So in the spirit of Spring Training, it's time to start up with team previews. Teams will be previewed in approximately the same order as we like them. We try not to accord too much favor or bias around here, but...we like some teams more than others. This will only be reflected in the order of the previews. We promise. Sort of. Anyway, the general idea is that we'll talk a bit about the team to preface it all, mention how they did last year and what they've done to address the situation this year. We'll guess at what they will look like on the diamond, and who will log significant innings and/or saves in Around the Horn and From the Bump, respectively. Furthermore, we'll use PECOTA to help us predict what they'll each do this year. Should be great fun. Let's get going.
We never had much of an affinity for the Royals beyond admiring their utter futility. But upon entering into the internet universe, we discovered that the Royals have quite the devoted fanbase, notably our favorite sportswriter, Joe Posnanski, and dermatologist-cum-baseball fan Rany Jazayerli. Their writing really inspired us to become a more intelligent fan, and also to support the cause of bringing the Royals up from the ashes. Excluding the Braves, we've probably read more about the Royals than any other baseball team in the league. Which is kind of sad, we suppose...seems like only the true fans should have to partake in the Royals brand of misery.
Anyway, onto real business. The Royals managed to not finish in last last year, posting a 75-87 record that bested the Tigers by one game. They weren't particularly good at anything, coming in at 25th in MLB in runs scored per game (4.27) and 22nd in runs allowed per game (4.83). Their offense, as you could guess, lacked any real stars, though the unexpectedly potent bat of Mike Aviles (.325/.354/.480) provided a big boost. Jose Guillen was a big disappointment in the first year of a 3/$30 million deal, hitting .264/.300/.438 - borderline unacceptable for any corner outfielder, let alone one with a stone glove and a big contract. This year, however, he removed an ingrown toenail all by himself, which we have to imagine portends great things. David DeJesus was his usual consistent (read: boring, yet effective) self, Alex Gordon took a step forward, and Billy Butler shows an enormous amount of promise. GM Dayton Moore (former Braves front office man!) made some moves this offseason to try to bolster the lineup, bringing in glove man Coco Crisp (public enemy no. 1 here at KCSD; we have a post ready about why he's a discredit to humanity which will be deployed at some point) to man center field, and powerful bald man Mike Jacobs to stand at first base with a glove on his hand.
These are really just the latest moves in what has been an overall questionable tenure for Moore. Hailed as a wunderkind coming out of the Braves organization, Moore has been responsible for Crisp and Jacobs - mediocre at best imports, and poor fits for a lineup already lacking in OBP. He shelled out the big bucks for Jose Guillen and Kyle Farnsworth, neither of which looks like a particularly great decision (though we did, and do, support the Gil Meche signing). Maybe RHP Kyle Davies finally pans out and gives him another good starter; maybe Mike Aviles keeps up his hitting tear; maybe Coco Crisp returns to 2005 form (doubtful, since he is a deplorable soul). Regardless, it's been a bit of an unauspicious start for Moore in that he doesn't seem to know what he wants to do. We hope he really sorts things out and can stick to a long-term plan; the Royals faithful deserve as much.
As for the pitching, it's an extraordinarily top-heavy group. RHPs Zack Greinke, Gil Meche, and Joakim Soria are a playoff caliber nucleus of starts and closer; RHPs Ramon Ramirez and Leo Nunez have been quality bullpen arms, as has LHP Ron Mahay (to our surprise). RHP Kyle Davies (a former Braves prospect, as are a surprising amount of Royals pitchers - we'll get to that shortly) posted a good 4.06 ERA, but a low strikeout rate (5.65 per 9) and some slight control issues (3.42 BB per 9; acceptable only for someone who misses more bats than Davies) make that number look slightly fluky. For the Royals to succeed, they need repeated success from their bullpen - which RHP Juan Cruz should certainly help; he was a great addition - and a big step forward from their young starters, all of whom have potential to do exactly that.
As for the former Braves thing, a perusal of their transaction log reveals a lot of former Tomahawkers. To wit: Kyle Davies, Ron Mahay, Juan Cruz, Horacio Ramirez, Oscar Villareal, Roman Colon, Kyle Farnsworth, and Tony and Brayan Pena. This is, in all likelihood, completely coincidental and irrelevant, but it's still kinda neat. We think.
PECOTA projected record: 76-86, 4th in AL Central
KCSD projected record: 78-84, 4th in AL Central
We think the AL Central is a fairly tough division; at any rate, we think the Tigers, Indians, and White Sox are all demonstrably better, but also that the Royals aren't far off. It's an optimistic 78 win projection that we're hanging on them.
Around the Horn
C John Buck: .231/.303/.393, 15 HR. Buck's just not a very good hitter, but he is going to be 28, and has demonstrated a small bit of power in the past. That's not to say we're very optimistic; this is still a veritable black hole for the Royals.
