Friday, October 24, 2014

6 comments The Kansas City Royals Are Making Sportswriters Go Insane and Write Crazy Things

I'm not sure if you have heard, but the Royals are in the World Series. I know, anyone who follows sports probably could have easily missed this story, but it's a factual one. Anyone can read the plethora of Royals stories out there which try so hard to create narratives and take disconnected events and tie them into a larger story. You can read Jason Whitlock say "Sure, Ned Yost sucks" but that means he's the perfect manager for this team. You can read other sportswriters point out that Yost is the answer to prayers from the anti-Saber crowd. But there are also slightly crazier articles that try to point out exactly which team this 2014 Royals team reminds the author of. Again, we are creating narratives here, so the mere suggestion the Royals were six outs away of not winning the Wild Card game is not acceptable. Only comparisons to previous World Series-winning teams and calling the Royals a team of destiny are accepted.

Tracy Ringolsby provides the most embarrassing headline. It says, I kid you not, "Like '85 Champs, Royals Know How to Win." This is essentially a "fuck it" headline. He can't explain why the team is winning, so fuck it, he'll just say the Royals know how to win games. When in doubt without an explanation, just make something up.

It turns out this squad has a lot in common with the Royals team from 29 years ago, which apparently was an untalented team who just "knew how to win" as well.

Twenty-nine years later, the Kansas City Royals have returned to the World Series. Shows how fickle baseball can be.

Or how bad the Royals have been in the interim. The 2014 postseason was the first postseason in over two decades where either the Yankees, Red Sox and Braves weren't represented. So baseball is fickle, but then not really fickle.

When the Royals hoisted that World Series championship trophy back in 1985, it was the seventh postseason appearance in 10 years. It wasn't that those Royals were dominating. They simply knew how to win.

There's no such thing as "knowing how to win." There is such a thing called "Having a good team and using the players on that team to win games." Saying a team "knows how to win" is probably the least analytical, most brain-dead way possible to explain a team's success.

It showed that postseason. The Royals rallied from 3-1 deficits in both the American League Championship Series, against the Blue Jays, and the World Series, against the Cardinals, becoming the first team to lose the first two games at home and rally to become World Series champions.

Did the Royals just forget how to win for a few games, then remember again, just in time to win the series? After all, if the 1985 Royals knew how to win then why didn't they put this knowledge to work before going down 3-1? Let me guess, they just wanted a challenge?

What is known is after Jorge Orta was called safe at first base, Steve Balboni hit a foul pop up that Cardinals first baseman Jack Clark watched drop to the ground. Balboni took advantage of the gift and eventually singled, moving Orta to second. After Jim Sundberg's sacrifice-bunt attempt was turned into a force of Orta at third,

Small-ball fail! This is a blatant small-ball fail!

The Royals had set the stage for the World Series in the ALCS. After losing the first two games at Toronto, they pulled out a 6-5 victory in Game 3, which became known as the game George Brett refused to lose.

This is as opposed to Games 1 and 2 which George Brett reluctantly conceded he wouldn't mind losing. After all, he knows how to win, so he can just do that anytime he wants.

Brett homered in the first for a 1-0 lead. He doubled and scored on a White sacrifice fly in the fourth for a 2-0 lead. Brett belted a two-run homer in the sixth to tie the game at 5. He hit a leadoff single in the eighth and then scored the game-winning run on a Balboni single.

"Refused to lose" = "Had a great night hitting the baseball"

Also, if George Brett was part of a Royals team that knew how to win, why hasn't he passed this knowledge down to the current Royals team prior to this year? This seems like really, really important information that he would want to pass on as quickly as possible to Royals teams for generations to come.

On a team short with power, Balboni, who was acquired from the Yankees, had one assignment -- swing hard and hit home runs. The 36 home runs Balboni hit in 1985 are still the franchise record.

Since these two Royals teams are so similar, who is the Balboni of the current Royals team? I mean, after all, these two teams are mirror images of each other because they both know how to win. I know how to win too. Score more runs than the opposing team.

