The Kansas City Royals are 46-62, in last place in the AL Central and are once again in line to have a top-five pick in next year’s MLB Draft.
But look a little deeper, and you’ll see K.C. might not be as far from respectability as it appears.
As of Monday, the Royals had only been outscored by 47 runs. Last year on Aug. 1, K.C.’s run differential was minus-109.
In fact, there have been only two times in the last 10 years that K.C.’s run differential was better on Aug. 1 than it is this year. The average differential during that time span was minus-96.
The point? It’s not easy for teams to make a monumental leap in one season.
The Royals have improved by 62 runs this season. If they make a similar improvement next season (which is possible with the young players who are developing), their run differential would be about even.
And if that happened, the Royals would have a legitimate shot at a .500 record — something that hasn’t happened since 2003.
It’s the same type of analysis that makes me nervous for the Kansas football team in 2011.
Though the Jayhawks went 3-9 last year, what had to be more discouraging for coaches was how bad their losses were.
If you take out the miracle victory against Colorado — remember, KU was down 28 in the fourth quarter — the Jayhawks had no Big 12 games they kept within single digits. KU’s closest losses were against Iowa State (28-16) and Nebraska (20-3).
Other games were out of reach in a hurry. In half of their Big 12 games, the Jayhawks were beaten by 34 points or more. Against Kansas State and Baylor, KU lost by a combined 100 points.
It all made for an unsightly point differential at the end of the season. In Big 12 play, KU was outscored by 219 (335-116) — the worst conference point differential since Baylor in 2007.
To compare, Texas Tech had the second-worst Big 12 point differential in 2010, and the Red Raiders were only outscored by 80 (279-199).
The Jayhawks have a lot of ground to make up, and that’s even if they get significant contribution from their newcomers.
Only eight teams in Big 12 history had a worse point differential than KU did last season. Those teams combined to go 12-52 in conference play during their next year.
Add in the fact that KU’s conference schedule gets tougher — dropping Nebraska and Colorado from last year’s slate to add Texas Tech, Texas and Oklahoma — and it’s hard to envision KU improving its record from 2010, even with what should be an improved team.
It’s worth noting KU has bucked this statistical trend before.
Back in 2002, KU was outscored by 255 (380-125) in conference play during coach Mark Mangino’s first season.
In his second year — sound familiar? — KU showed significant improvement, going 3-5 in Big 12 play while only getting outscored by 38 in conference games (247-209). The Jayhawks made a bowl game that year, losing, 56-26, to N.C. State to finish 6-7 overall.
It’s more likely that we see the 2011 Jayhawks improve incrementally — much like the Royals are doing this year.
Before KU can hope to win Big 12 games, it has to show it can stay close in them.