Major League Baseball, like any other professional sport, is a copycat league. When teams find success through different channels, other teams will follow that approach. Just look at the fervor over Moneyball and Billy Beane back in the early part of the 2000’s, when he put a newfound emphasis on on base percentage and working counts. Or, even last year, when the Kansas City Royals reached the World Series due to, in part, their excellent bullpen.
Of course, that success was not expected to carry over this season. The Royals had lost James Shields, Nori Aoki and Billy Butler, and their replacements did not exactly inspire confidence to the pundits. In fact, the Royals were infamously projected to win 72 games this season, a number that they far exceeded.
The Royals did this in a way that may be the antithesis of how every other team looks at offense. Even though the era of the true power hitter is on the downside, teams still tend to look for those sluggers in the middle of the lineup. Just look at how a team like the Houston Astros is constructed, using a plethora of high power, but high strikeout, hitters.
Kansas City’s approach has been just the opposite. While players like Kendrys Morales and Mike Moustakas do provide that power level that was missing last season, the 2015 Royals are not about to be confused for the Murderer’s Row from the 1927 Yankees. Instead, their power tends to be in the form of doubles and the Royals make their living by putting the ball in play.
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That frenzied hitting, as Red Hudler calls it, has worked beautifully over the past three years. Defying the expectations of those experts and projections, the Kansas City Royals have once again managed to continue to make enough contact where they are in the World Series. That ability to make contact will once again be on display, given the Royals ability to put the bat on 95+ MPH fastballs, which they will be facing quite frequently against the New York Mets postseason rotation.
Instead of breaking the bank for the increasingly rare power hitter, and one that fails to make consistent contact at that, the Royals have exploited the undeveloped market for those who can put the ball in play. That pressure upon the opposing defense, coupled with their speed and savvy baserunning, has been quite the formula for success.
Given that the Royals have now proven their formula is not a fluke, one has to wonder how many other teams will start to take this approach. Regardless of the market size, teams emulated MoneyBall when it was the hot fad in roster composition. Last season, the Royals proved the value of a strong bullpen, leading teams like the Astros and the Yankees to copy their blueprint and spend on their respective relief corps. Could other teams follow suit and target those players who, while they do not hit for power, make excellent contact?
The Kansas City Royals have discovered a new market to exploit, one that has been largely ignored in recent times. It will be interesting to see if other teams start to model their roster after the Royals of the past few seasons, especially given the unprecedented success they have had.