A lot has been said the last few years when it comes to the Royals offense. What looked to be a lineup that was making strides upwards took a step back in 2012, then only slightly improved in 2013. Going into this 2014 season many feel as if the team has improved their offense, with upgrades at second base and right field. It would appear that adding Omar Infante and Nori Aoki to the mix will fix what ails this team, and they just might. I’ve felt for awhile one of the bigger issues the team had was the top of the order not getting on base, which is what will be expected of those two. If I was a betting man, I would say the Royals pitching won’t be as spectacular as it was in 2013, which is not a knock on them; the pitching was just that good last year. For the Royals to really shine, there are certain areas offensively that they are going to have to improve on. Here are a few that I feel need work and would help their chances as they try to reach their goal this year of playoffs.
Yes, I’m going for a Walk–Not the After Dinner Kind
For anyone who has followed the Royals long enough, you know that this team just doesn’t walk. This isn’t anything new and isn’t something that has been going on for just a few years. It has been like this for decades now. As someone who understands why a team would want to see more pitches and would want the opposing pitcher to throw as many pitches as possible, it drives me crazy that this team doesn’t walk more. Last year the Royals were 13th in the American League in walks and was well below the league average. Sure, Billy Butler walked 79 times, a career high for him. But you get past that, the next closest on the team is Alex Gordon with 52. In fact, Eric Hosmer is third with 51…and after that is Lorenzo Cain with 33! Walks aren’t the end all be all, but here is some food for thought: if you see more pitches, and take more walks, that means the opposing pitcher throws more pitches. If he throws more pitches, he will be out of the game faster and the other team is in their bullpen. If it comes down to bullpens, I love the Royals chances. But this would mean Kansas City hitters need more patience, and I have yet to see that really preached by this organization. While reading the new Baseball Prospectus recently, I was reading the Boston Red Sox section and what was said about almost every one of their prospects? “Patient at the plate, walks a lot”. This is an organization that has been a regular in the playoffs for years, and I firmly believe this is one of the reasons why. Like I said, not the end all be all, but if this team walks just a little bit more(like league average), this will help their offense oh so much more.
Hit ’em in the Gaps
Some might look at the team being last in home runs in the AL last year as a sign they need to hit more homers. As much as that wouldn’t hurt, I tend to think the bigger problem is not hitting enough extra bases in general. The Royals play their home games in one of the hardest parks to hit the ball out of the yard in, Kauffman Stadium. But that doesn’t mean that ‘The K’ is a pitchers park, as you can still accumulate a lot of offense there by hitting the ball in the gap. That ballpark is made for a team to drive the ball into the outfield on a regular basis and take advantage of their large outfield. In fact, if you are an old enough fan you remember the Royals teams of the late 70’s-early 80’s were not home run hitting machines. No, they hit the ball in the gap and ran for days. They realized they weren’t going to hit a bunch of long balls and decided to instead take advantage of their stadium. I feel that is what this team should do, especially since most of the team just aren’t big sluggers and won’t be chasing Steve Balboni’s season record for homers. Last year the team was 12th in the league in doubles while Hosmer lead the team with 34. In the past few years both Gordon and Butler have racked up 50 double seasons. It can be done again, and honestly should be done. You don’t have to hit a bunch of home runs to win ballgames; but you can’t just ‘single’ teams to death. If this team is hitting more extra bases, they will score more runs and win more games. Simple math really.
37 sacrifice bunts. 4th in the American League. Just looking at that number doesn’t immediately make you go out and pillage. Sure, some of you love bunting. Love It! Obviously manager Ned Yost loves it and I have ranted quite a bit about my dislike of bunting. I should clarify here: I don’t mind it if used in the proper situation. Late in the game when you only need one run and need to move a runner into scoring position? Fine by me. Jarrod Dyson? He can bunt every time if he wants to, cause the chances of him beating it out is pretty high. But early in the game? No way. Yost has them move runners over way more than they should. You are giving away free outs and taking the bat out of a batters hands that might be able to do more damage. The numbers even say so. If the Royals continue to struggle, giving away free outs isn’t the answer. Like I said, I’m not saying never do it. But be smart about it. Don’t do it 37 times in a year. Be like the Oakland A’s and do it about 21 times. That is more reasonable and should give your batters more of a chance to drive in runs. This team is not made for small ball; so quit acting like it.
Getting Doubled Up
In what should be no big surprise, the Royals were near the top of the league in hitting into double plays in 2013. Billy Butler lead the league in the statistic and Salvador Perez is no speed demon either. In that regard, those two might be near the top of the leader board again this year, but there are ways to lower the rate of it happening. For one, start the runners more when the two of them are at the plate. Obviously you aren’t going to want your runner to get caught stealing either, but putting on the hit and run more should help a little bit. I also feel like Butler needs to drive the ball more and not hit it on the ground as much. Just like his lack of speed hurts the team, hitting the ball on a line will cause that to happen a lot less. Just like you don’t want Dyson to hit the ball in the air, you don’t want Butler to hit the ball on the ground. Play to your strengths. The team actually lead the league in stolen bases last year, so this team is fairly used to moving runners along by any means necessary. Hitting into less double plays could help the team save some outs and give them a greater chance of keeping an inning going.
So those are just a few things the Royals can do this year to increase their offensive production. With the Royals starting rotation not looking quite as strong as last year, the team is going to need their offense to live up to their expectations and start producing like everyone has expected the last couple years. They need Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar to not be the black holes of suck they were last year. In what was shocking to me, the team was actually last in strikeouts, which means they are at least making regular contact. But they need more runners on base and to at least be league average on offense. A bump in offense could very well mean a bump in the wins column. If they are serious about contending this year, they have to step up their game. They only way to be elite is to play elite.