Projections & Predictions: The Royals Mortal Enemies

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We all know the story of the Kansas City Royals and projections the last couple seasons. Before 2014 Kansas City was projected to finish 79-83 by Baseball Prospectus, in a tie for second in the American League Central with the Cleveland Indians. The Royals did ten games better, finishing 89-73, earning a Wild Card berth and ending up one game short of winning the World Series. In 2015, the Royals were projected to finish(once again by Baseball Prospectus) even worse, 72-90, the second worst projected total in the American League. The Royals would easily eclipse this projection, finishing 95-67, winning the American League Central, claiming home field advantage throughout the playoffs and eventually winning the World Series. So with pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training in less than two weeks, once again the Royals are once again projected to finish 79-83, this time by Fangraphs. Last year, Royals fans were in an uproar over this, feeling like the team was being overlooked and not given the respect they earned after the 2014 World Series. Even into the summer, when Kansas City steamrolled past the 72 win mark, fans would make snide remarks and mock BP, questioning the website and the way they came to their results. But the real problem isn’t Baseball Prospectus or Fangraphs; no, the real problem is that fans(and analysts alike) put too much stock in projections and predictions.

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Let’s start with the PECOTA projections. I actually had no issue with the Royals being projected so low, as it made sense to me. Most of their projections are taken off of a players’ past performance and the Royals had a number of players who accumulated poor seasons in 2014. A lot of people just remember the playoffs, when Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer looked like beasts and the Royals looked like an unbeatable locomotive. The truth was that Moustakas had an awful 2014, Hosmer’s wasn’t great and they weren’t alone. A good chunk of the Royals lineup did not fare well, so of course the projections would be lower. Even offseason acquisition Kendrys Morales was coming off of a lackluster campaign, one in which he put up worse numbers than the man he was replacing, Billy Butler. PECOTA puts a lot of stock in past performance, so this made sense. Sam Miller of BP wrote a great article about how they came to these results, in which Miller even admits that they need to work on improving the weight of a good bullpen and excellent defense can have on a team winning. The final paragraph speaks volumes about the projections and why they aren’t perfect:

While PECOTA aspires to be perfect, what it really does is this: It projects players, individually; it converts those performances into expected runs, based on how baseball usually works; then it converts those runs into expected wins, based on how baseball usually works. At each step along the way, it gets harder to be perfect, and the Royals demonstrate that challenge well. Some players did better than we expected; some offered incomplete data on which to project them; some were added to the roster at midseason; some found the right fit. None of us is arrogant enough to think that projection systems are magic; baseball is impossible to predict with the sort of precision that avoids situations like 2015 Royals. We all know we can’€™t outrun the bear

To sum this up, the projections are based off of projected numbers put up by each player on the team. If you calculate the players who will get injured or the players who will be acquired within the season, these numbers are bound to be off. In fact, as much as I use BP quite frequently during the season(the yearly projection book is normally right beside my desk), I also know that the projections are just that, not a definite. Just look at last year’s projections: only three teams were expected to win over 90 games. Yep, three total for both leagues. Instead, seven teams finished with over 90 wins while three alone were in the National League Central. So it becomes very obvious that BP’s projections are a starting point, not a literal interpretation of how the season will actually unfold.

World Series - New York Mets v Kansas City Royals - Game One
Game One of the 2015 World Series-October 27, 2015

Predictions are different than projections in that predictions are purely one person’s opinion. Projections you can actually go back and check the numbers and see how you ended up with the finished results. It’s like when you would show your math homework; if your answer is ‘C’, all you have to do is go back and look at ‘A’ and ‘B’ to figure out how you got to your final answer. Predictions are literally just guesses. Granted, these predictions hold more weight when it is a respected baseball analyst, but at the end of the day they are still guesses. I respect the hell out of guys like Ken Rosenthal and Jayson Stark, and both of them are around the game every day and are about as knowledgeable as they come in the game. But…their predictions are still just guesses. So why are fans, most notably Royals fans, getting upset that someone essentially has a different opinion than they do?

