Royals' offense on a boom or bust campaign

Lack of discipline has led to the lowest walk percentage among MLB clubs

Royals' offense on a boom or bust campaign

KANSAS CITY -- On a steamy Thursday night at Kauffman Stadium, the Twins' Kevin Correia, owner of the third-worst ERA (4.96) and worst K/9 ratio (4.23) among 93 qualified starters, toed the rubber to begin the bottom of the fourth inning.

But despite the veteran pitcher bearing down on the Royals, this frame unfolded precisely how myriad innings have for the impatient offense this season: Three feeble swinging misses, followed by a weak flyout and an equally soft groundout. It took Correia eight pitches and less than three minutes, 30 seconds to navigate the inning.

If innings such as Thursday's fourth sound familiar it's because they've become all too common for a Kansas City offense that combines lack of patience and inability to hit for power.

The Royals enter their three-game series with the Diamondbacks on Tuesday ranked last in MLB in walks (256) and walk percent (6.2). If they maintain their pace in the latter it would be the lowest figure by an MLB team in 13 years. Kansas City combines this with a .111 isolated slugging percentage that also ranks last in the Majors.

Here are a few plate discipline statistics the Royals sit at, or near, the bottom of in MLB:

• 30th in walks (256)
• 30th in walk percent (6.2)
• 27th in pitches seen per plate appearance (3.73)
• 26th in O-Swing percentage (32.8)
• 22nd in Swing percentage (47.5)

O-Swing is the percentage of swings on pitches out of the strike zone, while Swing represents the overall percentage of pitches swung at.

"At this level, it's very, very difficult to be successful without some measure of discipline," said manager Ned Yost, whose solid pitching staff and impregnable bullpen has counterbalanced an inconsistent offense, and kept the Royals in the playoff hunt.

There's no main culprit in the Royals' lineup. Every starter, with the exception of Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas, sees fewer pitches per plate appearance than league average.

But a few guys in particular stand out for their freewheeling nature at the plate:

(Disclaimer: these rankings are out of 153 qualified MLB hitters and come from Fangraphs.com).

Salvador Perez: fourth-highest O-Swing percentage; 14th-highest Swing percentage; 16th-lowest walks percentage
Alcides Escobar: eighth-lowest walks percentage, 19th-highest O-Swing percentage; 20th-highest Swing percentage
Eric Hosmer: 17th-highest O-Swing percentage

That's not all: Perez, Omar Infante, Escobar and Billy Butler all sit in the bottom 15 for pitches seen per plate appearance (of 80 qualified hitters, courtesy of ESPN).

Finally, four players -- Nori Aoki, Butler, Escobar and Infante -- linger in the bottom 25 for isolated slugging percentage. No other team places more than two players in the bottom 25.

"When we're swinging the bats [well] and we're scoring a lot of runs, at the end of the day, we're talking about how we're having good at-bats, we're not swinging outside the zone," Yost said. "And when we're not, a lot of the times it's because we're a little bit over-aggressive and getting ourselves out on pitchers' pitches."

As Jeff Flanagan of FOX Sports Kansas City points out, the lack of patience has seeped into the lower rungs of the organization. All but two of the Royals' six farm teams sit in last or second to last in walks in their respective leagues:

• Omaha Storm Chasers (Triple-A): 15th out of 16 teams
• Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Double-A): fourth out of eight teams
• Wilmington Blue Rocks (Class A Advanced): eighth out of eight teams
• Lexington Legends (Class A): 14th out of 14 teams
• Idaho Falls Chukars (Rookie Advanced): third out of eight teams
• Burlington Royals (Rookie): 10th out of 10 teams

"When they get here, they've played their whole career in a certain fashion, but that doesn't mean they stop trying to improve and trying to get better," Yost said.

Yost is conflicted on whether plate discipline is innate or a skill that can be learned. He mentioned witnessing the development and transformation of ultra-patient power hitters Prince Fielder and Barry Bonds. He also mentioned himself, the former Brewers catcher with a .237 career on-base percentage.

"Some guys never learn it. I never learned it," Yost said. "I never learned to be a disciplined hitter. I would never take my walks because I really felt like I could hit anything they threw up there."

After Correia's quick fourth-inning dispatch of Kansas City, things started to change.

Not in the Royals' approach, but in the results: Raul Ibanez sparked a two-run fifth with a double on the second pitch; two innings later, Lorenzo Cain ignited a rally with a single on pitch number two, and Escobar cracked the first offering down the left-field line for a game-winning two-run triple.

And just like that, the aggressive approach that made fans grumble and impatiently shift in their seats early in the game, has brought them to their feet and led to a 6-3 win.

Such is the nature of this peculiar Royals season.

Jackson Alexander is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.