Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Are The Royals In The Wrong League?

If you haven’t listened to this week’s show, please do so. Will Leitch stayed out of the range of bicycles only long enough to join us for 20 minutes, but we covered more material than you’d expect to hear in an hour-long show. Leitch is, apparently, one of the few men in American who talks faster than I do.

We also had our first disgruntled caller of the year, as a Cincinnati Reds fan took exception to the manner in which Jason Anderson and I discounted the Royals’ performance over the weekend by pointing out that it came against the inferior competition of the National League. I completely empathize with someone who wants to stand up for his hometown team, but anyone who wants to argue that the Reds are a better team than the Royals just because they have a better win-loss record is going to have to find a way to deal with those pesky facts.

The fact is that with tonight’s convincing win against the Diamondbacks, the Royals are now 47-32 against NL teams since the start of the 2005 season, a .595 winning percentage, while playing just 244-388 (.386) against AL teams in that span. The odds that a team with a “true” winning percentage of .386 would actually win 47 out of 79 games is .00014, or about one in seven thousand. And while the Royals are probably the most dramatic example of AL teams beating up on NL competition, they are far from the only ones.

This of course gets back to the Royals’ decision, over a decade ago, to stay in the American League when they had the opportunity to jump ship. Despite the obvious difference between the leagues today, I think it’s far from clear that the Royals made a mistake in choosing to stay.

For one thing, the AL didn’t emerge with a clear superiority until about 2005. Interleague play began in 1997, and the NL won the season series four times in the first eight seasons. But in 2005 the AL went 136-116, then 154-98 (!) the following year, then 137-115, and 149-103 last season.

Most estimates about the degree of difference between the leagues come in between eight and ten wins, so let’s split the difference and say it’s nine – an AL team moving to the NL would win roughly ten more games against intraleague competition, but they’d lose about one game in interleague play because they would now be playing the AL in those affairs.

So give the Royals a bump of nine wins each year starting in 2005, and put them in the NL Central instead of the Milwaukee Brewers, and you have…a team that still doesn’t so much as sniff a postseason berth. Last year the Royals would have gone 84-78 instead of 75-87…which would have left them in fourth place in the division, 13 games behind the Cubs and five games out of a wild-card spot. The Royals would still have finished under .500 from 2005 to 2007; the only saving grace is that they might have avoided any 100-loss seasons in that span.

Looking to the future, while it’s possible and maybe even likely that the AL will maintain its dominance, from the Royals’ standpoint the question of which league is superior is a lesser concern than which division is superior. While a wild-card entry to the postseason is certainly nice – and a more likely outcome in the Yankee and Red Sox-free National League – the Royals’ best hope for a playoff spot is to win their division. Aside from the fact that the NL Central is the only division in baseball with six teams, there’s an even more compelling reason to think that going forward, the Royals will be better off staying in the AL Central.

There are 11 teams in the two Central divisions, and those 11 teams represent some of the smallest markets in baseball, from Kansas City to Milwaukee to Pittsburgh to Cincinnati to Minneapolis-St. Paul. The favorable geography that lumps most of the small-market teams in the same division, raising the odds that one of them will make the playoffs, is an underrated contributor to increasing parity in baseball.

Of those 11 teams, only one can boast of a combination of market size, economic strength, and fan passion strong enough to upset the balance in the division. The teams listed in the last paragraph don’t have the market size; neither do the Cardinals, despite a passionate fan base. The Tigers and Indians play in the heart of the Rust Belt. The Astros have a large population to draw on, but play in a state where the #1 sport is football and the #2 sport is spring football. The White Sox play second fiddle in their own city.

The one team that has the market muscle to simply blow the other teams in their division out of the water is the Chicago Cubs. The fact that the Cubs have not taken advantage of their, well, advantages to this point is much to their discredit – but those who think that the Cubs will continue to underplay their hand do so at their own peril. The Cubs’ biggest handicap to success for the last few decades has been their ownership. We have decades of evidence that strongly suggests that corporations and baseball teams are a bad mix, dating to the days when CBS owned the New York Yankees, and the experience of the Tribune Corporation with the Cubs is no different. The bottom line is that corporations tend to place profits over winning – in fact, they have a fiduciary responsibility to do so. It’s no surprise that the Cubs, despite immense financial resources, have never leveraged those resources into building a juggernaut.

That may change, and soon, because the Tribune Corporation is about to hand off the Cubs to a new owner – the Ricketts family. It’s possible the deal may fall through, but realistically the Cubs will be under new – and probably private – ownership soon. You only need to look at the Boston Red Sox to see what can happen when a rudderless organization that has squandered natural resources for ages is purchased by a small entity of savvy owners looking to win.

