Rewind back to April of 2016. The Kansas City Royals are fresh off a World Series win and are one of the hottest teams in baseball to start the new season. It’s a Sunday, they’re playing the usually scheduled day game against the Minnesota Twins at home. Heading into play with a record of 3-1 and playing for the sweep, they head into the bottom of the ninth down 2-0. Subsequently, Twins closer Glen Perkins would blow the save, allowing a pair of runs on an Eric Hosmer triple and Kendrys Morales sac fly.
Let’s jump to extras, the bottom of the 10th. With the game still tied, Trevor May enters the game in relief of Perkins. He starts off wild, walking a costly batter to leadoff the frame in Christian Colon. Colon, by most means, is not fast, but he isn’t what you would consider slow. He plays all over the infield adequately and has 112 career stolen bases across all levels of baseball. Most teams wouldn’t have a better option for speed on the base paths than him. Most teams would just opt to keep his bat in the game and not waste a bench spot. But on this day, the Royals roster presented a better option, a faster option, an option that could win the game without even grabbing a bat.
Terrance Gore’s game has always been built on speed. After attending high school in Georgia, he spent a season on the Gulf Coast Community college baseball team, using his largest weapon, his legs, to create a .330/.409/.437 slashline, adding in 51 stolen bases in 54 attempts. The speed picked up attention, causing the Royals to nab him in the 20th round of the 2011 MLB Draft. In the lower-minors, he showed off potential to be more than just a weapon on the base paths, posting a 136 wRC+ and 102 wRC+ in his respective first and second seasons of pro ball. And of course, he racked up 54 stolen bases in 56 attempts in that time.
Once Gore started facing more advanced arms in pro-ball, the bat started to lag. He slashed .215/.334/.242 across 128 games with the Low-A Lexington Legends in 2013, but again... the speed kept him on the radar, swiping an unbelievable 68 bags in 76 attempts.
The Royals, now jumping back into contention, a place they hadn’t been in decades, now knew they had a weapon they could utilize. So even after a terrible season with the bat, the Royals bumped him up another level, as Gore played the majority of his 2014 season with the High-A Wilmington Blue Rocks. His struggles at the plate reached a new high there, posting a basically unplayable 57 wRC+ in 287 plate appearances. But another 36 stolen bases later, Gore found himself with the triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers near the end of the minor league season, grooming himself for a major league call-up in September. Eleven stolen bases, along with a 69 wRC+, was all he needed. On August 31, 2014, after some roster shuffling, the Royals found a place for Gore on their 40-man roster, calling him up to the big leagues once rosters expanded. Speed had now ascended Gore to the highest level of baseball in the world.
As a Royals fan myself, it didn’t take too long to notice the impact Gore had in a close game. In his first four major league games, all pinch-running appearances, Gore had swiped two bags without an unsuccessful attempt, scoring two runs in the process. But it was this appearance that really lit the fire.
That’s right. In a tied game with two outs and a runner on second (that being Gore in a pinch-run appearance after a Mike Moustakas double) scored on a softly hit infield single placed right behind the pitcher’s mound to seal the win.
The impact that Gore has on a game can be quantified. For example, in his first month with on a major league roster, out of 531 non-pitchers to appear in a game in the month of September 2014, Gore ranked 129th in Context Neutral Wins (WPA/LI). Out of that same crop, he ranked 16th in Base Running Runs Above Average (BsR), or the baserunning aspect of fWAR. All of this with only ten 10 games and two plate appearances. The Royals had groomed Gore into a unique weapon that no other team had. And once they achieved postseason play for the first time in 29 years, Gore would grab his fair share of contribution in their run to a World Series, going three for three on stolen base attempts with two runs scored.
After getting to show the contributions he could make for a contending team, Gore would bounce between double-A, triple-A, and the major leagues the next three years. He would go on to be part of a team that took home a World Series ring in 2015 and would receive additional opportunities in the regular seasons of 2016 and 2017. But with the Royals falling out of contention and into a hard rebuild, there was little need for Gore. Last offseason, when roster moves had to made in order to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft, Gore was released off the 40-man roster. His tenure with the Royals organization wouldn’t end there though, as in a matter of hours he and the team had agreed on minor league deal.
