Well, that was fun. A year after coming up 90 feet short of a possible title, the Royals wasted no time finishing off the Mets. To commemorate the incredible success of the 2015 Royals, we at Beyond the Box Score would like to reminisce on all our coverage of the team this year. We've analyzed Kansas City and its various contributors quite a bit, and impressively, we occasionally arrived at the correct conclusions in doing so.
Preseason Coverage and Predictions
When BtBS voted on the top players in baseball prior to the season, only one then-Royal made the cut: Alex Gordon, who tied for 28th. Thanks to injuries, he only accrued 2.8 fWAR in 422 plate appearances. The same fate befell midseason pickup Ben Zobrist, as his 2.1 2015 fWAR didn't live up to the 38th-place rank we gave him. Meanwhile, Lorenzo Cain proved that he was here to stay, with 6.6 fWAR that ranked ninth among all position players. So yeah, we whiffed here.
Nor did we perform any better on the team-wide predictions. Of the 14 writers who voted on the final standings, everyone thought the Royals would finish either fourth or fifth in the American League Central. Unfazed by our lack of confidence, the club compiled a 95-67 record in 2015 to earn the top seed in the AL. (Funnily enough, the Twins — our unanimous selection for last place in that division — came in second behind the Royals. The AL was weird this year, man.)
With that said, we did get some stuff right — and by we, I mean Matt Jackson. Back in January, Matt noted that Salvador Perez had worked a lot behind the plate, which he feared could harm his offensive output. Perez continued to catch a lot in 2015, leading all backstops in innings; perhaps uncoincidentally, he also saw his wRC+ fall to a career-low 87. Then again, he slashed .364/.391/.455 en route to World Series MVP honors, so maybe he grew accustomed to the toil.
Two months later, Matt mused on the Royals' rotation sans James Shields, who had spurned them for the Padres. Matt asserted that, without improvements from Yordano Ventura and/or Danny Duffy, the club's starters wouldn't pitch as effectively. Neither of them did especially well, and the rotation did get significantly worse — it placed 18th in RA9-WAR and 22nd in FIP-WAR. Luckily, the incredible dominance of Kansas City's relievers (they had the third-most RA9-WAR ever!!!) compensated for subpar starters.
Speaking of the bullpen, Matt also noticed some intriguing streaks from there in the offseason. Both Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis entered the year with long active stretches of home run-free ball. Herrera's streak came to an end on May 5th, at a team-record 105.1 innings. Spitting on that, Davis sustained his streak until August 1st; the final length of 125.2 innings shattered Herrera's mark. Herrera and Davis each excelled out of the bullpen for a second straight season, with 3.6 and 1.6 RA9-WAR, respectively.
They received some assistance in that effort, from an unlikely source. Luke Hochevar, whom Brandon Decker profiled in early April, made a moderately fruitful comeback from 2014 Tommy John surgery. Despite diminished velocity, Hochevar managed to accumulate 0.3 RA9-WAR over 50.2 innings. He did even better in the postseason, with 8.2 scoreless frames.
Oh, and one more for Matt. After the Royals extended Ventura in April, Matt approved but worried that Ventura could hurt himself. Aside from a nerve problem in June, Ventura didn't miss much time from maladies; however, he did have an inconsistent year overall (more on that later).
Player Profiles & Team Analysis
After the Royals surged out of the gates in April, Chris Teeter investigated teams with similarly hot starts. Unsurprisingly, he concluded that such play generally coincides with a winning season, as the Royals and their 95 victories bore out.
Several days later, Chris investigated Paulo Orlando, whose five triples over eight games had played an integral role in the club's early explosion. The small sample size prevented Chris from making any broad statements regarding Orlando, but he did deem him an intriguing player to watch. Since then, Orlando tacked on 14 doubles (along with another triple), helping him accrue 1.0 fWAR across 251 plate appearances.
In May, Eric Garcia McKinley dove into Mike Moustakas's unusual breakout, which had also contributed to the prosperity in Kansas City. Eric remarked that Moustakas probably wouldn't sustain the pace at which he had hit to that point, and sure enough, Moustakas put up a 120 wRC+ over the rest of the campaign (compared to 138 at the time of Eric's article). Nevertheless, he did have a superb 2015 overall, with 3.8 fWAR — the most of his career — in 614 trips to the dish.
