Wednesday marks the end of the road for the latest edition of Kansas City Royals. We've seen good times, bad times, and everything in between. Typically at the end of the season I am worn down as a fan and ready to move on, but this year it seems different. Though I am a devout Royals fan, for the first time in many years I don't want to see it end.
It certainly helps when the team is playing solid baseball. The team carries a 15-9 record overall since September 1st, against primarily Central division clubs. For the first time since 2008, Kansas City has won over 70 games at the end of the year. Diving deeper in the numbers, the club currently has a Pythagorean win-loss ratio of 77-84. In short, if you aren't familiar with the Pythagorean winning percentage, it's a formula developed by baseball statistics junkie Bill James that calculates what a team's record should be based on runs scored against runs allowed. One has to go back to the magical ride we witnessed during the 2003 season to last find a time the team had a similar calculation (78-84).
One could say the Royals certainly took many steps forwards this season, actually they exceeded my expectations. In the end the record will end up around where I had placed the team coming into the season, but the high quality of play on the field has gone beyond what I had anticipated.
After a 10-4 start to the season, the Royals went through a swoon that saw them win only 13 games between May 13th and July 2nd. However the club has picked themselves back up and rebounded nicely. An example of a team headed in the opposite direction as the season ended was the Pittsburgh Pirates. Throughout the first half of the season, the Pirates were the media darlings of baseball. They were in contention and ready to become buyers. However in their last 60 games, Pittsburgh is just 19-41 overall. If the Royals win their finale, and the Pirates lose, both clubs with finish the season with the same record.
On the last day of the season in 2010, the Royals trotted out a starting lineup that included players starting at four positions that are no longer on the team, and the club has almost certainly been better for it in 2011.
The pitching staff certainly has questions marks heading into the winter break, but the offensive core of the team is built to compete and grow all at the same time. They are actually ahead of schedule. No one saw Salvador Perez contributing this early (and this well) to the club. The majority of folks had heard about Eric Hosmer's potential, but he arguably has been better than advertised as a rookie.
On defense, the club has a fielding percentage of .984, which is only slightly higher than the .980 fielding percentage of last year. However the Royals are improved at key positions in the infield. Alcides Escobar has a better glove and arm than Yuniesky Betancourt, meanwhile Hosmer has potential gold glove qualities at first base. Not to mention he has much more range than Billy Butler.
Indeed these Royals are younger and better. The outfield is where the old guys are hanging out, and they are all of 27-years old. Sure Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur may regress, but they are also young enough that this may be progression from finding the right fit and situation for them to showcase their talents. Alex Gordon has finally become the Gordon that Royals fans envisioned when he was drafted. The offense is here and it's sticking around for the foreseeable future.
If Kansas City is able to build up a pitching staff of at least three solid pitchers and able to patchwork together a group that are respectable fourth and fifth pitchers in 2012, they could contend. While I doubt Kansas City is in the pennant race a year from now, they will likely be on the upswing and closer than they are today.
Tonight doesn't mark just the end of the season for me, it also marks the end of losing in the way that Kansas City has in previous years. Kansas City has lost a total of 10 games in 2011 by six runs or more. By comparison they lost 26 games by six or more runs in 2010, and 27 by the same set of standards in 2009. You actually have to go all the way back to the strike-shortened season of 1994 to find the last season Kansas City lost 10 games or fewer by more than six runs. This organization simply is not getting blown out in games anymore.
The excitement level is back and will continue to remain as long they are able to keep the youthful team they currently have in place. Granted the pitching is well behind the position players, but things are coming along and leave me excited not only for what moves are made during the winter, but also to see what 2012 brings on the field. After years of waiting, this team is building and the real adventure is just about to start.