SHOWDOWN IN MOTOWN

By:  Holly Horning

I am still thinking about the Royals, especially since there is a Showdown in Motown scheduled for this coming weekend. (Happy Mother’s Day to me!) Not to mention that the Tigers will face them 12 more times in the crucial months of August and September.

In a lot of ways, the Royals are the opposite of the Tigers. And I don’t mean the obvious – the bullpen. This is a team that focused on bringing in athletic players – guys who are fast and agile.

KC is considered to be the fastest team in all of MLB for the second year in a row. We’re not talking stolen bases here – that’s a different category. We’re talking pure speed – the quickest reflexes, defensive running and speed around the base paths. Terrance Gore is considered to be the fastest man in the sport, followed by Jarrod Dyson sitting at #2.

And this all evolved from a training program the Royals implemented in 2008 to increase speed. Today, faster teams are considered to be one of two primary trends for success all-season. The other is a shut-down bullpen.  Or as David Price’s dog, Astro, would say, “Rut roh.”

So what does speed do? Well, if you’re the Royals it gets you higher in the offensive rankings than the Tigers. It gives you the opportunity to run out more hits, run further on each hit, catch more balls and throw out more runners.  The Royals currently outrank the Tigers in all offensive categories save for triples and HRs. They are just a shade behind our team in defensive stats.

But one of the biggest differences is one of philosophy. The Royals don’t like to take walks. They prefer to hit to contact. Last year, they walked the least out of all 30 MLB teams. And look where that got them. It also got their decision to hold up their runner from scoring in that last game of the World Series questioned – all because many thought he would have scored.

The Tigers have fortunately started to move away from a lineup full of big, slow powerful players. They tripled their stolen bases from 2013 (recognized as the slowest team in baseball) to 2014. This year, more speed was added with the subtraction of Hunter and Jackson and with the addition of Gose, Iggy and Cespedes.

But there is still a ways to go. Miggy, Castellanos, Avila and VMart are not going to get any faster. Well, hopefully Victor will as he continues to recover. There is still that occasional base-to-base running. This year, the analysts are saying this factor is one element in why the Tigers are hitting into more double plays than any other team.

Replacing Avila with the speedier James McCann (inside-the-park homer, anyone?) would help. As well, Avila is all about the walks, a passive way of generating runs and in stark contrast to how the Royals get runners on base.

The Tigers still have more power than the Royals. But power comes and goes, often at inopportune times and more likely when better teams and pitchers are faced. We saw it during the first two games of this recent series as well as in October baseball over the years.

Let’s watch the rest of this season with an eye on how the Tigers address speed, base-running and stealing. Unlike last year when their running game stalled, will they maintain or build on this skill? Let’s hope Omar Vizquel, who oversees base running, has some new tricks up his sleeve.