Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Kansas City Royals 2014 Team Breakdown

KANSAS CITY ROYALS:  86-76 (Third in the AL Central)

Projected Starting Lineup/Batting Order:

RF        Norichika Aioki
2B        Omar Infante
LF        Alex Gordon
1B        Eric Hosmer
DH       Billy Butler
C          Salvador Perez
3B        Mike Moustakas
CF        Lorenzo Cain
SS        Alcides Escobar

Projected Starting Rotation/Key Bullpen Arms:

SP        James Shields
SP        Jeremy Guthrie
SP        Jason Vargas
SP        Wade Davis
SP        Danny Duffy
RP       Greg Holland
RP       Aaron Crow
RP       Luke Hochevar

Last year has to be seen as a successful season for the Royals.  True, they didn’t make the playoffs, but they were in the hunt at the end of the year and finished above 500.  Their 86 Wins was the most for this team since 1989.  And seeing how the Pirates slowly crept forward until accomplishing both a winning season and playoff berth in the same year, the Royals think they must be close.  I think they are right.  But the whole team sagged tremendously last year with bad seasons from Alex Gordon, Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas.  The pitching kept them alive, but they’ve lost Ervin Santana, one of their best pitchers from a year ago.  If the offense steps up, they have a chance, but there is no question that their pitching staff is significantly weaker than it was last year.  If this team is planning on making another step forward and perhaps playing some October baseball, then this offense needs to make some serious improvement to support a pitching staff that doesn’t look to be as strong going into this season.

The biggest offseason move by the Royals was a trade to add Norichika Aioki from the Brewers for lefty reliever Seth Smith.  Aioki can take over at the leadoff spot for the Royals, since Alex Gordon sagged to a 265 AVG last year.  He also had 20 HR, and they want that in the middle of their lineup.  Aioki hit 286 with 20 SB and 80 R.  He’s not a sexy player, but does his job.  His SB total dropped from 30 to 20 in one year, so that’s a bad sign.  But the OBP and R are what the Royals care about and he’s been over 350 and 80 in both categories in both of his MLB seasons.  This is an upgrade, especially over Jeff Francoeur, who was their starting right fielder last season.  The other big offseason move for the Royals was to sign Omar Infante to play second for them for the next 4 years.  It was a $30+ million move for them, which is a lot for a small market team.  But he’s a good player and will be great for them.  I have him hitting second on this club.  Injury limited him to 118 games for Detroit last year, but he still hit 318 with 10 HR, 51 RBI and 54 R.  His SB total went from 17 to 5, but I think the 17 was an outlier.  This guy might take 10 a season, but that’s all extra.  He’s a career 279 hitter with an OBP around 320.  Perfect number 2 man, with double-digit pop in his bat.  Those 2 moves enable Alex Gordon to move to third in the lineup, where maybe his 20 HR will result in more than the 81 RBI he had last year.  His 90 R likely come down hitting third, but if this means 100 RBI, then the Royals win.  He will never be a star, but I think 270 with 20 HR, 100 RBI, 80 R and 10 SB is great, especially for a Gold Glover.  I have first baseman Eric Hosmer hitting cleanup, one of the few Royals to play well last year.  He didn’t hit with the power that they wanted, but he did hit 302 with 17 HR, 79 RBI and 86 R.  And he also tossed in 11 SB, one of the few first baseman that can help on the base paths.  It’s hard to know what to expect from him as his only other full season in the majors included a 232 AVG.  But he’s always been around 15 HR with SB totals of 11, 16 and 11 again.  I think 280 with 15 HR, 80 RBI and R and 10 SB is a good bet.  Their star DH Billy Butler will also be a part of the middle of the lineup.  He also had a down year, by his standards, with only 15 HR and 27 2Bs.  I’m betting he returns to 290+ with 25 HR, 100 RBI and 70 R.  Then the Royals have Salvador Perez behind the plate, who I’ve listed as the number 6 man.  Last year he played in 138 games, his most in the majors.  In his previous 2 years before that he had about 100 games and hit 331, then 301.  After hitting 292 last year he has a career average of 301.  That’s great.  Add to that 13 HR and you have a future star at a position where offense is sometimes considered a bonus.  I love his ceiling, but his floor is likely another 280+ season with double digit HR.  The bottom third of the order is harder to predict.  Mike Moustakas has the most talent out of the guys left, and I have him hitting 7th.  He’s underwhelmed thus far in his short career, hitting 233 last season and only 242 the season before.  His power also fell from 20 HR to 12.  That’s not what they expected from him.  Now third base has recently become a fairly shallow position offensively in the league, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want more from a corner infielder.  They’d like him to work on everything, but if he can’t the good news is that he’s in the bottom third of their lineup.  With Lorenzo Cain any offense is a bonus.  He played the most games in his career as well last season.  And he was pretty average.  251 with 14 SB.  He’s got speed, but he’s in the lineup for his glove.  That led me to putting Alcides Escobar 9th, as sort of a backup leadoff man for Kansas City.  He was perhaps the biggest down year culprit on the team.  His AVG tumbled from 293 to 234.  He lost 72 points off his OBP while seeing his 35 SB from 2012 turn into only 22 in 2013.  That’s not surprising as he was on base less.  That’s why his R total fell also.  However he had about the same number of HR and RBI, so perhaps he was trying to put the ball into the air too much.  Though people with 5 HR don’t really have that problem often.  Who knows why he struggled?  But it was bad.  And it’s what knocked him from 2nd in the order to 9th in my projections.  If he can find his way back to his 2012 numbers, he may re-take the number 2 spot since his upside is much higher than Infante’s, and that allows their second baseman to drop to 9th, where a 300 hitter really is a backup leadoff man.  But if not, he’ll stay mired in the bottom of the order.  The Royals actually have a very deep bench.   The outfield features Jarrod Dyson and Justin Maxwell for depth, and former starting second baseman Johnny Giovatella is also around.  None of these guys is overly exciting, but all can play defensively, and not kill you at the plate.  However if any of them log serious playing time, then the Royals are in trouble.