"If we are within three games by Sept. 1, we are the division champions," McRae had said in late July.


"We know how to play in September, they don't," McRae said in reference to other AL West teams.

Much like the current Royals team knows how to play in October and other teams don't. Make moves that strategically look stupid, but count on the opposing team to screw up or just figure out how to win and score runs. Just figure it out. It can't be that hard.

Steve Farr was called up from Triple-A the day after a two-day August strike. He said he realized things were different with Kansas City the first game he was in uniform.

In the ninth inning, Detroit's Johnny Grubb doubled off Saberhagen to right-center.

"Willie [Wilson] has to catch that," Farr remembers muttering in the bullpen.

"Sabes has to finish off that pitch," said Quisenberry.

"The point was made," said Farr. "This wasn't about what any one player did. This was about what we did."

And that's how to win. I have no idea how the 2014 Royals are like the 1985 Royals and I suspect Tracy Ringolsby doesn't either. It sure made for a good headline when he had no other clue what to write about.

Their job was to win, no matter what the obstacle.

The Royals handled their job well.

And that's how to win. Just win. Just like the current Royals team is doing. There's no secret, know your job and go do it. Most other MLB teams don't know it's their job to win.

Terence Moore doesn't think the Royals look like the 1985 Royals at all. He thinks the Royals look like the 1969 Miracle Mets. I think Ringoslby and Moore should have a hyperbole-off to see which person is making the correct comparison. Because obviously the Royals can't just be the 2014 Royals, they have to be directly comparable to a baseball team from the past.

You watch the Royals shock reality these days, and you recall 45 years ago, when America featured everything from the dramatic to the improbable.

Yes, I do. I remember those days when I was negative years old very fondly. Back then, I didn't have to read articles forcing a comparison of one sports team to another.

"You had the Vietnam War and protesters everywhere, and the economy was booming," Ron Swoboda said, sounding like the definitive voice for 1969 over the phone from his home in New Orleans. "There was the aftermath of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. and the ongoing Civil Rights movement. You had Woodstock, and you even had a man walking on the moon."

Swoboda chuckled, and then he added, "You know what? During that time, when it seemed as if anything was possible, probably the longest shot was the Mets winning the World Series, so we did that."

I'm chuckling too because this is exactly how it is now. It's like 1969 all over again, minus all of those specific events happening and the fact the Royals making the World Series wasn't exactly a miracle since they were an ever-improving team who specifically made moves to contend for a title over the next couple of years.

There was no Wild Card Game or League Division Series back then. Otherwise, the Mets would have dominated them, too. Just like these Royals, who are the 21st century version of those Mets.

Did the 1969 Mets just know how to win games? If so, then maybe the 1985 Royals were like the 1969 Mets and the 2014 Royals are just like the 1985 Royals who are just like the 1969 Mets. It's time to get these team comparison's correct for narrative's sake. How can the 2014 Royals be the 1969 Mets AND the 1985 Royals if the 1969 Mets didn't just know how to win? IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE!

"It was real obvious they were packing the organization with quality young players, so this is not an accident," Swoboda said. 

So, it wasn't a miracle? It was a conspicuous effort by the Royals to put a quality team on the field? I don't get it, I thought the Royals' success was a miracle just like the 1969 Mets was a miracle.

"Most of those guys were homegrown, and for the most part, the Mets were homegrown."

Were the 1985 Royals homegrown? I need to know which World Series winning team the 2014 Royals are definitely exactly like. I can't sleep until I know.

"They have that whiff of destiny about them," Swoboda said,

You sure that's not champagne or just sweat? I've smelled destiny before and destiny smells an awful lot like the 2004 Anaheim Angels who didn't know how to win, so they weren't like the Royals, and weren't a miracle team like the 1969 Mets.

In fact, the Royals have won four times in extra innings during this postseason. They've also taken the lead three times after the ninth with home runs despite finishing the regular season last in the Major Leagues in homers.

