On Thursday night, the Royals beat the Yankees and finished the evening with a 17-23 record. Fans often jump the gun, but Royals GM Dayton Moore has said he waits at least 40 games before drawing any conclusions about a team.
Well, the Royal have now played 40 games; where do things stand?
To help answer that question, let’s compare this Royals team to one from the recent past.
In 2014, the Royals got off to another slow start, but eventually won the American League championship and made it all the way to Game 7 of the World Series.
So where did that team stand after 40 games?
The 2014 Royals started 20-20 — three games better than the 2017 team — but after 40 games, the 2014 Royals were 6 games behind the division leading Detroit Tigers. This year nobody in the AL Central is running away with it, so as of Friday morning the Royals are 4 1/2 games behind the division-leading Minnesota Twins.
Does that mean the Royals are in better shape this year than they were in 2014?
In 2014, the Royals might have been 6 games back after 40 games, but they were in second place; in 2017 the Royals are in last place and have to climb over every team in the division to get back in first place.
There are 122 games left to play — plenty of time for the Royals to get back into the playoff hunt — but how likely is that?
Let’s continue to compare teams.
The starting rotation
In 2014, the Royals’ starting rotation ranked fourth in the league with an ERA of 3.60; in 2017, the Royals’ starting rotation is currently fourth with an ERA of 3.73.
In 2014, Royals’ starting pitchers provided quality starts (six or more innings pitched, three or less earned runs allowed) 59 percent of the time; in 2017, Royals’ starting pitchers have provided quality starts 52 percent of the time, so they’re handing the ball to the bullpen early in the game more often.
How’s that working out?
In 2014, the Royals had the fifth-best bullpen in the league with a record of 28-18 and an ERA of 3.30; in 2017, the Royals bullpen is ranked 12th with a record of 6-8 and an ERA of 4.91.
In 2014, when the Royals were ahead after six innings they won about 94 percent of the time; this season when the Royals are ahead after six innings they win about 82 percent of the time.
In 2014, the Royals had a total of 12 blown saves all season; in the first 40 games played in 2017, the Royals already have six blown saves.
Bottom line: if the 2017 Royals want to pull off the same trick the 2014 Royals did, it would be helpful if the starters go deeper in the game and the relievers pitch better than they have so far.
The 2017, Royals still have excellent defenders all over the field.
If guys have lost a step as they aged, they should make up for that with experience and better positioning. For instance: Alcides Escobar seems to make fewer spectacular plays, but that’s because he’s starting in the right spot more often.
The defensive liabilities in 2014 were Nori Aoki in right (he wanted to play too deep and ran bad routes to the ball) and Omar Infante at second (he didn’t always seem to give 100 percent effort and had a weak arm).
They’ve been replaced by Jorge Soler in right (so far he seems below average) and Whit Merrifield who — all things considered — seems to be a step up from Infante.
In 2014, Salvador Perez threw out 30 percent of baserunners; in 2017 it’s 23 percent, but that appears to be more the fault of the pitchers and slow delivery times than any drop off in Salvy’s throwing skills.
In 2014, the Royals were the best in the league when it came to stealing bases and finished the regular season with 153 steals.
In 2017, the Royals currently rank fifth and are on pace to steal 97 bags.
Some of this is because teams are paying more attention to the Royals’ running game and speeding up their delivery times, but some of it is due to the loss of team speed and that mainly means Jarrod Dyson.
Dyson was the kind of guy who could steal a base when everyone in the stadium knew he was going to try; right now the Royals have more “situational” base stealers — guys who can run if conditions are right.
And if the Royals base stealing isn’t as much of a threat as it was in the past, pitchers can concentrate on the hitter and don’t have to throw as many fastballs.
In 2014, the Royals were second in the AL in team batting average (.263); the 2017 Royals are currently last in the league in team batting average (.227).
The 2014 Royals were the hardest team in the league to strike out; they put pressure on the opposing defense by getting the ball in play and running like their hair was on fire. In 2017, four AL teams have struck out less; the Royals are no longer the best in the league at getting the ball in play.
In 2014, the Royals were ninth in runs scored, but made that work because only three teams allowed fewer; in 2017, the Royals are dead last in runs scored and 10th in runs allowed.
On June 6, 2014, the Royals were 29-32 and in fourth place; the next day they started a 10-game winning streak and when it was over the Royals were in first place.
So far this season the Royals haven’t demonstrated the capability of running off that kind of winning streak.
Like I said at the beginning, the Royals have 122 games left to get back in the playoff hunt, so anything is possible.
But the 2017 team does not compare favorably with the 2014 Royals team that overcame a poor start. Overall the starting pitching and defense compare OK, but the bullpen, base running and offense aren’t the same.
That doesn’t mean the Royals can’t make it work.
There’s more than one way to win a ballgame, but if the 2017 Royals are going to survive the trading deadline intact, this would be a pretty good time to start winning some games.