Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Kansas City Chiefs' Playoff Odds, Week 14.

The odds that we’ve already seen Zack Greinke’s last start in a Royals uniform, which were already better than 50/50, have gone up significantly in the wake of Cliff Lee’s decision to sign with the Mystery Team™, a possibility that was all but mocked until just hours before it was announced.

Lee signing with the Phillies has to be considered a positive for the Royals on the whole; the Phillies were never considered serious candidates for Greinke, while the Rangers and Yankees both were. Everyone expected the bridesmaid to turn their interest on Greinke; no one expected there to be two bridesmaids instead of one.

I am about 95% certain that the Royals will get a credible offer for Greinke in the coming days. I am much less than 95% certain that the Royals will actually pull the trigger on one. Moore has made it very clear that he isn’t simply looking for the most talent in a trade, but for the most talent that fits the needs of the organization going forward.

“There’s only a few organizations in baseball that match up with what we want if we were to trade a player like Zack Greinke,” Moore said. “It depends on what the club has in their system, and what matches up with what we need.”

“We now have a very realistic view of the timeline for many of our (young) players,” Moore said. “So, if we are to make a deal with any of our major-league talent, we know exactly what we need to try to get in return.”

My first reaction to reading this – and the first reaction for many of you, I’m sure – was, “Oh, no, here we go again.” Six years ago, Allard Baird made it clear that he prioritized getting a third baseman and a catcher for Carlos Beltran. He managed to fill the positions he wanted, landing Mark Teahen and John Buck, but he did so in the place of getting the most talent that was offered him. (There is strong circumstantial evidence that the Yankees offered Robinson Cano, for instance.)

At first glance, this smacks of the same thing: Moore feels like he needs specific positions filled (this time around, it’s up-the-middle talent), and will trade Greinke for the best package of talent that fits his presumed needs, rather than the best package of talent overall.

But it’s not quite that simple. For one thing, there actually is something to the notion that a team in the Royals’ position is better off focusing on specific needs rather than simply getting the best overall player. As Bill James wrote a quarter-century ago, there are two stages to any rebuilding project. Stage 1 is to get the most talent into the organization possible. Stage 2 is to arrange that talent into the framework of a major-league roster.

In 2004, the Royals were clearly still in Stage 1, which made Baird’s insistence on getting players to fill specific positions that much more maddening. The best thing you can say about the Moore administration is that, unlike their predecessors, they have completed Stage 1. They have the best farm system in baseball. As such, they have to start thinking about Stage 2 – if they want to compete in 2012, they have to actually put together a complete roster that can win. Acquiring another first baseman who can mash just isn’t going to help the team right now, not with Billy Butler and Kila Ka’aihue and Eric Hosmer. To a lesser extent, I don’t think the Royals need to target a top-tier left-handed starter. All things equal, I’d much rather the Royals acquire a shortstop or centerfielder than a first baseman.

But things are rarely equal, and in general, the Royals should always be looking for the most talent available. For one thing, there is a mechanism that teams can use to shape their roster when they have an excess of talent at one position and a dearth of talent at another. It’s called a trade. I’ve been writing for at least the past year that at some point, Moore is going to need to package some of expendable players to fill in the holes elsewhere. The most likely target would be Kila Ka’aihue, if he hits well next season and Eric Hosmer is ready, but the Royals also have a few extra second baseman they can afford to part with. If the Royals are blown away by an offer, they need to take it no matter what positions they fill, and work out the details later.

But the main reason I’m not that concerned about Moore’s comments – yet – is that unlike with Beltran, the Royals’ options aren’t simply to accept Trade Offer A or Trade Offer B. They have the option of simply keeping Greinke, which is an infinitely preferable choice than accepting a lowball offer.

So I read Moore’s comments to say, in order for the Royals to trade Greinke, they have to get a ton of talent AND that talent has to fit the mold of the team. If either requirement is not met, then they’ll simply hold onto him for now. They have a default option, and it’s a good one. Which is why, while I’m sure the Royals are willing to trade him, and would even prefer to trade him, I’m far from sure that they actually will.

- Moving to the other side of the Truman Sports Complex…for as badly as the Chiefs played on Sunday, they’re fortunate that their playoff situation looks as strong as it does. The Raiders’ loss to the Jaguars keeps Oakland on the fringes of the playoff picture, and the Jets loss at home to Miami makes some unlikely second-chance scenarios a little more likely.