See, it's not destiny because the Royals know how to win games...just like the 1985 Royals just knew how to win games. I feel like Tracy Ringolsby and Terence Moore need to compare notes and determine which narrative is correct. Are the 2014 Royals a team of destiny or just a team that knows to win? Destiny doesn't know how to win and knowing how to win involves just doing your job, with no involvement from destiny. Let's keep the stories straight at

"Their outfield is spectacular," Swoboda said. "Alex Gordon was a guy who was failing in the infield, and then he goes to the outfield and wins [three] Gold Gloves. Jarrod Dyson is a speedster in center field, and [Lorenzo] Cain is a legitimate center fielder who goes to right field and makes really good plays. 

Well, I mean they are destined to play well in the outfield so talent doesn't really matter does it?

"It was a different time back then, when starters such as Seaver, [Jerry] Koosman and [Gary] Gentry were out to finish games," Swoboda said. "The bullpen was where you went when you had to.

This is as opposed to modern managers who go to the bullpen because they get bored of seeing their starter on the mound dominating? The bullpen is still where a manager goes when he has to, it's just managers feel they have to go to the bullpen earlier than they used to.

Now the bullpen is where you go when you hit the seventh inning, with the setup guy for the setup guy, then the setup guy and then the closer."

But again, the 2014 Royals are the exact same as the 1969 Mets. Why do I get the feeling Terence Moore put out a call to 10-15 retired players from World Series-winning teams and just decided to compare the 2014 Royals to whichever team had a retired player respond to his phone call first?

Swoboda laughed, saying, "You have to pick the Royals, but I tell you what. [The Giants] will be ready for them, because what's been delightful for me to watch during these playoffs is that the intensity and the emotion have been so legitimate and absolutely authentic from all of these teams. But nobody has shown all of that more than the Kansas City Royals. That's why it's going to be hard to take destiny from them."

Plus the Royals know how to win. The Giants may have won two World Series titles recently, but they don't have destiny and they don't know how to win.

Not hard . . . impossible.

Well, if these Royals really are those Mets.

Even if the Royals win the World Series, they aren't the 1969 Mets. Stop comparing the Royals to historic teams out of pure laziness because you don't know how to analyze and explain a team's success. Crazy things happen in the playoffs and the Royals were six outs away from losing the Wild Card game, so maybe they aren't a team of destiny nor do they "know how to win." Maybe they are just on a hot streak. I know, I know, there has to be a running thread of commonality because sportswriters can't accept the randomness of the universe.

Sean Gregory of "Time" has decided that the Kansas City Royals are the future of baseball. Well then. At least he isn't overreacting to their World Series run or anything by mistaking one team's success during a given season as an example of a larger trend. Obviously the Royals can't just be successful this season. It has to mean something larger than just that.

Sure, the Kansas City Royals are an intriguing tale for the typical rags-to-riches reasons. A team that hasn’t made a post-season appearance in 29 years becomes the first team in baseball history to win its first eight games in the playoffs.

Sure, this would ordinarily be enough to gain the public's attention and allow them to enjoy the Royals' run to the World Series. But it's not enough for Sean Gregory. There has to be more. More! What do these eight games mean in the larger context of the direction baseball is moving? Nothing? Unacceptable, these eight games have to mean something.

But the Royals are more than just an enchanting small-market success story. They represent the changing game of baseball.

Of course they do. Sure, they were six outs away from losing the Wild Card game and baseball would forever be unchanged by the Royals and the narrative might go "Home runs are back!" if the Orioles managed to make the World Series. But that didn't happen, so obviously the Royals are changing the game of baseball. It's the only way to explain their success this season, while also blatantly ignoring that if the A's put the Royals away in the Wild Card game then the game of baseball would forever be unchanged. It's a thin line between a revolution and no revolution. It's almost like Sean Gregory is creating stories where there isn't one.

In the post-steroid era, the game is going through a remarkable transition. Power is out. Pitching, speed and defense are in.

