Sam Miller is the editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus. He has written for three Baseball Prospectus annuals and co-edited the 2014 edition. He also co-hosts, with Ben Lindbergh, the Effectively Wild podcast, and is a contributor to ESPN the Magazine.
The Royals have the speed, the Giants have the skipper, and both teams have momentum in an unlikely World Series matchup.
On July 28th, the Giants were four games behind the Dodgers, the Royals were five behind the Tigers, and PECOTA put their combined odds of winning the World Series at 4 percent. Neither was a preseason favorite to win the division, neither won the division, neither won 90 games, neither has an MVP candidate or a Cy Young candidate. Neither team's manager will win manager of the year, and neither will be the favorite to win a division going into next year's season. They are a combined 16-2 against the postseason gantlet, and PECOTA puts their combined odds of winning the World Series at 100 percent.
The commissioner's lasting legacy isn't randomness and meaningless. It's a more fair world.
For all the excitement of this postseason’s individual games, there is a fairly common sentiment out there that something sucks about a system so random that sub-par teams get to fluke their way to the World Series, thus stripping the season of its power to make sure the best teams are rewarded. Why play a long season and then reduce the championship to coin flips? Why continually expand postseason until every champ resembles Chris Moneymaker? Zachary Levine foretold this postseason in his epitaph for Bud Selig, written in August:
Andrew Friedman might be the most revered executive in the game--Billy Beane included--and the richest team in baseball just hired him.
On the one hand, Andrew Friedman is one of the only executives with a book written about him—or, at least, a book read by more than the author’s closest friends and relatives. On that hand, he runs a team that, when it succeeds, is largely credited to his genius (and the genius of his front office). On that hand, his Rays have been experimental and at the vanguard of various “trends”—at various times shifting, locking up pre-arb players ever earlier, building around defense, resisting multi-year contracts to relievers, or giving what figuratively seem like literally millions of at-bats to Jose Molina—that have become routine, even over-fished, around the league years later. We tend to see his Rays as the first clinical trial for the strategies that will soon be ubiquitous, so we pay a ton of attention to him. Because of all this, we know a lot about Andrew Friedman, who the Dodgers just poached to be president of baseball operations.
On the other, he has run perhaps the most opaque organization in the game. I once heard about a former Rays intern who was applying for another job. Standard industry practice in this situation is to pump the applicant for information about what his old team was doing, the research, the secrets. Heck, some of the time this fact-finding might be the only reason the interview is even taking place. But this intern wouldn’t budge. Again and again, he told the team that he was interviewing with, the team he was trying to impress, that, well, shoot, he’d love to, but he just couldn’t, not with his non-disclosure agreement, not when we’re talking about the Rays. The Rays were a black box. Their local media, for the most part, never got the Rays, and the Rays never gave them much to get. We know, in some ways, very little about Andrew Friedman.
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A look at one game in the life of the Royals' supposed weak spot.
Recap: The Orioles jumped ahead but only by a run, Jeremy Guthrie was better than expected, the Royals erased the lead in the middle innings, jumped out ahead in the sixth, their defense and bullpen shut things down from the seventh on, and the Royals are up three games to none. In a postgame press conference, Guthrie took to wearing a taunting shirt based on the worst, I mean really the worst pop song of the year. He can get away with it because the Royals are about to go to the World Series and everybody except the Orioles and a few Angels fans is happy about it. Considering it was a 2-1 game in an LCS, it wasn’t all that interesting of a game. Lorenzo Cain made a nice catch. Mike Moustakas made a nice catch. Some more people on Twitter made Wil Myers jokes. Home sweep home, how sweep it is, ain't glove the sweepest thing, from the outhouse to the penthouse sweep. That’s the recap. Forgive me if I’m not inspired to do more, strict-recapwise.