Kansas City Royals 2013 Team Preview: Oh Wait They Might Not Be That Bad After All
2012 Record: 72-90, 3rd place in AL Central
Manager: Ned Yost
SS Alcides Escobar
LF Alex Gordon
1B Eric Hosmer
DH Billy Butler
C Salvador Perez
3B Mike Moustakas
RF Jeff Francoeur
CF Lorenzo Cain
2B Chris Getz
One of the weird things about the Kansas City Royals of late is that once you stop thinking of them as a complete joke and more as the team that finished fairly safely in the middle of the division, you begin to realize how not-all-that-bad the individual players actually are. If we can ignore Jeff Francoeur for a second, because his awfulness is underrated if anything, then you can notice that the only other returning starter with a negative bWAR in 2012 was Eric Hosmer, who was 22 years old.
With this team, the phrase “returning starters” might be a bit meaningless, as literally every starting player returns for the 2013 season, as does their top bench player. They’re also all young, as none of the ten returning players was even in their age-29 season. This includes Lorenzo Cain (now 27), Mike Moustakas (24), Eric Hosmer (23), and Salvador Perez (23).
Moustakas and Hosmer have yet to definitively prove to be capable with the bat, as Hosmer’s power is nowhere near what you would expect from a starting first baseman, and neither of their OBPs are what you would want from, well, any starter. Thankfully, Hosmer has shown that he has already developed an ability to draw walks, and as his bat progresses, it is likely he will begin to draw even more. His rookie season in 2011, on the other hand, was very strong, and I, like many in the Kansas City organization, believe that season to be the norm and 2012 the anomaly. Moustakas has yet to have a good season at the plate (though he adds a lot of value in the field), but he significantly improved his power from 2011 to 2012 (knocking 20 HR last year), and I believe this to be a trend. Given both players’ age, their past performance, and year-to-year improvement in important categories, I can’t find a reason to think that either will regress or plateau this season.
Let’s get to Salvador Perez, though. Perez, in 463 plate appearances over parts of two major league seasons, has a career line of .311/.339/..471 with a 121 OPS+. I’ll admit that his lack of walks can be considered troubling, but that can be a skill that is learned with age, and his power won’t be going anywhere. In fact, in 2012 he ranked 7th in SLG for catchers with at least 300 PA. Though he finished outside the top-ten for many of the all-encompassing advanced hitting stats, his fielding was better than any of the catchers ranked above him, outside of Buster Posey and Yadier Molina. We can safely assume that unless he suffers a significant injury, he will play much more than the 76 games he appeared in last season. He’ll have what people consider a breakout year next season, but many will neglect to mention that he has been a strong hitter, and a complete player, for his entire MLB career to this point. He’ll turn 23 years old in May. Salvador Perez is going to be an awesome player.
At this point, it would just be burying the lede if I neglected to mention Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, who have both shed “bust” labels given to them earlier in their careers. Though we might disagree on how much value a designated hitter actually has, there is no denying that Butler is one of the best, ranking third at the position with a 3.2 fWAR in 2012, and putting up a 140 OPS+ and 29 HR. Gordon, too, has become one of the best in MLB at his position, ranking eighth among major league outfielders (as a whole) in fWAR, aided by a .294/.368/.455 batting line with a 125 OPS+. He, like Moustakas, Perez, and Cain, also made a significant portion of his value through fielding, and Gordon would show up on any list of the best defensive outfielders as well. Butler and Gordon are the stars of this team, and if their production showed up in a lineup or franchise more suited for mainstream attention, you’d be hearing them be treated as such.
The pitching, though, is a bit more of a question mark. That is to say, outside of newly-acquired James Shields, who will probably have another good year (you know the old phrase: strikeout-to-walk ratio don’t lie), the production levels of most of the rotation is going to be hard to predict. Shields, despite not always having a great ERA, has the twelfth-highest K/BB ratio in the history of baseball. Which is promising, until you realize that the reason he can have such a high ERA is because he has occasionally been prone to giving up hits and home runs, even though he has had pitcher-loving Tropicana Field and its long fences as a home park for his entire career. Pitching at neutral Kauffman Stadium will be an interesting exercise in park factors.
Behind him in the rotation will be Jeremy Guthrie, who pitched very well in 91 innings for Kansas City in 2012 after a trade from Colorado. This followed a string of mediocrity for Guthrie, who has not been a particularly productive pitcher since 2008. I can’t say I’d expect him to be any better than average in the upcoming season.
Following Guthrie will be Ervin Santana, Wade Davis, and Bruce Chen. Santana, in his first season away from the Los Angeles Angels is a bit of an enigma, in that he has wide performance swings from year-to-year, without much predictability. Once a good strikeout pitcher who gave up few home runs, in 2012 he was…well, the opposite of that. Wade Davis pitched 70.1 great innings for Tampa Bay in 2012, but the small sample size, in addition to his ridiculously-improved to the point of anomaly strikeout race, makes it hard to tell whether that type of production can be sustained. He’ll probably be good again, but I can’t expect him to be an All-Star caliber player. Bruce Chen also suffered a downturn in 2012, but at age 35, he is likely going through his natural regression stage. Santana and Davis will likely average out somewhere in the 95-105 ERA+ range, but Chen will be a “true” fifth starter.
Bottom Line: The Royals won’t be nearly as bad as most people expect them to be, due to their underrated talent at multiple positions. However, where other AL Central teams improved through acquisitions, the Royals will have to get individual player progression. They’ll challenge either the White Sox or Indians for third in the division, but they won’t get too far this season.