One of the funnest parts of the offseason in baseball is breaking down the projections that are littered throughout the winter. The three main projection systems are PECOTA, Steamer, and ZiPS and they all attempt to predict and break down how the upcoming season will turn out. Of course, as with any algorithm, there will be predictions that are way off, which is why the games are played. But this is a fun look at how the upcoming season could go and see whether or not the projections predict a player will improve, regress or stand pat. With that said, I thought it might be interesting to break down the Kansas City Royals projected lineup and see what the Steamer projections have in store for Kansas City offensively in 2017.
What I found most interesting about Salvy’s projected numbers for this year wasn’t the fact that they expected his numbers to pick up a notch but that they project he will play in less games! I don’t know if that happens, especially if they use the designated hitter as a rotating spot, but I like the idea of Perez getting some much-needed extra rest. Steamer has Salvy hitting .264/.298/.444 with 20 home runs, 67 RBI’s and 2.8 WAR. All but the home runs would be an improvement over 2016 and even that was only off by two. I tend to think all of this is possible, especially if Ned gives him that extra rest. It’s been very apparent over the last couple of seasons that by August, Salvy seems to be tiring and the grind of catching as many innings as he has the last few years catches up to him. I would like to see Perez get some extra at bats at DH and rest his legs, which I think would mean an increase in his offense. For the most part, I believe these projections are doable.
Eric Hosmer-1st Base
Anyone who has followed this blog knows that I soured on Hosmer this past season and it was to the point where I don’t know if I will ever expect him to perform even remotely consistent in the big leagues. The good news is that Steamer thinks Eric will improve on last year, projecting a line of .278/.345/.455 with 22 home runs and 84 RBI’s and a 1.7 WAR. Outside of the home runs and RBI’s, everything else would be an improvement on a season that was the tale of two different seasons for Hos. To me, the biggest tell on whether or not he improves offensively this year is if he is able to decrease his ground ball rate, which was a ridiculous 58.9% in 2016. If he does that and lowers his strike out rate, I think we could see a better Hos in 2017. There has never been a better time for him to have a career year than the season right before he enters the free agent market, so there should be some motivation to not be the guy who produced a well below average OPS+ (78) in the second half of 2016.
Raul Mondesi-2nd Base
My hunch is that Mondesi will be the Kansas City second bagger to start 2017 unless he really struggles this spring. The good news is that there is almost no way he could be worse offensively than he was during his first stint with the Royals last year. Steamer agrees with me on this, as they are projecting him to hit .231/.272/.360 with 8 home runs and 36 RBI’s, a WAR of 0.0 and a wRC+ of 64. Yes, none of those numbers are great, but all would be an improvement on his numbers in 47 major league games in 2016. I tend to look at Mondesi like this: right now, his defense is ready while his bat still needs some major work. But he has slowly improved his offense ever year in the minors, with his power numbers improving by quite a bit in his short spans in both AA and AAA in 2016. The question the Royals have to ask is if A.) His defense is good enough to let him learn at the big league level? or B.) Do they have a better option at second base? The honest answer is that as much as I like Whit Merrifield, I think he is better suited to be a super utility guy in the big leagues and I also believe Mondesi is going to learn more in the majors then spending time in the minors. This could be an interesting development to follow and I’m highly intrigued to see if Mondesi raises some eyebrows this spring in Arizona.
Escobar’s offense in 2016 was nothing to write home about; in fact, it’s probably best left to just not mention it happened. It was evident throughout the season that he had no business hitting leadoff and was not pulling his weight for a guy getting close to 700 plate appearances. Luckily, Steamer is expecting bigger things from Esky this year, with a projected line of .264/.299/.352 with a WAR of 1.0 and wRC+ of 72. Okay, the numbers are only slightly better but even if we just see a slightly better strike out rate or walk rate, I’ll take it. At this point, Escobar is who he is, which is someone who rarely walks, strikes out too often and his faith lies in the BABIP Gods. As much as I have always enjoyed his defense, we are even starting to see a slight regression there, so it might be good that he will be a free agent after the season wraps up.
Mike Moustakas-3rd Base
Man, the Steamer really loves Mike Moustakas! Moose missed most of the 2016 campaign but in the 27 games he appeared in it was obvious that his power numbers were drastically improved and it appeared he was headed for a break-out season. Instead, a collision with left fielder Alex Gordon did in his knee and he was shelved. Right now though, the Steamer has Moose hitting .267/.329/.468 over 129 games with 23 home runs, 73 RBI’s, a wRC+ of 111 and a WAR of 3.1. Now, a large chunk of that projection is from his 2015 season, but I feel like these estimates are light. Yes, I think Moustakas is going to have a big year and I wouldn’t be surprised if he surpasses the 30 home run barrier if he can stay healthy. Moustakas has shown a tendency to improve throughout his career and in what could be his final year in Kansas City, I tend to believe he wants to show the power we have all expected him to display. While most of these projections have felt close to what I was thinking, this is one that I think will be much higher when it is all said and done.
