<
>

Royals finding their level

Shortly after Billy Butler's two-out, full-count double this afternoon gave the Royals their first lead in their series against the Rays, broadcaster Frank White said this:

    Well, you go back to swinging at strikes. You swing at strikes, good things happen. Billy was able to get that slider out over the plate, and stay with it, and drive it into right-center field, and good things happen right there, the Royals got two runs.
    But if you take the total at-bats of the guys, and look at how many actual strikes they swing at, it's gotta be pretty low, because you're not getting any walks, and that means the opposing pitcher's not giving anything away because you're not allowing him to.

    So you go back to swinging at a lot of bad pitches, off the plate, and hey, that's definitely concentration. That's all concentration, right there. You can give a pitcher credit for having deception and all the other things that you can give him credit for, but basically it's your pitch selection that really makes a difference ... If it's one or two guys, you can say he's not seeing the ball. But when it's your lineup, then you got to think it's just strictly concentration and just chasing a lot of bad pitches.

Yes, swinging at strikes is a good thing. I'm not sure if I buy Frank's point about "concentration," though. Frank himself -- and he'll always be one of my favorite players -- finished his career with a .293 on-base percentage and typically would draw 25 or 30 walks in a season. Was he not "seeing the ball" for 18 seasons? Or was he simply not concentrating?
I believe that most major league hitters have the ability to draw at least 30 walks per season, if they're not averse to taking the occasional borderline pitch. But you prefer hitters who draw 60 walks per season, and it's been a long, long time since the Royals had more than a few guys who did that, largely because the organization simply hasn't believed in walks and plate discipline since John Schuerholz took over as general manager, nearly 30 years ago.

Last winter, the Royals traded for Mike Jacobs, who's got a .318 career on-base percentage. He's not a bad hitter, because he's got power. But drawing walks and getting on base really isn't his game. Meanwhile, the Royals also sent Kila Ka'aihue back to Triple-A, even though he destroyed Triple-A pitchers last summer before thriving during a brief September cup of coffee. This spring he's drawn 47 walks in 50 games. And yet there's not a place for him with the big club.

Just a few weeks ago, when the Royals were winning, I momentarily bought into the notion that the Royals had come around to the virtues of plate discipline, as taught by hitting coach Kevin Seitzer. Then, the Royals ranked fifth in the American League in walks. Now they're 10th ... and a couple of bad games away from being 13th.

Seitzer can preach patience until the steers come home. As long as the general manager would rather spend $3.25 million on Mike Jacobs than $400,000 on Kila Ka'aihue, the Royals won't get on base or score enough runs to compete for anything but third place.

Postcript: The Royals lost this one, 3-2. They didn't draw a single walk.