My good friend Jim Brady’s Mets are having a better season than my favorite team, the Yankees. But my second-favorite team, the Royals, are having a better season (so far; it’s long from over) than Jim’s Mets.
As the Royals were surging to Wednesday night’s victory (with my son Mike in the crowd), I remembered that both the 1985 Royals and 1986 Mets won after trailing those World Series 2-0 (and the 1981 Yankees lost in six games after taking a 2-0 lead). I was thinking I’d note those facts in a semi-gracious Twitter message to Jim after the game. But then I saw Jim had noted one of those historic facts himself:
The #Mets will soon be down 2-0. Just like they were in 1986. And they were playing a better team then. It ain’t over.
— Jim Brady (@jimbrady) October 29, 2015
I’m hoping for a sweep (son Tom, who will be in New York for Game Four, shares that hope). But I love the ebb and flow of a World Series. I’ll love a seven-game Series, too, especially if the Royals win.
But, in the trash-talking spirit of good friends sharing sports fun and the fact-checking practice of this blog, I couldn’t let Jim get away with that “better team” BS:
@jimbrady It ain’t over. But don’t count on another error by Hosmer. This is a better team than those Red Sox.
— Steve Buttry (@stevebuttry) October 29, 2015
Jim dropped some nice names and I responded:
@jimbrady Clemens was better than any Royals starter. Except Cueto tonight.
— Steve Buttry (@stevebuttry) October 29, 2015
Red Sox fan Matt DeRienzo (Red Sox fans are still paying attention to baseball?), a mutual friend, weighed in:
— Matt DeRienzo (@mattderienzo) October 29, 2015
I probably should have declared victory when Jim tried to compare the Red Sox’ star right fielder to a Royals pinch-runner and fifth outfielder:
@stevebuttry And Jarrod Dyson is totally better than Dwight Evans. We may lose the series but would rather play these Royals then those Sox.
— Jim Brady (@jimbrady) October 29, 2015
But a drug being used for my stem-cell harvest woke me up in the middle of the night Wednesday. And I really wondered which team was better, the 1986 Red Sox or the 2015 Royals. Jim, Matt and I all were reacting from emotion, memory, loyalty and hope, not research. So I thought I’d see who really was better. I ended up doing way more research than I originally anticipated. And way more writing. (On another blog, I posted in the middle of the night about writing under the influence of drugs this week.)
I won’t bother with comparing the 1986 and 2015 Mets, but I welcome Jim to do that in a guest post, if he’d like. I doubt the comparison would boost his confidence. I don’t expect Jim to do a guest post (he’s a busy man and not using my drugs), so I’ll entertain offers from other Mets fans, baseball-research geeks or insomniacs who would like to do a guest post comparing the two Met teams. Update: Jim did respond on Twitter to this post. I shared some of those tweets in a follow-up post on friendly baseball arguments.
But I know a team that swept the Cubs in four games can win this World Series in six. Or seven. This is a good Mets team (reminds me a lot of last year’s Royals), and I’m not over-confident.
And if the Mets win, I’ll blame this whole post on the drugs.
Comparison by position
Position-by-position breakdowns are never the best way to compare baseball teams, but sportswriters and fans do that, so I’ll start here:
Boston’s Rich Gedman was an All-Star twice, including the 1986 season. He never won a Gold Glove. The Royals’ Salvador Pérez is 25, a year younger than Gedman was in ’86. But Pérez has already had a better career in five years (just three full-time) than Gedman had in 13 years (just three of them playing more than 100 games). Pérez has three All-Star appearances, including this year, and two Gold Gloves. And he hit better this year than Gedman in ’86 in every significant offensive category.
Big advantage for the Royals.
Jim really dropped Buckner‘s name here? (OK, I can see why a Mets fan would drop Buckner’s name a lot; it’s not like you’d want to claim Mookie Wilson drove in the winning run.) Well, Eric Hosmer did have a key error at first base in Game One, but it was on a tough hop, not an easy ground ball between the legs. And Hosmer atoned that night with the winning RBI in the 14th inning.
Buckner might have had a better career than Hosmer will. Billy Buck was a former batting champion who would retire with 2,715 hits. But Buckner never won a Gold Glove in 22 major league seasons. Hosmer should win his third this year. Red Sox fans’ continuing complaint about Game Six in ’86 is that manager John McNamara should have sent Dave Stapleton in to play defense for Buckner in the 9th inning. No one ever goes in as a defensive replacement for Hosmer. Designated hitter Kendrys Morales played only nine games at first this year.
Offensively, Hosmer had a better year in ’15 than Buckner in ’86, measured by runs, hits and batting average. They both hit 18 homers. Buckner had an edge in RBI that season, 102 to 93. But, as I noted Wednesday, Hosmer has more post-season RBI than George Brett. Hosmer drove in as many runs in the first two games of this World Series as Buckner drove in during the whole 1986 14-game post-season, four.
Clear win for the Royals at first base.
I will concede this point to Matt and Jim: The Red Sox had stronger depth at first base. Stapleton closed out all three Red Sox wins in 1986.
If you like (or can’t yet forgive) Buckner, and don’t want to wade through this analysis, scroll to the end for a couple of fun anecdotes.
Marty Barrett sizzled in the 1986 post-season, winning the ALCS MVP and getting 13 World Series hits, tying a record he still shares. He would have been the World Series MVP if Buckner had fielded that grounder. So I’ll give the Red Sox an edge here.
