Royals going all-in on speed next season
Additions of Hamilton, Gore give KC several elite runners
When the Royals surged to the World Series in 2014 and '15, a saying coined by outfielder Jarrod Dyson helped sum up the team's athletic, aggressive approach.
"That's what speed do."
Dyson was traded before the '17 season, but speed remains in vogue in Kansas City. Tuesday's news that the Royals had reunited with pinch-running specialist Terrance Gore on a one-year deal served to highlight that fact.
Gore's signing came a week after the Royals added one of the game's other elite speedsters, Billy Hamilton. Those two join an existing roster that already featured some good wheels, with the 2018 Royals finishing sixth in the Majors in steals (117). Gore, with a .606 career OPS in the Minors, has appeared in the Majors in each of the past five seasons. But he has received a total of only 19 plate appearances during that time, finally notching his first big league hit -- off none other than Max Scherzer -- for the Cubs on Sept. 8.
The lack of MLB playing time has prevented Gore from qualifying for the Statcast™ sprint speed leaderboard but there's no question he can run with anybody. Including the postseason, the 27-year-old is 32-for-37 (86.5 percent) in stolen-base attempts. He recorded several individual runs with a sprint speed above the elite 30 feet per second mark, including a clutch steal against the Rockies in the National League Wild Card Game at Wrigley Field that didn't even draw a throw.
Now, for the qualified runners, there were 549 who logged at least 10 "competitive" runs in 2018. Only 59 of those (less than 11 percent) averaged at least 29 ft/sec on those plays, compared with the MLB average of 27 ft/sec.
Here are the current Royals players who fall into that top group:
Hamilton: 30.1 ft/sec (T-4th)
Only the Twins' Byron Buxton, the Phillies' Roman Quinn and the Marlins' Magneuris Sierra edged out Hamilton, who has ranked in the top 10 in four straight seasons since Statcast™ debuted. Hamilton, who was non-tendered by the Reds, leads the Majors in steals since 2014 (264) and uses his speed to great effect in center field. His 16 outs above average last season ranked fifth among MLB outfielders.
Raul Mondesi: 29.9 ft/sec (T-9th)
The 23-year-old switch-hitter broke out at the plate in 2018 (.276/.306/.498), flashing some serious pop to go along with his speed. Mondesi ranked fourth in the AL with 32 steals despite playing only 75 games. On Sept. 8 at Minnesota, he dragged a bunt up the first-base line and beat it out in just 3.48 seconds for MLB's third-fastest single of the season.
Whit Merrifield: 29.0 ft/sec (T-47th)
A late bloomer, Merrifield will turn 30 in January as he tries to hold off his teammates to lead the AL in steals for a third consecutive season, after swiping a total of 79 from 2017-18. Merrifield, who played five positions, also ranked seventh in the Majors last season in FanGraphs' baserunning value metric.
Brett Phillips: 29.0 ft/sec (T-47th)
Acquired from the Brewers in July in the Mike Moustakas trade, Phillips is still looking to establish himself in the big leagues but already has shown off a big arm and good wheels. Phillips has used those attributes to pile up plus-20 Defensive Runs Saved over the past two seasons, tied for 15th among MLB outfielders despite a total of just 75 games played.
Add Hunter Dozier (28.6 ft/sec), free-agent acquisition Chris Owings (28.3 ft/sec), Jorge Soler (28.3 ft/sec) and Jorge Bonifacio (28.1 ft/sec), and the Royals could conceivably put together a lineup in which catcher Salvador Perez is the only player whose 2018 sprint speed wasn't well above average. And that's with Gore waiting on the bench
So while next season's Royals will have much to prove coming off a 58-104 season, it could be a lot of fun to watch them run.