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Is the Royals offense actually streaky?

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, KC Star writer and guy who I like to think is a friend of the website Sam Mellinger wrote about the Royals and their streakiness in part of a larger thought on the offense:

You’re smart to note the inconsistency, and not just the raw number of runs. They’ve been shut out 15 times already, which is just unacceptable. It’s a streaky offensive team because it’s a lineup made up of streaky hitters, but still. They shouldn’t be scoring one or fewer runs in basically one out of every four games.

I think that’s a common narrative, the Royals being a streaky team. It feels like they go into slumps (one would note a 43-inning scoreless streak of futility), and then sometimes they get super hot (one would note all of June). So it being 2017 and me being someone who feels comfortable working with large volumes of data, I set out to try to crunch the proverbial numbers on trying to see if we could find a quantitative backing to the Royals being streaky. I don’t think we can prove this, if only because streaky is relative. Jose Altuve is streaky in the sense that he has spans of being a phenomenal hitter followed by spans of just being an above average one. You wouldn’t really call that streaky. You’d likely just call that good.

So what I did is I took every seven day span (that’s Monday to Sunday for exact purposes - possibly shortened by the first week of play) and looked to find consecutive weeks where a team matched two criteria for hot and cold. I considered anything <95 wRC+ as cold, and anything >105 wRC+ as hot. I know, I know, those aren’t perfectly criteria and maybe you don’t consider those ranges as hot or cold. Without nitpicking, a team hitting above 105 wRC+ for an entire week is a very good offensive week, just as hitting less than a 95 wRC+ on any given week isn’t a very good offensive week. Yes, it’s imperfect, and rigid, but you aren’t the author of this article my friends.

Having said some qualifiers, here is the list:

By these set of criteria, the Royals have had the 2nd most different streaks in baseball this year. Now some qualifiers. Yes, I’m counting back-to-back weeks as a streak. I know Lou Brown wouldn’t consider that a streak so instead just consider it ~14 consecutive games. Second thing to bring up: there is some overlaps in streaks. A three game cold streak counts as both a two game cold streak and a three game cold streak. A four week cold streak (or what normal people call a month) counts as a two week streak, three week streak and a four week streak.

The Royals have had all sorts of different streaks there, checking every single cold streak box, but never having more than two straight hot weeks. The Astros meanwhile never (!!!) had a cold streak. Let me say that again, the Astros never had a cold streak. They have had two separate five or more week hot streaks. I actually counted one stretch where they had one long hot “streak” from late-May to early-August. They are a superhuman offense.

So I think there is an argument there that the Royals are streaky, but maybe there is a different way to look at it?

So let’s getting a little more quantitative here (Warning! Gory Mathematical Details Ahead!). Let’s take the standard deviation of a team's weekly offense as a proxy of how far from the weekly median they can get. So a team with a +25 standard deviation means that on any given week they can stray +/- 25 from the average. In a perfect world it is 100; so on any given week they can be a 75 wRC+ or 125 wRC+ (it doesn’t quite work this way in my numbers but we can assume everyone probably hovers around the same).

For 2017, the Royals have the 4th highest standard deviation of any team. On any given week, their offense can be +/- 29 above their average (which for the Royals was a 90 wRC+). They had weeks were they put together a 117, 128, and even a 141 wRC+ (41% above league average; 5%+ better than the Murderers Row Yankees offenses). Then they had weeks of 61, 51, and 41 (the equivalent of the entire team hitting like Alcides Escobar or Alex Gordon this year).

Joining them are Cleveland, Washington, Colorado, and Baltimore. Three of those teams have 100+ team wRC+ this year. The fourth team, Colorado, plays at Coors Field so their offensive variance makes some sense, even if wRC+ helps neutralize it a bit. Cleveland, Washington, and Baltimore are all legitimately good offenses. The Royals are a legitimately bad offense. That seems like a testament to their streakiness.

I think the bottom of this list makes perfect sense. Oakland, San Francisco, San Diego, Cincinnati, and Atlanta are among the worst teams in baseball this year. Their offense doesn’t change much from just being bad. By the way, Houston never had a week worse than an 85 wRC+ and only six sub-100 weeks. Meanwhile they had weeks of 141, 152, and 173. Superhuman.

I also have the data on a player level per week that we can explore. I think there is a bit of inconsistency with comparing team streakiness and individual player streakiness. A player can be having a cold streak but the team is still doing good and vice versa.

Also, this is a bit weird how it looks compared to the team data. In this case, we are looking for the fewest streaks, because that means the player went from hot to cold to hot each week.

We don’t find ourselves with any Royals players here (min. 300 PA). Wilmer Difo has been one consistent player, never putting up back-to-back hot or cold weeks. That’s actually kind of amazing.

I know his works. He is neither cold nor hot. So because he is lukewarm, I will spew him out of my mouth.

Brandon Moss has been among the most streaky hitters on the team, and I think that was an obvious answer. Behind him is Whit Merrifield who’s game last year relied on BABIP and this year it has relied on power (perhaps thanks to the “juiced” ball). In May he had a month long hot streak (perhaps not coincidentally the month he had his highest walk rate and BABIP) but has oscillated around more of an average hitter in the other weeks.

Just because I have the data at my fingertips, here are the hottest and coldest weeks for Royals hitters:

I wonder what the Royals record was in the month where four of the team's best individual weeks were going on...

So is the Royals offense streaky, besides anecdotally? Yeah, I think there are numbers to back that up. Now part of it is likely because the Royals offense isn’t very good, so when they do heat up, it’s just them acting more like a good offense, a break from the bad offense. *Like someone cracked a window in the fart filled room than someone opened the door and let them out.

Still, the offense is one of the worst in the league, and likely the main culprit that is going to keep them out of the playoffs if they can’t catch enough fire the remaining few weeks of the year.

*God that analogy was awful