Redefining “Small Ball”

The American League has traditionally been a league with “big ball” style of play; walks, doubles, and home runs. Players like Chris Davis in Baltimore or Mike Trout in Los Angeles consistently prove why home runs are so important and so vital to games. The Royals aren’t your traditional American League team.

It’s no surprise–considering the Ned Yost is the manager–that the Royals take the “small ball” approach. Singles, bunts, and stolen bases are their weapon of choice, and critics often questioned whether or not that was effective against power-hitting AL teams.

Just by looking at the roster, you can tell this team isn’t built on home runs and doubles. Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, and (I guess) Mike Moustakas are the only three guys that truly have the potential to provide the big hits for this team. Even so, they haven’t done much of that this season.

The rest of the roster is built on speed, singles, and bunts. Nori Aoki, Alicdes Escobar, and Lorenzo Cain are these types of guys that take a simple approach at the plate, not trying to do much, but just put the ball in play. They give the team a chance to score a run here or a run there.

Aoki and Cain came to the Royals by way of trade from the Brewers, and General Manager Dayton Moore thinks guys like them are more effective than guys like Will Myers, who was traded to the Rays for “Big Game” James Shields and Wade Davis in an effort to vault the Royals to the playoffs.

The Royals have had an opportunity to become that “traditional” AL team, but Dayton Moore’s eight year project didn’t quite pan out like that. Moore has a philosophy of building within, growing major league players in the farm system. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas were supposed to be the two players to lead the charge, but we haven’t quite lived up to those expectations.

Instead, Moore had to invest in free agency, acquiring guys like Omar Infante and Jason Vargas in the off-season. He’s built a team that relies on their defense and pitching, not their power-hitting offense. Hey may have veered from his philosophy, but it’s gotten the Royals to the playoffs.

The Royals are dead last in the majors in both home runs and walks, but to them, that didn’t really matter. Their unconventional style, headlined by the phrase “That’s what speed do” has gotten them to the post-season, in one of the craziest seasons in franchise history.

The Royals haven’t merely utilized the “small ball” approach though, they’ve redefined it. In a way, it’s almost as if the Royals have gotten most of their wins thanks to luck more than anything else.

Back in May, just when we thought the Royals were going to derail, Jose Reyes mishandled an easy ground ball from Salvador Perez, sparking a comeback win to save the season. In September, the Royals beat the White Sox on a walk-off infield single, only because of a wild-pitch the previous play. And then last night, when the Royals mounted a comeback against Jon Lester, even though it was seemingly impossible.

We’ve often described it as the “Royal Way” this year because of the uniqueness of it all. These are games that only the Royals win, and in their own fashion. They throw conventional thinking out the window, and run around the base paths with no care at all.

The Royals have taken the term “small ball” to a whole new level this year, and to all of our surprise, it’s worked. They’ve got guys like Nori Aoki driving in runs on his spinning swings,  Jarrod Dyson swiping bases as if he believes the bases themselves belong to him, and even guys like Terrance Gore, the 12 year-old who somehow found his way to the majors, helping this team win.

Despite all the Ned Yost blunders, men stranded on third base, and Royals free outs, this overly scrappy team has had the resilience to defy the odds, and make it to the playoffs in a fashion that we’ve never seen before. Through all of the Twitter hatred, media criticism, and an insane level of uncertainty, they’ve managed to stay alive for at least one more series.

Right now, The Royal Way is working for the Royals, and we can only hope it still has some magic left in it, because we don’t know how long it’s going to be until we see it again.

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