But Ben Zobrist is a two-time All-Star whose career has already surpassed Barrett’s (10 years each, but Zobrist is still going strong). Zobrist in ’15 and Barrett in ’86 were comparable. This is close, but I value post-season play highly, so Barrett wins.
We’ll blame Twitter’s 140-character limit for Jim’s and Matt’s failure to mention Spike Owen, who started all seven games for the Red Sox in ’86. Alcides Escobar is an All-Star this year (Owen never was in 13 seasons). Escobar was the ALCS MVP and is well on his way to being the World Series MVP. (Obligatory acknowledgment here that the Series is far from over.)
OK, Jim, I gotta give you Wade Boggs, a Hall of Famer who led the league in ’86 in batting, on-base percentage and walks, on top of getting 207 hits. (Since this is a blog that’s usually about the Yankees, I’ll add that he wasn’t a World Series champion until 1996.)
But this isn’t as big a win as Jim probably thinks. Mike Moustakas hit more homers and drove in more runs this year than Boggs in ’86 (admittedly, Boggs was a leadoff hitter). In the first two games of this Series, Moose is hitting .444 and slugging .944 with two RBI. Boggs hit .290 and slugged .371 in the ’86 Series with three RBI in seven games. Moose also is a better fielder.
I give Boggs the nod here for his career and the great season he had in ’86, and because I’d really have to be trolling Jim and Matt here to argue that Moose is better than a Hall of Famer in his prime. But I think I’d rather have Moose in my lineup in October. And I say that with fond memories of Boggs riding a horse in October.
The Red Sox have another Hall of Famer here, Jim Rice, an All-Star for the eighth and final time in ’86. He hit 20 homers, drove in 110 and hit .324. Those numbers are all better than Alex Gordon‘s numbers for this season (13, 48, .271, but he was injured and played only 110 games). Rice was 33 in 1986, at the end of his prime. Gordon is 31, just two years younger and still in the prime of a career that includes three All-Star appearances so far.
Argue for Rice if you want, Matt and Jim, but Gordon wins this. He’s a four-time Gold Glove winner. Rice never won one, and this Series is certainly showing how important defense is. As strong as Rice’s advantage in the regular season was, Gordon is better in October. Rice got a respectable nine hits in the ’86 Series, but no homers and no RBI, hitting just two slots behind Barrett, who was on base 18 times in the seven games. Gordo has three RBI already in this Series. And I’m pretty sure Jim (and all Mets fans) remember his homer:
Dave Henderson is remembered for his game-winning homer in the 1986 ALCS, and he continued his hot hitting with 10 World Series hits and two more homers. He was a good player, better in the post-season than the regular season, but he was never a great player. He made one All-Star team in his 14-year career.
Lorenzo Cain, born in 1986, made his first All-Star game this year and will probably win his first Gold Glove (Henderson never did). Cain has emerged the past couple years as a great player, especially in October. Like Henderson, he propelled his team to the World Series with a great play to win the ALCS.
Here’s an illustration of why Cain is better in ’15 than Henderson in ’86: Henderson was known for his power, not his speed. Cain is known for his speed, not his power. He stole 56 bases the past two years, more than the 50 Henderson stole in his career. But in the 1986 regular season, Henderson hit 15 homers. Cain had 16 this year.
Clear advantage for the Royals.
I’ll give the Red Sox the advantage here, but it’s closer than Jim thinks.
Dwight Evans had a solid offensive year in ’86 (26 homers, 97 RBI), but he was nearing the end of his prime at age 34. Álex Ríos is past his prime, also 34, and his prime was not as good as Evans’ (but he’s made two All-Star games, as many as Evans had in ’86; Evans made his third two years later).
But Ríos is hitting .308 this post-season, with 13 hits and three RBI in 13 games. Evans got 14 hits and three RBI in 14 post-season games in 1986.
The right field comparison is not just Evans vs. Ríos. Evans played every inning in the 1986 Series. But rookie Paulo Orlando replaces Ríos in right field regularly in the late innings, playing in nine of the Royals’ 13 post-season games. He’s added three more hits and another RBI, along with excellent fielding and base running (he’s also used as a pinch runner). So the Royals have gotten more offensive production from their right fielders this post-season than the Red Sox did in 1986.
Evans was a seven-time Gold Glove winner, so I’m not going to suggest that any Royal ever was as strong defensively in right field. But the Royals have played well in right. And I bet Orlando covers more ground.
Evans gets a
slight clear advantage here based on his full season and my respect for his career. But in October, the Red Sox didn’t outplay the Royals in right field.
Jarrod Dyson, the player Jim compared to Evans, had two at-bats as designated hitter after pinch-running Tuesday night. He has not played an inning in right field in this World Series. Update: I initially called this a “slight” advantage here, but “clear” later on when I summarized the match-ups. I changed that in this section. For more discussion of Jim’s and my debate about Evans and Ríos, see my follow-up post.
Speaking of DH, Don Baylor was one of the best ever at that role. He should be on anyone’s top-10 list of best DH’s ever, and he’s certainly on mine. (I have fond memories of watching him play for the Yankees, including two grand slams, one against the Royals.) In his 19-year career, Baylor had well more than double the career figures of Royals DH Kendrys Morales in nine years by any important measure.
