Friday, October 17, 2014

Thoughts on the Kansas City Royals

The Kansas City Royals might be the single most fascinating team story to come along since, well, since the 2010 San Francisco Giants!  The story in Kansas City is much more than a simple worst-to-first story.  Much like the 2010 Giants, the Royals worst-to-first story was accomplished with a GM at the helm who was long despised and derided by a vocal group of blogging KC Royals fans and by self-described sabermetrically oriented baseball analysts.  It was also accomplished largely because of a trade this GM, Dayton Moore, made prior to the 2013 season which was widely labeled as a disaster trade by the same analysts.

Dave Cameron, perhaps the most vocal of Dayton Moore's critics, especially of the trade of prospects Wil Myers and Jake Odirizzi to the Rays for James Shields and Wade Davis, posted a mea culpa today on his website, Fangraphs.  The crux of his argument against the trade was that Shields would likely be only available to the Royals for 2 seasons and they just weren't going to improve enough in other areas to accomplish the goal he was traded for, which was to win right away, which meant at least getting deep into the postseason.  So, losing a prized prospect like Myers would be wasted on a futile chase and cost the team more in the longterm than it would gain the the short term.  Cameron now admits he was wrong about the trade now, but I don't think he completely understands why he was wrong.

Cameron believes the main reason why he was wrong is that he underestimated the value of mediocrity in the age of two Wild Card teams and the somewhat random probabilities of success of teams once they get into the postseason.  It is also an age where one team has randomly made it all the way to the World Series 3 times in 3 postseason berths, but we'll save Keys to Postseason Success for another post.  What I think Cameron missed in his mea culpa was that he also underestimated the impact of rising career trajectories by young players.

The 2012 Royals' top 8 position players by WAR were all 28 years old or younger.  They, together with Jeff Francoeur, posted a cumulative WAR of 16.2.  Players under the age of 28 are generally on the upward trajectory of their careers, so you would expect most of them to have higher WAR's in 2 seasons.  In fact, all those top 8 players remained with the Royals through this season with Frenchy and his -1.5 WAR replaced by Aoki and his +1.1 WAR.   Those 9 players posted a combined WAR of 23.3, a 7 win upgrade from the 2012 team with virtually nothing added except experience!

On the pitching side of the ledger, the top pitcher on the 2012 team was reliever Greg Holland at 2.2.  The top 8 pitchers on the staff combined for a cumulative WAR of 12.1.  The top 2 pitchers on the 2014 team, Shields and Wade Davis who were acquired in the trade at 3.7 and 3.1 for an upgrade of 2.7 WAR on the top 2 from the 2012 team, but that is not the whole story of an upgraded pitching staff.  Yordano Ventura, at 2.8 WAR was still in the minors in 2012.  Danny Duffy, at 2.2 WAR put up just 0.5 in 2012.  Altogether, the #3-8 pitchers by WAR on the 2014 team put up a combined 12.8 WAR which is almost a full Win more than #1-8 of the 2012 team!  All told, the top 8 pitchers from the 2014 Royals team put up 19.6 WAR or a 7.5 win upgrade on the 2012 team.

So, it turns out that Dayton Moore knew his own team better than Dave Cameron.  He accurately estimated that their rising cumulative career trajectory would be fast enough to form a harmonic convergence with Shields tenure with the team, leading to an opportunity to go deep into the postseason, thus accelerating the the Royals rise into becoming a competitive MLB franchise.


  1. Arrogant forced apologies might be the most useless things in this world. Some people simply aren't ever wrong in their own minds. I try to stay as far away from those people as possible.

    Better than ESPN though, I guess. Schoenfield is calling this the "Worst World Series" ever, and the site itself posts a new map every day showing how every state but California predicts the Royals to win. Hate to break it to those folks, but the Giants know a thing or two about winning this time of year. I think I'll just spend the next few days hanging around my favorite Giants blogs, and totally tuning out the rest of the media. I never learn anything new from the national outlets, and I always come away upset.

    The Royals are an exciting young team, but I still expect the Giants to win this series.

    1. "Kansas City Royals: America’s sweethearts in 2014"

      "Giants' experience may not be enough to beat Royals"

      The latest two from Ray Ratto. I wish I could avoid CSN. But I go there for baseball, football, basketball news.

      As for Cameron, just from reading DrB's post today, it seems like they (Cameron and Moore) agree on the method (evaluation by WAR), but slight difference on application (do age projection or neglect to do so) and state of the team vs. competition (ready now or 2 years later). Despite of the voiced shortcomings of WAR people have commented on here only recently, the philosophy seems to be the same (evaluation by WAR).

