When now former Royals coach Doug Sisson was fired last week, many pointed to the Royals poor base-running this season as a possible reason for his ousting. If that is the case, then the Royals were certainly justified because the Royals are by far one of the worst base-running teams in baseball.
Let's start with the positive. The Royals are actually one of the better base-stealing teams. Entering the series against Oakland, Royals base-stealers have successfully stolen 86 bases in 114 attempts, which is good enough for a 75.4 percent success rate. Some statistical measurements suggest this has added about nine runs to the Royals’ offense, and Baseball Prospectus rates the Royals as above average when stealing.
And when you eliminate Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur from the equation (the two are a combined 10 for 19 in stolen base attempts), the Royals steal bases at an 80 percent clip. That is a fantastic success rate.
The problem is the Royals are terrible at just about every other base-running discipline.
Baseball Prospectus uses five advanced stats to come up with what they call BRR, or Base Running Runs (BRR). This calculates the number of runs contributed to a team's offense by a player's advancement on the bases above what would be expected based on situations, opportunities and historical data.
BP has Kansas City ranked as "poor" or "horrendous" (their terms, not mine) in four of the five categories (the one "great" being base stealing). Essentially, when the ball is hit, whether for an out or for a hit, base runners are not advancing the extra base at the rate that should be expected, and BP suggests it has cost the Royals about nine runs in offense so far this season. This would rank the Royals as the third worst base-running team in baseball and the worst in the American League.
The weakest part of the Royals' base-running, the one that earned them the "horrendous" tag, is how well they run the bases when the batter gets a hit. BP says they have lost a little over seven runs compared with what should have been expected. Keep in mind the Royals have the third highest batting average, fourth most doubles and fourth most triples with with men on base in the AL. The Royals aren't struggling to score runs because they are not hitting but because they can't run the bases.
Baseball-Reference statistical analysis suggests the Royals only have three players with at least 100 plate appearances this season that are above league average (40%) in taking the extra base*: Chris Getz (63%), Jarrod Dyson (60%) and Eric Hosmer (43%). Every other player on the team with at least 100 plate appearances is below the league average with the closest player to league average being Alcides Escobar who sits at 37%. As it stands, without the plate appearances requirement, nine of the 12 position players that are on the active 25-man roster are below average runners on the base paths so far this season.*B-R defines taking the extra base as advancing more than one base on a single and more than two bases on a double. They admit that they do not take into account where the ball is hit or how hard the ball is hit.
Extra-Bases Taken Percentage
Chris Getz, 63%
Jarrod Dyson, 60%
Eric Hosmer, 43%
Alcides Escobar, 37%
Lorenzo Cain, 36%
Jeff Francoeur, 35%
Salvador Perez, 35%
Alex Gordon, 33%
Mike Moustakas, 29%
Brayan Pena, 28%
Billy Butler, 13%
Tony Abreu (10 PA), 0%
As would be expected from a bad base-running team, the Royals also make a ton of unforced outs on the base paths. Between being caught stealing, being picked off and committing outs on other base running plays (i.e. trying to stretch a single into a double), the Royals have committed 96 outs on the bases, second worst in the American League (Tampa Bay has recorded 99 outs). Given that the Royals drive in about 30% of all base runners, the 96 outs committed on the base paths have cost the Royals about 29 runs so far.
If Kansas City was just an average base-running team to this point of the season, they would have gained approximately 20 runs scored -- or four (4!) wins according to Bill James' pythagorean W-L formula. The Royals are essentially losing one game a month because of how bad they run the bases and those four games are the difference between being a half-game out of last place and and a half-game ahead of Cleveland for third.
If the Royals are ever going to compete for a playoff spot they have to be better at the little things, especially if they are not going to be able to hit loads of home runs or have an ace-filled pitching staff. Base-running may not be the number one thing on the Royals list of "Things That Must Be Improved" this offseason but it ought to be close.
| Ben Nielsen, firstname.lastname@example.org