2012 Kansas City Royals: Top of the first

In the first 9 games of 2012, the Royals were outscored by 10 runs. That April 11 Oakland game was tough. But, if we put the 162-game schedule into a 9-inning game, the Royals are entering the bottom of the first inning. As the first 9 games have shown, Danny Duffy can have a 0.00 ERA and the Royals could still be on pace to lose 108.

I will not watch televised Royals games. I feel like I expend too much unnecessary emotional energy. I will set the expectation for success, say of a batter getting a hit. But the odds are that batter will fail—even the best will fail much more often then they succeed. So I save myself the angst. But I will watch a game live. I grew up in Kansas City, but live outside Sacramento. I have been making the trek to Oakland when the Royals are in town for a few years now.

I was in Oakland Wednesday, April 11, 2012. I was sitting in section 108 which is between the dugout and bullpen on the visitor’s side. Before the game, I watched Brayan Peña have a catch with bullpen coach Steve Foster. Let me just say that Steve Foster has a strong and accurate throw—Brayan Peña, not so much. Foster is a former pitcher and pitching coach, so that is not surprising. Maybe Peña was having a bad day. His throws were often short and/or wide once the two had any distance between them. I wonder if anyone told the Oakland base stealers.

Yoenis Céspedes sent a short flare into short right-center in the bottom of the second inning. Eric Hosmer ran back to get the ball, turned around as it was about to drop and flipped the ball up for another shot at catching it. If Hosmer backs off, Chris Getz would have caught the ball. If Chris Getz backs off, Hosmer would have caught the ball. As it stood, they got in each other’s way and Céspedes had a double. Céspedes attempted a steal of third and scored on an errant throw from Peña. It is one of those should have, would have, could have moments and seems emblematic of how the Royals played in the first nine games—on the verge of brilliance, but ultimately deficient. If that run does not score, the game likely does not go to extra innings. Then Jonathan Broxton could blow it in regulation. You never know.

As the game started, I also witnessed Jeff Francoeur raise his fist in the air to acknowledge the fans in the right field bleachers who were chanting his name. Frenchy had 20 pepperoni pizzas delivered. The Oakland fans won Frenchy over the day before by having shirts made with Frenchy as a sponsor of the second annual “Bacon Tuesday.” Frenchy had won the fans over the year before by throwing them a baseball with $100 attached for beer and bacon. This is the only trip the Royals are scheduled to make to Oakland in 2012.

I trust in the Royals’ talent. But other teams have talent too, whether we have heard of the players or not. The margins are very thin as Oakland proved. The Royals need to show their resiliency; focus and stay positive. If we assume that the Royals are good enough to win 81 games, then there are only 9 games that would make the difference between 90 wins or 90 losses. Hopefully, these are not those 9.

PECOTA lacks verisimilitude

Those people at Baseball Prospectus are very clever. They rig PECOTA to say the Royals will be the second worst team in baseball in 2012. This causes the most articulate and knowledgeable fans in major league baseball to write about Baseball Prospectus and PECOTA. You people delight me with your lack of shame.

One issue with the pre-season Playoff Odds Report is that 24 of 30 teams are between 90 wins and 90 losses. That is too many. Maybe this speaks to the idea that talent is fairly evenly distributed across the league. I can get behind that. Only three teams—Yankees, Rangers, and Cardinals—have the talent to eclipse 90 wins. Three or four other teams need the right mix of health, favorable match-ups, favorable weather, guts, heart, and other such luck to get over the 90-win plateau. Six or seven teams should finish the season with more than 90 wins. Just as six or seven teams should finish the season with more than 90 losses—around 21.5% each over the last 50 years. That is not my issue.

I am wondering how Baseball Prospectus could get the 2012 Kansas City Royals so wrong.

If I were paid to write, I might try to contact someone at Baseball Prospectus to have them explain how the Kansas City Royals’ projections are so low. But I am not. I am not a subscriber. And I am not suggesting that PECOTA was rigged. I have to imagine it was derived “objectively.” However, in reaching that objective measure, certain subjective decisions were made—how much to weight past performance or the likelihood of regression, for example.

