Deep Thought: Are the Royals “good?”

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OK, that is a bit of a misleading headline. I am not going to sit here and argue that point. But given how the Royals are doing, given that they could have several days off before the World Series starts should they make it and given that, if they win the whole dang thing, the entire offseason is going to be spent talking about the Royals, I’d like to examine how that conversation is going to go. And to acknowledge how tedious that conversation will be.

So, let’s assume for the moment that the Royals win the World Series. Can you see a situation where this argument does not occur?

Pundit One: The Royals are the champs! They dominated in the playoffs! They developed a formula for our low-offense times and we all underestimated their genius! [Team X, which did not do so well in 2014] needs to do what the Royals did, defense and small-ball are the new “Moneyball,” etc., etc.

Pundit Two: The Royals aren’t good. They just got hot at the right time. The playoffs are a crapshoot. They could’ve lost many, many of the playoff games they won if the ball had not bounced in their direction. God, shut up about the Royals!

And it really won’t be an argument as much as it is people talking past one another. And maybe the most frustrating thing about it is that both of these imaginary and only slightly-exaggerated pundits will be speaking a good bit of truth.

There is something anomalous about a team that wasn’t really great in the regular season doing so well in the playoffs. Not shockingly anomalous — it happens — but something that is at least mildly unusual. As we discussed yesterday, trying to assign meaning to that sort of thing is often a bad idea, so to the extent people try to draw larger lessons out of what the Royals have done here and assign to greatness what is really a function of weighted chance, they should probably tread carefully. At least insofar as those lessons are things other than “it’s a good idea to get great defensive players and have 3-4 otherworldly shutdown relievers.” Because that’s always a FANTASTIC idea, even if I am dubious that that is the lesson many will draw from the Royals success.

At the same time, if the Royals do win it all — heck, even if they just almost do — focusing on the teams’ faults and flaws in a way that delegitimizes their success, however inadvertently, seems petty, mean-spirited and even a bit hypocritical. I mean, you are correct to note that the playoffs can be a crapshoot, but if you acknowledge that it is a crapshoot, what possible point is there in trying to convince people that an 89-win Ned Yost-managed team is not “good?” That’s sort of beside the point, isn’t it? And it rather pisses on a lot of people who are enjoying the heck out of all of this.

I guess I just hope that a Kansas City Royals World Series victory, should it happen, does not become yet another tired, binary argument about team quality and philosophy. That such a victory would be celebrated at face value as an exciting yet improbable event and a wonderful story for the fans and the city yet not simultaneously be used to overreach to unsupportable conclusions (“Ned Yost: hidden genius!”) nor dismissed as some failure of the Grand Meritocracy or something so damn anomalous that the Royals are considered something other than World Series Champs.

I’d like to think we can live in that weird, middle world where we react to what happens rather than use it as proof, one way or another, of some philosophy. It so rarely happens in sports, of course, but I at least hope that occurs.