Kansas City Royals' World Series win reinforces what you already knew about MLB success

November 3, 2015

The Kansas City Royals were officially crowned champions in the Worldest of all possible Series, and with that, it'€™s finally time to say four of the hardest words the English language has to offer: "Congratulations. You were right."

Yes, you.

Now, you might not have picked the Royals to win the World Series. I sure didn'€™t. And our publication more famously didn'€™t. And maybe you did think they were the most likely winner --€“ in which case a trip out to the desert this winter would have served you very handsomely.

No matter. Whether you picked them or not, you were right because the Royals winning the World Series is more evidence that the way you view baseball is the correct way. Not proof, of course, but just more evidence that those other people --€“ whether from another generation, another intellectual plane or just another worldview -- are idiots and you'€™re the one watching baseball through the correct lens.


Know that no matter which side you take in any of these very common baseball debates, the events of the past few days and weeks greatly helped your case.

The statistical revolution is the opposite of progress. And by the way, how'€™d the A'€™s do this year?

"No matter what the announcers said, and what the coaches believed,"€ Michael Lewis wrote in "Moneyball", "€œmajor league baseball players did not perform particularly well --€“ or particularly badly --€“ in critical situations."

Tell that to the Royals, who marched line by line through the book, making a mockery of its every turn in a weird "Fire Joe Morgan"€ revenge fantasy.

It started with the clutch hitting and the speed and the defense, all outdated ways of thinking about the game, they told us. It'€™s a three-true-outcomes world, they told us, until the team that finished last in the AL in walks and second-to-last in home runs won the World Series in part because it was the best at avoiding strikeouts by making contact. You know, that thing that makes batting average.

The stat guys wanted high on-base percentage at the top of the lineup, and their laughingstock Ned Yost gave them Alcides Escobar (.293 OBP) first and Alex Gordon (.377 OBP) eighth.

Even if the Royals'€™ bunt-happy tendencies have been somewhat overblown, this World Series victory was still a victory for an old-school baseball mentality in pretty much every way and a reminder that "Moneyball" should be collecting dust on your shelf.

But that wasn'€™t at all what that book -- or the statistical revolution --€“ was about, and the Royals'€™ win is a win for analytical thinking and market understanding.

You'€™re right too. In fact, this was probably the biggest win yet for "Moneyball" because it showed that the true lessons live on well past the closing of the large-scale market inefficiency tilting toward on-base skills.

The book'€™s legacy is well established as an account of problem solving, and a small-market team in the protagonist team'€™s former city solved pretty much the exact same problem. A historically low-budget team, the Royals did expand their spending some, but for most of their roster construction they concentrated on skill sets like the contact ability that might have been undervalued now and might have played well against power relievers, hence all the comebacks. (They were demonstrably better than average against velocity.)

Besides, the Royals have gone from a bit of a punchline in the analytics arms race to a well-fortified armory. Alex Skillin at €œThe Hardball Times€ detailed their vastly improved analytical capabilities that helped them construct the 2015 roster.

So if you'€™re a defender to the end of sabermetrics, then this champion is just more proof that you're on the right side of history.

Teams should embrace tanking. The Astros were right, and the Phillies would be well served to go next.

Good observation, my friend, and funny enough, the Royals going through the Astros and winning the World Series only goes to prove this further.

You'€™ll remember that the Royals were first declared the 2015 World Series champions, not on Monday morning, but in the pages of Sports Illustrated in 2011. There, they were projected to make the playoffs in 2013 (close) and win it all this year.

Was that column written in anticipation of getting Edinson Volquez in the free-agent market? Of course not. It was because the Royals were bad and had loaded what was considered at the time to be easily the best farm system in baseball and in that snapshot, arguably one of the best of all time.

Eric Hosmer, who drove in every other run and dashed home in the final game: No. 3 overall pick obtained by the Royals being bad. Christian Colon, who drove in the winning run in the final game: No. 4 pick, obtained by the Royals being bad. Luke Hochevar, No. 1 pick. Alex Gordon, No. 2 pick. Mike Moustakas, No. 2 pick.

And outside of Gordon, those guys as a group haven'€™t even been that great for where they were drafted. Imagine what a team could do if it made even average picks for those slots every year.

The Royals got this payoff because they, to use GM Dayton Moore's words, trusted the process. They lived through the bad and through development and by sending away a couple of other key pieces in trades, made it to a level where fighting for .500 every year never could have gotten them.

Oh, for the love of God, the fetishizing of prospects has gotten out of control.

Right on. It'€™s not a coincidence at all that the Royals became good once they learned to let go and, you know, build a Major League Baseball team.

For all of the "€œprospect hugging" as you in the anti-tanking faction of Baseball Twitter call it, it'€™s amazing how many people lose sight of what the real goal is here. Yes, teams have made some regrettable deals in the past by trading prospects --€“ the Red Sox traded Jeff Bagwell as a prospect, the Astros traded the world champion second baseman (Ben Zobrist) as a prospect and hell, maybe we'€™ll put Noah Syndergaard in there some day, too.

