Photo credit: Peter Aiken, USA Today Sports

The Running Royals’ Brilliance on the Basepaths

The Royals have a reputation as team built with speed, which is mostly true. They do have several extremely fast players. They might have two of the three fastest players in the game right now. You can insert the phrase about speed doing stuff here.

This group of speedsters helps support the notion that the Royals are an excellent base running team, which is also true. They do have several excellent base runners, particularly when it comes to taking the extra base on a hit. In this case, I’m referring to going first to third on a single, scoring from second on a single, and scoring from first on a double. There’s a lot of value in getting that extra base, and looking at Hit Advancement Runs (click the link for more information, but essentially it values each extra base taken in terms of runs contributed, based on run expectancy tables) the Royals were the very best in baseball in those situations last season.

Lorenzo Cain was at 4.5 HAR, leading baseball. Behind him was Brett Gardner, and behind him was Alcides Escobar, who is also a Royal. Jarrod Dyson was at 1.8 HAR, and that was in only 29 opportunities. If he had as many opportunities as Cain and Escobar, Dyson would’ve contributed approximately 274.6 HAR, according to my calculations. I think. Eric Hosmer also rated well, at 1.5 HAR.

That isn’t to suggest all Royals were equally adept at taking the extra base, as they had a trio of players at -1 HAR or worse. Kendrys Morales and Salvador Perez aren’t known for being fleet of foot, so it’s no surprise to see them there. It is a bit more surprising to see Christian Colon at -1.2 HAR. It’s even more surprising to see Alex Gordon near the bottom of the list of Royals in a base running category (-0.3 HAR), considering his strong track record in that department. Who knew that tearing a groin could impact an athlete’s ability to run?

There is a point to all of this, beyond the Fun Numbers That Don’t Make Sense and Let’s Learn a New Acronym angles.

The Royals are very good at taking the extra base, and I think it’s fair to say they kind of have to be in order to succeed offensively. Some teams can rely on extra-base hits to score runs, and while the Royals will get their fair share of doubles and triples, they obviously don’t depend on dingers like other teams do.

This team does need to sequence their hits more effectively to score runs, and part of that recipe includes smart base running. If a team isn’t able to take an extra base on a single, it’s going to take four singles to plate just one run. With good base running, a team can get that run across on the third straight single. If the second man up is a base stealer, that third single could potentially score two runs. The Royals’ offense may paper cut opponents to death, but without their  base running prowess, it would take even more paper cuts to accomplish the goal.

And this isn’t a one-year blip, either. The Royals have led the league in HAR each of the last three seasons. Combining the totals, they’ve taken enough extra bases on hits to add 22.3 runs above what was expected. An additional two wins over three years may not seem like a large number, but that run total is more than 35 percent higher than the second best team over that time period.

Perhaps more importantly, the Royals have lapped the field in the American League. The Rangers rank behind Kansas City, and their total is just over 13 runs. The second-best team in the AL Central has been the Twins, and their total is just barely above zero, while the Tigers and White Sox have left multiple wins on the field by not taking enough extra bases. The Royals have a significant advantage in this area, and it’s paid off in spades.

Essentially, having the ability to take an extra base with regularity gives an offense a larger margin for error. Obviously they’d love to have a handful of extra-base hits every night, but sometimes home runs are hard to come by. There will be games where only a double or two are to be found, and while those games are difficult to win, good base running can keep their chances alive.

Just to be clear, being able to take the extra base doesn’t mean extra-base hits are unnecessary. The Royals’ single-happy win Sunday night is not a typical result.

But the Royals do seem well-positioned to win more games with limited power because of their base running. Assuming Gordon is back to running like Gordon, they should have three starters who are elite at taking the extra base, along with two more starters who are easily above-average. Even Mike Moustakas was roughly average in that category last season, and his first-inning run Sunday was the result of scoring from second on a single. Plus, Omar Infante was dealing with a handful of injuries last season, and he still took the extra base regularly enough.

Even accounting for Perez and Morales, the Royals should once again be among the best in baseball at creating runs by advancing an extra base. I’m sure they’ll hope for a bit more power, but even if they don’t lead the league in dingers, the offense should still do more than enough to carry their weight. That is what speed can do.

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4 comments on “The Running Royals’ Brilliance on the Basepaths”

Ryan Brown

This was outstanding – great article, Hunter.

Hunter Samuels

Thanks, Ryan! I appreciate that.

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