Return of the Royals Free Out

Bonehead. - USA TODAY Sports

A troubling trend from the past returns with vengeance.

Under Dayton Moore, the Royals haven't exactly been known for their fundamentally sound baseball. Sure, Moore and his brain trust talk a good game. They say all the right things about playing the game the right way. Yet when it comes time for action, the Royals in the past have left us scratching out heads in wonder and the repeated boneheaded mistakes we've seen.

The last several years the Royals have not been a good base running team. Their ignorance on the base paths has gained legendary status, giving birth to the #RoyalsFreeOut hashtag on Twitter. Two years ago, I attempted to collect all the free outs in a spreadsheet. I gave up when it became too much to track.

The good news is, this year has been different. According to Baseball Reference, entering Wednesday's game, the Royals had run into 19 outs on the bases. That's the third lowest total in the AL. BR defines an out on the bases as making an out while trying to advance or getting doubled off on a line drive. Here are their outs broken down by base:

1st base - 5
2nd base - 8
3rd base - 3
Home - 3

Solid numbers across the board. They are at or below league average at every base.

Also worth noting, the Royals are being smart when running the bases. According to BR, they have taken an extra base 41 percent of the time they've had the opportunity. Meaning they've advanced more than one base on a single or more than two bases on a double (when applicable.) That's the third best rate in the league behind only Toronto and Oakland.

What about the steals? This wouldn't be a Dayton Moore team without the attempts of larceny. Well, they've been really good at larceny this season. Through Tuesday, the Royals 51 steals was the third best total in the AL and their 80 percent success rate was the second best rate in the league. They've swiped second 44 out of 56 attempts and they've taken third seven out of eight times. Again, this is really good.

The advanced metrics aren't as kind, but they aren't horrible. Baseball Prospectus has the Royals at -0.1 Base Running Runs. That's a measure of the number of runs contributed by advancement on the bases. It's park adjusted and is based on a multi-year run expectancy table. The Royals 2013 total ranks them 15th out of 30 teams. Not great, but it will do.

The avoidance of outs on the bases is absolutely key for a team like the Royals. We know they struggle to get on base. And we also know they are a strict station-to-station team, needing to string together multiple singles to score a run. They cannot afford to squander outs on the bases.

Yet the Royals returned to their old ways this week in Cleveland. And in the most inopportune times.

June 17

The Royals enter the top of the ninth tied and start to chip away at the Cleveland bullpen. A double, walk and a sac bunt attempt that turns into a single when Rich Hill slips while fielding the ball loads the bases for Miguel Tejada. A wild pitch (thanks!) scores the go-ahead run. Tejada lines out and the Indians inexplicably intentionally walk Chris Getz to load the bases. With Alcides Escobar up, Frank Ned Yost gets the brilliant idea to attempt a squeeze play. Lorenzo Cain, the runner on third, misses the "verbal" cue from third base coach Eddie Rodriguez and doesn't break when Escobar squares and is forced out at home.

True, this isn't exactly a free out by strict definition, but it was certainly an out that was gifted to the Indians. Who has any clue what Yost is thinking calling for a suicide squeeze in that situation. The Royals had two hits and two walks in that inning and scored only one run on a wild pitch. Thankfully, it was enough for the win.

June 18

Again, the top of the ninth. This time, the Royals are down a run. Back to back singles to lead off the inning and the Royals are in business. Escobar lines a single to right and Lough is off and running. He hits third, misses the stop sign from Rodriguez and inexplicably stops about 30 feet from home. He gets in a rundown long enough for the runners to advance. Mike Moustakas is called out when both he and Lough take up residence on third base. Plenty of blame to pass around on this one. Rodriguez with a bizarre stop sign and Lough inexplicably stopping so close to home can share the honors.

Unlike the night before, this was costly as the Royals were unable to score and lost 4-3.

June 19

Another night, another ninth inning blunder. With the Royals down three and down to their final two outs, Eric Hosmer hits a double to center. He's on second when Salvador Perez hits a grounder to third. Hosmer holds at second, but then takes off for third after Indian third baseman John McDonald makes the throw to first. Mark Reynolds makes the return throw across the diamond and Hosmer is dead. Game over.

Given the situation where the Royals were down three, it didn't seem to hurt as bad. Still, that was a truly boneheaded base running blunder. Inexplicable and inexcusable. It was like turning the clock back to 2011.

Deep breath.

This was a three game stretch and as I stated at the top, the overall base running stats say this has been a very good base running team. A bad series doesn't undo a full season to date. Still, this is the Royals we're talking about. Things like this seem to have a tendency to snowball and get out of control. There's no way to predict how the Royals will run the bases going forward. Hopefully, they'll get their collective head on straight and cut out the boneheaded play calling, coaching and over agressive running. Because when a team owns a .312 on base percentage, every runner counts.

We shall see.

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