The Royals have put the 2016 season to rest, 162 games in the books with the Royals winning exactly half of them. We gathered our esteemed cabal of bloggers to discuss "Even Steven" season of mediocrity, and what could have been and never was.
Describe the Royals season in three words or less.
Jeremy Greco: Good, not great.
Josh Duggan: Hungover.
Matthew LaMar: That was disappointing.
Shaun Newkirk: Maybe this is too cocky or jerkish but: "What I expected"
David Rand: Maybe next year.
Max Rieper: Not Soria again.
What was the biggest reason the Royals failed to reach the post-season?
Jeremy Greco: Injuries/lack of depth. I know some people are making the argument that the Royals are league-average in injuries and that other teams with worse injury problems are still likely headed to the playoffs. But every playoff team needs to be very good or more likely elite in an area or three. While the 2016 Red Sox have an elite offense and 2016 Cleveland has/had an elite starting rotation the 2014-2015 Royals had elite health. Without that elite health the other flaws in the team - which may be more apparent - came back to bite them. The Royals horrid lineup would look a lot better if Moustakas, Cain, and healthy Gordon had been playing in it all season.
Matthew LaMar: The offense, but more specifically, the Royals' core that they used to win the 2015 World Series a year ago. Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, and Salvador Perez were worth a combined 19 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in 2015 and averaged 140 games played each. This year, that same group averaged 7.3 WAR and only managed about 120 games each thanks to injuries to Cain, Gordon, and Moustakas.
Max Rieper: The 2015 Royals were a finely-tuned machine that needed everything to work exactly right for it to work. This year, lots of things just didn’t work quite right. The bullpen was good, not great. The defense was good, not great. The contact rate was good, not great. The injuries threw a monkey wrench into the machine, but even healthy, this team was a worse team than last year.
Josh Duggan: Joakim Soria. Just kidding. It's hard to pick just one thing. The offense was dodgy all year. I think health and the lack of contribution from core guys like Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, and Alex Gordon (some due to games missed, some due to lack of production) was the biggest problem. Cheslor Cuthbert filled in admirably, but it's hardly the 2-3 WAR that Mike Moustakas would have conservatively provided. Cain missed about a third of the season and looked markedly slower on the basepaths. Gordon was slumping early, got injured, and just never looked like he got dialed in at the plate.
Shaun Newkirk: Pretty plainly: lack of talent. I know that's such an ambiguous reason but they went into the year with holes - second base, right field, fifth starter. At the positions where they didn't have holes, they didn't have high end talent to offset the holes. Cain was projected as their best player - ZiPS had him at 4 WAR, he was worth 2.5. He wasn't really an elite player, just a very good one. Not that you NEED elite players but there was a pretty decent gap between their best player and their third or fourth best guy.
The Royals returned an offense that was below-average last year with a reliance on defense. They don't walk or hit for power so they have to rely heavily on beating their sequencing, and for the first time in two years they didn't. The defense was still good but were about 15 runs worse. There was no depth either (something we knew going into the season).
David Rand: Starting pitching and the overall home run rate for the pitching staff. Among the starters, the increase in strikeouts-per-nine innings (from 6.5 to 7.8) was tempered by the increase in walks-per-nine innings from 2.9 to 3.3 and relegated to obscurity by the increase in home runs-per-nine innings from 1.06 to 1.51 over approximately 900 innings. The home run-to-fly-ball rate increase from 10.3% in 2015 to 14.5% in 2016 is a primary driver in the starter’s ERA/FIP going from 4.34/4.32 in 2015 to 4.67/4.82 in 2016. The HR/FB rate for the staff as a whole increased from a league average of 9.9% in 2015 to 13.4% in 2016. That’s going to cause some problems.
Who was the biggest surprise? Biggest disappointment?
Max Rieper: Danny Duffy was the big surprise and I hope the team has at least begun some sort of long-term contract talk with him. This team needs starting pitching so badly and I'm pretty convinced that Duffy's improvement is for real.
I think obviously Alex Gordon was the biggest disappointment. He provided some value with his defense and ability to draw walks, but his struck out at a career-high rate and was pretty worthless offensively much of the year.
I keep thinking Yordano Ventura is going to put it all together and become a star. He is still very young and could mature as he gets older. But he got off to such a slow start that I don’t think many noticed he was once again very good down the stretch. One of these years, he needs to put a good first half with a good second half. He continues to be enigmatic and the Royals need starting pitching.
Josh Duggan: Duffy is the obvious choice for who was the biggest surprise, but if you said before the season that Jarrod Dyson would be the most valuable position player by a full half win, would anyone have believed you?
The biggest disappointment is a loaded question. Hosmer's negative fWAR is largely due to his defense, which owes largely to positioning that isn't entirely on him. Gordon salvaged a miserable season, being good for 1.2 fWAR (heading into Sunday), but a big Royals season sort of depended on him being worth more than that.
Shaun Newkirk: Biggest surprise: Matt Strahm? Or Kelvin Herrera taking a step forward.
