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Twelve things I learned about the Royals in the 2016 Baseball Prospectus Annual

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I swear this is not a sponsored post by Baseball Prospectus or Turner Publishing. Instead it is a vote of confidence for the good work that the Baseball Prospectus staff does every year. I must have been the only person on Earth that purchased the e-book version (I like to have it accessible everywhere) as I've seen dozens of people show off their physical copies...while I waited for my digital one to hit a week later.

So below you'll find ten things I found interesting in the BP Annual, which I implore you to purchase right here.

1. Left-handed hitters must love Kauffman Stadium

Most sites list park factors on a per-year basis, however the annual provides us with a three-year summary. Here is how hitters have been treating Kauffman Stadium.

Runs: 101

Runs RH: 110

Runs LH: 119

HR RH: 96

HR LH: 115

The Royals outfield is actually a pretty smooth semicircle for the most part, unlike say Wrigley Stadium or Comerica Park. However left-handed hitters seem to hit home runs at a much higher rate than right-handed batters despite both left- and right-foul poles being equidistant to home plate, 330 feet to left, 330 feet to right. Yet there is a disparaging difference between right-handed power and left-handed power.  Why? Who knows.

2. Alex Gordon was thiiisss close

Rather than use Wins Above Replacement (which most are familiar with through Fangraphs and Baseball Reference), BP uses WARP or Wins Above Replacement Player. It is the same concept as Wins Above Replacement, but with slight differences in the calculation.

Alex Gordon missed some time in 2015 due to a groin strain which dampened his season a bit (yet the Royals still won in his absence). Baseball Prospectus supposes that had Gordon played a full season he could have joined Miguel Cabrera and Andrew McCutchen as the only three players to post 4+ WARP seasons in each of the last five years. WARP had Gordon as a seven win player in 2011. Oh Alex, you were so close.

3. The Royals were the sixth-most efficient team in spending money

Saber hero and all-time legend Doug Pappas (RIP) wrote about many things. He wrote about how Bud Selig probably lied to our faces that a few MLB teams were on the edge of bankruptcy. He wrote hundreds of thousands of words on baseball economics, salaries, and the CBA. What Pappas might most be known for is his calculation of the Marginal Dollars per Marginal Win (M$/MW). Here's how Doug describes the metric in his own words (which you can read further here):

The easiest way to measure front office efficiency is simply to divide a club's payroll by its wins to come up with "dollars per win." However, neither side of this equation reflects reality. The worst team a club can field won't go 0-162, and despite some owners' best efforts, it's impossible to spend $0 on a major league roster. It's then necessary to look at marginal wins and marginal payroll.

The Marginal Payroll/Marginal Wins (MP/MW) system evaluates the efficiency of a club's front office by comparing its payroll and record to the performance it could expect to attain by fielding a roster of replacement-level players, all of whom are paid the major league minimum salary. The formula is:

(club payroll - (28 x major league minimum) / ((winning percentage - .300) x 162)

The Royals, by M$/MW formula, had the sixth-best ranking among baseball at $2.1 million per marginal win, just behind the Cardinals and Mets. The Royals spent their money as efficiently as anyone when it comes to buying actual wins over a marginal team However, that is not to say they spent as wisely as compared to wins above replacement. It would make sense that the Royals would rank so highly. They won a lot of games in 2015 and did so without a huge payroll, ranking 17th in baseball.

Thanks, Doug.

4.  Sam Mellinger wrote an essay

Each team capsule has an essay by someone connected to each respected organization, and for the Royals it was local Kansas City Star writer Sam Mellinger (sadly not Andy McCullough). In his essay, Sam speaks to patience by David Glass, Dayton Moore knowing he was on the ropes, and how the Royals evolved from small-market losers into big-stage winners.

However I do take umbrage with one particular section of the essay:

I don't think what Sam describes as zigging by the Royals is necessarily true.

  • Defense: The Royals do have an excellent defense, but it's mainly their outfield defense that sets them apart.
  • Athletes: I'm not sure it's fair to say the Royals have a team loaded with athletes, other than using athletes as a general term for a professional sports player. Look around the Royals field - Omar Infante, Mike Moustakas, Sal Perez, Alex Rios, Eric Hosmer, Kendrys Morales - do these guys strike you as being known for their athleticism? Meanwhile, athletic players usually get a ton of love on rosters and stick around perhaps way longer than they really should. This sentiment helped keep Billy Beane (the man behind Moneyball) in baseball for a while and what could keep Bubba Starling there too.
  • Freakishly good: This one is true; the Royals bullpen has been very, very good - even historically good. However the Royals aren't the only team emphasizing the bullpen. The Pirates bullpen has been just as good, in fact slightly better, than the Royals the past two years by ERA. By FIP, the Royals have the fourth-best bullpen from 2014-2015. Maybe we are spoiled by having Wade Davis, Greg Holland, or Kelvin Herrera pitching six or seven days a week. Also we should remember...don't try to replicate the Royals bullpen anyways.
  • Caring about each other: No comment.

