The Royals and Facing It

The Royals allowed four runs Tuesday night. Fairly ordinary total, four runs. Not too few to score; not too many to allow. There were 16 games on Tuesday. In 13 of them, at least one team scored at least four runs. In two of them, both teams scored at least four runs. Four might be the least remarkable run total. But then, there’s a thing about these Royals. That was only the second time all month the Royals allowed more than three runs in a game. The other time, they allowed five. It’s been a good month for the Royals’ pitching staff, and so it’s been a good month for the Royals.

It was an impressive streak they put together. Between June 1 and June 14, the Royals played 13 games, never allowing four or more runs. In 2010, the Giants had such a streak of 18 games, but previous to that, you have to go back to the 2002 Diamondbacks to find a streak of at least equal length. Then you have to go back to the 1993 Braves. A few weeks ago, people wondered whether Ned Yost was on the hot seat. Now the Royals have pulled themselves back into the race, and they own the American League’s fourth-best run differential. Thanks in large part to their run prevention, the Royals presently have the look of a contender.

As evidenced by the controversial James Shields trade, run prevention was the Royals’ offseason priority. They also added Wade Davis and Jeremy Guthrie and Ervin Santana, and now look at the results. The Royals have baseball’s lowest ERA-. They have the second-lowest ERA- in franchise history, just one point behind 1985’s 83. The 1985 Kansas City Royals won the World Series. This year’s Royals haven’t quite started hitting yet, but they’re back in the thick of things because of the pitching, seemingly validating the plan. As good as the Tigers look, the Royals are within striking distance. As good as the Orioles and Yankees and Rangers have occasionally looked, the Royals are within striking distance. Least flatteringly, the Royals aren’t a pushover. Most flatteringly, the Royals are a borderline playoff team.

But though the Royals are first in ERA-, they’re ninth in the AL in FIP-. They’re tied for eighth in the AL in xFIP-. Those numbers aren’t bad, and you know what the Royals have? Great defense. They lead the majors in UZR. They’re the runner-up in Defensive Runs Saved. That’s a big help, because pitchers and defenders work together. But we have to look at the Royals’ rate of leaving runners on base. You’re familiar, probably, with LOB%. If not, go to town. The Royals have a pitching staff LOB% of 78.8%. That’s the highest mark in baseball. That’s one of the highest marks in baseball history.

Let’s go all the way back to 1950. That leaves us with a pool of 1,562 individual team seasons. League-average LOB% hasn’t stayed exactly the same over that span, but it’s remained fairly stable. Here now are the highest team pitching staff LOB% marks since 1950:

  • 1968 Tigers, 79.5%
  • 2013 Royals, 78.8%
  • 1972 Indians, 78.8%
  • 1972 Athletics, 78.1%
  • 1972 Orioles, 77.9%
  • 1964 White Sox, 77.8%
  • 1954 Giants, 77.6%
  • 2011 Phillies, 77.5%
  • 2013 Pirates, 77.4%
  • 1968 Cardinals, 77.3%

You notice this year’s Pirates in there, too, and that’s a thing, but here the Royals are our focus. It’s true that better pitchers can be expected to post better LOB% rates than worse pitchers. But this year’s average is 73.2%, and as noted earlier, the Royals have been about exactly league average based on their peripherals as a staff. There isn’t good reason to believe the Royals’ pitchers are elite, and so there is good reason to expect this number to come down. And the relationship between LOB% and ERA- is steep. Every runner not stranded, after all, is a run.

The culprit, pretty obviously, is performance with runners on base. Hits with runners on base do more damage than hits not with runners on base. Teams tend to do a little worse with men on compared to with none on. Here’s the Royals’ breakdown:

  • Bases empty: .326 wOBA allowed
  • Men on base: .296
  • Scoring position: .290

Only the Red Sox have a bigger drop in wOBA between bases-empty situations and men-on situations. Only the Red Sox, again, have a bigger drop in wOBA between bases-empty situations and scoring-position situations. It’s not so much because of hit prevention, or walk prevention — the Royals just haven’t really allowed homers of the multiple-run variety. Regression is a boring, over-cited principle, but it’s an important and unavoidable principle nonetheless.

