Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Can the Kansas City Royals Finally Make the Postseason?

A speedy defense led by Alex Gordon has made the Royals the hottest team in the Majors this month.
By Adam Lowenstein (@StatsAdam)

There are long-suffering fans in several cities, but no baseball fans have suffered more than the ones in Kansas City.

The first-place Royals now hope to end the longest active postseason drought in major American professional sports, having missed the playoffs every year since their 1985 World Series win. There are many reasons why Ned Yost’s squad has recently vaulted to the top of the American League Central division, so let's take a look at why the Royals may end their 28-year drought.

On Sunday, the Royals moved their MLB-best record in August to 13-3. Alex Gordon has led the offensive movement, as the Royals have scored the most runs of any team in August. Surprisingly, the team’s best hitter is found in the lineup’s fifth spot. Gordon has batted 85 times as the No. 5 hitter in the team’s 123 games this season. In terms of the No. 5 spot in the order, the Royals are baseball’s best in runs, hits and on-base plus slugging this season.

Another big part of Kansas City’s success comes from the team’s speedsters. Jarrod Dyson (27 stolen bases), Alcides Escobar (24), Lorenzo Cain (18) and Nori Aoki (15) all have double-digit steals and have been caught fewer than five times each this season. Not only do the Royals have the second-most stolen bases, but they also have been efficient as they have the third-best percentage in the majors.

The team’s speed translates to their defensive success. They have a whopping four players in the top eight in 2014 AL defensive WAR: Lorenzo Cain (third), Gordon (tied-sixth), Salvador Perez (tied-sixth) and Dyson (eighth). Their great individual defensive efforts have prevented opponents from getting a high number of extra-base hits.

The Royals’ strong defense has helped their pitching succeed, as Wade Davis, Greg Holland and the rest of their pitchers have the team’s ERA as the sixth-best one in baseball in August. Holland is one of the best pitchers in terms of Win Probability Added this season and Holland is the AL’s save leader. With the team’s reliance on manufacturing runs, the pitching and defense must continue to succeed in August and September for the team to make it to the postseason.

Ultimately, I believe the 2014 Royals will end their drought because they do not on depend on the home run. Although the Royals slugged three out of the park on Sunday, they have by far the lowest home run rate in the majors and still have been in the middle of the pack in terms of offense this season. What could be the main reason for their ability to manufacture runs recently is their MLB-best strikeout rate. The Royals are rung up on fewer than 16 percent of their at-bats with the second-best team well above 17 percent.

Another reason they should make the postseason is their ability to succeed in the second half of the season. During Yost’s four years as the manager of the Royals, they have consistently performed better in the second half of the season compared to the first half, and 2013 was the largest difference in terms of winning percentage.

They won 43 of their 92 games (.467 win percentage) before the All-Star break last year and won 43 of their 70 games (.614) afterwards. This season, the Royals’ first-half win percentage was .511, and they are currently at .690 since the break.

On July 21, the Royals were eight games behind the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central, and they are now the division leader. As long as they continue to avoid offensive strikeouts, then we could finally see a “Blue October.”

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