The Chiefs’ playoff odds would have looked a lot better if the Ravens had not outlasted the Texans in overtime. A loss by the Ravens would have put them at 8-5, meaning that if they lost just two of their last three games (and their next two games are at home against the Saints, and on the road against Cleveland), they’d finish 9-7 and that would open up a wild-card spot for the Chiefs at 10-6.

But even so, the Chiefs’ wild-card aspirations are still alive should they not win the division. But it’s not a path I’d advise them to take.

The simple rules:

1) If the Chiefs win their last three games, they win the AFC West.

Pretty cut-and-dried. They’re still 8-5, thanks to the rule that says you’re only awarded one loss no matter how badly you get beaten. Win their last three, and the Chiefs are 11-5; the best the Chargers can finish is 10-6.

2) If the Chiefs win their next two games, then Oakland is eliminated from the division title.

The Raiders can not finish better than 9-7, so the moment the Chiefs get their tenth win, they eliminate the Raiders from winning the division. This may be important in that the Raiders may have nothing to play for in the season finale – other than the satisfaction of knocking their bitter rivals out of the playoffs, which ought to be motivation enough.

3) If the Chiefs win their next two games, their Magic Number for San Diego is 1.

By that, I mean that if the Chiefs beat St. Louis and Tennessee in the next two weeks, then if San Diego loses either of their next two games, then the Chiefs will have clinched the division before they play in Week 17. It’s important to remember that while everyone thinks the Chargers are in the driver’s seat because of their schedule – and they are, given that they host the 49ers next week, then finish on the road in Cincinnati and Denver – the Chargers can’t afford to slip up even once.

4) If the Chiefs win two of their last three games, the Chargers win the division if they win out.

In this case, both teams finish 10-6, and there is no scenario in which the Chiefs could win the tiebreaker between the teams. They each won one game head-to-head, and both teams will have a 3-3 in-division record (unless KC’s loss comes against Oakland, in which case they’ll be just 2-4 in the division).

The third tie-breaker is record in common games. The Chargers and Chiefs play very similar schedules; they have 14 of 16 games in common. The difference is that the Chiefs play Cleveland and Buffalo, while San Diego plays New England and Cincinnati. Owing to the fact that the Chiefs beat both the Browns and Bills, while the Chargers lost to the Patriots, then if both teams finish 10-6, the Chiefs will be 8-6 in common games, the Chargers 9-5, and the Chargers will be awarded the division.

5) If the Chiefs finish 10-6 and do not win the division, they may still qualify for the wild card IF EITHER the Jets or Ravens lose their last three games.

This might sound unlikely, but it’s considerably likelier than it was this time last week, owing to the Jets loss at home to the Dolphins. If the Jets or Ravens lose their last three games, they’ll finish 9-7, opening up a wild-card spot to a 10-6 team. (Remember, the Chiefs would also lose tiebreakers to both teams if they each finish 10-6.)

The odds that the Ravens lose their last three games – vs. New Orleans, at Cleveland, vs. Cincinnati – are pretty remote. But the Jets?

For one thing, the Jets aren’t that good to begin with. They’re 9-4 but have only outscored their opponents by 31 points; they had a three-game stretch where they beat the Lions and Browns in overtime, then scored the game-winning touchdown against a porous Texans defense with 10 seconds left. They just lost to Miami at home, and the week before that they were waxed 45-3 in New England.

Then there’s their schedule: at Pittsburgh, at Chicago, vs. Buffalo. Ignore the last game for a moment; the odds that they lose each of their next two games are very high. That would put the Jets, after starting 9-2, on a four-game losing streak and in danger of missing the playoffs. This is a team that just suspended a coach for the rest of the season for deliberately sticking his knee out to trip an opposing player. The danger is here for a complete team meltdown headed into their last game, against a Buffalo team that is a hell of a lot better than their 3-10 record suggests – particularly since Ryan Fitzpatrick took over at quarterback.

It’s still a pretty unlikely scenario. But after what happened in 2006, I’m committed to accounting for all possibilities.

However, even if the Jets or Ravens lose their last three games, the Chiefs are not guaranteed to make the playoffs with a 10-6 record. To clinch a playoff spot, they would also need:

a) EITHER the Jaguars or Colts to lose one of their last two games.

The Jags and Colts play this weekend. If Jacksonville wins, then the Chiefs have nothing to fear from this division; the Colts can finish no better than 9-7. However, IF Indianapolis wins, and IF both teams then win out, both the Jaguars and Colts will finish 10-6.

In that case, if the Colts win the division, then the Chiefs would win a tiebreaker with Jacksonville owing to their head-to-head record. If the Jaguars win the division, the Chiefs lose a tiebreaker for the same reason.