Biggest disappointment: It has be Alex Gordon right? I think everyone thought the Alex of old was gone but still expecting a 3 WAR player and instead they got a 1.2 WAR player who couldn't hit.
Jeremy Greco: The biggest disappointment for me was Edinson Volquez. We knew to look out for down years from guys like Morales, Gordon and Young because of their age. Maybe not as down as Gordon and Young ended up being, but I certainly expected Volquez to be close to who he was last year. He's easily been the Royals most consistently bad starter, this year.
Matthew LaMar: Obviously Danny Duffy was the biggest surprise, so I'll move to second place here to be more interesting. I'd probably say Whit Merrifield's success as Ben Zobrist-lite, with good fielding at a quartet of positions, was just out of left field (literally! ahem). Is Merrifield going to continue playing like a 3 WAR player? No. No he is not. But that doesn't detract of what he has done this year.
As for most disappointing, I'd say Eric Hosmer, but his offensive line was almost exactly like his career numbers so it's hard to ding him for what he is at this point. I'll go with Christian Colon, who had multiple opportunities to grab the second base spot and responded by putting up an OPS that started with a 5.
Actually, scratch that. I had dreams of vintage Joakim Soria wrecking people with his guillotine rainbow curveball in a glorious return for one of my favorite Royals of all time. He did, ah, not do that.
David Rand: The biggest surprise is Paulo Orlando’s seemingly productive season across almost 500 PAs considering he had a lower BB% (2.7%) than Salvador Perez (4.0%). I would love to believe that a career AAAA player could replicate his career best performance that amounted to an empty .302 batting average, but his 21.7% K% and .380 BABIP suggest that we have seen the absolute most we could possibly expect from the Brazilian outifelder.
The most disappointing goes to Eric Hosmer, he Son of God that hit the prophetical 25 HR/100 RBI plateau that guarantees sainthood among believers of all things counting stats. I think the fWAR for Hosmer of -0.2 points to limitations of WAR because of positional adjustments, but his slight bump in ISO (.162 to .167) has come at the expense of his other offensive production as his wOBA has gone from .355 in 2015 to .326 in 2016 and his wRC+ has dropped from 123 to 101. The defensive metrics pummel him as always, but the drop in offense and base running kills his overall value. It wouldn’t be so disappointing if he hadn’t come out the gates like Secretariat.
Do you make Qualifying Offers to Edinson Volquez and/or Kendrys Morales?
Jeremy Greco: Not a chance. Both of them can be had back for less money if you really want them.
Matthew LaMar: Of course not. I don't understand why this is a thing. A cash strapped team offering a 33 year-old pitcher who had a ERA in the mid 5s and one of his lowest strikeout rates in the past decade a $16 million contract? A cash strapped team offering a 33 year-old designated hitter (and only a designated hitter) $16 million next year to hit three or four times a game?
Look, bringing back Volquez and/or Morales isn't out of the question. But it is not guaranteed they would reject the QO. Being on the hook north of $30 million for two players in their mid 30s is real bad.
Max Rieper: No. Volquez was absymal down the stretch and even in a down market you can find a cheapish arm that can put up the numbers he put up. He has been a very inconsistent pitcher his entire career, I wouldn’t invest a lot of money in him.
Morales is a tougher case, but he has been a very average designated hitter, and paying him $16.7 million would be well above average in pay. People say there is "no such thing as a bad one-year contract", but when we’re talking about the one year the Royals have left to contend, they need to maximize every penny on the payroll to field the best team for contention, especially if payroll will "regress a bit." Morales would almost certainly accept a Qualifying Offer, so I say it is too great a risk. They may to sign Morales to a two-year, $16-20 million deal. That is what he is worth. Frankly, I'd probably look for cheaper or better options, but I understand the attachment to KenMo.
Josh Duggan: No Qualifying Offers to either.
Shaun Newkirk: No and no. Volquez is obvious but for Morales I could go 10,000 words deep on why not for him but the bullet points:
* He's lost the Games of Qualifying Offers before (when he turned it down a few years back)
* He'll be 34 years old
* There are a lot of DH-types available this winter that you can expect similar production from for a lot cheaper than $16.7 million and a loss of a draft pick
* Morales was worth about 0.7 fWAR this year.
Even if you think he'll be better next year (a year older...) what can you expect? 1 WAR? Maybe 1.5 if you are ultra bullish. For $16.5 million you'd expect something like 2 WAR and Morales has only been worth 2 WAR or more twice in his career - 2009 and 2015. Simply put, teams aren't busting at the seams to give multi-year deal to older DHs that aren't David Ortiz or Edwin Encarnacion.
David Rand: I’m going to be the contrarian and offer Volquez a QO. Even though his 2016 performance appears atrocious at face value, his peripherals tell a different story, although it isn’t great. Like all Royals pitchers, he was victimized by a spike in home run-to-fly ball rate as he went from 8.0% in 2015 to 12.8% in 2016. However, his groundball-to-flyball rate was a career high 1.77 while his line drive rate dropped slightly and his infield fly ball rate increased. It isn’t unreasonable to hope that his ERA- next year will be somewhere under 110 considering his last six seasons have gone 148, 114, 159, 86, 86, 124. I fully understand you are overpaying him by at least $3-4 million on the one year offer, but I also expect Dayton to sign him to a 2/25 or 3/36 deal and I would rather overpay for one year of what is quite possibly a bounce back season than invest in him for multiple years. Even with Volquez in the fold, the team still has to dumpster dive for the back end of the starting rotation.
