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The Astros and the Royals start a three-game series in Houston today, marking the first meeting of the season between the two most disparate offenses in baseball. How disparate? The Royals have put the ball in play in a higher percentage of their plate appearances than any other team in MLB. The Astros have put the ball in play less often than anyone. The Astros have hit 110 home runs this season, leading MLB. The Royals have hit half as many, the second-fewest in the AL and fourth-fewest in baseball. No team has a lower average batter age than Houston; Kansas City is one of the oldest offenses in the league.

There isn’t much the two have in common, yet they’re offenses of similar overall quality. Houston has a .273 team True Average, while the Royals have a .270 mark. Those are good for sixth and ninth in MLB, respectively. Beyond that, though, one thing does tie the two together: aggressiveness.

The Astros swing at the first pitch more often than anyone:

Highest First-Pitch Swing Percentage

2015

Since 2006

Astros, 34.4%

2006 Braves, 35.6%

Reds, 33.4%

2015 Astros, 34.4%

Nationals, 33.2%

2007 Devil Rays, 34.1%

Cardinals, 33.1%

2010 Blue Jays, 34.0%

Orioles, 32.9%

2015 Reds, 33.4%

The Royals, by contrast, swing at the first pitch less often than all but nine other teams. After the first pitch of a plate appearance, though, that changes, for both teams:

Highest Team Swing Percentage After First Pitch, 2015

Team

Percentage

Royals

57.4

Brewers

56.9

Rockies

56.2

Tigers

55.8

Twins

55.8

Phillies

55.7

White Sox

55.5

Pirates

54.8

Marlins

54.8

Orioles

54.8

Cardinals

54.4

Padres

54.1

Reds

53.9

Astros

53.7

In other words, both teams are looking to drive the ball fairly early in the count. The only difference is that the Astros try to do it immediately, then back off a bit if the first pitch doesn’t resolve the at-bat. The Royals start by trying to get ahead in the count a bit more. Partially, that’s a reflection of the kinds of hitters who populate the two lineups. The Astros are loaded with power hitters who swing and miss a lot. They can’t afford to sit back, waiting to fall behind in the count. If that happens, the plate appearance won’t end well. After an 0–1 count, in fact, Houston batters have whiffed 35 percent of the time. If a pitcher happens to lay one in on the first pitch, either out of ignorance of the Astros’ approach or out of fear of falling behind, these guys are going to attack the offering, and they’re likely to do major damage.

The Royals, on the other hand, are flush with contact hitters. They don’t hit homers. They also don’t swing and miss much, though. They have a bunch of hitters whose every instinct is to swing, swing, swing, so they need a way to rein them in. The sensible way: moderate first-pitch swings. Thereafter, they cut the boys loose, and the boys respond in kind. Salvador Perez, Omar Infante, and Alex Rios have 628 combined plate appearances this season, and nine walks. It works for them, though: They have the second-highest batting average and are scoring the sixth-most runs per game in the AL.

It’s not that the time for patience at the plate has passed. It hasn’t. With pitchers pouring in strikes at an unprecedented clip, though, patience has to take a new form. I’m not sure of its original etymology, but “selectively aggressive” is the catchphrase the Chicago Cubs‘ brass use to talk about the approach they want to foster in their players. For a long time, those words have seemed to me a code for the trademark Red Sox approach: take-and-rake, work counts, look for a pitch to drive, gain information, wear down the opponent, then pounce on mistakes and pitches the hitter correctly anticipated. I wonder, though, if the phrase has come to perfectly describe a different way of doing things. The Astros and Royals are fiercely aggressive offensive teams, for better and for worse. No teams in baseball build an at-bat around the goal of solid contact more directly than these two. They’re selective about the timing of their aggression, but their selectivity isn’t a modifier for that aggression. It’s just a guide.

It’s worth mentioning, of course, that the Blue Jays and Yankees are still the league’s most prolific offenses. There remains no substitute for immense talent, which Toronto has in a way no other offense in the American League does. As for the Yankees, they’re old, and they’re overwhelmingly likely to succumb to injuries and fading performances later in the season, but for now, they have no fewer than four players—Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner, and Alex Rodriguez—feeling healthy and playing almost like their best selves. They’ve shown extreme patience at the plate, and it’s paid off for them, just as the Royals’ and Astros’ extreme aggression has rewarded them. It’s just that these Yankees, especially the aforementioned revitalized stars, are more balanced, better hitters than their counterparts from Houston or Kansas City. In the absence of major flaws or extreme skill sets, it’s still advisable to make the opposing hurler work. It’s just that players without flaws are rare and expensive, so teams like the Astros and Royals are finding other ways to win.

These should be three wildly exciting games. Both teams are in first place, both have interesting and exciting core talent. Both are fun to watch at the plate because they don’t wait for anything. They’re the model of a very modern big-league offense, even if neither is the best or most talented run-scoring machine right now.

Thank you for reading

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