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Finding the proper balance between speed and dingers

How the Royals are scoring runs in this homer-happy environment.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The numbers game in baseball isn’t all slide rules, spreadsheets and sabermetrics. There can be some fun stats that find their way into the numerical lexicon from time to time.

The Guillen Number is one such stat. Coined by Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus, simply stated, it is the percent of runs scored via the home run. It’s named after White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen who, despite having a reputation for living by the small ball, actually fielded a lineup that was extremely home run reliant. (Although how great would it have been if the Guillen Number was named after erstwhile Royals outfielder, Jose Guillen, who was paid $36 million by Kansas City and rewarded them with a 94 OPS+ over two and a half years.)

For the years from just prior to Dayton Moore taking the helm in Kansas City to their American League pennant in 2014, the league average Guillen Number was generally somewhere between 34 and 36 percent. The number spiked to an all-time high 37.1 percent in 2015. It broke the 40 percent barrier the next year at 40.2 percent. In 2017, it leaped forward to 42.3 percent. Last summer, the league Guillen Number was 42.3 percent.

That’s a lot of percentages to digest. The takeaway from the previous paragraph is that after about a decade of a steady rate, the four highest Guillen Numbers in league history have come in each of the last four completed seasons.

Can you sense a trend? Thank goodness you can. Because it’s kind of obvious.

It’s a trend that’s continuing. Through the first month of the 2019 season, the league Guillen Number is resting at an all-time high 43.3 percent. That’s just an astonishing rate. We’re edging closer and closer to the point where half the runs in the game will come from dingers. In fact, through games Wednesday, six teams this year are scoring at least half of their runs via the home run. The Milwaukee Brewers are setting the pace with a Guillen Number of 64.1 percent.

What? We all dig the long ball, but this is getting ridiculous.

Thankfully, we have the Royals and their stubborn old school approach. As noted previously this week, the value of the home run and the stolen base go hand in hand. The more home runs, the lower the value of the steal and vice versa. But in this era of exit velocity and launch angle, the Royals are banking on their speed to manufacture runs.

Judging from their Guillen Number, that’s exactly what they’re doing. In fact, that’s what the Royals have always done relative to the league.

Royals Guillen Number

Year Guillen Number Rank
Year Guillen Number Rank
2005 28.53% 29
2006 25.50% 30
2007 23.09% 30
2008 27.79% 28
2009 32.22% 24
2010 29.59% 26
2011 27.95% 25
2012 28.40% 29
2013 26.54% 28
2014 25.04% 30
2015 30.11% 28
2016 33.78% 26
2017 41.60% 17
2018 38.71% 21
2019 34.96% 25

As you would expect, the Royals are always a few percentage points below the league average, but their Guillen Number largely follows the league trends. Until this year.

Last season, they still hit a bushel of home runs (155—the fifth highest mark in team history), but that was still far off the team record set in 2017 with 193. This year through the doubleheader on Wednesday, they were on pace to hit 188 home runs. If they can maintain that through the next five months, that would surpass 1987 as the second most homer-happy season in franchise history.

So despite their Guillen Number declining from their high-water mark in 2017, they’re still hitting a bunch of home runs and scoring runs at a rate rarely seen at The K.

That’s because, the weird thing is, their combination of elite speed and below league average power seems to be working. They are currently averaging 4.61 runs per game, their highest total in the Dayton Moore era. (Recognizing the first full season of that era as 2007.) They’re manufacturing runs like Dayton Moore teams manufacture runs, but they’re supplementing the “Keep The Line Moving” mantra with a healthy dose of dingers.

Royals Runs Scored Per Game

Year R/G
Year R/G
2019 4.61
2018 3.94
2017 4.33
2016 4.17
2015 4.47
2014 4.02
2013 4.00
2012 4.17
2011 4.51
2010 4.17
2009 4.23
2008 4.27
2007 4.36
2006 4.67
2005 4.33

It’s a nice balance that has them in the middle of the pack when it comes to scoring runs. In fact, their 4.61 R/G is exactly in line with the league average.

The top half of the Royals order has been stellar to this point. Whit Merrifield and Adalberto Mondesi form a potent one-two punch at the top. A resurgent Alex Gordon and a revelatory Hunter Dozier along with a healthy Jorge Soler are providing the thunder. Yet the bottom half is abysmal with not one regular carrying an OPS+ above 63. And somehow, the Royals are league average.

Funny how that all works out.