1B Mike Jacobs: .261/.313/.505, 26 HR. Jacobs is good for exactly one thing: hitting the long ball. And chicks dig that, so Jacobs is ok by us! The biggest problem for the Royals is that between Jacobs and Billy Butler, they have two powerful bats and zero capable gloves. First base is going to be ugly this year.
2B Alberto Callaspo: .287/.367/.391, 3 HR. Callaspo possesses a valuable skill that is rare in this lineup: a good batting eye. Of course, he comes with the baggage of being an (alleged) woman beater with something of a drinking problem, but if he can get his life straight, he can get some good PT and put up a good line. We think.
3B Alex Gordon: .271/.357/.491, 25 HR, 12 SB. Gordon arrived with as much hype as any other prospect in recent years, and, for the most part, has failed to deliver. But he was excellent in the second half last season, and while his defense slipped, his bat should compensate in his age-25 season.
SS Mike Aviles: .290/.335/.468, 16 HR. We like Aviles to continue hitting like he did in his 441 MLB ABs; a very strong recent minor league track record leads us to believe that his bat is legitimate. Negative reviews of his defense have thusfar proved unsubstantiated; he was well above average last year, and if he can keep that up this year, too, then he'll be one of the better shortstops in the league.
LF David DeJesus: .282/.347/.436, 10 HR, 10 SB. DeJesus suffered a severe drop in production two seasons ago, but posted the best season of his career as a 28-year old in 2008. He won't repeat those numbers (.307/.366/.452, 12, 11) but he should come close.
CF Coco Crisp: .275/.340/.401, 7 HR, 16 SB. We'd like to hope that he fails to crack the Mendoza line, but he seemed to figure things out a little last season after his career had been going steadily downhill since his banner '05. So we begrudgingly project him to be decent for a CF. That's as nice as we'll be for Covelli.
RF Jose Guillen: .271/.308/.424, 14 HR. We've always felt Guillen got a raw deal, but we never had to deal with him in the clubhouse and so always sort of discounted his general attitude. As such, we want to project him higher, but he kinda went off a cliff last year, and he's going to be 33, so we don't think there's much chance of him rebounding.
From the Bump: Starters
RHP Gil Meche: 208 IP, 3.79 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 175 K, 68 BB. As we mentioned, we think Meche was very much a worthy signing, and we think he'll continue to prove it in his age-30 season. He demonstrated great strikeout potential last year at the cost of increased walks, a trend that we like - an increased ability to miss bats at 29 speaks well to his ability to make adjustments and good stuff.
RHP Zack Greinke: 200 IP, 3.19 ERA, 1.20 ERA, 192 K, 55 BB. We think Greinke has the talent to be one of the best pitchers in the league, and if it weren't for Meche's millions, he'd be the ace of the team. The question with him has always been whether he has the mental makeup to put it all together; this is, after all, a man who walked away from baseball for a year because of emotional issues. We trust and hope that he can; only 25, the future is very, very bright for Greinke.
RHP Brian Bannister: 175 IP, 5.18 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 100 K, 68 BB. Bannister has been a favorite of Joe Posnanski's; his cerebral approach and knowledge of advanced statistical analysis and how to manipulate it is, admittedly, rather fascinating. He has showed a marvelous ability to adapt his game, seemingly raising K rates at will, or nibbling at spots when necessary. And yet, his underwhelming stuff simply makes it very difficult to be much better than average.
RHP Kyle Davies: 130 IP, 5.05 ERA, 1.53 ERA, 82 K, 50 BB. We simply don't think Davies is very good. He was great for awhile as a rookie with the Braves, but he hasn't showed much promise ever since. Furthermore, he's always struggled with his health; our 130 IP could easily be too high.
RHP Luke Hochevar: 140 IP, 4.84 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 85 K, 44 BB. We're a sucker for young talent; the 6'5'' Hochevar is a recent draftee who has plenty of it. We think he can be pretty good, even though he didn't exactly light the world on fire in his debut season. If he can take a big step forward, that would be huge for the Royals, who are seriously lacking in starting pitching after their top two guys.
From the Bump: Relievers
Closer Joakim Soria: 68 IP, 1.87 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 72 K, 19 BB, 38 SV. The Mexicutioner (good work by Rany Jazayerli getting him nicknamed) was lights out last season, and there's no reason to think he can't continue it this year. Already one of the preeminent closers in the game, he has overpowering stuff that makes hitters look silly, and, at 25, he's only going to get better.
Setup man Juan Cruz: 66 IP, 3.10 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 81 K, 36 BB. A great strikeout pitcher (averaging more than 1 per inning for his career), Cruz was a fantastic signing to help bolster the back end of the bullpen. He's the extra power arm that can really bring everything together, especially because his presence means that Kyle Farnsworth won't be seeing as many important innings. We love Farnsworth, but his deal was a mistake, and his tendency to serve up gopher balls doesn't bode well for late-inning relievers.