Dave Fleming just lobbed in a bright little post on the Royals' dynasty. He leads off with this mortar, sailing over our heads and into our back yards:
At the start of the 2015 season, ESPN asked eighty-eight of their staffers to pick who would win the AL Central. Here’s who they picked:
Cleveland – 43
Detroit – 25
Chicago – 17
Kansas City – 3
For every one writer who picked the Royals to win the Central Division in 2015, fourteen picked Cleveland to win the division. For every one writer who picked KC, five picked the White Sox.
How about FanGraphs? FanGraphs asked thirty-eight staffers to pick the AL Central. Here’s who they picked:
Cleveland – 28
Detroit - 14
None of the FanGraphs writers picked Kansas City to win the AL Central. To their credit, none of their writers picked the White Sox, either, so they did a bit better than the ESPN folks.
Let that sink in a minute. After the Royals won the pennant in 2014, absolutely NOBODY thought they could do so again. Now here were are, at "again," and they were more impressive than ever.
The Royals were 7th of 15 teams in OBP, were 8th in strikeout rate. (This was based on having the very lowest VOLUME walk and strikeout rates. Picture them swinging at the first pitch of the at-bat and being safe or out at 1B.)
In pitching, they were #11 in strikeout and #12 in walks. (Picture the Royals' pitchers throwing Ball One or Strike One, and then the enemy batters putting the ball in play on the second pitch).
JAMES' K/BB PTYHAGOREAN THEOREM
Now, in contradisctinction to that, you have Bill James proving that "Strike Zone Winning Percentage' is a great, GREAT way to predict winning percentage. He took this formula:
Pitcher K * Batter BB
----------------------------------------- = Strike Zone WL%
(P K * B BB) + Batter K * Pitcher BB)
As he explains, when you pitcher gets a K, that's a win; when your batter gets a BB, that's a win. So Bill is counting "plate appearances wins and losses." Notice that he does even bother with Home Runs, the third leg on the TTO stool.
His system works great. The 2014 Nats had a Strike Zone WL% of .592, and an actual WL% of .593. In the history of baseball, there were 161 teams with a Strike Zone WL% of .575-.600, averaging .585 as a group, and those 161 teams actually played .574. That's true for every strata: the 200-odd(?) teams who averaged a .536 Strike Zone WL% played an actual .537 in real life.
Maybe it was this December 2014 James article that locked in DiPoto's core baseball philosophy.
BIRDWALK FOR A COOL LITTLE VISUAL
When he tried to explain the 2014-15 Royals, Fleming had asked us to picture baseball rosters as a dart board:
- Bulls-Eye: OBP. SLG. Starting Pitching.
- Second Ring: Speed and Defense, the "kissin' cousins" of baseball impact.
- Numbers around the dart board randomly: Bunting. Situational hitting. Mid Relief. 5th starter. Passed balls & etc.
To buttress his lofix, Dave asks us "How much do real teams PAY for each of the above circles?" He's right.
Funny thing is, the 2015 Royals were mediocre at EVERYTHING in the first circle. But they won 95 games in the regular season and then 11 more in the playoffs. And! Every team they beat in the playoffs DID have bullseye skills. Sez Dave:
The Houston Astros are a great slugging team, and they couldn’t beat the Royals. The Blue Jays had the most potent offense we’ve seen since the Cleveland teams of the mid-90’s. Toronto also had a Certified Ace David Price. The Royals beat ‘em. In the World Series, the Royals faced a team with an incredibly deep rotation, and a surprisingly potent offense, and they beat ‘em in five.
And, he points out, the Royals were almost impossible to beat in the 2014 playoffs, too. We're not just looking at one wonky playoff run.
WHAT *DID* HAPPEN?
As Fleming argues now, and as James argued in December 2014, it IS possible to win so many of "the other battles" that you overcome your deficits in the most important battles.
For the Royals this was:
- Good D
- Great running the bases
- Great bullpen
- Historically great at contact (putting the ball in play)
- Catcher very good at hard-to-pin-down stuff like framing
He also makes the very provocoative comment that as K's rise, the value of a contact hitter also rises. In your slo-pitch league, NOBODY strikes out, so there is zero value in a sharp ground ball. In the majors, the K% has gone from 16% to 20% in ten years. Maybe a Ketel Marte type is worth more now than he was 10 years ago.
BOTTOM LINE, Dept.
Fleming's theory is that baseball is moving toward --- > contact hitters being more important (unless baseball does something about 20%+ strikeout rates). And Fleming thinks that bullpens are definitely being weighted much more heavily as one year goes to the next. The 2014-15 Royals were able to body-surf this crest. It gave them an edge.