But we’re talking ’86 vs. ’15, not career vs. career. Both were excellent DH’s in those years, but Morales beat Baylor in batting average (.290 to .238), on-base percentage (.362 to .344), slugging (.485 to .439), RBI (106-94), hits (165-139), doubles (41-24) and even triples (2-1). Baylor beat Morales in homers (31-22), runs (93-81) and walks (62-58). Morales was clearly the better hitter in the two seasons, and that’s about all DH’s do.
Well, not quite. They also run the bases. Baylor stole 285 bases for his career and 52 in one season when he was young. In the ’86-’15 comparison, Baylor stole three bases and Morales stole none. But Baylor was caught stealing five times and Morales never attempted a steal. Dyson or Orlando will pinch-run for Morales if he gets on base in a situation where the Royals need speed to deliver a run. The ’86 Baylor was a bigger liability than Morales on the base paths.
As clutch as Baylor was, Morales’ hitting with two outs and men on base has been amazing this year:
Kendrys Morales: 46 2-out RBI this season, most in MLB He’s hitting .331 with 7 HR and 46 RBIs with 2 outs
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 29, 2015
Here’s where the ’15 Morales blows away the ’86 Baylor: in the post-season, and that’s what this whole post is about anyway. Morales has four homers and 10 RBI this October (none in the World Series yet, and he’s just 1-for-7). Baylor had 1 homer and three RBI in the ’86 post-season.
I respect and like Baylor too much to call this a huge advantage for the Royals, but it’s a clear advantage.
I’ll introduce the World Series rotations, then I’ll compare:
- Roger Clemens, 23 that season, was younger than any of the Royal starters this year. And better. He was the MVP with the best season of his career and one of the best ever by any pitcher. The big numbers: 24-4, 2.48 (both leading the league), 238 strikeouts. The Royals have never had a pitching season that good, even Bret Saberhagen‘s Cy Young seasons. I don’t think any current Royal pitcher will ever match Clemens’ ’86 season. And, of course, he had one of the best pitching careers in history (not going to detour into the performance-enhancing drugs here). More on Clemens later.
- Bruce Hurst, 28, was a good pitcher for the season (13-8, 2.99, 167) and for his career (145-113, 3.92, 1,689). He was an All-Star in 1987 and finished fifth in the 1988 Cy Young voting. And he was on a roll in the ’86 post-season, going 3-0 in five starts, including 2-0 in three starts against the Mets, Games One, Five and Seven. If he hadn’t blown a 3-0 lead in Game Seven, he could have beaten out Barrett as the Series MVP. (More on Game Seven later, too.)
- Oil Can Boyd (given name Dennis) had perhaps his best season in ’86 (16-10, 3.78, 129). But he had a mediocre 10-year career (78-77, 4.04, 799). He started Game Three and gave up six of the runs in a 7-1 loss. In the tweet early in this post, Matt remembered Oil Can fondly, and I do, too. But Matt will not recall that tweet fondly after reading this post. (Don’t delete it, Matt; I already screen-grabbed.)
- Al Nipper, 27, Boston’s Game Four starter in ’86, didn’t have either as good a nickname or as good a career as Oil Can. He was 10-12, posting a losing record for a team that finished 29 games over .500. I checked to see if some sort of injury forced the Red Sox to pitch him in the World Series, but he got 26 starts during the season, one more than Hurst. He was the No. 4 starter. He just sucked, with a 5.38 ERA. He had a seven-year career, with a 46-50 record and a 4.52 ERA.
OK, let’s look at the Royals’ starting rotation. Of course, career numbers are all works in progress.
- Edinson Vólquez, 32, the Royals’ Game One starter, was 13-9 this year, with a 3.55 ERA and 155 strikeouts. In an 11-year career, he’s been an All-Star once and is 79-68, 4.29, 1,090. He left Game One after six strong innings, tied 3-3. I addressed the ethics of media reports announcing the death of Vólquez’s father in a post on my journalism blog, The Buttry Diary.
- Johnny Cueto, born in 1986, was an All-Star and 20-game winner last year, finishing second to Clayton Kershaw in the Cy Young vote. He won 19 games and finished fourth in 2012 (losing to R.A. Dickey, who amazingly isn’t part of the Mets’ powerful rotation three years later). Cueto was 11-13 this year (4-7 after the Royals got him from the Reds in a trade). As in the regular season, Cueto has been inconsistent in October. In Game Two against the Astros, Cueto settled down after a rocky start and left the game tied 4-4 after six innings. A run in the seventh inning delivered the win for the Royals. Cueto retired his final 19 batters in eliminating the Astros from the Division Series, 7-2. Then he gave up eight runs without getting an out in the third inning against the Blue Jays in Game Four of the ALCS. Then he pitched a two-hitter Wednesday night, the first World Series complete game by an American Leaguer since Jack Morris in 1991.
- Yordano Ventura, 24, scheduled to start Game Three tonight, has 27 wins in his first two seasons as a Royal, going 13-8, 4.08 and 156 this year. He gave up only three hits in seven shutout innings last year as a rookie in Game Six to tie the World Series. He hasn’t won yet this post-season. He lost Game One to the Astros in the Division Series and would have lost Game Four, but a late-inning comeback bailed him out. He gave up six runs in two starts against the Blue Jays, but got no decisions. The Royals won both games.
