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.

While the Rangers Fall, Two Races Just Got Interesting…

Wow – the wrong end of four shutouts in five games…  The Rangers are done – picking the worst possible time for a batting slump never seen in Arlington before.  Last night, Scott Kazmir and the Angels did the trick, winning 2 – 0.  Texas needed a sweep this weekend, but now are 7-1/2 games out with two weeks to play.  Those kinds of miracles just don’t happen all the time.  [SI]

And, a nasty hamstring injury isn’t allowing Michael Young to play – and Young’s bat is really needed…  Young says he’s day-to-day, but that’s not going to be enough.  [ESPN]

Meanwhile, a late rally by the Diamondbacks continued to close the gap in the NL Wildcard race.  The Rockies lost, while both the Giants and Marlins (Go Fish!) pulled off late rallies to win.  The Rockies lead the Giants by 2-1/2, and the Marlins lurk four games back.  I love the Marlins, but it’s hard enough to catch one team, much less two.  The Marlins were two arms shy in this race, but have done a nice job.  [MLB]

And, the Twins aren’t giving up.  Last night, the Twins handled Detroit, 3 – 0, beating Rick Porcello no less to close the gap in the AL Central to just three games.  If there is any race that is truly in play here, it’s this one.  The two teams face each other six more times…  [MLB]

By the way, Brian Duensing has looked solid since being inserted into the Minnesota rotation in late August.  In three of his last four starts, Duensing hasn’t allowed an earned run.

Andy Pettitte can’t wait for Monday’s start to see if his tired shoulder is ready for a post-season run; and Tim Wakefield’s legs are coming around and he could also be ready to help in the post-season.  [ESPN]

A third arm readying for the post-season is Clayton Kershaw.  The Dodger starter is recovering from a separated (non-throwing) shoulder, and yesterday he pitched well in a bullpen session.  Kershaw says he felt normal out there, so we might see him in a week or so.  [MLB]

Cubs starter Rich Harden may miss a start or two – and didn’t learn it from his manager.  Harden learned it talking to a Chicago Tribune reporter…  I’m thinking that Lou Piniella’s reign won’t survive Memorial Day unless his team gets off to a 40 – 20 start.   There are just too many hints that his personality issues are starting to get in the way of his managing skills and he’s wearing out his welcome.  [SI]

Cy-Young candidate Zack Greinke got drilled by a comeback liner in his last start against Detroit, and now may get a couple of extra days before his next start.  Miguel Cabrera’s liner caught Greinke in the upper part of his throwing arm…  [MLB]

Kansas Jayhawk Alum and former Bill James intern Rob Neyer, as good a blogger as there is for ESPN, contends that Greinke should be more than a candidate for the Cy, but should be considered for the MVP award, too.  [ESPN]

Baltimore rookie outfielder Nolan Reimhold’s season is over.  Reimhold has fraying in his left Achilles tendon…  He’s been dealing with pain for weeks now, but this week it turned for the worse, so the Orioles are shutting him down in favor of healing and resting for 2010.  Reimhold (15 – 45 – .279, leads rookies in slugging and OBA) is a candidate for the Rookie of the Year award…

Another guy getting shut down?  Yovani Gallardo, the ace of Milwaukee.  (Bummer – this is killing my fantasy team in the playoffs, no less!!!)  Gallardo will get one more start (making 30) for his first full professional season, and needs just a few strikeouts to make 200 on the season.  [SI]

Hurry Back! Royals outfielder Jose Guillen (Former outfielder?) heads to the DL with a hamstring injury.  Oakland pitcher Vin Mazzaro heads to the DL with shoulder tendinitis.  Washington catcher Jesus Flores’s season comes to an end with a torn labrum.  Orioles pitcher Kam Mickolio has inflammation in his throwing shoulder and heads to the DL.

Welcome Back! Mike Adams returns to San Diego.

Woohoo! The Royals signed Aaron Crow, their first round pick out of Mizzou…

Afterthoughts… Senior citizens who once were waiters at old Yankee Stadium were not retained in the new Yankee Stadium – which looks like age discrimination, hence a lawsuit (according to the NY Post).   The Post says that waiters were paid $28,000 a year for 80 working days – which is a pretty good salary, don’t you think?  Anyway – the waiters claim that the team wanted younger, cheaper staffers.  [FanNation]

Another story that caught my attention… Read this article.  How can the Orioles lose touch with Brooks Robinson?

Bastardo or Mazzaro; I like the Tiger

With all the new pitching prospects coming to the majors, your fantasy team might be in need of a facelift.  Here are two pitchers that might give your teams a shot in the arm.  (Wow, with PED use being watched more closely and accusations flying left and right, I shouldn’t use that term, huh?)

Antonio Bastardo arrived in Detroit after a quick run through the Tigers farm system.  Signed out of the Dominican Republic at 21, Bastardo smoked batters for Lakeland (A) and Clearwater (A+) in 2007, and shortly into 2008 was already getting a shot at AA.  He throws strikes, but has occasional fits of wildness.  The OVERALL record is pretty good, but 42 walks in 91.2 innings at Lakeland (2007) and 37 walks in 67 innings at Reading (2008) give you pause.  Bastardo blew through AA and AAA rather quickly in 2009, though – each time he stays a little longer at a level he’s improved, so I like this 24-year-old’s chances to win 10 games or more with Detroit.  Going 17 – 7 with a 2.42 ERA in 242 innings, with 270 strikeouts are the types of numbers you want to see en route the big leagues.  (Rumors that Bastardo is related to former Tiger prospect Yormin Bazardo are untrue.)

Vincent Mazzaro is a 3rd round pick out of Rutherford High School (NJ) in 2005, and the Oakland A’s are pretty high on him.  However, he hasn’t been the dominant pitcher in the minors that Bastardo was.  While Baseball America shows him as a top ten prospect, Mazzaro was posting ERAs over 5 for Kane County (2005) and Stockton (2006) while still in A ball.  In 2007, Mazzaro had his first taste of prospect success, going 12 – 3 with a 1.90 ERA in Midland (AA).  His strikeout rate improved, and more importantly his control was solid.  Instead of walking 71 in 153.2 innings, he only walked 36 in 137.1 innings.  Mazzaro was a little overmatched in AAA at first blush in 2008, but he opened with several strong outings at Sacramento in 2009, earning his call up.  The control remains strong, but I worry about his ability to strike out a lot of guys.  He’s got a slight advantage in that he’s pitching in Oakland which will keep his ERA in check, but don’t look for a lot of checks in the wins column.  At least not until he turns what appears to be improving command into a set of solid out pitches.