August 12, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles center fielder Nate McLouth (9) singles in the first inning as Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer (35) does not get the throw in time at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE

Playoff Envy: Comparing the Royals and Baltimore Orioles


Another year, another Royals season finished in early October, left out, watching others.

We’ve talked a lot about expectations and what’s gone wrong in 2012. Certainly, the Royals ran into some bad luck with injuries and had some gambles that didn’t pay off. Important players regressed. Add it up, and it’s another losing season, even if they won more games this year (72) than last season (71).

We’re used to that kind of thing. The small-market, downtrodden Royals finishing in the lower third of the standings.

Oct 8, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles outfielders Nate McLouth (9), and Adam Jones (10) and Endy Chavez (27) leap to celebrate their win against the New York Yankees during the ninth inning of game two of the 2012 ALDS at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Orioles beat the Yankees 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-US PRESSWIRE

The Baltimore Orioles can relate. While the Royals have won 70 or more the last two years, prior to 2012, the Orioles had finished last in each of the last five years, never once surpassing 7o wins. There was talent there, but a lot of their lineups looked scraped together by players that seemed to be dumped by their old teams (Chris Davis, Mark Reynolds, Jason Hammel) and one of their best players, Nick Markakis, was hurt for large chunks of the season.

Their rotation had one starter who started more than 20 games. Former prospects Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta had rough years.

So of course, they won 93 games and finished second in the American League East.

How does this happen, and how can the Royals get some of that magic?

The Orioles scored more runs than they surrendered. They scored more than the Royals did and gave up less than the Royals did as well. So that’s the first step. Their starters were better, pitching more innings, giving up less runners and while the Royals had a strong bullpen, the Orioles’ bullpen was even better. The Orioles were 29-9 in one run games. 29-9. That’s an unbelievable number and it’s no wonder they made such a sharp jump in the standings.

There’s an element of luck there. Based on their run differential, the Orioles would have been projected to finish with an 82-80 record. Good, but not playoff good. They’d have finished a couple spots lower in the the AL standings and Tampa would have jumped over them in the AL East. But 82-80? That’s still pretty good. The Orioles tore that projection up into little bits and finished 11 games better than they “should” have. Credit to them – they still won the games, but maybe they aren’t making a big jump and pulling away from the Royals in the Rebuilding Race.

Like the Royals, the Orioles in 2012 didn’t have a standout starter they could consider their ace. Hammel was acquired for Jeremy Guthrie (go figure, right?) from Colorado and probably fit that description better than anyone. Tommy Hunter had a good rookie year and followed it up with an even better season while with the Texas Rangers, but regressed in 2010 and 2011 after suffering injuries in both years. He was throwing some home run derby this year but at least controlled his walks, but still didn’t have a very good year. Other than Wei-Yin Chen, a rookie signed out of Japan, no Orioles starter threw more than 133 innings.

Even with all of their pitching issues, the Royals bullpen threw only 16 more innings than the Orioles, so, unlike a vast improvement in pitching performance, which spurred success by the Rangers and Oakland Athletics, the Orioles were pretty average as a rotation (though, again, the bullpen was incredible).

The Royals run differential projects that their 2012 record “should” have been 74-88. That’s not much better than the 72-90 they actually finished, but it’s closer to the 82-80 projected for the Orioles.

Both teams ranked in the lower half of teams in getting on base. The Royals, with a .317 OBP, finished eighth in the AL. Baltimore finished 11th with a .311 OBP. Their overall splits weren’t very different on offense:

Royals Orioles
AVG .265 .247
OBP .317 .311
SLG .400 .417
OPS .716 .728

Not a lot of difference in those numbers. The Royals made better contact, but the Orioles slugged better. The difference came down to homers versus doubles. The Royals had the third most hits, doubles and second most triples in the AL in 2012. The Orioles had the 10th most hits, seventh most doubles and 13th most triples.

But they hit 83 more home runs. Baltimore finished behind only New York in the AL in the category, hitting 214 to the Royals 131 (13th in the league). Five players hit 20 or more homers. Sure, Camden Yards is more of a home run hitters park and Kauffman Stadium is notably bad for home runs, but that’s a significant difference. While the Royals struck out less than any other team in the AL, they walked less than every other team as well. The Orioles did their share of hacking (Chris Davis and Mark Reynolds will do that), but they also walked enough to balance it out.

It seems that with the decision to let Kevin Seitzer go that the Royals are open to swinging for the fences more, even at the expense of batting average (though ideally maintaining it if possible). They’d be best served to inject some plate patience and allow for the team to walk more. The best case scenario sees the Royals hit more home runs and then walk more at the same time as pitchers try to pitch around them.

The Orioles had a payroll that eclipsed the Royals by $20 million in 2012 but have two of the games best prospects in Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado. The Royals have potential superstars Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez, and a host of other talented young players coming up (though no potential ace coming up the ranks at this point).

The formula fits like this: increase power (and thus runs), prevent more runs (and Anibal Sanchez Will Be Royals Top Target” href=”http://kingsofkauffman.com/2012/10/07/market-fresh-anibal-sanchez-will-be-royals-top-target/” target=”_blank”>the Royals anticipate going after starting pitching this offseason), and carry a strong bullpen (which the Royals have).

A little luck helps, as well.

These teams aren’t very different.  Well, other than that whole wins thing…

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  • bkhs81

    Why does every sports writer in the US try to mitigate what the O’s did this year? They shouldn’t be in the playoffs, they shouldn’t have a winning record, they don’t have any stars.
    Just accept that the O’s are good. That you don’t need a big name star and a record high payroll to play good baseball.

    • Michael Engel

      Statistically, it’s an anomaly. Teams throughout history with similar kinds of performance have not ended up in the position the Orioles are in. All the credit to them – they literally beat the odds to get where they are and good for them, but it’s an unusual circumstance worth noting.