Thursday, March 4, 2021

Kansas City Royals 2021 Season Preview


 

       This past offseason, the teams that come to mind as key contributors are the Dodgers, White Sox, Mets and of course, the Padres. But, the Royals should be on people's lists as well. The team did exactly what a rebuilding team should do: make small, but important acquisitions while not outright blocking any top prospects. The Royals did a good job with this, and while they still don't look playoff bound, they are a   much better team than they were a year ago. 

Offseason additions: 1B Carlos Santana, OF Andrew Benintendi, LHP Mike Minor, OF Michael A. Taylor, OF Jarrod Dyson, IF Hanser Alberto, RHP Brad Brach, RHP Wade Davis.

Offseason subtractions: OF Alex Gordon, IF Maikel Franco, RHP Ian Kennedy, RHP Matt Harvey, OF Franchy Cordero.


Trade Deadline 2020 summary

Acquired: OF Edward Olivares, IF Lucius Fox.

Traded: RHP Trevor Rosenthal, OF Brett Phillips.

2020 record: 26-34

2020 placement: 4th

2020 WAR leader (batter): Salvador Perez

2020 WAR leader (pitcher): Brad Keller


Starting Pitchers

25 year old former Rule-5 draft pick Brad Keller rebounded from a weak 2019, with a 2.47 ERA over nine starts. Keller's 7.9 BB% was a career best, as was his 3.7 barrel percentage. Batters hit just .179 with an average exit velocity of 85.2 mph against Keller's fastball. The Royals' leader in innings pitched was rookie Brady Singer, who the team selected 18th overall in 2018. Singer struck out a team leading 61 batters in 64.1 innings with a 3.85 xERA. Thanks to a sinker being his primary pitch, Singer had a 53.7% groundball rate. The main rotation addition for Kansas City was bringing back Mike Minor, who had a 2.55 ERA and a 10.2 K/9 out of the Royals bullpen in 2017. Since then, Minor went from ace to struggling back-end starter. For the Rangers and A's last year, Minor had a 5.56 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 56.2 innings, while striking out 27 in 21.1 batters for Oakland. Batters had an xBA of just .199 against Minor's changeup, and his 4.33 xERA suggests that he was unlucky. The other first round pick for the Royals in 2018 was Kris Bubic, who prior to 2020 had never played above High-A. But, he was called up to the big leagues last year, and held his own, with a 4.32 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 50 innings. He had an above average exit velocity allowed, at 87.1 mph. Entering what potentially could be his final season with the Royals is Danny Duffy, who had a K/9 over 9.0 for the first time since 2016. Duffy had 57 strikeouts in 56.1 innings, while finishing with a career worst 4.95 ERA. His slider is still effective, with a .188 average against and a 34.5% K rate. At 4.61, Duffy's xERA was lower than his ERA for the first time in the Statcast era. Jakob Junis looks to be moving to the bullpen after another weak season, but he could join the rotation if there is an injury. Junis had a 6.39 ERA over eight games (six starts), and batters had a .287 xBA against him. One positive out of his short 2020 season is an improved 5.3 BB%. Top pitching prospects Jackson Kowar and Daniel Lynch could make noise, but it is still too early for 2020 4th overall pick Asa Lacy. 

Relief Pitchers

The Royals have an interesting bullpen, as it isn't bad, and they also don't have any lefties. After Trevor Rosenthal was traded to San Diego at the trade deadline, Greg Holland returned to the closer role. Holland came in on a minor league deal, and the Royals were able to fix him, back to the way he was during his first Kansas City stint. Holland struck out 31 batters in 28.1 innings, with a 1.91 ERA. He allowed just one home run, and batters had a .199 xBA against Holland. Similarly, Holland's former partner in crime, Wade Davis, is in camp on a minor league deal and has a good chance at making the team. Davis was awful in Colorado, with an 8.65 ERA over 50 games in 2019, and he allowed 10 runs in 4.1 innings in 2020. Davis' fastball has actually increased in spin rate since leaving Kansas City, but his velocity has tanked, down all the way to an average of 91.4 mph in 2020. Former 2nd round pick Josh Staumont solidified himself as a key member of the bullpen, striking out 37 batters in 25.2 innings with a 2.45 ERA. His fastball often hits 100 mph, and his curveball had a .172 average against with a 55.3% K rate. Some concerns are his 50% hard hit percentage against and his 14.3% BB rate. Oft-injured righty Jesse Hahn had a great full-time return to baseball, striking out 19 while only allowing one run in 17.1 innings (0.52 ERA). Batters hit just .071 against Hahn. 25 year old rookie Tyler Zuber struck out 30 batters in 22 innings with a 4.09 ERA. He could be much better if he can limit his walks, as Zuber walked 20 batters for a 20.2 BB%. Scott Barlow pitched in a league leading 32 games, and while he had a 4.20 ERA, he struck out 39 batters in 30 innings. Both his slider and curveball had whiff rates over 40%, but his third pitch, his fastball, allowed a .324 average to hitters. Former 5th overall pick Kyle Zimmer debuted as a 27 year old in 2019, and he allowed 22 runs in 18.1 innings. He got his redemption in 2020, as Zimmer punched out 26 batters in 23 innings with a 1.57 ERA. Batters had an xSLG against Zimmer of .289. If they want to carry a lefty, Richard Lovelady is the best option without taking from the rotation. However, Lovelady appeared in just one game last year, and he has a career 7.71 ERA. 

