The Royals ability to make contact was a hot topic throughout the postseason. Though I had tweeted about it a month ago (ESPN’s “Blueprint for October Success“), I hadn’t given it a second thought until a friend asked what I thought about Kansas City’s contact rate. What I think is the Royals’ approach to hitting is what every youth baseball coach should be preaching. They are aggressive at the plate. Flying in the face of Money Ball, they swing early and often. They go up to plate thinking swing first – “put good swings on the ball and put the ball in play.” What is often overlooked is they swing hard and still make contact. What youth coach wouldn’t want their players doing the same?
A quick look at the Royals’ 2015 regular season is revealing:
- 29thin walks (last in the AL)
- 30thin strikeouts (last in the majors)
- Fewest pitches per plate appearance in the majors
- 24thin HRs
- 11thin slugging percentage
- 3rdin team average
They may not hit the long ball, but the Royals aren’t a bunch of Punch and Judy hitters. They swing hard (high slugging percentage despite few home runs) and they make great contact (high team average, low strikeouts). I think a large part of their success comes from swinging at hittable pitches early in the count (low pitches per plate appearance and low walks) instead of working the count and waiting on the home run ball.
Driving up pitch counts is more accountable for the overall increase in strikeouts and lower batting averages than chasing the home run. When you work counts, you take a lot of pitches that could be hit and put yourself into a lot of two-strike situations. It may work at the major league level where you want to get to the bullpen and where the hitters are so good they can hit in any count and are strong enough the HRs overcome the strikeouts, but it is the antithesis of what you want young ballplayers doing.
With my young players, I constantly stress going up to the plate ready to swing. Be aggressive up there; it’s called hitting after all. It’s why I won’t let my players bunt (heck I won’t teach them how to bunt until they’re a bit older.) I want them swinging hard every time but staying within themselves so they don’t open up early or pull their heads out or develop a hitch trying to jack the ball. I also don’t want them leaving the outcome in the hands of the umpires with the extremely generous (and rightfully so at this age) strike zones. Mostly, I want them learning to put good swings on the ball and to make good contact. Put the ball in play and good things happen. And that is pretty much the Royals’ approach to hitting in a nutshell.
“. . . I hate striking out. So I’m going to battle as much as I can. Even if I hit a weak ground ball, I feel like that’s a lot better than striking out. This is a crazy game. As long as you put it in play, something good might happen.” – Alex Gordon
Though I would have liked to see the Mets win the World Series (even if I am a Yankees fan, I’m a born and bred New Yorker,) I’m happy to see the Royals’ success on the biggest stage. It’s a good opportunity to show my players a great major league team doing all the things my kids should do. Thanks Kansas City, you are a youth coach’s dream.