I don't think it's too drastic to say that a couple things need to go right for the Royals to contend in 2015. Maybe one could make the argument that a lot needs to go right. Fangraphs projects the Royals to be a 79 win team. In that scenario, a lot does need to go right (the Royals would need to find 8-10 wins). So what does the worst case scenario look like?
Well. The worst case scenario is easy. The Royals go bankrupt before the home opener and the team is sold off to a new club in Mexico City. So maybe this should be the worst but feasibly possible worst case scenario article.
Personally, I think the 79 win Fangraphs projection is the worst outcome the Royals could hope for. In case you missed it, the Royals went to the World Series last year, and they almost won too! Remember when in Cast Away Kelly described to Chuck how the Titans almost won the Super Bowl?
We have a pro football team now,
but they're in Nashville ?
Um, yeah. Oh, my God. Okay.
They used to be in Houston.
First they were the Oilers,
and now they're the Titans.
The Houston Oilers
are the Tennessee Titans ?
But that's not all.
They went to the Super Bowl
And I missed that...
You would've died. It was so exciting.
They almost won by one yard.
One lousy yard right at the end.
That's how I felt describing that last sentence. Okay. Back to the article.
So, the usually you have to be a pretty good team to make it to the playoffs, and you usually have to be even better to make it to the World Series. The Royals were projected as a good-ish team last year (around 83 wins) and outproduced their projection by some margin. Previous year record is the worst indicator of next years record, but most importantly this team returns mostly all the same roster. That's a good thing right? Kind of, but the missing pieces and additions are big/important pieces, for better or for worse.
In theory this article is only 6 words: each player has a bad season. We can do better than that though.
Danny Duffy - Duffy's career FIP is a little more than half a run worse than his ERA. This makes sense given how good the Royals defense is (remember that FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching). Earned runs are still earned runs. Maybe the Royals defense has a bad year? Maybe Duffy's FIP and ERA finally catch it. It's pretty hard over the long run to have that wide of a spread where your ERA is better than your FIP.
Duffy's ERA catches up to his FIP.
Edinson Volquez - Much has been made of Volquez's relation with excellent pitch framer Russell Martin in Edinson's resurgence last year, and there's validity there. Salvador Perez isn't as good, or really even close, of a pitch framer as Martin. Volquez doesn't strike out a lot of batters and gives up a lot of contact (which isn't so bad when you have the Royals defenders fielding the ball).
Volquez remains the below average pitcher he has been since 2007, or gets worse.
Yordano Ventura - You'd love for Ventura to fill the hole that James Shields left. Shields was the 2014 "ace" of the staff and Ventura is expected to be that for 2015. Let it be known that historical and for 2015 as well, Shields is a better pitched than Ventura, but we also haven't seen peak Ventura maybe. Maybe he steps forward from the league average or so pitcher he was in 2014 and becomes an above average, 3-4 win pitcher that Shields was in his time in KC... or maybe he doesn't.
Command has always been a problem for Ventura with his loose mechanics and velocity. A poor walk-rate year could keep him from being like Jeff Samardzjia and more like Matt Moore (don't sweat the comps too much).
Jeremy Guthrie/Jason Vargas - The two "veterans" on the team, both are pretty identical pitchers. Both feature an underwhelming strikeout rate, but a solid walk rate. Meanwhile, both pitchers are in their 30's (Guthrie more mid-30's) and don't have a high baseline to decline from.
We can be assured that strikeouts won't be there to keep the hitters down, so we'll have to hope that the ball stays in the park when it gets hit.
Core Position Players
Sal Perez - We are well aware of how he wore down after the second half of the season. Also, his plate discipline has led to some bad plate appearances, something that was maybe exacerbated by the large amount of playing time he received in 2013/2014.
It's likely that Perez plays another large quantity of games in 2015. Other than injury, exhaustion could continue to play a part for Perez. Meanwhile his plate discipline likely isn't changing either.
Eric Hosmer - Hosmer has been plagued by inconsistency his whole career. Last year he didn't hit anywhere close to what a full time first baseman needs to hit to be productive. There's certainly power to be found in the bat and Hosmer has a better than average strikeout rate so he just needs to be consistent with contact.
BABIP is a usual culprit for a poor performance year, but Hosmer's 2014 batting average on balls in play was above his career average. There stands to reason that his power remains inconsistent. He's also unloved by the defensive metrics (even worsening his full time first base valuation). Hosmer may have his fourth blah season in five years.
Omar Infante - Isn't this an easy one?
Infante isn't that good of a second baseman to begin with and he's one year older and has been injured recently (again). If injuries persist, Christian Colon may end up with more games played than Infante.
Alcides Escobar - 2014 was a career year for Escobar. He coupled an average defensive year with one of his best hitting ones to put up an above average season.
Escobar still refuses to walk and speed played a part in his offensive results last year. A poor BABIP season could put him closer to the 25% below league average hitter he's been for his career, and the disaster at the plate he was in 2013.
Mike Moustakas - Moose was excellent in the playoffs, hitting those memorable home runs, but his 2014 was much of the same. Like Hosmer, Moustakas could be facing his fourth poor season in five such.
Four straight years of batting average and OBP decline, Moustakas has been a consistently below average hitter. Sometimes that's okay as a third baseman to be a slightly below average hitter if he's liked by the defensive metrics (Moustakas is), but not as bad as Moustakas has been. If his defense goes sour for a season then he may make the jump from below average player to below replacement level.
Alex Gordon - This is the toughest one. It's pretty likely that Alex Gordon is an above average or so player in 2015. He's great defensively, has good power, and is an all around good hitter (22% better than average hitter in 2014).
Gordon has had a wrist injury this winter which could sap his power and poor defensive metric year could bring his first poor season since 2010.
Lorenzo Cain - Cain broke out in 2014. A second year of being very good defensively and his first full season of being good on the offensive side of the ball.
Cain has some brittle bones, specifically his legs, but was able to play 133 games in 2014. Injuries are likely always to be a concern for him, especially as he ages into his thirties. Meanwhile his 2014 offense may have been BABIP induced (.380 vs a career .345) so some regression there may put him closer to his career 98 wRC+.
Alex Rios - One could maybe make the argument that Rios may only have upside in context to his 2014, and it's not completely ridiculous (just maybe slightly). Basically Rios was the same peripherally, but his power was completely dried up.
A bounce back is possible, but so is a continuation of his three year decline and the fact that he's now in his mid-30's, moving from a park that boosts offense heavily, to one that's more neutral and suppresses home runs.
Kendrys Morales - Much like Rios, Moore and Co. are expecting a bounce back from Morales. Morales' BABIP was 50 points lower than his average, his batting average 60 points, and his OBP 50. Meanwhile he went from being a ~10% better than league average hitter to ~30% worse than league average hitter. That's something not good for a full time DH.
Morales isn't that good of a player, even in a good year, as he's been around 1.5 wins the past few years. There isn't much upside left from a DH who doesn't really walk or hit a ton of home runs. Morales will also be 32 years old and provides no value from outside of the batters box. It's hard to see anything more than a 1-1.5 win player (which is below average) in a good 2015.
To be honest, the worst case scenario doesn't seem too far off from the median projection of most the guys above. Of course, all the players could just be bad, but there's some method to the poor madness. Regression usually hits pretty hard, and it seems like a lot of the guys above are candidates. Maybe only some of them have poor season, but the worst case scenario seems to be one word: regression.