‘Walk Hard: The Royals’ Hitters Story’: Free passes are still scarce
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It seems every season we feel obligated to point out the Royals’ lack of patience at the plate.
Last season, the Royals finished 26th in the majors in walks. This season? Dead last.
The Royals also have struck out the least of any team in baseball, almost 100 fewer times then the next nearest team.
What does that combination mean?
"We don’t have deep at-bats," manager Ned Yost said bluntly. "We put the ball in play early.
"No, it’s not be design. … We’re last in the league in walks. We are at times getting ourselves out more than the pitcher is getting us out."
And, as has been the case in recent years, the lack of patience at the plate is a problem organization-wide.
— Triple-A Omaha is second to last in drawing walks in the Pacific Coast League.
— Double-A Northwest Arkansas, the Royals’ affiliate showing the most plate discipline, is fourth in the Texas League.
— Class A Wilmington is dead last in the Carolina League in drawing walks.
— Class A Lexington also is dead last in drawing walks in the South Atlantic League.
But general manager Dayton Moore insists that it’s not an organizational philosophy to teach Royals prospects to simply hack away.
"Plate discipline has to be stressed," he said. "Now, I don’t know how much you can actually teach. It’s more nature than nurture.
"But yes, that is a part of our offense that has to get better. No question about it. You got to keep preaching it, and hopefully, eventually, the formula works.
"I think every organization stresses (plate discipline). Everywhere I’ve ever been it’s always about putting yourself in the best count you can to do damage. It’s all about getting on base and scoring runs."
But the Royals’ organization, top to bottom, simply isn’t very good at it, especially at the big-league level.
And Yost said that by the time players reach him, he can do only so much.
"I bang my head all the time," Yost said. "I’m like the fans. Once the game starts, I’m basically a fan. I’m rooting, ‘Hey, let’s go and get some guys on base and get some guys in.’ You can get frustrated at times, but you can’t let it overcome you.
"You know they can get hot, so you wait it out. I know people are tired of ‘waiting it out,’ but there’s nothing else you can do. You can’t yell. You can’t scream. You can’t demand that they take more pitches. They play their game."
Yost said that Royals coaches, and mainly hitting coach Dale Sveum, talk about plate discipline, patience and pitch selection all the time.
"But I’ve always found that when you’re working with guys it’s really hard to make adjustments in the summer," Yost said. "There’s too much going on for guys to make that adjustment. When you make your best adjustments is after the season is over."
Yost said he also fights the urge to get angry with his players.
"You can’t take off your belt and spank them," he said. "That doesn’t work anymore ….
"I remind myself that it’s a hard game. If you’ve played this game, you always got to remember how hard it is. Being a guy a lot like those guys in there (the clubhouse), I never walked. I felt like I could hit anything. It’s stupid. But you learn too late. You learn the game when you go into coaching.
"The guys who are really good learn the game before they go into coaching."
Yost said he can’t really explain why his players don’t improve their patience at the plate.
Former hitting coach Jack Maloof said last season that one of the main reasons the Royals drew so few walks was because of their lack of power — the Royals are last in the major leagues this season with just 61 homers. Because opposing pitchers don’t fear the Royals’ lineup, Maloof said, they don’t feel they have to nibble at the corners.
"I don’t buy that," Yost said. "We got guys who can suddenly jump up out of the blue and bite you. There’s no one on the other side who is saying, ‘Hey, these guys can’t hit homers, so I’ll throw it right down the middle.’ Nah, that’s not happening."