Something that I always like to point out about the 2014-2015 Royals World Series teams was that they were the best teams in the league in three facets of the game. First, they had the best bullpen in the league—not just a top five or so bullpen, but the best bullpen. Second, they had the best defense in the league—again, not just a top five defense, but the best defense. Third, they were the most prolific baserunning team in baseball.
Interestingly, those traits weren’t valued all that much then. They still aren’t valued particularly highly now (with the exception of bullpen usage). Teams primarily value walk rate and power, and they are more than willing to sacrifice defensive skill and baserunning prowess to get there.
One of the underrated reasons why the Royals have been bad recently is that they haven’t just failed at putting together competent rotations or effective offenses. As Max pointed out this week, they’ve been bad at the things they have been traditionally good at—like defense. And if it seems like the 2022 Royals have run into a lot of trouble on the basepaths, you would be correct. They have done so a lot, with Hunter Dozier in particular getting thrown out at the plate seemingly every other week.
So, just how awful have the Royals been on the basepaths? It turns out: pretty awful, but not the worst. Baseball-Reference has handy and extensive baserunning statistics by team. The average team this year has ran into 46 outs on the bases (not including pickoffs, fielder’s choice, caught stealing, or your average force play). The Royals have ran into 52, good for sixth-most in the league. That’s a lot, but that’s not a huge amount.
Where the Royals run into the most trouble—no pun intended—is at home plate. The average team has made 15 outs at the plate this year. Those outs are true inning- and game-changers. Kansas City has made 22 outs at the plate, nearly 50% more than the average team. This is particularly egregious considering that the Royals are in the bottom third of the league in on base percentage.
To that end, I wanted to take a look and incorporate all of the data that I could. So, I pulled in everything—hits, walks, intentional walks, hits by pitch, even catcher’s interferences—and calculated the total amount of TOOTBLANS by adding together both outs on the basepaths and pickoffs (for those not in the know, “TOOTBLAN” stands for “thrown out on the bases like a nincompoop; you can look it up if you don’t believe me, but I am elevating it to an official term).
And while I was hoping for a really revealing look at how the Royals were far and away the worst baserunning team, the reality is a little less flashy, as the rankings look a lot like Baseball-Reference’s raw numbers. Still, it A) took a lot of time to put together and B) is interesting to think of it in percentage terms, so I’m putting it here, the list sorted by TOOTBLAN% (percentage of all non-home run baserunners thrown out at a base while not attempting to steal).
Which teams are thrown out the most on the bases?
|Tampa Bay Rays||1863||6||72||78||4.19%|
|Kansas City Royals||1846||5||51||56||3.03%|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||2110||5||57||62||2.94%|
|Chicago White Sox||1909||5||49||54||2.83%|
|Los Angeles Angels||1774||6||44||50||2.82%|
|St. Louis Cardinals||1999||3||47||50||2.50%|
|Toronto Blue Jays||2022||6||44||50||2.47%|
|New York Yankees||2031||8||42||50||2.46%|
|San Diego Padres||1983||5||42||47||2.37%|
|New York Mets||2049||0||43||43||2.10%|
|San Francisco Giants||1927||7||33||40||2.08%|
|Boston Red Sox||1991||4||34||38||1.91%|
The result, as you can see, is an extremely pretty bell curve; 70% of teams fall within one percentage point’s difference, and though there are a couple of sharp outliers, there aren’t that many of them. The Royals are seventh-worst at 3.03%, just a few ticks under a quarter of a percentage point away from the median figure.
There are a couple of things missing from this analysis, namely that these outs are context-neutral, meaning that they don’t convey how important those outs were. Still, with such a large sample size, I’m not sure how much that would change anything.
But why, then, does it feel like the Royals have been somehow worse than “merely bad” at baserunning? Part of that is assuredly subjective, as I’m sure that a lot of fans think their team runs into a lot of outs because those events stick out a lot. And part of that is the fact that, yeah, the Royals are just about the worst team when it comes to running into outs at the plate.
Additionally, the Royals just haven’t allowed themselves the opportunity to get away with so many outs on the bases. They don’t get on base a lot (they rank 21st in OBP) and they don’t hit a lot of home runs (where they rank 26th). Every baserunner is precious, and they have to be efficient at converting them into runs when they get out of the batter’s box.
One of the reasons why Dayton Moore couldn’t keep his job had to do with these details: not only are the 2022 Royals not good at “Moneyball” statistics, but they aren’t so hot at the old-school statistics, the kind in which the 2014-2015 teams excelled. Thankfully, there are multiple routes forward here: if the Royals get on base more, they can afford to be aggressive, and if they are more efficient in their aggression, they can afford to not get on base quite as much. It will be an exciting offseason either way.