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.