It’s not that the Royals haven’t been a little better in more critical situations. Sorry for throwing so many numbers at you, but the Royals are 24th in baseball in xFIP with the bases empty. They’re 10th with men on, and ninth with runners in scoring position. One shouldn’t expect complete and total regression to some mean. But the Royals aren’t going to keep preventing runs like this, which is going to put more pressure on the bats, and the bats have yet to show collective life.

Fun fact: the Royals have gone 12-5 in June, with a 1.89 ERA. The Royals went 8-20 in May, with a 4.33 ERA. In both months, the offense was bad. In May, the team xFIP was 4.18. In June, the team xFIP has been 4.37. They are neither as bad as May nor as good as June, and if you put them together, you get a nearly-.500 ballclub. Overall on the season, the Royals have been a .500 ballclub.

It helps that the Royals might soon get Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino back off the disabled list. Those are two talented arms with real strikeout potential, and there’s never anything wrong with having pitching depth. But they’re coming back off major injury, and before getting hurt Paulino was fine and Duffy was inconsistent. Most likely, they aren’t going to be in position to make a major impact, and the Royals, probably, won’t be looking to make a trade-deadline splash. There are only so many ways this can go.

The easiest thing to do would probably just be to cite our projected standings page. The Royals are projected to finish 44-49, in the company of the Indians, Mets, and Mariners. The team they are now is a team with fine pitching and good defense and mediocre hitting. It’d be great if Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas took a step forward, but that was the hope back in March, and now it’s been almost three more months of disappointment. In a way, the Royals’ situation hasn’t changed. But instead of having six months to keep up with the contenders after starting from the same place, now they have three and a half months to catch up to the contenders from behind. It’s far from being hopeless — there’s no such thing as a hopeless .500 baseball team — but seasons are made up of littler streaks. Cold streaks make people too pessimistic. Hot streaks make people too optimistic. The Royals could be in a much worse place, but lately they’ve overachieved.

In the sense that it’s June and the Royals are relevant, this season, so far, has been something of a success. But the Royals needed to overachieve to get back to .500. There’s a lot to like on that roster. There’s a lot to like on a lot of non-playoff rosters.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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KCDaveInLA
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KCDaveInLA
3 years 2 months ago

Great article Jeff. xFIP (particularly Guthrie’s abomination) and Eric Hosmer’s inability to get extra base hits have been the scariest things about the season so far. I’m not only worried about regression to the mean, but that for KC, this IS the mean.

GlennBraggsSwingAndMissBrokenBat
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GlennBraggsSwingAndMissBrokenBat
3 years 2 months ago

I feel for KC fans. I don’t know if it’s been bad luck or bad scouting, or both, but you can’t blow that many top 10 picks and be successful.

Watching the Royals and Pirates the last 15 years gives me even more respect for what the Rays have built.

TangoAlphaLima
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TangoAlphaLima
3 years 2 months ago

It’s both bad luck and bad scouting.

On the bad scouting end of things, they had the #1 overall pick in 2006 and took Luke Hochevar (8.2 career WAR, now moved to the bullpen, where he’s actually having some success) over names such as Longoria and Kershaw. Current GM Dayton Moore disavows any responsibility for the Hochevar pick, because he had only been hired the month before, but that seems to be a ridiculous stance to take.

On the bad luck side, the Royals swept a meaningless end of season series with the Tigers in 2006, while the Devil Rays lost four straight against the Indians. This gave the Devil Rays the worst record in baseball by 1 game, and thus the 1st overall pick in the 2007 draft. The Devil Rays took David Price with that pick. With the next pick, the Royals took Mike Moustakas. Price is a Cy Young winner. Moustakas looks absolutely dreadful at the plate currently.

timmay
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timmay
3 years 2 months ago

Idk…it’s tempting but probably too simplistic to crucify teams for bad draft picks that seem obvious in retrospect. The following year, one of the teams that, based on your comments you’d agree has really, really good scouting–the Rays–completely whiffed on the #1 pick, passing on Buster Posey, the transcendental player in that draft.

