MLB: Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers

Finishing Strong

The Kansas  City Royals have done a remarkable job of digging themselves out of oblivion and into contention this August. Nine game winning streaks will do that, I’m told. While they may be done digging and poised to start climbing, the hill remains daunting. In a world where being intelligent and hip (yes, I know that is not a ‘now’ term) is measured by how unexcited one might be, we have more than our share of naysayers to the Royals’ playoff chances.

Yes, there is a ton of data and four living baseball teams that have a whole lot to say about Kansas City’s chances. The Royals could have an amazing finish and get 91 wins and still miss the playoffs. On the other hand, I worked out a scenario (however optimistic it may have been) where the team only had to have a very good finish, get to 86 wins and make the playoffs. Ninety wins is the cool kid mark that has been set. I am neither cool or a kid and like letting a little unsubstantiated hope into my life and thus, believe 88 wins is going to do it. Let’s compromise and say Kansas City needs to finish 89-73 to make the playoffs.

Eighty-nine wins. That requires a 24-13 finish from here on out: a winning percentage of .649. That is a tall order for a team that, even with a nine game winning streak in its back pocket has still only played .520 ball this year. Is it logical to think a team can play that much better than its current season mark in the heat of a pennant race?

Maybe.

In the last five seasons, 35 teams have played .600 ball or better from this point in August to the end of the season. Not too surprisingly, all 35 played the final month plus with a higher winning percentage than what they had for the season to date.  Winning just sixty percent of their games only gets the Royals to 87 wins. You have to be in a happy place to feel good about their chances at that level.

Is it unrealistic to expect or at least hope for this group to play .649 ball from here on out. Well, in the last five years, TWENTY teams have played at or above that level from this point in time through the end of the season. Curb your enthusiasm for a moment, however. Of those twenty teams, just five of them had a season to date winning percentage equal to or lower than the Royals’ current .520 mark.

Why throw numbers around, when you go use a chart instead?! Following are teams that finished out the year winning 60 percent or better of their games, sorted by best finish:

YEAR TEAM FINISH STARTING POINT DIFF
2011 DET 0.750 0.546 0.204
2011 TEX 0.733 0.561 0.172
2013 OAK 0.727 0.558 0.169
2011 ARI 0.710 0.550 0.160
2011 STL 0.710 0.519 0.191
2012 OAK 0.694 0.548 0.146
2011 LAD 0.688 0.465 0.223
2014 PIT 0.677 0.511 0.166
2012 MIL 0.676 0.464 0.212
2014 BAL 0.667 0.574 0.093
2014 LAD 0.667 0.561 0.106
2013 BOS 0.667 0.583 0.084
2012 BAL 0.667 0.548 0.119
2012 LAA 0.657 0.520 0.137
2012 SFG 0.657 0.559 0.098
2014 LAA 0.656 0.592 0.064
2014 WSN 0.656 0.577 0.079
2013 CLE 0.656 0.546 0.110
2013 WSN 0.656 0.500 0.156
2013 STL 0.656 0.585 0.071
2013 KCR 0.636 0.504 0.132
2011 TBR 0.636 0.543 0.093
2015 TEX 0.632 0.516 0.116
2015 CHW 0.632 0.589 0.043
2015 LAD 0.632 0.548 0.084
2012 ATL 0.629 0.567 0.062
2015 TOR 0.622 0.560 0.062
2014 SFG 0.613 0.527 0.086
2015 CLE 0.611 0.472 0.139
2012 NYY 0.611 0.579 0.032
2014 DET 0.606 0.543 0.063
2013 LAA 0.606 0.450 0.156
2015 PIT 0.605 0.605 0.000
2012 PHI 0.600 0.472 0.128
2011 MIL 0.600 0.591 0.009

Let’s look at this in a different fashion and sort the chart by the difference (DIFF) between a team’s winning percentage up this point in the season and what they accomplished down the stretch:

