Blaming the K

Jamie Squire

What's that? George Brett hasn't turned Jeff Francoeur into a good and patient hitter? Ah, but don't worry. It's mostly the ballpark's fault. And when Frenchy gets some experience, boy ...

A long time ago, I created a little junk stat called "Beane Count". This was before Moneyball: The Book and way before Moneyball: The Movie. This was when the A's were collecting players like Matt Stairs and Geronimo Berroa and whichever other Slo-Pitch Softball players were available, and trying to homer and walk their opponents into submission. Half the Beane Count was simply a team's rank in home runs hit and walks drawn; rank first in your league in a category, and you get 1 point. The other half was the same thing, except for your pitchers. ESPN.com, for some unknown reason (hint: automation), still tracks Beane Count. And fittingly, Billy Beane's team ranks second in the American League this season.

Meanwhile, Dayton Moore's team ranks second to last. This does not qualify as big news. Here's where the Royals finished in Beane Count in each of the last five seasons:

2008 third to last
2009 second to last
2010 last
2011 last
2012 second to last

Some years the pitching is mostly responsible, some years the hitting. It's always something, and this year it's the hitting, as the Royals currently rank last in the American League in home runs -- Alex Gordon leads the club with six -- and next to last in walks (thank you, ChiSox).

A few weeks ago, one of the Royals' hitting coaches blamed his students' lousy power on their home ballpark.

Now we've got the Royals' general manager blaming his club's paucity of walks on the ballpark, too:

"We have the largest ballpark in terms of square footage of any ballpark in baseball," Moore says. "When pitchers come here, they have the mindset to use that park -- put the ball in play, throw strikes, attack the zone. There isn't the same fear factor of getting beat deep that you might have elsewhere.

"I think that plays a huge factor in that walk statistic."

Define huge.

Look, Kauffman Stadium is a tough place to hit. It's a tough place to hit home runs, anyway, and it's also a tough place to draw a walk. But the connection between those two things is tenuous. I'm eyeballing three-year park factors, and I'm seeing very little correlation between home-run factors and walk factors. What I think is that home-run factors are largely influenced by dimensions (and in some cases, altitude), and that walk factors are largely influenced by the hitter's background.

As it happens, Kauffman Stadium does have large dimensions, and quite possibly a pitcher-friendly hitter's background. Unfortunately, the Royals' hitting coach and now the Royals' general manager, in their efforts to excuse what should be unacceptable performances, have taken those facts and twisted them by suggesting that Kauffman Stadium somehow turns Royals into fundamentally different hitters.

But if that's true, the Royals have a serious leadership problem. There's no inherent reason for a team that plays its home games in a pitcher's park to struggle terribly on the road, too. This season in road games, the Royals have hit 22 home runs. Last in the American League. This season in road games, the Royals' walk rate is 13th in the American League.

And that seems about right. That's about what Kauffman Stadium costs you. A spot or two here, a spot or two there. It's always going to be incredibly difficult for the Royals to lead the American League in home runs, or walks; The K is just too tough for that. But it shouldn't terribly difficult for the Royals to rank in the top half of the league in one of those categories or the other, from time to time. And yet somehow they never do.

About three seconds after the Royals' hitting coach blamed Kauffman Stadium for the Royals' anemic power, he got fired and replaced by George Brett. And since then? Frankly, this passage makes me feel sort of hopeless:

So far, there hasn't been a dramatic improvement in that area since Brett took over. The Royals were averaging 2.5 walks per game pre-Brett, and are at 2.6 since.

But Moore, who is a steadfast believer in on-base percentage, maintains that the Royals eventually will get much better at plate patience.

"There comes a point for all young guys when they get confident enough to hit with two strikes, and then they can take more pitches," Moore says. "When you get deeper into counts, obviously you have the opportunity to draw more walks."

--snip--

"Just experience," Moore explains.

Dayton Moore doesn't understand baseball, and you're not a steadfast believer in on-base percentage if, over and over again, you choose, you reward, players who have terrible on-base percentages. Yuniesky Betancourt. Chris Getz. Jeff Francoeur. These have been some of Dayton Moore's very favorite players.

You can fire all the hitting coaches you want. Until you fire the guy who hires the hitters, it's not going to matter who's coaching them.

For much more about the Royals' exciting hitters, please visit SB Nation's Royals Review.

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