Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Case For A Royal All-Star Game

Be careful O' baseball scribes.

Your carefully worded musings about the domination of the Kansas City Royals in the American League All-Star Game voting are becoming less veiled, revealing your true disdain for the"unconventional", "unprecedented" "phenomenon" unfolding before our collective eyes.

Those aforementioned descriptors are suddenly sounding a lot more like, "silly", "undeserved", "crazy", and "stupid". We get it. We see how you really feel about it.

Okay, let's go down that road. Let's use those terms and that thought process. And by the end of this post I will agree with you.  But first, allow me the discretion to illustrate how roads can curve and take us to unintended places.

Derek Jeter. He was voted into the All-Star Game for the American League last year. His stats weren't bad (certainly not "crazy" bad like those of 2015 Omar Infante), but there were others who were having much better and more deserving years, statistically speaking.

But we all know that every year there are many players voted into the ASG because of reputation, not because of their statistical success. Because they are popular. Because of what Derek Jeter has meant to the game throughout his career he earned the right to start in his last ASG. We could all come up with numerous arguments why certain players were more deserving than others. And some of the disparities and injustices have been downright egregious.

So, the identity of the MLB All-Star Game and its associated fan voting has always been some sort of amalgamation of statistical success, popularity, sentiment, and the emotional attachment of a fan base with certain players.

But what if I had ended that last sentence with the word "a team", instead of "certain players"? What if a particular TEAM had created an unprecedented phenomenon collectively instead of through the traditional individual route.

Roads, like baseballs, do curve. And they both end up in unexpected places occasionally. Here's where my curvy road leads:

On the field, in the most recent team tournament style playoff, the Kansas City Royals didn't just win the American League Pennant, they went undefeated. Without blemish. That's "crazy" good by any standard. That's the first statistical criteria I will use. Also on the field, including the final 8 games of the 2014 regular season playoff race, the postseason, and the first 60 games of the 2015 season, the Royals have 52 wins. The next best AL teams are in the low 40's. That's a pretty large gap in TEAM performance over the last eighty some games (52-31 record for the Royals), or about half a season.

Here's another couple of twists in the road - the Royals did all of this without a single "All-Star" starting pitcher. There wasn't one on the 2014 All-Star team and there won't be one on the 2015 AL squad either...and their batters were last in the league in 2014 in home runs as well - "phenomenal". Now, their bullpen has been so good that it is almost "silly". I mean, like, historically good. But relief pitchers are chosen for the ASG by the managers, not the fans. And the AL ASG roster only included one Royal last year and will include only one at the most this year - "undeserved".

So, that leaves the position players. That crazy bunch of characters who act more like fun-loving college players than major leaguers. Oh sure, they had 4 gold glove finalists and finished with 3 gold gloves and the platinum glove for the AL. And they could legitimately end up with 6 finalists this year (can you really argue against Cain and Moustakas being in that conversation)? Obviously, that would be "unprecedented". And the combination of Rios and Dyson in your other outfield position? Wow. Defensive stats are still stats, and should be included in All-Star evaluating.

Let's tie all of this together with another Derek Jeter reference. When I Googled, "Jeter play against A's", the first result is from MLB.com. The caption reads, "Jeter's iconic flip" and the narrative continues by calling it one of the most memorable plays in baseball history. It was a defensive play. It was instinctual, it was memorable in how it was different from anything you had seen in a long time.

Now take that thought and extrapolate it out to a team you saw in the postseason last year that played the game differently than you had seen in a long time. A team that won games differently from any team you had seen in a long time - flying around the field and the bases, celebrating like a bunch of little leaguers, and transforming a city that had endured very bad baseball for almost 30 years - "unconventional". It captured the hearts of many baseball fans across the country. Perhaps that is why there hasn't been a national outpouring of voting against the Royals, as some in the media have called for.

