The new schedule is easier for the Royals, but MLB still somehow scored an own goal

This started as part of the post on the rule changes, but then I realised it was really its own category. As part of the new CBA, MLB released what I keep hearing described as ‘the new balanced schedule’ late last year, with expanded interleague play and less intra-division games. The first thing to note about it is that it isn’t actually balanced, it’s just less unbalanced than the schedule that’s been used since 2013. Teams still play their own division more than anyone else, for example the Royals play 13 games against Detroit next year and 15 games total against the entire NL West. The fact that this seems to continually escape the notice of analysts is kind of baffling to me. The other day on MLB Network they were talking about how it would be harder for the Royals next year, playing fewer games against the AL Central and more against the big teams in the National League. I get why, on the face of it, one would think that, if the schedule were actually balanced. But it’s not. Yes, we play the Tigers six fewer times, but we also play Cleveland six fewer times and the games against big teams like Los Angeles and San Diego are balanced out by games against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

Of course, we can quantify this instead of just vaguely saying there are good teams and bad teams. This is a bit of a digression, but I like numbers and analysis, so if you want to skip the next couple of paragraphs I don’t blame you. Under the old schedule the Royals would be playing the NL East in interleague play, plus four games against St Louis, our ‘natural rival’. (Much more on this later, because it’s surprisingly important.) We’re still playing the NL East, and also playing three games each against the five teams in the NL West and the other four teams beside St Louis in the NL Central. Those extra 27 games mostly come from playing six fewer games against the other four teams in the AL Central, though we actually also play one fewer game against the NL East than we would have under the old schedule. That leaves two games unaccounted for, as far as I can tell they come from playing one fewer game against each of the AL East and West. There’s always a random element to which of those teams we played six or seven times, so there’s no way to know exactly which teams we would have played one extra time. That makes for a bit of uncertainty, but uncertainty always exists and it is important to acknowledge it and ideally quantify it, not just ignore it.

The standard way to judge strength of schedule is to just aggregate the winning percentage of the opponents weighted by number of games and compare before and after. This has the advantage of being simple, but it doesn’t really work because it blurs the distinction between how good (or bad) a team is and how many times you play that team. For example, The Los Angeles Dodgers were 111-51 last year. The two teams at the bottom of the NL West, Colorado and Arizona, were 68-94 and 74-88, respectively. The combined winning percentage is above .500, specifically .521, but if you played each team the same number of times—as the Royals do next year—that’s twice as many games against teams below .500 than above! Clearly averaging winning percentage doesn’t work. Instead you have to classify opponents (which you can kind of see in that above example—teams were classified into above and below .500) and see how the number of games against different classes changes. I’m going to use 70 wins as that’s decently close to the Royals win total last year. The only important thing is that a game against Cleveland or Detroit counts the same as a game against Los Angeles or San Diego. Of the 27 games lost from the old schedule, the Royals had at least six against teams with fewer than 70 wins last year, the six against Detroit. There might also have been two more, depending on which teams in the AL West and NL East we would have played one more time. (The AL East had no teams with fewer than 70 wins, so it doesn’t matter.) Of the 27 games gained under the new schedule, we actually have nine such games, against the Reds, Pirates and Rockies. It’s a pretty small difference, but the schedule is actually slightly easier for the Royals next year. Again, that 70 win number is an arbitrary one. But the answer actually doesn’t change even as you move the threshold around: The more balanced schedule is at worst the same and at best slightly easier for the Royals in 2023.

It’s also important to note that the Royals would normally play the NL East next year, which had two 100-win teams and an 87-win team, so the comparison might be different in 2024. But it’s useful to demonstrate two things. One is how superficially a lot of the analysts are approaching the new schedule, which bugs me. The other is how small the actual difference in strength actually is. It doesn’t really matter, and that’s without even getting into the fact that even a lopsided matchup in a single baseball game is a lot more even than most other sports.

Anyway, I’m not nearly as annoyed about the change itself as I am with the discussion about it. I have nothing against playing all 29 teams in a year. I’m enough of a traditionalist that I don’t really like interleague play and now that the DH is universal (grumble) there’s no extra appeal to playing in an NL city. But at the same time, I remember when I was a kid and how excited I was to see teams and players that I had never seen before come to the K. I always insisted we go to the game when there was an NL team in town. And I still like seeing new teams come to town. I have a goal of seeing every team play in person, which I’ll be able to achieve a lot quicker now. So I’m fine with that.


