We are not even ten games into the Kansas City Royals season and already the injury bug has befallen the team. Jesse Hahn was the first to end up on the disabled list, followed by Adalberto Mondesi, Bubba Starling, and Nate Karns. Salvador Perez ended up down for the count on Opening Day eve, and you can now add left fielder Alex Gordon to the list.
Gordon went on the 10-day DL on Tuesday with a left hip labral tear. This isn’t the first time that Gordon has dealt with hip issues, as he had surgery on his right hip labrum back in 2009. There was also the groin injury back in 2015 that caused him to miss two months out of the season. The good news is that the current injury shouldn’t keep him sidelined for long:
Gordon has a left hip labral tear. Ned Yost says it could be 10 days to two weeks. They’ll re-evaluate in five days or so. In the meantime, Abraham Almonte could play some center.
Gordon has been like many in the Kansas City offense, as he has gotten off to a slow start in his seven games played. Gordon is hitting .174/.208/.217 so far with a blank slate on both home runs and RBI’s but there is a slight positive so far. Gordon has seen an increase in his hard hit rate, as it is currently sitting at 41.2%, compared to the 29.2% he posted last year. Now, this is the smallest of sample sizes, but there have already been a number of balls hit by Gordon that were right at someone, many times in a shift.
While the injury doesn’t appear to be a severe one, it does make you question whether or not age is just catching up to him. Gordon is in his age 34 season and it has felt like he has been hit with one injury after another these last few seasons, one possible explanation to the regression that we have been witnessed to. As more and more time goes on, it has felt like the Alex Gordon we love started fading in July of 2015 and by the time his contract ends he’ll be just a shell of his former self. I hope that isn’t the case, but age and injuries can be a lethal tandem for a player trying to return to past glory.
The other major injury was the one suffered by Salvador Perez right before the season kicked off. Perez suffered a MCL tear from the oddest of odd reasons: slipping while carrying his luggage. The good news is that while initially Perez was slated to return in 4-6 weeks, that timetable might have been pushed up:
Royals catcher Salvador Perez’s return seems closer to four weeks than six weeks. Can get into his squat with less tightness in that left knee.
The Royals have been getting by with Drew Butera and Cam Gallagher behind the dish, but neither provide the kind of offense that Perez racks up on a yearly basis. With the offense in a bit of a funk, the news of Perez’s return should be a boost to a team needing a kick in the pants.
The reality is that the current Royals roster is just not equipped with the proper depth needed to sustain injuries to veterans like Gordon and Perez. In year’s past the team has had players ready to step up in for a ‘break glass in case of emergency’ situation. Gordon’s injury would have been the perfect time for Bubba Starling to get some major league playing time, but alas he is on the disabled list as well. Instead, the Royals are forced to give playing time to guys like Paulo Orlando and Abraham Almonte and hope the DL stays are kept to a minimum. If not, the season could drag on even worse than first expected. The ship isn’t out-and-out sinking, but it is starting to take on some water.
While last week was a big week for free agent signings for the Kansas City Royals, it ended on a bit of a sour note, as outfielder Jorge Bonifacio was hit with an 80 game suspension for testing positive for a performance enhancing substance:
Jorge Bonifacio has been suspended 80 games for performance enhancing drugs by MLB. That clears up the outfield situation a little bit.
The suspension comes on the heels of the Mike Moustakas signing, and throws out a number of questions as the Royals creep up on Opening Day in a couple of weeks.
Bonifacio tested positive for Boldenone, an anabolic-androgenic steroid intended for use in the cattle and horse industry. The drug is one that is easily detected and can be found in one’s system months after use. Luckily for Bonifacio, it appears as if he has maintained support from the Royals front office:
GM Dayton Moore on the suspension: "This obviously [is] a very disappointing situation for the Royals, our fans and Jorge. He is an incredible person who simple made a mistake. Jorge will have our full support as he deals with the consequences."
The suspension is a blow to a team that was ready to give Bonifacio as many at bats this year as possible, as the team looks to see just what they have with a number of their younger players. Combined with Jorge Soler and Cheslor Cuthbert, Royals management was hoping to get “400 to 500 at bats” each out of those three players this season. The suspension throws a bit of a monkey wrench into those plans but maybe that is not a bad thing.
While the Royals were counting on Bonifacio, this also clears up a bit of a logjam in the outfield/DH battles that have been going on this spring. With Soler, Cuthbert, Paulo Orlando, Michael Saunders and Bonifacio basically fighting for time at two spots, knocking out Boni for half the season eases up some playing time. There’s a good chance Soler will see most of the time in right field while DH could end up as a revolving door (which I will get into more next week). It wasn’t the cleanest way to fix the playing time issue, but it will help make things a bit easier for manager Ned Yost.
The one question I had when the suspension was announced was how long Dayton Moore had known about it. One would assume that Moore is informed about something of this magnitude ahead of when it is made public, so that brings up the thought running through my head: Did Moore know Bonifacio was being suspended before they opened negotiations with Mike Moustakas? If he knew, you could see a scenario where Moore felt they needed another bat to help fill Boni’s spot and reached out to Moose to fill the void. In fact, that would almost make more sense than just the Royals and Moustakas trying to get a deal done. I’m not saying the Royals wouldn’t have been interested in a reunion before knowing of the suspension; obviously there was interest. But I can also see where if Moore knew Bonifacio was missing 80 games that it would make sense for the Royals to beef up the offense. It doesn’t matter either way, as the result is Moustakas back in royal blue, but it is an interesting tidbit to think about, since the news of both came in about a 48 hour period.
Most importantly, this is a big step-back for Bonifacio. He will be entering his age 25 season and made some big strides in 2017. 2018 was supposed to be his chance to show he deserved his spot as a starter in the Royals outfield; instead, he will get half a season to try to erase any bad feelings that are left after the suspension. While this is a dumb move, it is one that probably hurts Bonifacio more than anyone. The Royals will get a chance to see other players and give an opportunity to someone who might not have had that chance before this news. While the Royals have done nothing but be supportive, there has to be some re-evaluating going on as we speak to not only Bonifacio but also his future with the team. The good news for him is there are no immediate outfield prospects in the Royals system that are close enough to take his spot and he will be given a chance when the second half of the season rolls around. While the mistake will be felt by Boni for a while, it is not one that is a deal-breaker. The mountain is tall, but it is still climbable. Because of his poor decision, he now has to do things the hard way. I don’t know about you, but I’m rooting for him to overcome this.
