By In Baseball

Royals vs. PECOTA


Let’s start with Bill Snyder. In 1989, when he became football coach at Kansas State, nobody thought that the Wildcats could win. The team has not won a game in more than two years. But that was just the start of the issue: Kansas State had never won with any regularity. The Wildcats had been to one bowl game in their entire history. One. It was the Independence Bowl. They lost. When Snyder got to the school, one of the first things he did was have the school take that Independence Bowl trophy out of the case and hide it somewhere. He didn’t want to celebrate THAT history.

There have been many stories – and there certainly could be another book or two – written about how Snyder turned things around at Kansas State. Some of it is obvious. He changed the mindset. He changed the culture. He changed the facilities. He changed the expectations. He changed the recruiting goals. He basically changed everything and slowly the team started winning, then winning some more, then – impossibly – becoming a national power. To me, it remains the greatest turnaround in the history of major American sports.

Something that miraculous doesn’t happen without two things: A little bit of luck and a little bit of innovation. Kansas State got some of both. When the Wildcats began their ascent in the Big 8 conference, there was an uncharacteristic dip happening at Oklahoma. Those were the Gary Gibbs, Howard Schnellenberger, John Blake years. Missouri was scuffling along without any real direction. Oklahoma State was the same. This was an unusual lull in Midwestern football, an opportunity for a team to emerge. Then when the Big 8 became the Big 12, a sleeping Texas team entered, Baylor was a wreck, Texas A&M was finding its way. And Kansas State could fill the void.

The innovations – well, Snyder (in my opinion) was early to understand the heavy passing direction college football was going, and he and his coaches recruited very fast defensive backs to counter that. For the first few years, Kansas State won with good defenses and great defensive backs. Then, he recruited an amazing talent named Michael Bishop, who was this big, strong, fast quarterback with a huge arm – he and coaches designed a special shotgun offense around him featuring all sorts of zone reads. The Wildcat formation that took over college football for a while is, most agree, named after Kansas State.

With some innovation and a shift in the college football paradigm, Kansas State and Bill Snyder did incredible things. But this is not a story about Bill Snyder or the Wildcats. It’s about the Kansas City Royals. As you no doubt know, the Royals have the best record in the American League and currently have an absurd 14 ½ game lead in the American League Central. There are still mathematical possibilities, but you would have to say the rest of the division is mostly dead.

On Tuesday, the Royals won their 73rd game of the season, which was a symbolic triumph. Before the season began, Baseball Prospectus’ famed PECOTA system projected the Royals to win 72 games. The projection was somewhat controversial at the time (at least in Kansas City) because the Royals had just won the pennant. There was this sense that PECOTA represented all those more human doubters who were mocking the Royals hard-earned success. Nobody likes being called a fluke. There is now much dancing on PECOTA’s failure.

But what interests me is why PECOTA got it so wrong. It’s a fantastic system, and it has often been strikingly accurate. But even now, PECOTA projects the Royals to go 21-22 the rest of the season. PECOTA just cannot believe in the Royals, even if it is named after Royal Bill Pecota. Why not?

Well, Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus exchanged emails with the Kansas City Stars Andy McCullough on this subject and explained it pretty well, I think. PECOTA, Miller wrote, seems to have a hard time valuing great bullpens, and it might have a hard time valuing great defense. Those are obviously two of the key reasons the Royals have played so well.

I suspect that’s EXACTLY why PECOTA (and other systems) missed on the Royals. The Royals are winning in a way that, not too long ago, was no way to win. It seems to me that the Royals success, like Bill Snyder’s success at Kansas State, but around a little bit of luck and little bit of innovation.

The luck part of my theory builds around this obvious fact: Baseball has fundamentally changed over the last few years. The steady elimination of steroids in the game is part of the reason. The effort for a more consistent (and slightly bigger) strike zone is part of the reason. The proliferation of strong-armed bullpens, with more and more pitchers throwing in the mid-to-high 90s, is part of the reason. The go-big-or-go-home hitting philosophy that emerged in the 1990s is part of the reason. Defensive shifts are part of the reason. We can keep going with this if you want …

… but the bottom line is we are back in the 1960s when it comes to the way pitching is dominating the game. Over the last three seasons, teams are averaging just 4.1 runs per game – that’s a full run down from where the game was in 2000. It’s the lowest three-year span of run-scoring since the run-drought of the early 1970s, which you might remember led directly to the addition of the designated hitter in the American League.

