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Striking out with the bases loaded

It’s as bad as you’ve been led to believe.

MLB: AUG 22 Twins at Royals Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In their just-completed series against the Minnesota Twins, the Royals loaded the bases on three separate occasions.

Leading 4-1 on Friday, three consecutive singles to open the fourth brought up Cam Gallagher, followed by the top of the order. In a 3-1 game, this was where the Royals could really break things open. Except Gallagher popped out. Whit Merrifield drew a walk to bring a run home, but then Nicky Lopez and Hunter Dozier both went down swinging.

On Saturday, the Royals loaded the bases with one out in the sixth inning of a 4-2 game. Adalberto Mondesi and Ryan O’Hearn both struck out swinging.

And on Sunday, the Royals loaded the bases with two outs, trailing 4-3 game. And again, Mondesi struck out swinging.

In three separate situations over three games the Royals loaded the bases. They scored once, striking out five times.

The numbers with the bases loaded are uninspiring.

Bases Occupied
123 23 21 5 2 0 0 0 5 1 10 .095 .130 .095 .226 .167 -35 -39
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 8/24/2020.

Based on what we discussed above, let’s break it down a little further.

Bases Occupied
0 out, 123 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 .000 -100 -100
1 out, 123 9 7 3 1 0 0 0 3 1 5 .143 .222 .143 .365 .333 7 -7
2 out, 123 13 13 2 1 0 0 0 2 0 5 .077 .077 .077 .154 .125 -56 -52
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 8/24/2020.

Again, uninspiring.

It’s not completely surprising the Royals have loaded the bases just once with no one out. It can take time to build a rally, and as we’ve seen from this Royals offense, they’re not exactly what one would describe as “potent.” (Friday, when they did load the bases with no outs for the only time this season, it was powered by three consecutive singles.) What’s not surprising given their overall numbers, they failed to get a runner home from that situation.

It’s not any better with one out. Despite hitting in this situation nine times, the Royals have managed to plate just three runs. One of those trotted home courtesy a walk. Nicky Lopez (2 AB), Adalberto Mondesi (2 AB) and Makiel Franco (1 AB) have failed to put the ball in play in this situation. That’s a problem.

The Royals have batted 13 times with with bases loaded and two outs. In this situation, they’ve recorded just one hit and scored two runs. These are the one’s where you absolutely sit up and take notice. If you make the third out with the bases loaded you’ve effectively robbed your club of the potential of a massive inning.

Let’s pause for a moment to recognize the Royals’ bases loaded hero: Ryan O’Hearn. O’Hearn is not having a good season, but is the only one in the lineup who has come through with the bases juiced. He has the Royals’ only two hits and has driven in four runs. If you’re calculating the percentages at home, O’Hearn has 100 percent of the hits and has driven in 80 percent of the Royals’ runs with the bases loaded.

Yes, the Royals are abysmal in 2020 with the bases loaded. This is but one situation. How are they doing with runners on base compared to no one on? Or how about when they advance runners to scoring position? Luckily, we have Baseball Reference.

Bases Occupied
RISP 252 221 56 12 0 9 76 22 67 .253 .316 .430 .746 .311 108 88
--- 576 526 128 29 2 16 16 38 138 .243 .307 .397 .704 .301 97 99
Men On 433 391 100 22 0 15 91 32 108 .256 .311 .427 .738 .310 105 89
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 8/24/2020.

The Royals mirror MLB when it comes to how they perform in each of the above situations. Meaning, they hit better with runners on than with the bases empty. So they’re not exactly an outlier overall. But we can’t forget the fact that this is, overall, a below average offense.

By and large, the Royals are deploy an average offense when hitting with the bases empty. It’s when they put runners on that they lose ground. While they—like the rest of the league—step forward overall when runners are on base, they simply aren’t stepping forward enough. This is where they’re falling behind. And this is why they’re ultimately a below average offense.

Looking at such a specific split is merely but a thin slice of the whole pie. It tells a tale, but it may simply be a diversion from the overall story.

Again, looking back to the numbers presented at the beginning, the Royals are running out a below average offense. And, as you can probably parse from the numbers that don’t keep pace with the rest of the league once the Royals get runners on base, this team continues to have difficulty scoring runs. The average team is scoring 4.69 runs per game. Despite plating 13 runs over three games against the Twins in the last series, the Royals are at 3.93 R/G.

As a team, the Royals are scoring 13.3 percent of the runners they put on base. That’s below the league rate of 14.4 percent. And as we’ve previously noted, when a team like the Royals with a below average OBP is likewise bringing their runners home at a below average rate, that’s not how one would be set up for success. But it’s interesting how the individual failures (and lone success) with the bases loaded mirrors the overall output.

Team PH/HR/Situ Hitting*
Base Base Base
Whit Merrifield 59 15 25.4%
Ryan O'Hearn* 51 12 23.5%
Salvador Perez (10-day IL) 41 8 19.5%
Bubba Starling 17 3 17.7%
Jorge Soler 57 10 17.5%
League Average 14.4%
Maikel Franco 71 10 14.1%
Franchy Cordero (60-day IL)* 18 2 11.1%
Hunter Dozier 37 4 10.8%
Nicky Lopez* 43 4 9.3%
Ryan McBroom 26 2 7.7%
Brett Phillips* 16 1 6.3%
Alex Gordon* 52 3 5.8%
Adalberto Mondesi# 69 2 2.9%
Cam Gallagher 12 0 0.0%
Team Total 585 78 13.3%
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 8/24/2020.

Merrifield, as noted in this space before, is a goddamn professional hitter. O’Hearn, despite his overall struggles, does seem to pick up his production with runners on base.

Initially, I thought I’d limit the above table to hitters with 20 or more base runners, but decided to expand it a bit to cover Bubba Starling (who’s been decent at scoring runners) and Brett Phillips (who has not).

And then there’s the bottom of the list. Alex Gordon and Mondesi have struggled overall and you can see just how unproductive they’ve been in generating runs for the Royals. When they’re stacked at the bottom of the order, this is where rallies go to die.