Mike Moustakas should go to the plate over 200 more times in 2012. Eric Hosmer should go up 100 more times. If Salvador—writing Salvy makes me feel dirty—Perez plays half the season, it is still a quarter more than 2011. The Royals return many of the same parts—young parts, talented parts—from a league-average offense in 2011. In addition, the most ineffective pitchers from 2011 have all been replaced.

68-94 says that the 2011 offense was a fluke and the 2012 pitching will be worse. How does any self-respecting projection system see that in the 2012 Kansas City Royals? This seems like a learning opportunity for PECOTA. Time will tell, of course. If the Royals lose 94 in 2012, this blog will be long abandoned. But I do not see that happening. I am on the record for 90 wins. This time next year, I expect to see a story from Baseball Prospectus about how they got PECOTA wrong, Royally.

The 2012 Kansas City Royals are not a fantasy baseball team

Fantasy baseball is a lot of fun. I can remember running my own league with cash prizes, and everything, back in the early oughts. The drafts are the best. There is literally nothing else I would rather do with eleven other snarky, drunken dudes. However, I wonder if the fantasy baseball draft phenomenon has had a negative impact on the actual analysis of major league baseball by the layperson.

For all intents and purposes, the 2012 Kansas City Royals Previews have gone like this: There is some glib comment about how the Royals have sucked for a long time; acknowledgement that they have some hitting; and then some in-depth analysis—or more glibness, it is hard to tell sometimes—about how they do not have starting pitching. Rather, they do not possess the mythical “Number One Starter” or, for that matter, the “Number Two Starter.” A knock against Yuni Betancourt is typical.

I would first like to address the Royals’ futility. I like to think about the Major League Baseball season as a string of 9-game series. If a team goes 4-5 (.444) every 9 games, they are a 90-loss team. If a team goes 5-4 (.556), they are a 90-win team. I find it interesting that over three of four teams in major league baseball (78.5% over the last 50 years) finish with a .444 winning percentage or better. The Royals have one season over .444 in their last eight. From 1971 to 1996, the Royals went 26 straight seasons without finishing below the .444 threshold.

Incidentally, the movie Moneyball made it seem like Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics discovered Sabermetrics before the 2002 season and the reason for their success was identifying Chad Bradford, David Justice, and Scott Hatteberg as replacement parts. This is how the youth of today is corrupted. If you read the book, you know that the Oakland Athletics started following a Sabermetric bent after the arrival of Sandy Alderson, who became the General Manager in 1983. I am not insinuating that Oakland embraced Sabermetrics from day one or that Sabermetrics necessarily leads to success, but from 1983 to 2011, the A’s have had 2 teams under .444—27 of 29 seasons. The A’s also happened to have the Cy Young and MVP in 2002.

So, a team that actually tries to compete has to fail spectacularly to reach the Royals’ depths. Of course, we all know who to blame for this futility: Kevin Kietzman.

Kevin Kietzman (KK) is a former television sports anchor in Kansas City who co-founded his own radio station. On April 30, 1999, Kietzman and his radio station organized a “Share the Wealth” walkout at Kauffman Stadium. As I recall, the “Share the Wealth” message was that the Royals could not compete because they could not sign their good players long-term. So KK and his brethren left Kauffman during an inning, walked across the street and watched the rest of the game in a parking lot. As far as I know, the radio station is still doing well.

Kansas City was playing the Yankees that night. The Royals had young talent in their lineup: 22-year-old Carlos Beltran won Rookie of the Year; 25-year-olds Mike Sweeney, Jermaine Dye, and Johnny Damon had respective OPS+’s of 128, 119, and 118. They even had some young pitching. 24-year-olds Jose Rosado and Jeff Suppan had respective ERA+’s of 130 and 111. However, the Royals had an old closer. 37-year-old Jeff Montgomery’s ERA+ was 74—6.84, which was pretty bad even at the run-scoring height of the Selig era. They finished eleven games under their Pythagorean and thirty-two and a half out of first. The “Share the Wealth” participants seemed to ignore the fact that the Royals had the pieces in place to compete in the American League at that very moment. That is what I think, at least. Obviously, they needed pitching. And a culture of cultivating talent would have helped. If only “The Process” had started with Allard Baird.