With scoring all around baseball down, the Royals were given an opportunity that just wasn’t there before. Part of my theory here is that big offensive eras make it very hard for small-market teams to compete. It is no coincidence, in my opinion, that from 1995 to 2007, when teams averaged 4.8 runs per game, the era was mostly dominated by high-payroll teams – the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Braves, the Angels and so on. Yes, a few small-market teams did win some (one of them, you might recall, had a book written about it) but winning cheap was hard. Offense reigned and offense is very expensive. Effective starting pitching was rare, and effective starting is very expensive.

Moneyball is one of my favorite books, and I think Billy Beane is fantastic, but you could make a simpler argument that the A’s won because they developed their own big hitters (Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez, Nick Swisher …) and great starting pitchers (Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Dan Haren, who came over for Mulder). When those guys priced out, the A’s started losing again.

In the late 2000s, offense began to slow down, and you began to see some new kinds of teams emerging. Tampa Bay, with a nothing payroll , began to win. The Giants, with a big payroll but a relatively star-free team, began to win World Series. And, of course, Dayton Moore and his Royals staff revived one of sports more moribund franchises.

Could they have done it if baseball had not fundamentally shifted to a low-scoring league? I don’t know but I would guess no. The Royals were never going to have guns to win a battle with the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Angels and so on.

But now, it’s not about guns … and that’s where the innovation part comes in. I believe the Royals, like Bill Snyder, were way ahead of most other teams when it came to understanding just how baseball would be played in 2015. To me it comes down to three things that PECOTA, I suspect, greatly undervalues.

1. The Royals created a bullpen that has multiple closers.

— For many years now, teams have been acutely aware of how many games they win when leading in the ninth inning. The number really hasn’t shifted much – it has hovered around 95% for many years. But that has not prevented teams from spending hundreds of millions of dollars on closers, just to get the one or two extra wins a mediocre closer might blow.

The Royals turned the idea on its head last year, using three different closers for the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. They won 95% of the games they led going into the seventh inning. This year, with the effective additions of Ryan Madson and Franklin Morales and Luke Hochevar, they have taken 53 leads into the SIXTH INNING and won 50 of them.

It’s a good thing to go 50-3 in games you lead entering the sixth inning. In the American League this year, teams win 82% of the games they lead going into the sixth. That is seven extra victories for the Royals, a huge difference.

2. They built a spectacular defensive team.

— Dayton Moore always said that great defense was going to be a fundamental of the Royals resurgence, but it was a hard thing to see in the early years. From 2008-2010, the Royals were not only the worst defensive team in baseball according to Dewan’s runs saved, they were one of the worst defensive teams in baseball history. They were terrible at more or less every position. That began to change in 2011 and by 2013 the Royals were clearly building a pretty special defensive team. Alex Gordon was a revelation in left field. Alcides Escobar was making great plays at shortstop. Young Salvador Perez was superb behind the plate. Lorenzo Cain was beginning to display his brilliance.

Now, the Royals are the best defensive team in the league by a pretty substantial margin. They have Gold Glove caliber fielders at six or seven positions and no weak fielders. This doesn’t happen by accident. The Royals scouts have proven adept at finding great athletes who become great fielders. When the Royals traded Zack Greinke to the Brewers for Escobar and Cain, there were many people around baseball who told me that there were much better offers on the table. I wrote that then, and I still believe there were better offers for OFFENSIVE players. But you can’t get much better defensively than Escobar and Cain, and that’s the direction Moore and the Royals took. I give them a whole lot of credit for that.

The Royals picked the right era to build a defensive dynamo. You might remember that one of the tenets of Moneyball was that it is worth giving up a little defense in order to get efficient offensive players – they famously put Scott Hatteberg at first base (“It’s incredibly hard,” Ron Washington told Hatteberg in the movie). That philophy right for the time. The game was about getting on base, wearing down starters and hitting home runs. The percentage points you picked up on the defensive side were not enough to counter the big offenses of the day. The Yankees were an often terrible defensive team during their dynasty years. The Red Sox of 2004 were a dreadful defensive team.