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This is where I laugh at the fan who gets visibly angry that analyst ‘x’ predicted that the Royals won’t get to the playoffs or that they won’t compete at the level they did the year before. To me, all predictions are guesses and more than anything are done for fun. Most analysts(yes, the Rosenthal’s, Stark’s and Gammon’s of the world) would even tell you their guesses are normally way off. So if we all acknowledge the fact that predictions shouldn’t be taken super serious, why do some fans get all worked up about it? The only logical answer is that they want an analyst(or you or me) to agree with them. There seems to be some underlying issue with people who view something like preseason predictions as the expected result and the end all be all of final answers. They are not. If anything, these last couple seasons have proved that with the way the Royals have gone out there and over-exceeded results. I couldn’t tell you if Kansas City used such “guesses” as bulletin board fodder or not, but I’m sure they were aware and promptly did what every other team did: go out and play the games.

MLB: JUL 22 Orioles at Royals
July 22 2013

At the end of the day, that is what it all comes down to; actually playing the games. You see, we can estimate what someone like Alex Gordon will do, and we might even be closely accurate, but the players have to go out there and actually play on the field. I am proud to say I absolutely love stats and I freely will admit to being a ‘stat nerd’, but I also realize that these are humans that go out there and play baseball. I say let all the ‘experts’ predict and project that the Royals won’t do this, or won’t do that. Let them say that they don’t hit enough home runs or make too much contact. Because if we have learned anything these last two years, it’s that this Royals team determines their own fate. The unpredictable is almost the norm for this team and that can’t be predicted. So remember that when more projections and predictions pop up soon; the numbers unfortunately can’t measure a player’s heart or will. It can’t predict a five run 8th inning or a mad dash to home with two outs. It can’t measure a team that has an out of this world defense and a cyborg for their closer. Love the numbers, but realize that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

 

An October To Remember

Oct 23, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Wade Davis (17) and catcher Salvador Perez (left) celebrate after defeating the Toronto Blue Jays in game six of the ALCS at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-245746 ORIG FILE ID: 20151023_jla_sa7_285.jpg
(Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY)

Last year, the Kansas City Royals made the playoffs for the first time since 1985, a 29 year gap that felt much wider and deeper than that. I started following baseball when I was 7 back in 1984, and instantly became a Royals fan. So I do remember 1985, albeit not the way I would have if I had been a bit older. I remember my mother making me hot cocoa before the games and I remember being ‘out to the moon’ excited when they won that year. I even remember coming home from school sometime the next spring and walking in on my parents watching the Kansas City Royals home video ‘The Thrill of it All’, a look back at the Royals championship run in ’85. Yes, the video was for me and still to this day I watch that video at least once a year. I have stuck with this team for over 30 years now and don’t regret a minute of it. Sure, I hated the losing, but I knew if the Royals ever made it back to postseason play that I would be incredibly appreciative of what I was witnessing. Last year I got to be in attendance for Game 3 of the ALDS(a full recap is here) and it is at the top of all the great baseball events I have witnessed in my life. When the postseason was over last year and the Royals had fallen just short of gaining a World Championship, I told myself that if they returned in the near future I was going to make sure I went. Honestly, who knew when the Royals would make it back to October baseball? Sure, it could be soon but we all thought the same thing back in 1985. So when opportunity knocked this year, I answered the door.

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So when the Royals clinched a playoff berth(and eventually the division) I was already running through plans in my head. We found out early on that you could register for the chance to buy ALDS tickets so I signed up, figuring it was a longshot but you’re not in the race unless you sign up. About a week before the playoffs started I got an e-mail saying I was picked and would have 24 hours the next day to order tickets, but I could only buy two. I ordered my two tickets the next day and I knew at that point I was going to at least one playoff game. Funny how these things work though; The Monday before the playoffs started, we got an e-mail at work saying I had media clearance for the ALCS and World Series. Hey, look at that! I work at a radio station that is a Royals affiliate and we had sent in for media passes a few weeks earlier. So my gameplan had switched a bit, since I knew that if Kansas City advanced to the next round(or even to the World Series), I would be able to go. The next day I found out I media clearance for the ALDS, which was going to give my son a chance to go to his first playoff Game. So the plan was set for us to go to Game 2 of ALDS against Houston.

