Monday, November 2, 2015

Thoughts on the Kansas City Royals and the World Series

I have to admit that I felt just a tad guilty last year when the team I rooted for crushed the KC Royals Cinderella Story.  Not guilty enough to wish the Giants had lost, mind you, but just a tad guilty.  Today that guilt is gone as the Royals got a second chance to live their dream.  This time, they made it come true!  There was another reason why I was hoping the Royals would win this year's Fall Classic.  They are so similar to the Giants in so many ways, I feel their success helps validate the success the Giants had in 2010, 2012 and 2014, something many baseball writers have called into question as being due mainly to luck.  Let's take a closer look at how these two organizations are so similar:

1.  Both organizations were led by GM's who were ridiculed, despised and even hated by what is known as the "Sabermetric Community."  The "Sabermetric Community" is an informal community of people who study baseball statistics for a living.  They have developed very sophisticated mathematical analyses of baseball statistics to the point where they predict how players and teams will perform with surprising accuracy.  There is a growing trend for baseball General Managers(GM's) to openly rely on these Sabermetricians in their decision-making.  Brian Sabean of the Giants and Dayton Moore of the Royals are not among those GM's.  Needless to say, that makes some people in the "Sabermetric Community" dismissive and even angry.

2.  The 3 Giants championship teams and the Royals of the past two seasons did not hit many HR's and did not draw many walks, two key components of run production in classic Sabermetric thought.  All of those teams scored more runs than expected based on Sabermetric formulas, not just in the postseason but in the regular season too!

2015 Royals:  24'th in HR's, Tied for last in BB%, 7'th in Runs.

2014 Royals:  30'th in HR's, 30'th in BB%, 14'th in Runs.

2014 Giants:  17'th in HR's, 21'st in BB%, 10'th in Runs.

2012 Giants:  30'th in HR's, 15'th in BB%, 4'th in Runs.

2010 Giants:  10'th in HR's, 21'st in BB%, 17'th in Runs(OK, this one may have been a more conventional result).

3.  Both the Giants and Royals teams had low strikeout rates on offense.

2015 Royals:  30'th

2014 Royals:  30'th.

2014 Giants:  16'th

2012 Giants:  27'th

2010 Giants: 18'th

3.  The Giants and Royals postseason teams featured strong pitching, not just from their starting pitchers but from all 12-13 members of the pitching staffs.  Both teams "overspent" to acquire strong and deep bullpens.  I guess you could sum this up with the term Pitching Depth.  All of these teams had exceptional pitching depth!

4.  The Giants and Royals both field exceptional defensive teams as measured by defensive metrics, a relatively new Sabermetric tool.

2015 Royals:  #1 in MLB in Defensive Runs Saved and by a large margin(almost twice their closest pursuer in the category).

2014 Royals: 4'th in Defensive Runs Saved.

2014 Giants:  10'th in Defensive Runs Saved.

2012 Giants:  4'th in Defensive Runs Saved.

2010 Giants:  10'th in Defensive Runs Save.

As you can see from the numbers, it is not difficult to see the striking similarities in both teams approach to the game and to develop a list of common denominators of what made them winning teams:

1.  Avoiding Strikeouts.

2.  Good pitching including exceptional pitching depth and exceptional bullpens.

3.  Excellent team defense by currently used defensive metrics such as Defensive Runs Saved and UZR.

Notice that these common denominators do not include hitting for power or drawing walks.  This seems to be the part that sticks in the craw of the "Sabermetrics Community."  In both cases, some of the low HR totals come from playing in home ballparks that suppress HR's, but it is also a byproduct of the philosophy of avoiding K's.  If you take a lot of pitches waiting for the perfect pitch to mash, and if you don't get it, take the walk, you are going to get a whole lot more 2-strike counts.  You cannot get a third strike unless you get to two strikes first.  "Selective" hitters and teams are going to strike out more than aggressive ones just from that simple math.  On the other hand, if you swing at first hittable pitches and guard the plate on 2 strikes, you are not going to hitting the ball with the "sweet spot" on an uppercut bat path as often, so both walks and HR's will be suppressed.

