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Are the Royals really getting blown out a lot this season?

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Embarrassing losses are the new market efficiency

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers
Is it as bad as it looks?
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

After a recent spate of ugly losses in which the Royals have been blown out more often than a Caribbean window in hurricane season, it’s fair to wonder whether this is an aberration or all too Royal. I looked at data for every full season from 2007-2017 to explore how blowout wins and losses have varied during the rise and (soon) fall of the Dayton Moore empire.

First, the raw data, drawn from baseball-reference.com with some additional calculations. The site defines a blowout as any game with a 5+ run differential, so I used those numbers along with my own standard for lopsidedness, a 10+ run differential. The table below shows the W-L record, W%, total runs scored and allowed, total run differential, and total games for both 5+ and 10+ run games in each selected season (2017 numbers include 9/5’s brutal loss to the Tigers in which All-Star Jason Vargas went supernova and scattered runs across the universe).

Tables are hard to read, though, so let’s look at these numbers in figures instead.

Fig. 1. Number of Royals blowout games (win or lose)
Eric Reuter; data from Baseball Reference

It’s not surprising that the late 2000s Royals played a lot of blowout games; they were terrible. Oddly, this trend declined in the early 2010s, but increased again as the team finally became competitive from 2013 onward. In theory, we’d expect that crappy teams would lose blowout games and competitive teams would win more of those games, right?

Fig. 2. Royals win percentage in blowout games
Eric Reuter; data from Baseball Reference

Not exactly. Through 2013, blowout losses track the team’s record pretty well, with the odd quirk that they tended to win most of the really blatant blowouts. The 2010 and 2012 teams were awful in major blowout games (if you want a mugging down Memory Alley, go relive July of 2012). But from 2014 onward, right when the Royals really became competitive, the trend changes completely: the team’s W% in major blowouts dropped far below their overall blowout W% and season W%. Even in the glory years of 2014-2015, they just weren’t winning those big mismatches. Just how bad were these losses, overall?

Fig. 3. Royals run differential in blowout losses
Eric Reuter; data from Baseball Reference

As you might expect, when the Royals were bad overall, they got hammered in blowout games overall. The run differentials for 2007-2010 illustrate our worst nightmares. But as implied by Fig. 2, the team held its own in the really big blowouts. From 2011-2014, the team was much more competitive in blowout games; even when they had a losing record in such games overall, they scored enough big wins to mostly even their run differential by the end of the season. But even 2015’s powerhouse World-Series-winning team showed signs of slipping, getting hammered in big blowouts, and by 2016-2017 the team was collectively getting creamed in such games.

So it certainly looks like the 2017 Royals are subjecting fans to more big losses than we’re used to. Their season W% and minor-blowout W% haven’t been unusual, mostly better than the bad Royals teams under Dayton Moore. But they’re losing more big-margin games, and by a greater run differential than any season except 2010.

I find it really interesting that the 2014-2017 teams have had such a distinct trend compared to 2007-2013. They’ve playing increasing numbers of big-margin games, lost more of them, and by a greater run differential. Does this reflect the full implementation of Dayton Moore’s prioritization of pitching and defense over offense, the steady decline in the quality of Royals pitching, or some other combination of factors?

In a further analysis, it would be interesting to extend these data farther back in time or compare them to other offensive/defensive metrics, but it sure seems to me that fans aren’t wrong in believing that the current Royals are as blowout-prone as a bicycle in a nail factory.