a bit difficult to parse out of this chart, but it looks like there is at least some correlation to runs scored with each of these three variables - stolen bases, home runs, and on-base percentage. The Royals are almost ALWAYS above-average in stolen bases (41 of their 50 seasons), but when they truly excel, it is commonly linked to an increase in runs scored, relative to league-average, with an exception for the mid-90s.
Conversely, the Royals have almost NEVER been above-average in home runs - 1977 was the only season. Yet when they do at, least improve, it has commonly been met with an increase in runs scored as well, although the link does not appear to be quite as strong as stolen bases, with a notable lack of correlation recently.
But interestingly, what seems to jive almost perfectly with runs scored is on-base percentage. Let’s take a closer look at the chart with just runs scored and on-base percentage.
This shouldn’t be a surprise, many other studies show on-base percentage is one of the highest offensive variables correlated to scoring runs, along with slugging percentage. This seems to hold true in Kansas City too, despite the idiosyncrasies of the ballpark.
Of course, it is a lot easier to find power and speed than it is a player that can get on base. On-base skills have gone from being an undervalued asset in the Moneyball days, to becoming a highly-sought after skill. And it is much easier to discover an amateur player’s raw speed or power than it is their ability to tell the difference between a slider on the corner and one that will dive off the plate.
And perhaps things are changing. Top prospects Khalil Lee and Nicky Lopez have demonstrated an ability to draw walks. The Royals acquired Blake Perkins from the Nationals in the Kelvin Herrera deal, and he has an astounding 17% walk rate since being acquired. Young players like Brett Phillips and Ryan O’Hearn also show the ability to take a free pass.
The Royals should definitely exploit their home ballpark and its deep alleys, using speed to get the extra base when possible. And a reliance on home runs doesn’t make as much sense in a ballpark that definitely does suppress home runs. But Kauffman Stadium overall is a pretty good offensive ballpark. The ballpark has been found to increase walk rates while cutting strikeout rates, and the spacious outfield allows more balls to drop for hits.
Finding players who can get on-base - by drawing walks and putting the ball in play when they’re not walking - seems to be the best formula for scoring runs in Kansas City. A player like Nicky Lopez - who walks a lot, rarely strikes out, and has excellent speed and defense - would be an ideal player. Whit Merrifield, who doesn’t have a high-walk rate, but has been able to maintain high on-base percentages nonetheless, would bea nother. Speed is nice, power - at least home run power - seems less important, but getting on-base, that should be the point of emphasis as the Royals move forward.