I have no reason to be a pessimist about the Kansas City Royals. Pessimists jump out of windows. I am compelled to believe The Process is working. On the surface, 2012 was yet another losing season in a long line of losing seasons. However, there were positive signs in 2012 even if the results on the field were distasteful. Distasteful is better than putrid.
When I look at a baseball season, I like to break it out into a string of 9-game series. Most teams win at least 4 out of every 9 games over a 162 game schedule—18 9-game series or one 9 “inning” game. Even if it was exactly 4 of 9, the Royals won at least 4 out of 9 over a full season for just the seventh time in the last twenty years. This was despite the fact the Royals average of 4.2 runs scored per game was the third worst of the last twenty years. Their average runs allowed of 4.6 was a couple hundredths better than 1994 and the second best of the last twenty years.
Here is how the Royals looked in 2012, by “inning”:
|Top of the First||1-9||3-6||39||49||4.3||5.4|
|Bottom of the First||10-18||1-8||29||38||3.2||4.2|
|Top of the Second||19-27||5-4||36||46||4.0||5.1|
|Bottom of the Second||28-36||6-3||42||33||4.7||3.7|
|Top of the Third||37-45||3-6||31||38||3.4||4.2|
|Bottom of the Third||46-54||6-3||38||34||4.2||3.8|
|Top of the Fourth||55-63||4-5||29||35||3.2||3.9|
|Bottom of the Fourth||64-72||5-4||46||45||5.1||5.0|
|Top of the Fifth||73-81||4-5||44||48||4.9||5.3|
|Bottom of the Fifth||82-90||2-7||43||58||4.8||6.4|
|Top of the Sixth||91-99||2-7||29||46||3.2||5.1|
|Bottom of the Sixth||100-108||4-5||43||41||4.8||4.6|
|Top of the Seventh||109-117||6-3||34||25||3.8||2.8|
|Bottom of the Seventh||118-126||5-4||42||39||4.7||4.3|
|Top of the Eighth||127-135||5-4||37||40||4.1||4.4|
|Bottom of the Eighth||136-144||4-5||52||42||5.8||4.7|
|Top of the Ninth||145-153||5-4||32||39||3.6||4.3|
|Bottom of the Ninth||154-162||2-7||30||50||3.3||5.6|
|Positive Run Differential | Winning Record|
Think about it, the Royals were four tenths of a run per game from having a pythagorean record of 88 wins. They had a bad April and a bad July, but were a solid .500 team the rest of the time. I see this as progress.
Of course, there were negative signs as well. In particular, there was Eric Hosmer. I thumbed through the top rated hitters on baseball-reference.com. And I saw that good hitters, as a rule, did not regress like Eric Hosmer regressed in 2012. Aside from middle infielders, the closest ideal corollary I could find was Ron Santo. As a 20 year old in 1960, Santo’s OPS+ in 382 plate appearances was 97. The next year he put up a 122 OPS+ in 655 plate appearances. Then, in 1962, a 22 year old Santo’s OPS+ over 162 games played and 679 plate appearances was 74. After that, he was comfortably north of league average for 11 years. I do not know what happened to Santo in 1962.
Look at those 1962 Cubs. They had four relatively young Hall of Famers in their lineup: Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Lou Brock, and Santo. George Altman led the team with a 137 OPS+. They had the rookie of the year in Ken Hubbs. They had four starting pitchers put up between 190.2 and 212.0 innings. How many games do you suppose the Cubs lost in 1962? They lost 103. I never would have expected that. But that is the thing about expectations. When reality conflicts with expectations, angst happens.
So, if the Royals are lucky, Eric Hosmer’s career will look like Ron Santo’s. And I cannot help but think about the health of a player—both physical and mental. Even if the Royals have an accurate picture of a player’s health, it is not like they are forthcoming with updates to the public—which is fine. But it means that I can never really know, for certain, the physical or mental disposition of any player. These are important points of reference in prognosticating a player. There is no pundit alive who knows these things.
I do not know the true value of defense, either. But it seems like Hosmer and the rest of the Royals infield might soon be considered the best group, collectively, in the American League. Salvador Perez has played like a monster. I just noticed there are no similarity scores for him on baseball-reference.com. The combination of defense and offense that Perez has displayed is, to me, comparable to some of the best ever. Alcides Escobar also appears to be turning into a special player—virtually any team would be happy to have him. Mike Moustakas got kudos for his defense even as his bat faded. At the beginning of last season, Hosmer, Moustakas, and Perez were still in the minors. I have such warm feels when I think about the potential of the Royals infield as it matures.
