We are at exactly the mid-point of the season, and it has already been a series of ups and downs with this club. The Royals stand at 42-39 which is three games ahead of last year's pace of 39-42. That season resulted in an 86-win season, but required a torrid stretch in the second half to do so. Do the Royals have such a stretch in them this year? Let's talk to the Royals Review writing staff and see how they feel about "The Process."
1.. Its already been a roller coaster of a season with the team winning an exciting ten in a row followed by a four game losing streak at home. Why do you think this team is so streaky?
Kevin Ruprecht: Due to the lack of plate discipline and power, the offense is entirely dependent on stringing a bunch of hits together to score. Sequencing plays a big role in how many runs the Royals can score. I don't like the Royals' dependence on luck to score runs.
Tyler Drenon: Geomagnetic unrest.
Matthew LaMar: I think this team is streak for a few reasons. First, most average teams aren't boring and alternate winning and losing games; rather, they go on hot and cold streaks which tend to cancel out each other eventually. Second, this team's strengths (pitching, defense) are very strong while their weakness (hitting) is very weak, so there's inherent imbalance there.
Josh Duggan: As of June 26, the Royals were dead last in MLB in walks and dongs hung. Their success is tied far too much to the random swings of BABIP, and at least somewhat to the defenses of the opposition. Maybe it's a coincidence, but the Royals' winning streak came against the Yankees, Racists, Pale Hoes, and Tigers. Those teams are all bottom six in team DRS, and bottom eight in team UZR. It seems unlikely that this is a coincidence.
Max Rieper: I think a lot of it is just fluky thus far. The offense started out so badly, it was bound to regress back to true talent levels, if at least for a short stretch. We'll probably see a few more 5-6 game winning and losing streaks before the season is over. This is what mediocre teams do. Welcome to what its like having a normal baseball team and not a 100-loss team, Kansas City.
KCTiger: I think this team is a mix of a few things; good pitching, great defense, poor hitting. That probably makes them an average team as the great defense gets brought down by the poor offense. Much like an average hitter, let's say someone who hits .250, they probably aren't going to hit .250 every single game. They'll have some hot streaks that will put their average above .250 and cold streaks that will put them below .250, but in the end they are just an average hitter and will be back to .250.
NHZ: I mean, every team is streaky. The Royals, just a bit more so. But as to why, the offense is almost entirely dependent on the singles train right now; they don't walk, and they don't hit for power. When you're living and dying by the BABIP gods, your results jump around a lot. As Josh (I think) noted, the winning streak came against teams with pretty bad defensive efficiency.
At least the pitching staff isn't five sinkerballers or something. That'd be truly tempting fate.
2. Billy Butler and Mike Moustakas are starting to show small signs of life since Dale Sveum took over, but Eric Hosmer looks more lost than anything. What do you expect from these three players going forward?
Max Rieper: I am deeply alarmed about Eric Hosmer. The Royals need him to become a stud more than anyone else in the organization, in my opinion. He has the tools to do it, but he has regressed badly in his fourth year. At first his problem was hitting the ball weakly the other way too much. Now it looks like he has absolutely no clue what he is doing at the plate and is deciding whether to swing before the pitcher makes a pitch. If this is a lost season for him, his career may start to be in jeopardy.
I expect Butler to have a pretty good second half. Not enough to get the Royals to pick up his option, but I bet he'll hit his typical Billy Butler numbers the rest of the year. Mike Moustakas I've given up counting on. All I expect of him now is to play defense. If he hits one out once in awhile, its icing on the cake, but he doesn't seem to be part of this team's future anymore.
Matthew LaMar: Billy Butler will be totally fine. For his career, he has hit significantly better in the second half than the first half. He also has the longest track record of success out of anybody on the team, Alex Gordon included. Furthermore, he has continued to hit better as the year has gone on. His power shortage may or may not be real, but he still hits for enough average and has enough plate discipline to be useful. Maybe not $12 million useful, but useful.
Moustakas is what he is. He needs to learn how to beat the shift, which might not ever happen, but if he gets better at that, then he'll be an average hitter What will happen for Hosmer? I have no idea. He is Jekyll and Hyde. Hopefully good Hosmer comes out, because good Hosmer is by far the best hitter on the team.
Josh Duggan: Butler will rebound almost entirely, getting his slash line back up to career averages. Moustakas is not the droid we're looking for. He'll continue to be an offensive disappointment with some pop. I've got no clue what Hosmer is going to do. He probably needs a spiritual colonic.
KCTiger: ZiPS has it as:
Hosmer - .283/.337/.429
Moustakas - .239/.293/.405
I'll actually take the push on all three. I'd probably be a little more optimistic for Butler in the power department but he does seem to be slowing down.