In 1999, the Royals had reversed a recent trend of anemic offense. Unfortunately, their pitching went from solid to horrid. The 1995-1996 pitching would have been a very nice complement to the 1999-2000 hitting. But, alas, there would be just one respite—2003—from the enormity of the Royals failure. Rosado’s arm gave out. Damon was traded with Mark Ellis. Dye was traded. Beltran was traded. The Royals went from merely irrelevant to a colossally funny laughingstock—at least, to everyone except Royals’ fans.

“Share the Wealth” played into David Glass’ apparent plan to see if Major League Baseball players could be as easily replaced as Wal-Mart greeters. And, if you are David Glass, why not take the risk? On the one hand, you could be a hero to the other owners who are looking to cut costs. On the other hand, you could subject your fan base to ten years or more of abject misery. The Royals may have drafted and signed some high picks, but they took the rest of their players from the scrap heap. It was as if David Glass said, “You are right, KK, we cannot sign our good players long-term. So we will stop producing good players.”

Laughingstock Land is a hard place to return from once you are there. Enter Dayton Moore.

I tend to think that a team that does not have talent or cannot sign talent is going to have a problem winning. It is a hunch. It is not so much that I give Dayton Moore a free pass. However, I think he had a lot of work to do to get the Royals back to respectability. If I am a player, it’s only in the last two years that I sign with Kansas City. Yes, the Royals overpaid for Gil Meche and José Guillén. But they needed to show the rest of the league that their checks did not bounce.

I am kind of impressed with Baird’s regime for the talent that was left behind: Zack Greinke, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and Mitch Maier. Luke Hochevar, Everett Teaford and Jerrod Dyson were drafted in 2006. On the other hand, the net gain of Damon, Ellis, Dye and Beltran was…Chris Getz—so not impressed. Unfortunately, these players do not a champion make, but there are some nice pieces. Dayton Moore made moves. He traded for some pitchers; signed Meche; drafted Joakim Soria as a Rule 5 pick. However, for every Soria, there were a few dozen warm bodies.

So the Royals had to build from within. And build, they have. “The Process” is paying off. The Royals are now, finally, back in the realm of the 75%—they should quite capably win at least four of nine, going forward. Whether the Royals can win four and a half of every nine or five of every nine in 2012 is going to be dependent on how many runs they score and how many they allow. This is where most 2012 Royals’ previews break down because many authors are too wrapped up in the fantasy baseball owner mindset—i.e. the focus on hitters, starters, and closers—or they are so shattered emotionally that they cannot bear the thought of getting their hopes up.

The Royals scored 730 runs and allowed 762 in 2011. The 730 runs was the second most in the last eight years. The 762 allowed is the fewest in the last eight. So, let’s say the Royals score the same number of runs in 2012.

Here is a table with names and numbers.

2011 OPS PA 2012 Projections OPS
Melky Cabrera 0.809 706 Alex Gordon 0.819
Alex Gordon 0.879 690 Lorenzo Cain 0.721
Billy Butler 0.822 673 Eric Hosmer 0.829
Jeff Francoeur 0.805 656 Billy Butler 0.842
Alcides Escobar 0.633 598 Mike Moustakas 0.755
Eric Hosmer 0.799 563 Jeff Francoeur 0.749

Will the 2012 lineup meet or exceed the 2011 lineup? There is no total column, so I am not fully quantifying my assertion. However, my gut says the projected top 6 in 2012 is within a couple of percentage points of the 2011 actuals. The left hand columns are the 2011 actuals, sorted by plate appearances. The right hand columns are the 2012 projected lineup and OPS. The 2012 OPS is the average of the 6 projections on fangraphs.com. I tend to think the top 6 hitters are going to mean much more to the offense than every other hitter combined. So I am not concerning myself with Chris Getz, Alcides Escobar, Yuniesky Betancourt, Humberto Quintero, Brayan Peña, Jason Bourgeois, or, for that matter, Johnny Giavotella. It is nice that a few of those guys are considered good to great defenders. Quintero, for example, is a good catch-and-throw guy which is nice because apparently Brayan Peña just lets the ball hit him in the chest protector and then rolls it back to the pitcher.