In his four seasons with the Royals, Gore had appeared in 49 games and had only tallied a mere 14 plate appearances. He’s still looking for his first major league hit. The opportunities to make an difference with the bat and glove have been little to none, but that didn’t stop him from making an impact at crucial times.
With Gore only wrapping up 14 plate appearances since 2014, I found every other non-pitcher in that time to step up to the plate 14 times or less. Counting Gore, there have been 61. I then sorted all of them by Win Probability Added (WPA). Out of all these players with little opportunity to make an impact, Gore was the one who stood out.
It looks even better if you break it down to +WPA (sum of positive WPA).
Today, you can now find Gore working as a reserve outfielder in triple-A Omaha. He’s hit .204/.292/.248 in 160 plate appearances, good for a 47 wRC+. He only has 15 stolen bases in 19 attempts, but context is important to consider. Calculating based on an opportunity rate, he leads all of the PCL in stolen base attempts per opportunity. So he’s still running.
Pacific Coast League SBA/Opp. Leaders
|Terrance Gore||Royals (AAA)||27||44.19%|
|Wynton Bernard||Cubs (AAA)||27||39.39%|
|Myles Straw||Astros (AAA)||23||33.33%|
|Keon Broxton||Brewers (AAA)||28||31.11%|
|Jorge Mateo||Athletics (AAA)||23||29.29%|
|Jacob Hannemann||Cubs (AAA)||27||27.96%|
|Oscar Mercado||Cardinals (AAA)||23||27.86%|
|Isaac Galloway||Marlins (AAA)||28||27.27%|
|Antonio Nunez||Astros (AAA)||25||26.79%|
|Ian Miller||Mariners (AAA)||26||25.76%|
The cost of Gore for a contending team would be next to nothing. The biggest downside to acquiring him would be finding a roster space for such a one-dimensional, non-long-term player. The hypothetical teams inquiring on him would have all leverage, so a return would likely be something along the lines of cash considerations. Maybe the Royals make profit on a minor league deal.
Now that the analytical explanation part of this piece is over, let’s get back to where we began. The weapon the Royals have coming into the game pinch-running for Christian Colon is Terrance Gore. The victim here is clearly the Twins, particurlay reliever Trevor May, because he might have just turned a leadoff walk into a leadoff triple.
This now commences the three stages of Terrance Gore.
Stage One: The Entrance
Gore is now in the game. Everyone knows his ambitions. Everyone in the Royals dugout knows. Everyone in the Twins dugout knows. Terrance Gore knows. The Twins battery knows. The whole damn stadium knows. He’s going to steal second base and then he’ll steal third.
Stage Two: Worry
Or so you thought? Trevor May saved everyone some time, throwing an errant pickoff attempt that bounces into right field, giving Gore those two bases he would have stolen anyway.
And just like that, something had happened that everyone saw coming. Terrance Gore was at third base. You can argue that he was placed there by another player’s mistake, but the fact of the matter is that he made a play happen just by merely being on base. He’s stolen 21 bases in 25 attempts at the major league level. He was 287 for 318 in attempts for his minor league career. His intentions were clear coming into the game, it was going to happen. It was just a matter of time.
Stage Three: Home Sweet Home
Fast-forward a bit in this inning. A runner on third nobody out had turned into runners on second and third with two outs after a soft line out, strikeout, walk, and defensive indifference. Lorenzo Cain was now at the plate and he had worked a 2-2 count. Trevor May throws a pitch that bounced on the plate and off the catcher, subsequently rolling towards first base foul territory. This wasn’t a generic wild pitch. My guess is most runners wouldn’t have a chance at scoring on this if quickly fielded cleanly. Well... it was fielded quickly and cleanly, but not quick and clean enough. There was never a chance.
Game over. Contending teams should consider the value that can be had at a low, low cost.
Patrick Brennan loves to research pitchers and minor leaguers with data. You can find additional work of his at Royals Review and Royals Farm Report. You can also find him on Twitter @paintingcorner.