Royals social media has been abuzz the last few days as more projections have been released. These glorious pieces of "science" have been growing in popularity as the world slowly awakens to the idea of advanced metrics and its place in determining a players or teams worth. It would be nice if they could be a showcase for nerds everywhere, but alas…they have seemingly become nothing more than a black eye, at least in the eyes of Royals faithful.
PECOTA predicts that the Royals will win 76 games in 2016. This is after they projected the Royals winning 73 games in 2015. Many of us remember how that one turned out. According to the projections, 76 wins will be good enough to reside in the basement of the AL Central division with the 92 win Cleveland Indians taking the division crown. The only other team projected to have a winning record in the Central is the White Sox, penciled in for a modest 82 wins.
This is nothing new for Royals fans. To say that projections have been unkind to the Royals the last 3 years would be an understatement. The difference now at least seems to be that the creators and authors of these projection systems may finally be warming up to the idea that there may be a flaw. There have been several "apologies" written in response to the low marks given to the team that just won the World Series after winning the pennant the year before.
No one really knows what the missing piece of the pie is. Looking at the things the Royals are known to excel at, it could be anything from defensive metrics not being accurate enough (which they arent), speed not given proper value, or possibly the Royals willingness to be a high contact team when so many others are still playing early "Moneyball style" baseball predicated on walks/on base and power.
Dominant relief corps? Clubhouse atmosphere? Maybe its simply a combination of all of the above. Either way, General Manager Dayton Moore has seemingly found the next market efficiency and is exploiting it quite well. While its a fantastic and welcome anomaly for Royals fans, its an incredible inconvenience for projection systems who have to find a way to spit out a believable representation of what the future will hold based on data. Its becoming increasingly obvious they are working with an incomplete amount of data or what they have is valued incorrectly.
So where DO we look to see what people think of the Royals? The answer is "who has the most to lose by being wrong."
Radio hosts, columnists, even bloggers all often enjoy the clicks and coverage that come with "out there" projections. Any attention is good attention. PECOTA and Baseball Prospectus are no doubt benefiting greatly from being "wrong." Not to mention the fact that when predicting the future, no one will really even CARE what they had to say by the time they are proven right or wrong.
If you want to see a TRUE representation of what the Royals might or might not do, look no further than the people who have to back their claims with money. Vegas always tells the truth. They may be wrong, but in sports who isn't from time to time.
So what do the odds makers think? They tend to vary a bit, with the more optimistic giving the Royals 7/1 odds of making it back to the World Series and some less enthusiastic with 12/1 odds of returning. Most betting sites seem to favor the Cubs and Astros, which given the young core of players and success each team had last season seems a reasonable bet. The Royals typically fall in the top half of teams, but rarely in the top 3 or 4.
Its possible the Royals regress a bit in 2016. In fact, it may almost be expected, as World Series Champions often slip the following season, but it is also entirely possible they do what they have done the last 2 season. Defy the odds. The window for the Royals is closing, and the next 2 seasons seemingly represent the best opportunity of success for the foreseeable future.
The front office has signaled they are all in with offseason moves like Ian Kennedy and bringing back Alex Gordon on franchise record contracts. There was a time when believing in the Royals front office was nothing more than fools gold. Looked shiny from afar, but when you got up close it quickly showed itself as worthless. These are not those days. When it comes to believing in the projection systems or Dayton Moore, give me Dayton Moore. He has proven to be right far more times than those damn machines.
The PECOTA Projections prior to last season:
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