You see, some believe that if a guy in Kansas City can be smart enough to serve some of the world's best bar-b-que out of a gas station, then surely there could be a pimple-faced geek living in a Kansas City basement of his mother's house who would be intelligent enough to invent some type of algorithm which can manipulate the system and vote in all the Royals position players. There's probably also a secret plan to have a local hypnotist convince Ned Yost that he should use 5 guys out of his bullpen, announced to the ASG pitching roster, to cover the entire game 2 innings at a time. Yet MLB officials have said they have found no improprieties in the voting. And keep in mind that 80% of the voting last year was done online.

Even if all the Royal starters that get voted in strikeout in their only at-bat before getting replaced by "more deserving" all-stars, there will still be plenty of time for the latter to get the lead and have Wade Davis come in and get the save. But what if, just maybe, all the KC Royals fans, both lifers and recent adoptees nationwide want to see if this entire scrappy bunch of "team above all - whatever it takes" players attempt to do what they did not so long ago...turn the impossible into the improbable, into the unconventional, into the "holy crap, look at this", into the phenomenal.

Now, wouldn't that be just "silly", "crazy", "stupid" fun?        



Sunday, October 5, 2014

How The Majority of 2014 MLB Playoff Teams Are/Were Influenced by Missouri

1. and 2. The obvious Missouri connections to this year's 10 teams in the MLB playoffs begin with the two franchises directly participating - the Kansas City's Royals and St. Louis' Cardinals.  But the number of, and impact of, the historical connections are interesting as well.  And one major historical event possibly changed the fate of four of the teams in this year's postseason festivities.

3.  The Oakland A's were in Kansas City for 13 years before moving out west.

4.  The Baltimore Orioles were previously known as the St. Louis Browns (more about this later).

5.  Before Branch Rickey's fame with the Dodgers, he had already heavily impacted the game of baseball in his 30 plus years in St. Louis, both with the Browns and the Cardinals.  He was a player, manager, and executive in the city during his long stint there.  Branch was responsible for signing George Sisler, commanded Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson in WWI, designing the famous Birds on the Bat uniform for the Cardinals, and is credited with inventing the modern day organized minor league farm system, which first spawned the Gashouse Gang success in the 1930's.  When Branch executed his most famous baseball breakthrough, the signing of Jackie Robinson, he first had to sign him away from the Kansas City Monarchs (of the Negro Leagues), and assign him to the Dodgers affiliate - the Montreal "Royals".  By the way, after leaving the Dodgers, Rickey became the General Manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates and later returned to the St. Louis Cardinals as a consultant.  He died in Columbia Missouri after attempting his final speech as a newly elected member of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.

6. 7. 8. 9. - Perhaps one of the most profound impacts on all 4 of the California baseball franchises is what DIDN'T happen because of one of the country's most infamous historical events.  Before California had any of their current major league baseball franchises, there was a vote of major lead owners scheduled to approve the move of what was to be California's first MLB team.  In 1941, the American League gave tentative approval for an existing franchise to move to Los Angeles.  The League even created a schedule for the following season that took into account transcontinental trips for games in Los Angeles.  The final step was a vote of the existing American League owners to approve the move.  The vote was scheduled for the week of November 8th, 1941.  With the bombing of Pearl Harbor on November 7th, the owners decided that week that it was not a good time to make a move to the West Coast.  So, the franchise involved in the voting move, the St. Louis Browns, remained in St. Louis until their later move to Baltimore, in 1954.  It is interesting to consider the impact this move would have made to the subsequent California franchises starting in the 1950's.  By the way, some St. Louis Brown fans/investors still owned stock in the Baltimore Orioles franchise until 1979, when new Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams bought out the remaining shares, some which dated back to 1936.    

