The Royals aren’t known for their analytics department. They have one, of course. It’s not as though the organization is the Flintstones while everyone else is the Jetsons. That said, they’re still viewed as being old-school. In the eyes of many, scouting still rules the roost in Kansas City.
Just how true is that perception? According to the team’s longtime general manager, it’s far less accurate than it once was. Which isn’t to say that Dayton Moore has cast aside his roots in an attempt to become something he’s not. What he’s done is adapt to the changing times.
“My background is my background,” Moore told me at last month’s GM Meetings. “I’m not going to be ashamed of that. I grew up in a very traditional way. I grew up as a coach. I grew up as a scout. But the game has changed since I came to Kansas City in 2006.”
Moore remembers meeting with, among others, saber-smart baseball scribe Bradford Doolittle. That “created a pathway to us developing an understanding of analytics.” He went on to hire Michael Groopman as a baseball operations assistant in 2008, then promote him to Director of Baseball Operations/Analytics in 2015. In Moore’s words, Groopman “came in and built our analytics program.”
Groopman is now gone, having moved on to Milwaukee in November 2017. Kansas City’s analytics efforts are now led by Dr. Daniel Mack, who has been with the organization since 2013 and currently holds the title Assistant General Manager/Research and Development. He’s more than a figurehead. Per Moore, Mack “supports all aspects of what we do, from our medical team to our draft, to our professional scouting and performance-science departments, to our hiring processes. He’s a major part of our decision-making.”
As the team’s Senior VP/General Manager, Moore is at the top of that decision-making food chain. Ownership green lights aside, the final word is his. What does that mean in terms of analytics-related advancements, including the extent to which the club is keeping up with the Joneses… or, more aptly, the Jetsons?
“We’re very aware of what everybody is doing,” Moore told me. “Obviously, we have to focus on what we do, and what works for us. I leave it up to Dr. Mack, and [assistant GMs} J.J. Picollo and Scott Sharp, to make sure that we stay cutting edge on everything we do. We never make a decision… we’ve never signed a player, or drafted a player, without using all of the advanced metrics.”
Delegating those types of responsibilities to Mack, Picollo, and Sharp doesn’t mean that Moore doesn’t value information. Any such suggestion are guaranteed to raise his hackles.
“Here’s the deal,” said Moore. “I started out as an area scout, as I’m sure you know. I never, ever, presented a player without using all of the available statistics to validate my judgment. The information we have today — there’s a lot of it — is all used to validate our judgment. We also use it to hopefully lead us to players who are undervalued.”
Whit Merrifield has been worth 10.9 WAR over the past three seasons. Jorge Soler was worth a team-high 3.6 WAR in 2019. It’s unlikely that either would be wearing a Royals uniform if eyeball scouting was the sole determinant.
“When we made the trade for Jorge Soler [in December 2016], a lot of that decision was based on [analytics],” said Moore. “There were predictors our analytics team liked. Whit Merrifield is a guy our analytics team liked. He’s a productive baseball player. The game is the ultimate evaluator, and always has been. There are guys who perform above their tools.”
Then there’s the player who hit 52 home runs, and drove in 199 runs, between the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
“Kendrys Morales is a guy our analytics department didn’t find very appealing,” admitted Moore. “They saw a lot of ground balls, a lot of double plays, not a lot of loft in his swing. But our scouts liked him. We’d followed Kendrys when he was a young kid coming over from Cuba, and knew that he had great makeup and a desire to be better. So a blend of both is important. The challenge is being able to use everybody’s expertise, and filter through it in a way that allows us to come to a conclusion. Analytics are obviously part of that. They’re crucial””
Six consecutive losing seasons in the rearview, the Cincinnati Reds are seemingly poised to contend in the NL Central. Doing so may take another shrewd move or two — hello Winter Meetings — but for the most part, the rebuild has been moving in the right direction since Dick Williams took over the GM reins in November 2015. Here at FanGraphs, we’ve made incremental checkins on that progress. Three times we’ve gone straight to the source.