Plus, isn’t it a touch deterministic to say that people get to where they’re going regardless of the situation they’re in? Who knows if Price develops in KC to the degree he did in Tampa. I mean, look at another uber-prospect: Dom Brown. It took years (and Wally Joyner of all people) for him to actualize a good bit of his talent. As such, it’s probably a bit premature and thus a mistake to write off Hosmer and Moustakas.

TangoAlphaLima
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TangoAlphaLima
3 years 2 months ago

True, I’ll give you that player development plays a part, and the Royals have been awful at player development, especially with starting pitching. But while David Price might not be the Cy Young winner he is with the Rays, I have to think he’d still be a high quality major leaguer if he’d been brought up in the Royals system.

And yes, it’s a little disingenuous to point out the Hochevar over Longoria/Kershaw choice when plenty of other teams make those same mistakes. The problem is that the Royals are consistently making that same mistake. Just looking at their 1st round draft picks since Dayton Moore took over, they’ve essentially got nothing from them. Aaron Crow is their biggest 1st round triumph thus far, and he was drafted as a starter but was converted to a reliever, so his value is gimped.

So while you point to the Rays making a mistake in drafting Beckham over Posey, I can also point to plenty of times when the Rays got it right (i.e. Price, Longoria, Upton). The Royals, at least under Dayton Moore, don’t even come close.

Ned Yost
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Ned Yost
3 years 2 months ago

It is true that GMDM has drafted horribly. The Christian Colon pick, Brett Eibner in round 2 that year, Starling looking like a bust already… It’s been bad.

However, I just want to point out that although it’s become conventional wisdom that Hochevar was his pick, there is no evidence of this. In fact, he was not officially hired until the week after the draft. Now, he was going through the process (no pun intended) during draft week, so the media claim that he surely signed off on the Hochevar pick even though he always claimed he was going to let the staff that was in place do their jobs. I don’t simply take him at his word, but I think it’s at least worth knowing that he essentially disavowed the Hochevar pick even before it was made.

I blame Ned Yost in large part for Crow never getting a shot as a starter. Ned hates sinker/slider guys. Even in ST this year he listed at least 6 candidates for the 5th starter job even though Luis Mendoza should have been the obvious top candidate, and he was dominating in winter ball. It’s an organizational bias overall, which makes the Crow pick extremely perplexing in the first place. I think Moore and Yost both need to be fired forthwith, because they are just aimless. This goes to your point about player development – it has to be the worst record on player development in the history of the game (it is FAR worse, for example, than Moore’s predecessor).

Fun fact: Greg Holland (a 5’10, reliever only, 10th round pick who probably got a bucket of KFC as a bonus) is easily the most successful Dayton Moore draft choice.

maguro
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maguro
3 years 2 months ago

“I blame Ned Yost in large part for Crow never getting a shot as a starter. Ned hates sinker/slider guys.”

Pretty much no one likes sinker/slider guys as starters, they can’t get opposite handed hitters out.

MrKnowNothing
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MrKnowNothing
3 years 2 months ago

wonder what was happening in 1972

Greg W.
Guest
3 years 2 months ago

Somebody was trying to get the permanent pinch hitters in the AL to stop things from looking so feeble in that run environment.

Ruki Motomiya
Member
Ruki Motomiya
3 years 2 months ago

Aren’t the Royals due for some positive regression, as well? Wade Davis has a .381 BABIP, a 69.5% LOB and 13.9% HR/FB, without career numbers that suggest this should hold. Both Ervin Santana (14.1%) and Jeremy Guthrie (16.7%) have unsustainable HR/FB rates: Shouldn’t they regress positively as their LOB% (And BABIP, though Guthrie has shown a career BABIP suppression since his career BABIP is .275: I don’t think Santana’s career .282 BABIP counts…but it should be noted he hasn’t put up a BABIP over .280 since 2010, as 2011 was .272 and everything else has been lower).

