While Royals fans might read that as “Why, oh why?” and know exactly where I’m headed, please understand that us business nerds take it to mean something completely different.

YOY is an acronym for Year Over Year. According to investopedia.com, it is: a method of evaluating two or more measured events to compare the results at one time period with those from another time period (or series of time periods), on an annualized basis. Year-over-year comparisons are a popular way to evaluate the performance of investments. Any measurable events that recur annually can be compared on a year-over-year basis – from annual performance, to quarterly performance, to daily performance.

In other words – I want to compare the 2011 Royals to the 2010 Royals. Right now, after 93 games.

To a majority of baseball fans, the Royals are an afterthought. They stink this year just like they’ve stunk every year since 1985. To an extent, they’re right. The Royals have been irrelevant for a long time, save a couple of hot starts or most of the 2003 season. Until they show that they can win games consistently, they will be overlooked on a national level. That means no Sunday Night Baseball, no Fox Game of the Week, and minimal highlights on SportsCenter.

Depressing, but look at the Pittsburgh Pirates. They lost 105 games in 2010. They have been the armpit of the National League since the early ’90s, but because they’re winning this year, America is paying attention. We love an underdog, and the Pirates certainly are that. Think of the love affair they’d bestow upon the Royals if they could follow suit.

To compare last year’s Royals to this year’s team, let’s look at a snapshot in time. Friday was the 93rd game of the year, and the team is 38-55 (.409). Last year’s record: 40-53 (.430). In both years, the team was 12 games out of first place. Last year, they sat in 4th in the Central, leading the Indians by only 1/2 a game. Those Indians in 2011 sit atop the division and have led for most of the year.

Teams like the Pirates and Indians show that it is possible to figure it out in a short span of time.

The 2010 Royals had lost 7 out of 8 games, and dropped their 93rd game 13-1 at home against the Blue Jays. This year, the Royals had yet another late inning comeback – this time being held scoreless before a two-run home run and a scoreless 9th gave them a 2-1 win.

Who wins your comparison so far? Though the 93rd game didn’t treat them well, last year’s Royals had a slightly better record, but was in a rough patch. I’m not sure you can say there’s a “winner” yet, but I’ll take the 2011 Team.

In addition to their records, let’s compare their team stats. This year’s Royals are the youngest team in Major League Baseball with batters who average 26.6 years old and pitchers who average 26.2 years old. In comparison, the Yankees average is right at 31 years old. Last year the average age of the hitters was 28.8 and the pitchers were 27.5. So, the team got younger. Did it get better?

From a hitting standpoint, both squads had batting averages near the top of the American League. Last year’s team hit .274 for the season (2nd in AL) and this year’s team is hitting .264 (3rd in AL). You have to look past base hits to help explain why they lose games. While both have high batting averages, and that is nice, the object of baseball is to score more runs than your opponent. When it came to runs scored per game, the 2010 bunch finished 10th out of 14 teams and the 2011 guys currently sit right in the middle of the pack. So, guys are getting hits, but they’re not scoring runs as efficietnly as you would like.

Scoring more runs than your opponent is a shared responsibility – I’m looking at you pitchers. While the hitting was at or above average both years, the pitching has been some of the worst in the league.

While you’ve heard countless stories about how bad the starting pitching is this year and how the team’s 4.55 ERA is awful, it was even worse last year. That’s hard to imagine when you had the reigning AL Cy Young winner taking the hill every five days. This year’s team ERA is only better than Baltimore’s 4.82, but last year’s team finished the year in dead last with a 4.97 ERA. That’s giving up almost five runs every game – both years. When you pair that up with scoring 4.39 runs per game this year and 4.17 last year, that doesn’t add up to a very big stack of victories.

This year’s team sits in 12th to 14th in the league for most pitching statistical categories. They’ve been fighting themselves all year, usually from the very start of the game. Still, last year’s staff struggled even more, so, while it’s really tough to say there’s been improvement across the board, it’s sad but true.

Team fielding is an area that has seen considerable improvements over last year. While the team got younger, and 3/4 of their “infield of the future” is now in place, the stats are better. Last year, the team’s .980 fielding percentage was the worst in the American League. They made more errors than anybody. This year, the fielding is average – they rank 7th in fielding % and errors made, but that’s a significant jump in the matter of one season. This year’s infield has turned 99 double plays, which is 2nd in the AL. (Though that’s a tricky stat – it means that a lot of guys are getting on base…)

From a team standpoint, I’ve got to give a slight edge to this year’s team.