While most of us waited all winter for something (anything!!) to happen on the free agent market, it appears that with spring games being played and the regular season just around the corner, teams have finally decided to spend a few dollars. This has become very evident for the Kansas City Royals, as they signed Lucas Duda last week and earlier today they locked inJon Jay, who played for the Cubs last year:
Jon jay: 3M, 1.5 M incentives. 100K 250 plate appearances and every 25 plate appearances to 600. #kc
The team also placed right-handed pitcher Jesse Hahn on the 60-day DL with a UCL sprain. Both moves are worth a discussion, so let’s start with Jay.
Jay is coming off of a fairly solid season, as he hit .296/.374/.375 with an OPS+ of 96 and 1.1 bWAR. Jay looks to be the new center fielder for the Royals, as Paulo Orlando has been the frontrunner for the job headed into the spring. Jay will also probably hit leadoff for the team, as he is has posted a career on-base percentage of .355 and appears to be the best fit for the job. Jay isn’t going to hit for much power (.383 career slugging percentage) but he will get on base and is able to play all three outfield positions:
Royals manager Ned Yost says Jon Jay will "play a lot … he can play all three outfield positions, DH, he's going to do whatever."
Jay is a quality baserunner who is also a near average defender in the outfield. He is also a left-handed hitter, which the Royals have been in dire need of as of late. Much like Duda, Jay should be a steady veteran that can help the team transition to someone younger later in the year. There could be a scenario later in the summer where Bubba Starling could be given a shot and that would allow Jay to slide into the fourth outfielder role or even end up on the trade market. While I have been a proponent for the Royals to go for a complete rebuild, they didn’t spend much on Jay and if we are being blunt about it, they really didn’t have anyone prepared to be the regular center fielder. While Orlando should make the Opening Day roster, he is a better fit as a backup for the team than as a guy playing on a regular basis. This signing allows Paulo to slide back into a backup role and should be seen as an upgrade for the center field position in general.
Hahn being placed on the disabled list has to be a concern for Royals management, as he goes on the 60-day DL with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. An injury to the UCL is normally a precursor to Tommy John surgery, which Hahn has already had back in his college days at Virginia Tech University. The good news is that it might not be as bad as it looks on the surface:
Jesse Hahn felt discomfort in his UCL after his last outing. He’s had Tommy John once before. The Royals are going to let him rest and start a throwing program before determining the next step.
Hahn on the UCL sprain: "That first day I woke up I had no range of motion at all. It was pretty tender to touch, to move, everything. And these past couple days, full range of motion back, full extension and the pain has gone down a lot, so that’s very encouraging."
Hahn had been competing for a spot in the rotation, although it appeared he might be ticketed for a bullpen role. While this might turn out to be more of a precautionary move by the Royals than anything else, it does mean Hahn will begin the season on the disabled list, with his availability appearing to be in the early part of May at the earliest.
While for the most part I have no issue with the Royals going out and spending very little money on a couple of veterans like Duda and Jay, there is one part of this equation that is bothering me. Over the winter the team made a couple of deals to lower payroll, dealing Joakim Soria to the White Sox, Scott Alexander to the Dodgers and Brandon Moss to the A’s. While dealing Soria and Moss made sense (considering the direction of the team), I was never on board with the trade of Alexander. Alexander was added because the Royals needed to deal something of value to rid themselves of Soria’s contract. The problem with that is Alexander would have been under team control for another five years and would have been very cost efficient. Then you throw this into the mix:
For a team that gave away Scott Alexander to save money, the Royals sure have a strange way of using those savings.
Most of us figured that the Royals were moving salary to keep Eric Hosmer but even then I was against the Alexander trade. His value was almost immeasurable last year and I’m not expecting Kansas City to have a player in their pen this year who can fill all the roles Alexander did in 2017. So to turn around and spend money on veterans and slide the payroll back to where it was doesn’t make sense, at least if the sole purpose was to get rid of Soria’s contract. I’m not saying I dislike the Jay or Duda signing and in fact I like both of them; I’m just saying they could have found a different way to jettison Soria while also keeping Alexander. Where there is a will, there is a way.
So with the Jay signing and Hahn injury we are getting a better idea of what the Royals Opening Day roster will look like. Dayton Moore has done a good job these last two weeks filling holes in the lineup without locking anything in long-term and leaving the door open for some of the youngsters to rise up this year. With some movement being made, one has to wonder if the possibility of Mike Moustakas coming back on a one, or even two-year deal is at least being broached. I’m still in the camp that the team should tear down even more and do a complete overhaul, but it appears Moore just isn’t in the business of tanking. Having some veteran presence around is a good thing, but at this point in the spring it would probably be best for Moore to be done. Then again, I wasn’t expecting these two moves sooooo…see you back here next week, when the next veteran is locked in to a one-year deal? Mark it down and save the date. Stay unpredictable, baseball.
When the news broke last week that the Royals were looking to bring Alcides Escobar back into the fold, a lot of questions were needing to be asked. Most asked why, a few asked what we had done to anger Dayton Moore but one question hovered over the rest: Where does this leave Raul Mondesi?
The belief all winter was that Mondesi would take over at shortstop and (for the most part) would be allowed to sink or swim. Now that idea has been turned on its head by not only the Escobar news but also a piece that ran on Fangraphs last week that didn’t paint a fuzzy picture of the relationship between the organization and Mondesi. In fact, it felt like a damning piece for the former prospect’s future:
The term “makeup” might have different meanings from scout to scout. In Mondesi’s case, evaluators are concerned about his defensive consistency, especially as it pertains to throwing accuracy, and have seen him fail to execute routine plays. Others were not thrilled with what they saw from Mondesi as he worked back into playing shape following his PED suspension in Arizona, citing poor effort and on-field focus which they particularly disliked in an environment laden with young, impressionable teenagers.
With Nicky Lopez coming up fast through the Kansas City system, it feels like Mondesi isn’t the “Chosen One” anymore and that the Royals have moved on to a prettier girl, so to speak. But…that can all change in an instant based on how he performs this spring or at the beginning of the minor league season. It’s forgotten sometimes because of how long we have heard about him, but Mondesi will only be entering his age 22 season in 2018, so it’s not like he is a washed up prospect trying to make it work in his late 20’s.
