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Thread: Bill James and the Mid 80's Royals

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    breath westofyou's Avatar
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    Bill James and the Mid 80's Royals

    I wrote something about this on my site, but it really applys well to the Reds current situation... IMO that is.

    There’s no easy way to lose your sight
    On the street, on the stairs
    Who’s on your flight
    Old couple walks by, as ugly as sin
    But he’s got her and she’s got him

    Never say never


    Digging through my old Bill James Abstracts and his book “This Time Let’s not Eat the Bones.” I came across the subject of the Royals, a subject that James has great passion about, much like I have about the Reds and much like most of the folks I talk baseball with have. In the wake of the Reds new owners and management I found Bill’s comments on the Royals to be interesting to say the least, especially concerning the team and the upcoming 1984 season, a season that looked doomed on the heels of the horrible 1983 season (Drug Trials). Much of Bill’s chagrin can be seen as being aimed directly at The Royals general manager John Schuerholz, a man who spent his time in the player development section of the Royals organization during their successful run in the late 1970’s, a run that cumulated with an appearance in the 1980 World Series, which they lost. After the series Schuerholz took over as the Royals general manager and following a 90 win season in 1982 the 1983 Royals finished under .500 for the first time since 1974 (under Jack McKeon).

    It was after that season in his 1984 Baseball Abstract that James wrote the following about the 3rd year GM Schuerholz.

    At this point in his career John Schuerholz has yet to try anything that has worked.
    James continues to dissect the moves made by the Royals and the pattern of bringing in veterans to plug holes. His disdain for this method is real, it’s something that he feels is wrong, to his very core and something he has no qualms about stating. He obviously has no confidence in John Schuerholz as he states,
    The pathetic thing about John Schuerholz is that he fancies himself a gambler, but a gambler is in fact, exactly what he’s not.
    Bill drags his real feelings of the Royals current plight to the surface when he declares.

    A return to the top of the division in the next 3-4 years is all but out of the question.
    Fade to black…

    Fade in from black…

    The 1984 Royals finished 84-78 and in first place.

    All despite a negative run differential, thus becoming the first team to ever win a title of any type in major league history with more runs allowed then scored, in short they were special and what I mean when I say “special” is more a special that has to do more with being peculiar then being unique enough to want to emulate.

    In honor of that Royals team and their accomplishment James entitled his chapter on the Royals in the 1985 Baseball Abstract as “Competitive Mediocrity” asserting that a team that achieves a feat similar to the Royals as being “over efficient.” In the 1985 Abstract James focuses his Royals essay on the teams main hitting weakness, getting on base, in short their inability to draw walks. The 1984 Royals walked only 400 times as a team, dead last in a league that had 14 teams. In this long study on walks and the power of avoiding outs James fails to mention the man who plagued him so the year before, he however creates a tome to the power of the walk in the game that should be read by any fan of the game who tends to think of them more as a gift then a hitters tool.

    Later in the study James lists the ten teams that are most similar to the 1984 Royals team, this is done in attempt to prove that the teams overachievement would most likely not transfer into the next season. This is despite the presence of several Phillies teams from the mid 70’s and the top of the list was graced by the 1979 Phillies, a fact that isn’t lost on James as he states,
    Anyway the Phillies the next year after that, won the World Series, which is meaningless but you can base a hope on anything if you want to.
    Fade to black…

    Fade in from black…


    Late January 1985

    Jim Sundberg traded by Milwaukee Brewers to Kansas City Royals as part of 4-team trade

    Code:
    * Kansas City Royals sent Don Slaught to Texas Rangers.
    * Kansas City Royals sent Frank Wills to New York Mets.
    * New York Mets sent Tim Leary to Milwaukee Brewers.
    * Texas Rangers sent Danny Darwin to Milwaukee Brewers.
    * Texas Rangers sent Bill Nance to Milwaukee Brewers.
    The acquisition of a 33-year-old catcher and the departure of a 25-year-old catcher was perhaps the epiphany that James needed to better understand his feelings towards Schuerholz and the Royals approach to building a team.

    In his Don Slaught piece he wrote:

    The five most reasonable explanations that I can think of why anyone would trade Don Slaught for Jim Sundberg:

    1. Don Slaught is a secret hemophiliac and his hobby is playing with chainsaws.
    2. Don Slaught likes to jump out of airplanes and frequently forgets to put on his mask before the start of the inning.
    3. Don Slaught made a pass at Ewing Kaufmanns wife.
    4. Don Slaught made a pass at Ewing Kaufmann.
    5. Don Slaught’s agent carries a razor.

    If none of these conditions apply, then I really don’t understand the trade.
    Looking at a player over 30 and the player who is 25 the Branch Rickey in most of us will lean towards the younger player, especially the one who squats for a living. James of course was perplexed; it went against the grain of what he had determined to be the proper way to build a winning baseball team, the way that he spent a good part of his life mulling over. Rather then rant and rave and declare stupidity in every hallway of Royals Stadium he made a statement that most likely sums up what many Reds fans feel about the moves that Wayne Krivsky has made this season.