Hosmer I'll take the under on the OBP. He doesn't walk that much, K-rate is above his career average, and he's hit zilch for power. BABIP isn't too far below the career average so maybe the first part of the triple slash will pull up the OBP a bit.
That's a 91 wRC+ for Moustakas ROS. May be a little rich for me, but sure, I'll still take that line.
Tyler Drenon: Butler can hit. He might not be able to field, run, throw, or point out Canada on a map, but he can hit. He'll be fine. Whether or not the ball goes over the fence enough to please Facebook commenters is anyone's guess.
Moose is actually having a better season than Hosmer in my opinion. Both of their batting lines are garbage, but at least Moose has a semi-acceptable walk rate (8.3% compared to Hosmer's 5.0%), and he brings some value defensively. Hosmer makes some flashy plays, but if you look at his advanced defensive metrics, he's one of the worst first basemen in baseball. I'm no hitting instructor, but it looks to me like Hosmer is trying harder to physically damage the actual ball than he is trying to get a hit. He'll probably bounce back a little, but he looks pretty bad. That's an indictment on him to some extent, but how he's made it this far without someone in the organization telling him to stop overswinging is beyond me.
Kevin Ruprecht: Given Butler's track record, I expect him to continue rebounding. He'll probably play somewhere around his career averages going forward. Moose is bad and he'll continue to be bad. His power has made a return since being called up from Omaha, but he's swinging at pitches that are going to cause a lot of weak fly ball contact. He still can't hit line drives. Hosmer is swinging at just about everything; if he can reduce his strike zone back to, you know, the actual strike zone, he might rebound a bit.
NHZ: Mike Moustakas playing better is the classic example of the term "dead cat bounce." He's been so bad with the bat that eventually he was bound to play above the low standards he'd set. Frankly, I think that he's done as a major league regular. Billy Butler's coming around into form a bit, but he's still pounding the ball into the ground more than he was during his peak. Is it hedging my bets to say that he might continue to be a viable DH, but I don't think he's a big plus anymore?
As for Eric Hosmer, I'm just hoping he finds his stroke and avoids becoming the next Mark Teahen.
3. Who has been the most pleasant surprise this year? The biggest disappointment?
Matthew LaMar: Most pleasant surprise? I'm going to go with the offbeat pick and choose Alex Gordon. He has shown no signs of aging defensively (instead being better than ever) and has, instead of continuing regression from 2011 that he exhibited in 2012 and 2013, rebounded with a fantastic offensive season. The biggest disappointment? Eric Hosmer by a mile.
NHZ: We knew Wade Davis was an effective reliever, but I have been pleasantly surprised by his dominance out of the 'pen. He's given Frank a great option in front of Holland. Alex Gordon has been incredible thus far, by fWAR he's been worth more this season than all last year.
Disappointment? The fact that this offense still hasn't become anything more than a second division unit. We've talked for so long about potential breakout players and regression in a positive direction and the Royals needing to eventually have a better offense, even through just sheer dumb luck...but I think they might just be pretty bad at hitting a baseball.
Josh Duggan: Alex Gordon being on pace for a ~9.0 fWAR season is absolutely crazy. We all knew he'd be good, but this is bonkers. As for disappointments, Aoki has been terrible. I really liked the trade when it happened, but at this point, I'm hoping for the groin injury to be season-ending.
Tyler Drenon: Surprise: Jason Vargas. He's functioning as the ace on this team. Jeremy Guthrie is a close second, but Vargas is making me feel really bad about all the stuff I said when the Royals signed him.
Disappointment: Hosmer. A down year wouldn't have surprised me that much, but this season has been a huge downswing.
Kevin Ruprecht: Alcides Escobar hitting at about a league average rate is nice. If fatherhood is helping him to prepare better and be a more responsible player, maybe all the players should have more children. The biggest disappointment has been Eric Hosmer. He's swinging at pitches at his head.
Max Rieper: Yordano Ventura has really been surprising to me. I know he had hype coming into the year, but how often have we seen a Royals player fail to live up to the hype? He has been everything as advertised and is a real treat to watch.
Eric Hosmer is without a doubt the biggest disappointment. I thought this would be the year he'd turn into our Freddie Freeman. Instead he's hitting like Freddie Prinze Jr. (I assume Freddie Prinze Jr. is bad at hitting baseballs).
KCTiger: Alex Gordon. Vargas was my choice at first, but raise your hand if you saw Gordon as the third best player in baseball and on pace for a nine win season (probably ain't happening)? Yeah. I didn't see any hands up.