Anyway, based on Pythagorean record, a solid 90-win team that scores 730 runs should allow around 640. But what about a lucky 90-win team? Well, a team that scores 730 and allows 675 to 695 runs should be in the 85 to 87 win range. By my calculations, a 4.05 Team ERA last year would have meant around 695 runs allowed for the Royals.
Here is another table with names and numbers

2011 Royals Pitching ERA IP ER
Jeff Francis 4.82 183.0 98
Kyle Davies 6.75 61.1 46
Joakim Soria 4.03 60.1 27
Sean O’Sullivan 7.25 58.1 47
Vin Mazzaro 8.26 28.1 26
Subtotal 5.61 391.1 244
Rest of Team 4.02 1060.0 473
Total 4.45 1451.1 717

Incidentally, the 2011 Detroit Tigers’ Team ERA was 4.04. Without Justin Verlander, it was 4.39. Just saying.

The Kansas City Royals went out and got a guy who has thrown over 700 innings of Major League Baseball with a 97 ERA+. Jonathan Sánchez can take the 183 innings vacated by Jeff Francis. They went out and got a guy in Jonathan Broxton who has thrown over 390 innings of Major League Baseball with a 132 ERA+. He can take Soria’s innings. So, let’s say Sánchez could put up a 4.13 ERA. And let’s say Broxton could put up a 3.13 ERA. Add that to the rest of last year’s pitchers and exclude Davies, Mazzaro, and O’Sullivan. Any guesses on what the Royals Team ERA would be then?

2012 Projections ERA IP ER
Sánchez 2012 Projection 4.13 183.0 84
Broxton 2012 Projection 3.13 60.1 21
Rest of 2011 Team 4.02 1060.0 473
Total 3.99 1303.1 578

In effect, the Royals are counting on some combination of Luis Mendoza, Danny Duffy, Felipe Paulino, Everett Teaford, Aaron Crow, and, quite possibly, Mike Montgomery to replace the 150 Kyle O’Mazzaro innings with at least a 4.50 ERA in order to give themselves a very decent shot at competing day in and day out. Forget about guys making huge jumps in performance. I think I am making conservative projections here. Throw in a little luck and great temperament and who knows? My gut says they do it and then some.

Shun the non-believers. 90 wins.

Team Capsule: 1959 Chicago Cubs

“It’s a great day for a ballgame. Let’s play two!”

That was a common refrain from the Chicago Cubs’ spirited shortstop, Ernie Banks. Unfortunately, “Mr. Cub” and his enthusiasm were most of what the fans on Chicago’s north side had to be happy about in 1959. The team had not seen post season play for 13 years and they had not sniffed the National League’s upper division since 1946. 1959 would be no different, but Banks’ outstanding campaign garnered his second consecutive MVP award.

Ernie Banks began his career at the age of 17 with the semi-pro Amarillo Colts. He moved on to the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs and served two years in the Army before returning and eventually signing with the Chicago Cubs. Banks’ first year with the big club was 1953 when he appeared in 10 games. By 1955 he was an All-Star and one of the best shortstops in the majors. From 1957 to 1960 he averaged 44 homeruns and 123 RBI, including a career-high 143 in 1959. He was durable too. From August 26, 1956 until June 23, 1961, he played in 717 consecutive games. But injuries caught up to Mr. Cub and a bum knee forced a move to first base in 1962. He never got the chance to see post-season play and retired in 1971 with 512 homeruns. Banks was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977.

The 1959 team also featured notable veterans who were nearing the ends of their careers and a fine outfielder at the start of his. First baseman Dale Long became the first player to hit a homerun in eight consecutive games while playing for the Pirates in 1956. He tied for second on the team with 14 dingers. Third baseman Alvin Dark won the Rookie of the Year award in 1948 and would later manage the Oakland A’s to the 1974 title. He tied for second in the NL with 9 triples, but retired in 1960. Bobby Thomson hit 11 shots in 1959, but he is, of course, most famous for the “Shot Heard Round The World” while a member of the Giants in 1951. He also would retire in 1960. Finally, 1959 saw the debut of future Hall of Famer Billy Williams.

