Monday, September 28, 2009

Game 157: Ship Of Fools

When the A's moved from Kansas City after the 1967 season, following 13 seasons of losing records and second division finishes, the city was left without a Major League franchise for the first time since 1954. Just as they had done with Washington, D.C. during the 1961 expansion, the American League moved quickly to place a new team there, with the expansion Royals starting play in 1969 under the guidance of former Yankee Joe Gordon.

Before the Marlins won the World Series in their fifth year of existence, before the Diamondbacks did in their fourth season, before the Blue Jays became the first expansion team to win back-to-back championships, before the Rockies made the post-season in just their third year, the Kansas City Royals were the gold standard of MLB expansion franchises. They had a winning record by their third season. In their eighth, they won the first of three consecutive division titles (losing to the Yankees in the ALCS each time). In their twelfth season, the won their first pennant, ousting the Yankees - who had baseball's best regular season record - in the ALCS. After another division title in 1984, they won the World Series in 1985, their seventeenth season, albeit with the aid of a controversial (and incorrect) call from umpire Don Denkinger in Game 6 that many say cost the Cardinals the Series.

Since then, it's been all down hill for the franchise. In the 25 seasons since that championship, the Royals have had a winning record just seven times, and only once since the 1994 strike ended. Their run of consecutive seasons of futility is not as bad as the Pirates, and their record this year is not as bad as the Nats, O's, or Bucs, but perhaps no MLB franchise offers the trifecta of futility, incompetency, and hopelessness better than the Royals.

Part of this perception may be due to the fact that three prominent and excellent baseball writers: Joe Posnanski, Rob Neyer, and Rany Jazayerli, are all fans of the team to some extent, and all have written at length as to the gross stupidity with which the organization has been run under the stewardship of General Manager Dayton Moore. We've had some fun at Moore's expense this season, and rightfully so, yet at the end of August he was undeservedly, inexplicabl,y and indefensibly rewarded with a four year contract extension running through 2014. That was the straw that broke Jazayerli's back.

The tragic irony of it all is that in addition to the three writers above, there are at least two players within the Royals' organization who are infinitely better qualified to be running the club than Moore. While Moore virtually bragged about his ignorance regarding defensive metrics in the wake of surrendering a top ranked prospect for Yuniesky Betancourt (the least valuable player in all of baseball with at least 300 plate appearances, followed closely by teammates Jose Guillen and Mike Jacobs), Royals pitcher Brian Bannister and intriguing prospect Chris "Disco" Hayes, are two of the most sabremetrically attuned players in all of baseball. Yet Moore, despite a littany of mistakes and virtually no success stories, gets a four year contract extension.

One of those mistakes takes to the hill for the Royals tonight. Moore's predecessor, Allard Baird was fired on 5/31/2006. Moore had been brought into the organization the previous day, but was not given the GM responsibilities until June 8th. In between, the 2006 amateur draft was held, a draft in which the Royals had the top pick, but no one at the helm of their sinking ship. The organization selected pitcher Luke Hochevar, a Scott Boras client who refused to sign with the Dodgers after they took him in the first round the previous year. In selecting Hochevar the Royals passed on the likes of Evan Longoria, Clayton Kershaw, and Tim Lincecum.

While the draft certainly isn't an exact science, no one would suggest that entering it without a discernible plan is a good idea, particular when having the choice of any player in the nation. The Royals were forced to cave to the demands of Boras and Hochevar, signing him to a Major League deal that guaranteed him a 40 man roster spot and $5.3M. He made his Big League debut the following September, and has since pitched to a 5.58 ERA through 275 innings.

Chad Gaudin goes for the Yanks tonight in what is an important start for him. Depending upon how many pitchers the Yankees carry, Gaudin is on the cusp of making the post-season roster. With Joba Chamberlain and Brian Bruney both pitching well in their last apperances, Gaudin needs to perform tonight. Another avenue for Gaudin to make the post-season roster is if David Robertson cannot sufficiently rebound from the elbow issue that has sidelined him for nearly all of September. Reports over the weekend had D-Rob available again starting tonight, but Peter Abraham reports that the Yanks will hold him out until tomorrow.