But now, with scoring down, with balls staying in the ballpark, with strikeouts at all-time high – you can do an awful lot of winning by being the best defensive team in the game. The Royals anticipated that.

3. They built an offensive philosophy that went entirely against the Moneyball model.

The Royals don’t walk. The Royals don’t hit home runs. The Royals don’t strike out. The Royals run. It’s anti-moneyball in many ways. And, well, it’s not an especially efficient offensive model. You can run the numbers any way you want and it will tell you the same thing: Putting a lot of balls in play is no way to score a lot of runs.

And the Royals don’t score a lot of runs. They’re eighth in the American League this year, they were ninth in the American League last year. But, and we’re repeating ourselves: You don’t HAVE to score a lot of runs now to win games. Take a look at the Royals records by runs scored:

0 runs: 0-9
1 run: 0-11
2 runs: 4-11
3 runs: 12-5 (3rd best in baseball)
4 runs: 13-2 (best in baseball)
5 runs: 8-4
6 runs: 8-2
7 or more: 28-1

Everybody wins games when they score five or more runs. Heck, the Phillies are 29-12 this year when scoring five or more. But as you can see, the Royals really excel when they score three or four runs a game. They are winning those games 78.1% of the time which is the best 3- and 4-run record in baseball since at least 2000.

And that’s the key, this kind of put the ball in play and run like heck offense CAN score three and four runs a game. And the Royals do. They put the ball in play, the take the extra base, they move runners over. And once again – the Royals were ahead of the curve. From 1995-2007, that crazy run-scoring era, teams that scored 3 or 4 runs won just 40 percent of the time. It just didn’t matter how good your pitching was, how good your defense was, if you had the Royals sort of scrappy offense, you just could not contend for titles in the American League. Look at the pennant winners:

1995: Cleveland, 5.83 runs per game.
1996: Yankees, 5.38 runs per game
1997: Cleveland, 5.39 runs per game
1998: Yankees, 5.96 runs per game
1999: Yankees, 5.56 runs per game
2000: Yankees, 5.41 runs per game
2001: Yankees: 4.99 runs per game
2002: Angels: 5.25 runs per game
2003: Yankees, 5.38 runs per game
2004: Red Sox, 5.86 runs per game
2005: White Sox, 4.57 runs per game
2006: Tigers, 5.07 runs per game
2007: Red Sox, 5.35 runs per game

Only the 2005 White Sox even come close to the 4.37 runs per game the Royals score now. And that White Sox team hit 200 home runs, almost double what the Royals will end up with this year. The Royals offense is fit for today’s era – it’s a 4-cylinder, multifaceted, energetic offense that can’t go 90 mph but doesn’t guzzle gas and will get you there most of the time.

And so this is how I think the Royals beat PECOTA, at least for this year. The game veered and they adjusted more quickly than perhaps any team in the league. I suspect they won’t be the last team to try and build a hard-throwing bullpen, a defensive behemoth and a lineup that puts the ball in play. Thing is, by the time that happens, the game will undoubtedly shift again.

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51 Responses to Royals vs. PECOTA

  1. I think the style of the offense has virtually nothing to do with it. You judge offense by runs scored. The offense is mediocre (because of low OBP by too many guys and modest power), but good enough with the great bullpen and defense. They also have been repeatedly lucky (e.g., dropped infield fly rule double play last night), but they are due after 29 years – hope it does not leave at an inopportune time.

    I hate to say it, but Yost also is a plus. He has a great relationship with the guys and his use of the bullpen works. And Moore had been better than other GM’s in recent years. Remarkable that Yost and Moore are big plus factors, but it is the truth.

    • DjangoZ says:

      I think Joe is trying to make the point that having a high floor/low ceiling offense with a great bullpen will lead to more wins.

      In other words, it’s better to score 3, 4 or 5 runs a game fairly consistently but rarely score more than 7, than to have huge games with lots of runs scored.

      Of course, Joe didn’t provide stats to back that up. I don’t know if the Royals have more games with 3,4 or 5 runs scored and fewer boom/bust games, but I think that is what he was trying to say.

