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.

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2010 Season Forecast: Kansas City Royals

Last Five Seasons:

2009:  65 –  97 (Tied for last in AL Central)
2008:  75 –  87
2007:  69 –  93
2006:  62 – 100
2005:  56 – 106

Runs Scored: 686 – 13th in the AL
Runs Allowed: 842 – 12th in the AL

The pitching of Cleveland meets the offense of Seattle.

2009 Season in Review:

Trey Hillman was able to ride the success of Zach Greinke only so far – and the lack of production at too many offensive positions combined with some poor starting pitching meant that Greinke’s success meant avoiding 100 losses (again).

Did you know that after beating Seattle 3 – 1 on May 7th, the Royals were 18 – 11 and leading the AL Central?  A losing streak kicked off and by May 25th, the Royals fell under .500 at 22 – 23.  That means that Kansas City went 47 – 86 after that hot start…

Fun stat: Royals cleanup hitters hit .211, slugged .315, and had a .280 OBP.  There are players who slug .600 – but the Royals clean up hitters didn’t ADD UP to that number.  Ouch.

Starting Pitching:

Zack Greinke had the best season for a starter in a LONG time…  Gil Meche isn’t a horrible second starter, despite the big paycheck, though he is showing signs of being more frail than first thought.  Kyle Davies can’t be a long term pitcher unless he learns to strike people out.  And he’s not even as good as another no-K pitcher, Brian Bannister.  Luke Hochevar occasionally shows signs of being a really good AAA starter and will be in the rotation.  Guys like Davies and Bannister need air-tight defenses to be successful but do you see any really good fielders below?  The Royals need to stop trying things like giving chances to Sidney Ponson…

Relief Pitching:

Closer Joakim Soria is the real deal – gets outs, keeps people off the bases.  They had one guy who was surprisingly good (Robinson Tejada) and another who was surprisingly bad (Yasuhiko Yabuta), and a bunch of guys who didn’t matter (Kyle Farnsworth, Juan Cruz, John Bale, Roman Colon, Bruce Chen).

Catching:

Replacing Miguel Olivo and John Buck with Jason Kendall, who comes over after signing a two-year deal.  I get that Olivo is rather error prone and Buck isn’t a budding all-star.  But they put 80 runs on the board (combined) and are far, far younger than Jason Kendall, who is better defensively but only puts 50 runs on the board in a season.  And that’s giving Kendall the benefit of the doubt, because if you went by handling the staff, nobody wants the lack of production found in the Milwaukee pitching staff.

Infield:

Billy Butler is a very good hitter who may one day become comfortable playing first base.  Chris Getz comes over to play second base from the White Sox where he proved nothing as a hitter but is about 15 runs better defensively than Alberto Callaspo.  Callaspo can hit, though, so he will likely play somewhere.  You’d love for Mike Aviles to come back – working through back injuries (among other problems), Aviles went from Rookie of the Year to Mario Mendoza and that won’t help managers.  At short, the Royals are trying Yuniesky Betancourt, who isn’t going to help the Royals offensively or defensively.  He’s just sort of there.  Alex Gordon was once projected to be a star isn’t, and Mark Teahen – who can and did play everywhere and contributed a little bit offensively – is now with the White Sox.  Another former Royal?  Mike Jacobs played himself out of a job at first.  Does anyone other than me think that Kila Ka’aihue isn’t given a real chance, rather than spending good money on Mike Jacobs?

Outfield:

Signing Coco Crisp for the 2009 season was a bit of a nightmare, especially watching his salary get spent on the DL and his on-field production falling off.  Mitch Maier got a few innings and plays hard if not productively.  He’s Dave Martinez (some old Cub fans might remember him) at this point, and not quite that good.  David DeJesus is a pretty good outfielder and a pretty good hitter – a poor man’s Carl Crawford.  Jose Guillen not only underperformed at the plate but is a liability defensively in right field.  Looking forward, the team paid good money for a fading and ineffective (and now add injury prone) Rick Ankiel, and added White Sox outfielder Scott Podsednik, who is Juan Pierre with a bit better arm.  Willie Bloomquist returns as a fourth/fifth outfielder.

Down on the Farm:

Kila Ka’aihue could be a prospect – but another year at AAA wasn’t as good.  He’s 25 and wasted in this organization.  Brayan Pena is close to being ready as a catcher, hitting .307 in limited time at Omaha – and he’s also getting old for a prospect (28 in 2010).  The best pitcher, Luke Hochevar, isn’t ready for the big leagues yet but the Royals don’t have better options right now.

The best pitchers at AA Northwest Arkansas are relivers Chris Nicoll (7 – 0, but a bit wild and his ERA was 3.50) or either Greg Holland or Aaron Hartsock.  Former 2nd round pick, Jeff Bianchi, showed signs of putting his career together, hitting .300 at A+ Wilmington and .315 with a little power and speed at AA.  I like David Lough even more – and he’s just 23.  More power, better batting average, fewer years in the system.  He’ll be in the outfield soon enough.

