Moss, Buchter Traded to the A’s; Royals Continue to Stockpile Arms

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With Spring Training almost two weeks away, the Kansas City Royals swung another deal on Monday night, trading OF/DH Brandon Moss and reliever Ryan Buchter to the Oakland A’s for pitchers Jesse Hahn and Heath Fillmyer. Cash was also involved, as $3.25 million was sent from the Royals to the A’s. This frees up about $5 million on the Kansas City payroll, which already has some (like myself) speculating on why the Royals would want to do that:

So while the Hosmer rumors can now run wild (brother), let’s take a look at what the Royals gave up and are receiving.

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Moss had a very underwhelming 2017, his only season in Kansas City. Moss posted a line of .207/. 279/.428 with 22 home runs, 50 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 84. Moss struggled out of the gate and it wasn’t until later in the summer that he started producing like the Royals expected. Moss will be entering his age 34 season in 2018 and while he would have seen consistent playing time somewhere for Kansas City (whether it was at first base or DH), he probably would have also been taking playing time away from some younger talent like Jorge Soler, Hunter Dozier or Jorge Bonifacio. While the move feels like a salary dump, it also allows the Royals to see what they have with Dozier or Soler without a veteran like Moss blocking them. While Moss didn’t have many memorable moments in a Royals uniform, he was always very honest about his performance on the field and never made excuses for the lack of production. My favorite Moss moment will be from Star Wars day at The K this past year. My wife, son and myself got to listen to a couple of fans give their “analysis” of Moss’ issues at the plate, which included the serious line of “he needs glasses; he can’t see the ball.” We listened for what felt like fifty innings to these two “special” fans rag on Moss non-stop. Then…he stepped up and hit a three-run home run. At that point, our “friends” left their seats and got out of Dodge. If anything, I became a Brandon Moss fan that day. But it wasn’t just Moss packing his bags for Oakland…

Kansas City Royals v Cleveland Indians

Ryan Buchter was the bigger catch for the A’s, as they can plug-in another lefty into their bullpen. While Buchter incurred a few issues during his short stint in Kansas City, he was a very reliable part of the Padres pen and has produced some great numbers these last couple of seasons:

Over the past two seasons combined, Buchter’s 16.7% infield fly ball rate (IFFB) ranks 10th in the majors among qualified relievers. He also ranks 14th during that span with a 26% soft contact rate against. Buchter is even tougher against lefties, limiting them to a .160/.255/.306 batting line during his MLB career.

The Royals started the winter with a couple of strong lefties in their pen, but with this trade and the trade of Scott Alexander, that depth has taken a big hit. The team still has Eric Stout, Brian Flynn, Tim Hill and Eric Skoglund as lefty options currently on the 40-man roster, and a prospect like Richard Lovelady could slither his way into the conversation this spring. While losing Buchter could be looked at as a loss, the Royals did get a couple of positive gains in this trade.

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Credit: BRIAN ROTHMULLER/ICON SPORTSWIRE

Jesse Hahn is entering his age 28 season for the Royals and looks to be an option as either a starter or a reliever. More than anything, Hahn just needs to stay healthy as he has dealt with various ailments over the last couple seasons. He pitched in only 14 big league games last year, producing a 5.30 ERA, 3.62 FIP and an ERA+ of 81. Early in his career he showed a lot of promise but the injuries have derailed his career since 2015. The Royals have been focusing on ground ball pitchers this winter, as they are looking to counter the rise of home runs in the league the last two years, and Hahn fits that profile. He’s produced a 49.7% groundball rate throughout his career and a slightly below hard hit rate of 28.3%. If he can stay healthy, Hahn could fit at the back of the Royals rotation in 2018 and either way will probably stick on the roster, since he is out of options.

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Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Heath Fillmyer is the intriguing catch of this trade for the Royals, as he slides into the 28th best prospect in the Kansas City system according to MLB.com. Let’s start with the scouting report on Fillmyer:

Fillmyer has a quick arm and typically throws his fastball in the 92-96 mph range with good sinking action that nets him ground-ball outs and results in few home runs. He has a pair of above-average secondary offerings in a curveball, which he throws with tight spin and late bite, and a changeup, a pitch he made big strides with last season. Improved feel for repeating his delivery has led to him throwing more strikes, though he regressed with both his control and command in his first full Double-A campaign.

With his athleticism, big arm and feel for three average-or-better pitches, Fillmyer has the ingredients to become a No. 4 or 5 starter in the big leagues.

Once again, the Royals have put an emphasis on ground ball pitchers and Fillmyer is another that fits the mold. He dealt with some control issues in 2017 (his walk rate bumped up to 8.0%) but he will be entering his age 24 season this year and looks to be a good candidate for a bounce-back year. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him start the year in AAA Omaha when camp breaks.

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Credit: SCOTT WINTERS/ICON SPORTSWIRE

This trade accomplished a couple of check marks off the Royals “to do” list. Acquiring Fillmyer helps them continue their goal of re-stocking the farm system, while adding Hahn gives the team another option in the rotation. Obviously dealing Moss was a way to pare down payroll, although it feels like a preemptive measure to help accommodate incoming payroll from a certain first baseman. While I wasn’t a big fan of the Alexander/Soria trade earlier this winter, this trade felt more like a solid gain (and possibly even a win) for Dayton Moore. I am fully on board with the team targeting ground ball pitchers and actually I felt that should have been done a couple of years ago. I also wouldn’t be shocked to see another trade in the near future, as veterans Jason Hammel and Kelvin Herrera could help the team shed more payroll and force the Royals overall to get a bit younger. We could also see a free agent signing…I mean, this is what these moves are leading to, right? Time will tell, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the team signs Eric Hosmer sometime in the next couple weeks. For now, this move was simply a way to dump some payroll while building up some pitching depth. At the end of the day, that is a positive.

 

 

The State of the Royals Bullpen

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Credit: Getty Images

We were spoiled. Wade Davis. Greg Holland. HDH. 

Throughout 2014 and 2015, the Royals bullpen was out of this world. Looking back, it shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that Kansas City was able to dominate the way they did and shut down opposing teams in the postseason. The honest truth is that the Royals pen of that era was a ‘once in a lifetime’ group that we might never see again. Sure, it feels like every team in baseball is trying to copy the Royals’ blueprint (Hello, Rockies!) but who knows if we see that level of domination in both the regular season AND the postseason again. 

But what that group taught us is that success can be fleeting. The last two years, the Royals bullpen has been a shell of those playoff teams when the honesty of the situation is that the Royals had slid back into the norm. Many fans expected dominance all the time, not realizing how irregular the numbers were that those bullpens were putting up.  The truth? The Royals bullpen the last two years has been a very average group, or in other words…normal.

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Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The numbers in 2017 speak of just how average they were: 3.9 fWAR, 4.24 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 20.4% strike out rate, 10.0% walk rate. These numbers placed the Royals pen in either the middle of the pack or closer to the bottom of the American League. While the pen did post a 4.20 WPA last year (good enough for 5th best in the AL), they also put up a 1.64 RE24, putting them down to 10th in the league. In other words, while this group had some positives, they had just as many (if not more) negatives to cancel out the good they were doing.

