Is the Dayton Moore Criticism Warranted?
The Royals are one of the most polarizing teams out there, it seems. Pretty much every move made by the team is met by fans with either intense criticism or people who trust blindly in the leadership of the organization. Many often ask me why I’m critical of every move the team makes, and my answer is pretty basic. I point to the big league record of the team under Dayton Moore’s watch and show that his high water mark for wins in his tenure is 75. That answer is usually met with reluctant agreement, more arguing or a shaky at best argument about how if I’m so smart why aren’t I in a front office? That one’s my favorite. Anyway, as a ridiculous baseball and Royals nerd, I was thinking about the team and with very little news, I wondered if maybe I (and others) am too hard on the Royals head man.
So what I did was somewhat simplistic, but I think it tells a lot of the story. I looked at every team who was .500 or worse every season during 2004 through 2006. The reason I chose those years was because teams who can’t finish over .500 for three consecutive seasons are typically pretty bad and thus fit a pretty similar mold to the Royals who lost 100 games every season during that time. Some may question why I chose that three year period rather than going back to 2003 and might question that because it was the team’s lone .500+ season since 1994. Well, my answer to that is I decided to break up every team who fits the criteria into three year periods using 2004-2006, 2007-2009 and 2010-2012 and the teams’ records in those time periods.
What I found was nine teams other than the Royals finished at .500 or worse between the years of 2004 and 2006. The teams with their record in that time period are as follows:
- Reds: ¬†229-257
- Brewers: 223-262
- Orioles: 222-264
- Nationals: 219-267
- Pirates: 216-279
- Rockies: 211-275
- Mariners: 210-276
- Diamondbacks: 204-282
- (Devil) Rays: 198-287
And of course, the final team was the Royals who were an amazing 176-310 in that time period. By comparison, the Astros are 187-299 in the last three seasons. Of course, they didn’t get historically bad until 2011 and would need to go 66-96 to be better than the 2004-2006 Royals, but I think that shows you just how bad a stretch of baseball that was in Kansas City.
And that’s where a lot of the argument was to give Dayton Moore so much time to rebuild the Royals into a winner. We were told (and I agreed) that the Royals were essentially an expansion team. Now, in hindsight, that isn’t completely accurate as they had both Billy Butler and Alex Gordon in the pipeline and Zack Greinke, too. But you have to keep in mind that during 2006, Greinke was on his hiatus from baseball and nobody knew if he’d come back or if he’d even be worth anything when he did. Guys like David DeJesus and John Buck were prominent parts of the roster while Mark Teahen was enjoying a breakout season, but there still wasn’t a ton. When Dayton Moore took over in June, the Royals had just taken Luke Hochevar with the number one pick, and at that time, nobody thought he’d have to turn over 130 corners before finding any success.
My thought was to compare the teams who had those losing records from 2004-2006 and see how they progressed. I also took a look at all of their top prospects on the 2006 Baseball America Top 100. That’s not necessarily an all inclusive way of looking at what was in the cupboard, but it helps at least a little bit.
So let’s start with the teams in the order listed above. At the end of each team I’ll list how they did in +/- terms relative to the previous three season set. So for example, if the A’s were 243-243 from 2004-2006, 248-238 from 2007-2009 and 260-226 from 2010-2012 their statistic would be (+5, +12).
Reds -¬†The Reds were blessed with already having some talent on their big league roster in 2006, which should have theoretically helped them out to be successful when paired with Homer Bailey and Jay Bruce who should have been up to the big league club within the next couple of seasons. The Reds actually took a step backwards from 2007-2009 winning five less games in those three seasons than in the previous three. The Reds took their step forward in the next three seasons going a combined 265-219 and making two playoff trips while winning more than 90 games twice. (-5, +41)
Brewers -¬†A lot of people have compared the Royals of about 2011 to the Brewers of 2006. If that’s the case then we should see some serious steps forward next season. The 2006 Brewers (managed by Ned Yost) went 75-87 but had a lot of young talent headlined by Prince Fielder who was also one of their three top 100 prospects heading into the season with the others being Mark Rogers and Ryan Braun. They were done in by a mediocre at best bullpen (with an awful closer) and some very poor performances from random players. (+30, +3)
Orioles -¬†The Orioles have been a bad combination of being one of the most inept franchises in baseball while playing in the American League East. It wasn’t until this past season that they finally broke through and won more than 90 games. Though I think there’s something to be said for the fact that this shows that teams can even find a fluke season somewhere. The Orioles over the five seasons prior to 2012 are actually a really good comparison to the Royals. They had some nice players, but couldn’t do enough to even get to .500 until everything worked out perfectly for them in 2012. (-21, +27)
Nationals -¬†The Nationals case is a little different than these other teams as they actually had the largest decrease in wins of any of them between 2004-2006 and 2007-2009. By doing so, they were afforded the somewhat good fortune of having the number one draft pick in two seasons where there was a clear cut number one pick, and both of those picks were huge factors in them winning nearly 100 games in 2012 after almost finishing at .500 the year before. That also helped them to have the biggest jump among the teams between 2007-2009 and 2010-2012. It isn’t just those number one picks, though, that have helped the team as their starting rotation is one of the top five in baseball and Strasburg only makes up 20% of that. The Nationals only had one top 100 player heading into 2006, but that’s sort of irrelevant with this team after getting to draft two transcendent players. (-38, +66)