      • jalabar says:

        If we are talking trade-offs, then yes… it’s better to have a high powered bullpen or defense these days than offense. However, in a vacuum it’s silly. A high-powered offense is better than a low-powered offense. All things being equal, you want a high powered offense.

        It also depends… if you have an entire team of high-defense, no-offense players, you aren’t going to win very often. You have to have some guys that can do damage with the bat.

        A team full of Mark Belanger’s won’t win many games. Anyone who doesn’t know Belanger, look him up. One of the top half-dozen defenders in baseball history, he was a shortstop who’s career BA was around the Mendoza line and started for Earl Weaver’s Orioles for 18 years and was the full-time starting SS for 11 of those. He was worth 40 WAR in his career despite finishing with a .580 career OPS and a 68 OPS+. He is second all-time in dWar, behind Ozzie Smith and ahead of two other former Orioles, one of whom is the best defensive player I have ever seen play.

        Interestingly, 8 of the top 10 all-time loeaders in dWar are middle infielders.

    • Austin says:

      Once Gordon gets back the lineup will be:

      That lineup is NOT mediocre offensively. It’s at least above average. The bottom line is that the Royals do all of the little things right. It’s not luck. They make throws on target, they run the bases well, and they minimize their mistakes. Doing the little things right and waiting for the other inferior team to make a mistake is not luck; Plus, with all of the injuries/suspensions that they’ve overcome, it’s impossible to call them “repeatedly lucky”. The only real luck they’ve been given is the weakness of the AL Central, which they have taken full advantage of as well.

    • flcounselor says:

      KC Oracle, I’ll tell you the thing that has virtually nothing to do with it:

      “…they are due after 29 years.”

  2. MattLong says:

    I think there’s a 4th reason you’re missing. All of these projection systems evaluate everything in a vacuum which is great for boiling things down to get to a players truest ability, however, baseball isn’t played in a vacuum. There is a tremendous unaccounted for value in how each aspect of a team affects all others aspects. For example with the Royals if you look at their rotation in a vacuum it’s unimpressive (minus Cueto) but when you factor in how the defense affects it, how each pitcher is perfectly tailored for their home stadium, how the bullpen effects it (with their depth if a starter isn’t sharp they can just go to the pen early they don’t have to ride out a bad start like many teams who lack better options do) factor all of that in and suddenly what looked like a negative on paper is actually quite effective. It doesn’t stop there either, every aspect of the Royals works together like a well oiled machine, where as other teams who on paper may have more talent (the Indians, Mariners ect) are just piles of un assembled parts. Dayton Moore simply understands how to build a complete baseball team.

    • DjangoZ says:

      I don’t entirely disagree with your thesis theoretically, but the examples you gave didn’t really support your point. Your post sounds like an old-timer arguing that there is “something more, which them gol durn statistics can’t account for!”

      Baseball is a fairly one-on-one sport. There isn’t that much interaction between the “pieces”.

      What is a specific example in game where the whole of the Royals are undervalued compared to the way the individual players are valued?

      • jwpirate71 says:

        Baseball is not really one on one-it is-P vs Hitter- but at the same time it’s one on 9 or nine on 1 depending on your POV Hitter vs Defense and/or Defense VS Hitter

    • wogggs says:

      I hate to give Dayton Moore credit, but Matt Long has it right. He has put together a team that is well suited to Kauffman stadium and the division they play in. He has put together a team that is also well suited to KC’s budgetary restraints. Like the A’s, he found an inefficiency in the market and exploited it.

      Although I live in CA, I watch and listen to the Royals as regularly as I do my local team, the A’s. The contrast between the two is amazing. The Royals catch everything, the A’s catch almost nothing. The Royals put the ball in play, the A’s strikeout. The Royals bullpen locks down the opposition. The A’s bullpen stinks. Earlier this season I was watching a game, and Hudler had a statistic about the Royals’ record when leading after 4 innings. It was something ridiculous at the time, like 40-5.

  3. DjangoZ says:

    Really enjoyed this piece, Joe. One of my favorites this year by you.

