The Royals speedster was born to run, but will they let him run enough?
Terrance Gore is your local mom-and-pop hardware store. It shares a strip mall with Target, Kohl’s, and Whole Foods, and there’s a Home Depot and a Lowe’s within a mile. Your father bought his first toolkit at this relic from a bygone era. It’s a matter of time before it’s swallowed up by corporate chains with better marketing and matching employee uniforms.
In the modern age of do-it-all bench players, in which even the backup catchers sometimes play other positions, a pinch running specialist is just as out of place as Bob and Marie’s Tool and Lumber. Sure, when rosters expand to 40 in September we throw them a bone, just as Small Business Saturday follows Black Friday. However, for most of the season the pinch runner also needs to play second base, center field, and pinch hit against Josh Hader.
Despite the universal need for versatility, the Royals brought back Terrance Gore on a major league contract. Their former farmhand and annual pinch running specialist was sold to the Cubs in August, then reunited with Kansas City as a free agent on a one year, $1 million deal.
Unmistakably, Gore is a major leaguer for one reason only: speed. Listed at five foot seven and 165 pounds, the “outfielder” has 320 steals in 356 opportunities across all levels, including the majors, since 2011. His career slash line in Triple-A is .221/.304/.271 through 423 plate appearances. He has exactly one professional home run in eight seasons. Normally, the only way someone this poor at hitting gets a major league deal is if he throws 95 miles per hour with plus secondary offerings.
He sure can run, though. In parts of five major league seasons, he’s 27-for-31 on the basepaths. He’ll now get quite a few more opportunities over a full season. There are plenty of questions about whether or not it’s a good idea to retain a pinch runner with very little value beyond that. Most of those questions have answers like, “Don’t do this,” or “It’s a terrible waste of a roster spot.” A much more fun question is, “Can a pinch runner lead the league in stolen bases?”
Establishing a baseline
Believe it or not, Gore has accumulated 1.031 years of service time. Please don’t mistake that decimal as a conventional thirty-one thousandths. A full major league season is 180 days long, in which they play 162 games. 1.031 years of service time means he has been active for one full season plus 31 days of a second one, or 211 total days.*
In more than a full season of major league experience, Gore has played in only 63 games with just 19 plate appearances. It’s a minuscule sample of offense, but it’s no surprise that he only reached base four times— a single, a walk, and twice hit by a pitch. Ironically, the base ahead of him was occupied all four times, and he was unable to steal!
Through pinch running on its own, Gore has had 42 stolen base opportunities. This is NOT the same thing as attempts. An second base opportunity is counted as being on first base with second base unoccupied. This has happened 32 times, and he has attempted to steal in 25 of them.
Third base opportunities are a little trickier. Usually, players don’t steal third unless there is exactly one out, and they’re also unlikely to do so in the same plate appearance in which they already stole second. Under these criteria, Gore took off on six out of ten third base steal opportunities.
There are lots of reasons why Gore might not have attempted a steal when he had the opportunity. Batters sometimes make contact early in the count. He could also advance on a sacrifice bunt, wild pitch, or passed ball. Once, he advanced from first to third on an errant pickoff attempt.
Nevertheless, he attempted 31 steals in 42 opportunities, succeeding 27 times. That’s a 74 percent attempt rate, which is astronomically high. Even Billy Hamilton probably doesn’t attempt in more than 50 percent of his opportunities to steal (more on him later). Scaled for a 162-game season, here are Gore’s career rates:
As much fun as it would be, Gore is unlikely to lead the league in steals. At his current rate of usage, he projects to steal just 21 bases in a full season. However, the way he’s used is highly likely to change.
Assuming he stays on the major league roster for the entire 2019 season, Gore will have to do more than just pinch run. Roster Resource projects a four-player bench for the Royals next year, of which Gore is a member. Cam Gallagher is strictly a backup catcher, but Chris Owings and Cheslor Cuthbert are both highly versatile.
All the same, it’s really hard for anyone to spend the whole year in the majors and not accrue at least 100 plate appearances. Steamer projects Gore to have a .276 on base percentage next year. Assuming he bats 100 times, he’ll reach base in 28 of them. This will create roughly 20 additional stolen base opportunities.
However, he might have a hard time finding as many pinch running spots. Billy Hamilton, Whit Merrifield, Adalberto Mondesi, Chris Owings, and even Jorge Soler all have at least well above average sprint speed. Manager Ned Yost also might hesitate to remove a few other Royals, such as Salvador Perez or Alex Gordon, unless they’re trailing by one in the ninth inning. This leaves precious few teammates who could realistically be substituted for the services of Gore.
Considering that the Royals could possibly be the fastest team in baseball history, projecting Gore’s role is very difficult. He’ll have to find a way to get more chances than usual in order to lead the league in steals.
Getting Carried Away
Obviously, 21 steals won’t lead the league these days. Here are the last five AL leaders in stolen bases:
The average AL stolen base leader over the last five years swiped 43.2 bases. To surpass this average, Gore would need to play 100.8 games at his current usage rate. This would give him 67.2 opportunities, in which he’ll attempt 49.6 steals.
However, there’s a new sheriff in town when it comes to base stealing. Hamilton spent his whole career in the NL with the Reds before signing on as Gore’s Kansas City teammate. Here are his five year totals:
While he laid back on the base stealing a little in 2018, his five year average is 52.8. Even though he never led the NL in steals, this is well north of the AL leader average.
To out-steal Hamilton, Gore would need to play 123.2 games with 82.1 opportunities and 60.6 attempts. This makes the possibility of leading the league even more remote, given the competition in his own locker room.
While we’re at it, the Royals single season record for stolen bases is 83, set by Willie Wilson in 1979. Matching this record would require Gore to play 193.7 games in a 162-game season. Of course, Rickey Henderson holds the MLB record of 130 steals, which he recorded in 1982. All Gore needs to do to break the record is play 303.3 games in 2019.
There are really two types of records: single season and career. Wilson also holds the Royals career stolen base record, with 612 over 15 years. Gore already has 21 as a Royal, so he only needs 591 more. This will take him 1,379 games to accomplish, or roughly 8.5 seasons if he plays every day. At his current rate of 48 games played per 162 team games, it will take considerably longer. He should have it wrapped up by August, 2046.
Henderson is the all-time stolen base king, amassing 1,406 stolen bases over his Hall of Fame career. Gore has 27 steals, which is cute in comparison; only 1,379 to go! For Gore to knock Rickey off his pedestal, he’ll need to play 3,217.7 more games. Playing every day, that will take nearly 20 years. If he maintains 48 games per season, he’ll need to play more than 67 more years, finally collecting his 1,407th steal in April, 2086 at the age of 95.
*If a player finishes a season with 170 or more service days toward the next one, it’s rounded up to count as a full year.
Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. In addition to BtBS, he writes at www.OffTheBenchBaseball.com. Tweets @depstein1983