Monday, July 6, 2020

Kansas City Royals 2020 Season Preview 2.0


       It was another progressive year for the Royals in 2019. The 2015 World Series champions have hit rock bottom. The picked second overall last June, going with high school infielder Bobby Witt Jr. The Royals have a fast team, with 43 base stealer Adalberto Mondesi Jr. Outfielder Jorge Soler also set the franchise record in home runs. The team has some decent players, but they need to build around their core better.

       Offseason additions: 3B Maikel Franco, RHP Chance Adams, RHP Greg Holland, RHP Trevor Rosenthal.

       Offseason subtractions: UT Cheslor Cuthbert, 1B Lucas Duda, RHP Brad Boxberger, RHP Wily Peralta, LHP Brian Flynn.

       Rotation
Former Rule-5 pick Brad Keller was great in his rookie season of 2018, with a 3.08 ERA. He regressed last year, but still had a respectable 4.19 ERA with 122 strikeouts in 165.1 innings. His 0.8 HR/9 and 8.4 H/9 were very solid compared to the average pitcher. However, his 3.8 BB/9 was high. Keller's slider had an average against of .194, but the pitch was hit hard, with an average of 90.2 mph off the bat. Danny Duffy has a career ERA of 3.98, but 2017 was his last season with an ERA under 4. He had a 4.34 ERA with 115 strikeouts in 130.2 innings. His 23 starts were his least since he made five in 2013. Duffy's 88.9 mph average exit velocity was his worst in the last five years. Jakob Junis had a career high 8.4 K/9, but he also had career worsts in ERA (5.24), BB/9 (3.0), H/9 (9.9) and WHIP (1.426). Junis' slider had a slugging against of .232. The Royals brought back their 2008 first round pick in Mike Montgomery, who had never played with the club prior to 2019. A World Series winning swingman, Montgomery made 13 starts with Kansas City, posting a 4.64 ERA with 51 Ks in 64 innings. Montgomery's xBA (.316) and xERA (6.91) were both in the bottom one percent of the league. The final spot is an open battle with an opener as a possibility. Glenn Sparkman made 23 starts last year, but posted a horrid 6.02 ERA. Sparkman had an average exit velocity against of 90.6 miles per hour. Oft-injured righty Jesse Hahn is back. He allowed seven runs in 4.2 innings late last year. The most starts he made in a season is 16, coming in his 3.35 ERA year of 2015. Out of his 107 pitches in 2019, none of them were his curveball, which in his last season of 2017, had a 3005 rpm spin rate. Chance Adams, once one of the top prospects in the Yankees system, was traded to the Royals after having a horrid 8.53 ERA in 25.1 innings. His slider has a great spin rate of 2986 rpm.

       Bullpen
Former starter Ian Kennedy emerged as an unlikely closer. Prior to 2019 he had made just two relief appearances, both coming with the Yankees from 2008-2009. He converted 30 saves last year, with a 3.41 ERA that was his best since 2011. His 10.4 K/9 was a career high. His 2.4 BB/9 rate was his best in a long time. Kennedy also saw a 2.5 miles per hour raise on his fastball from 2018 to 2019. Scott Barlow struck out 92 batters over 70.1 innings, allowing just six home runs with a 4.22 ERA. Barlow also walked 11.9 percent of batters. Lefty Tim Hill had a solid 3.63 ERA with 39 strikeouts over 39.2 innings. Lefties hit just .186 against him with a .465 OPS. Hill had a super-high 32.6% whiff rate on his fastball. Jorge Lopez had a rough year as a swingman. In 39 games (18 starts), Lopez had a 6.33 ERA with 109 strikeouts in 123.2 innings. He was hurt by the long ball, allowing 27 home runs. Lopez has three separate pitches (fastball, change-up, sinker) with an rpm under 2000. Greg Holland, a three time all-star and Kansas City's closer when they won the World Series, is back as a non-roster invitee. Holland saved 17 games for Arizona last year, with a 4.54 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 35.2 innings. His 6.3 H/9 and .199 xBA might have been his most impressive stats last year. Jake Newberry had an encouraging season. He played in 27 games, posting a 3.77 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 31 innings, but allowed seven home runs. Newberry's slider had an average against of just .098. Kevin McCarthy had a 4.48 ERA in 56 games last season, but was great in 2018, pitching in 65 games with a 3.25 ERA. He is not a strikeout guy, with a 5.7 career K/9. McCarthy allowed barrels just 4.3% of the time. The Royals can go a lot of different ways for the final spots. Josh Staumont was a 25 year old rookie with a 3.72 ERA in 16 games last year. The team's 29th best prospect per MLB Pipeline, Staumont's fastball averaged 95.9 miles per hour. Randy Rosario is a lefty who posted a 4.40 ERA in 19 games for the Royals and Cubs last year. He did not allow a run in 3.2 innings in the KC portion. Rosario backed away from his fastball after it had a .513 slugging against in 2018. Trevor Rosenthal did not allow a run with nine Ks in five Spring Training innings. His 2019 was terrible. He allowed 23 earned runs in 15.1 innings (13.50 ERA) over 22 games for the Nats and Tigers. While he struck out 17 batters, he walked 26 batters and hit four of them. His 15.3 BB/9 has to be some sort of bad record. If he can get his control together, and judging by his no walks issued in Spring Training, he can, Rosenthal can be a dangerous relief option. Rosenthal's fastball averages 98 miles an hour, and only has an average exit velocity of 85.6 mph.

