I was rooting for the Royals, but sad nonetheless.
Congrats to the #royals all the sabermetrics people are scratching their heads according to their stats this team should not be winning
— Juan Pierre (@JPBeastMode) October 6, 2014
Rany Jazayerli, among other usual suspects, recently noted that Juan Pierre is wrong:
For all the talk about the Royals turning back the tide of 30 years of sabermetrics by winning with speed and defense, let’s not forget something kinda important here: the Royals won Game 1 on an extra-inning home run. They won Game 2 on an extra-inning home run. They won Game 3, 8-3, and their first six runs came on a bases-clearing double, a two-run homer, and a solo homer.
Speed makes for a hell of a sidekick, and sometimes the sidekick rises up and saves your life, like Jarrod Dyson did in the Wild Card game. But power is still the superhero. Ball Go Far, Team Go Far.
In fact, with Escobar, Gordon, and Moustakas all going deep last night, Kansas City is now tied with the Cardinals in home runs this postseason with 7 (although only San Francisco has more at-bats than the Royals) and leads all teams in walks (!) with 22. Plus, of course, the playoff-leading 12 steals.
But it’s also worth noting if the postseason Royals are “sabermetric” in a way that the regular season Royals weren’t, the regular season Royals were actually a classic Moneyball team. Moneyball, remember, wasn’t about either walks or OPS, it was about taking advantage of market inefficiencies.
As J.C. Bradbury explained:
One of the central lessons of Moneyball is this: to get the most output from your inputs in order to maximize the return on the dollars that your organization spends on running team. A GM must be efficient in running his organization. In economic terms, he’s attempting to put all of his resources to their most highly valued uses. If the market overvalues a particular baseball talent–for example, saves–then a team should liquidate its assets in this area. If the market undervalues a talent–for example, OBP–you acquire it while it’s cheap. It’s all very simple in theory, but difficult in practice.
The Royals’ 380 regular season walks may have ranked dead last out of 30 major league teams, their .314 OBP 16th (thanks of course to batting average, which was 4th at .263), and their .690 OPS 17th, but they led the majors in steals (153, 15 ahead of the next best major league team and 47 ahead of any AL team that wasn’t the Astros) and ranked 3rd in stolen base percentage (81%), percentage points behind the Nationals and Yankees. The Royals also led the majors by far in pinch-runners.
I won’t argue that the Royals are either one of the most economically efficient teams in baseball (though team payroll relative to talent level isn’t bad) or one of the most well-run teams in baseball. The latter would have been a joke as recently as a few months ago. Raul Ibañez and Scott Downs are still Royals even though they aren’t on the postseason roster, and we’ll see whether the Royals throw crazy money at James Shields this offseason (they shouldn’t). Various forms of “Yost” are now verbs, both on sports-theme websites and on Urban Dictionary (though the latter may be unrelated). But the Royals are the only undefeated team in the postseason, and we can thank the Moneyball regular season as well as the sabermetric past two weeks for it.
I normally make my playoff picks based on goaltending (the Dave Hannah method or the Gene Ubriaco method, with the Detroit exception), so I figured why not make my regular season picks based on goaltending as well so I can be wrong twice. Also, the Detroit goaltending exception is now the Chicago goaltending exception (see Corey Crawford, who is better than prime Chris Osgood, I think).
Pittsburgh: Other than dumping Fleury, who managed to be adequate last season, and replacing him with Tuukka Rask, what the Penguins needed was a bottom of the roster that wasn’t a total black hole. In other words, Goc, Comeau, Downie, Spaling. Greiss as a backup option to Fleury could be some teams’ number one (meaning Winnipeg, but not only Winnipeg). Arguably the best team in the NHL, although I hate them.
Columbus: Hartnell should help, Bobrovsky is arguably the best goalie in the division (if Lundqvist plays more like first-half Lundqvist from last year, and because Khudobin isn’t really a .928 goalie), and I think they have enough depth up front and on defense to make up for the fact that Jack Johnson sucks.
New York Islanders: I want to rank them lower–Halak may be an upgrade on Nabokov, but is .916, 2.23 in 159 games as a Blue really that impressive when Brian Elliott has gone .927, 1.86 in 93 games as a Blue?– but if Kulemin-Grabovski-Brock Nelson is your third line, there’s too much forward depth to drop too far. Also, Eric Boulton is apparently still in the NHL, nominally anyway.
