As we watch one of the Royals foes in the American League Central play in the World Series, it suddenly seems like the idea of contention for the Royals is about as laughable as it gets. Maybe suddenly isn’t the right word considering how long it’s been since the last time the Royals actually contended, but in watching the entirety of the 2012 season, it was very easy to say, ‘Well…if they only had some pitching, they’d be able to stick with these mediocre teams.’ My first point to that is while the Tigers have serious star power in their lineup and in their rotation, they also don’t have a great supporting cast. What seemed like a wild disappointment of a season resulted in finishing a relatively low 16 games behind the AL’s representative in the World Series.
Yesterday, Bob Dutton said in the Pine Tar Podcast that if the Royals pick up two number three pitchers, they’ll be able to contend. In that group, he was including Jeremy Guthrie. For the sake of the argument I’m about to make, let’s call the other guy Kyle Lohse only because that name seems to be popping up quite a bit in the rumor mill. And trust me, you know how I feel about that. Still, we’re trying to be realistic. According to Fangraphs, the Royals had 8 players who saw significant big league time (more than 100 ABs/more than 40 IP) produce a negative WAR, totaling -5.1 wins. Of those players, two of them will almost assuredly not be back (Yuniesky Betancourt and Jonathan Sanchez) and one other we hope will make significant leaps and bounds from a lost season (Eric Hosmer). The others on the list are Brayan Pena, Johnny Giavotella, Jeff Francoeur, Louis Coleman and Everett Teaford. I imagine another down year like that for any of them will lead to replacements being brought in.
So let’s start with the players who shouldn’t be back and begin with everybody’s favorite utility infielder, Yuniesky Betancourt. We’ll say he’s replaced by Falu who put up a 0.4 WAR last season. He pretty clearly played above his head, but over the course of a full season, I think we could see a 0.5 WAR, which is a gain of 1.3 wins. Keep that number in your head. Jonathan Sanchez and his -0.6 WAR is gone. He can’t hurt you anymore. His replacement, Jeremy Guthrie put up a 1.5 WAR in 91 innings for the Royals. For the sake of this argument, let’s double that and give him 3. That’s a 3.6 win improvement and about five wins when you add in Falu over Betancourt. Now we’re getting closer to competing. This is fun.
The other third starter the Royals are adding in this scenario is Kyle Lohse who would likely take over the games pitched by the likes of Will Smith, Jake Odorizzi and a variety of others. While I don’t think Lohse is a very good fit for the Royals, I do think he’ll be non-terrible entity. I can see him putting up about a 2.0 WAR. I may be a little low here, but I’m trying to be conservative. He’ll be replacing about 0.8 WAR for a net gain of 1.2.
There are two big wild cards in this game. The first is Eric Hosmer, who we all hope will break out and fulfill his promise that we all believed in prior to the 2012 season. Instead, he was one of the worst everyday players in all of baseball. For this argument, I’m going to assume Hosmer bounces back because if he isn’t what the Royals expected him to be, or even a reasonable facsimile of that, contending is probably not an option without some shrewd moves. Taking into account his rookie season WAR of 1.6 and the potential for improvement, let’s play it conservative and give him a 2.5 WAR. He’s held back by the metrics really not liking his defense. Still, it’s not a huge stretch to see him put up the 2.5 for a net gain of 3.6.
The other wild card is how much Jeff Francoeur will play. Francoeur put up a -1.2 WAR in 2012. The hope among Royals fans is that Wil Myers comes to the big leagues to save the day and unseat Francoeur from his perch in right field. I don’t think Myers starts the year in the big leagues, so I think we see about a month of Jeff Francoeur. Let’s be positive and give him a 0 WAR in that time before Wil Myers comes up and puts up a 2.0 WAR for the rest of the year. That’s a 3.2 win improvement over the previous season in right field.
Put that all together, and you have about a 13 win improvement. Then add in full seasons (we hope) from Salvador Perez (figure about 4.0 WAR, an increase of 1.4), Lorenzo Cain (figure 3.0, an increase of 1.3), hopefully an offensive improvement for Mike Moustakas (figure 4.0, an increase of 0.5) and what I think will be a bit of a bounceback for Bruce Chen (2.0, an increase of 0.7) to add an 3.9 more wins and we’re looking at a Royals team that can win 89 games if everything goes right.
That was fun. But let’s get back to reality now. This is exactly the kind of article that will be pretty universally disliked by those who don’t believe in stats so heavily. What I’m about to say may be surprising. They’re right in this instance. In a perfect world, everything I’ve listed above happens and the Royals can put together a team that wins 90 games and compete for a division title. Unfortunately, there are some kinks in that plan beginning with the fact that somebody who the Royals are counting on to put up a solid season is bound to get injured. Another player is likely to underperform. Other players are going to regress like Luis Mendoza, Francisely Bueno (if he’s on the roster), Alcides Escobar (if his hitting falters at all). Plus a guy like Jarrod Dyson who put up a WAR of 1.6 shouldn’t get the playing time he did this past season. If he does, the Royals are somewhat doomed I think. This happens for all teams, but the difference is that I don’t have the faith in the organization to build the depth necessary to withstand these issues. Still, it’s fun to think about. I think we’re very down on this team for a lot of great reasons, but the fact is that with an admittedly large amount of unknown facts, they could have a very good 2013. I wouldn’t bet on it, but I guess that’s why they play the games.
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