Last Updated: 2019-03-04
Everybody knew that 2018 was going to be a long year for the Kansas City Royals. Sharp bettors pummeled the under, even though it was already a low number and a dramatic departure from what we had seen from the 2015 World Champs in recent seasons. Those sharp bettors were validated in a big way, as the Royals came nowhere near their season win total and finished with just 58 wins and 104 losses.
The 2017 Royals were under .500 for the first time since 2012 and the 2018 team became the fifth installment of the Royals to lose 100 games. All five instances have happened since Y2K. Is it possible that a sixth one is coming this season?
The 2018 Royals were up against it from the start. Free agent Lorenzo Cain signed with the Brewers and Eric Hosmer inked a mega deal with the Padres. Jason Vargas, who was third on the 2017 Royals in Baseball-Reference’s calculation of WAR, went to the Mets. Mike Minor signed with the Rangers.
Mike Moustakas signed a one-year deal after there was little interest in him in the open market, but he was traded to Milwaukee during the season. Kelvin Herrera was jettisoned to Washington.
Add it all up and the Royals were uncompetitive most days and failed to win 60 games. Seven starters made at least 13 starts and Brad Keller was the only one with an ERA under 4.26. Whit Merrifield was the only above average regular until Adalberto Mondesi started getting penciled into the lineup every day.
Ned Yost is still around, but the 63-year-old seems to be a somewhat reluctant captain of the SS Rebuild. Some have speculated that Yost will retire after the season and was convinced by Dayton Moore to stick around one more year. He’ll do so as the remnants of the World Series team devolve into a pile of rubble.
There was some chatter over the fall and winter that the Royals would go full-fledged rebuild and trade top asset Whit Merrifield while his value was sky high. That didn’t happen, and Merrifield signed an extension, but this is an organization mostly devoid of young talent. Merrifield is already 29. Mondesi is 22 and the best young player in the organization, but years of being a buyer at the deadline stripped the minors of impact talent and young Major League-ready talent.
With an infusion of speed, the Royals could be fun to watch in the field and on the bases, but that would be about it. It looks like another long year in the Land of Some Damn Good BBQ.
Season Win Total Odds
2018 Standings Data
Actual Record: 58-104
Run Differential: -195
Pythagorean W/L: 62-100
BaseRuns Record: 64-98
BaseRuns Run Differential: -166 (4.09/5.12)
3rd Order Win% Record: 57.9-104.1
Record in One-Run Games: 19-30
Additions: Billy Hamilton, Chris Owings, Terrance Gore, Brad Boxberger, Jake Diekman, Sam McWilliams, Chris Ellis, Taylor Featherston, Conner Greene, Michael Ynoa, Homer Bailey, Drew Storen
Losses: Alcides Escobar, Jason Hammel, Rosell Herrera
In a lot of ways, these are all additions for the Royals. Losing Alcides Escobar is addition by subtraction. While “Esky” will always have a special place in the hearts and minds of Royals fans, he ranks 230th out of 238 qualified players in fWAR dating back to 2016. Three of the other five served as designated hitters and two of them have retired. The one that is still active is Albert Pujols.
You have to hand it to Dayton Moore. The Royals aren’t going to be very good, but at least they will be exciting. Billy Hamilton and Terrance Gore are both burners on the bags. The problem is that neither one of them can get on base regularly. Chris Owings can actually run a little bit, too.
With that trio plus Adalberto Mondesi and Whit Merrifield, the Royals are going to raise hell on the bases. Of course, the problem in this equation is that you can’t steal first base.
BA: .245 (18th)
OBP: .305 (24th)
SLG: .392 (24th)
wOBA: .303 (25th)
wRC+: 88 (23rd)
BABIP: .293 (20th)
K%: 21.6% (10th)
BB%: 7.0% (28th)
The last sentence of my breakdown of the Royals and their offseason transactions is the most important point to make about this offense. Teams are always seeking out inefficiencies. For the Indians, they’re looking to kill the opposition with walks. The Brewers mastered contact management for pitchers. The Blue Jays are getting a bunch of ground ball pitchers for a ballpark that suppresses ground ball batting average. The Tigers are playing to their home park with a ton of fly ball pitchers.
The Royals are going to run like the wind.
It makes a ton of sense for a team that has virtually no power and not many guys that draw walks. They’re hoping to leg out some infield hits and then turn those singles into doubles and doubles into triples. Only four teams hit fewer homers than the Royals and pitchers bat regularly for two of them. We saw the fewest number of stolen bases ever in a full 162-game season last year, so maybe that is an inefficiency. Salvador Perez was the only consistent power threat for the Royals. He’s out for the year following Tommy John surgery.