- Chris Young, 36, who won Game One Tuesday after taking over in the 12th inning, is still scheduled to start Game Four Saturday in New York. He had one of his best seasons this year. Young has battled various injuries in 11 seasons for five teams, including the Mets (for whom he was only 5-9 in two seasons). He’s been good when he could pitch, 76-58 for his career. He was an All-Star for the Padres in 2007, but this year was only his fourth season with double-digit wins. He was 11-6, 3.08, with 83 strikeouts in 18 starts and 16 relief appearance this year, his first season as a Royal and his only year with much bullpen work. He pitched well against the Astros in relief and in a start against the Blue Jays, with no decisions or saves.
Barring developments such as extra innings and injuries, I’d expect Vólquez, Cueto and Ventura to pitch Games 5-7 if needed. (Vólquez is expected to be return from his father’s funeral in time for Game Five.)
So here’s how the pitching rotations compare:
- No one on the Royals matches or even approaches Clemens, either for career or for the regular season leading up to the World Series.
- No one on the Royals was as bad a pitcher for the season or career as Nipper. I’m usually dismissive of WAR as a valuable stat, but I’ll use it here: Nipper’s ’86 WAR was -0.9 in ’86. The Red Sox’ Game Four starter wasn’t even a replacement-level pitcher (that’s the R in replacement). Young’s WAR this year was 2.5.
- No Red Sox pitcher other than Clemens had Cueto’s potential to dominate a game. You can’t count on that domination, but he’s already delivered magnificently once in this Series, plus a deciding game earlier in the post-season.
- Hurst’s and Boyd’s ’86 seasons were pretty similar to Vólquez’s and Ventura’s ’15 performances.
- It’s too early to say whether a Royal will match Hurst’s two-win performance. But Young and Cueto certainly could.
- The Red Sox had no one comparable to Young, either in mixing starting and relief during the regular season or in starting after a relief appearance in the World Series. He’s a far better pitcher than Nipper, and I’d take him over Boyd.
- Speaking of Boyd: The Mets torched him for four runs in Game Three of the ’86 World Series, starting their comeback. McNamara stuck with him and he pitched five scoreless innings before giving up two more runs. The Mets won 7-1 and dominated the Series from there. Boyd is the reason that Jim has confidence in this year’s Mets, but I can’t fathom why Matt would cite him positively in a comparison with this year’s Royals. Usually your Game Three starter pitches in Game Seven. But a rain delay between Games Six and Seven allowed McNamara to pitch Hurst, his hot starter, on three days’ rest in Game Seven. Matt, you don’t win an argument by citing a guy your manager didn’t trust to pitch Game Seven. Whatever happens to Ventura Friday, Yost will have confidence in him for Game Seven. Boyd was 26 in 1986. And he never pitched as well again. Few things are as unpredictable in sports as the futures of young pitchers. By the time “Bull Durham” was released just two years later, it was already laughable for Nuke LaLoosh to call Oil Can one of the “great ones.”
- Matt’s proud memory of Hurst also overlooks or forgets Game Seven. As heart-breaking as Game Six was for Red Sox fans, Boston staked Hurst to a 3-0 lead in the second inning. They were back in control of the Series. Hurst had a lead and an opportunity to become the 13th pitcher to win three games in a single World Series. After five shutout innings, the Mets tied the game against Hurst. That’s not an embarrassment or a bad game. He left the game in the same circumstance as Vólquez did Tuesday. One guy’s teammates won the game after he left, the other guy’s teammates lost it.
- Finally, while recognizing Clemens’ greatness (the flaws, we think came later), he wasn’t as special in October. He was 12-8 for his career in the post-season: a good record, but not dominant. He did leave Game Six in ’86 as the apparent winner, leading 3-2 after seven innings. Playing in the National League park, McNamara pinch-hit for Clemens in the top of the eighth inning.
- Clemens wins almost any comparison to the current Royals, but not this one: Cueto pitched a complete-game two-hitter in the World Series, just a shade better than a couple of Clemens gems for the Yankees. But better.
Summing up the matchup of starting pitchers, Clemens is a clear winner at the top of the rotation and Young is the clear winner in the four slot. At the second and third spots, both Royals are at least as good as Hurst and better than Boyd. I think starting pitching is probably a push, but I’ll be generous and give the Red Sox a microscopic edge based on Clemens.
One interesting fact about the 1986 Red Sox pitching staff: I haven’t mentioned Boston’s only starter that year who’s in the Hall of Fame: the Mets’ all-time best pitcher, Tom Seaver. Like many great players, Seaver tried to wring every last drop from his career. He started the season 2-6 for the White Sox, then was traded June 29 to the Red Sox for Steve Lyons. (More on Lyons later.)
He finished the season and his career 5-7 for the Red Sox, but an injury kept him from pitching in the post-season.
I was at Carl Yastrzemski‘s Hall of Fame induction ceremony (will have to blog about that someday) in 1989, three years after the ’86 World Series. The lawn outside the museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., a short drive from New England, was packed with Red Sox fans. Yaz gave a gracious speech, thanking his many coaches, managers and teammates he had played with. When he mentioned Bob Stanley‘s name, boos rippled through the crowd. Stanley’s wild pitch allowed Kevin Mitchell to score the tying run in Game Six in ’86 and moved Ray Knight into scoring position for the Buckner error.
