The obvious answer is: yes, the Royals were an 86 win team. After all, they just finished playing 162 real life baseball games to prove it.
They were an 86 win team despite an 8-20 July, but also because of a 17-3 run after the All-Star Break. Being a streaky baseball team does not mean that you are not the team your record portrays. The Pythagorean for this team ended up at 87 wins. So there is a very general stat that indicates the Royals were about who they were.
While the 2014 Royals will certainly not be constructed exactly as the 2013 roster was, I think one has to go into the off-season asking themselves: if the same group of players played similar amounts of time in 2014, would they win 86 games again? From there, you start subtracting your free agents, shopping for new ones and (gulp) looking at trades to add wins.
Offensively, this was, at best an inconsistent group. That said, I don't know that any player had a season that stood out as fluky. We saw Eric Hosmer improve dramatically from a poor 2012 and a slow start to 2013 and he might well have some pretty exciting projections come next spring. His 2013 ended up very good, but nothing that screams regression.
One might think Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, both solid in 2013, might increase their production in 2014, but likely they will be projected to be about what they were. In the non-solid, but similar theory department, you have to say Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas would likely be very similar offensive players to what they were.
For that matter, you can throw in all the 'other' outfielders in the 'they are who we thought they were' category. Lough had a hot start, but faded to what is likely his major league production level. Dyson, Cain and Maxwell? All things being equal to expect much more or less from any of the three (and that includes the seemingly inevitable Cain injuries)?
Salvador Perez was good this year and, given his lack of plate discipline, will always seem to be a candidate to have an offensive regression. We do, however, have 253 major league games of pretty consistent offensive numbers from the All-Star. I think, again, Salvador Perez is who he is and that's just fine.
At second base, Emilio Bonifacio was a big boost the last two months of the season, but he is not going to hit .285/.352/.348 over 162 games. If you played 2014 exactly as 2013, Emilio would likely not hit that in 42 games he would play for Kansas City.
All told, it is tough to see (or at least count on) a big boost in offensive output from the current roster or, for that matter, a drastic reduction in production (there's a phrase for you).
Defensively, and I may be looking through rose colored glasses, but I don't see any one player primed for a drastic drop in the ability to get to and field a baseball. It would seem that the outfielder, Gordon in particular, have another year or two at minimum before they would experience a decline in range. Ditto for the infield, unless Escobar and Moustakas begin to take their struggles at the plate into the field.
Okay, now the pitching.
Looking for consistency in a relief pitcher is a dicey endeavour. The good news is the Royals have a lot of them. When Kelvin Herrera had home run troubles and Aaron Crow was just bad, they had Luke Hochevar and Louis Coleman to fill in the gaps. They have a lot of options (even if Hochevar is cut loose). One could probably replay 2013 and while the individual numbers might change, the end results would be similar. Except, of course, for Greg Holland.
Can you be THAT good two years in a row? Closers are volatile and the end often comes quickly and without warning. The upside is that many closers have not one great year for two or three before trouble strikes. Holland could regress and still be a top end closer in 2014, but he is a guy who you almost have to assume won't be quite as good in 2014 as he was in 2013.
So, while the bullpen might not be great, but instead just very good, they should not be a major regression point. Can we say the same about the starting pitching?
If there was an outlier performance in 2013 it was pretty obviously Ervin Santana. He was great and while I will beat the dead horse that the inclusion of a sinker increased his ground ball rate and control and may well have made Santana a different and better pitcher for the future, one cannot argue that we did not expect the season the Royals got from him. Ervin outpitched his FIP, but he almost always does.
The other big possible fluke is Bruce Chen, who was really good once he joined the rotation (after being pretty bad as a starter in 2012). He is also the other free agent in this group. It is kind of interesting that the two guys who had 'semi-career' years are the two who likely won't be back.
Jeremy Guthrie was, again, about who we thought. James Shields? Better than expected, I guess, and most expected him to be pretty good to begin with. Regression possibilities? Maybe. Flukes in 2013? I don't think so.
So where does this rambling mess leave the Kansas City Royals?
Maybe not quite where they ended up, but not off by a lot. If one replayed 2013 a number of times, my guess is an 86 win season is on the higher end of the likely results but not so high as to be a fluke (like 2003). Given what the starting pitchers did in real life, a number of replays of the season would likely show them to, as a group, not be quite as good as they actually were in the real 2013.
That single idea is what Dayton Moore needs to realize this off-season. Even with Ervin Santana and Bruce Chen, the current roster is probably more an 83-84 win group than 86. If one is trying to get to 90-92 wins (i.e. playoffs), then the Royals need to not improve their talent level by four to six games, but by eight to ten instead.
It was a really fun and really frustrating year. Next season could be very similar and this off-season is certainly the most critical of Dayton Moore's career. Playoffs or unemployment, Mr. Moore.