Free-swinging Royals stray from 'Moneyball'
Kansas City finished last in walks, but managed to return to World Series
NEW YORK -- If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, there may be a lot more people swinging at the first pitch next season.
The Kansas City Royals are two victories away from winning the World Series. They are not playing "Moneyball." They are much closer to playing "Anti-Moneyball."
They value speed, both as a defensive tool and as an avenue to stolen bases. At the plate, where some clubs obsess over pitches seen per plate appearance, the Royals are free-swingers, but free-swingers who don't miss much. Yes, they ranked 29th in the Major Leagues in walks in 2015. But they trumped that by striking out fewer times than any other team.
This approach won the American League championship for the Royals last season. Now, leading the New York Mets, 2-0, in the 2015 World Series, they are trying to take the next and ultimate step. The Series will resume with Game 3 on Friday night (air time 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX, 8 p.m. game time).
The Royals weren't built like other teams. They were built from the bullpen first. The hitting philosophy, which is built around the concept of swing, as opposed to the concept of take, was not necessarily a formula that was put in place. But it did come to represent the best way to get the most out of the talent on hand.
"I think that's who we are as hitters," first baseman Eric Hosmer said on Thursday. "We all met as an offense in Spring Training and I think that's one good thing that [hitting coach] Dale [Sveum] does, is he realizes that we're not guys who go up there trying to walk, we're not guys who really work the count.
"So you take the positives from that and realize that guys are going to be swinging, so you try to make that as good as you can. That's been our goal the whole, entire year -- be aggressive, get your pitch, don't miss it. Especially against a staff like [the Mets]; you don't want to get behind on these guys, so you might as well be swinging early."
Royals manager Ned Yost says that this couldn't happen without the right kind of people putting together these aggressive at-bats. It is not only about the hitting style for Yost, but it is also about the personal substance.
"You put the right pieces together you can be successful," Yost said Thursday in a media session at Citi Field. "And that's what [general manager] Dayton Moore has done. He's filled this team with a bunch of tremendous athletes with tremendous character and a will to win.
"Yeah, they have different styles, we don't take a lot of pitches, but we don't miss a lot of pitches when we swing the bat. We have a great bullpen, great defense, our starting pitching is very, very good.
"So if you put the right pieces together, it works. It would be hard to say, 'This is a formula, get a bunch of guys that are going to swing.' It's just the right guys that make it work, and that's the trick, getting the right guys together to make it work."
Yost also gives substantial credit to Sveum's work as a hitting coach.
"Dale has stressed from Day 1 to do your homework," Yost said. "Guys prepare themselves much more. Dale has a knack of getting through to these guys and getting them to understand their strengths and their weaknesses and how to be successful. He's just the best hitting coach I've ever been around."
As October draws to a close, the Royals are succeeding with an approach that is in some ways diametrically opposed to "Moneyball," which was brought to widespread public recognition by a book and a movie of the same name.
Hosmer contemplates the anti-Moneyball status of the Royals, smiles and says:
"Maybe we'll get Brad [Pitt] to do a movie for us."
Hosmer got a lot of laughs with that line, as well he should have. But the Royals have done serious damage by going in an offensive direction quite opposite from Moneyball.