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How do this year's Royals compare to last year's?

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It's about playoff time, so let's see how things have changed.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Hey! The Royals, mostly Jeremy Guthrie, got trounced last night, but don't fret! I haven't included last night's data in the analysis to follow. Just kind of imagine that, like, the data aren't finalized yet and maybe a poor coder stuck in a cave will mistakenly reverse last night's results in the databases. It would be so easy to switch the team Id's around...

Hey! Also remember that the Mariners will not be going to the playoffs this year, while the Royals will be going to the playoffs. Take solace in the fact that we can now compare TWO CONSECUTIVE playoff teams against each other, and they're not in different cities. It's the same team. Our team!

When I said the same team earlier there, what I really meant was that it's still the Royals. Indeed, the analysis taking place in this here article is comparing how this year's team and last year's team are different. Obviously they're not the same team. They're mostly the same team.

So what I have done is whip up a little visualization in Tableau*. For position players, it's pretty great. You'll have to live with a screenshot for pitchers. You can interact with the visual. For example, if you click on a position, the Player fWAR visual will be filtered to that position (I took a few liberties with assigning positions). If you choose a player on the Player fWAR visual, the Player Triple Slash visual will populate with that player's data.

*Yes, I know this season isn't over yet. No, players won't make much of an impact between now and the end of the season on their season total fWAR numbers.

So let's look at the biggest differences. First, there's left field - Alex Gordon's domain. Though Gordon is actually hitting better than last year, his fWAR is way down due to his injury stint. He is back now though, so there's not really a big difference in left field.

The next largest difference is at first base. Eric Hosmer has taken the lion's share of playing time at that position for the past two years, and he's vastly improved this year. He's getting on base a lot more and hitting for more power. He also hasn't run into nearly as many outs on the bases.

The next largest difference is at DH. What this really encompasses is the difference between Billy Butler and Kendrys Morales. In a roughly equal number of plate appearances, Morales has blown Butler out of the water and then some. Morales is hitting for power and getting on base, two things that Butler didn't do last year and isn't really doing this year.

Mike Moustakas is responsible for the third-sacker difference. We know his story: He learned to go to the opposite field. He's bringing a solidly above-average bat along with good defense, and his power is coming along with 20 dingers.

The next largest difference is unfortunately a negative one at shortstop. Alcides Escobar was abandoned by the BABIP fairy this year, which is not surprising. The BABIP fairy comes and goes as it pleases.

Most of the difference in right field comes in the form of Nori Aoki vs. Alex Rios. That didn't work out so well for the Royals. Aoki, though injured, had a much better season in San Francisco than Rios had here.

At catcher, Salvador Perez's offense has declined a bit more. He might be hitting for more power, but he is getting on base less. In center field, Lorenzo Cain's offensive breakout is driving the difference. Cain is straight-up smashing the ball while still bringing excellent defense.

Even though I've assigned Ben Zobrist to second base, since he'll be playing there the rest of the year, Omar Infante's horrible season dragged down the overall numbers enough for there to be a slight negative difference. That leaves us with the infield and outfield bench players. Christian Colon and Cheslor Cuthbert (C^4, the Backup Cingers, other good nicknames?) are driving most of the value off the infield bench. As far as the generic outfield position goes, Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando provide speed, defense, and a little punch in Orlando's case off the bench.

In all, only catcher, right field, and shortstop are legitimately worse than last year. However, the improvements made at first, third, and DH do a pretty good job of covering the decrease. Overall, this year's team is slightly better by position player fWAR.

Here's a screenshot of the pitcher visual. Red means 2014 was better, blue means 2015 was better. The intensity of the color signifies the magnitude of the difference. The pitchers are sorted by the sum total of fWAR over the past two years - highest number at the top.

pitcher fwar difference

Of course, any players who weren't on the team this year or last year are going to mess things up a bit. If you sort of mentally remove James Shields, Edinson Volquez, and Johnny Cueto (and Chris Young and Ryan Madson and Franklin Morales...), the story becomes pretty clear. Every pitcher near the top, the pitchers on whom the Royals rely the most, has gotten worse (or injured in Jason Vargas' case). A reliever, albeit a robotic dominant reliever, leads the pitchers in fWAR over the past two years.

In order to find a pitcher who has improved by fWAR from 2014 to 2015 and pitched for the Royals in both years, you have to go all the way down to Aaron Brooks. Don't waste time searching for Brooks. He's not on the chart above because he didn't meet the 10 innings pitched threshold.

Louis Coleman is the only pitcher who pitched in 2014 and 2015 and threw at least 10 innings total. Unfortunately, Coleman has thrown only 2.1 innings in 2015.

Do you know what that means? It means that unequivocally in 2015 every returning pitcher got worse. Overall, the pitchers have lost 4 fWAR from last year.

The bullpen is worse. Holland just got booted out of the closer's role and is fighting...something. Herrera gave up dingers. Davis has given up a few more dingers, because any dinger is more than zero, and isn't striking guys out as much as last year. Madson, Morales, and Hochevar are holding down the back-end OK enough, but they're not the high-leverage guys.

As far as the rotation goes, Cueto appears to be a mess. Maybe moving his target down will help, maybe it won't. Ventura's had problems with men on base; who knows if it's a real thing or not. Duffy just got moved to the bullpen in favor of Guthrie, who, again, got shelled last night. Chris Young isn't pitching much these days in a long-relief, mop-up duty role. Kris Medlen is finding his way after coming back from his second Tommy John surgery. Edinson Volquez is really the only happy story here.

The playoff rotation probably goes Cueto, Ventura, Volquez, Medlen. Last year, it was Shields, Ventura, Vargas, Guthrie. Despite the universal dropoff in performance, I'll take this year's four over last year's if Cueto returns to his normal level of performance.

Overall, last year's team was slightly better overall in terms of fWAR. I'll take this year's squad though.