While home runs will always be the greatest individual glory that a player can achieve in sports, people are now looking at what happens when the ball lands inside the fence. The long ball is crucial to many offenses, but the fastest baseball teams have another weapon in the arsenal.
Enter running speed.
While a home run has a definitive outcome, running is more strategic. It’s the difference between whether a pitcher has to worry about the man at second sneaking his way to third before he can get the ball there and pitching with a clear mind. It makes the fielders gage where they think those in scoring position may stop or go. It can even determine which path the runner takes as he goes to the next base.
The Royals went to back-to-back World Series when they started experimenting with a faster lineup, but they currently are among the league’s worst teams. Like any metric, it isn’t perfect on its own. Just like a hitting team who has bad fielding, or an elite fielder without much hitting, speed is a cog that helps when mixed with other aspects of the game, and according to MLB stats, these are the fastest baseball teams heading into the 2019 season.
3. The Philadelphia Phillies
While the Phillies acquisition of superstar Bryce Harper dominated the preseason news cycle, he is far from the only thing that the Phillies have going for them. The addition of Harper brings a certain level of expectations, and the team’s quickness should pay dividends in the long run.
While Harper is not going to break records running bases, he isn’t going to slow the game down doing so. With his adequate speed, players such as Cesar Hernandez and Andrew McCutchen, Philadelphia’s two fastest players, are all the more valuable to the team. Their entire roster is built on speed, and even their slower players show faster speeds than many of the other leaders.
Though Harper will be major to the team’s overall success, it may be their speed that dictates how and when the season ends.
2. The Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays’ success has as much to do with unearthing young talent year after year as being one of the fastest baseball teams around does. Lightning-quick players such as Avisail Garcia and Kevin Kiermaier lead the way.
Designated hitter Garcia employs his speed and agility in a way that most designated hitters, who are historically more powerful hitters than quick ones, are not usually capable of doing.
The Rays’ speed helps them on offense and with their fielding. Almost every position player seems quick on their feet, and the result is a field which appears much smaller to hitters. Outfielders Tommy Pham and Austin Meadows cover much more space than the average major league fielder.
Although the sample size is still small, the Rays success should continue into the offseason if they can utilize it come September and October.
1. The Kansas City Royals
The Royals, as mentioned before, have had varying success in terms of wins and losses, but they are usually one of the fastest baseball teams to take the field.
When they were among the league’s top teams, they were able to utilize their speed both at the bat and in the field, even using it to optimize their slower runners’ results when running bases. It was in many ways a similar version to what the Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors did with shooting in the NBA.
This year, led by Billy Hamilton, Adalberto Mondesi, and Whit Merrifield, however, something is different. While they are, according to FiveThirtyEight, a historically fast baseball team, they are not a particularly good one. With less talent on the roster than when they were making it into late October, there’s a larger margin for error. Lack of hitting and depth has plagued the team, which is not yet at the World Series level.
However, as their style has shown in the past, if they can hone this machine into its potential, success may find them once again.