clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Will the Royals improve their walk rate this season?

New, comments

Are the Royals a patient team now?

Chicago White Sox v Kansas City Royals Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The Royals have never really been a team to take a free pass. They have finished in the top five in the league in walks drawn just five times in 52 seasons, leading the league once, in 1972. On the other hand, they have finished dead last in the American League in walks eleven times, including every year from 2014 to 2017.

For awhile, it seemed that the lack of walks was by design. With a spacious Kauffman Stadium, the emphasis was on contact, putting the ball in play, and making something happen. Once drawing walks became a more accepted philosophy following the release of Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, the Royals still insisted that it was no longer an undervalued skillset, and thus the Royals could not afford such players. And then they won without drawing walks, so it seemed as if they were proven right.

But this year, Dayton Moore has frequently mentioned the need to get more on-base hitters in the lineup. And he has backed up his rhetoric with action. The Royals added Carlos Santana and Andrew Benintendi, two hitters with career walk rates over 10 percent. Since Dayton Moore took over, there have only been eight times a player has even matched that rate in a single season.

How much can the team improve at drawing free passes? Last year they drew walks at a 7.8 percent clip, fourth-lowest in the American League. I took the expected Royals lineup and plugged in the ZIPS-projected walk rate, combined with my own projections on how much playing time each hitter will get.

Royals projected lineup and walk rates

ZIPS PA Walk Rate Walks
ZIPS PA Walk Rate Walks
Whit Merrifield 700 5.7% 40
Jorge Soler 650 11.6% 75
Andrew Benintendi 650 11.8% 77
Carlos Santana 650 15.2% 99
Hunter Dozier 600 10.5% 63
Salvador Perez 550 2.7% 15
Adalberto Mondesi 500 4.5% 23
Michael Taylor 450 6.5% 29
Nicky Lopez 350 7.4% 26
Hanser Alberto 250 2.4% 6
Jarrod Dyson 150 8.7% 13
Other players 500 5.0% 25
6000 8.2% 491

An 8.1 percent walk season would represent a modest 5 percent improvement over last year, and would have ranked them tied for tenth in the American League last year. Baby steps, perhaps. But drawing 492 walks in a season would be the most by a Royals team since 2002.

And the rate could be even higher Jorge Soler could draw even more walks as pitchers look to avoid his power potential. Hunter Dozier enjoyed a significant spike in walk rate in 2020 that could be a new trend for him. Carlos Santana’s patience could be an example for other hitters to follow.

“He goes, ‘I got one thing on my mind. How do I get on base?’” Matheny said. “And these guys are all looking at him like, ‘Interesting.’ He’s like, ‘I’ve got to get this many walks, I’ve got to work the count. I’ll do whatever I have to do to get on base.’

Of course, if Santana begins to decline, free swinging players like Hanser Alberto and Michael Taylor play more than expected, or the team suffers injuries, they may not improve their walk rate at all.

Does an improved walk rate tend to really help the offense? I took a look at the biggest jumps in walk rate since 2000, and for the most part, it did lead to more offense. Here are the top ten teams to improve their walk rate in one season.

Improvement in walk rate

Team Walk rate Prior year walk rate Improvement Run scored improvement
Team Walk rate Prior year walk rate Improvement Run scored improvement
2016 Brewers 9.9% 6.8% 45.6% 2.4%
2020 Reds 11.3% 8.1% 39.5% -6.3%
2020 Marlins 8.8% 6.5% 35.4% 15.6%
2019 Mariners 9.5% 7.1% 33.8% 12.0%
2005 Diamondbacks 9.6% 7.2% 33.3% 13.2%
2013 Red Sox 9.1% 6.9% 31.9% 16.2%
2004 Dodgers 8.6% 6.7% 28.4% 32.6%
2002 Royals 8.4% 6.6% 27.3% 1.1%
2015 Cubs 9.1% 7.2% 26.4% 12.2%
2017 Athletics 9.2% 9.2% 26.0% 13.2%

Did the teams score more runs because they walked, or did they walk more because they had improved hitters? That is harder to discern.

The Royals should be commended for trying something different and finding some hitters who have shown an ability to get on base. But it still remains to be seen how much of an impact they can have on a franchise that has been swinging free for over five decades.