Welp, another year in paradise. Now, with a living, breathing second sacker and right fielder, 100% less Ervin Santana, and 100% more Jason Vargas and Brett Tomko (at least for now)! The Kansas City Royals are once against poised to make a run at, well, winning more games than they lose, and I've no doubt it's going to be an even more fun adventure than last year's hilarious hiijinks with Frank and the gang. Hopefully, we can recover from the devastating slump that the Royals are going through in the Cactus League (all the way down to 11-12? For shame).
For those of you who missed this particular feature, whether due to not being around last year or having an inability to read on Thursdays (a common affliction), or those that just need a refresher course, the deal is this: I list the Royals players, alternating position players and pitchers every week, and still either an up arrow next to them, a down arrow, the gray "nothing has really changed" symbol, or a sad band-aid in the case of injures.
These are fairly subjective, as they're sort of a combination of statistical performance and dumb stuff out of my own brain. Therefore, feel free to argue/agree/debate/call me a critical spirit in the comments below. That's what the whole exercise is sort of aimed at, rather than anyone going crazy attempting to derive deep meaning from my work.
Anyway, this week's stuff is one the position players, taking into account the way they finished last year, any extreme spring training performances, or compromising pictures of players nut tapping new signees. Read on for the first Position Player Ups and Downs for 2014!
DH - Billy Butler -
As I mentioned at the end of last year, Butler's always a positive in the line-up. He's one of the few Royals who's above average at working the count and getting on base, and there's some reason to expect a bounceback after last year's somewhat powerless campaign. Even if he stayed at this level, he wouldn't be a problem, as he's one of the best Royals--in fact, the best--at not making outs. But it'd be fun, and good for the team, if Butler's power rebounded. I don't we could expect a return to 2012 heights, but 2010-11 level bopping isn't out of the question and would be a boost for KC.
C - Salvador Perez -
Salvy comes into this year having cemented his value with a nice campaign last season. While he continues to be a largely undisciplined hitter, his high average and pop compensated for that to the tune of a .292/.323/.433 line. It's hard to see him progressing too much from that, but the fact of the matter is that, with his solid defense and team-friendly contract, Perez is and will continue be an asset. Perez appeared in 138 games last season, so it might behoove the Royals to give him less time squatting.
C - The Rest
In terms of who wins the battle to spell Salvy, it seems that Brett Hayes currently has the inside track. Of course, Hayes couldn't actually crack a .280 OBP in Omaha last season, so whether or not he stays remains to be seen. Ramon Hernandez is also in camp and has hit pretty well, and the Royals also invited Adam Moore, who made a pretty forgettable cup of coffee last year, and Venezuelan Juan Gaterol.
1B - Eric Hosmer -
Coming off a .302/.353/.448 campaign ,we might well ask if Hosmer is capable of more, and have that be reasonable question. That's a positive thing, considering where he was in early 2013. Hosmer, coming off a nightmare 2012, was keeping his OBP up, but hitting with all the power of a ten-year-old on cold medicine attempting to swing a flyswatter. The last four months of the season, however, saw him re-establish his power stroke. His LD% climbed to a career high 22% of batted balls, and his HR/FB% returned to its 2012 levels, as more of Hosmer's long drives left the park.
The question now becomes if that turnaround is here to stay, and whether he can build on it as he goes into his prime years. Hosmer seems like he's been a Royal for a long time already, but he's still only 25 in October. If the Royals have a chance of adding more value without adding more players, it probably starts with Hosmer approximating his breakout over a full season.
2B - Omar Infante -
Another position where I'd have to give the Royals a thumps up. Infante's no world beater, but the difference between having an actual second basemen with actual value instead of Chris Getz or Johnny Giavotella should be about three wins. Even going by ZiPS, which is conservative, it should be worth about two. Infante's been a pretty reliable player over the course of his career -- a guy who plays above average-to-good defense, with a bat that doesn't sink your line-up. He's even added a little more pop over the two years. As with Escobar, there's the possibility he might still be hobbled out of spring training, but he doesn't earn a band-aid here because he's said to be on track for opening day.
SS - Alcides Escobar -
Generally had a miserable year at the plate last season, after looking downright competent in 2012. As usual, Escobar's real talent is probably somewhere in-between the two extremes. Part of the reason for his unfortunate drop in production (.234/.259/.300, which is just abhorrent to look at) at the plate was a rise in flyball rate -- while his LD% stayed virtually the same, his GB% dropped to 46% from 53% the previous couple seasons. Said FB% went up to 30%. That's not a positive trend for a speedy, limited hitter such as Alcides.
Defensively, he was, again, quite good. If his batting average rebounds, he might again by a two-win player. If that happens, and his defense holds steady, he could easily contribute as more than prospective keystone partner. Given how badly he tanked last year, that's a lot of "might," but is still 26 so it wouldn't be shocking at all to see him have a bounceback year. As if I didn't already wonder about Escobar enough, he's also had some shoulder trouble this spring
IF - Backups - Nope! YOLO.
