For those of you who have been reading my stuff since I started doing FanPosts this year, you will recall that most of my first posts were about the various stats you can find in the Win Probability Section of FanGraphs. You may even remember my 2-week summary post. If you don’t, you can find it here. If you’re not familiar with the various Win Expectancy stats I encourage you to read that post, because I define a lot of them.
Once you’ve done that, keep reading this post because it’s time to evaluate the Royals through the lens of half a season of Win Expectancy stats. Let’s start with, courtesy of FanGraphs, the Royals offense as of July 9th.
The first thing I want you to think about is something you can’t actually see on this table anymore. On July 7th, Eric Hosmer was leading the offense in total WPA at 1.51 or 151%. Salvador Perez was barely positive. But then Hosmer struck out with a real chance to put his mark in the game that night for -18.3% WPA, finishing at -24% on the day. Salvy, who had had 7 straight negative WPA performances coming into the game and 10 of his last 12, got the game winning hit which was worth 66.8% WPA and gave him a total of 71% WPA for that game. That’s how quickly things can turn with WPA, especially when your offense actually looks kind of terrible based on these stats.
Salvy’s team leading 118% WPA ranks 67th in the major leagues. That is behind Nick Markakis. 27 teams have at least one player with a higher WPA than that - only the Twins and Athletics miss the bar. Almost all of those teams have more than one player higher, including the Reds with three guys and even the Rays have two. Even if you stop comparing the Royals WPA to other teams, comparing them only to other Royals shows some other pretty bad signs. The Royals top three offensive WPA performers on offense are all matched or exceeded by their worst three. And the third best WPA contributor is still a pinch-running specialist (Terrance Gore) who won one game with his legs and hasn’t contributed much of anything else this season, mostly because he’s been in the minor leagues, continuing to not hit.
The other stats aren’t much rosier, either. Eric Hosmer’s team leading (by a factor of three) RE24 is only good for 64th in baseball. He was getting some MVP hopes up earlier this year with his offensive ability, but for comparison Mike Trout has 41.19 RE24. Including him there are ten players with at least double Hosmer’s RE24. One stat the Royals do have looking up for them in that table above is the Clutch stat. This stat does compare a player to himself, not the league at large. So that means team leader Lorenzo Cain isn’t necessarily the 13th best hitter overall in clutch situations, he’s the 13th most improved hitter in high leverage situations over his normal results at 0.98 Clutch.
Beyond Cain the Royals actually have a couple of other guys performing very well in the clutch, Salvador Perez and Whit Merrifield. Drew Butera and Brett Eibner have both done very well in their few clutch situations, too. Eric Hosmer has been significantly better than any of his teammates when the game isn’t on the line, but he is actually the worst version of himself in the clutch.
He isn’t the worst on the team, though, the Royals have a couple guys really failing when the going gets tough in Alex Gordon and Kendrys Morales. Of course Alex Gordon has been a black hole of offensive production in every sense so far this season. I have to admit I was excited when he got moved to leadoff. I agreed with Ned’s logic that even if he wasn’t hitting well his ability to take a walk had value there, but so far batting leading off this year he is slashing .156/.270/.250, which is not even as good as Alcides Escobar. It might not be time to demote him out of that spot, yet, but the time is definitely coming quicker than any of us had hoped.
Are you ready to talk about something else? Should we talk about the pitching? Let’s talk about the pitching. As of July 9th, again courtesy of FanGraphs:
The first thing I want to talk about here are a couple of stats that are new to me, SD and MD. These stand for Shut Downs and Melt Downs respectively, and they’re awarded to relievers who score a WPA of higher than 6% or lower than -6%. It’s designed to give us a better idea of how a reliever impacted a particular game than the save or blown save. For example, Joakim Soria received a MD for his first appearance this year, but not a blown save because while he pitched horribly and almost cost the team the game, he didn’t actually give up the lead.
Speaking of Joakim Soria, I have been plotting for a while now to write about how he’s not as bad as everyone thinks he is. But looking at his team leading 8 Melt Downs compared to only 13 Shut Downs I have become less convinced that I actually have that one right. Also interesting to me is that the Royals broadcasters, as well as myself, have thought of Luke Hochevar as an excellent fireman even this late into the season but he’s actually only been a little bit better than Soria with a 12-6 SD-MD ratio.
Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis are shutting down a lot and melting down very rarely as we all expected, but Chien-Ming Wang and Scott Alexander have been better than you might have realized. Wang’s 3-1 ratio is better than anyone but Wade, Kelvin, Danny Duffy, and Alexander. Alexander had 2 SDs and - despite the high ERA - never did give up enough runs at the wrong time to gain an MD.
Another place that shows how undervalued Alexander has been is his fourth place ranking in WPA behind the 3 guys I think we can all acknowledge have easily been the best pitchers, so far this year - Davis, Herrera, and Duffy. Another guy who may have been a bit undervalued, at least by me, is Ian Kennedy. A couple weeks ago I was prepared to drop him from a theoretical playoff rotation entirely, but he’s the only starter other than Duffy with a positive WPA. Soria, meanwhile, is the only reliever who has been consistently allowed to pitch in important games with a negative WPA, the other negative performers have been starters or long relief.
Chien-Ming Wang has consistently risen to the occasion in the few clutch opportunities he’s had, as has Ian Kennedy - this has contributed to their positive WPAs. Chris Young has actually been significantly better in the big moments as well. It’s enough to make you wonder if perhaps Wang and Young should be pitching in the sixth and seventh instead of Soria and Hochevar. Though Soria’s Clutch is only a tiny bit negative, Luke has actually been the sixth worst on the team.
Just a quick glance at the RE24s shows that Wade, Kelvin and Danny are in the top 50 of all MLB pitchers in preventing runs from scoring. Chris Young, unsurprisingly, is 12th worst in all of baseball. Back to the Melt Down stat again, real quick, this year the Royals are on pace for roughly 48-50 Melt Downs. That’s actually fewer than they had last year when they had 59 Melt Downs, which means this bullpen might be even better than last year. In 2014, with the original HDH, but also with guys like Aaron Crow, they also scored a league best 48 MDs.
The Royals are not as good as they were, last year. I think it’s pretty safe to say that now that we’ve got half a season’s worth of data. We all knew the rotation was horrid and the bullpen was bad, but these stats also shed some light on how bad the offense has also been. That being said, for 2.5 straight years the Royals have taught me not to count them out until the credits have rolled, the lights have come back up, and the ushers have shouted that they've called security to remove me if I don't get out.