Wednesday, October 3, 2012

2013 Is Our Time. Or Else.

What’s high in the middle and round on both ends? Yes, Ohio. But also, the 2012 Kansas City Royals. The Royals were determined to finish the season as poorly as they started it. But between their 3-14 start and their 2-9 finish, the Royals went 67-67. They were a .500 team for 83% of the season. Progress!

(That’s the longest stretch in which the Royals have played .500 or better in almost four years. From May 31st, 2008 through May 7th, 2009, the Royals were 71-64. In other words, the Royals are almost as good in Dayton Moore’s sixth full season on the job as they were in his second season on the job. So not really progress, no.)

Despite the Royals fade at the end, I remain completely convinced that they can contend in 2013. You might chalk this up to my boundless and perpetually irrational optimism, but my buoyancy comes with some rough edges. By that, I mean that I expect the Royals to contend in 2013, and you should too, whether your name is Joe Smith or, say, David Glass. Dayton Moore has been on the job for OVER SIX YEARS, and whatever the condition of the franchise when he took the job, there is no team in the history of baseball – or at least in the history of the Draft Era, beginning in 1965 – that couldn’t be turned around in seven years. The 2003 Tigers lost 119 games, and were in the World Series three years later.

The Kansas City Royals won 71 games last year. The Baltimore Orioles won 69 games. The Orioles play in the AL East. The Orioles’ farm system was so weak compared to the Royals that going into the 2011 season, Kevin Goldstein remarked that the Royals’ #18 prospect (who was, incidentally, Salvador Perez) would have ranked THIRD in the Orioles system.

The Baltimore Orioles are in the playoffs in 2012. Yes, I know that they have been the luckiest team in close games in, roughly, the history of baseball. (Their 29-9 record in one-run games is the best since 1900.) But they also have a positive run differential. They’ve improved steadily as the season progressed. They have a manager – a manager who I routinely put at the top of my list every time the Royals had a managerial opening over the last 10 years – who pushes every right button. Maybe it’s magic, but there’s nothing in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that prohibits magic. The Orioles are in the postseason, and anything can happen.

And then there’s Oakland. Of course there is. The A’s have been the polar opposite of the Royals since Sandy Alderson was the GM and Billy Beane was a fourth outfielder. The A’s are the team of Moneyball; the Royals, as I outlined in my last article, have been the most anti-Moneyball team in the major leagues for the last quarter-century. It’s not just the walks, although of course they have the fewest walks in baseball over that span. It’s the attitude that the Royals have towards using modern baseball theory.

To give you an example: the A’s won 74 games last year, and quite reasonably decided that a 74-win team didn’t need an elite closer. So Andrew Bailey, who in three seasons with the A’s had a 2.47 ERA and 81 saves, was traded to Boston for three young players. The Royals, who won fewer than 74 games year after year despite having a better closer than Andrew Bailey, chose to hold on to Joakim Soria because of some mystical notion that a great closer was like a security blanket, and that if they forced another pitcher into the ninth inning role, the psyche of the entire bullpen would collapse. So they kept Soria, and wound up with bupkis.

Meanwhile, without Soria this season, the bullpen nevertheless had the best season in franchise history. Greg Holland was forced into the closer’s role after Jonathan Broxton was traded, and was so traumatized by the pressure that he saved his first 13 opportunities.

This has nothing to do with OBP or WAR or stats in general. These are simple principles espoused by baseball analysts: even the best relievers are unpredictable. The impact of even an elite reliever on a bad team is minimal. When a bad team has an elite reliever, the benefit of keeping him pales compared to the potential benefit of trading him.

One team – the Oakland A’s – embraces this philosophy, and traded Andrew Bailey for Josh Reddick, Miles Head, and Raul Alcantara. Bailey was hurt and missed the first half of the season, then finished with a 7.04 ERA in 15 innings. Reddick, meanwhile, hit .242/.305/.463 and swatted 32 home runs this year. Head and Alcantara remain interesting prospects.

Another team – the Kansas City Royals – clings to the long-outdated notion that there’s a psychological benefit in having a closer you can rely on, even if your team isn’t very good. They kept Joakim Soria, and for their efforts they were rewarded with a $6 million contract for a pitcher who missed the season with Tommy John surgery.

Last year, the A’s won 74 games. True, the Royals have only won 74 games once since Dayton Moore was hired, but work with me here – the A’s weren’t fundamentally any better than the Royals a year ago. (The Royals actually had a better run differential – they were outscored by 32 runs, while the A’s were outscored by 34 runs.) As mentioned above, they then traded their closer. THEY ALSO TRADED THEIR TWO BEST STARTING PITCHERS FOR PROSPECTS.

