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Recap Coda: A Duel of the Fates

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The underdog and the phenom.

Brian Bannister #19 of the Kansas City Royals pitches against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on June 23, 2010 in Washington, DC.
Brian Bannister #19 of the Kansas City Royals pitches against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on June 23, 2010 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

June 23, 2010 - Kansas City Royals at Washington Nationals

Recap Coda

June 23, 2010 seems like not so long ago. But it was forever ago in baseball years and in internet years. The advanced analytics revolution that happened in the last five years had yet to occur in a baseball landscape where Moneyball tactics were still controversial. Baseball was also in the middle of a new deadball era, where teams were scoring fewer runs than ever before. And on the internet, well, everything was different. Nyan Cat hadn’t even happened yet, and wouldn’t for almost a year after this game.

One of the huge differences was in how Royals Review operated. While it had been snapped up by SB Nation previously, the Will McDonald-run site had much lower editorial standards despite having brilliant writers. One of whom, Jeff Zimmerman, went on from Royals Review to become one of the most well-respected baseball analytics writers on the internet, eventually becoming a member of the Baseball Writer’s Association of America (commonly known to as the BBWAA). You know, the BBWAA that votes on Cy Young awards and the Hall of Fame.

And yet this was Jeff’s entire recap that day:

It was nice to get a win, especially against God. It was nice to have Day Banny back to stop the losing streak. Tejeda and Soria game a nice 3 innings of relief striking out 5 of the 9 batters.

Nine hits, nine singles, 9 runners LOB, 1 for 7 with RISP. This offense has zero pop right now.

No game tomorrow. i will get an “Completely Open Discussion Thread” up in the morning and plan to do a quick look to see how many runs Kendall is costing us batting 2nd.

A total of 93 words! Woohoo!

To be fair to Jeff, the Royals weren’t worth writing more than 93 words in that time, and it was a miracle Royals Review existed at all. After stumbling to a 97-loss season the year previous, the Royals entered the June 23 game at 29-43. They’d go on to lose 95 games in 2010, making it their seventh straight losing season—six of which eclipsed 90 losses. The Royals weren’t remotely competitive despite it being general manager Dayton Moore’s fourth full season on the job.

One of the hallmarks of Moore’s rebuilding lineups, and one of the reasons why it takes forever for his rebuilding teams to be any good despite being horrendously boring, is a reliance on over-the-hill veterans. We’ve seen this recently with the usage of such riveting vets Lucas Duda and Blaine Boyer, but Moore was really intent at using them from 2007 through 2012.

One June 23, 2010, 13 Royals stepped onto the diamond. Of them, five were at or over 29 years of age and either in the midst of their final or penultimate season in the big leagues:

  • Scott Podsednik
  • Jason Kendall
  • Jose Guillen
  • Rob Tejada
  • Brian Bannister

Podsednik was a late bloomer—a poor man’s version of Whit Merrifield—who nevertheless grinded out over a decade’s worth of big league service time. Kendall was a legendary Pittsburgh Pirate who was on a Hall of Fame track through age 30, where he was a three-time All-Star who might have had a chance at 2500+ hits as a catcher until he almost immediately forgot how to hit in his age-31 season. For the five years before he signed with Kansas City, Guillen was a remarkably productive overall hitter who promptly forgot how to hit after he put on Royal blue. And Tejada was simply nearing the end of his shelf life as a good reliever, which he had been for a while.

But Bannister? Bannister was interesting, for two reasons.

The first was what people affectionately called “Day Banny.” Bannister wasn’t ever a great pitcher. Over his five-year career, Bannister had two above average seasons and three replacement-level and below seasons. After a disastrous 2010 at age 29 where he sported a ghastly 6.34 ERA and suffered a shoulder injury, Banny called it quits.