If I’m looking at my spreadsheet correctly, then it appears that the Colts would win the division based on a better record in common games. If that’s the case, then I’m 99% sure that the Chiefs have nothing to fear from the AFC South no matter what happens. I’m just putting this out there in case someone else is doing the math and thinks I’m wrong.

b) The Dolphins lose one of their last three games.

If the Dolphins win out, they will finish 10-6. If the Dolphins and Chiefs both finish 10-6, then the Dolphins will win the tiebreaker based on in-conference record unless the Chiefs’ one remaining loss occurs this weekend in St. Louis. In that case, we’d have to move to the fourth tiebreaker, Strength of Victory, and right now I’m sure you’re even less interested in learning who wins that tiebreaker than I am in figuring it out.

The Dolphins host Buffalo and Detroit the next two weeks, meaning they could easily go into their final game 9-6 – on the road against the Patriots, who will probably have wrapped up the #1 seed and have nothing to play for. The Dolphins, then, may be the team most poised to gain if the Jets collapse down the stretch.

So there you have it. If the Chiefs win their next three games, or if the Chargers slip up somewhere, the math is easy. But just in case, root like heck against the Jets, and maybe against the Dolphins too.

25 comments:

Nathan said...

OK, I know the Phillies don't match up with the Royals. But imagine IF they traded for Greinke. Would it be the best rotation of all time? If you were Amato, would you pull out all the stops just for a shot at that kind of immortality? They could even keep the same group of five aces in place next year!

George said...

Certainly an interesting idea, but I don't see it happening. Any move the Phils make for Greinke would include their best prospect Domonic Brown and would leave the cupboard pretty bare--not that that really matters to them at this point. As a Royals fan, Brown would be the ideal CF/lead-off hitter that we desperately need. I'm not sure they have the multiple prospects we'd want though. Another interesting rumor I saw was Greinke to the Dodgers in a deal for Matt Kemp. I know he had a down year last year, but he could be huge.

Nathan said...

Now, Greinke for Kemp sounds intriguing.

Jason said...

If it were Greinke for Kemp, D Gordon and Kenley Jansen, I might go for that. Kemp will make 6 million or so this year be up for abritration in '12 and a FA in '13 (course, he'd likely be a type A), so the Royals would need some future, as well as some current to make it worth it, imo.

Bryan said...

Jason, that deal makes more sense to me than many of the others I have seen.

Kemp is an improvement to the big league team immediately.

Gordon solidifies a position of need and he is not far away from the big leagues.

Profar from the Rangers is a very exciting prospect, but he is a ways away, and if you are going to trade Greinke I think you should get something to help the team now.

I would probably rather see Gardner than Kemp, but I don't think the Yankees will do that deal. For some reason I really think the Dodgers will do that deal.

Nathan said...

Wow, Gardner over Kemp? 27-yr-old CF with .275 career TAvg and limited pedigree, over 26-yr-old CF with .286 TAvg and long considered a breakout candidate? I'd take Kemp. But maybe there's something to Gardner that I'm missing. For one thing, he probably does face tougher pitching in the AL East.

Bryan said...

Nathan-

You are not necessarily wrong. Either Gardner or Kemp would be a major improvement to the outfield.

I don't like the strikeouts with Kemp, and I think Gardner has more upside. No real numbers to back me up, just a hunch.

Both are very good defensively and that is sorely needed at every position. Maybe Gardner is a little better defensively, but again no numbers to back me up.

arnold said...

I just cant see how anyone could say that Gardener has more upside then Kemp.

If the Royals got Kemp & Gordon, where would they play? Gordon is not predicted to stay at short but rather head to CF. Of course Kemp could move to a corner but then some of his value would be lost.

But again, there is no way Gardener is a better option than Matt Kemp.

lbp2 said...

Rany,

I hope you have your Greinke to Milwaukee post in the works.

Lebron Greinke, Betancourt, and $2M to MIL for Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jake Odorizzi, and Jeremy Jeffress. If you have not yet begun, commence writing.

twm said...

Rany, I hope you have all day available to write 40,000 words on the Greinke trade.

Bryan said...

They just traded away enough money to pay Crawford's salary.

Michael said...

I absolutely LOVE the trade myself. Yes, we lose the Baseball Jonah, but we also shed ourselves of Yuni, and got a SS that can at least play defense, and a centerfielder with speed and defensive ability as well. Plus two pitching prospects, one that is pretty damn good too! He's a ways away from the majors, though. Pretty nice haul, I'd say!

Vill Robinson said...

Be careful what you wish for, or you will surely get it in he form of Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain...

George said...

