The Royals started 2016 with Terrance Gore on their 25 man roster. He was there for one reason and one reason only: to run. Having a speedy guy on the bench is hardly unique, but having one whose only real major league baseball skill is running the bases is.
One writer, advocating having just such a specialist for a full season, speculated here about what a season worth of Terrance Gore might mean to the Royals. In this piece, I theorized that Gore could possibly make somewhere north of 40 pinch running appearances in a season and be worth almost 6 runs above average on the bases. Whether the numbers in that column might have been anywhere close to accurate will never be known as Kansas City sent Terrance Gore to the minors on May 5th and did not bring him back until September.
From Opening Day until his demotion, Gore made just three appearances as a pinch runner (and one appearance in the field in the late innings of a blowout loss to Washington). Despite appearing sparingly, Gore did contribute in his role.
On April 10th, pinch running for Christian Colon in the bottom of the tenth inning, Gore went from first to third on an errant pick off attempt and then scored the winning run on a wild pitch. One week later in Oakland, he pinch ran for Salvador Perez with two outs in the top of ninth and the Royals down one. Gore stole second but was stranded there. Finally, on May 3rd, Gore again ran for Perez and, after stealing a base, scored the tying run in what would become a three run rally in the ninth.
Upon Gore’s return to the majors in September, he made twelve appearances as a pinch runner, stealing 9 bases in 11 attempts and scoring four runs. The Royals happened to win all four games in which Terrace scored and in three of those games, his run tied the game. Twice in September, Gore stole two bases and yet did not score (the Royals split those two one-run contests), and it must be noted that in the two games in which Terrance was caught stealing, Kansas City lost by one run.
When the dust had rather thankfully settled on the 2016 campaign, Terrance Gore had been on the 25 man roster for 54 games, which coincidentally is exactly one-third of a season. We can do some crude projections and simply say that, given a full season on the roster, Gore would have made 45 pinch running appearances, stolen 33 bases in 39 attempts, scored 18 runs and 15 of those would have been the tying or winning run. That is, without a doubt, the absolutely most optimistic possible reality that a full season of Gore would yield.
In Gore’s absence, Jarrod Dyson made 9 pinch running appearances, scoring 4 runs and stealing 3 bases in that role. Billy Burns pinch ran seven times, scoring one run and stealing a couple of bases. Paulo Orlando pinch ran once, as did six of his teammates. Two of those appearances, along with two of those by Burns, occurred when Gore was on the active roster in September. All told, 19 actual uses of a pinch runner while Gore was not on the active roster which and, if we want to proceed under another very crude way of thinking, would have given him 34 pinch running appearances for 2016.
Using Gore’s actual stolen base and runs scored rate from his 15 actual appearances, we can project that out to 34 appearances and come up with 24-25 steals and 13-14 runs scored. Depending on how you round, that is two or three runs more than the Royals got from Gore plus Dyson plus the rest as pinch runners last season. Three runs in the right spot at the right time can mean a lot.
Now, I did go back and do some ‘what if Gore was on the roster’ scenarios with the games between May 5th and September 3rd. Let me tell you, that is a rabbit hole that will not let you go. To be quite honest, one could go through the schedule and make a case that there were very few games in that time frame that Gore would have made a difference in. However, one could go back through it a second time and, with a little imagination and giving Ned Yost the benefit of the doubt on imaginative thinking, find multiple games in which Terrance Gore on the bases in the last three innings of a game would have made a real impact.
The snag with this exercise is there is no real way to account for the impact Gore being placed on the bases might have on the opposing pitcher and defense. Would Terrance stealing second or third impact the actual result of the subsequent plate appearances? How would we assign those instances when Gore is picked off or caught stealing? Science fiction spends a lot of time anymore dealing with alternate realities: I was in at least four of them as part of this research.
In the end, I took the easy way out and really only spent time on close games the Royals lost and found a handful. There was a 5-4 loss to Cleveland on May 8th and a 2-1 loss to Texas on July 24th that certainly stood out to me as contests that Gore might have turned. Along with those, there were some others where one ‘wonders’ if Gore on the bases could have changed the course of events: July 15 and 17th versus Detroit and July 28th against the Rangers.
That last game is an example of how what-ifs can get you spinning in a circle. Kendrys Morales walked to lead off the inning and Dyson did pinch run for and did steal second base. That was followed by a ground out to short, a ground out to second with Dyson going to third and a ground out to short to end the game. Hey, Jarrod Dyson is fast, but does Gore go to third on a ground ball in front of him because he’s not just fast, but stupid fast?
One can really dig into the past and use Gore with the Royals ahead two in the seventh or eighth to add on to the lead. I believe we all saw enough Joakim Soria and, let’s be fair and remember, Kelvin Herrera meltdowns in 2016 to know that an extra run heading into those fateful innings might have been handy.
The variables are so many and the ability to truly quantify the ‘Gore effect’ is opinion and not analytics. What we can back into, via Gore’s actual appearance, those of other pinch-runners in 2016 and sprinkle in a few games mentioned above as additional pinch-running appearances and make a reasonable assertion that a full-season of Gore would have resulted in somewhere between 34 and 40 appearances. I believe it is not a stretch, given his stolen base rates (and accounting for the two where he stole two bases) and using 40 as our game total, that Gore would have put himself into scoring position in at least 24 times.
Even though I spent a lot of time talking about runs scored in this article, really all a pinch runner can do is get himself into position to score and hope his teammates can drive him in or, as happened on April 10th, the opposing battery implodes. In regard to getting into scoring position, Gore did so at a rate twenty percent greater than that of Jarrod Dyson when used in this role. That is worth something. Would it have changed an 81-win Royals team into something more? That takes us back to another impossible to reach a conclusion type scenario that deals with how the Royals might have played the last five weeks of the season if they had three or four more wins in their pocket prior to then.
Stepping back into the real world, I do stand by one of the statements in my article of last April. Ned Yost likes a set lineup. He seldom pinch-hits and, if health allows, rests his regular players infrequently. I maintain that Terrance Gore and his one skill is at least as likely to get regular work as any other reserve, maybe more. It is unconventional to be sure, but not unthinkable.
Of course, to carry a pinch runner on the active roster (be it 25 or 26 players) requires some planning and, oddly, requires good starting pitching. The easiest way to carry Terrance Gore in 2017 is have the Kansas City starting rotation throw 50 more innings than it did last year. Fifty innings from starters is fifty you don’t need from an extra bullpen arm. Boom, roster spot.
Along with also comes the need for a companion bench player like a Whit Merrifield, who can play four or five positions. If you want to get maximum appearances from your pinch-runner, it is going to include a healthy share of non-bottom of the ninth inning appearances and require some defense after Gore runs. A guy like Merrifield, who can play three (four?) infield spots and the corner outfield provides that extra needed flexibility. Now, to carry Gore AND Merrifield on the bench means the Royals need someone adequate (or better than that would be nice!) to play everyday at second base. So, now the Royals need better starting pitching, a second baseman, Whit Merrifield and maybe that 26th roster spot to justify Terrance Gore.
Welcome to the rabbit hole, my friend. It is where the off-season resides.