In 1985 the Royals won the first World Series in the franchise's history. What followed was a 28 year playoff drought. This was an era that saw the Royals consistently be one of the worst teams in the league. In 2014 the Royals broke out of this drought and not only made the playoffs but made it all the way to the World Series. They played a strong series but eventually fell to the Giants. But, in 2015 the Royals established dominance throughout the season on their way to winning the World Series. Whenever we see teams win it's hard not to look at what they did to get there. For the Royals their winning was based largely on their strong bullpen, elite defense, and ability to run bases. It's hard to see any similarities between this small ball playing team and the great mashers we have north of the border, but a closer look shows that maybe the teams aren't as different as we think. In fact, not only could the Jays have the same blueprint that the 2015 Royals used but, they might have even made improvements. Let's take a look.
The first thing that stands out when you look at the Royals turn around is the level of defense this team plays. Over the last 3 seasons the Royals have won 9 Gold Gloves (would have been 10 had Gordon been healthy). On top of these guys the Royals boost top level defensive players straight across the board. They boast a defense that is easily the best in baseball. People don't usually realize how impressive the Jays defense is but consider this, the Jays were the only team in baseball who had 4 players up the middle who placed in the top ten in the Fielding Bible Awards. The defense up the middle had a total of 36 Defensive Runs Scored, which led baseball by a comfortable margin. The Royals were tied for second with 25.
The rest of the Jays defense is more than competent as well as Josh Donaldson placed third in defensive runs above replacement at 11.4 (Moustakas had 3.7). It stands to reason that the Jays are going to try and get Justin Smoak to man first as much as possible given his superior defense to either Colabello or Edwin. While I won't argue that Smoak is just as good as the Royals' Gold Glover, Eric Hosmer, I will point out that Hosmer posted a UZR/150 of 1.0 in 2015, Smoak has posted a UZR/150 of 3.1 over the last two seasons. Gordon is certainly the standard in left but Pompey (if he wins the job) is more than adequate as a defensive player. Neither team got great defense from right field and both teams are probably in for more of the same in 2016.
Overall, the Royals still probably have a better overall defense but the gap between these two might not be as large as some may think.
In 2015 the Royals stole 104 bases, while the Jays only stole 88 bases they actually scored more base running runs. The Jays were 5th in baseball with 10.2 BsR, Royals were actually 19th at -.4. It seems counter intuitive but BsR looks at not only how many bases you steal but how successful you were and how good the team was on the base path. The Jays were successful on 79.3% of their stolen base attempts. The Royals on the other hand were only successful on 75.4% of their attempts. This doesn't seem like much but actually makes a big difference. Additionally, while we often don't think of guys like Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, or Ryan Goins as speed demons we often forget who talented these guys are the bases. The Jays were one of the best teams in baseball about taking the extra base and moving first to third. The team was led by Kevin Pillar who was third in all of baseball with a BsR of 8.1. The loss of Revere could hurt the Jays but if Pompey wins the job then we can expect only a small reduction at best.
The numbers would suggest that, while the Royals base running usually gets credit for being one of the best in baseball, the Jays are actually a much better base running team. The team doesn't have flashy stolen base guys but it's a group of guys who are incredibly smart baserunners.
This has been one of the biggest reasons for the Royals turnaround. The bullpen over the last few seasons has been a source of pride in KC as guys like Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, and Wade Davis have all helped establish KC as one of the best bullpens in baseball. However, consider this, last year the Royals had one reliever (Wade Davis) who ranked in the top 30 relievers in terms of WAR. The Jays have three guys who placed on that same list (Roberto Osuna, Brett Cecil, and Drew Storen). The Royals bullpen last year posted a WAR of 5.0. The trio of Brett Cecil, Roberto Osuna, and Drew Storen combined for a total WAR of 3.8 last season. By the time you factor in Aaron Loup returning to LOOGY duties and the potential of Aaron Sanchez to have a full year in the bullpen it's not inconceivable to think the Jays bullpen this year could be just as good as the Royals' last year.
One of the surprising things about the Royals World Series win was how they did it with a poor rotation. The Royals starters combined for an ERA of 4.34 and a WAR of 8.4. This was 22nd in the league and showed how the Royals greatly struggled to receive production from the starters. The Blue Jays should have no problem receiving better production from their starters as RA Dickey, Marco Estrada, and JA Happ combined for a WAR of 7.1 last year, this doesn't even include Marcus Stroman who is expected to become a top stater this year. While the Jays will have to contend with the fact that they don't currently have a clear fifth starter it's safe to assume that somewhere in their group of candidates they can find someone who can deliver replacement level value.
Obviously, this isn't an exact science and it's nearly impossible to say that since this is what the Royals did last year that this is what is gonna work this year. But, this is a trend that is working in baseball right now. If I told you there's a team in the MLB who is just as good at running bases, playing defense, and pitching as the reigning champs it would be hard to pass on them. If I told you this same team also scored 127 runs more than any other team in baseball then it would be ridiculous to not make them this year's World Series favorite. The Jays have not only stolen the Royals blueprint for success, but they have built upon it in a way that could make the Jays the most dangerous team in baseball.