Cleveland Indians: Royals Aren’t That Far Ahead of the Tribe


The gap between the AL Champion Royals and the Indians isn’t as wide as you might think

Well, if nothing else changed this season, we can stop comparing ourselves to the Tigers. For now anyway, if the Cleveland Indians are serious about winning the AL Central they will need to get past the Royals for the foreseeable future. Therefore, it is valuable to look at what the Royals have done right over the past two years and see how far away the Indians are from closing the gap. There are a few things that stand out.

  • The populations of the two cities are nearly identical. Cleveland ranks 29th in metro population; Kansas City is 30th. But the Royals’ attendance was nearly double the Indians’. Their payroll was about thirty million more than the Indians.  This additional revenue is a huge advantage.  It already allowed them to add Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist at the trade deadline while the Indians stood pat.
  • The Indians have been more aggressive in locking up core players. Many of the biggest contributors on this year’s Royals team are in line for big raises. Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakis are eligible for arbitration. Alex Gordon will be a free agent if he declines the player option on his contract. Keeping those three would likely add 20-30 million to the payroll. Cueto and Zobrist were acquired at the end of their contracts and will also be in line for big deals.
  • The Indians had three of the top fourteen starting pitchers in the AL in WAR. The Royals’ top starter, Edinson Volquez, ranked 19th.  Prior to this season Volquez had posted negative WAR in two of the previous four seasons, so the regression potential is there.
  • The two teams surrendered the same number of runs (the Indians gave up seventeen fewer earned runs). The Royals scored 55 more runs. The one thing in the stats that stands out is that when the Royals had runners on base their OPS went up by 77 points. The average AL team went up by 44 points. This makes sense, both because men on base means the pitcher is more likely to be struggling and because men on base present opportunities for positive outcomes like sacrifice flies that would normally have a negative impact on OPS if nobody was on base.  The Indians OPS with men on base decreased by 21 points.  To the extent that this is a random occurrence and unlikely to repeat itself, the Indians should be able to post the same stats next year and score more runs.
  • The Royals have built their pitching staff backwards, so to speak, by emphasizing a deep and powerful bullpen above a great rotation. This foundation already has a crack with closer

    Greg Holland


    Tommy John

    surgery. Most of the arguments about setup men struggling when shifted to the closer role or about relievers struggling more to maintain consistency from year to year are difficult to support statistically, but the reality is that the Royals’ starters were last in the AL in innings, so

    Ned Yost

    needs bullpen depth more than most managers.

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  • Moustakas, Hosmer, Cain, and Kendrys Morales all posted career highs in OPS. Morales’ year in particular looks like an outlier compared to the past few years. Only Salvador Perez had a year that was significantly below his career norms. They can also expect more from Gordon – if he resigns – because he only played in 104 games. The Indians, on the other hand, can expect rebound seasons from Carlos Santana and Yan Gomes, a full season of Francisco Lindor, improvement in center field as long as they find someone with a discernable pulse, and either further development from Giovanny Urshela or a veteran upgrade.
  • Now, somewhere in the world there is a Royals fan putting together a blog about why they will be even better next year, and Tigers, Twins, and White Sox fans will also be able to find a reason why 2016 is their year. (Here’s something to wrap your head around:  the Tigers posted an OPS 44 points higher than Minnesota, but scored seven fewer runs.  I’m sure there’s a solid math reason why that happened, but to me it screams regression for the Twins.)  The reality is that there is probably some guy targeted for Double A next year that isn’t even on the radar but will turn out to have a huge impact.

    The other reality that I am coming to grips with is that some teams just win – they sign free agents who outperform their contracts, they bring up marginal prospects in midseason who somehow make a positive impact, and they just overcome whatever adversity comes their way over the course of the season.  (The key indicator that you may not be this type of team is when you LOSE TO BUD FREAKING NORRIS!) The perennial example of this type of team is probably the Cardinals, but maybe the Royals have found the formula as well.  So it’s possible that everyone else will make brilliant and aggressive moves in the offseason and the Royals will just go out and win 95 games again.

    But, for the most part, the ingredients that caused us all to expect a division title for the Indians this year will be there next year.