Andy McCullough is the new Royals beat writer for the Kansas City Star. The Star hired the 26 year-old Syracuse graduate from the Newark Star-Ledger, where he had spent years as the beat writers for both the Yankees and the Mets. Andy took a few minutes during his layovers to chat with us.
Q: You grew up on the East Coast and covered the Yankees and Mets in the largest media market in North America. What was your reasoning behind taking the job to cover a small market team that hasn't made the playoffs in your lifetime?
The move made sense for a lot of reasons. But the most important was this: I always wanted to work at The Kansas City Star. The legacy of the section is unquestioned and the talent currently on-staff is outstanding.
Q: We have noticed (and appreciated) you have used advanced stats to illustrate your point in your articles. How do you balance using advanced stats that younger and more diehard fans are perhaps more familiar with against possibly alienating older and more casual fans? Have you had any backlash?
It’s a fine line. I’ll never use wOBA or wRC+ or OPS+ or anything exotic like that in a newspaper story, because you need to define them, and there’s a finite amount of space available. OPS is trending toward universally understood, or at least something close to it, so I use that frequently (although you have to call it "on-base plus slugging percentage," which I think is a waste of words, but, so it goes).
Offense is the easiest game of the dimension to explain, so I like to keep it simpler there, even I have no use for batting average or RBI from an evaluative standpoint. I’ll use stats that need explainers like FIP or UZR or WAR, but I try to be selective about it. I like strikeout rate for relievers, and strikeout-to-walk ratio for starters, et cetera.
You receive backlash from both sides. I remember I once referenced OPS+, and a SABR dude tweeted at me something like "OPS+? LOL, do you even understand sabermetrics." Actually, he might have been trolling. I need to follow up on that.
Q: Do you have a sense on how much the Royals use advanced stats in their evaluation and scouting?
It’s a good question, and one I’ve been meaning to follow up on. Get back to me in a few months. Let’s see how long Alcides Escobar bats second.
Q: How have the Royals received you? Is ther some sort of hazing ritual they put beat writers through? Do you have to wash Bruce Chen's car?
I have no complaints. It is strange being one of two or three, rather than one of 12 or 13. I had never had a player introduce himself to me before. Bruce Chen is funny.
Q: When do you and Ned Yost star in a buddy cop movie? Is he really a big teddy bear under that gruff exterior?
Ned is an interesting guy. He goes into this shell around reporters, which is either agonizing or amusing, depending on your worldview. He’s been open about his inability to loosen up around outsiders, which was one of the themes from a longer story I wrote on him this spring. I find him genuinely funny, but I have a really specific sense of humor, so I might not be the best barometer for comedy.
Q: Spring training seems to matter very little as our numerous Cactus League championship trophies can attest to, but who has had the most impressive spring training in your estimation?
Mike Moustakas looked great. He opened up his stance, cleared out the mental baggage upstairs and tattooed just about everything he saw. I have no idea what that means, though. The hard part about spring training is that we all know, intuitively, that statistics here are meaningless, and yet we have to watch the games every day and attempt to analyze them.
Q: You've covered spring training in Florida and now Arizona, which brand of crazy do you prefer?
Each delivers its own special brand of ennui. Florida provides rainouts, multi-hour drives past a place called "Yeehaw Junction" and endless invitations to dine with other writers at fine locales like Panda Express or the Golden Corral. My one spring in Arizona featured far more preferable travel, but the smaller, more insidious torture of staying in Surprise, 45 minutes away from an excellent American city called Phoenix, a difficult place to frequent when you need to arise at 6 a.m. each morning.
Q: Who were some of your favorite athletes growing up? I get the sense you were a fan of the profesional wrestling back in the day.
I grew up in Philadelphia. So: Donovan McNabb is No. 1. It’s hard to be objective about Five. My favorite moment of sports fandom was when Allen Iverson stepped over Tyronn Lue in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals. The Sixers subsequently lost the next four games. I stopped rooting for teams sometime in college – it was either sophomore year or junior year, which is just kind of a haze marked by working at the college newspaper and drinking Natural Light – so that about covers it.
I do enjoy pro wrestling. I can’t watch the product much these days, because I don’t think any of the guys can really work. I watch a lot of Bret Hart matches on YouTube. He wasn’t my favorite when I was a kid, but his stuff holds up quite well. A genius at in-ring psychology, and one of the best at crafting a finish. His memoir stunned me with its bitterness. So when I watch him now, I’ve retconned this pathos into him that makes the matches more interesting. I’m probably over-thinking this.
Q: Any predictions on how the season will go? Win total? Playoffs? Breakout candidates?
Predictions: They’ll win somewhere between 80 and 100 games. There will either be a parade, or everyone will get fired, or something in between. I tend to bet on something in between.
Other stuff: James Shields will throw 200 innings and make a ton of money as a free agent. Yordano Ventura will throw a pitch clocked harder than 100 mph. Wade Davis will do some serious #shoving as the set-up man.
Greg Holland will regress in a bad way; Alex Gordon will regress in a good way; no one will understand what regression actually means. That Lorde song will win the "Replace Garth Brooks" Contest, and my suggestion, "Outfit" by the Drive-Be Truckers, will not be included in the bracket. Members of the Royals will comment far too often on my wardrobe, and I will far too often immediately take to Twitter to draw attention to myself.