Has KC Really Become Royalty Again?

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David Malinsky

Friday, July 28, 2017 2:33 PM GMT

 Has KC Really Become Royalty Again?...Chris Flexen had a bad first inning last night; Andy Green may have had a worse one…

Point Blank – July 28, 2017

Today will be the last purely MLB go-round before we shift into a football gear, with Monday marking the beginning of a team-by-team tour across the NFL, looking for one particular key with each that we can plug into. Yet while the Kansas City Royals are a specific topic today the discourse is actually a general one that attaches across all sports, and the delicacy in grading for difficulty of opposition.

The notion is a basic one, yet an attempt to simplify can lead to confusion. A plaque would read along the lines of “Do not downgrade a team or performer because they faced weak competition; instead make the considered choice to not upgrade them for the game results”, which gets to the heart of the matter, but does not bring much clarity. In truth “downgrading” and “not upgrading” are two separate paths, despite the fact that they may appear to bring the same result.

That means time to do some sorting through the concept, and as football approaches also time to weave the jukebox into play to help you glide through the read. What will you find on the jukebox? It will be mostly Classic Rock and Roll, with a purpose connected to the topic at hand, even if it sometimes only going to be a shameless play on words.

There will be a fair amount of Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band coming across over time, and there is a particular reason which should reverberate through your consciousness through those connections – the passion and commitment they bring to a live show is what we all should be bringing any day that we are looking at the betting boards, and all other aspects of our lives. When you bring that heightened energy it will also bring an enhanced awareness with it, which will lead to not only learning more about various teams and players, and respecting what winning in the betting markets is all about, but also to learning more about yourself as well. There is so much to be said on that front, but I am not going to get too long-winded today; various takes on that front will be woven into PB over time.

In terms of respecting the endeavor you are involved in each day, which you absolutely must if you are ever going to win in our particular sideshow, one of the unique Springsteen/E Street chapters was a 2014 journey through Australia and New Zealand. In showing respect to those places and those fans the opening songs on many of those nights were a tribute to local musicians (you could compile a terrific bootleg of the one-offs they did, several of which will be played here over time). One of the most poignant was his solo opening of Lorde’s “Royals” in Auckland, and that connects up in several ways, not just for the overall integrity of process, but also the particular message, because despite some public perceptions that are developing, I am not sure that Kansas City is necessarily royalty again -  

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In surprising the crowd with that opening it is also a sign of respecting that crowd, and showing the desire to connect. We need to bring those same levels of awareness into play in what we do, so time to go to work…

 Just how good have the Royals really been of late

Wouldn’t it be nice if 11-10 could be beat at the betting windows by making rather casual assumptions, and connecting dots that were laid out in patterns that were easy to recognize? It doesn’t work that way, of course, because the past only offers us a hint to the future. All paths stop at the present moment, not just in sports but across all of life, and at the betting windows our goal is to best figure out the direction of the next step for those on the playing field.

That takes us to the Royals, as they begin a major series in Boston this weekend. An eight-game win streak has KC within striking distance of Cleveland for first place in the AL Central, while also holding down the #2 Wild Card slot. The Red Sox could well end up being one of the teams competing directly with Ned Yost’s bunch in what could be a frenzied WC chase (the White Sox are the only AL team more than 10 games out of the hunt).

Because of the recent Royals success, and the fact that they were within reach of back-to-back World Series triumphs in 2014-15, you can Google up some headlines and find all sorts of headlines about another big Kansas City run taking place. That is an easy assumption for the Sports Mediaverse to make, but one of the constant reminders here is that easy assumptions get broadcasted to us far too often. It is in sorting through the details before making any assumptions at all that will make a major difference in the bankroll.

Yes, the Royals are playing some good baseball right now. But…

In this particular case, the scheduling dynamics need to be brought into play. Let’s start with the base performance numbers behind the Royals opening 9-4 since the break -

AVG .291 (5)

OBP .350 (10)

SLG .468 (9)

OPS .818 (9)

ERA 3.72 (11)

FIP   3.68 (6)

XFIP 4.65 (26)

Some good stuff there, but nothing approaching brilliance, and in particular I included xFIP so that you can see one of the keys – the Royals are #1 in HR/FB% at 7.2, which is something that will be difficult to sustain. With xFIP there brings the normalizing of that back to league average, with MLB is at 13.9 over that same stretch, and 13.7 for the season.