Also, more of a stat question: Shouldn’t better defense lead to more men left on base due to the fact the defense commits more balls into outs then a standard or worse defense? While it isn’t to any extreme as this, should we expect a slightly higher LOB% (Say, 73%-74%) over the rest of the year? Does the fact they play in a pitcher’s park also positively change the LOB% or is it neglible?

Basically, what I am saying is: While we should expect a LOB% correction, how much should we see other corrections in positive directions such as their high HR/FB% in a pitcher’s stadium, are Guthrie/Santana’s BABIP prevention skills for real (Guthrie certainly has a large enough sample size to say so IMO: Does Santana’s 2011-2013 sample size count?), and can the defense/pitcher’s park lead to an elavated (But still lower than current) LOB%?

Ruki Motomiya
Member
Ruki Motomiya
3 years 2 months ago

Also, because this year’s Royals absolutely fascinate me for some reason, what are people’s thoughts on some of the hitters?

Butler is hitting his lowest ISO since 2008, which has contributed to him looking quite poor. Can we expect to see him go back to 2010-2011 numbers? Alex Gordon’s ISO is also down from 2011-2012, but in line with 2009-2010: Do you think he will regress more towards ’11-’12 or are his numbers staying where they are?

What in the world happened to Moose Tacos? I’d heard he is hitting too many fly balls, but his rate is smaller than last year (When he did good). Is he just having unlucky BABIP and should regression be expected? Will the Royals ever get a second basemen who doesn’t suck? Will Hosmer ever stop beating every pitch into the ground? And will Alcides Escobar bounce back to his 80+ WRC+ days?

This team really fascinates me and I think they are due for positive hitter regression as their pitching regresses backwards. I hope that the hitters doing good overlaps with the pitchers doing good for long enough for ’em to give the Tigers and Indians a race.

Ned Yost
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Ned Yost
3 years 2 months ago

Butler had an extremely lucky power season last year. Take a look at the list of guys he homered off of over at hittracker. Keith Law (still) loves to call Paul Goldschmidt a platoon player because of his (prior to this year) L/R split. Well, Billy Butler has always feasted on lefthanders and been pretty okay against righties. He is easily the slowest baserunner in the game. Why teams pitched to him ever last year I don’t know. But his pitches/PA is a career high this year only because he is not being pitched to (because he WILL swing at any strike in any count). There is no chance of him advancing more than one base on virtually any ball in play. But hey, his has his own BBQ sauce now, so it’s all good. Fans here love the guy even though he might be the most over-rated player in the league.

Moose’s pitches/PA is down considerably from last season, and it’s no like he as a patient hitter last season. He’s the same guy he was when he first came up, which was one of the worst MLB hitters I’d ever seen – not because he didn’t have talent, but because he just swung at absolutely everything. Teams just throw high FBs at his hands on the first pitch and he pops himself out. It’s really sad. Little leaguers make adjustments that it has now taken him three years to struggle through.

Hosmer is actually progressing. It looks to me like George Brett told him to go back to his old swing and just let it fly. They toned his swing way down last year and it just created a dead hands situation, to the extent that he literally could not pull the ball earlier this season.

Gordon is not a power hitter. It would not surprise me to see him hit .330 some year, but that’s because he is now a really good hitter with excellent bat control and a good two strike approach.

The offense was godawful last year. It is godawful this year. Where on earth is this regression supposed to come from? They can win close games due to a knack for timely hitting (now that their second best hitter is no longer manning the 8 spot) and some pretty good speed on the basepaths. The bullpen should keep up what they are doing, but don’t expect some kind of offensive breakout.

Ruki Motomiya
Member
Ruki Motomiya
3 years 2 months ago

Butler’s power is also lower than the years before last year, though (2011: .169 ISO, 2010: . 151 ISO)…and to be fair, last year’s power is not totally unprecended for him (.191 ISO in 2009). I was mostly wondering if he’d rebound to the .151 range. I was going to say Jesus Montero was a worse baserunner, but I guess he isn’t really in the league any more…

Royals offense was 17th last year by wRC+ and 19th by wOBA, and while their wRC+ was terrible AL-only wise (Tied for 9th), but they were tied for 9th in the AL last year with guys like the Rays by wOBA. Below average? Yes, but not godawful.

