Royals Need Talent AND Leadership
Given the choice, I’ll take talent over everything. Good players win baseball games. Winning smiles and great clubhouse presences do not win baseball games alone. That said, and this is a pretty obvious statement, if two players of roughly equal talent are available and one of the players is a better clubhouse guy and maybe even what some would refer to as a natural later, you have to choose the guy who brings the intangibles. A lot of stats people scoff at the idea of leadership, and I do to some extent. I don’t think someone who doesn’t perform can be a real leader. The talk of Jeff Francoeur as one of the leaders in the clubhouse is all well and good, but if he puts up a season as far below average as his 2012 was, his message seems empty.
There’s a danger in looking at baseball through only one lens whether it be statistically or through the idea that statistics don’t matter and what you see on the field is all that matters. The idea that baseball isn’t played on a spreadsheet is one that you hear a lot from people who discount people who rely heavily on stats. And while that’s true, it’s also true that a baseball team is put together largely on a spreadsheet (or at least some sort of document on a computer). Teams need to utilize the advanced statistics in order to make their best guess as to who will continue success. While it’s true that free agency is about paying players for what they did, the best teams pay players based on what their analysis says they will do. I’ve digressed, but that’s a point I like to make from time to time.
My point, that I’ve taken too long to get to, is that for the 2013 Royals to be better than the 2012 Royals, they’ll need to play better, but I think they’ll need to have better leaders on the field. They’re going to need the same players to contribute to both categories at once in order for their messages to actually mean anything. I talked about this on the podcast, but I wanted to get into it here as well for those who, for some reason, haven’t become regular listeners. (Seriously, what are you waiting for?) I think the 2012 Royals struggled, in part, because they paid a little too close attention to the hype and maybe, just maybe, choked a bit under the pressure.
Personally, the idea of “Our Time” came a little early, and wasn’t entirely fair to put on the 2012 version of the Royals, which really had the upside of about 83 or 84 wins, and that was if¬†everything went well. I also want to say before I say anything else that the Royals simply weren’t a good enough team in 2012 to win anything. They simply didn’t have the pitching staff to compete. Though if you’ll remember, heading into the season, Luke Hochevar was coming off a 12 start stretch we hadn’t yet seen from him, Jonathan Sanchez wasn’t a complete failure yet, Danny Duffy was expected to take a step forward, Felipe Paulino was coming off a nice season and Bruce Chen had begun to turn many into believers about him. No, this isn’t exactly what people expected out of the Phillies prior to 2011, but there was upside in the rotation to be above average. It didn’t happen. And it didn’t help that Eric Hosmer had a horrific sophomore slump while Mike Moustakas finished the year about as poorly as he could. Add in a hole offensively at second base, Lorenzo Cain’s injury and Jeff Francoeur and you could make the argument that the talent cost them a chance to finish .500 way more than choking over expectations.
Still, I look at the team and I see a team that played really well with nothing on the line and as soon as people started to get excited, they began to tank. At the start of the season, they headed home for the first homestand and were met with a fanbase that hadn’t been so excited since Zack Greinke’s run in 2009. They lost all ten games that homestand. Once they were pretty much dead and buried, they started to show signs of life, and as I mentioned on the podcast, they made it all the way back to 35-39 with a few games left before the break. In a division that was being led by some serious underachieving, there was a thought that the Royals might be able to get to .500 and then make a move to be a player in the division race. Then they went 7-19 in July. After that, nothing really mattered and they were very good in August and were very good in September until the last 8-10 games or so.
My point here is that I think Dayton Moore might share in my thought that this team was in need of finding a way to avoid those down times as soon as things started to get real. I hate this game usually, but bear with me. Without April and July, the Royals were 59-58. I recognize that I’ve take away about 1/3 of the season, and I wouldn’t operate this way, but I have a feeling Dayton Moore sees that team and believes they just need a little extra leadership to turn that 13-34 in those two months into something more like 20-27. And then if you do that, well, by golly, they’re at 79 wins which looks a lot better than 72.
And this is something you don’t see me say a lot, but I do think that to some extent, he’s right. The game is played on the field an talent rules over everything, but sometimes young teams need some guidance beyond what the management on the bench can provide to them. That flies in the face of much of what people like me who rely on statistics stand for, but it’s simply the truth. So Dayton Moore went out and got ¬†three guys for the rotation who have been there before. James Shields, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis have all made starts down the stretch for a team in a division race. They’ve all started games in the postseason, which is something that nobody on the staff had done. It won’t matter if Santana puts up another 5.00+ ERA or Shields has another down year like 2010 or Wade Davis can’t transition back to the rotation, but if they produce, I do believe their leadership will be very important to help avoid the 12 game losing streaks and to help a young team deal with expectations. Their production matters most, but their experience in these situations will be a valuable piece you won’t see in any box score.
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