Detroit Tigers

No Country for Young Pitchers

The World Series ended earlier in the week and we have a World Series winner in the Kansas City Royals that really defies a lot of ‘new age’ wisdom in the game. And it is no fluke run where they got hot at the right time. They dominated the American League Central Division all year, they crushed every opponent they had in the post-season, and, oh yeah, they took an extremely similar team to game seven of the World Series last year.

So what do we normally think is necessary for a deep playoff run? Not only great starting pitching, but great power starting pitching.

Don’t tell that to the Royals who had the highest regular season ERA of the ten teams who made the playoffs, and also the highest FIP, and the lowest K/BB ratio. Don’t tell that to the Royals who found an ace in the often bounced around, puts too many guys on base Edinson Volquez. Oh and don’t forget the triumphant return of once considered done Chris Young who only threw 123 innings this year, but made them count in the post-season.

The one young fireballer that should’ve played well, the opening day starter, Ventura, was very up and down in the post-season. And the big surprise, because he was so terrible after the trade that brought him to KC, was Johnny Cueto dominating in the World Series just like you would expect.

We also expect power hitting to win. It makes sense that the good pitching you will face will limit hits, therefore those hits need to be of the extra base variety in order to score runs; and hey, a record 21 homers were clubbed in a single day during the division series. But don’t tell that to the Royals who hit fewer than 150 homers this year, and only 2 in the World Series (compared to the Mets’ 6).

Kansas City took a very unique hitting approach that practically no other team is doing right now. They strikeout almost never, they walk almost never, and they make a ton of contact. It is easy to think that more team should do this, and we might see a shift to less value placed on the homer and more placed on a 2-out approach that puts balls in play, but it isn’t easy to do. Pitchers are good, making contact is hard, this is not the same game that was played in the 20’s, 30’s or even 60’s. They were able to drive in 5 times the amount of runs of any other team after the 7th inning, when the best bullpen arms in the world are trying to shine, go figure.

One thing that KC brought attention to last year was a bullpen. The front office flat out said a couple of years ago that they were building their pitching staff back forward, and the industry laughed at them. Well a number of teams last offseason focused on their bullpen and improved dramatically, most notably, the Yankees. This is not going to change soon, as bullpen position is becoming coveted and no longer only where failed or injured starters go to end their career. Unfortunately, their success this year will have even more teams trying to replicate this and the market is extremely thin. High salaries are going to be flowing for middle relief this winter.

Ned Yost is widely considered the worst manager in the game. And yet he will be managing another All-Star Game next July. Some teams spend a ton of money and make a priority of manager, and KC is proving anyone can steer a ship that is perfectly built.

And finally, and most notably, the Royals somewhat eschew modern statistics and sabermetrics. They do follow them, you wouldn’t have Alex Gordon in Left Field, or Ben Zobrist at Second Base otherwise, but it isn’t a big part of their strategy. And guess who else doesn’t have a huge sabermetric presence? Oh, you know, terrible teams like the Giants, the Tigers, the Braves. The Royals don’t buy into defensive shifting, and they bunt quite a bit. They do happen to have a lot of players high on the WAR list, and players who take the extra base when running, and things sabermatricians love. But they just consider those things good baseball. They rely heavily on their scouting department, maybe more than any team. Scouting reports are gone over meticulously for both hitters and pitchers and each player is extremely prepared for any situation that might happen on the field.

So how much will the Royals change baseball? Hopefully a lot, they are fun to watch. But we will see very quickly, as big dollars are about to be spent on big time players with particular skill sets. I wonder where Alex Gordon will wind up.