Sam Mellinger wrote a fascinating piece earlier this week about the Royals and their current plans for the team. Appropriately the article refers to this as “The Process 2.0”. The Royals are claiming through Mr. Mellinger that they’re attempting to play Moneyball - even if one executive erroneously claimed they were not, a problem in and of itself if we’re being honest - by focusing on attributes they believe to be undervalued. Those attributes are speed and defense.
If that sounds a bit familiar it’s actually something they claimed to want back in 2014, too. And back then it paid off, right? They got away from that the last couple of years when they did things like trade Jarrod Dyson and sign Lucas Duda and Brandon Moss. And they didn’t win those years. So this is good news, right?
Shaun Newkirk had some thoughts about this on twitter and Mattew LaMar wrote an excellent article yesterday with his own thoughts. Together they both reminded me that I actually wrote a pair of articles back in June analyzing the work Dayton Moore has done the past few years in free agency and with trades. My studies showed that he’s done pretty poorly. Matthew’s analysis pointed out that Moore’s history of trades and free agents before the 2014-2015 seasons wasn’t exactly amazing either. Even among the two “great” trades he’s made it’s important to remember that if he had had his way the Zack Greinke trade would have had a much poorer return and Wade Davis would have been a mediocre starter instead of a devastating reliever.
Of course, the primary point of Matthew’s article was that Dayton Moore hasn’t drafted well. So if he hasn’t drafted well and he can’t sign more good free agents than bad or make more good trades than bad then it’s going to be really hard for the Royals to win. It’s been pointed out before that 2014 and 2015 may have been more luck than anything else. The more I think about it the more this seems likely.
Even if you assume that Dayton Moore is correct in valuing speed and defense in a way that other teams are not he seems to have lost sight of the other trait he valued - or at least acquired - better than anyone else for those winning clubs. The ability to not strikeout. Sure, Alcides Escobar couldn’t hit, but he could run and field, And he didn’t strike out much. Ditto pretty much everyone on those teams. Outside of Whit Merrifield that’s not particularly true of his current roster.
Perhaps the ability to not strike out has become too expensive. Or perhaps the analysts determined that it wasn’t actually all that useful. However, an argument was made in 2014 and 2015 that one of the reasons the offense out-performed expectations was that the fact that they constantly put the ball in play forced defenses to be uncomfortable. These guys won’t be doing that.
Without that third leg of the triangle I’m not sure the Royals can find success that way. Also given his track record I’m not entirely sure that even if the team had identified some undervalued skills that Moore could appropriately acquire those players. Maybe Moore knows something I don’t; in fact he probably does. Maybe he is hoping that the extra speed will make defense uncomfortable to the point that when one of those guys manages to get on it will create a snowball effect that will give the following hitters a better chance of reaching base. Or maybe it’s something else. And if the Royals make it back to the playoffs in a year or two under his leadership I guess I’ll owe him an apology. But until then I just don’t think I’ve got any real reason to believe in The Process 2.0.