Now, on to the individuals. In the 93rd game of last year, the Royals sent Anthony Lerew to the mound and he faced just 9 batters. He gave up 4 earned runs, including a home run to Jose Bautista. After him, Kanekoa Texeira, Dusty Hughes, Blake Wood, and Victor Marte each gave up at least 2 ER each. A total of 13 runs, all earned. Puke.

Starting for the Royals this year in game #93 was Luke Hochevar. Luke has been typical Luke this year, but despite his 5-8 record and ERA over 5, he was really good on Friday night. After seven innings and a 1-0 defecit, he handed the ball to Tim Collins. Collins threw one scoreless inning, then watched as Eric Hosmer drilled his go-ahead home run. Collins probably would have gone back out in the ninth, but with the lead, Joakim Soria got the ball and, despite making it interesting, was able to close out the game.

If you compare just these two games, it appears to be night and day. That’s the challenging thing about stacking up 1 out of 162 games YOY. If you look at the names and situations though, I think it is a representation of how good the Royals could be. Starting pitching is this team’s greatest crater, and needs major attention. Good teams have solid, reliable pitchers who give their team a chance to win. The Royals’ bullpen isn’t any worse than the typical Major League relief staff. It’s filled with situational guys, long relief options, and an above average closer.

We need starting pitching, which, unfortunately does not grow on trees.

From a lineup perspective,
Last year:
1. Scott Podsednik – LF
2. Jason Kendall – C
3. David DeJesus – CF
4. Billy Butler – 1B
5. Jose Guillen – DH
6. Alberto Callaspo – 3B
7. Mitch Maier – RF
8. Mike Aviles – 2B
9. Yuniesky Betancourt – SS

This year:
1. Chris Getz – 2B
2. Melky Cabrera – CF
3. Alex Gordon – LF
4. Billy Butler – DH
5. Eric Hosmer – 1B
6. Jeff Francoeur – RF
7. Mike Moustakas – 3B
8. Matt Treanor – C
9. Alcides Escobar – SS

There’s quite a turnover in there, which is a sign of a team that’s searching for something that works. Only Billy Butler was in the starting lineup just a year ago.

Starting at the top of the lineup, the Royals have yet to find that everyday leadoff hitter that they’ve been looking for all year. Getz is just the latest option, and while he’s not the worst guy to have at the top of your lineup, I don’t think he’s the long-term answer.

In the outfield, the team had to fill the gap left by longtime Royal David DeJesus. Who knew that Alex Gordon would fill that role? Mitch still gets in the lineup from time to time and is a good 4th outfielder. The fact that we have three guys that are better than someone who started all last year is a good sign. Though Cabrera and/or Frenchy could be gone in a couple of weeks, they’ve done a good job bolstering the outfield with their bats, their personalities, and especially their defense. The outfield is definitely better without Jose Guillen.

In the infield, a complete overhaul has brought in the corner infielders that everyone has been waiting so long for, which bumped Billy to DH and sent Alberto Callaspo packing. We’ve raved about Alcides Escobar’s glove all year – a glove that was good enough to keep him in the lineup every day when his batting average was hovering at the .200 mark. Second base is being kept warm for future star (fingers crossed) Johnny Giavotella. I think the infield will only get better as these young guys continue to play with each other. 2011 definitely wins.

Behind the plate lies another huge question for the Royals. Jason Kendall provided gritty toughness, veteran leadership, and an everyday catcher in 2010. With his injury, we have yet to see him in 2011, so have been left with the two headed monster of Matt Treanor and Brayan Pena. Both are good but not great, and I’ve always been of the opinion that if you have two catchers, you have no catchers. They say the same thing about quarterbacks for the same reason. The guy behind the plate is the glue, the manager on the field. When you don’t know who that guy is going to be on any given day, it can be challenging for them and the rest of the guys on the field.

While Kendall was better in 2010 than the guys in 2011, something has got to happen for 2012. This is the other spot on the field that needs a major upgrade if the Royals are going to get better.

So there you go – Year over year – which team would you take? Statistically they’re not that far apart. I think that while each season feels like an unfunny version of the movie Groundhog Day, the team in 2011 is better than it was in 2010. Improvement, however minute, has to be recognized and built upon. If we can continue to get our prospects in place and allow them to get better in Kansas City, then we just might be able to get rid of the “Why, oh why?” and awake from our slumber.

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