How can Royals hitters fix their slow start? Batting coach Terry Bradshaw adds perspective
Terry Bradshaw has coached hitters in the Royals system since 2000. He started in Charleston more than two decades ago, moved to Burlington, then Wilmington, Omaha and then Springdale, Ark. In 2017, after five years as a minor league batting coordinator, the Royals promoted him to major league batting coach. This is his fifth season in the role, but make no mistake: he doesn’t feel like he can stop learning.
“In this game, if you want to stay there, you have to stay relevant,” he said last Friday, while on the court before a game against Detroit.
For relevance, Bradshaw was referring to his offseason reading about current trends in striking development and how top-level striking instructors in the industry are teaching the task.
Gone are the days of “swing down” or “stay back”. Elite hitting coaches must understand the intricacies of each individual player’s movement capacity on any given day. The coach must also recognize the angles at which batters deliver their barrel to the ball.
“It’s all about body movements and angles: getting your body in the right position,” Bradshaw said. “When your body is in the right position, you can control what you’re trying to do. When your body is in the right position, you can create that angle, maintain it, and swing with it.
Thursday night, some Royals hitters may be doing better than others, but overall the picture is clear: the offense was abysmal. In 11 games, the Royals rank 27th in OPS (.582), 29th in on-base percentage (.260), 30th in walks (21), 22nd in hard-hit rate (percentage of balls hit at 95 mph or more) and 30th in sweet spot percentage (which quantifies as a hit ball event with a launch angle ranging from eight to 32 degrees).
Of the 252 qualified hitters who have amassed 30 plate appearances, the Royals have four of the 15 worst hitters, by wRC+ (Adalberto Mondesi, Bobby Witt Jr., Whit Merrifield and Carlos Santana).
Although the Royals have only played 6.7% of their season, the obvious question is: what is the solution to this?
Lineup changes often attempt to heal the wound, but Bill James wrote in 2020: “Simulation studies have repeatedly shown that the order in which players hit in the lineup has minimal impact on points scored by the team. Still, the Royals attempted a bit of a shakeup on Thursday morning. Nicky Lopez, who had a .406 on-base percentage, moved up to first place. Merrifield, who since 2019 hasn’t hit anywhere other than the opener for more than two consecutive games, fell on the No. 2 hole.
According to the club, these moves would increase the likelihood of Andrew Benintendi and Salvador Perez having the chance to do damage with runners on base.
Witt, who has a .333 OPS in his first 46 plate appearances at the big league level, slipped to 7th in the order. The hope, as Matheny called it, was that the move would “provide a different look”.
The newly configured offense didn’t do much in a 1-0 loss to the Minnesota Twins on Thursday afternoon. The Royals recorded three hits, with two walks and eight strikeouts, spoiling another strong start from Zack Greinke and four scoreless innings from the high-octane bullpen.
“Obviously we have to launch our attack,” Matheny said. “We can’t keep throwing shutouts every night. And guys know it.
Several Royals mentioned the weather as a possible factor. The Royals have only played three games in which the temperature on the first pitch exceeded 70 degrees. In a home game April 10 at 75 degrees, the Royals scored three and Cleveland scored 17. On April 12 at St. Louis (76 degrees), the Royals lost 6-5.
It was 71 degrees Thursday at Kauffman Stadium, but winds were blowing at 11 mph from right to left.
“Tough conditions to hit again,” Greinke said. “(That has) been a lot for the team this year. It was cold. The wind blew a lot.”
Will things get better in Seattle this weekend or in Chicago next week? Will it actually help issues like Mondesi’s 62.7% contact rate on pitches in the strike zone*?
* The MLB average is 82%.
Will a faster time help Merrifield hit balls harder than his current average outbound speed of 84.4*?
* The MLB average is 88.3.
Santana is an interesting case, given that he hits the ball harder on average than he has in his career (92.3%) and hits less than ever (9.7%). He also has a wOBA of .183, while Statcast’s xwOBA projects him at .362. It would be the fourth highest in a season of his career. Perhaps the answer is that the Royals will progress towards the average.
Or maybe the answer lies in better pre-game planning. Could more match-like training in the cages and on the pitch help?
In 2019, after the Royals promoted Alec Zumwalt to director of hitting performance and brought in Drew Saylor, Keoni DeRenne (now the Royals’ big league batting assistant coach) and Mike Tosar, the development department batting introduced this type of high-intensity training. to their hitters. This group also spearheaded an intensive focus on developing individual plans to counter opposition forces.
How much of that happens at the big league level? It is most likely specific to the individual. The same goes for movements and angles, of which Saylor brought immense understanding. In an interview this spring, Saylor explained how his thought process changed during his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates. “Starting in 2018,” he said, “I was going to operate within the laws of motion and constraints and build outward. That’s what started to form. Understanding movement planes How energy is transferred kinetically And more importantly, being able to dissociate the signals we give to hitters from the actual movements of the human body under the constant constraint of gravity.
It comes down to Bradshaw and what he learned. If the Royals hitters need any mechanical changes to deal with the slow start, it will be up to him, DeRenne and major league coach John Mabry to find the answers. Bradshaw may be looking for them from a slightly different perspective.
“I 100% believe it’s about moves,” Bradshaw said. “The problem is that everyone’s body moves differently. The key to all of this is that when you dive into it, you start thinking about the guys you had. “Oh man, that’s why he couldn’t make that move.” Or, ‘Man, I probably should have put him in that position because of that.’ That’s what you learn when you’re in there.
The Royals are in an offensive rut that dates back to the past few years. In 2018, they ranked 25th in OPS (.697). In 2019, they ranked 27th (0.710). In 2020, they ranked 20th (.711). And in 2021, they ranked 25th (0.702).
This season’s roster may mirror last year’s 74-win club, with the exception of Witt, who is 11 games into his major league career. But for the Royals to win the way they want in 2022, it’s as if an offensive solution has to emerge from somewhere, whether it’s the new formation, different weather, a progression towards the average or a plethora of adjustments.
(Photo by Whit Merrifield from Wednesday: William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)