The champagne barely had time to dry from the walls and floor of the Citi Field visitor's clubhouse before people began proclaiming the Kansas City Royals as World Series champions of the "old-school" - proof that you nerds with your spreadsheets don't know how to win baseball games (we'll leave aside the fact that Bill James has three World Series rings).
The Royals made it to the World Series the last two years, leaving a portion of the saber community scratching their collective heads. I know that I certainly underestimated the team and I was not alone. After making the World Series in 2014 and winning the World Series in 2015 despite being hated by the projection systems, the Royals are once again hated by the projection systems going into 2016. Yes, they lost talented rentals Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist, but is that loss enough to propel the Royals from the World Series champion to the cellar of the American League Central? Probably not and General Manager Dayton Moore and the Royals again will get the last laugh!
The Royals are a square peg of a team that doesn't quite fit into the round hole that is the rest of Major League Baseball. They've been able to parlay low-end and middling payrolls into what is becoming the dominant team of the mid-2010s by exploiting market inefficiencies ignored by other teams. The Kansas City Royals, the team lauded by Lee Judge of the the Kansas City Star as the "anti-Moneyball team", are really the "most Moneyball" team in MLB today.
Of course there is a difference between Moneyball and sabermetric principles, but in much mainstream analysis of the game, such as the linked column above by Lee Judge, there is a tendency to link the two together. It is an understandable error as the original Moneyball Athletics teams as chronicled in Michael Lewis' book built themselves on such radical sabermetric ideas as "on-base percentage is a better stat than batting average" and "don't give away outs".
Moneyball at its core was not about building a team based on sabermetrics. It was about fielding the best possible team for the least amount of money by finding ways to take advantage of characteristics and stats often ignored by one's competition, stats such as OBP and concepts such as speed on the bases being expensive.
Sabermetrics truly revolutionized front offices and infiltrated its way into all 30 MLB teams. Even teams that boldly proclaim being anti-saber have people dedicated to advanced statistical analysis, the Royals included.
With strikeouts on the rise owing to a myriad of factors including better, more specialized pitching and more hitters taking a passive approach at the plate, Moore assembled a team of players who aggressively attack and rarely strike out. The Royals struck out in 15.3 percent of their plate appearances in 2015, over 21 percent less than the MLB average K-rate. In the course of the season, we can estimate that afforded the Royals an additional 81 hits that would've been strikeouts if they whiffed at a league-average rate.
Additionally, they're not really a team that completely forsakes OBP for batting average, sacrifice bunts, and #TWTW. Six regulars from the World Series championship team had OBPs over .348 during the regular season, and those who weren't were either strong defenders (Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar) or replaced (Ben Zobrist for Omar Infante). But hey, even the 2002 A's had Terrence Long.
Moore's approach toward building a viable offense worked brilliantly as they bled a formidable Mets pitching staff dry with a million paper cuts en route to their first championship in 30 years.
The Royals embodying modern 'Moneyball' doesn't end with the offensive approach but extends to their pitching staff as well. KC didn't get many quality innings from their starting rotation, but they didn't particularly need to considering the strength of their bullpen. The Royals relief corps was constructed in such a way that all the team needed to do was hold a lead after six innings and the game was over. In 2015, they went an incredible 84-14 when they were ahead or tied after six innings. At one point they had a streak of 111 consecutive wins when leading after seven. The elite combination of Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, the second coming of Ryan Madson, et. al. was just too much.
By building a super-pen, Moore was ahead of the times and gave his team a distinct advantage. Now teams like the New York Yankees are following suit and trying to build super-pens of their own to compete with the Royals. Once teams catch up to speed with the Royals, their competitive advantage will be gone and they'll have to try to find the next concept to exploit. Billy Beane has seen mixed results doing that in Oakland. Dayton Moore will have to be better in Kansas City.
Joe Vasile is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and is the Broadcasting and Media Relations assistant for the Salem Red Sox, the High-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Follow him on Twitter at: @JoeVasilePBP.