After the 2012 season, it’s easy to accept the Royals will always lose and nothing will change. It’s hard to be optimistic and defend a sports team who hasn’t been above .500 since 2003 and not in the playoffs since 1985.
So should I and other Royals fans be more optimistic? I think so. Look, if the Baltimore Orioles can make the playoffs, so can the Royals.
You could call the Orioles the Royals of the A.L. East. In 2011, the Orioles had a 69-93 record. The last time they won 70 games was 2006. The last time they went over .500 was 1997. This year, the Orioles went 93-69, winning the Wild Card play-in game against the Rangers before losing the ALDS against the Yankees.
The Orioles weren’t supposed to be this good. Their Pythagorean win-loss record was 82-80 and many figured the team would finish towards the bottom of the A.L. East.
The Yankees won the A.L. East, but only by two games over the Orioles. The Rays played well, but “only” won 90 games, missing the playoffs. The Jays were Royals-like at 73-89. The Red Sox finished 69-93 and showed Bobby Valentine the door.
So what made the Orioles so good? It had to be their top-shelf starting pitching. Well, not really. The starters had a 4.42 team ERA, ninth in the A.L. and 21st in the the Majors. Their “ace” pitcher, Wei-Yin Chen, had a 4.02 ERA, a 12-11 record, pitched 192.2 innings with a 2.70 SO/BB ratio.
The Royals starters had a 5.01 team ERA, 11th in the A.L. and 26th in the Majors. That’s not too far off from the Orioles. The Royals “ace” was Bruce Chen, with a 5.07 ERA, a 11-14 record, pitching 191.2 innings with 2.98 SO/BB ratio. If Luke Hochevar wasn’t Luke Hochevar and Jeremy Guthrie had a full season with the Royals, The Royals starting rotation could be better than the Orioles rotation.
How about the bullpen? The Orioles had a 3.00 team ERA, third in the A.L. and fifth in the Majors. Just behind them were the Royals with a 3.17 team ERA, fourth in the A.L. and sixth in the Majors. The Royals had 535 strikeouts, the most in the A.L., but the Orioles had a 1.21 WHIP, compared to the Royals 1.34 WHIP. The Orioles bullpen was a factor, but it wasn’t the main reason they made the playoffs.
How about the Orioles lineup? Center fielder Adam Jones led the team with a .287 average, 103 runs and 16 stolen bases. DH Chris Davis led with 33 home runs and 85 RBI. As a team, the Orioles had a .247 average, 677 RBI, 270 doubles, 214 home runs, scoring 712 runs while allowing 705 runs.
Meanwhile, DH Billy Butler led the team with a .313 average, 29 homers and 107 RBI. Alex Gordon led the team with 93 runs and Alcides Escobar stole a team high 35 bases. As a team, the Royals had a .265 average, 643 RBI, 295 doubles, 131 home runs, scoring 676 runs and allowing 746 runs.
The Royals had a better batting average and more doubles, but the Orioles had 83 more home runs and 34 more RBI. And the Royals gave up a lot more runs than they scored. Having a good team batting average and hitting doubles helps, but scoring more runs wins more games. The Orioles did a better job offensively than the Royals, but it wasn’t a big reason the Orioles played so well.
So what was it? The Orioles had something the Royals didn’t have much of: luck. There’s a stat called Pythagorean Luck, which is the difference between the actual win-loss record and the Pythagorean win-loss record. The Orioles were the best in the Majors with an 11 luck score and played way above expectations. The Royals were -2 and played slightly below expectations.
When the Orioles were in a close or extra inning game, they usually won. In one run games, the Orioles had a 29-9 record, the best in the Majors. The Royals were 27-26, which is at least above .500. The Orioles also had the best extra inning record in the Majors at 16-2. The Royals were 8-7, once again above .500. And the Orioles never lost a regular season game when they led after seven innings.
And love him or hate him, manager Buck Showalter did a good job managing the team. He’s obsessively detail oriented and after a while he usually wears out his welcome, but he’s a frontrunner for A.L. Manager of the Year.
Now the Orioles were far from perfect. The lack of an ace showed itself in the playoffs, even with the Yankees being offensively challenged. And a team can’t expect to win a majority of one run and extra inning games every year. And outside of pitcher Dylan Bundy and third baseman Manny Machado, the Orioles farm system is pretty shallow.
But the Orioles prove with timely performances, a average starting rotation and some luck, a team can win and make the playoffs, even in a strong A.L. East. There’s no excuses for the Kansas City Royals now. If the Baltimore Orioles can do it, the Royals can too.