Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Building A Better Offense

The Royals have played eleven games since Tony Pena quit. And if you ask those who follow the team closely, they will agree that this team has been playing better baseball since their skipper walked out on them in Toronto.

But why is that?

Since the Royals have an off day, I thought I’d run some numbers comparing the recently departed Pena with interm manager Bob Schaefer to see if I could find some tangible reasons for the improvement.

What I have done is take Schaefer’s entire tenure this season (11 games) and held them up to the final 11 games of the Pena regime.

Let’s get to the results:

Patience at the Plate

We’ve heard from both Schaefer and his players that they are being more aggressive at the plate. The numbers bear this out. Under Pena, the Royals were averaging about 3.67 pitches per at bat. With Schaefer, Royal batters are seeing about 3.54 pitches per at bat. That would lead us to believe that the Royals are indeed going up to the plate and swinging the bat.

But the interesting thing is the Royals are now taking more walks. In the last 11 games, they have drawn 33 free passes (an average of three walks per game.) In the final 11 games of Pena’s tenure the Royals had only 21 walks (an average of 1.9 walks per game.) That is a huge difference.

What all this means is the Royals hitters are being what I would call “selectively aggressive.” It’s about finding the right balance. They are going up to the plate swinging, but for the most part they are swinging at strikes. That results in more real opportunities to get on base either via the walk or the base hit. And that results in more opportunities to score runs.

Outs on the Bases

One of my major complaints against Pena as a manager was in his quest to manufacture runs, he would just give away too many outs. To look at the differences, I looked at stolen bases, caught stealing and sacrifices. So this isn’t going to account for missed attempts like when Angel Berroa fouled off two sacrifice bunt attempts and then swung at a ball out of the zone for strike three (5/8 vs. Baltimore), which I would classify as giving away an out.

Schaefer seems to be slow to call for the sacrifice bunt. The Royals have executed only three sac bunts in the last 11 games. And Pena’s apparent love of the bunt didn’t come through in his final 11 games…His team only got down two sacrifices during that time. But over the last season, Pena called for a sacrifice roughly once every three games. Schaefer is looking to sacrifice less…About once every four games.

And the Royals are still awful on the bases. In the last 11 games the Royals have been successful on four of 8 stolen base attempts. In Pena’s final 11 games, the Royals had only one stolen base in five attempts. But for the entire season with Pena, the Royals were successful under 50% of the time. (13/27 – 48%)

Although conventional wisdom will claim that the team isn’t making as many outs on the bases, from this limited sample size it’s really too close to call. The difference between Pena and Schaefer isn’t enough to claim with absolute certainty that the Royals are better on the bases under the current manager. The trend does appear favorable, but the evidence just isn’t there.

What does it all mean?

The bottom line is wins and in that area the Royals have obviously improved. Schaefer has led this team to five wins in his 11 games in charge. Pena didn’t have a stretch of 11 games where he won at least five of them all year. We’re currently in the middle of the most successful time of this short season.

The big difference is in runs scored. Under Schaefer, the Royals are scoring a little over six runs a game. That’s a good stretch for any team. Also, you have to remember that for six games in this stretch the Royals were without Mike Sweeney, who is by far their best hitter. Even without their captain, they’re scoring almost double the average number of runs they scored with Pena at the controls.

Through their “selectively aggressive” approach at the plate, the Royals are getting on base more and that leads to more runs which leads to more wins.

It’s funny how simple this game can be sometimes.


At 1:59 AM, Blogger Kevin said...

This is all just speculation, but I think what we're seeing is a group of hitters' whose mindsets have gone back to Square One. In other words, I believe they're doing less thinking at the plate, having replaced that with simple reactions to what's thrown their way.

Who knows? Maybe if you try to be disciplined at the plate, you actually become passive. I think Schaefer's approach has set these guys free, has them relaxed, and basically has them ready to make a simple judgment (ball or strike) on every pitch.

At 4:46 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

While some of the Royals have indeed shown some statistical improvment at the plate, quite a few of these runs lately have been scored by the other team's incompetence.

I mean, take it however it comes, but it's a bit early to think a real improvement has occured. If these signs hold up over another 10 games, then I'll start to believe a little.

Ain't I just a spoilsport?

At 10:13 AM, Blogger cfos said...

I agree with Kevin in that I think the Royals are simply 'seeing and hitting' not thinking so much.

I also agree that we have been the beneficiaries of some gift runs, but what comes around goes around and we are owed a bunch of gifts.

At 4:51 PM, Blogger Craig Brown said...

Thanks for the comments guys.

As for not thinking too much at the plate, that's what I was trying to get across. If you go up there with an aggressive attitude, it can build up the confidence and lead to better ABs.

And no Daniel, you're not a spoilsport. But I went back and checked. Of the Royals 67 runs scored, only 8 were unearned (6 on Sunday...thank you Mr. Eckstein!) Every team needs breaks, but I don't think the Royals have been any more lucky than the average team.

At 10:18 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

Not all earned runs are earned, and errors coming with less than two outs can still cause "unearned" runs. If you haven't seen/heard many of the games lately, you'll know the Royals haven't "driven" in a lot of their runs , which is sort of my point. Not earned/unearned, but runs scored via the hit. (like tonight's game, their 3rd run came in on a botched throw and catch in the 9th, not because Gotay drove the runner in...but the run will still count as earned).

Well, in any case, they're currently 2nd to last in OBP and 5th to last in SLG, so it'll be interesting to see if any of those numbers are any different at...say, the All-Star Break.

At 11:06 PM, Blogger Craig Brown said...

Daniel - I see what you mean. I was just using unearned runs as a quick and tangible way to measure the opposition screwing up and giving runs away.

The improvement is coming. It's slow, but it's going to happen. Tonight was the 45th game of the season. I'll bet the numbers over the next 45 will be better across the board in just about every category.

And that run in the 9th tonight was unearned. :)

At 4:52 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

Shows up in the boxscore as an earned run. It came with less than two outs...what they did was deny Gotay an RBI on the double, because Long was stopped at 3rd base. But Long would've been on 3rd with less than two outs, and you can't assume the run wouldn't have scored, so it ended up as an earned run. I'm splitting hairs a bit, but (waving hand) it IS an earned run, Craig, it IS an earned run.

Don't make me bust out the Force on you.

As far as the change, I don't see any reason to disagree with you -- I just don't know most of these players enough to think otherwise. I'll cross my fingers, toes, arms, legs and eyes that it'll happen.

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