5. Graphs!!!

It's not just a big book of words. For those folks who like pictures, there are plenty of graphs to visualize each team in many different ways.

I'm going to provide one such graph, however with a twist. I'm not going to tell you what the graph means, but instead you can either:

a) Guess

b) Buy the annual!

It is not so hard to figure out.

6. You'll never guess who this capsule is (I didn't either)...

Guess who?

7. Drew Butera and his walks

For his entire career, Butera had never walked on ten or more pitches. He did it for the first time to load the bases in the ALDS during the Game Four comeback.

Then he did it again a second time days later in the playoffs.

8. Tony Cruz : Drew Butera

When the Royals traded for Tony Cruz this winter many people thought it was a bit redundant as the Royals already had a Tony Cruz under the name Drew Butera. Then PECOTA went ahead and validated all of our opinions:

Tony Cruz's #1 comparable is Drew Butera. Freaky.

9. Omar Infante is still bad at hitting

If you use FanGraphs you may be familiar with wRC+. If you use Baseball-Reference you may be familiar with OPS+. Baseball Prospectus has a similar metric to weight offense - "True Average" or TAv.

True Average (TAv) is a measure of total offensive value scaled to batting average. Adjustments are made for park and league quality, as such the league-average mark is constant at .260.

True Average incorporates aspects that other linear weights-based metrics ignore. Reaching base on an error and situational hitting are included; meanwhile, strikeouts and bunts are treated as slightly more and less damaging outs than normal. The baseline for an average player is not meant to portray what a typical player has done, but rather what a typical player would do if given similar opportunities. That means adjustments made for parks and league quality. True Average's adjustments go beyond applying a blanket modifier-players who play more home games than road games will see that reflected in their adjustments. Unlike its predecessor, Equivalent Average, True Average does not consider baserunning or basestealing.

According the annual, only five times has a player since 2000 had a TAv worse than Omar Infante did in 2015:

Angel Berroa

Neifi Perez

Cezar Izturis (twice)

Yadi Molina

Darwin Barney

All of these players were paid around $10 million combined. Omar Infante was paid $7.5M in 2015. Infante is projected for 0.1 WARP in 2016, and -0.7 WARP in 2017. He has two years and $18 million left on his contract.

10. Prospect comparables!

Maybe the first thing I look at when PECOTA is fully released is all the comparables for players. They are more fun than practical but they do give you a general path that you could see the player moving down. So in that fun vein, here are some comparables:

Raul Mondesi: Tim Beckham/Chris Owings

Bubba Starling: Franklin Gutierrez/Jordan Danks

Miguel Almonte: Michael Blazek

Kyle Zimmer: Alex Meyer

11. Yordano Ventura's comps aren't fun

So like I said, comparison are more fun than practical perhaps. There have been tens of thousands of MLB players through history and each individual player ultimately takes his own path. A path that's never been walked down before in the literal sense, but also maybe in the figurative sense too. As you may know, a man can never step foot in the same river twice.

The three comps for Yordano Ventura:

Tommy Hanson (RIP)

Josh Johnson

Daniel Hudson

OBVIOUSLY PECOTA isn't prognosticating Ventura's death. However the injury record of the above players is longer than Apple EULA (stole that from Baseball Prospectus).

Hudson had Tommy John surgery at age 25

Tommy Hanson had several visits to the disabled list with injuries up and down his whole right arm

Josh Johnson has had Tommy John surgery not once...not twice...but three times by age 30, while bouncing around between being an elite pitcher and an elite rehabber.

Pray for Yordano.

12. Odds and Ends: Rankings

Jarrod Dyson is projected to have the third most stolen bases in baseball with 54.

Lorenzo Cain is projected for 18th most stolen bases (26)..

Omar Infante is projected for the 14th best/lowest strikeout rate.

No Royals infielder projects to be top 10 in WARP for their respected position.

Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain project for an equal 3.9 WARP a piece (3rd and 5th in their position).

Reymond Fuentes (t5th), Terrance Gore (t10th), and Lane Adams (t10th) all appear among the top 10 projected AL rookie WARP.

Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain are projected for the 5th largest WARP decline from 2015.

13. (Bonus)


Thanks to the fine folks at Baseball Prospectus for publishing their annual and all their hard work. Again...go buy it here.