Don’t mind me. I’m just over here fooling around with the Baseball Reference Play Index…
We are all Royals fans, so I don’t think what I’m going to tell you is a revelation: The Royals abhor the base on balls. Like actively go out of their way to avoid it. Of course, they’ll tell you that’s bunk. It’s just the way things are! And besides, they won the World Series!™ (I’m beginning to think the previously bold phrase will be present in every post from now on.)
Anyway, the numbers don’t like. Last summer the Royals walked in 6.3 percent of all plate appearances. That walk rate was the lowest in the AL and was tied for the lowest in all of baseball with the Miami Marlins.
Unlike the Royals, you could say I’m obsessed with walks. Maybe it’s because when I played the game, it was my best shot at reaching base. Or maybe it’s because when I watch a Royals game these days, it’s a pretty rare occurrence. Not as rare as an Alcides Escobar inside the park home run, but… pretty rare. So I decided on a windy February night to pull some numbers related to the Royals and walks.
— Already noted above was the fact the Royals finished last in the AL in walk rate. You have to go back all the way to 2010 to find the last time the Royals didn’t finish in the basement. That year they finished… Second to last.
— The current trends aren’t helping the Royals. Or maybe the Royals aren’t helping the current trends. The average walk rate has dropped since 2010, going from 8.5 percent to last year’s 7.7 percent.
— There were 241 walks issued with the bases loaded last year. The Royals drew four of them. That was the lowest number in baseball.
Lorenzo Cain drew two of those free passes, both within a few days of each other in April. The game on April 13 was the infamous JR Graham game where the young Twins reliever broke Alex Rios‘s hand, then proceeded to cough up a single and a pair of walks, the last of which was the bases loaded one to Cain, before he was mercifully pulled. Kendrys Morales drew a four pitch walk to plate an insurance run against the White Sox in July. That was a big one, because Greg Holland blew the save in the ninth, but the Royals held on through extras and won in the 13th. And Alex Rios is the final entry on this list, driving in the first run of the August 6 game against Detroit. That was the game where the Royals couldn’t hold their early three run lead, but made up a three run deficit in the later innings, only to lose the game on the Ian Kinsler home run off Ryan Madson in the bottom of the ninth.
— In 2015, a team opened their offensive portion of a game with a walk 144 times. That seems like a low number. I mean, there are 30 teams that play 162 games each. (Except Cleveland and Detroit, who played just 161 games. How did I miss that?) That’s a total of 4,858 opportunities to start a game with a walk.
Three times in 2015, the Royals opened their offensive portion of the game with a walk. Surprise, surprise, each time it was Alcides Escobar. Maybe it’s not so surprising, considering Escobar hit at the top of the order in 131 games, so he certainly had opportunity. Motive? That’s another thing. We know he’s all about reaching Peak Escobar, but we should be nice and realize that three walks leading off the game isn’t all that bad. In fact, it’s around the median for leadoff hitters. Curtis Granderson and Matt Carpenter each walked seven times leading off a game, which was the most in baseball last year.
The first time Ventura did it was on May 24, it was Kolten Wong who drew the honor. Ventura followed that up with another walk to Carpenter. In fact, seven of Ventura’s first eight pitches were out of the zone. A single and a double followed. Disaster in a 6-1 Royals loss.
Guthrie’s game-opening free pass happened on July 8 in Tampa. It was the first of three walks that inning. Somehow, Guthrie avoided surrendering a run. That was the game the Royals hung nine runs on Chris Archer, so it was all good.
Ventura’s second leadoff walk was issued in a game on August 27 against the Orioles. It was an inning of true outcome perfection. Ventura walked Manny Machado leading off the game then went strikeout, walk, strikeout, strikeout to close the frame. This, you may recall, was Ventura’s 11 strikeout game, which was a season high. This start earned a Game Score of 75, which was his second highest total of the year. So not everything has to be terrible when a pitcher opens a game with a walk.
What does all this mean? Absolutely nothing. Just a fun walk through a handful of games and some silly, isolated instances where the Royals did (or didn’t) draw a walk. Just a diversion to pass the time until the real games start. Thankfully, Play Index is around to help us pass the time.
And by the way, the Royals won the World Series!™