30 in 30: Kansas City Royals

Image result for kansas city royals 2017
Photo: Brian Davidson/Getty Images

by: Ryan Waldis

Over the next 30 days (March 1st through March 30th), I’ll be previewing each of the 30 MLB teams in reverse order of the 2017 league standings. The series will conclude on March 31st, when I’ll be releasing my predictions for the 2018 season. With that said, let’s jump into the 18th team preview of the series, featuring the Kansas City Royals.

Quick Facts

Manager: Ned Yost (9th season)
2017 Record: 80-82, 3rd in AL Central
Run Differential: -89
Top Position Player: Lorenzo Cain (5.3 WAR)
Top Pitcher: Jason Vargas (3.9 WAR)

2017 Review

The Royals fall from grace has actually been kind of remarkable. The Kansas City organization went 28 years between postseason appearances. When they finally got back in 2014, they lost the World Series in seven games to the San Francisco Bumgarners. They made it back to the World Series in 2015, winning in five games. Since then, the Royals have posted records of 81-81 and 80-82. 2017 wasn’t kind to the Royals; they finished 23rd in the league in OPS (.731), 20th in ERA (4.61), and their Pythagorean win-loss record (which takes into account run differential) was 72-90.

Kansas City started off the season about as badly as a team possibly could. They posted a 7-16 record in April which included a nine game losing streak to end the month. They rebounded over the next three months, posting records of 15-14, 17-9, and 16-10, vaulting themselves back into playoff contention. Even after going 10-18 in August, the Royals found themselves just 4.5 games out of a playoff spot entering September. After a win against the White Sox on September 12th, Kansas City was just three games back of the Twins. Y’all know how the story goes by now. The Royals went 8-10 over the next 18 games, which (obviously) wasn’t nearly good enough to clinch a playoff spot. For the second consecutive year, the Royals found themselves at home in October.

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Photo: Denny Medley/USA Today

Offense

The home run total of Salvador Perez has steadily improved since he broke into the league in 2011. That trend continued in 2017, as the backstop sent 27 balls over the fence to go along with a slash-line of .268/.297/.495. He’s still striking out more than he used to, but the 19.0% strikeout rate represented a nearly three percent decrease from 2016. The walk rate of 3.4% doesn’t really catch your eye, either. Behind the plate, Perez wasn’t one of the better options around the league. He finished 104th out of 110 in adjusted FRAA with a -8.6, and found himself ranked 107th in Framing Runs with a mark of -10.0.

Eric Hosmer chose a good time to have the best offensive season of his career. In a contract year, the first baseman slashed .318/.385/.498 while tying his career-high with 25 home runs. He stole six bases and posted respectable strikeout and walk rates of 15.5% and 9.8%. Hosmer’s ISO also increased for the fourth consecutive season, and the .376 wOBA was the highest of his career. Hosmer wasn’t great defensively (although he wasn’t awful, either)—in the 1,338 innings he played at first base, he played to a UZR of -0.3.

Second baseman Whit Merrifield had a promising rookie campaign in 2016 and built upon it in 2017. The 28-year-old hit to a line of .288/.324/.460 while clubbing 19 home runs and stealing 34 bases. He cut his strikeout rate by nearly eight percent down to 14.0%, while the walk rate (4.6%) represented a one percent decrease. The second-year player saw time at five different positions but spent most of the year at the keystone—he logged 1,142.2 innings at second and posted a UZR of 0.6.

Alcides Escobar had a 1.9 UZR in 1,404.1 innings at shortstop! Nice! That’s about where the positives ended for the nine-year vet in 2017 as he had one of the worst offensive season of his career. His triple-slash was an unappealing .250/.272/.357 and he contributed just six home runs and four stolen bases in 629 plate appearances. Take a look at the middle number of that slash. You have to try really hard to post an OBP that low. That low number is partially due to Escobar’s inability to draw a free pass—his 2.4% walk rate was the second-lowest among all qualified batters.