    James wrote the following after laying out the reality of Don Slaught the player (not going to be a star) and the reality of Sundberg the player (solid, respectable catcher, but over 30):

    It was, rather, this: the unavoidable acceptance that I am, as a fan, rooting for an organization whose philosophies are diametrically opposed to my own, not only the question of whether you succeed, but to the question of how you succeed.

    Perhaps, in the eighties, the Royals’ organization will teach me differently. Will teach me that success comes from cashing in the raw material of potential for the hard wealth of established talent. I’m afraid I shall find this lesson hard to enjoy.
    To find a season that the Royals as a staff had a better ERA then they did in 1985 you’d have to go back to 1978, the 1985 Royals team won 91 games and came back from a 3 games to 1 deficit in the Division Championship and swept the lat 3 games, the last two on the road. To enrich it even more the Royals only allowed 5 runs in the final three games. To ensure the world that it wasn’t a fluke they came back from a similar deficit against the Cardinals and won the final three games of the World Series, this time only allowing 2 runs in the last three Royal wins.

    Eighteen months after Bill declared in the 1984 Baseball Abstract that the Royals had no chance of finishing in the top of their division in the next 2-3 years they had two American League West Titles, a AL Championship and their first World Championship. Clearly it was evident that sometimes even the best baseball analysts sometimes swing and miss, sometimes they go on bad streaks and make poor decisions. Nobody is infallible in baseball, not the guys on the field, not the guys holding the radar gun behind home plate, the guys announcing the game and least of all not the guys who spend their lives trying to figure out a game that gripped them and likely will never let them go.

    Like most great minds Bill was able to admit he was wrong and this summation, in his essay “The History of being a Kansas City Baseball Fan” covers his feelings on what he had written:

    In view of the success of the Royals over the last two seasons, it is incumbent upon me to consider whether my remarks at the time were unfair to Schuerholz. I don’t honestly know. The thing is I don’t really know what within the offices at Royals Stadium. But John Schuerholz has to be given credit for what he has done. It’s a simple game; if you win you deserve credit for it. John Schuerholz has built the Royals into one of the best teams in baseball
    In 2006 we all know the story of both these men, both went on to greater success and both proved to have a firm grip on how to build a baseball team, both even have a World Series ring that reflects that knowledge and its application in the real world.

    Life’s funny, I bet 20 years ago when James penned his mea culpa he had no idea that one day he would be working on the side of the game he currently resides in. But then again he didn’t think the Royals had a chance in hell of getting where they got to way back in 1984 and 1985.

    As for where they are at today, I’m fairly certain he has an opinion about that.

    Code:
    1983  2nd     79   83  .488   20   
    1984  1st     84   78  .519   +3     AL WEST CHAMPIONS
    1985  1st     91   71  .562   +1     WORLD CHAMPIONS
    1986  T3rd    76   86  .469   16   
    1987  2nd     83   79  .512    2   
    1988  3rd     84   77  .522   19.5 
    1989  2nd     92   70  .568    7

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  3. #2
    Redsmetz redsmetz's Avatar
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    Re: Bill James and the Mid 80's Royals

    To enrich it even more the Royals only allowed 5 runs in the final three games. To ensure the world that it wasn’t a fluke they came back from a similar deficit against the Cardinals and won the final three games of the World Series, this time only allowing 2 runs in the last three Royal wins.
    A little known fact (really, only in my house) is that the Royals won that year because my wife had a baby during the World Series.

    My wife grew up a Cardinals fan, although we've brought her over to our side (a disappointment of our honeymoon is that MLB stuck it to the Reds and Cardinals in 1981 and we didn't get to see our teams in the playoffs that year. We were married the 2nd last day of the season). My wife was pregnant with our oldest daughter in the fall of 1982 and the Cardinals won the Series that year.

    In 1985, we were expecting our 2nd child and the due date was October 16th. Again the Cardinals were in the Series, this time versus the Royals as noted above. On October 23rd, now a week late, we were watching Game 4 and late in the game, my wife had her first labor pain. We watched the remainder of the game which the Cardinals won. Just short of midnight our second daughter was born and now, not pregnant, the Cardinals did not win another game in that Series. So it was our fault.

    Our last child, our son, was born in 1988 on September 1st. Knowing we were having the baby well before season's end, the Cardinals finished 25 games back that year.

    BTW, that's all the kids we have and the Cardinals haven't won a Series since. They have no idea they're doomed since at 50 and 51, we're not having anymore.

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    Redsmetz redsmetz's Avatar
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    Re: Bill James and the Mid 80's Royals

    Regarding your post itself, it's an excellent analysis and it reminds us that this game can be magical at times.

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    Mon chou Choo vaticanplum's Avatar
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    Re: Bill James and the Mid 80's Royals

    Quote Originally Posted by westofyou
    Like most great minds Bill was able to admit he was wrong and this summation, in his essay “The History of being a Kansas City Baseball Fan” covers his feelings on what he had written
    I have looked and looked and looked for this article online for ages. Does anyone know of anywhere it's available?
    There is no such thing as a pitching prospect.

