Kansas City Royals: Royals play small ball in a big ball world

KANSAS CITY, MO - JUNE 3: Whit Merrifield #15 of the Kansas City Royals dives into third for a steal against the Oakland Athletics in the sixth inning at Kauffman Stadium on June 3, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - JUNE 3: Whit Merrifield #15 of the Kansas City Royals dives into third for a steal against the Oakland Athletics in the sixth inning at Kauffman Stadium on June 3, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

The Kansas City Royals have started off the season trying to focus on small ball, rather than trying to rely on the home run ball.

As teams are searching for what Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver once stated, “the key to winning baseball games is pitching, fundamentals, and three run homers” or more simply, pitching, defense, and the big bomb. The Kansas City Royals are taking a different approach.

Who’s to blame Weaver or anyone else who is looking for the long ball? They energize the crowd, the team, and the player. While also making the sport exciting and fun. That would apply to teams that could ink a heavy hitter or have a lineup with consistent long ball swatters. But that isn’t what the Royals are doing.

The Royals approach is not looking for the long ball. But the small ball game. What is the small ball game? Long time MLB manager, Dick Williams once stated, “fundamentals are the most valuable tools a player can possess. Bunt the ball into the ground. Hit the cutoff man. Take the extra base. Learn the fundamentals.” The Royals have not gone rogue nor have they came up with some quirky scheme; they are focusing their brand of baseball on the fundamentals.

Fundamentals of baseball are pitching, hitting, running, and fielding. Kansas City’s pitching is quickly falling behind. So far, KC’s starting hurlers’ ERA is 4.68 which is 20th over all. The league leader is the Rays at a 1.47 clip. KC’s relievers are throwing a miserable 6.93 ERA which places them at 28th place. The league leader is San Francisco at 1.77 ERA.

What is even more evident is the amount of hits KC has given up which is 139 (78 for starters and 61 for relievers) hits and walking 60 batters (33 for starters and 27 for relievers). So, their pitching has been anything but fundamentally sound.

Since their pitching isn’t working, what is working and how is the working parts affecting their master plan that centers around the fundamentals? Their solid defense, solid and diverse hitting, and base running is the key working pieces. The KC defense is pure royalty when it comes to not committing errors (three overall and a first place start).

Their hitting isn’t flashy. They don’t hit the long ball on a consistent basis for that tool to be considered part of their arsenal. According to MLB the team with the most home runs is Seattle with 39, then Oakland with 35. Kansas City makes the list near the bottom at 18th place with 17 home runs. Additionally, Kansas City is tied with one their team at 16th for doubles (26). So, their power numbers are not the magical elixir that Weaver talked about.

Kansas City hitters are also about league average with the total amount of hits this season. Settling in at 11th place over all while collecting 128 hits as a team.

Their speed is a true blessing for them as they are leading the pack with triples with eight and they slide into a two way tie for first with 19 steals. By using their speed, they set themselves up for scoring opportunities.

One example of the Royals setting themselves up for success was found in the seventh inning of 4/13’s game. Hunter Dozier singled, Lucas Duda walked, and then Martin Maldonado was asked to bunt. He laid down a beauty. This small ball approach helped the Royals tack on an additional insurance run.

We saw this simple yet seemingly archaic approach in 4/14’s game. The Indians had tied the game up with three runs in their half of the seventh inning. Those runs came courtesy of Richard Lovelady and Jake Newberry. Next, came in Brad Boxberger and Wily Peralta who had a much better outing. Boxberger and Peralta’s pitching gave the Royals a chance to use their weapons.

A walk was earned by Ryan O’Hearn’s nine pitch at bat. This resulted in Terrance Gore coming in to pinch run. Gore promptly stole second base. On the same play, the ball skipped by second baseman Brad Miller’s glove and landed into center field.

After a long second Gore realized where the ball was and in his best Speedy Gonzales impression, dashed towards third base, where he slide safely in. Three pitches later Dozier roped a slider to left field for an easy walk off. However, this would not have happened if not for the small ball approach to the game by the Royals.

Another cornerstone of small ball is playing sound defense. They have committed only three errors so far. That is league best. Other aspects of their defense have not cost them so far this season. For example their putouts (402 and 15th place) and assists (136 and 15th place) are league average. They are also league average with the amount of double plays they turn (12 and tied for 14th place). So, the Royals do not shoot themselves in the foot.

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Finally, the Royals are not recreating the wheel. They are not pulling a Weaver. They are simply playing a brand of baseball that many teams have turned away from. Pete Rose said it best, “baseball is a universal language. Catch the ball, throw the ball, hit the ball.” Those are the fundamental aspects that the Royals are incorporating into their small ball game in the big ball world.