New York Rangers: The Rangers are worse but they’re not bad enough to drop out of the top four in this Division unless Lundqvist is only average. Otherwise, I think they replaced Brad Richards with Tanner Glass. Blah.
New Jersey: Because Cory Schneider isn’t Martin Brodeur, which given Martin Brodeur 2013-14 (.901, 2.51) is a good thing for the Devils. Mike Cammalleri is only 32, though the Montreal Expos still existed when he broke in with the Kings.
Washington: I like the Barry Trotz hire and I think Holtby will rebound. The Orpik signing was bad but I wouldn’t bury this team for doing stupid things, especially when I picked the team that traded Jeff Carter for Jack Johnson to finish second. A playoff bubble team at best, though.
Philadelphia: We have 171 games of evidence that Steve Mason is one of the worst goalies in the NHL (I’m removing his rookie season, both before and after the mono) and 68 games of evidence that he’s capable of ranking at minimum among the top 20 if not higher. I won’t believe it yet, especially with that defense and with the potential for a Stortini-Rinaldo-Rosehill fourth line on any given night. This team is a few years away from being the team they looked like last year. UPDATE: Minus the Rosehill part, I guess, if not the Stortini part too. Bellemare anyone?
Carolina: Anton Khudobin probably isn’t a .928 goalie (Dominik Hasek was “only” a .922 goalie), but he’s good and possibly the only thing keeping the Hurricanes from being the worst team in the league and not the worst in the division. Well, him and the fact that the Flames and Sabres exist. Obligatory Canuck content: I wonder whether Jim Sandlak’s son was named after Anson Carter.
Montreal: I love the Briere for Parenteau move for the Habs and I think with Chara now 37, Subban is the best defenseman in the division. Price isn’t the best goaltender (see below) but if he’s healthy he’s as good as he needs to be. Plus, Dale Weise!
Boston: A seemingly old team (though only the 10th oldest, behind the Panthers and Flyers, among others you wouldn’t automatically guess) will miss the 37 year old Iginla but likely has the best goalie in the NHL in Tuukka Rask (.928, 2.11 with 22 shutouts in 196 career games). Krejci is only 28, Eriksson only 29. If the stars play like stars, the Bruins could be as good as anyone in the East.
Tampa Bay: Ben Bishop was terrific last season, but his Tampa career is only 72 games of .923, 2.32. Compare Steve Mason’s Flyers career of 68 games of .920, 2.44 (with a worse defense behind him). True, Bishop didn’t have five seasons of suck behind him, but his brilliance is nonetheless a small sample size, and if he declines or is injured again, his backup is now 39-year old Evgeni Nabokov. The Stralman and Boyle moves were smart and Garrison will help (as should Jonathan Drouin) but Brenden Morrow hasn’t been a good possession player in years, even with 58.3% offensive zone starts last season. I wouldn’t hand this team the Atlantic yet.
Toronto: I’m probably overrating a team that still has Tyler Bozak as its top center and downgraded from Carl Gunnarsson to Roman Polak on purpose, but Bernier may be the next best goalie left in this division other than Luongo who’s a Panther (sorry), Kessel is still dominant, and Phaneuf and Reimer are still Leafs or will presumably be traded for something useful and better than Roman Polak. This team was somehow 38-32-8 last season before dropping its last four games and finishing 9 points out of a playoff spot and still wasn’t especially good. That’s either a good omen or a bad omen for this season, but who knows which one.
Detroit: 23 years in the playoffs have to end at some point, and I think the odds are even it’s this year. Nyquist looked good last season but the Red Wings are the fourth oldest team in the league behind the Devils, Rangers, and Canadiens and don’t have a Schneider, a Lundqvist, a Price, or a Subban. I’m not sold on the defense and Detroit goaltending exception doesn’t exist these days; the team isn’t the powerhouse it used to be to overcome Jimmy Howard’s mediocrity. They’ll win enough games that they won’t be bad but I see them finishing fifth.
Florida: Luongo-Montoya alone has me ranking this team above the Sabres and Senators, and the young guys (Ekblad, Barkov, Huberdeau) should be good, if not all this season, but Willie Mitchell? Shawn Thornton? Dave Bolland (who is 28 going on 40)? This is the eighth oldest team in the league, older than the Canucks, Bruins, and Penguins. At least they’re only 20th in payroll, though that may still be five or six teams too high.
