The Royals have a few days off to catch their breath after a roller-coaster first half to the season. We thought it would be a good time to assemble our All-Star writing staff to talk about what the team has done so far and look forward to what the Royals can expect in the second half.
The Royals have had an up and down season but are 45-43 to end the first half. Is this a bad team playing over its head or a good team that has had some adversity?
Tim Webber: They are an average team, and they're getting there in the weirdest way possible. I still can't rectify the home/road split in my head. It does not compute. I think the team has more good aspects than bad — several aspects are great! — but without a rotation that borders on competency, I'm not sure you can truly label them as a "good team."
Josh Duggan: If entirely healthy (luck upon which no team should be able to count), this team would likely be a little better. The issues the team has had to deal with have largely been depth and the starting rotation. Lack of depth has affected the latter, but it has also bitten the Royals offensively, as they've struggled to score runs. Without bats like Mike Moustakas's, Lorenzo Cain's, and Alex Gordon's in the lineup, the production has suffered. They lucked into some timely production from guys like Whit Merrifield, and Cheslor Cuthbert fell out of the third basemen tree and landed right on Ned Yost's head, but the lineup has really failed to coalesce into a productive unit. With down first halves from Alcides Escobar and especially Alex Gordon, it has been difficult for the Royals to get much going.
The rotation is a different matter entirely. They obviously lack the depth elucidated above after trading off five starting pitchers who have made major-league starts since being dealt last summer. That none of those pitchers - Cody Reed, Sean Manaea, Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, and Aaron Brooks - have been particularly good (Manaea's 4.81 FIP this season is the best of the bunch) is relevant, but the Royals' rotation was likely going to be bad with or without them. This, of course, is because home runs are WAAAAAAY up this year across the board. The logical conclusion would be that the ball is wound tighter this year, probably a response from Rob Manfred's front office to the new Deadball Era that we found ourselves in with pitcher dominance reaching new heights. With a fly-ball-favoring rotation built for a home-run suppressing ballpark and a superb defensive outfield, going so far as to employ the most extreme fly-ball pitcher in baseball, a juiced ball was going to especially screw over a team that had put all of its eggs in a fly-ball favoring basket.
Matthew LaMar: I wrote about this last week, but the Royals are just not very good. They aren't terrible, and they aren't great. It just hasn't been their year--injuries and underperformance have been huge. Let's put it this way: a good team doesn't score runs at close to the lowest pace in their league AND have a collection of starters with a collective 5 ERA.
Shaun Newkirk: I think it is a mediocre team playing at a mediocre level. Let's be honest, the pitching is awful and there is no relief in sight and the offense isn't really anything to write home about either. When arguably your best hitter (Eric Hosmer) at the plate is worth ~0.5 wins it's not an ideal situation. I said 80-82 at the end and I think that's still well within the realm of possibility. You figure at some point the Royals would win fewer home games and win more away games but they are playing like a 115 win team at home and a 55 win team away.
Sterlingice: They have the parts that point to a fairly mediocre team but somehow the whole is once again greater than the sum of them. For the fourth year in a row, they're far exceeding their projections and I hope baseball history looks back and does a post mortem on what this team does that makes them consistently better than they should be rather than sweeping them under the rug as an inconvenient outlier. You look at this rotation and the bottom half of the order and there's no way this team should be .500, much less a couple games over. They were never going to be as good as they looked at 12-6 or 30-22 but we kept waiting for the bottom to fall out last year and it never really did (unless you count the September when things were already decided).
Kevin Ruprecht: I think it's a little more nuanced. The position players were mostly the same from last year, so I'd call them a good group overall who has faced adversity. The bullpen is going to be facing some adversity with Davis out, but they were still a good group (though I think a little less good in terms of true talent than last year). It's the rotation that has failed. It's just not a good rotation.
Hokius: I honestly think this is a good team that's faced some adversity, but it's not a very good team, like last year's team. If you had told me at the beginning of the year that Moose would be out for the season, Gordo would miss a month, and Cain would miss a couple weeks but we'd still be around .500 at the all-star break I would have doubted your sanity. And not just because you would have been claiming to be some sort of future-seer or time-traveler. This team isn't as good as last year's, but that doesn't mean it's as bad as they've looked at times.
BHWick: They're average/good. They've had multiple important hitting pieces missing time on the DL. They're above .500 while allowing more runs than they've scored. The pitching has had some guys underperforming and some that are regressing a tad. Saying the record is purely due to injuries is inaccurate.
Max Rieper: A lot of the underlying metrics suggest this is probably not a very good baseball team. But they also said that about the 2014 and 2015 Royals and the hardware sitting in the Royals Hall of Fame says otherwise.
Farmhand: It’s a good (not great) team dealing with a wide variety of adversity, of which various injuries are only the most obvious example. The team has been hammered by the opposite of their previous two years’ good fortune, and I consider that adversity rather than suckitude.