On the other hand, there are advantages  to putting the ball in play a lot, especially for great defensive teams.  Balls in play provide opportunity for taking extra bases, which walks do not.  They also give opposing teams more opportunities to not make plays(we are not just talking about errors here, but plays made).  This creates a greater gap between Defensive Runs Saved when the opponent is a poorer than average fielding team.

What is most mystifying about the displeasure and disdain of the "Sabermetric Community" toward the Royals and Giants is both teams appear to validate the newest, hottest metric out there, defensive metrics!  You would think writers on sites like Fangraphs, which is the mother ship of defensive metrics, would be dancing jigs and doing victory laps over the correlation with teams that shine on defensive metrics and also win championships.  Some of the articles today, seemed to be grudgingly moving in that direction, but man, for a community that proclaims how cutting edge they are and how much their mission is to advance our understanding of statistics, many of those writers still seem awfully stuck in "Moneyball" stats which are now, what, 15 years old or more?

Oh, and you had to feel just a bit sorry for the Mets who just couldn't seem to do anything right by the end of the series.  Yes, Lady Luck does play a role in winning championships.  No team gets enough wins to make the postseason then survives the playoff gauntlet without a lot of things going right for them.  The Mets had Lady Luck on their side in the first two rounds but she turned her back on them with a vengeance in the World Series.  All I can say is "Keep your heads up, Met's fans!  You'll get another chance in 2017 after the Giants win it all again in 2016!"


  1. Great article. I can't help think about that December 2012 trade - it brought out gigantic amounts of scorn in the sabermetric community, it was regarded as a slam dunk win for Andrew Friedman. It turned out to be a slam dunk win for Moore and the Royals. Flags fly forever. Friedman is still bulletproof from all criticism (seriously, go look at fangraphs, not a peep about all the lost $ they get so obsessed about usually with the WAR scores with regards to the Bums), but he left the Rays at the right time, losing Shields was followed by losing Price and Zobrist and now things aren't looking too hot.

    The Mets have the starting pitching staff that is the envy of MLB. They didn't have a good pen and they didn't play good defense. But if you reverse 3-4 plays, it might be a different story. That's pretty crazy.

    The value of Walks has been overrated for a while now. And I do think most writers and comment makers are stuck worshiping OBP as the end all to be all. A Giants exec way back in 2010 said "we proved Moneyball was a bunch of...." - he couldn't have expected to see what came next right? I don't think the Sabermetric community has changed much in the past six years.

    1. That's the way the baseball bounces! Yeah, pretty crazy!

      I think the Sabermetric community has bifurcated. There are those who truly understand sabermetics, and I think they understand that OBP and walks are not the be all and end all. These are few and far between. And then there are the vast masses, who think that quoting Moneyball by playing up low walk rates and high OBP makes them sabers. I refer to these as Saber-wannabes.

      And yeah, Friedman (plus Beane) are pretty much teflon-coated, Friedman has gotten away with wasting all that money while Beane got away with all those horrible trades, particularly Russell, all in the name of "going for it", then his being forced to trade Donaldson to the Blue Jays because he had a personality conflict with the player.

      I just realized that this probably is a great example of how important chemistry is, to lose a player who is producing that much more WAR$ than he costs just because the GM has a personality conflict with him shows how important chemistry is for a team. Also explains why Beane has never seemed to understand (or undervalue or both) team chemistry.

  2. The media has missed opportunities to compare the Royals with the Giants. "They made the defensive plays." "They put pressure on the other team's defense to make plays." "Deep and reliable bullpen." It has been reported on like the Royals invented it this year, as if it is not a hallmark of most championship teams, and if you exclude the line about Bullpen and talk bench or special teams, it's applicable to all sports.

    Don't the Cardinals fit into this mold as well?

  3. Dave Cameron wrote about the Royals blueprint... defense, bullpens, putting the ball in play. Time for other teams to start making copies, he says.

    Not one mention of the Giants. I shouldn't have been surprised, but come on...

