It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to pick up on the fact that the Royals have struggled mightily on the road this year. Even after two wins in Chicago over the weekend, Kansas City finds themselves with a 13-23 road record, compared to a 19-7 mark at home. So at home, they are on a 118-win pace and on the road they are on a 59-win pace. I guess if you want to be optimistic, you could note that the Royals have played 10 more road games than home games, meaning they have 55 home games and 45 roadies left this year. But that’s a discussion for some other time, and that all evens out anyway.
I’m more concerned with why the Royals are so bad on the road. Is it bad luck, bad timing, poor performance? I think we can rule out bad luck. The Royals have been outscored 160-117 on the road this year. Plug that into the ol’ Pythagorean record calculator and you get…13 wins. Maybe in the micro sense you could point to that game in Cleveland that the bullpen and defense combined to blow, or the Sunday afternoon game in Cleveland earlier this year that got away, but no, the Royals have earned that miserable road record. On the flip side, their Pythagorean record at home is 15-11. Playing above their heads a bit at home is keeping this team in the race (well, that and playing in a division where the leader is only 35-27).
I don’t think bad timing is a factor, either. The Royals had won six in a row at home before they embarked on this most recent road trip, and they went 2-8, including losing the first eight games of the trip. On the infamous 1-5 West Coast trip in late April, they were 12-6 when they got on the plane for Los Angeles. So you can’t say they’re playing poorly at home and then carrying that over to the road.
No, it seems like it’s simply some bad performances. That’s borne out in the team’s pitching and hitting splits. These probably won’t surprise anyone. At home, the Royals hit .275/.328/.419. On the road, they hit .264/.309/.389. Despite hitting 32 home runs on the road to just 22 at home, they’ve scored more runs at home than away, 119-117. Remember, they’ve played 10 fewer home games. For comparison, the 2015 team hit .279/.334/.426 at home and .259/.310/.399 on the road. So this year’s team isn’t that far off. They’re a bit worse across the board, which might be expected when you remove Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon from the lineup. Throw in the disappearing act of Kendrys Morales, the immense struggles of Alcides Escobar and the ongoing offensive disaster that is Omar Infante*, and it makes sense.
*To be fair, Infante is one of four Royals with more than 100 plate appearances to have better road numbers than home numbers this year. In KC, Infante is hitting .188/.217/.234; on the road, it’s .286/.333/.400. For the record, the other three are Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, and Cheslor Cuthbert.
That leaves the pitching staff. Again, these splits probably won’t surprise anyone. In spacious Kauffman Stadium, Royals pitchers are pretty good, allowing a .250/.311/.369 line with 21 home runs and a 248:75 K:BB ratio. But on the road, it’s a different story. A bad story. Like .254/.335/.445, with 53 home runs allowed and a 257:129 K:BB ratio. That’s right, 53 home runs. And yes, that’s also right: Royals pitchers have struck out nearly as many hitters at home as they have on the road, in nearly 300 fewer plate appearances.
For a comparison, last year the Royals hurlers allowed a .248/.305/.393 line at home and a .251/.323/.399 line on the road. This year’s home line is arguably an improvement; the on-base percentage is up a little but the slugging is a lot less. But the road stats…woof. As I stated, the Royals have allowed 53 home runs on the road this year, as opposed to 87 all of last year. They’re on pace to allow 120 home runs on the road in 2016, a number that could climb in the warmer summer months.
So who might the culprits be? You can probably guess some of them.
Edinson Volquez has allowed six home runs on the road compared to two at home, with batters hitting .287/.376/.463 against him on the road compared to .247/.287/.324 at home.
Yordano Ventura? Even after a sterling effort yesterday in Chicago, he’s allowed a .267/.379/.444 line on the road and six taters, compared to .233/.310/.353 at home and two homers.
Ian Kennedy has been nails at home, with opposing hitters going just .217/.294/.283 in Kauffman Stadium. But outside Kansas City, it’s been .251/.330/.497 for the opponents. Kennedy has allowed 14 home runs this year; 13 of them were away from home.
Danny Duffy has actually been better away from Kauffman. Go figure. Of course, he’s been pretty good at home, with a .258/.302/.438 line. On the road: .209/.265/.330. I imagine a lot of that difference goes back to the game against Chicago when he was perfect for five innings, then allowed six runs in the sixth.
And then there’s Chris Young. He might deserve some sort of award for this. At Kauffman Stadium, he’s held opposing batters to a .192/.263/.370 line. That’s really good. Away from Kauffman Stadium, he’s been throwing batting practice: .340/.379/.830. Yes, an .830 slugging percentage. For comparison, David Ortiz is hitting .346/.428/.722 this year. Batters facing Chris Young away from Kansas City are outhitting David Ortiz. Granted, this damage has been limited to 21 1/3 innings, but it’s still a significant difference. Young has matched Kennedy’s total for home runs allowed on the road, plus added four more long balls at home. If you’re wondering, Young was quite good both home and away last year, allowing a .216/.276/.408 line at home and .189/.265/.335 on the road, with eight homers surrendered both home and away.
Short of figuring out some way to limit Young’s starts to only home games, I’m not sure what the solution is, other than simply pitching better. The Royals understandably prefer fly ball starters, given the 81 games they play at Kauffman Stadium. That’s obviously hurting them when they go on the road and those fly balls turn into home runs. Cutting down on the walks would certainly help. But mostly it boils down to starters who pitched well last year repeating that performance going forward.