Winning 10 Straight Put the Royals Playoff Chances at Even Money

These playoff percentages mean that about 58 percent of all win streaks that passed through 10 games came from teams that eventually made the playoffs, a slight increase from before.The Royals are right at the previous season average (they went 86-76, which gets you a regressed winning percentage around .522), but their pre-streak record was slightly below the standard for other 10-win-streak teams; their “at the time” regressed winning percentage was .488. How much does that matter?To determine whether these Royals could be a playoff team, we set up a logistic regression predicting make-the-playoffs odds from streak length, at-the-time regression winning percentage, and prior-season regressed winning percentage. This also helped us figure out how much of the chance of making the playoffs comes from the streak itself, and how much is just that good teams are more prone to run up these kinds of streaks. Causation versus correlation, basically.After running the regression, it told us that the Royals are 23.2 percent less likely to make the playoffs than a normal 10-game-win-streak team because their record before the streak was 29-32, whereas the typical 10-gamer would have been 32-29. That looks like a very strong effect for just a three-game swing; we might be seeing a big inflection point here. At any rate, as you would expect, pre-streak record certainly matters.Once we take their 10-win streak into account, the Royals have a little better than even odds of making the playoffs. Baseball Prospectus’s Playoff Odds Report gives KC a 42.3 percent chance of getting there. So if you want to peg the Royals somewhere around 50-50, that’s a decent place to start. And if you think about Kansas City’s roster — one with strengths but also significant weaknesses — that makes even more sense.On the plus side, the Royals are an elite defensive team. According to Baseball Info Solutions’ Defensive Runs Saved stat, KC has fielded the second-best defense in the American League. By Ultimate Zone Rating, the Royals actually lead all of baseball, and by a wide margin. The outfield is particularly impressive: The combination of Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain has been extremely effective in chasing down fly balls in the gaps. Meanwhile, Alex Gordon has been a force of nature in left field, the best in all of baseball by pretty much any advanced metric. He’s pretty good by Fancy Plays Over Replacement too.Your browser does not support iframes.That airtight defense has made an already strong pitching staff look even better. Closer Greg Holland and righty setup men Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera have combined to allow just one home run in 89 innings pitched this season.Davis in particular has been a revelation. Acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in the controversial December 2012 blockbuster, Davis was viewed as a throw-in, with James Shields and Wil Myers being the keys to the deal. After messing around with Davis as a starter last year, the Royals plopped him back into the role in which he excelled with Tampa Bay two years ago. So far this year, he has been right there with Sean Doolittle, Koji Uehara, Dellin Betances and one or two others for the title of best reliever in the American League. His season line: 31.1 innings pitched, 1.15 ERA, 52 strikeouts, and zero extra-base hits allowed.The starting rotation has flourished lately, too. Shields has been steady as expected, though his numbers are actually down slightly from recent years. But he’s received ample support, from 23-year-old fireballer Yordano Ventura (who leads all KC starters in fielding independent pitching), free-agent pickup Jason Vargas (tops in innings pitched), and Danny Duffy (tops in beating long odds, having come back from Tommy John surgery, and at one point nearly quitting baseball entirely).The big question revolves around the team’s offense. Just 13 days ago, the Royals sat in last place in the AL Central, and also last in the AL in slugging percentage, home runs and runs scored. Some of the team’s biggest slumpers came alive during the streak, especially Billy Butler and Mike Moustakas. Still, those players, along with talented but disappointing first baseman Eric Hosmer, have fallen well short of expectations in 2014, and KC still owns the third-lowest-scoring offense in the American League even after its recent explosion. The Royals almost certainly won’t be sellers any more at the trade deadline, not after this streak. Whether they’ll be buyers — to the point of possibly benching or jettisoning current players once viewed as future franchise cornerstones — remains an open question.Still, it’s a great question to get to ask. After nearly three decades in the wilderness, the Royals now have a legitimate shot to see October’s spotlight. It’s about damn time. The Detroit Tigers nipped the Kansas City Royals 