Angels of old present in today’s Kansas City Royals


In today’s sabermetric-driven baseball landscape, many organizations have adopted similar principles: obtain players that can get on base and hit homers, acquire pitchers that have the ability to miss bats, shift your fielders to drastic defensive positions and whatever you do, do not bunt. Baseball is becoming so stat-driven that each team is essentially turning robotic in their tactics and taking the excitement of the game away.

One of the few organizations left that completely turns its head from sabermetrics is the Kansas City Royals with their “small ball” brand of baseball. The Royals have been criticized by many for this way of thinking because it goes against the numbers, but I, for one, am refreshed that a team is playing differently than the rest. And guess what? It’s working.

Kansas City is running the Angels off the field so far in the American League Division Series (and the A’s in the Wild Card game) and the ironic part about it is that they are infuriating defenses similarly to how the old Anaheim Angels did in the mid-to-late 2000’s. Those Angels teams from 2002-2010 were excruciating to play against (I would know, the Yankees could never beat them in the postseason) thanks to their ability to put pressure on the defense with a flurry of contact hitters.

In 2002, the year the Angels last won the World Series, they were best in the majors in terms of avoiding strikeouts. While playing smack dab in the middle of the steroid era, Anaheim managed to strikeout only 805 times, 116 less than any other team. To put that in its proper perspective, the 2014 Angels struck out 1,266 times. I know that the pitching is more rich in today’s game, but a difference of over 400 strikeouts is no fluke.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals have adopted a similar contact approach to hitting as the 2002 Angels, allowing them to also be the best in the majors in neglecting whiffs. They have struck out 985 times – 119 less than any other team – and only a difference of three punchouts from the 2002 Angels (in terms of the next closest team to them). Things are starting to get a little freaky.

The 2002 Angels were not only contact artists, they were also known to be terrors on the base paths. During that magical season they stole 117 bags with a 70 percent success rate. I bet that number should have been even higher, if not for Mike Scioscia being notoriously known for employing the hit-and-run strategy better than any other manager in baseball. It was a joy to watch that team control the bat in ways baseball purists had forgotten about because of the lure of steroid-fueled homers.

Guess who led the league in stolen bases during the 2014 season? That’s right, it was the Kansas City Royals with 153 at a whopping 81 percent success rate. The entire Royals roster (Billy Butler not included for obvious reasons) is filled with athletically gifted players for their position and that shows with the amount of steals they generate. Have you seen Terrance Gore run this postseason? The man is like a gazelle.

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The underlying irony in all of this is that the Angels lost sight of themselves after signing their $3 billion dollar TV deal during the 2011 offseason. Instead of sticking to their manager’s core principles, they have decided to splurge on overpriced and declining free agents to take them to baseball heaven (ha, puns!).

Josh Hamilton looks like a mess, and although Albert Pujols has rebounded this season, that contract looks more abysmal as the years roll by. With these new free agent signees, the Angels have had to shift their style of play away from a more strategic state of mind. Because of this, they now rely on their stars more than ever to manufacture runs purely on their ability. They are more prone to hit a home run than successfully execute a hit and run.

Things truly come full circle when you realize that all the things the Angels used to do are things that the Royals are doing now. They are getting beat at their own game and it must be driving Scioscia bonkers. Every last Hamilton swing-and-miss must produce a gust of wind strong enough to wipe away Scioscia’s tears in the dugout.

Tonight, the Royals will have the chance to put the final nail in the coffin on the Angels and take the baseball world by storm by advancing to the ALCS. I can recall a time when a similarly-minded team steamrolled the Yankees and Twins on their way to a World Series crown in 2002. We may be witnessing a reincarnation of that team right before our eyes.

Only this time, they have crowns over their heads instead of halos.