On November 18, 2015, we published Dick Williams on Transitioning the Cincinnati Model. On March 13, 2017, we published Dick Williams on Innovation, Infrastructure, and a Reds Rebuild. On February 20, 2019, we published Dick Williams on Culminating the Reds Rebuild.
The University of Virginia-educated executive also led a November 2017 Sunday Notes column, but on that occasion he addressed the team’s pitching outlook, rather than structure. Today, we’ll hear from him on a mixture of both.
“As you know, we’ve changed personnel in all areas of the organization in recent years,” said Williams, who is now President of Baseball Operations. “We have a whole new major-league staff. The department heads are almost all new. There are the people we’ve brought in who we feel are going to bring new perspectives to player development. We’re excited about that. In particular, we’re looking to challenge ourselves to coach our players better, and also to coach our staffs better.”
Hello Kyle Boddy and Eric Jagers. The former was brought on board from Driveline to serve as the minor league pitching coordinator. The latter — once Boddy’s colleague at the Seattle-area facility — came over from the Phillies and will be the assistant minor league pitching coordinator.
Earlier hires have already made a meaningful impact on Cincinnati’s pitching program. Notably, some of them are members of David Bell’s coaching staff.
“We’ve brought in people from different organizations who had strong ideas about new things that were happening in player development,” said Williams. “From my experience, there are a lot of guys on [MLB] staffs who say the right things about working with the minor league players and staffs, but talk can be cheap. Now we have a group that’s very invested in developing young players. They’ve challenged us to look at things in different ways, and that’s been a big catalyst for some of the success we saw at the major league level. Derek Johnson, Caleb Cotham, Lee Tunnell… we talk with them about, ‘OK, so what does this mean for how we develop pitchers in the minor leagues?’”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Dylan Bundy was in the news this week. On Wednesday, the 27-year-old right-hander was traded from the Baltimore Orioles to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in exchange for four prospects. His repertoire includes five pitches, most notably a slider, and a changeup that he described the evolution of in a recent installment of our Learning and Developing a Pitch series. Bundy also features a curveball, and four- and two-seam fastballs.
How often will fans of the team with the unbecomingly-long name see the two-seamer? That largely depends on how it’s coming out of his hand. When I talked to him in late September, the erstwhile Oriole told me it had been a bit of a mystery pitch for him over the course of the campaign.
“I completely canned it for pretty much the whole first half,” Bundy said of his two-seamer. “I didn’t like where it was at. But then I said, ‘screw it’ and started throwing it again. It started consistently moving — it’s a runner, not really a sinker — whereas before it hadn’t been. Sometimes it would run like I wanted it to, and I’d be like, ‘Awesome.’ But then, in my next start, it would just stay straight.”
Based on a quick perusal of his game logs, Bundy indeed put the pitch in his back pocket for a period of time. It began creeping back into his mix in late July, and come August he was sometimes throwing it upwards of 20 times a game. Unlike before, it was doing what it was supposed to do.
How did the Owasso, Oklahoma native recapture the movement that had mysteriously gone missing?
“I don’t know if I can explain it,” admitted Bundy. “I didn’t change the grip. I mean, I’ve tried every single grip there is for a two-seamer, or for a sinker, and not one of them was consistent. Now I just hold it in between two seams and let it rip, and for whatever reason it’s been consistently moving a couple of inches, in to a righty. Hopefully it’s going to continue to do that.”
The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame has chosen to honor Atlanta Braves pitcher Mike Soroka with this year’s Tip O’Neill Award, which is given annually to the top Canadian player in the game.
The Kansas City Royals have named Mitch Maier as their new director of baseball operations. The former big-league outfielder was Kansas City’s first base coach last year.
Matt Dean has been hired as the new broadcast and communications coordinator for the Caroline League’s Fayetteville Woodpeckers. Dean has spent the last four years with the Charleston RiverDogs.
Jake Eisenberg will be the new play-by-play voice of the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers. Eisenberg spent last season as a broadcast and communications assistant with the Richmond Flying Squirrels.