Alex Gordon-Left Field
Most players have that one season where they would prefer it would magically disappear and never be spoken of again. For Alex Gordon, 2016 was one of those seasons. Gordon struggled through the year, ending up with a line of .220/.312/.380 in 128 games. In late May, Gordon collided with Mike Moustakas and would proceed to miss the following month. It really just felt like Gordon was off most of the year, and chalk it up to whatever you want (I personally felt he wasn’t 100% most of the year) but it was a year to forget. So what is being predicted for this year? Steamer has Gordon at .248/.335/.404 with 15 home runs, 61 RBI’s and a wRC+ of 98. Call me an optimist, but I feel Gordon will be a bit better than that this year, as he looks to bounce back. Gordon probably won’t see the highs he racked up back in 2011-2012, but if he stays healthy a .260/.350/.430 season is reachable. Yes, Gordon is probably seeing the beginning of his regression, but I just don’t see it being as sharp a fall as he had last year. Expect Alex to improve on a forgettable 2016 this year and help improve the Royals offense.
Lorenzo Cain-Center Field
Coming off of a career year in 2015, Cain looked to grow on that last year and guide the Royals back to the playoffs. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always follow a nice, cozy script and Cain would spend a large chunk of 2016 on the disabled list. Cain went from appearing in a career high amount of games in 2015 (140 games) to barely over 100 (103 to be exact) in 2016. This also meant a decline in his MVP caliber numbers from the previous year and a line of .287/.339/.408 and a wRC+ of only 98. Luckily, Steamer is projecting a similar year for Cain in 2017, as they foresee a .283/.338/.417 line and a wRC+ of 100 in 130 games. I must be the middle man here; I think Cain’s numbers could very well be higher, as he will be working for a contract, but it will all be determined on his health. If he can stay on the field, I think he will produce. If he doesn’t expect a season on par to last year. I don’t think we will ever see the numbers from Cain again that we saw two years ago, but something in that vicinity would greatly improve Kansas City’s offense.
Jorge Soler-Right Field
If you haven’t noticed it yet, there is a trend with the Royals lineup coming into this year. Almost every hitter is coming off of a sub-par 2016 and looking to redeem themselves this year. Count new acquisition Soler in that category, as he struggled for Chicago this past year. Soler hit .238/.333/.436 with 12 home runs, 37 RBI’s and a wRC+ of 106. Soler was slightly above league average, but only appeared in 86 games due to injuries in 2016. The Royals are counting on Soler to be a regular cog in the middle of their order this year…but Steamer doesn’t trust his injury history. Right now, they have predicted he will hit .257/.333/.436, 14 home runs, 48 RBI’s and a wRC+ of 104 in just slightly over 100 games. The Royals training staff has done a good job these last few years keeping the team on the field (with last year being the exception) and I tend to feel like this will be the first full year Soler spends in the big leagues. Number-wise, Soler is what he is: a high strikeout, power hitting slugger. Soler did see an uptick in his walk percentage last year and with a full year on his plate, I think he could put up solid slugging and on base percentage numbers. Soler’s probably never going to hit for a high average, but if the other stats are there, it won’t matter. The Royals need him to slug and that is just what should see him accomplish this year.
Brandon Moss-Designated Hitter
Now, I know Royals GM Dayton Moore said the other day that Moss won’t be the “primary” DH this year, but I have a feeling when it is all said and done Moss will be the recipient of the most AB’s in that spot. Moss had a very productive 2016 and Kansas City is hoping that the same power he showed last year transfers over to Kauffman Stadium this year. A solid 2016 out Moss at .225/.300/.484 with 28 home runs, 66 RBI’s and a wRC+ of 105. Steamer has Moss sitting this year at .237/.319/.453 with only 17 home runs and 44 RBI’s and a wRC+ of 103. Now, if you are asking yourself why those numbers are lower, it is because Steamer has projected that Moss will only appear in 89 games this year, which right now feels like an extremely low number. I tend to project Moss will play in the 120-130 game zone which will see his production go slightly up. I think we could see Moss’ on base numbers increase this year (mostly from more walks) and his power numbers see a slight drop, although with Kauffman in play I could see Moss racking up more doubles than homers. In this regard, I tend to think Steamer is fairly close on the averages and a bit low on the accumulated numbers. Look for Moss to perform fairly similar this year, if not a tad bit better.
So with the projections out there, it’s easy to see that most of them are based off of past production, which isn’t always a good thing for this Royals team. Luckily, the games are played for a reason and coming off of a poor offensive season in 2014, many of the Royals batters improved on their numbers in 2015. There is no reason to think that can’t happen again, at least with a number of their starters this year coming off of injuries. One final projection I want to throw out there are the ZiPS projections which are done by Dan Szymborski and are one of the more sought after projections during baseball’s offseason. Going off of fWAR, ZiPS projects the Royals this way (projections obviously made before Ventura’s death and Moss’ signing):
The good news is that ZiPS has improvement from Gordon, Cain and Moose. The bad news is that there is little if any improvement expected from Hosmer, Soler, Escobar and Mondesi. Once again, these are just projections and while some will be fairly close, some of these will end up being way off. I always like to say that projections like this are a good starting point and once the season begins we will get a better feel for how this team will operate in 2017. More than anything, this Royals team needs improvement from their offense in 2017; if they don’t, we might as well kiss October baseball goodbye. No pressure, offense-just be better.