Saturday, December 7, 2013

The '69ers

The 1969 MLB expansion class of the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals, Kansas City Royals, Seattle Pilots/Milwaukee Brewers, and San Diego Padres have wrapped up their respective 45th seasons in baseball. Only the Royals and Padres have weathered the years in the same city. The Pilots lasted all of one season in Seattle before relocating to Milwaukee, while the Expos spent 36 years in Montreal before shifting to DC for the last nine. As for all-time records, the Padres bring up the rear with a .464 winning percentage, and the other three clubs are bunched up between .478-.481:

Despite the futility of the last two decades of Royals baseball, they have always retained the best all-time record among the '69ers. The Nationals are starting to nip at their heels though.

More importantly, the Royals have also tasted by far the most playoff action and success:

WS=championships, Penn=World Series appearances, Poff=playoff appearances
So while things couldn't have been much worse in the recent past for the Royals, we are fortunate to have had the glory years of roughly '71-'89. The other three clubs have had good to great years, but nothing approaching the sustained success of those Royals teams.

When the four teams play each other, the Royals again come out in front with the best winning percentage. As the only team remaining in the American League, they don't see the other '69 babies too often anymore, but they really beat up on the Brewers when Milwaukee was still an AL town:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

1985 World Series Win Probability Added

Dane Iorg had two plate appearances in the '85 World Series, and they were both game enders. In the second game, he pinch-hit with two outs in the ninth and the Royals trailing 1-3. Their win probability was just 5% when he strode to the plate, and 0% after he flew out to right field. His second PA was a little more eventful. As you may have heard, Don Denkinger called Jorge Orta safe at first to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning in game six with the Royals trailing 0-1. Then Denkinger failed to catch an easy foul pop-up, then Denkinger gave up a single to Steve Balboni, and then Denkinger allowed a passed ball to allow the runners to move up to second and third. The win probability now actually stood slightly in KC's favor at 54%. Denkinger gave up a single to Iorg, two runs scored, and Iorg's hit was worth a swing in win probability of 46%. You can see what a monumental moment it was by the big red spike in the graph above.

Series MVP Bret Saberhagen comes out looking great thanks to his game three and game seven starts. WPA also gives Denny Jackson plenty of credit. Jackson pitched a good game one in a losing effort, and shut down St. Louis in an overlooked but crucial game five win to keep the series alive. Onix Concepcion got exactly zero plate appearances in the series, but gets a big WPA credit for his pinch-running in that game six ninth inning. He ran for Balboni, moved to second on a bunt, to third on a passed ball, and scored on Iorg's single.

Monday, November 4, 2013

1980 World Series Win Probability Added

I don't know why I do these things, but here is a look at the game-by-game accumulation of win probability added for all the Royals to have a PA or throw a pitch in the 1980 World Serious. Willie Aikens had one of the greatest World Series performances ever seen. (Compare David Ortiz's 0.94 WPA in this year's series.) Amos Otis was fantastic for KC too, but the rest of the team either stayed right around zero or struggled. The highest WPA in the series for Philadelphia was Del Unser's 0.59, well behind Aikens and Otis. But Aikens and Otis couldn't do it alone, and Bob Boone, Mike Schmidt, Bake McBride, and Tug McGraw all joined Unser in having pretty good series for the Phillies. Dan Quisenberry appeared in all six games, and was very up and down throughout, but ended up with the second worst WPA on the team thanks to rough outings in games two and five.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

2013 In Review: The Run Creators

Check out the above graph of the game-by-game accumulation of win probability added by the offense and defense and see if you can tell which one was better for the Royals last year! I'll give you a minute.

Lazy cliche spewers like to say pitching and defense win championships. People more interested in accuracy should try popularizing a new saying, something like, "the right combination of run creation and prevention will get you into the playoffs, where anything can happen." Doesn't have the same ring to it I guess. But the 2013 Royals were yet another example that you usually do have to score a little bit to be a playoff team. And another example that it's hard to score when you don't walk or hit dingers. Here's where the Royals offense ranked in the AL in a bunch of categories:

So pretty much all they did well was avoid strike outs, hit for average, and run the bases. The "little things" that don't contribute a whole lot to run scoring. They were mediocre at getting on base, and completely devoid of power, which led to an 11th place finish in run scoring. There were two stretches during the season when the offense completely disappeared that are glaringly obvious on the WPA chart at the top of this post. Between May 6 and June 4, the offense sputtered out 3.2 runs per game during a 6-22 stretch that effectively torpedoed the season. When the team got on a roll after the all-star break, it seemed as though they had dug themselves out of the hole they dug in May. But while the team deserves kudos for bouncing back the way they did, it's also true that there was never a strong chance for a playoff appearance after May. The offense had another terrible stretch from August 12-24 while their record fell from 62-54 to 64-64.