Third baseman Mike Moustakas finally had the breakout season in regards to power that everyone was waiting for. The lifetime Royal hit .272/.314/.521 with 38 home runs and a 114 wRC+. It wasn’t all positive for Moose, though. His strikeout rate of 15.7% was his highest since 2013, and the 5.7% walk rate was a little over two percent lower than it was in 2016. Moustakas also experienced some issues in the field. After earning the reputation of a reliable fielder over his career, the Royals third baseman earned a -3.1 UZR at the hot corner, a career-low.

The Royals used three main outfielders for much of 2017 before acquiring another one later in the year. Lorenzo Cain, Kansas City’s WAR leader for the second time in three seasons, was the face of the outfield. He hit a cool .300/.363/.440 in 645 plate appearances, cranking 15 home runs and stealing 26 bases. He drew a walk 8.4% of the time while striking out 15.5%. Cain wasn’t as phenomenal in the field as he’s been in recent years, but the outfielder still managed to post a 1.6 UZR in centerfield and a 1.5 UZR in right. Another longtime Royal didn’t fare as well. Alex Gordon had the worst offensive campaign of his career, hitting just .208/.293/.315 with nine home runs and seven stolen bases. The .269 wOBA represented a career-low, and while Gordon cut his strikeout rate (23.3%) by six percent, his walk rate (8.3%) also decreased by two percent. The one positive? He posted an 11.5 UZR in left field. That number was good for fifth among all qualified players.

Jorge Bonifacio was almost exactly league average at the dish per his 99 wRC+. The rookie hit to a line of .255/.320/.432 and contributed 17 home runs. He struck out 28.0% of the time while drawing a walk 8.3%. He didn’t kill the Royals in the field, posting modest UZR’s of 0.2 in left field and 0.1 in right. Melky Cabrera was acquired at the deadline by Kansas City and the return on investment didn’t really pay off. Cabrera couldn’t replicate the success he had with the White Sox and hit just .269/.303/.399 over the 58 games in was in a Royals uniform. Cabrera hit 13 balls out of the yard with the White Sox before hitting just four with KC. The acquisition wasn’t great in the field, either—the -0.3 UZR he had in left field and the -3.6 he had in right certainly wasn’t ideal.

Remember when Brandon Moss was kind of good for a while? He wasn’t good in 2017. The DH slashed .207/.279/.428, striking out 31.9% of the time. Now, admittedly, the walk rate of 9.2% was fine and he contributed 22 home runs, but overall Moss was a major negative at the plate. He kind of held his own in the field, posting a 0.8 UZR at first and a -0.7 UZR in the outfield, but Moss definitely didn’t produce like the Kansas City front office was hoping he would when they acquired him.

Image result for danny duffy 2017
Photo: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Pitching

The Kansas City rotation looked very weak on paper heading into 2017. It was no surprise, then, to see them post a combined ERA of 4.89, which was good for 24th in the league. Danny Duffy, as expected, was the leader of the pack. Duffy pitched to an ERA of 3.81 and a FIP of 3.46, but was limited to just 24 starts because of injury. The southpaw had a strikeout rate of 21.4% and a relatively low walk rate of 6.7%. In the year of the homer, Duffy kept the ball in the yard as he allowed just 13 dingers all season. Fellow southpaw and pitching WAR leader Danny Duffy had a heck of a first half. He pitched to a 2.62 ERA, allowing 11 home runs and posting a walk rate of just 5.8%. The 4.78 xFIP, though, indicated that the good times probably wouldn’t last. Spoiler alert: they didn’t. Over the second half of the season, Vargas pitched to an ugly 6.38 ERA, allowing 16 home runs in 30 less innings pitched. The walk rate ballooned to 10.1%, and Vargas became extremely unreliable.