So I’m going to play devil’s advocate. Let’s throw out a couple of situations and find a spot in the lineup for Raul. This activity is a best case scenario and more than likely the reality will be somewhere in between this and struggling in the minors. The good news is that Mondesi has some versatility and a few options besides shortstop.
Scenario #1: Mondesi has a great spring offensively and forces the Royals to move him back to second base.
Sound crazy? It wouldn’t be completely out of the realm of possibility, considering he had a good spring last year, even if the numbers weren’t telling the entire truth.
So they could start the year with Mondesi at second base, moving Whit Merrifield to the outfield. Whit played center field a little bit in the minors and has seen a bit more time in left field, which could slide Alex Gordon over to center. While Merrifield has experience at the position and played there quite a bit in college, this scenario doesn’t feel like a long-term solution.
Gordon playing there could be a bit more interesting, but you would have to question how he would hold up manning the position for a full season. One could make the argument of Whit going back to being a super-utility player, although I doubt the Royals would allow that to happen after the season he pulled off in 2017. The best case scenario for playing Mondesi at second base would be a trade of Merrifield, which doesn’t look likely at the moment.
Scenario #2: Mondesi has a great spring and wins the center field job.
Alright, I think this is actually possible, despite the fact it sounds crazy to me. Mondesi has always been lauded for his glove and it feels weird that the Royals would move a guy that is that good defensively in the middle of the infield and plop him down in the outfield, where he has never played professionally. Obviously the organization has been thinking of doing this for a while, as it was first brought up in July:
“He’s such a good athlete. We’ve even talked about his ability to play the outfield – centerfield specifically – not that we’re necessarily moving on that right now.”
Let’s be honest here: the Royals right now don’t have a great center field option. There is Paulo Orlando, Billy Burns and…maybe Bubba Starling. That’s really it. This is what the Royals have to deal with unless they go out and sign a free agent this spring. So the idea of Mondesi playing center isn’t the worst idea ever; if he hits well, adapts to the outfield and shows some patience at the plate, he could be a possibility. Chalk this up as a long-shot, but one that might just pan out.
Scenario #3: Mondesi starts the year in AAA and gets off to a hot start. The Royals struggle offensively and decide to recall him and see if he can inject some life into the lineup.
We’ve all seen the Royals’ bats go cold early in the season. In fact, we just saw it last year. Mondesi actually had a good offensive season for AAA in 2017 and has shown a pattern of improving at different levels in the minors after his second go around at that level. He hit .305/.340/.539 in 357 plate appearances last year in Omaha and we continue to see his power numbers improve the older he gets. I’m not saying he has figured out AAA pitching, but it does appear that he is learning and his production could be on the upswing.
The main issue I see with this scenario is the same one we saw in scenario #1: who gets bumped out of the lineup? We can probably assume that Escobar will be trotted out there every day, so scratch him off the list. Whit is a possibility, but only if he is in the middle of a big cold spell. Center field still looks like the best spot, unless Whit shuffled around the diamond.
Scenario #4: Mondesi is the starting shortstop.
The likelihood of this happening is probably slim and none. But it does make you wonder just what it would take for the Royals to break camp with Mondesi in the starting role. Outside of an injury, it’s hard to think of a situation where the Royals would pick Mondesi over Escobar. Even if Mondesi tore it up this spring, my belief is that the team would find another role for him rather than picking him over Esky. Now, if Raul continued to play well as the season progresses there could be a situation where he would start seeing more playing time than Escobar, but that feels like an August-September situation rather than a March-April one.
The one scenario that feels like a step back is the one where Mondesi makes the team as a backup infielder. The key at this point is for Raul to continue his development, which could be stunted sitting on the Kansas City bench. Ned Yost is not widely known as a manager who uses his bench regularly and if this happened the worry would be how much playing time Mondesi would actually see. Repetition is what he needs and the only way that happens is with regular playing time.
The good news is that while it looks a bit bleak right now for Mondesi attaining a starting big league job, those tides can turn fast. He is just a Merrifield trade or an Escobar injury away from getting his shot to show what he can do. The Royals obviously have their concerns and most of us aren’t too blind to see them. He needs to work on his plate discipline, continue to improve his power numbers and fix whatever small flaws he has on the defensive side of the ball.
The Royals did him no favors back in 2016 when they called him up to the big leagues and they would be doing him a disservice now by looking past him. Luckily, at 22-years old it wouldn’t take much for him to get back into the organization’s good graces. Solid play with continued development feels like the best way to get management’s attention. While Mondesi might not be in favor at the moment, there is too much talent there to ignore what he could still be.
It’s highly doubtful that anyone would have predicted that the Kansas City Royals offense would be as pitiful as it has been 18 games into the 2017 campaign. In fact, the stench wafting from the Kansas City offense has become so heavy that it has raised a whole slew of questions moving forward: Who needs to sit? Who should get sent down? Who should be called up? When will Jorge Soler be ready? When will the first player be traded? It feels like they go through these offensive droughts on a yearly basis because…well, because they do. We all remember July 2016. We remember the new batting coaches the team employed in back to back May’s, including hiring George Brett to help out. This team has been notorious for its offensive struggles, but the timing this year is worse, as it will be the final year of its main core of the lineup; in fact, if things don’t change, guys like Moose, Hos and LoCain could be dealt before we even get to the trading deadline. So just how bad is it?
Let’s start with a few numbers to break down how comatose the bats are. The big stat that has been thrown out there is the team’s batting average with runners in scoring position: .153, last in all of baseball. It doesn’t get much better with two outs and runners in scoring position: .102, which earns them last in the American League. Last in runs, last in RBI’s, last in slugging percentage, next to last in on-base percentage, last in wRC+, and next to last in WAR…and this is for all of baseball, not just the American League. The struggle is real and floats all the way down the lineup; here is the regular lineup (or at least what has been the most used lineup) and their individual wRC+, with league average being 100:
Three starting players are above league average and the rest are way below that line. In fact, two players sit in the negative column and both of them (Orlando and Mondesi) were sent to AAA last week. Sure, Cain and Moose are hitting good and getting on-base, but does it matter when no one can drive them in? It doesn’t help that the team has hit into 18 double plays, which amazingly is only the 6th most in the AL. But that 18 hurts more when you factor in how little this team is getting on base in the first place, which means they seem to be killing any rally that gets started. So with the numbers glaring us all in the face, one has to ask the question–what is causing this slump?
