KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Near the top of the frustration list for Kansas City Royals fans is the complete lack of power from the team’s lineup over the last two years.
The Royals finished tied for last in 2012 in home runs with just 131, and perhaps not coincidentally, they were 12th in runs scored.
So, manager Ned Yost decided a switch in hitting philosophy was in order. Out went hitting coach Kevin Seitzer. In came hitting coaches Jack Maloof and Andre Davis.
And Yost suggested one reason behind the change was the need to get the most power out of the Royals’ young hitters. Yost also proclaimed that Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Sal Perez, and Lorenzo Cain all seemed capable of hitting 20 or more homers.
So far, however, the Royals, in terms of power, appear to be going in reverse. Hosmer, Perez and Cain each are stuck on one home run, and it’s almost June. Moustakas has four homers, but is hitting in the .170s.
The Royals are dead last in home runs in the American League with just 28, and are 13th in runs scored. They have hit just two homers since May 14 – both by 39-year-old backup infielder Miguel Tejada.
The Royals also are 14th in the league in walks.
According to Maloof, however, don’t expect the power numbers to change, a declaration that likely won’t sit well with frustrated Royals fans.
Maloof has conceded, like many Royals hitting coaches before him, that hitting in Kauffman Stadium simply isn’t conducive to home runs, at least not for the home team.
“There is just no reward here (for us) to try and hit home runs,” Maloof said. “We try to stay down on the ball, be more line-drive oriented, and do more situational hitting at least through the first two or three rounds (at home) here. That’s why I’m not overly concerned because I think we’ll lead the league in fewest home runs again this year. We don’t have a 40-homer guy in the middle of the lineup.
“We’ve got kids. Billy Butler is a doubles machine. No one has told me he is a home run hitting guy. If we try to do it too much, we’ll get ourselves in trouble. Same thing with Alex (Gordon). They’ll hit home runs on the road, and yes, they’ll hit some here. They have. But the risk for them to go out and hit a home run in one of 80 at-bats, the reward isn’t great enough.
“Baltimore? Better reward. I’m not using it as an excuse. But it is a mindset.”
Of course, the counter argument is obvious: Other teams seem to come into spacious Kauffman Stadium and have no trouble hitting home runs. Yost mentioned as much after letting Seitzer go last fall.
In fact, opponents have hit nearly three times as many home runs (32-11) this season at Kauffman Stadium as the Royals.
Maloof has an explanation for that.
“Here’s the thing: Other teams come in here from Anaheim or wherever and they have their swing already down,” Maloof said. “This park doesn’t even enter into their minds when they hit here. They have their swings, the same swings, because it pays dividends for them at home.
“What we need to do with our players, like we were in April, is be better at situational hitting. We were over 60 percent then in getting guys in from third. We’re under 50 percent now. We just need to execute better. In this ballpark, go ahead and hit the ball in play (with guys on third and less than two outs). You’re not going to hit a home run anyway, for the most part.
“I’m not making excuses. We play half of our games here. I’m just talking about the ability for a ball to carry out here the way it would in Anaheim or Philadelphia or in Baltimore, where we have hit home runs.”
The absence of power, Maloof said, has more to do with youth than ability.
“I understand what Kansas City fans and baseball fans have been through here,” he said. “They want winning. In spring training and in April, expectations were high. I get that. But again, we’re looking at players whether it’s Sal Perez or Lorenzo Cain or Eric Hosmer or Mike Moustakas – they don’t have much service time. Not an excuse, but it’s a fact.
“We’ve got Billy and Alex who have some RBIs (and homers), but we need more contributions.”
Ultimately, though, Maloof knows fans are looking for scapegoats. And when an offense is riding a season-long slump, it’s easy to find one – the hitting coach.
“I understand what fans’ frustrations are,” he said. “But we’re doing the best we can. If I get too caught up with what fans are saying, I wouldn’t sleep at night. I know the history of this team losing 90 games. But we have to keep the players from getting down and pressing. Don’t get caught up in all that.
“We have to stay positive, and there’s a lot of baseball left.”
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.