A day after clinching the Yanks trot out mostly reserves tonight. Johnny Damon, Brett Gardner, and Melky Cabrera man the outfield. Jorge Posada will DH after missing the last two games with a stiff neck. Robinson Cano, who leads the AL and is tied for second in MLB in games played, is the only other regular in the line-up. Eric Hinske, Juan Miranda, Francisco Cervelli, and Ramiro Pena round out the order. Interestingly, Jerry Hairston Jr. is not in the line up and has yet to play since leaving last Wendesday's game with a wrist injury.

The Yankees last saw the Royals in the second series of the season, before heading off to Tampa. Now, they meet again in the second-to-last series of the season, before heading off to Tampa to for the weekend. Since they last met, life has been very good for the Yankees. For the Royals, outside of Zack Greinke and Billy Butler, life has been much of the same futility that's marked the franchise for a number of years now. But it's hard to set a winning course when sailing a ship of fools.

Saw your first ship sink and drown from rocking of the boat,
And all that could not sink of swim were just left there to float,
I won't leave you drifting down but whoa it makes me wild,
With thirty years upon my head to have you call me child.

Ship of fools on a cruel sea,
Ship of fools sail away from me,
It was later than I thought when I first believed you,
But now I cannot share your laughter, ship of fools.

The bottles stand as empty now, as they were filled before,
Time there was and plenty, but from that cup no more,
Though I could not caution all, I still might warn a few,
Don't lend your hand to raise no flag atop no ship of fools.

Elsewhere In The Blogiverse...

Today was a slow day on the floor of the Fack Youk Idea Factory, but as always, we can point you to some others who were more productive.

If you've got some time, Rob Neyer takes a look at the playoff picture on his podcast. He's not too worried about the Yankees' flaws and talks about the two remaining races.

New Stadium Insider has the scoop that the Yankees will be introducing $75 "Cafe Seating" in the areas behind some of the 100 levels where the best standing room areas were. Great news since this means more availability of postseason tickets.

Might the Yanks rest all of their regulars tonight? Pete Abe tosses out the possibility. Joel Sherman offers a slightly different possibility. I think I would be fun to see just for the off chance that they beat the Royals entirely with their B-squad.

Interested in some baseball that matters? The Twins head down to Detroit for a four game set, trailing the Tigers by two games in the AL Central. Rick Porcello and Nick Blackbrun face off tonight. Circling the Bases breaks down the series game by game. River Ave. Blues and LoHud both take a look at the combatants and determine that we Yanks fans should be pulling for the Twins. I'm on board with that because rooting for team who has to come from behind is more fun anyway.

Sherman thinks that A-Rod might be primed for a big postseason. I would tend to agree but not because of the way he has removed himself from the spotlight like Sherman contends. A-Rod is a great hitter and is simply due for at least a decent postseason series.

Your daily helping of Soxenfreude, courtesy of

Jeff Pearlman talks to former Yankee catcher Sal Fasano about trying to hang on one more year in the Big Leagues to afford health insurance for his son, who has hypoplastic heart syndrome.

Big League Stew ranks the 5 most disappointing teams of 2009. Somehow the Mets behind the Rays, who play in the AL East with a tiny payroll and figure to finish over .500 but the Mets with their massive payroll and their public follies are currently 67-89. Think someone was a little too high on Tampa Bay coming into the season?

We'll be back in a bit with tonight's preview.

Partial Postseason Prognostication

With only a week remaining in the MLB regular season and only two races still undecided - the AL Central and NL Wild Card - we're seeing more and more articles seeking historical trends that predict postseason success. Last week, we linked to Lisa Swan's article about strong Septembers and Flip Flop Fly Ball's chart displaying the correlation (or lack thereof) between the having the best record during the regular season and winning the World Series.

Well late last week and over the weekend a few more of these pieces popped up and here are three of them (all via BBTF):

Similar to the chart at FFFB, Tom Verducci sorted the last 9 World Series winners by their regular season record and found an almost perfectly even distribution of League Championship pennants and World Series Victories. One championship came from each of the top 7 seeds and two came from teams seeded 8 or higher, such as the 2006 Cardinals who had the 13th best record in the league that year but still won the WS.