There is no bigger factor than looking at what pitches the Royals are swinging at. So far this year, the batters are swinging at 34.3% of pitches outside the strike zone, leading the AL. Fascinating enough, the team is also swinging at 70.2% of pitches within the strike zone (tops in the AL), which means this team is swinging at almost everything being tossed up there. The sad part is that they are only making contact 75% of the time, which earns them 2nd worst in the American League behind only Tampa Bay. The Royals are swinging and missing at pitches 12.5% of the time, the 2nd highest in the AL as well. This shouldn’t be too surprising to long time fans, since this has long been a ‘put the ball in play’ team who rarely takes a walk. The problem is a lot of the times they just aren’t putting the ball in play and that is killing their offense in the process. In an interesting side-note, the team actually isn’t last in walks so far in 2017, as they have walked 47 times, which sits them in 13th place in the AL. I bring this up for one very big reason: teams that walk more often can power through slumps easier if they are patient and get on base with a free pass rather than get a hit. Because the Royals aren’t a team that walks, their slumps appear worse since they aren’t utilizing their patience the way they probably should. Remember folks, a walk is as good as a hit, and in many cases it also means you are driving the pitcher’s pitch count up. In my mind, that is a win-win situation.
The other factor that is hurting the offense is how they are hitting the ball. The Royals have the highest soft hit rate in the AL so far this year (23.8%) while racking up the third lowest hard hit rate (26.6%). Kansas City just isn’t hitting the ball hard and it is showing in the offensive output. The team has put a stronger emphasis on hitting for power this year, but it appears to have backfired, or at least it appears that way in the numbers. The Royals have the 4th highest pull percentage in the league (42%) yet their line drive rate sits at only 20.3%, which is 8th best. The team’s HR/FB ratio sits at 10.7% (10th in the AL) while their fly ball rate sits at only 35.1%. This team hits the ball on the ground way too regularly, as their ground ball to fly ball ratio is the 5th worst in the league (1.27, only .41 behind the Angels, who have the worst). The most alarming stat among these numbers is the infield fly ball rate, which is the second worst in the junior circuit (13.4%). The whole name of the game right now in baseball is elevating the ball, yet there is such a thing as bad elevation. The Royals appear to be doing that and there is no Royals batter who is averaging above 90 mph in exit velocity so far in 2017. It’s very obvious what Kansas City would benefit from; more hits off the barrel of the bat and less swinging on a downward plane. It is easy to say, but not as simple to do.
So can the offense pull out of this? Of course they can. As we sit here on Monday, the Royals have only played 11% of their games, so there is more than enough time for the offense to turn things around. In fact, in year’s past we have seen Kansas City do just that. The issue is that if things are going to turn around, it needs to happen sooner than later. The worst case scenario is for the bats to stay cold and the team decides they aren’t in a hunt for a playoff spot. If that happens, there is a good chance a few of the impending free agents could be available on the trade market. This is worst case, but very real as well. Do I believe this Royals team is this bad at the plate? No. Are there issues that need to be addressed? Obviously. If the team could swing a little less, be a bit more patient and drive the ball more, good things will eventually happen. The only question becomes ‘how long will that take’? Hopefully we have an answer soon, as in this week. The last thing we want to see is Kansas City continuing to struggle offensively into May.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
And Ned Yost also said Minor and Wood could be involved in that mix, too. He likes Minor's power stuff and Wood's massive cojones.
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.
So what about the offense? It appears manager Ned Yost has already figured out his lineup for Opening Day:
Ned said he'll likely go this way Opening Day: Gordon 7 Moose 5 Cain 8 Hoz 3 Salvy 2 Moss DH Orlando 9 Esky 6 Mondesi 4
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.
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:
Christian Colon or Whit Merrifield
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:
Just to reiterate about Peter Moylan and Colon/Merrifield roster decisions, Ned Yost said he won't make final call 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.
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.
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.
The World Baseball Classic has been a nice distraction through the dog days of Spring Training (I forget every year how long the preseason drags on)but there is an aspect of it that can shake a baseball fan to the core-an injury. I agree with most that an injury, for the most part, is just as likely during a spring game, with the main difference being that at least in a Spring Training game the major league team has control over when and where a player is in the game. With that in mind, most Kansas City Royals fans lost their breath for a short bit a few weeks ago when catcher Salvador Perez was in a collision at home plate with Royals teammate (and his backup catcher) Drew Butera:
After my initial thought of “man, that was one awkward slide”, my next thought was Perez’s health and how he needed help being escorted off the field. My mind scurried back to 2012 and the meniscus tear in Salvy’s knee and how he missed the first few months of the season. Then my mind ventured to who could take his place…and I got really worried. There is Butera, who is a great backup but too much playing time would expose his flaws. Brayan Pena is in Royals camp, but like Butera, is better suited to occasional starts, not full-time duty. Cam Gallagher is in the Royals pipeline and is a great defensive catcher…but can’t hit a lick. This meant my mind then started thinking of trades and what catchers might be available. The Royals just don’t have great depth at the catcher position and when I started thinking if there is any other position on the field that Kansas City would have a hard time filling, I was relieved to realize that this 2017 Royals team was not only very deep from position to position, but it also might be the deepest team they have had over the last four years.
On Monday, manager Ned Yost announced the winner of the 5th spot in the starting rotation:
Karns was part of a deep pool for Yost to dig from, as he was battling with Chris Young and Travis Wood to wrap up the rotation. Any of the three fit into that spot and cases can be made for all three as to why they would be valuable in the bullpen as well. Since the Royals have made their run for postseason contention back in 2013, I can’t remember a time when they had as many quality options in the rotation as they do this season. This isn’t even mentioning prospects like Josh Staumont or Kyle Zimmer, who both could be valuable to Kansas City at some point this season, whether it be in the rotation or the pen. If the Royals are hit with an injury at some point this season, it does appear as if there will be a pitcher that can easily slide into a spot in the rotation.
