"That's what speed do."
That's a quote from Kansas City Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson responding to a question about how his quicks can affect an opponent, but the phrase has taken on a life of its own, turning into a post-season rallying cry for a team that hadn't played baseball in October in almost 30 years.
Reaching the MLB's second season seems almost impossible when you scour the Royals box scores. The statistical categories that usually point to a team's success are shockingly low for Kansas City. Not a single player has more than 75 RBIs. No one has hit more than 17 home runs, and K.C.'s team total of 95 home runs ranks dead last in the American League. The Royals do not score many runs, averaging just four a game during the regular season. So how do they find themselves four games away from the World Series?
Led by the aforementioned Dyson with 36 steals, the Royals stole 153 bases this season, tops in the American League. They swiped the same number last season, and since 2010, they've finished no lower than sixth in stolen bases. And although many factors are involved in cultivating a team as fast as the Top Thrill Dragster, the addition of Joseph Potts to the strength and conditioning/speed development department in 2007 signified a major change in the organization's baseball philosophy.
Potts had spent time training football players, primarily for speed, to prepare for the NFL Combine. When the Royals' head strength and conditioning coach Ryan Stoneberg brought him on as an assistant strength and conditioning coach and speed development coordinator toward the end of the 2007 season, Potts took some of his football speed training techniques to the baseball diamond. His target? Getting the Royals to be faster between the bases.
"One of the changes that I went over was proper stance alignment for base stealing," Potts said. "It's a really similar setup to pro football players when they are running the Pro Agility test at the NFL Combine."
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According to Potts, many MLB teams teach their players to get into a parallel stance when leading off base, meaning their feet are evenly offset. Potts had the Royals begin to drop their lead foot back to create an open stance, while turning the same foot 35 to 40 degrees to make it easier to turn the hip and get moving toward the next base. Potts called it the Explosive Crossover Method.
Kansas City began instilling the new technique during training camp in 2008, and players were timed so they could see the results in real time.
"I believe the effects were significant and pretty immediate," Potts said.
During his tenure with the team, Potts also focused on lateral movement training, using exercises like Band-Resisted Lateral Walks, Dumbbell Lateral Lunges and Monster Walks, which worked the hips. Bulgarian Squats were also thrown into the mix.
"I feel like a lot of those [exercises] teams tend to get neglected," Potts said. "They have a huge benefit on the speed side of things."
The Royals were savvy enough to spend draft picks on supremely athletic players. According to Potts, left fielder Alex Gordon ran a 4.55 second 40-Yard Dash after telling the training staff he wanted to see how fast he could run it.
Built to Accelerate
Potts also tells a story about Dyson racing former Royal Derrick Robinson, who was clocked running the 40 in 4.25 seconds. "Twenty yards and under, Dyson was faster," Potts said. "He is built to accelerate. He's not real tall, and he's got good upper-body strength and is explosive. He's built to steal bases."
Look no further than the Royals' thrilling 9-8 comeback victory over the Oakland Athletics in the AL Wild Card game to see how Potts's speed work has paid major dividends. The Royals tied a post-season record with seven stolen bases in that game, none bigger than Dyson's steal of third in the ninth inning with the Royals down 7-6. Nori Aoki hit a sacrifice fly to score Dyson and tie the game, and the Royals had officially come back from a 7-3 eighth-inning deficit.
The Kansas City speed showcase moves on to Baltimore and the ALCS for a shot at the World Series; and Potts, who left his position with the Royals in 2010 but has remained a consultant since then, isn't surprised at the team's success despite their lack of offensive firepower.
"As long as [the other team] isn't scoring runs, you're in the game," Potts said, making sure to credit the Royals superb pitching. "It doesn't matter that you're not smacking two or three balls over the wall every game. If you can get on base and utilize that speed to advance, then you're going to put yourself in a position to ultimately win these games, and that's what you're seeing. It's a very holistic approach to winning."