On Friday, July 9, the websiting, podcasting and book authoring conglomerate Baseball Prospectus hosted a good time happy event catered to the serious Royals enthusiast. The Royals played along with a group ticket package, the use of a Kauffman Stadium conference room, and one half of an hour of time from front office persons Jin Wong and John Williams. Around 70 nerdly Royals rooters filled the conference room, and were first treated to a Q&A session with Kevin Goldstein (BP podcaster and prospect/scouting writer), Rany Jazayerli (BP co-founder and dean of Royals bloggers), Craig Brown (Royals Authority blogger and BP fantasy writer) and Jeff Euston (Cot’s Contracts and BP contracts/business writer).
Not surprisingly, the crowd had a lot of questions for Goldstein regarding the ballyhooed farm system. Mr. Goldstein feels it is too soon to be worried about the sluggish start of pitcher Mike Montgomery, and he hears from scouts that his “stuff” has been fine, but struggled to find his command early in the season. His control seems to have returned in recent starts. With the promotions of Hosmer, Moustakas and Duffy and injury to John Lamb, Goldstein said right now he would rank Montgomery as the team’s #1 prospect and pitcher Jake Odorizzi at #2. Goldstein is also high on 3B prospect Cheslor Cuthbert, currently at single-A Kane County. Goldstein likes Cuthbert because he is already a good hitting and fielding third baseman, not just toolsy and projectable like so many prospects trying to figure things out. Goldstein has heard concerns about C prospect Sal Perez, saying his bat is not developing like you would like it to this season. SS prospect Christian Colon is another Goldstein was not high on.
You will not be surprised to learn that the matter of starting pitching was raised. There was talk of who if any from the Royals bullpen could or should be converted into a starter. Mr. Jazayerli shared that one scout he has talked to raised a concern with Aaron Crow’s delivery, specifically something called “arm wrap,” where he cocks his arm funkily behind him before throwing. The scout feels that may lead to Crow’s motion breaking down over a long outing. Goldstein subscribes to the “if it ain’t broke” school of thought, sarcastically suggesting perhaps they should try Crow as a center fielder. Brown goes the other way, and would have all the relievers go into spring training next year with a shot at the rotation and see who sticks.
Jazayerli praised Dayton Moore for diving into the wild world of amateur international talent acquisition, stating it is a market the Royals basically sat out of for 40 years before Moore came along. To make his point, he asked the group to name the international signing by the Royals to have the biggest impact in the major leagues; having done the research, Jazayerli says it is Melido Perez. With all the money being thrown at international talent in recent years, the Royals will hopefully have some new names at the top of that list.
Mr. Euston brought up a good point about the lauded outfield defense of the 2011 Kansas City baseballers; while the lead-leaguing number of outfield assists is great, it may not be sustainable, and may be masking a lack of range between Mssrs. Gordon, Cabrera and Francoeur. Something to watch for in the second half.
With their time up, we moved on to Director of Baseball Administration Jin Wong and Baseball Operations Assistant John Williams. Wong shared first how he got into baseball. After playing in college, he landed an internship with the Braves, where his first boss was none other than Dayton Moore. Wong has been with the Royals since 2000, moving up the ladder to his current position in 2004. He has a hand in just about all the front office duties, from identifying free agent and trade targets to contract negotiations to statistical analysis and much more. The off-season is his busiest time. “Microsoft Excel is my best friend,” Wong said. Williams is newer to the baseball world, having interned with the Royals front office in 2010 before gaining his current title for this season. His prior education and experience involved atmospheric science, geology, geophysics and political science at MIT and Yale. According to his official bio, he has “significant involvement with the quantitative research and development of analytics.” Williams did not have a lot to say during the event, but he is the kind of guy analytically-inclined Royals fans should be glad to hear is working behind the scenes.
Wong revealed that FIELDf/x will be installed at Kauffman soon. FIELDf/x will record the positioning of every player on the field at all times, which could lead to advancements in quantifying defensive abilities. Wong and Williams are both excited to see what they can do with the new info. I asked what the outlook is for the data being made public (as with PITCHf/x), and while that is not his decision nor concern, Wong anticipates the info will remain only available to subscribers. When asked if the Royals utilize PITCHf/x data to find different umpire’s strike zones, Wong said that MLB strictly forbids teams from doing that, and if they are caught doing it, MLB will yank PITCHf/x data from them! Kind of bizarre since that info is accessible to all online, and is used by MLB itself to evaluate their umps. This is pure speculation, but there are games when one team seems better prepared for an umpire’s tendencies than the other, which could be a result of some teams circumventing the rule and others abiding it.
Wong submitted the team’s decision-making behind the acquisition of Felipe Paulino as the “absolute convergence of statistical analysis and subjective scouting.” The scouts liked him, and the analysts noted room for improvement since his batting average on balls in play against was high plus his swing-and-miss rates were good. The early returns show the Royals may have scored a coup with Paulino.
Wrapping up the main event, we headed to our seats in right field to take in the Royals vs. Tigers. Right field in Kauffman Stadium in July is not for the faint of heart. The heat was extreme, but there was baseball to watch and fellow baseball nerds to meet. The game was not a thing of beauty, but the good guys jumped all over Tigers starter Charlie Furbush to the extent he was demoted after the game. Luke Hochevar did his customary great start followed by meltdown routine. He really has it down to an art form right now. The runs piled up, Everett Teaford recorded a rare three-inning save, and the Royals were 13-6 winners. But just maybe, it was the Baseball Prospectus attendees who were the real winners.
Just kidding, you guys! But it was fun. Thanks to BP for a good time.