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Computers Don’t Play Baseball - A Kansas City Royals preview

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A look ahead at our final new AL Central opponent

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

You might want to sit down for this. PECOTA undershot the Royals’ record again in 2016.

Kansas City finished at 81-81, a full five games ahead of their projection. That’s within a standard deviation, so it’s not all that notable on its own. However, when one considers just how much had to go wrong for the Royals to finish at .500 last season, one is still well within their rights to question whether statistics-based forecasters have any clue what the hell they’re doing when trying to figure out Ned Yost and his slappy band of overachievers. The Royals were pegged at 76 wins, but still finished .500 despite all of the following happening last year:

April 27: Alex Gordon goes 0-4 with two strikeouts, dropping his OPS to .673. The Royals’ biggest free agent expenditure’s OPS wouldn’t sniff .700 again until late August and his strikeout rate would hover around 30 percent all season.

Also April 27: Chris Young gives up two homers to the Los Angeles Angels. He’s filling in for soft-tossing lefty Jason Vargas in the rotation as the latter rehabs from Tommy John surgery. Young has given up six homers in his first 25 innings of work and is sporting a 6.12 ERA.

May 9: Chris Young gives up five home runs to the New York Yankees before the end of the third inning. Young has now allowed 13 homers in 32 innings. He goes on the disabled list and gets dumped to the bullpen upon his return in favor of Dillon Gee, who still exists.

May 22: At U.S. Cellular Field, Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas collide going for a foul ball. Gordon suffers a broken bone and is out for a month. Moustakas tears his ACL and is done for the year. That’s too bad, because Moustakas is a good defensive third baseman who was just coming into his own on offense after learning to use left field to his advantage.

May 24: Something called “Cheslor Cuthbert”, which I can only assume is some sort of medieval chicken farmer, starts at third base in place of the injured Moustakas.

June 5: Chris Young is put back into the rotation. He allows four home runs to the Cleveland Indians. Young has now allowed 17 home runs in 41 innings.

June 10: Alcides Escobar, the worst regular hitter in the major leagues, has been batting leadoff for the Royals during most of their run of success. After a rough 12 games of .160/.173/.200, Ned Yost finally decides enough is enough and demotes him....to the number two slot.

June 15: Starting second baseman Omar Infante is mercifully designated for assignment after slashing .239/.279/.321, which was still somehow an improvement over his near All-Star (both a joke and not) 2015 season.

June 24: Edinson Volquez, one of Kansas City’s more reliable pitchers from the 2015 championship team, yields 12 runs (11 earned) before recording an out in the second inning. Volquez’ curveball didn’t fool anyone last year because it completely stopped biting, and the Royals’ diminished (but still pretty great) defense wasn’t able to compensate for his mistakes like it did the year prior.

June 28: 2015 breakout star Lorenzo Cain injures his hamstring trying to run out an infield single. The Royals’ best player is lost for a month and the typically stellar defensive center fielder is pushed to right when he eventually returns.

July 5: Chris Young allows four home runs to the Toronto Blue Jays. He has now allowed 26 homers in 60 innings. From afar, James Shields blushes sheepishly. Chris Young is finally banned from starting any more baseball games.

July 12: Salvador Perez is participating in his fourth straight All-Star Game, despite a combined WARP of 1.9 from 2014-2016. The very overrated catcher (with great intangibles!) is a bad framer with an unremarkable bat, even adjusted for position. This has nothing to do with the misfortune of the 2016 Royals, but it is being listed because it should be pointed out.

July 16: Escobar’s back to being the regular leadoff hitter. Still slashing a Shuck-like .261/.285/.323

July 31: Stellar closer Wade Davis is placed on the disabled list with a forearm strain and he’s lost for a month. This is Davis’ second trip to the DL in July. With Greg Holland out for the year, fireballer Kelvin Herrera is now the only healthy pitcher from Kansas City’s late-inning three-headed monster.

August 9: Escobar is finally banished from the top of the lineup and takes up his post near the bottom along with the struggling Gordon and top prospect Raul Mondesi, who took over second base near the end of July and finished the 2016 season with an OPS+ of 36.

August 31: Cain is held out of the lineup with a wrist injury. He’s only able to start one more game the rest of the way.

Some things went right for the 2016 Royals. Lefty Danny Duffy pitched marvelously in the rotation, flyballer Ian Kennedy took full advantage of the outstanding Kansas City outfield to outperform his peripherals, and both Whit Merrifield and Paulo Orlando performed admirably when pressed into regular duty. However, that wasn’t enough to compensate for the rest of the misfortune. Surely the fact that the Royals endured all this and still outperformed PECOTA by five games is some indication that the projection was once again off. Surely PECOTA will adjust itself after four straight years of badly undershooting this team. Surely the same mistakes won’t repeat themse....wait what was the 2017 projected Royals record again?

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72-90, 15th/15 AL teams

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Huh.

Yet again, it’s not hard to see where PECOTA’s coming from. Little by little, the old Royals core is being dismantled and their speed-and-defense formula isn’t quite as strong as it used to be (Jarrod Dyson, somehow the Royals’ 2016 leader in fWAR, was a notable departure in both departments). Gordon’s bat might be cooked at this point, the lineup is light on fearsome hitters, the non-Duffy starting pitchers look punishable, the defense, while still good, should theoretically be worse than it was, and Davis and Holland aren’t around anymore to help close out games. This 2017 Royals squad does not resemble a good baseball team on paper and compared to a tough American League, they even look a little bad. It’s not hard to imagine them bottoming out like PECOTA suggests is possible. However, after the last four years, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Probable Starting Pitchers

Monday, April 24 - Jason Vargas vs. Miguel Gonzalez

Tuesday, April 25 - Danny Duffy vs. Dylan Covey

Wednesday, April 26 - Nate Karns vs. Jose Quintana

Key Personnel

Probable Lineup Pitching
Probable Lineup Pitching
1. Alex Gordon - LF SP1. Danny Duffy - LHP
2. Mike Moustakas - 3B SP2. Ian Kennedy - RHP
3. Lorenzo Cain - CF SP3. Jason Hammel - RHP
4. Eric Hosmer - 1B SP4. Jason Vargas - LHP
5. Salvador Perez - C SP5. Nate Karns - RHP
6. Brandon Moss - DH CL. Kelvin Herrera - RHP
7. Whit Merrifield - 2B RP1. Joakim Soria - RHP
8. Alcides Escobar - SS RP2. Peter Moylan - RHP
9. Jorge Bonifacio - RF RP3. Mike Minor - LHP