Throw in Billy Butler and Alex Gordon with the infield and I think that is a nice collection of players. After May, Alex Gordon was worth every penny of his new contract. He got some black! He led the league in doubles. So here is where the Royals deserve a lot of credit. They have Butler, Gordon, Escobar, and Perez locked up for three, four, five, and seven years, respectively. To me, each one is All-Star caliber. Presumably, Moustakas and Hosmer just need some experience and Lorenzo Cain needs to stay healthy.
Poor Jeff Francoeur can see the writing on the wall. It is spelled “Wil Myers.” Myers was the consensus Minor League Player of the Year in 2012. Frenchy is still a terrific defender—he led the American League in assists—and, in theory, a solid bat against left handed pitching. But that skill abandoned him in 2012. Frenchy still holds a very respectable .820 career OPS in 1329 plate appearances against left handed pitching. Unfortunately, his OPS against lefties in 2012 was .695. Wil Myers looms over Frenchy’s head. Myers played some center, so maybe Lorenzo Cain will be the odd man out, for a time. It will be interesting to see how the outfield looks when the Royals break camp in 2013.
It will also be interesting to see how the pitching staff is composed. The Royals were 18 games under .500 in 2012. They were also 18 games under .500 in games started by Bruce Chen, Will Smith, and Luke Hochevar. However, take away July’s 8.31 ERA and Bruce Chen was basically Bruce Chen—still a worthwhile starting pitcher. Will Smith pitched his best in July and put up a respectable 4.64 ERA after his first three starts. Smith is also tall. He is listed at 6’5”. Luke Hochevar is tall and you cannot coach height. Unfortunately, you cannot coach Hochevar, either. I would like to see Chen and Smith in the rotation, but I hope the Royals cut their ties with Hochevar this off season.
Luis Mendoza’s nearly league average ERA of 4.23 was a nice surprise and I have no problem with him in the rotation. I hate to get hung up on the mythical “number one starter,” because there is a lot of value is guys who give you an even chance to win. The Royals were 12-13 in games started by Mendoza. It was also nice to see the Royals flip Jonathan Sanchez for Jeremy Guthrie. The Royals were 10-4 in games started by Guthrie.
So here is a table of the games started by each pitcher with the corresponding team wins with team runs scored and team runs allowed.
|Positive Run Differential|
Or, put another way…
I will give Bruce Chen the benefit of the doubt and say he had a bad month and was a little unlucky. The Royals had a slightly-below .500 pythagorean record in games started by Will Smith. Jonathan Sanchez was a disaster, but flipping him for Jeremy Guthrie basically put the Royals in the same position had Sanchez pitched respectably. The Royals were an actual .500 team in the 54 games started by Luis Mendoza and the seven other pitchers who make up “Everyone else.” Can I say it again? Luke Hochevar does not give the Royals a fair shot of winning. He tips the field, but in the other team’s favor.
Could the Royals possibly sign Joakim Soria to start, a la John Smoltz? Do they consider Aaron Crow again for the rotation? Can you see the Royals signing Kevin Millwood? Would they seriously consider signing Kyle Lohse to a long term deal? How soon will the Tommy John pitchers be ready? Will Eric Hosmer bounce back? Will Mike Moustakas mash an entire season? Can Lorenzo Cain stay healthy? When will Wil Myers make his Major League debut? Can I seriously go an entire post without mentioning the relief pitching?
To me, the Royals are like a pot of water about to boil over. When Dayton Moore got to Kansas City, the water was cold. He may have turned the heat on in 2006, but it has taken time for talent to percolate. The relief corps are like the tiny bubbles that rise to the top first. Good job, guys! Then Hosmer and Moustakas arrived. Johnny Giavotella is up, but Christian Colon will be nipping on his heels. Wil Myers will be up soon. Bubba Starling will be knocking at the door after that. Then, perhaps, Adalberto Mondesi will follow Starling. Jake Odorizzi will take his place in the rotation. John Lamb will come back. Kyle Zimmer looks promising. Mike Montgomery is still lurking. Noel Arguelles could surprise. And on and on. The churn of talent is unmistakable.
To paraphrase an unnamed Royals executive, one day we will wake up and the Royals will be good. There are just no two ways about it. I am ready for the narrative to change.