On the rare occasions that things were clicking on offense, it was Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Salvador Perez, and Alex Gordon carrying the load. But on the whole, they couldn't overcome the damage inflicted by out-machines Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Chris Getz, Elliott Johnson, and Jeff Francoeur. If the offense could have managed to just be league-average, which would have required them to score about 50 more runs, the Royals would have had a great shot at playing post-season baseball.

Finally, here's a look at how some Royals hit relative to their position. Instead of being compared to the whole league, this is OPS+ compared to the other AL players at respective positions:

The complaints about Butler from some in Royals-land never look sillier than when you directly compare him to average DH numbers. It's true that all he can do is hit. It's also true that there is a spot in the Royals lineup almost every game for someone to just hit. I personally like having a guy to put into that spot who is an excellent hitter. Call me crazy.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Alex Gordon 2013 Defense Highlights

For the third straight year, Alex Gordon played left field almost perfectly. Seemingly any ball to left that can be caught is, his decision making is impeccable, and Royals fans beg the opposition to run on him. For some reason, they still do, bless their little hearts. Here are his defensive highlights this year from

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

2013 BBA AL Awards Ballot

Connie Mack Award (manager): Joe Maddon - Tampa Bay Rays

Trying to choose the best manager is a strange thing. Just going with the biggest surprise team each year is kind of unsatisfying. Who knows how much credit the manager deserves for something like that? But after reading about Maddon in The Extra 2%, following him on Twitter, and getting the sense that he's the perfect blend of a long-time baseball insider who is willing to listen to, and occasionally employ, new school theories, I do know that he would be my first pick to manage my favorite team. He deserves the award this year for this tweet alone:

Willie Mays Award (rookie): Wil Myers - Tampa Bay Rays

No rookie had a truly great year in the AL, but that was mostly due to the Rays delayed call-up of Myers. He put up a 131 wRC+ and looked like he would have been a 4+ WAR player had he been given a full season.

Goose Gossage Award (reliever): Greg Holland - Kansas City Royals

There were two relievers in a class by themselves this year, and choosing between Holland and Koji Uehara is almost impossible. I admit I'm biased as a Royals fan who watched Holland dominate all season. But I think the numbers back up my selection ever so slightly as well. Uehara had a better ERA (1.09 to 1.21), making him a fine choice for this award. But Holland had the upper hand when it comes to peripherals, which take on plenty of significance for me in the small number of innings that relievers throw. Among other things, Holland's jaw dropping 40.4 K% and league-leading 41 shutdowns tip the scales ever so slightly in his favor for me.

Walter Johnson Award (pitcher): Max Scherzer - Detroit Tigers

Another extremely close call. A good case can be made for Scherzer, Chris Sale, Hisashi Iwakuma, Anibal Sanchez, and Yu Darvish. In the end, Sherzer put together the most solid all-around season, grading out as elite from both runs-allowed and fielder-independent perspectives. Scherzer was also more consistent than the others. I rate 26 of his 32 starts as being good to excellent, more than any of my other candidates. (Scherzer did face easier competition than most AL pitchers, but even adjusting for that, he kept them in check better than anyone else.)

Stan Musial Award (MVP): Mike Trout - Los Angeles Angels

I cannot believe Trout and Miguel Cabrera put on repeat performances of 2012, but here we are. We're all tired of talking about it, but it remains true that Cabrera is the marginally better hitter, but Trout does everything else so much better that Trout is the best in the game right now.

Friday, October 11, 2013

1961 KC A's Letter Regarding Segregated Spring Training Housing

A rather interesting A's artifact from Goldin Auctions. The letterhead alone is pretty great. But the content of the letter is a stark reminder that segregation was still going on in some parts of the country as late as 1961. The A's moved to Kansas City in 1955, and were integrated from the start. That doesn't mean they didn't come face to face with race-related issues, whether it be spring training facilities or an on-field brawl that pitted white vs. black kids after a 1956 game in KC

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

2011-13 fWAR All-Stars

Here's a look at what a team made up of the best players judged by fWAR over the last three seasons might look like. For all the spots except the bench, it's a strictly objective measure of who has the highest fWAR by a player with significant time at each position. I have to use a little subjectivity to put together a sensible bench. The second best catcher by fWAR is obvious, McCutchen as the fourth outfielder is obvious, but then I tried to round it out with super-utility man Zobrist, the second best shortstop in Reyes, and a big bat who can also play the field in Beltre. This leaves off some guys with higher fWAR (most notably Dustin Pedroia and his 17.4 fWAR) just because they don't fit into what I view as the most typical bench construction.

