Royals Not THAT Much Better Than You Think

KANSAS CITY, MO: General view of Kauffman Stadium after first baseman Eric Hosmer #35 of the Kansas City Royals hits a home run against the Toronto Blue Jays in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Tim Umphrey/Getty Images)

Here at Baseball Nation, we're not doing Power Rankings.

It's not that we don't admire Power Rankings. Exactly the reverse; we love Power Rankings. We just haven't been doing them because we haven't yet figured out a way to make them interesting.

Really, the only way to make Power Rankings interesting is to throw some crazy shit in there.

Like, for example, saying the Kansas City Royals, now 3-13 after losing 11 straight games, have been (and/or are) the seventh-best team in the major leagues. That's interesting and crazy, and that's what our FanGraphs pals have done in their new Power Rankings.

Yeah. And if you focus on just the American League Central, it goes like this:

1. Royals (7)
2. White Sox (8)
3. Indians (13)
4. Tigers (14)
5. Twins (27)

Based on that alone, we might accurately describe these Power Rankings as idiosyncratic, no? The Royals have the ninth-best OPS in the American League, and the 11th-best ERA; the Tigers rank 12th and 4th.*

Wait, what? Yeah, the Tigers are 12th in the American League in OPS. They're fortunate to rank eighth in the league in scoring. Here's a great object lesson in not going crazy about statistics in the first week of the season. Since scoring 23 runs in their first three games of the season (against the Red Sox), the Tigers have averaged only 3.4 runs per game.

Still, it's hard to look at the Royals and the Tigers, even leaving aside their vastly disparate records, and conclude that the Royals are significantly better -- or have played significantly better -- than the Tigers.

Yes, it's closer; but still a 26-point deficit in OBP, 10 points in slugging. Those aren't massive, but they're significant.

"fWAR" is FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement ...

... we've translated each team's total WAR into an expected winning percentage based on the number of games they've played this season. By utilizing WAR, we can better identify which teams are actually playing well and will likely sustain their success going forward.

So this is largely about the defense, apparently. With Ultimate Zone Rating being the defensive component in WAR, we may surmise that the Royals' individual fielders have good UZRs. But we also know that UZR can tell us some awfully strange things over just a few weeks, or even a few months (Carlos Lee).

Yes, 19th still seems awfully high for a 3-13 team that's been outscored 81-57 in this young season. But if the Royals had come in 19th in the Power Rankings, hardly anyone would have noticed.

But everyone did notice -- thanks, Twitter! -- and so Dave Cameron has taken to this bully pulpit to explain how the Royals really aren't as bad as their record:

As it stands, the Royals have scored 57 runs and allowed 81. With a more normal distribution on timing of hits, though, it’d be pretty close to 70 for both RS and RA. And, as everyone who has been beaten to death with pythagorean expectation over the past 20 years knows, a team’s runs scored and runs allowed are a better evaluator of how a team has played than simple wins and losses. Pythag suggests that the 57/81 split in their RS/RA means that the Royals have played more like a .313 team than a .188 team, and their underlying components of run scoring and run prevention suggest that they’ve played more like a .500 team than a .313 team.

Essentially, their hitters have been really lousy in clutch situations and their defense has been really lousy in clutch situations. A normal distribution of runs scored and allowed would have them sitting at 6-10 rather than 3-13; a normal distribution of hits would have them sitting at (or around) 8-8.

Okay, so we've bent over backwards to demonstrate that the Royals are not really so terrible. What I still can't figure out, though? How does one get from "not really so terrible" to "seventh-best team in the majors"?

Really, what it comes down to is this: If you have to bet your car on who's going to play better over the next five months, who are you taking? The Royals, or the Tigers?

I think I know who Dave Cameron would take.


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