So what does the bullpen have moving forward? To be honest, the pen is in a bit of disarray. Scott Alexander and Joakim Soria have been traded. Kelvin Herrera has been mentioned as a trade possibility and logic will tell you that the Royals should look further into dealing him. He is coming into the last year of his contract and will be making a substantial amount of money for a reliever on a rebuilding team.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Kansas City Royals
Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Herrera is the interesting case, as he is coming off of a very roller coaster season. Herrera saw his strike out rate decline (30.4% to 21.6%), his walk rate shoot up (4.2% to 7.7%), and his home run to fly ball rate took a step up as well (10.0% to 14.5%). Many expected his transition to the closers role to be an easy move, while instead it turned into a nightmare and he had been displaced by the end of the season. 

So did anything go right for Herrera? Not really. His numbers almost across the board went in the opposite direction and the only (somewhat) positive to find was an increase in his velocity. Almost all across the board was an increase: his sinker, slider, change-up,  and curve all saw an uptick…except for his cutter, which took a dive from averaging 96 MPH to 90.4 MPH.

The argument could be made that this could have very well been his downfall, as Herrera was using the cutter at a greater rate last year, from 0.1% to 8.1%. He was also using his fastball at a higher rate (56.4% to 66.9%) and while it is a plus pitch, it has always been his ability to mix in his off-speed stuff and breaking balls that pushed his success. Those off-speed pitches were used less in 2017, and a re-focus on their usage could bring success to Herrera in the upcoming year.

All that being said, it feels like the time to deal him. Herrera could see a pay increase from arbitration and with the Royals looking to rebuild, there is not much need to keep him around. He will be going into his age 28 season and it would make more sense to deal him now and continue rebuilding the pen.

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Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

So how does the rest of the pen shake out? Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter (two of the pitchers acquired from San Diego over the summer) will be back for their first full season in Kansas City and one would have to think their numbers would improve upon their short stint in KC so far. Maurer is an interesting option, as his plus fastball can be a difference maker. A number of scouts have suggested that Maurer would be better suited in the set-up role, (rather than as the closer he was in San Diego) and if he can command his control, we could see improvement from him in 2018. 

There are a number of other arms that could be interesting options for the pen this year. Kevin McCarthy had a solid rookie season and Andres Machado could be an interesting arm if he isn’t in the minors as a starter. Brad Keller and Burch Smith were acquired in trades after being picked in the Rule 5 draft and could add some depth to the back-end of the pen. Wily Peralta was signed earlier this offseason and while he has struggled the last couple seasons, he still has an electric fastball and could be a pet project for new pitching coach Cal Eldred. Scott Barlow is another interesting option that was signed by Kansas City this winter and could be a nice fit for the Royals in middle relief :

“Today, Barlow’s heater sits in the low 90s, but his out-pitch is a plus-slider which normally comes in between 78 and 82 MPH. He also throws a curve in the low 70s and changeup in the low 80s to compliment his off-speed arsenal.”

Barlow is also on the 40-man roster, so he should be given a bigger opportunity to secure a main roster spot this spring.

MLB: Spring Training-Kansas City Royals at Oakland Athletics

A number of minor leaguers could also see action this year, names like Tim Hill, Eric Stout and yes, Kyle Zimmer. Zimmer could be an intriguing option out of the pen if (and stop me if you’ve heard this one) he can stay healthy, while Josh Staumont could also make the case for a job if he can harness some of his control issues. The one name I expect to hear from in 2018 is Richard Lovelady, who compiled a great season in 2017. John Sickels of minorleagueball.com had this to say about Lovelady:

10th round pick in 2016 from Kennesaw State; 1.62 ERA with 77/17 K/BB in 67 innings between High-A and Double-A; fastball up to 96, good slider, usually throws strikes, command and stuff good enough to avoid LOOGY work, might get to close games eventually if command holds; as usual, rating/grading relievers is problematic due to difficulties in valuation but he should be a good one. 

There are options in the minor league system and a number of arms could be given opportunities in the upcoming season. 

For a team that is not going to be a contender, I almost lean toward the Royals going with a bullpen by committee this season. This would allow them to see what they have as the season progresses and I’m a proponent of using your best pitchers in the best situations. The closer role in general feels outdated and it would be nice to see the Royals shuffle their pitchers around according to what is going on with the game. The reality is that Ned Yost appears to prefer having set roles for his relievers and outside of 2015 and the postseason, has used them in their roles. There was some shuffling late last year, but that felt more like a reaction to Herrera’s struggles and the injuries they had been dealt. So while it would be nice to see a more “hands on deck” approach, we shouldn’t count on seeing it in the near future.

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Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The bullpen in its current state feels a bit weak but they still have time to work on that this offseason. There are a number of options on the free agent market this winter, but few that really pop out. Drew Hutchison interests me, as he could be a nice reclamation project and could see an uptick in velocity, as he would be shifting from being a starter to a reliever. Moore could easily sign a few guys like that to minor league deals, bring them into camp and see what they can do. The options are endless right now and it would be smart for the team to think outside the box. The focus was once on building a better bullpen to compensate for a weak rotation. It might be time to take that route once again.

On The Shoulders of Eric Hosmer

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Credit: Kansas City Royals

The story of the Kansas City Royals after this past 2017 season was murky, but simple enough: Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain would all be free agents and the Royals would be lucky to re-sign one of them, if any at all. What seemed the most apparent was that Hosmer would have the highest chance of leaving, even before he put together a career year in 2017. The belief was that a number of bigger market teams would be bidding for his services (the Yankees and Red Sox have been mentioned the most) and he would go where the money led him. We kept hearing the Royals would be making Hosmer their main priority, but in a lot of ways that just felt like lip service. I know myself personally, it appeared that the Royals would make him an offer or two, the big market teams would blow away Kansas City’s offer and Royals GM Dayton Moore would essentially concede defeat. The team could then say they made an effort, but financially just couldn’t compete with the New York’s and Boston’s of the world. This has been my frame of mind for well over a year now…and then something threw a monkey wrench into that thinking. That something now has me wondering if it is not only possible to bring Hosmer back, but possibly either Moose or LoCain as well.

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Credit: Kansas City Royals

Let me begin by stating I still feel like it is a long shot to bring back Hosmer but the chances do appear to be improving for the Royals. Start by reading this article by Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star. Mellinger paints a picture of how this could go down and while it feels like a ‘Hail Mary’, it isn’t as crazy as you might think. To sum up what he says, the belief is that if the market shakes out a certain way for Hosmer, he could fall back to the Royals, much in the way Alex Gordon did a few years back, as even Moore references:

“I think there’s some other things that we’d like to execute if possible — see what happens with our free agents. Everybody assumes that we are just going to just get blown away in free agency, and we don’t have a chance. They may be right, but I think everybody felt that way about Alex Gordon at the time. That fell back to us. You just never really know.”

