Your Opinion of Royals Magic, Reviewed

I promise we’ll move on any moment now. The Royals are champions, but we’ve known that for a couple days, and fans of 29 other teams are ready to look forward. There’s talk about qualifying offers. Players declaring free agency. The offseason is beginning, and the offseason is fun to think about, because if they handle the offseason right, then your team can be the next team people don’t want to hear about anymore a few days after the World Series. If hope springs eternal in March, it begins welling up in November. Baseball’s weird calendar is already flipping.

So pretty soon we’ll talk about other stuff. Important events are right around the corner. But the World Series just ended. Like, two days ago, there was still baseball, and the Royals were as entertaining as any team I’ve seen in forever. Before I say goodbye to them, then, I want to re-visit last week’s poll. I don’t always re-visit the polls I post, but this one, I got particularly excited about. And the results didn’t let me down.

If there’s one thing that reliably turns our comment section into an Andy Capp-style fight cloud, it’s when people accuse one of our models of being flawed. Most frequently, the target is WAR, considered untrustworthy on the position-player side because of defense, and considered untrustworthy on the pitcher side because of also defense. WAR isn’t always at the center of it, though — you’ll see arguments about team projections, generally coming from fans whose teams aren’t playing at the projected level. Fans will accuse the projections of missing something or somethings. They’ll say you can’t reduce baseball to a sheet of paper, and of course they are right. Baseball is impossibly complicated. Projections are educated guesses.

Given that they’re just educated guesses, I do want to come to their defense — projections are so much better than nothing. But every year, a team will outplay its projection, and it’ll even outplay its own statistics. (Run differential, BaseRuns, whatever you want.) So then the same conversations always take place: some people figure the given team is special, and some people figure it’s not. Some people argue why the team is better than it seems. Some people argue why it’s actually exactly what it seems. You’ve seen these exchanges. You’ve participated in these exchanges.

Forever ago, the potentially exceptional team of choice was the Angels. More recently, it became the Orioles. Now it’s the Royals. The Royals just obliterated their projections. They did the same to BaseRuns, and a year ago, the same sort of stuff happened. So it’s the Royals who are now discussed as being greater than the sum of their parts. There are people who strongly believe this. There are people who remain ever skeptical. This is why I posted the poll.

The poll asked you to consider a hypothetical Royals projection. The projection put the Royals at 84 wins. The team would have all the same players. So I wanted to know where people would mentally project the Royals, given what the initial projection said. As an attempted measure of the community sense of “Royals magic,” I figured I could weight the results and then compare to 84. Any difference would be the estimated Royals factor, crowdsourced. The default response would be 84 wins. A vote for something else would be a vote for the Royals not being fully understood by the team-projection math.

Here’s how the lot of you voted:


Two quick things first. One, this would’ve been best done with money on the line. As is, there was no consequence, no downside to selecting an option you didn’t really believe. All this was was an anonymous vote on an Internet poll. Could be people lying. Look at the far left. There were people lying.

And two: I don’t know how to control for possible misinterpretation. I wanted people to vote based on the hypothetical 84-win projection, but some people might’ve just voted for their own Royals projection, having nothing to do with 84. That would mostly be a problem on my end. Gotta be careful how you design these things. I could’ve designed better. The results I have are the only results available, so let’s make of them what we can.

The most popular response: 84 wins. These voters saw the projection, and decided, no, the Royals don’t really do anything special to beat that projection. Whatever they’ve done has been fluky. I expected this to be the most popular response, but I didn’t have a guess for the magnitude. As it turns out, this got barely over a quarter of all voting support. Meaning roughly three-quarters of voters think the Royals do something the numbers don’t effectively capture.

I can’t think of a good reason for voting below 84, but anyway, 4% of voters put the Royals below 84 wins, and 70% put the Royals above. Notice the second-most popular response: 91 wins and up, with nearly a fifth of all votes. This captures how the FanGraphs community is torn. I think this also captures some of that misinterpretation of the question, but you clearly see the two camps. One large group sees the Royals as just another baseball team. A different large group sees the Royals as wildly exceptional. As a team with maybe some clutch character, and definitely contact-hitting and high-leverage relief. These things would be responsible for a considerable gap, it’s suggested.

Between 84 and 91+, it’s flat enough. There’s a weird emphasis on the even numbers that I can’t explain. If I plug in 92 for 91 and up, and if I plug in 76 for 77 and down, then I get an overall average of 87.2 projected wins. If I eliminate all the votes for 84 and just consider the input of those who wouldn’t agree with the projection, then I get an overall average of 88.3 projected wins. So, where we are: last week, the FanGraphs community decided the Royals are something like three extra wins better than they might otherwise appear. For the people who already think a projection doesn’t adequately capture the Royals, they see them as four extra wins better than they might otherwise appear. A good number of folks thinks the difference is even bigger.

I’m not sure how interesting this is. I don’t know how well I’m conveying how interesting I think this is. But, I mean, this is FanGraphs, with a FanGraphs audience, in which Royals fans are greatly outnumbered. Still, while there’s no clear consensus, the overall impression is that the audience sees the Royals as unusual. Usually we’re content to defer to the numbers, but the Royals have convinced a lot of people here that approach just sells them short. The relieving, the contact, the clutchness, and/or various other intangibles — people are on board. Some of them softly, some of them not, but 70% of respondents voted north of 84 wins. Royals magic now has a crowdsourced magnitude.

Of course, the Royals are going to change. The poll asked about a roster that’ll never exist again. But that roster won over a lot of people. It even won over the readers of FanGraphs.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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8 years ago

I think that the bullpen full of excellent relievers prevents the manager from using conventional methods to determine that a lesser pitcher should be used in a high leverage situation just because it isn’t the ninth inning. I like the Royal, or any team with three or more ace relievers, to beat projections, and I think this number of wins can come close to approximation the effect of poor reliever sequencing by managers and pitching coaches.

8 years ago
Reply to  Gerard

11 wins based on coaching? I doubt it. And the Yankees’ top 3 relievers (Wilson, Betances, Miller) were just as good as the Royals top 3 (if not better) and they didn’t outperform their projections. Can’t just be based on the pen.

8 years ago
Reply to  Andy

Defense is probably half the difference – or more.

Cool Lester Smooth
8 years ago
Reply to  Andy

The Yanks outperformed their PECOTA by 8 wins, and have consistently beaten their Pythag over the last several years.

Because, well, they have an awesome bullpen.

Cool Lester Smooth
8 years ago

(This year was the first since 2012, when they were missing Rivera, that they haven’t)