The 1959 pitching staff was mediocre, at best. However, it did feature two of the top relievers of the National League – lefty Bill Henry and All-Star Don Elston. The pair tied for the league lead with 65 appearances apiece. They also inspired then Chicago sportswriter Jerome Holtzman to work out the formula for the statistic we now call a save.

Team Capsule: 1920 Cleveland Indians

The great pennant race of the American League in 1920 was a convergence of two eras and three teams. On one side was Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Chicago White Sox representing the “deadball” era. On the other were the New York Yankees and their recently-acquired slugger, “lively ball” representative Babe Ruth. In between were the Cleveland Indians. By season’s end, the 1919 World Series scandal broke wide open and Chicago faded to Black. New York was on the cusp of unprecedented success, but it was the Indians left standing. However, success came at a tragic price.

Hall of Fame spitballer Stan Covaleski fronted a pitching staff that finished second in the league in runs allowed. He led the American League in strikeouts with 133, finished second with a 2.49 ERA and third with 24 victories. In addition, righties Jim Bagby and Ray Caldwell each posted career high victory totals.

Offensively, the team was led by Hall of Fame center fielder Tris Speaker who was in his first full season as the team’s player-manager. The Grey Eagle’s name was all over the leaderboards including a league best 50 doubles. Third baseman Larry Gardner drove across a team leading 118 runs, while right fielder Elmer Smith added a career high 103 RBI. After Speaker, the guy doing the most scoring was shortstop Ray Chapman.

On August 16 in the Polo Grounds, Chapman stepped up to the plate versus Yankees hard throwing submariner Carl Mays. Chappie was crowding the plate as usual when Mays’ pitch struck him in the temple. He collapsed. After getting to his feet he began to walk off the field and made it to second base before collapsing for good. 12 hours later, he was dead.

A reeling Indians squad lost seven of their next nine to fall three and a half games out of first. But they turned it around thanks in part to Chapman’s replacement, future Hall of Famer Joe Sewell. By September 16 they were in a first place tie with New York where they would stay until season’s end. Although, they didn’t clinch until the second to last game when Bagby nabbed his league best 31st win.

The fall classic was against the Brooklyn Robins. After splitting the first four games in which Stan Covaleski had 2 wins, Game 5 proved to be a unique game of World Series firsts. In the bottom of inning one, Elmer Smith launched the first grand slam. In the fourth, Jim Bagby became the first pitcher to hit a homerun. Then the fifth inning came. With runners on first and second and no outs, second baseman Bill Wambsganss caught a sharp liner to his right. He stepped on second and tagged the runner coming from first for the first and only unassisted triple play in Series history. Covaleski’s third win in Game 7 propelled the Indians to another first… a World Series title.

Star needs to give Mellinger long-term deal now

By most accounts, Sam Mellinger is a likable guy. However, virtually everything I read by him elicits a reaction not unlike the one that follows. Thanks for reading.

Sam Mellinger did not get a long-term contract last week. Instead, he will slog through another work day providing facile observations and getting in touch with his feelings.

Right now, today, is the best environment the Kansas City Star will have to sign their reigning commentator of the year to a long-term deal. And right now, today, is the best environment Mellinger will have to ensure that women know how in tune with his emotions he is.

In other words: Get this done.

Like, now.

There are reasons that the Star is the best place for Mellinger, you know. His relationship with his editor is pure and genuine. He credits the long history of great sportswriting at the Star. He writes and tweets a lot.

Journalism is all about the writers and if this deal doesn’t get done—if Mellinger follows Joe Posnanski and Jason Whitlock out the door—it falls back on ownership.

The Star must operate differently than many papers. This is a small market, small money, and barring an enormous boost in readership and advertising revenue, it’s hard to see the Star ever being a major journalistic force again or, to be honest, being legitimately criticized for not being a major journalistic force.

