Judging the Royals

Royals let their players play: how that makes them a better team

Kansas City Royals infielder Christian Colon followed through on a two-run double in the eighth inning on Monday.
Kansas City Royals infielder Christian Colon followed through on a two-run double in the eighth inning on Monday. jsleezer@kcstar.com

If you’re looking for key moments in Monday night’s Royals game, you could do a lot worse than the warm-up pitches thrown before the bottom of the eighth inning. That’s when Indians pitcher Corey Kluber motioned to Cleveland bench that something was wrong; he had a leg cramp.

Kluber, who had thrown seven shutout innings, had to come out of the game, Bryan Shaw replaced him and the Royals’ comeback was on.

The Royals were down 2-0 at the time, but six pitches later had the tying runs on base; Alcides Escobar singled and so did Eric Hosmer. Kendrys Morales had to come out of the game after fouling a ball off his foot, so Christian Colon pinch hit for him; Colon was supposed to bunt the tying runs into scoring position.

But Shaw missed with two pitches and with the count 2-0, Colon saw an opportunity. The Indians had their third baseman Juan Uribe in in the grass to field the bunt, but they were also using their shortstop — Francisco Lindor — to hold Alcides Escobar close to second base.

That meant the left side of the infield was wide open and Colon decided to show bunt to hold the defense in place, then pull the bat back and swing away; he wanted to hit a groundball through the left side.

Nobody told Colon to do it.

He said it was a situation the Royals had already discussed — a pitcher falls behind in a bunt situation and is forced to pipe a pitch down the middle — so Colon knew what to do. But Colon did not hit a ground ball through the left side; the pitch was up and he hit a line drive over center fielder Tyler Naquin’s head. Cleveland had been playing shallow in center and right field all game long and Colon burned them.

Instead of runners at second and third, both runs scored; and then Colon made a bad decision — he tried to make it to third.

The Royals believe in aggression

Colon deciding to swing away on his own was a very aggressive move, but after the game he said that’s what this team believes in: force the other team to make plays. If the other team makes them, tip your cap — but don’t stop being aggressive. Keep forcing them to make plays and sooner or later they’ll make a mistake.

It drives some fans crazy, but that’s the thought process behind their aggressive approach at the plate; swing at the first good pitch you see, get the ball in play and make the other team play the game.

But aggression giveth and aggression taketh away.

Colon decided to try for a triple and was thrown out by a decent margin. In the clubhouse after the game he admitted it was a bad idea and maybe he should have taken a look at third-base coach Mike Jirschele.

But if you liked Colon’s double and Jarrod Dyson’s first-pitch grand slam later in the inning, you’ve got to accept Colon getting thrown out at third; the Royals have an aggressive philosophy and sometimes they can be overly aggressive.

Giving power away

During spring training, Dayton Moore asked me what all great leaders had in common and I was about to say they’re short and have ego problems — turns out that wasn’t the right answer.

Dayton said great leaders give power away.

Dayton gives it to Ned Yost, Ned Yost gives it to the coaches and the coaches give it to the players. Unlike some organizations, the Royals’ front office does not have a rigid philosophy that dictates every move to the guys on the field.

Most of the time Royals base runners have the green light to steal bases; the team has a “kill” sign (don’t run ) and a “must go” sign (run on this pitch), but the rest of the time it’s up to the runners and coaches on the field. Most of the time, Royals’ hitters get to decide when a bunt is appropriate; the coaches can signal for a bunt or ask the hitter to swing away, but the rest of the time the hitters are on their own.

The numbers tell you about the past, but they don’t always tell you what’s happening right now. Every game is different and a team that can adapt to what’s happening right now has an advantage.

After Eric Hosmer’s mad dash home in Game 5 of the World Series, Royals assistant GM J.J. Piccolo said that had Hosmer grown up playing in a different system — a system that didn’t give its players the freedom to take risks — Hosmer would have stayed at third.

The Royals believe that the players and coaches on the field can see things that aren’t apparent from the front office. If Christian Colon gets in a 2-0 count in a bunt situation, there’s no time to hold a meeting, take a vote and send word down to the field to tell Colon to swing away.

Colon gets to make that decision on his own.

The Royals believe in teaching their players how to play and then letting them play; and that makes the Royals a better team.

Just ask the Cleveland Indians.