2-1 in the final game of a four-game series Thursday. That win snapped a 10-game winning streak for KC, but even with that setback the Royals lead the American League Central Division by half a game. In late June. This is not a drill.If the baseball world seems shocked by the Royals’ sudden success, the franchise’s recent history may explain why. When the Royals beat the Tigers on Tuesday in the second game of their showdown for AL Central supremacy, the victory marked the first time the Royals had owned sole possession of first place since May 1, 2013.Of course, downtrodden teams always have a better chance to claim bragging rights early in the season, when hot starts and small sample sizes can skew what we’re seeing. So consider this: The last time the Royals were in first place after June 1 was all the way back in 2003. That year, Kansas City preyed on a weak AL Central — one dragged down by a 119-loss Tigers squad and no elite teams — to own a share of first as late as Aug. 20. They ended the season seven games off the pace at 83-79, a lukewarm showing for most franchises. For the Royals, the finish was almost something to celebrate. Kansas City hasn’t made the playoffs since 1985, the longest postseason drought for any major league team by a span of eight years.Now here’s the good news for Royals fans: Teams that win 10 straight games in a single season stand a good chance of making the playoffs. Which means that for the first time since “Careless Whisper” wasn’t at all ironic, the Royals could crack the postseason.Going back to 1995, the first year of the wild card,1The wild card was supposed to debut in 1994. But … well, you know. we looked at all teams that had a streak lasting at least one game (you gotta start somewhere), to see how often those streaks portended October baseball. Here are the results:As you can see, every team passed through streaks of one, two and three wins, and all but four teams passed through a streak of four wins. By this measure, with a 10-win streak the Royals have about a 55 percent chance of making the playoffs.2You’ll notice that it appears that a team is more likely to make the playoffs if it’s had an 11-game win streak than if it’s had a 12-game win streak. That’s just one of those weird quirks that can happen due to randomness in a small sample.It’s not quite that simple, though. Before their streak began, the Royals’ record only stood at 29-32, so they may not be totally representative of the type of team that tends to have 10-game win streaks. To examine that further, we looked at historical winning streaks of a given length since 1995 and tracked what each team’s regressed winning percentage was before the streak started (that is, we added 67 games of .500 baseball — 33.5 wins and 33.5 losses — to each team’s record at the time).3Regressed winning percentages add 67 games of .500 ball because that’s the number of games necessary for a team’s observed record to be half skill and half luck. (We know this by comparing the distribution of actual baseball teams’ records to the spread we’d see if every team was equal and each game was decided by a coin flip.) We used regressed winning percentages here so that every pre-streak winning percentage would be on the same footing, no matter when in the season the streak began. Otherwise, if one team started its streak early in the season, and another started it late, a straight average would weigh the two winning percentages equally even though the latter is much more indicative of what we’re trying to measure than the former. By regressing the records, we can make an apples-to-apples comparison between the streaks, no matter when in the season they occurred. We also recorded each team’s regressed winning percentage from the previous season. The results: read more

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The NBA Has A New Generation Of Hometown Heroes

Matt BarnesSacramento Noah is more willing to shell out for tickets for some of his many New York supporters, but he has set a modest budget for himself. He is adamant that he won’t let things get as far out of hand as they did for Rose, who had dozens of friends and family members come to each home game in Chicago.“His situation got out of control to where he was scrambling, trying to round up tickets right before games,” Noah said. “I definitely don’t wanna get like Derrick was.”Rose said he developed a nightly routine before Bulls’ home games: Get to the arena three hours before tipoff to work on his body; sit in hot and cold tubs; and assign tickets for his loved ones to pick up. (Some players — including Louisiana native Langston Galloway, who joined the Pelicans this past summer — say they hate the inconvenience of creating ticket lists before games, as it interrupts pregame routines such as watching film of that night’s opponent.)