Catchers

After missing the 2019 season with Tommy John surgery, Salvador Perez had a great 37 game 2020, and won his third Silver Slugger award. Perez hit 11 home runs with a .333 average and a .986 OPS. Perez hit .435 with an .855 slugging against fastballs. He is also a great defender, with five Gold Gloves under his belt. The backup role is a competition between Cam Gallagher and Meibrys Viloria. Gallagher was more productive in 2020, hitting .283 with a .790 OPS. Viloria went 4-for-21 with a .530 OPS. 

Infielders

The new first baseman in Kansas City is veteran Carlos Santana, who had a down year, based off of his .199 average and .699 OPS, but there were positives. Santana walked a league leading 47 times, raising his OBP to .349. He also only struck out 43 times. Santana still hit for some power, with eight home runs in 60 games, which is a 162 game pace of 21.6. Nicky Lopez is an elite defender, with seven outs above average at second base, earning him a Gold Glove finalist spot. He does have a limit, as Lopez is an awful hitter. He had a .551 OPS with an average exit velocity of 84.9 mph. Adalberto Mondesi is similar to Lopez, but he is a better hitter, with a .710 OPS in 2020. Mondesi led the league with 24 stolen bases, but he also led the league in caught stealings, with eight. He had a 29.4 ft/s sprint speed and five outs above average at shortstop. Hunter Dozier had a breakout .870 OPS in 2019, but regressed to .736 in 2020. The Royals are using the down season to their advantage, as they recently signed Dozier to a four year, $25 million extension. Dozier had a 14.5% BB rate, but he also strikes out often, and had a low average exit velocity of 86.4 mph last year. With Maikel Franco gone, Dozier will move back to his natural position of third base. One of Ryan O'Hearn and Ryan McBroom will make the team as a backup 1B/DH/RF. McBroom was much better in 2020, with a .789 OPS compared to O'Hearn's .604, but O'Hearn got more playing time, and his lefty bat may get him the spot. Hanser Alberto is a good hit-for-average backup, with a .299 average since the start of 2019. But, he doesn't hit the ball hard or walk, or strikeout for that matter. 

Outfielders

Longtime Royal Alex Gordon retired in the offseason, and in his place in left field comes Andrew Benintendi, who like Gordon, has won one World Series ring. Injuries plagued Benintendi in 2020, as he went just 4-for-39. He had an OPS of .839 through mid-August in 2019, but a late season slump caused him to end at .774. Whit Merrifield has the player traits of an old-school player: he doesn't miss games, he hits for average and steals bases while not striking out, and he is versatile. Merrfield hasn't missed a game since 2018, and he led the league in hits in 2018 and 2019, and in stolen bases in 2017 and 2018. He swiped 12 bags with 70 hits in 2020, with a low K rate of 12.5%. The Royals brought in veteran Michael A. Taylor to start in centerfield. Taylor has speed and is a good defender. He went just 18-for-92 in 2020, but five of those hits were home runs. Taylor has a high career K rate of 31.2%. Acquired at the deadline for Rosenthal, Edward Olivares has elite speed, with an average sprint speed of 28.9 ft/s. In 18 games after the trade, Olivares hit two homers with a .274 average and a .712 OPS. The last bench spot is a battle between Alberto and Nick Heath. Heath is a speed and defense outfielder who only had 18 Plate Appearances despite appearing in 15 games last year. After a franchise record 48 home runs in 2019, Jorge Soler hit eight in 2020, with a .769 OPS. His strikeout problems got worse, as Soler had a career worst 34.5 K%. He still hit rockets, with an average exit velocity of 92.5 mph and a 51.1 hard hit percentage.


Projected Rotation
Brad Keller (R)
Brady Singer (R)
Mike Minor (L)
Kris Bubic (L)
Danny Duffy (L)

Projected Bullpen
Greg Holland (R)
Josh Staumont (R)
Jesse Hahn (R)
Scott Barlow (R)
Tyler Zuber (R)
Jakob Junis (R)
Wade Davis (R)
Kyle Zimmer (R)

Projected Lineup
RF Whit Merrifield (R)
3B Hunter Dozier (R)
C Salvador Perez (R)
DH Jorge Soler (R)
1B Carlos Santana (S)
LF Andrew Benintendi (L)
SS Adalberto Mondesi (S)
CF Michael A. Taylor (R)
2B Nicky Lopez (L)

Projected Bench
C Cam Gallagher (R)
1B Ryan O'Hearn (L)
IF Hanser Alberto (R)
OF Edward Olivares (R)

Projection
The Royals made a lot of progress with their rebuild in the offseason, which is all you could ask for from a team in their position. They undoubtedly made their team better. Are they playoff contenders? No. But, progress is progress, and the Royals should be applauded for what they have done.

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