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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Mets Lose Beltran to DL; Fehr to Retire Next Spring

Well, the knee of New York Mets centerfielder Carlos Beltran is bad enough to require a DL stint. Bruising beneath the knee cap is getting worse and requires some rest. The Mets, already down a leg in the horse race, is in serious need of some good news.

Coming up from AAA is the Mets top prospect (according to Baseball America), Fernando Martinez. Martinez is one of those tools guys who could be pretty good one day. Just 20, this is Martinez’s second trip to Citi Field in 2009 and he’s there because he’s at least better defensively than Jeremy Reed. At Buffalo, Martinez has shown signs that he may have breakout power, but he’s not a threat to steal a lot of bases and he’s not going to work the count for walks. Still, someone who is 20 and nearly MLB ready is going to be treated like a top prospect – so enjoy the larger meal allowance. I’m not adding him to my fantasy team until at least 2012 unless he takes it up a notch. To me, he looks like Corey Patterson until he proves otherwise.

Ervin Santana felt pain in his triceps when working his bullpen session, so the Angels put Santana back on the DL and recalled Sean O’Sullivan to make the next start when Santana was scheduled to pitch. Sullivan won his major league debut, and has been successful despite pitching in the offensively paced Pacific Coast League. Baseball America sees O’Sullivan as the Angel’s 5th best prospect, mostly because he has good control and doesn’t give up too many long balls. I’d like to see a better strikeout pitch, but his stuff could work in the majors.

Maybe it’s me, but I like seeing the signings on the MLB Transaction page and looking at the small hamlets where summer rookie leagues are. Many newly signed Milwaukee Brewers draftees are heading to the Helena Brewers, while others head to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Cleveland) or the Batavia Muckdogs (St. Louis), the Missoula Osprey (Arizona), the Princeton Devil Rays (Tampa, of course), or the Idaho Falls Chukars (Kansas City). My favorite is in Wyoming, home of the Casper Ghosts (Colorado).

After 25 years as executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, Donald Fehr is stepping down. MLB’s site has a variety of different articles covering various opinions, and your favorite sports sites will be contributing dozens of essays as well. My quick take on it is that he’s been consistent and extraordinarily focused on protecting the players – which is his job. Nobody does his or her job as well as Fehr. And, because he’s so good at his job, and because his organization is so focused and protective, it makes it harder to adapt to other issues. If you judge him by how well the union has remained stable and the amount players have gained in things like income and control of their careers, then he’s been a complete success. If you judge him by “good of the game” issues, he cannot possibly look as good. That wasn’t his job.

I watched a good chunk of Game Seven of the 1965 World Series on the MLB network.  I never got to see Sandy Koufax (he retired just after I was born) and that was cool.  I will say this – the strike zone sure was a lot bigger then, and the batters knew it.  Umpires sure looked less comfortable in those suits.  And there was far less commercialism in the stadiums…  Where were the Manatees?  (A bunch of chubby guys in South Florida who dance between innings at Marlins games…)

2009 Season Forecast: Los Angeles Angels

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
100 – 62 (1st Place – AL West)
Runs Scored: 765
Runs Allowed: 697

2008 Season Summary:

Pretty simple, actually.  The Angels got off to a solid April, going 18 – 10, kept a winning record through May and June, then ran away with the division with a 19 – 6 July.  With a weak division, strong pitching, a closer having a record season, and just enough hitting, the Angels never had a losing month.

You know what’s really odd about the season?  They weren’t that good – rather, they weren’t as good as their record.  Based on the ratio of runs scored to runs allowed, you would expect them to win 90 games – still good, but not 100 wins good.

Four teams allowed fewer runs – one of them was Oakland – and nine teams scored more.  So, they weren’t blowing teams away.  When they got a lead, though, nobody could get past that bullpen – featuring the 62 saves of Francisco Rodriguez.  Heck, in close games Jose Arredondo won 10 and lost 2.  Five starters won 10 or more – that doesn’t happen very often at all.

What they were was a broadly talented team with few superstars having a bit more pitching than everyone else, and the ability to shut down games after the sixth inning.

How About That Offense:

The outfielders weren’t half bad.  Vlad Guerrero missed a little time, but still delivered punch, with 27 homers and a .303 average.  Torii Hunter, added from Minnesota, was just ordinary good – above average power and speed.  Garrett Anderson remains slightly above average offensively even as he ages.  The power numbers are down, but his batting average remains decent.  As always, he just doesn’t do anything else to get on base.  Backups Juan Rivera and Gary Matthews were okay, but actually below average offensive performers.

The infield was also a hair above ordinary.  Chone Figgins and Erick Aybar were a notch below average while Howie Kendrick and Casey Kotchman were a hair above average.  Until Mark Teixeira arrived, there were no bangers in the infield.  For all the talk about the two months that Manny Ramirez gave Los Angeles, was it that much better than what Tex did?  Teixeira batted .358, slugged .632, and drove in 43 runs in just 54 games.  Backups Robb Quinlan, Brandon Wood, and Macier Izturis were tolerable backups.

