Thank you kindly for landing on a Cincinnati Reds blogblurb about a pending World Series that, you'll find, will not feature the Cincinnati Reds. Rather, the New York Mets will take on the Kansas City Royals beginning Tuesday, and while that's little consolation for the 2015 Cincinnati season, there's ample about both squads that may provide perspective for Reds fans that are busy trying to fathom how a reboot may contain any enjoyment whatsoever.
Yesterday, we tackled why the Mets taking part in the World Series can provide some hope for Reds fans. Today, we'll take a look at the Royals, a team that was a game under .500 as late as July 22nd of 2014 before hitting its stride, nearly pulling off the 2014 World Series, and subsequently making a mockery of the AL Central for the entirety of the 2015 season.
Contrary to the theme of yesterday's post, there's barely anything that the Royals and Reds really have in common at the moment, so if you're reading this looking for some semblance of confidence that the Reds can glean from the Royals' success, I apologize. There probably won't be any. However, while the route in which the Royals have taken to reach back to back World Series appearances doesn't seem to be an available one for the Reds in their current state, there are at least a few notable nuances about the team who plays in a concrete circle on the side of I-70 that are worth mentioning.
(Not to mention that your subscriber fees need to go somewhere accountably, by god.)
The Royals are weird, weird birds, somewhat throwbacks to a previous era of baseballing that isn't really seen alongside winning these days. Among all 30 teams in Major League Baseball, the Royals walked the least often, their 6.3% walk rate well below the 9.2% rate the Los Angeles Dodgers had to lead the league. The Royals also rarely strike out, their 15.9% rate by far the lowest in the league. That means that they put the ball in play - a lot - but when they do, they don't blast balls out of the park very often, their 139 dingers ranking second to last in the American League.
They won 95 games, though, and if they employ an offense that doesn't dinger and doesn't walk, you'd think it was their starting pitching that carried them to such lofty win totals. Not so, though, as the 8.4 fWAR accrued by their starting pitchers in 2015 was actually lower than the 8.6 fWAR accrued by Reds starting pitchers.
Yes, those Reds starting pitchers.
The calling card of the Royals has again been their stellar bullpen, and the 2015 edition has been leaned on almost more for quantity than quality. The 539.1 IP the Royals got from their relievers in the regular season was the single most in the American League, and the .258 BABIP those relievers held hitters to was by far and away the lowest mark from any of the 30 MLB relief units. What's interesting about their bullpen, though, is that they rank right in the middle of the MLB pack in terms of K/9 and BB/9, their GB% and FIP also landing right in the middle of the pack. What they do lead all bullpen units in is LOB%, as they somehow manage to keep 80.4% of all baserunners allowed from scoring runs.
So, 95 wins from a team whose offense is predicated on hitting the ball where defenders ain't and whose pitching strength is predicated on hitters hitting their pitches where defenders are. And it's the second year in which they've pulled it off, largely against most every modern day prediction system. They're like that guy you knew in college who'd chug a beer before going into a test because it "got his brain right" only to later find out that he got a 96 to your 91: it's not a method that works for everyone, if anyone, but somehow it just keeps coming up roses.
Maybe it's luck. Maybe they've truly found a new market inefficiency. Maybe the bubble bath they use in the locker room has magic dust in it. Maybe Ned Yost is the enlightened one and has laid down the preeminent sugato. Whatever it is, it's working like a dream.
The Royals are also the new home for four former Cincinnati Reds, as each of Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez, Ryan Madson, and Jonny Gomes will don blue for the AL Champs when first pitch flies Tuesday evening. In fact, it'll be Volquez letting that pitch fly as he's been named the Game 1 starter by Yost.
Each of the four played a pivotal role for the Reds during their respective tenures in Cincinnati. Volquez, of course, aced for a year and a half as the main return for troubled All-World slugger Josh Hamilton before his arm fell off, his command went kaput, and he was launched West as makeweight in exchange for Mat Latos. Gomes you'll remember as the owner of wide eyes that let you seemingly look into his soul, a soul that serves as the engine of each dugout in which he resides. He'll be there, celebratory bathrobe at the ready, standing next to Game 2 starter Johnny Cueto, the best starting pitcher any Reds fan has seen in a generation. They'll all be buttressed by Ryan Madson, whose ligament explosion outside Camelback during Spring Training in 2012 was the straw that broke the camel's back for Aroldis Chapman's chances at ever being a starter.
In all, it's a quite Redsy dugout.
It's Redsy in a way familiar to most Reds fans, too, in that it's likely fleeting. The bulk of the 2014 and 2015 seasons saw the Reds gradually dismantle a team that had seen much success, the stipulations of pending free agency for players not signed long-term too much to overcome. It forced the GM's hand, players were jettisoned, and the victories that once seemed so plentiful were suddenly a thing of the past. Dayton Moore probably knows this all too well, as do many Royals fans even if they've shuttered those thoughts in the recesses of their minds while crossing their fingers for just four more victories.
See, the Royals have rolled their dice. They've pushed their chips into the middle. They've traded away pitcher after pitcher, prospect after prospect, former 1st round draft pick after former 1st round draft pick, and they've become very, very talented in the process. But now they're faced with a best of seven series with no guarantees of tomorrow. Ben Zobrist will be a free agent with no compensation pick available. Johnny Cueto will be a free agent with no compensation pick available. Alex Gordon seems set to decline his player option and become a free agent, and all signs point to Jeremy Guthrie, Alex Rios, Chris Young, and Madson hitting free agency as well.
It's been a rounding success having all these players surrounding the Royals' young core for the last two years, and it's well worth congratulating them on having assembled such a talented and world-beating bunch. But as Reds fans know all too well, that kind of sustainability is hard to hold on to for long.