The Royals & Moneyball

Rany Jazayerli, among other usual suspects, recently noted that Juan Pierre is wrong:

For all the talk about the Royals turning back the tide of 30 years of sabermetrics by winning with speed and defense, let’s not forget something kinda important here: the Royals won Game 1 on an extra-inning home run. They won Game 2 on an extra-inning home run. They won Game 3, 8-3, and their first six runs came on a bases-clearing double, a two-run homer, and a solo homer.

Speed makes for a hell of a sidekick, and sometimes the sidekick rises up and saves your life, like Jarrod Dyson did in the Wild Card game. But power is still the superhero. Ball Go Far, Team Go Far.

In fact, with Escobar, Gordon, and Moustakas all going deep last night, Kansas City is now tied with the Cardinals in home runs this postseason with 7 (although only San Francisco has more at-bats than the Royals) and leads all teams in walks (!) with 22. Plus, of course, the playoff-leading 12 steals.

But it’s also worth noting if the postseason Royals are “sabermetric” in a way that the regular season Royals weren’t, the regular season Royals were actually a classic Moneyball team. Moneyball, remember, wasn’t about either walks or OPS, it was about taking advantage of market inefficiencies.

As J.C. Bradbury explained:

One of the central lessons of Moneyball is this: to get the most output from your inputs in order to maximize the return on the dollars that your organization spends on running team. A GM must be efficient in running his organization. In economic terms, he’s attempting to put all of his resources to their most highly valued uses. If the market overvalues a particular baseball talent–for example, saves–then a team should liquidate its assets in this area. If the market undervalues a talent–for example, OBP–you acquire it while it’s cheap. It’s all very simple in theory, but difficult in practice.

The Royals’ 380 regular season walks may have ranked dead last out of 30 major league teams, their .314 OBP 16th (thanks of course to batting average, which was 4th at .263), and their .690 OPS 17th, but they led the majors in steals (153, 15 ahead of the next best major league team and 47 ahead of any AL team that wasn’t the Astros) and ranked 3rd in stolen base percentage (81%), percentage points behind the Nationals and Yankees. The Royals also led the majors by far in pinch-runners.

I won’t argue that the Royals are either one of the most economically efficient teams in baseball (though team payroll relative to talent level isn’t bad) or one of the most well-run teams in baseball. The latter would have been a joke as recently as a few months ago. Raul Ibañez and Scott Downs are still Royals even though they aren’t on the postseason roster, and we’ll see whether the Royals throw crazy money at James Shields this offseason (they shouldn’t). Various forms of “Yost” are now verbs, both on sports-theme websites and on Urban Dictionary (though the latter may be unrelated). But the Royals are the only undefeated team in the postseason, and we can thank the Moneyball regular season as well as the sabermetric past two weeks for it.

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