I also extend the QO to Morales; the team is going to have a hard enough time finding people that can hit as is and I don’t see a glut of offensive talent that suggests a DH by committee is a reasonable choice. I have no problem with going for a two year, $28 million contract with the obligatory mutual option, but I wouldn’t be in a hurry to secure a third year for his age 36 season. With both Volquez and Morales, I have no problem overpaying for one year to make another run in 2017 without adding any commitment for 2018 or beyond. It ain’t my money.
What would be your plan going into this off-season?
Jeremy Greco: Seems like it has been the same song and dance for the last several years. The Royals need to figure out who is going to played second base, right field, and they need more starting pitching depth. I think you may have to live with Colon/Merrifield/Mondesi at second right now. Maybe Hunter Dozier is the guy for right field, but I'm getting the distinct impression due to lack of playing time that the Royals don't see it that way. I don't even know where to look for more starting pitchers. The bullpen and designated hitter slot have holes too, but those are much lower priority for me.
Josh Duggan: The Royals have one more year before the window likely slams shut. Other than trying to extend Duffy, I don't see how they will have the room in the budget to make significant moves. I think the one thing the Royals should push for is to unjuice the ball. There is too much money committed to a philosophy that doesn't mesh well with a juiced ball. Being built for flyball contact in a park like the K doesn't work so well when the ball travels farther.
Matthew LaMar: Hedge. Hedge hard. If the Moustakas/Escobar/Cain/Perez/Hosmer/Gordon sextet doesn't bounce back, not to mention Wade Davis' health, Matt Strahm as a starter, and Yordano Ventura's infinite quest for consistency, among other internal solutions, this team is screwed. There isn't anything Dayton Moore can do to prop this team up; the pieces are all here, and they just need to perform.
In other words, Moore needs to prep this team to blow it up midyear if it isn't working. That means an eye for cheap players that might be attractive in the midyear market, and it does not mean spending $20+ million on a reliever.
Max Rieper: A lot of it depends on the budget, but I say go all in. I’d look hard at Rich Hill. He’s a huge gamble, since he can’t stay healthy, but he wouldn’t cost you a terribly long-term deal, won’t cost a draft pick, and he has the upside the rotation needs. My guess is, however, that they cannot afford any free agents this winter. Trading Cheslor Cuthbert or Hunter Dozier for a young starting pitcher might make some sense if there is a market for them.
The offense needs a lot of help too, but getting Mike Moustakas back would be a big boost. Ideally I would like another Ben Zobrist-type that can fill in at second base and right field, and play all over, but there don’t seem to be any free agents that can fit that bill, so perhaps a creative trade is in order.
Shaun Newkirk: Not really sure at this point and I'm sure I'll write about this very topic but I'd under the table start taking offers for some guys. Maybe don't come right out and announce you want to trade away guys but see if you can get someone to overpay for one of the many soon to be free agents.
Also, trade Wade Davis.
If I can’t completely rebuild through an off-season trade of core players, I do the Dayton thing and sign two or three reclamation pitching projects on the cheap in hopes of bolstering the bullpen and finding a fifth starter. Then I dance with who brought me.
What is your World Series prediction?
Josh Duggan: The best team is the Cubs. They will probably break the curse. The AL is kind of weak. The Rangers have the best record, but it's hard to figure how they're winning without bludgeoning the competition. The Red Sox will probably get the privilege of getting taken out by the Cubs.
Jeremy Greco: Cubs over Red Sox in 6.
Matthew LaMar: Back on the last day of March in our great predictions thread, I predicted a Chicago Cubs v Houston Astros World Series matchup. I'll stick with the Cubs for the NL, but I'll throw my weight to Cleveland for the AL. Yes, their rotation is shredded. But LeBron broke the curse, and they are legit.
Max Rieper: It looks like the Cubs year, so that means they’ll lose in the first round. I’ll take Nationals over Red Sox. Bryce Harper has an insane World Series line. Lee Judge's head explodes.
David Rand: The Cubs will be one out from winning their first World Series in over a century in game 6 on the road against the Red Sox when Big Papi sends a can of corn to right field in what appears to be the end of the curse. Out of nowhere, Fan Man comes descending from the sky, interferes with the ball in play and causes a 44 minute delay in which the umpires try to figure out how the play should be ruled. Ortiz is ultimately recalled to the batter box and proceeds to hit a 2 run HR to win the game in the bottom of the 9th. The Red Sox go on to win game 7 11-0 and the Cubs go another century without winning the World Series.
Shaun Newkirk: Cubs seem like too easy of an answer so I'll go with the Red Sox vs Dodgers. My preseason pick was the Nationals over Boston (because again I didn't want to just go with the easy pick of the Cubs).