2011 Season Forecast: Kansas City Royals

Last Five Seasons:
2010: 67 – 95
2009: 65 – 97
2008: 75 – 87
2007: 69 – 93
2006: 62 – 100

Last winning season?  2003

Runs Scored: 676 (10th in AL)
Runs Allowed: 845 (Last in AL – and by 60 runs)

With this combination, the Royals would have been expected to win about 63 games.

Season Recap:

Few people picked the Royals to finish higher than fourth, so from a prediction standpoint, the Royals did what people expected.  KC didn’t have a winning month…  They were close, going 13 – 14 in June and actually outscoring their opponents that month.  The bottom was in July, though, when they went 10 – 15 (they had a worse record in September), but got outscored 173 – 94.  The Royals hung around .500 until early May, when they got swept by Texas, lost a couple of more and fell to 11 – 23.  That cost Trey Hillman his job, and gave Ned Yost a shot at managing the Royals.  I mentioned the bad July – included in that month were an 11 – 0 loss to Anaheim, a 15 – 5 loss to the White Sox, a 13 – 1 loss to Toronto, and 10 – 4 loss to the Yankees, and three straight losses of 12 – 6, 19 – 1, and 11 – 2 (Yankees, then two to the Twins).

Among the disappointments was the lackluster season of pitcher Zack Greinke, who fell from Cy Young to a league average pitcher, going 10 – 14.  Gil Meche never got healthy and retired at the end of the season rather than face another year of collecting $11 million for rehab work.  A lot of pitchers had ERAs that were downright scary.  Offensively, there were just too many outs – including the acquisition of catcher Jason Kendall and infielder Chris Getz, and the return of Alex Gordon, who hit .215.  Scott Podsednik played well enough in left, only to get shipped to the Dodgers for the stretch run.  The Royals did get good performances out of Mike Aviles, Billy Butler, and David DeJesus – until DeJesus went down after 91 games to injury.

Starters:

Zack Greinke is gone, having been shipped to Milwaukee with Yuniesky Betancourt for Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jeremy Jeffress, and minor leaguer Jake Odorizzi.  Brian Bannister is also gone – he wasn’t getting anyone out and when he opted for free agency, the Royals didn’t bite.  Of course, Bannister had an ERA over 6.00…  What is left behind is an unproven group waiting for help from Aaron Crow or John Lamb whenever either shows signs of being ready.

Instead of a rotation of Greinke, Bannister, Kyle Davies, Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen, and either Meche or Sean O’Sullivan, the Royals are looking at a rotation of Davies, Hochevar, Chen, Jeff Francis, Vinnie Mazzaro and maybe O’Sullivan.

Hochevar has skills but hasn’t put together a strong and consistent month.  Kyle Davies eats innings, but isn’t a world beater.  Bruce Chen was a pleasant surprise last year, going 12 – 7 with 23 starts and 10 relief appearances.  Jeff Francis is the former Rockies ace coming back from shoulder surgery.  He made 19 starts last year for Colorado with good control and if he can pitch 30 times will be an improvement over Bannister.  Vin Mazzaro might remind you of Hochevar – shows signs of life but needs to make another step forward to help the team.  O’Sullivan was hit around a lot last year and needs some seasoning.

There’s a reasonably good chance for a little improvement if Jeff Francis continues to get a feel for throwing.  He can easily match what Greinke did in 2010, anyway, though there is no chance of anyone having a season like Greike’s in 2009.  Mazzaro will be a step up from Brian Bannister, and if Chen can make 32 starts instead of 23, that’s also a step forward.

Relievers:

Talk about a rag-tag bunch.  At the tail end, you have one of the best closers in the business in Joakim Soria.  However, it’s an odd mix of arms in front of him, including Blake Wood, Robinson Tejada, Jesse Chavez, Jeremy Jeffress, Greg Holland.  Holland and Tejada have the power arms, and of this group Holland looks to be the one guy who might make a significant contribution.

Catching:

Jason Kendall and Brayan Pena return to give the club below average catching.  Unless Pena is given a chance to play as the starter, there is no chance that this will be better than 2010.

Infielders:

The left side of the infield will be different, with Escobar replacing Betancourt and Mike Moustakas likely getting the opening day nod at third.  Moustakas is a highly rated prospect because in the last couple of years, he’s been hitting bombs all over the minor leagues.  Escobar is Betancourt’s equal in the field, but after hitting the bigs and making a big impression in 2009, he fell back to hitting .235 in 2010.  Betancourt wasn’t half bad last year, showing a little power and actually playing better than league average defense.