Friday, September 26, 2014

Rotation setting up nicely for playoffs

I know I'm ahead of things here, but with the Oakland loss Thursday and the playoff schedule days announced, things are lining up in a very interesting way. If Guts can clinch Friday & A"s lose, we can limit innings for Duffy & Ventura over the weekend and have the following set up:
Hopefully Seattle & Oakland tie and have to pitch Walker & Lester in a Monday play in game. If A's win that one we avoid Lester and King Felix. Regardless, we could have Big Game James ready for the home playoff game on Tuesday. Then we could have Duffy on regular rest after a light game for first ALDS game on Thursday, with Ventura on regular rest after a light game for Friday"s game 2. Game 3 would be back home with Big Game James on regular rest for Sunday.
Monday game 4 would be either a rested Vargas or JGuts at home. Wednesday's deciding game 5 would be with Duffy on regular rest. There aren't any 3 straight game scenarios here, so our 7th, 8th, & 9th inning hammers should be in a good position as well. I like our chances if the combo of Shields, Duffy, Ventura, Herrera, Davis, and Holland could pitch all but 6 innings of our first 6 playoff games played over 8 days.
Even if that series goes a full 5 and we win, The ALCS would have the first two games on Friday and Saturday, allowing for Ventura and then Shields so that they could have extra rest.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

UPDATED - SEC Dominance Is Not Just At The Top

While watching bowl games involving SEC teams the past few weeks I've heard a recurring theme from football analysts - "...this team doesn't seem to believe that the SEC is so dominate..."  And when Duke was building a large lead over Texas A&M in their first half, there was a mention of the ACC over the SEC.


I thought to myself, "A&M wouldn't be considered one of the top 5 teams in the SEC.  While Duke played for their conference championship and would be considered the 2nd or 3rd best team in the ACC."

With the recent run of consecutive national championships, there was really no argument about the dominance at the very top of the conference.  But many media people, and even some top coaches, question the true depth of the SEC.

So I started going back through the bowl games of the previous two (now three) seasons (2011-12 and 2012-13 and 2012-14) to compare the conference rank of SEC teams with the conference ranks of their opponents.  The conference rank of each team is based on combination of conference record, head to head, and overall record - not the perceived ranking of the bowl game itself (though you can make arguments to move the rank up or down a spot).  

2011-12 Bowls
#1 Alabama vs #2 LSU - both teams from the SEC in Nat. Champ. game.
#3 Georgia (L)       vs  Mich St.(Big10 #1)     30-33(ot)   Outback
#4 S. Carolina (W) vs  Nebraska(Big10 #5)    30-13        Cap One
#5 Arkansas (W)    vs  Kansas St (Big12 #2)   29-16        Cotton
#6 Auburn (W)      vs  Virginia  (ACC #4)     43-24        Chick-Fil-A
#7 Florida (W)       vs  Ohio St.  (Big10 #8)   24-17         Gator
#8 Miss St. (W)     vs  Wk.Forest (ACC #6)   24-17        Music City
#9 Vandy (L)         vs  Cinn. (Big East #2)      24-31        Liberty

2012-13 Bowls
#1 Alabama (W)    vs  N. Dame (Indep #1)      42-14       Nat. Champ.
#2 Georgia (W)     vs  Nebraska (Big10 #2)      45-31      Cap One
#3 Florida (L)        vs  Louisville (BigE #1)      23-33       Sugar
#4 Tex A&M (W)  vs  Oklahoma (Big12 #2)    41-13       Cotton
#5 S. Carolina (W)  vs Michigan (Big 10 #3)     33-28      Outback
#6 LSU    (L)          vs  Clemson (ACC #2)       24-25      Chick-Fil-A
#7 Vandy (W)        vs  N.C. St  (ACC #6)        38-24      Music City
#8 Miss St. (L)       vs  Nwestern (Big10 #5)     20-34      Gator
#9 Ole Miss (W)    vs  Pittsburgh (BigE #5)      38-17       Compass

The 11-5 record over the combined two years is impressive enough (12-6 if you count the SEC vs SEC Nat. Champ. game).  But when you look closer you see that most of the games are played against teams that ranked higher (or much higher) in their perspective conferences.  It looks like many of the middle and lower tier SEC teams fare pretty well against teams in other conferences, doesn't it?  Unfortunately, there are barely any games to compare between the SEC and the Pac 12.  But with the success of the SEC in both national championship games and top-to-bottom bowl games against the other major conferences, I think you can comfortably use the word "dominate".

