Running Without Purpose
The Royals season has started off okay at 2-2, but one thing is alarming to me and the rest of the fanbase (if Twitter is an accurate representation) and it’s the terrible base running we’ve seen. It started on Opening Day with Jeff Francoeur getting picked off second in basically one of the only scoring chances the Royals had all night. Without getting into each and every infraction, it has continued through the next few games. I like aggression on the basepaths, and sometimes aggression leads to outs on the bases, which is understandable, but what is going on right now is simply inexcusable.
I feel like we’ve talked about this a lot lately, but baseball at its core is a pretty simple game. You score more runs than your opponents and to do that, you make a lower percentage of outs per plate appearance. A lot of times sentiments like that are shared when talking about the importance of on base percentage, but what a team does once they get on base also plays a big role in this. A team has 27 outs to make things happen. With each one they lose, they are one closer to the end of the game, and unless your offense is really clicking with the long ball like it was on Saturday and Sunday, running into multiple outs in every game can cause some problems.
Yesterday was an example of this that simply can’t happen if the Royals want to challenge for .500 in 2012. The Oakland Athletics are not a very good team. We all watched them last night. Nobody can convince me they are anything more than mediocre, and even that would be a compliment. The Royals offense by the numbers appeared to be pretty stagnant, but if they had been able to control themselves on the bases, they might have been able to push a couple runs across the plate that instead ended up sitting in the dugout after getting thrown out.
My boiling point was reached when Eric Hosmer was on second base with one out and attempted a steal of third with Jeff Francoeur at the plate. You know what happened. Either you watched it or you’re smart enough to figure out that I wouldn’t be writing this article if he had made it. He was, of course, thrown out. Then Francoeur walked (don’t get used to that sight) and promptly got picked off by Tommy Milone. That’s two outs on the bases in an inning where the Athletics were trying to give the Royals some runs. Both base runners reached base via the walk. You simply cannot waste that.
The base running kill in the first is one that I’m far less upset about. Jason Bourgeois started off the game with a double to left-center when Lorenzo Cain came to the plate. Cain did his job and hit the ball to the right side. Bourgeois, in possession of some excellent speed tagged and assumed he would advance to third. Josh Reddick made an absolutely perfect throw to third to get Bourgeois. The reason that doesn’t bother me so much is the only way he was going to get thrown out was by a perfect throw. I’d be willing to assume that Reddick will not be making that throw perfectly and most of the time, Bourgeois will end up on third base.
I think there are a few things that make the gaffes frustrating. The first is that this is a team that pays a lot of lip service to things like “playing the game the right way” and running the bases well. Until I start seeing better results, to me, lip service is all it is. And if this was a new occurrence for the Royals, I’d be much more likely to forgive this. Unfortunately, getting thrown out on the bases is nothing new for the Royals as an organization. They always talk about stealing more bases and taking the extra base and all that, but they always seem to have an issue with taking that extra base without getting caught.
The other frustrating point to these outs are that the Royals actually have a pretty solid offense. There are times when they seem to shut down (and last night was one of those times), but for the most part, they have a nice combination of on-base ability, speed and power. They hit four homers in the last two games of the Angels series, and I think the multi-homer games for the team will come way more often than they have in Royals teams of the recent past. Even when the offense isn’t clicking on all cylinders, guys like Hosmer, Butler and Gordon can find ways to give the Royals three runs with one swing of the bat. I just hope their three run homer isn’t negated by a caught stealing or another type of base running error.
This isn’t to say that this is a forever problem. Base running mistakes are often the easiest thing to fix for a team, so I’m not saying they are going to be running into two outs per game all season long and will lose an additional five games. While the bulk of this team came back from last season, there is still a lot of unfamiliarity in the lineup. I’m not sure if that means anything, but I think it might play some role in regard to knowing who is running ahead of players. Again, I don’t know the solution to this problem, but I know that teams have had this problem early in the season before and have found ways to remedy it. This Royals team has an opportunity to be special, especially if they can hold down the fort while they work to get their “A” team back on the field. They’re not going to do anything, though, when they’re losing multiple outs on the bases every single day. Outs are precious. The Royals need to take far better care of them to have a chance to win.
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