The defense looks solid.  Eric Hosmer is great at first and Infante, a natural shortstop, is even better at second.  Alcides Escobar is one of the best defensive shortstops in the game.  Alex Gordon won a Gold Glove in left in his career and Cain and Aioki can go get it.  Nobody else is great or terrible, so things look good for Kansas City in the field.

The questions continue when you look at the Royals’ starting group.  James Shields is the only non-question.  He’s an ace.  13-9 last year with a 3.15 ERA.  He had 196 Ks in 228 IP.  He’s a horse with 2 CG, a 1.24 ERA and 251 BAA.  He’s not like other aces (the WHIP and BAA are very average) but he eats innings, can strike a guy out and he knows how to win.  And, most importantly, he doesn’t give up runs.  He’s more ideally a number 2 man, but why fuss over what he’s not when he’s pretty close to a number 1.  It’s the days he’s not pitching that the Royals have to worry about.  Jeremy Guthrie is likely their number 2 man.  That’s not where he belongs in a rotation.  He’s an easy number 4 starter.  He went 15-12 with a 4.04 ERA last year.  He’s good at stranding runners when you consider that his BAA was 285 and he had a 1.39 WHIP.  But putting that many guys on base mean some will score, hence the 4.04 ERA.  It is what it is, but it shouldn’t be the second best pitcher on your team.  Jason Vargas is their number 3 man, and he’s another true number 4 starter.  He went 9-8 in 24 starts with the Angels last year.  His 4.02 ERA is similar to Guthrie’s.  Neither one is bad, but neither is the guy you want on the mound in a key playoff game.  And since Shields is only one man, you’ll have to likely turn to one of them at some point to win some key games.  At least Guthrie made it to 200 IP, Vargas only logged 150 in his fewer starts.  But assuming both are healthy earning the title “innings eaters” are likely the ceilings for these two veterans.  They are clearly a step above Wade Davis, who I’ve inked in as the number 4 man.  But a 5.32 ERA is not at all good.  His career ERA is only 4.26, so expecting him to be much better may be unreasonable.  He’ll be the number 4 man, and I don’t expect a lot from him.  The real question is what comes next.  They want it to be Danny Duffy, but he’s still making his way back from Tommy John.  He made 5 starts last year and was great going 2-0 with 22 Ks in 24 IP.  But he walked WAY too many and his career ERA is 4.75.  He’s far from a sure thing, and with injury concerns he may be diminished.  So the backup plan is Yordano Ventura.  He made 3 starts last year going 0-1 with a 3.52 ERA.  Those are the only 3 starts he’s made in his career.  So he’s another wildcard.  This team needs more depth in their starting rotation.  Specifically, they need another ace type pitcher who can be the other man they count on when Shields isn’t available (which will be for about 80% of the games btw).  But with all the free agent starters gone, this team is out of options.  They will endure, and hope their fantastic bullpen can stay healthy, give them scoreless middle innings, and win games.  Greg Holland was, for my money, the best closer in the AL last year.  He struck out 103 in 67 IP with a 1.21 ERA and 47 Saves.  He didn’t officially get the job until around May, so his numbers could have been better.  His WHIP was under 1 and his BAA under 200.  He’s one of the best in the business.  So if the Royals can get to the 9th with a lead, then they will be in good shape.  One of the biggest changes that would help the Royals is for Aaron Crow to return to All Star form.  He was fine last year, but not great with his 3.38 ERA.  His WHIP and BAA ballooned, which didn’t help the Royals.  If he can return to his 2.76 days as a set up man that will go a long way towards keeping the team in the playoff hunt.  He still has good stuff as his average of 1 K per IP shows.  Kelvin Hererra is another regression case as his 2013 ERA rose from 2.35 to 3.86.  They need him to improve as well, as one of these 2 has to set up for Holland.  I’d also expect to see lots of Luke Hochevar.  He was phenomenal in 58 games out of the bullpen ERA pulling his ERA down to 1.92.  He’ll start if he has to, but his career ERA there is 5.10.  So they want to keep him as a reliever.  But I’d expect him to fill a lot of innings between starters and Greg Holland.  The Royals have a lot of good arms in the pen.  If they pitch their best, then this weak starting rotation may be okay.  If not, then the Royals will likely struggle and miss the playoffs again.


The overall outlook for Kansas City is positive as they have a strong young core and more talent on the way.  But the talent is a ways off as the top of their farm system is in the majors already.   Right now, this major league team is filled with questions.  Will the Royals suffer another team-wide underperformance?  Can Aioki be the leadoff man they want?  Will Gordon be better?  Will Escobar be better?  Can the starters, other than Shields, keep this team in games?  Will the bullpen make it to Holland?  That’s a lot to be unsure of.  I think that being in the AL Central helps this team as the White Sox and Twins are re-building and the Indians are due for regression.  I think this team can win 80 games again, but 85 may be a stretch.  I’ll put them second in the division, but out of the playoffs. 

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