The bullpen is just as deep, with Kelvin Herrera taking over the closers role and Matt Strahm and Joakim Soria leading the way as setup guys. Add in Wood and Young from the rotation battle and lefty Mike Minor, and you have the make-up of a solid bullpen crew. But the depth extends; Staumont and Zimmer are possible additions later in the year, along with Eric Skoglund in the minors. Throw in veterans Peter Moylan and Al Albuquerque (who are in camp on minor league deals) and there are arms galore for Yost to choose from. While the relief core might not be Holland-Davis-Herrera deep, it is still an above-average group that is a good ten-men deep.
The infield backups, while not a group of all-stars, are still all serviceable and capable of filling in on a semi-regular basis. Kansas City has Cheslor Cuthbert or Hunter Dozier at third base if something happened (again?) to Moustakas, Raul Mondesi can fill the glove of Alcides Escobar in a pinch (although there are questions about his bat, which has been solid this spring) and the group of Mondesi, Christian Colon and Whit Merrifield are all able at second base, a position without a true starter. Initially I thought first base might not be as deep, but it might be even deeper than the other three spots in the infield. If Hosmer went down, Kansas City could plug-in Cuthbert, Dozier, Brandon Moss, or even Peter O’Brien, who has shown some massive power this spring. Even Hosmer’s future replacement (probably), Ryan O’Hearn, has shown marked improvement this spring and might be available late in the season. While not a collection of offensive juggernauts, the infield could survive a few injuries if something happened and in some ways be able to put up fairly comparable numbers.
The outfield is more of the same, with Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Jorge Soler scheduled to be the starters from left to right. If Gordon goes down, Moss, O’Brien, Dozier or Paulo Orlando could fill in. Cain? Orlando’s best defensive position is actually center field and Billy Burns could take over for a few weeks as well. If Soler went down to an injury (or started seeing more time at DH), there are even more options in right field: Moss, O’Brien, Dozier, Orlando and even Jorge Bonifacio could man right if so needed. You can mix and match some of these players, shuffle them all around the outfield but they would spell the same thing-suitable replacements that the Royals have stockpiled within the organization, the most I have seen in years in Kansas City.
What will be the most interesting aspect of all this depth will be how Ned Yost uses it. It is very well-known that Yost is not a manager who uses his bench a ton and in the past has penciled in the same lineup for weeks on end. Now that he has a surplus of talent all around the diamond, will he use it to maximum effort or get locked in on a set ‘9’ and go with that most of the time? No matter how the lineup shakes out, this amount of depth can only be a positive for the Royals in 2017. If you go back over the years and look at teams who play deep into October and even win championships, the one constant is almost always how deep of a roster they have. If the Royals are serious about playing in the postseason again, their roster is set for an extended run in the playoffs. It has to make management feel a little bit better, knowing there is a replacement for almost every starter on the team in case something happens. Now, if Perez goes down again…
Nothing makes me chuckle quite like when Kansas City Royals General Manager Dayton Moore plays a free agent signing so close to his chest that we know nothing of it until it is almost official. This was none more true than on Sunday when he signed OF/DH Brandon Moss to a 2-year deal:
Sources: Royals have agreed to a two-year deal with Brandon Moss, pending a physical. Going to be for $12 million. Physical is this week.
There had been some light littering of rumors floating about DH types, like Chris Carter, but no specific mention of Moss being on the Kansas City radar. The deal actually breaks down very favorable for the Royals this year, as like most contracts Dayton works on, as it is backloaded for the second year of the deal:
Brandon Moss contract is $3.75M for 2017, $7.25M in 2018 with $1M buyout on 2019 option, per @JonHeyman
So, close to $4 million is added to the payroll with this move, which is actually not much and still gives Moore room to go after another starting pitcher and/or reliever. In regards to the financial aspect of this signing, very shrewd move from Moore and one that could pay off if Moss produces like he has in the past. So what should be expected of Moss production-wise?
Last season Moss produced a line of .225/.300/.484 with 28 home runs, 67 RBI’s, an OPS+ of 105 and 0.8 bWAR. The biggest aspect of Moss’ game is his power and the power numbers were impressive in 2016: 2nd best home run total, 3rd best slugging percentage of his career, 3rd best extra base hit percentage, the highest percentage of hits for extra bases, 2nd best at bats per home run and 3rd highest isolated power average. You also get strike outs with Moss (he sat at 30% last year), but that is normal for someone with his kind of power. He will get the occasional walk, but throughout his career he has been league average to slightly above average (9.3% over ten years). In other words, don’t expect a high batting average from Moss, which is good since he could care less about that stat:
It’s very apparent that Moss understands the value of a walk and the flaws within batting average. This also tells me that he is probably walking up to the dish with a plan already in place, which is a good thing. Also, while Moss does have flaws in his game, there is a way to optimize some of the negatives. Moss’ splits over his career have not been kind, with a drop in his slugging percentage against lefties (.395 compared to .472 against righties) and an even bigger drop last year (.375 compared to .525 against righthanders). If manager Ned Yost was smart, he would almost primarily have Moss face right-handed pitching; he doesn’t have to lock him into a platoon, but I wouldn’t have him face many lefties this upcoming season. The good thing for Kansas City is they have a number of good options (Cheslor Cuthbert, Hunter Dozier, Paulo Orlando, possibly even putting a regular position player in the DH spot) and could work around some of the lesser aspects of his game.
What about his defense? Honestly, while Moss can man the outfield corners and first base, he is well below average defender at first (-16.1 UZR, -22 Defensive Runs Saved) and most capable in right field (6.6 UZR, 5 defensive runs saved). This tells me he is probably average to slightly below average defender in the outfield and his defensive metrics are still better than new Royals right fielder Jorge Soler (-8.2 UZR, -7 Defensive Runs Saved). Many like myself felt that Soler would end up being the primary DH by mid-season this year, but if we go by the numbers (and yes, defensive metrics are still a work in progress, so they shouldn’t be taken solely by the end numbers) Moss could be better suited for right field than Soler. The curious part of my brain wonders how the Royals will attack that, since one of the big aspects of the Kansas City team’s these past few years has been the greatness of the outfield defense. Obviously, putting Moss or Soler out there lowers the bar quite a bit, which makes me wonder how that will be addressed (although coach Rusty Kuntz plans on working with Soler this spring, so we’ll see how that plays out). I think this also shows that Moss was acquired to get most of his plate appearances in 2017 at DH, which is what most assumed.
