After yesterday’s loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, the Royals sit at an unimpressive but completely expected 42-59. A little math tells us that they are on pace to go 67-95. Again. According to the official results on the field, this franchise hasn’t improved for the 16th year in a row. If you open up the sports page and glance at the standings, you’d be perfectly justified to close the paper in disgust and say “of course” and sigh. It’s a summer ritual across the metropolitan Kansas City area as regular and welcome as 100 degree days with rain-forest humidity.

Fortunately, we have a bit more information at our fingertips these days than a printed page landing on our doorstep. We have the internet and we can delve more deeply into these numbers and see exactly what’s going on. With individual players, we can look at their peripheral stats to see if they’re having bad luck or if they’ve changed their plate approach and improvement is on the horizon. The good news is that there is some actual hope bubbling just under the surface, all we have to do is take a look.

Runs. They’re the king of all statistics. You can only win games by scoring more than your opponent. From wOBA to WAR to RBI to ERA+ they all boil down to scoring or preventing runs. While losing a game by 10 runs or 1 run counts as an L in the standings, all losses and all losing is not created equal. So, while the Royals are losing, are they losing better or worse than in years past? Let’s take a look.

First, let’s start with how the team is scoring runs. In 2011 the Royals have scored 437 runs which averages out to 4.33 runs per game. If we compare that to previous years, it’s the most runs per game they’ve scored since 2007 (4.36). However, that’s not the entire story. The run environment has been changing so we also have to compare the Royals runs per game to the League average. In 2011, they’re scoring 0.03 runs per game more than the average American League team. They haven’t had an above average offense since 2003 (0.30). Below is a chart detailing these numbers since 2000.

Year R/G AL R/G Delta
2011 4.33 4.30 0.03
2010 4.17 4.45 -0.28
2009 4.23 4.82 -0.59
2008 4.27 4.78 -0.51
2007 4.36 4.90 -0.54
2006 4.67 4.97 -0.30
2005 4.33 4.76 -0.43
2004 4.44 5.01 -0.57
2003 5.16 4.86 0.30
2002 4.55 4.81 -0.26
2001 4.50 4.86 -0.36
2000 5.43 5.30 0.13

For only the third time in the past 11 years, the Royals have a better than average offense. Now it’s possible that like the last two times it was only a brief blip, but the vast majority of this offense is young and likely going to be a part of the team in 2012 and beyond. Also, the fences at Kauffman stadium were moved back for the 2004 season which had a big effect on where the Royals compared to their peers. So based on this, it seems that there has been some progress this season on the offensive front. It doesn’t take much statistical analysis to tell you that, just watching this team is enough to see that there are more potent bats throughout this lineup.

So the offense has improved and is showing progress. What about the pitching? It’s no secret that this team’s biggest issue is lack of starting pitching. However they aren’t the only way to prevent your opponent from scoring runs. There’s a bullpen of relief pitchers and 9 defenders who can help the cause. Here is the same chart but with runs against information:

Year RA/G AL-RA/G Delta
2011 4.82 4.24 0.58
2010 5.22 4.42 0.80
2009 5.20 4.75 0.45
2008 4.82 4.68 0.14
2007 4.80 4.82 -0.02
2006 5.99 4.87 1.12
2005 5.77 4.68 1.09
2004 5.59 4.99 0.60
2003 5.35 4.87 0.48
2002 5.50 4.80 0.70
2001 5.30 4.86 0.44
2000 5.74 5.28 0.46

This is where things get ugly. Only one time since 2000 have the Royals given up an average number of runs per game. What makes that even more impressive is that they play in a pitching friendly ballpark.  This also illustrates just how much fun teams had playing the Royals in 2005 and 2006. Compared to recent history, allowing 0.58 runs per game more than average isn’t that bad, though it’s not good either.

Neither of these can be taken in isolation. It’s important to look at the overall team as a combination of the runs they score and the runs they give up. So I subtracted the runs allowed delta from the runs scored delta to get a rough estimate of how far from an average team the Royals have been since 2000 and these are the results:

Year R/G from avg
2011 -0.56
2010 -1.07
2009 -1.03
2008 -0.66
2007 -0.52
2006 -1.42
2005 -1.52
2004 -1.16
2003 -0.18
2002 -0.96
2001 -0.80
2000 -0.33

This isn’t much of a shocker, the Royals haven’t been an average team in that time, though they were pretty close in 2003. In this context, 2011 is the best year this team has had since 2007 and the second best since 2003 and it’s not over yet.

It’s easy to get caught up in the wins and losses that the Royals produce, because in the end what we all want to see is a team that wins a championship. It takes a bit more digging to see if there are some underlying things happening that may indicate a positive swing in the future. Based on the runs this team is scoring and the runs they’re allowing, it seems that this is an improved team. It’s no guarantee and it could certainly be a fluke, but with the young talented players on the roster things are looking up.


Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.