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The Madness of Paul-Evan - A Kansas City Royals preview

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The story of one who has the unfortunate job of forecasting baseball's most projection-defiant bunch

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Scene: Office of Ludwig von Oddsmaker, managing partner of Linesetters for Gamblebets, Ltd. March 13, 2014.

Ludwig von Oddsmaker: "Who do we have working on the Royals futures, Jerry?"

Jerry N. Darling: "That'd be Paul-Evan."

LvO: "Ugh, another one of those guys that has a first name for a last name."

Jerry: "It's a hyphenated first name. He makes you say both, kinda like that guy who played Zack Morris."

LvO: "How thoroughly unnecessary. I'm not doing that. What's his last name?"

Jerry: "Another hyphen job. Chen-Oberholzer-Tchaikovsky-Anderson."

LvO: "Ugh. Whatever. Send him in."

Paul-Evan steps into Ludwig's office while stuffing Funyuns into his mouth, lacking the basic professional etiquette and social awareness to understand that such behavior is deplorable. His legs are rigid as he steps forward, which makes his upper body rock from side-to-side as he moves. A short, stout man, he has a monotonous, robotic way of speaking that seems simply inhuman.

LvO: "Look, Peter, I've gotta set the line on the Royals' record for 2014. Tell me what it's looking like."

PECOTA: "79 wins, 83 losses"

LvO: "You were low on them by ten games last year. Now, they've brought in Nori Aoki, Omar Infante, and Jason Vargas, AND have that fireballing starter prospect with anger issues coming up from the minors. You want to tell me that they're going to lose SEVEN MORE GAMES than they did last year?"

PECOTA: "Yordano Ventura. No major league history. May succeed, may fail. Project 4.23 ERA. Team unremarkable at hitting and pitching. Jeremy Guthrie weapon only works against White Sox. The Kansas City Royals are a mediocre professional baseball team managed by Ned Yost."

LvO: "Do you simply ignore team chemistry? Defense? The Royals added about nine extra wins from their defense alone last season!"

PECOTA: "Outlier. Unsustainable."

LvO: "Look Phil, people are starting to care about the Royals. Their young core is getting better and they're adding players. A lot of people are going to see this projection and take the over. You realize that, right?"

PECOTA: "79 wins, 83 losses. The Kansas City Royals are a mediocre professional baseball team managed by Ned Yost. Set line. Profit."

LvO: "Guuoooo...if you didn't have such a good track record, I'd fire your ass right now. But this doesn't sit well with me. At all. Now get out of my sight!"

Paul-Evan leaves the office and closes the door behind him. He pauses for a moment to eat a Funyun and react to the situation. A slight inflection creeps into his voice.

PECOTA: "That man. Unpleasant."

*********************************

It is now a year later. The Kansas City Royals won 89 games in 2014 to claim a Wild Card slot and came within one game of winning the World Series. Jerry has summoned Paul-Evan yet again to Ludwig's office to discuss the 2015 Royals projection. Paul-Evan enters the room with little discomfort, prepared to be mildly irritated at what is sure to follow.

LvO: "Have a seat, Pablo."

LvO: "Four. Million. Dollars. That's how much we lost last year on your 'guess' at the Royals' record. I'm a reasonable man, so I'm going to give you a chance to explain yourself and convince me that I should trust you with anything anymore."

PECOTA: "Variance around true talent. Lorenzo Cain became five-tool breakout star. Not predictable. Wade Davis. Kelvin Herrera. Zero home runs allowed. Opponents unable to score after sixth inning. Relief pitcher results fickle and random. Performance exceeded core talent of team."

LvO: "That's the second straight year you've been low on them by ten games. Did it ever occur to you that maybe you should consider WHY you've been low instead of writing everything off as random chance? How about the fact that the defense STILL added over seven wins after you told me that it wasn't sustainable? How about the ability to throw Jarrod Dyson on the basepaths in any close-and-late situation to help push across a critical run?"

PECOTA: "Alex Gordon. Cain. Only two hitters with OPS+ above 100. Starting rotation unimpressive. They should have won fewer games."

LvO: "Hmmph. I've heard enough of this. You keep under-shooting and they keep winning. Let me guess, your projection for this year's team is probably something like 81 and 81, because nothing good or bad is 'sustainable'."

PECOTA: "72 wins, 90 losses."

Upon hearing this, Ludwig chokes on the brandy he's been sipping and makes some disturbed, crusty-old-man noises. After settling himself down, a wicked smile begins to grow wide across his face. He begins to speak calmly.

LvO: "Well, Pat, I'd find your ignorance downright amusing and frankly, a little charming had you not so recently cost this company so much money. I know how much of a fool you are, but how much of one do you think I must be? They nearly won the World Series! How can a dope like you walk in here and say, '72 wins' with a straight face?"

PECOTA: "Reliever performance was outlier and not sust--"

LvO: "I SWEAR, IF YOU USE THE PHRASE 'NOT SUSTAINABLE' ONE MORE TIME, I'M GOING TO RIP OUT YOUR CIRCUITS THAT WERE PUT IN PLACE WHERE A REAL PERSON'S BLOOD VESSELS SHOULD BE!!!!"

At this, Paul-Evan's body temperature begins to rise. New and unfamiliar twinges of frustration, anger, and pain take up residence in his mind.

PECOTA: "James Shields, Aoki, and Billy Butler are gone. They were replaced by worse. Edinson Volquez is a low strikeout pitcher. Alex Rios has no more power. Kendrys Morales was almost a negative-two win player last year. Performances of bullpen and defense are not s....will regress. The lineup is non-threatening. The starting pitching got worse. The Kansas City Royals are a mediocre professional baseball team managed by Ned Yost. Set the line at 72 wins."

