Morning Coffee: Royals New Offensive Approach
When the Royals held their press conference after the season to announce they were changing directions in regards to the hitting coach, many were buzzing about their new approach they were wanting. The organization expressed the desire for more home runs and to drive the ball more. My initial reaction was that I just loved their desire to hit more home runs because, as you probably know, the Royals have been home run deficient for pretty much their entire history. For an organization to have a home run record of 36 and have that stand throughout the late 90s and early 2000s, you know there’s been an issue with home run power. Kauffman Stadium, though, is one of hardest parks to hit a home run in throughout all of baseball. It’s more of a doubles park, so there’s some question as to whether going for homers is the best way for the Royals to go about things.
I remember last season, the Royals public relations department made a lot out of how the Royals struck out less than any team in baseball. Of course they conveniently left out the lack of walks where the Royals also had the fewest in all of baseball. I think this is one of the things that needed to be discussed more last season, and the reason for this is simply because the Royals hardly even attempted to get into hitter’s counts. It stands to reason that the only way you can strike out is if you see a pitch with two strikes. And it also stands to reason that the only way you can walk is if you see a pitch with three balls. A big reason why the Royals had the least strikeouts¬†and the least walks is they did not work the count enough to get themselves into counts where they could see a pitch that could be driven. One of the big knocks on Wil Myers is that he struck out too much, but he told anybody who would listen that the reason he was striking out more is that he was looking for a pitch to drive and sometimes that led him to counts that featured two strikes against him.
I’m not saying everybody on the Royals roster holds the same power potential that Wil Myers does, and I’m also not saying that you have to strike out a lot in order to be a great hitter. What I am saying is that if you’re swinging early in the count, there’s a pretty good chance that you aren’t waiting for a better pitch to drive into the gap or (hopefully) over the fence. And I think that’s the impetus for the Royals desired approach in 2013. The concern, as I mentioned above, is that the Royals are trying to put a square peg in a round hole at Kauffman Stadium and are looking for more home runs after finishing 26th in baseball with just 131 in 2012. I think the concern over this is more due to the organization struggling to explain exactly what they are looking for from their approach in 2013.
When you look up and down the lineup, I think it’s pretty easy to see who the team wants to embrace a new offensive philosophy and who they’re probably okay with sticking with the status quo. For example, Alex Gordon and Billy Butler probably aren’t being worked with too closely about finding pitches to hit and drive. They know what they’re doing and are both established enough at this point that they aren’t really the pupils any new hitting coach is going to work with. I think the main player the Royals are targeting with this philosophy is Eric Hosmer. You may have noticed that his 2012 was pretty much a lost year, but almost more than anything because his power seemed to disappear for months on end. He had only 38 extra base hits in 2012, which is four less than Alcides Escobar. That’s obviously unacceptable.
One of Hosmer’s staples in the minors was his plate discipline and while many thought he got away from that a little during his impressive rookie season because of the low walk totals, what stuck with me was how he was constantly picking pitches out to drive and then driving them. Sometimes the walk total doesn’t tell the whole story because while the old mantra of a walk is as good as a hit can be true at times, a walk is never as good as an extra base hit. So if it’s 1-0 and Hosmer gets a pitch to drive, I want him swinging and driving the ball. In 2012, his walks and his isolated on base percentage went up pretty significantly, but his pitch selection was pretty horrendous. How many times did he swing at a pitch in 2013 that he had no chance of hitting hard and then he subsequently didn’t hit it hard. So no, he didn’t strike out much and he walked more, but his approach needed a lot of help. Working with Jack Maloof and Andre David could be beneficial to him if he embraces the idea of finding his pitch and driving it, even if it means he strikes out 125 times instead of 95 times.
The other three players I think this approach is designed for are Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Jeff Francoeur. With all three of them, it seemed like they were getting deep into counts, but just simply struggled with finding a pitch to hit. I can think of countless at bats for all three of these guys where they got to two strikes because they were either overly anxious and swung at a bad pitch (I’m looking at you Moose and Frenchy) or they were too passive and got to a point where they were forced to swing because they were at two strikes.
I think it’s doing the desired approach for the team a disservice to say it’s all about hitting home runs because I believe that’s more of the side effect of taking a better approach to the plate that says strikeouts aren’t the worst thing in the world. Yes, if the Royals could find a way to have the fewest strikeouts in the league while increasing their plate discipline, I’d be all for it, but because of a lot of the things I’ve said above, it’s just not usually possible. So while I think we’ll see Royals players walking back to the dugout more often in 2013, I also believe they’ll climb from 16th in baseball in extra base hits to somewhere in the top ten…if they change their ways. And that’s important because while the starting pitching problems were addressed by the front office, the offense was as big of a problem as the pitching last season. If the Royals want to compete, they have to both score more¬†and¬†allow less. Improving their approach and hopefully reaching base more and getting extra bases more is the way to do the former. Without it, any hopes of competing are not reality.
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