The upcoming three-game series between the Kansas City Royals and the Seattle Mariners gave me reason to pause for a moment and consider the trajectory of both ball clubs since the end of the 2014 season.
Seattle finished with just two fewer wins than the Royals, who went on to win the American League (AL) Championship before losing the World Series to the San Francisco Giants. After doing unexpectedly well in 2014, the Mariners and Royals entered last season with many pundits projecting a deep postseason run for both clubs.
Unfortunately, for Seattle fans, the Mariners never approached contention and fired their general manager before the season’s conclusion. Conversely, the Royals went on to savor October glory by winning their first Fall Classic victory since 1985 by defeating the team that I rooted for as a kid — the New York Mets.
From a standard statistical standpoint, the 2015 Royals offense is an enigma to me. Take a look at their AL rankings in various offensive categories and I’ll try to explain.
|2015 Royals Offensive Rankings (AL)|
|KCR||1497 (2)||300 (2)||42 (4)||138 (14)||383 (15)||973 (15)||.269 (3)||.322 (7)||.412 (8)||2298 (7)|
|American League rankings in parenthesis|
I’m not trying to portray the Royals offense as a mystery for the ages. However, their approach is unique. For example, they ranked near the bottom of the league in home runs, yet were above league-average for total bases. Additionally, Kansas City was the only team to finish in the top-five for batting average, but not on-base percentage (OBP). Their relatively low OBP is a result of having the fewest walks in the AL.
Despite going at their work differently, the Royals were successful at generating runs. Certainly, ranking near the top of the league in hits and having the fewest strikeouts helped fuel offense’s engine. Nevertheless, there’s another key offensive element that’s worth noting — speed.
I’m not talking about just stealing bases though. Yes, the Royals ranked number-two in that category last year. But, there’s more going on with this ball club than swiping bags. To be honest, it didn’t dawn on me until I was watching Kansas City take on the Mets on Opening Day. Once the light bulb went on, I couldn’t believe that I didn’t see it sooner.
During their contest with their World Series opponent, the Royals created four runs and won the game without an extra base hit. How did they do it? By excelling on the base paths when the ball is in play. Their aggressive — yet smart — base running approach has proven to be a profound difference maker for Kansas City during their current run of success.
Last season, the Royals posted the second-highest extra base taken percentage (XBT%) in the AL. For those wondering, extra base taken percentage represents how often a base runner advanced more than one base on a single and more than two bags on a double. At the other end of the spectrum, the Mariners were woeful at advancing on the base paths.
Let’s see just how bad Seattle base runners were last year by comparing them to the World Series champions. In addition to extra base taken percentage, I included each club’s success rate at scoring from first base on a double and from second base after a single.
|2015 Royals/Mariners Base Running Comparisons|
|Team||Runs/Gm||SB||SB%||XBT%||1B to HP Double %||2B to HP Single %|
||44.1% (4)||69.9% (1)|
|SEA|| 4.05 (13)
|| 69 (11)
|| 61% (14)
|| 34% (15)
||21.2% (15)||50.7% (12)|
|American League rankings in parenthesis|
Certainly, the Royals were superior to the Mariners in many ways last season. They had a superior bullpen, ranked near the top of the league defensively, and excelled at putting bat to ball. Seattle lagged well behind in all of these areas. Still, Kansas City’s ability to create runs with their feet gave them a distinct edge against their opponents.
When watching the Royals take on the Mariners at Safeco Field this weekend, watch how often a Kansas City player is able to take the extra base on a ball they or a teammate has put into play. It’s an approach could work for Seattle too.
Mariners’ general manager Jerry Dipoto has already started to move his roster in that direction by adding fleet-footed players like Leonys Martin, Nori Aoki, and Luis Sardinas during the offseason. The combination of these three players, plus a full season from Ketel Marte enhances his club’s ability to create more offense by having more players in the lineup who are capable of taking the extra base when a defender is slow to retrieve a ball or doesn’t have a strong throwing arm.
Acquiring quick players may be a foreign concept to many Pacific Northwest baseball fans, who’ve become used to the Mariners being more intent on adding sluggers. Those kind of players tend to be “station-to-station” runners, who generally clog the base paths. The new regime has definitely taken a fresh approach to roster building.
I’m not suggesting that Dipoto is attempting to create a west coast version of the Royals. But, he’s already on record saying that improving his roster’s athleticism and taking advantage of the Safeco Field dimensions are priorities. Adding the players that I’ve already mentioned accomplishes both goals and adds a new dimension to the Mariners offense — speed.
Whether the Mariners can be as successful as the Royals will be determined later, especially with so much uncertainty surrounding their bullpen. However, if the club is able to improve its extra base hit percentage from last season’s dreadful showing, Seattle will be rewarded with more runs-per-game and a higher win total. That’s why I say “Run Mariners! Run!”