Other MLB teams have won the World Series with good defense and great pitching. But yeah, this is the first season a team could win games by pitching really well and turning opponents batted balls into outs. Very astute.

Teams scored 4.07 runs per game during the 2014 regular season, according to stats site–the lowest total in 33 years. Runs-per-game are down 15% since 2007, and off 21% from their steroid-era high of 5.14 in 2000. Players are striking out 7.7 times per game, an all-time record, breaking the prior high of 7.55 set last season. In fact, in each of the past seven seasons, baseball set a new all-time high for strikeouts per game.

Three of the top 15 teams in the majors in strikeouts made the playoffs. Obviously striking out isn't a good thing and I don't think any hitting coach would advocate striking out. Striking out isn't the death-knell for scoring runs that Sean Gregory seems to believe it is though.

Enter the Royals. The Royals had the fewest home runs in the majors this past season, with 95.

The Royals were last in strikeouts and also last in walks. So they didn't strikeout, but they didn't walk either. They were ready to hit. 8 of the 10 playoff teams were in the Top 18 in home runs this year. The only teams that weren't were the Cardinals and the Royals. So I'm entirely sure not hitting home runs is a trend that is going to be repeated by successful teams.

But no team had more stolen bases,

True, but what's interesting is the teams that round up the Top 10 in stolen bases include the Dodgers, Reds, Astros, Yankees, Phillies, Tigers, Rangers, Indians, and Pirates. The majority of those teams didn't make the playoffs. Again, I won't say stolen bases aren't important, but Sean Gregory is looking for trends that don't exist. He's seeing the Royals didn't hit home runs and stole bases and figures that's what is important in baseball now. It may not be true. The Giants were 29th in the majors in stolen bases and the Cardinals were 28th. Baltimore was 30th. So of the four teams in the ALCS and NLCS, the Royals were a clear outlier in terms of stealing bases.

Sean Gregory is cherry-picking the information he chooses to present in an effort to create a narrative about how baseball has totally changed. He's reverse-engineering the Royals' success into a greater narrative. Rather than seeing the Royals as a team that took a certain strategy to the World Series, he is ignoring how other MLB teams succeeded during the season and points to the Royals' strategy as the new trend in baseball. The Giants didn't steal bases and were middle-of-the-pack in home runs, strikeouts and walks. Maybe the new way to win in the majors is to not steal bases and be middle-of-the-pack in most offensive categories.

The last big-league club to reach the World Series while finishing last in home runs, but first in swipes, was the 1987 St. Louis Cardinals. Those Cardinals teams of the 1980s played an exciting brand of “small-ball” throughout the decade: the ’82 Cards finished second in steals, and last in home runs, and won it all

But obviously it's a huge, new trend and not just an example of a team making it to the World Series without hitting a lot of home runs, while stealing a lot of bases.

For the Royals, that speed pays off in the field too. According to, Kansas City players collectively finished with the highest Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) – an advanced metric that measures defensive value – in the majors.

Oh sure, people embrace advanced statistics like UZR when it goes to help prove the furthering of silly narratives.

Kansas City’s outfield, with three-time Gold Glove winner Alex Gordon in left, Lorenzo Cain in center, and defensive replacement Jarrod Dyson shoring up center field in the late innings (Cain then usually moves to right), have baseball analysts raving. “Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here,” wrote Sam Miller of Baseball Propectus. “We’re not just talking about a good outfield, or a great outfield. We’re talking about what one might decide to argue is the greatest defensive outfield of all time.”

This is part of the new formula for winning a World Series. Just put together one of the best defensive outfields of all time! Then find players who can run fast, don't strike out, and get on-base. Who would have thought this could work?

The Royals have found a winning formula. These days, if you swing for the fences, you’re more likely than ever to strike out.