LvO: "Why? Why do you do this? I'm a reasonable man. I understand that you do good work on the other 29 teams. Sometimes you're high, sometimes you're low, but that's just part of projections. Why do you use the Kansas City Royals to torpedo my business? Why are you trolling me?"

PECOTA: "I do not understand 'trolling'."

At this, Ludwig clenches his fists and bangs them against his desk with a mighty 'THUD'. His face becomes red with rage and a fat blue vein pulsates across his forehead. What remains of his sanity disappears, and rational thoughts vacate his mind.

LvO: "Alright, fine! 72 wins! It's going to cost us millions but it will be worth it just to see you fail. I'll make sure you never work in this business again. When anyone asks why we set the line there, I'll put it all on your name."

PECOTA: "Oh yeah? Which one?"

LvO: "GO! Waddle out of my sight like the toad you are."

PECOTA: "Toads don't waddle."

LvO: "GAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!"

Paul-Evan makes haste to get out of the room and shuts the door just in time to block the bottle of brandy that was hurled at his head. After the crash, he collects himself.

PECOTA: "I don't deserve this. I don't deserve ANY of this!"

***************************************

Another year has passed. The 2015 Kansas City Royals won 95 games, the AL Central, and a World Series title. Paul-Evan has again been called into Ludwig's office. There's a wry, sarcastic smile on his face as he makes this walk for what he knows will be the final time. Fully cognizant of the rank cruelty about to befall him, he opens the door.

LvO: "Sit."

LvO: "This is a fun ritual we have, isn't it? We both know that you're sitting in this chair for the last time, hell, present in this building for the last time. To make sure I get the most out of this, I'm going to ask you to explain yourself. Please, tell me exactly how you undershot the Royals' record by twenty-three games."

PECOTA: "Their last offseason didn't make any sense! You know it, and I know it. Mike Moustakas was supposed to be terrible at hitting; all of a sudden he decided shooting the ball the other way to left field was his thing. Are you trying to tell me you saw that coming? Did you foresee 36-year-old giant-ass Chris Young putting up a 3.06 ERA despite not missing any bats and allowing plenty of homers? Better yet, did you foresee him starting at all?  What about the fact that Morales beat his previous season's OPS by about 200 points and formerly underpowered Cain randomly decided, 'Gee, why not me?' and smoked 50 extra-base hits? I suppose those things are MY FAULT???"

Paul-Evan takes a short breath. He can't remember a time in his life when he's had to speak this much.

PECOTA: "Oh yeah, and how about Volquez? Apparently the good Pittsburgh version was the real one, not the trash factory that bounced around the league under his name the five years prior to that. And don't get me started on how apparently the defense and bullpen are collapse-proof, regardless of whether Greg Holland is injured or not. And I guess I was supposed to know they'd have Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist on their team for the stretch run? Right? RIGHT???"

Paul-Evan breathes heavily, awaiting Ludwig's response. After a few tense moments pass, Ludwig obliges.

LvO: "It appears you still haven't learned a damn thing. Tell you what. Before you leave this building for the last time, why don't you give me a projection for the 2016 Royals. Just for fun. It's going to wind up in my trash can regardless, but write it down. It will amuse me. Don't forget to ignore that they're historically great defensively, that they're absolute terrors on the basepaths, that leverage matters a lot when assessing the importance of their late-inning relievers, that they won 95 games last season, and that they've been in the World Series in back-to-back years."

Ludwig reaches across his massive desk and drops a white post-it note and a pen to Paul-Evan.

PECOTA: "A projection is what you want, eh? Well how about this. Zobrist and Cueto are gone. Holland is out for possibly the entire year. They're asking Dyson to actually start in right field a lot and making him hold a bat. That buffoon Yost is probably going to bat punchless Alcides Escobar leadoff the entire year. Moustakas and Morales absolutely have to regress. Gordon is no longer a superstar. They gave about a bajillion dollars to Ian Kennedy just to pray he can keep the ball in the park. The starting pitching is bad. That matters. It HAS to matter. THE KANSAS CITY ROYALS ARE A MEDIOCRE PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL TEAM MANAGED BY NED YOST! You want your projection? HERE'S your projection!"

Paul-Evan scribbles something frantically on the post-it note, crumples it up, and throws it at Ludwig's face. Stunned, Ludwig lets it fall to the floor and just watches as Paul-Evan heads toward the door.

PECOTA: "You think I'm crazy, don't you? Well you'll see. You'll ALL see!!! That line is nuts. It's off-the-hook and absurd. And it's going to be RIGHT!"

Paul-Evan leaves the office and slams the door shut. As Ludwig listens to a maniacal laugh reverberate though the building, he slowly bends down to pick up the small crumpled ball of paper. He unfolds it slowly and a little nervously.

Probable Starting Pitchers

  • Friday, May 20: Jose Quintana vs. Dillon Gee
  • Saturday, May 21: Miguel Gonzalez vs. Danny Duffy
  • Sunday, May 22: Carlos Rodon vs. Yordano Ventura

Probable Lineup

Pitching

1. Alcides Escobar - SS

SP1. Edinson Volquez - RHP

2. Lorenzo Cain - CF

SP2. Dillon Gee - RHP

3. Eric Hosmer - 1B

SP3. Danny Duffy - LHP

4. Kendrys Morales - DH

SP4. Yordano Ventura - RHP

5. Alex Gordon - LF

SP5. Ian Kennedy - RHP

6. Salvador Perez - C

CL. Wade Davis - RHP

7. Cheslor Cuthbert - 3B

RP1. Kelvin Herrera - RHP

8. Omar Infante - 2B

RP2. Luke Hochevar - RHP

9. Jarrod Dyson - CF

RP3. Joakim Soria - RHP