Ottawa: If I’m overrating the Leafs, I’m probably underrating the Senators. Lehner could be good, and Anderson shouldn’t be as bad. Karlsson played all 82 games and managed to score 20 goals for the first time last season. There are no stars up front without Spezza but there’s depth. I just don’t love the sum of the parts and if Lehner isn’t a dependable option, this team will finish seventh ahead of only the Sabres in the Atlantic.
Buffalo: The Sabres are deeper up front (Gionta, Torrey Mitchell, the return of Matt Moulson) than the team that scored a league-worst 157 goals (1.9 per game) last year but lost Christian Ehrhoff and have replaced Ryan Miller with Michal Neuvirth. It will be close, but my money is on the Sabres having the 20% odds of winning the lottery and the Flames having the 13.5% odds rather than the reverse.
Chicago: The top three teams in this division could all conceivably finish with the best record in the NHL (though since they play each other more and the East less, I would give Pittsburgh the edge). I think the team that was a game away from the Stanley Cup finals, brought everyone back, and signed Brad Richards for one year/$2M will win the Central.
Dallas: Ask any Flyers fan about the Benn-Seguin-Nichushkin line and then add Spezza and Hemsky. A dark horse to win the West if everything breaks and Kari Lehtonen doesn’t.
St. Louis: The team I picked to win the Cup the past two years, the Blues could still win the West this year, with Brian Elliott the number one and Jake Allen (.928, 2.03 with AHL Chicago last year) replacing Ryan Miller (.924, 2.72 with AHL Buffalo last year before being traded to St. Louis) as backup. A healthy Carl Gunnarsson will help. Peter Mueller (a would-be Flyer, but I guess they preferred Stortini, because fists) could be a nice pickup as well.
Minnesota: The Vanek signing wasn’t bad as Wild do need goals (23rd in GF last season, 7th in GA despite using five goalies, including the Cosmonaut), but even assuming at least one of Harding and Backstrom is healthy enough to be a decent number one or one-A for the majority of the season, a team of Vaneks and Pominvilles and Koivus and Parises with one stud D, solid if unspectacular goaltending, and a bunch of complementary forwards gives you at best the 2005-6 Sabres. Who actually were a win away from the Stanley Cup Finals, come to think of it, but I don’t think it happens here.
Colorado: An overachieving team last season determined to make itself worse (Parenteau for Briere, Reto Berra as backup goalie, signing Iginla rather than a defenseman, though I guess they could have signed Orpik to a ridiculous contract). I think Varlamov will drop off and I don’t think this team has enough defense or enough back end of a roster to come close to last year’s run.
Nashville: I was tempted to pick the Predators ahead of the Avalanche because of Weber, the coaching change (although Barry Trotz wasn’t the problem and will help the Caps significantly, I think) and the fact that Rinne should be at full strength again, but there isn’t enough up front (Colorado outscored them by 34 goals last season and gave up 22 fewer) without major breakout seasons from the Forsbergs and Jarnkroks and other prospects I’ve never heard of.
Winnipeg: If Michael Hutchinson (.923, 2.30 AHL and .921, 2.08 ECHL last season) takes over from Ondrej Pavelec (.901, 3.01 last season, .906, 2.96 career) and doesn’t suck, the Jets (227 GF, 237 GA last season) could make it out of the basement. Otherwise, moé j’suis sans soucis, j’suis sans finesse.
Los Angeles: Someone I don’t remember recently wrote that it would be less surprising if the Kings win their third Cup in four years than if they manage to win the Pacific division (the last time they won a division, it was called the Smythe and Tom Webster was the coach). I wouldn’t be surprised, and if it may be boring to predict either Chicago or LA will win the Cup every year, it underscores that there may be a Los Angeles goaltending exception as well as a Chicago goaltending exception (despite the Conn Smythe and two rings, Quick is only .915, 2.28 career; compare Crawford’s .914, 2.36 career).
Anaheim: The Ducks overachieved last year (a franchise record 116 points despite being a below average possession team at 48% 5v5 Corsi For) but I don’t expect them to drop off that much with John Gibson (.954, 1.33 in the regular season and .919, 2.70 in the playoffs in an extremely small sample size) replacing Jonas Hiller (.911, 2.48 and .906, 2.19, respectively) in goal. Even ex-Flyer Patrick Maroon manages to be useful on this team.
