An Ode to the Kansas City Royals’ Faith by Eno Sarris November 2, 2015 Let me give you three stat lines, and you’ll understand immediately where this is going. It’s time for Player A, B, and C. Let’s add in D, E, and F too. Royals Players’ Recent Seasons Player AVG OBP SLG wRC+ DEF A 0.212 0.271 0.361 76 4.6 B 0.232 0.324 0.378 87 -1.6 C 0.232 0.304 0.359 80 -25.4 D 0.251 0.310 0.348 80 20.3 E 0.218 0.274 0.338 72 -11.5 F 0.257 0.293 0.320 67 13.9 wRC+ = weighted runs created plus, or a weighted offensive stat where 100 is league averageDEF = FanGraphs defensive value, or positional value plus defensive value These guys look bad. Player A had that season in 2014. He was 26 and supposedly headed towards peaking. He could make contact and hit for power, but there was something missing. A pull-happy fly-ball approach easily defended by the shift, no walks — suddenly his glove was keeping him afloat. That wasn’t supposed to happen. What’s funny is that Mike Moustakas actually learned the lesson he needed to learn in 2013. It just took until 2015 to really cement in his day to day work. As Ben Lindbergh pointed out on Grantland this year, he meant to change his approach to the shift coming into the 2014 season by trying to maybe hit balls over the shortstop sometimes. But it was this year where the coaching finally took hold and Moustakas had the best opposite field percentage of his career. Now he can punish pitches on the inside and outside, and his heat map has gone from the left (2014) to the right (2015). Player B had his nightmare season in 2009. Maybe it’s unfair to pick that season, because he had serious hip problems that year, and hip surgery to boot. But it wasn’t like things were going great for the former second-overall pick. He’d been league average for a couple of years and his defense on the infield was starting to look bad. His swing plane was all messed up. He wasn’t working out right. He was unhealthy. So Alex Gordon went to hitting coach Kevin Seitzer and got to work. Then he took a new approach — “I tried to cut down on my fly balls and I’ve tried to cut down on my strikeouts because the easiest out in baseball — other than the strikeout — is the lazy fly ball” — he said about his revised plate approach in 2013. He used the help of coach to develop his on-field philosophy to better fit his park and team. But Gordon also had to change his workout regimen, which has some notoriety. He hired a trainer in 2011 who had him imitating baseball activity in more workouts. “I’m not crushing weights like I used to, I’m doing things that will help me on the field, staying flexible – I’ve become a little wiser as I’ve gotten older,” he told me back in 2013. Part of it was going to down to Triple-A at one point. Gordon decided that the new position was one that he had to learn, and that every part of his work would have to be towards the goal of being an outfielder in the major leagues. He ran more, yes. But what would he tell another struggling young player? “The one thing I can tell you is to come to the field and have the right attitude every day and try to have fun,” Gordon told me, “Once you come to the field and it’s not a place where you have fun, it’s not going to be helpful. I struggled early on and there were a lot of expectations and I maybe tried too hard. Being sent down, that just hit me: I’m going to do whatever I can while still having fun, then the end of the day is easier to deal with.” Gordon’s success would appear to support what we know about the importance of an athlete embracing a positive outlook. (It’s good.) Nobody has really ever agreed about the defensive value of Player C. This postseason, we saw both great scoops and problematic plays, so maybe we can give the numbers some slack for jumping from “league worst” to “merely bad.” The bat has always made contact, but has been a problem from time to time when it comes to taking walks and making the most of that contact. There’s no real “turning point” piece for Eric Hosmer, because it’s hard to point anything out. His pull, oppo, hard-hit, ground-ball and percentages were all at about career average levels this year. But twice now he’s managed to swing his production from replacement level to near-All-Star levels. Maybe it’s learning to understand situation hitting better — he did talk about shortening up and changing his swing against Javier Lopez in the World Series, after all. Anyway, as their first baseman struggled, the Royals stuck with him. Maybe because he had above-average power and made contact at a good rate. Player D came to baseball late. We’ve all read the seminal piece by Andy McCullough, right? How he was cut from basketball and just went across the hall to the other sport and asked for a uniform? Obviously, he’d need some time to figure things out. Lorenzo Cain did not have a good year the first time he was installed as a semi-regular player. He was 20% worse than league average with the bat, at least, and it was all his glove that kept him in the lineup. He never won a Gold Glove, but everyone thought he should have. This year, it looks like Cain made an adjustment in order to be able to make contact on pitches low in the zone. Over the last three years, Cain has a top-25 opposite-field percentage and a pop-up rate about 40% better than league average, and it sounds like he works on his batted ball mix diligently. Maybe we can believe his career .345 batting average on balls in play. Player E doesn’t count. He was a free-agent acquisition. But look how bad Player E was last year! He was so bad. What did the Royals like about Kendrys Morales? Maybe it’s because he made contact at an above-average rate even in a bad year, and that for his career he has above-average power. Maybe another year away from hurting himself while celebrating, he was finally healthy. Oh, and if you’re talking advanced stats, he had demonstrated an ability to hit from the DH spot — which might be a unique skill. (He was also cheaper than their former DH.) Player F had this season this year. So obviously, he’s in the lineup for his glove, and that’s part of the story of these Royals, too. In any case, Alcides Escobar has shown a little power this postseason, and oh yeah, he makes contact at an above-average rate. A little aggressiveness on the first pitch has made a him a decent leadoff guy despite a bad walk rate, and his glove has always been there. It’s not an easy line to draw, from each coach on the Royals to the best outcomes for the players. But, throughout the history of each of these players, we see an approach that leads to contact with some power. We see values. We also see early debuts — Gordon (23), Hosmer (22), Moustakas (23), and Escobar (22) made Cain (24) the old man in their debuts. Each was brought along quickly and thrown into the fire. And each had a terrible season at some point. And, in each case, the team stuck with their young player. They tried to coach their young player. But, perhaps most importantly, they showed faith in their young player. And this World Series win was their collective reward.