Stanley had a respectable 13-year career for Boston, saving 132 regular-season games and Game Two in ’86. He deserved better from the Cooperstown crowd.
Calvin Schiraldi (who was a Met the previous year) had a worse World Series out of the bullpen for the Red Sox in ’86, getting the losses in the final two games (Yaz, who retired in 1983, didn’t drop Schiraldi’s name at Cooperstown). He gave up the tying run in the eighth to squander Clemens’ lead. For some reason, McNamara left him in not only to start the 10th inning with a 5-3 lead, but didn’t bring in Stanley until Schiraldi had given up a run and put the tying and winning runs on base on consecutive one-out singles.
Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera the past two years have been better than Schiraldi and Stanley ever were. And the Royals have better bullpen depth, too. This may be the best bullpen ever (and I’m literally writing those words wearing my Mariano Rivera jersey). Davis had a 1.00 ERA last year for the whole season, then improved it this year to 0.94. His career post-season ERA in 29 innings and 21 games is even better, 0.92. And his career World Series ERA in six innings over five games is 0.00. Herrera’s post-season ERA in 25 innings over 20 games is 1.44.
And the Royals have great bullpen depth, too, even after the injury to last year’s closer, Greg Holland, moved Davis from his eighth-inning role to closer.
The bullpen mismatch between the ’86 Red Sox and ’15 Royals was colossal, not just in the gap in quality, but in the importance to the Series (even though this Series is just two games old and one of them was a complete game).
I didn’t examine the game box scores in any detail, but on a quick glance at the ’86 Series summary, I don’t see any bench use by McNamara, except using Stapleton and pinch hitting for Owen and pitchers in the National League park (Mike Greenwell was 0-for-3 in four plate appearances, Stapleton and Tony Armas both 0-for-1). Ed Romero, Owen’s backup, played in three games, going 0-for-1. So the only positive contribution from the Red Sox bench in ’86 was from Stapleton. And he was on the bench when it counted most. Armas was on the decline and Greenwell hadn’t played enough yet to qualify ’86 as his rookie season.
The Royals’ bench, on the other hand, is always in play. Orlando singled and moved to third in the 12th inning. Even though he was stranded, delaying the victory a couple of innings, Orlando had more offensive impact in that one game than the Red Sox’ bench in the whole ’86 series. Orlando scored two runs against Toronto and hit six triples and seven homers as a role player this season.
Dyson pinch-ran for Morales in Game One, but was stranded. He stayed in the game as DH and lined out to deep right-center in the 11th and flew out again in the 12th. He’s a dangerous pinch-runner: He averaged more than 30 steals the past four seasons without ever playing more than 120 games.
Orlando and Dyson surpass anyone the Red Sox had on their bench in ’86. I expect both to contribute to victories.
I think Royal Manager Ned Yost bunts too much and should have challenged the bad call at first base Wednesday night. (Replays showed Hosmer’s foot returning to first base before the runner arrived, and that play allowed the only Met run to score.) I’m not sure about Yost’s heavy use of defensive shifts. They clearly hurt Tuesday, but helped Wednesday.
But somehow Yost is a hell of a manager. He handles the pitching staff, the lineup and substitutions artfully. And his teams execute masterfully.
Yost is not remembered fondly in Milwaukee, where he had a losing record in six seasons. And he still doesn’t have a winning regular-season record for the Royals (468-469 in six seasons). But the last two seasons, especially in October, Yost has made the right moves. Or he makes the wrong moves work.
— George Stanley (@geostanley) October 29, 2015
Just one example of Yost’s effective use of his pitching staff: Cueto is 5-1 at Kaufman Stadium, including the stellar post-season wins, since joining the Royals. So Yost pitched him in Game Two, meaning he won’t pitch on the road this Series. The first part of that worked spectacularly, and I like his chances at home in Game Six.
And Yost is just magical in his management of the bullpen.
My memories of details of McNamara’s managing in ’86 are less clear. McNamara was manager of the year, but I think Yost will probably win the award this year, so I don’t see an advantage there. Yost has led his team to two World Series in 12 years managing, and 1986 was the only time for McNamara. Like Yost, McNamara had a losing record as a manager (1,160-1,233).
The rain delay helped McNamara avoid using Oil Can a second time, but I don’t think he managed his pitching staff as well, especially the bullpen. And I’m pretty sure Royals fans won’t be cursing any Yost moves 29 years later, the way Red Sox fans respond if you ask why he didn’t send Stapleton in to close out Game Six at first base.
Here’s the breakdown:
- Absolute ass-kicking: Royals in the bullpen and shortstop
- Clear advantage: Royals at catcher, first base, center field, DH, bench and manager; Red Sox at second base, third base, right field.
- Slim advantage: Royals in left field; Red Sox at starting rotation
That’s nine advantages for the Royals, four for the Red Sox. And the Royals’ advantages are bigger.