Of course Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera are tied in fWAR over the last three seasons. Trout barely played in 2011 though, so...yeah.

There is surprisingly little change from the 2010-12 team. Among the position players, Trout is the only new name. He took Josh Hamilton's spot. In the starting rotation, Clayton Kershaw replacing Roy Halladay was the only change. There's a little more turnover in the bullpen: Greg Holland, Koji Uehara, Kenley Jansen, and Aroldis Chapman are in, while Sean Marshall, Matt Belisle, Matt Thornton, and Rafael Betancourt are out.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

In A Small Way, The 2013 Royals Were A Repeat Of 1985

Looked at from a certain angle, the 2013 Royals team was a dead ringer for the slightly more lauded 1985 squad. The above graphic charts every Royals team by run prevention and run scoring as compared to that season's AL average. (The actual formula is (RunsPerGame / ALavgRunsPerGame)*100.) Lower is better for run prevention, higher for run scoring. As you can see, 2013 and 1985 are right on top of each other, and are the two most run-preventingest teams in Royals history. A closer look at the similarities:

Pythagoras would tell you the 2013 team was actually a game better. Here, I'll let him tell you:

Thanks P.

Had the 2013 offense been just league average, Pythagoras would have put their record at 93-69, also known as the Detroit Tigers AL Central winning record.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Royals In Monarchs Duds: August 24, 2013

The Royals held their (mostly) annual Salute to the Negro Leagues last night, and celebrated by wearing the uniforms of the 1942 Kansas City Monarchs and supplying the opposing Washington Nationals with the threads of the '42 Homestead Grays. I appreciate both teams wearing uniforms from the same year, I guess because it allows the imagination to flow back to specific games and personalities. And it would be hard to beat the '42 Monarchs and Grays for excitement and personalities. That year's squad may have been the greatest of many great Monarchs teams, but the Grays had their number in the regular season. That made the Monarchs the underdog heading into the World Series between the two teams, but the Monarchs rose to the challenge and swept the Series in four games--not counting the game in Kansas City when the Grays brought in some ringers, won, but had the game nullified by the league after the Monarchs protested. Satchel Paige pitched in every game for KC, and added to his legend by walking the bases loaded to get to, and strike out, Josh Gibson. (You can read a longer account I wrote of the '42 Monarchs season here.)

Harper & Hosmer

The 2013 Royals and Nationals have been pretty underwhelming, but at least they looked great for this game. Nerds like me notice little things different about the recreations. For instance, the Royals didn't have stripes on their socks, nor did they have numerals on the left, front hip of the pants like the Monarchs did. And, as usual, the bright blue Royals batting helmets and shoes were a little jarring to the look. And unfortunately a few players chose to look like complete doofuses by going with the pajama pants look and not showing any sock at all, something that would have been mercifully unthinkable in 1942. But the overall effect was there, and it was a nice distraction to another awful game by KC as they dropped their seventh straight.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

1942 Kansas City Call Calls Out The Blues For Segregating Ruppert Stadium Fans

May 22, 1942 Kansas City Call
This photo spread shows fans attending the 1942 Kansas City Monarchs home opener. The arrows point out white fans sitting peacefully in the integrated seating. The caption reprimands Ruppert (later Municipal) Stadium management for segregating the very same stands at KC Blues games:
TRUTH IS THE LIGHT- These candid shots, made at Ruppert stadium during the Kansas City Monarchs-Memphis Red Sox game, which opened the Negro season in Kansas City, Sunday afternoon, May 17, prove that white baseball fans DO sit beside, in front of, and behind Negro fans; prove that the mixed group of fans enjoy the game without starting a race riot, yes, right here in Kansas City. These shots prove, among other things, that when a ball game is in process, the fans center their attention on the game and NOT on WHO sits beside, behind, or in front of who- Why, then, does the Ruppert stadium management segregate Negroes who must buy a GENERAL ADMISSION ticket? The white fans do not raise the howl. Instead, it is the orange clad ushers who say in a most belligerent manner, "You can't sit there" to Negroes when they are sitting, and quite comfortably, too. White fans laugh at the antics of the ushers trying to get Negroes out of the grandstand. Truth is a bitter pill for SOME FOLK, but these pictures sure force the issue. The truth, pure and simple, is that it is the Ruppert stadium management, not the fans, who bring up and enforce segregation when the Blues play. Why would a white fan sit beside, behind and in front of a Negro one day and refuse to do the same thing another day? These pictures prove that nothing happens when it is done, so why does the management continue "carrying the ghost"?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Two Great Royals Starts In One Day

