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Playoff Predictors Are Hard to Find

Aug 20, 2015 -- 9:10pm

by Kurtis Seaboldt

In the beginning, it was a hope, then a possibility, a probability and now a near certainty. For the second year in a row, the Kansas City Royals are going to the post-season.

But what will they do when they get there? A year ago, they were the darlings of October, piling up win after win, each one more unexpected than the one before, as they swept their way to the World Series. They were “Cinderella”.

This year, the Royals are the favorite. The target they were shooting at last October is now on their own back. Hunter. Hunted. Yada, yada, yada. You get the picture.

Sometimes the favorite wins it all. See the 2013 Boston Red Sox. Sometimes they win nothing. See the 2014 Los Angeles Angels. Or the 2014 Washington Nationals. Which one will the big, bad 2015 Kansas City Royals be?

Sadly, it’s almost impossible to get much of a handle at all on what lies ahead this Blue October. I’ve looked at a handful of possible indicators and the results have been, for the most part, inconclusive.

Rolling to a division title hasn’t been a plus. Since 1995, 32 teams have won their division by at least ten games. Half of them lost in the LDS. Eleven more lost in the LCS. That leaves just five that got to the World Series. Of those five, only the 1995 Atlanta Braves and the 1998 New York Yankees won the whole thing.

Playing well against other playoff teams in the regular season doesn’t mean that much, either. The Royals have not played particularly well against those teams this year. They are 18-19 against the teams that would, if the season ended today, would be in the post-season (Yankees, Blue Jays, Astros, Angels, Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs).

But of the ten teams to make the World Series in the last five seasons, six were under .500 against playoff teams from that year. Their overall win percentage is just .479. So the Royals’ mediocre play is anything but a harbinger.

There is one indicator that seems to show something: How well a team plays in September. Nine of the last ten World Series winners were over .500 in September. Their combined win percentage was .611. As for pennant winners, 17 of 20 were over .500 with a combined win percentage of .602. The only teams in that stretch to reach the Fall Classic after a losing September were the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals and the 2006 Detroit Tigers. That was a weird year.

For the Royals, last year was all about getting to the post-season. This year, it’s all about what happens once they get there. On that score, unfortunately, history is of little help.

ISN'T IT (30) GRAND?

Jun 10, 2015 -- 11:09am

Bo Jackson was perhaps the biggest star on the planet. Bret Saberhagen was flattening bats in route to his second Cy Young Award. George Brett, Frank White and Willie Wilson were still in the lineup. Mark Gubicza, Charlie Liebrandt and Jeff Montgomery were on the mound.

It was 1989 and the Royals were very good. They were also very popular. It was that season that the club set an all-time attendance record that is still standing today. On average, 30,971 fans filled then-Royals Stadium, a total of 2.48 million for the year. The team went on to draw two million fans in both 1990 and 1991 but diminishing stars and diminishing returns soon resulted in diminishing crowds.

The team hasn’t drawn two million since then. That is going to change this season and it won’t even be close. The Royals, fresh off their first World Series in 29 years and bubbling over with exciting players, have packed Kauffman Stadium on a regular basis. They’re average attendance this season is 32,255, a mere 11,537 more than a year ago. At the current pace – keep in mind a team’s attendance increases in the upcoming summer months – the Royals will hit 2.61 million this season, breaking their franchise mark by more than 130,000.

And the attendance has been consistent. They have drawn 30,000 in 19 of 30 home dates, putting them on pace for 51 on the season. Their previous high was 45 in 1989. Last year, they had 16. In 2013, they had 10. In 2012, they had seven. Last month, they had six in a single home stand. They have drawn a crowd of 30,000 or more on every day of the week. And they are barely a third of the way through their home schedule.

The Royals just played two games in Minneapolis against the team that began the week in first place. The Twins have a brand new ballpark and a winning team and they drew crowds of 22,796 and 22,497. The fans haven’t bought into the Twins yet. Royals fans clearly have.

Three years ago, they hosted the All-Star Game; this year they are owning it. They have overloaded the All-Star voting to the point that there is almost surely going to be a rule change, one that will bear the name of the team that made it necessary.

A year ago, the only mention of crowds of 30,000 at Kauffman Stadium had to do with how poorly the Royals played in front of them. Now it’s how crowds of 30,000 have become the norm. It is a different time, indeed. Royals fans are proud of their team. They should also be proud of themselves. 

WHAT DOES THE ROYALS’ RECORD START PREDICT?

May 21, 2015 -- 12:04am

By Kurtis Seaboldt

Wednesday night was a banner night for the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Jeremy Guthrie tossed six scoreless innings, running the team’s current streak to 24 straight, tying a franchise record set way back in 1976.

