Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Sal Gets Paid

In a rare occurrence in the worlds of sports and business, today the Kansas City Royals did right by Salvador Perez.

On the surface, this appears to be a bit of a bad deal for the Royals, though it will hardly be catastrophic.

I imagine the going rate for a decent catcher will probably be more than the $13 million a year Sal will be getting in the last two years of this contract. The question is: will he be a decent catcher still?

There is certainly some good PR in the move, as everybody knew that Perez was getting hosed with each passing year he put up positive WAR and pumped out credibly entertaining Instagram videos.

Lost in that analysis is that when he hurt his knee in year one of the deal, it looked like he may have potentially grabbed millions more than he would have as a roving catching instructor had things not worked out.

I think this deal represents something more than simple dollars and common sense, though. I think this represents Kansas City’s best strategy for staying competitive in the coming years.

Namely: you can’t sign somebody who just doesn’t want to be there.

Salvador Perez committed to Kansas City, and the team has now committed to him. This comes on the heals of Alex Gordon taking a below market deal to stay with the only organization he’s ever known. (You can say the market got wise and he took the best offer, but I just don’t see it.)

And today, Chris Young had this to say:

There will never be a scenario in which the Royals resign Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto, add Zach Grienke to the mix, and lay waste to the American League without breaking a sweat.

Guys like Chris Young are exactly how Kansas City will stay competitive. Kris Medlen and Mike Minor. These are the players who bring above average contributions on top of the star performances of guys like Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer.

Superstars will leave and get paid. Stars might stick around for a few dollars less if they enjoy coming to the park every day.

Of course, the farm system has to replenish the roster with true value, but almost as important is the rest of the team not sucking. And, that’s harder than it sounds.

Kansas City is becoming a destination for guys who don’t suck. They just sent a signal to the rest of baseball that they may have the strongest relationship with their players of any organization.

That is a good move.

Photo credit: Keith Allison via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Braves Way

WARNING: Baseball-related post. Yes, I made some graphs. I love making graphs.

In just over a week, pitchers and catchers will report and Spring Training will kick off in earnest. Most post-seasons for Royals fans like myself are black holes of nothing while we speculate on who might possible break out next year and bring the team back into contention.

So, um… Yeah, this off-season was a little different. Really, the last three years have been different. Having a winning, relevant team is a lot of fun.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’ ten gave in rampant speculation. Only, now the focus has shifted a bit. Obviously, the core of this team is all coming back, so they’ll run away with the AL Central and cakewalk back into the World Series. That happens a lot, right?

Of course not.

But, it’s no fun to think about how things might go wrong this year, so let’s examine the time that most reasonable people expect it all to fall apart. 2018.

For those of you who don’t follow the Royals, 2018 is the year everybody except the water boy becomes a free agent and the team is expected to slump while waiting for the next batch of minor leaguers to become awesome.

It’s okay. Nobody wins forever, right?

Well, it wasn’t forever, but for a decade and a half, it sure seemed like the Atlanta Braves wouldn’t die.

To recap: After being one of the worst teams in baseball in 1990, Atlanta ended up with one of the best records in 1991. Jack Morris showed Madison Bumgardner how a real man puts away Game 7 by throwing 10 scoreless innings, and then the Braves went back to sucking. Oh, no, they didn’t. They went to the playoffs for the next FIFTEEN YEARS.

I think Dayton Moore may be inclined to follow suit. He was there for a decent chunk of that crazy run.

So, how did the Braves maintain such a juggernaut?

Of course I have a chart. Here is how the overall Wins Above Replacement (WAR) was distributed for each season that Atlanta went to the playoffs.

A few notes about this chart:
– Purple are players that were in the system when the Braves run started
– Blue are players who came up from the system as the years rolled on
– Black are free agents, or guys they traded for
– Red is Greg Maddox, because he’s earned it
– One more note: I’m only tracking players who contributed 3 or more WAR in a season at least once.

So, how did the Braves start winning?

  1. The homegrown talent started to contribute in significant ways: Tom Glavine, David Justice and Ron Gant were all drafted by the Braves. John Smoltz was a savvy trade pickup who hadn’t done anything in the majors before coming to Atlanta.
  2. Key free agents provided a needed boost: Terry Pendelton, Otis Nixon and Charlie Leibrant all contributed to those early teams.

You can find some parallels with the Royals here, though the team as currently constructed relies heavily on outside help when it comes to pitching. Having Glavine and Smoltz at the start of their careers would be nice.

Now, more importantly: How did the Braves keep on winning?

  1. Greg Maddox
  2. Seriously. Maddox was already a Cy Young winner with the Cubs when the Braves signed him. This is an impossible scenario to replicate in today’s game. Even the Dodgers couldn’t keep Zack Grienke around for more than two years, and they wipe their asses with Time Warner’s cash.
  3. More homegrown talent. I’m just going to list some guys you might have heard of here.
  4. Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones
  5. Javy Lopez, Kevin Millwod, Rafael Furcal, Marcus Giles
  6. John Smoltz the closer
  7. Key free agents/mercenaries: Fred McGriff, Kenny Lofton, Brian Jordan, Gary Sheffield, J.D. Drew

As you can see, the tomahawks did a good job of replenishing from within. Money helped keep the best guys into their free agent years, as well.