Not everything went the Royals' way, though. A few weeks after Eric's writing, Nicolas Stellini covered Perez and his unwavering refusal to take a walk. That trend didn't disappear: For 2015 as a whole, Perez notched nine unintentional free passes in his 553 plate appearances. Despite that, Perez made it to the Midsummer Classic, causing Nick to probe his production again. He dubbed Perez overrated yet solid, which seems to fit a 1.6-fWAR All Star.
In early August, Dan Weigel noticed Ventura's inadequate play and posited about the cause. Dan saw that Ventura had struggled with runners on base, which meant he had only stranded 65.5 percent of his runners. Maybe Ventura implemented the mechanical changes Dan suggested, because from then on out he left on 82.3 percent of the men who reached against him. That helped him shave nearly three runs off his ERA, from 5.29 before Dan's article to 2.38 after. Notably, Ventura didn't carry that success over to the postseason, where his 72.4 percent strand rate helped lead to a 6.43 ERA (more on that later as well).
And finally, Nick tried to find another one-dimensional player like Terrance Gore. Of the five tools, Gore only has one — and a lot of it: speed. He didn't display it as much in 2015, as he went three-for-three on stolen bases in the regular season, along with a one-for-two performance in the playoffs. However, he'll begin 2016 as a 24-year-old, and without any injuries holding him back, he could always do this again.
The Royals didn't hesitate to improve via trade, dealing several prospects for Johnny Cueto a few days before the deadline. Kevin Ruprecht analyzed the swap, which helped the team while signaling a major departure from the old Royals mantra of building from the farm system. Two days later, a roundtable of Kevin, Michael Bradburn, and Tom O'Donnell reached largely the same verdict. Cueto didn't live up to expectations, however, with only 0.5 RA9-WAR for Kansas City in the regular season and a 5.40 ERA over four postseason starts.
Luckily, the club's other import fared much better. After the Royals made a move for Ben Zobrist, Steven Martano praised the deal, speaking highly of Zobrist's defensive versatility and potentially formidable bat. For Kansas City, Zobrist made 33 regular-season starts at second base, along with 20 in the outfield, on his way to 1.2 fWAR. What's more, he dominated at the plate in the playoffs, batting at a rate 33 percent above average and tying the all-time mark for postseason doubles.
The Run to October
Kevin took a look in mid-August at several players from contending clubs that could make waves in October. One of those players, Gordon, returned to the lineup at the beginning of September. He didn't hit especially well thereafter, with a 89 wRC+ in the remainder of the regular season and a 116 wRC+ in the postseason. But his bat did come around when it mattered the most, smashing a ninth-inning home run to save the Royals in the World Series's first game.
In the final days of the regular season, Steven reminded us that momentum (as gauged by a team's performance in the time preceding the playoffs) doesn't really exist. No team better epitomized that in 2015 than the Royals: After floundering their way to a 15-17 record after September 1st, they went 11-6 in the time that mattered.
In winning the Fall Classic, Kansas City largely followed the formula that Dan established for them — an elite bullpen, superb defense, and blazing speed. Of course, the 17 writers we polled took the pessimistic view: None of them picked the Royals to even make it to the World Series, much less to win it all. It's almost as though randomness reigns supreme in October.
On that somewhat nihilistic note, I'll direct you to an article from Henry Druschel regarding managerial actions. Henry scrutinized a few moves in Game 2 of the ALCS, demonstrating that regardless of what Ned Yost (and John Gibbons) did, the result would likely remain the same.
That isn't to say that the Royals didn't deserve their title. Last Tuesday, Matt celebrated the whiff-iness of Herrera and some of his cohorts; on that same day, Nick singled out the unbelievable play of Davis in particular; and on Saturday, Dan explored the dominant fastball that Chris Young rode to his 2.87 postseason ERA. Despite a poor showing from Ventura — the probable causes of which Kevin outlined on Tuesday as well — this squad pitched very well in the playoffs, and it paid off.
Now that 2015 has drawn to a close, Cueto can explore the free agent market. Whether or not the Royals try to bring him back, they'll offer him a much cheaper contract than they would have at midseason. Nick correctly argued two weeks ago that, although Cueto will become rich in the months to come, his poor play with Kansas City will rob him of millions in potential earnings.
With or without Cueto, the Royals don't appear to have much chance of repeating. Last week, Tom dissected their relatively gloomy Steamer projections for 2016; Nick observed the current roster a day later and felt the same way. Even given the fact that the Royals topped all predictions this year (as we've seen in this post), this still doesn't look good.
But why worry about that now? No matter what transpires in 2016 and beyond, the Royals will still have their second crown, erasing 29 years of hardship. Enjoy this season, Kansas City — you've earned it.
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