I hear that Jeffres is no longer a part of the deal. I realize he has drug issues and projects more as a reliever, but the guy can touch 100mph on the gun. Honestly, I'm a little underwhelmed by the deal. Escobar might be great defensively, but he can't hit a lick. Lorenzo Cain is similar in that he only has speed. We got Odorizzi who projects as a stud arm, but he's years away. Seems like we could have gotten more. I would have much preferred Drabek/Snider for instance. I hear we were asking the Nats for Storen, Zimmerman and Espinosa which would have been unreal. I don't know. Please correct me if I'm wrong, just seems like we could have gotten more...

Robert said...

If this trade goes through then I am done. I have been a fan for 35 years. I remember as a boy watching them all those years against the Yankees and then finally make it to the series against the Phils. I have participated in the Royals fantasy camp where I got to hang out with Willie Wilson. I attended a charity event where I got to play catch and hang out with George Brett. I fly to KC to see games and travel around the NE to games when they are in town. (I live in PA) I don't care that Greinke wanted out. I am tired of the perpetual jettisoning of talent for "prospects". I am just flat out tired. Sorry for the negative post all. Rany... I love reading your work. Cheers.

Nathan said...

Much depends on whether you believe in the Alcides Escobar with a career .633 OPS or the Alcides Escobar who was a blue chip prospect two 635 PA ago.

twm said...

Well, my concerns about Cassel were unfounded. Looks like a needed win is on the way in St Louis.

Michael said...

Nathan, you are correct, a lot depends on Escobar. Is he the guy that Baseball America ranked as Milwaukee's top prospect before last season? Or is he the guy that hit .235 last year? I'm betting on the former, or at least somewhere in between. He has the tools and skills to hit much better than he showed last year, in my opinion.

What I like best is that we upgraded defensively at 2 positions. Both Cain and Escobar are difference makers in this area. We have been a laughingstock defensively for years, so I'm glad we're finally trying to address that area.

George said...

Michael, hate to say it, but was this deal 'really' about defense? The Phils/Rangers/Yanks all got into a huge bidding war for Cliff Lee who is 6-7 years older and about $10M more expensive per season. Greinke is JUST now entering his prime. You can't tell me we couldn't have gotten more. I find it interesting that Greinke 'asks' to be traded and then suddenly is. Sure, Escobar is a nice talent, but really? This is all we got? How are we so sure we didn't get the next Angel Berroa or Neifi Perez? I just wish we could have gotten more. No pun intended.

Go Chiefs.

Michael said...

We did have more, from the Nationals, until Greinke blocked it. Can't blame Moore for that. Both of those players (Escobar and Cain) are projected to improve offensively (both are only 24). Cain already was pretty good offensively last season, hitting .306/.348/.415. That, plus his stellar defense in center, and he's a pretty damn good player. He's not blue chip, but still a solid piece of the puzzle.

The Royals had many things working against them when trying to deal Greinke. First, was his public announcements that he wanted to be traded. That takes away leverage. He also could block trades to 15 teams, like he did with the Nationals (who were offering Drew Storen, Jordan Zimmerman, and Danny Espinosa).

So yes, we could have gotten more, if Greinke had played along with us. But he didn't (which was his prerogative), and that left us with this.

And like I've said, I like this deal a lot. Especially if Odorizzi and/or Jeffres are as good as advertised.

Charles said...

Had to think for a bit on this trade...

Concerned that Escobar might never hit major league pitching. But that's the risk you take sometimes. Do I wish we had got more? YES. The major weakness here is that Escobar and Cain could be just barely above replacement level. Do I think that? NO. I think Cain probably maps out to about 4WAR in a few years (a better fielding DeJesus at best) and Escobar about 2.5-3 WAR (not much with the bat but a great glove and excellent speed).

The two pitchers are what swing this deal; if they get good we are going to do really well in this deal.

Michael said...

I agree Charles. I heard Buster Olney on 810 this morning, and one scout told him Cain could be as good as Mike Cameron. Great fielder, lots of speed, and occasional pop. Oh, and lots of strikeouts. That's his big downside. But if he ends up anything like Cameron, I think we'll be ok!

Charles said...

The Cameron comparison was one I hadn't thought of. I think he might have less power than that, but maybe somewhat higher walk rates. I'd take that. He might also map to somewhat better defense... I'd definitely take that. ON the down side - all those strikeouts could drown his productivity.

Nathan said...

Better defense than Cameron?

Michael said...

That was my thought too Nathan. Cameron is quite possibly the best defensive centerfielder of his generation. He's at least in the discussion!