Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

So: Should the Braves model themselves after the Royals?


Alcides Escobar puts the Royals ahead in Game 2. #EskyMagic, as it's known. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

In yesterday’s missive regarding the 2015 baseball playoffs and what they might augur for the rebuilding Atlanta Braves , I mentioned the importance of young pitching and deft drafting and daring dealing. One thing I didn’t mention was building a lineup of contact hitters, which the Kansas City Royals have done.

Seeing that the Royals are playing in their second consecutive World Series and are leading this one 2-nil, and seeing that the Braves made a concerted effort to cut back on strikeouts under new administration, this omission might have seemed an oversight by yours truly. It wasn’t. I didn’t include the contact-hitting stuff because I’m not sure contact hitting – at least the way the Royals do it – will work long-term for any team but the Royals.

Here’s what I mean. The Royals had the fewest strikeouts of any team in baseball and won 95 games. The Braves had the second-fewest strikeouts and lost 95 games. Putting the ball in play is a noble enough concept but, in and of itself, it’s not enough. The Braves cut their strikeouts by 262 from last year to this – and scored the same number of runs (573). They went from being the second-worst offense in baseball to the absolute worst.

Even as we marvel at the Royals’ capacity to string together hits – “Keep the line moving,” is their slogan; it’s also something Fredi Gonzalez and presumably every manager preaches – we should note that the inability to avoid striking out doesn’t a mighty offense make.

Sabermetricians differ over what the most important offensive stat is: Some say on-base percentage; others say, duh, runs. The Royals were only pretty good at both. They ranked sixth in the 15-team American League in runs, seventh in OBP. And being skilled at putting the ball in play doesn’t mean the Royals were selective: They were last in the AL in walks. They don’t necessarily wait for good pitches to hit – Alcides Escobar, of whom we’re about to hear more, swings at almost anything – but they hit the ball when they swing.

What the Royals have done is maximize an offense that lacks power (next-to-last in the AL in homers ), but I wouldn’t deem it a new paradigm. They’re very good at what they do -- Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs dubbed this the best contact-hitting team ever -- but some of what they do defies rational thought.

Case study: The aforementioned Alcides Escobar. The sabermetric set has spent the postseason scratching its collective head over the thought of deploying a guy with an OBP of .293 as leadoff man . (In 2014, the player then known as B.J. Upton had an OBP of .287 for your Atlanta Braves.) As Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus wrote today: “Sometimes it’s important to remember that Alcides Escobar is one of the very worst hitters in baseball.

And yet: He’s hitting leadoff for a team that’s two games from a World Series title, and he was MVP of the ALCS. He led off Game 1 of the Series with an inside-the-park home run -- should have been scored an E-8, not that you asked -- on Matt Harvey’s first pitch; he had the biggest hit of Game 2, an RBI single after falling behind Jacob deGrom 0-2, the two strikes having come on fouled bunt attempts.

In this postseason, Escobar hasn’t just kept the line moving – he’s the line leader. But I’m not sure the Braves should model themselves on a team that has its worst everyday player ( going by WAR value ) hitting first. As the stat guys would say, that’s not sustainable.


Reader Comments ...

About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.