But, man does it help to have a Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and the Jones boys in your system.

Now, how have the Royals teams been constructed so far?

Note: I’m marking Lorenzo Cain and Escobar with grey, because they weren’t exactly home grown guys, but they weren’t big money free agents, either. I also lowered the threshold for inclusion to at least 1 WAR in a season, or else it would have been a very small chart.

First off, you can see how the contributions have been a little more balanced between home grown and outside guys, and aside from Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain, nobody is a dominant contributor.

The biggest obstacle will be how the economics of the game have changed. Resigning Gordon was a huge win this off-season, but I just don’t see how Kansas City can compete with the market for all of their stars.

Savvy buy low candidates like Chris Young, Kris Medlen and Edison Volquez will have to make up the difference there.

But, the biggest question is who’s coming? The talent has to come from the system.

Are Bubba Starling and Raul Mondesi about to become the Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones building blocks for the next decade? Will Yordano become John Smoltz. Will Kyle Zimmer take Tom Glavine’s place?

Rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles weren’t high draft picks. Guys like Kevin Millwood were basically average or a touch below save one or two great seasons. Who can catch lighting for a season and keep Kansas City in contention?

A lot can happen with prospects in two years. I don’t see a black hole when 2018 rolls around, but there will definitely need to be some surprises.

Photo credit: Keith Allison via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Better Than Projected

The Royals dispatched the Cincinnati Reds tonight in a sloppy, rain-lengthened game, picking up their 73rd win of the season—one better than the much-maligned prediction from Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA forecasting tool.

Much ridicule was wasted in the off season after a series of articles dared to wonder if other teams would emulate the Royals defense and relief pitching template for getting to the World Series. Well, the trading deadline saw many teams attempting to do just that.

I come not to bury the projections, because I am a fan of them. I find it fun to play with numbers and charts, especially in the off season when no real games are being played.

I won’t try to shout down the haters who done their hatin’ when institutions like the Wall Street Journal dabbled in the world of sports to get some readers and presented half-baked theories with some heavy recent bias. As you can tell, I enjoy that, too.

No, I just want to enjoy this vanquishing of the projection. The BP projection (and many others) are best used to put how well the Royals are playing into perspective. They are leading the league, for sure, but they are also leaving behind the years of under performance that led to such lowly estimations of their talent in the first place.

With every win, they are hammering home the point that this is who they are now. A team that gets it done. Not just an October fluke, but a contender all year long.

They playoffs are a crap shoot, and a few fluky bounces or crappy calls could end this season with more than 90 feet between the Royals and a championship, but this entire season has been a joy to watch. The Royals are in front and they belong there. And, I’m not sure anybody would have predicted that.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Three and Oh!

Watching the Royals go 3-0 to start the season isn't a crazy idea. Most teams, even bad ones, can string together three wins on occasion. What has been most satisfying about this opening week binge on wins is that they have come with so much competence.

By far, the worst performance has been Danny Duffy giving up five runs on Wednesday, but he also struck out a batter an inning and the big damage came on a home run that followed an infield hit.

The Royals have hit their fare share of long balls to start the season, with just about everybody you'd want to getting in on the act. I don't imagine they will keep this pace up for the season, but it's not unrealistic to think that they won't be dead last in homers again.

Finally, while Wednesday's game featured some struggles from the starter, it also featured the platonic ideal of bullpen usage, with the Herrera-Davis-Holland trio mowing down batters and making the last three innings a wash for Chicago.

This is the reason Dayton Moore was hesitant to trade one of his cyborg relievers for another offensive weapon in the offseason. Because whatever happens in the first six innings of a ball game, if it's close, then the Royals are sending in HDH. That means, they have three more innings to score and your offensive output is likely done for the day.

Friday, February 21, 2014

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Who are These Guys? – Infield
2/21/2014 4:00:15 PM

Let’s take a look at who will be turning double plays on the daily this year, once again using the official 40-man roster as our guide, which can be found here. Note: All posts will follow this general format: Player Name (linking to the player page on Baseball-Reference.com) 2013 “Slash” line (Batting Average/On-Base Percentage/Slugging Average) 2013 […]


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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Royal Reactions - Off-Season Upgrades

Dayton Moore has been a busy man since the long-suffering Red Sox fans finally got that elusive World Series title after six long years without one.

As previously-discussed, the Royals fell short of the playoffs and couldn't just stand pat if they wanted to step it up in 2014.

