It was a relatively slow first day for the Winter Meetings, as all we got were a few mid-tier free agent signings, the biggest perhaps being a 1-year/$5.25 million deal that Billy Hamilton and the Royals came to agreement upon. Looking on that, it’s hard to come up with an idea of what this means for the Royals.
Are they preventing looks at some younger pieces in the organization? Does adding another poor hitter to the Royals lineup really do them any good? All of those questions are fair to some extent, but one thing does remain sure. This signing made a bad team a hell of a lot more entertaining.
Between the speedy trio of Adalberto Mondesi, Billy Hamilton, and Whit Merrifield, the Royals look like a track team playing baseball. Those three could conceivably steal anywhere from 100 to 150 bases, adding insurance to the fact that the Royals will be good at least one thing: creating havoc on the bases.
There is one major issue with this though. The Royals lineup is still a bad one. At the moment, it looks like they’ll run a handful of possible sub-.300 OBP hitters out there, including the likes of Hamilton, Mondesi, Salvador Perez, and Hunter Dozier. Players like Brett Phillips, Rosell Herrera, and Chris Owings could fit into that mix too. Not ideal and nothing of resemblance to a contending team.
Factoring in the Hamilton signing and adjusting the level of plate appearances for some players to fit the addition, the Royals are projected to have the fourth-worst OBP as a collective team in all of baseball. Only the Marlins, White Sox, and Orioles are below them. This would have of course fit with their 2018 level of on-base production, when only six teams finished below them in that category.
So it’s pretty clear, overall, the Royals will have a bad offense in 2019. Singling out stolen bases though, they seem like a pretty good bet to be elite in that department. Performing the same process above for projected stolen base figures, the Royals stand at the top. Projected for 148 stolen bases, that mark is higher than every other projected total in 2019 and would have led baseball by a significant margin in 2018. The trio of Mondesi, Hamilton, and Merrifield are projected for 106 stolen bases alone. Only six teams had a higher total than that last season.
So in short, the Royals are projected to be a team that doesn’t reach base very often, yet steal a ton of bases. Through common sense thinking, those two things don’t seem like a normal fit. It’s seems pretty obvious that teams that reach base more often will have more opportunities to steal. That’s what makes projections for the 2019 Royals interesting and makes them look like an outlier of sorts.
I exported stolen base and on-base percentage data for every team in the 21st century and added 2019 projections in. That equals up to 600 total teams. The 2019 Royals come out in the bottom sixth of OBP among those team, while also coming out in the top three percent (!) in stolen bases per 600 plate appearances (SB/600 PA).
With the Royals having a projected on-base percentage of .308 and a projected SB/600 PA of 15, they fit the bill of an outlier, as only one team in the 21st century has matched those two categories with a lower on-base percentage and higher SB/600 PA. The 2011 Padres, who went 71-91.
Highest SB/600 PA among bad OBP teams
Right now, it looks like the Royals will run with a 9-1-2 combination of Hamilton, Merrifield, and Mondesi in the lineup. With bad on-base skills as a team, pitching against the Royals will be easy a good chunk of the time. But allow one or two of them on-base and you got a run manufacturer taking place on the base paths.