The Kansas City Royals are headed to their second consecutive World Series. Void of any mega deal superstars, how are they the American League champions for the second year in a row? ESPN, Fox Sports, Yahoo! and a host of other big media outlets probably have several quality articles for your consumption that will use statistics to explain exactly how and why. They most likely have to do with a bullpen that ranks among the most dominant in history and timely hitting from young players who make lots of contact and play with the passion only early 20-somethings have.
My answer to the question how are they the AL representative for a second straight year is simple: they play like a 12-year old little league team.
That is meant to be a compliment. I was on a 12-13-year-old travel team in 1994. We spent all summer playing ball. We were together for entire weekends. Spent hours upon hours riding in cars on road trips. I was playing ball with my best friends. When I cleared the bases with a double in the gap I didn’t hit my chest and think about how awesome I was. I wasn’t concerned with the 3 rbi’s, the increase in batting average, OPS, or my hard contact rate. I looked to the dugout and saw my friends jumping, clapping, and pointing at me and I would point back at them excited I came through for my friends, our team. When my buddy got us out of a bases-loaded jam without giving up a run he wasn’t glad his ERA didn’t skyrocket, wasn’t concerned that all 3 outs weren’t K’s, or that his WHIP took a hit, he saw the excitement from the rest of us that we still had the lead and he came in high-fiving glad that we trusted him to come through for us.
Most players at some point in their careers lose sight of what made them love the game so much. Yes, this is their job. It’s how they earn a living and provide for their families. Some players manage to keep the passion they had as a 12-year old. Those players play the game a little differently. The Royals just happen to have more of those guys than usual; the youngsters: Salvador Perez (25), Eric Hosmer (26), Alcides Escobar (28), Mike Moustakas (27), Lorenzo Cain (29), Yordano Ventura (24), Kelvin Herrera (25), and the old veterans: Alex Gordon (31), Álex Ríos (34), Kendrys Morales (32), Ben Zobrist (34), Wade Davis (30), Edinson Vólquez (32), Ryan Madson (35), and the fastest player in baseball not named Billy Hamilton, Jarrod Dyson (31).
When I see Eric Hosmer clear the bases with a double in the gap it’s like I’m having a flashback. The first thing he does is look into his dugout and makes a gesture that has some type of inside meaning. Young unapologetic passion for the game, that’s what separates this Royals team from the rest of the league. And that’s why they will beat the Mets.
In case you want some statistics to back up my claim how about their bullpen. KC relievers have the second lowest team ERA at 2.72. Their .258 BABIP is .028 better than the Mets. They strand more baserunners than any other pen, 80.4%. And their average fastball velocity is 93.9 mph vs. 92.7 mph for the Mets pen.
Offensively, the Royals don’t hit home runs (139, 24th) and they don’t walk (6.3%, 30th) but they do score runs (724, 7th), steal bases (104, 5th), put the ball in play (contact rate 81.9%, tied 1st) and get on (OBP: .322, 11th). They also don’t strike out (15.9%, 1st). In short, they are a throwback. They want to put the ball in play knowing that the more balls they put in play the better their odds of getting men on base. A simple concept that more teams should adopt.
All that is great but it only makes my case. If you want to make a case for the Mets you just have to find the right stats. Stats could tell us either team can win. The x-factor is the Royals youthful exuberance.
In watching these Royals I am reliving the glorious summer of 1994 when I was a small piece of something that was greater than myself and I was proud and excited to contribute. They are a reminder to everyone that even pros can play like they’re 12.
Thank you, Kansas City Royals for reminding me why I love the game so much.
Royals in 6.
All stats taken from fangraphs.com