Danny Duffy, a twenty-year-old fire baller, had a solid run at A+ Wilmington, and teen Mike Montgomery will be on the Royals staff by the end of 2010 if not 2011’s Opening Day roster.  Both have control, good K/9 ratios, and winning records.  They’re just too young right now.

Looking Ahead to 2010:

Can this really be a better team in 2010 than 2009?  Does the pitching look better this year?  It’s the same rotation hoping that Greinke is still this good.  If he comes down to earth to where he’s just ordinary good, that’s a loss of 35 runs on the defensive side.  The bullpen isn’t deeper.  The catching has gotten older and Kendall is going to lose his reputation for game management if he has another off year with a staff.

Then you look at the lineup.  They’ve gotten 30 runs worse at catcher.  They could be 20 runs better in the outfield (Podsednik instead of Crisp/Maier in the outfield), but the infield isn’t getting better because if Aviles comes back he’s just being as good as Teahen and Getz isn’t going to hit.  Defensively, this is a poor infield – nobody can field for them.

I have a hard time seeing the Royals as better – and they may be worse.  The staff will likely allow about 875 runs and the offense will be lucky to score 700 runs unless (a) the Royals let Brayan Pena catch and (b) Aviles hits like he did in 2008 and (c) Jose Guillen does SOMETHING.  You never know.  As such, I see the team winning about 63 games.  Another long season in KC – and another three to five year plan will likely have to start in 2011.

Best and Worst Pitchers in the AL for 2009; And Other Notes…

Earlier this week, I posted my list of the top pitchers in the NL and explained my methods.  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.  We’ll get into this in more detail when we hand out defensive awards next week.

Then, I compare what an average pitcher would have done with what that pitcher did – and come up with a “runs saved” or “extra runs allowed” ranking.  Nobody saved his team more runs than did Zack Greinke last year.  Zack Greinke had a really low ERA over more than 220 innings despite pitching in a park that helps hitters a little bit and having a rather poor defense behind him.  As such, his season is the best season I have tracked since I started doing this in 2005.

Top Pitchers (by Runs Saved)

65.61 – Zack Greinke (KC)
47.11 – Roy Halliday (TOR)
33.22 – Jon Lester (BOS)
32.14 – Felix Hernandez (SEA)
27.55 – Andrew Bailey (OAK)
26.51 – Cliff Lee (CLE)
25.74 – C.C. Sabathia (NYY)
25.73 – Justin Verlander (DET)
22.21 – Jonathan Papelbon (BOS)
21.30 – Mariano Rivera (NYY)
21.13 – Joe Nathan (MIN)
20.80 – Jered Weaver (LAA)
20.57 – Kevin Millwood (TEX)
20.09 – Josh Beckett (BOS)

21.61 – Jarrod Washburn (SEA) – but -13.29 in DET

In fact, it’s not even close – Greinke had as good a season as we’ve seen by a pitcher in a long, long time.  Imagine if he had done this for 40 starts instead of 33, with a team like Seattle.  He MIGHT have had an ERA around 1.70 and a won-loss record of something like 27 – 4.  From this, you can see that Halliday instead of Cliff Lee will be a slight step up for Philadelphia and would have been a more serious contender for the Cy Young Award (in my book) had not Greinke been more dominating.

Another thing of interest – four relievers were good enough to sneak onto the list of pitcher saving his team more than 20 runs, led by Andrew Bailey.  Let’s use that to show the list of the top relievers in the AL last year.

Top Relievers

27.55 – Andrew Bailey (OAK)
22.21 – Jonathan Papelbon (BOS)
21.30 – Mariano Rivera (NYY)
21.13 – Joe Nathan (MIN)
18.41 – Matt Guerrier (MIN)
18.09 – Darren O’Day (TEX)
17.04 – Matt Thornton (CHW)
17.04 – Michael Wuertz (OAK)
16.79 – Darren Oliver (LAA)
16.41 – Jose Mijares (MIN)
16.16 – Brandon Lyon (DET)
15.87 – Joakim Soria (KC)

A couple of things – usually the top guys are middle relievers or set up men with great ERAs in 70 innings.  There are a couple here – Thorton, Wuertz, and Oliver for example.  Still – the top four guys were KILLER closers in 2009.

Worst Pitchers

-37.04 – Andy Sonnestine (TB)
-33.26 – Fausto Carmona (CLE)
-24.16 – Chien-Ming Wang (NYY)
-22.81 – Jason Berken (BAL)
-21.45 – Derek Holland (TEX)
-20.71 – Luke Hochevar (KC)
-21.02 – Chris Jakubauskas (SEA)
-20.38 – Jose Contreras (CHW)
-19.59 – Armando Galarraga (DET)
-19.17 – Rich Hill (BAL)
-18.36 – Garrett Olson (SEA)

-23.47 – Scott Kazmir (TB) – but positive 11.34 in LAA

If you had Andy Sonnestine on your fantasy team last year, you didn’t read my Tampa Rays Team Profile that pointed out that many of the Rays pitchers weren’t as good as you thought because the team defense in 2008 was amazingly good.  In 2009, Bartlett was hurt, and Upton struggled, and Aki Iwamura went down, and Carlos Pena looked a little older (and then left to an injury).  Sonnestine may throw strikes, but they sure do get hit a lot.