So going forward, if you were to ask me which division I want the Royals to be in, the simple answer would be, “whichever division the Cubs are not in.” The AL may be the superior league. But I’d rather go up against a division full of above-average teams than try to wrest the division away from one single dominant franchise.

29 comments:

rbh325 said...

Looks like we have the momentum*. . .

rbh325 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Methinks you discount the Cards too heavily. Their fan base is very large. Winning does that for a team.

RDC said...

I think Detroit has the means. The same guy owns the Red Wings and the did not win anything for 50 years. Pizza guy buys that franchise and they have been the best team in the NHL for the past 10 years.

They are not afraid to spend in the draft, they have a better manager. More power. I think they are on the verge of going to the playoffs for the next 5 years.

I am a banker not a baseball guy so feel free to point out my errors.

Love the blog.

Mike said...

My brother is a Cardinals fan -- please, God, forgive him -- and we have the AL vs. NL argument all the time. Luckily, the facts are on my side for backing up my points about the AL being the stronger of the two leagues, with 12 straight All-Star Game victories, a solid majority of World Series wins over the past two decades, and the recent win-loss record in Interleague play.

I'm glad the Royals didn't switch to the NL, because 30 years of being a very loyal AL fan would be hard to overcome. I'm happy that you pointed out that the Royals might not have been much better off (meaning no playoff appearances) in the NL, and that KC is best-served in the AL Central.

There are many Royals fans who have argued that the team would fare better in the weaker NL. But who's to say that, IF the Royals ever switched to the NL Central or West, the balance of power wouldn't switch back to the NL at some point. That'd be the kind of "luck" I'd expect with the Royals. They'd make the move to the NL, thinking that it would allow them to be more competitive, and soon after, the balance of power would switch back to the NL and the Royals would have buyers remorse.

I'm perfectly happy with the AL Central, and I hope most other Royals fans are, as well.

Curtis said...

We just had one of the most craptastic months in the history of baseball, and then put together a nice little run of beating kid brothers five out of six games, and we wake up 4.5 games out of first place.

Why would we want to leave the AL Central?

Shelby said...

I'm with Curtis.

It blows my mind that we just had a horrible, typically-Royal month, and then, through the tears, I see that we're within 5 games of first place.

We're getting a second chance.

Please, let's not find out if this division will be gracious enough to afford us a third.

Ed-D said...

I thought the dogs were STRIKE and Rambo. Cause that's what he throws..?

Edge - PA said...

Stats ...

Moving leagues.

Rany your stats are a little simple. The question you are answering is does the AL have an advantage over the NL in interlegue play. The conclusion you are drawing is that the Royals will play better in the NL than the AL.

That conclusion is not what you tested. If you wanted to test that, you would have to simulate a season of the Royals playing with the pitcher batting. This should lower both the runs scored and team ERA. My premise is that the AL has a structural advantage of having an easier adjustment to the NL rules than NL teams adjusting to AL rules. (My theory is that DH-ing is a skill, similar to pinch hitting ...) My guess is that if you ran that analysis the Royals would be better in the NL, but only because the difference between the Royals DH and a pitcher hitting is relatively small.

Anonymous said...

They have this new thing called the wild card now, if you're really that worried about the Cubs. And seeing as the team has been up for sale for MORE THAN TWO YEARS and nothing has happened yet, I wouldn't hold my breath with this Ricketts guy getting the team.

Anonymous said...

Rany -

I mean this is the nicest possible way...please stop pimping your radio show on your blog. For some reason, it just strikes me as a bit amateurish. I come to your blog to read your thoughts on the Royals; if I want to hear your thoughts on the Royals, I will tune in. I do not like feeling like I'm reading an advertisement for your radio show.

I hope you can view this as only one fan's constructive criticism (I'm sure many will disagree with me). Thanks for continuing to write about the Royals, and to give me a nice break during the day! Kindest regards,

Eric

Mike said...

Eric,

I agree with you, to a point. But I think it's important for Rany to try to "sell" his show to his audience here, because we're mostly Royals fans, and the type of people who will tune in. Plus, the show hasn't aired at the same time every week. There has been some variation in the days and times it runs, based on the station's programming.

Radio is completely based on ratings, and I don't think it's wrong for Rany to remind people to tune in, at least until the show is firmly established and is getting a consistent listening audience.

Sure, I can understand your point that it seems like he's constantly "pimping" himself here. But I like the fact that he's posted links to his podcasts, and I really think it's important for him to use this forum to build his audience.

Plus, it's not like he's written entire posts about his show. He usually just does a quick plug for it, with the date and time, and maybe some info about the scheduled guests for that week. I see nothing wrong with that.

Anonymous said...

Rany, are you a closet Scrub fan? I can't believe you would discredit the Cardinals like that. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE the Royals. However, I truly appreciate the Cardinal organization, coaching, and fan base. The cubs, have one of those aspects and that's the fans. Also, their is a reason why people call Wrigley the biggest bar on Chicago. Most people are there to drink, not watch baseball.