YEAR TEAM FINISH STARTING POINT DIFF
2011 LAD 0.688 0.465 0.223
2012 MIL 0.676 0.464 0.212
2011 DET 0.750 0.546 0.204
2011 STL 0.710 0.519 0.191
2011 TEX 0.733 0.561 0.172
2013 OAK 0.727 0.558 0.169
2014 PIT 0.677 0.511 0.166
2011 ARI 0.710 0.550 0.160
2013 WSN 0.656 0.500 0.156
2013 LAA 0.606 0.450 0.156
2012 OAK 0.694 0.548 0.146
2015 CLE 0.611 0.472 0.139
2012 LAA 0.657 0.520 0.137
2013 KCR 0.636 0.504 0.132
2012 PHI 0.600 0.472 0.128
2012 BAL 0.667 0.548 0.119
2015 TEX 0.632 0.516 0.116
2013 CLE 0.656 0.546 0.110
2014 LAD 0.667 0.561 0.106
2012 SFG 0.657 0.559 0.098
2014 BAL 0.667 0.574 0.093
2011 TBR 0.636 0.543 0.093
2014 SFG 0.613 0.527 0.086
2013 BOS 0.667 0.583 0.084
2015 LAD 0.632 0.548 0.084
2014 WSN 0.656 0.577 0.079
2013 STL 0.656 0.585 0.071
2014 LAA 0.656 0.592 0.064
2014 DET 0.606 0.543 0.063
2012 ATL 0.629 0.567 0.062
2015 TOR 0.622 0.560 0.062
2015 CHW 0.632 0.589 0.043
2012 NYY 0.611 0.579 0.032
2011 MIL 0.600 0.591 0.009
2015 PIT 0.605 0.605 0.000

We are asking Kansas City to play .649 ball the rest of way, an improvement of .129 over their season to date mark. Fourteen teams in the past five seasons have managed to do just that or better and nine of those had a season to date winning percentage equal to or lower than the 2016 Kansas City Royals.

From the above, we at least can point to a fair number of teams that have either improved dramatically down the stretch or played at the level necessary for the Royals to possibly make the playoffs. I’m telling ya’, there is hope, son.

Of course, we also need some teams in front of Kansas City to falter at the same time. Let’s take a look at teams that were playing .520 ball or better at this time in August and what they did the rest of the way. This first table is sorted from biggest collapse on down:

YEAR TEAM FINISH STARTING POINT DIFF
2012 PIT 0.306 0.654 -0.348
2011 BOS 0.313 0.615 -0.302
2014 MIL 0.290 0.557 -0.267
2011 ATL 0.333 0.598 -0.265
2014 OAK 0.344 0.592 -0.248
2015 KCR 0.486 0.616 -0.130
2015 STL 0.541 0.640 -0.099
2012 TEX 0.500 0.595 -0.095
2015 HOU 0.457 0.551 -0.094
2013 DET 0.500 0.592 -0.092
2013 TEX 0.485 0.577 -0.092
2011 PHI 0.559 0.648 -0.089
2013 BAL 0.455 0.543 -0.088
2013 LAD 0.500 0.585 -0.085
2015 LAD 0.548 0.632 -0.084
2011 LAA 0.469 0.546 -0.077
2015 NYY 0.486 0.552 -0.066
2013 TBR 0.514 0.578 -0.064
2012 LAD 0.486 0.543 -0.057
2011 NYY 0.559 0.609 -0.050
2013 CIN 0.516 0.565 -0.049
2014 SEA 0.500 0.546 -0.046
2015 SFG 0.486 0.528 -0.042
2014 NYY 0.485 0.527 -0.042
2013 ATL 0.563 0.600 -0.037
2013 NYY 0.500 0.531 -0.031
2012 WSN 0.583 0.611 -0.028
2014 KCR 0.531 0.554 -0.023
2013 PIT 0.563 0.585 -0.022
2012 STL 0.528 0.548 -0.020
2012 TBR 0.551 0.571 -0.020
2015 NYM 0.552 0.568 -0.016
2012 CIN 0.588 0.602 -0.014
2015 PIT 0.605 0.605 0.000
2011 MIL 0.600 0.591 0.009
2012 DET 0.556 0.540 0.016
2011 SFG 0.548 0.527 0.021
2012 NYY 0.611 0.579 0.032
2015 CHC 0.632 0.589 0.043
2014 STL 0.594 0.546 0.048
2015 TOR 0.622 0.560 0.062
2012 ATL 0.629 0.567 0.062
2014 DET 0.606 0.543 0.063
2014 LAA 0.656 0.592 0.064
2013 STL 0.656 0.585 0.071
2014 WSN 0.656 0.577 0.079
2013 BOS 0.667 0.583 0.084
2014 SFG 0.613 0.527 0.086
2011 TBR 0.636 0.543 0.093
2014 BAL 0.667 0.574 0.093
2012 SFG 0.657 0.559 0.098
2014 LAD 0.667 0.561 0.106
2013 CLE 0.656 0.546 0.110
2012 BAL 0.667 0.548 0.119
2012 LAA 0.657 0.520 0.137
2012 OAK 0.694 0.548 0.146
2012 CHW 0.560 0.405 0.155
2011 ARI 0.710 0.550 0.160
2013 OAK 0.727 0.558 0.169
2011 TEX 0.733 0.561 0.172
2011 DET 0.750 0.546 0.204

All told, 61 teams breezed into late August with winning percentages of .520 or better and a few experienced some epic collapses. Thirty-three played worse down the stretch and, follow my math here, 28 played as well or better. Nineteen played just .500 or worse.

