About 27 hours after the Royals renovated their Major League hitting staff, Salvador Perez stood at the plate, a baserunner on third base and only one out.
A multitude of factors had prompted the decision a day earlier to move on from hitting coach Terry Bradshaw — too many factors to apply all of the weight to just one item — but a lack of execution with men in scoring position rung among the loudest.
In both ends of a doubleheader against the White Sox on Tuesday, post-coaching change, the Royals still provided a leading exhibit.
And then another.
And then another.
The Royals were 0-12 with runners in scoring position in a 3-0 loss in the first of two games Tuesday. In the nightcap, they were 1-11. They left 12 men on base in the opener, a parade of inept sequences that began with that Perez first-inning at-bat. He would strike out on four pitches, two of them well outside the strike zone. He chased. He lost.
But this is not about the combined 1 for 23 over the two games or even the 0 for 12 in the loss. Rather, it’s not only about the 0 for 12. It’s worse. In several cases Tuesday, the zero would have been fine — so long as the ball had been put in play.
In the first game alone the Royals marched five hitters to the plate with a runner in scoring position and fewer than two outs. The result? Five strikeouts.
Worse still, four of those five at-bats came with a man standing on third and less than two outs — meaning a fly ball alone would have produced a run. If the Royals had converted on just three of those four, they’d have matched the White Sox run output from the afternoon.
Look, I think a bit too much can be made of productive outs — they’re important, to be sure, but I’ve long believed they tend to result from simply having a quality plate appearance rather than a serious emphasis on merely getting the bat to the ball. (And you don’t want to remove the home run from the equation because you’re so concentrated on just making contact.)
But the Royals are taking this to the extreme.
At the plate, they actually have the second-lowest strikeout rate in the major leagues. But they jump to 14th with a runner at third and less than two outs.
In fact, they are one of only four teams in baseball that strike out at least 1% more often with a runner at third base and less than two outs than they do in all other situations. While the overwhelming majority of the league has adequately put the ball in play at a greater rate in those situations, the Royals have somehow done it less frequently.
That’s what prompted this quote from president of baseball operations Dayton Moore on Monday as he explained how the front office decided now was the time to replace Bradshaw with Alec Zumwalt in the Major League dugout:
“There are times in a baseball game where it’s unacceptable to strike out — runner on second with no outs, runner on third with one out or less. Those are times where we gotta be able to put the ball in play.”
There was a time — in the pretty recent past — in which the Royals greatly prioritized putting the ball in play in all situations as the rest of the league went in the opposite direction and became more and more comfortable with the strikeout if it equaled higher hard-hit rates. (The analytics show the latter is the route to go.) Back then, the Royals’ thought process derived from a belief that they were faster than any other team in baseball and could move runners along the basepaths in ways their opponents could not.
The 2022 Royals are not a slow team, but they no longer fit that previous description. They could therefore stand to grow more accepting of a strikeout. They do not need to be the team that strikes out the least (or, ahem, even the second-least).
They’re changing their mindset. Or they’re close. It has just not yet shown in the result.
In a conversation with someone within the organization this week, they actually pointed toward the team’s low strikeout totals overall as a reason they needed to alter their approach, not as a point of pride. They chase too often, and a team that combines chasing bad pitches with a high-contact rate is not one that tends to get a lot of hits. That’s what leads to weak contact.
But in other situations? Like, say, runners in scoring position and fewer than two outs? Good hitters adjust.
Those in-game adjustments — the situational adjustments — have been absent. Again, hence the coaching change.
The change in approach must follow it.
That, however, will apparently require some more time.