Kansas City Royals
The Royals aren’t very good. They will, however, be quite entertaining. They’re going to attempt to steal a lot of bases and we’ll have a lot to watch with Adalberto Mondesi, Billy Hamilton, and Whit Merrifield. Also, I caught an inning of a Spring Training game recently and saw Jorge Soler vaporize a baseball.
Salvador Perez is done for the year, but the Royals really don’t lose much with Martin Maldonado. In fact, they upgrade defensively. Perez’s power will be missed, but Maldonado will fit right in as a guy with some pop that rarely walks. Although, looking at Maldonado, he walked at a decent clip from 2014-16 and then forgot how to draw walks in 2017 and 2018.
Anyway, the Royals failed to win 60 games last season. They were 18-56 against teams .500 or better. Like the Tigers, they were competitive against bad teams with a 40-48 record against sub-.500 foes. The Royals were 39-74 against right-handed pitching. Only the Orioles won fewer games in that split. Things, quite frankly, were even worse until the Royals went 17-13 over their last 30 games.
A lackluster rotation and a lineup that won’t get on base much will make it tough to back the Royals a lot this season. The bullpen is bordering on the worst in baseball as well, though Kyle Zimmer and the late signings of Brad Boxberger and Jake Diekman could pay dividends.
Money Line Spots
But, unless you want to lay heavy chalk to fade the Royals, you’ll be looking for some spots to play them. After all, just about every team wins 60 games at a minimum. It goes without saying that the Royals will have some interest against starting pitchers that don’t hold runners and catchers that can’t throw them out. Via FanGraphs’s Depth Charts projections, the Royals are projected for +16.1 BsR, which is FG’s all-encompassing baserunning metric. The problem, of course, is that you can’t steal first.
So, we’re going to need Kansas City to be able to get runners on. For that, we’ll need pitch-to-contact starters on bad defensive teams. Those aren’t hard to find in the AL and they aren’t hard to find in the division either.
As far as fading the Royals, be prepared to pay up for it.
This will be a solid defensive team, particularly in the outfield. Alex Gordon can still go and get it in his mid-30s. We all know what Billy Hamilton brings defensively. Jorge Soler is not a very good outfielder, so he’ll likely DH more often than not. If Brett Phillips makes the team, he’ll be good out there. Brian Goodwin isn’t bad either.
Like the Tigers, this is a team that is tough to line from a totals standpoint. The pitching staff isn’t very good, but neither is the offense. The Royals were 82-70-10 to the under. Baltimore was 83-73-6 to the under. Detroit was 83-71-8 to the under. Teams with really bad pitching staffs are seeing inflated totals. I would expect there to be under value more often than not on Kansas City.
Individual Players to Watch
Brad Keller – A lot of people in the sabermetric community seem higher on him than I am. The 23-year-old is an extreme ground ball dude with poor K/BB peripherals. His GB% last year was 54.4 percent. He managed to carry just a 6.1 percent HR/FB%, which is stunningly low for a guy with that ground ball rate. Fifteen pitchers with at least 100 innings posted a GB% of 50 percent or higher. Keller had the lowest HR/FB%. The second-lowest was Ty Blach at 9.1 percent. He pitches for the Giants. The next lowest was Mike Montgomery at 9.5 percent.
The problem is that Keller will be a market-wide fade because he had a 3.08 ERA with a 4.26 xFIP. The other problem is that Keller is probably the best starter in this rotation. Danny Duffy is hurt again and unless Jake Junis wants to throw his slider 50 percent of the time, he’ll simply be average. We have to back somebody on this team, right?
Jake Junis – Junis is one of those guys I can’t let go. He had a 4.37 ERA with a 4.64 FIP and a 4.13 xFIP in 177 innings last season. His 16.2 percent HR/FB% should come down this season. He improved his strikeout rate and cut down his walk rate. Except for the high home run rate, all of his peripherals graded out as average.
Junis throws a garbage fastball. It was -10.8 runs per FG Pitch Values last season and -10 runs per Pitch Info Solutions when you combine the four-seam and the sinker. Junis’s slider, though, graded out above average. He increased the usage from 32.6 percent to 40.1 percent last season. If we can get Junis to learn a cutter or develop more depth to his changeup or curveball, he might be more useful. He did throw more sinkers last season and increased his GB% from 40.1 percent to 42 percent. That is a positive development for a guy with a home run problem.
As the year went on, Junis got better with home run prevention. He allowed 24 in 101.2 innings in the first half with a .487 SLG against. He allowed eight in 75.1 innings in the second half with a .410 SLG against. I get the feeling I’m going to lose a lot of money on him this season, but I will look to play him against teams that don’t hit homers.
Jorge Soler – It’s been one thing after another for Soler, but he was off to a .265/.354/.466 start last season with a .354 wOBA and a 123 wRC+ before a season-ending injury. With the structure of the Royals lineup, Soler as a run producer in the middle of it could change the complexion for this offense. For his sake, I hope he stays healthy.