MLB did not do a good job of actually implementing this change. To be fair, it is hard to build a good schedule for all thirty teams, especially without changing the total number of games, which at this point is probably a non-starter*. But this year the Royals have back-to-back off days at the end of May/start of June and a Sunday off day in August. Back-to-back off days are annoying, but not really an issue. The issue is a Sunday off day. I know that way back when there were Sunday off days and Monday double headers, but that’s not what’s happening here. This is just a Sunday afternoon in August with no baseball, which ought to be illegal. (And I don’t mean against MLB rules, I mean there should be a federal law against this, along with the Constitutional amendment banning Astroturf and the designated hitter.)

*I say this because 162 feels like one of the game’s sacred numbers now, but emphasis on now. For almost sixty years the season was 154 games long, and it was only changed to 162 because of the change in the schedule necessitated by expansion to ten-team leagues—it was a balanced schedule of 18 games against each of the other nine teams. But when the leagues continued to expand the length stayed at 162 games. It’s probably not going to change again, but it might make things easier.

This is particularly frustrating because as difficult as schedule creating is in general, this one actually has a pretty easy solution. Both of those weird off days come about because of a two-game series against St Louis being put into a slot for a three-game series. But it would be very easy to make both into a three-game series! First off, both are mutual off days; the Cardinals could play us without them having to move another game. That would make for a 164-game schedule, which we don’t want, so we have to take away two games from elsewhere. Luckily, as mentioned previously, we have some ‘extra’ games against AL East and AL West opponents. Of those ten opponents, we play six of them six times (two three-game series) and four of them seven times (a three-game series and a four-game series). There is no reason we could not make two of those four-game series into three-game series, preserving both the 162-game schedule and the conventions of playing every Sunday and not having back-to-back off days. Hopefully the front offices complain about the lost revenue from weekend attendance and this gets fixed next year, because it is very easy.

New Rules in MLB in 2023

After listening to a week’s worth of games and watching a few, I wanted to give my initial take on the new rules. Of course, it’s not just new rules this year, it’s also a new scheduling system that I have heard a lot about, but that’s a different post. For now, I’m just going to focus on the rules.

The big thing this year is the pitch clock, but I actually want to address the new bases first. These have mostly been an afterthought, because on the face of it, they don’t really change much. I can see on TV that they are bigger, and yeah, sure that means the distances are a little reduced. Maybe that means more steals or infield hits (although the distance is shorter for the throws too) or whatever. But I doubt that’ll be noticeable. The reason I am starting with these is that I am really hoping the new bases help with the one place MLB need to change the rules and didn’t: the slow-motion replays of runners coming off the bag for a split second. This has been one of the most frustrating things about the sport in the last few years, mostly because every umpire interprets ‘clear and convincing’ differently and you could have the same play called two different ways on successive days. But this is also one of the few places where I think the application of the letter of the rule is actually contrary to the spirit of the rule. There’s nothing that a runner can do differently or better to stay on the bag—an impact at that speed is going to jostle the runner no matter what—and I’ve never thought it was fair to punish them for being subject to the laws of physics. The flip side of that is that no one (that I know of) wants runners being able to gratuitously overslide with no consequence. Ideally a rule change here would just restore the previous status quo. This probably reads like a bit of a digression, but it’s relevant because I really don’t know how the bigger bases will impact this, if at all. But there’s a reasonable chance that by giving runners a bigger target they have more chance to keep contact during the impact or more room to make it harder for a fielder to keep the tag on. It’s not a perfect solution—to be fair, I don’t think there is one*—but maybe this will help.

*The best idea I’ve had so far is simply to make that aspect of the play off limits for review. If the umpire can see the runner come off the base in real time, fine. But if the effect is so small that it takes replay, then there’s probably nothing the runner could do and it should not be reviewed.

Okay, so the big noticeable changes this year: Firstly the pitch clock, of course. Most people who follow me on Twitter will know I have been in favour of this for years, because watching some relievers pitch is just painful. But there are some aspects to it that are probably necessary for the concept to work that do introduce some unfortunate wrinkles. The basic premise—that the pitcher has 15 seconds with no one on and 20 seconds with runners on, and the hitter must be ready with eight seconds remaining—is great. It’ll cut down on relievers taking forever and it’ll cut down on hitters faffing about with their gloves between every single pitch. But with this comes the stipulations that the pitcher can only step off the rubber twice without recording an out and the hitter can only call time once. I understand the necessity of this, otherwise players could completely circumvent the rules at will. But the limits on stepping off the rubber and throwing over might have some huge knock-on effects. The onus is mostly on the pitcher to control the running game, and for all the talk about the larger bases being an incentive to steal, taking the threat of throwing over away from the pitchers will do a lot more. (Even as I write this I watched a player steal third almost unopposed because the pitcher wasn’t doing anything to hold him on.) MLB wants to increase stolen bases, so they probably see that more as a feature than a bug, but I am a little less convinced. Stolen bases are fun, but partly because of the difficulty and risk. Diminishing the pitcher’s ability to control the running game felt before the start of games like tilting the scales too much, and maybe it will be, but it’s been okay so far. Though the first dozen or so games I’ve watched or listened to, I only think it’s been relevant once or twice. I definitely think the pitch clock overall is a net positive, and certainly when I was planning an outing with some friends of mine who are more casual fans it was a selling point that a Saturday game starting at six would probably be over by nine.