Who was the first-half MVP?
Kevin Ruprecht: Salvador Perez.
Josh Duggan: The Royals' first half MVP would have to be Salvador Perez.
Hokius: I should probably say Salvy, but I'm gonna pick Duffy because I think without him in the rotation the other starters would be even worse than they have been. He's newfound ability to pitch well and eat innings has allowed the bullpen to help out the rest of the rotation.
BHWick: Salvador Perez.
Sterlingice: I think it has to be Salvy. It looked for the longest time like it would be Hosmer as he carried the offense for quite a while but has finally hit his cold spell. If Duffy's second half is even 80% of what he has done lately, he'll get season MVP.
Tim Webber: I know he's struggled recently, and he will in no way be the full-season MVP, but Whit Merrifield provided a spark at a point when everyone else on the team was slumping or broken, and I really think that without him, the Royals would be looking at a double-digit deficit in the Central.
Max Rieper: Salvy is easily the best catcher in the league and he has been the most valuable player on this team.
Farmhand: I’ll give the edge to Perez over Hosmer. I mean, he hasn't been caught stealing once! Dark horse award goes to Drew "Man for all seasons" Butera over all the AAA wunderkinds.
Should the Royals be buyers, sellers, or stay put for the trade deadline?
Shaun Newkirk: I think they should probably be sellers but they won't. If they were going to sell then now might be the time. You don't really want to use the previous years record to predict the next year's record but do you see this team being a +10-15 win better team in 2017? Injuries aren't the reason for their poor performance, but depth is and next year there is probably going to be less depth. They won't be sellers and hopefully they won't be buyers. It won't be the end of the world if they hold put.
Matthew LaMar: The Royals should buy or sell. They're sort of floundering about in the bad kind of middle world wherein they are too good for a total rebuild and not good enough to be a playoff team. Kansas City then needs to either make moves they make their future brighter at the expense of their present, recognizing that they are longshots to make the playoffs, or try to move into the top tier of the Wild Card hopefulls. Dayton Moore doesn't need to do anything crazy, though. The former situation could just involve trading, say, Kendrys Morales and Kelvin Herrera, while the latter situation could just be acquiring a boring rent-a-starter and a left-handed outfield bat.
Tim Webber: They shouldn't be sellers, because 2016 and 2017 still represent the best chances to win championships. I don't think you can add enough pieces to give better odds to the barren period starting in 2018. But they also shouldn't be buyers, because they can't afford to lose what's left of the farm. I'd be satisfied if they acquired a couple of depth guys — maybe a low-tier pitcher — but I don't expect them to be active at the deadline.
Sterlingice: There's too much tied up in 2016 and 2017 to be real sellers. They aren't the Marlins and a white flag sale would be foolish to throw away all the goodwill generated the last couple of years. Even if the team comes up just short the next couple of years, there's value in giving a couple more pennant races with this core. Frankly, 2018-2020 looks pretty bleak and that's going to have to be when you reload and build the next core. I don't see the farm system that's going to keep them afloat after the mass exodus of 2017.
This changes a little if they lose 15 of their next 20. If the deadline is nearing and you're under .500 with just too many teams ahead, you float Morales and Volquez and see if you can extract a high price for them. But you don't sell just to sell - you need to get something of real value. With the TV contract coming up soon - there's too much at stake to strip away the fan excitement from a team that has only seen 3 seasons of winning baseball in the last couple of decades (and 2003).
Josh Duggan: They're not so screwed for 2017 that they should sell. Obviously they would maximize the returns for pieces likely gone after 2017 if they traded them now, but the Royals can probably still slightly reconfigure their pitching staff in this brave new world for next season. With the possibility of bringing back Mike Moustakas or Lorenzo Cain beyond 2017 and the valuable draft pick compensation that those two and Eric Hosmer would bring back should they leave with qualifying offers attached, it probably makes sense to hold onto them. If another team really wanted someone like Alcides Escobar or Joakim Soria or someone of that ilk, the Royals should probably listen, but they should probably stand pat, barring minor deals like the ones for Josh Willingham or Raul Ibanez in the past.
BHWick: They don't have big pieces that they could trade in July without a slight backlash (there's guys that might be traded in the offseason but not now). They could probably add a few supplemental guys and not lose much - guys on the Justin Maxwell/Jason Frasor realm. Perhaps they'll add a fifth starting pitcher or a bench bat or a backup dude. The 2016 deadline should be similar to 2013/2014 for KC.
Hokius: Given both the Royals' record and the state of the farm right now, I think they should stay put. Now if they go on a massive tailspin coming out of the break and end up ten games out of the division and five games or more out of the Wild Card, I wouldn't be entirely adverse to trading Volquez and Morales if you can get some really good return, especially near-ready prospects, for them. Even if they come out on fire I'd hate to trade for too much toward a playoff run, we're going to need all the prospects we have left to even pretend to be competing in 2018 and 2019.
