How far are the Royals from contending in the near-future?

I've noticed a lot of pessimism about the possibility of contending in the future, and I think a lot of it comes from an unrealistic understanding of what we need.  Here I'm going to take a look at what normally wins the AL Central, what we currently have to work with, and what we would need to acquire to get there.

Please note, this is NOT a projection of what WILL happen.  It's an attempt to gauge what would NEED to happen for the Royals to be successful.  Whether we think it can be done or not is up for debate from there.

Q. What does it take to win the AL Central?

A. Normally, 93 wins. I averaged the number of wins of the team that won the Central over the last 10 years.  The high was 99, the low, 87.  (Central trivia: Who knows years and teams of the highs & lows w/out looking?)


Q. Okay, now that we know what we need, what will we have in 2012-2013?  How good are they?

A. To answer this, I looked at our current 25-man roster as well as prospects with ML experience. FAs next year are crossed out, and mutual options I'm considering FAs. I then found average fWAR for each player's recent history (3 years if they have played that long) as well as their current production this year.  (Note: For rookies, projected peaks were taken from the Fangraphs Top 30 Prospects Article.  I don't expect this production, as you will see below, just trying to provide information. AL averages and replacement win levels from here.)

Non-Pitchers fWAR

OF                History                                                     This year
Gordon         2.3 avg full/healthy years, 0 avg ('09-'10) 2.1 (on pace for 5!!!)
Cain             1.3 in 43 games w/ Milwaukee
Cabrera        0.3 avg last 3 years.                                 1.8
Francoeur     0.1 avg last 3 years.                                 1.3
Maier            0.3 each of last 2 years.                           0.3 already in 2011.
Dyson           0.6 in 18 games last year.                        0.2

IF                 History                                                     This year
Moustakas   Estimated Peak WAR: 6.0                        0.2
Escobar       0.9 last year in Milwaukee                         0.1 (Ouch. And that's after the recent surge.)
Getz             0.5 avg last 2 years, but 1/2 seasons       0.5
Aviles           1.7 avg last 3 years.                                  0.1
Hosmer        Estimated Peak WAR: 6.0                        0.4
Butler           2.5 avg last 2 years.                                 1.4 (Always had negative fielding, DH will improve value.)
Ka'aihue       0.2 in 52 games last year.                        -0.1
Betemit         0.6 avg last 3 years.                                 0.6

                History                                                     This year
Treaña         ~ 0.3 each in 60 game seasons                1.4! (0.8 Treanor, 0.6 Peña)

2011 KC Royals Non-Pitchers Total fWAR (as of 6/11/11): 10.1, on pace for > 24 fWAR.
Note: AL season average: 21.2 fWAR

Pitchers fWAR

SP                History                                                     This year
Hochevar     1.7 avg last 3 years.                                  0.4
Davies          1.5 avg last 3 years.                                 0.1
Chen            0.6 avg last 2 years (RP before that).       0.2
Duffy            Estimated Peak WAR: 4.0                        -0.1
Paulino         0.85 avg last 2 years.                               0.6
Francis         3.4 Healthy ('05-'07) 1.8 Not ('08,'10)       1.4
Mazzaro       0.35 avg last 2 years, half seasons.         -0.1
O'Sullivan     -0.2 avg last 2 years.                                -0.4
Adcock                                                                          -0.1

2011 KC Royals SP Total fWAR (as of 6/11/11): 2, on pace for 5 fWAR.
Note: AL season average: 12.9 fWAR

A crap shoot. For simplicity, lumping together. Running total for this year: 0.2

2007-2010 Royals RP season avg: 3.8
Note: AL season average: 3.9 fWAR

Interesting Notes:

  • Our offense is more-or-less fine.  With slight upticks in production from the rookies, we could be 6 games above league average without any major changes.
  • Getz looks like a 1 WAR player under full playing time (good thing he's not a pitcher, he would be mythical).
  • Catchers in the AL stink.  I always forget how low the standard really is.
  • Assuming our bullpen shapes into league average, which I for one believe it will, no upgrades needed there.
  • Starting pitching is killing us (Shocker!!!).  That being said, 'ole Davies and Hochevar haven't been worthless the last 3 years, nearly performing at league average.

