Does a hot start make the computers hate the (first place) Royals less?
**(Ed Note: I might have written this story without looking at the RR schedule and realizing there were no open spaces yesterday. So, in a small way, I may have cost them the game. My bad. That said, even after yesterday’s loss, they still have the best record in baseball. I’m also going to blame any statistical errors in the story on the fact that I updated the story this morning with the new numbers and may have missed one here or there).
As of writing, the Royals have the best record in baseball. Let’s just let that sink in for a moment.
It was unexpected and I’m not sure how long we’re going to get to enjoy it this season so I’m just wanting to soak it in.
No, no, I’m still enjoying it. Just a little longer.
Ok, that’s good for now (and this post definitely wasn’t partially motivated by wanting to mark the occasion).
I know that we on the masthead can sometimes come across as critical spirits. And, yes, only one of us had the Royals with a winning record on the season. But we weren’t that far off the pulse of Royals fandom, as a whole: more than 50% of the fan survey had the ball club hanging around .500 with 80-84 wins.
We had modest expectations of a team starting to turn a rebuild into results, but I think only the most wildly optimistic among us would have predicted this season’s torrid start of 14-8. Just another shameless reminder: that is good for the best record in all of baseball.
It’s only April. Sadly, we cannot call for a rain delay on the rest of the season and go straight to the playoffs with the Royals being the #1 seed. However, as Max pointed out Monday, a winning April often leads to good season results for the team. Banking early-season wins helps a lot, even in the season-long marathon.
So with those wins already in the books, let’s see where those curmudgeonly computers have the Royals finishing now. We’re going to take a look at some prominent projection models in order of ascending awesomeness (at least with regards to the Royals)
Baseball Prospectus – PECOTA (link)
I’m sure few are surprised that Baseball Prospectus’s Royals hating projection robot is the least awesome on the list. It appears to give the least weight to early-season results and gives more to “true talent level”.
System synopsis: “The inputs are still created by PECOTA and passed through our human-curated depth chart playing time estimates. Once the season begins, we’ll combine that with 3rd-order win percentages.” For more, see here and here.
Preseason Projection: (link) 69.6-92.4 (2.8% playoffs)
Current Projected Record: 74.0-88.0 (60.0-80.0 remaining)
Playoff odds: 2.6% (1.8% Division + 0.8% Wild Card)
AL Central Wins: Twins 86.6; Indians 86.0; White Sox 81.9; Royals 74.0; Tigers 64.6
Most MLB Wins: Dodgers 102.4; Yankees 96.5; Padres 93.9; Astros 91.4; Mets 91.3
- Even with their rough 7-15 last-place start, the Twins are projected to win the division. This is the only projection system that has them in 1st /or/ 2nd in the division.
- It also has the White Sox worst showing by a healthy margin. Yesterday, all of the other systems had them in the top 5 in wins, usually around 90-ish. Here, they’re merely in 3rd with 82.
- Even with a 14-8 record the Royals have a worse playoff chance than when they started the season. And that’s even with the Twins dropping from 92.2 wins and the Indians and White Sox almost identical to their preseason projections
- PECOTA appears to have the biggest spread of the projection systems. All of the systems have the Dodgers over 100 wins (actually Fangraphs does not after yesterday’s loss), which goes to show what kind of statistical anomaly that team is, but this is the only system that has another 95-win team. It’s also the only system with 100 loss teams (sorry, Rockies and Pirates fans).
Baseball Reference (link)
I have to be honest. I didn’t realize baseball-reference had playoff odds. I mean, they have everything else baseball from every situation stat imaginable to uniform numbers so why should I have expected any different.
System synopsis: “MLB playoff odds are based on 1000 simulations of the rest of the season and playoffs. The team’s estimated quality is determined by their performance over their last 100 regular season games (even if it spans seasons) and includes a regression to the mean factor.” For more, see here.