If you remember, Gordon appeared all but gone by all of baseball, that was until Jason Heyward signed his contract with the Cubs and Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes’ names were still on the board. Gordon fell a tick or two below those two names and his age and the fact that the Cubs were the biggest suitor for him appeared to lower the type of deal he could get on the market. The one aspect of Alex coming back to Kansas City was that he always wanted to stay with the Royals, which is a bit in question with Hosmer:

The Royals know they cannot offer the biggest contract to Hosmer, so they will likely follow the same plan that eventually landed Gordon two years ago: stay in touch, be patient, trust that they’ll have a chance after other offers come in, and then get as close as possible.

Hosmer signing with the Royals would require a series of breaks their way. Many around the game believe Hosmer could get $150 million or more. They would need to be wrong. Many around the game believe Hosmer wants to play in a bigger market. They would need to be wrong about that, too.

Sure, that is a lot of if’s. A lot. But I do genuinely feel like these guys love Kansas City and the organization. If you saw any of the send-off on the final day of the season you could tell that there was some real, heartfelt emotion going on with this group. Hosmer is super close to Moustakas and Salvador Perez and one does have to wonder how much those friendships play into a player’s decision. I know, money trumps the rest most of the time. I even understand that, considering most players don’t have a super long career in the first place, so they should make their money while they can. But if these guys want to make it work while staying in Kansas City, it could happen. But Hosmer appears to be the pivotal piece and his decision will affect the rest when it comes to re-signing.

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Credit: Kansas City Royals

The decision for Hosmer could be affected by which and how many teams are bidding for his services. The belief all along has been that a number of big market teams would be vying for his attention, but Buster Olney of ESPN points out that there might not be as many teams as first thought:

Hosmer theoretically fits the Red Sox or the Yankees, but each of those big-market teams have worked to get under the luxury-tax threshold. New York believes in Greg Bird’s talent and swing, and the potential savings of Bird over Hosmer is likely to keep the Yankees out of the Hosmer bidding. The Red Sox already have over $130 million committed in 2018 payroll before they pick up the options on closer Craig Kimbrel ($13 million) and Chris Sale ($12.5 million) and before they deal with the pricey arbitration cases of Xander BogaertsJackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts.

The Giants also have very little payroll flexibility, to the degree that they informed Madison Bumgarner last winter they weren’t ready to talk about a contract extension yet because of luxury-tax implications. The San Francisco front office would probably love to have Hosmer, who would help in so many ways — the offensive production and RBI potential, the defense, the leadership. But Brandon Belt is about to reach the backloaded portion of his contract: He’ll make $17.2 million for each of the next four seasons, a staggering debt that the Giants might have to live with.

Olney also mentions that there are a number of bigger market teams who already have younger, cheaper options at first base, like the Dodgers, Phillies and Mets. He would go on to mention the Angels could be interested, but it would matter on whether or not Upton returns to the team and the Cardinals would probably have to unload Matt Carpenter before they could consider signing Hosmer. That leaves…well, that leaves only a few teams in the hunt for the young first baseman, as Olney again points out:

As the saying goes: All it takes is one serious bidder. But it does not appear as if Hosmer will have a high volume of teams in pursuit, and the Royals might turn out to be his most ardent suitors.

If this comes to fruition, it is very plausible Hosmer could fall to the Royals. To add to the discussion, the Yankees Greg Bird had a very positive postseason this month (.244/.426/.512 with 3 home runs, 6 RBI’s and 5 total extra base hits) and it would appear the Yankees are already out of the running, especially considering the luxury-tax threshold. So if this happens, what would the Royals be able to offer money-wise?

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Credit: Kansas City Royals

It’s hard to predict just what the Royals would be offering Hosmer, but I’m going to go ahead and take a guess. Let’s start with his salary for 2017, which sat at $12.25 million. Hosmer will obviously see a bump from there, but how high? I’m assuming here the Royals will want to sign him to a long-term deal, but not the ten-year deal that was floated around this past spring. So let’s go with a 6 year deal with a couple of option years tacked on (Dayton does love his mutual options!). This might be a tad less, but I can’t picture the team being locked into anything over six years guaranteed (but I could be wrong about that). Hosmer’s comparable player would most likely be Freddie Freeman of the Braves (or as I normally call him, “Better Hosmer”); Freeman signed a 8 year, $135 million dollar deal back in 2014. That averages out to $16.875 million a year. I tend to believe Hosmer would get something in that same ballpark, but I’m not quite sold that he would get the $20 million a year that was tossed around for a while. So lets keep him at an average of $18 million a year, which in six years would be a $108 million dollar deal. He could get slightly more than that, but if I know Moore, he would probably make the early years slightly lesser and the last few years would be heavily back-loaded. Like I said, he could get slightly more than this from the Royals, but not much more. So if Kansas City is able to pull this off, the talk is that then the Royals would go after either Moustakas or Cain, which sounds crazy, right?

Royals officials are making it clear that Hosmer is their top offseason priority. If they are able to re-sign him, they will try to shed some payroll and make an aggressive offer to Mike Moustakas or Lorenzo Cain. If Hosmer signs somewhere else, the Royals will move to a contingency plan.

Let’s play devil’s advocate: if Hosmer re-signs and they then go out and sign Moustakas for instance, how would the Royals be able to afford both stars?

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Credit: Kansas City Royals

There is a very simple solution to how the Royals could afford both players: shed payroll. That also means Kansas City would have to eat some money, which they have been reluctant to do:

That could mean moving players like Ian Kennedy, Joakim Soria, Jason Hammel and Brandon Moss. All of those contracts are backloaded, so the Royals would need to eat some money. They haven’t done much of that in the past, but would have to see the opportunity to keep homegrown stars long-term as reason to break protocol.

So you are probably now shaking your head at me, saying ‘but then how do you replace THOSE players?’. Good question. Obviously, the Royals would get something in return for all them, but the quality of players they would get in return would be questionable, as well as if they would be major league ready. The Royals could also go out and deal Cheslor Cuthbert, Hunter Dozier and Ryan O’Hearn (or two of the three), since Hosmer and Moustakas would be taking over the positions they currently play. That could be a way for the team to pick up some younger, affordable arms to add to the organization. Obviously the team would also have to scrounge on the free agent market for a few more players, but Moore has shown a tendency to be creative the last few years if called upon. Kansas City seriously needs to upgrade their pitching next year, and if the team did bring back Hos and Moose, it would appear a bit harder to accomplish that goal. Harder, but still possible. Once again, this is a long shot, but it is interesting to think of all the different scenarios the team could go in if they were able to bring back two members of this core group.

