Why do the Royals not have a better record?

When a team is 11-22, there tends to not be a lot of meaningful positives to discuss. The same applies to the Royals, who haven’t exactly been the team that everyone was hoping for. A team that was supposed to have gotten it together this season and have at the very least a respectable record, is finding themselves one game better off than they were at this point last season.

But, as brought up very often in sports, you can always look on the bright side. On one hand, something has clearly gone right with the Royals—they have won 11 games in the first place.

Your small cloud of positivity in this dark baseball time is this: the Royals are way better than their record suggests.

But how could the Royals be better than their record? They have an abysmal bullpen and are one of the worst teams in baseball, what is there to possibly be excited about? Well, there are many reasons to be excited and hope that this team will get better fast.

The main reason why the Royals are better than their record is because of their runs scored and runs allowed. In some ways, the differential between your runs scored and runs allowed tells more about the team than the record because it points to certain aspects and is removed from the specific situations in which one run can decide a game between a win and a loss.

Measuring a team’s theoretical record based on that team’s run differential is called the Pythagorean record. Created by Bill James, it does a fantastic job predicting win-loss totals over a long period of time. These expected win-loss records for baseball teams usually fall somewhere within three games of where a team actually ends up over a full season.

As of today, Kansas City’s Pythagorean record is at the minimum, 3 games better than their team record. Below is a table with all American League teams, their Pythagorean win percentage, and their respective records rounding to the nearest whole number (because winning 0.4 of a game is like asking for the Royals bullpen to close a game).

AL Central Pythagorean Record

Team Actual Record Pythagorean Record
Minnesota Twins 19-11 (.633) 17-13 (.567)
Detroit Tigers 14-15 (.483)  14-15 (.483)
Kansas City Royals 11-22 (.333)  15-18 (.454)
Chicago White Sox 14-16 (.333)  13-17 (.433)
Cleveland Indians 17-13 (.567) 13-17 (.433)

 

Entering Saturday’s games, the Royals are scoring 4.45 runs per game and allowing 5.06 runs per game, leading to a negative run differential. This is bad, but not 11-22 bad. The Royals should have won four more games based on runs scored and runs against.

At this point in the season, the Royals have underperformed their raw stats by three or four wins. Nobody is talking about the Royals as a World Series contender and that’s okay. But if you’ve thought to yourself, “Gee, this team seems like it should be doing better,” you are correct.

So, what’s next for the Royals?

The Royals are a bad baseball team. Not many analysts thought the Royals would have a winning record and they’ve been proven right so far. The starting pitching isn’t good. The defense hasn’t been as good as advertised. And even though it’s settled down a little, the bullpen is still a mess.

What it does mean is that the Royals are in prime position to surprise everyone in the second half of the season. Not only will regression help, the Royals aren’t going to lose every one-run game moving forward. Hopefully the Royals can change their squad by then. Lucas Duda (-0.3 fWAR in 18 games) and Chris Owings (-0.4 fWAR in 28 games) will be of greater use to the Royals when they aren’t on the team anymore, to put it in a kind way. Ryan O’Hearn (-0.4 fWAR in 26 games) will either turn it around or get demoted to figure stuff out in Triple-A. The bullpen will eventually pick it up whether it’s through releasing a few guys or sticking with some of the underperformers and hope that they can turn it around in high leverage innings.

Yes, Hunter Dozier will stop having his MVP-like season, Alex Gordon won’t be vintage Alez Gordon forever, and Adalberto Mondesi will not hit 300 triples this season. But that should be offset with improvement from guys like Marin Maldonado and Billy Hamilton, two guys who haven’t been producing lately but have shown over the course of their careers that they can help out a struggling franchise. Overall, I don’t think it would be surprising to see the Royals play at an even .500 clip for a few months later in the year.

If you want to look at the bright side, you should note that the Royals already have a couple of guys that can anchor a franchise for years such as Adalberto Mondesi, Brad Keller, and Hunter Dozier. They also have a huge wave of talent in the minor leagues that not many people have heard about. It also helps that they could be adding to this farm system this summer if they choose to sell. So, let’s hope that this team can turn it around over the next couple of weeks and try to make a run at the division.

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