There has been some discussion around these parts recently about the Royals’ chances of making the playoffs. At this point, we know that this team is flawed. They have had rookies step up, but there is a flimsy foundation underneath them. The league is catching up to those rookies, Alex Gordon has been injured and slumping, Lorenzo Cain is injured, and Mike Moustakas is out for the year. There are plenty of holes on the offense. Before last night’s game, the Royals ranked 26th in runs scored, tied with the Brewers at 4.0 runs per game. They rank 23rd in non-pitcher wRC+ and 19th in fWAR. The defense helps, but the offense is worse than last year. They’re not even running the bases all that well.
We also know the pitching has its problems. Chris Young has given up the highest number of dingers in the league, 26, and that is in half the innings of the second place guy. Yordano Ventura has been the definition of inconsistent, and even Edinson Volquez has had a few blowups. Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy are the only starters whose ERA resembles something acceptable. The bullpen just lost Wade Davis, and Joakim Soria has been a little less than what we had hoped.
Despite all that, I’m hopeful. Kendrys Morales has been performing baseball science at the plate over the past few weeks, and Cheslor Cuthbert has been pretty good recently too. I am confident that Danny Duffy will continue pitching well and that Ian Kennedy will keep walking the tightrope and not fall off. I am confident that Yordano Ventura is a mechanical adjustment away from returning to his old self. There is even hope for Jason Vargas as he started throwing last month.
I believe someone mentioned this in the comments, and maybe others have too, but if you told me at the start of the year that a huge portion of the core players would be injured and that some of the other core players would underperform, I would have told you that the Royals would have a losing record.
They are 43-41 at the time of this writing, yet they are in fourth place in the AL Central. I’ll ... take it.
The projections do not share this optimism. FanGraphs shows the Royals having a 1.1 percent chance of winning the division and a 4.6 percent chance of making the Wild Card game for a total chance of making the playoffs at 5.7 percent. Baseball Prospectus is ever so slightly more optimistic at a 1.0 percent chance of winning the division and a 7.7 percent chance of making the Wild Card game for an 8.7 percent total chance of making the playoffs.
Either way you slice it, those are single-digit odds. Neither FanGraphs nor Baseball Prospectus projects the Royals to finish with a winning record.
It is a little bit difficult to put into words how much I care about the projections when it comes to this team. I fully recognize that the projections are built on reams of data and are more accurate than my gut. My background involved predictive models - I’ve created a few of my own for non-baseball things. I get it. I use projections as my baseline for expectations, as they are meant to be used. Adjusting my playoff expectations upward for optimism still doesn’t move the needle very much. There is a long way between single-digit playoff odds and the shiny rainbows of guaranteed playoffs, a.k.a. 100 percent odds.
Yet, the past few years have introduced some cognitive dissonance into my fandom and many of yours I would guess. The Royals of the 2000s taught me coping mechanisms - cynicism, snark, and emotional detachment. The Royals of the last few years have brought on optimism, hope, and connection. Emotions are powerful. I retain the cynicism, which is now fighting with optimism. I think the Royals will be fine at the same time they won’t.
When I see these projected odds, I accept them as reasonable. When I think about the little ways this team could improve, I accept those as reasonable. Maybe all this is just another way of saying I don’t know what the hell to think, but I’m going to enjoy it, stats, feelings, and all.
There’s no reason this team can’t win 15 of their next 20.