The left side remains solid with Mike Aviles and Billy Butler manning second base and first base.  Butler is a hitting machine, and Aviles is a quality #2 or #3 hitter in any lineup.

Pedro Feliz is in camp as a potential depth option, having gotten a non-roster invite to spring training.  He could be a starter on opening day if the Royals choose to give Moustakas a few at bats in AAA.

It’s hard to believe that this will be an improvement in 2011, in part because Alberto Callaspo and Wilson Betemit both hit well while playing third base (about 95 runs created) and Escobar wasn’t as good as Betancourt.  However, Moustakas COULD be a league average fielder, which would be a 30 run improvement.  The pitchers will appreciate the help, for sure.

Outfielders:

Last year’s outfield of Podesdnik or Gordon in left, Mitch Maier or Gregor Blanco or Rick Ankiel in center, and DeJesus or Mitch Maier or Jose Guillen in right has to be replaced.  Looking at the 40 man roster, an outfield could be made of free agent signee Melky Cabrera, Lorenzo Cain, and Jeff Francouer.  Again – not a single world beater in the outfield, which is problematic.  Blanco can hit a little, but has been a disappointment in the field, making him a probable fourth outfielder.  Maier has improved some with the bat, but on his best day really should bat ninth.  Jeff Francoeur is long removed from being a middle of the order hitter, and Melky Cabrera might be a solid eighth or seventh hitter.  No really competitive team has NOBODY who is an outfielder and can’t hit in the middle of the lineup.

DH:

Gone is Jose Guillen, so look for Alex Gordon or Jeff Francouer or Kila Ka’aihue to get the at bats.  I like Mt. Ka’aihue, a minor league power hitter who has to prove he can be more than a AAAA player.

Down on the Farm:

The Royals are loaded with prospects.  Mike Moustakas we mentioned earlier…  The 2007 1st round draft pick hit .319 with 15 homers in just 225 AAA at bats, after clobbering AA pitchers to the tune of 21 – 76 – .347 in 66 games.  Kila Ka’aihue hit .319 with 24 dingers in 323 at bats, draws walks, too.  Among the pitchers, Greg Holland and Blake Wood showed success at AAA and both made the Royals for the end of the season and can help in the pen.

In AA Northwest Arkansas, every one hits – the team hit .291 in 2010.  The two that make prospect lists are second baseman Johnny Giavotella, who hit .322 with a .395 OBP, and first baseman Eric Hosmer, who got to AA at 20, hit .313 with 13 homers in 50 games (he had hit .354 in A+ Wilmington).  2009 1st round pick Aaron Crow didn’t pitch as well as hoped, but he made a big jump out of college.  His control got the best of him – 59 walks in just 119.1 innings.  The best stats belonged to Everett Teaford, who went 14 – 3, fanning 113 in just 99 innings, and walking only 32.  Danny Duffy made seven solid starts after a promotion, and reliever Louis Coleman gave up 31 hits in 51.2 innings, while striking out 55 and walking just 14.

John Lamb climbed from Burlington through Wilmington (A+) to AA and is just 20.  Lamb is a lefty with great command and in 42 minor league starts, has 230 strikeouts and just 65 walks.  He could be the lefty version of Bret Saberhagen – and the Royals need this to be true.  Wil Myers is a catcher who, in his first full professional season, finished by hitting .315 at two levels with power and a .429 OBP.

2011 Prediction:

The Royals may climb out of the cellar, but not far.  I think the starting pitching can be 20 – 30 runs better than last year even without Greinke coming  back.  Moving Moustakas in at third base will help defensively – this could be 25 runs or more at his position alone.  Lorenzo Cain and Melky Cabrera give the Royals defensive stability – certainly better in left field and possibly centerfield than what was there in 2010.  And, your fourth outfielder, Maier, can cover ground.  So, look for the Royals to drop the runs allowed from 845 to about 780.  And I don’t think Kendall manages a staff very well.