The combined performance of the catching was impressive – 29 homers, 91 RBI.  Of course, only Mike Napoli was really good.  Jeff Mathis hit .194, but with 42 RBI, so the few hits he had were important.

Tell Me About the Defense:

Defensively, the catching was tolerable – Mathis being the better of the two against the run (Napoli only caught 11 of 52 runners), far more mobile, though slightly more mistake prone.

The infield defense was above average – anchored by two good glovemen at first (Kotchman and Teixeira).  Howie Kendrick is slightly above average (1 play per 800 balls in play) and doesn’t hurt you on the double play or in making errors.  Erick Aybar is a gold glove candidate, while Chone Figgins is the best option at third (though Wood has more range).  Figgins was – 5 in terms of range, but doesn’t make mistakes, and so he doesn’t hurt you too much.

The outfield was average all the way around.  The best fielder is Gary Matthews, but he’s just everyone’s backup.  It’s time to admit that Torii Hunter is no longer the centerfielder he was five years ago – he just looks smooth.  Per 800 balls in play, Hunter is just one play better than average.  Matthews, by the way, was +10 – much better than Hunter, though in just 221 innings.  Garrett Anderson and Vladimir Guerrero were better than expected at this point by being league average.

Now Pitching:

The most complete rotation in the majors.  Ervin Santana was 24 runs better than the average pitcher and gave the Angels 219 innings.  Joe Saunders surprised everyone with 198 innings, won 17 games, and was 20 runs better than average.  John Lackey missed ten starts and still was 13 runs better than average.  Jered Weaver hasn’t blossomed into an ace, but he’s still slightly above average, too.  Only Jon Garland, who still went 14 – 8, was below the bar – 15 runs below average, but over 196.2 innings.  Dustin Mosely and Nick Adenhart picked up the missing 13 starts and weren’t ready yet but showed promise.

The bullpen was amazing, led by Rodriguez and the 14 runs he saved the team.  However, Arredondo was 17 runs to the good (42 hits in 61 innings), Scot Shields remained dependable, and Darren Oliver kicked in 72 solid innings.  Only the mop up guy, Justin Speier, was below average in any way.  Only Philadelphia had more bullpen weapons.

Looking Ahead to 2009:

The front four members of the rotation stay, and the lone weak spot (Garland) was allowed to leave.  Nick Adenhart or Dustin Moseley can be as good as Garland – at least not worse.

The bullpen lost Rodriguez and signed Brian Fuentes from Colorado – who, I am sure, is happy to be here.  I don’t buy that Arredondo can repeat his performance, and Joe Saunders might take a step back.  Darren Oliver won’t be 15 runs better than league average again.  I think it’s probably going to cost the Angels about 25 runs.

Defensively, Matthews is going to be a step up (it would be even better if he played center and moved Hunter to left or right).  Getting Vlad to the DH position and letting Juan Rivera play right isn’t going to be an improvement – so the net change will be balanced out.  And, the infield lost Teixeira to the Yankees – so the infield defense may lose 10 to 15 runs – maybe more – by playing Kendry Morales.

So – instead of allowing 697 runs, it might be more like 735.

Offensively, Matthews isn’t as good as Anderson, who is in Atlanta.  Hunter and Vlad may step a bit back.  The infield loses the big bat of Tex, but Morales will be better than Kotchman.  Still, the net loss will be another 30 runs.  So, the net runs scored will be around 735.

That puts Los Angeles at .500 – 81 and 81, and might not win the division.  My take on it is a disappointing second place.

Down on the Farm:

For the last three seasons, Baseball America has been calling Nick Adenhart one of the top two prospects in the chain.  Adenhart has been okay in AA and AAA, finishing 2008 with a 9 – 13 record in 26 starts, with less than promising command.  In fact, it’s gotten worse with each season in the minors.  I know people hit a ton in the PCL, but 75 walks in 145.1 innings should be a concern.  In his favor is his age – he’s just 22.  In fact, it’s hard to see who the prospect is at Salt Lake City.  Dustin Moseley got starts with the Angels but had a 6.94 ERA there.  Shane Loux was 12 – 6, doesn’t strike a ton of guys out, and is 28.  If Adenhart is a prospect, so is Nick Green, who had comparable numbers, is 23, and went 8 – 8.

Brandon Wood gets shots with the parent club and has real power, but the best hitter will be new first baseman Kendry Morales, who hit .341 at SLC with some power, makes great contact – but could be a little more selective at the plate.  Sean Rodriguez, a second baseman with power and discipline hit .306 with a .645 slugging percentage and a .397 OBP.  He won’t do that in the majors, but he can play.

No hitters at AA impressed me, but 23 year old Kevin Jepsen had a 1.42 ERA for Arkansas – a power pitcher who could work on his control a bit.  Steve Marek fanned 57 in just 46.2 innings and may be a reliever of the future.

Rancho Cucamonga (A+) featured several young arms, of which Sean O’Sullivan and Amalio Diaz stood out.  20 year old Alexander Torres will also get a long look in a couple of years.  He had nice strikeout numbers in ten starts.  Catcher HanK Conger is 20, hit .303 for the Quakes, and might be a long term Angel in 2012.