Pretty much all the questions I asked were compared to their career norms, so I don’t see why that’s a “where on earth is the regression supposed to come from?”…

Ned Yost
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Ned Yost
3 years 2 months ago

I have heard people use the MLB ranking for their offense. Those same people have been really disappointed with the offense, when it was their own fault for comparing them to NL offenses. Apples and oranges. Hopefully there is no need to explain that one.

They were TIED for 9th in wOBA last year with four other teams with bad offenses. Tied for 11th in RC+, and 12th in runs scored. On the whole, they were the second worst offense in the league.

Most of this suck is tied to their pathetic, hacktastic approach. They were dead last in BB% – for the umpteenth year in a row. Take a look at the last decade: Last in BB%, tied for last in RC+, next to last in runs. This year is nothing new. Unless you want consider that their horrible RC+ this season is actually 5 points lower than their terrible 10 year average.

How exactly does Billy Butler regressing to a .150 ISO do anything for them? That’s league average for a second baseman. Someone people surrounding this team have been able to sell the city and outsiders like you a whole crapload of suck for a long time now, and it baffles me. There is no hope for improvement until the entire GMDM regime is gone.

Ian R.
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Ian R.
3 years 2 months ago

Granted, even a .150 ISO would be below-average for a first baseman, but Butler is also putting up a nearly .380 OBP. Yes, he’s a station-to-station baserunner, but he can still score when he gets on base, and he gets on base a lot. Just shimmying up to a .450 SLG (which would still be below his career average) would make him a very very nice offensive player.

Marver
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Marver
3 years 2 months ago

Hey Jeff…question on the projected standings. Does this include rounded fractional wins/losses? I ask because teams projected to finish 81-81 have a .501 W%. Thanks.

Pat
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Pat
3 years 2 months ago

Just goes to show the value of “prospects”. They tried their best to ride it out with these guys but highly touted guys like Moustakas and Hosmer are killing them and when they decided to all-in with their rotation, it paid incredible dividends, though they probably won’t make the playoffs because their hitting isn’t good enough. Still, the idea of trading a prospect hitter for a top of the rotation pitcher makes some sense.

Professor Ross Eforp
Member
Professor Ross Eforp
3 years 2 months ago

The opposite holds far more true than what you are saying.

Hitting prospects are far more valuable than pitching prospects of equivalent pedigree and hitters are far less fragile than pitchers.

drew milner
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drew milner
3 years 2 months ago

Royals did not add jeremy guthrie; he was with them 2nd half of 2012

KW
Guest
KW
3 years 2 months ago

He was a free agent and they gave him 36MM…

drew milner
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drew milner
3 years 2 months ago

So, they already had him; they did not ADD him.

KW
Guest
KW
3 years 2 months ago

Lol, you guys are ridiculous.

GMDM has not drafted horribly by any means. There are two main picks, the Hochevar pick which who knows if he made, scouting for such a pick goes much longer than a month, but as GM he probably had some say in it, but I would also fault David Glass for that, it was a money saving pick. The second one is the Christian Colon pick, which I don’t know what that was. He did decent last year in the minors but has struggled in AAA.

Those are important and should be considered, but besides that, he’s had a great draft. Both Moustakas and Hosmer were top prospects who many GMs would have chosen if fallen to them, and they can’t be blamed on him..it’s ridiculous what’s been going on, especially with Moustakas. He drafted Wil Myers in the 3rd round, who ended up netting him an ace. How that trade ends up is a different story but that was a great pick the day it was made.

The Brett Eibner second round pick was not a bad one, many had projected him to go in the first round. The problem seems to lie in the development part of the system. Lets not forget he is the GM that put the Royals from 100 losses and a 24th ranked farm system to what was said to be one of the greatest systems in recent memory.

