Hot Stove #99 – Free Agent Contracts; The Derby; The Shot; Hamilton in KC (Billy and Alexander)

The month of May is not being kind to the Royals (but the K looked good in this shot posted by Visit KC). So let’s reminisce instead. Plus cover a couple of non-baseball sports highlights. And Hamilton.

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Free Agency After the 2015 World Series: After the Royals won it all in 2015, they had three major free agency events. Something old – Alex Gordon. Something new – but not young, Ian Kennedy. Something blue – as in sad to lose him, Ben Zobrist.

In a Hot Stove posted in February of 2016, I went into the weeds to discuss the concept of WAR (“wins above replacement”). If you would like to revisit that detailed version, click here. Generally speaking, each player’s stats for hitting  (or pitching), base-running and fielding are weighed to arrive at a single comprehensive stat called WAR. On a full-season basis, the number ranges from zero (or less) for bench-warmers to above 10.0 for an elite player. Last year’s MLB leader was Mookie Betts of the Red Sox who had a WAR of 10.9.

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After the 2015 season, many analysts pegged the free agent value of a player at about $8 million for each increment of WAR. So if the projected WAR for a player was 2.0 for a season, the salary would be in the range of $16 million. If it was a multi-year contract, the WAR would be estimated for all years to arrive at the total value. In my 2016 post, I discussed WAR projections for Gordon, Kennedy and Zobrist based on their newly signed contracts. Let’s see how that is going.

 

Alex Gordon: Alex elected to stay with the Royals and signed a 4-year deal for $72 million. At the going rate, Alex was expected to generate WAR of 9.0 over the four years (9.0 times $8 million for the $72 million contract). I estimated that Alex would need to go 3.0, 2.5, 2.0 and 1.5 over the four years to do this (decreasing yearly for age). He has so far gone 0.9, 0.1 and 2.4, a total of 3.4 of the hoped 7.5 for the first three years. The good news is that he is already at 1.7 for this year and that should grow by the end of the season. But still well short of his $72 million payout. Alex could add some value in another way. His strong start might lead to a mid-season trade to a contender for a good prospect. But I’m betting that Alex will nix any trade so he can be Forever Royal.

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Ian Kennedy: The Royals signed the 31-year-old Kennedy for five years at $70 million. The likelihood of Kennedy generating almost 9.0 WAR in those five years was nil, and so I didn’t even project a scenario. His first three years with the Royals have been 3.0, 0.5 and 0.5. He was moved to the bullpen this year with some modest success. Why did the Royals make such a long and expensive commitment? They had just won the Series and had two more contract years with Cain, Moose and Hosmer. A new strong starting pitcher might complete the puzzle for returning to the playoffs in those two years. Sam Mellinger of the KC Star quipped that it was “like paying the surge pricing on Uber because you just really need a ride right now and you don’t want to risk waiting for a cab.”  Kennedy did his part the first year, but the team did not. He faded after that and still is under contract through 2020.

 

Ben Zobrist: Zobrist was traded to the Royals in July of 2015 and played a crucial role in the team’s march to the World Series. He was already set to be a free agent after the season, so it was no surprise that he did not return. He signed a 4-year deal with the Cubs for $56 million – so a WAR of 7.0 would be a fair return to the team. I suggested he might do 3.0, 2.5 and 1.5 for the first three years. That would add up to the 7.0. In the fourth year, he would be 38 years old and not likely doing much. The real numbers for the first three years were 3.7, 0.4 and 3.3, a total of 7.4. Not only has he already paid for himself, he was also  MVP of the 2016 World Series (the post-season is not part of WAR calculations). So far this year, his last under the contract, Ben is struggling with a near zero WAR. The end may be near, but his Cubs tenure has been an overall success.

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Triple Crown – Not: Last year about this time, Justify had won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, needing only the Belmont to win the Triple Crown. This prompted me to write a Hot Stove post on the history of Triple Crown winners, both in baseball and horse racing (click here if you have more time to waste). Justify went on to win the Belmont and became the 13th horse to win the Triple Crown. The scenario in 2019 will not even come close. It started with this:

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The green arrow points to Country House, the horse finishing second to Maximum Security. Or not. Maximum Security was disqualified after a 22-minute review of replays, making the 65-1 shot Country House the winner of the Derby. One of the best explanations of the controversial race was made by our Hot Stove horse racing contributor Jim Fitzpatrick (click here to read what JimmyC says).