  4. m1704 says:

    Agreed in general, though the projection systems could be forgiven for not seeing big steps forward for Moose and Hosmer, plus a rebound for Morales. Those are hard to predict, and an offense with Rios hitting 4th or 5th woulda been rough.
    Also I think this kind of bullpen construction has been around since the 90s. Every team (or most) want multiple closers, it’s just bullpen results can be so wild, it’s hard to predict when everything will come together. The Royals have been walking a tightrope keeping these 3 guys healthy and ultra effective, but Davis’ recent injury shows that no great bullpen can last forever (or even that long)

  5. David says:

    I know you mention Kansas State a lot. It’s understandable. I submit to you, though, that the Wisconsin Badgers and their turnaround under Barry Alvarez is every bit as impressive. They had mild success under Dave McClain in the 80s (including their only Bowl win ever prior to 1993), but even then their best season was a 7-4-1 year. The Badgers were basically irrelevant for 30 years, from 1963-1992… and then Barry Alvarez pulled a Bill Snyder. The fact that the only pre-Snyder Bowl Game for Kansas State was ALSO Wisconsin’s only pre-Barry Alvarez Bowl Game WIN (1982 Independence Bowl) makes me feel like there’s a REALLY good Joe Posnanski article (or book?!) buried in this story somewhere…

    • KHAZAD says:

      Barry Alvarez is a great story, but I don’t think you understand the state Kansas State football was in at the time. In the 30 year period of Wisconsin Football you mentioned, the Badgers won 38% of their games and over 34% of their conference games. In the 30 years of K-State football before Snyder arrived, they won 22% of their games and 17% of their conference games.

      Wisconsin had twice as many winning seasons and four times as many winning conference seasons in the 9 years prior to Alvarez as K-State had in the 35 years prior to Snyder. (A period in which they NEVER won 7 games in a season.)

      Wisconsin won 46 games the decade before Alvarez’ arrival, and 69 the decade after. K-State won 23 games the decade before Snyder, and 77 the decade after. (Which, by the way, was more games than they had won the previous 30 years.)

      I can’t take anything away from Alvarez, but it is simply not in the same class as the Snyder turnaround. The Snyder turnaround is talked about by Joe alot because it is a singular achievement, one with no real comparison anywhere else. It stands alone.

    • Chris says:

      Alvarez started at Wisconsin in 1990. Snyder started at K-State in 1989. Wisconsin’s all-time record at the time Barry took over was 436-373-49. K-State’s record when Snyder took over was 298-510-41, a losing record incomprehensible at any other school. K-State won their 300th game in Snyder’s 2nd year, 1990. It was their 94th football season. K-State had been so bad over the years that Snyder was the AP conference coach of the year in 1990 with a 5-6 record overall and 2-5 in conference.

      Wisconsin did have their only bowl victory pre-Alvarez against K-State, but prior to that, they had finished 1st in their conference eight times, including 3 rose bowl appearances. K-State won a conference championship in 1934, and not again until 2003.

      K-State’s winning percentage pre-Snyder (92 yrs): 35%
      K-State’s winning percentage last 25 yrs: 65%

      K-State has won 59% of their all-time games in the last 25 years. That is unheard of, and why it’s called the greatest turnaround in the history of sports.

      • jealoushawk says:

        I live in Lawrence. Went to KU. Strongly hate purple. And generally look down my beak at Kansas State.

        But, Bill Snyder, and what he has done there (in both tenures btw) is not only amazing, remarkable, miraculous and the Greatest Turnaround in College Football history..It is the greatest feat of coaching since the introduction of the forward pass..He may very well be the greatest coach ever-Even with the success he has had, it is still a tough job-a tough conferencel- still tough too recruit players to Manhattan Kansas.. All of his assistants left (from the first era)and became pretty successful in their own right.Meaning he had to replace them yearly, and completely when he returned all Gen. MacArthur-like….

        .In this second term he took over a bare cupboard and did the same thing.

        Alvarez did some special things at Wisconsin but Wisconsin was never the doormat of the big ten.

        K State was the doormat of the big 8, named playboys worst football school, and was the laughingstock of NCAA Division 1 (as it was known then);

        Snyder brought them to the doorstep a National Titles, Snyder created an annual contender in the Big 12 as well as a top 25 program with mostly 3 star players that were “coached” up (though they always seem to have stud DB’s and Wr’s)

        Anyway I tip my hat. I am quite jealous of the program. Mad Respect. hope Joe is right in the comparison Go Royals!