If you can remember a few hours ago when you started reading this, I admitted that position-by-position was not necessarily the best way to measure teams against each other. It’s not like basketball, with the shortstop pitching to the shortstop or anything like that. So here are some other ways to measure these teams (somewhat shorter, I promise):
Both managers used set lineups, but the switching between league rules resulted in some changes so let’s compare AL lineups, then look at the pitchers:
- Boggs vs. Escobar. Esky led off the Series with an inside-the-park homer and has a triple, single three runs and three RBI in the first two games. He’s already matched Boggs’ run and RBI totals for the ’86 Series and, if the Series goes long enough, Escobar looks likely to beat Boggs’ nine hits (which included three doubles). Based on actual hitting in the Series, Escobar’s almost certain to win this on hitting and he’s much more dangerous once he gets on base. But Boggs, one of the most disciplined hitters in baseball history and certainly one of the top five leadoff hitters, did walk four times in the Series. Escobar walked 26 times all year, just once in the post-season. I think Escobar will end up with a better Series than Boggs. But for now, the Hall of Famer barely gets the edge here.
- The second basemen both batted second, so Barrett beats Zobrist again.
- Buckner hit .188 in the ’86 Series. Clear advantage for Cain.
- Hosmer has four RBI already, including a game-winner. Rice didn’t drive in a run in the ’86 Series. Clear advantage for the Royals. Actually a huge advantage in the Series, but I knocked it down a notch out of respect for the better regular season and Hall of Fame career.
- DH vs. DH. Morales already beat Baylor slightly.
- I love Moose, and he might end up having a better Series. But Evans hit .308 with two homers and nine RBI in the ’86 Series. And he had a better regular season. Clear advantage for Boston.
- Gordon matched Gedman’s ’86 World Series totals for runs, homers and run production (1) in the ninth inning of Game One. Royals in a landslide.
- Henderson had a good ’86 World Series, but Pérez had a better regular season and is off to a good World Series start. Slight advantage for the Royals.
- Spike Owen (and pinch-hitters) vs. Ríos. Clear advantage for the Royals.
- Pitchers and pinch-hitters. As noted, the Red Sox pinch hitters went hitless (including one New York at-bat by Baylor, whom I didn’t mention in the bench analysis). The Red Sox pitchers also were hitless. The Royals can’t do worse, and they have good pinch hitters. And you can count on seeing Morales more than once in three New York games. (That Baylor pinch-hit just once in four New York games adds to the Yost advantage over McNamara.) Clear advantage for the Royals.
The lineup breakdown:
- Royals: Huge advantage at 7. Clear advantages at 3, 4, 9 and pitcher. Slight advantage at 8
- Red Sox: Clear advantage at 2. Slight advantages at 1 and 5.
Again, the Royals had more and bigger advantages. They hold their own at the top of the order and dominate 6-9.
The Royals ran away with their division, winning by 12 games with a 95-67 record. The Red Sox must have had a rainout they didn’t make up. They were 95-66, 5 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees. Dead even here.
This Royals’ advantage is almost as big as the bullpen blowout. Cain’s dash home from first on a single won the ALCS clincher over Toronto. Escobar’s inside-the-park homer started off the Royals’ World Series.
Fun speed fact No. 1: Both teams were caught stealing 34 times in the regular seasons we’re examining. The Royals stole 104 bases and the Red Sox just 41. Was Boston the worst base-stealing team ever to make a World Series?
Fun speed fact No. 2: The Royals legged out 42 triples in the regular season, twice as many as the Red Sox.
Fun speed fact No. 3: The Red Sox didn’t attempt a stolen base in the entire 1986 World Series (McNamara gets a little credit there for not sending them). The Royals have stolen four bases this post-season and been caught twice.
Team batting and pitching stats
The Red Sox scored 794 runs, hit 144 homers, batted .271, slugged .415, with a .346 on-base percentage. Those numbers were all better than the Royals (724, 139, .269, .412 .322).
Both teams’ pitchers actually gave up more homers (169 for Boston, 155 for KC) than their hitters slugged. Boston pitchers gave up 696 runs. Their team ERA was 3.93 and they struck out 1,033 batters. The Royals were better across the board: 641 runs, 3.73 ERA, 1,160 K’s.
Clearly the home ballparks account for the differences in both sets of stats.
The Buckner play aside, I don’t recall the Red Sox being bad at defense. But they had no Gold Glove winners in 1986. Two players on their team did combine for 10 career Gold Gloves:
- Evans won eight Gold Gloves, but he won his last one in ’85.
- I had forgotten that Wade Boggs won two Gold Gloves late in his career with the Yankees. That surprised me. He was a good fielder, staying at third base his whole career. His 107 games at DH were scattered over 12 seasons. But he wasn’t a great fielder.
And that’s all the Gold Gloves that the members of the 1986 Red Sox will ever win. The Royals, of course, are still playing, most of them quite young. And they already have three Gold Glove winners and eight total fielding trophies. If only two of the six contenders win this year, they will already match the career Gold Glove total of the ’86 Red Sox.:
- Gordon, 31, has four Gold Gloves. If he doesn’t win his fifth this year, it will because of his time on the disabled list, not because his defense is declining.
- Pérez, 25, already has two Gold Gloves and is a lock to win his third this year.
- Hosmer, 26, has two and appears sure to get his third, too.
- Escobar, 28, is a Gold Glove contender.
- Cain, 29, got the attention and reputation that help win Gold Gloves with his sensational defense in the 2015 post-season.
- Moutakas, 27, has been outstanding defensively in the post-season and also a contender for his first Gold Glove.
At six positions, the Royals have Gold Glove winners or contenders who could break through this year and win for several years to come. I don’t think all six would win. But I expect four and wouldn’t be surprised by more.