Curtis said...

I agree with Mike. Please keep the reminders coming. I live way far away, so don't hear the show live on a radio, but via podcast whenever I remember to check for one, which is usually after reading a reminder here.

One other thing to think about is that nine extra wins per year would mean lesser draft picks every year. Maybe no Greinke. Maybe no Butler. Maybe no Gordon. Who knows what the team would look like at this point. The contra-factuals are fun, but it is really impossible to know much about an alternative universe from this distance.

royalman said...

As far as the radio show goes, it would be nice if there was some consistency to when it is on. Checking the podcast is ok but live would be better.

Anonymous said...

The Royals look like the Keystone Cops in the 4th. Really embarrassing, especially with our ace on the mound and a meh D-backs squad.

sw said...

Rany, have you hired your exorcist yet? Zack hasn't won a game since you last saw him, and the Royals keep making terrible non-plays in his games.

Anonymous said...

>"Are The Royals In The Wrong >League?"

Sure they are, but I think American Legion Baseball has an age limit

Anonymous said...

Who would have thought that it would be Greinke to end the streak? Worse yet, we have to beat Danny Haren today to win the series.

Olentangy said...

The best thing about the Royals staying in the AL is not having to watch the pitcher bat. Pitchers batting is one of the worst moment in sports, matched only by watching guys who can't shoot free throws.

Jonk said...

Anybody know why the pecking order back in 1997 was first choice to Kansas City, second to Milwaukee, third to Minnesota? Just curious how the Royals supposedly got first choice...although I've always suspected that was just a front and that the Brewers were pegged for it all along.

Anonymous said...

Aside from the Royals' recent success against NL teams, the real mistake in not changing leagues boils down to economics. NL clubs regularly play DHs (other than some interleague series) and therefore don't have to pay for a DH. Having this additional starter costs money. Money that the Royals just have never had. Additionally, the Royals would have drawn bigger crowds at the K with the likes of the Cardinals and Cubs visitng KC rather than the Indians and White Sox. Long story short, Glass made a huge error by not changing to the NL when the opportunity presented itself.

Jonk said...

I'm not sure how much weight the having-to-pay-a-DH idea carries.

It is "money that the Royals just have never had," yet they have given a bunch of money to middle relievers like Kyle Farnsworth.

There are plenty of live arms out there every year, and there are plenty of veteran guys (think Russell Branyan) who could be signed cheapily to DH.

There's no argument that the Royals have money issues compared to teams in bigger markets, but there are alternatives to the way they do spend their money. They don't need to use their resources on a DH or vastly overpaid middle relief. It should be used to lock up the younger core while supplementing them with Branyan-type signs.

Mike said...

I agree with Jonk. The argument that the Royals should have switched leagues in order to cut the cost of a DH is just plain dumb.

Every team has 25 guys on its roster, and every team attempts to find the best players it can to fortify its bench. I just can't accept the argument that a solid 25-man roster WITHOUT a DH would be that much significantly less than a 25-man roster WITH a DH.

The fact of the matter is, the Royals are in the better of the two leagues, and I'm glad I don't have to fall asleep trying to watch a game where the pitchers bat. ZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.....

Clutch said...

I think the more interesting counterpoint r.e. the National League Central move is less about results than it is about draw, and what those prospects could do for this organization.

It's shortsighted to judge the potential could have been move in terms of only AL dominance - other than the fact the Yankees play there and spend a lot more money than anyone else, there's no distinguishing factor that makes the junior circuit inherently superior or inferior. That being said, this type of thing is likely to cycle out.

What isn't likely to do so is the greatly increased draw of the teams that play in the NL Central. The Cubs and Cardinals on your divisional docket would both outdraw ever single current divisional opponent and could potentially significantly alter the outlook financially of an organization far beyond just 9 more wins.

Chris said...

The problem with drawing more fans when playing the Cubs and Cardinals is that MOST of the additional fans would be of those two teams. Therefore it might offset somewhat the allure of playing in the NL cause it would be like trading home games for road games.

And I cannot STAND Cardinal fans!

Antonio. said...

How long until the Card/Cub series would be as stale as Sox/Twins? Being competitive is what makes these series.

Anonymous said...

Wrong league? As in we should be the International League?

Perhaps the Pacific Coast League?

That makes more sense after watching this punking hte Cards are giving us.

Anonymous said...

1) The decision to stay in the AL was unbelievably stupid. 9 home games a year against the Cardinals means 9 games of 35,000+ in Kauffman, and a rivalry that actually means something.

2) Anybody who thinks pitchers batting constitutes boring baseball doesn't understand baseball. It adds levels of strategy that don't exist with the DH.