John Lamb, AWESOME 5th round pick. That kid was ridiculous, until, of course, Tommy John. Danny Duffy, another great 3rd round pick who was starting to look great last year, of course, Tommy John. Montgomery and Odorizzi were well regarded. There are many others I can go through, but his drafts have generally been well. Dozier is an interesting pick but as long as the Royals sign Manaea, it has not been considered a bad draft, though not great..We’ll see about Hunter, but the one thing he is projected to have is a good bat.

At the end of the day, Dayton has to win this season or he’s done. I believe in giving GMs an opportunity to have a w fedraft and see the players through, and that can’t be done in 3 or 4 years, as Royals fans on the Internet have been calling for GMDM to get fired for many years now. But this is his time. He shouldn’t make a huge splash, but RF and 2B need to be addressed

Ned Yost
Guest
Ned Yost
3 years 2 months ago

Hochevar was not a money saving pick. You are aware that he went the independent league route after famously not signing with the Dodgers the previous season, right? I believe his was the highest bonus in the draft that year, which is typical for the first overall pick.

Don’t you think it is a disturbing pattern that their drafts have been considered good at the time, but they wind up looking really bad in hindsight? By the way, the Crow and Colon picks were not widely considered to be good picks. And they did not draft Odorizzi.

This is his 7th draft if you don’t count 2006 and the best thing they have to show for it is Greg Holland. Their farm system is incredibly thin despite spending near the top of teams in the draft for several years now. How could an even reasonable objective person not call that an abysmal failure?

Bill
Guest
Bill
3 years 2 months ago

It’s very difficult to separate drafting ability from player development ability. St. Louis and Anaheim frequently draft low. I’m sure that if they drafted high, they would have taken some of the guys GMDM took. However, they have had more success with their low picks than GMDM has had with his high picks. These teams are viewed as good drafters, yet they consistently rated the Royals guys above the guys they took. So, it appears that the problem is player development. If one prospect that was rated highly by “good” GM’s fails, one can write this off to the unpredictablilty of rating players. But, if every prospect in this group fails, one cannot pass this off as random chance. The Royals player development system is badly broken.

drew milner
Guest
drew milner
3 years 2 months ago

Duffy was not starting to look great last year by any means, IMHO. He was possibly adequate. Now Paulino (not a draft pick, but a steal by Moore) was awesome before the Tommy John, yet almost everybody puts Duffy ahead of him.

olethros
Guest
olethros
3 years 2 months ago

I’m surprised the ’68 Cardinals are so far down on that list.

Also, holy shit, 1972.

payroll
Guest
payroll
3 years 2 months ago

“But the Royals aren’t going to keep preventing runs like this, which is going to put more pressure on the bats, and the bats have yet to show collective life.”

Why not? Because it would be historically anomalous to finish ~5% off the league average LOB%?

As you say, the defense rocks. The catcher rocks. The park is big. Who knows, maybe Ned Yost is a bullpen matchup genius. Or maybe he just has really great guys he can put in there when his starters run out of gas with men on base. So uh.. yea, why can’t the Royals keep it up all year again?

piratesbreak500
Guest
piratesbreak500
3 years 2 months ago

It’s not 5% off- you’re talking about standard deviations, where a standard deviation might be around 1 or 1.5%. So, if you’re over 5% off, you’re talking about something about 3.5-4 standard deviations from the mean, which is pretty rare.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_deviation

Cubzen
Guest
Cubzen
3 years 2 months ago

If the Tigers are projected to win 93 games, and the other contenders you mentioned projected for 86, could the Royals add enough at the deadline to get to where they need to be, even assuming some underperformance from the other contenders?

Ruki Motomiya
Member
Ruki Motomiya
3 years 2 months ago

It’d be funny if they got Giancarlo somehow and put him over Franceour. That’d be some upgrade!

Greg W.
Guest
3 years 2 months ago

When did the strike occur in 1972? If spring training was cut short, perhaps it provided a better pitching environment through the first half of the season, no? Yes? Anybody looked into this, ever?

matt w
Guest
matt w
3 years 2 months ago

April 1 to April 12.

The lockouts and strikes in 1973, 1976, and 1980 look to have taken bigger bites out of spring training.

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