There is a real chance that pinch-runner – and let’s not kid ourselves that is his position – Terrance Gore might break camp with the major league squad. The likely scenario is that Gore lasts in the big leagues only for the first two games, maybe even up to a full week before the Royals opt for a 12th pitcher. With three off days in the season’s first five it is sort of a ‘why not, what’s the harm?’ sort of deal.
If Kansas City uses Gore for some late inning speed in the early season, great. If not, no harm given that the pitching staff’s 12th man is unlikely to be needed for those games. The Royals have the option, thanks to the schedule, to use a playoff-type roster to kick off the season and will likely revert to a more traditional set-up sooner rather than later.
What if they didn’t? What if the Kansas City Royals carried Terrance Gore for the entire season?
Over the past two regular seasons, Ned Yost has utilized Gore as a pinch-runner 14 times. When allowed to bat, Gore has yet to log a hit, but has been hit twice. All told, he has reached or been place on base 16 times. During those times, according to our own baserunning analytics here at BP, Terrance has had 19 opportunities to advance (steals, hits, flyballs, whatever). With those opportunities, Gore is credited as being 1.9 runs above average on the bases. By comparison, in 105 opportunities in 2015, Jarrod Dyson was 4.7 runs above average.
Newsflash: Terrance Gore is a weapon if you can get him on the bases!
Does his impact as a baserunner justify a roster spot for a player who you never really want at the plate? The traditional, long standing answer is, of course, no.
I could be wrong (gasp!) but I believe the last time a team carried a pinch runner for any extended period of time was the somewhat famous use of Herb Washington by the Oakland A’s in 1974. Washington appeared in 92 games that year, all as a pinch runner, and scored 29 runs. He was fast, but not a great baseball runner, as Herb was caught stealing on 16 out of 45 attempts. Worthy of note, the A’s won the World Series that year: their second of three in a row.
Now, Oakland used Washington as a runner 17 times that year in the fifth or sixth inning and twice in the fourth. That is even too unconventional for me, and it is hard to envision a non-injury based scenario that has Ned Yost pinch running for Salvador Perez or Kendrys Morales in the fifth or sixth inning.
That is the scenario, right? With a rare exception here or there, the only two Royals likely to be pinch run for are Perez and Morales. The Royals’ designated hitter is a fairly easy one, but Perez is somewhat problematical. Sure, you would like to pinch run for Sal late in a tight game, but you also would like to have him on defense in the same situations.
Given defensive concerns and taking some strategic license, let’s not contemplate Gore running for Perez in any inning other than the ninth or in extra innings. In 2015, Perez was on-base in those frames 13 times. That is not a lot of opportunities to use a pinch-runner and that is before we account for blow-outs and other strategic concerns. It also, however, does not account for a scenario that has Yost going to a pinch runner for his plodding catcher in the bottom of the eighth.
Kendrys Morales, with no defensive concerns attached, could well be pinch-run for more freely. The primary concern would be pulling him to soon and risk the designated hitter spot coming up again in the game. Morales reached base (discounting home runs, of course) 65 times last season in the the last three innings of a game, plus four additional times in extra innings. I don’t think it is entirely unfathomable that Yost might run for Morales in the seventh, but let’s throw that inning and the 26 times Kendrys reached last season out of the equation.
So, without adjustment for score, we find ourselves 52 total opportunities to pinch-run for Perez and Morales, but we have to acknowledge that there will be times it simply won’t happen. First off, there is just one Gore. If he runs for Morales in the eighth, my calculations indicate he would not be able to run for Perez in the ninth. Beyond that obvious point, I started down the path of score and outs and, you know, strategy, but let’s step back for a moment and think about that.
If the Royals are up six or down six and Morales or Perez gets on base in the eighth or ninth inning, why would you risk one of them pulling a hamstring or something of that nature when you had a perfectly good runner on the bench? The value of what Gore does on the bases in that scenario is less, but there would be value in adding a little extra protection for one of your regulars. There is no real way to quantify that, but it seemed noteworthy enough to not worry a ton about the late inning score at this point.
Outs come into play as well. Do you pinch run after a single if there are two outs? I myself have seen this and thought that was a waste of a runner, but one could make the argument that perhaps that is the exact situation in which to pinch run. If the runner steals second, a single scores him and, in Gore’s case, a double is almost a certain run with him on first. If you have no outs to spare, perhaps giving the next hitter every ability to drive in a run with one swing makes sense.
Every discussion that involves Gore always seems to go back to the only guys who would be run for are Perez and Morales. That is generally true, but let’s not forget that Gore is faster than everyone on the roster. In the bottom of the ninth down one or tied, who do you want on base, Omar Infante or Gore? Runner on second, down one, who do you want running: Moustakas or Gore? I don’t believe the entirety of Gore’s possible game participation centers solely around Perez and Morales.
All that said, let’s go back to the 52 total pinch running opportunities we had above, through out a few, add in a few for an occasional run for Infante or Moustakas and then take a few off for games that just don’t seem to matter. As the hard data for Gore’s running that we started out with had him on base 16 times in his regular season career, let’s say a full season worth of pinch running might yield 48 appearances. By the numbers, Gore would end up the season being 5.7 runs above average and would compile that in place of players who, for the most part, are decidedly below average on the bases.
You can take that 5.7 runs above average however you want. You can discount it as not that big a number. I would offer, however, that given Ned Yost never pinch-hits, doesn’t like to platoon and loves a set lineup, Gore’s contribution as a pinch-runner might well be more than what another more conventional 25th man might offer.