The Royals’ World Series championship encore season will hit the halfway point next week and they are tracking toward doing something that hasn’t been done in decades.
If you follow the Royals regularly, you have undoubtedly noticed they are far better at home than on the road — stretching the normal home-field advantage in sports to the limits of believability — but would you be surprised to know that no team since World War II has been this dependent on geography?
The Royals are 27-11 at home, a .711 win percentage that would be 115 wins over a full season. Only two teams have ever won that many games.
And even after winning two in St. Louis, they are just 15-25 on the road, a .375 win percentage that would be 101 losses over a full season. The team that made Buddy Bell say he’d never say it couldn’t get worse only lost 100.
At this rate, the Royals would have the third-biggest split between home and road success in history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. It would be the biggest since the Philadelphia A’s in 1945, which was the year the Cubs made their last World Series.
So what gives? Simple explanation, really.
“As pitchers,” Ian Kennedy says, “it’s because we don’t have batting practice at home.”
Kennedy laughs at the line, because honestly, none of this makes complete sense. The Royals, like all teams, should be a little better at home than on the road. But the extreme split in their results this season has birthed at least five flimsy explanations that we might as well address separately.
The schedule has been harder on the road.
Not really. The teams they’ve played at home are 515-506. The teams they’ve played on the road (including the Phillies) are 552-548.
Yeah, but it’s not who you play, but when. They’ve faced hot teams on the road, and cold teams at home.
Actually, the opposite is true.
Starting with the second week of the season, teams coming to Kauffman Stadium have been a total of eight games over .500 in their last 10. When the Royals have gone on the road, they’ve played teams that were a total of 16 games under .500 in their last 10.
Of the five teams the Royals have played at home and on the road, none were on better runs entering home series with the Royals.
OK, but those fly-ball pitchers just aren’t effective on the road.
Let’s be honest, we’re basically talking about Kennedy and Chris Young here. And both have enormous splits. Kennedy has a 5.36 ERA with 15 homers surrendered in nine starts on the road, and a 2.11 ERA with just four homers in six starts at home. Young has a 8.53 ERA with 14 homers in six road starts, and a 4.45 ERA with eight homers in eight home games (six starts).
But it’s not that simple. There is likely a disconnect between cause and effect here.
First, Kauffman Stadium’s reputation as a hitter’s graveyard is grossly overstated and misunderstood. It’s a hard park to hit home runs, but actually rates as more of a hitters park overall.
Last year, Young was significantly better on the road (2.52 ERA) than at home (3.66 ERA). Also, looking at the 15 homers off Kennedy on the road with the amazing Hit Tracker, only five would not have been homers at the K. And of those five, only one covered the margin of defeat, and that was in a 2-1 loss, so save some blame for the bats.
Some of the difference between the pitching at home and on the road can be found in places that have little or nothing to do with the ballpark — the rate of batted balls falling for hits is far higher than it should be on the road, even accounting for the K’s dimensions, for instance.
“Make good pitches wherever you are, you’ll get outs,” Young says. “I just haven’t made as good of pitches on the road, for whatever reason. I’ve given up bad pitches (at home) and they’ve been homers, too.”
Fine, but the Royals’ lack of power is exposed in smaller ballparks.
The Royals are outhomered at home and on the road, and have actually homered at a higher rate at home.
Just like with the pitchers, much of the difference has little or nothing to do with the ballpark — more walks and fewer strikeouts at home, more ground-ball double plays on the road (with fewer base runners), and a much higher percentage of base runners eventually scoring at home.
OK, OK, but the Royals are built for Kauffman Stadium.
This is undoubtedly true, but cannot come close to explaining the difference with a half-season gone.
Last year, the Royals won 51 games at home and 44 on the road. This year, home teams are winning 51.5 percent, which is actually a tick down from normal, usually around .530.
The only teams winning at home nearly as often as the Royals are the sport’s best teams overall — the Cubs, Rangers and Orioles. The only teams losing on the road as often are some of the worst — the Twins, Brewers and Reds.
The Royals have long been built for Kauffman Stadium, is the point, and they’ve never before been so geographically dependent. In fact, no team has won 50 at home and lost 50 on the road since 2010 (the Rockies and Tigers).
Who knows. Maybe Kennedy is right. Stop having the pitchers take batting practice on the road.