It's a pretty rough measure for a couple of reasons. The first, which Verducci points out himself, is that the teams don't play balanced schedules so teams get as much credit for the record in the NL Central as they do in the AL East, and so forth. Secondly, in 2006 for instance, four of the best 5 records came out of the American League. As a result there was an artificially higher chance of a low seed winning a pennant and a World Series (which happened with the Cardinals) since three of them were on one side of the bracket.


Next up, Dave Cameron wrote a piece for Wall Street Journal's website which showed that over the last 7 years, the teams that won the World Series have had a relatively small amount of meaningless games leading up to the postseason.

Dave quantifies "meaningless" games as ones that were played after their team has locked up a postseason berth either by winning their division or securing the Wild Card, but doesn't count ones that factor in the race for homefield advantage or are played against potential postseason opponents. Those certainly are played with a higher level of effort and urgency that the ones the Yankees are about to play against the Royals, one would assume. As Rob Neyer points out, 7 years is also a pretty small sample size.


Lastly, we have a piece by Lincoln Mitchell in The Faster Times which would seem to fly directly in the face of the half-baked theory proposed by Jeff Pearlman that we took issue with last week. Mitchell attempts to identify the team with the best two starters each year and concludes that since 1995, that club has won the World Series only twice.

There are problems with this methodology as well. ERA+ is not a bad measure but it certainly is not conclusive in determining the team with the best two starters when the postseason rolled around. Furthermore, if we wanted to do more of a complete assessment, we would rank each team's top two pitchers, or better yet give them a score on a scale of, say, 1-10 which would more accurately display the difference between each duo. In some years the top two hurlers for the best team might get a "9" and the next best team only receives a 6, but a straight ranking wouldn't convey that. Once the scores were determined then we could look at the results and see how they correlated with postseason success. Then we might have a better picture of how having two dominant starters predicts playoff series victories.


Do you notice a theme developing here? These methodologies are all pretty incomplete. A huge part of the problem is that baseball is littered with variables, there is no control group and you can't just create situations and run them over and over. Of course it's much easier to point out the deficiencies of these findings than take the time to complete the analysis.

All of these writers are admittedly taking a "quick and dirty" type of approach to their analysis and that's completely understandable. At one point, I started a post that was similar to Lisa Swan's about finishing the regular season on a high note (but I wanted to look over the last 10, 15 and 20 games as opposed to the final month) but as soon as I figured out how many tedious calculations I was going to have to do and how much time it would take me to do even a couple years worth of analysis, I scrapped it.

Another factor that makes it difficult to go more in-depth is that, ideally, you want to have a point when you are done with your research. These pieces were written for online outlets where time is always of the essence. You don't want to spend a bunch of time and at the end of the post have to say, "Through all of this research I determined that there is no noticeable correlation in the data."

And this brings me back to a piece that we looked at back at the end of August by Jay Jaffe of Baseball Prospectus. Jaffe brought up the research conducted by Nate Silver and Dayn Perry that lead to the creation of BP's Secret Sauce and applied it to this year's playoff picture. The difference here is that the Silver and Perry went into their research testing all sorts of variables and determined that strong defense, a pitching staff with a high K/9 and strong closer all had high correlation to postseason success. The Secret Sauce is the closest thing we have to a scientific study of what teams are "built for the playoffs" and it's still fairly incomplete.

In all likelihood the Yankees will take the long ALDS, so we still have over nine days before the first postseason pitch is thrown. We're to see more attempts at unlocking the postseason code and they'll probably be pretty interesting. But I highly doubt any of them are going to take the time to shift our thinking with a truly in-depth study of what October baseball really comes down to. Let's just try to enjoy the fact that the Yanks can coast home, throw out their B and C line ups and take things as they come.

Remembering Old Reliable

Good morning Fackers. And of course, this particular morning is an especially good one, as yesterday the Yanks clinched the AL East and did so against the arch-rival Red Sox. Sixty years ago the Yankees also clinched against the Red Sox, but under circumstances that were far more dire.

On Saturday October 1, 1949, the Red Sox came into the Bronx for a season-ending two game series. They held a one game lead in the race for the AL flag, meaning the Yankees needed to sweep to take the pennant.

Saturday, the Yanks fell behind 4-0 in the third inning, then clawed back into it, pushing the go ahead run across in the bottom of the eighth to stay alive and make Sunday's contest the American League Championship Game.