Hopefully, Fausto Carmona and Chien-Ming Wang can figure things out.  Two years ago, these guys won nearly 40 games combined – and now they are #2 and #3 on the wrong list.

And, if you are scrolling down to the NL List, note that the list contained a bunch of Brewer and Padre pitchers.  In the AL, only Seattle doubled up by having two guys get pounded around – bad pitching was more evenly distributed…

One Fan’s Agony and Other Baseball Notes…

Tough to be a Marlins fan right now… You start 11 – 1, then fall way below .500, now we’re watching a slew of players get shuttled back and forth between the bigs and either New Orleans or Jacksonville. Last night, errors and a dose of Matt Lindstrom led to a 10 – 3 loss (it was tied at 3 after seven)- and this on the heels of a 15 – 2 loss on Friday night. UGH!

My friend Steve Roberts came up with a great (Berman-esque) nickname for pitcher Reynal Pinto. “72” Watching him pitch, it makes sense – goes along nicely but it’s only a matter of time before something hits him and he explodes. Say it out loud… 72 Pinto.

The Cubs fan in me is struggling with the Cubs latest slide, as they can’t beat (or score on) the Padres. No wonder Piniella wants Hoffpauir in the lineup.

And, the Royals are on the wrong side of a slide facing the amazingly hot St. Louis Cardinals. My three favorite teams are all taking a beating.

How about the Mets? Can’t keep a healthy player in the lineup but they find ways to beat the Red Sox on back to back nights. Yesterday, Omir Santos homered off of Jonathon Papelbon in the 9th to win.

Let’s all give a quick salute to chemistry. A-Roid’s homer in the 9th off of Brad Lidge tied the score, leading to a 9th inning rally for the Yankees over Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Jason Giambi hit his 400th homer last night in Oakland’s loss to Arizona. (And a tough loss – leading 5 – 1 into the eighth, gave up four in 8th and lost in extras when they scored two, but allowed 3 in the 11th.)

I mentioned the Mets – last night Francisco Rodriguez’s back was so sore he couldn’t stand, much less walk. He’ll be out a few days for sure. It’s his first back injury, but apparently it was a doozy.

I mentioned the Royals – Luke Hochevar was sent back to AAA Omaha (bummer) and struggling Mike Aviles was placed on the DL with a strained right forearm. He’s had pain in that forearm since the spring, but the real pain was that .183 batting average. Willie Bloomquist is the new starting SS. Robinson Tejada also went to the DL (Shoulder Tendonitis). Coming back? Pitchers John Bale, Roman Colon, and infielder Tug Hulett.

Bale is returning after having thyroid surgery, while Colon is a reliever who had performed well in Omaha. He’s not a true prospect, already nearing 30 and having struggled in a few ML trips the last three years. He is a fly ball guy who gives up a few long balls… Tug Hulett is Tim’s son (Tim Jr, actually – Tug is a nickname). Tug went to Auburn, was drafted by Texas, went to Seattle, and came to the Royals in the off season. He’s actually an interesting player – very patient, has had good on base percentages, runs the bases well (96 steals, just 29 caught stealing) and has a little pop. It’s getting time for him to make it – got a cup of coffee last year and didn’t disappoint.

I mentioned the Marlins… Henry Owens is getting to rehab with Jupiter. The guy throws hard, but has no shoulder or elbow to carry the load. Good Luck and Hurry back!!!

Orioles starter Koji Uehara left last night’s game with Washington with a hamstring injury. Dave Trembley said he’s praying it’s not serious. It’s not like Baltimore has a lot of options for the rotation and many of their prospects are still a year or two away… They already lost a sold hitter to a thumb injury – Lou Montanez injured his thumb making a diving catch a few weeks ago and now is heading toward surgery, which would kill much of his season.

Cleveland placed Anthony Reyes and Aaron Laffey (taffy) on the DL. Jeremy Sowers (I said before, no prospect no matter what Baseball America thinks) and Rich Rundles get the call from Columbus.

The Angels put Shane Loux on the DL with shoulder tendonitis and recalled Rafael Rodriguez to log some mop up innings. He’s no prospect.

Rockies catcher Chris Ianetta is struggling with a hamstring injury. Michael Young’s injury was actually an ankle sprain and he’ll miss a few games.

Tom Glavine heads to Gwinnett for a rehab assignment. Good luck, Tommy. Won’t be many more of these to go and we’d like to see you one more time.

Couple of Newcomer Notes…

John Mayberry Jr. hit his first career homer in Yankee Stadium for the Phillies yesterday, a three-run shot. His teammates gave him the silent treatment in the dugout… Minnesota’s Anthony Swarzak, the Davie, FL grad, got the start last night and threw seven solid innings to beat Milwaukee for his first major league win.

Looking ahead to today’s games…

Cole Hamels vs. C.C. Sabathia in Yankee stadium. James Shields vs. Josh Johnson in the final game of the Florida Wars. Hope it don’t rain too hard there… Matt Palmer (5 – 0) faces Chad Billingsley (6 – 1) in LA – that’s a great matchup.

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.