Numbers are becoming law in sports. Major League Baseball is already the most stat-wealthy league, and the math nerds are beginning to capitalize on the revolution. The rich databases of baseball stats make finding information easy. Most importantly, this opens to door for the most advanced analysis and comparison. And through this door comes the rising fundamental in sports studies.
Michael Lewis authored a book published in 2003 titled “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.” The book follows the experience of the Oakland A’s and the organization’s use of highly advanced statistical analysis to produce a competitive baseball team, despite an inferior revenue stream.
Numbers never lie.
The Kansas City Royals can draw comparisons to the story of the Oakland A’s. They reside in a smaller market and dwell in a much smaller payroll than many of their competitors – the Royals were 4th in their division in opening day payroll in 2013. Kansas City, like Oakland, is trying to buck that trend. However, there is an even closer model for the Royals to follow. And it’s from 10 years ago inside their own division.
Let the eerily similar comparison between the Royals of 2005-2016 and the Minnesota Twins of 1993-2004 begin.
From 1993 to 2000, the Minnesota Twins were an awful franchise. The team averaged just 66 wins per year. They also finished no better than fourth in their division. From 2005 to 2012, the Royals also were an equally miserable franchise. They, likewise, finished no better than fourth in any season and averaged a nearly identical 67 wins per season.
Beginning in 1995, Terry Ryan was the general manager of the Twins. He was around for six years of bad baseball. In his seventh year, Ryan’s team went 85-77 and finished six games behind the division winner. Similarly, Dayton Moore has now just completed his seventh year with the Royals. In his first six years as general manager, Moore’s teams left critics calling for his head. Moore continued to preach “The Process,” one that he often related to that of these same Minnesota Twins. In 2013, the seventh year under Moore, the Royals won 86 games and finished seven games behind the division winning Detroit Tigers.
Again, nearly the exact track of the Twins a decade earlier.
This is where the uncertain future of the Royals veers into the “charted” waters of the Twins. In the three seasons following Ryan’s seventh year with 85 wins, the Twins won three consecutive American League Central titles and averaged 92 wins a season.
This is the bridge that the Royals have not crossed yet: the years of 2014, 2015 and 2016. If the team follows the model they have so perfectly traced so far, an average of 92 wins over the next season will surely get them to the top of the division. Right?
Over the past 11 seasons, the winners of the Central division have averaged 92.64 wins per season. Posting 92 wins would have won the division just 5 of the 11 years. There is no guarantee to how the rest of the bunch plays to help determine the Royals’ fate. However, the addition of the second wildcard slot does improve overall playoff chances.
In 2013, the Royals pushed post-season contention to game 158 of the 162-game season. With a 6-0 loss to Seattle on September 28th, they were finally mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. The team did this on the backs of a strong September push. But a horrid May likely cost the Royals a better shot.
A look at the Royals’ records, win percentage and projected 162-game win total by month.
April: 14 – 10 .583 95 wins
May: 8 – 20 .286 46 wins
June: 16 – 11 .593 96 wins
July: 15 – 10 .600 97 wins
August: 16 – 15 .516 84 wins
September: 17 – 10 .629 102 wins
When put into numerical form, the Royals performance in May was a clear outlier. All together, of course, it tallies 86 wins. But if the Royals could have removed May from the equation – and this isn’t entirely fair, but – they would project to win 94.8 games. Mathematically, this would project them to top the yearly average of the division winner and they would have accomplished that very goal this year.
The Kansas City Royals are at the fork in the road on a beaten path: a trail the Minnesota Twins took to three consecutive division crowns. The numbers are there: too similar to ignore between the two case studies. The Royals now just have to navigate the charted waters.
All that’s left to do is play ball.