With the youth movement in full effect last year, the Kansas City Royals were expected to take a decent step forward. Instead, they won just 1 more game in 2012 than in ’11, going a very disappointing 72-90, but good enough for a 3rd place finish in the AL Central.
The main culprit was just what we thought it might be: pitching. KC’s team ERA of 4.30 was 23rd best in baseball. The blame fell largely on the starting rotation who were 3rd worst in baseball with just 69 quality starts. The combined ERA of the starting unit was 5.01, accounting for the 5th worst mark across MLB. The Mets led baseball with 101. If not for a very solid bullpen, the lid would have really come off on the Royals’ pitching stats last year.
Despite losing Joakim Soria for the season, the Royals got great work out of Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, and company. The pen’s 3.17 ERA was 6th best in the big leagues.
Kansas City took aggressive measures in the offseason in an attempt to bolster their starting rotation. They acquired Ervin Santana from the Angels and then shook the foundation of the league in a deal that brought James Shields and Wade Davis over from the Rays. In that trade, GM Dayton Moore coughed up uber prospect Wil Myers (ranked the #4 prospect by MLB.com) and other key minor leaguers such as Jake Odorizzi. In another move, it took 3 years and $25M to re-up Jeremy Guthrie.
Best Case Scenario for 2012
Much like last year, the upside on this Royals roster is enough that they could finish as high as 2nd in the division, trailing only the Detroit Tigers. For KC to experience true success, they will need valuable and consistent innings from Guthrie, Davis, Santana, and Bruce Chen. Offensive resurgences from Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas would pay huge dividends for Manager Ned Yost as well.
Most Important Royals
In the batter’s box it is Eric Hosmer. After a standout rookie season and great spring training in 2012, Hosmer fell flat during the regular season. Fans are hoping that a rotator cuff tear was entirely to blame because the offensively toolbox appears to be stuffed full for Hosmer. So is he the guy who hit .293 with 19 homers in 128 games as a rookie or the one who hit .232 with 14 homers in 152 games as a Sophomore? My best guess is that he’s even better than what he showed as a rookie. He needs to fulfill his destiny as a prolific middle of the order presence in the Royals’ lineup alongside Billy Butler.
On the mound, the burden that James Shields will carry is not a small one. This is a guy who has averaged over 221 innings per season over his last 6. He has shouldered a heavy load and thanks to a revelation with his changeup offering the last 2 years have been spectacular. Sometimes a mediocre rotation just needs an ace to follow. Shields can be that leader but in the end it’s up to the other 4 to follow suit.
Potential Breakout Players
The stars were aligned last season for Lorenzo Cain to take the next step as this team’s starting centerfielder. Injury prevented that from coming to fruition. He managed to get into just 61 games. He hit .266 with good speed and extra-base pop in his bat when he did suit up. He’ll turn 27 in April and his time to step into a more prominent role is now. If he can stay healthy and finally play a full season in the big leagues he is capable of a stat line like this: .275 avg., 30 doubles, 15 homers, and 25 steals. Also, expect Salvador Perez to blossom into one of the game’s elite catchers this season by hitting around .300 with upwards of 20 homers.
Wade Davis was not just a throw-in piece in the Wil Myers/James Shields deal. Davis, 27, has pitched decently as a starter from 2009-11 and dominantly as a reliever in 2012. After posting ERA’s over 4 in his 2 full seasons starting for Joe Maddon’s Rays, Davis was shifted to the pen last year and struck out 87 hitters in 70.1 innings with a 2.43 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. The uptick in K’s was a new addition. In 2+ years as a starter he fanned only 254 in 391.1 innings of work. Kansas City could most use him in a starting role and will give him every opportunity to prove that he belongs there. If he sticks as the #5 guy in the rotation it’s not unreasonable to think that he can throw a sub 4 ERA on the board with an increase in his past K rate as a starter. And if KC gets that from their #5, that is a monumental upgrade from previous years.
Worst Case Scenario
Continued disappointment from Hosmer and Moustakas, coupled with all of those innings catching up to James Shields’ shoulder, could spell doom for the Royals. Everyone in the Central has improved their roster this offseason with the possible exception of the Twins. I don’t see Kansas City finishing any worse than 4th. With Chicago remaining solid and an extreme roster makeover being touched up in Cleveland, the Royals will have stiff competition for that #2 spot in the division.
Areas of Concern
When you trade away someone the caliber of a Wil Myers in an effort to shore up the starting rotation, you want to be sure that you got it right. I’m not convinced that they did. Shields is signed through 2013 with a team option for 2014. At that point, it’s all but certain that he’ll no longer be a Royal. Wade Davis has the potential to be a good starter. Wil Myers is likely a superstar in the making.
KC’s inability to develop solid starting pitching from their system has forced GM Dayton Moore to move a major piece in an effort to get more wins now. It’s a shame, really, because the wins that Shields and Davis might add won’t be enough to make this team a playoff contender. And then Shields will be gone and Myers will be lighting up the scoreboard in Tampa.
Even with the revamped starting rotation in KC, it’s just not going to be enough. At some point, all GM’s face pressure to prove that their formula is working by showing off in the win column. Dayton Moore was a few years away from being able to do it the right way, and now his plan has been compromised.
Who Needs to Bounce Back From a Down 2012
Coming up through the minors, Mike Moustakas was generally a higher rated prospect than Hosmer. Both struggled last year but we’ve already documented Hosmer’s importance to this team. Moustakas is every bit as capable of putting up a high octane season for the Royals. His averages by month looked like this, starting with April: .315, .240, .250, .247, .213, and .208. He wore down, probably more mentally than physically, as the year progressed and struck out more as a result. One thing that he did last year that went under the radar was put together a tremendous defensive season. Keep in mind that in his last full minor league season of 2010, he hit .322 with 41 doubles, 36 homers, and 124 RBI’s. There is thunder in his bat that he may start to find in his age 24 season.
Ervin Santana looked to be on the road toward being a reliable big league starter after strong seasons in 2010 and ’11. And then the guy who has gone on record as saying he is a home run pitcher (not an admirable trait) served up 39 long balls in 2012 and fell out of favor in LA. His numbers ballooned from 2011’s 3.38 ERA and 1.22 WHIP along with 178 K’s to 5.16, 1.27, and just 133. He still has the arm to miss bats and be effective. Whether he can maintain himself upstairs is another matter. If Kansas City’s rotation is going to take the next step, it’s not about Shields and Davis and Guthrie, it’s all about Santana.
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