Royals

Royals topple statistical prediction, reach 73rd victory by beating Reds 4-3

Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer’s first-inning single scored Ben Zobrist from third base Wednesday night in Cincinnati. The Royals went on to beat the Reds 4-3 to sweep the two-game interleague series.
Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer’s first-inning single scored Ben Zobrist from third base Wednesday night in Cincinnati. The Royals went on to beat the Reds 4-3 to sweep the two-game interleague series. The Associated Press

They did not spill champagne. They did not blast music through the visitors clubhouse at Great American Ball Park. The Royals did not greet their 72nd victory with anything besides indifference.

Jarrod Dyson grumbled about the fatigue wrought by a 13-inning game. Lorenzo Cain concentrated on building his latest empire in Clash of Clans. Most of their teammates gazed at their phones and prepared for another game a day later.

But the Royals did reach a milestone on Tuesday. When the season began, Baseball Prospectus’ famed projection system, PECOTA, predicted the defending American League champions would go 72-90. Instead, the team reached the victory total on Aug. 18, and barreled past it the next night, with a 4-3 victory over the Reds to complete a two-game sweep.

Kansas City (73-46) did not receive any favors from the weather Wednesday. Rain delayed the game for 97 minutes, just one night after a game that lasted four hours and 39 minutes. Ben Zobrist recorded four hits and scored twice, Lorenzo Cain roped a go-ahead, two-run single in the second inning and the bullpen covered for an outing from Jeremy Guthrie that lasted only 4 1/3 innings.

Kansas City defeated the Reds 4-3 on Wednesday night in Cincinnati to finish a two-game sweep.

The pivotal play occurred with one out in the fifth and the bases loaded. Luke Hochevar had inherited the mess from Guthrie. He induced an infield flyball from Reds outfielder Jay Bruce. The umpires declared the infield fly rule in effect. Hochevar reached for the ball, but missed — and somehow still caught outfielder Jason Bourgeios coming home for the unorthodox double play.

“That was all planned,” Hochevar said with a grin. “We practice that all the time.”

Even the lurching move to try to catch the ball before it drops?

“Well, you have to sell it with the runner,” Hochevar said, sticking with the joke. “So he bites on it. I mean, they fell for it. I mean, I sold it with everything I had. Hoz was saying, ‘Sell it! Sell it! Sell it!’”

Few teams have been able to blend talent with good fortune like the Royals have this season. The mixture contributes to their sterling record.

The players noticed the cynicism about their chances for 2015. They also saw how often non-analytical pundits picked them to finish in the lower reaches of their division.

“You see what’s being said about you,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “I think more than anything, it disappointed us that people thought this was a fluke. If anything, that drove us more to prove it again this year.”

When a reporter reminded Hosmer about the preseason prediction on Tuesday afternoon, Hosmer burst out laughing. The team’s official game notes issued to the media featured a joking allusion to PECOTA, and noted “fortunately, games are won on a field and not on paper, thus a computer ‘time out’ might be appropriate for some.” The snickering even reached the highest levels of the organization.

“We were predicted to win 72 games this year,” owner David Glass told Fox Sports Kansas City earlier this month. “And we’re going to do it.”

The Royals have earned the chance to gloat. Their path to October appears unchallenged, given a double-digit lead in the American League Central and the best record in the A.L. But this team’s renaissance should not read specifically as a critique of Baseball Prospectus. Rather, this organization’s renaissance displays the limitations of preseason predictions based solely on individual statistics.

Most statistical predictions for the Royals this season were pessimistic, but PECOTA is the most prominent. Nate Silver, the guru who earned acclaim for his election predictions for The New York Times and now writes for ESPN, pioneered PECOTA for Baseball Prospectus in 2003. He named it after former Royals infielder Bill Pecota,

Sam Miller, the editor-in-chief at Baseball Prospectus, defended the process behind the projection. The system guzzles up the statistics for each player from the previous seasons and estimates how the team will perform if each player meets his projection. B.P. refers to this as third-order winning percentage, a statistic by which the Royals had accumulated only 64 victories heading into Tuesday.

Miller admitted he felt apprehensive about the projection for the Royals and anticipated a backlash. He huddled with analyst Rob McQuown, who oversees the system, to double-check the math involved.

“Here’s the basic problem with assessing the 2014 Royals and projecting the 2015 Royals: Individually, the players didn’t play that well last year, and individually they didn’t project to play well in 2015,” Miller wrote in an email to The Star. “In 2014, they overcame that by (take your pick) getting lucky, being constructed to outperform individual performance, or just being on some next dimension genius plane that baseball analysis isn’t hip to yet.”

A brief analysis of the team’s statistical performance last season verifies Miller’s explanation. Among the nine starters in the Opening Day lineup, only Cain and Alex Gordon classified as above-average hitters, according to the advanced metric OPS+. The Royals espoused their belief that players like Cain, Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas would flourish this season. But projection systems do not account for sentiment.

A survey of the pitching staff also reveals the difficult in accounting for Kansas City’s defensive prowess. Each member of the starting rotation at the beginning of the season finished 2014 with an ERA that was lower than his fielding-independent ERA (FIP). This phenomenon suggests the possibility of regression.

The assessment of each pitcher occurs on an individual basis. The system struggles to account for the talent of the Royals defense. In addition, Miller explained, PECOTA may possess a blind spot for managers who can expertly utilize their bullpen.

