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Hok Talk - Royals walks are just the beginning

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They’re just a symptom.

Tyler Zuber
Tyler Zuber
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

If you’ve ever had a case of strep throat, you know how excruciating it can be. Your throat feels like it’s on fire. Still, while you might (almost certainly will) treat the pain, it would be foolish to behave as if that’s all that strep throat is. If you don’t treat it with antibiotics, it can spread and eventually kill you. The sore throat is bad, but it’s really just a symptom of what’s really wrong.

The Royals’ pitchers’ walking woes are just a symptom of a larger problem, one that is killing this team’s chances of winning even if they were to suddenly field a competent offense.

According to Baseball Savant, the Royals are the worst team in baseball at avoiding counts that favor hitters. On the other side of the spectrum, they are the sixth-worst team in the sport at getting batters into a two-strike count. Even worse, they are fourth-worst at finishing batters off once they get there. When the Royals aren’t walking guys, they’re still not finishing them off.

Rex Hudler will often complain about pitcher hunting for strikeouts, but the Royals would definitely do better if they were striking out more batters. Failing to finish off a hitter with two strikes has an exponential, negative effect on pitchers. Not only is a batter who gets a second or third or fourth chance more likely to reach base, but it really weighs on the pitch count, even if the pitcher can eventually finish him off. Pitch counts have been a huge problem for the Royals this year as their starters are still averaging fewer than five innings per outing which puts a massive strain on the bullpen.

Whether the Royals will climb back into contention this year, next year, or five years from now, their pitching staff will need to get better command of their pitches beyond just not walking guys.

Rob Manfred keeps finding new ways to upset people

This last week saw the enactment of new rules around baseball to limit the use of foreign substances by pitchers. They have...not been received well around the league. It hasn’t even been a week, and apparently dropping trou has instantly become the preferred way for pitchers to show their displeasure. Max Scherzer, who almost dropped his pants during his own outing last week, replied to repeated interview questions about the new rules by referring the reporters to Manfred, saying, “These are Manfred rules [...] Go ask him what he wants to do with this. I’ve said enough.”

The players’ beef seems largely to be about the fact that these rules started being enforced again in the middle of the season. However, considering some of the claims being made, I’m tempted to think they’d be mad even if this had been done during the off-season. During that same interview, Scherzer seemed to imply that he had a pitch slip from his grip and almost hit a batter because of a lack of foreign substances to increase his grip. Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Tyler Glasnow blames the rule changes for an arm injury he suffered, claiming it may have caused him to alter his pitching motion. When everything from missed spots to injury is blamed on a single cause, it begins to feel a bit like the players are simply using the rule enforcement as a scapegoat because they don’t like it.

There don’t appear to be any truly virtuous people on either side of this current debate. Manfred and MLB probably should have implemented these changes during the off-season. They shouldn’t have tacitly encouraged players to cheat by taking so long to crack down on it and then scapegoating an Angels clubhouse employee. They probably also should have spoken to the players about their concerns; it seems that the baseball may have changed in recent years to become generally more slippery and with tighter laces that actually do make it harder to grip. For their part, the pitchers are paid to throw the baseball accurately and without using foreign substances. The incentives may have been there to cheat, but they still shouldn’t have done it, and their cries against the implementation now feel a bit silly.

The Royals had a Pride Night to be proud of

Last Friday night was not the Royals’ first Pride Night at the K, but it was the first one for which they did any serious advertising. Even Sluggerrr got in on the action with a truly garish rainbow getup. And...I just don’t care. When the Royals finally had their first Pride Night in 2019, then-Royals VP of Marketing Toby Cook gave away the game:

“I think the biggest statement would have been had we not taken this step because other Major League ball clubs have almost done this, and you get to a point where not doing it is a statement in and of its self,”

In admitting that the Royals were doing it more to avoid making a statement than anything else, he admits that the Royals didn’t implement Pride Night to give a hearty welcome to the queer community but rather to avoid becoming an obvious outlier in a way that might have alienated fans. The Royals, much like MLB, much like any large business, made a decision for business reasons.

Of course, it’s not all negative. While corporations offering support for social justice causes almost always comes off awkward at best, the fact that they can be trusted to only take up those causes once it makes business sense to do so can tell you quite a bit about the society you’re in regardless of what politicians or news sources might report. The fact that it makes more business sense for the Royals and the majority of other MLB teams to host a Pride Night than to continue ignoring their queer communities - and to increase their publicity around it, no less - tells us that social progress continues to march forward.