Three innings later, Luke Hochevar struck out Brandon Phillips for the final out of the Royals’ 7-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds. Kansas City’s third straight win ran their record to 26-14, the best 40-game start in the club’s 47-year history.

It’s great. But what does it mean? What does history say about teams that sit where the Royals sit right now and where they eventually sit when the season is over? I wanted to know and so, as I do from time to time, I checked it out.

Since 1995, when Major League Baseball adopted their current six-division format, 16 teams have started a season exactly 26-14 (not including the Royals, Cardinals and Astros this season). I initially looked at teams that were 26-14 or better but decided that would not be an accurate predictor. The Seattle Mariners started 31-9 in 2001; what could that predict about at team that started 26-14?

So, how did those 16 teams fare? Not as well as you may have expected, certainly not as well as I expected. Their average win percentage that season was just .553, which works out to an average 162-game record of 90-72. That’s just one game better than the Royals were last year when they started the season 20-20.

But, how many of those 16 teams had a run differential that matched the Royals’ current differential of +68? Just one. The 1996 Texas Rangers had exactly the same record and exactly the same run differential as this year’s Royals and they finished – you guessed it – 90-72.

Even the post-season wasn’t a lock for the “Sweet 16”. Only nine made it, though it must be pointed out that, from 1995 through 2011, there was only one Wild Card team in each league. The 2006 White Sox would have made it as the second Wild Card team.

One oddity that may or may not have anything to do with the Royals’ chances: From 1995 through 2004, seven of the eight made the post-season. From 2005 through 2014, only two of the eight did although, again, the 2006 would have.

The Royals are off to the best start in their history and the fans should enjoy every minute of it. But any thoughts that they are a post-season lock should be tabled for the moment.

The Jayhawk Conference

Mar 08, 2015 -- 9:34pm

by Kurtis Seaboldt

Eleven.

In popular culture that number is and will always be the maximum output for Nigel Tufnel’s amps in “Spinal Tap”.

But in sports, especially around these parts, it represents how many consecutive Big 12 titles the Kansas Jayhawks have either won outright or tied for. It also happens to be the age of Jamari Traylor, KU’s oldest player, the last time Kansas’ name wasn’t on the trophy. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk was six. Siiiiiiiix.

The streak has become such a phenomenon that it has developed something of a “the-chicken-or-the-egg” thing. How much of the streak has been due to Kansas being great and how much has been due to the league being down? How does KU’s run compare to the other major conferences?

In the last 11 seasons, the teams that have won or shared the most titles in the other five power conferences are as follows:

 

ACC: North Carolina, 6

Big East: Georgetown, 3

Big Ten: Ohio State, 5

Pac 10/12: UCLA, 4

SEC: Kentucky and Florida, 4

 

So, Kansas has more than doubled all but North Carolina in conference titles and no school had more than three in a row. Adding to the story is the fact that Kansas has also dominated the Big 12 when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. Kansas is the only Big 12 team during their streak to go to the Final Four, having gone in 2008 and 2012.

Let’s compare that to the other five power conferences:

 

ACC: (2 teams, 4 appearances) North Carolina 3, Duke 1

Big East: (6, 8) Louisville 2, UConn 2, Georgetown 1, Syracuse 1, Villanova 1, West Virginia 1

Big Ten: (5, 8) Michigan St. 3, Ohio State 2, Illinois 1, Michigan 1, Wisconsin 1

Pac 10/12: (1, 3) UCLA 3

SEC: (3, 7) Florida 3, Kentucky 3, LSU 1

 

So Kansas isn’t the only school to be their league’s only Final Four representative in the last ten years; UCLA joins them in that honor. But the Jayhawks have completely dominated the Big 12 in regular season and the NCAA Tournament. Their domination of the Big 12 Tournament pales in comparison but they’ve still won six of ten and only Missouri has won more than one.

What it means is, to some degree, still a matter for debate. But one thing is not. The Kansas Jayhawks have owned the Big 12. And they still do.

Chiefs’ Public Comments About WR Position Are Troubling

Jan 09, 2015 -- 12:10am

by Kurtis Seaboldt

At first, it was just a curiosity. Then it became a concern. Finally, it became an embarrassment.

For the first time in half a century, an NFL team – the Kansas City Chiefs – went an entire season without a touchdown catch from a wide receiver. The last team to pull that off was the 1964 New York Giants.

How far back was that? The Chiefs were in just their second season in Kansas City, two years away from playing in the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game. The name “Super Bowl” hadn’t even been invented.

At the time, the Giants’ dubious achievement likely drew few headlines. They didn’t throw the ball around much in 1964. The NFL’s leader in touchdown passes – Cleveland's Frank Ryan – threw just 25. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers threw 25 this season – at home.

