It's been less than 72 hours since the Royals won the World Series, and there's already countless articles up about how other teams can learn from their success; but in this Rockpile, I'm going to do something different and not link any of them. While it's true that Kansas City is a model in several aspects of team building including diamond wide defense and bullpen dominance, there's one critical piece to their World Series run that simply can't be overlooked, and it's this:
Game 4 of the ALDS against the Astros. At one point in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Astros Win Probability was 98.4 percent for the game, and 99.2 percent for the series. The Royals deserve credit for the comeback, but if we're being fair, we have to acknowledge that Houston was one good Will Harris inning (as Esterps08 pointed out in the comments on Monday) away from meeting Toronto in the ALCS.
If that happens, and then one of those two teams win the World Series, the articles this week wouldn't be talking about how the Royals "keep the line moving" (which is pretty easy to mock anyway when they willingly choose to bat Alcides Escobar and his .293 on base percentage leadoff every game), they'd instead be talking about how the Astros represent the future of hitting by accepting the strikeout so they can hit more home runs, or that the Blue Jays are ahead of everybody else realizing that the way to use your farm is to cash in prospects for the pieces you need to win right now.
Here's another Royals game to think about:
The Wild Card play in game from last year against Oakland. Here, their Win Probability dropped as low as 2.9 percent in the seventh inning. The point I'm trying to drive home here is that the difference between a team like Kansas City's success and let's say the success of the Pittsburgh Pirates is games like these, and I think it would be foolish to heavily weigh the way you're supposed to model a team off wacky playoff games.
This doesn't mean they should carry no weight at all, but the disproportion of expected success in the future seems to hinge on playoff success far more than regular season success, and that's rather amusing in baseball because what happens in October is a hundred times more chaotic than the 162 game season, and has repeatedly failed to be a harbinger of future success. Just take the last three World Series Champions before the Royals - All of them missed the playoffs the following year. In fact, you have to go all the way back to the 2008 / 2009 Phillies to find the last time a team won the World Series and then won their own division the next year.
Knowing this, the more appropriate response for a team rebuilding is to observe all the teams who had success in the regular season and see which common threads can be replicated. This is something that Adam Peterson did a nice job of looking at a month ago (notice he did it at the end of the regular season) and our own Eric Garcia McKinley peered into earlier this week.
Without going into too much detail since I'm already late with this post, one trait that's obvious among almost all these good teams is their depth. They're not just getting contributions from a few stars, it's talent all over the place.
If you watch the Royals, Pirates, Astros, Blue Jays, Cardinals or Cubs play enough games, you'll see players considered middle and bottom roster guys contribute to wins on a regular basis. I've tried to illustrate that with the following table. All I've done here is take the baseball reference WAR rankings for each team and pulled out only the tenth, 11th, and 12th best players according to each list in an attempt to capture a snapshot of what the middle of each roster looks like. Then I added their scores together and ordered them by team. These were the results:
Look at the 90 players listed here. There's probably a scary number of people who call themselves baseball fans who couldn't attach half these guys with their appropriate team. This is a ranking we almost never pay attention to, but perhaps we should.
With a few exceptions, look how well this correlates to the teams that won the most games. We talk so much about the stars in baseball, but stars alone can't win you games in this sport the way they do in the NBA or NFL. It's why guys like Ted Williams, Ernie Banks, Ty Cobb, Ken Griffey Jr, Tony Gwynn, Carl Yastrzemski, Barry Bonds, Robin Yount, and Willie McCovey (just to name a few) all have no rings while a guy like Franklin Morales now has two.
Stars still make you better or worse as a team than this list indicates though. For instance, the Nationals and Angels rank 22nd and 25th on this list, but they have Bryce Harper and Mike Trout so that helped propel them to winning records. However, it wasn't good enough to get either team to the playoffs. On the other side of the coin, you have a team like the Yankees who has great depth but no current stars (their highest WAR player was Mark Teixeira at 3.8). Here, we end up with a team that isn't quite as good as their depth WAR indicates, but still good enough to get into the Wild Card game.
The one place this metric didn't do so well was reflecting how the NL East shook out as a whole with the Mets winning 90 games and only getting 3.9 WAR from these middle slots on the roster. However, that may be explained by the NL East being a combined 62 games under .500 and none of these teams being very good. (One other note on that division. The Phillies may have turned a corner. They went 34-37 in the second half and rank mid pack here. They're still not good with no player racking up more than 3.2 WAR in 2015, but it also looks like rock bottom is behind them.)
This table also gives us a good idea of how far behind other teams the Rockies are when it comes to depth right now, and is yet another reason why they need to move more pieces this winter. To get up near the top of this board, the Rockies would need players like Charlie Blackmon, DJ LeMahieu, and Nick Hundley to be on this table. Instead, they ranked fifth, sixth, and seventh in Rockies rWAR this season. This means that for the Rockies to contend next year, they likely need at least four (and probably five or six) players as good or better than them added to the roster, and it's just really hard to see that occurring. Acquiring pieces that can turn into long term cost controlled valuable depth is Colorado's only way out of this mess.
This was linked yesterday, but there's one line I really took umbrage with in this piece:
The club has always carried the feeling that the offense is good enough to support a winner, if the pitching makes a major leap
Unless we're talking about a jump over the moon type leap from this pitching staff, this offense isn't good enough to support a winner. This is something I hinted at in my Drag Factor piece yesterday.
Need more evidence? Take a look at where the Rockies ranked in terms of wRC+ in 2015. Spoiler Alert: It was last. Now to be fair, it's possible that the Coors Hangover Effect makes the Rockies look worse than they are offensively when it comes to park adjusted stats, but even if you bump them up a few notches, you're talking about an offense that at best ranks in the mid twenties in terms of production.
Hopefully somebody just gave that line to Harding as front office speak because if this club really does believe that this offense post Troy Tulowitzki, Michael Cuddyer, and Justin Morneau is good enough to support a winner, I've got a bridge to sell them.
Here's a quick list of the players each team will be losing to free agency. For me, the big story here will be where the top of the line starting pitchers like David Price, Zack Greinke, Jordan Zimmermann, and Johnny Cueto go. Let's just say there's more teams with money who need starting pitching help this winter than there are really great pitchers on the market. I expect all four of these players to demand contracts that teams will regret in the long term. This should be fascinating.
Despite some questionable decisions in the World Series, the Mets and Terry Collins agreed to a two year extension that will pay him $3 million over its duration. I think this is the right move as he did an excellent job with that club over the course of the season, and seems to have earned the respect of their young players.