Which Royals’ Stolen Base Made The Biggest Difference?

It doesn’t feel like corny sentiment to say the Kansas City Royals stole the American League Wild Card from the Oakland A’s. The Royals lineup does not inspire much in the way of fear but this ragtag bunch hung nine runs on the A’s best starter and its (rightly) maligned bullpen.

They did so while hitting just two extra base hits, both of which came in the 12th inning. Eric Hosmer tripled and Salvador Perez yanked the walkoff double down the line compared to 13 singles and three walks. Without the benefit of big bats, the Royals instead did what the Royals do – they swiped and stole and small ball’d their way to victory, just as our fearless leader suggested they should mere hours before the game began.

They stole seven bases on the night, equalling the record for a postseason game. While none of these steals are likely to reach “Dave Roberts Game 4” levels of notoriety, five of the seven thefts came around to score. Let’s look at each steal, ranking them by win probability added to see which was truly the biggest steal of the night.

7. Alcides Escobar, 8th inning, 7-3 Oakland – .008 WPA

Down four runs, an extra 90 feet doesn’t feel like it makes much of a difference. But every inch counts for this punchless Royals bunch. Rather than going down hoping to string together a series of hits that may never come, Kansas City gets active, putting at least some concern in the back of Derek Norris’ head.

Escobar singled up the middle, stole second (with ease), went to third on a ground out and scored on a single. The stolen base kept them out of the double play, allowing Nori Aoki to do his bat control thing and move the runner along to third.

6. Nori Aoki, 1st inning, 2-0 Oakland  – .009 WPA

After Alcides Escobar leads off the Royals first with a single, Aoki bounces into a fielder’s choice that easily becomes a double play with a better feed from A’s second baseman Eric Sogard. Aoki goes to second on a steal with two out and then scores after Billy Butler stretches a double into a single.

The steal itself, coming so early in the game, didn’t increase the Royals odds of winning as much as set up the botched double steal attempt that should live in infamy forever. For this, we are all grateful.

5. Lorenzo Cain, 8th inning, 7-4 Oakland – .01 WPA

This is the moment this comeback starts to feel like…something. Cain dashes into scoring position. Oakland’s prone battery starts to show some cracks, as A’s starter Jon Lester doesn’t give his catcher much to work with and Norris again fails to make a strong throw.

Cain looked to get a decent jump but he just beat the throw, which was low and to the third base side of the bag. A better throw gets him? And yet here we are.

4. Alex Gordon, 8th inning, 7-6 Oakland – .03 WPA

Gordon runs into scoring position with little resistance from the A’s. Their focus is on batter Salvy Perez, who flails at a slider away for strike three. Another example of KC taking what they’re given while staying out of the double play. In WPA terms, this steal doesn’t come close to the blow Perez’s strikeout dealt to their chances of winning.

3. Christian Colon, 12th inning, 8-8 – .043 WPA

The circumstances of this steal make it feel more significant than its WPA suggests. The A’s guessed right, calling for a pitchout on a hunch that Colon would take off on a likely breaking ball with the count 1-2.

A strong throw gets them out of the inning. Instead, it’s the prelude to a walkoff win and a wild celebration. Needless to say, the Royals got caught with their hand in the cookie jar. But “pressure on the defense” has its intoxicating lure for a reason – the other team still has to catch it and throw it to get you out.

Everything went right for Oakland right up until the moment Derek Norris bricked the catch, failing to squeeze a pitchout that tailed back towards the plate. After all the havoc the Royals wreaked on the bases, this was Oakland’s best shot to neutralize and they blew it.

2. Terrance Gore, 8th inning, 7-5 Oakland – .056 WPA

This is the Dave Roberts moment. A pinch runner plopped into a situation with one thing  on his mind – grab and extra 90 feet. Gore wasted no time in doing so, taking off on the first pitch and taking second base with relative ease thanks to a great jump.

Norris makes a strong throw, a little high but right on the money. Does it ever matter If the throw is a little lower and into the runner? Hard to say. It sure looks like Gore stole this pitch off pitcher Luke Gregerson.

The million dollar question: did this steal influence the next pitch, a slider Gregerson yanked that eluded Norris for a wild pitch, allowing the tying run to score?

1.  Jarrod Dyson, 9th inning, 7-6 Oakland – .133 WPA

The greatest change in Kansas City’s win expectancy comes via this daring steal of third by pinch runner Jarrod Dyson. Not quite as Robertsian as the Gore steal, Dyson swings things in the Royals’ favor by giving them options.

It was another great jump by a KC base runner, Dyson took advantage of Doolittle’s relatively slow move to the plate by getting well down the line before Norris even received the pitch. His throw was right on the money but just a moment too late.

Aoki’s sac fly plates Dyson and the Royals manufactured themselves a tie. The risk of stealing third pays off, as the Royals gambled against a very tough reliever. Doolittle didn’t allow another hit but the tying run crossed the plate on his watch regardless.

The Royals record-tying performance on the base paths showed a national audience how one of the worst offensive teams in baseball qualified for the postseason. They made the most of their opportunities and created some of their own luck.

The right personnel, a good scouting report,and good execution carried the Royals past Oakland. Will this style work in a five game series against a much better opponent, a team under the watchful eye of the man who all but wrote the modern book on aggressive base running?

You better believe Mike Scioscia will have his catching tandem prepped and his pitchers working hard to hold the running game in check.

Drew used to write about baseball and other things at theScore but now he writes here. Follow him on twitter @DrewGROF

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8 years ago

Dayton Moore and KC, 2014 WS champs. Take that, Oakland. Take that, sabermetrics. Take that, fangraphs.

Could you imagine…?

8 years ago
Reply to  Steve

Sure I can, I’m a Giants fan.

Paul G.
8 years ago
Reply to  Steve

The wonderful thing about baseball is while the numbers are so very, very useful, it will surprise you in ways beyond your imagination. Sometimes it feels so good to just put away the numbers and have some fun. And my goodness that Wild Card game was fun.

8 years ago
Reply to  Paul G.

It was fun, true, but let’s not forget KC won because of cheap choppers and wild pitches that should have been blocked (perhaps if Soto was in there). That’s why sabermetric analysts hate 1 game playoffs where such a small sample size determines who moves on. It’s ridiculous.

8 years ago
Reply to  Steve

The A’s could’ve avoided this whole situation by just being below average in the second half.

8 years ago
Reply to  Steve

Jeff and Dave hardly seemed to hate it last night. They were having a blast, other than the late hours. Jeff even said a 1 game playoff isn’t all that different from a 7 game playoff with respect to randomness.

Paul G.
8 years ago
Reply to  Steve

Are you saying that winning your division has more meaning now? Because if you are I think that is totally awesome.

If you don’t want to play the suicide game, don’t finish in second (or third, as the case may be).