Considering the current, pass-happy NFL, the Chiefs’ lack of a wide receiver touchdown this season is one of the more amazing developments in the history of the league. It’s gotten a good amount of exposure around town but I still feel that its significance has been somewhat understated. What the Chiefs did this season is damn near impossible. Consider that 124 wide receivers in the NFL this year caught at least one touchdown pass. One hundred and twenty four. That includes three wideouts who had fewer than ten catches all year. And the Chiefs’ entire crew had zero.

What concerns me almost as much is what appears to be an organization-wide denial that it is even an issue. All year long, Andy Reid and the team’s de facto number one receiver, Dwayne Bowe, were asked about the issue and they both brushed it aside. Every week.

Reid said that, as long as his team was scoring touchdowns, he didn’t really care who was scoring them. Well, they were 17th in the NFL in scoring so clearly the guys who were scoring touchdowns weren’t scoring enough. The team was among the best in red zone efficiency; the problem was that they almost had to get into the red zone to score. The Chiefs had only two touchdowns longer than 40 yards – a 63-yard run by Jamaal Charles and a 70-yard pass to Knile Davis. Only two teams had fewer.

Bowe said he wasn’t bothered by it either, grinning – almost chuckling – as he calmly dismissed the drought on a weekly basis, continually claiming that the wideouts were making plays to extend drive so that others could score. After the Chiefs’ win over Oakland in Week 14, Bowe said, “We are unselfish. We love to play football and we’ve been there before. I led the league before so it doesn’t matter for me to score; it matters for me to win.”

Reid, for his part, isn’t bothered by Bowe’s attitude concerning the lack of touchdowns. “He never complains that he doesn’t get the ball enough or (that) he wants the ball. He just wants to win and I appreciate that.” Reid praised the season that Bowe was having – he finished with 60 catches for 754 yards – so frequently that it almost seemed like he was doing it intentionally.

General Manager John Dorsey seemed equally un-phased by it. In a season-ending interview on “The Border Patrol” he called the lack of wide receiver touchdowns a “fluke”. I think the word he was looking for was perhaps “aberration” or “anomaly” but I understood his point. And I disagreed with it entirely.

Words won’t fix the Chiefs’ monster problem at the wide receiver position but why can’t someone – anyone – in their organization just come out and admit that it was a really, really bad thing to have happened and that it had better not happen again? How hard is it to say, “Yes, it was a problem that we didn’t get a touchdown from our wide receivers this year and it is a problem that we must address in the offseason”?

After the season ended, Bowe was asked about his team’s place in history as the first in 50 years to pull off the wideout whiteout. “It’s not a bad thing, if you think about it. We won the game today (against San Diego) and that’s a good thing. History is in the making and that’s part of history; it’s over now.”

Yes, it is over. Your season is over. And one of the biggest reasons that it’s over is a problem that is being dismissed – at least publicly – by the people whose job it is to fix it.

Get. Checked.

Nov 24, 2014 -- 10:25pm

by Kurtis Seaboldt

The news began to filter down through various channels a few hours before it became official. The early, unofficial version of the story was that Chiefs safety Eric Berry had cancer and that the team was going to make it official at a press conference.

At 4 P.M., the official announcement was made. Berry has a mass on the right side of his chest. Doctors believe that it is lymphoma, although a definitive diagnosis has not been made.

If there’s one thing we know about cancer, it is that early detection is crucial. Few things determine a patient’s survival as much as the stage at which the cancer is detected. We all hope that, if it is cancer, it was caught early enough that Berry can make a full recovery. We’d all love to see #29 in red and gold run onto the field at Arrowhead again but, more importantly, we’d love to just see Eric Berry, person, live a long life.

Four years ago, I noticed a severe irregularity in my bowel movements. Bluntly stated, I had gone for about three days. I asked a friend who is a retired physician what it might be. He suggested several things, one of which was a colonoscopy. I was only 44 at the time and had not considered that before. I thought that was something you should do when you’re closer to 50.

But, I scheduled it anyway. And I’m glad I did.

The doctor found two benign polyps and removed them. He asked why I had chosen to have the procedure and I told him about my friend and his advice. He said I should thank that friend because he might have saved my life. Had those polyps not been removed, they might have – he thought they likely would have – become cancerous.

He said to come back in five years. I went back in four. I had the procedure done last Wednesday. That’s why I wasn’t on “The Program” that day. I didn’t tell anyone but I was scared. I had been experiencing some discomfort and, given that they found something the first time, I was afraid they might find something again.

And they did. Three polyps, all benign. All removed.

Since then, I have told a few friends near my age about it and all have said they know that they should get checked but are in no hurry because the procedure sounds so horrible. Well, I’ve had teeth cleanings that are more painful. And there’s this: Who cares if it’s not fun? You know what else isn’t fun? Dying, and 50,000 Americans will die from colon cancer in 2014.

So forget your fear. Forget your embarrassment. Get checked.

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