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Credit: Kansas City Royals

While I still contend this is the least likely scenario to happen, I am all in to bring back Hosmer and Moustakas. Now that might appear to be a bit strange coming from the guy who earlier this wrote that the Royals shouldn’t re-sign Hosmer, but if it means Moustakas stays (which has been my main preference all along) and it forces the front office to be creative, then I am on board. The one thing to remember in situations like this is that many players who sign a long-term deal with a team don’t remain with said team for the duration of the contract. So the prospect of the Royals locking in Hosmer for more than five years might appear to be daunting on the surface, in the big picture it would be likely he is dealt before the contract is up. Maybe I’m holding on to all those ‘fuzzy feelings’ I felt at that last game of the season, or maybe I’m just not ready to move on from these players. But I’m not opposed to this plan by the front office and if they aren’t going to tank the big league club, this is a better scenario than piecing players together for years on end. It wouldn’t be the first time this organization flew by the seat of their pants:

 

If this sounds wishy-washy, like an organization that doesn’t know exactly what it wants to be, it’s actually similar in philosophy to how they made the parade.

When he came to Kansas City, Moore didn’t intend to build a team without home-run power — first thing he wanted to do as GM was move the fences in.

He didn’t intend to build the best bullpen in modern baseball history — strongest belief he had when he arrived was the importance of starting pitching.

But the Royals’ best teams hit very few home runs, and had a line of shutdown relievers, because the front office identified cost-effective workarounds to the traditional ways of winning.

They’ll have to continue to think on their feet, but for now, they wait. Everything depends on Hosmer.

I couldn’t have said it better myself, Sam. Remember this during the winter whenever Hosmer’s name is brought up. He is the key to what we will see on the field next year in Kansas City.

 

Wounded Royals

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Here we are, the last couple weeks of the 2017 season and with seventeen games left to play, the Kansas City Royals feel like a M.A.S.H. unit. You can take roll call around the diamond and find a number of bumps and bruises that are affecting the Royals and while every team deals with injuries, the Royals are trying to win a playoff spot while also dealing with keeping their players healthy. While there are fingers to be pointed at the offense and the pitching staff, maybe the biggest threat to Kansas City’s run to October is keeping their starting nine on the field.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Minnesota Twins

Maybe the biggest member of the “Wounded Warriors” is Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy. Duffy went down a few weeks back with a sore elbow and Kansas City is hoping he will be back sometime over the upcoming weekend in Cleveland. Duffy is joined by fellow starter Nate Karns (whose season ended months ago), Brian Flynn and Joakim Soria. Toss in Ian Kennedy’s shoulder issues and Kelvin Herrera’s wrist/forearm problems and you have a pitching staff that feels pieced together. In fact over the last 30 days, the Royals pitching has the third lowest fWAR in the American League, third highest FIP, 2nd highest ERA and the highest Home Runs per 9 innings. If it wasn’t for the free-fall that Detroit is in, the Kansas City pitching staff would probably be the worst in the league over the last month. If you want an answer as to why the Onelki Garcia’s and Sam Gaviglio’s of the world are pitching in these big games for Kansas City, this would be your answer. Unfortunately, it isn’t just the pitching that is hurting.

MLB: Houston Astros at Kansas City Royals

The starting lineup is pretty banged up as well for the Royals and it begins with the on again/off again issues that Salvador Perez has dealt with this year. Salvy missed a few weeks back in August and from what the Kansas City coaching staff has passed along it sounds as if Perez will be dealing with this injury for the rest of the year. Salvy has mentioned he feels a “slight pinch” whenever he swings and misses and while lately he hasn’t been noticeable in his wincing, it is also an injury that wasn’t fully allowed to heal. Joining Perez on the walking wounded is Mike Moustakas, who has been dealing with a right knee injury for a while now. Moose’s leg issues go all the way back to late July, when Bruce Rondon decided that his lack of success should be taken out on someone else rather than looking in the mirror:

Moustakas would end up injuring his knee the following month during a series against Seattle and he has managed to re-aggravate the injury numerous times over the last couple of weeks. While it hasn’t hurt his production as much as you would think a leg injury would (Moose is still slugging well over .400 the last month and a half and producing a wRC+ above league average), it has hurt the amount of time he spends on the field. Mike has only 37 plate appearances this month, which manager Ned Yost has been trying to keep him in the lineup by occasionally playing him at DH. It does appear the knee problem has hurt some of his power numbers, as he only has six home runs since August 1st, still one shy of breaking Steve Balboni’s team record for a single season. Finally, Lorenzo Cain has also been dealing with a strained quad over the last week. Cain has a history of leg injuries and while he has appeared in 139 games this year, it also seems as if the heavy workload has caught up to his body. Whenever anyone asks you if the Royals should re-sign Lorenzo, it is probably wise to mention these leg problems he has had for a number of years now. It feels foolish to throw a large sum of money over multiple years to a player who at 31 years old has a fairly regular injury history.

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So while the Royals sit four games back in the wild card hunt right now, those four games feel immense when you watch this team struggle just to fill out a lineup everyday. I’ve been fairly hopeful that Kansas City would bounce back from these setbacks and get to the postseason, but with 17 games left, it feels farther and farther away from actually happening. When the story of the 2017 Kansas City Royals is finally written, it will be looked at as a team that defied adversity while making one last push for postseason glory. If it’s going to happen at this point, it’s going to take a red-hot finish and massive healing powers. I’m still hopeful…but reality is just a strained hamstring or sore elbow away.

The Wildest of Wild Cards

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On September first, most teams have a decent idea of whether or not they are contenders or pretenders. In the American League, eight teams are currently vying for the two wild card spots and while the New York Yankees are holding down the first of those two spots, they are only ahead by one game over the surging Minnesota Twins. Throw in the Angels, Orioles, Mariners, Rays, Rangers and Royals, and you have a race that could be the funnest one to watch as the season prepares for its final run.

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Above is the current standings before the games on Saturday, with just a slight variance, as the Orioles are now 2.5 games back, Tampa Bay & Texas are now 4 games back and the Royals 4.5 games back. The most interesting aspect of this race is how none of the teams listed are really pulling away from the others. Look at the ‘L10’ category, which is how each team has done in their last ten games. Outside of Minnesota, Baltimore and Tampa Bay, no team has performed better than .500 in those games. So while a team like the Twins or Orioles are performing at a higher level as of late, there is still a good chance that those teams will incur a bit of a losing streak before the season is over. I’ve been saying for well over a month now that none of these teams feel much better than the others and none of them scare me as a Royals fan in this last month. While they are all talented teams, they are all teams with equal amounts of flaws. What happens over the next month will be a determination of which team can lessen their flaws and hone in on their positives.