The other big rule change is the shift, or lack thereof. I care less about this, partly because I don’t think it’ll make a huge difference. The argument about the shift usually centres on the batting average of left-handed pull hitters, but advanced analytics have basically meant that left-handed pull hitters aren’t judged on batting average anyway. (This is a topic I’ve been slowly and vaguely writing about, but it’s more time-consuming than I thought.) So what’s the point of having or not having the shift? Just from a fan’s perspective I think the biggest difference will be the end of the frustration of watching your pitcher make a great pitch, induce weak contact the other way and have it be a hit because the field was set for a bad pitch instead of a good one. But in practice it might just make pitchers even more single-minded about strikeouts. I suspect the most it’ll be talked about is if or when a team actually gets called for a violation early in the year.

It’s also technically a change that the extra inning Manfred runner is now permanent. It’s a stupid change and I hate literally every aspect about it, not least that it’s ‘solving’ a problem that barely existed and to the extent that it did exist could be solved in any number of better ways. I’m not going to dignify it with a lot of attention, but it is important in that it shows what a low bar MLB has for ‘success’ for these new rules. (Or, equivalently, what a high bar there is to actually dropping any of these rules.) Unless any of the important rules dramatically and unarguable backfire, I expect they will all be made permanent, and that’s the one aspect of all this that I really dislike. MLB does not seem interested in reconsidering at any stage; we all knew for months that these rules were coming in no matter what and it’s clear that they are basically permanent.

Answering Questions With Data

No, not that Data. (Source: Wikipedia)

When we try to apply statistics to sports, or to anything else for that matter, what we are doing is trying to answer a question with data. The data part of that is obvious, but what’s less clear is usually what the question is. But there is always something we are trying to know or understand more clearly. This process is also at the heart of all research science and the issue of what questions should be or can be meaningfully asked is actually a very difficult one and it often takes years of experience to do this correctly so that your data are not fooling you. This is why research articles in science journals are written so weirdly and often with so much jargon. There are a lot of tiny distinctions that we easily conflate in everyday language that are vitally important when doing research. This is true in any data-based research, including analysis of sporting statistics. This is always an issue and part of the conflict between old- and new-school statistics really boils down to misunderstandings of what questions the data are actually answering.

One of the most common distinctions that gets lost in sport (and in everyday life, really) is the difference between statistics that tell you how often something has happened in the past and the odds that something will happen in the future. All sporting statistics are the former. If a batter in baseball has a .300 average it tells us the rate at which he or she has got a hit so far in a season or career, specifically three times out of ten. If a cricketer averages 45 with the bat it is the same thing: in the past that cricketer has averaged 45 runs for every dismissal at the relevant level.

Such stats tell stories, often extremely effectively. If I tell a baseball fan that a hitter had a .287 batting average, 12 home runs and 58 RBIs, that immediately gives a sense of the hitter, albeit an incomplete one. I could add to the story by saying they scored 93 runs, or had an OPS of .671 or some such. All those tell us about the player without ever having to watch a single plate appearance. Extremely importantly in the ongoing (and probably never ending) debate of old- versus new-school statistics, all of them fall into this same category of frequentist statistics. One person might understand a .287 batting average better than a .671 OPS and people might (okay, do) disagree about which is more important, but they both tell you about things that already happened.

The problem is, the question of what happened in the past isn’t usually the question to which we want to know the answer. It’s great to know that our hypothetical hitter has got a hit in 28.7% of official at bats for the year, but usually what we want to know is something like the likelihood of said hitter getting a hit in their next at bat, or at what rate they will get a hit next year. It’s fairly obvious that the latter is not the same, but it’s less obvious&mdash but just as true&mdash that the former is not the same either. And this is why I started with the importance of knowing what question we are asking of the data; it is extremely common to see people not just in sport, but when dealing with probability in general to assume that the frequency of an event happening in the past is the same as the likelihood of that event happening in the future.

