Do I have to keep writing or was that answer sufficient? OK, I guess I get paid to write, so I’ll try to give you your money’s worth.
We’re going to start this off with a story about my Mom. She turned 90 this year, so if that’s any indication I’ll be around bothering people for decades to come. Anyway … she’s very religious; she sees God’s hand in almost every occurrence.
One night she told me about a miracle she had experienced: she was late for a Bible class and God had turned every stoplight green so she could get there on time. But there was a simpler explanation.
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In downtown Sacramento, if you hit a green light going a certain speed — it’s something like 39 mph — the lights are timed so if you maintain that speed you’ll continue to hit green lights. There are even signs that tell you what speed to drive; it’s a wonderful system — you get a series of green lights and the city gets a bunch of drivers obeying the speed limit. (And why we can’t do that in Kansas City is beyond me.)
So what does my mom have to do with baseball?
Some in the media love easy stories because they’re easy. So if Mike Moustakas has three hits on his birthday, some will write about that. If Alex Gordon hits a home run on Alex Gordon bobble head day, someone will write about that as well.
So when Ned Yost put Alcides Escobar back in the leadoff spot and the Royals started winning, some in the media explained it by calling Esky the Royals lucky rabbit’s foot. They came up with this explanation because the numbers did not support Escobar hitting leadoff; he’s not a patient hitter and doesn’t walk much. If the pitcher drops the rosin bag, Esky might take a hack.
But let’s look at some different numbers.
On Sept. 26, Alex Gordon hit leadoff, Kris Medlen threw 3 2/3 innings, gave up six earned runs and — surprise, surprise — the Royals lost.
The next day, Escobar hit leadoff, Chris Young threw five no-hit innings and the Royals won.
The next two days, Ben Zobrist hit leadoff. In the first game Yordano Ventura threw seven scoreless innings, but the Royals lost in extra innings when Miguel Almonte gave up a home run. The next day Zobrist was still in the one-hole, Johnny Cueto threw six innings and gave up three runs; a quality start, but still not good enough for a win.
The next day Alcides Escobar was returned to the leadoff spot and the Royals haven’t lost since. So it’s either because Esky is a lucky rabbit’s foot or the starting pitchers in those games have thrown 25 1/3 innings while giving up a total of four earned runs.
Unless Alcides Escobar has been giving pitching lessons on the side, I’d go out on a limb and say the Royals are playing well again because the starting pitchers are pitching well again.
Or maybe Ned Yost is late for a Bible class.
Is homefield advantage a big deal or not?
If you watched Saturday’s Royals-Twins game (and if you didn’t, why not?) you heard some numbers that would indicate homefield advantage is not a big deal in the playoffs. But the numbers quoted were about playoff teams in general, not specific playoff teams and specific matchups.
That’s a bit like saying this guy is a .300 hitter, so every time he walks to the plate he has a 30 percent chance of getting a hit. It doesn’t work that way; it might be true over 162 games, but not true in one specific game. Depending on the matchup, some nights that guy is a .300 hitter, but some nights he might be a .400 hitter or a .200 hitter—it just averages out to .300 over a season.
So what’s true in general — homefield advantage doesn’t make much difference — might not be true when you look at specific matchups.
Saturday the Royals won and the Blue Jays lost so right now the Royals have a one-game lead for homefield. If both teams win or both teams lose today, the Royals would maintain that lead, but if the Royals lose and Toronto wins, Toronto gets homefield because they won the season series between the two teams.
Good, because I’m not sure I do.
Nevertheless: if the Royals finish with the best record, they would play the winner of the Wild Card Game and right now that would be either Houston or New York. But if the Astros lose and the Angels win, everybody goes directly to jail, they do not pass Go and they do not collect $200.
(OK, I may have confused the rules MLB has concocted with the rules of Monopoly, which is odd because I’ve never actually finished a game of Monopoly before someone threw the game board across the room — and it was usually me.)
If I still have a point to make it’s this: back in April, when the Royals played the Angels in Anaheim, Kansas City swept the series 3-0. When the Royals played the Rangers in Texas, the two teams split the series 2-2. When the Royals went to New York they got swept 3-0 and the same thing happened when the Royals played the Astros in Houston; they once again got swept 3-0. In Toronto, the Royals played four games and only managed one win.
So add all that up and the Royals are 3-11 when playing in the other possible playoff teams’ ballparks.
Ballpark size is only one factor, but when you have fly-ball pitchers and the other team has home run hitters, it is a factor. The Royals have one of the most athletic outfields in the game and when there’s a lot of room to cover, that’s another advantage.
Ned Yost started playing down the importance of homefield advantage when it looked like the Royals weren’t going to get it.
Resting your players and making sure they’re ready for the playoffs is important, but the Royals are about to get three days off and guess what they’re going to do during those three days: hold a workout so the players don’t get rusty.
Homefield advantage isn’t everything, but it is worth something.
Enjoy Sunday’s game.