Miller explained, “Bottom line: I think we know that this system has a hard time with elite, highly leveraged bullpens, which the Royals have had; that it probably has a hard time with great defenses, which the Royals have; and that it has a hard time with any team that can outperform its raw stats for whatever reason, which the Royals have done.”

Part of the trouble predicting 2015 involves the performance of Kansas City’s division rivals. The Cleveland Indians appeared to possess a formidable pitching staff. The Chicago White Sox loaded up with offseason acquisition. The Detroit Tigers still owned the division crown for four consecutive seasons.

Yet on Wednesday morning, none of the other teams in the Central had a winning record. Few predicted that outcome — even the Royals.

“I’m surprised that we have such a big lead,” Gordon said. “If you would have asked me at the beginning of the season that we would have this big of a lead, I would have said, ‘No,’ just because I felt like the competition was so consistent in our division. It just shows you what kind of team we’ve been this year, and how good we’ve played.”

Not all projection systems treat Kansas City so unkindly these days. Baseball Prospectus churns out playoff odds on a daily basis. On Wednesday, when the Royals woke up 13 1/2 games ahead of their contemporaries in the division, BP’s statistical model spit out a playoff probability with which no Royal would argue: 100 percent.

Royals 4, Reds 3

TableStyle: SP-basebattersCCI Template: SP-basebatters

Kansas City

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

A.Escobar ss

3

2

1

0

2

0

.271

Zobrist 2b

5

2

4

1

0

1

.292

L.Cain cf

5

0

1

2

0

1

.311

Hosmer 1b

3

0

1

1

2

1

.318

Moustakas 3b

5

0

1

0

0

1

.270

Rios rf

4

0

1

0

0

0

.232

Butera c

4

0

0

0

0

2

.188

Guthrie p

3

0

1

0

0

0

.250

Hochevar p

0

0

0

0

0

0

---

Orlando ph

1

0

0

0

0

0

.241

Madson p

0

0

0

0

0

0

---

K.Herrera p

0

0

0

0

0

0

---

W.Davis p

0

0

0

0

0

0

---

J.Dyson lf

4

0

1

0

0

1

.261

Totals

37

4

11

4

4

7

 

TableStyle: SP-basebattersCCI Template: SP-basebatters

Cincinnati

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Bourgeois cf

3

1

1

0

2

0

.213

Suarez ss

4

0

2

1

1

1

.297

Votto 1b

5

1

1

1

0

2

.306

Phillips 2b

3

1

2

1

0

0

.286

De Jesus Jr. 2b

0

0

0

0

1

0

.257

Bruce rf

4

0

0

0

0

0

.240

Frazier 3b

3

0

1

0

1

1

.257

Barnhart c

4

0

1

0

0

2

.258

Schumaker lf

3

0

0

0

0

2

.203

LeCure p

0

0

0

0

0

0

---

Ju.Diaz p

0

0

0

0

0

0

---

Byrd ph

1

0

0

0

0

0

.237

Sampson p

1

0

0

0

0

1

.000

Villarreal p

1

0

0

0

0

0

.000

Boesch lf

2

0

1

0

0

1

.138

Totals

34

3

9

3

5

10

 

TableStyle: SP-basebyinningsCCI Template: SP-basebyinnings

Kansas City

220

000

000

4

11

0

Cincinnati

201

000

000

3

9

0

LOB—Kansas City 10, Cincinnati 9. 2B—Zobrist 2 (25), Suarez (13). HR—Votto (22), off Guthrie; Phillips (9), off Guthrie. RBIs—Zobrist (46), L.Cain 2 (54), Hosmer (72), Suarez (31), Votto (59), Phillips (44).

Runners left in scoring position—Kansas City 4 (Butera, J.Dyson, Rios 2); Cincinnati 5 (Bruce 2, Villarreal, Barnhart, Votto). RISP—Kansas City 2 for 8; Cincinnati 1 for 10.

Runners moved up—L.Cain 2, Votto.

DP—Kansas City 1 (Hochevar, Butera).

TableStyle: SP-basepitchersCCI Template: SP-basepitchers

Kansas City

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

NP

ERA

Guthrie

4.1

7

3

3

3

4

111

5.65

Hochevar W, 1-0

1.2

0

0

0

0

2

21

3.41

Madson H, 14

1

0

0

0

0

2

13

2.32

K.Herrera H, 17

1

1

0

0

1

1

14

1.95

W.Davis S, 10-11

1

1

0

0

1

1

21

1.09

TableStyle: SP-basepitchersCCI Template: SP-basepitchers

Cincinnati

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

NP

ERA

Sampson L, 2-2

3.1

9

4

4

2

2

95

4.43

Villarreal

2.2

2

0

0

1

3

48

3.16

LeCure

2

0

0

0

0

2

23

0.00

Ju.Diaz

1

0

0

0

1

0

12

4.12

Inherited runners-scored: Hochevar 3-0, Villarreal 2-0. IBB: off Villarreal (Hosmer). WP: Guthrie.

Umpires: Home, Chris Conroy; First, Gabe Morales; Second, Eric Cooper; Third, Mark Carlson.

T: 3:38. A: 18,078 (42,319).

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4370 or send email to rmccullough@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @McCulloughStar.

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