Right field and second base are strong, too, even though those players won’t contend for Gold Gloves. I wonder where the Royals stack up among the best defensive teams ever. I won’t do the research on that, but defense is another blowout for the ’15 Royals.
Context of their times
The Red Sox made the World Series in 1986 for the first time in 11 years. And they wouldn’t play in another for 18 more years. The Red Sox finished fifth in a seven-team division the years before and after their World Series run. As teams on a roll go, the Red Sox were no better than the 10th-best championship team of the 1980s. They reached one World Series that decade and lost it. These teams of the ’80s played in more World Series than the Red Sox and won at least one (counting appearances in the late ’70s or early ’90s if a team made a World Series in the ’80s):
- The Twins won World Series in ’87 and ’91.
- The Dodgers won World Series in ’81 and ’88.
- The A’s won the ’89 World Series and lost in ’88 and ’90.
- The Cardinals won the ’82 World Series and lost in ’85 and ’87.
- The Royals won the ’85 World Series and lost in ’80.
- The Phillies won in ’82 and lost in ’83.
- The Orioles won in ’83 and lost in ’79.
Two teams won their only World Series appearances of the ’80s:
- The Mets, of course, in ’86.
- The Tigers in ’84.
As you might expect of a Yankee fan, I value championships highly. But I could entertain an argument that a Red Sox team that lost in seven games was more formidable than a one-time World Series winner if the loser had several other division titles and near misses.
But the Red Sox don’t prevail over either of these teams on that basis either. They won their division in ’88, too, and, since I counted 1990 for the A’s and ’91 for the Twins, let’s give the Red Sox ’90, too. But they were swept both years.
The Mets returned to the playoffs in 1988 as well, losing a seven-game series to the Dodgers. The Mets won 11 post-season games in the ’80s (four over the Red Sox, of course).
The Red Sox also don’t stack up to the Tigers of the ’80s. The playoffs were only best-of-five in 1984, so the Tigers didn’t have a chance to win as many games in their division-title years as the Red Sox did in their three post-season appearances.
But the Tigers swept the Royals in three games in 1984, then blew out the Padres in five in the World Series. Detroit won only one game against the Twins in the 1987 ALCS. But their 1980s post-season record was 8-5. The Red Sox post-season record in the ’80s was 7-13.
The Red Sox did have a better decade, I think, than the other four teams that lost their only World Series appearances of the ’80s: ’81 Yankees, ’82 Brewers, ’84 Padres and ’89 Giants.
Of course, we can’t do a full-decade analysis of the Royals, and counting records of early rounds of playoffs would be fair against other teams of this decade, but not against the ’86 Red Sox.
The Royals are not (yet) the best team of this decade. They certainly have not passed the Giants (three-time winners and likely the team of the decade) and Cardinals, who won a World Series and lost one. But Kansas City is closing fast on St. Louis: The Cardinals have been in 58 post-season games this decade and won 30, but the Royals have a much higher winning percentage, with a 20-8 record.
If the Royals win this World Series, they clearly move ahead of the Red Sox, who won in 2013 but haven’t played in another Series this decade, and the Rangers, who lost two World Series.
With a World Series win, the Royals are the third-best team of this unfolding decade and gaining on the Cardinals. With a loss, they’d be no worse than fourth.
Here are ways the Royals of this decade have already blown past the Red Sox of the ’80s (leaving out the extra early rounds of playoffs), with four years of the decade remaining:
- They’ve made it to a second World Series.
- They have a 13-6 record in World Series and LCS play, both more wins than Boston in the ’80s and a far better winning percentage.
- They didn’t blow a World Series that they were in position to win. When they lost, they fought back to win Game Six and fell just 90 feet short of tying Game Seven.
In the context of their times, the Royals are already ahead, with plenty of time to pull away this week and beyond.
Both franchises built their World Series teams similarly, developing a core of homegrown talent from their farm systems, adding key free agents and making shrewd trades in the off-season and during their championship runs (Henderson, Zobrist and Cueto all joined their teams mid-season in their World Series years).
Admission to my sons: I was wrong about Zobrist. I minimized this trade as not being that big a deal at the time, when General Manager Dayton Moore traded for Zobrist in July. He’s been valuable down the stretch and in the post-season. Moore’s personnel moves created the wonderfully balanced team I’ve described at such length here.
But here’s the biggest organizational difference: The only two Latino players who played for the Red Sox in the ’86 World Series, Romero and Armas, came up with other teams. I don’t know why the Red Sox weren’t developing major league talent from Latin America in the ’80s (if you do, please fill me in). Even the Latino superstars of recent Boston history, Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz, started with other teams.
Key players on this Royals team came through scouting, signing and developing players from the Caribbean and South America: Pérez from Venezuela, Ventura and Herrera from the Dominican Republic and Orlando from Brazil. I’d be surprised if the Royals’ diversity wasn’t also attractive to the Latino free agents they’ve signed: Vólquez from the Dominican Republic, Morales from Cuba, Ríos from Cuba, Omar Infante (who hit a big homer in last year’s World Series) and reliever Franklin Morales from Venezuela. Escobar, also from Venezuela, came to Kansas City from Milwaukee in a 2010 trade for Cy Young winner Zach Greinke.
That diversity from so many sources might be a factor as well (along with money) in whether the Royals can sign Cueto, a Domincan free agent.
