I was watching SportsCenter yesterday, and I saw a segment in which Eduardo Perez went position-by-position among hitters and compared the two American League teams that will begin the Championship Series tonight: the upstart Kansas City Royals and my hometown Baltimore Orioles. I found myself interested in the results for obvious reasons; I like hearing what people think of the Orioles, and since we've had a little break here in between series, I'm frothing for baseball talk.
Well, Eduardo Perez seems to be stuck in his Cincinnati/St. Louis years, and can't get away from middle America, because his picks were mostly insane. Alright, not insane, but I disagreed with more than one. So, I decided to do my own comparison. It'll have to be quick, since the series starts today and I want this posted beforehand, so I can be accountable for my absurd claims. But I'll provide as much information as I can, and I'll definitely fly off at the handle on at least one of these.
Here we go. (Name preceded by * is my choice. WAR numbers, and most other statistics, retrieved from baseball-reference.com)
*Kansas City - Salvador Perez (WAR 3.3) (Eduardo's pick)
Baltimore - Nick Hundley (0.1)/Caleb Joseph (1.2)
Can't really argue with Eduardo on this one. Perez is a solid hitter and has a good arm for throwing out base-stealers. That won't matter much against an Orioles team that doesn't run, but even if the Orioles never get caught stealing, Perez is a better catcher and better hitter than either of Baltimore's guys. If Matt Wieters were healthy this would be closer, but since he's not, Perez takes it easily.
Kansas City - Eric Hosmer (0.8) (Eduardo's pick)
*Baltimore - Steve Pearce (6.0)
Here we go, my first disagreement with Eduardo, but I can't really blame Eddie. He's fallen into the trap of recency. Eric Hosmer had an amazing Division series, hitting .500 and delivering a number of clutch hits for the Royals. But the reality is, there's no reason to expect Hosmer to continue to mash that way. His career slash line is .275/.328/.418. A .418 slugging percentage for your first baseman? Ask the Nationals how that turned out (sorry Adam LaRoche). I'll grant you that Pearce's performance this season has been somewhat out-of-nowhere, but so was Nelson Cruz's in 2009, and it turns out he can play.
Also of note is that Hosmer is actually a small minus as a defender, with a -0.3 dWAR. Maybe it comes into play, maybe it doesn't, but it's worth noting. Pearce, for what it's worth, posted a 1.5 dWAR.
*Kansas City - Omar Infante (0.7) (Eduardo's pick)
Baltimore - Jonathan Schoop (1.5)
I would've liked to pick Schoop here, and obviously with their comparative WARs, I'd have had some justifications. Schoop was actually a really solid defender this year, and I like his pop, but I have a lot more faith in Infante. Infante is a veteran with some playoff experience. While he has been an abysmal batter in the playoffs, I don't buy into that as a characteristic. I think his experience will only prove to be a positive going forward.
And yes, I'm aware that Infante is 0/11 this postseason. I'm still leaning in his direction.
*Kansas City - Mike Moustakas (0.4)
Baltimore - Ryan Flaherty (1.1)
(Eduardo called this a push)
While my pick is Moustakas by a hair, the reality is that neither guy figures to be a difference-maker in the series. Moustakas was a high draft pick who's shown very little hitting prowess outside of the occasional home run. Flaherty, meanwhile, is also a light-hitting marginal player. Moustakas showed some pop in the series against the California Angels (I'll never change), and he's got more pedigree, so he gets the nod. If Manny Machado were healthy, this would be a no-brainer pick for the O's though. Just another sad reminder of how injuries affect every season.
Kansas City - Alcides Escobar (2.4)
*Baltimore - J.J. Hardy (3.4) (Eduardo's pick)
Alcides Escobar is a slap hitter with good speed but minimal power. He's also one of those players who gets a reputation for being a good fielder because of his speed, when in reality he's simply average. Hardy, on the other hand, has been a plus defender at shortstop for years, winning Gold Glove Awards in 2012 and 2013. He historically has had good power as well, though it disappeared for most of the year. He beat up on the Tigers in the Divisional series, and clubbed what looked like an important homer in Game 1 (though that was before the O's went for 8 in the bottom of the eighth). I like Hardy here.
*Kansas City - Alex Gordon (6.6) (Eduardo's pick)
Baltimore - Alejandro De Aza (0.7)
The Orioles have gone with a couple different options in the outfield, but De Aza seems to be the weapon of choice right now. He's been fine, but obviously Gordon is vital to the Royals and a much better player. I know his WAR was 6.6 this year, but when I heard Eduardo Perez say that Gordon is going to be in the MVP discussion this year, I lost my head. Gordon is a plus-plus defensive player, and that's great. But his offensive statistics simply don't warrant consideration. He played in 156 games, but didn't break 90 runs or RBI. He hit .266 with 19 homers. He stole 12 bases. Let me know which of those numbers you want to point to as MVP caliber.
Gordon is my pick, but come on Eddie. Don't make a fool of yourself.
Kansas City - Lorenzo Cain (5.0)
*Baltimore - Adam Jones (4.9) (Eduardo's pick)
Get serious. I love Lorenzo Cain as much as the next guy, but get serious.
Kansas City - Nori Aoki (1.0) (Eduardo's pick)
*Baltimore - Nick Markakis (2.1)
I actually don't agree that Markakis is even 2 wins better than a replacement-level player, but he's still better than Aoki. Aoki is representative of the whole Royals team: he's a guy with speed, decent batting average, and minimal power. He apparently posted a -1.3 dWAR, which I suppose I have to trust since I haven't seen him play outside of some limited playoff time. Markakis is mostly an on-base guy with a little pop and the ability to get around the bases. He's actually really good at scoring from second or going first-to-third on a single, which helps keep the pressure on and threaten big innings. So he's got that going for him.
Kansas City - Billy Butler (-0.3)
Baltimore - Nelson Cruz (4.7)
(No pick by Eduardo)
I thought about just letting the two WARs speak for themselves, but I decided I wanted to mention Cruz's stats for posterity. Also, Eduardo Perez simply ignored the DH spot, which basically writes off the Orioles' best hitter. Cruz hit 40 home runs to lead the American League this season, and if possible, he's gotten even more deadly in the postseason. He hit .500 against the Tigers in the ALDS, but that's nothing new for Cruz. In his career, he's hit .297 with 16 HR in 37 postseason games, and he figures once again to be the lynchpin for the Orioles' offense.
These two teams actually have pretty similar pitching staffs. The best pitcher is a Royal (James Shields), but there's truthfully not much separating Shields from Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, or his teammate Yordano Ventura. Additionally, both bullpens are strong, though I'd give an edge to the Orioles, owing mostly to their trade deadline acquisition of Andrew Miller. He was an expensive addition, but that guy is as good as advertised.
Eduardo declared that the Royals had better pitching and defense.
Wrap-Up and Prediction
Listen, it's still baseball. I think the Orioles are the better hitting team, and the stats on Baseball Reference say that in fact they were the best fielding team in the majors this year. Their starters are okay, and their bullpen is excellent. But you still have to play the games. Just ask the Angels, Dodgers, and Nationals. I desperately want the Orioles to win, but everybody's going to have their day. Still, it's hard to go against all this data I managed to assemble, even if I did probably look at it with a biased point of view. So, what the heck.
Prediction: Baltimore Orioles over Kansas City Royals (4 games to 1)
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