However, if Bannister only played day games, perhaps his career would have been a different story. This is because Bannister, perhaps a reverse-werewolf (werecat? werepanther?), pitched significantly better in day games as opposed to night games, by pretty much any measurement:

ERA

  • Night: 5.68
  • Day: 4.04

Strikeout/Walk Ratio

  • Night: 1.64
  • Day: 1.88

Slash Line Given Up

  • Night: .282/.345/.463
  • Day: .265/.315/.405

It would be one thing if Bannister was moderately better, but he was significantly better at day than night. And so he became known as Day Banny among here Royals Review parts.

Bannister’s second interesting fact about him was his role in the burgeoning field of analytical player development. In Ben Lindbergh’s and Travis Sawchik’s book The MVP Machine, they devote most of a chapter to Banny. I highly reccomend reading the book, and so I won’t spoil it, but perhaps the most important thing that Bannister did on the field was introduce Zack Greinke to advanced analytics, perhaps helping guide Greinke further along his Hall of Fame path. This was known in 2009, when baseball players being interested in analytics was a story for the New York Times:

Bannister said Greinke has learned to adjust his pitching based on the advanced defensive statistics. Because of the size of the outfield at Kauffman Stadium and the strength of the Royals’ outfielders, relative to their infielders, it sometimes made more sense to induce fly balls.

“David DeJesus had our best zone rating,” Bannister said, referring to the Royals’ left fielder. “So a lot of times, Zack would pitch for a fly ball at our park instead of a ground ball, just because the zone rating was better in our outfield and it was a big park.”

To that end, Bannister introduced Greinke to FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, the statistic Greinke named Tuesday as his favorite. It is a formula that measures how well a pitcher performed, regardless of his fielders. According to fangraphs.com, Greinke had the best FIP in the majors.

“That’s pretty much how I pitch, to try to keep my FIP as low as possible,” Greinke said.

Bannister is now employed by the Boston Red Sox in their front office as Vice President of Pitching Development.

Going up against Bannister on June 23, 2010 was Stephen Strasburg. Maybe you’ve forgotten by now—or maybe you were too young to notice or appreciate—but the hype for Strasburg was at a thoroughly unbelievable fever pitch. Just examining one article from 2009, whose entire premise is that talented pitchers often fail, also relayed these descriptions of Strasburg:

  • “the best amateur pitching prospect [scouts] have seen”
  • a pitcher with “a mind-boggling package of skills for a draft-eligible pitcher”
  • “a unique talent”
  • a comet, streaking across the sky
  • “he’s Secretariat”

For those of you who aren’t familiar with horse racing, that last one is a ridiculous comparison. Secretariat was the name of a legendary horse who won the 1973 Triple Crown, a feat in and of itself astounding, but how the horse won the Belmont Stakes was one of the most unbelievable athletic performances in history.

He is moving like a tremendous machine is one of the classic calls in the history of sports commenting, and for good reason. It somehow most accurately describes what Secretariat is doing against the best of the best of the best of the best. Secretariat’s time at the Belmont, the last race in the Triple Crown, mind you, is the fastest in history by a full two seconds over the next fastest horse in the race’s lengthy history.

Strasburg sure looked like Secretariat right away. Strasburg started in Double-A immediately. He only struck out over 31% of batters and had an ERA of 1.64. He then went to Triple-A after five starts in Double-A. Six starts later, Strasburg’s ERA was 1.08, and he made the trip to Washington.

And then he was promptly out-dueled by Brian Bannister and the Kansas City Royals in his fourth start. In Washington. I remember watching the game. Banny was good. Strasburg was great. But with two outs in the fifth inning, Jose Guillen got an RBI against baseball Secretariat. On that day, it was enough.

Ultimately, it didn’t matter. Pitching losses don’t matter. But a decade later, Bannister is placing his own individual mark on the entire sport with his commitment to analytics. Strasburg is doing it another way: by being a great pitcher and tossing gems in a World Series.

For one afternoon, though, it was Day Banny and the Royals who turned the tables on what was the surest thing in baseball—a hotshot young pitcher beating a washed up vet on a bad team. To quote Rex Hudler: baseball is a beautiful thing.