Walk rates up, K-rates down, and he's gone from plus-plus defender to plus-plus-plus defender. He's basically been Andrelton Simmons in left field but with a good bat as well. He was on decline for three straight years until this year. Go back in time and tell your 2010 self that Alex Gordon will put up basically 20 wins in three and a half seasons then wait for your old self to laugh (also explain time travel to him).
Eric Hosmer. From a three win player at age 23 to a negative win player the next year. Shame.
Plate discipline metrics are all over the place. He's swinging at 6% more pitches outside which is bad but he's making more contact (5% more) on them which means he's probably making outs on those pitches. Couple that with his z-swing being down a tad as well and there are some negatives there.
On the other hand he's doing good things as well. He's making more contact on pitches in the zone, making more contact on balls and strikes, and has cut down his swinging strike rate as well.
Maybe if he stops swinging at so many pitches out of the zone he can turn things around.
4. What do you think Dayton Moore does at the trade deadline? Big, all-in move? Small tinkering at the edges? Nothing?
Josh Duggan: I bet he goes for it. Whether that's ill-advised or not is a different matter entirely, but I'm guessing Moore makes the move for Jeff Samardzija and parts ways with Kyle Zimmer and two other key prospects. I think he thinks the Royals are close. He will overpay for something the Royals don't need desperately, we'll all be apoplectic, and the Royals still won't end the 29-year-postseason drought.
NHZ: Trades for another Justin Maxwell. Maybe picks up a basement-price third baseman that wouldn't be an improvement on 20 teams. Maybe he goes all-in if he thinks his job is on the line. Wouldn't bet on it.
Kevin Ruprecht: I think Dayton probably makes a minor move or two but mostly stands pat, especially if the Royals continue playing .500 ball. If they go on a run, Jeff Samardzija might be more in play. If they fall flat on their faces, maybe James Shields becomes available.
Max Rieper: I don't really buy the Jeff Samardzija or David Price rumors. I can see them acquiring an unsexy, but competent right-field bat like Seth Smith. I am very confident they will acquire a left-handed reliever - they don't seem comfortable with the left-handed arms they currently have.
Tyler Drenon: I don't think he'll be able to pull off a deal for Ben Zobrist or David Price, even if he tries. I just hope he doesn't force a deal for a right fielder. Unless he can land someone that would significantly improve the team, the Royals would probably be better off playing Jarrod Dyson if Aoki isn't cutting it. He might hit well enough to lead off and his glove is elite. A Gordon-Cain-Dyson outfield is about as good as it gets defensively.
Matthew LaMar: I don't think he does much of anything. Maybe a minor move. He's just never done a truly huge move at the deadline and I don't think he will suddenly do so now.
KCTiger: Nothing probably. He can't trade Kyle Smith for Justin Maxwell twice can he?
By the way Kyle Smith is now 21, in AA, and has a 9.8 K/9 1.8 B/9 3.78 ERA and 3.72 FIP. There's a chance he could be a late season call up for the Astros.
5. By September, is this team still playing for anything significant?
Matthew LaMar: Yeah, of course. A lot like last year, this Royals team will be in 'contention' chasing the Wild Card spots throughout--they certainly have a better head start on it than last year. Ever the optimist, I think they'll get to a mid/high 80s win total but still miss the playoffs by a few games.
NHZ: Is Dayton Moore's job significant? Joking aside, they'll be close enough to the second wild card that the rah-rah-ers will make noise about the team playing "meaningful baseball" and far enough away to never be an actual threat. I hope I'm wrong, I guess, but I don't see this incarnation of the Royals as much better than last year's. And while the Tigers do look more vulnerable than in years past, I don't think we've got the horses to stay with them if they pull away from the pack.
Tyler Drenon: Sure. When we did pre-season predictions, I went the optimistic route because that opportunity is rarely afforded to Royals fans. I'm sticking with it.
KCTiger: Every team is a certain amount of games back in the Wild Card aren't they? So technically they will be playing for the Wild Card until they are eliminated. Then they'll be playing for the fans who only attend the last home series for the discounted year end shirts at the team store.
They are probably in the top 7-8 teams in the AL? So I could see them come September being two or three games back for the second Wild Card and probably six or seven back of the Angels.
Max Rieper: I think so. The Tigers will probably coast to the division title, but the American League is mediocre enough the Royals should be within a couple games of the last Wild Card spot in September. And I do expect the hitting to continue to improve, which should help. Ultimately though, I see them falling short with a win total around 83-84 wins.
Josh Duggan: It'll probably be about the same as last year. Technically not eliminated, but way too many things would have to break their way to end up playing ball in October.
Kevin Ruprecht: No.