Welcome to Kansas City, Norichika Aoki, Omar Infante and Jason Vargas. (and, so long, David Lough... but we'll discuss that another time)

Using an average of the available projections from Fangraphs, here is how the starting nine looks for the Royals going into this season, based on Wins Above Replacement:

1 Norichika Aoki 3.40
2 Omar Infante 2.50
3 Eric Hosmer 2.25
4 Billy Butler 1.95
5 Alex Gordon 3.60
6 Salvador Perez 4.15
7 Mike Moustakas 2.40
8 Lorenzo Cain 3.00
9 Alcides Escobar 1.20

That pencils out to 24.45 WAR from the regulars, which is a roughly four-win improvement over the lineup in 2013. (please don't ask me to show my work)

The starting rotation pencils out to another 10.10 WAR:

1 James Shields 3.70
2 Jason Vargas 1.90
3 Jeremy Guthrie 1.40
4 Danny Duffy 1.20
5 Wade Davis 1.90

Here is where the team gives back some of the gains from the offensive side of the ball. This would be about 1.5 fewer wins than last year's starters, with most of the loss coming from Ervin Santana's departure.

I won't go through the relief corps, but one can hope they will be good and yet realistically expect some regression off last year's awesome showing. Let's call it half a win and credit Dayton Moore for improving the team by two wins at this point in the offseason. This leaves us with many questions as Spring Training appears on the horizon.

Does 88-74 get you into the playoffs in 2014? I doubt it.

Does throwing $100 Million at Santana or Tanaka get you over 90 wins and in the hunt? Maybe.

Do a handful of games in Venezuela mean Moose is ready for a breakout year? Is Yordano Ventura ready to go all Pedro Martinez on the league? Will Butler and Gordon stave off the age curve? Will Escobar not suck so much? Does Bonifacio play everywhere and kick in a few wins with his legs and his defense? Anything is possible.

Will Jarrod Dyson steal home to win a one-game playoff with Tampa Bay after a Wil Myers error puts him on third base in the ninth? One can dream, can't they?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

All in for 2014 - Going to WAR with the lineup you have

So, the World Series is over and the boys in blue didn't make it. I will say, this was one of the more enjoyable seasons to follow the Royals, and it will be great if they can ever get through a season sometime soon without a gut-punch of a month that drags the whole year down.

Think about it: if Kansas City managed to play .500 baseball in May, they would have been in the wild card game, and anything could have happened.

Of course, that didn't work out so hot for Cleveland, but I digress.

Looking ahead to 2014, there are some clear issues that need to be addressed if KC is going to get those six more wins they desperately missed. On the pitching side, there is the matter of replacing Ervin Santana, who accounted for 2.8 WAR on his own. Losing his contributions alone makes it nine wins the Royals will need to add to the roster in order to dream of the post season in 2014.

There are already rumors (or, perhaps just wishful thinking) about the team looking at Tim Hudson and Josh Johnson to fill the void if Ervin doesn't take the qualifying offer from Kansas City.

It takes a certain level of optimism to think the Royals can repeat their performance as the best run-preventing team in the American League, but I'm going to look at that later. For now, let's talk runs and what Kansas City can do to score more of them.

Most of the discussion is focusing on two positions: Right Field and Second Base. There's good reason for this, as both spots would have been enormous sinkholes if David Lough hadn't proven to be a decent major leaguer and Miguel Tejada didn't have the attention span of a toddler.

The bad news is Miggy isn't coming back and Lough is probably more like the player he was in July/August (266/288/351) than when he came up in May/June (314/336\471).

Time for some bad math.

Here is a look at some key players currently under club control in 2014. (Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference)

I've included Escobar and Moustakas because I think the Royals should look beyond a fix at second base, if the opportunity arises.

Both players saw large drop-offs in productivity this year from last, and while they are too young to jettison completely, I would think a little competition going into the Spring couldn't hurt.

Maxwell did well for the Royals after they brought him over, and a platoon between him and Lough might maximize their potential in Right Field. They certainly can't be much worse than Jeff Francouer was last season.

All in, using these (admittedly) rough calculations and expecting repeat performances from the rest of the team (a fool's dream, to be sure), I project the Royals still falling about 6 wins short of the playoffs. Even resigning Santana and getting a repeat performance will leave them on the outside looking in unless the league regresses next year.

The most prominent name out there for a quick upgrade has been Howie Kendrick of the Angels. Plugging Kendrick's 3.3 WAR from 2013 in place of the 1.27 we might realistically expect from Bonifacio helps the cause, but it doesn't quite guarantee champagne showers in October.

Would it be nice if the Royals dropped $30 million on Robinson Cano and his 5-6 WAR of the last few years? Ha!

A look at the other available free agents is less than appealing. (Yuni at 3rd base? Put down the phone, Dayton. Put it down now!)

Fleeting thoughts about #cheercano aside, there is no way the Royals are going to be able to responsibly spend their way into the playoffs this off season. Getting creative with trades, lucky with some lower tier signings and praying that the coaches in Venezuela can put Moose back on track are going to be the best we can hope for.