In a recent radio interview, Dayton Moore said that, despite the Royals' strong September, he was disappointed in the season, as he had the team projected to win 78-82 games. Maybe he is just putting on a tough face to show what a "winner" he is and what high expectations he has for the team, I dunno. I can only assume he was serious. I don’t know what other people had the team projected to do, but, with the benefit of hindsight, well...
The importance of a general manager getting a correct read on his team’s true talent level was vividly illustrated in Seattle this year, where disastrous moves were made based on the teams miraculous 2007 in which the Mariners overshot their Pythag by a large margin. Predictably, they suffered a massive collapse this year (exacerbated by the player they traded most of their best young talent for -- Eric Bedard -- getting hurt early in the season). I don't think that Dayton Moore is the next Bill Bavasi (Xenu have mercy on us all if that is the case). However, given Dayton's projection for this season, this is a fair way to get an evaluation of part of his skills.
Dayton Moore then...
...Dayton Moore now. Look at the hair. Does GMing the Royals really age a person that much?
I think Dayton Moore has done a good job overall. That said, I don’t think anyone here thinks he’s above criticism. Even the best GMs make mistakes -- think of Billy Beane and Terence Long, or Theo Epstein and Julio Lugo.
I assume that Dayton Moore thinks of winning projections in terms of the run differential as projected by Bill James’ Pythagorean Formula for team wins. The Royals, of course, overshot their Pythag by three wins. Some will argue that this isn’t necessarily luck because teams with strong bullpens (and with Soria, Ramirez, and Nunez leading the way, the Royals did have a good bullpen in 2008) often overshoot their Pythagorean projection. I don’t know about the bullpen stuff. I can only assume there is something to it because people who know more about this stuff than I do say that it is so. However, for the sake of this little excursion, I’m going to leave it aside in favor of assume that the Royals a 73-win team this season, for three reasons:
- Many attempts to show how teams can 'outsmart' Pythagoras are often a bit suspect.
- To the extent that the "strong bullpens = better than Pythag record" is true, I still think it’s hard to see how that would work into a specific projection of how a precise number of wins the team would get over its projection.
- The bullpen pitchers' performances are already taken into account when figuring out the projection, so drawing on the bullpen performance again to modify the projection seems like "double dipping."
Again, my purpose isn't to debate the "Pythag and bullpens" issue. Rather, I'm simply saying that I'm not sure how to account for it either way, so I'm not going to deal with it, here.
Below, I've listed a few areas in which I think Dayton Moore may have been overly positive (given the end result) about going into this season. I will admit this involves a bit of guesswork as to how Moore projected certain players to perform, and I've tried to be careful in my deductions. Note also that I've left out the Butler and Gordon issues, since it's not clear to me what Moore (as opposed to the fans) expected of them this year. Sometimes, Billy seemed to be in the organizational doghouse (which totally doesn't exist!!!11). I also don't think Gordon drastically underperformed realistic expectations.
I’m not presenting this is an exhaustive list of good and bad decisions and projections by Moore, but I do think it points to some things that he may have thought or expected to be better this year than they actually were. I will then say whether they were foreseeable or not before the season -- that’s the more evaluative part of my own process, and the most subject to debate.
[Update: This wasn't very clear when I originally published this, probably because I didn't have it in my mind. I didn't really have a win total in mind before the season, so it's quite easy for me to sit here and say "so-and-so made a mistake." I acknowledge the time-based cherry-picking. My point is to see what projections went wrong, yes, but more obviously, to sort out which ones should have been expected to go wrong (less hindisight necessary) and which ones Moore couldn't be expected to see, and thus shouldn't count as much "against" him.]
1) The (un?)remarkable declines of Tony Pena, Jr. and Ross Gload. This is certainly a shocker. This is a tough one to judge. Could Moore have seen it coming? As for TPJ, he did have a year last year in which his BABIP matched up with his performance, which wasn’t great, but, given his defense, was defensible as a stopgap, at the very least. On the other hand, his OPS last year (.640) was higher than his career OPS in the minors. and higher than all but one year he had in the minors (2004 in AA -- .644), so I’d say that the offensive collapse was at least a bit foreseeable (although he had extremely bad luck with BABIP this season).