    2. Yikes!! "Worst World Series" ever; how wrong they are. This series is the "Hunt for Orange October"!

      Richard in Winnipeg

    3. I have no problem with strong opinions, even if they are wrong. I learn a lot from reading Fangraphs and their statistical analysis certainly sheds light on why certain things happen in baseball. The problem with Dave Cameron and Fangraphs is an inability or unwillingness to acknowledge that there may be more than one way to arrive at the same goal, or that their statistics are only part of the equation, with the corollary that they treat alternative points of view with disdain and derision. When you treat dissenting opinions like that and turn out to be wrong, you deserve to get busted in the chops, so to speak.

    4. I don't know much about Cameron except whey people talk about him here. If he can not respect alternative points, that's a big problem for him.

    5. I should note that the 'America's sweethearts' love did not appear in Ratto's articles when they played Oakland, but only when they are about to play the Giants.

  2. Very nice post, well articulated. I posted up in his mea culpa but I wasn't very articulate. Hungover from the Pennant? I think your point that teams know their own talent is a good one. One thoughtful Royals fan was talking about what had happened in 2012 as well - injuries masked a lot of their talent with Cain and Perez hurt, as well as promising arms Duffy and Paulino. Further, Myers performance was boosted by minor league park factors. The team had a much better foundation than casual snipers realized.

    The bigger point is that the Royals didn't have pitching. They had plenty of hitters already, and plenty of struggles with hitting prospects. This is something that is so common sense but gets left out as Myers WAR score gets "calculated" with furious celebration about control on his contract. There aren't any top 20 pitchers available. Want one? Give up something good. Moore had enough of treading water, he needed some spine. Turns out he got it!

    But there's one more point: Moore knows what else is in his pipeline. A new wave of pitching prospects that could bust or soar. Some really nice IFA gets. More shiny prospects to throw in, trade and what not. Plus they drafted some big pitchers since the trade, very strong drafting - Brandon Finnegan was a great pick.

    That wasn't a mea culpa though. He didn't really acknowledge any mistakes or try to find a different way to look at things. And everybody still thinks because Friedman made the trade that Myers HAS to be good. Its a crazy confirmation bias. I see a lot of Odorizzi love, which is comical because he's a fringe 5th starter with very average peripherals. Here's what I think: you follow that silly recommendation to sell off when you're 7 games out in July, you have no heart. Baseball is about competing, and this whole wannabe GM movement (which is what Fangraphs is really about) glosses over this with a lot of silliness about how the playoffs are a crapshoot. Every team in baseball knows the rules. You build your team, you makes your choices. Billy Beane and his quote are sitting on the side yet again. Maybe he just doesn't have what it takes.

    The Bums might hire Josh Byrnes as GM under Friedman. Working on a post last night, I ran into old articles on fangraphs on him being fired (from the D-backs, and then the Padres). Two things: he's so vanilla its hard to decipher exactly what he has done but everybody thinks he's brilliant. Second, the comments in the articles are much more thoughtful back in 2010. Now its all about trying to be snarky, cutting up anybody who actually comments with any serious thought. And constant pretending to be a GM to make some joke. That site has a lot of potential with the statistics they have, but the interpretation of said statistics has some extreme biases. One comment in the mea culpa post talked about its Revenge of the Nerds - in a bad way. Also - keeping track of the NL West GM moves is insanely hard, its hilarious how many rehires and retreads there are, particularly between SD and AZ.

    Last - Moore took heat for Frenchie (rightly so) and Chris Getz. He removed them from the lineup, replacing with Aoki through trade and Infante through FA. Without Shields, maybe he doesn't get Infante, because KC is a FA wasteland where the C-list go. Look at what health, another year of experience, and some tweaks while retaining the core has done: world series bound. They didn't have enough to get through Detroit, but they played the WC game (through Beane and his poker odds quoting fans) and then have gone hot knife through butter. Pretty fun stuff for Royals fans.

  3. i think schoenfeld showed long ago that he should not be writing about the game

    that was a straight troll post.

    as for the poll, i can understand how most people want kc to win....its a great story

    and the media has made sure that the lack of interest in baseball is a self fulfilling prophecy

    as for the dodgers, their recent hires and proposed hires have all the earmarks of depodesta 2.0

    reports are out that molitor is a very strong candidate to take over the twinkies gig....will anyone ever give wotus a shot?