       Catchers
Salvador Perez missed all of 2019 with an injury sustained in Spring Training that lead to Tommy John surgery. A five time Gold Glover and two time Silver Slugger, Perez hit 27 home runs with 80 RBIs in both 2017 and 2018. He had a weak .235 average and .713 OPS in 2018, but he still won the Silver Slugger at catcher. Before the injury, he was one of baseball's best catchers. Currently infected with COVID, Perez should recover. Cam Gallagher and Meibrys Viloria are in a battle for the backup spot. Gallagher played in 45 games last year, three more than Viloria. Both have options, so that is not a factor. Gallagher is four years older with 28 more games of MLB experience. Gallagher had a .677 OPS compared to Viloria's .544.

      Infielders
Ryan O'Hearn and Ryan McBroom are in a battle for first base. Both can make the team, but that would rule out a backup infielder, which the Royals don't necessarily need as Nicky Lopez, Hunter Dozier, Adalberto Mondesi and Whit Merrifield can all play multiple positions. O'Hearn hit 14 home runs last year, but he also had a .195 average and a .650 OPS. He had a .950 OPS in 44 games in 2018. O'Hearn hits the ball hard, with a career average exit velocity of 90.8 mph. McBroom debuted late last year, with six RBIs and a .293 average in 23 games (83 PAs). For AAA Scranton (Yankees system), McBroom hit .315 with a .976 OPS and 26 home runs. Nicky Lopez hit .353 with a .957 OPS in 31 AAA games, earning himself the second base job in the majors. He played in 103 MLB games, with a .240 average and .601 OPS with two home runs. He had three defensive runs saved at second base. Lopez fits the Royals mold, as a free-swinging hitter who doesn't strike out, or hit the ball hard, with good speed and defense. Adalberto Mondesi stole 43 bases, with a .263 average and a league leading 10 triples, tied with teammates Whit Merrifield and Hunter Dozier. He had a .715 OPS, 89 points lower than his 2018 mark. His 29.9 ft/s average sprint speed tied his 2018 number. The Royals gave inconsistent power hitter Maikel Franco $3 million to play third base. He hit 17 home runs last year. It was his first season without at least 20 home runs since his 80 game 2015 season. He had a .234 average and .705 OPS for the Phillies last season, both below his career average. Unlike other inconsistent power hitters, Franco doesn't strike out often, with a 14.3% K rate in 2019. He is a bad defender, with -7 outs above average at third base.

