Kauffman Stadium Suppresses Walks, Still No Excuse


Jun 7, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals mascot Sluggerrr waves a flag after the game against the Houston Astros at Kauffman Stadium. Kansas City won the game 4-2. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Many aficionados on twitter and in the blogosphere ripped apart Dayton Moore’s comments that blamed the team’s lack of walks on Kauffman Stadium in Jeffrey Flanagan’s article on Fox Sports KC. It’s understandable to ridicule a General Manager for blaming woes on a building, but, it turns out, he had a point.

From Flanagan’s article:

“We have the largest ballpark in terms of square footage of any ballpark in baseball,” Moore says. “When pitchers come here, they have the mindset to use that park — put the ball in play, throw strikes, attack the zone. There isn’t the same fear factor of getting beat deep that you might have elsewhere.

“I think that plays a huge factor in that walk statistic.”

The creation of this article began as an attempt to disprove Moore’s comments. It was meant to join the chorus of articles that gleefully tried to debunk an obviously silly myth. That plan did not come together. Moore’s comments have some truth to them. However, it may be an even worse reflection on the organization than if it were false. It is not just a nonsensical statement easily eschewed by fans and tucked away in the thickening book of baffling front office comments. It represents a decades-long failure to construct a lineup that can compete in its own stadium. We’ll get back to this, but for now, let’s talk about the genuinely high number of strikes thrown at Kauffman Stadium.

As of Friday morning, the Royals had seen 64.61% strikes on the road (2461/5357) and 66.49% strikes at home (2986/4491), which, in terms of strike percentage, is a rather wide margin. This will play a role in walks. More strikes thrown to a batter will necessarily give him less chances to draw a walk.

Of teams that pitched to the Royals at Kauffman Stadium as well as on the road, they threw more strikes the K.

White Sox: 67.2% at Kauffman vs. 62.9% at U.S. Cellular Field

Rays: 67.4% at Kauffman vs. 66.8% at Tropicana Field

Indians: 63.8% at Kauffman vs. 63.1% at Progressive Field

Tigers: 66.9% at Kauffman vs. 63.7% at Comerica Park

Houston Astros: 64.7% at Kauffman vs. 61.2% at Minute Maid Park

Cardinals: 68.8% at Kauffman vs. 67.2% at Busch Stadium

Angels (the only team to break trend): 60.1% at Kauffman vs. 62.9% at Angel Stadium

June 11, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; A general interior view of Kauffman Stadium before a game between the Detroit Tigers and the Kansas City Royals. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

In the past five full seasons, the Royals have been thrown more strikes than any other team. It doesn’t matter whether they have an atrocious offense, like in 2010, or a good offense, like in 2011. The Royals almost always finish in the top five teams in strikes seen. This isn’t a viable excuse for poor run production, however. The Royals are not the only team to see a lot of strikes. The Cubs, White Sox, Orioles, and Astros are also top five regulars and every one of them has had at least one winning season in the past five years. The quality of the team’s offense seems to have little affect on the amount of strikes thrown to them (with the possible exception of the Cubs). The White Sox, for example, have an overall winning record from 2008-2012, with average offensive output, yet they are consistently thrown more strikes than almost all other teams, every year.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Tampa Bay Rays have been thrown the least, or second least, amount of strikes every single season since 2008. Again, it doesn’t matter whether they have a good offense (2009) or below average offense (2012), they are always thrown less strikes. This is odd, because Tropicana is generally considered a pitcher’s ballpark. The Yankees is another team seeing fewer strikes. Since they moved to their new stadium in 2009, they have also finished with the least or second least amount of strikes seen every season.

Over the course of five years, these teams have had different lineups, different managers, coaches, trainers and sometimes even GMs. The only thing that has stayed consistent has been their ballparks. Check out the yearly breakdowns and their five year totals below.

2012 Major League Average: 63% strike percentage, #ranking (strikes/pitches); 8.0% average walk rate. 4.45 average runs per game.