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So how good are the Kansas City Royals chances? With 28 games to go, they are still in the hunt but they need to catch a hot streak…fast. While many will point to the scoreless streak that was intact earlier in the week, the pitching has really been a detriment over the last month. The Royals have five pitchers currently on the disabled list, including Danny Duffy and Joakim Soria. The rotation has been so battered as of late that last night the team started Onelki Garcia, a journeyman lefthander who had produced a 5.04 ERA, 4.44 FIP and a 9.5% walk rate…in twenty games in AAA this year. If the Royals can’t figure out a better option than Garcia, then they won’t be grabbing one of the final wild card spots this year. This is a streaky Royals team, which is why I’ve never gotten too down on them this year and I still feel they are capable of making a big run in this final month. Do they have the ability to pull off a 21-7 run? Yes. Is it likely, considering how the last month has gone? Probably not. While we’re not seeing one team pull away with a wild card spot, the Royals have not shown they really want it either. If they are going to dig down and make this a race they are involved in, they need to step up now. The pressure is on and if anything, this team has shown they can deal with pressure.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Minnesota Twins

So while I want the Royals to make one last run and reach October baseball, there is one more thing I am heavily pushing for this year: chaos. Yes, I am a big proponent of there being a giant cluster at the end of the season and having multiple teams tied for multiple slots in this race. I want it to where the American League has to hold numerous tie-breaker games just to sort out who goes on to the wild card game. The fun aspect of the two team wild card format is that chaos is already involved, as two teams battle it out in ONE GAME just to determine who moves on in the playoffs. But what if there were four teams tied for that second wild card spot? Or two teams tied for the first wild card spot and two more teams tied for the second spot? The possibilities are endless and while the likelihood is small, I have to imagine something like this will happen one of these years. Why not this year? Let’s make October even more fun than it already is. Let’s get really wild. Join #TeamChaos.

Kansas City Royals v Boston Red Sox

For the fans of these eight teams, the next month will be one of anticipation, sorrow, glee and a plethora of other feelings. The Royals have a shot, albeit a very small shot. As of this morning, Fangraphs has their odds at 6.9% of gaining a wild card spot, while the Twins have a 47.7% chance. When baseball went to this format for the playoffs, there were many (myself included) who decried it and figured it would not be a positive for the sport. Instead, it has given teams hope and opened up a whole new window to the possibilities in the game. If you’re a Royals fan, you remember 2014 and how winning that wild card game gave them a whole new lease on not only that season but the seasons to follow. Maybe this is why I want utter chaos at the end of the season and want multiple tie-breaker games before we even get to the wild card game. Maybe I just want more baseball. Or maybe I realize this could be a springboard for some other playoff hopeful and could turn around a franchise the way it did for Kansas City. Whatever the case, keep an eye on the standings. I promise, the next month will not be boring.

The Arms of Relief

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When the season began, there appeared to be some serious questions about the Kansas City Royals bullpen, a pen that once was the most dominant in baseball. In fact, Fangraphs had them ranked as the 28th best bullpen in baseball coming into the 2017 campaign. The first week of the season didn’t dispel any of the concern with the Royals relievers, as they struggled throughout the Minnesota series and were quite susceptible to the walk. But one bad week or one bad month do not make a season and luckily the Royals have righted the ship, to the point that there have been a number of surprising performances from the bullpen helping the team scratch itself back to .500.

MLB: New York Yankees at Kansas City Royals

Let’s start with the numbers. The Royals have the 12th best bullpen in MLB according to fWAR, 8th best in the American League. They have the 8th best FIP, 11th best ERA, 9th best K%, and 10th best K-BB%. The Kansas City pen still has the highest walk percentage in the AL, although one has to wonder how much that first month of the season plays into that number. The Royals do have the 5th best HR/9 in the league and the 11th best WHIP. I am becoming a big proponent of WPA (Win Probability Added) and the Royals relievers have the 6th best in the league. Throw in the 4th best Clutch in the league (which at 1.18 has them in between Excellent and Great on the Clutch scale) and you have a bullpen that has allowed a few more runners than they would like but have performed well in those high leverage situations. The Royals also have the 3rd highest Soft Hit % in the league (21.4%) and the 6th lowest Hard Hit % (29.9%). Finally, since I like to break down the numbers as much as possible, looking at just fWAR here are the Royals pen month by month so far this year:

March/April- 0.1 (13th in the AL)

May- 0.8 (9th)

June- 0.8 (4th)

So what do all these numbers tell us? The Royals bullpen, while not dominating the way they used to, are coming into their own as the season progresses. If anyone is wondering why that is happening, you don’t have to look very far to see who is leading the way.

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Let’s start with the guy who has been the most efficient and (until recently), the most overlooked. Scott Alexander has been almost dominating this year, producing a 1.38 ERA over 26 innings, a 2.91 FIP and a 20.2 K rate. But what really has been astounding is his 76.1% GB rate, which is the highest of his professional career. All those ground balls can be attributed to a ‘lights out’ sinker, which some have compared (at least success-wise) to Zach Britton of Baltimore. Alexander’s production has caused manager Ned Yost to use him more in high leverage situations and don’t be surprised if he continues to be a main cog in this Royals pen.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Kansas City Royals

Peter Moylan has been a vital part of the bullpen since Day One this year, as he has been Ned’s ‘Go to Guy’ to get just a few batters out in tight situations. In 23.2 innings over 33 appearances this year, Moylan has a 3.81 FIP, 0.2 fWar and a 22.3 K rate. While his ERA is a bit bloated (6.46), his soft hit rate of 33.8% is the highest of his career and his WPA is sitting at a crisp 0.71. Moylan’s Left on Base % could see some improvement, but for the most part he has done what Yost has needed from him this year, which is to come in and extinguish fires.

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The Royals weren’t for sure what they had with Mike Minor in the pen coming into the season, especially since he had been a starter his entire career. But so far he has been a welcome addition to the Royals bullpen. In his first year of relieving, Minor has posted a 1.93 ERA, a 2.47 FIP, 1.0 fWAR and an 82% left on base percentage. He has put up a solid 17.9% K-BB ratio and has seen his soft hit rate go up (29.2%) and his hard hit rate go down (24%), both career highs. One of the keys to his success this year has been his use of his slider, which he is using at 38.7% clip, easily the highest of his career. At one point it appeared the Royals might deal Minor come the trade deadline, but with the Royals back in the race he is probably more likely to be a key arm for Kansas City down the stretch.

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Maybe the most welcome return to form is Joakim Soria. Much was written about Soria and his struggles last year, a year that for Soria was one to forget. But 2017 has been the complete opposite, as he has improved everything across the board. Pick a stat and it is better than it was last year…other than his walk rate, which has gone up just a smidge. But besides that, Soria has been one of the most consistent contributors in the Kansas City pen. In fact, here is a quote from Fangraphs back in March when they were compiling the piece I mentioned earlier, ranking all the bullpens in baseball:

 His strikeout rate was decent, but his walks went up and he gave up a bunch of homers, getting worse as the season went on. The homers probably should come down a bit, but that still won’t make him the pitcher whom the Royals thought they were getting before last season.

The home runs have gone down…but more than a bit. So far this year, Soria has yet to give up a home run (knock on wood) over 30 innings of work. If you believe he will assume about the same workload as last year, he is almost half way to his innings total of 2016 and has not given up a long ball. Last year, he gave up 10 round trippers. While Soria is still not the guy who was a consistent All-Star in Kansas City (and no one should expect that from him), he has been the perfect set-up man who the Royals envisioned he would be when they signed him back in the Winter of 2015.