Offensively, adding Moustakas will be nice, but unless Lorenzo Cain can hit .290 and get on base a lot, there won’t be many runners for Butler and Moustakas to drive in.  That being said, a full season of Mike Aviles would also add a few runs.  But Cain would be hitting like Podsednik, and Francoeur is no different, really, than Jose Guillen.  That means that the offense isn’t likely to climb up that many notches.  Ka’aihue is a wild card.  If he hits .260 with 75 walks and 25 homers as a DH, that would be a lift.  If Moustakas is a rookie of the year candidate, maybe another lift.  Unfortunately, you still have too many outs.  Escobar, Cabrera, and Kendall.  Please let Kendall back up Pena – that could be worth 10 runs.

You have an ace-less staff, old catching, with league average fielding and a well-below average offense.  That gets you about 69 wins, and if you are optimistic, maybe 72 wins.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that the Royals have a deep farm system and by 2013 – especially if the pitching steps up – could be competitive.  Hang in there fans, there is help on the way.

2010 – Top AL Pitchers

Just as a recap, here’s what I am trying to do:

1) I start with the number of runs allowed by each pitcher, and the number of innings that guy pitched.

2) I modify the number of runs allowed to account for any bias based on the pitcher’s home park.

3) I modify the number of runs allowed based on my defensive rating system for teams and players because if you have Seattle’s team defense behind you, you are less likely to allow a run than if you had the Royals defense behind you.

Top 10 Starters:

Runs    Inn    Pitcher
34.1    173.2    Clay Buchholz (BOS)
29.7    249.2    Felix Hernandez (SEA)
26.5    208.0    Jon Lester (BOS)
26.2    237.2    C.C Sabathia (NYY)
25.8    200.2    Gio Gonzalez (OAK)

25.8    196.2    Trevor Cahill (OAK)
24.0    213.0    John Danks (CHI)
23.5    130.2    Brian Dunsing (MIN)
22.5    224.1    Jered Weaver (LAA)
19.4    191.2    Francisco Liriano (MIN)

I was surprised that Buchholz saved more runs, but he also had a remarkable ERA pitching in Fenway.  Like #3 Jon Lester.  Brian Duensing made 13 starts when Minnesota needed them, and his overall contributions were also impressive.  Not sure if he has a 200 inning season in him, but at this rate, he would have led the league in runs saved.  Among the returners from last year, Fernandez, Lester, and Sabathia…

Top 10 Relievers:

Runs    Inn    Pitcher
20.4    65.2    Joakim Soria (KC)
20.0    74.1    Daniel Bard (BOS)
17.6    60.1    Joaquin Benoit (TEX)
16.7    63.0    Chris Perez (CLE)
16.4    49.0    Andrew Bailey (OAK)

15.8    60.0    Mariano Rivera (NYY)
15.7    62.0    Darren O’Day (TEX)
14.6    41.2    Alexi Ogando (TEX)
14.3    60.2    Matt Thornton (CWS)
13.7    62.1    Rafael Soriano (TB)

Three Rangers in the top ten – which helps explain how they controlled the division if the offense could just get a lead through five or six innings.  This is the second year I have made the list – and Bailey, Rivera, O’Day, and Thornton all returned to the list.

Bottom 10 Pitchers:

Runs    Inn    Pitcher
-56.5     203.1    James Shields (TB)
-56.3     109.1    Ryan Rowland-Smith (SEA)
-35.8     150.0    Scott Kazmir (LAA)
-32.0    171.0    Jeremy Bonderman (DET)
-28.5    141.1    Scott Feldman (TEX)

-24.9    186.2    A.J. Burnett (NYY)
-23.1    161.0    Brian Bannister (KC)
-20.9    127.2    Josh Beckett (BOS)
-19.7     79.2    David Huff (CLE)
-19.4    161.0    Nick Blackburn (MIN)

Shields cleared 50 because he pitched 200 innings, had a solid defense behind him, and kept serving up homers.  The Rays stuck with him all season and will be giving him another shot in 2011.  I don’t think he’ll be this bad…  The worst pitcher, though, was Rowland-Smith.  He pitched just 109 innings, so essentially he gave up a run more than the average pitcher every other inning.  Ouch.

2009 Season Forecast: Kansas City Royals

KC Royals
75 – 87 (4th AL Central)
Scored 691 Allowed 781

Quick Season Summary:

The Royals got off to a slow start, but seemed to get things turned around in August, and built steam down the stretch. Along the way, they found a new ace in Zach Greinke, who pairs with Gil Meche to provide one of the best starting duos in baseball. The problem was that the offense was tolerable at times, but had too many holes.

