On Saturday, June 28th, I had the rare opportunity to attend the Baseball Prospectus event at Kauffman Stadium. If you aren’t familiar with BP days, they occur every year at various stadiums throughout the country, and are hosted by various members of the BP Staff. A ticket to a BP day gets you access to a meet and greet/Q&A time with the BP guys and any featured guests. You’ll also get to meet with folks who work in the organization’s front office in some capacity. Afterwards, you get to watch a game at the park with the BP Staff, and pick their brains as much as they can stand. From talking to some of the attendees, I gathered this was the 2nd or 3rd year the K had hosted a BP day, and it has yet to disappoint.
The hosts for this year’s BP day were scouts and prospect writers Jason Parks and Jeff Moore-I believe BP President Joe Hamrahi was planning on attending but wasn’t able to make it. Craig Brown, former editor here at RR, now back to his old site Royals Authority, also hosted the event. The only other guest I recognized was Darin Watson of Pinetar Press, but there may have been other local writers or bloggers. We all congregated in Parks’ radiance outside of the Diamond Club entrance and shot the breeze, discussing prospects, trade ideas, draft strategies, etc.
At 11:15, we were escorted inside, collected our Shields bobbleheads (!), and got to head up to the Triple Crown suites inside the stadium. As you might guess, the suite honors all the Triple Crown winners in MLB history. The main hallway doubles as a gallery of the TC winners, excepting the most recent winner Miguel Cabrera (and since he won the Triple Crown he is and was obviously a much better player than Mike Trout and way more deserved the MVP obviously) and I believe Tip O’Neill, since he played in the American Association league.
As we walked into the Herk Robinson Conference Room, most of us had our jaws drop when we saw Jeff Passan, greeting Parks as he walked in. I’ve been reading Passan for YEARS-he started out at the Kansas City Star ten years ago, and has written for Yahoo! Sports since then. So, when I walked in that room, I didn't see Jeff Passan-I SAW JEFF PASSAN. Of course, he had to name drop talking to Mike Trout, but it was awesome regardless. Once everyone got introduced, the Q&A session with Parks, Moore, Craig, and Passan began. A lot of questions revolved around various prospects’ work in the minors and future in the big leagues. One question I found particularly interesting was concerning the Royals’ lack of success in the draft, and the reasoning behind it. Parks said he believes the Royals do a good job of acquiring talent, but guys just don’t work out sometimes. He was just as high on Moose, Hosmer, even Starling as some of the rest of us. He still has hope for Hosmer, but Moose and Starling are lost. As Moore said, pointing at Arrowhead, "Starling has more chance of playing there than here."
After about ten minutes, six members of the Royals analytics department walked in. This unfortunately was Passan’s cue to leave, but the Q & A session was something I was particularly excited for. The Royals, and GM Dayton Moore in particular, are not famed for their use of sabermetrics and analytics when scouting players. Thus, I was very interested to hear their take on that viewpoint. I was fascinated to discover their various backgrounds: Mike Groopman, director of the analytics department, had interned with the Mets, Reds, and the MLB Labor Relations department, while assistant director John Williams got his Master’s degree in atmospheric science from M.I.T. Everyone on the department had a background in advanced science or math, and had all come together in the realm of baseball. As Parks put it, "You guys should all be working for NASA, yet you’re here."
The Q & A session itself was somewhat of a letdown. It seemed they were all very reluctant to discuss the details of their work and how that translates to scouting, drafting, etc. It was clear they do plenty of work, but specifics were not directly mentioned. When asked if they were handed down research assignments or did their own work, they said it’s a mixture of both-often when they are given assignments, they tweak them to discover more useful information on a player or data set. It seems they have a good relationship with management-plenty of folks were joking on Twitter that we should ask if they had ever spoken to Dayton Moore. I laughed, but I honestly think Groopman would have taken offense. He was asked about the common perception that the Royals don’t focus on sabermetrics and advanced data, and he tossed that idea out the window. He seemed to take pride in his work in the organization, and believed it was making an impact, top-to-bottom. It was definitely encouraging that he had a passion for his job, but an argument can be made that results aren’t quite there.
15 minutes or so later, the analytics group thanked us for coming and headed back to work, so Parks and Co. picked their session back up. A favorite question of mine that was asked was: what is the hardest part of a player’s game to scout? The unanimous answer was, unsurprisingly, hitting. After all, it is one of the most difficult skills to master in professional sports, so it makes sense that it would be difficult to scout. Parks seemed to think that’s why guys like Hosmer and Moose were so hyped up, because people thought they would be able to hit well, but they were plain wrong.
In the closing minutes of the Q & A time, I was finally able to work up the nerve to ask about Brandon Finnegan, who had just signed his contract with the Royals that morning. Speculation was going around that if the Royals are still in the playoff hunt come September, Finnegan would be slotted into the bullpen for an additional, fresh arm. I asked for Parks’ thoughts on that, and also if Finnegan had the potential to become a quality starter, or just a solid reliever. Parks answered that there is some danger is developing Finnegan as potential starter throughout the year, which is what it seems like they are doing, and then putting him in the bullpen. However, if his strong arm could be what pushes the Royals into October, it would be worth it.
At about 1:00, we all filed out of the Triple Crown suites and headed to our seats on the Infield Plaza, first base side. Now prior to the game’s start, I was fairly apprehensive about the weather. It appeared rain was on the way per the forecast, but the sun was shining at first pitch. I was pumped to get to see Yordano Ventura pitch for the second time this season, but the baseball gods declared it was not to be, as I only got four innings of halfway decent work from Ventura before the heavens opened. Fortunately our seats were right underneath the overhanging upper deck, so we didn't have to pack up our stuff and mull around the stadium without a dry seat. So for about two and a half hours, we all just sat around, shooting the breeze, watching other MLB games up on Crown Vision. A lot of people began to leave after about an hour, including some of our troupe, but several others were having a great time chatting with each other and the guests of honor. I personally stuck around until Parks and his crew left, so I had a great time chatting with him and others, discussing the Royals farm system and prospects, and plenty more.
So in the end, I did not get to see a whole lot of fire being thrown, but I had the experience of a lifetime with some of the smartest guys in baseball. If the K hosts another BP day in 2015, it is NOT to be missed.