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    Member GullyFoyle's Avatar
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    Re: Bill James and the Mid 80's Royals

    Wonderful writing... I never made the connection that Baseballminutia was your site... (Sometimes I'm not awfully bright), but I look forward to digging into it more.

    Very interesting stuff.

  7. #6
    Hey Cubs Fans RFS62's Avatar
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    Re: Bill James and the Mid 80's Royals

    Very nice work, WOY.

    Anyone who hasn't checked out his website, linked at the bottom of his posts, is really missing something.

    "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
    ~ Mark Twain

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    breath westofyou's Avatar
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    Re: Bill James and the Mid 80's Royals

    Quote Originally Posted by vaticanplum
    I have looked and looked and looked for this article online for ages. Does anyone know of anywhere it's available?
    It first appeared in the 86 Abstract (which you could probably get on an interlibrary loan.)

    It's also in this book... “This Time Let’s not Eat the Bones.”

    I never made the connection that Baseballminutia was your site.
    Yep, more stuff to distract me from making a living wage.


    this game can be magical at times.
    And it can beat you on the head at anytime for thinking something is always the way it will be, be it good or be it bad.

  9. #8
    Mon chou Choo vaticanplum's Avatar
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    Re: Bill James and the Mid 80's Royals

    I am currently reading the original Bill James article referenced in this thread. I've just started and have a long way to go, but something early struck me as wise and perhaps pertinent. It begins by James exploring why the Kansas City Athletics seemed to show such a lack of commitment its organization's good young players. Charles Finley was the owner of the team at the time referenced below. The bolded emphasis is mine.

    "One of the stranger cases was that of Manny Jimenez, the only player of his generation from San Pedro de Macoris. Acquired from the Braves' system in exchange for Bob Shaw, the big, strong left-handed hitter was among the league leaders in hitting for the first three months of the 1962 season, until Charlie Finley arranged a private conference with him and told him to stop concentrating on hitting for average and to try to hit more home runs. Finley not only did this, but he immediately went up to the press box and told everybody he had done it. Later, he would insist that he hadn't done it at all, and when that didn't work he said that he had done it, but only after his manager and his coaches had tried unsuccessfully to tell Jimenez the same thing.

    Anyway, Jimenez went into a slump immediately thereafter and finished the season at .301, losing almost 30 points in the last two months. Jimenez was not a good outfielder or a good baserunner. Even so, .301's all right; .301 with medium-range power (11 homers, 69 RBI in 479 at bats) fora twenty-three-year-old rookie...that's a place to start something from.

    When Manny Jimenez went to spring training the next year he found himself without a job. In search for more power, the left field slot had been given to Chuch Essegian, a thirty-one-year-old veteran who had never before played regularly, but had hit 21 homers in 336 at bats with Cleveland in 1962. Finley felt that, playing regularly, he would hit 35 home runs. He hit 5. Jimenez spent a good part of the season in the minor leages. While on the A's roster he pinch hit and filled in, hit .280 on the road to oblivion.

    ..........

    One of the recurrent themes of Bill James analysis of baseball: Bad organizations will tend to project their weaknesses onto their best players, and ultimately will dwell not on what the player
    can do, but on what he can't. And what better example of this can there be but Manny Jimenez? The kid's hitting .330, he's got a little power but we're still losing. If we're losing he must not be doing all that well. He's not a great outfielder or any kind of a base runner, so he's got to hit for more power.

    At this vantage point there is little doubt that, left alone, Jimenez in time would have developed some power, and would have been in a quality major league hitter, the type of player who could help win some games.

    ..........

    Finley was like a man who plants a garden every spring with energy and enthusiasm, but who sees by mid-summer not the green, fresh produce he had envisioned, but a weedy, overgrown patch of dry vegetation. Embarrassed by this, he rips out the garden so that no one would see his weeds.
    "

    Draw your own conclusions of how this may relate to our current Reds (I see some similarities) or doesn't relate to our current Reds (I see some notable differences too). But I think there is some real plain and simple wisdom there.
    Last edited by vaticanplum; 09-13-2006 at 03:54 PM.
    There is no such thing as a pitching prospect.

  10. #9
    post hype sleeper cincinnati chili's Avatar
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    Re: Bill James and the Mid 80's Royals

    Great stuff, WOY
    ". . . acquiring J. Blanton from Oakland for, apparently, Bailey/Cueto, Votto and a lesser prospect. I do it in a second . . . The Reds' equation this year is simple: Make Matt Belisle your #3 starter . . . trade for Blanton, win 85 or more, be in the mix all summer." - Paul Daugherty, Feb. 8, 2008

  11. #10
    For a Level Playing Field RedFanAlways1966's Avatar
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    Re: Bill James and the Mid 80's Royals

    Excellent read. Thanks, woy!
    Small market fan... always hoping, but never expecting.


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