It’s just that this situation is different. There are times to be frugal, times to plan for the future, and times to write a check.

This is the time to write a check.

When will the Star have more reasons and more ability to pay one of their homegrown to stay?

They have Dutton, Dodd, Paylor, and Judge—the most important Royals’ writers—cheaper than they’ll ever be. They saved money when Posnanski and Whitlock left. Some of that savings has gone to line the executives’ pockets, but not all of it.

If anything, this is that rare time when a newspaper would be wise to frontload a long-term contract for one of its columnists.

To the extent that Mellinger could be paid the same as, say, Monte Poole at the San Jose Mercury News, it might be somehow relevant. A good guess for a contract that would be fair to both sides might be a four year supply of Mountain Dew and Cheetoes.

Whatever the reward, getting something done makes too much sense to both newspaper and writer. Mellinger talks openly about appreciating the opportunity he has to write for the Star. His family is around here. And he likes the Bar-B-Que. Money is always the most important thing, but this other stuff matters, too.

It would be silly to discount the sentimentality involved here. Conceivably, if there were a thematic, emotional link between Mellinger and his boss, it would force the Star to think harder about signing him.

For the Star, the vision all along has focused on Mellinger and Bob Dutton first, then building around them. They have that opportunity now, and it’s one that doesn’t come around often.

Signing Mellinger for four years means keeping a talented core of writers together long enough to see what they can do with Rustin Dodd—by far the most talented of the bunch—in his prime.

The Star has seen immense talent leave its ranks. But it seems they are trying to hold on to what they have now.

So if the Star can’t sign Mellinger, there’s no reason to take them seriously with the others. That matters as much now as ever before with what the Star is doing and still hopes to do.

Team Capsule: 1977 Phillies

Is there  a word for self-plagiarism? I wrote this team capsule for the SportingNews.com Strat-O-Matic All-Time Greats II game. I am not paid by SportingNews.com or Strat-O-Matic. I am not against getting paid by SportingNews.com or Strat-O-Matic. Thank you for reading.

***

From their inception in 1883 to 1975, The Philadelphia Phillies had all of two post-season appearances. For most of their existence, the Phils were looking up in the standings at their cross-state rivals, the Pirates. Their fortunes began to change, however, in 1972 when they traded for a mercurial left handed pitcher named Steve Carlton and a rookie third baseman debuted by the name of Mike Schmidt. Carlton won his first Cy Young award as Schmidt hit .196. They would both become first ballot Hall of Famers.By 1977 the City of Brotherly Love featured one of the best teams in the National League. The winningest stretch in franchise history included six playoff appearances, two World Series berths and one championship in the span of eight years.

The league’s best offense was powered by Schmidt with 38 homeruns and fellow All-Star Greg Luzinski with 39. The team could also play some defense. Schmidt and Garry Maddox were both in the midst of multi-year Gold Glove streaks. Fiery shortstop Larry Bowa and steady backstop Bob Boone also combined for 9 in their careers as the team finished tied for second in fielding percentage. It’s also worth mentioning that veteran pitcher Jim Kaat won the last of his 16 consecutive Gold Gloves in 1977.

The pitching staff boasted 4 hurlers with double digit victory totals. Carlton led the way with 23 followed by Larry Christenson (19). Veteran Jim Lonborg and twenty-two year old Randy Lerch contributed 11 and 10, respectively. The starters were backed up by a very effective bullpen. Gene Garber, Ron Reed, Warren Brusstar and Tug McGraw each posted ERAs below 3.00.

The team was sluggish getting out of the gate as they lost 6 of their first 7. On June 15, they were sitting at 31-28 and 8 games out of first when they traded for Cardinals outfielder Bake McBride. The team promptly won 16 of their next 20 to pull within 3 games of first. Then on August 3, the Phillies put on the gas, winning 13 in a row and 19 of 20 overall to take the division lead and never look back.

Despite winning game 1 of the NLCS against the Dodgers, the Phillies lost the series which included a heartbreaker in the fourth and deciding game. After the season, Steve Carlton was awarded his second of four Cy Youngs.