It was a wild and crazy opening week at Kauffman Stadium full of extra innings, lead changes, walk-offs, meltdowns and best of all, a 4-2 record for the Royals. Here is a look at some of the biggest plays from each game based on win probability added (WPA) (numbers all from the indispensable Fangraphs):
March 31 • Angels 4 Royals 2
The opener did not feature any of the dramatic swings that the next five contests did. The key moment of the game came when the Royals threatened to come back in the bottom of the eighth after Melky Cabrera, Billy Butler and Kila Ka’aihue walked the bases drunk with just one out. They were down 2-4 but had raised their win expectancy (WE) to 38%. Jeff Francoeur stepped to the plate but struck out, which dropped the Royals WE down to 23%. Alcides Escobar was up next with a chance to play hero, but flew out instead, and the Royals chances fell all the way down to 8%.
(WPA is a descriptive or “story” stat, meaning it describes what happened without necessarily reflecting a player’s true talent. Still, it is worth noting that Escobar had the worst WPA in the majors last season and has jumped out to the worst WPA for the Royals so far. Hopefully some timely hits will start falling in for him. The good news is he has looked outstanding with the glove.)
April 1 • Royals 2 Angels 1
The start of the four-game winning streak, and first of three walk-off wins on the week. Not surprisingly, Kila’s 9th inning bomb was the play of the game, boosting KC’s WE from 64% to a cool 100%.
April 2 • Royals 5 Angels 4
The Royals came-back came in the eighth inning this time with a couple of unlikely names doing the damage with the bat. With two outs and two on, the Royals were down 3-4, and had just a 31% WE. Light-hitting Matt Treanor knocked Billy Butler in with a single to tie it, and also-light-hitting Chris Getz gave the good guys the lead for good with a single of his own. KC’s WE shot all the way up to 86%.
April 3 • Royals 5 Angels 4
More late-innings madness, this time in both the ninth and 13th innings. Down by two in the bottom of the ninth, things were not looking good until suddenly the bases were loaded; Wilson Betemit had the biggest hit for the Royals all week (judged by WPA) when he doubled in two runs. Tying the game resulted in a mammoth 51% swing in WE in the Royals favor. The teams locked horns for four more innings before Treanor continued an amazing first week as a Royal with a walk-off ding dong. Even though it won the game, it had a smaller impact on WE (39%) than Betemit’s game-tying double.
April 5 • Royals 7 White Sox 6
How about another extra-inning, walk-off win? Once again it was the hit to tie the game that had the biggest effect on WE, rather than the walk-off hit itself. The tying runs came on a mammoth home-run from Bam Bam Butler, boosting the Royals WE from 20% to 56%. Cabrera’s single in the 12th wasn’t bad either, moving the WE from 70% to game over.
April 6 • White Sox 10 Royals 7
The magic ran out in another crazy game. It looked like the Royals were going to win in non-dramatic fashion for a change after jumping out to a 5-0 lead and handing a 6-3 lead to Joakim Soria in the ninth. Soria got two quick ground-outs, and the game was basically over. The Royals WE was 99.6%. The White Sox had flat-lined and were moving towards the light. Three singles and a walk later, the White Sox were within one run, but the Royals WE was still 83%. Next came the biggest WPA play of the week when Carlos Quentin doubled in the tying and go-ahead runs, swinging the WE 66% in the White Sox’s favor. It appeared the Royals might come back from the collapse when Ka’aihue doubled in the tying run in the bottom of the ninth, moving the WE 42% back in KC’s favor. The Royals couldn’t score. Then in the 11th, the Royals got their WE all the way back up to 83%. In a repeat of opening day, Jeff Francoeur and Alcides Escobar squashed a rally with back-to-back outs. It was not to be this time, and the Sox finally finished the job in the 13th inning.
Top five plays by WPA during opening week:
-66%: April 6 • 9th • Carlos Quentin go-ahead 2B
+51%: April 3 • 9th • Wilson Betemit tying 2B
+42%: April 6 • 9th • Kila Ka’aihue tying 2B
+39%: April 3 • 13th • Matt Treanor walk-off HR
+36%: April 5 • 8th • Billy Butler tying HR