The probability of Country House going on to win the Triple Crown was an even longer shot than his 65-1 at the Derby. But it is a moot point. Country House has a cough and is taking antibiotics. He will miss the Preakness tomorrow. As will Maximum Security. This will not be a good year for TV ratings for the Preakness and the Belmont.

[Derby Disqualification Trivia: Maximum Security is the only winning horse in the 145 runnings of the Derby to lose his win for a foul discovered before the bets were paid. But he is not the only winner to lose the title. In I968, Dancer’s Image won and took home the trophy. But a post-race drug test found traces of phenylbutazone (“Bute”) in Dancer’s Image. The trophy and the prize money were awarded to runner-up Forward Pass. Bets are not reversed after race day, and so Dancer’s Image betters got to keep their money. A few years later, Churchill Downs removed Bute from its prohibited drug list, somewhat improving the Image of Dancer.]

 

The Kentucky Derby and Baseball Pace of Play: Baseball is looking for ways to speed up the game. A pitch clock might be one of them. A humorous (or maybe not) take is on this video which overlays the running of the entire Kentucky Derby while pitcher Zack Greinke and batter Ozhaino Albies fidget between two pitches. You can pick which event is “The most exciting two minutes in sports.”

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The Shot Heard ‘Round the World: No, not Bobby Thomson’s homer in 1951. It’s Kawhi Leonard’s jumper at the buzzer in 2019.

I’m only a casual fan of the NBA during the regular season, but my interest rises in the playoffs – especially when a Game 7 is closing out a round. This was the case as Rita and I watched the Toronto Raptors play the Philadelphia 76ers last Sunday (while many of you were watching a different game, the Game of Thrones). Even those who don’t follow the NBA have probably seen the replays of what the Wall Street Journal headlined as “A Basketball Shot for the Ages.” To see the shot from all angles, click here (0:42).

 

With the game tied 90-90 and 4.2 seconds left, Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard took the in-bound pass and went cross court. Ben Simmons of the Sixers forced him outside and then Joel Embiid was in Leonard’s face for the shot. Pretty good defense actually, but Leonard’s soft touch and high arc produced a shot for the ages. I like the way Jason Gay of the WSJ describes the moment:

“What elevates the shot from sublime to great is that the basketball does not go in. Not immediately, at least. This shot, it wants to think about it. The basketball plunges, shudders off the rim, and launches skyward, unhurried, like a beach ball on  a hazy summer day. This shot has nowhere special to go. It takes its time. It isn’t a swish…Swishes are decisive…Swishes feel ruthless. This shot, it isn’t ruthless. It’s contemplative. I could go in, the ball seems to say. Or maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll just hang out here on this rim for a bit. Maybe I’ll go check what’s in the refrigerator. Bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce.”

The shot took so long to go down that Leonard ended up off the end of the court and squatted down to view the bouncing ball. If it went in, the Raptors were headed to the Eastern finals. If not, overtime.

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As defenders Embiid (#21) and Simmons (#25) looked on, the bouncing ball dropped through the net and ended their season. It was the shot heard ‘round the world. Literally. The NBA is popular internationally, and this clip shows the ecstatic broadcast reaction in six languages (1:38).

 

Travelogues on the Website: The Lonnie’s Jukebox website has two new postings of travelogues. Rita and I have traveled to more than a hundred countries, but a good portion of the trips were before the internet and digital cameras. Those early trips are evidenced by developed photos in albums. Hard to share. In recent years, a lot of our travel has been archived in emails and on web-based photo sites. I’m reformatting some of these to post on the website. Joining the prior Prague posting are London/Paris (with Woody and Jane Overton in 2010) and Antarctica (with the penguins in 2008). Click here to view on the website. Teasers below: Lonnie and Woody on the Chunnel train from London to Paris; Rita and her tuxedoed friends on South Georgia Island.

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Hamilton in Kansas City (Billy): In August of 2015, Billy Hamilton was roaming center field for the Cincinnati Reds. The Royals were working their way to the World Series. And the musical Hamilton opened on Broadway.

Things would never be the same for Billy after that. The popularity of the musical became part of his baseball career.

For example, there was this tweet headline: “There’s a Reason People Pay Big Bucks to See Hamilton.” The video that was attached had nothing to do with hard-to-get Hamilton tickets. It was Billy making one of his spectacular catches for the Cincinnati Reds. See it here.

When Billy became a free agent after the 2018 season, he signed with the Royals. In four of the five seasons before he joined the Royals, Billy stole over 50 bases. Dave Fleming, a regular contributor to Bill James Online, thought Billy might bump this number to 75 with his new team. Fleming borrowed from one of the iconic songs in Hamilton to project what Billy might be thinking:

I am not giving away this shot.

