The Internet, in its current incarnation isn't a particularly old place, but that doesn't mean there aren't already established customs. For years now, every time Rany Jazayerli opines on the Royals a wave of links is born, reaching across email lists, message boards, and most recently, blogs. Thanks to his Founding Father status at Baseball Prospectus and his long-running exchange with Rob Neyer Jazayerli's long-standing devotion to the Royals has become a minor part of seamhead lore. But his work hasn't just been about the Royals (although here's an old favorite), Jazayerli's also done extensive research on the Draft, the Coors Effect and the Four Man Rotation. Ohh, he's also a doctor.
This year Rany penned the Royals chapter in Baseball Prospectus 2007 (seriously, buy it) which understandably outlined the marrow of the Dayton Moore administration to this point. While Moore has a mostly golden reputation within the traditional media, his reputation on the more stathead-web has been more uneven, given the over-hyped "scouts v. stats" debate and subsequent counter-revolution. To a degree, Moore has made overtures in this direction as well, although he's also said that he does look at numbers. Somewhat surprisingly, Jazayerli's essay on the Royals mostly praised Moore's approach and the work he's done thus far, avoiding the hanging sliders of the Gathright trade and the Meche signing. Jazayerli concludes "whether the Royals are headed in the right direction remains to be seen, but they're definitely headed in a direction. For now, that's enough."
Thankfully, with a little intercession from Will Carroll, I was lucky enough to fire a few semi-insolent questions at Rany, who was nice enough to respond.
Royals Review: You write that "with more and more teams embracing the use of statistical analysis to complement traditional scouting, the argument can be made that teams can better exploit market inefficiencies in the valuation of baseball players by out-scouting their opponents". This seems to imply that the majority of franchises are now neglecting a certain amount of scouting in order to use stats. Is it really a zero-sum game? Has the use of statistical analysis actually crowded out scouting to such an extent?
Rany Jazayerli:: No, not at all. My point isn't that some teams neglect scouting at the expense of stats, which as far as I'm aware is not the case. My point is that 10 or even 5 years ago, the state of statistical analysis within the game was primitive enough that a team that focused on using cutting-edge analysis could reap huge rewards, as the A's did with exploiting the inefficiencies in the way the market valued OBP. Today, every team in baseball has someone in their front office looking at the numbers - the bar has been raised, and so the competitive advantage that a cutting-edge team has over its competition has diminished. You can't go out and grab the next Geronimo Berroa or Matt Stairs for next to nothing anymore. Where teams like the A's and Red Sox are trying to find an advantage now is with proprietary statistics that we don't even know about, better ways to evaluate defense, etc. No doubt they still have an advantage over other teams - but the advantage is shrinking. The low-hanging fruit has been plucked.
Meanwhile, throughout baseball history some teams have done a better job of scouting and evaluating talent than others. That's not going to change. So all things equal, a team that is middle-of-the-pack in its statistical acumen but far ahead of the competition in its ability to scout, may actually do better than the reverse. The model for this is the Detroit Tigers, who are not known for statistical analysis (though they certainly don't ignore the numbers) but built the defending AL champion by having a tremendous player development (Zumaya, Granderson, Verlander), evaluation (Brandon Inge), and scouting (Carlos Guillen) operation.
Dayton Moore is not going to be the next Billy Beane. But he could be the next Dave Dombrowski. Royals fans would be ecstatic if that proved to be the case.
Royals Review: On that point, while I know you're probably sick of dissecting the Meche deal, isn't giving Meche Carpenter-money _before_ he becomes Carpenter the exact opposite of exploiting market inefficiencies? Doesn't Moore deserve at least some respectful criticism for even evoking Carpenter, who only started making Meche-money after three brilliant years?
Rany Jazayerli: If you KNEW that Gil Meche was going to suddenly start pitching like Chris Carpenter or Jason Schmidt, why would you want to wait until he proved it - and his price shot through the roof - before signing him? In theory, if the Royals knew for certain that Meche was about to become a Cy Young contender, not only would they want to sign him, they would want to give him the longest possible deal, to insure that they had him locked up at below market value for the longest period of time.
The whole concept of exploiting market inefficiencies is to acquire talent at less than their future market value. The Royals can't do that by waiting until the player has proven he's worth the money; any free agent with a track record of greatness is going to sign elsewhere. If the Royals have a method for identifying breakout players before they break out, that's one hell of a market inefficiency they can exploit.
Moore certainly deserves criticism for the Meche deal, because we DON'T know that Meche is about to break out, and in fact the likelihood of that is pretty small. But it's not zero, and if he does pitch the way that the Royals hoped he would when they signed him, the Royals are going to be thrilled they gave him that fifth year.
Royals Review: You list "Show no tolerance for underachievers" as one of Moore's major themes, citing the purging of Affeldt, Howell, Sisco, Burgos, Hernandez and Gotay. However, is an organizational commitment to getting rid of "whiners" and bringing in "gamers" something that Royals fans should be excited about? Similarly, you noted, "this is not to say Moore was correct to trade these players, or even that these labels are entirely deserved". Are the Royals becoming impossible to analyze without either accepting or rejecting the character paradigm? Do you harbor doubts yourself?
Rany Jazayerli: I think you have to keep in mind that any time an organization undergoes the kind of front office upheaval that the Royals experienced last year, the new management team is going to want to break from the past, which means making decisions that in some cases are the exact opposite of what the previous management team made. The Royals lost 100 games year after year with a bunch of power arms who didn't know how to pitch; maybe the solution is to get rid of those guys and start over. Maybe it's not, but I understand what Moore is thinking.
I do think that while a team can handle one or two bad eggs without a problem, there is a critical mass whereupon if a team has, say, two young hard-throwing relievers with no command, no clue how to pitch, and no inclination to learn how to pitch, always hanging out together - just theoretically, mind you - that can start to have a negative impact on the rest of the team, above and beyond their performance on the field.
Royals Review: Would you rather keep Teahen in the OF or trade him as a 3rd baseman?
Rany Jazayerli: I think any player who can handle both positions defensively has significantly more value as a third baseman than as a rightfielder. Having said that, I'm not sure whether the Royals could get fair trade value for Teahen given that his track record is essentially four months long, and he's coming off of shoulder surgery. I would have loved to have seen him get traded for a stud young pitcher, but that's not going to happen. Moving him to RF is a sensible short-term solution to the problem of having two terrific young third basemen. The problem is that, a year from now, the Royals may have the same glut in the outfield that they had this winter at third base.
Royals Review: Once upon a time all Royals discussions began and ended with Zack Greinke. What do you expect from Zack in 2007?
Rany Jazayerli: I expect him to play some baseball. Any expectation beyond that is pure speculation. I do think he can be a good #3 starter, and while he may not have the Madduxian upside some of us thought he had, I think he could be a Brad Radke-type starter and munch up 200 above-average league innings every year going forward. It would not surprise me at all if he made 30 starts and was the Royals' best starter in 2007. It would not surprise me if he spends the entire year in Triple-A, or back home in Florida. But I'm rooting for him.
Royals Review: How many games do the Royals win, and who takes the AL Central?
Rany Jazayerli: I'll go with 72-74 wins for the Royals; if they were in the NL Central they could contend for the division. My pick for the division is the Indians, though that could change at any moment. The Indians can't possibly have as bad a bullpen as they had a year ago, and the other contenders all have flawed teams in one way or the other.
Thanks again to Rany for his time.