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At the same time, the team's willingness to break Beane's rules and disregard statistics has paid dividends in several cases.
Despite Jose Lima's atrocious numbers in recent years, the Royals sent scouts to assess his work in an independent league. What they saw was encouraging. "His velocity was back," Wong says. "Last year, there wasn't much separation between his fastball and his change-up, but this year he's throwing in the upper 80s, which makes his change-up devastating. And he had dominating stats." Lima has been just as forceful in the majors, going 4-0 with a 3.06 ERA.
And Greinke, the Royals' high school pick, has been even more impressive in the minors, with a 1.17 ERA. Jazayerli calls him "the Royals' best pitching prospect in the past twenty years."
Despite all of this, there's still a national perception of the Royals as clueless bumblers, easy prey for Beane and his ilk. In a Sports Illustrated article about Moneyball, Daniel J. Habib writes, "Getting value, though, requires matching Beane's skills; GMs such as the Royals' Allard Baird, who in separate deals handed Beane Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye in return for second-tier players, are still apt to get snookered." This despite the fact that slugging shortstop Angel Berroa is hitting .286 while Damon, for whom he was acquired, is hitting .262 with less power. Dye, meanwhile, is mired at .160.
"We're a small-market town, and we haven't had success in the recent past, so we get overlooked," Wong says. "Once success starts happening, we'll get a lot more credit. Winning cures everything."
Winning even won back Bill James. Late last year, James became so perplexed by some of the Royals' roster moves, particularly the team's decision to keep high-priced, weak-hitting catcher Brent Mayne, that he told Kansas City Star columnist Joe Posnanski he'd given up on the team.
Though he says he still gets depressed every time he sees Mayne in the lineup, James finds much to like on the current Royals roster. And he has never criticized the team's inexplicable failure to tender him a front-office spot, mostly because he never approached the team to offer his services and doesn't expect to be pursued. The bulk of his time is devoted to the Red Sox now, but he'll occasionally slip and say "our" when discussing the Royals' pitching staff.
Monday, June 30, Royals vs. Indians with Isaac and Andrew Miller," James writes in a fresh green notebook when he settles into his seat.
Isaac is his older son, a lanky fifteen-year-old who plays first and third base for a summer-league team in Lawrence. He's a last-minute addition to the lineup, having asked to attend just hours earlier. "I couldn't come up with a good reason to say no," James says.
Isaac shares James' inexhaustible interest in new approaches (he suggests a radically revamped version of the game that makes the catcher's position running-intensive), but he has not yet developed a withering sense of sarcasm to rival his father's. ("That might be your dumbest idea yet," Bill tells the kid warmly.) Though the Coco Crisp-obsessed yahoos provide ample ammunition for insults, Isaac says nothing negative about any players or fans. He does, however, respond when things go right, praising the speediest fastballs and marveling at excellent fielding. The 2003 version of the Historical Baseball Abstract is dedicated: "To Isaac, whose love of life renews me every morning."
Early in the game, Royals center fielder Carlos Beltran tracks down a difficult-to-reach line drive, a play that few of his peers could have made. James immediately tries to determine exactly how few, scrawling a list of five or six likely suspects in his notebook. This leads to a comparison of the player-by-player merits of the 2003 Royals and the 1985 world champs. The current team fares surprisingly well, but James makes a few seemingly odd choices, dismissing right fielder Michael Tucker and lauding rookie first baseman Ken Harvey.