This distinction is the impetus behind a lot of advanced stats and Sabermetrics. I do have some issues with Sabermetrics, but on the whole I quite like it. (This surprises a lot of people, but it is true.) Part of that is just having a natural affinity for playing with huge datasets from a sport I love, but also most people behind Sabermetrics understand this distinction and a lot of other important scientific principles to working with data. They are very good. The issue is that most people in the media and even a lot in front offices don’t understand that distinction, and then completely misapply advanced statistics.

This is why I have started here. In practice people are almost always going to use frequentist statistics to approximate likelihoods. The alternative is building a proper Bayesian formulation, and whilst that is increasingly feasible, it’s still well beyond what most people can do, or even find it worth doing. But what’s important is understanding when we are using frequentist statistics and what their limitations are.

Moose sent down

I’m a day or two after the party on this (see the end of the last post re: being in the mountains of California), but I did see that the Royals finally sent Mike Moustakas to Triple-A Omaha.

It had to happen. Although he has shown glimpses of breaking out, the fact remains that it is the last week of May and he is yet to have a stretch of consistently performing even passably well. Even worse, between the few games where he has looked like remembering how to bat (eg, the 3 RBI game against Colorado) he has looked completely lost. I lost count of the number of times in the past few weeks I saw him strike out swinging at a pitch well outside the strike zone. He has clearly been straining mentally and it was not getting better. Sending him to Omaha was certainly the best thing for him and the club at this point.

How long he will be there is the interesting question. He batted superbly in Spring Training, so I would not rush to recall him even if he hits .500 for a couple or weeks. Danny Valencia has performed decently and can has played every day at the major league level plenty, so he can hold the third base spot for a while. I would let Moose play at Omaha for at least a month, even if he looks like he has got things back together right away. I suspect he needs time to really settle in, find his form again and just put the first seven weeks of this season out of his mind.

2013 MLB preview and predictions

After an elongated Spring Training the 2013 regular season is upon us. The official first game is tonight between the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros. (Although I very much like the Sunday Night opener, it loses a bit when it does not feature the defending World Champion as used to be the case.) This year will be the first one with the Astros in the American League and the new schedule format that sees interleague play throughout the year. As with last year my preview is written division-by-division.

AL West
Although the division has been one of the stronger ones in baseball for the last few years, but I think this year it will actually be the weakest in the American League. None of the teams look particularly convincing on paper. The A’s won last year on the last day of the season with a very young pitching staff providing the impetus down the stretch. They beat the Rangers on the last day of the season to avoid playing in the Wild Card Game. The Rangers played instead and lost at home. The Angels were expected to do much more than limp to third place as they ultimately did and the Mariners respectably for much of the season, but had a mountain to climb and finished last. But this year the Rangers are weaker and the Angels have marginally improved on paper, but there’s reason to think it might not pan out.

The Oakland A’s have a similar team this year, but actually replicating what they achieved last year will be difficult. They probably aver-achieved last year and although they certainly still have a talented team, there are very few who can replicate the kind of form from year to year. They’re well-placed for the future, but I expect they will be in the mid-to-high eighties in terms of wins this year. The Texas Rangers have added AJ Pierzynski behind the plate and Joakim Soria in the bullpen, but overall look a weaker team than they did last year. The loss of Josh Hamilton will hurt. They have enough though that I think they will finish the year at the top of the division. The Los Angeles Angels are the favourite of many after adding Josh Hamilton over the winter, but they lost Zack Greinke and after their rotation never really clicked last year I don’t think they have the pitching to back up their big-name bats and that is even if Hamilton and Albert Pujols live up to their billing. I’m not at all convinced that they will, however, as Pujols already looks past his best and Hamilton’s numbers will no longer be skewed by playing in a thimble in Arlington. Failures in the Angles batting will open the door for the Seattle Mariners. They had a good finish to the season last year and played respectably overall, but they did not do enough to even get out of last place. They still have ‘King Felix’ this year and some good if not dazzling players and should vie with the Angels for third place. It would be a surprise if they did more, but they are well placed to pull off a surprise. The Houston Astros are the newcomers to the division and they arrive after losing more than a hundred games in back-to-back years. It’s hard to see how they’ll have much an improvement this year and I would be shocked if they avoided last place. Division prediction:


AL Central
Last year the Tigers were supposed to romp to victory, but instead left it to quite late and were fairly fortunate that the White Sox collapsed flat in the last fortnight of the season. None of the other teams mounted a coherent challenge. The Royals finished third after a season marred by injury and losing streaks, the Indians went into free fall in the second half for a fourth place finish and the Twins had another nightmare season and could not quite catch the Indians at the death. This year the Tigers are strong favourites again, but all of the other teams have fairly significant unknowns and could realistically finish in almost any order.