But that fear is crippling the pursuit of a good major-league team. Imagine if the Royals had been too in love with Wil Myers to make the Wade Davis trade. He was Rookie of the Year. Brandon Finnegan might be awesome, too, but forgive management for not keeping too close an eye on that while Johnny Cueto was throwing a complete game in the World Series.

And imagine if the Royals had, after the disappointing 2013 season, traded Gordon because the return package might have given them a higher surplus WAR-vs.-salary value to be obtained someday.

You just hope that there won'€™t be too many people who miss the parade because the years of bad baseball killed their enthusiasm for the sport.

A divisional and playoff structure that crowned these teams as the champions of their respective leagues in 2015 is clearly trash.

You're right. This system is clearly trash. The Royals finished with the fourth-best record in baseball this year -- which I guess you could say makes them a more deserving champion than the 2014 Giants, who finished in a three-way tie for the eighth-best record.

There were three good teams --€“ maybe four -- in the National League, and the Royals didn't have to play any of them. Nope. After finishing with the fifth-best third-order winning percentage in the league (adjusted for their competition and underlying factors that go into run scoring and prevention), the Mets faced the Royals.

The Royals faced the winners of one of the worst divisions ever assembled and the worst team in the NL playoff field, which got a little rest while the 98-win team and the 97-win team from the good division had a one-game playoff.

Yada, yada, yada, best-of-five, best-of-seven, and these teams are hoisting the pennants. Really great system they've got working here, and this year proved it yet again.

First of all, the playoffs are a tournament to determine a winner of the tournament. And even if they aren't, the right team won, as usual.

That'€™s a great point. After last year's awfulness with the Giants and Royals, you thought that was just one-year fluke, and indeed it was. This time, just like in 2013 when the best team in each league battled in the World Series, we got two division winners in the Series and the best team in the better league won the World Series. Seems like the system worked there.

You know why the Royals had only 95 wins and the Mets only 90? Because that's all they wanted. Because you can start thinking about how many wins you want when you'€™re winning your division by gobs of games going into the playoffs. The Mets finished 7-11 and the Royals finished 13-16, both with their divisions entirely sewn up.

The playoff system is just fine, and even if you think that there is some higher meaning to a champion besides who wins a fun tournament in October, this year showed that the right team --€“ or at least a right team --€“ is going to find a way to win this most of the time.

But no, this sport totally would have been better with the Cardinals getting to 100 wins and everybody going home like European soccer.

The key to winning baseball, especially in October, is building a good bullpen.

Kansas City'€™s offense was eh and its starting pitching meh, and their defense was really good with a small side of baffling as the postseason went along. But the one constant all along was the bullpen. It'€™s the reason why thinks like higher-order winning percentages and even projection systems miss the mark with teams like the Royals. The sum is greater than its parts when a team can lever up its talent in key situations.

The Royals lost one-third (Greg Holland) of their famous HDH bullpen from 2014 and got significant regression from another one-third (Kelvin Herrera), but their talent was the same. Opponents hit .214/.286/.344 against the Royals bullpen this year -- so somewhere between unadjusted career Trevor Hoffman and Brad Lidge coming at you from 1-7 every night.

The forgotten part of the Royals'€™ ludicrous 51-11 scoring margin from the seventh inning on this postseason is going to be the 11 part. Once they scored to tie the game in the top of the ninth on Sunday night, you had little doubt how it was going to turn out on Monday morning.

Reliever value and all that, but try ignoring this on a playoff caliber team, and see what happens.

Actually, you can't build a bullpen. Good bullpens just happen.

Well said, and man was this Royals team a good example. What exactly did the Royals do right in assembling this unit --€“ or more precisely, what did they do right that had anything to do with focusing on the bullpen or understanding the importance of a bullpen?

Wade Davis --€“ Failed starter
Kelvin Herrera --€“ Signed at 16
Greg Holland --€“ 10th round pick
Ryan Madson -- Low-cost reclamation off devastating injuries
Kris Medlen --€“ See Ryan Madson
Franklin Morales --€“ Signed to 1-year, $1.85M deal
Luke Hochevar --€“ Failed starter

There is no distinguishing that at all from a team that treated the bullpen as an afterthought. This isn'€™t to say the Royals got lucky, because they scouted these guys and in some cases recognized skills that might play up in the bullpen.

But there is nothing to learn from here about prioritizing the bullpen.

You know who prioritized the bullpen? The Tigers. Every year. They went out and acquired Joe Nathan and Jose Valverde and Joakim Soria and Jim Johnson and Joba Chamberlain and that'€™s just the J'€™s.

The Dodgers have made it an off-and-on priority to sign every former closer they could, and look how they turned out the past few years.

While the Royals might be a lesson in the importance of building a good bullpen, the action item there is so convoluted and hardly what fans would call for a team to do after a bullpen failure.

So in shortyes, you were right.

You weren'€™t right because the Royals won. You were right because the other side is stuck in the past/not actually watching the game/too dogmatic/generally misinformed, and you were right all along. The 2015 World Series champion Royals are just conveniently here as one more card to play in order to show them that you'€™re right.

Don'€™t let this opportunity pass you by. After all, we're only a few weeks away from Hall of Fame voting, and on that one, you'€™re definitely wrong.