The Royals of the 2014 and 2015 seasons were one of the most fascinating teams in baseball history. The team had a subpar starting rotation, and the offense did not hit for much power. It is hard to be competitive with those deficiencies, but the Royals made up for it like perhaps no other team ever has. They had a historically good defense, a historically good bullpen, and historically good contact rates for the era. We will probably never see a team like that again. It is too unique. An incomprehensible amount of luck would be needed to replicate such a team.
Defense ages well, barring injury, and the Royals were still one of the better fielding teams last year. Bullpen success and high contact rates, on the other hand, are much harder to maintain. They were still very good last year — the bullpen ranked third in baseball with a 3.71 RA9, and the lineup was tied for ninth in strikeout rate at 20.2 percent. The problem was that those numbers were headed in the wrong direction. Their run average was ~0.8 runs higher over the year before, and their strikeout rate was 33 percent higher. All this while the power outage was not getting better, and the starting pitching was actually getting worse.
Right now, the Royals have the worst record in the AL. The lack of power is still there, but at least the starting rotation is a bit better, though that is largely the result of Danny Duffy’s continued excellence and Jason Vargas’s unsustainable hot streak, despite the changes he has made. Their strikeout rate is roughly the same as last season, but they rank a bit lower overall.
What has really gone in the other direction is Kansas City’s bullpen. Its 5.17 RA9 ranks 24th in the majors. Mike Minor and Joakim Soria have shined, but everyone else, not so much. Even Kelvin Herrera, once the beginning of the HDH murderer’s row, has a 4.26 RA9, though he has had some terrible HR/FB luck.
The Royals have one of the worst offenses in baseball. Their 3.37 R/G is dead last. Their offense is tied with the Padres for second to last in baseball when correcting for league and park effects. You don’t want to be comparable to the Padres in anything.
I was surprised to see a couple of K.C. players hitting surprisingly well. Salvador Pérez is hitting .280/.321/.547 with 11 HR, and Eric Hosmer is hitting .309/.372/.430. Mike Moustakas already has 10 HR, but his sub-.300 OBP is weighing his total offense down.
Kansas City’s offense has become an extreme stars-and-scrubs group in 2017. Alcides Escobar has bottomed out with a .180/.208/.230 triple-slash. In the second year of his four-year extension, Alex Gordon has a horrendous .175/.294/.212 line. The Royals have three players — Cheslor Cuthbert, Raúl Mondesí, and Paulo Orlando — with 40 plate appearances and a negative wRC+. Pérez and Hosmer can’t score all the runs on their own.
Early this year I wrote about how the Royals might have one last shot before their window closed. I can’t say I blame them for not trying to go for it. I am basing this on a season that has not even reached June yet, but I can’t see what they could have done in the offseason to field a competitive team.
If the Royals finish well below .500, which they likely will, they are going to have some tough choices to make. They should let Hosmer and Escobar walk, and extend a qualifying offer to Lorenzo Cain, though I would try trading him at the trade deadline. If Duffy keeps pitching anywhere close to how he has been since 2016, he could fetch a nice return with the team-friendly contract he is on.
Pérez would be an interesting trade chip if they want to go full Astros on their rebuild. He is only 27 years old and on a super-affordable contract. The thing is that I am not so sure that other teams would value him as much as the Royals do. Most clubs really prioritize pitch-framing these days, and Pérez has always been poor at that skill. Furthermore, K.C. likely value Pérez’s behind-the-scenes work more than other teams will. Let’s face it — they would have to get a big haul for him to offset the fan outrage over parting with him, not that teams should be making decisions based solely on what fans will think.
Rebuilding is going to be tough. Both Keith Law and Baseball Prospectus have the Royals farm system ranked in the bottom five. On the bright side, some of their prospects are said to have a lot of upside. Kansas City has never been one to spend big in free agency, so developing a strong farm system is critical for future success.
Hopefully the Royals will make some good decisions and have some strong drafts in the coming years so that they are not uncompetitive for long. I am sure that winning the World Series bought the Royals a lot of goodwill from their fans. They will be happy about that for a long time, and they should be.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.