The Detroit Tigers have actually improved from last year with the return of Victor Martinez and the addition of Torii Hunter to boost the hitting and defence and they still have a terrifyingly strong rotation. If they perform as they should (no guarantee, as we saw last year) they will be very, very hard to catch. Meantime, the Chicago White Sox are relying on much the same team from last year to deliver much the same results. But they were a surprise team last year and for decent reason; although they have a solid team it does not look like one which should be contending. In effect, the White Sox are gambling a season on last year not having some element of fluke to it. I think this gamble will fail for the most part and although they will play okay they will find themselves overtaken. More on the Kansas City Royals below, but they finally have all the pieces to win a spot in the top half of the table. Whether they can put them together this year remains to be seen. The Cleveland Indians changed their team quite extensively in the close season and appear to have boosted their lineup and defence. But their pitching rotation still contains few demons and although it may not take much to push them back toward the top of the division, they were there for the first half of last year after all, they don’t look like they have the pitching to do it. They might have enough to jump to third place. The Minnesota Twins still have many of the players that kept them at or near the top of the division for much of the noughties, but there is no suggestion that they will be able to put together a substantially better season this year than they did last year. Given the improvement to most of the other teams, I think it will be very difficult for the Twins to avoid last place. Division prediction:

White Sox

AL East
Last year the Orioles were one of the surprise teams in baseball as they so nearly knocked the Yankees off the top of the division and then had a go at knocking them out of the ALDS too. Both efforts sadly failed. The Rays hung around until the end of the season, but never made a real push whilst the Blue Jays played well without being threatening. The real shock was the Red Sox, who collapsed utterly both on and off the field and an ugly sacking of their manager. This year the division looks wide open with five teams who have at least something to their credit. Perhaps more interesting is whoever will come last out of the bunch.

This year the New York Yankees will continue to furnish evidence that there is no god by not going the 0-162 that they so richly deserve. But they are starting to come apart at the seams a bit and I think they will fail to defend their crown and that mid-table mediocrity beckons. Unlike some other teams, I think the Baltimore Orioles do have a chance to reprise their success. Whilst they were a surprise in 2012, they weren’t a shock; they showed flashes of what they all the way back in 2010 and they have quite a strong roster still. I expect to see them back in contention and very possibly topping the table. The Tampa Bay Rays have not done much in the way of improvement for the immediate future, though they picked up some very good talent from the Royals over the winter that should help them in the long term. They are a good enough side that they should not unduly struggle, n the present, but the strength of the division means they may find themselves in the bottom half. The Toronto Blue Jays are the team who have really set down a marker. They were already a decent side and after a blockbuster trade with the Marlins and the signing of RA Dickey they look like an excellent one. At least on paper. If they don’t at least contend it will be a disappointment for them, but it might take some time for the team to really get going as a unit. I think second place may be the safest bet. The Boston Red Sox are hoping that last year was just a fluke and that with a new manager they can climb back up the table. I don’t think it will be that simple, however, and although they are now well behind the pack and may still finish at the bottom. Division prediction:

Blue Jays
Red Sox

NL West
Last year the NL West race was the focal point of a fair amount of controversy after Melky Cabrera was caught using steroids halfway through the season. Fortunately for the sport, the Giants showed for the rest of the season that they were not a one-man team and comfortably outplayed the Dodgers even without Cabrera. The Diamondbacks made a vague push, but ended up well out of the race and with only a .500 finish. The Padres scuffled along to a fourth-place finish, whilst the Rockies made headlines by completely revamping their pitching staff to essentially an all-reliever staff halfway through the year. They still ended the year in last place and barely avoided a hundred losses. This year looks like it will be the Giants and Dodgers again battling it out.

The San Francisco Giants have made precious few adjustments to the team that won the World Series last year and it is pretty easy to see why. They were a strong all-round team then and they remain so now. The only question mark is the depth of their pitching; the back end of the rotation did unexpectedly well for them last year and they need that to happen again. The Los Angeles Dodgers already had the National League Cy Young Award winner in Clayton Kershaw and they’ve added a former AL winner in Zack Greinke. It’s a formidable top two and there is a bit there to back them up too. They should not have to worry too much about their offensive production either and it should be a very close fight for the division. The Arizona Diamondbacks still give off the impression of a .500 team, which is exactly what they managed last year. The addition of Martin Prado will be a boost, but there is nothing really spectacular about the side. The San Diego Padres biggest asset is still their manager, Bud Black. They have a tiny payroll, the smallest in the majors last year, and performed at a level above that last year. But they will need that to continue, because they have made no major improvements over the winter. The Colorado Rockies need to sort out their pitching before they will be able to do much, but they can do that they do have some strong hitting. I think they will improve, but the Padres will have to play worse for the Rockies to have a shot at fourth place. Division prediction:


NL Central
Last year the Reds ran away with the NL Central, winning with nine games to spare over the Cardinals. The Brewers could not mount a coherent challenge to the second spot and the Pirates stayed in the running until very late in the season before suffering another spectacular collapse. At the foot of the table both the Cubs and Astros lost a hundred games. This year the Astros are gone, having been shifted to the AL West, but apart from that it looks like the same set of teams challenging for the title.

The Cincinnati Reds were comfortably the best team in the NL Central last year and there is no reason to suspect they will not be again. They still have the same group of players who took them to within one game of the NLCS last year and they have added Shin-Soo Choo to still further bolster their offence. They will take some catching on their own merits and at the same time the St Louis Cardinals have lost some of the pitching that made them so threatening in the last two years. They are still a good side, but it’s taken some last ditch efforts to get them into the postseason twice, they may not have enough now. Some of the Cardinals’ pitching has actually gone to the Milwaukee Brewers in the form of Kyle Lohse. That was the main close season move for Milwaukee, although they also inexplicably brought Yuniesky Betancourt back. The Brewers also lost some pitching over the winter though and I expect they will be in a battle for second place. If the Pittsburgh Pirates can avoid another great collapse they may push for a playoff spot, but in each of the last two years they have failed to maintain their success over an entire year. They’ve added a bit of experience with Russell Martin behind the plate and with the rest of the team also another year older and more experienced they might be able to keep it together this year. I don’t think they will challenge for the top of the division, but there is definitely an opening for them to knock off one or both of the Cardinals or Brewers. I expect it will be very close between those three teams. The Chicago Cubs look like they are probably destined for a last place finish now that they no longer have the cushion of the Astros beneath them. There are some good players on the team, but they have not been able to turn that into wins in either of the past two years and the division is not an easy one. Divsion prediction:


NL East
Last year the division belonged entirely to the Nationals who brought playoff baseball back to Washington DC and with time to spare. The Braves had quite a good season, right up until they lost the Wild Card Game whilst the Phillies failed to make a late run. The Mets had some standout pitching performances, but little else and the Marlins never really showed up. This year it looks like it will be the Nationals, Braves and Phillies competing again, though the Nats are probably favourites to repeat.

The Washington Nationals still have a lot of very good young players. Whilst they may not be able to perform the way they did last year, the Nats built up to their recent success and nothing about it looked like a fluke. They go into 2013 still with a good lineup and a good pitching rotation. The Atlanta Braves, in their quest to overcome a Cardinal shaped stumbling block, have added another Upton to the outfield to go along with Jason Heyward. They may find themselves a bit over-reliant on Kris Medlen in the rotation, however. Tim Hudson is starting to get a bit shaky and they need someone solid to support him. If Medlen pitches the way he did to end 2012 it won’t be a problem, but otherwise they look short on pitching. It was something of a surprise when the Philadelphia Phillies did so poorly last year. They still have a very powerful lineup and decent pitching to go with it. I think they can manage second place, especially if the Braves slip up, but no more. But they never really put anything together. I expect they will do better this year, but it may not be enough to get back to firm contention. The New York Mets will be hosting the All-Star Game this year, but that may be the high point of their season. They lost RA Dickey in the close season and don’t really have any replacement. Theirs is a fairly weak side, but they should be saved from the cellar by the Miami Marlins. The Marlins struck their colours months before the season even started; they sold the players they had bought just a year before, abandoning with unseemly haste their attempt at contention. However one feels about the logic of this move, it means that they will do very well to avoid last place this year. Division prediction:


The Wild Cards are hard to predict as they don’t necessarily go to the two best divisions in each league. It’s one of the great flaws of the unbalanced schedule that Wild Card teams are measured against teams from other divisions whilst still competing with teams from their own. Some will end up with a much easier schedule than others and the balance of the divisions is as important as the strength of the team overall.

In the American League, the most likely divisions to produce the Wild Card are probably once again the West and the East. Even if the West is not terribly strong, it looks top-heavy and the second place team might be able to take a lot of wins off the Astros. The East does look like a strong division and even if it will be harder to win games in the division, it will probably not be harder than in the Central (which is also fairly evenly matched and probably a bit bottom-heavy) and the team in the East will have a better chance in games outside the division.