There is one aspect of the signing that didn’t sit well with me and that was that the signing meant the end (once again) of the rotating DH plan that Kansas City has tried to implement for years:
I’m sure I am in the minority, but I actually thought this would be a good idea for Kansas City in 2017. Rather than be tied down to one guy playing the majority of the games in this slot, you could rotate players in and out of the role. This would give at bats to a Cuthbert or Dozier, while also allowing a Gordon, Perez or Cain to rest their bodies (and all three have taken quite a beating these last few years). If the Royals are serious about contending this year, having those guys rested and as close to 100% as possible headed into September-October is a must. The rotating DH plan would have given Yost more options and given these guys a defensive day off, which will be needed. Now, there is still a chance that happens (as we mentioned Moss’ numbers against southpaws) but the other concern is Yost’s use of his backups. Even if you have just followed his tenure in Kansas City, you have figured out that Ned is not big on using his bench a ton. He is notorious for riding guys for as long as he can and with the three names mentioned above, that worries me. Maybe I am worrying about nothing and like in years past, Yost has learned to ebb and flow with what his team needs. But there is also a chance that “Rigid Ned” continues to play his guys into the ground and injuries pile up because of it. I like the addition of Moss, but one does have to wonder if it strengthens or weakens this team in the long run.
So which is it, a plus or a negative acquisition? I have to admit to really liking this signing by Dayton and although I have my concerns, they don’t bother me to the extent that I wish they could take it all back. Home runs were up throughout baseball in 2016 and year after year the Royals are near the basement (if not in the cellar) in home runs hit throughout the league. Adding Moss’ bat to Moose, Hos, Soler and Salvy just accentuates one more threat in the Kansas City lineup. If optimized correctly, he could be a steal for the low price he is signed for in 2017. The signing also gives them just a smidge more room for another starting pitcher (Jason Hammel?) or reliever (the return of Luke Hochevar?) if the Royals are looking. Don’t be surprised to see a number of bombs hit into the fountains this year; I mean, it’s not like Moss isn’t familiar with Kauffman Stadium!
Once we get past October and wrap up the World Series, it will be full-blown award season for Major League Baseball, as they will reward the players voted on once the regular season wraps up. But here at ‘Bleeding Royal Blue’, I can hand out awards whenever I feel like it. Don’t be surprised if I give out an award on some random day in June next year, folks. It could happen. But for now, I wanted to fully wrap up the Kansas City Royals 2016 season by handing out acknowledgements to the deserving players on the Royals roster this year. Also, I did a mid-season awards back in July and now felt tied to this gimmick…soooo, there’s that as well. So no more procrastination, here are your award winners for your 2016 Kansas City Royals.
MVP and Best Pitcher Award: Danny Duffy
Yes, I fully believe Duffy deserves both of these honors, as he was the main cog for any success the Royals had this year. I’ve spent a lot of time discussing Danny (look here and over here) and all of it was deserved. After years where we saw only glimpses and flashes of true potential in him, 2016 saw Duffy finally put all the pieces together to be a successful starting pitcher. To put it bluntly, Duffy quit thinking and just went out there and pitched.This change in attitude led to some fantastic numbers: 9.4 SO/9, 2.1 BB/9, 188 strike outs, 125 ERA+ and 4.2 bWAR. He held left-handed batters to a line of .183/.219/.229 with an sOPS+ of 22. Many enjoyed pointing to his 7-0 record at home (ah, wins; that is so cute!) but Duffy was a beast on the road in 2016: 76 innings, 11.1 SO/9, 4.95 SO/W ratio, with the opposition hitting only .226/.287/.417 away from Kauffman Stadium. The numbers keep going for Danny, but the most important key to his game was shutting down the opposition when it mattered the most; in other words, the high leverage situations. Duffy posted a 1.37 ERA when the Royals scored 0-2 runs in his starts, with an 11.0 SO/W ratio. Hitters only hit .217/.250/.330 in those high leverage situations and he posted an 8.00 SO/W ratio in those scenarios. In other words, Duffy was big when the Royals needed it the most, coming through in the clutch. That is what an ace does and that is why Danny Duffy wins these two big honors this year for Kansas City.
Best Hitter Award: Kendrys Morales
To be perfectly honest with you, in many ways I wanted to pick no one for this achievement. In my eyes, the offense had no ‘go to guy’ this year and almost the entire lineup struggled at one point or another. But if I was picking one, Morales would be the hitter who posted the best numbers. He would get off to a rough first few months (.193/.262/.330 with 12 total extra base hits in April and May) but would come alive in June. June saw Morales hit .402/.453/.655 with 5 home runs and 18 RBI’s, propping the Royals up on his back. Like every other Royal in July, Morales struggled, but he would post solid numbers in both August and September. By the time it was all said and done, Morales hit .263/.327/.468 with 30 homers, 93 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 108. Good numbers considering where he was early in the season, but still a notch below his 2015 numbers. Morales would also post a 0.9 bWAR and a 10.6 WPA+ (which is the sum of positive events for this batter), both below his 2015 stats. Overall, it was a solid season for Morales and one that would make him the Royals best hitter, the only real candidate for this award.
Honorable Mention: Paulo Orlando
Rookie of the Year: Cheslor Cuthbert
There have been some real questions asked these last few years about Cuthbert and just how much of a prospect he should be. With Mike Moustakas blocking him at third base, it seemed unlikely we would ever really find out. Unfortunately, Moose would go down with a torn ACL; exit Moose, enter Cheslor. Cuthbert stepped in at the hot corner and after some early struggles, he would get comfortable and show everyone what he could actually do. Cuthbert would end up with 510 plate appearances this season, hitting .274/.318/.413 with 12 home runs, 46 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 93. For most of the season, Cuthbert’s numbers were at or above league average, with a slump in the final month dragging some of his numbers down. Cheslor would post a -0.2 bWAR this year, but most of that was due to a slightly below average defense that had him at -0.9 dWAR, with an oWAR of 1.1. The big knock on Cheslor defensively is his range and speed, which are below average and yes, below Moustakas. That being said, he would fill in admirably and at the very least showed Kansas City management that he was worth another look next year when Moose comes back. So what should we expect next year? The bad part is that Cuthbert is out of options and probably wouldn’t go through waivers unclaimed at this point. Kansas City has sent him to the instructional league to learn second base, as the Royals want to see if he can increase his versatility and give the team more options and positions to play him at next year. There is also the chance that he could see time at DH, as Morales is a free agent and who knows if they will sign a permanent replacement this offseason. No matter the situation, Cuthbert elevated his positioning in the organization in 2016 and deserves a big league job at this point in his career.