Ross Gload is a bit more difficult to figure out. He was a poor offensive first baseman before this year, and given his skills, I think it’s unlikely that he culd be expected get any better, and pretty likely that he’d collapse. As for his defense, well, he wasn’t one of the top defenders at his position last year, despite Hillman and Moore constantly swooning over his alleged Gold Glove in the press. So I’m not sure what to make of this. I'm going to say this is slightly forseeable.
Evaluation: Moore might be criticized for making not replacing these guys earlier in the season, but we’re talking about pre-season projections here, so I think that this is only a bit foreseeable. So this is an in-between case. It's not clear what he could have done with TPJ (no one saw Aviles coming, at least before the season started, and not this good). He seems to have had a high enough opinion of Gload to give the Man with the Gloaden Glove a two-year extension.
[Update: The stuff about Gload and TPJ was the stuff I wish I'd written better the first time. Along with Bannister, these were clearly the individual players hurting the Royals the most. I should have made it more clear that the impact of their performances were as bad or worse than anything else. Both these players, for example, hurt the team when they started far more than Jose Guillen. However, since I assume that Moore had lower expectations, and that they weren't that good in the first place, and that both suffered from bad luck regarding BABIP, that the amount of drop-off these two suffered vis-vis Moore's reasonable expectations weren't as high.]
2) The implosion of Brian Bannister. No use beating this into the ground. As is well-known, everyone, including Banny, knew that his 2007 fielding-independent stats did not match up to his 2007 performance. Nonetheless, he still managed to FIP worse than most publicly available projection systems had him doing. So, while few expected him to be a #2 or #3 starter this year, no one expected him to be among the five worst starting pitchers in the AL (among qualifiers).
Evaluation: It's hard to tell what Moore thought he could get out of Bannister this year. Of course, part of this little exercise depends on a sort of psychological guessing-game. We all knew Banny couldn't keep it up, but I don't think anyone saw this coming. So I'll just say, again, that this was only slightly forseeable.
3) Mark Teahen's rapidly decreasing offensive returns. In 2006, Mark Teahen started poorly, went to Omaha, then came back on fire, giving fans hope that he might be "another Jason Giambi." In 2007, he didn't look like the next Jason Giambi, as the power mostly disappeared, although, in retrospect, a 98 OPS+ doesn't seem like the end of the world for a corner outfielder, especially with a .353 OBP. In 2008, BABIP chickens (pictured right) came home to roost.
Evaluation: On one hand, I say stick to the numbers -- a quick 'n dirty xBABIP analysis shows he was lucky in 2006 and 2007. On the other hand, when someone regularly does that sort of thing, it may be a skill. Moreover, most publicly-avilable projections systems like CHONE, ZiPS, Bill James, and Miner showed him to be somewhere between last year and 2006. I'm working on a different post that will (in part) reflect on Mark Teahen's bizarre ways with chance. I guess, given all of this, I would say that Teahen's disappointing offensive performance this year was not foreseeable to slightly foreseeable.
4) The collapse of the Royals team defense. Wow, did the Royals ever suck on defense this year. Fielding is hard to measure exactly, and I'm no expert, but let me give some arguments for it.
There was some discussion earlier in the season about how, despite everyone talking about how the pitching had improved, the runs allowed were still poor. Indeed, when the year ended, the Royals were 10th in the American league in runs allowed. I know that defensive metrics and stats still have a long way to go, but unless you think that Dayton Moore is just really unlucky (and given his close relationship to the Deity, I find this highly unlikely), fielding is the primary culprit.
Looking at the 2008 league averages from The Hardball Times, we see that the Royals were below league average in runs allowed. AL team average for runs allowed was 758, while the Royals allowed 751. AL average ERA was 4.35, while the Royals' team ERA was 4.48. So the pitching still sucks, right?
Not necessarily. Let's go a step further. The Royals team FIP (Fielding independent pitching) was above average. The league FIP average was 4.35, while the Royals' was 4.28. According to Stat Corner's park- and league-adjusted version of FIP, the Royals staff was a bit over 16 runs above average.
You are probably starting to get the idea. Looking at the THT's defensive analysis of the team as a whole, while the Royals (.829) are above AL average (.817) in Revised Zone Rating as a team, they are last in the league in OOZ, and their overall +/- (-33) (in THT's team version of the stat) is below average (-10).