I greatly enjoyed watching Danny Duffy & James Shields have back-to-back great starts in a split doubleheader in Detroit earlier this month, and it made me wonder about other double whammy starts in team history. I used a game score of 65 as the arbitrary cut-off for an excellent start, and found the below 12 instances when both Royals starters reached that mark in a doubleheader. Duffy (70) and Shields (68) combined for the sixth best average game score out of the 12 twin bills in question.

Over the first eight Royals seasons (1969-77), there were nine doubleheaders in which both KC starters were good enough for a 65+ game score. Then as doubleheaders became a rarity, so of course did doubleheaders with two excellent starts. It didn't happen again until 1990 when Kevin Appier and Luis Aquino turned the trick, then not again until 2001 with the legendary duo of Jeff Suppan and Chris George. That was the last time until Duffy & Shields, Inc. this season.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Pic Dump IV

An assortment of KC baseball images sourced mostly from eBay listings and the Kansas City Baseball Historical Society's Facebook page, where people regularly post great photos.

1960 A's Opening Day

Lou Gehrig & Babe Ruth present a refrigerator to Children's Mercy Hospital, and the scorecard for the benefit game they played in KC

Bo Jackson & Kurt Stillwell can't come up with the ball, ca. 1988-90

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Assessing The Royals General Managers

Cedric Tallis

196974 • 460-503 (.478)
2 winning seasons 0 playoff appearances

10+ rWAR acquisitions (13): Paul Splittorff, Dick Drago, Al Fitzmorris, Frank White, Al Cowens, Amos Otis, Freddie Patek, John Mayberry, Hal McRae, George Brett, Steve Busby, Dennis Leonard, Willie Wilson

Wow. That list of acquisitions speaks for itself. The original GM put together a 1969 team that finished well ahead of the other three expansion babies (Expos, Pilots, Padres), and had a winning team in just his third year on the job. His players came from a nice mix of drafts and one-sided trades. He laid the talented foundation that made the Royals a model franchise for a quarter century. Why Ewing Kauffman let him go I do not know. (Click here for Steve Treder's more in-depth review of Tallis's time with KC.)

Joe Burke

197581 607-468 (.565)
6 winning seasons • 5 playoff appearances

10+ rWAR acquisitions (5): Dan Quisenberry, Larry Gura, Darrell Porter, Bud Black, Mark Gubicza

Burke deserves plenty of credit for having the highest winning percentage among Royals GMs, a stunning five playoff appearances, and the 1980 AL pennant. But he was also riding on Tallis's coat tails to some extent. With some notable exceptions, the nucleus of those great teams was made up of Tallis guys. Still, Burke had to fill in plenty of pieces, and he did so well enough. His drafts were pretty dreadful however, with Mark Gubicza being his only real hit. (He also drafted David Cone in '81, but it was only after the re-acquisition of Cone in the '90s that the Royals got value out of him.)

John Schuerholz

1982—90 • 754-702 (.518)
6 winning seasons • 2 playoff appearances

10+ rWAR acquisitions (10): Bret Saberhagen, Charlie Leibrandt, Kevin Seitzer, Danny Tartabull, Mike Macfarlane, Tom Gordon, Steve Farr, Jeff Montgomery, Danny Jackson, Kevin Appier

Pitching, pitching, and more pitching. Remarkably, Schuerholz acquired seven of the top 20 rWAR pitchers in team history, including the top two in Appier and Saberhagen. How a GM who seemingly knew pitching so well also made the horrendous David Cone trade is a puzzle. But Schuerholz's overall results are impressive, obviously highlighted by the team's lone championship. 

Herk Robinson

1991—2000 • 727-824 (.469)
3 winning seasons • 0 playoff appearances

10+ rWAR acquisitions (8): David Cone, Joe Randa, Mike Sweeney, Johnny Damon, Jose Rosado, Jeff Suppan, Carlos Beltran, David DeJesus

Robinson's tenure bridges the gap from the team's continued respectability through Kauffman's death in '93/the '94 strike and the wheels falling off ever since. Robinson was unable to continue his three predecessors' success in stocking the team with elite pitching talent. He did acquire some offensive help, but in the end, wasn't able to overcome the challenges of the ownership mess after Kauffman's death.

