All signs point towards a Kansas City Royals resurgence. At least, that’s what we keep telling ourselves. It feels like we’re on the right track. Most of the big name prospects have found their way to the K. It’s a better brand of baseball being played these days. This team is good – and getting better.
Today I’d like to talk about measurable improvement versus perceived improvement. One of the beautiful things about the game of baseball is that, while statistics don’t mean everything, they usually tell a lot more of the truth than some would like. They don’t lie. Almost everything in baseball is measurable, and there are many ways to evaluate the data that is collected over the span of a season. It can be spun to support almost any opinion.
I am on the bandwagon of Royals faithful who felt like 2011 was a much better year than 2010. I loved the team on the field at the end of the year. I think that things are pointed in the right direction. But how much better were the Royals in 2011 than 2010? I chose six categories to help make that judgment.
1) W-L Record
2011: 71-91 (4th place AL Central)
2010: 67-95 (5th place AL Central)
That’s a one year improvement of four games. There’s not really a bit of difference between losing 95 games and 91 games, but there is a moral victory for not finishing in last place in the Central. That only goes so far, and is not nearly enough to keep Royals fans satisfied. However, it is a step – albeit a small one – in the right direction. This means that guys like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Danny Duffy have never finished in last place.
2) Offensive Stats
a. OBP %
2011: .329 (5th/14 AL teams) Alex Gordon-.376 479 walks
2010: .331 (8th/14) Billy Butler-.388 496 walks (+17)
b. SLG %
2011: .415 (5th/14) Gordon-.502
-1560 Total Hits: 129 HR(8%), 41 3B(3%), 325 2B(21%), 1065 1B(68%)
2010: .399 (9th/14) Butler-.469
-1534 Total Hits: 121 HR(8%), 31 3B(2%), 279 2B(18%), 1103 1B(72%)
c. Runs Scored
2011: 730 (6th/14) Melky Cabrera-102 (Gordon-101)
2010: 676 (10th/14) Butler-77
Batting average is great, and we had two guys achieve the .300 milestone in 2011. But more important than collecting hits is to study how well did they translated hits into runs. Getting on base, slugging, and ultimately scoring is the key to winning ballgames. This is an offense that has had to try and overcome poor pitching. They HAD to hit well, and for the most part, they did.
3) Pitching Stats
a. Runs Allowed
2011: 762 (12th/14) Luke Hochevar-110
2010: 845 (14th/14) Zack Greinke/Kyle Davies-114
b. Walks Allowed (not counting IBB)
2011: 557 (14th/14) Hochevar-62
2010: 551 (10th/14) Davies-80
c. Percentage of extra base hits (hr,3b,2b/h)
The bottom line is that, despite showing flashes of brilliance, the pitching is the obvious weak spot of this club. They guys we have do their best, but when you stack them up against the better teams in the league, they fall short. Everyone knows that in order for this team to have a chance to compete in 2012, they’ve got to get better on the mound. I don’t necessarily think that can only be achieved by getting a big name pitcher. I think that we’ve got a handful of guys that nobody knows who could step up and be great.
4) Fielding Stats
2011: 95 (10th/14) Alcides Escobar-15
2010: 121 (1st/14) Yuniesky Betancourt-18
b. Double Plays
2011: 394 (6th/14)
2010: 361 (10th/14)
The 2011 Royals seemed to be on steadier ground in the field & the stats show it. Defensive stats can be tricky, because they can’t truly show what plays a guy should have made, but didn’t. However, you go back and look at some of the plays that Alcides Escobar made and I’m good with calling it even. The Outfield was amazing in 2011, with Alex Gordon seemingly finding his home in Left Field, turning in an impressive resume of diving catches and outfield assists.
5) Defensive Lineup
C: Matt Treanor (62 games)
1B: Eric Hosmer (127 games)
2B: Chris Getz (97 games)
SS: Alcides Escobar (156 games)
3B: Mike Moustakas (89 games)
LF: Alex Gordon (147 games)
CF: Melky Cabrera (143 games)
RF: Jeff Francoeur (152 games)
DH: Billy Butler (142 games)
By the end of 2011, the Royals had most of their “Lineup of the Future” in place. Save for one or two spots in the outfield that were adequately filled by Francoeur & Cabrera, this is what we’re looking at (hopefully) for the long term. By the end of the season, Treanor was in Texas and Getz was on the bench, being replaced by Salvador Perez & Johnny Giavotella. How does this lineup feel compared to…
C: Jason Kendall (118 games)
1B: Billy Butler (126 games)
2B: Mike Aviles (86 games)
SS: Yuniesky Betancourt (151 games)
3B: Alberto Callaspo (76 games)
LF: Scott Podsednik (92 games)
CF: Mitch Maier (58 games)
RF: David DeJesus (67 games)
DH: Jose Guillen (84 games)
Gross. Give me 2011 every day. There are a couple of interesting things here that help tell the story. The first is that there is only ONE consistent name from one year to the next – Billy Butler, and he played a different position in 2010. It says a lot about the lack of consistency in Kansas City recently. The second thing to look at is that even though the guys listed played the most games at their position, six of them played less than 100 games. It also points towards inconsistency, and the lack of one good player at any given position.
2010: Zack Greinke (33 starts)
Kyle Davies (32)
Bruce Chen (23)
Brian Bannister (23)
Luke Hochevar (17)
Sean O’Sullivan (13)
I know, I hate to bring up pitching again too. To me, the only difference between 2010 & 2011′s starting pitching is Mr. Greinke. Now, he got himself sent away, but 2010 was not kind to him at all. You won’t make the playoffs with either of the starting rotations listed above. I think that the rotation probably got worse in 2011, due solely to the talent that Greinke possesses. It would have been interesting to see how many wins he could have ended up with had he played in front of 2011′s offense. It may have been enough to keep him in KC.
So, do you still feel like we’re on the wrong track? It’s easy to “feel” one way, but be somewhat blinded by the stats. On the page, it seems like there was not much improvement between 2010 and 2011. But, this is baseball. And, while the stats tell a lot, we as fans get to watch and judge for ourselves. While the stats may not show significant improvement, we see young players who have talent and are getting better. Some of them struggled early, then improved greatly towards the end of the year as they gained experience. The end result may not have been stellar, but if the momentum created in 2011 can be carried into 2012, we will finally see that measurable improvement that we all long for.