       Outfielders
The Royals' starting outfield will compose of two former starting infielders. Whit Merrifield led the league in hits and stolen bases in 2018, as well as stolen bases in 2017. He stole just 20 bases in 2019, getting caught a league leading 10 times. He led the league in hits again, with 206. Also, his 681 at-bats were the most in the league. Merrifield was always fast but never as fast as teammates and ex-teammates like Billy Hamilton, Adalberto Mondesi and Terrance Gore. He had a .302 average and a career high .811 OPS, making his first all-star team while making a transition from second base to right field to accommodate Lopez's arrival. He will move again, to center field. Hunter Dozier, a natural third baseman who can play first base and right field, broke out in 2019. He hit 26 home runs with 84 RBIs, a .279 average and an .870 OPS in 139 games. Dozier hit the ball harder than ever before, averaging 91.1 mph, and is surprisingly fast, with a 28.3 ft/s sprint speed. He made improvements defensively as well, going from -13 DRS in 2018 to -4 in 2019. Alex Gordon returns for his 14th season as a Royal. A seven time Gold Glover (winning them all in the last eight years), Gordon hit 13 home runs with a .266 average and .741 OPS. Gordon won the Gold Glove award despite having -5 outs above average. While he isn't the offensive player he once was, Gordon's average and OPS were his highest since 2015, when he was an all-star for the third time. The team will likely carry both Bubba Starling and Brett Phillips, both of whom are out of options. The 5th overall pick in 2011, Starling finally debuted in 2019, hitting four home runs with a .215 average and .572 OPS. Starling whiffed on 61.3% of breaking balls. Brett Phillips is a classic AAAA player. He has good AAA numbers, with 18 home runs, 22 stolen bases and an .883 OPS last year. He is not a good MLB player, with a career .203 average and .620 OPS. At age 26, 2020 might be Phillips' last chance to stay on an MLB roster. Jorge Soler finally had his big season, hitting a franchise record 48 home runs, which also led the league. He led the league in strikeouts too, with 178. He hit .265 with a career best .922 OPS. He is a terrible fielder, and with the Royals' plethora of outfielders, I'd be surprised if he saw any fielding time in 2020. Soler had an average exit velocity of 92.6 mph, and an xSLG of .593.

       Projected Opening Day Lineup
CF Whit Merrfield (R)
SS Adalberto Mondesi (S)
DH Jorge Soler (R)
RF Hunter Dozier (R)
C Salvador Perez (R)
LF Alex Gordon (L)
3B Maikel Franco (R)
1B Ryan O'Hearn (L)
2B Nicky Lopez (L)

       Projected Rotation
Brad Keller (R)
Danny Duffy (L)
Jakob Junis (R)
Mike Montgomery (L)
Jesse Hahn (R)

        Projected Bullpen
Ian Kennedy, closer (R)
Scott Barlow (R)
Tim Hill (L)
Jorge Lopez (R)
Greg Holland (R)
Jake Newberry (R)
Trevor Rosenthal (R)
Kevin McCarthy (R)
Randy Rosario (L)
Glenn Sparkman (R)
Chance Adams (R)
Josh Staumont (R)

       Projected Bench
C Cam Gallagher (R)
1B Ryan McBroom (R)
OF Brett Phillips (L)
OF Bubba Starling (R)

Baseball-Reference OOTP Simulator Stats:
34-57 Record, 4th in AL Central
Most home runs: Ryan O'Hearn (13)
Highest batting average: Whit Merrifield (.316)
Highest OPS: Whit Merrifield (.815)
Best ERA, starters: Danny Duffy (5.24)
Best ERA, relievers: Richard Lovelady (2.04)
Most innings pitched: Danny Duffy (103.0)
Most strikeouts: Jakob Junis (72)
Best K/9: Trevor Rosenthal (14.9)

Record through 60 games, last five seasons:
2019: 19-41
2018: 21-39
2017: 26-34
2016: 30-30
2015: 35-25

       Prediction
The Royals are not a good team. While their lineup is much better than the lineup of the Orioles, Tigers and Marlins (the other three teams to lose at least 100 games last year), the pitching staff is terrible. They don't have a starter that would even be on a team like the Yankees, Astros, Dodgers or Nationals if healthy, and only Ian Kennedy could make those teams, but in a middle-relief role. That just shows how bad their rotation and bullpen is, and that will help them finish 4th in the AL Central once again, in 2020.

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