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You might have noticed I hadn’t even mentioned closer Kelvin Herrera yet, and there is a reason for that. Herrera has had his struggles this year but number wise, nothing major really stands out. In fact, his hard hit rate going up and the increase in home runs is the only big slight on his mark this year. He is still striking out people at a rate close to normal, and still walking about the same amount as well. The one aspect of his game that is different is the contact rate, which makes sense if you are someone who has watched many of his outings. Herrera has had an issue of getting behind in the count this year, leading him to leave a few pitches out over the middle of the plate. Herrera’s Z-Contact % (pitches hit inside of the strike zone) has seen a slight tick up this year (83.9 from 78.6% in 2016). In fact, Herrera has almost been too precise, leaving pitches inside the zone that normally he would leave just off the outer edges. This past week he has looked better, where his pitches have been either outside or inside and normally down, rather than down the middle. There is no reason for alarm, but more than anything other teams should worry; Herrera can (and my guess is he will)  improve in the second half.

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Before the season started, I would discuss the Royals relievers and mention the same thing: what you see in April/May won’t be what you see by September. So far this year, Chris Young has been ousted, Matt Strahm has moved to the rotation and Kyle Zimmer has been pitching in relief down in AAA. If Zimmer gets the call, it could bolster a group of arms that have been steadily increasing their production month by month. I’ve had to stress to Royals fans these last couple seasons that the bullpens Kansas City had in 2014-15 were not normal. Having a pen that is THAT locked in is not the norm and only really comes along once in a blue moon. You shouldn’t expect the Royals relievers of today to be as dominating as they were with Holland and Davis leading the charge. But what they have now is a healthy substitute that we should be comfortable with during the team’s final three months of the season.

 

An Angelic Sweep

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We all knew the Kansas City Royals wouldn’t stay down all season long. It was just a matter of time until the team would rattle off a nice little winning streak to bring them up to .500 ball, and the series against the Los Angeles Angels ended up doing the trick. The funny thing is, it’s not like the Royals offense awoke from their slumber and became the 1927 New York Yankees; in fact, Kansas City only scored 5 runs in this series. But what they did get was some outstanding starting pitching.

Angels Royals Baseball

While most of us expected the starting pitching to be better in 2017, so far it has outperformed even the most optimistic of us Royals fans, and the trio of Danny Duffy, Nate Karns and Ian Kennedy were spectacular this weekend. Duffy threw 7 innings of one run ball on Friday night (Game Score of 71), Karns threw 6 innings and gave up just one run (Game Score of 61) and Kennedy threw the real jewel, 8 innings of shutout baseball (Game Score of 86) on Sunday. The Royals starting pitching lead the American League in ERA (2.31), FIP (3.15), Home Runs per 9 (0.49) and tied for the best WAR (1.6 with Baltimore). Now, none of us expect them to be this stellar for the entirety of the season, but even if they keep things above league average, most of us would consider that a win for this ballclub. But as good as the starting pitching has been, the team won’t be allowed to lean on it all year, as at some point the Royals offense is going to have to produce.

Angels Royals Baseball

If you are a Royals fan, you have seen this song and dance before from the offense. For whatever reason, the Royals offense struggles in the early months of each season, or they at least have for a number of years now. Remember when Kansas City had to replace their hitting coaches two May’s in a row a few years back? This Royals offense is fully capable of being above league average (or at least AT league average) but they are also a streaky bunch. So far in 2017, the Royals are last in on-base percentage and next to last in runs, RBI’s, wRC+ and WAR, with only the woeful Blue Jays worst than them. Probably the most surprising is the slugging percentage, which is also next to last in the American League, despite being 8th in the AL in home runs hit. The Royals are hitting home runs, but very little else. In fact, what a perfect time for ‘Fun with Numbers’:

Mike Moustakas-.683 slugging percentage

Lorenzo Cain-.490 on-base percentage, 21.6% walk rate

Brandon Moss- 3 hits (2 home runs) and 6 walks

Eric Hosmer-62.2% ground ball rate

Moustakas seems to have turned a corner, as a hitter who has figured out what pitches he can drive and which ones to go with. Moose is pulling the ball 46.9% of the time and while the preference is a hitter who can use all parts of the field, so far his pull heavy results are turning up positive. On the other side of the spectrum is Hosmer. It feels like I have beaten that horse to death, so the only thing I will mention is that Craig Brown of Baseball Prospectus Kansas City wrote a great piece on Hos and his struggles, which pretty much sums up how I feel about him, just without all the cursing.

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Once again, the defense was front and center this past weekend. Top of the list is this great grab by Raul Mondesi:

Lorenzo Cain made a great grab on Easter Sunday:

and even Eric Hosmer got into the action:

While the starting pitching has been spectacular, this Royals team is built around their defense and they continue to excel. There has been some speculation on how long the Royals will go with Mondesi at second base, but a big part of why he got the job was because of his defense. As long as he makes big plays to help the pitching, he will get the chance to improve on his hitting.

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While the Angels aren’t world-beaters, they can be a dangerous offensive team and the Royals held them in check. A couple of notes to think about this week as the Giants return to Kansas City for the first time since the 2014 World Series (yes, Bumgarner is scheduled to pitch on Wednesday; boo accordingly). One, Joakim Soria has been lights out, not allowing a run in 6 innings of work so far in 2017; look for his role to increase moving forward. Two, Buster Posey was activated today and will be in the lineup for the Giants. Three, let’s see how the Royals do with runners in scoring position. So far this year, they are hitting .158 with RISP and .065 with RISP and 2 outs. Kansas City needs to improve on that if they want to stay above .500. With the temperatures picking up, it’s time for the Royals bats to start heating up as well. If not, the ground they made up this week was all for naught.

 

 

Getting Back On Track

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Let’s be honest: Minnesota felt like a mirage. The Kansas City Royals played some of the worst baseball they have played in years during their three game series against the Twins and the general consensus was that the Royals weren’t as bad as they played. They would travel on to Houston to take on a very good Astros team…and would proceed to win 2 of the 3 games at Minute Maid Park. The offense woke up, the starting pitching continued to perform well, the defense was stellar and the bullpen would even improve on ‘The Walk Massacre of Minnesota’. Are we sure that set of games in Minneapolis really happened?

Salvador Perez, Jandel Gustave

Since it is still early in the season, another ‘Fun with Numbers’ is still in order:

Salvador Perez-213 wRC+ through 6 games (4 home runs, all in 4 consecutive games)

Lorenzo Cain-25.9% Walk Rate (7 walks in 6 games)

Danny Duffy-200 ERA+ (In 13 innings over 2 starts)

Matt Strahm-40.50 Walks per 9 (6 walks in 1.1 innings pitched)

Okay, I feel like I am picking on Strahm. I swear I am not; unfortunately the guy is struggling in his limited use this season. The bullpen did improve in this series, although Kansas City still leads the AL in walks allowed (36), 8 more than runner-up Baltimore. The starters have held their own, but the bullpen still lies in the bottom of the league in almost every category, including WAR, FIP and BB/9. There is good news, though; Joakim Soria has been solid in his two outings, Peter Moylan has been a rock and Chris Young has been stellar in his 2.1 innings pitched. Maybe it’s just me, but it has felt like manager Ned Yost is still feeling out his relievers and what role would be best suited for them. I still think Strahm will be one of the main setup guys before the year is out and I could see Soria and Minor also filling that role. The one puzzling move is Yost’s usage of Travis Wood, a lefty who showed major splits in 2016 while with the Cubs. Lefties hit .128/.208/.239 against him last year while righties hit .263/.344/.521. It would appear that Yost should mainly use Wood against lefties, and limit the usage against righties. Instead, he has been using him against righties more and they are clocking him at a .400 pace. Like I said, it appears Yost is trying to feel his new relievers out, but a pattern is already showing when it comes to Mr. Wood.