Allard Baird

2001—06 • 386-586 (.397)
1 winning season • 0 playoff appearances

10+ rWAR acquisitions (3): Zack Greinke, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon

And things get really ugly. But it's difficult to know how to separate the blame between Baird and ownership. New owner David Glass tied Baird's hands by offering no support, and possibly even direct meddling with baseball decisions. Baird had an impossible task, but at least managed one fluke winning season that gave the fans a thrill late into 2003. That the savvy Red Sox front office scooped him up right away, and continues to employ him, suggests Baird did/does have potential as a GM, if only given some resources to work with.

Dayton Moore

2007—13 • 505-629 (.445)
1 winning season • 0 playoff appearances

10+ rWAR acquisitions (3): Gil Meche, Joakim Soria, Salvador Perez

Moore has operated under the same owner as Baird, but under completely different circumstances. To Moore's credit, he convinced Glass to spend freely on scouting and signing promising amateurs. And Moore did put together a universally lauded collection of talent in the minors. And the book is still being written on many of Moore's acquisitions, but we are past the point when his players should be bearing fruit in the form of winning major league games. Other GMs have done more, quicker, with less than Moore has had to work with. Amassing minor league talent is but one part of a GM's task, but it seems to be the extent of Moore's abilities. His prospects have not been developed well or quickly enough, and they have not been augmented by the necessary astute moves at the major league level. It took seven full seasons before a Royals team merely won more than they lost under Moore's leadership. He has been given more than enough time and resources to put the Royals back in the post-season. 

Winning percentages by year. Yellow dots indicate playoff appearances.

Monday, July 15, 2013

AL Central At The Break

Our Royals stumble into the All-Star break with a five game losing streak and a .7% chance of making the playoffs according to Baseball Prospectus. Dreams of meaningful second half baseball are slipping away. Here is a look at some of the stats that explain how we got here.

This is my trusty chart comparing the starting pitching in the division. On one hand, the Royals are much improved in this area. On the other hand, they are still barely mediocre. Getting a quality start 58% of the time is impressive. At last year's break, that number was 36%. The rotation has put the team in position to win more often than not, but the offense and bullpen haven't taken advantage. The staff is on pace to eclipse Dayton Moore's mostly meaningless goal of throwing 1,000 innings.

Here are the top 15 starters in the division by WAR. I've averaged Fangraphs' FIP-based WAR and Baseball Reference's runs allowed-based WAR.

Kind of depressing that James Shields would be the fourth best starter for Detroit by this measure.

And now this chart!

Collins and Herrera give me a sad.

Here are the most effective pitch types in the division (by Fangraphs pitch type values):

Fastball: Max Scherzer 17.7 runs above average
Slider: Justin Masterson 14.7 RAA
Curve: James Shields 3.9 RAA
Changeup: Chris Sale 9.0 RAA

Turning to the batsmen, here are the most productive in the division so far:

Miguel Cabrera: kind of good? Tigers all up in the top of this chart too. You know how awesome Alex Gordon is? There are four Tigers above him. Encouraging to see Hosmer's name though.

And also this chart!
Oh Moose. That is the lowest WPA for a batter in all of MLB, and if you include pitchers, only Joe Blanton of the Angels has hurt his team's chances of winning more than Moustakas. Prospects will break your heart.

In conclusion, all of the teams in the division not named Tigers don't really need to bother showing up for the rest of the year.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Alternative Starting Pitcher Records At The Break

The traditional pitcher win/loss record does not exist anymore as far as I'm concerned, but I do enjoy tracking some alternative records using some more telling stats. Below are what Royals pitchers records look like using win probability added, game score, and quality starts as measures.

Win Probability Added - A win for every start with positive WPA.

Shields 14-6

Santana 9-9

Guthrie 9-10

Davis 8-10

Mendoza 6-9

Chen 1-0

Smith 0-1

Total       47-45

Game Score - A win for every start with a game score of 51+.








Total       53-39

Quality Start - A win for every quality start.








Total       53-39

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The 1975 Topps Harmon Killebrew That Should Have Been

It bugs me a little that Topps neglected to include a Harmon Killebrew Royals card in the 1975 set, so when the Royals posted a great shot of him on their Facebook page today, I knew what I had to do.