In the National League, I expect one of the Wild Cards to come from the West. It looks like a close battle with the Giants and Dodgers miles ahead of the pack, which would almost certainly mean the loser was a Wild Card. The other I think will come from the East where even if it is more of a three-team battle looks like it will have a couple of weak teams giving wins to the top of the division. The Central looks a more open battle, especially for second place, and if the wins will likely be too spread around for a Wild Card berth.

Were all that to happen, the Division Series would then be something like: Tigers v A’s/Blue Jays, Orioles v Rangers, Dodgers v Giants/Phillies, Nationals v Reds. From that, I divine Orioles v Blue Jays and Dodgers v Nationals in the Championship Series and then Orioles v Dodgers in the World Series. Dodgers to win in five. But that, even more than the rest, is guesswork.

For the Royals specifically, they made a concerted effort in the close season to at least get into the top half of the table this year. They have a much stronger rotation now than they did at this time last year and actually a stronger lineup too with Salvador Perez getting to play a full season. The trick will probably to get the fairly inexperienced lineup to fire consistently. Although the Royals are unlikely to actually compete for the title even if all goes well, a .500 record is probably the minimum expectation after all the investment of the close season. I think they will finish 86-76, which will probably be good enough for second place, maybe third if one of the Indians or White Sox do particularly well.


Major victories do not come often for the Royals. As far as relatively recent history goes, we mostly just have that time we swept the Cardinals in St Louis. The next best thing is for the Yankees to lose. If we are the ones to beat them then so much the better, but watching the Yankees lose when it really matters almost literally leaves a sweet taste in one’s mouth. There are many things to hate about the Yankees: their arrogance, their selfishness, the fact that they think they are entitled to victories and the fact that their glory hunters fill Kauffman Stadium every time they come to town. Robinson Cano recently added another one by snubbing Billy Butler for the Home Run Derby. Billy is not quite a bona fide home run hitter it is true, but he is having a very good year and has actually hit more home runs than Prince Fielder right now. More importantly, however, the Home Run Derby is there to put on a show for the fans and the show would have been a lot nicer with Billy Butler playing in front of his home town crowd. It does not matter which league wins, in fact more than a few Royals fans were cheering for Carlos Beltran of the National League!

But Cano, after hinting that he might choose Butler, chose Mark Trumbo instead. He decided that his league winning a meaningless contest was more important than entertaining the fans who were paying to watch. It was a very typically Yankee thing to do; he may as well have actually stuck two fingers up at the fans. But Royals fans are a mostly knowledgeable bunch. They recognised the snub and responded appropriately: they booed Cano in batting practice, they booed Cano when he was announced and they booed him when he came to the plate whilst mixing in some ‘Billy Butler’ chants. All that was to be expected, but where they really shone was that they never let up. It would have been easy to throw some boos at him and then return to ‘normal service’, but they did not. They booed every pitch to him and roared every time he failed to hit a home run. It clearly got ot Cano who stepped out twice to towel himself off and take another drink of Gatorade. No other player had stepped out at all as far as I had seen. His reception continued and Cano did not manage to hit a single home run, the only player to so fail. Cano snubbed Kansas City and was brought to his knees by our fans. It almost tastes as good as Alex Rodriguez striking out to end the Yankees season last October. I have never been prouder to be a Royals fan; we may be few but we are the best in baseball.

Problems with the All-Star Game

I have been following the build up to the All-Star Game this year as it is taking place in Kansas City. I’m really happy about it being in KC and I’m quite looking forward to Kauffman Stadium being shown off in a major event (hoping there are more than a few appearances in October over the next few years too) but that is the extent of my joy. The reasons why I have stopped following the All-Star Game over the past few years have been rather forcefully brought back home.

The first is one on which I have touched already: the fan vote. I could accept the fans voting for the reserves, but they are simply not well enough informed to make the choice of starters. Prince Fielder at first base? Derek Jeter at short? David Ortiz at designated hitter? The ignorance on show is breathtaking. ESPN have a lot for which to answer, but in the end the fans should not be voting if they cannot distinguish fame from talent.