Tell Me About That Offense:

Mike Aviles was the best rookie hitter since 1987 (Seitzer), hitting .325 with some pop. He’s old for a rookie – 27 – and if you think he’s a long term answer, you’re probably wrong. He is, however, a nice short term solution. David DeJesus was solid. Jose Guillen was added, had 97 RBI, but was generally overrated because his batting average was just .264 and he drew 23 walks. The lineup features a lot of average to below average hitters; they still need a couple of good bats. Tony Pena couldn’t buy a hit. On the whole, too many holes. Only two teams scored fewer runs.

And the Defense:

David DeJesus was out of position in center, but better than Joey Gathright who is fast except when chasing fly balls. Tony Pena was atrocious in the field, his bad hitting going to the field with him. Alex Gordon wasn’t great, and Mark Grudzielanek was tolerable when healthy. Most of the first basemen couldn’t field. Mark Teahan fields well no matter where he plays.

Pitching:

Royals pitchers were either really good or really bad. Zack Greinke and Gil Meche were really good. Brian Bannister and Luke Hochevar were really bad. Why did they try Brett Tomko, who we all know can’t pitch? Kyle Davies looked good as a rookie. In the pen, the Royals were better than expected. Joakim Soria is a stud, Leo Nunez was good, Ramon Ramirez was solid, and ancient veteran Ron Mahay was good, too. However, Jimmy Gobble, Joel Peralta, and Kip Wells (predictably for Wells) were awful.

What is Different for 2009?

Kansas City lost Ramirez to Boston (he’ll be missed), but got Coco Crisp to play center. They traded Leo Nunez for Marlin Mike Jacobs, like they needed another first baseman, but Jake can hit for power. Luke Hochever was sent back to AAA, and they will be trying Sidney Ponson (why?). Kyle Davies moved into rotation permanently. Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth were signed for bullpen – Cruz is an especially good acquisition. Brian Bannister has to improve or his career ends – he allows too many balls in play, many of which left the yard. The net result, though, is positive. Probably 25 runs better than last year.

Crisp in center is a step up from Gathright, which means a full season of DeJesus in left – another good idea. No Pena, more Aviles is a positive. I’m not happy with Gordon’s progression, but he’ll get better (he has to), and Jacobs won’t be worse than what they had. They’ll miss Grudz at second; Alberto Callaspo isn’t that good. The net result is positive if Crisp stays healthy, so that’s another 15 runs better than last year.

The offense might be better. Billy Butler showed improvement after he got back from AAA. Jacobs adds some run production, but he needs to hit better than last year in Florida – a few more walks wouldn’t hurt. Crisp COULD be really good, he’s going to be way better than Gathright. More Olivo and less Buck is good. Did I say that the Royals would miss Grudz – he hits better than Callaspo, too. I think they score 40 runs more than last year.

When you add it up, the numbers suggest about 730 runs scored, allow about 740. With the right breaks, they finish with 80 wins or even sneak over .500. However, they actually played a bit better than would have been expected last year, and I’m not convinced that Bannister will be that much better. So, I’ll go with 78 – 84, which will still be a slight improvement and in the AL Central, could be competitive.

On the Farm…

One look at AAA Omaha and you see that one of the Royals’ problems is the lack of depth in the organization. The best players got a shot – Ryan Shealy, Shane Costa, Angel Berroa (how sad, really). The only real prospect is Billy Butler and quite possibly the Hawaiian Volcano, Kilo Kaaihue (11 homers in 114 at bats at AAA, another 26 homers in AA, which makes you wonder why the Royals traded for Mike Jacobs…). Brett Bigler got moved up – he was 23 last year. The best pitcher was Kyle Davies – 6 – 2, 2.03 ERA, he’s already on the team. Jorge De La Rosa got four starts, but is 27 and too old to be called a prospect. Carlos Rosa might be good – 4 – 3 in 11 starts, 44 Ks and 12 BBs in Omaha, after going 4 – 2 with a 1.20 ERA in AA with an even better K/W ratio.

Dan Cortes won 10 games in AA Northwest Arkansas, but could stand to improve his control. Moving to A+ Wilmington, at least you see some youth and speed. Derrick Robinson is a burner but doesn’t hit for average or power. Joe Dickerson can run and hit some, shows plate discipline – probably the best prospect here. The best pitcher is either Greg Holland, a 22-year-old who fanned 96 in 84.1 innings, or 22-year-old Henry Barrera, a reliever with 78Ks in 57.2 innings.