2013 American League Preview: Kansas City Royals

Tim Umphrey

Let's Go Tribe's look at the Indians' competition around the American League continues with the Kansas City Royals, who believe they're ready to contend in 2013.

Kansas City Royals

2012 Record: 72-90 (3rd in A.L. Central), 10-8 vs. Cleveland

676 runs scored (12th of 14 in A.L.), 746 runs allowed (10th of 14 in A.L.)

The Royals have had just one winning season since 1994, an 83-79 campaign in 2003. Since then, they've lost an average of 95 games a year. They managed to build up one of the best farm systems in baseball though, heading into the 2011 season it was talked about as perhaps the strongest system by any team in the previous decade. That year some of those prospects began to make their way to the big league team and many thought they would take a big step forward in 2012, perhaps even contending for the division title, if enough of that young talent proved to be ready.

Instead, in their sixth game of the year, Kansas City started a 12-game losing streak that left them with a 3-14 record and seven games out of 1st. Their record improved (they had a winning record in May and again in June), but never got completely back into the mix and a dreadful July sank them. A 3rd place finish is a better result than the Royals have gotten in most recent years, but it wasn't what they had in mind last season and it isn't what they have in mind for 2013.

2012 good news:

Alex Gordon continued his resurgence with a second straight strong season. He led the American League with 51 doubles and played the best defense of any left fielder in baseball.

Billy Butler (who is still only 26 years old) had another good year with the bat, leading the team in hits (192), home runs (29), RBI (107), and OPS+ (140).

After being out until late June with an injury, Salvador Perez showed why he's one of the most highly regarded young catchers in baseball, with a 117 OPS+ in 76 games at the age of just 22.

Alcides Escobar provided average defense at shortstop, while putting up league average numbers on offense. That may not sound like much, but league average hitting is really above average for a shortstop. Mike Moustakas played strong defense at third base and showed developing power. These two could give Kansas City a good left side of the infield for the next few years.

Jeremy Guthrie pitched well after being acquired during the season. His ERA of 3.16 (130 ERA+) was far better than that of any of the five other pitchers who started at least ten games for Kansas City.

The bullpen was strong, with four pitchers throwing 60+ innings with an ERA below 3.50.

2012 bad news:

Jeff Francoeur regressed substantially, falling off from his strong 2011 to become one of the worst regulars in baseball. His OPS+ of 81 was second worst among A.L. outfielders and his defense wasn't good either.

After finishing 3rd in the 2011 Rookie of the Year voting, Eric Hosmer saw his numbers fall off a cliff in 2012 (especially in the season's first half). His 82 OPS+ was the worst of any first baseman in baseball.

Aside from Guthrie, the starting rotation was very weak. Four pitchers started at least fifteen games for the Royals and none of them were even league average (sound familiar, Tribe fans?). Luke Hochevar had an ERA of 5.73 and an ERA+ of 71. That was the worst in the American League, even worse than Ubaldo Jimenez.

Another losing season further wore the already thin patience of many Kansas City fans and threatened the job security of key decision makers in the front office. When a front office has little job security, longterm planning often goes out the window, leading to decisions that might improve the team immediately in the hopes that such success will lead to continued employment. Such decisions are rarely wise for small market teams.

Key off-season additions:

Wade Davis (SP), Ervin Santana (SP), James Shields (SP)

Key off-season departures:

Wil Myers (OF), Joakim Soria (RP)

2013 Payroll: ~$80 million

Projected 2013 Starting Lineup (with ZiPS fWAR projection):

Pos

Player

Projected WAR

C

Salvador Perez

3

1B

Eric Hosmer

2

2B

Chris Getz

1

3B

Mike Moustakas

3

SS

Alcides Escobar

3

LF

Alex Gordon

4

CF

Lorenzo Cain

2

RF

Jeff Francoeur

1

DH

Billy Butler

4

TOTAL

23

Indian Killer:

Alex Gordon - 333 PA, .278/.369/.444, .813 OPS, 8 HR, 44 R, 34 RBI

That's pretty mild as "killing" goes, but Gordon's numbers against the Tribe are better than those of any other Royal. Somehow the Indians still lost 10 games to Kansas City last season.

Projected 2013 Starting Rotation/Bullpen (with ZiPS fWAR projection):

Pos

Player

Projected WAR

1

James Shields

3

2

Jeremy Guthrie

2

3

Ervin Santana

1

4

Wade Davis

2

5

Luis Mendoza

1

RP

Bullpen

4

TOTAL

13

Team Projections:

PECOTA: 76-86 (4th in Central), 720 runs scored, 774 runs allowed

Cairo: 80-82 (3rd in Central), 723 runs scored, 734 runs allowed

2013 outlook:

The Royals decision to trade outfield super-prospect Wil Myers for James Shields (also getting Wade Davis for their rotation, but also giving up solid pitching prospect Jake Odorizzi) is one I strongly disagree with. Shields has been very durable (200+ innings in six straight seasons) and has been very, very good at times (2011, for example). He's not David Price though, and while he's signed for 2013 and 2014 at a combined $21 (very reasonable), Wil Myers is one of the very best prospects in baseball, someone with the potential to provide solid MLB production right now, and to develop into a star in the next couple years.

Perhaps Royals GM Dayton Moore feared he wouldn't be around in a couple years, and felt the need to do anything in his power to put a winning team on the field in 2013. I'm not convinced the trade adds more than a one or two wins to their 2013 total though, and they may have lost 20-25 wins from the other years they controlled Myers for. Many Indians fans talk about Shapiro/Antonetti being at risk if the team doesn't perform well, but I see Kansas City's front office as having its collective necks the farthest out there this year.

There's a lot to like from the Royals lineup, all of which is still in its twenties. If Eric Hosmer gets back on the track he was on before last year and their other young players keep up what they had going last year, only 2B and RF look like soft spots (if only they had a stud prospect who could take over RF...). Their run scoring ought to go up, landing somewhere pretty close to league average. As a group, they play strong defense as well, with Gordon, Moustakas, Perez, and Cain each among the five or so best at their position.

The pitching, on the other hand, still looks weak to me. Shields provides a nice boost, but he's not an ace (not that the Royals are the only team in the Central without an ace), and the rest of that bunch is pretty shaky looking. I don't think Guthrie will stay on the roll he was on in the second half last year, Ervin Santana was one of the worst starters in baseball last season and his numbers aren't likely to look better going form one of the better pitching parks to Kansas City (a very neutral stadium). The bullpen should be good again, but the rotation would need a stronger offense behind it in order to compete. If the Royals get big improvements from a number of their hitters, they could have that sort of lineup, but I'm not counting on it.

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