“I ended up just buying a box [at the United Center]. Had to get anywhere from eight to 10 tickets every night, plus a [suite] that held 16 people. Probably 26 to 30 tickets a game, for every single home game,” said Rose, describing a batch of tickets with a face value of six figures each season. “That’s crazy, right?”Asked whether the Bulls gave him extra tickets or the suite since he was a star and 2011 MVP, Rose, who’s earning $21 million this season, responded, “What do you think? I wish it had been like that. I had to pay for everything.”3Rose wouldn’t say how much, exactly, he used to spend in Chicago on tickets. The Bulls confirmed that they didn’t give Rose any free tickets or discounts.Playing for your hometown team isn’t all ticket headaches; there’s plenty of upside, too.Howard, for instance, says he loves being able to enjoy regular Sunday dinners with his family. Bucks forward Steve Novak said that because he grew up an hour from Milwaukee and knew the city well before he signed there, he faces fewer potential distractions from basketball. And Wade said his ticket distribution has surprisingly become easier since signing with the Bulls.“When I used to come back to Chicago, it was always really hectic, because my family could only see me play in person once or twice a year. So for those games, I’d get about 50 tickets for my family. And that’s serious money,” said Wade, who added that he later vowed to never spend so much on tickets again. “Now I play here 41 times a year. So I can lower the number of tickets for each game and spread things out over the whole season. And it’s much easier.”Players said veterans generally are better about standing firm on money than their younger teammates. Many hire staff to help handle their ticket-distribution responsibilities so as not to hinder their game-to-game focus.Haslem said he used to buy 20 or more tickets for every home game — like Rose in Chicago — but began managing his finances better about six years into his career, when he put his stepmother in charge of his tickets.“I appointed her as my head of ticket sales, because she just tells everybody to go to hell. She don’t care,” Haslem said. “She tells people, ‘You ain’t been there with him since the beginning, so you ain’t coming to his games!’ ”Some players find that a good, old-fashioned guilt trip is the most effective way to get people to stop asking for tickets: Make them aware of how much the extra seats cost, and most people will think twice before requesting more.“With a lot of them, I don’t think they know that we have to pay for those extra tickets,” says Knicks forward and Brooklyn native Lance Thomas, who, until last season, never had a guaranteed contract and was careful with his money. “So I make sure to let them know afterwards, so it doesn’t become a habit.” Quincy AcyDallas Veteran players who joined a team within 100 miles of their birthplace this season After being traded from Chicago to New York this past summer, Derrick Rose was elated when free agent center Joakim Noah, his close friend and ex-Bulls teammate, signed with the Knicks. But Rose, who had played in his hometown of Chicago for eight years, had a piece of advice for Noah now that he’d be playing for a team a mile from where he grew up.“I just told him to be careful,” Rose said, after congratulating Noah, “because everybody’s going to ask you for tickets, and the demand is about to be crazy.”Noah is far from the only guy who’s getting a brisk education in what it’s like to play at home 41 times a year. An unprecedented number of NBA veterans signed with their hometown teams this past summer, and many of them are encountering an awkward predicament: What to do with all these seemingly random junior-high classmates who blitz them with ticket requests?According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 122 NBA veterans switched teams this past summer. Of that group, 10 — or 8 percent — joined a club within 100 miles of their birthplace, according to an analysis run by David Corby of Basketball-Reference.com at FiveThirtyEight’s request.1There’s no way of consistently defining NBA players’ hometowns that would work for every case. The definition we used generally identifies players most fans would consider to have returned to their hometown, but there are exceptions. For example, Dallas-area native Deron Williams’s 2015 signing with the Mavericks isn’t counted since he was born in West Virginia.Meanwhile, when there is more than one team within 100 miles of a player’s birthplace, he might be counted when joining a team that isn’t the closest to his hometown — even when he was previously playing for a team that’s closer. For instance, our analysis includes the trade that sent Philadelphia native Marc Jackson from the 76ers to the New Jersey Nets before the 2005-06 season. Distance between a player’s birthplace and his team was calculated as the crow flies. That’s the highest number of veteran players to make their way home during a single offseason since 1988, the year unrestricted free agency took root in the