I am not giving away this shot.

Hey, I’m just like the team in K.C.

I’m young, scrappy, and speedy,

And I’m not giving away this shot.

I got low exit velocity and no on-base capacity, 

But don’t underestimate my defensive perspicacity,

And hold on to witness my feet velocity,

‘Cause I’m not giving away this shot.

 

On opening day this year, as previously reported in a Hot Stove Short, the Royals Billy Hamilton faced White Sox pitcher Ryan Burr.

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A tweet from earlier this month:

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5/1/19, 6:39 PM

“Well the word got around they said this kid is insane man…”

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When you click on the pic.twitter link, you will see Billy Hamilton making one of his highlight catches at Kauffman Stadium. The quote is from the opening number of Hamilton, discussing how the teenage Alexander Hamilton was so impressive (“insane man”) that the merchants of his native Nevis took up a collection to send him to the mainland for an education.

 

Unless the Royals call up Bubba Starling (which they should), you can see Billy Hamilton all summer in center field at Kauffman. There will also be some Hamilton action this summer at the Music Hall. I’m assuming “the word [has] got around” to Hot Stove readers that…

 

Hamilton in Kansas City (Alexander): The touring company of Hamilton will be in Kansas City from June 18 to July 7. The show is sold out, but Stub Hub has many tickets available at reasonable prices. Just think of how much you save on the plane tickets to see it in another city.

PLEASE DO NOT THROW AWAY YOUR SHOT!

When Rita and I get inquiries about Hamilton, they mostly break down to two categories. Is it worth the ticket price? How should I prepare for the experience?

Ticket Prices:  I’ll repeat a couple of paragraphs from Hot Stove #20:

As many of you know, Rita and I are obsessed with Hamilton. When people ask if the show lives up to its hype, my answer has become something like this: I compare it to the excitement of having been “in the room where it happens” for certain historic sporting events, like (i) in 1967, the Chiefs beating the Bears 66-24 in an exhibition several months after losing the first Super Bowl, (ii) the 1971 Christmas Day game at Municipal Stadium, the longest game ever in the NFL (even though the Chiefs lost to the Dolphins), and (iii) the magical comeback in the Game 6 of the 1985 World Series that I watched with my 14-year old son Jason. In Hamilton, Aaron Burr jealously laments that he was not “in the room where it happens” when Jefferson hosted a 3-man dinner that resulted in the compromise that assured passage of the Constitution: the Virginians Madison and Jefferson got the nation’s capital located next to home and Hamilton got the finance plan he wanted for the new union. The audience of Hamilton is definitely in the room where it happens.

There is a distinction between the big sports events and something like Hamilton. Part of the anticipation and tension of the big games is that you don’t know what will happen. You may see a classic or not – think of how many Super Bowls have been stinkers. But not knowing creates some of the best moments in sports. Ask any Royals fan about the post-seasons of 2014 and 2015. The comebacks are always at the top of the memory list. Contrast this with Hamilton: you know the music before you go in (that’s our recommendation), you know the ending (Spoiler: Burr shoots Hamilton every night), and everyone in attendance walks out happy – no losing team (well, Hamilton still gets shot). One other thing. I am now content to watch most sports on TV (age?), but for Hamilton, you just have to be in the room.

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So yes, it’s worth the price.

 

Pre-Show Checklist: The first item on this list is mandatory. The others will deepen the appreciation of the genius that is Hamilton.

First and, I repeat, mandatory: Buy the CD or stream the music and listen to it many times before you go. Get a copy of the lyrics to read along. The lyrics are brilliant, but they sometimes come at 144 words/minute.

Please buy and read this book. Worth every penny.

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Sportswriter Joe Posnanski took his teenage daughter to see Hamilton and then wrote one the best things I have read on the show (click here). For more on Pos and how he interacted with Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, click here for Hot Stove #20. A year after his first post, Joe wrote a touching piece about how he and his daughter almost missed Hamilton because of her bout with Crohn’s disease (click here).

Joe has a podcast with Michael Schur, a very knowledgeable sports fan who is hugely successful as a sitcom creator/writer (Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn 99 and The Good Place). Schur often tweets and writes under the pen name of Ken Tremendous. This link goes to his take on Hamilton and explains why addicts like Rita and me have seen it multiple times.

Lonnie’s Jukebox: Not hard to guess the selection for this post. The opening number of Hamilton. Click here.

Enjoy the show.