They traded Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals, and in return received four prospects. Tom Milone, a soft-tossing lefty with impeccable control, was dropped into their rotation this year and made 31 starts, threw 190 innings, and had a 3.74 ERA. Derek Norris, a catcher out of the Mickey Tettleton mold, started the year in Triple-A, hit .271/.329/.477, and was promoted to Oakland. He hasn’t played great for the A’s – he hit .201/.276/.349 this year – but unlike a certain second baseman in Kansas City, they didn’t bury him when he failed to hit right out of the chute, and this afternoon he hit a home run in the A’s victory.

Milone and Norris, incidentally, were considered the two worst prospects in the trade. Pitchers A.J. Cole and Brad Peacock are farther away, but both have mid-rotation upside. (In fairness, Peacock took a step back this year.)

And the A’s traded Trevor Cahill to the Arizona Diamondbacks for, essentially, Jarrod Parker, with Ryan Cook tossed in. Parker, a highly-touted prospect who was drafted 9th overall, had missed all of 2010 with Tommy John surgery, and was still in Double-A last season. Yet as a rookie, Parker outpitched Cahill this year, with a 3.47 ERA in 181 innings for the A’s. Cook made the All-Star team as a rookie set-up man, finishing with a 2.09 ERA in 73 innings.

Throw in an aggressive move to sign Yoenis Cespedes, the emergence of Chris Carter, some shrewd platooning (Yes! Platooning! What a radical concept!) of guys like Jonny Gomes and Brandon Moss and Seth Smith, underrated mid-season acquisitions like George Kottaras and Stephen Drew, and you have Billy Beane’s finest performance yet. The Oakland A’s, winners of 74 games last year, 37-42 and 13 games out at the end of June this year, are AL West Champions.

SO DON’T TELL ME THE ROYALS CAN’T WIN NEXT SEASON. The time for low expectations is over. The time for excuses is over. If the Royals don’t have a winning record in 2013, then Dayton Moore shouldn’t have a job.

Fortunately for him, the Royals are well positioned to have a winning record in 2013. It shouldn’t be hard to upgrade their production in right field, for instance. And it also shouldn’t be hard to upgrade their rotation. But for 25 years, nothing has been easy for this organization. So I’m here to help. In the coming weeks, I’ll be reviewing the many starting pitchers available this off-season, whether by trade or free agency.

But before the Royals can analyze the market for starting pitchers, they need to do a good hard analysis of the starting pitchers they already have. And by that, I mean they need to cut Luke Hochevar, who wrapped a pretty bow around his season with a 9.56 ERA. He might have done us all an enormous favor; after Dayton Moore issued his vote of confidence for Hochevar, Luke finished with an 8.25 ERA in his last four starts. Judging from Moore’s comments on TV last night, he might just be re-considering his perpetual defense of Hochevar. We can hope, anyway.

Of course, in the same interview, Moore was asked whether he thought Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout was the deserving MVP. As Buster Olney wrote (and Bob Dutton confirmed), with one exception, EVERY front office person he’s interviewed has said that they'd (correctly, in my not-so-humble opinion) vote for Trout, who is nearly Cabrera’s equal with the bat and is vastly superior with his legs and glove.

Moore, naturally, picked Cabrera, because he won the Triple Crown, and by the statistical standards we used in 1975, that makes him the best player. Only it’s not 1975 anymore. The A’s led the way into the 21st century, and are going to the playoffs in a year in which even their most fervent supporters thought was a rebuilding year. The Royals lag behind, and they’ve treaded water in a year in which most people thought they’d take a step forward.

This isn’t rocket science, people. As the A’s have shown, an analytical approach to baseball works. As the Royals have shown – over and over and over again – the opposite approach doesn’t. If Dayton Moore’s methods fail to yield results one more time, it will be time to bring in someone else. Someone, preferably, who is willing to use all the weapons at his disposal – scouts and stats alike – to build a winning franchise.

21 comments:

Mark said...

When they finally kick Dayton to the curb, can they do the same to Yost?

Rufus R. Jones said...

Yes, the new GM should, and, I presume, will, be able to hire his own manager.

steak said...

Rany,

You wrote a couple years ago that traditionally, when the Royals were bad, the Chiefs were good. And when the Chiefs were bad the Royals were good.

Clearly, you were wrong.

The worst part of being a fan of KC sports is that I fundamentally, unequivocally, disagree with how our teams are being run by management.

I'm so sad right now.

The Count said...

Rany, is it asking too much for your opinion on proper lineup construction for a simulation OOTP league I am in? & if you don't know what OOTP is, I have to introduce you, perhaps to the behest of your family life!
E-mail me if willing to help, Thanks.