Cubs (61-101): 65 Str%, #1 (14615/22592); 7.5 BB%,  447 BB, 5967 PA; 3.78 R/G

Royals (72-90): 65 Str%, #2 (15078/23309); 6.6 BB%, 404 BB, 6149 PA; 4.17 R/G

White Sox (85-77): 64 Str%, #5 (14964/23350); 7.5 BB%, 461 BB, 6111 PA; 4.62 R/G

Orioles (93-69): 63 Str%, #18 (15148/23869); 7.8 BB%, 480 BB, 6160 PA; 4.40 R/G

Astros (55-107): 63 Str%, #20 (14574/22994); 7.7 BB%, 463 BB, 6014 PA; 3.60 R/G

Yankees (95-67):62 Str%, #29 (14944/24247); 9.06 BB%, 565 BB, 6231 PA; 4.96 R/G

Rays (90-72): 62 Str%, #30 (14574/23526); 9.4 BB%, 571 BB, 6105 PA; 4.30 R/G

2011 Major League Average: 63 Str%; 8.1 BB%; 4.46 R/G

Cubs (71-91): 65 Str%, #1 (14879/22953); 6.9 BB%, 424 BB, 6130 PA; 4.04 R/G

Astros (56-106): 65 Str%, #2 (14964/22958); 6.5 BB%, 401 BB, 6150 PA; 3.80 R/G

Orioles (69-93): 64 Str%, #3 (14959/23356); 7.3 BB%, 452 BB, 6156 PA; 4.37 R/G

White Sox (79-83): 64 Str%, #4 (14657/22936); 7.7 BB%, 475 BB, 6159 PA; 4.04 R/G

Royals (71-91) 64 Str%, #5 (15246/23725); 7.1 BB%, 442 BB, 6267 PA; 4.51 R/G

Rays (91-71): 61 K% #29 (14956/24232); 9.3 BB%, 571 BB, 6152 PA; 4.36 R/G

Yankees (97-65): 61 K% #30 (15069/24822); 9.9 BB% 627 BB, 6306PA; 5.35 R/G

2010 Major League Average: 63 K%; 8.5 BB%; 4.38 R/G

Orioles (66-96): 64 K%, #1 (14593/22672); 6.9 BB%, 424 BB, 6109 PA; 3.78 R/G

Cubs (75-87): 64 K%, #2 (14847/23269); 7.8 BB%, 479 BB, 6140 PA; 4.23 R/G

Astros (76-86): 64 K%, #3 (14452/22568); 6.9 BB%, 415 BB, 6005 PA; 3.77 R/G

White Sox (88-74): 64 K%, #6 (14583/23080);  7.6 BB%, 467 BB, 6118 PA; 4.64 R/G

Royals (67-95): 63 K%, #12 (14712/23227); 7.6 BB%, 471 BB, 6209 PA; 4.17 R/G

Yankees (95-67): 61 Str%, #29 (15203/25026); 10.4% 662 BB, 6379 PA; 5.30 R/G

Rays (96-66): 61 Str%, #30 (15090/24675); 10.7  BB%, 672 BB, 6270 PA; 4.95 R/G

2009 Major League Average: 62 K%; 8.9 BB%; 4.61 R/G

Astros (74-88): 64 Str%, #2 (14377/22639); 7.4 BB%, 448 BB, 6040 PA; 3.97 R/G

Royals (65-97): 64 Str%, #3 (14753/23159); 7.5 BB%, 457 BB, 6103 PA; 4.23 R/G

Orioles (64-98): 64 Str%, #5 (14869/23702); 8.3 BB%, 517 BB, 6233 PA; 4.57 R/G

White Sox (79-93): 63 Str%, #6 (14632/23296); 9.8 BB%, 534 BB, 6132 PA; 4.47 R/G

Cubs (83-78): 62 Str%, #14 (14870/23867); 9.5 BB%, 531 BB,6132 PA; 4.39 R/G

Yankees(103-59): 61 Str%, #29 (15189/25069); 10.3 BB%, 663 BB, 6449 PA; 5.38 R/G

Rays (84-78): 61 Str%, #30 (14988/24665); 10.3 BB%, 642 BB, 6223 PA; 4.96 R/G

2008 Major League Average: 63 Str%; 8.7 BB%; 4.65 R/G

Royals (75-87): 65 Str%, #1 (14483/22434); 6.4 BB%, 392 BB, 6118 PA; 4.27 R/G

Astros (86-76): 64 Str%, #2 (14612/22842); 7.4 BB%, 449 BB, 6051 PA; 4.42 R/G

Orioles (68-93): 64 Str%, #4 (14786/23555); 8.6 BB%, 533 BB, 6211 PA; 4.86 R/G

White Sox (89-74): 64 Str%, #5 (14747/23517); 8.7 BB%, 540 BB, 6231 PA; 4.98 R/G

Cubs (97-64): 62 Str%, #20 (15401/24776); 10.0 BB%, 636 BB, 6384 PA; 5.31 R/G

Yankees (89-73):62 Str%, #24 (15046/24135); 8.5 BB%,535 BB, 6257 PA; 4.87 R/G

Rays (97-65): 61 Str%, #30 (14888/24377); 9.9BB%, 626 BB, 6312 PA; 4.78 R/G

Five Year Totals 

Kansas City Royals (350-460): 64.108 Str% (74272/115854); 2166 BB, 7.02 BB%, 30846 PA; 4.27 R/G

Houston Astros (347-463): 64.016 Str% (72979/114001); 7.19 BB%, 2176 BB, 30260 PA; 3.91 R/G