Honorable Mention: Matt Strahm, Whit Merrifield
Reliever of the Year: Kelvin Herrera
The Royals saw their bullpen come back down to earth in 2016, but the man who stayed the course for Kansas City was Kelvin Herrera. All Herrera did this year was rack up a career low FIP of 2.47, a career low BB/9 of 1.47, career low WHIP of 0.958, with a SO/9 of 10.8, ERA+ of 160 with 2.0 WAR. Herrera started the year as the set-up man, but when closer Wade Davis would end up on the disabled list, Herrera would step in as the closer. He would earn his second consecutive All-Star nod and continued his dominance, thanks to a new look slider he developed late in 2015. The slider gave him even more dominance than he had before, which is shown by his walk rate and WHIP. To give you a better idea: Herrera threw 72 innings this year and allowed only 12 walks.This increased his SO/W ratio to 7.17, the best of his career. Here is the truly scary part: Herrera will be entering his age 27 season. In other words, he is just now in his prime. Be scared, Major League hitters.
Honorable Mention: Wade Davis, Matt Strahm
Comeback Player of the Year: Ian Kennedy
Royals fans weren’t exactly enthused when Kansas City signed Kennedy to a 5-year deal. Kennedy had been a below average pitcher the last five years and one had to wonder if the combination of Kauffman Stadium and pitching coach Dave Eiland could change that. Well, it did and because of that Kennedy is the Comeback Player of the Year. Here are the numbers that got him here: 184 strike outs over 195 innings, 1.221 WHIP, 119 ERA+, 1.6 WPA and 4.1 WAR (his highest since 2011). There were flaws in his game; Kennedy allowed 33 home runs, third most in the American League and he saw both his walk rate and FIP go up. Kennedy’s season wasn’t perfect, but in my eyes he was exactly what I expected; a guy who sometimes looks great, and sometimes looks bad. Kennedy was lucky enough in 2016 to lessen the bad starts while performing at least league average in a large chunk of the others. He did compile 15 quality starts, which was 45% of his starts this year and had an average Game Score of 54.6, a few ticks up on his 2015 campaign. In all honesty, I can live with these numbers from Kennedy if he continues this throughout the span of his contract while staying healthy.
Honorable Mention: Paulo Orlando
Now, onto our consolation awards:
Best Hair: Drew Butera
Best Hair, Classic: Rusty Kuntz
Best Forehead: Edinson Volquez
In Memoriam: Joakim Soria…wait, I’m being told he is STILL on the team. Nevermind.
Here’s to more awards next year, hopefully with a brighter spin on everything. Also, if any player wants to buy my vote, I will allow that. Except for Eric Hosmer. He has to earn it…and improve on his 58.9% ground ball rate. Make it happen guys and there will be gold stars for everyone! Thanks again, Kansas City, for another great baseball season. Pencil me in again for next year.
“I’ve had some wins. And been knocked down with defeats. Glimpsed views from the top of the mountain. And walked through the darkest of valleys. But through this entire ride called ‘a life’ – I’ve refused to give up.”~Robin S. Sharma
Everyone knew from the beginning that it wouldn’t be an easy task. Some would even say it was highly unlikely that the Kansas City Royals would repeat as World Series champions, a title they carried all throughout the 2016 campaign. The last team to repeat? That would be the 1998-2000 New York Yankees, a dynasty of a team that even tried to make it four in a row. So when the Royals came into the season, the hope was that they could make it back to the promise land. Instead, they were forced off their perch at the top of the mountain. There was a litany of factors as to why that was, but it wasn’t as if Kansas City had an awful season. In fact, the team wasn’t officially eliminated from postseason play until the last week of the season with four games to go. There were even some positives that came out of the season that will help the foundation of the 2017 Royals team.
What Went Right
First and foremost, Danny Duffy became the team ace that had been hoped of him for years now. Duffy started the year in the bullpen but it wouldn’t be long until he was summoned for starting duty. Duffy would make his first start of the year on May 15 against Atlanta, shutting out the Braves in his three innings of work. Duffy would continue to excel, gradually building up his arm strength while taking the lessons he learned in the pen into his starts. No longer was Duffy a man of inefficiency, racking up high pitch counts in a limited amount of innings. Instead, Duffy would post the lowest walk ratio of his career (2.1) while also increasing his strike out numbers as well (9.4 strikeouts per 9). On August 1st, Duffy would throw the game of his career, holding the Rays hitless through seven before finally giving up a hit, all while striking out 16 batters. Duffy would leave after 8 innings of work, just a mere inning away from throwing the first complete game of his career. He would get that complete game just two starts later, holding the White Sox to 1 run and 7 hits in a 9 inning gem . When it was all said and done, Duffy would post career highs in innings, strike outs, walks, FIP, BB9, SO9, SO/W and will go into the 2017 season as the ace of the Royals rotation.
Cheslor Cuthbert was a welcome plus for the Royals this year, as he ended up with the third base job after Mike Moustakas went down with a season ending injury in May. Cuthbert’s numbers weren’t at Moustakas’ level, but did put himself into a solid position come Spring Training. Cuthbert hit a respectable .274/.318/.413 with an OPS+ of 93 (slightly below league average) and a bWAR of -0.2 (1.1 oWAR, -0.9 dWAR). Cuthbert could be a man without a position in 2017, but the team has sent him to the instructional league to get some work at second base, a chance to build up some versatility. Considering he is out of options and Moustakas will be back next year, Cuthbert could be dealt in the offseason; the good news is that 2016 really elevated his value in many people’s eyes.
We also got our first look at Matt Strahm and he was a pleasant addition to the Kansas City bullpen. Strahm appeared in 21 games this year, posting a 1.23 ERA over 22 innings, 12.3 strike outs per 9 with an ERA+ of 362. Strahm became a reliable arm in the pen but manager Ned Yost was reluctant on using him too much, as he threw only 94 innings in 2015 and had already thrown over 100 innings during his time in AA this year. Strahm could return to the bullpen next year, but the Royals have also shown interest in giving him a shot at a rotation job in 2017.