Taking a look at the performances of individual fielders (I'm taking stats from different systems as they are available to me -- please do not take the team stats given above and my use of UZR and Dewan's taken from various places to be commensurable). I don’t subscribe to the services that provide +/- evaluations of players, but last I heard, Mike Aviles was the only Royal who was above average at his position. As jonfmorse put it in a game thread, according to one +/- system, the Royals fielding this year has been like Babe Ruth (Avilanche) batting in a lineup of Tony Pena, Juniors. I think we have a diagnosis, doctor.
Evaluation: Well, in 2007 TPJ had the best UZR of all shortstops in the AL (last I heard, he was negative this year, but Aviles replaced him before the break). Alex Gordon, Mark Teahen, and David Jesus were all in the top three at their respective positions (strangely, G-Load did not make the top three last year. But I thought he was a stud defender!). This year, all were below average, and Gordon may have been the worst everyday defensive third baseman in the majors (Chris Davis is probably worse, but there’s a relatively small sample size. He does project as a 1b). As my post about RBI for fielders (linked above) showed, some metrics have Ross Gload as one of the worst defensive first basemen in the majors this year. I have no idea whether these defenders just hit a bump in the road this year, or whether this is the future. Given past performance, though, I'd say the Royals' problems with fielding this year were unforeseeable.
5) The JoGui Issue. His OPS+ of 91 (or 95, b-r has it different on the his main and splits page), just to remind everyone, doesn't simply indicate that his park-adjusted OPS just below average (average being 100) for a right fielder, it’s below average for the American league. He did lead the Royals in home runs and extra-base hits. Despite that, JoGui was 8th among Royals hitters in VORP (just barely better than the 6.0 the undead Reggie Sanders put up last year). Granting that VORP for pitcher is somewhat problematic, he was 17th on the team in value. He’s 13th in OBP (non-September call-ups, non-pitcher, non-Tupman divison), and in 5th OPS. He leads the team in extra-base hits, but not slugging. He’s barely second in ISO (to Miguel Olivo) over Alex Gordon. Keep in mind this is all on a team that scored 691 runs this year. Guillen also shares the team lead for grounding into double plays with Billy Butler (23).
I’ll skip the section demarcation and just get right to the evaluation. I think Dayton should have seen this coming, but, given the contract he gave Guillen, he clearly didn't (I just can't believe he saw this performance coming. If this is really what he expected, he should be fired forthwith -- as Rany put it in a different context, preferably from a cannon). I want to emphasize that, although I think the signing was a mistake, this doesn't mean I "hate" DMGM and want him fired or that I "hate" Jose Guillen. Good GMs make mistakes like this all the time -- see the examples of Beane and Epstein cited at the beginning of this essay. I non more "hate" Guillen and want him to fail than people who point out Mike Aviles luck with BABIP or left-right splits "hate" Avilanche and want him to fail. I only write this because I know that people might (and probably still will) overreact to this. I'm not saying that I'm smarter than DMGM. I'm sure I'm not. I'm sure that Allard Baird and (deep breath) Ned Colletti are better at evaluating baseball players than I am. Still, I didn't like this signing to begin with, and it somehow turned out worse than I expected -- and yes, that's based purely on Guillen's performance. A peformance that, particularly when his perfectly predictably (he had the worst UZR of any right fielder in the AL last year) worst-on-the-team defense is factored is, is quiet accurately described as a "swirling vortex of suck." (Well, OK, that's probably a bit unfair given that Ross Gload and Tony Pena, Jr. got significant at-bats this season. But he was pretty bad.)
People probably think I’m piling on. Well, maybe, I can be a vindictive bastard. However, you’d be surprised how often people come up with "Guillen brings a little something extra" (super idiotic) or "hey, he leads the team in RBIs" (only slightly less idiotic). We can only assume, given Guillen’s contract, that DMGM thought that Guillen would at least reproduce his 2007 numbers. Is that a good assumption? Well, out of Chone, ZiPS, Bill James, and Marcels, only one has him coming close. If you look at his 2007 BABIP versus his xBABIP, he was even luckier last year than Mike Aviles was this year. Look at his splits -- he hasn’t been a good hitter against righties since 2005. He's been declining. He's 32. Do you really think he's going to bounce back next year?*
*Let me add a note about Guillen’s alleged use of performance enhancing drugs. I am not mentioning this out of some sort of self-righteous moral indignation. I don’t know if Dayton Moore knew anything about this at the time -- I think the reports came out after the signing. But, although not everything can be credited to steroids, and 2003 (by far Guillen’s best year) was his age 27 year, doesn’t anyone else find it interesting that his 2003-2005 peak (which departs significantly from his previous 6 seasons of performance) coincides almost exactly with his (alleged) use of PEDs from 2002-2005? That might explain at least partially Guillen's inability to repeat that peformance since that time.