Chicago Cubs (387-421):  63.523 Str%  (74612/117457); 8.18 BB%, 2517 BB, 30753 PA; 4.35 R/G

Baltimore Orioles (360-449): 63.469 Str% (74356/117154); 7.79 BB%, 2406 BB, 30869 PA; 4.40 R/G

Chicago White Sox (420-391): 63.336 Str%, (73583/116179); 8.05 BB%, 2477 BB, 30751 PA; 4.61 R/G

Tampa Bay Rays  (458-352): 61.326 Str% (74496/121475); 9.9 BB%, 3082 BB, 31062 PA; 4.67 R/G

New York Yankees (479-331): 61.234 8.05 Str% (75501/123299); 9.7 BB%, 3052 BB, 31622 PA;  5.23 R/G

Though it’s plain to see that the Rays are thrown less strikes regardless of their offensive production, it’s more difficult to tell if throwing less strikes to the Yankees has anything to do with their ballpark or if it’s tied to the success of their offense, because they always have a good offense. Predictably, the teams that are thrown more strikes rarely have above average walk rates, regardless of a good record or a good offense. In the case of Dayton Moore’s comments, it is not unreasonable for a General Manager to point out that more strikes means less walks and, also, when nothing else stays consistent except the ballparks, the ballparkprobably had an effect on those numbers.

In the end, the size of the ballpark won’t matter, because the Royals take their dismal offense to every stadium. Even if Kauffman chews up 30-to-60 walks in a season, the team is not drawing walks at nearly the rate of the Orioles, who seem to face the same obstacle. More strikes means more contact, but the Royals have such a high ground ball rate, more contact doesn’t translate to hits. The Royals haven’t not found a way to turn Kauffman against opponents. If the Royals front office is so intimately familiar with the limitations the stadium puts on its team, they should be better at avoiding its pitfalls than their opponents. It’s their stadium.

Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus sums up the Royals’ situation beautifully in Effectively Wild (BP’s essential daily podcast). He states, “…the implicit statement in [Moore’s comments] is that if you’re in this ballpark, then pitchers know that walks are going to be particularly useful for you as a hitter, right? They’re not walking you because they know that a walk in a park like that, where it’s hard to do damage with the bat, is particularly stupid. So then, from the team’s perspective, they should know that a walk is particularly useful. If it’s bad for the pitcher, then it’s good for the hitter. So the Royals as a team, by this logic, that I’m not necessarily accepting, but by this logic they should have extra incentive and extra emphasis on getting more walks–getting players who can walk, telling their players to walk, teaching a walk approach. So what Dayton Moore is essentially saying is that they are constantly getting beat–that other teams are beating the smack out of them. In this war over the walk, the other team is winning constantly.”

If Kauffman Stadium so significantly alters the outcome of plate appearances, the Royals should have already figured out how weaponize it. So far, all we’ve heard about this would-be weapon is that it only hurts the home team. It’s long past time to turn that around.