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What would the Kansas City Royals be without defense?

The Royals are the story of the playoffs for obvious reasons, but where would they be without their trademark glove work? The answer may surprise you.

Ed Zurga

There are quite a few reasons for the sabermetrically inclined not to love the Royals' run to the World Series. They are winning despite suspect in-game "small-ball" tactics; they are inspiring ludicrous proclamations about the future of the game, and perhaps worst of all, they make Jon Heyman look smart.

With these things in mind, it is also important to recognize that something pretty special is going on. Due to the new Wild Card format, the Royals are the first team to win eight straight on the way to the World Series, and it's something we likely won't see for a long time. It's been a wildly unlikely ride, but it's been a fun one.

Ultimately sports is about entertainment, and seeing exceedingly improbable events play out before our very eyes is undoubtedly entertaining.

A multitude of ink has been spilled regarding what makes this team so special. Although it is unpopular to say so, some of it is good old-fashioned luck. However, the team also deserves credit for building an unbelievable bullpen and having excellent defenders up and down the lineup.

It is this top-notch defense that has probably been touched on the most by observers around the game—and for good reason. The team's 61.1 UZR ranked best in the league, ahead of the Orioles by 6.3 runs. If you compare the Royals to their closest division rival, the Detroit Tigers, in theory they are 109.2 runs better than them defensively!

But what would the Royals look like if you stripped their precious defence away from them? Apparently a lot like the New York Yankees.

This statement is surprising as any comparison between a team nicknamed "The Bronx Bombers" and a team that hit an MLB-worst 95 home runs seems nonsensical. This is the 2014 Yankees we are talking about, though, a squad that hardly lived up to its moniker, and the teams are surprising similar.


Despite the fact Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer have somehow provided more power than the Hoover Dam during this postseason, the reality is that the Royals aren't a great hitting team, much like the Yankees.

Yankees 7.4% 18.6% .245 .307 .380 .305 92
Royals 6.3% 16.3% .262 .314 .376 .306 94

As one might expect the Yankees hit a few more home runs, but that was likely a function of their ballpark. The Royals put the ball in play like no one else but the Yankees weren't too far off.

Starting Pitching

Although the Royals have been praised for their "Big Game James"-led rotation, the Yankees actually got better results from a rotation largely composed of no-names, at least by WAR.

Team K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP WAR
Yankees 7.56 1.97 1.04 3.77 3.74 14.9
Royals 6.59 2.46 0.88 3.60 3.89 12.9

Although tons of credit needs to be given to the Yankees for what their rotation accomplished, the Royals starters just aren't that special without the unbelievable gloves that support them.


Team K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP WAR
Yankees 10.25 3.41 0.97 3.70 3.54 5.9
Royals 8.65 3.30 0.62 3.30 3.29 5.9

Both these teams put together special relief units. The Yankees were flashier with their flurry of strikeouts, but the Royals were equally effective.

It is kind of shocking on the surface to see so many similarities between the Yankees and a Royals team that has cut through the powerhouses of the American League like a chainsaw through hot butter. After all, the Yankees were one of the most forgettable clubs in the league this season, even with the traveling Derek Jeter circus.

On the other hand, the Royals won only five more games than the Bombers over the course of the season, a number that makes perfect sense given the 57.4 runs that separate them on defense, according to UZR.

The Royals have played like a different team in the playoffs so far, one with power for instance, so perhaps it's unfair to simply judge them by their regular season statistics. It's also unreasonable to assume they have morphed into a completely different outfit in an eight-game span.

Much to Billy Beane's chagrin, playoffs results are all based on small sample sizes like said eight games, and teams can't do any more than the Royals have done so far. In a word, they've been incredible.

And what's the difference between getting the opportunity to be so special in the postseason and missing out on October baseball entirely? For the Royals, the narrative rings true: it's their defense.