The 2015 World Series Champions missed the playoffs in 2016. I will get my bias out of the way right away and I believe the Kansas City Royals may have been the worst team to win a World Series in my lifetime. The MLB season is 162 games long and the top teams win at best 6 games every 10 days and the worst win 4 while everyone else wins about 5. When 162 games are said and done the cream truly does rise from the crop, but in a short playoff you just have to get hot and that’s what the Royals were that October of 2015. Defense and good luck can only get you so far and the Royals still lack top offensive weapons and front line pitching. It’s story time now so let me tell you why the Royals will continue to be the mediocre team they truly are in 2017.
Third basemen, Mike Moustakas will look to remain healthy in 2017 as he missed the majority of the prior season. Moustakas broke out with his bat in 2015 while hitting his way to a final slash line of .284/.348/.470 with 22 home runs and 78 RBI’s to boot. He was primarily known for his above average defense up until that point, but the bat finally caught up and he was one of the better young third basemen in baseball for a brief moment. Part of Moustakas early career struggles was related to his low hard hit percentage which was well under league average. However, he now hits the ball harder than ever before, sprays the ball a bit more, and saw a decrease in his fly ball rate since which all have helped his batting average improve to a slightly above average level. He won’t be an all-star but should be serviceable as a plus defender and a middle of the order bat who can hit 22 to 25 home runs.
Alcides Escobar will continue to see regular time at shortstop where he is an adequate defender but a black hole at the plate. Escobar will be entering his 9th full time MLB season and at this point in his career he is who is as he has only hit .262/.297/.350 to date. There’s no real sign that this will change either as he swings at everything, albeit makes soft contact in lieu of striking out. His stolen base attempts have declined over the last few years and he won’t hit for any meaningful power. The Royals and Escobar are in their final year of his contract so it will be interesting to see what they do at shortstop from 2018 onward. There’s a chance he gets moved at the trade deadline if the Royals fall out of the playoff race. I expect more of the same from Escobar as he has been consistently mediocre for 9 years.
Second base was a massive black hole for the Royals in 2016. It’s currently a position battle at Royals training camp between Rual Mondesi, Whit Merrifield, Christian Colon and Cheslor Cuthbert . None of these options are too exciting other then the fact that Raul Mondesi’s father is the once really good Raul Mondesi Sr. Junior Mondesi is only 21 years old but made his first MLB appearance during the 2015 championship run. He is very fast but is a very weak hitter and still has some work to do on the defensive side of his game. Merrifield played half the season at second last year but didn’t provide a lot of production with his bat but was alright defensively. Christian Colon was a former first round draft pick in 2010 who has yet to make his claim to a regular MLB job and Cheslor Cuthbert is another young player who played a good chunk of 2016 in the bigs but was replacement level at best. I could care less who wins this position battle as all of these options are about as blah as possible.
Eric Hosmer has a lot on the line this year as he’s set to be a free agent after the season’s end. After a breakout in 2015 he regressed in 2016. His batting line was okay as it was .266/.328/.433 with 25 home runs, but a deeper look at his hitting shows some ugly stretch marks. He hit more ground balls than ever and this was at the expense of line drives. He only hit 50 combined extra base hits (that includes those 25 home runs) all year and whiffed on 25% of his swings which is really bad. For a “speedy” first basemen you would want a lot more production in the middle of your order then that. To put the extra base hits in perspective, the recently departed Kendrys Morales had 54 extra base hits and he’s slow as fuck. Hosmer’s defense at first was once praised but was mediocre at best this past year. At 27 years old he should be in his prime but instead had had good seasons followed by bad for the past four years. I’m sure given that it’s a contract year and it’s time for a good season, he will show up but fuck me he’s over rated.
Catcher, Salvador Perez has been a great defensive catcher for the past 5 seasons. He’s remained relatively healthy and consistently plays over 130 games behind the dish. That kind of work load has to put a major toll on his body but moreso it’s put a toll on his hitting. Perez’ strikeout rate has increased ever year since becoming a full time major league player in 2012. He barely walks (3.6% walk rate) and in 2016 nearly half of his balls in play were fly balls which almost always equate to easy outs unless they are home runs. With 47% of his contact resulting in a fly ball his 22 home runs aren’t as impressive. Similar to Hosmer, he will be 27 years old mid season and should be in his prime but I think he is what we see at the plate. A slash line of .259/.292/.430 with 20 home runs to boot isn’t bad for a catcher but he once seemed to have much more potential! Ah well, the big man’s defense alone will win the Royals a game or two though.
With Jared Dyson being shipped off to Seattle the Royals outfield is now slightly weakened and consists of Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Brandon Moss and Billy Burns (bench role).