San Jose: The Sharks’ playoff collapses are overrated–they’ve made the playoffs the past ten years and gone to the conference finals three times and the semifinals four times, only losing in the first round to last year’s Stanley Cup champion Kings, the 2009 Jonas Hillers of Anaheim (10 GA in six games vs. the Sharks and .943, 2.23 during the Ducks’ overall playoff run), and a 109-point Blues team in 2011. Not breaking up last season’s 111 point team (other than the fact that last season’s team had a captain) was therefore likely a wise move. On the other hand, the Sharks are a top-heavy team, with the potential for a Flyers-esque fourth line of John Scott-Mike Brown-Adam Burish, a young bottom of the roster otherwise up front as well as on D, and a Canucks-esque goalie controversy, with Stalock outplaying Niemi (who is only four years older) last season. It’s a numbers game; only one of 30 teams wins the Cup every year so the odds are it’s never San Jose’s year.
Vancouver: I think the Canucks will make the playoffs this season, provided that the Sedins and Burrows are better, that Willie Desjardins is not an abusive fuck who does really weird dumb destructive things, and that we don’t have to experience Top Sixtito again (a fourth line of Dorsett-Richardson-Sestito actually works as a fourth line). I also think Vancouver will have a goaltending controversy at some point this season (my money’s on Lack, though the Miller signing doesn’t bother me), and that Canucks-Flames games will continue to be eventful.
Arizona: I’m picking them to miss the playoffs, but barely, which means that Dave Tippett is still a genius, given that the only stars on this team are arguably Hanzal, Ekman-Larsson, and Mike Smith about 40% of the time (now .914, 2.58 career but .921, 2.45 under Tippett). Love the Dubnyk signing as well. Ironically, the two best goalie signings of the offseason are now backups (Greiss in Pittsburgh is the other and I guess Fleury is still the starter for the moment).
Edmonton: I’m pretty sure the Oilers won’t make the playoffs, but the range of outcomes from “just missing by a point” to “zero wins for three months” seems pretty variable, depending on the usual injury plus learning curve questions. I liked the Scrivens and Fasth moves last season (though Fasth may turn out to be a downgrade on Dubnyk; we don’t know yet–although Fasth at 32 is actually four years older) and the Draisatl pick and Pouliot and Fayne (and Dellow) signings in the offseason. But then see Aulie, Acton, Gazdic and the X factors of Arcobello and Yakupov (who appears to have cloned himself and also goes by the name of Yakimov now). Lots of upside, but who knows.
Calgary: Jonas Hiller was 26-9-4, .917, 2.27 for Anaheim at the end of February. He then went 3-4-3, .881, 3.35 to finish the year, only played in six of the Ducks’ 13 playoff games, and is now a Calgary Flame, where his final save percentage last season ties him with that of Karri Ramo (.911). Despite Mark Giordano and some decent low-cost moves like Mason Raymond (offset by some horrible ones like Deryk Engelland), the Flames won’t only finish last in the Pacific but could be the worst team in the NHL. At least it’s a good year to suck.
Eastern Conference playoff teams: Pittsburgh, Montreal, Boston, Tampa Bay, Columbus, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Toronto
Western Conference playoff teams: Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, St. Louis, Anaheim, San Jose, Vancouver, Minnesota
Stanley Cup Finals: Chicago over Montreal
Jon Lester with the A’s: 6-4, 2.35 ERA (76.2 innings, 66 hits, 16 walks, 71 strikeouts)
1.9 Wins Above Replacement according to Baseball Reference
Yoenis Cespedes with Boston: .269/.296/.423, 5 HR, 33 RBI
0.7 Wins Above Replacement according to Baseball Reference
Difference: 1.2 Wins Above Replacement (A’s)
Post-All Star break A’s rotation:
Sonny Gray: 4-7, 3.47 ERA
Jeff Samardzija: 4-5, 3.26 ERA
Scott Kazmir: 4-6, 5.42 ERA
Jesse Chavez: 1-2, 4.60 ERA (demoted to the bullpen)
Jason Hammel: 2-5, 4.31 ERA
Final Standings, Second Wild Card:
Difference: 1 Win (A’s)
The A’s never would have made the playoffs without Jon Lester. Billy Beane is a genius.
Career Stanley Cups, last name Lemieux
NHL 2014 countdown: 11 days