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.

Francoeur's Folly.

Before I get to the Chiefs, I have to say a few words about the Greinke situation in light of Cliff Lee’s shocking decision to head to Philly.

But before I get to Greinke, I can’t let what happened yesterday pass unnoticed.

Jeff Francoeur was officially introduced as a member of the Kansas City Royals yesterday. Nothing unexpected happened at the press conference – everything was warm and fuzzy, Francoeur talked about how excited he was to be a part of the organization and how he wanted to stay long-term, and everything was rainbows and sunshine. Which is how it’s supposed to be.

But buried at the bottom of this article at MLB.com was an utterly mind-blowing quote from Francoeur:

“When you get there, it’s so much fun that you want to get back. I remember during the World Series hearing guys like Cal Ripken saying, ‘I never got to play in a World Series,’ and he played for 18 or 19 years…I was very humbled by the opportunity.”

I read this last night before going to bed, and my mind was officially blown. It took until this morning to recover. And now that I’m writing about it…the quote has disappeared from the article.

I was worried I dreamt it, and took to Twitter to see if anyone else had seen the same thing. Steven St. John at 810 WHB immediately responded to say that he had read the same quote, and then intrepid follower @ashleylat found an echo of the quote online, at Forbes.com of all places. You can find it here, assuming it hasn’t been scrubbed by the time you read this.

So I have no choice but to believe that Jeff Francoeur claims Cal Ripken told him that he (Ripken) never played in the World Series. Even though millions of people, Baseball Reference, and presumably Ripken himself remember that the Baltimore Orioles, with Ripken at shortstop, won the 1983 World Series.

I think we may have figured out what’s wrong with Francoeur. We have to at least entertain the possibility that he’s deaf. And based on his infamous “If on-base percentage is so important, then why don't they put it up on the scoreboard?” quote, we have to at least entertain the possibility that he’s blind as well.

Poor Kevin Seitzer. In order to fix Francoeur, he can’t simply be a miracle worker. Apparently, he has to be The Miracle Worker.

(Addendum: Just in case it's not clear, I'm just having a bit of fun at Francoeur's expense. If Francoeur misheard Ripken, that's hardly the worst sin in the world - the World Series is a zoo and I'm sure he talked to a lot of people. And as Craig Brown pointed out to me, it's not like Francoeur would have first-hand knowledge of this - he wasn't born until a few months after the World Series ended.)