eric hosmer getty

The Royals still aren’t hitting home runs

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The Kansas City Royals have hit 14 home runs in their first 36 games this year. That is not just the worst home run rate in baseball by far in 2014, it’s among the worst in recent baseball history. Here, over the last 25 years, are the fewest home runs hit by teams in the first 36 games:

2012 Padres, 13 homers

— Padres finished 14th in the National League with 121 home runs and went 76-82.

2014 Royals, 14 homers

— The Royals did not hit a home run in their first seven games. They have not hit one in their last four games either.

1992 Red Sox, 14 homers

— Red Sox went 73-89 and hit just 84 home runs all year, their lowest total INCLUDING STRIKE SEASONS since 1946.

1991 Cardinals, 15 homers

— Cardinals were a speed team for Joe Torre and went 84-78. But they hit 68 homers all year, far and a way the lowest total in baseball. Todd Zeile led the team with 11 home runs. As in ELEVEN home runs.

1991 Astros, 15 homers

— Houston lost 97 games that year and hit just 79 homers, led by a young Jeff Bagwell, who hit 15. The Astros were playing in that home-run crushing Astrodome.

1989 Cardinals, 16 homers

— Whitey Herzog’s Cardinals were always near or at the bottom of the league in home runs, but they found ways to win by getting-on-base and using speed. They hit 73 this season but won 86 games.

1994 Pirates, 16 homers

— Strike season Pirates went 53-61. Brian Hunter led the Pirates with 11 home runs in that same year the Ken Griffey and Matt Williams were on pace to challenge Roger Maris’ home run record.

1993 Marlins, 16 homers

— Expansion Marlins lost 98 games and hit league-worst 98 homers, led by Orestes Destrade with 20.

1989 Dodgers, 16 homers

— Defending World Champions had been power-challenged even in their championship season but they hit just 89 homers in 1989, 10 fewer than year before, and went 77-83.

This is not to say that home runs are everything in offense or even close to everything. You can win without hitting a lot of home runs. Just one of many examples: The Giants won the World Series in 2012 despite hitting the fewest home runs in baseball. But that Giants team found other ways to score runs — they were fourth in the league in on-base percentage, first in triples, third in hits — and they had five starters who made 30-plus starts.

The Royals show little sign so far of being able to make up for their near-historic lack of power. They have an everyday third baseman hitting .147, none of their regulars has even a .360 on-base percentage, and while they are getting some good pitching — especially from 23-year-old phenomenon Yordano Ventura — there just isn’t enough pitching in all the world to make up for that little offense.

A friend of mine, Lee Judge, writes a column for the Kansas City Star called “Judging the Royals.” In his latest installment, he goes into some detail about the importance of productive outs — the headline is “How making outs can help you win.” With all due respect to Lee, who has a great love and appreciation of the game, I have been straining all morning to think of a theme I disagree with more — maybe if he had written, “More intentional walks, please!” or “Why I want clutch hitters instead of good hitters.”

Making outs cannot help you win. Ever. If you make 27 first-class outs in a game — the kind that would score runners from third or move runners over — you have just become history as the 24th team to be on the wrong end of the perfect game. The only possible way you can score a run is by NOT making an out. This is so fundamental and yet some teams — and I’ve seen this with the Royals in particular for a long time — seem to utterly miss this point. They seem to think that they can score enough runs to win by maximizing the value of their outs, by doing little things that don’t show up in the box score (or only show up in the “sacrifice” part of the box score), by being smarter and hitting to the right side of the infield and lifting fly balls with a man on third.

No. You cannot score enough runs just doing that stuff. You have to actually get runners on base. You have to string together non-outs. And as crude as it may sound, you have to actually hit the ball out of the ballpark now and again. On a basic level, the Royals must understand this, but you never quite feel sure that they do. They always give the impression that if only they could play a little bit smarter … but all the smarts at MIT, NASA and the collected wisdom of Casey Stengel combined cannot change the basic formula of scoring runs: Get on base. Get around the bases.

Eric Hosmer, the Royals large and powerful first baseman, has one home run this year. Alex Gordon, the Royals best player for a while now, has a .300 on-base percentage and one home run this season. Billy Butler, the Royals designated hitter for the last six years, has a .298 on-base percentage and one home run this season. You can’t find enough good outs to make up for that.

I like to think of good outs as items you sell at below cost. If you own a store, it might not be a terrible thing to sell a couple of things below cost — say, the new Coldplay CD and charcoal — in order to get people into your store. Productive outs are better than unproductive ones. But if you sell too many things below cost, you lose money and go out of business, no matter how many people come to your store. The Royals get 27 outs just like every other team. Giving away too many of those outs and hitting many fewer home runs than any other team is a pretty good formula for another doomed season.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.