There were three other starters who made double-digit starts for the Royals in 2017. Jakob Junis was the best of this trio. The 24-year-old made his debut last year and in 16 starts had a 4.16 ERA and 4.45 FIP. His strikeout rate of 18.5% wasn’t particularly appealing, but the low 5.1% walk rate was intriguing. He let up 14 home runs in 93 innings, but he showcased two solid pitches (0.5 wFB, 1.5 wSL) and exhibited two others that could turn out to be something (-4.1 wCB, -2.2 wCH). In a vacuum, Junis provided enough reasons for optimism. The other two aforementioned arms, though, did not:

Jason Hammel: 32 starts, 5.29 ERA/4.37 FIP/4.92 xFIP, 18.0% K%, 6.0% BB%, 1.30 HR/9
Ian Kennedy: 30 starts, 5.38 ERA/5.61 FIP/5.25 xFIP, 20.0% K%, 9.3% BB%, 2.15 HR/9

While the rotation wasn’t great, the bullpen was close to league average. The squad finished 16th with a 4.24 ERA, striking out 503 and walking 246. Mike Minor had an excellent season, making 65 appearances and pitching to a 2.55 ERA and 2.62 FIP. He struck out 88 batters and walked 22. Ditto for fellow southpaw Scott Alexander, who made 58 appearances and finished with a 2.48 ERA and 3.23 FIP. The 27-year-old notched 59 strikeouts and 28 walks. Veteran Joakim Soria proved to be reliable; he had a 3.70 ERA but an even better 2.23 FIP. Soria struck out 64 batters while walking 20, but the most impressive part of his season was the amount of home runs he allowed—just one.

Peter Moylan and Kevin McCarthy were also serviceable bullpen pieces. The former still got it done at the age of 38, making a team-high 79 appearances. Moylan had an ERA of 3.49 and 4.00 FIP, finishing with 46 punchouts and 25 walks. The latter tossed 45 innings of 3.20 ERA/3.98 FIP ball in 33 appearances, striking out 27 batters and walking 13. Kelvin Herrera had a bit of an off year but still made 64 appearances, pitching to a 4.25 ERA and 4.30 FIP. His strikeout rate (21.6%) was nine percent lower than it was in 2016, and his walk rate (7.7%) was three percent higher.

Image result for mike moustakas
Photo: Brian Davidson/Getty Images

Offseason Recap

Even considering the circumstances, the Royals had a rough offseason. Their biggest addition was…

*puts on glasses*

um

*checks transaction log*

oh my

*double-checks transaction log*

Jesse Hahn? No, that can’t be right.

*checks transaction log again*

Lucas Duda? Jon Jay? Ricky Nolasco? Oh boy.

When you lose two of your biggest names, of course it’s going to be a rough offseason. Still, losing Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain was rough for all parties involved. Fans can always take solace in the fact that they brought a title to Kansas City, but it’s still tough to see those two players leave.

All Additions: Jesse Hahn, Lucas Duda, Jon Jay, Ricky Nolasco, Michael Saunders, Blaine Boyer, Ryan Goins, Cody Asche, Wily Peralta

All Departures: Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Morin, Melky Cabrera, Trevor Cahill, Peter Moylan, Jason Vargas, Joakim Soria, Scott Alexander

2018 Outlook

Best Case: They don’t finish with the worst record in the league. Merrifield builds upon his first two big league seasons and Perez is a solid source of offense. Moustakas cranks 30 home runs again. A wizard appears and grants guys like Escobar, Duda, and Gordon the ability to actually contribute at the plate. Danny Duffy and Jake Junis perform well. Nathan Karns isn’t awful. So, maybe the pitching rotation isn’t completely terrible. The bullpen is league average. The Royals finish with a win total in the low-70s, which would be an accomplishment.

Worst Case: They do finish with the worst record in the league. Outside of Perez and Merrifield, the offense is one of (if not the) worst in the league. Moustakas regresses and teams around the league are happy they didn’t gift Moose a huge contract. The rotation outside of Duffy is god-awful, and the bullpen is in the bottom-third of the league. The Royals lose 100 games for the first time since 2006.

PECOTA Projected Record: 65-97, 693 RS, 856 RA

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