Pirates -¬†The Pirates are sort of the Royals’ National League brothers in pain as they have actually gone without a winning season longer than the Royals (and every team for that matter). In 2006, they had a really good bullpen and that was about it aside from a couple good offensive performances. I don’t say this to further the conclusion I figured I’d come to before starting this, but the Pirates are one of the few organizations that I feel confident saying is worse than the Royals. (-19, +11)
Rockies -¬†Winning in Coors Field has always been a tall task what with having to find pitchers who can manage keeping the ball in the park. Heading into the 2006 season, the Rockies had just two top prospects, Ian Stewart and Troy Tulowitzki. Of course, when Tulowitzki reached the big leagues, it coincided with the Rockies turning things around and even making it to the World Series in 2008 in the midst of their incredible finish that season. Over the course of six seasons following 2004-2006, the Rockies finished over .500 three times while winning 90 or more games twice in that time. From 2007-2009, they had the second largest victory increase and the from 2010-2012 had the largest victory decrease. They’re down again, but they did have a small run of success that we’d kill for in Kansas City. (+45, -36)
Mariners -¬†The Mariners have been one of the more enigmatic teams of the last few years. They looked like they were showing signs of improvement, but have really regressed the last couple seasons. Because of that, they’re actually one of only two teams out of the ten to have won less games when averaging out 2007-2009 and 2010-2012 than they did from 2004-2006 (yes, that is confusing, but also actually makes sense). They’ve had great pitching staffs by the numbers but are now bringing in the fences, so we’ll see if that helps their offense without hurting the staff. (+24, -31)
Diamondbacks -¬†Heading into the 2006 season, the Diamondbacks had seven top 100 prospects including six in the top 32. Of those six, Justin Upton and Stephen Drew became legitimately good big league players, Chris Young became solid while Conor Jackson was serviceable at times and Carlos Gonzalez was traded for a big piece of the Diamondbacks rotation in Dan Haren. The Diamondbacks haven’t done as much as many believed they would over th last few years, but have had four .500 seasons in the last six including two years finishing with 90 or more victories. (+38, -2)
Rays -¬†This exercise takes us pretty much right up to the time when the Rays became a model franchise. After having the second worst record among the ten teams we’re examining, the Rays just keep on getting better. The story behind the Rays resurgence is a solid farm system, amazing pitching development and shrewd trades to bring in pieces that became key cogs in the lineup. I don’t think I need to go too deep into what the Rays have done because if you’ve read this far, you know. (+49, +30)
The Royals, as I mentioned went 176-310 from 2004-2006. They followed that up with a three year stretch going 209-277. The increase of 33 victories was enough at the big league level while the minor leagues were getting replenished that Dayton Moore was most certainly on the right track to bringing the Royals back to being a winner. My issue with Dayton Moore is not those first three years on a tough job. It’s the last three seasons that have seen the Royals go 210-276. Maybe it’s unrealistic to believe a franchise as down in the dumps as the 2004-2006 Royals were to make the playoffs within six seasons. I think it would have taken a miracle for that to happen between the low payroll and the mess the organization was. But the fact that they haven’t even sniffed .500 in the past three seasons is reason enough for me to feel comfortable looking at every move with a critical eye.
The concept of wins getting harder and harder to come by as you win more is true over multiple seasons as well. They say it’s easier to get from 65 wins to 75 wins than it is to go from 75 to 85 or 85 to 95. For a team who won 176 games, I think it would have been really difficult for the Royals to actually get worse, so the improvement of 33 isn’t quite as impressive as the Brewers jump from 223-262 to 253-233 for example. It doesn’t discount the accomplishment, but all wins are not created equal and that needs to be taken into account in this situation.
Dayton Moore has done some great things for the Royals organization. He built a farm system from a complete joke into one that won awards. The saying that you don’t get a flag for having the best farm system, though, is completely true and by this point in Dayton Moore’s tenure, the team needs to be measured by wins and losses. The fact that they only won one more game between 2010 and 2012 than they did between 2007 and 2009 tells me that Dayton Moore hasn’t done a good enough job in assembling a team built to contend in the near future. I believe the 2012/2013 off-season was Dayton Moore’s attempt to keep his job well into the future no matter what he tells you in angry quotes. And if the Royals are in contention and end up in the high 80s in wins, I might change my tune a great deal.
No matter what, though, I still see a general manager who often misreads the market, struggles with roster management and hasn’t been able to win as much as he should have by this point. I also see a general manager who has made two mistakes in hiring managers (to be fair, one of them I don’t think anybody saw as a mistake with Trey Hillman) and who has overseen a pitching program in the minor leagues that has struggled to develop anyone. So to circle back and answer the question posed in the title of the article, I think the answer is yes and no. The good things Dayton Moore has done in the organization are sometimes overlooked or referred to with great snark when they really are fine accomplishments. But ultimately, wins and losses define everything in baseball and they simply aren’t there for the Royals in Dayton Moore’s tenure and they aren’t there because of many of the reasons I listed at the beginning of this paragraph. 2013 is huge for Dayton Moore’s legacy. If the Royals can find a way to win 88+ games, I think a large portion of the criticism goes away very easily. Until the wins come, though, the criticism will be there.
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