The Royals: The AL’s Weirdest Hitters

The MLB season is quickly approaching, and I am running out of ways to entertain myself until real baseball starts again.  One way that I attempted to do so today was to prepare a guide about strengths and weaknesses of offenses by team.  I just worked with the AL because I didn’t feel like adjusting the data for DH and non-DH teams to be in the same pool.  Using FanGraphs’ infallible Depth Charts feature, I gathered every American League team’s projected totals for AVG, OBP, SLG, and FLD, in order to see some basic tendencies for each team coming into the 2014 season.  I plugged some numbers into 4 variables which I thought would give a better-than-nothing estimate of how a team’s offensive roster was set up. Here are the stats I used to define each attribute:

Contact: AVG

Discipline: OBP – AVG

Power: SLG – AVG

Fielding: FLD

These variables are about as perfect as they are creative (which is to say, not very).  However, this was intended to be a fairly simple exercise.  For each variable, I ranked all the teams and assigned a value between -7 and 7.  The best team in the AL received a 7, second best a 6, and so on.  A score of 0 is average and -7 is the worst.  Here are the results:

Dashboard 1

As an inexperienced embedding artist, I feel obligated to include this link, which should work if the above chart is not working in this window.

Immediately, one thing popped out at me. The Royals are 1st in Contact. They also are 1st in Fielding. This is good, since they project to be dead last in Discipline and Power. These facts going together really is odd. For the most part, teams fit into more general molds. The White Sox and Twins are below average in everything. The Yankees, Red Sox, and Rangers, are below average at nothing. The Rays and A’s are, to no one’s surprise, copying each other with good Discipline and Defense.

In fact, outside of the Royals, there isn’t another team who is 1st or 15th in any 2 categories, and Kansas City did it in all 4. To figure out how they got here, let’s look at some of the ways they stick out from the rest of the league.

In 2013, the American League had a 19.8% strikeout rate. Of all the Royals’ projected starters in 2014, Lorenzo Cain had the highest 2013 K% at 20.4%. Alex Gordon sat at 20.1%, and you won’t find anyone else above 16.1%. Not satisfied with an overall team strikeout rate about 3 points lower than the league average in 2013, the Royals went out and acquired Omar Infante and Nori Aoki this offseason, whose respective rates of 9.1% and 5.9% ranked 8th and 1st among all hitters with 400+ PA last year. It’s obvious why the Royals batting average is supposed to be 8 points higher than the 3rd best in the league. They put the ball in play.

Unfortunately for them, putting it in play is about as much as they can do. They’re the least likely team in the AL to be clogging up bases with walks, and they’re the least capable team to drive in runs with power.

In 2013, the American League had an average Isolated Power of .149. Alex Gordon led the Royals with his .156 mark. And that was it for the above average power hitters. Even Designated Hitter Billy Butler couldn’t muster up anything better than a .124. The team’s ISO was .119, which won’t be affected dramatically by the arrival of Aoki and Infante, whose ISO’s averaged out to .108, but who replace weak-hitting positions for the Royals.

Oh, and for discipline: they don’t walk. They don’t like it. GM Dayton Moore got in trouble for saying something dumb about it, and the data suggest Manager Ned Yost may not have been aware they existed when he played. To the Royals’ credit, they did acquire Aoki, whose 8.2% rate last year was ever so slightly higher than the AL average of 8.1%. Omar Infante’s rate was just above 4, though, and their 6.9% team rate probably won’t be much better this year.

Lastly, fielding. Kansas City could flat out field, winning 3 Gold Gloves, and saving a mind-blowing 80 runs according to UZR. That number, more than double (!!!) anyone else in the AL in 2013, was the 2nd highest UZR ever in the AL, trailing only the 2009 Mariners. Those 80 runs are almost sure to decrease in 2014, but there’s little reason to argue that any other team in the AL will be expected to save more runs with the glove this year.

Overall, the Royals offense could be nuts in 2014. They won’t strike out, and will put the ball in play. There won’t be many other ways they get on, and they won’t be hitting the ball out of the park much. If last year is any indication, they should save some runs for their pitchers when they’re out in the field. No matter how they turn out this year, there’s one thing to remember. If you’re watching a team effort from Kansas City, there’s a decent chance that no one in the rest of the league is doing it better. There’s also just as good a possibility that everyone is.




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3 Responses to “The Royals: The AL’s Weirdest Hitters”

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  1. gump says:

    Wonder how significant park effects are for these stats. Still an organizational thing but adjusting for their park might make it less stark.

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    • Foster Honeck says:

      That’s definitely something to look into. The gap between the Royals (.132) and the next worse team, the Twins (.140) in ISO makes me think that even in an average-sized park the Royals would most likely have the same Power rank. In terms of contact, Kauffman Stadium does have an above average tendency to surrender hits, but the only team close to them is Detroit, whose stadium is even more severe.

      But I think with fielding, it could be the stadium. The Royals have loaded their roster with rangy outfielders. Gordon has won a Gold Glove every year in LF, UZR says Cain played at an elite level last year, Aoki is quick, and you don’t need two hands to count all the players in baseball as fast as 4th OF Jarrod Dyson. With less acreage in the OF, the Royals may not be able to make the difference they do with their OF defense.

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  2. Jon L. says:

    I’m not able to scroll through that chart.

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