But now the catch – those Kansas City numbers were compiled over a stretch of 13 straight games against teams that currently sport losing records. So let’s go to the next step, and run those same Royals tables for the full season, which we also ran in the Friday edition of SportsBIT (which you should be watching every day).

AVG  .254 (#17)

OBP  .307 (#28)

SLG   .420 (#18)

OPS   .727 (#23)

ERA   4.17 (#12)

FIP    4.19 (#11)

xFIP   4.64 (#22)

For the full season the Royals have been just about an average team if we factor those categories together. Does that recent run tell us that they are playing better, or was it a result of a weak schedule allowing an average team to play above average?

Here an addition to the catch – it isn’t just the post-break cycle, and this could extend to a fascinating proportion. Kansas City has played 26 of the last 29 games against teams that currently sport losing records, and after this weekend in Fenway the schedule remains favorable. If we freeze the standings where they are now, the Royals are amidst a stretch in which 43 of 49 games will be against teams that are under .500. It is not that they will be up against dismal competition, with several of those opponents within striking distance of getting on the plus side of the ledger, but it does beg for some caution (and they just caught another break tonight with David Price getting scratched).

Since the All Star break the Kansas City opponents have been the Rangers, White Sox and Tigers. For perspective, those three have gone 9-16 against teams other than the Royals in that span. That lends a little different perspective, doesn’t it? The KC 9-4 run against those teams is just a tick away from the 16-9 that others produced against them.

I do believe that the Royals have something positive going on because a big part of this is that they will believe it themselves. There is a legacy of success in that clubhouse, and confidence is a significant factor in the performance on the diamonds. The results of the past couple of weeks may be worth 5-10 cents in their power ratings for what it means to their psyche. But it is also time to urge caution of those notions that they are ready to make another deep run into October – the cold realities of the performance numbers tell us that the current surge is also circumstantial.

 About Last Night, and grading Chris Flexen (and perhaps Andy Green also)

It wasn’t a shock that Flexen was uncomfortable in his MLB debut; the Mets are forced to do some things right now that they really don’t want to because of injuries. Flexen was down at the A level two months ago, and only had 48.2 career innings at AA before he was thrust into action last night. I am going to bring that 7-5 Padres win over NYM into play because there are details that matter in terms of how Flexen gets graded, and also the question as to what the hell Green was thinking.

Flexen’s MLB debut literally could not have started worse – Manuel Margot led off with a home run. Then it was a four-pitch walk to Carlos Asuaje, a sign of a young pitcher’s nervousness, before Will Myers singled to left. Hunter Renfroe then grounded out, both, which moved the runners to second and third with one out, and Cory Spangenberg coming to the plate. It was a promising setting for the Padres against a pitcher that may not have been ready for the stage.

What happened next? The inning ended without Flexen genuinely retiring a batter, or with San Diego scoring.

Whether it be by his own choice, or managerial order, Spangenburg laid down a bunt, which Flexen fielded and threw out Asuage at the plate. It is difficult to comprehend a strategy that would call for the #5 hitter in the lineup, even someone with Spangenburg’s modest .266 with 8 HRs and 30 rbis, to do that against a vulnerable pitcher.

Then the follow-up, a rare baseball play in which Spangenburg attempted a delayed steal of second, stopping short when the throw was made by Mets catcher Travis D’Arnaud, and Myers then breaking for home, where he was tagged out. That play is understandable with a first-and-third/two outs vs. the likes of a Kershaw/Sale/Scherzer, but not against someone that had just turned 23 a month ago, and had never even pitched at the AAA level.

As such there has to be some tweaking of the Flexen grade, his ERA getting credit for recording outs on Spangenburg’s bunt and the failed Padres double-steal, when it wasn’t the quality of his pitches that led to the outs.

Regarding the San Diego strategy, I am at a loss. To make it even worse, after handing Flexen those two outs to end the first inning, five of the next six Padres reached base, the only out recorded being a strikeout of pitcher Luis Perdomo. It means that of the first 10 non-pitchers that Flexen faced he only retired one batter, on the Renfroe grounder, with the Spangenburg bunt being a give-up. The run allowance could have been far worse, those San Diego strategies a blessing to his ERA.

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