A good writer creates an interesting topic, fleshes it out with solid research, expands on it with creativity and presents it with fluid prose. Today, you get none of that. NO SOUP FOR YOU!
I have an assortment of topics, which either are not quite robust enough to warrant a column on their own or which would require research and thought beyond my appetite.
The Royals Made A Lot of Money Last Year
Forbes reported that the Kansas City Royals turned a $28.5 million profit last season, second only to the Cleveland Indians in all of baseball. At best, that is an educated guess by Forbes, if not just a straight out shot in the dark. I have no doubt that this revelation will stir up a bit of outrage among certain portions of the fanbase.
The truth is, however, that the Royals did not go cheap last year: they went young. If you believe David Glass and the team roughly broke even in past years with higher payrolls, then the Forbes’ number makes some sense. It is nothing that should be used as an indictment of the Glass ownership, but simply a profitable portion of a very logical business cycle.
Now, the test is whether that $28.5 million (or whatever it actually was – my guess is something a little less than that) comes into play next off season or the season after that. If Glass did make $28.5 million in 2011 and basically breaks even when the Royals’ payroll is around $70 million, then will a hopefully talented and contending Royals’ team in 2014 or 2015 be able to carry a payroll somewhere north of $80 million? Basically, did David Glass bank the $28.5 million or, as my wife certainly would do, did he go on a bunch of really nice vacations and get four new cars…and a jet…and a boat?
Do Sabermetrics Undervalue Relief Pitchers?
In 2011, Craig Kimbrel had the highest WAR (according to Fangraphs) of any reliever in baseball: 3.2. Thirty-eight starting pitchers posted an fWAR higher than Kimbrel’s. In fact only seven relievers in the game would appear in the top 74 fWAR posted by pitchers in 2011. One of those was the Royals’ Greg Holland, by the way.
Now, WAR has a lot to do with ‘showing up’. A position player can have tremendous stats, but if he missed 25 games with an injury, his WAR will take a hit. We may all disparage the ‘Replacement Player’, but not even Albert Pujols is better than Mr. Replacement if Albert is sitting on the bench. When it comes to pitching, innings matter.
Jeff Francis was more valuable (in WAR terms) than any Royals’ relief pitcher last year based almost completely on the fact that Jeff ground his way through 183 innings of work: nearly three times what any reliever pitched. Now, the argument exists and I cannot really dispute the general theory, that a run in the third inning is really the same as a run in the ninth inning, but it sure does not feel that way.
I don’t think anyone would argue that a good starting pitcher is more valuable than a good reliever. In fact, one can pretty effectively argue that an average starting pitcher is more valuable than a good reliever and, quite possibly, more valuable than even a great reliever. However, WAR really tells us that a below average starting pitcher (Jeff Francis) is more valuable than almost every reliever in the game.
My current allotment of grey matter does not properly equip me with the ability to dive into the internal mechanizations of fWAR and debate that fact. Nor does the fact that my gut disagrees with the above assessment invalidate the value of WAR as a statistic. Baseball is certainly a game of numbers, but it is also a game of feel.
I know, I know, we are dancing our way into the world of intangibles where Jason Kendall and Dayton Moore sit amongst the clouds and lord over the baseball world, but there is something to it. Baseball players and fans, as well, are conditioned that they will give up runs. A starter gives up three runs and leaves the game tied after six innings and we applaud the effort. The team feels good: he gave them a chance to win, after all. Everyone’s happy, until a reliever gives up a solo homer in the bottom of the 8th and the Royals lose. Of course, if the starter had stranded on of those three runs in the fourth, the solo homer would not have triggered the loss, but in the clubhouse, the starter did his job and the reliever did not.
That run in the eighth inning may not be statistically different than a run in the fourth, but it certainly feels different and, I have to believe, it affects the team differently. If your bullpen does that on a regular basis it can tremendously batter the collective psyche of the team. Conversely, if your bullpen is truly a lock-down unit it can buoy that same team is a tremendously positive way.
WAR may never truly love a good bullpen, but I have to believe that a good bullpen is more valuable than the sum of it’s WAR.
Catchers, Catchers, and More Catchers
Should Brayan Pena or Humberto Quintero every bat after the seventh inning?
As Craig detailed yesterday, Quintero is a legendarily poor hitter and as I pointed out in the comments and on Twitter, Brayan Pena has spiraled into something that more closely resembles Quintero at the plate than Mauer. The Royals are hoping for more offense out of Alcides Escobar (and I think they will get it), but one can only expect so much and the team may not get a whole lot of punch out of the second base position, either. Given that, should the Royals take a big step outside of the box and plan on pinch-hitting for the catcher almost every night?
Now, I know this won’t really happen and I also admit that this theory falls back on the possibly flawed idea that a run in the eighth is more important than a run in the third, but let’s take a quick look anyway.
I don’t care what the score is, just plus or minus five runs either way (basically any situation short of a Mitch Maier getting ready to pitch scenario), but what if the Royals simply assumed that any time the catcher came up in the sixth inning or later, they would pinch-hit for him? Pena starts, his turn comes up in the sixth, and Maier pinch hits. Quintero enters the game, comes up in the eighth, and Bourgoeis pinch hits, but then what?
Ah, you need to carry three catchers. To do that AND pinch hit for said catchers, the Royals would have to carry three catchers AND a five man bench. That forces them into breaking camp with just six relievers, which I know sounds like disaster when the starting rotation is what it is. Except, given there is really nothing to prevent Kansas City from pitching the hell out of Louis Coleman and Tim Collins for three weeks, then sending them to Omaha to pitch sparingly while Kelvin Herrera and Everett Teaford come to KC to throw for two or three weeks.
The whole concept is dicey, unconventional and truthfully won’t work for any extended period of time. Not to mention that the Royals’ options for pinch hitters are only slightly more productive than letting Pena, Quintero and even Cody Clark hit. Right there, is the real problem with virtually any scenario that heavily involves using the Kansas City bench players.
With Joakim Soria headed towards a second Tommy John procedure, the question of whether the Royals should pick up Soria’s $8 million 2013 option will be a recurring theme throughout the season. Personally, that eight million looks a lot better put toward an Eric Hosmer contract or, for that matter, even an Alex Gordon extension.
Sure, the Royals are on the hook for Soria’s six million this year, but does knowing that they might have an extra eight million available next year grease the wheels to getting Gordon locked down and out of the way? Let’s also keep in mind that no one is going to be throwing money at Soria next winter. Unless Joakim gets offended by the Royals turning down his option, there is nothing that says he could not come back on a lesser deal. It seems like a no-brainer at this point. I feel bad for Soria, but the game is a business and the Royals cannot afford to gamble with eight million bucks.