Both the ’85 Royals and ’86 Mets fell behind 2-0 at home. They faced the tough task of going on the road and winning two games just to stay alive. But they also got to close out the Series at home. The ’15 Mets have more remaining games at home than those teams, which is an advantage of sorts. But I’m not sure that it’s a bigger advantage than being up 2-0 and knowing that if you stumble on the road, you’re coming home with a chance to close.
Hall of Famers
Well, the Red Sox win this one. Boggs and Rice are already in Cooperstown. If voters ever forgive players suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs, Clemens will join them. Evans might be attractive to a Veterans Committee someday.
The Royals, of course, won’t have anyone eligible for the Hall of Fame for years, so we can only speculate. Gordon at 31 and Cueto at 29 have strong starts to their careers, nine and eight years in. I think Cueto has a better shot than Gordon, but both have to have more good years ahead of them than they’ve already played. Neither is halfway to Cooperstown, and I doubt either will make it.
Cain blossomed too late to have a shot at the Hall of Fame.
At first glance, you might think that Davis, 30, moved from promising starter to dominant reliever too late in his career to make it to Cooperstown. Dennis Eckersley was a better starter than Davis and for longer. But Eck’s in the Hall of Fame for his relief work. And Davis is two years younger than Eck was when he moved to the bullpen.
Pérez, Escobar, Hosmer, Moustakas and Herrera are all 28 or younger, with strong and promising starts to their careers. It’s too early to predict how their careers will unfold. I’d guess Pérez and Hosmer have the best shots at Cooperstown.
I’m confident one of these Royals will make it. I predict that two will, and more wouldn’t surprise me.
I remember in 1998, when the Yankees won 114 games and spurred best-ever talk, sport broadcasters and writers marveled that they were doing it without any certain Hall of Famers in their prime. Less than 20 years later, everyone knows what I was saying then: Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera were certain Hall of Famers beginning their primes. We could look back on some of these Royals the same way.
All we can say about Hall of Famers on these Royals is that they are two behind the ’86 Red Sox, with potential to close that gap.
What have I missed?
Every way I can think to measure this, except people already in the Hall of Fame, the 2015 Royals are equal or superior to the 1986 Red Sox. Tell me, Jim and Matt (or any other Mets or Red Sox fans), where am I wrong? Can you make a better case for the Red Sox than those late-night tweets?
Steve Fehr: How can you compare?
I told Steve Fehr, a Royal fan and former colleague who prompted my post about Don Denkinger’s bad call, that I was working on this post. He had seen my Twitter exchange with Jim and emailed me about how incomparable the ’15 Royals are:
The Royals are so different from any team we’ve seen recently that comparisons are silly in the first place. Who do you compare them to? I can’t think of a team quite like this, even the 1976-85 Royals who were similar in tailoring their game to their stadium. If we win this, there will be a lot of articles to that effect: the most unusual (and lovable) champion of recent times (who on Mets is as lovable as Sal Perez, America’s Catcher?).
’86 Red Sox footnotes
If you’re a Red Sox fan (or even a Met fan) who has endured to the end of this post, I must reward you with a few fun nuggets, a couple on the man you remember most from the ’86 Series and one from a guy who left Boston during the ’86 season (in the Seaver trade, as you may recall from many words ago).
Bill Buckner 1
My brother Dan was a pastor in Boston in 1986. He planned his sermon and Scripture earlier in the week and settled in Saturday evening to watch Game Six. Dan vividly recalls the next morning:
The entire congregation was the most depressed congregation I’ve ever seen (and remember, Game Seven was to be played later that day, but everyone knew it was over) — everything was flat.
Dan sat and listened as the worship leader and congregation read responsively from Psalm 19. No one noticed this passage but Dan:
Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.
Sometimes pastor has to lead a congregation in healing. Dan continues:
I got up immediately after and said with great intensity and passion, ‘The Word of God has spoken to my heart today: “O Lord, who can understand his errors!”‘ Everyone laughed a cathartic laugh, and after that we could have church!
I don’t think the healing started by that laughter was finished until 2004, but this is (usually) a Yankee blog, so enough about that.
The bad knees that hindered Buckner in the field in ’86 didn’t force him into retirement because he could still hit. He played part-time for the Royals in 1989 and ’89, mostly at DH but also at first. After a double in 1988, Manager John Wathan sent Jamie Quirk, a backup catcher who stole one base in six attempts that year, in to pinch-run for Buckner. The fiercely competitive Buckner threw up his hands in disbelief when he saw who was running for him and later told reporters it was “the most embarrassing moment of my career.”
The item, of course, made the Boston newspapers. I thought the headline I remembered was the Herald-American, but the only online mention I could find of the story says it was the Globe; if you have it, I’d love to add a visual and clarify the newspaper. Bonus points if you know the copy editor’s name. Home run if you were the copy editor. But this was the headline:
We Can Think Of Another
Lyons is kind of a goofball who spent a few years doing those annoying in-game interviews from the stands for Fox Sports. In the only such interview that I can recall enjoying, he interviewed Bucky Dent during one of those Yankees-Red Sox games of the late ’90s or early 2000s and asked something like: “I’m sure a lot of Red Sox fans don’t know your actual middle name. What is it?”
Bucky deadpanned: “Earl.”
Source note: Statistics in this post come from Baseball-Reference.com.