Over the last several years, the Royals have been the premier defense in baseball, and its core has been the outfield. There are no poor defenders among the Royals' regulars, but the best of the best are found in the outfield.
Dayton Moore has often cited the importance of building a strong outfield defense in the spacious confines of Kauffman Stadium; if Jarrod Dyson becomes a starter in 2016, the team will easily have the best defensive outfield in the majors, which is exactly what Moore wants.
Of course, it helps that those outfielders can hit a little, too.
|Royals OF, 2015|
The nation was introduced to Lorenzo Cain in the 2014 postseason, when he refused to let any baseballs touch the ground. Instead of resting on his laurels, it almost seems like Cain took it as an affront and said "Hey, I'm more than my glove! I can hit, too!"
Cain was already an above-average offensive player in 2014, and he took it to the next level in 2015. He improved in virtually every aspect of the game, but the most noticeable improvement was his power. He jumped from five home runs to 16, which was as many as he'd hit in the previous three years combined.
While his isolated power went up, so too did his on-base percentage. His walk rate increased and his strikeout rate decreased. He led the team 101 runs scored in 2015 after just 55 in 2014. These are all just different ways of saying that Lorenzo Cain got really good at offense this year.
His defense remained as sterling as ever, but given the glut of strong defensive center fielders in the American League, he'll have to put together a historic season to win a Gold Glove.
As for his baserunning...
Reports from Joe Buck indicate Lorenzo Cain can fly. Do you want to be the one to try to disprove that? I'd be more inclined to bet that Cain does possess the capability of flight, but he just never uses it out of fairness/modesty towards the rest of us.
Grade: He finished third in the AL MVP race. A+.
What's next: Another MVP-caliber season, hopefully. He's signed through 2017.
Everyone's favorite purveyor of the glovehat arts had a rough 2015. A groin injury held him out for two months, and by the end of the season he was demoted to the eighth spot in the batting order. He failed to play in at least 150 games for the first time since he moved to left field and posted his lowest fWAR in the same span.
He still remains one of the team's best players, however, and it's hard to think of another player you'd want at the plate with the game on the line.
His struggles this year were slightly troubling. To be clear, he struggled in much the same way the Dodgers might struggle to sign a coveted free agent, which is to say that he was fine and the problems were mostly outside of his control (the groin injury). But what's troubling is that the one area in which he did have issues suggest he may be starting to slow down.
Alex Gordon is 32 as of February 10, and he lost a step this year. He failed to record double-digit stolen bases for the first time since 2010. His defensive stats also took a bit of a slide, but he's still one of the best in the game. He was unable to win a Gold Glove for the first time in five years, even though the guy he lost to plays in the NL and yes, I'm still upset about that.
But there's still a lot to like about Gordon's game, so don't think for a minute I'm suggesting he'll have a bad 2016. Gordo is remarkably steady at the plate and not at all deserving of the demotion to eighth. Look at how eerily similar his 2014 and 2015 are:
|Alex Gordon, 2014-2015|
And when he's on defense, you know there's always a chance you could see a play like this. (You know which one it is.)
Even if he's getting older, the next four years should still be a lot of fun.
Grade: You expect Gordon to put up an "A"-type season each year. He didn't quite reach that this year. B.
What's next: Alex Gordon chose to remain a Royal this offseason, and all is right with the world.
The other Alex occupied the other corner outfield spot when he was not dealing with injury issues of his own. Alex Rios was signed as a short-term solution for the hole in right field, with the hope that he would produce enough offense to make up for his declining defense.
But after a hot start to the season was cut short by a broken hand, Rios never really recovered at the plate, and he ended up with the second-worst offensive season of his career. While Rios came up with several key hits in rallies throughout the postseason, he remained a below-average offensive player in October.
FanGraphs suggests Rios actually had one of his strongest defensive seasons in recent memory, but that's not saying very much. He was often criticized for appearing lackadaisical in right field, and it was most evident in Game 4 of the World Series when he lost track of outs and allowed a run to score.
Despite his shortcomings, it was still a cool story to see Rios finally make the playoffs and win the World Series after twelve years. It just would've been nicer if he'd been able to contribute more to the team.
Grade: After the first two weeks, Rios never really reached the level the Royals hoped he would. D.
What's next: The Royals declined to pick up Rios' option, so he became a free agent after the season. He remains unsigned.
In a season packed with great storylines, Paulo Orlando's was one of the best. The 29-year-old Brazilian finally made it to the major leagues and turned into the Man Who Could Only Hit Triples.
Orlando would eventually cool off at the plate and turn into the below-average hitter we suspected he'd be, but he still managed to provide some of the best moments of the year, like his walk-off grand slam against the Rays:
Orlando is one of the few Royals who could pose a legitimate challenge to Jarrod Dyson or Terrence Gore in a race, and his speed helped him become a slightly above-average fielder. Both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs pegged him as a 1 WAR player for the year, which is perfectly fine for a 29-year-old on his first stint in the majors.
Grade: Orlando managed to surpass the low bar of expectations we had for him, so I'll give him a B.
What's next: Orlando should hang around the major-league team this year. Barring a late signing, he figures to be the fourth outfielder for the Royals and could platoon with Jarrod Dyson in right field.
Speedster Jarrod Dyson rounds out the set of main outfielders for the Royals, and he actually played the fewest games of the five. He logged his fewest plate appearances and fewest innings in the field since 2011, mostly to the benefit of Orlando.
Dyson and Orlando produce roughly the same amount of value at the plate — Orlando has more power, but Dyson gets on base more often. Once on base, Dyson has the advantage. He stole 26 bases to Orlando's three, and was second on the Royals to Lorenzo Cain in total steals. (Cain, of course, had far more opportunities to swipe a bag.)
Dyson also performs better than Orlando in the field. As he's accumulated experience in the outfield, Dyson has consistently gotten better, and he played all three positions generally well this year. The stats suggest he had a bit of a down year this year, but a down year for Dyson is still very good, and if he's able to play one position consistently next year, those numbers should rebound.
Grade: When he got on the field, he played well enough to potentially earn a starting outfield spot in 2016. B+.
What's next: The Royals never ended up signing anyone to fill the hole in right field, so it looks like it's Dyson's position to lose.