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Before we move on from the pitchers, I got to say a big kudos to Jason Vargas, who was spectacular in his start on Friday. Vargas threw 6 innings while striking out 6 and allowing a run. Vargas only appeared in 3 major league games last year as he was returning from Tommy John surgery and is entering the final year of his contract. If he can pitch closer to his 2014 performance, the Royals could have a sold rotation spot locked up for this year.

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Maybe the best news was the resurgence of the offense, as the team put up 16 runs in the 3 game series. The most ‘Un-Royal’ stat from the year has been the power surge seen through the first six games:

I love early season numbers and it is always fun to see how big numbers can look HUGE if calculated out to a full 162 game schedule:

Royals GM Dayton Moore said before the season that his objective was to go deep more often in 2017 and so far, so good. In fact, the Royals are slugging:

Mike Moustakas- .739 slugging percentage

Salvador Perez- .792 slugging percentage

Cheslor Cuthbert- .714 slugging percentage

While the Royals power numbers are good this year, they still aren’t great. In fact, they are next to last in slugging (.400) and last in wRC+ (88) and ISO (.139). The offense isn’t totally clicking yet, but this series at least brought some optimism. Also, some things will never change:

Eric Hosmer- 61.9% ground ball rate (already 10th in the American League)

Hey, I’ll quit picking on Eric when he learns to elevate the ball. If he starts doing that, I will be glad to start heaping praise and say I am wrong about him. Until then…

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But if anything stood out this series, it was the defense.  I could describe it to you, but it is easier just to show the proof:

Cain’s was the jewel, but this was pretty great as well:

…and it’s not really a Royals defensive highlight reel without an appearance from Alex Gordon:

That assist was the 75th of Gordon’s career, a great nod to a player who has only been playing the outfield full-time since 2011. One of the biggest head-scratchers for me so far this season is why the Royals pitchers aren’t throwing more strikes when they have this defense behind them. Let the defense shoulder the work; they can handle it.

Raul Mondesi, Alcides Escobar

The Royals are now 2-4 in the ol’ W-L column and are just a winning streak away from a respectable record. The main item that should be preached is ‘improvement’ and as long as they do that, there should be more ‘W’s’ to come. The Royals tend to be a team that is guided by their offense; if the offense is producing, they are normally winning. But if they aren’t…well, if they continue to stay cold, it will be a long summer in Kansas City that could be heated up by a fire sale. This next series against Oakland would be a good time for the bats to wake up and put them back on track. Two series’ are in the book and it has felt like two separate ballclubs. So the question has to be asked–which team is the real Kansas City Royals?

The 2017 Kansas City Royals: In It To Win It

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2016 was anything but a glorious season for the Kansas City Royals. Coming off of their first World Championship since 1985, the Royals spent most of last year trying to catch their footing and keep hopes afloat as long as possible. Injuries piled up, fatigue set in but more than anything, the fire the Royals showed in 2015 was few and far between. It wasn’t a huge surprise; one of the biggest obstacles for teams who reach the top of the mountain is to stay on top. Instead, the Royals fell and while there were positives for this team, there was mostly disappointment. So the question has been asked headed into 2017: how does Kansas City return to past glory? While the predictions and pundits aren’t glowing of the Royals chances, that is even more reason to bet on the ‘Boys in Blue’ to return to the playoffs.

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Let’s start with the story of the winter, which was the unfortunate passing of Yordano Ventura. His untimely death left a giant question mark in a pitching rotation that already had a few questions. The Royals, instead of trying to ‘replace’ Ventura, went out and stocked up. First it was Jason Hammel. Then they went and signed Travis Wood. The rotation went from one with more questions than answers, to one of the deepest groups in recent Kansas City history.

Starting Rotation

  1. Danny Duffy
  2. Ian Kennedy
  3. Jason Hammel
  4. Jason Vargas
  5. Nate Karns

Duffy will front this group and hopefully show that his career-turning 2016 was not a fluke. My money is on Duffy excelling as he grows into the ‘ace’ role. Kennedy, while not your normal number two starter, actually put up solid numbers last year and looks to continue that this year (this spring he has yet to allow a run over 17 innings). Kennedy will have his rough outings and will give up some homers, but he consistently racks up innings and at times looks amazing. Hammel strung together a good 2016 with the Chicago Cubs, with the only real concern being the fatigue that hit him near the end of the season. Hammel is another innings eater who will probably benefit from the Royals defense. Vargas returned in September last year from Tommy John Surgery and looks to pick up where he left off in 2015. Vargas will more than likely be what he was before the surgery, as he is in the last year of his 4 year deal. Karns won the 5th starters spot this spring, striking out 30 over 23 innings thrown. The back-end of the rotation is interesting, since I tend to believe it could very well be different by the time the Royals reach the All-Star break. Wood and Chris Young are both candidates to fill in while they are being stowed away in the bullpen for now. I also wouldn’t be shocked if Kansas City looks for a trade as they get close to the trade deadline and that could shake up the rotation even more. While this might not be the most dominating group in Royals history, it is a solid group that should eat a lot of innings.

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While Fangraphs does NOT think fondly of the Royals bullpen (they have them ranked 28th in MLB), I lean the other way, thinking while it may not be as dominant as years past, they are a solid group that will do more good than bad.

Bullpen 

Kelvin Herrera-Closer

Joakim Soria-Setup

Matt Strahm-Setup

Mike Minor

Travis Wood

Chris Young

Peter Moylan

Herrera takes over the closers role from the departed Wade Davis and should slide nicely into that role. Soria was a walking nightmare last season and Kansas City is hoping he bounces back and at the least, improves on his 2016 numbers. Soria did have an excellent strike out rate last year, but that still doesn’t explain this:

“The roles haven’t been defined,” Yost said. “If we were going to do it tomorrow, we’d probably use [Soria] in the eighth inning, depending on what the matchups are.”