  6. Winkler says:

    Your description of the three closers and their record in games led after I’d innings reminds me of the 1990 Cincinnati Reds with Charlton Dibble and Myers.

  7. bill says:

    the 1990 Reds blueprint

  8. Anon says:

    Joe, Joe, Joe. You of all people should know better than to describe “walks, HR, and wearing down pitchers” as a “Moneyball offense”. You might call it a sabermetric offense but the central tenet of Moneyball was finding and exploiting inefficiencies in the market. It just so happened at the time the book was written, the undervalued asset was OBP and specifically, walk-driven OBP. Indeed if speed, defense and low K% is/was the market inefficiency the last few years then the Royals actually ARE a Moneyball team.

    To call Moneyball an offensive philosophy is to ignore the rest of the title of the book – The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.

    • Stephen says:

      While what you say is true, it’s a bit misleading. As Joe points out, a great deal of the success in Oakland was not due to finding undervalued assets/picking up spare parts on the cheap that no one else wanted. It was instead due to excellent player development, particularly of starting pitchers. Lewis goes on and on about Scott Hatteberg in his book but scarcely mentions Mulder and Hudson and devotes only a little space to Zito. The narrative is “Beane outsmarts everyone,” and “Oakland does a great job of developing pitching talent” doesn’t fit that narrative. Moneyball in this sense is widely perceived as an offensive philosophy because that’s how Lewis chose to focus the book.

      • Anon says:

        A) I agree that the narrative of the book and movie just whiffs on the fact that the A’s still had Mulder, Zito, Hudson, Chavez and Tejada and nobody should forget that but. . . .
        B) that doesn’t ignore the fact that calling beer-league baseball “MOneyball” is inaccurate and missing the point.

  9. Teams with great bullpens tend to do extremely well in the post-season, while teams without great bullpens typically do not, and yet stat-heads continually malign the value of relievers. Mariano Rivera has been compared on this blog to a punter in the NFL, almost an afterthought in building a team, even though he was arguably the greatest reliever of all time, and easily the greatest reliever in post-season history, a key component to 5 World Championship teams. The Yankees phenomenal success during his career wasn’t a coincidence. Neither is the Royals success since they installed the 3-headed monster to lock down games last year.

    That being said, the Royals are riding a wave of fan good will that is impossible to sustain. There is a particular excitement created by a team that has been terrible forever suddenly becoming a powerhouse. Giddy fans are grateful for every good play, blinking in disbelief that their ugly ducklings have blossomed into swans. All the years of pent-up suffering get unleashed in an explosion of joy that raises everybody’s intensity. Because what programs like PECOTA fail to register is that the games are played by human beings whose emotions can drastically help or hinder their performance. Right now, the Royals are hungry and confident and beloved in Kansas City so that everything they do turns to gold.

    So I expect the Royals to win the World Series this year. And I expect them to fall flat on their face next year, after the magic has gone. Only then can they go back to being just another team that PECOTA can analyze dispassionately.

    • invitro says:

      So, the Royals win because they have more of the Human Element than other teams do.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      I don’t think anyone diminishes the value of bullpens (maybe PECOTA does). However, I think the point is that closers are overvalued in general. As great as Rivera was, would the Yankee results have been significantly different if they had another very good-but not as good-closer? I doubt it. The real issue is how much do you pay for an “elite” closer as opposed to just a good one? Because even the best closers blow a save now and then. Mariana Rivera blew saves in the post-season that cost the Yankees series: Game 5 of the 1997 ALDS; obviously, Game 7 of the 2001 WS. The Cardinals won one year with Todd Worrell closing; the Giants won a couple of years ago with-I can’t even remember his name. The Royals are winning, not because they have a super-duper closer but because the bullpen as a whole shuts teams down. But it’s not as if these guys were household names that the Royals went out and outbid other teams. Putting together a great bullpen is often a matter of luck or skill in finding guys that have been overlooked or simply were better suited to the bullpen.

      I totally agree with Joe that defense is frequently undervalued; one of the problems the Nats are having is their defense is so poor, in part due to guys playing out of position-either because of injuries or because of trying to get more offense into the lineup. It really has affected their pitching; I think the Nats thought that the rotation was so good that it could overcome bad defense but that really hasn’t been the case.

