MLB: ALCS-Toronto Blue Jays at Kansas City Royals

What’s In a Mid-Season Record?

Is there a tougher decision in baseball than that facing a general manager in baseball than deciding whether to buy, sell or stick in the middle of the season? Not only does one have to decide WHAT direction his team should jump, but also WHEN they should make said move. After making one decision, a GM might see his team have a bad mid-July road trip or suffer an untimely injury and find himself completely changing direction in a matter of days. Last season, for example, Detroit was a buyer right up to the point when they became a huge seller.

After spending the first part of his tenure running the Royals with really the only decision being who to sell and when to sell them, Dayton Moore has enviable found himself with greater conundrums in July of the last three years. With each previous years’ success comes the added pressure of making the right decision this year.

The fans want to win, and I don’t think their desire to do so is tremendously mitigated by having some new flags out beyond left field. Ownership definitely has input, both in desire and in the financial implications of any decision. Then, of course, there is the market. Despite all the rumors, leaks and speculation, few of us seldom really know what deals were actually available to your team. Do the Royals need starting pitching? If every conversation Dayton Moore initiates, be it in regard to Julio Teheran or cott Feldman, begins with the name ‘Raul Mondesi and…’, then maybe there is no option to ‘go for it.’

What we do know is that when baseball starts up with games that matter again on July 14th, the Kansas City Royals will be one of ELEVEN American League teams with records of .500 or better. Sitting at two games over the break even mark, the Royals are sporting the exact same winning percentage as they did on that date in 2014.  That Royals team, as you all remember, went on to play .603 ball after July 13th (14 games above .500), make the playoffs and play in a World Series Game Seven.  How likely is it for a team to make that type of run?

Well, funny you should ask.

I did some digging into a bit of recent history and examined the records of American League teams as of July 13th of each year back to 2010. You can argue that a better study would go back further and include the National League. I won’t disagree with that, but might also offer that given how the landscape of the game is ever changing (finances, the valuation of prospects, etc) perhaps recent history of the league in which the Royals reside might be as telling as a comprehensive review of both leagues back to the introduction of division play or something of that nature. You might argue that I am using a theory to justify my laziness. I will not disagree with that at all. You think I have all day to sit down here in this basement and type baseball stuff?  No way, Mom says I have to do my own laundry and learn to use the toaster oven.

Anyway, let’s have a bit of fun with the numbers and see what teams that were or maybe were contenders on July 13th did from the date forward.  In doing so, maybe it will shed some light on what course of action the Royals should pursue this July.

From 2010 to 2015, 14 teams found themselves one to five games below .500 on July 13th. Their winning percentages spanned from .473 to .495. While 10 of those 14 posted higher winning percentages after the 13th, only two were able to make a run all the way to the playoffs. It just so happens that both those teams not only made the playoffs, but won their divisions and both did so in 2015. Of course, we are referencing the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers, both of whom made big, big trades last July. The next best team of this group? Your 2013 Kansas City Royals, who played .473 ball prior to July 13th (5 games under) and .606 ball afterwards (15 games over).

Now, the next group will be of great interest to us, as it includes those teams that were at .500 to five games over that mark on our magical July 13th date. This year’s Royals are two games over with a .511 winning percentage, which would put them right in the midst of a group of 16 teams over the past six seasons that were between .500 and .528 winning percentages. Nine of those 16 teams would post better winning percentages for the rest of the season. Five would make the playoffs and three of those would do so as division winners. Once again, one of those five was the 2014 Kansas City Royals, who were two over on July 13th, 2014, six and one-half games behind Detroit in the Central and two and one-half games out of the second wild-card spot.

Let’s move up another notch and look at teams that were six to ten games above the .500 mark. In our 2010 to 2015 grouping, 17 teams fit into this criteria and only six of them posted better winning percentages after July 13th.  Despite that, nine of those teams still made the playoffs and five did so as divisional winners. As you might expect, four of the five division winners from this group were near the upper end of the spectrum (9 or 10 games above even). Fun fact: the 2011 Detroit Tigers had the biggest increase in post-July 13th winning percentage, going from .533 to .657, while the 2010 Detroit Tigers had the biggest decrease, going from .558 to .434.

Finally, we have 17 teams that were 11 games or better on July 13th during our time frame. They carried winning percentages between .563 and .636 into that day and only ONE managed to improve on that percentage after the 13th. Only the 2013 Oakland A’s (.585 to .603) managed the feat. Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was that only eight of these 17 teams went on to win their division. Yes, 13 made the playoffs – no surprise – but that less than half were able to parlay a very good first half (more than half, I know, don’t be so picky) into a division pennant. The four who did not make even the wild card? The 2011 Boston Red Sox, who were 20 games over on the 13th and played .486 ball the rest of the way, along with the 2013 Rangers, the 2010 Red Sox and the 2010 White Sox.

In this last winning group, only two of the 17 teams played under .500 after July 13th. The aforementioned 2011 Sox and the 2014 Oakland A’s. That team was breezing along at 23 games over (.621) and then spiraled to just a .433 winning percentage the rest of the way before crashing and burning in Kansas City during the Wild Card. So, the current 16 games over .500 Cleveland Indians are very unlikely to lose more than they win, but would appear likely to at least not win at the pace they have set thus far. That is helpful for those of us with a ‘go for it’ itch, but far from the ringing endorsement to do so that one might hope for.

Our short and small recent history sample also tells us that the Royals have a slightly better than even chance of posting a higher win percentage from here on out and a roughly one in three chance of making the post-season.  Can we take anything from the fact that Kansas City has been 10, 14 and 15 games over .500 after July 13th the last three seasons?  And should we point out that in two of those three ‘second halves’, the Royals basically stood pat at the trading deadline? Hmmmm, now I’ve got some pondering to do.

We are over 1,200 words at this point to have learned what you mostly already knew: it is tough NOT to make the playoffs when you have a really good first half record, and it is just as tough to make the playoffs if you are under .500 over the same stretch. In between is a whole bunch of maybe.

My guess is that the All-Star break is when most general managers and their owners start turning those maybes into decisions. Should the Royals, as Darin stated Monday morning, hold the line? Or should they, as I mused on Sunday, reach out and try to grab that playoff ring once more?

I feel like there is a second installment to this story.  We know what the sub .500 Blue Jays and Rangers did last year to make the playoffs, but a review of the 2012 Oakland A’s and others like them seems in order. Check back for the just imagined second installment to this later in the week!

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