Is this a factual statement? Is there really a correlation between striking out, swinging for home runs and then not scoring runs (which is what Sean Gregory is talking can't score if you strike out)? Here are the top 10 teams in home runs for 2014 (number of homers in parenthesis) and their ranking in strikeouts, then their ranking in runs scored:

1. Baltimore (211)- 11th, 8th
2. Colorado (186)- 12th, 3rd
3. Toronto (177)- 24th, 5th
4. Houston (163)- 2nd, 21st
5. Chicago Cubs (157)- 1st, 26th
6. Pittsburgh (156)- 18th, 10th
7. LA Angels (155)- 13th, 1st
8. Chicago White Sox (155)- 5th, 13th
9. Detroit (155)- 25th, 2nd,
10. Washington (152)- 9th, 9th

So of the MLB teams in the Top 10 in home runs, four of these teams are in the Top 10 in strikeouts, while seven of these teams are in the Top 10 in runs scored. In fact, of the Top 10 teams in home runs, only two of these teams are ranked below 13th in the majors in run scored. So hitting home runs is a great way to score runs and while teams who strike out a lot may tend to strike out more, it doesn't mean those teams are scoring fewer runs. Basically, the home run isn't dead and there's not definitively a new way to play baseball.

So just put the ball in play – Royals hitters have both the lowest strikeout rate in the majors, and the lowest walk rate – and take your chances with your legs. Steal bases to eke out those diminishing runs.

Right, this is how they win games. It doesn't mean that's the "new" way to win games or this is how every team will win games. It's simply how the Royals do it. Plus, like Tracy Ringolsby says, the Royals just know how to win games. That has to be factored in too.

Since today’s pitchers are better keeping balls in the park, if your opponent does make contact, make sure you have players who turn these balls into outs. (Like third baseman Mike Moustakas diving into the stands).

That's a great idea, but the key is to find players who can turn these balls into outs while also hitting the baseball well and helping the team score runs. This isn't a new thing. MLB teams have always looked for good defensive players who can also hit. It's called "finding good baseball players" and MLB teams try to find them every single year in the draft, free agency or through trade. 

Let the big-market New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels overpay for aging sluggers who will inevitably depreciate at the back-end of their ludicrous contracts (Alex Rodriguez, Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols).

Apparently Sean Gregory thinks not overpaying for declining players is the new inefficiency. Again, this isn't new.

Small-ball is cheap, and effective.

This year it is cheap and effective. Next year, the new hot trend in baseball may be something completely different. It's not especially smart to take the success of the Royals and believe it has started a new trend in baseball. If the Royals had lost in the Wild Card game then how effective and cheap would small-ball be then?

This is where the game is heading. The Royals just do it best.

This is where the game is heading, but just ignore how the other playoff teams scored runs and won games this year. It's stupid to think there is one way to win baseball games and the Royals winning with small-ball is the start of a larger trend. It's just a desperate attempt to explain the unexplainable and create a narrative on the back of the Royals' success. By the way, the Red Sox were 8th in the majors in strikeouts last season and 6th in home runs. Why wasn't the game of baseball headed towards teams who strikeout a lot and hit a lot of home runs having the most success after the Red Sox won the World Series last year?


Snarf said...

This kind of reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend during one of the Royals-O's games. Discussing Cain, he said, in full seriousness, "man, we should start trying to get some guys like him-fast and with power-in the organization!" I was shocked at the suggestion that all this time scouts on any team have been ignoring talented players with both power and speed.

Bengoodfella said...

Fast guys who can hit a baseball? Why haven't teams looked for that in the past? It's not a terribly dumb comment, but it is what teams want. Obviously a fast guy who can hit is better than a fast guy who can't hit. Nothing the Royals are doing is different, it's just they appear to be different because they lack homers.

Ericb said...

Some MLB team should add Tim Tebow to their coaching staff to teach them how to "just win." They would become unstoppable.

Bengoodfella said...

All he does is win, Eric. That's all he does.

Bengoodfella said...

I do have to admit that he isn't a terrible analyst. I think he has real potential. Very surprising to me.

Kansas City Royals said...

Twenty-nine years later, the Kansas City Royals have returned to the World Series. Shows how fickle baseball can be. Or how bad the Royals ...