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Game 2 of the ALDS was on a Friday afternoon and my girlfriend, my son and I made the trek to Kauffman Stadium to be a part of what would hopefully be a Royals win. There was one little catch to this whole thing; since I was media, I would be sitting by myself in the media section down the left field line. After batting practice, my girlfriend and son took the tickets we bought and hung out in the upper deck for the game and I ventured out to the media section. What was witnessed was another comeback win for the Royals, something that became a theme for Kansas City during the playoffs. I had a nice vantage point of the game but here is a another minor catch to being media: as media, you are supposed to be unbiased, so there is no cheering, since you are there to do a job. As a fan of the Royals, this can be hard sometimes, as you are by nature used to cheering on your team. The good news is that my girlfriend and son had a great experience during this game and that made me feel really good. I had my memorable playoff experience last year, it only seemed appropriate for them to have theirs at their first playoff game. It was nice to discuss certain parts of the game with them on the drive home and I left hoping I would be back at Kauffman again before the year was done.

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Luckily, I would be back about a week later for Game 2 of the ALCS, another afternoon game at ‘The K’. I made my way to the stadium a bit early and went and found my seat for the game, getting set up as I would be live-tweeting the game for the radio station. As I’m sitting there getting prepared, Rany Jazayerli(who is the Royals blogger of main importance and co-founder of Baseball Prospectus) would walk up. This blog wouldn’t exist without Rany, as when I started looking at Royals blogs I found Rany’s and instantly felt a kinship. We were both longtime Royals fans that felt disenfranchised with the direction the team seemed to be going in. I would go ahead and introduce myself to him and we ended up talking baseball for about 5 minutes. I’m sure he probably doesn’t even remember it by now, but it showed what a nice guy he was. He took time out of his day just to chat with someone about baseball. The game would get underway a little bit later and outside of a chilly breeze that progressively got worse as the game went on, everything was going smoothly. That is, except the Royals had gotten a hit since the 1st inning, as David Price was shoving, retiring 18 Royals in a row. That is until the 7th inning, when the Blue Jays would let a Ben Zobrist ball drop into right field, opening the floodgates and allowing the Royals to go ahead and eventually win the game. I really felt this was the loudest I had ever heard the crowd at Kauffman and the win put the Royals up 2-0 in the series. It was another classic Royals win, and I was on a baseball high on the drive home. This game might have been the point where I started to think this was a team of destiny, as it really felt as if no lead was safe for any team against Kansas City. This was the point where I started to think I would be back for the World Series.

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I would be correct in my estimation, as the Royals would make a return trip to the World Series. There was a slight issue with work, as there for a few days it looked like I might not be able to get off of work due to personnel problems. Luckily, I found out on Monday that I would be able to go, so I made plans to be there for Game 1 of the 2015 World Series. After dealing with traffic, I made it to the stadium and would once again return to my spot out in left field, although this time I was greeted with a wet seat. I planned ahead though, knowing there was a good chance of rain that day so I had tucked a towel away in my bag, using it to wipe off my seat and my work area. I was once again live-tweeting the game, but little did I know that I would be there for a good 5+ hours. The light rain would stop almost at first pitch and we were underway. I made sure before the game started to take everything in, as it hit me I was actually at a World Series game. I think if you told 8 year old Sean that he would be at a Royals World Series game 30 years later, he probably would have laughed and thought you were full of it. But there I was, getting ready to witness a first for me.

Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri, Game 1 of 2015 Major League Baseball World Series, Kansas City Royals VS New York Mets
Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri, Game 1 of 2015 Major League Baseball World Series, Kansas City Royals VS New York Mets

When Alcides Escobar slid to the plate to start the bottom of the inning, I started laughing, because I knew he was going to swing at the first pitch. Not only did he swing at the first pitch, but he would hit a fly ball that would bounce off Yoenis Cespedes’ glove, as the ball bounced away and Escobar would get an inside the park home run! I was well aware at this point that I had yet to see the Royals lose a playoff game when I was in the building, and I was hoping they wouldn’t start now. I feel blessed that my first World Series game was a classic, a game that was back and forth and would change leads several times. In the 8th inning, the Mets would take the lead but I realized that even if the Royals lost, I was watching a pure classic and couldn’t have been happier about it. Then it happened; Alex Gordon would take Jeurys Familia of the Mets deep, a solo home run to tie the game at 4. If there was a time I was going to be unprofessional and cheer in the media section, it would be after this. I won’t lie; I almost cheered. But I kept my cool, pumping my fist at my side without anyone the wiser. I knew at this point I wasn’t getting home until late that night, plus I had work early in the morning. I didn’t care; this game was pure bliss! In the 14th inning(and at this point the game was 5+ hours long and had stretched past midnight) I noticed on Twitter that no World Series game had gone more than 14 innings. In the back of my head I started to think that I could be viewing history(yet again) if this game still was tied up after 14 innings. Luckily, Eric Hosmer would redeem himself in the bottom of the inning from an earlier error, hitting a sacrifice fly to right to score Escobar and give the Royals the victory in Game 1.

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The weirdest thing happened after this; the crowd started to mill out of the stadium, and I didn’t want to leave. Even though I knew it was late and knew I wasn’t getting much sleep that night, I didn’t want it to end. It meant the world to me that I got to attend a World Series game, not even mentioning the fact that it will go down as a classic. In some way, a part of me wondered if that would be my last visit to Kauffman Stadium this year. I knew I wouldn’t be at Game 2 the next night and there was a part of me that felt this series wouldn’t return to Kansas City. So instead, I wanted to take everything in. The crowd, the atmosphere, the field, the players; I literally took everything in and kept it encapsulated in my mind for future reference. I was kind of worried I might fall asleep on my two hour drive home, but I had nothing to worry about. I was still pumped, replaying the game over in my brain. I arrived home close to 3am and would proceed to accidentally wake up my girlfriend. She asked me if I had just got home, and when I said ‘yes’, she asked why. You see, she had fallen asleep during the 7th inning, before the game got really crazy. I told her it went 14 inning and she asked ‘Seriously??’. She would fall back asleep, and I would as well about 30 minutes later, although my mind was still abuzz. What an October!

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That Sunday night the Royals would wrap up the series in just five games. As I predicted, the series wouldn’t return to Kansas City. I’ve had a little over a week now to really let everything soak in and so much about this past month amazes me. I was very fortunate that I got to be witness to not only three Royals playoff games this Fall, but three games that will be discussed for years to come. I’ve always held the 1985 team on a pedestal, not only because for the longest time they were the only Royals championship team, but because that was so early on in my love for the Kansas City Royals. But for years I have recognized that as much as I loved that ’85 squad, talent wise they weren’t the best team that year. This 2015 squad is going to be remembered for a lot of things, but more than anything I think I will look at them as the most talented Royals team I have ever seen. Just a few years ago I was disappointed with the organization and started to wonder if we as fans were ever going to see a winning season, let alone a championship season. Now we have seen back to back World Series appearances and will be adding yet another flag to the poles in the outfield at Kauffman Stadium. This October meant the world to me and my love of this team; not only was I able to cross items off my bucket list, but I finally get to say my team are the World Champions. The games might be over, but the memories will always remain.

More coverage from this October:

ALDS Coverage: here and Game 4 of the ALDS coverage is here.