Nixson Munoz garnered a mere mention when our Red Sox Top Prospects list came out earlier this week. That’s perfectly understandable. The 19-year-old southpaw has yet to play Stateside, and at 5-foot-9, 170 pounds he hardly possesses a prototypical pitcher’s frame. His heater, which sat mid-80s when he was signed out of Nicaragua in 2017, remains pedestrian at 89-90.
His 2019 stat line screamed success. Belying his lack of loud tools, Munoz dominated the Dominican Summer League to the tune of a 2.40 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 60 innings. Moreover, he issued just five free passes. At season’s end he was honored as Boston’s Latin Program Pitcher of the Year.
Munoz features a multi-pitch mix. When I spoke to him in September, he shared that he throws a four-seam fastball, a curveball, a slider, a changeup, and a sinker. He considers his curveball his best pitch… or, depending on how much you care to parse. his pair of curveballs. “One is basically to strike the batter out,” explained Munoz. “The other is to confuse the batter.”
With Red Sox communications manager Bryan Loor-Almonte providing translation, Munoz told me that he particularly likes to watch David Price and Chris Sale, He added that Fenway Park, which he was visiting for the first time, “is absolutely beautiful.”
Asking what it will be like to pitch in the United States — the Gulf Coast League and/or short-season Lowell loom as likely destinations next year — the youngster couldn’t help but smile.
“When I get to play up here, it will be something extraordinary for my career,” said Munoz. “I’ll get to represent my country of Nicaragua.”
The Modern Baseball Era committee may or may not elect one or more former players to the Hall of Fame on Sunday. Nine are on the ballot, as is the late Marvin Miller, who as the legendary, longtime head of the MLB Players Association would be a shoe-in were this a wholly-unbiased process.
With candidates needing at least twelve of sixteen votes cast — each committee member can select up to four — it’s anybody’s guess as to who among Miller, Dwight Evans, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Thurman Munson, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, and Lou Whitaker might garner sufficient support. With such a strong-and-balanced field, a shutout could feasibly be on tap sans some back-room dealing by the committee members.
Who would get my vote? Miller, certainly. I’d also go with Whitaker, John, and Evans. If five selections were allowed, Simmons would be next on my list.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Back when he was playing for the Red Sox, Bobby Jenks woke up one morning in a stranger’s car, nothing on but his underwear, having no idea where he was or how he got there. Jenks wrote about that experience, and much more, at The Players Tribune.
Jesse Goldberg-Strassler delved into Minor League Baseball’s contraction history, at Ballpark Digest.
Bill Shakin of The Los Angeles Times talked to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders — not about his presidential campaign, but rather his efforts to help preserve Minor League Baseball as we know it.
The Guardian ran an excerpt from JM Fenster’s new book Cheaters Always Win: The Story of America. It tellstory the sof Jim Devlin, who was banned from baseball for life following an 1877 season in which he tossed 61 complete games for the Louisville Grays.
Matt Eddy has the 2019 Minor League Park Factors at Baseball America.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Albert Pujols leads active players with 114 sacrifice flies.
Elvis Andrus leads active position players with 100 sacrifice bunts.
White Sox second baseman Ray Durham had 181 hits, eight triples, 73 walks, and 105 strikeouts in 1998. He also had 181 hits, eight triples, 73 walks, and 105 strikeouts in 1999.
Pirates Hall of Famer Pie Traynor had 19 doubles, 19 triples, and 19 strikeouts in 1923.
Ted Williams had 71 triples and 521 home runs. Roger Metzer had 71 triples and five home runs.
Gabe Kapler slashed .302/.360/.473 with 14 home runs for the Texas Rangers in 2000.
Jerry Dipoto had 49 career saves.
Players born on this date include Razor Ledbetter (1894) and Kid Camp (1869). Ledbetter pitched for the Detroit Tigers in 1915. Camp pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1892, and for the Chicago Colts in 1894.
MLB annals include two players named Sam Jones. The one who pitched from 1914-1935 was nicknamed “Sad Sam.” The one who pitched from 1951-1964 was nicknamed “Toothpick Sam.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.