It feels good to be back.
Alex Gordon-LF, Alcides Escobar-SS, Billy Butler-DH, Mike Moustakas-3B, Salvador Perez-C, Eric Hosmer-1B, Jeff Francoeur-RF, Lorenzo Cain-CF, Chris Getz-2B. Bench: George Kottaras-C, Jarrod Dyson-OF, Miguel Tejada-INF, Elliot Johnson-INF.
This is an offense that finished 12th in the American League in runs per game last year and they didn't really go out and get anyone to improve it, unless you consider Miguel Tejada to be an improvement. Since I'm not in high school anymore, I don't. The Royals are going to need their young bats to improve to have any chance of actually contending like they think they will. Alex Gordon proved that his breakout 2011 season was no fluke last year. The former top prospect never turned into the next George Brett, but I think most teams would be happy with a left fielder who continually cracks the 6-WAR barrier. He's a doubles machine who plays great defense and will finish somewhere in the neighborhood of 15/15.
Alcides Escobar is a nice complimentary piece, but not one to build your offense around. Last year's outlier notwithstanding, he's been a pretty good defensive shortstop with very good speed and a talent for stealing bases (35 SB while only getting thrown out five times last season). His bat isn't anything to write home about, though last season did represent some positive development. Billy Butler finally developed the power everyone had been waiting for last season, hitting 29 home runs. That might not sound like a lot, but Country Breakfast's previous career high was 21. Almost twice as many of his flyballs left the park, which might mean he's in for a bit of regression this year. He also holds the distinction of being the one man Paul Konerko may actually be able to beat in a foot race.
Mike Moustakas is my personal favorite of the young Royals (can we call them prince? I like that). He'll likely never be a .300 hitter, but if he can get up to the .260-.270 range and cut down on his strikeouts, his power will make him a very dangerous hitter. He's only 24 and is already one of the better defenders at third in the AL. If he improves much more, the White Sox are in trouble. Salvador Perez is a little terrifying. If he can stay healthy for the entire season, we're talking about a catcher with an above-average bat and an arm that shouldn't be tested, is only 22 years old, and is signed cheaply through 2016 with an additional three option years. He might be the best thing Dayton Moore has ever accomplished. He has decent mid-teens home-run power and doesn't strike out fairly often. Really, the only knock on him is that he doesn't walk much, so if the hits stop falling, he's not going to get on base.
Eric Hosmer was one of the biggest disappointments in all of baseball last season. He went from posting a .343 wOBA as a rookie down to .291, ultimately managing to be worth -0.3 bWAR over 152 games. So what went wrong? A whole lot of bad luck. His BABIP fell to .255, which is going to make it pretty damn hard to have an average that doesn't induce nausea. Doubling the amount of infield flies you hit is also a terrible strategy. It's not a particularly effective method of doing anything except looking like Gordon Beckham. But not as handsome. And now this is weird. Baseball? Yes Mark, baseball. Anywho, Hosmer has a pretty good eye at the plate and should bounce back pretty nicely this summer. Jeff Francoeur is terrible at baseball. He was worth -2.3 bWAR last season and blocked Wil Myers. Frenchy is awful. He's that kid from gym class who held the wrong end of the bat and thought he was doing right. Every now and then I expect to see him run to third instead of first.
Lorenzo Cain sounds like a character out of a SyFy original movie, like Sharktopus or Chupacabra vs. the Alamo. But he isn't. He is a very good center fielder with good speed and a surprising amount of pop in his swing. He doesn't have great plate discipline though, which is why he's batting eighth instead of near the top of the lineup like you'd expect. Batting ninth will be the fantastic platoon of Chris Getz and Miguel Tejada, because Kansas City! Seriously though, Miguel Tejada is half of a platoon at second base. That is almost as weird as Shin-Soo Choo playing center for the Cincinnati Reds, but worse because Tejada was last good at baseball the summer I legally became able to drink. I turn 25 in two months. We are all dying. There aren't real words to write about this platoon, because they'll realize by May that Tejada can't play anymore and Getz inevitably gets injured. That felt really mean to write, but Getz just hasn't been able to stay healthy since he escaped from Colin's basement.
The Royals needed to improve their rotation this winter, as the 4.6 runs they allowed per game last season ranked 10th in the AL. James Shields and Wade Davis are fairly significant additions to a rotation that only contained one above-average pitcher. Did Dayton Moore pay too much for their services? Probably, but they do improve the 2013 pitching staff.
I've never been a huge fan of Shields. He'll be the staff ace, but only because there isn't anyone better on the roster. He was horrible in 2010, great in 2011, and good in 2012. What was the difference? The usual culprits: BABIP and HR/9. I'm betting he's closest to the 2012 version than the other two, which is a good pitcher but not one worth Wil Myers. He throws a heavy four-seamer in the low-90s, a cutter, a changeup, and a curveball.
Coming back to the American League agreed very well with Jeremy Guthrie, as his 75 ERA+ with the Rockies improved to a 131 ERA+ in his 91 innings for KC. It's not hard to understand why he's a replacement-level pitcher, though. He does not strike people out (5.3 K/9 over the last three seasons) and isn't an extreme groundballer (40.9 percent ground-ball rate over that same span) which isn't a combination that works particularly well. Guthrie throws a four-seamer in the low-90s, a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. He's also a practicing Mormon, which there happen to be a surprising amount of in baseball history (Matt Lindstrom is one).
Ervin Santana was acquired this winter from the Angels in an attempt to bolster the rotation, because Dayton Moore thinks the word "bolster" means "to make things worse." He bolsters a grease fire by throwing 151 on it. He's not very handy in the kitchen. Ervin, on the other hand, is great at serving up meatballs, as he allowed 39 homers last season. He's always been a bit prone to giving up the long ball, but that was an amazing new low (high?) for his career. His other peripherals were in line with their career norms, which makes it all even weirder. You might look at the .241 BABIP and think "How?" but then you remember that homers deflate BABIP and you quickly catch your tongue so as to not be judged for foolishness. He throws a low-90s four-seamer, a slider, and a changeup. Wade Davis is the most important player the Royals got back in the Wil Myers trade. Shields is a better pitcher, sure, but he's gone soon. Davis will be around longer, and if he can stick as a starter that could make the trade look less lopsided. He doesn't keep the ball down, resulting in a dangerous amount of flyballs but that should play decently at Kauffman Stadium. He throws a low-90s four-seamer, a sinker, a cutter, a curveball, and the occasional changeup.
Luis Mendoza gave up an .856 OPS to White Sox hitters last year, so I don't want to hear any whining about how unbeatable he was and that the Sox suck against him. They don't. Mendoza isn't particularly good, but he's a solid enough fifth starter. Strikeouts aren't his thing, but his heavy sinker induces a lot of groundballs so he doesn't really need to blow hitters away. Along with that sinker, he throws a four-seamer, a curveball, and a changeup. Greg Holland will be the closer to start the season. He has electric stuff as evidenced by his 12.22 K/9, but as so often happens with such pitchers, his control is less than ideal (4.57 BB/9). He has a four-seamer in the mid-90s and a very good slider, peppering in a splitter every now and then to keep people honest.
They're improved, yeah. But the rotation still isn't very good and the offense needs a few rebound years and improvement from the youngsters or there will be another sub-.500 finish in Kansas City again this summer. 11-8 predicted season record.