      However, I don’t buy that emotion really is that much of a factor in baseball. If anything, I think getting too “up” can make guys try too hard. It’s not like football, where the crowd can motivate players to go out and knock the snot out of people. I think that, in baseball, the harder you try, often the worse the results. Obviously, there needs to be a certain level of focus and intensity, as in any activity, but I think you can be too intense in baseball.

      • Regardless, even if you say that Rivera was a high value player as a closer…. he’s Mariano Rivera. How many closers are there out there that perform in the same class? Rivera’s an outlier, so to use an outlier to prove that a great closer is key to winning is like saying that Bill Russell was the key to the Celtics 10 championships & all you need is a center to win in the NBA. Well, if that Center is Bill Russell, then yes. Otherwise…. not so much. So, yeah, if your closer is Mariano Rivera, he probably will help you win Championships.

    • Jason Schock says:

      Probably won’t take into consideration what you expect, since your expertise is zero, hence your opinion is worth JACK SQUAT

  10. “The proliferation of strong-armed bullpens, with more and more pitchers throwing in the mid-to-high 90s,” is a reason to disbelieve “The steady elimination of steroids in the game.”
    There’s always been an assumption that steroids were the way to create power hitters, but pitchers are more likely to benefit from the recuperative effects. A 95 MPH fastball doesn’t hurt, either.

    • Couldn’t agree more. There are an awful lot of pitchers that throw 95+ now and considering baseball has always been looking for hard throwers the most likely answer as to why there are so many now is PEDs.

      Having said that I HATE discussing this because sports fans only seem to care about juicing in baseball, track and field and cycling. Football (gigantic players), basketball (people talk about how big Dwight Howard is yet LeBron’s arms are as big as Dwight’s) and golf (like folks say about baseball players look at the current physiques compared to ones 30 years ago) seem to be filled with PED users yet no one cares.

    • KHAZAD says:

      I believe that the higher number of pitchers that throw that fast is mostly due to a difference in scouting, and a resulting difference in training on the way up. Scouts are looking for velocity first. Teams believe (sometimes erroneously) that they can teach the rest. Players and coaches of young players know this, and focus on it over and above things like secondary pitches and command. Younger players can’t hit those fast pitches, so they also get immediate positive feedback. Coaches used to tell pitchers to stay within themselves and back off on the velocity to improve command. That doesn’t happen so much anymore, and has actually done a 180.

      There are more high velocity pitchers because those are the vast majority of pitchers signed. 20 or 30 years ago a very polished pitcher who had never threatened to touch 90 still had a pretty good chance of getting signed. Not today. Those spots are now going to flame throwers and polish be damned.

  11. In natural selection, mutations happen in all different directions. Occasionally, one of these turns out to be well-adapted to a changing environment.

    I think this applies to the Royals and most other “new in a different way” teams. They happened upon a strategy more than they chose it. And it proved to have been well-suited to the new environment. To give Moore credit for making moves in 2008 in anticipation of how the run-scoring environment would be in 2014, methinks, is giving too much credit.

  12. invitro says:

    The Royals’ current record projects to 98 wins. That would be the second-most in Royals history, after the 1977 team, with 102 wins. Next is the 1980 team with 97 wins, then the 1978 and 1989 teams with 92, and it’s continuous from there.

    Where would you guys rank this Royals team in franchise history?

  13. John Leavy says:

    Wait… did Joe actually say that the decline is steroid use has had a major impact on the way baseball is played in 2015?

    But he’s been telling us all this time that steroid use WASN’T that rampant, and that steroids didn’t really work anyway!

    You can’t just casually change your mind and try to slip it past us like that, Joe!

    • KHAZAD says:

      Troll alert!

      • John Leavy says:

        If I’m a mere troll, it should be easy for you to point out exactly where I’m wrong.

        • I saw the inconsistency too.

        • KHAZAD says:

          Joe has never denied the steroid era, he has just refused to spend all his time shaking his fingers and yelling shame at people, particularly those that have never been associated with steroids in any way. He deals with it as a reality that happened. What he said in the article today doesn’t go against that at all.

