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.
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
|Rest of Team
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?
|Sánchez 2012 Projection
|Broxton 2012 Projection
|Rest of 2011 Team
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.