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Hok Talk: The Process is more important than the results

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Yes, flags fly forever but more of them is better.

Kansas City Royals world champions signage from the 2016 season.
This is an example of a result.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

FanGraphs writer and national treasure Dan Szymborski fired off some hot takes about the Royals via Twitter, Wednesday. You’ve probably heard about it; it was mentioned in the Thursday rumblings and debated pretty thoroughly, there. But I’ve got to create that sweet, sweet #content for you so here I am.

For a long time, I thought Dayton Moore was, at worst, a perfectly good General Manager. But as time has gone on I’ve seen more data and I’ve learned more about baseball and the processes used to evaluate teams, players, and prospects. Dayton Moore is famous for his quotes about “Trusting the Process” to the point that it’s become memed so heavily that the quote has lost all meaning. However, pretty much every aspect of baseball is chock full of failure. This is apparent in everything from prospect success rates to batting average. The best hitters reach base about 40% of the time. The best prospects meet their perceived potential about half the time with lesser prospects dropping off precipitously, from there.

In a sport where failure is so prevalent the best way to judge anyone is on their results. That’s how some people figured Salvador Perez was likely to come out his slump: the advanced statistics spoke to the fact that his process was not significantly worse than before even though his results were lagging behind. Sure enough, he’s gotten hot for the last couple of weeks.

So, given that we should really be basing all analysis on The Process rather than the results, what can we learn about Dayton Moore’s tenure? I’m not going to go all the way back to the beginning because he did have a huge mess to clean up when he first took over and I don’t want to discount that. So, instead, let’s just start with the 2012-2013 off-season and look at all the major transactions (per Baseball Reference) over the next two weeks and try to judge them both on process and results and see how it shakes out. We won’t bother with the drafting/international signing portion of this evaluation because having the worst farm system in baseball is proof enough of results so terrible that the process almost doesn’t even matter. Kind of like an Alcides Escobar batting line.

2012-2013

Resigned Jeremy Guthrie

Results: Pretty good. He pitched very well in 2013 and 2014 as the Royals started to get their feet under them

Process: Guthrie had pitched well in 2012 and the team did have need of a veteran starter/innings eater. However, Guthrie was going to be 34 heading into 2014. That’s incredibly old for a 3-year contract offer, even in 2013. I was originally for this signing but I hadn’t realized how old Guthrie was when it was signed. The money was also higher than you’d like for a pitcher that age though that was mostly due to the length of the contract.

Bad process, good results.

The James Shields/Wade Davis/Wil Myers trade

Results: Wade Davis turned into the best reliever in baseball for two years starting in 2014. James Shields devoured innings without mercy in 2013 and 2014. Elliot Johnson was a waste of roster space. Wil Myers turned into the Rookie of the Year, Jake Odorrizi became an above average starter, Mike Montgomery took a while to figure things out but eventually became an excellent swingman for the Cubs. The Royals got good results on this deal but it was pitched as acquiring an ace and a back-end starter. Instead, they got a #2 starter who stayed healthy and a fire-breathing reliever.

Process: The argument could be made that the Royals don’t make the post-season in 2014 and 2015 without Wade Davis but having Jake Odorizzi around in the rotation, assuming he could have pitched to the same results, would have been just as valuable as James Shields and freed up a lot of money to spend on free agents. He, Wil Myers, and Mike Montgomery could all still be Royals in arbitration, right now, if they hadn’t been traded while Shields and Davis are both long gone.

The other really important thing to this process is that the Royals were trading for Wade Davis the starter. They knew he could be effective in relief but they stuck him in their rotation in 2013 and he was competing for a rotation spot again in 2014 and only went to the bullpen because of the injury to Luke Hochevar. It’s sheer dumb luck that the Royals got a Cyborg in the trade.

Bad process, good results.

Signed Blaine Boyer as a minor league free agent

This actually wasn’t a big deal. I just wanted to point out that Dayton Moore has been in love with Blaine for a long time.

2013-2014

Signed Jason Vargas

Results: Vargas pitched better than his contract. Free agent deals are almost always overpays for the talent you acquire but in this case, the Royals got more production from Vargas than they paid for, even though he missed almost an entire season with Tommy John surgery.

Process: As opposed to the draft when the results are this good, the process almost doesn’t even matter. Still, a 4-year deal to a 31-year-old pitcher was probably not a great idea. On the other hand, Vargas had never relied on his ability to throw hard and those kinds of pitchers tend to age a bit better, anecdotally. I’ll give Dayton a win for this move.

Good process, good results.

Traded Will Smith for Nori Aoki

Results: Will Smith had been a very good reliever for the 2013 Royals but the bullpen, even before Wade Davis, was a source of strength and the Royals desperately needed a major league right-fielder. Nori was coming off a couple of pretty solid MLB seasons preceded by a terrific Japanese career. He ended up not being as valuable as they would have liked but he got incredibly hot in the second half and was a large part of the team’s success toward the end of the year.

Process: Dealing from a position of strength and volatility to fill a glaring hole is sound thinking. The Royals didn’t get fleeced on the deal and mostly got what they hoped to get.

Good process, average results.

Signed Omar Infante

Results: Horrendous. Omar started off well but after getting hit in the face with a pitch he was never truly a productive MLB player again. The Royals kept throwing him out there out of some sense of loyalty and lack of better options until halfway through 2016.