But it seems that the managers are little better. I was already unhappy with the Rangers’ manager Ron Washington after picking Aaron Crow as the Royals’ one All-Star last year. Make no mistake, Crow was having a terrific year and was not undeserving. But he was not more deserving than Alex Gordon who has having a career year and would go on to win a gold glove. This year Washington chose Billy Butler, an excellent choice, and no one else. Not one other Royal in the year we are hosting the All-Star Game. I know we are a sub .500 team, but I am not asking for a large number of players. Just some recognition that we do have quite a few good ones and that now would be the time to give our players the benefit! But Washington decided to choose his own shortstop, Elvis Andrus, over Alcides Escobar despite Escobar having a higher batting average (the highest of all AL shortstops at the time of the decision), having hit more home runs and being one of the two best defensive shortstops in the league with Asdrubal Cabrera (who did get picked) being the other one. It is an obvious and appalling show of bias. Washington also picked three more of his own players despite already getting three voted in. As I said, I did not really like him anyway, but after this bit of selfishness I am furious. I very much hope that not only do his Rangers not only blow their lead in the AL West, but that they are hit by a major scandal and that Washington has to resign in disgrace.

My annoyance does not end there, though that is its apex. Major League Baseball has finally moved away from the ‘this time it counts’ slogan for the All-Star Game, presumably deciding that everyone has managed to work that out now almost ten years after it first ‘counted’. Unfortunately they only stopped using the slogan, not the ridiculous practice itself. For those unfamiliar, currently the league that wins the All-Star Game gets home advantage in the World Series. This means that managers are supposed to make a special effort to win the game despite the entire set up making it hard to do so! No sane manager would approach a game he wants to win by having the best starting pitcher in the league go only two innings; he would expect at least seven out of the pitcher and be hoping for nine. I also doubt he would pick the best player at each position (or even make a misguided attempt to do so) for the rest of the lineup. Rather, one would want to pick the group of players who best fit together as a team. The set up the whole game is that of an exhibition for the fans, not one where winning is the primary goal. To make it otherwise decreases the spectacle.

It is a few years since I last followed the All-Star Game. As much as I am enjoying having Kansas City and Kauffman Stadium in the spotlight, (and I am very much enjoying it) I am rather looking forward to ignoring the whole ridiculous affair again next year.

I despair

I don’t like the All-Star Game, really. It’s great to have it in Kansas City and I am looking forward to it so much that I will be actually watching this year. (I have only watched one of the past five.) But there are still many flaws, the most prominent of which is the voting system used to select the starters. It assumes that those voting will make reasoned, informed decisions on the players they feel are most deserving. I don’t know if that assumption was ever accurate, but despite the fact that stats and highlights are at the fingertips of every single voter it is certainly not the case now. Another update to the current All-Star vote numbers was released today and with it another blow to my respect for the baseball watching public.

I blogged on the Armchair Selector giving my American League and National League All-Star Game picks. I certainly don’t insist on all of them; I would never suggest that anyone is stupid or ill-informed just for disagreeing with some of them. But some of the current vote-getters are just ridiculous. Mark Teixeira has 1,405,187 votes at first base in the AL, good enough for third place. That means that (assuming 25 votes per person) over 56,000 people think that a man hitting .252 with eleven home runs is a better choice than Paul Konerko who is hitting .359 with twelve home runs. At third base, Alex Rodriguez (a player who everyone seems to have forgot admitted to having taken steroids and was never punished) has 660,000 more votes than Mike Moustakas despite being a worse defender, having a lower batting average and having hit the same number of home runs when playing half his games in a much more hitter-friendly park. Evan Longoria has more votes than either of them despite not even having played enough games to qualify for the batting race.

That is insane and just two examples of the massive bias toward big clubs. Now, I can accept successful clubs getting more All-Stars. They are successful for a reason. But the problem is when players who are not even vaguely worthy of starting are getting over a million votes. Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira are getting votes purely by virtue of being Yankees; neither of them are having anything other than average seasons. This is ridiculous. A lot of the blame must be placed at the feet of the national channels, ESPN particularly, who show big clubs almost exclusively and focus extensively on the famous players regardless of how well they are actually doing. Players from smaller clubs get largely ignored even when they do well. (It’s worth noting that whilst ESPN is terrible about this, the MLB Network is actually rather good about giving all players and teams a fair look.) The fans who vote are not free from blame either though as they make the basic (and pretty stupid) error of assuming that ‘famous’ equals ‘good’ without doing any actual research of their own. Despite the fact that all of the relevant stats are on the same website as the online ballot. It’s a massive failure of both parties and leads to results that are frankly appalling.

Armchair Selector post: All-Star Selections

With the All-Star Game (in Kansas City!) not too far away, and more importantly with enough of the season gone that one can fill out a meaningful ballot, I have looked through the stats and video and compiled my starting IX for the American League and starting XIII for the National League over at the Armchair Selector. I’ve taken care to select players without regard to my own opinion of them (which is the only way Jose Bautista was getting onto the list) and only their actual performance. Do have a look and if you like them go vote for them!