The first month was a winning one for the Royals, but things like getting swept in Minnesota and a lack of homers has kept me, and I believe other KC fans, from being too excited about the team to this point. Let me show you how the Royals look compared to the rest of the league and to last year’s team, and see if maybe you agree with me that April was actually quite good despite some struggles.
The obvious problem so far has been the offense, so I wanted to compare the offense to last year’s and the league so far. To do this I want to avoid just looking at runs per game. So far the Royals have scored 4.04 per game, which is very mediocre, but I wanted to look at scoring efficiency. For that I looked at how many plate appearances on average it took to score a run. League wide there has been a run every 9.09 PAs in 2014 compared to 9.13 last year, so offense is slightly down on a plate appearance basis. The Royals have needed 9.25 PAs on average to score a run, so they have needed 1.73% more than MLB in general. That number is not
Apr 30, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer (35) connects for a double in the eighth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
horrible, but it should be taken with a grain of salt due to being in the AL where the rate is better (8.69, 6.4%). So the offense has been a little below average, but compared to last year’s 9.4 PAs per run they have been much more efficient.
This improvement over last year’s offense is coming from rate differences. The Royals have had a walk rate of 7.1% vs. 6.9% last year and they are striking out less often at 15.2% instead of 17.2%. If the team can keep these rate improvements and bring their slugging up, this offense will be much better than it was in 2013. We have seen what I believe to be the worst of this offense so far, and that makes me think this will end up being an above average offense by the end of the year, which will make for a good overall team if the pitching and defense keep coming through as we will see next.
So far the pitching staff has done their job:
Royal pitchers have struck out more batters, walked less, and allowed fewer runs. That is what you want from a pitching staff. The ERA is going to come back a little bit due to some small things like a HR/FB rate of 7.5%, which is really low, but the FIP of 3.47 and xFIP of 3.78 point to this being a pretty good staff, since as I have said before, they are likely to outperform these sorts of stats due to a fantastic defense.
The defense based on fielding percentage is off to a poor start at .978 versus the .982 for all of MLB, but the Royals error number is being inflated by an unusual number of pitcher errors that I expect will not continue all season. If we look at something like Inside Edge numbers from Fangraphs you can see that the defense is still making a lot of plays. They break theirs down by ranges of probability a play is made.
Probability of making the play
1 – 10%
10 – 40%
40 – 60%
60 – 90%
90 – 100%
All MLB % made
Royals % made
The Royals are about league average in three categories, but they have been way better than average at making plays that should be made only 10 to 40% of the time by completing them at more than double the rate of the rest of baseball. Last year they outperformed the league in the first three and were league average in the last two. This defense makes more plays than average, which leads to lower BABIP for the opposition and lower team ERA relative to FIP/xFIP sorts of expectation. More gold gloves are going to be showing up in Kansas City at the end of the year based on the sheer number of plus defenders on the team.
I have also pointed out in the past that their level of competition in April was a bit low. That is my main concern to this point, that this is puffing their numbers a bit. Still, Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer are not going to go all season without a home run, so I feel like there has been some under-performance that will regress to the mean. Overall the team seems to have a pretty good pitching and defense build. If the offense can come back toward expectation in power, this team is in a very good position for the rest of the season.