UPDATE for 2013-14 SEC bowl games -

#1 Auburn (L)       vs   Florida St.  (ACC #1)     31-34      Nat. Champ.
#2 Alabama (L)     vs  Oklahoma (Big12 #2)      31-45      Sugar
#3 Mizzou (W)       vs  Okla St.  (Big12 #3)       41-31      Cotton
#4 S. Carolina (W)  vs  Wisconsin (Big10 #2)    41-13      Cap One
#5 LSU     (W)        vs   Iowa  (Big10 #3)          21-14      Outback
#6 Georgia   (L)     vs   Nebraska (Big10 #5)     24-25       Gator
#7 Tex A&M (W)   vs   Duke  (ACC #3)          52-48      Chick-Fil-A
#8 Vandy  (W)       vs   Houston (AAC #4)        41-24      Compass
#9 Miss St. (W)     vs     Rice (CUSA #1)          44-7        Liberty
#10 Ole Miss (W)  vs    G Tech (ACC #6)        25-17     Music City


The SEC bowl record of the 3 seasons from 2011-14 is 18-8 (19-9 if you count the SEC vs SEC Nat. Champ. game).  Consistency is there as well as the SEC had 3 losses in each bowl season.

Obviously, the losses from the top 2 SEC teams in 2014 stand out.  And this probably shows that other conferences are closing the gap with the top of the SEC.  However, 2 of the 3 SEC losses were by 3 points or less.

Again, many SEC teams "played up" against teams who finished higher in other conferences.  The Gamecocks big win over a Wisconsin team that finished 2nd in the Big Ten is particularly impressive. And as previously noted, a Duke team that finished 3rd in the ACC lost to the SEC's "7th best team".   A Mississippi St team that finished 9th in the SEC clobbered the best team the Conference USA had to offer.

I also find this amazing - during the last 3 seasons every team in the SEC except Tennessee and Kentucky has WON a bowl game.  Not just appeared...WON.

Overall, I believe this shows that the gap between the top of the SEC and the top of the other conferences has narrowed this year,  But the dominance of the depth of the SEC is prominent and consistent.  (Again, the lack SEC vs Pac12 games makes it harder to evaluate an overall comparison.  The best indicator may be the number of ranked teams from each conference, and where they finish in the rankings.  Clearly, advantage SEC using those metrics).

Friday, December 6, 2013

Examining the exact peak of all things Missouri

Background - In 1962, during a 17-7 Missouri Football win over Arizona, highway patrolmen located Dr. Avery sitting in the stands of Faurot Field and escorted him 24 miles to a Catholic hospital in Boonville for a life-threatening baby delivery.  Surviving what, at the time, was considered a miracle birth of a severely premature baby to a young mother battling toxemia poisoning and convulsions, I was given no choice by the Doctors and praying nuns but to be a life-long Mizzou fanatic.

Then soon after, my first major league baseball game was Stan Musial's last. And I remember grandpa Deo starting my love for Kansas City and St. Louis sports through his continual stories of the Cardinals, A's, Monarchs, Hawks, Chiefs, and Royals.  Along the way, the Rams, Blues, Wizards, and Sporting KC were welcomed into my "everything Missouri" rooting rituals and mechanisms.  Tom Watson, Carl Edwards, Payne Stewart, and the Spinks brothers garnered similar blind devotion.  Special seasons for SMSU (MSU), SLU, CMSU or NWMS had at least one more member on the bandwagon. Even the likes of Cheryl Crow, Jon Hamm, Nelly, and Sara Evans found special endearment, simply because of where they were birthed, were schooled, or became prominent.

Thesis - For all sports-loving souls who espouse "All Things Missouri", are we now among the best combination of moments that can be deemed the best ever? 