NBA, and more than triple the average annual number.2Basketball-Reference.com’s analysis counted players in the year they moved to their hometown teams. For consistency, that was considered the year before the season ended, even in the case of the season after the 1998-1999 lockout, which both started and ended in 1999; transactions before that season are counted in our analysis as 1998. The analysis excludes rookies and veterans with fewer than five career win shares as of Jan. 30, as well as players who were acquired by their hometown teams but never appeared on the roster during the season. PLAYERTEAM JOINED Jeff TeagueIndiana Langston GallowayNew Orleans Randy FoyeBrooklyn Dwyane WadeChicago Cole AldrichMinnesota Joakim NoahNew York Dwight HowardAtlanta Gerald HendersonPhiladelphia Excludes players with fewer than five career win shares as of Jan. 30, as well as players who were acquired by their hometown teams but haven’t appeared on the roster during the season. Players listed in descending order of win shares. It’s unclear what caused the spike in players going home this past summer. It might have been a fluke. But perhaps LeBron James’s decision to return to Cleveland in 2014 for a second stint with the Cavaliers, 30 miles from his hometown of Akron, Ohio, influenced more players to consider the possibility.“I think that’s definitely had an impact,” said Miami native Udonis Haslem, who has spent his entire NBA career with the Heat and watched ex-teammates James and Dwyane Wade leave South Beach to go back home to Cleveland and Chicago, respectively. “There’s nothing like playing for the team you grew up watching as a kid. You can’t replace that.”That sense of home initially appealed to 2015 All-Star Jeff Teague, who was thrilled to be traded from Atlanta to play for his hometown Indiana Pacers in June. (The three-team swap — which sent George Hill, also an Indianapolis native, away from his hometown club — was the only trade to bring a veteran back to his hometown last offseason. The other nine players making a return trip all signed as free agents.)Teague, a point guard with a mural of Indianapolis tattoos on his left arm, says he prioritizes his family; after the trade he moved into the basement of the house he bought for his parents. But as much as he loves being around his folks, the 28-year-old said in an interview that playing at home “is definitely not what I expected” so far. It’s been challenging to deal with so many people coming out of the woodwork to ask him for tickets, Teague said.“Honestly, it’s a lot easier playing in a place where you don’t know anyone, because no one really bothers you,” said Teague. “At home, everybody knows you. People ask for everything. And I try to tell them, ‘Talk to my parents,’ or just turn them down. But it’s hard to say no. Sometimes I just end up giving into it.”Requests, some of them from family friends he doesn’t know, weigh on Teague. “I end up having to buy and buy and buy, because there’s no way around it,” he said. “It’s not cheap, and it’s definitely not ideal.”Generally speaking, NBA teams allow their players to give out three complimentary tickets for home games, and two free tickets for road contests. But some teams handle their distribution differently, according to interviews with two dozen players in NBA locker rooms. A few clubs offer better seats than others, and in a handful of smaller markets — where sellouts are rarer — teams are occasionally more flexible in letting players have extra tickets.When players need more than their own allotment of free tickets, they do have options. The most common solution is to borrow a teammate’s seats that night, then return the favor later in the season, whenever the club visits that teammate’s hometown.“That usually works. But it can get a little hairy if you don’t ask people far enough in advance,” said Cole Aldrich, who grew up near Minneapolis and signed to play for the Timberwolves this past summer. He recalled a preseason game in Kansas City, Missouri, that led to a ticket rush between him and teammates Andrew Wiggins and Brandon Rush, who “were all fighting over our teammates’ extras right up until the game,” Aldrich said. (High ticket demand can extend beyond players’ hometowns: Aldrich, Wiggins and Rush starred at Kansas in college.)Players can often buy additional tickets if they run out of their own and can’t get any from teammates. But not everyone is willing to pay for acquaintances and distant relatives to attend games for free.“I bought my parents courtside seats, and I got a suite for my kids. Other than that, people are grown and there’s this thing called Ticketmaster that they can use,” said Dwight Howard, the Atlanta native who in July signed with the Hawks. “Everybody knew I was gonna handle it that way, because I sat down with them in advance and told them I’m not spending extra money on things like that.” read more

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