Process: The Royals overpaid for recency bias. Omar had had a very solid 2013 season but it was the best season he had had since 2010 and was fueled by a BABIP 30 points higher than his career average. He was going to be 32 before he even started the deal. The Royals desperately needed a real second-baseman but Omar was never going to be as good as they were paying him to be and probably could have been outplayed by even a younger version of Whit Merrifield or Johnny Giavotella. The idea of a second baseman was sound and I know a lot of Royals fans, including myself, were happy when they got him but this deal was never going to work out in the Royals favor. Paying Infante last season to sit at home sipping mai-tais also hamstrung what opportunities were available to improve that last hurrah with that core.

Bad process, bad results.

Re-signed Bruce Chen

Results: 7.45 ERA in 13 games, 7 starts.

Process: Chen was 37-years-old on this deal. He’d been a good pitcher for several years for KC so I don’t mind bringing him back but relying on him was a risk that failed to pay off.

Bad process, bad results.

Signed Scott Downs

Results: Bad

Process: At this point, Dayton Moore should have known what manager he was working with. Ned Yost doesn’t use LOOGYs like LOOGYs. So don’t sign pure LOOGYs because it will backfire spectacularly.

Bad process, bad results.

Traded Spencer Patton for Jason Frasor

Results: Jason was among the more solid relievers in the bullpen down the stretch.

Process: This is a win for Moore because relievers are volatile and he picked up another option without giving up anything truly valuable. It was a gamble with no cost and it paid off.

Good process, good results.

2014-2015

Didn’t allow sentimentality to rule Billy Butler’s free agency

Results: Billy was not good for other teams instead of not good for the Royals.

Process: Billy was bad in 2014. Given what we’ve seen of Moore he is extremely loyal to his guys. But Billy had no place on the 2015 Royals. Moore made the smart choice to let Billy go.

Good process, good results.

Traded Aaron Crow for Brian Flynn

Results: Aaron Crow is no longer pitching. Brian Flynn is a solid reliever

Process: It was a pure change of scenery swap. Got a cheap guy for an expensive guy and ended up with an upgrade. Pure win for GMDM.

Normal process, good results.

Re-signed Luke Hochevar

Results: Luke was very good in 2015, not so great and injured in 2016.

Process: It made sense to bring Luke back. He had finally found his spot as a back-end reliever in 2013 before getting hurt and missing 2014. However, guaranteeing two years and ten million dollars to a guy coming off an arm injury is a MASSIVE overpay.

Bad process, mediocre - good results.

Signed Kendrys Morales

Results: Morales was terrific in 2015, great bounce-back year. He was not nearly as good in 2016.

Process: Kendrys was a great get as a bounce-back candidate. But guaranteeing two years and $17 million to a guy hoping he’ll rebound is putting too much money on the long shot. The fact that it paid off for the first half of the deal doesn’t matter.

Bad process, mediocre results.

Signed Kris Medlen

Results: Kris was a lot of fun to have around and pitched OK in limited action toward the end of 2015 but was an absolute disaster in 2016.

Process: Dayton Moore took a bet that when Medlen was healthy he could help the team. He didn’t overpay horrendously for the privilege but it didn’t work out. It’s the kind of thing a small market team probably needs to do.

Good process, bad results.

Signed Alex Rios

Results: Alex turned it on in the playoffs to be a useful part of the roster but was a net negative by both bWAR and FanGraphs’ fWAR during the regular season.

Process: They say there’s no such thing as a bad one-year deal but Alex had been pretty bad in 2014 for the Rangers and was about to turn 34. You don’t offer that guy $11 million to play for you.

Bad process, bad results.

Signed Edinson Volquez

Results: He pitched very well in 2015 and terribly in 2016.

Process: The Royals needed someone to replace Shields in the rotation and Volquez was a very similar guy but the Royals had to pay him a lot less for a lot less time.

Good process, mediocre results

Signed Ryan Madson, Joe Blanton

Results: Amazing back-end reliever who wore out at the end of the year. Good reliever/swingman.

Process: GMs always sign lots of guys to minor league deals. They usually don’t pan out this well.

Average processes, terrific results.

Traded Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, and Cody Reed for Johnny Cueto

Results: Cueto wasn’t as good as usual in the regular season and he had a horrendous start in the ALCS. But once the Royals figured out they could only start him in the playoffs at home he more than did his job.

Process: John Lamb was a non-prospect at that point and Cody Reed hadn’t yet reached prospect status. Brandon Finnegan was the only real loss in this deal and the Royals so clearly didn’t know how to handle him that it’s almost like they stole Cueto. Still, GMDM probably could have kept Reed, who has had poor results and injuries but didn’t show any signs of that at the time, if the team would have paid for Cueto’s salary the rest of the year.

Fairly good process, great results.

Traded Sean Manaea and Aaron Brooks for Ben Zobrist

Results: Zobrist lengthened the lineup considerably, especially while Alex Gordon was MIA with an injury. He was a huge part of the playoff success and instantly became a fan favorite.

Process: The Royals desperately needed someone to replace Omar Infante in the lineup, the team was playing extremely well, and that’s the time to swing for the fences with your deals. Ben Zobrist was the best guy and the Royals went out and got him for a top pitching prospect with an injury history. I get the impression from what I’ve read elsewhere that the Athletics were focused on Manaea as part of this deal so paying Zobrist’s contract probably wouldn’t have helped the team, this time. This was probably the best GMDM could do.

Good process, great results.

For those of you counting at home, the count so far goes:

8 bad ideas, 8 good ideas.

6 bad outcomes, 11 good outcomes

If you were judging purely on results after the 2015 season then Dayton Moore looks like he’s doing pretty good. But if you’re looking at the process it begins to look like more of a mixed bag.

Next week we’ll take a look at everything that’s come since the World Series victory and add those results to these. I don’t know for certain without going over everything again but my gut says that as much as the results are going to diminish the ideas are going to look even worse.