I thought that perhaps November 24th, 2013 at around 1:20pm might have been the pinnacle, because immediately after this moment the Chiefs blew a 14-3 lead, lost 2 critical defensive players, and started a losing streak that slowed their incredible turnaround season and story.  But upon further reflection I have come to remind myself that there are so many moments to consider and appreciate in this time of great Show Me rejoicing.  And perhaps there isn't a specific and exact peak of a moment to contemplate and scrutinize.  Maybe, just maybe, it is best to say that we are experiencing the best "times" to be a sports fan of everything Missouri.      

During various moments in and around 1969, the Chiefs won the Super Bowl, MU Football finished 9-2 and ranked #6 in the nation with an Orange Bowl appearance, the StL Blues reached 2 straight Stanley Cup Finals, the baseball Cardinals had won 2 of 3 World Series they'd appeared in over the previous 6 seasons, and KC had just received a brand new baseball franchise.  The periods around 1960, 1985, 2007, and 2011 would seem to be next in line in some order after the 1969 period.  But when taking everything into consideration - boy, this is quite a run we are experiencing right now.  

As of December 6th, 2013, just the amount of significant upcoming weekend events alone is pretty incredible.  The inventors of the DVR had to be sports fans, right?  But on the wider view, after taking a step back and taking in the entire picture...wow, how good is all of this right now?  All my good Missouri and Missourah brothers and sisters, can I get an AMEN?!!!  Let's consider & savor:

* The University of Missouri programs moving to the SEC has not only caused a renewed excitement within the state and alumni, but has also fostered a commitment to work collectively to raise all levels of support, funding, branding, goal-setting, dedication, expectations and performance.  This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience that looks to be the catalyst for finally "awakening the sleeping giant".  Even if the results on the fields and courts had not been immediate, there has been a feeling created that our already really good collection of programs were, and are, destined to move to different level. Of particular current noting:

* MU Football has been among the most consistently good teams in the country since 2007 (only 11 teams from the power 5 conferences have more wins).  But playing for the championship of a conference that has won 7 national championships is topped only by playing for a national championship.  Perhaps no program in the country has had so much success finding under-ranked players and developing them.

* The MU volleyball team is the only undefeated team in the country, the only SEC team to ever finish a regular season undefeated. Currently ranked #4 in the country. 

* The MU men's basketball team is currently the only SEC team to be undefeated.  The program is averaging 26 wins per season over the last 5 seasons and is very well respected across the country.  The women's basketball team is currently 8-1 and looks to be on the upswing.

*  The MU softball team has been one of the top programs in the country in recent years and MU teams in baseball, wrestling, & gymnastics have had recent standout seasons.

*  The St. Louis Cardinals just came off their 2nd World Series in 3 years, has been recently evaluated as having the best combination for continued success, and is neck and neck with Boston for team of the millenium.  

*  You could make a very good argument that the Kansas City Royals franchise is in the best position it has been in since 1985.

*  You could also make the argument that the Kansas City Chiefs are in the best position they've been in since they averaged almost 10 wins a season from '03-'06. 

*  And with their youth, talent, and upcoming draft picks, the St. Louis Rams look to be in the best position they've been in since their Super Bowl win and subsequent playoff runs between 1999-2004.

*  The St. Louis Blues have the 2nd best record in the NHL (based on points per game played) and look to be regular Stanley Cup contenders in the near future.

*  And Sporting KC is hosting the 2013 MLS Cup Championship after winning the U.S. Open Cup last season.  

From this very point, and surely from this very weekend, the individual teams from this list can significantly add to, or conversely subtract from, the wonderful feelings of accomplishment and pride that true sons and daughters of our noble land have at this moment.  So I will not try to pinpoint the exact moment of time when the absolute pinnacle was reached.  For that calls for me to believe that the best is in the past.  But in summing up what these feelings should represent to all of us while we are going through it, I would borrow and paraphrase only from the beginning of Dicken's classic soliloquy - "It is the best of times..."  





Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Five-Way Tie in the A.L. Wild Card Race

When you are currently the 5th place team in the A.L. Wild Card race in August you are more apt to look at crazy scenarios that might get you into a playoff spot.  When you haven't been to the playoffs in almost 30 years, you will consider any scenario.

This isn't about figuring out the tie-breakers in the PowerBall-type odds that 5 teams will tie for the two Wild Card spots.  This is about what it looks like for everyone involved to get to the exact same spot at the end of the season so that Royals fans can gain perspective.

First of all, let's set a path for the Royals based on their recent 59 games - because their recent 18 game pace is not realistic.  The Royals are 37-22 since June 3rd.  That is a .627 pace.  If they can play .627 ball over the last 48 games they will finish with a 90-72 record.

Outside of their 11 games with Detroit, the rest of their remaining schedule includes series with Miami, CWS, Minn, Toronto, Wash, and Seattle.  Since June 10th, the Royals have a 13-6 (.684) record vs. the likes of Det, TB, Atl, Bal, and Bos.  The last stretch of the season won't have that strength of schedule.

If the Royals do get to 90 wins, here's what the rest of the teams would have to do to finish with 90 wins:

TB - 24-23
Oak - 25-22
Balt - 26-20
Cleve - 28-18

Oh, and those team's records over the last 10 games?

TB - 4-6
Oak - 3-7
Balt - 6-4
Cleve - 3-7

Writing all this out just made me feel a little bit better about the chances.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

22July2013 Baseball Trade Proposal

The best trades are those that are beneficial to both sides in some way and do not, at least initially, seem too lopsided.  Taking into account the recent statements of upper management of both the Kansas City Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals, we propose the following trade (with supporting justifications to follow):

To the St. Louis Cardinals (5 players) - (SP) Ervin Santana, (RP) Kelvin Herrera, (RP) Luke Hochever, (INF) Miguel Tejada, (INF) Chris Getz

To the Kansas City Royals (7 players) - (INF) Kolten Wong, (SP) John Gast, (SP) Tyrell Jenkins and any three (3) from the following: (RP) Michael Blazek, (SP) Tyler Lyons, (RP) Kevin Siegrist, (SP/RF) Seth Maness, (RP) Keith Butler. Royals also receive either (INF) Pete Kozma or (INF) Ryan Jackson.

Keys/Justifications -

*Royals get their biggest hole filled (2B) with an MLB-ready top prospect who is blocked by an All-Star 2B.
*Royals would only get comp pick for Santana for letting him walk, which doesn't help the team in the immediate future (which GM Moore insists).  This gives them young MLB-ready arms that can help immediately and next year (plus a top pitching prospect for the future in Jenkins).  All these pitchers have pitched in the major leagues this year except for Jenkins.
*Cards get an experienced and legit #2 who is pitching extremely well this season and provides insurance for the young arms, especially going into the post-season.
*Cards get a slight but significant upgrade in the late innings with Herrera's electric stuff, and he's older and more experienced than some of the young help currently in the bullpen.
*Royals can bring up (INF) Giavotella for 2B-3B backup. Kozma or Jackson to minors to backup or possibly push (SS) Escobar.
*Cards get great veteran presence and versatility in Tejada (including SS), with Getz to minors as replacement for Wong and veteran emergency insurance for (2B) Carpenter.
*Cards get another reclamation project in Hochever, who needs a change of scenery.  He can also provide some veteran late-inning or long reliever help this year.
*Royals shed some salary and get young talent that can help both this year and especially for the big push next year.
*Cards get key veteran help while only giving up young talent that is blocked or stacked.
*Royals replenish young pitching depth to replace prospects that haven't progressed to the level that these young arms have.

***Caveat - This trade only takes place if the Royals drop 8 games back or further by the trade deadline.  If they are still within 7 games or less, GM Moore will want to keep Santana.  We would argue that this would still be a better trade for the Royals going into 2014, but Moore will not allow any perception of subtracting from the current talent until HE feels they are not in striking distance for the post-season THIS year.