YEAR TEAM FINISH STARTING POINT DIFF
2014 MIL 0.290 0.557 -0.267
2012 PIT 0.306 0.654 -0.348
2011 BOS 0.313 0.615 -0.302
2011 ATL 0.333 0.598 -0.265
2014 OAK 0.344 0.592 -0.248
2013 BAL 0.455 0.543 -0.088
2015 HOU 0.457 0.551 -0.094
2011 LAA 0.469 0.546 -0.077
2013 TEX 0.485 0.577 -0.092
2014 NYY 0.485 0.527 -0.042
2015 KCR 0.486 0.616 -0.130
2015 NYY 0.486 0.552 -0.066
2012 LAD 0.486 0.543 -0.057
2015 SFG 0.486 0.528 -0.042
2012 TEX 0.500 0.595 -0.095
2013 DET 0.500 0.592 -0.092
2013 LAD 0.500 0.585 -0.085
2014 SEA 0.500 0.546 -0.046
2013 NYY 0.500 0.531 -0.031
2013 TBR 0.514 0.578 -0.064
2013 CIN 0.516 0.565 -0.049
2012 STL 0.528 0.548 -0.020
2014 KCR 0.531 0.554 -0.023
2015 STL 0.541 0.640 -0.099
2015 LAD 0.548 0.632 -0.084
2011 SFG 0.548 0.527 0.021
2012 TBR 0.551 0.571 -0.020
2015 NYM 0.552 0.568 -0.016
2012 DET 0.556 0.540 0.016
2011 PHI 0.559 0.648 -0.089
2011 NYY 0.559 0.609 -0.050
2012 CHW 0.560 0.405 0.155
2013 ATL 0.563 0.600 -0.037
2013 PIT 0.563 0.585 -0.022
2012 WSN 0.583 0.611 -0.028
2012 CIN 0.588 0.602 -0.014
2014 STL 0.594 0.546 0.048
2011 MIL 0.600 0.591 0.009
2015 PIT 0.605 0.605 0.000
2014 DET 0.606 0.543 0.063
2012 NYY 0.611 0.579 0.032
2014 SFG 0.613 0.527 0.086
2015 TOR 0.622 0.560 0.062
2012 ATL 0.629 0.567 0.062
2015 CHC 0.632 0.589 0.043
2011 TBR 0.636 0.543 0.093
2014 LAA 0.656 0.592 0.064
2013 STL 0.656 0.585 0.071
2014 WSN 0.656 0.577 0.079
2013 CLE 0.656 0.546 0.110
2012 SFG 0.657 0.559 0.098
2012 LAA 0.657 0.520 0.137
2013 BOS 0.667 0.583 0.084
2014 BAL 0.667 0.574 0.093
2014 LAD 0.667 0.561 0.106
2012 BAL 0.667 0.548 0.119
2012 OAK 0.694 0.548 0.146
2011 ARI 0.710 0.550 0.160
2013 OAK 0.727 0.558 0.169
2011 TEX 0.733 0.561 0.172
2011 DET 0.750 0.546 0.204

Baltimore currently has 37 games left to play.  A 19-18 record gives them 88 wins.  A similar pace the Mariners would give them just 86 wins, while doing the same would put Toronto and Boston each with 90 victories.  Seventeen teams on the nearest above list have declined in winning percentage by what we, as Royals’ fans, would hope Baltimore would do.

In the end, there is nothing easy about what lies ahead for the Kansas City Royals. Contrary to what some might think, I doubt very few people believe otherwise. However, believing that the task that lies ahead for Kansas City is insurmountable and unprecedented is also a poor argument.

The concern in my mind, would be ‘have the Royals expended all their ammunition just to get to this point?’  Nine game winning streaks don’t just come along in bunches, and you could make the logical argument that Kansas City is more likely to fall back to being a .500 team than they are to surge ever forward at a .650 pace. That would be logical, but it is not illogical to hope that they might.

It has happened before.

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