High-leverage situations were a killer for Soria last year and I tend to think he should be kept away from those this year, or at least until he gets his feet underneath him. To me, Strahm will end up in this role eventually and has shown the ability to stop rallies. Those two might not be the only relievers in the setup role:

Minor battled throughout most of 2016 to stay healthy but has looked good so far this spring. Wood is an interesting choice, but he did prove valuable in Chicago’s pen last year. Moylan was a solid bullpen arm last year for Kansas City and while Young struggled, he is still a great choice for the long reliever/spot starter role. The intriguing part of the Royals pen are the ‘What Ifs’ that could contribute later in the year. Josh Staumont is a rising star in the Royals organization and has electric stuff. If healthy (stop me if you’ve heard this before), Kyle Zimmer could also factor into the pen late in the year and don’t count out someone like Eric Skoglund, a lefty who could be a great LOOGY down the stretch. While on the surface this wouldn’t appear to be a deadly pen, it could be a completely different story by July or August.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Kansas City Royals

So what about the offense? It appears manager Ned Yost has already figured out his lineup for Opening Day:

I’ve long been less than satisfied with Yost’s lineup structure, but I totally approve of this lineup. It is very interesting to see how the Royals and Yost came to this starting nine:

Royals manager Ned Yost likes to point out that the club’s batting order is an organizational decision, with input drawn from coaches, front office staff and members of the club’s analytics department.

Yes, I smiled to see the team used their analytics department to help structure it. There is also a bit of logic thrown in there as well:

“It gives us a nice left-right-left balance,” Yost said.

I have loooooooong been a proponent of Alex Gordon in the leadoff spot, as it only makes sense to put the guy with the best on-base percentage at the top. Gordon is coming off of his worst season since moving to the outfield and is hoping to bounce back this year. He also added some more muscle to his frame this winter and if spring is any indication, it has paid off (.351/.448/.509 with 8 walks and 5 extra base hits). Moustakas in the two-hole is a great choice, as he has some of the team’s most professional plate appearances while also adding extra base power to the top of the lineup. Cain and Hosmer at 3 and 4 respectively makes sense, although I would like to see Hosmer elevate the ball more this year and hit the ball much less on the ground (he lead all of baseball last year with a 58.9% ground ball rate). Salvy and Moss at 5 and 6 gives the team some thump in the heart of the order and hopefully they are able to drive in the guys who get on base ahead of them. Moss especially adds a nice power bat to the middle of the Royals order and I am excited to see him do his thing. Paulo Orlando will start the year in RF and will hold down that spot until Jorge Soler comes back from the disabled list. The lineup could shuffle a bit after Soler’s return, but I could also just see him slide into the same spot as Orlando, since that would keep up that L-R-L-R order that Yost likes. After years of attempting to keep Alcides Escobar in the leadoff spot, Yost finally has sent Esky down to the bottom of the order, where he is better suited. Rounding out the lineup is second baseman Raul Mondesi, a surprise winner of the job this spring. Mondesi struggled offensively during his short stint in Kansas City last year and the team is hoping that his bat will improve while adding much-needed speed and great defense to the roster. The offense is going to be different this year, as the team looks to provide more power and focus less on speed and a clustering of hits. Kansas City finished last again in 2016 in home runs in the American League and the additions of Moss and Soler should add more thump to the lineup and hopefully more extra base hits. This team has seven players capable of hitting 20+ home runs, which will be a big change of pace for the Royals(as will the strike outs that come with it). It’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out as the season gets underway.

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I’ve been touting the team’s depth for a few months now and as much as this will be the immediate lineup, there will be more shuffling this year than in year’s past:

Bench

Cheslor Cuthbert

Drew Butera

Christian Colon or Whit Merrifield

Terrance Gore

Cuthbert will get plenty of playing time shuffling between third base, DH and possibly even 2B. Butera is the perfect backup catcher for this squad, providing above average defense and is coming off the best offensive season of his 7 year career. I would expect Gore to only be with the team during Soler’s time on the disabled list, but when he is on the roster he provides a late inning speed threat on the basepaths. The final roster spot battle has come down to Colon or Merrifield, and it looks like we won’t find out the result until Sunday:

Colon is out of options and would appear to have the inside track, but there have been some rumblings about a trade going down to procure a spot (not only a spot for backup infielder but also to open a 40 man spot for Moylan). I don’t know who of those two would get traded, although Merrifield’s versatility might be a heavier intrigue for some teams. Also remember, Peter O’Brien is stashed away in AAA and his big bat was all the rage this spring. O’Brien has massive power and if someone in the lineup would happen to go down with an injury, O’Brien would be an interesting name to insert into the lineup. He has his flaws, but if the Royals mainly used him against lefties he could be a big bonus to a bench that has never had much pop. Either way, the Royals don’t employ a large bench but then again Yost has never been big on using his bench players on a regular basis.

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You won’t ever hear me talk much about intangibles here, mostly because at the end of the day they are hard to quantify. You can break down numbers and get a good idea of the performance of a player, but stuff like clubhouse chemistry and leadership are like a mystical potion that just floats around in the air. What I am saying is that those intangibles exist but it is hard to really figure out how much they affect the play that goes down on the field. That being said, there is no way to follow this team and NOT recognize the intangibles. Bottom line is this group is very tight-knit and loves being around each other. That is a huge plus and why some players are excited now about coming to Kansas City. There is also some big motivators this year. For one, the core group of this team (Cain, Hosmer, Moustakas and Escobar) are all free agents after the season and more than likely the majority (if not all of them) will be gone. This is their final chance for another deep playoff run together. Also, there is some motivation with the death of Yordano Ventura. The loss of Ventura hit the Royals hard and he was looked at like their little brother. If you don’t think there is motivation there to win one in his honor, then you aren’t looking in the right places. Finally, there is a bit of a chip on the Royals shoulders this year since Cleveland took their spot, or at least what they considered to be their spot. If you remember back in 2015, a big rallying cry for this team was them feeling like they came thisclose to winning the World Series only to come up short. They played the entire 2015 season like they were there to prove everyone wrong and I have gotten that same vibe from them this spring. These are all big factors into the makeup of this team and why they will more than likely be fighting for a playoff spot into the fall.

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So what should we expect from the 2017 Kansas City Royals? While the predictions and projections once again aren’t kind to the Royals,  I see this from a different slant. What the projections miss some of the time is the value of defense and it’s counter-effect on the pitching. In that regard, Kansas City is still a top-notch defensive team. The other factor is that a number of the Royals hitters struggled last year (Gordon, Hosmer, etc.) or missed a good chunk of the season (Moustakas, Cain). In my estimation, as long as those guys stay healthy they will produce better than they did in 2016 and even if there are injuries, I feel the Royals are better prepared to handle them. Add in power bats like Soler and Moss and factor in a deep starting rotation, and I tend to believe they will be battling the Indians for American League Central dominance all season long. Unless things go horribly sideways (and the percentages tend to lean toward that being doubtful), the Royals are prepared for one final long playoff run. They might not claim the division, but there are two wild card spot for the taking and I have to believe this Royals team has a good shot to claim a playoff berth. One of the greatest joys of my life has been watching these Royals teams of the last few years play meaningful baseball for the first time in decades. While that contender door could be closing after 2017, I have to believe there is one more final run in this squad. Batten down the hatches, Royals fans; I have a feeling this 2017 season is going to be one for the ages.

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