Alex Gordon is the longest serving Royal on the team as he has spent his entire career with the organization and will begin his 11th season. Like many other Royals, Gordon’s strike out rate increased in 2016 but his went way up from 20% to 29%! Gordon is a pretty patient player at the plate as he walks in about 10% of his at bats but damn that’s a spike with the punch outs. He’s still hitting for his career average in terms of isolate power with .160 in 2016 compared to his career rate of .158 so you will get some home run and RBI production if he holds a nice spot in the batting order. Gordon is no longer a gold glove left fielder but still will be above average out there. His speed isn’t what it used to be so he won’t hit at the top of the order and get the runs he used to. Also the steals will be almost non-existent. Gordon will be under contract until 2019 and his best days are likely numbered but he should be serviceable in 2017.
Lorenzo Cain will be the Royals best defensive outfielder in centre field with Dyson no longer around. Cain regressed offensively in 2016 but was still a defensive stud saving 11 runs for the team. This was his lowest defensive mark in four seasons so he may be slowing down a bit after years of playing stellar D. His batting average fell a little bit last year but was still very good at .287 and he did miss about a third of the season with a hamstring injury. His walk rate increased which is something that cannot be said for many of his team mates so that bodes well for his chances to return to a .300 hitter in 2017. Like most of the Royals, Cain does not have a lot of power but slashes his way onto base and has the speed to steal well over 20 bases.
Free agent signing, Brandon Moss should prove to be a good signing for a power deficient Royals squad. His defense is slightly below average but being in the American League should be a good move where he can play half his games at DH. Moss has the proven track record of hitting nearly 25 Home Runs per season since 2012. Moss is an extreme flyball hitter who hits the ball hard and this should play well now that he is back in American League ball parks. Although his batting average took a tumble last year that was partially due to bad luck and it should rebound to the .245 mark. With so many guys who like to hit singles on the Royals someone has to bring them home and Moss should be that guy and is likely to hit clean up for the Royals. He will likely lead the team in Home Runs and RBI’s if he stays healthy.
Lastly is speedy outfielder Billy Burns who was traded by the Oakland Athletics to the Royals this past off-season. Burns was an unexpected surprise for the A’s in 2015 where he was an on base machine and speed demon on the bags. However, his batting average tumbled in 2016 and he was demoted to the minors after struggling in his sophomore season. Burns isn’t guaranteed to make the opening day roster as he has minor league options remaining, but he will surely be called back up and is a poor man’s Jared Dyson just without the defensive acumen due to a poor arm.
The biggest wild card on the Royals roster is Jorge Soler who was let go by the Cubs. Soler came into the majors with a lot of prospect hype but has failed to make an impact. As the Cubs put together a championship roster, Soler was deemed expendable. He has a lot of raw power that isn’t developed yet and he strikes out far too much. But if everything can click right he can become a 30 home run player. What’s troubling though is that his hard hit rate has tumbled from 40% to 30% since his debut into the league. He’s hitting fly balls in almost half of his at bats but isn’t having the mustard to push them out. If his hard contact can return then the Royals will have a steal of a player on their hands. Expect Soler to play some right field and DH in 2016 but time will tell though if he will make the necessary adjustments.
Yordano Ventura’s off-season death has left a hole in the Royals rotation. Although he wasn’t yet a top flight pitcher he had the tools to get there and was set to take a step forward in 2017. Danny Duffy will now be the team’s front line starter as he was extended this off-season to a five year/65 million dollar contract. The lefty had a breakout year which saw saw him strike out almost 10 batters per 9 innings whereas in 2014 to 2015 this was in the 6.5 batters per 9 innings range. The extra 1 Mph uptick on his fastball and extra usage of his change up worked wonders to getting batters to whiff. He did benefit from an 80% strand rate but should be expected to put up another solid ERA and win total in 2017.
Ian Kennedy AKA “my fantasy baseball league’s whore who is added and dropped off waivers every single week, rebounded a bit from a poor 2015 showing with the Padres. Kennedy still walks way too many batters (3 BB/9) and at this point in his career this is unlikely to change. He has top notch strike out ability, but is prone to getting hit hard and often deep. He’s a pitcher who provide innings to the Royals but will give up a lot of runs some games and is more of a back of the rotation talent at this point in his career.
Jason Hammel comes over to KC from the Cubs as a free agent. He had a pretty solid first half in 2016 with Chicago as he had an ERA of 3.6 but he faded a bit near the end of the year and was awful in September. Eventually he was left off the Cubs playoff roster’s and eventually bought out of his 2017 club option. Hammel doesn’t have a lot of upside at this point in his career but he will eat innings. Just like Kennedy he is prone to giving up too many walks and home runs when he is struggling. However unlike Kennedy he does not have the same strike out stuff to get out of those jams. The Royals defense is above average in most positions so that will help a pitch to contact guy like Hammel but he will still get burnt sometimes.