ALDS/ALCS Notes: click here

World Series Coverage: World Series here

Wrap up of the 2015 Kansas City Royals Season: Enjoy the link here

Fading Starling

Bubba Starling signing and press conference

It is fairly safe to say that there is no greater crap-shoot in sports than the Major League Baseball Draft. Unlike the other main sports, determining whether a high school or college baseball player will be able to make all the transitions from level to level isn’t as easy as how fast they run or how hard they throw. Guys who look like total locks end up being average players at best and some don’t even make it to the big leagues. With that in mind, former Royals first round pick Bubba Starling has gone from bona-fide prospect to giant question mark, all in just a few years.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS 2012 SPRING TRAINING

Starling was the first round draft pick of the Kansas City Royals(5th overall selection) in the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft. Starling graduated from Gardner-Edgerton High School in Gardner, Kansas, just a shake and a wiggle away from Kansas City. He had been widely considered as one of the most athletic players in the draft and him being in the Royals backyard rated him higher within the Royals organization. Some believed the Royals felt burned when Albert Pujols played nearby at Maple Woods Community College and was passed over. To be fair, so did pretty much every other team, as Pujols wasn’t drafted until the 13th round of the 1999 Amateur Draft. So the Royals didn’t want to let Bubba get away, especially with the story that could be told when he reached the majors. The thought was ‘Local Boy Becomes Star Outfielder for Royals’ seemed like a great story that could be profited from. After a long back and forth for Starling(as he decided between signing with Kansas City or playing football at Nebraska) , he signed with the Royals to a contract with a $7.5 million signing bonus. Now it was time to play ball.

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Bubba would begin his pro career in 2012 at the age of 19. That year Baseball Prospectus would rank Starling as the 27th best prospect in baseball, a huge honor to a kid just beginning his career. Unfortunately 2012 didn’t turn out the way most hoped, and by 2013 he fell to the 49th best prospect in baseball. This year Baseball Prospectus didn’t even rank him. It is still early in his career, but questions are already being asked. He struck out more than 25% of his at bats in 2013 and there is concern about his inability to read breaking pitches. There is a hitch in his swing which could be affecting this. He does seem to be improving his walk ratio, which is good considering his high strikeout rate. His numbers haven’t been glowing either early on this season:

Year              Age    AgeDif         Tm   Lg Lev Aff   G  PA  AB  R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS  TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB
2012               19      -1.2 Burlington APPY  Rk KCR  53 232 200 35  55  8  2 10  33 10  1 28  70 .275 .371 .485 .856  97   2   3  0  1   2
2013               20      -1.6  Lexington SALL   A KCR 125 498 435 51 105 21  4 13  63 22  3 53 128 .241 .329 .398 .727 173   8   6  0  4   1
2014               21      -2.0 Wilmington CARL  A+ KCR  17  74  60  8   8  4  0  1   6  1  0  9  24 .133 .284 .250 .534  15   0   4  0  1   0
3 Seasons   3 Seasons 3 Seasons               3 Seasons 195 804 695 94 168 33  6 24 102 33  4 90 222 .242 .337 .410 .747 285  10  13  0  6   3
But there is more. Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus had this to say just the other day about Starling:

https://twitter.com/ProfessorParks/status/458655355166531584

The picture that has been drawn is one of a prospect who has amazing raw skills(power, speed, agility) but hasn’t seemed to start putting them together yet. Royals GM Dayton Moore isn’t too worried, and in a lot of ways he is right. Starling will be 22 in August, so one breakout season this year or next could elevate him in most people’s eyes. Speaking of eyes, Bubba got the famous LASIK surgery almost a year ago, as the feeling was maybe his eyes were part of the problem. So far that doesn’t seem the case, but Eric Hosmer also got that surgery and he didn’t start reaping the benefits until the following season of said surgery.

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So where does this leave Starling and his future with the Royals? As of now they seem content with him taking the slow climb up the minor league ladder. It’s conceivable that if he starts to take off this year he could be advanced to AA Northwest Arkansas. But that seems to be a big ‘if’ considering how Bubba has produced so far in the minors. As much as the Royals and the Kansas City community are rooting for Starling to live up to the hype, it’s possible he won’t reach expectations. It’s unfortunate, considering he would be the second top ten draft pick during the Dayton Moore era to not be a regular for the Royals(Christian Colon would be the other). Luckily for him, this book has many chapters left in it. At this point though, it looks like instead of his abilities being more in line with Amos Otis, Starling might be closer to Mitch Maier. It goes to show you that there are no guarantees when it comes to the MLB Player Draft. Crap-shoot, indeed.

 


			

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