Opening Day is nearly upon us, and that means it's time for final projections and predictions regarding the 2016 season. Where Royals fans are concerned, that only means one question: is it time to bet on a repeat, or should we prepare for at least a slight step back in 2016? Frankly, nobody knows, but here are a few general factors to consider.
To begin with, we can toss out the assumption that a repeat champion is a particularly rare thing in baseball. It certainly sounds like it would be, but looking back through a list of World Series champions, you can count 21 instances (out of 111 total World Series) in which a defending champion won again. That's just about 19 percent of the time, or close to once every five World Series. Now, the fair counterpoints to this are that a bulk of the repeats come from multiple blocks of Yankees dynasties, and that many of them happened when there were fewer teams in the MLB to compete with. Fair points. However, we haven't seen a repeat champion since the 2000 Yankees, meaning it's been 16 years when statistics suggest it should happen every five or six. In other words, baseball is due for a repeat.
Looking specifically at this coming season, it's important to point out that optimism for the Royals extends well beyond the Kansas City fan base. In fact there appears to be pretty widespread agreement that the Royals ought to triumph in the AL Central once more, and go on to contend for a World Series victory. And that agreement is coming from rivals. A Cleveland publication tabbed the Royals as the likely World Series winners, claiming the team has the best lineup offensively and defensively in all of baseball. The Chicago Tribune also predicted a division win for the Royals, though it picked the Blue Jays to win the Series. This isn't to say those predictions are necessarily worth more than anyone else's, but they are reassuring of one thing: we aren't just biased. The 2016 Royals are very well positioned to compete at the highest level again.
On the other hand, if you're actually wondering if you should bet on the Royals' winning ways, there's some data to suggest that being a division favorite may not be a good thing. This is for the simple reason that MLB divisions are generally extremely competitive, and teams play one another so frequently that things are almost bound to even out more than it looks like they should based on rosters and potential. One study of various baseball betting stats and trends looked into how divisional underdogs perform and found that over a seven-year period, underdogs won 3,414 of 7,927 division games. That's 43 percent of the games! Now, that doesn't mean an underdog isn't an underdog. But it does suggest that divisional races can often be tighter than they're expected to be. It's never wise to get carried away with "favorite" status in baseball.
So what's the final verdict? There's no definite answer, of course, and there never is in sports or it wouldn't be fun to follow them. Regarding this year's Royals, however, they do look like a safer bet than most to at least compete for a World Series. They've been there in consecutive years, they have as strong a roster as there is in baseball, they're almost universally recognized as division favorites, and there's the argument that the MLB is due for a repeat champion. However, betting on one of 30 teams is never that strong a proposition. It just looks a little stronger than usual this year.
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