Jason Vargas will attempt to get his career back on track after missing most of the past two seasons after Tommy John surgery. When he was last healthy Vargas was pretty average and was a pitch to contact pitcher. He won’t blow the ball by batters as he is now throwing his fastball in the 86 Mph range. There isn’t a lot of upside here and best case scenario is Vargas can remain healthy to keep a spot in the rotation to eat innings and keep his team in games because his stats will be the definition of mediocre with something like a 4.6 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 6 K/9 rate.
Travis Wood, Chris Young and Nate Karns will all compete for the final rotation spot. Karns was acquired from the Mariners and showed some flashes of potential in select starts. Young has been around the team forever but has little upside left. Travis Wood is another Cubs castaway joining the Royals but he may be bound to the bullpen as the long man when everything is said and done.
When the Royals won the 2015 World Series it was partly due to the strength of their hot bullpen which carried their mediocre rotation to the promise land. Since that championship run a few key names have departed and it’s not as strong as it once was.
The undisputed closer heading into 2017 will now be Kelvin Herrera. With Wade Davis off to the Cubs, Herrera is the defacto closer in the bullpen. For a reliever, he historically never really struck out an impressive amount of batters, but in 2016 he jumped to a 10.75 K/9 rate which was up from 2015’s 8.27 K/9. The other impressive improvement was his walk rate, which was cut in half and down to an excellent 1.5 BB/9 innings. The key to his success was the development of a slider that was previously non-existent in his repertoire. Barring a complete meltdown, Herrera’s improvements appear legit. He throws fast and accurate and now armed with a killer slider he should be a top 10 closer in baseball.
The setup spot will likely go to former Tigers and Rangers closer Joakim Soria. In his first season as a Royal, Soria was a disappointing bullpen arm. Late last season it was noted by Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star that “Royals manager Ned Yost said he’ll monitor Soria’s usage more carefully, giving the reliever more rest between appearances”. He appeared fatigued in 2016 and developed a bit of a walk issue which crept up to 3.65 BB/9. If Herrera falters or is in need of an off-day expect Soria to be the one to get the 9th inning nod.
Young sophomore lefty Matthew Strahmhad an impressive 22 inning debut with the Royals in 2016 where he struck out 30 batters. Strahm received Tommy John surgery in 2013 and doesn’t have a lot of pro innings under his belt. He has the stuff to be a starter but given how many mediocre starters are already signed to the team it’s most likely he begins the season in the pen. Danny Duffy made the transition from the bullpen to front of the rotation and the Royals believe Strahm could follow suit.
After the top three bullpen arms the pen will be filled out likely by the uninspiring likes of Travis Wood whom was mentioned earlier and roster battles by Miguel Almonte, Kyle Zimmer and Peter Moylan.
The Royals defensive unit is still one of the better squads in the American League. But, they do not have the offensive upside to compete with better power hitting teams like Cleveland, Texas, Toronto, and Boston. The starting rotation outside of Danny Duffy is very uninspiring and also lacks upside while the bullpen is a shell of what it once was. I have a hard time seeing Kansas City’s soft hitting contact hitters slash their way to career years like they all did in 2015 thus they will win 78 games in 2017 and miss the playoffs once again.
Danny Duffy – The hard throwing lefty’s time is now and he is the man atop of the rotation in Kansas City. Duffy isn’t someone to anchor your team’s pitching staff but would be a nice SP#3 as he will likely get 12 to 13 wins, an ERA of 3.7, WHIP of 1.2 and 8.3 K/9. His average draft price is around 110th overall which is reasonable.
Eric Hosmer – I already berated Hosmer earlier but he’s being drafted as a fringe top 10 first basemen. His upside is very limited and what you see is what you get. If you expect his 2015 stat line you’ll be disappointed. I expect a drop in RBI’s and home runs from Hosmer albeit the average will slightly rebound. If you draft Hosmer expecting a stat line of .276/.334/.433 with 18 home runs, 75 runs and 88 RBI’s then fine but anything else is unrealistic. I’d rather draft Carlos Santana or Adrian Gonzalez instead.
Jorge Soler – Now that he’s not the shiny new toy on the block his draft price is really low. The kid’s a wildcard and could be a complete bust or a stud. Realistic scenario is that he hits 18 home runs, 67 RBI’s and runs with an average of .260 and OBP of .333. Don’t draft him too high and treat him like a lottery ticket.