3B - "2B" - Mike Moustakas -
About the only nice thing I can say about Moutakas's 2013 campaign was that his defense didn't completely fall apart, depending on which metrics you like. Well, okay, that's not completely true, he finally stopped popping up every fourth PA in the second half, and his LD% did rise a bit. Still, he's a guy who hits a lot of fly balls--many of them not very far--so we can't really write off his BABIP drop as a cranky BABIP-Fairy visiting the clubhouse and casting a spell on his locker.
There were times where Moustakas looked like the second coming of Ryan Shealy, rather than the guy who looked like he might be an impact bat in early 2012. There are rumblings of him hitting well in spring training, but he hit well in ST last year and then had a bad year. If there's a Royal who has more to prove overall, I'm not sure he's a Kansas City Royal. But hey, he's a second basemen too, now. Sweet.
3B - Danny Valencia -
Take that green arrow with a grain of salt, as historically Valencia's been the type of guy who mashes lefties and, the second he's relied upon to do more, flails his way off rosters, but Valencia did have a very nice 161 PAs last year, and he hits the ball well off the guys that Moustakas hit .196/.256/.290 against last season. Valencia is a platoon player, and not really a middle infielder, which feels like a piece that you normally see on National League teams, but that can be helpful on this roster.
LF - Alex Gordon -
I feel badly giving Alex a down arrow, since he's the best position player on the team, but he did trend downward overall last season. And overall, even in an area where offense has been down in general, losing 31 points of wOBA still isn't good. Gordon just turned 30 this Feb. (seriously, where the hell does time go?), and last year's LD% rate and walk rate declines are concerning. Still, it's hard to bet against a player of Gordon's caliber making adjustments. He should still be one of the better LFs in the American League, even if he stays at this level. The down arrow is just relative to lofty expectations set by Gordon being so good.
CF - Lorenzo Cain -
Cain a year that seems to sum up his career, still relatively young though it is. He managed 442 PAs, played excellent defense most of the time, and was dinged up to the point where his bat fell off a cliff. Yet another Royal who should be in the prime years of offensive production that hasn't really found it easy to produce, Cain was still worth 2.6 WAR last year according to Fangraphs, mostly thanks to good defensive ratings.
It's easy to see him approximating that value again if his bat progresses a bit and his defense isn't rated as high. That would be a preferable direction, as would seeing him get through an entire season without missing significant time. Magic 8-ball advises me to not count on it. At least the Royals actually have a modicum of depth in the outfield.
RF - Jeff Francoeur -
Back for yet another season, fresh off leading the Royals to another AL Central title, Jeff Fran--what? Sorry.
(Editor's Note -- We Apologize for the inaccurate report. Those responsible have been sacked.)
Aoki hails from a mystical land called Milwaukee, where apparently RFers are actually allowed to work the count. Very strange. Regardless, he's a low-power, high OBP hitter who walked more than he struck out last year. Most metrics seem to peg him as below average but not "bad" in the field. If Aoki can replicate his annual .350ish OBP while adapting to the K's RF, there's no reason he can't be another significant improvement just by being a decent MLB regular. At 32, he's probably not about to add more elements to his game, but he's not so old that he's much of a risk.
OF - Jarrod Dyson -
Officially back to run really fast, play defense, and not embarass himself at the plate yet again, Dyson once appears to have lost out on a chance to take over an OF spot on a regular basis. However, it's difficult to say that's actually a problem for the team, as his skillset is pretty ideal for fourth outfielder, and his is different enough from Justin Maxwell's that they can really be considered redundant (dropping the extra reliever for a back-up infielder's probably the route I'd go). Dyson stole 34 bases last year, had a walk rate of 8.8%, and played pretty good D. As depth OFers go, he's a pretty good one.
Okay, so "I swing hard in case I hit it" is a David Ortizism, but it applies to Maxwell quite well. He just doesn't hit the ball quite as often. Nonetheless, he did prove a useful acquisition for KC last year, and appears poised to make the 2014 edition of the team. As with Dyson, if you extrapolate his numbers over 600+ PAs, you might well wonder if he could be more than a reserve, but there are warning signs that suggest he's better in smaller doses. In Maxwell's case, it's striking out in almost 30% of his PAs. Nonetheless, he's got real live pop, which has recently been a problem for the Royals, so having him back in a reserve role is probably a fine decision, even if his LD% falls back to career levels--he was at just shy of 20% last year, compared to a career figure of 17%, which partially explains the higher average than usual.
Without going too in-depth, it seems likely that the Royals could get more out of their offense in 2014. I speculate that the defense can't get too much better than last year, though the outfield defense might take a step forward if health isn't an issue. While this is still a flawed roster, it seems little bit more well-rounded than last year on the position player side of things.
Thanks for reading! I'll be back next week with the Pitching Staff Spring Training Ups and Downs. You can follow NHZ (Gus Booth) on twitter, though be warned that I tweet about Hockey too much (I contribute to the SBNation Boston Bruins blog as well) and I never shut up. Go Royals!