Q. What pieces does this team need to add to compete for the division in 2012/2013?

A. A lot of pitching, and reasonable progress from the prospects. First, let's look at the projected hitters.  My estimates are based on a) what is needed combined with b) what could realistically happen.  Notice improved projections for some, not all.  In reality, the total is what matters, not who actually produces what.  I believe this is possible and necessary for the Royals to compete in 2012/2013.

OF                Needed/Realistic 2012/13
Gordon         4
Cain             3
Myers           3      - Estimated Peak WAR: 5.5
Bench           0.5

IF                 Needed/Realistic 2012/13
Moustakas   4      - Estimated Peak WAR: 6.0
Escobar       2
Getz/Gia      1   (Hopefully better, especially if Aviles bounces back.)
Hosmer        4      - Estimated Peak WAR: 6.0
Butler           3

                Needed/Realistic 2012/13
Peña/Pina    2

2012/13 KC Royals Non-Pitchers fWAR: 26.5

Ok things to note:  This projects all of our big prospects to improve, but no one (including current players) to bust out.  Realistically, we'll probably see some mix of this.  Note, these values are not far out-of-wack with what the Royals have produced so far this year, only improving 2 WAR over the course of the year.  I'm fairly optimistic this is achievable.

Now, assuming this plays out, what do we need from our rotation? For simplicity, let's assume the bullpen is average and use an estimate of 4.0 fWAR.

Wins Needed:   93
Replacement:  -47
Non-Pitchers:  -26.5
RP:                     -4

Needed SP:       15.5 fWAR

15.5, or more than 3 WAR a starter.  Realistically, what do we have? (I realize we would have to resign Francis and the chance of him getting injured is real.)

SP                Needed/Realistic 2012/13
Hochevar     2
Davies         2
Chen           1

Duffy            2.5  - Estimated Peak WAR: 4.0
Paulino        2 (He put up a 3.22 FIP last year in 14 starts.  That's something to work with.)
Francis        3
Mazzaro      1
O'Sullivan    0
Adcock         0.5

Yuck.  So from somewhere, the Royals need to procure 3 SP that will rack up ~ 9.5 fWAR or resign Francis and find 2 that could rack up ~ 8.  But what could we have coming up in the next 1.5 years?

Montgomery    -  Estimated Peak WAR: 5.0
Dwyer              -  Estimated Peak WAR: 3.5
Odorizzi           -  Estimated Peak WAR: 5.0

Realistically, no one on that list is likely to contribute much in 2012, and if they do, then maybe Duffy won't.  I already have him penciled in at a pretty optimistic level.  So that's the state of things.

Conclusion: The Royals will probably need to sign 2 pitchers capable of 8+ fWAR between them to compete in 2012/13.



Q. So what should the Royals do?

Playing GM: Alright, so I've done all of this work figuring out what we have, it's now time to play a little GM.  That's the fun part, right?

A. The Royals need to stand pat with position prospects, trading away Cabrera & Francoeur for what they can get as soon as possible.  Then call up Cain & Lough with Maier as the 4th OF unless Lough is outmatched for the rest of the year.  Continue letting Getz play until either a) Giovatella is OPSing nearly 900 or b) you are satisfied Getz will never hit enough to be a league average player.  If Mike starts hitting, then you work him back into the mix, as he has clearly shown the most potential of the 3 possible 2-baggers.  This offseason, be relatively frugal, extending Alex through his prime.  As far as SPers go, take a hard look at someone like Edwin Jackson (currently on a 2 yr/13.5mil deal, after similar performance, for perspective) for a 3-4 year deal, a durable starter who reliably puts up 3+ WAR seasons.  This lets you be competitive in 2012, and then get ready to woo an ace that is capable of 5 WAR a year for a 4-5 year deal in the deep SP pool of 2013.  This probably means locking up $40 million of the payroll for 4 years to 2 pitchers, but with the other contracts on the book, I think it's the right way to go.  Obviously durability and age must be considered.  They will also expire about the time we our hitters are getting really expensive.


I invite anyone to apply some of the aging curves/other prediction work being done to estimate performance more accurately, but I thought this was useful and still in the realm of work I could reasonably knock out in an afternoon.  It shows that while the Royals are quite aways from contention, with just a couple good moves (I know this is worrisome, but what can we do?) and some luck with our prospect hitters, it could happen.  It's not time yet, but we're getting close.


Also, first big post, any feedback appreciated.

This FanPost was written by a member of the Royals Review community. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the editors and writers of this site.

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