Unfortunately, as I said above, you can’t steal first base. Whit Merrifield is the only regular projected to have a batting average well above .250 and is one of the few Royals that draws walks. Adalberto Mondesi has good power and speed, but is also a free swinger that will post a decent batting average and a below average OBP. A healthy Jorge Soler would help out the middle of the order. Beyond those three, the offensive upside of the Royals is limited. Billy Hamilton will steal bases, but he also won’t get to be on the bases often. Brett Phillips is a good defender, but an unproven hitter at the MLB level.
Among the Royals that had at least 100 plate appearances last season, only Jon Jay (not there anymore) and Whit Merrifield hit better than .277. Five players had an OBP over .320. Jay, Merrifield, Jorge Soler, Ryan O’Hearn, and Alex Gordon. It doesn’t take a long wingspan to reach the ceiling for this position player group, even with such a low floor.
Along with stolen base prowess, the Royals will be one of the better defensive teams in baseball, especially in the outfield.
ERA: 4.95 (29th)
FIP: 4.66 (26th)
xFIP: 4.63 (27th)
K%: 18.4% (29th)
BB%: 8.7% (20th)
LOB%: 70.6% (24th)
Which brings me to the pitching staff. This group needs all the help it can get. The defense will boost some of the numbers, but, as you can see, this is a group that ranked in the bottom 10 in just about every pitching category last season. Danny Duffy is the de facto ace, but he battled discomfort and mechanical problems last season to post subpar numbers and a 10.1 percent walk rate with 14 wild pitches.
Jake Junis is a guy that I really do like, but consistency has been an issue for him. Junis allowed a .487 SLG and 24 HR before the All-Star Break. He settled down in the second half, but June and July crippled him as the temperatures warmed up and the ball started carrying better at Kauffman Stadium.
Some scribes are high on Brad Keller, though I have a hard time backing most guys that fail to miss bats. Keller worked 140.1 innings with a 3.08 ERA, a 3.55 FIP, and a 4.26 xFIP. The margin for error is thin with Keller, who is going to have to maintain an extremely low HR/FB% to be effective. There were 88 pitchers that worked at least 140 innings last season. Keller’s GB% was second among that group. Among the top 20 in GB%, only three posted a HR/FB% below 10 percent. One was Keller. The others were Miles Mikolas and Noah Syndergaard. Keller isn’t on that level.
The pitching concerns don’t stop with the bullpen. In fact, they become even more of a big deal. Wily Peralta is slated to get the first crack at saves, but we’ll see how long that lasts. He is the only reliever with some swing and miss upside, which is mostly because he throws hard.
Some of the upside for the rotation is canceled out by just how bad this bullpen could be. Collectively, the FanGraphs Depth Charts projection system rates this bullpen at -0.6 fWAR. That is bad. Like, really bad. Like probably worst bullpen in baseball bad. Even with late signees Brad Boxberger, who really fell off in the second half of last season, and Jake Diekman, this is a subpar bullpen.
Pair that with a below average rotation and an offense that won’t get on base enough to use its biggest weapon and it looks like another very long season for the Royals.
Positives & Negatives
I always admire teams that look to do something outside of the box. For the Royals, that is their speed game. They might as well be hyper-aggressive all season long in hopes of covering up the clear shortcomings of their offense in the power department. A high enough stolen base rate should make them a more competitive team, though it probably won’t translate to wins.
Ned Yost seems to have agreed to give Dayton Moore one more season. The last couple of years have been emotional for the Royals and their fans as the core of the World Series teams has hit the aging curve or moved on to different organizations. This season almost seems like a victory lap for Ned’s achievements and accomplishments. To me, that just makes it a wasted season without trying the new direction that so many other bottom-feeders are trying.
Pick: Under 69.5
I say this in the most loving of ways. The Royals are going to be a pain in the ass to play against. They’re going to be annoying. They’re going to run down balls in the outfield that should be doubles and they’re going to torment pitchers and catchers with their ability to run the bases.
They’re also going to blow the leads that they get and not get on base a whole lot. Kansas City won’t be a pushover. The Royals just won’t be good enough most nights. They won’t be outscored by almost 200 runs, but they’re also not going to be 11 games better than last season.
Potential gains for Duffy and Junis could be replaced by regression for Keller and the bullpen as a whole. The Royals season win total under got crushed last season by people that were (correctly) against this team. I don’t think we’ll see the same thing this season because projection systems will respect the defense quite a bit.
As I’ve mentioned before, unders with teams that I know are going to be bad aren’t bets that I’m going to make very often. The margin for error just isn’t there. That being said, this is a team where a ton of things need to go right to avoid 95 or more losses and I’m pretty confident that those things don’t go right.
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