Preseason Projection: (link) 73.7-88.3 (2.5% playoffs)*
Current Projected Record: 78.9-83.1 (64.9-75.1 remaining)
Playoff odds: 15.8% (7.2% Division + 8.6% Wild Card)
AL Central Wins: White Sox 88.1; Indians 84.8; Twins 81.0; Royals 78.9; Tigers 64.6
Most MLB Wins: Dodgers 104.0; Athletics 91.0; White Sox 89.5; Padres 88.1; Rays 87.8
- It seems like they don’t fully update the standings every day. For instance, yesterday, the Twins were projected to be 80-80. Or, with the win yesterday (Monday), the Royals actually went down 3.3% because of other teams around the league. Weird. But between yesterday and today, they actually went up by a couple of points, even with the loss. I think it has the time delay problem that B-R sometimes has.
- B-R has 90% confidence intervals. The Royals sit between 89-73 and 69-93.
- This is the only system that has the Royals with a higher chance of making the Wild Card than the division
*from 4/10, but earliest record I could find
I’m not sure if you know who Nate Silver is, but he’s kind of a big deal. Technically we can blame both the FiveThirtyEight and PECOTA projections on him, even though he’s not really involved in either now.
System synopsis: “Elo ratings are a measure of team strength based on head-to-head results, margin of victory and quality of opponent. We’re using an Elo-based system that also accounts for starting pitchers, travel distance and rest, with an average team rating of about 1500. This forecast is based on 100,000 simulations of the season and updates after each game”. For more, see here.
Preseason Projection: (link) 74-88 (10% playoffs)
Current Projected Record: 79-83 (65-75 remaining)
Playoff odds: 20% (12% Division + 8% Wild Card)
AL Central Wins: White Sox 86; Indians 84; Twins 82; Royals 79; Tigers 65
Most MLB Wins: Dodgers 103; Astros 91; Padres 91; Yankees 91; Brewers 88
- 538 uses an ELO-based system, similar to chess. As mentioned above, the average team rating is around 1500. The Royals ELO is 1478. The rest of the division is as follows: White Sox (1520), Twins (1522), Indians (1512), Tigers (1441).
- Like the previous two projections, even with 6 wins above .500 banked, the Royals are projected to have a losing record on the season.
- The team page shows historical predictions and results. Looking at completed games, the Royals were only expected to win 6.5 games so far on the season (one game was a 50/50 matchup), which means they’ve already won 7.5 more than they should have. Hopefully, they can keep defying those odds as they’re projected to lose four of their next five.
Even though Dan Symborski’s article Yes, the Royals Can Win the AL Central was highlighted by our handsome and debonair Friday Rumblings writer last week, I didn’t expect this to be the most optimistic Royals projection.
System synopsis: Fangraphs has multiple models but we’ll talk about the main one here and the others in the Notes below. “Forward looking. This mode uses a combination of Steamer and ZiPS projections and the FanGraphs Depth Charts to calculate the winning percentage of each remaining game in the MLB season.” For more, see here.
Preseason Projection: (link) 77.7-84.3 (8.9% playoffs)
Current Projected Record: 82.0-80.0 (68.0-72.0 remaining)
Playoff odds: 23.3% (14.8% Division + 8.4% Wild Card)
AL Central Wins: White Sox 88.0; Indians 82.5; Royals 82.0; Twins 81.8; Tigers 67.8
Most MLB Wins: Dodgers (99.6); Padres (93.7); Mets (92.0); Yankees (91.4); Astros (88.6)
- This is the only system that has the Royals anywhere but fourth place. However, the margins are small with just one game separating the Royals, Twins, and Indians for second through fourth. Just yesterday, second through fourth were Royals (82.6), Twins (82.5), and Indians (81.7) so all three teams have changed positions
- In the “Season-to-Date Stats” method, the Royals are projected to be 84-78 and have a 34.4% chance to make the playoffs.
- Just for fun, they also have a “coin flip” methodology. Using that, the Royals have the highest odds to make the playoffs (54.0%) and highest chance to make the World Series (5.6%). That makes sense as the Royals have the most banked wins. Of course, games aren’t played by coin flip, even as random as baseball is.
Even using the most optimistic stat-based projection (Fangraphs Season-to-Date), the Royals are not projected to go .500 the rest of the way. That’s a bit sobering. And some barely have this hot start moving the needle at all. These systems still rely heavily on individual projections and, while the team may be winning, one month of a baseball season isn’t going to move the career needle for a lot of players.
It’s a long season and we’re just at the start. Hopefully, it ends up like 2015. Maybe it ends up like 2003. Let’s all hope this isn’t 2009 all over again.