Devon Young said...

"If the Royals don’t have a winning record in 2013, then Dayton Moore shouldn’t have a job." - I agree with that statement wholeheartedly.

Steve N said...

"boundless and perpetually irrational optimism" is the job description for a baseball fan.

Nathan said...

I grabbed this from the write up of the Seitzer announcement: "Yost said the composition of the batting lineup lends itself to developing power, while Seitzer's forte is hitting for average. Yost said he expects the next hitting coach to come from within the organization."

Is it possible that the Royals management have never heard of Billy Beane, the Oakland A's, the Red Sox of a few years ago, Bill James, on base percentage, or what a "walk" is? Is that actually a possibility? Until that, admittedly paraphrased, statement, I was never on board with the Fire Dayton Moore camp, but that statement is so unjustifiably idiotic that I'm not sure I have the willpower to support him anymore.

GK said...

Amazingly, the Royals had a higher OBP than the A's this year. That said, I am sick of the Royals promoting "agressiveness" as a mantra. Until we realize that patience is not only a virtue in everyday life, but in the batter's box as well, this organization will continue to baffle and frustrate.

twm said...

GK:
That OBP was driven by KC's higher team batting average: KC tied for 7th in baseball this season with a .265 team average; Oakland was third from last with a .238, not terribly surprising for a young lineup that calls Oakland home. But when it comes to taking the walk Oakland far outpaced KC: Oakland's 8.9% walk rate was fifth in baseball while KC, as Rany noted, was last in the sport with a meager 6.6%.

Antonio. said...

Royals did have a better OBP than the A's...barely. But the Royals' OBP was heavily BA-driven. The A's had a really nice Split.

Antonio. said...

Royals did have a better OBP than the A's...barely. But the Royals' OBP was heavily BA-driven. The A's had a really nice Split.

Drew Milner said...

I have never really had verification of this story; maybe Rany knows. Supposedly, when Tony Pena, sr. was hired as manager, Allard Baird had as much as sewed up Buck Showalter, and the day before it was to happen, the Glass family told Baird to hire Pena instead. I also disagree with the conventional pundits who say a manager can only make a difference of 2 or 3 games a year. Royals won 97 games in 1980 under idiot manager Jim Frey. I bet they would have won 115 under a competent manager.

Unknown said...

If the two OBPs are equal, a batting-average driven OBP is actually better than a walk-driven OBP, because a single is slightly more valuable than a walk.

BobDD said...

As far as the future of our franchise, I believe it to be the opposite as walks are much more constant from year to year (for career in fact), while hits are more volatile and able to grow.

Muneer Uddin said...

You've glossed over the fact that Mike Illitch is a modern day Ewing Kauffman, using his vast financial resources to obtain Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, while making it possible to draft high dollar draft picks like Verlander.

If the Tigers had a David Glass type in charge, I'm not so sure that they're any better off than the Royals.

fcb45452-0e97-11e2-83ae-000bcdca4d7a said...

The Royals brass loved Trey Hillman but began souring on him when they discovered he was calling Buck Schowalter for help all of the time....the F.O is not a fan of Buck and was very upset that Trey felt he needed to get the advice of such a slug

benfunke said...

Rany - what's with the heavy reliance on ERA? Even in the Grantland article I see ERA all over the place but no mention of any DIPS stat (or even a park adjusted ERA). Did I miss something?

kcghost said...

Seriously, does anyone expect Dayton Moore to get us out of this mess??

I guess Seitzer was chosen to take the fall for Hosmer and Moustakis having such poor offensive seasons.

Joe said...

Can we petition Rany to be the new GM?

This would be unprecedented, but he is just as qualified as anyone in my opinion.

Dayton Moore doesnt write a blog, or piece about his team. We dont even know what he is using to evaluate players.

With Rany we do. It would be a great PR move to have a blogger be the GM.

Lets throw his name out there.

Joe said...

Can we petition Rany to be the new GM?

This would be unprecedented, but he is just as qualified as anyone in my opinion.

Dayton Moore doesnt write a blog, or piece about his team. We dont even know what he is using to evaluate players.

With Rany we do. It would be a great PR move to have a blogger be the GM.

Lets throw his name out there.

Unknown said...

Without a doubt Trout is my favorite player but I give Cabrera the MVP. There is something to be said about a guy that gave 6 solid months for his team while Trout only gave 3 (missing April with August and September being subpar). So to me Trout was never tested when the pressure is on. He struggled last year when he first got called up. It is safe to assume Trout would have struggled like the rest of the Angels in April. Detroit also had high expectations with the signing of Fielder but Cabrera didn't struggle at all. MVP Cabrera.