    Cove Chatter

    1. Also HardballTimes and WSJ as well. I agree, come on!

    2. Yes it is all about the Royals this week. Unfortunatly, by Thanksgiving the brainwashed HR & Walk Media will forget about my Royals as fast as they forgot your Giants success. Repeating the succesful formulas by Royals/Giants eventually change the media narrative. The real problem is the MLB Media personalities are sabermetric guys, so admitting the Royals/Giants baseball formula is an alternative blueprint for winning is counter productive to the current MLB peronalities employment future.

  4. Great post! As I noted, there were other articles praising how the Royals built their team on defense, bullpens, and putting the ball into play, so it is ridiculous that none of these writers wrote that about the Giants last season nor noted the Giants as perhaps the model for other teams like the Royals to follow, as far back as 2010.

    And the Giants strikeout rates would even be better if you take out their pitching's hitting (I'm assuming you are including them, as I was unable to find a breakdown at BB-Ref that would give us only position players' hitting).

    I also felt a bit guilty last season about beating the Royals, but push comes to shove: 3 in 5!!! I was rooting for the Mets because I worried about some thinking the Royals are better if they win (and that has come true in some respects, with articles that fawn over the Royals for doing what the Giants did and others noting that the Giants only won because of Bumgarner, which ignores what the offense did) but I'm happy for the Royals.

    About your point about defense metrics, what gets forgotten is that the Giants is probably on the leading edge sabermetrically re: defense stats. When Field/FX was being brought out for a beta test with a select few parks, the Giants were one of the few to get it installed. And in the PR regarding the installation of the equipment, the Giants were quoted as saying that their analysts were eager to dig into the data and incorporate the data into their proprietary defensive metrics.

    And I agree that sabers just don't seem to get the Giants. I've been saying for a while that they should be trumpeting the Giants model, but instead they are still being made fun of and scorned. The guys have built this championship era on the backs of their farm as well as key acquisitions. Not many teams have as many homegrown on their roster or starting lineup.

    Plus the Giants have followed the model that BP themselves analyzed and found the answer to be: good pitching staff, particularly in striking out batters, good closer, and good defense. They have followed the secret sauce but has never gotten credit for doing that. Worse, BP themselves demanded that Sabean be fired: in their 2010 Annual. I've never seen any apology, any contrition, any acknowledgement that this organization, who they trumpet themselves as being hired by MLB teams, was so horribly, horribly wrong for writing that 2010 chapter on the Giants and demanding Sabean's ouster.

    Furthermore, the Giants are not considered a dynasty by many simply because they had not won in consecutive seasons. I've even seen the Royals getting some love for doing that in consecutive year when a lot of the Giants issues in trying to follow up was because other teams took it out of our hands (Posey in 2011; all the concussions and HBP/broken bones in 2015). Hard to stay healthy when the other team is taking our players off our roster. Had Posey, Pence, Belt, Aoki had been healthy for the full season, I would have liked our chances of getting into the playoffs in 2011 and 2015. Heck, we were still in good contention until August both seasons, so nobody can tell me that having all these players playing healthy for us would not have made the difference between making the playoffs and not making it.

    1. As a Royal Fan, Your Giants 2010-? are a Baseball Dynasty, they are a lot like the Royals, and I'm talking the 1976-1989 Royals. the Braves of the late 90's early 2000, and the 1980's-1990's Cardinals. Small Ball, Whitey Ball, or real Baseball as described by retirees at the local coffee shop. the Giants/Royals success formula is not new, not groundbreaking science, or luck, it is simply the correct way the game was meant to be played. Congratulations on your teams dominance over the last several years, the Giants are a Dynasty. Remember, the small minded media personalities that never played the game or unsuccesfully tried to play only understand walks, and HR. The Giants/Royals play a game unfamiliar to the National Sports Media.

  5. "Don't the Cardinals fit into this mold"

    Only for the pen.
    Can't find the article, but for the last 2 months this year, StL was terrible on D.

    1. In 2013, the year the Cardinals won the NL Pennant, they are a slightly below average defensive team, but definitely fit the mold of being a high contact, low power, high scoring team. They were 26'th in HR's, 26'th in K's and 3'rd in Runs Scored.