Again, I believe this is all totally foreseeable. Guillen is the anti-Meche. Both were controversial signings by Dayton Moore that were widely decried. Their paths depart from there. Meche’s rise was perhaps a bit foreseeable. Meche is positive, says he wants to stay in Kansas city. Meche has been one of the best "#2" level pitchers in the AL the last two years. Despite all this, some fans still aren’t buying in. Guillen’s decline was totally foreseeable. He bitches and moans constantly, yet shows up out of shape, sucks both offensively and defensively, yet somehow, despite getting booed by fans and some people going so far implying that the bad things coming out about him are due to some irrational hatred of him by the fans, gets defended on the basis of some mystical leadership ability and RBIs.
Let’s me repeat: Jose Guillen sucks is not a very good baseball player anymore. He’s 32, just in time for a performance spike, right?! Anyway, I’ve said it was foreseeable. If people want to skip over the rest of the Guillen section due to repetition or because they can’t stand to see such a hero to Royals fans everywhere impugned by my obvoius irrational hatred of Guillen and falsification of statistics, that’s fine. I didn’t want to pile on, really. But I want to add one more paragraph on Guillen, since most of my frustration with the "Guillen issue" is connection with people pulling out the "RBI" argument and crap like that I want a "clearinghouse" for this information that people can draw on for when someone claims that Guillen is an "RBI man" or whatever.
I think the best explanation of "how" Guillen racked up so many RBIs has a special skill (or lacks it, for that matter) for getting RBIs, but rather that he had the most plate appearances on the team, the most plate appearances with runners in scoring position, and that he hit 3rd or 4th in the order all year behind guys with better OBP like Dejesus (especially), Aviles, and (before Hillman got stupid) Gordon. So I do not, to reiterate, think that stats w/ RISP represents a repeatable skill or anything. For for those who do think that they represent a skill and that Guillen has it and that is why he leads the teams in RBIs, here we go. I’ve excluded the averages of guys with small sample sizes like Ryan Shealy, Zack Greinke (!), and Gil Meche (!!), who all ranked ahead of Guillen on this stuff. Here are Guillen’s ranks (taken from my research in another discussion) amongst Royals with runners in scoring position this year:
BA w/ RiSP: 9th, behind such hit machines like Esteban German, Miguel Olivo, and Ross Gload
OPS w/RiSP: 7th, behind studs like German, Olivo, and Buck
SLG w/RiSP: 7th, behind fearsome sluggers like German, Olivo, and Buck
GIDP w/RISP: 1st by a wide margin with 13
Evaluation: Quite foreseeable.
Conclusion: There are, I suppose, other things that I could have mentioned. One thing I might have discussed is Gathright, since I sometimes got the feeling that Moore saw him as a starting CF possibility, but this post is too long to begin with.
My conclusion is that Moore's optimistic projection was based on at least 5 miscalculations on his part. The two projections that failed in teh biggest way were Jose Guillen's offensive performance and the team's ability to field.
I found that he should have foreseen that Jose Guillen would not meet his expectations (as one can only assume from the large contract he gave Guillen -- a "risk-reward" contract isn't a bad idea as a one year contract with perhaps a second year option, not a 3/36 contract, in my opinion). This is not saying that the Royals would have been better off without him, keep in mind, but simply that Moore's projection of 78-82 must have assumed that Guillen would be much better than this.
As for fielding, that was a projection that Dayton missed, but I doubt many would have gotten it right, given the individual player's performance last year, that this was unforeseeable, and Moore can't be blamed for that.
As for Gload, Pena, Teahen, and Bannister, well, that's the middle ground. Individually, I don't think there is much one can blame Moore for there, at least at the beginning of the year when he was projecting the team's final record (the issue of when he should have given up on Pena, Gload, et. al as individual players is separate -- I hope this is clarified in the update above). Taken together, though, it was unlikely that they would all live up to last year's peformance.
That's my take on where Dayton's projection went wrong and where he should have known better. Feel free to ream me out or point out potential other areas of discussion. I have to catch the train now or I'm dead!
[Update: Well, I wish I'd have taken more time to work through all this stuff before I published it. Thanks for your patience.]