Paulo Orlando was another surprise this year for Kansas City, as the Brazilian elevated his game in 2016, putting him in a position to compete for a regular spot in 2017. Paulo hit .302/.329/.405 with an OPS+ of 95 and a bWAR of 2.3. Orlando sacrificed some power this year for more of a ‘spray the ball to all fields’ approach and that netted him a solid average but a dip in his slugging numbers. The Royals believe that Orlando is late bloomer and expect him to be in the hunt for the right field job at the ripe age of 31 next year.
Whit Merrifield showed in 2016 that he could hang with the big boys, hitting .283/.323/.392 with an OPS+ of 90 and a bWAR of 1.6. Merrifield saw a lot of time at second base this year and while he proved adequate both offensively and defensively, he is probably better suited as a super utility guy for Kansas City. Merrifield will probably get at least a shot at the second base job in the spring, but there is a greater chance of Whit holding down a utility spot for the team next year.
Finally, a slight nod to Drew Butera, the backup catcher for the Royals. It’s hard being the backup to Salvador Perez, as you see very little playing time. Perez did go down with a few injuries in 2016, so Drew saw some extra time behind the dish and performed admirably when asked. Butera got the most plate appearances he has seen since 2014, hitting .285/.328/.480 with an OPS+ of 112 and a bWAR of 0.4. Those are all career highs for Butera, who has long been known as a defense first guy with very little stick value. Drew will be a free agent this offseason and I can only hope he returns for another year in Kansas City. In a lot of ways, Butera is the perfect backup receiver for what this club needs from that spot.
What Needs Some Work
Let’s start here with the starting rotation. The rotation felt like a talking point for a good chunk of the season, but some of that was positive in a few good stretches. Overall, the Royals starters had the third highest BB/9, the highest HR/9 and FIP, and in the bottom third of the American League in innings pitched, ERA and WAR. Yordano Ventura and Ian Kennedy both had roller coaster years, with equal parts good and bad in 2016. Ventura is still a work in progress and Kennedy gave up the third most home runs in the AL this year. Both will need to work on their consistency, as they will be back next year. There will probably be some change in next year’s rotation, as Edinson Volquez is a free agent while the fifth spot was in constant flux this year. Jason Vargas, Mike Minor and Strahm could all be in-house candidates for next year’s rotation.
Also needing some work was the Royals bullpen. The bullpen was a key part of the Royals last two World Series’ teams, but this year they struggled. Luke Hochevar was lost for the season back in August, Wade Davis made a few appearances on the disabled list, and Joakim Soria struggled around a couple of strong stretches in his return to Kansas City. While some ranted and raved about the pen (mostly about Soria), I would like to point out here that we as Royals fans have been spoiled these last few years. The bullpen in year’s past were so insanely good that most seemed to just take it for granted. This was still a good bunch of arms for Kansas City, posting a HR/9 of 0.92(third lowest in the league), 77.3% LOB percentage (also third lowest), 3.45 ERA (yep, still third lowest), and 4.9 fWAR, 5th best in the league. The Royals have already talked about the bullpen being their main focus this offseason, so don’t be surprised to see some changes. Davis, Soria and Herrera will be back while Hochevar is a free agent, although it will be interesting to see if the Royals try to re-sign him. I also think there is a decent chance that Kansas City tries to bring Greg Holland, who spent the year recovering from Tommy John surgery, back into the fold. The pen is still a plus for Kansas City, but it will need some work.
What Went Wrong
Two items of note went horribly wrong for Kansas City in 2016. First, the offense. What was actually a strong point in 2015 (6th in the league in runs scored last year), went sour this year. The Royals offense was last in home runs, ISO, BB% and wRC+, while in the bottom third of the league in runs, RBI’s, OBP%, slugging, and fWAR. Almost the entire lineup could be looked at to blame for this regression; Alex Gordon struggled when he wasn’t hurt, Salvador Perez saw a dip in his offensive numbers while Eric Hosmer had a horrendous second half of the season, hitting in the low .200’s during that span, producing only six doubles in the second half while leading the American League in ground ball percentage. If it wasn’t for Kendrys Morales’ huge spurts of offense (and even Kendrys saw an early season slump derail his numbers)and Hosmer’s first two months of the season, one has to wonder how worse off this Kansas City team might have been. I believe some of the expectation of the Royals returning players is for them to improve on this year’s numbers in 2017, but there will need to be some changes before Spring Training rolls around.
But the biggest blow to the Royals success this season was injuries. After years of the Royals being fairly healthy, they were dealt a bad hand this season. Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez, Luke Hochevar, Jarrod Dyson, Chris Young, Kris Medlen and Wade Davis all spent some time on the disabled list this year at one point or another. Mike Moustakas collided with Gordon in late May, and while Gordon would miss a month, Moustakas would have a torn ACL and would be gone for the rest of the season. Lorenzo Cain, who was the Royals best player in 2015, had multiple stints on the DL and would end up missing about 1/3 of the season. While backups like Cuthbert, Merrifield and Orlando all performed admirably in their absence, they didn’t produce at the same level and it showed in the numbers. For the Royals to be successful in 2017, they are going to have to stay healthy and not have the level of injuries that hit them this season.
The Royals finished 81-81 this season, a clean .500 record. To be honest with you, when you consider the performance of the pitching and the offense, then add in the injuries, I feel like Kansas City ended up about where they should have been. A few years back, I made the comment that all I really wanted from the organization was a contending ball club, a team that was in the hunt for a playoff spot on a regular basis. After years of watching them lose and most of the time in an ugly manner, I just wanted a team that could make the playoffs. We’ve gotten that the last couple seasons and even this year, the Royals weren’t officially eliminated until after game 158. You can expect a large chunk of this same team to return in 2017, as that appears to be the last year the window will be open with the core group of players they have now. It will be an interesting off-season, as the team needs to build up a few areas while also taking a look past 2017 when making any signing or deal. The 2016 season will be remembered as the year Kansas City came down from the euphoric high that we have all been on the last few years. Now it’s time to take a breath, rebuild and prepare for what could be another wild ride next season. I don’t now about you, but I’m ready.