Royals Winning with Fundamentals
by Robert Ferringo - 07/04/2007
Click the link for the Kansas City Royals baseball schedule.
Break up the Royals.
That's right boys and girls, the Kansas City Royals - a.k.a. The Worst Franchise In Sports Over the Past 20 Years - is currently the hottest bet in baseball. And believe me, I know a little something about it.
Since May 12 I have gone an absolutely astounding 2-15 for -44 Units betting against the Royals. Yes, you read that right. A team that has won just 36.9 percent of its last 561 games dating back to the start of 2004 has been sucking me dry and serving as the bane of my existence. And I know I'm not the only one.
Kansas City has won six of its last eight games and has won four of its last seven series. The Royals are a solid 12-8 since June 10, picking up $8,690 for the only dime bettor that was bold enough to back them. This recent run of success is actually part of a two-month pattern of winning that has been about as expected as Isaiah Washington hosting a GLAD event. Kansas City is 24-23 since May 12, and that includes the requisite seven-game losing streak, and finished June with a positive mark at 15-12.
So what's the deal? When did the Royals actually become a real baseball team and why did it take me so long to react? But most importantly, what's the prognosis for the rest of season?
Buddy Bell has done a magnificent job considering that he's consistently being dealt a 2-6 offsuit. Or, more like a 2-5-6 offsuit when you consider that Kansas City's .256 team batting average is the second worst in the Majors. Yet they've averaged 5.14 runs per game over their last 29 outings, which would be good enough to put them in the top five scoring teams in the league. They've done so with a focus on strong fundamentals - moving runners over, sacrificing and turning more double plays than any other team in the league - and have become a team that I would say plays the game "the Right Way".
Looking a little deeper into the equation I've noticed that the Royals lineup has started performing much better against left-handed pitching as well. Kansas City has gone 6-7 against southpaw starters since May 12. And while that below .500 mark may seem underwhelming, when you consider that prior to that they were 17-63 (21.3 percent) in their previous 80 games against a lefty (including 0-8 to start the season) I would say that 6-7 represents a monumental achievement.
Also, the Royals pitching staff has managed a 3.87 E.R.A in the 29 games they've played since June 1. That mark is the fourth-best in MLB during that timeframe and another key reason as to their mini-surge. The emergence of Brian Bannister (5-4, 3.58 E.R.A., 1.23 WHIP) and the consistency of All Star hurler Gil Meche (5-6, 3.26 E.R.A, 2.63 K-to-BB ratio) have spearheaded the starting rotation while the bullpen has gotten healthy and effective.
Zach Grienke, a total head case as a starter, has found a niche as a setup man. The Royals have won nine of his last 11 appearances and since moving to the bullpen on May 10 he's given up just 12 earned runs in 33 innings pitched. He also has managed half as many wins (three) as a reliever over the past two months as he did as a starter over the past three years (six). Toss in a legit closer (Octavio Dotel), a capable backup closer (Joakim Soria), and three other relievers with sub-3.00 E.R.A s and you have the makings of a stupendous bullpen.
From a personal standpoint, it was mostly stubbornness and insanity that got the best of me when it came to Kansas City. They've been so pathetic for so long - they have just three winning seasons in the past 15 years - that it's next to impossible to expect anything but pathetic play out of them. They began the season in typical K.C. style, 11-26, and we were cleaning up on them (13-6, +21 Units) by doing what came natural - picking the Royals to lose. But somewhere down the line the Royals became competent, and it's been cramping our style ever since.
Now, none of this means that I'm done betting against Kansas City. This is an incredibly young team, and one that's clearly prone to extended situations of solid and sour play. "There are a lot of really good, encouraging things happening here," Bell has said in published reports. "But, unfortunately, we are just so young, you never know what is going to be happen from one night to the next."
We've seen a comparable situation manifest itself in the National League, where a perennial bottom-dweller got hot for a month or so, started cashing in as a great dog play, and reverted back to its role as a league punching bag. That would be the Washington Nationals, who went on a 21-14 spree from May 11 to June 14. They've lost 12 of 16 games since and are now without one of their best hitters, Christian Guzman.
The Royals are equally young, equally inexperienced, and equally thin on the bench. Eventually some of their journeymen will come back down to earth, and some of their young bucks will hit The Wall. When that happens we'll be back in line looking to cash on their losses, and get some of our money back!
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his Insider Page here.