          • KHAZAD says:

            So actually, you made two statements, neither of which were true, in order to point your finger at someone else. Trolls be trollin’

        • Bill Caffrey says:

          It was never Joe’s position that steroid use “wasn’t that rampant.” I defy you to give a single example of him saying that.

          It was also never his position that steroids “didn’t really work anyway.”

          What Joe did say, repeatedly, was that the cause and effect of using steroids and hitting HRs was not as simple and direct as the steroid scolds would argue, and that steroids were just one of a number of factors in the offensive explosion that began in the mid-90s (among the other factors frequently cited by Joe being smaller parks, possibly “juiced” balls, smaller strike zones, etc.). You can agree or disagree with Joe as to the relative role steroids played in the offensive explosion compared to other factors but you can’t claim he ever pretended steroids weren’t a factor.

          I think it would be fair to attribute to Joe a general theme of “Baseball is complicated. Many different and interrelated factors affect its events and outcomes. If you think it is simple as steroids = HRs you are greatly oversimplifying things.”

          Now he is saying, entirely consistently, that the steady elimination of steroids is a factor in the offensive decline. A bigger strike zone is also a factor. Power-arm bullpens are also a factor.

          It’s rarely as simple as if A then B, man.

  14. Phil says:

    Great article but Joe and PECOTA missed ONE THING: the “Rise to the Occasion Factor.” If you take Royals team ERA of 3.51 and apply to runs scored during the game, the records of all categories make sense except for the one category where Royals score 3 runs. How does a team go 12-5 when scoring 3 and on average gives up 3.51? They RISE.

  15. 1) The idea that big money teams have more of an advantage in big offense eras? Totally unsubstantiated, and I’d disagree. Money is always an advantage. Change, of any kind, toward more offense or less, creates opportunity for the smart to counterbalance the rich. Not one of your finer moments, Joe.

    2) More accurate umpiring: good. Larger strike zone: bad. Strikeouts are facist.

    • Mr Fresh says:

      I think steroids, and especially their impact on the offensive side of the game, DID favor big market money teams. In the old days, players had extended careers and the big money teams could buy the more expensive players later in their careers without a dropoff in production. Now, with apparently less steroid usage and more natural decline in production, there is less of an advantage to big market teams. The teams that do a good job of identifying young talent (regardless of whether it is related to an undervalued skillset), can control the players longer and don’t give up as muc.h advantage to the big spending teams

      Talent identification is the most important thing, regardless of the particular skill set and while it is important to have players that complement each other and fit into the home park, at the end of the day, the best teams are the ones with the best players. End of story.

  16. Brent says:

    Joe, it is interesting that you wrote this just as they were going to Fenway to face the Red Sox, becuase I am kind of dreading this trip to Boston. Even though the BoSox are not a very good team, the Royals’ one flaw this year is that they get beat up at the bandbox stadiums of the AL East. The Blue Jays should have swept them in Toronto just after the trade deadline, the Yankees Bombed them around Memorial Day and now the BoSox pretty convincingly won the first two games at Fenway. The Royals plan works great at Kaufmann and other big parks (which is one reason they have done so well in interleague play where the road games are at the generally bigger NL parks), but not so good in the HR havens of the AL East.

  17. Bill Caffrey says:

    “But now, with (1) scoring down, with (2) balls staying in the ballpark, with (3) strikeouts at all-time high – you can do an awful lot of winning by being the best defensive team in the game. The Royals anticipated that.”

    The importance of defense in regards to 1 and 2 seem obvious. I’m not sure how strikeouts fit in. Strikeouts being at an all-time high would seem to reduce the import of defense. Who cares if you’ve got Robinson, Smith, Mazeroski and Hernandez on your infield and Mays, Jones and Beltran in your outfield if your pitchers are striking everyone out?

  18. robert rosas says:


    I along with many other people miss you in Kansas City!

    Hope all goes well for you.

    bob rosas

  19. […] think the answer can be found in Joe Posnanski’s piece trying to explain why the KC Royals have far exceeded most projection systems, including PECOTA. […]

  20. Jason Schock says:

    “elimination of steroids in the game” …with the obvious exception of the 2015 Blue Jays

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