Earlier this winter I had the opportunity to attend a Kansas High School Baseball Coaching Conference. One of the presentations was a feature on base-running by the Royals Rusty Kuntz and Mitch Maier. Pretty exciting stuff, right? It actually was. Honestly, I could probably listen to Rusty talk about anything. He obviously brings a wealth of knowledge to the table, but presents the information with high-energy and enthusiasm. I was mesmerized…by base-running strategies.
Rusty really hammered home the notion that the Kansas City Royals are married to employing a certain kind of player. They don’t necessarily care if you can hit. They want you to be elite in two areas: speed and defense.
The thought behind the focus on those two areas was pretty simple. They play 81 games a year in Kauffman Stadium. Kauffman Stadium is too spacious to try to focus on pursuing and/or developing power hitters. It is their belief that a consistent power threat cannot be sustained at The K. They want people who can cover the most amount of ground both offensively and defensively.
As evidenced by the way the 2019 Royals roster is shaping up, you can see their ardent beliefs in possessing those two traits—Terrance Gore, Whit Merrifield, Brett Phillips, Brian Goodwin, Adalberto Mondesi, and Billy Hamilton.
Like many others, my reaction when the Royals signed Billy Hamilton was less than enthused. While he is blazing fast, and will be able to cover a lot of ground in the spacious Kauffman Stadium outfield, he simply can’t get on base with any degree of regularity. That being the case, his speed is significantly marginalized in the offensive side of the game.
Rusty shared an entertaining story about a conversation he had with Ned Yost following the Hamilton signing. Yost’s reaction, as you could probably predict, was basically ‘Great. Now how do we steal first base?’
Rusty was ready and prepared for an answer to that very question.
Rusty told Yost to bat Hamilton 9th EVERY GAME. Any time the 8th batter makes it to first base with less than two outs, have Hamilton bunt. Rusty asked us in the audience what kind of bunt we thought they should have Hamilton lay down—sac, drag, push? A few answers were shouted out, but Rusty said, “No. no. no.” We want Hamilton to lay down a “bullshit” bunt right back to the pitcher.
We all kind of started to look at each other, not real sure what Rusty was getting at.
Rusty explained that whoever is batting 8th is probably going to be a slow runner, certainly much slower than Hamilton. If Hamilton lays down a garbage bunt right back to the pitcher, they will wheel and throw the lead runner out and second base, and Hamilton makes it to first base via fielder’s choice. The presumption then is that Hamilton will steal 2nd base, and quite possibly 3rd as well.
Voila! Hamilton just stole first base.
Rusty didn’t say what Yost’s reaction was, but we all erupted in laughter, followed by mutterings to each other, “That shit might actually work.”