The Yankees jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first, and the score remained that way until they tacked on four more in the bottom of the eighth. Those runs would be needed, as the Sox plated three in the ninth. With Birdie Tebbets at the plate as the tying run, Yankee ace Vic Raschi got him to foul out to end the game and give the Yankees the pennant.

The final out was caught by veteran Tommy Henrich, "Old Reliable" as Mel Allen had dubbed him due to his knack for big hits in big spots. Henrich was mentioned by Peter Abraham last weekend, as the death of former Yankee Lonny Frey left the 96 year-old Henrich as the oldest living Yankee.

Before Catfish Hunter, before Reggie Jackson, Henrich was the Yankees' first big free agent acquisition. Born in Ohio, Henrich signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1934. After being buried in the Cleveland system for three years without being advanced appropriately, Commissioner Kennesaw Landis declared Henrich's contract void, freeing him to sign with whichever club he chose. He signed with the Yankees in April 1937, and after a brief stint with the Newark Bears, he moved up to the big club.

Two weeks ago the New York Times ran an article mentioning how the Yankees - like many slow to integrate clubs -passed on an opportunity to sign Willie Mays after that 1949 season. After the article ran, River Ave Blues, Bronx Banter, The Yankees Universe and others salivated at the possibility of a Mantle-Mays-Maris outfield in the 1960s. While that assuredly would have been the greatest outfield in Yankee history, the greatest that did exist consisted of Henrich, Joe DiMaggio, and last Monday morning's topic, Charlie Keller.

DiMaggio debuted in 1936, a year before Henrich, and was an instant star. Henrich spent his rookie year as a bench player - albeit a productive one - before becoming the regular right fielder in 1938. Despite posting an OPS+ of 119, it wasn't enough to establish Henrich as a permanent starter. The arrival of Keller in 1939 pushed Henrich back to the bench, as the Yankee outfield consisted of DiMaggio, Keller, and George Selkirk, all of whom posted an OPS+ of at least 143.

Selkirk had another fine season in 1940, and still received the majority of the time, but Henrich posted better numbers in his part time duty and missed a large portion of the year due to knee surgery. In 1941, he finally became the regular right fielder, joining DiMaggio and Keller. The trio combined for 94 home runs, with the right handed DiMaggio's 30 trailing the two lefties. Henrich's 31 longballs was third in the league, while his OPS+ of 136 was good for tenth in the league, but last in his own outfield.

That fall, Henrich was at the plate for one of the more notorious moments in World Series history. He was at bat in the ninth inning of Game 4 with Dodgers about to even the Series at two games apiece. Henrich struck out for what would have been the game's final out, but Dodgers catcher Mickey Owens allowed the ball to get by him. Henrich ran to first, the Yankees rallied, with Keller driving in Henrich and DiMaggio to give the Yankees the lead. Rather than being tied at two games apiece, the Yankees took a commanding 3-1 lead en route to their fifth championship in six seasons.

The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor two months and one day after that Series ended, bringing the U.S. into World War II and altering the landscape of Major League Baseball for the next four seasons. The trio managed to stay in tact a year longer, winning the club's sixth pennant in seven seasons, but falling to the Cardinals in the World Series. DiMaggio and Henrich missed the entirety of 1943-45 while Keller missed the 1944 season and most of 1945, all due to military service.

1946 saw the end of the War in both theaters, with most Major Leaguers returning to their chosen profession. The trio reunited for one final season before Keller's back relegated him to part time duty.

Henrich remained with the club through 1950, winning three more World Series rings to run his career total to seven. He led the AL in triples in 1947 and 48, and in runs in '48 while posting a career best OPS+ of 151. He hit the first walkoff HR in World Series during Game 1 of the 1949 Series. He made the All-Star team five times, including each of his last four seasons. After taking four seasons to establish himself as a starter early in his career, Henrich turned in what were perhaps his best seasons after WWII, in what should have been the decline phase of his career.

As we said about Keller last week and as we said of their teammate Joe Gordon earlier this summer, Henrich is something of a forgotten Yankee superstar. Given the rich history of the franchise, it's easy for such players to get lost in the shuffle behind Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Berra, and Mantle, particularly when it's been nearly 60 years since these men last played for the Yanks. But that shouldn't diminish the contributions that these less legendary greats made during their time in pinstripes.