Kevin Ruprecht: I think they should stay put. I don't want to sacrifice any more parts of the future for now, but that's easy to say after winning a World Series last year. It's also easier to say this when I'm a little more optimistic about the team than most (I think). Obviously there is the viewpoint of needing to capitalize on the window now and forget the future, which is a perfectly valid viewpoint, but I don't think they need to sacrifice more to position themselves this year and for the future.
Max Rieper: If they play reasonably well the next two weeks they should be buyers, but don’t expect a Sonny Gray or Julio Teheran. Their financial constraints and limited trade chips in the minor leagues plus their reluctance to decimate the farm system further will keep them from making much of a splash. They’ll get some cheap rental that will be a marginal upgrade over Chris Young to serve as a tourniquet to a hemorrhaging starting rotation.
Farmhand: Buyers, though I’m not sure whether good enough (or enough good) options exist. They’re still above .500 despite everything, other teams have warts too, and we saw in 2014 that it’s possible to ride a good second half to success. I would understand holding pat, and would not sell.
The biggest weakness clearly seems to be the starting rotation. How would you address it and what do you think they will do?
Matthew Lamar: They'll probably make a minor move and grab somebody a la the midseason Jeremy Guthrie trade in 2012. Now that the Royals have their ring, and have a more mediocre team, I'm not sure it makes much sense to acquire a bigtime pitcher at the expense of a thin farm system close to the Great Exodus of 2018. It could happen, I suppose, but it seems that the Royals want to keep a lot of their minor league talent.
BHWick: Short of teaching Yordano Ventura a slider and trusting him to not explode his elbow? Their most practical move involves adding a starter for the Chris Young spot and hoping that Volquez/Kennedy improve while Duffy/Ventura stay healthy. They don't haaaaave to add Teheran or Rich Hill. The Johnny Cueto trade probably makes people think the Royals can get the top starting pitcher again, but they could just get a guy that is a veteran arm for a rental, somebody that doesn't allow 4 homers per 9 innings.
Kevin Ruprecht: Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Edinson Volquez, and Yordano Ventura aren't going anywhere. The fifth spot is a rotating mess that will continue to be as such until someone sticks. The coaches need to do their jobs and figure out what's ailing these pitchers, if anything. I'm still of the opinion that it's mechanics with Ventura. Ventura is waffling between blowing up and being good; they need to isolate the difference.
Max Rieper: They’ll have to go look at external options to round out to the rotation, as neither Young or Gee is much of an option. I would give Flynn a shot in the interim, but I would not expect great results. I would expect some of the home run rates to normalize a bit, and you have to hope Yordano Ventura will get it together in the second half as he did last year. Hey, maybe Kyle Zimmer will be healthy enough to make a start?
Shaun Newkirk: It comes back to depth. The Dodgers are several games better than the Royals despite Kershaw, Puig, Montas, Van Slyke, Wood, Grandal, Crawford, Anderson, McCarthy, and Kendrick all spending time on the DL. The Royals relied upon 180-200 innings from guys like Young and Medlen with potential starts from Gee and Minor. There have been no rotation injuries other than Medlen and the Royals struggled to find a starter for Sunday. They can't stand pat unless you want 15 more starts from Chris Young or Dillon Gee. However they don't have a real reason (as of this writing) to make significant trades for a push, no need to pick up a Cueto when you are way behind first place and several games out of the Wild Card. Their best chance might be to just trade for someone cheap just to fill out innings. Otherwise give guys like Miguel Almonte, Matt Strahm, Brian Flynn, Alec Mills, John Lannan, a shot.
Sterlingice: This may sound silly but I really had hoped Medlen would be finding himself about now, finally coming back fully from Tommy John surgery, but that looks about as likely now as Kyle Zimmer riding to the rescue. A second-half rotation of Volquez, Kennedy, Duffy, Ventura, and (Gee, Flynn, ???, et al) only works if Duffy keeps doing what he's doing and Ventura finds what he had in the second half last year. But I don't get the impression that the Royals have much in the system that other teams value so they'd have to pay a too much to get a mediocre return. What's the pitching equivalent of Josh Willingham? Because I think that's what we'll see. And it might be the right move because I'm not sure there really is a "right" move.
Tim Webber: The short answer is that there is no answer. The Royals' inability to develop starting pitching throughout the organization is dooming this season. There are no minor league starters I'd feel comfortable calling up. The trade market is thin, even if the Royals could afford to shell out for a top-tier starter (they can't and shouldn't). I'm not convinced Kris Medlen will be effective when/if he returns. Mike Minor could very well be an elaborate hoax. Jason Vargas could return in September, and I did not expect to be remotely excited about that possibility, but here we are.
Josh Duggan: As mentioned above, the disaster that is the Royals rotation has taken on a life of its own in this crazy new run environment. The ball simply has to be juiced unless all of baseball is on great new steroids. When your rotation is constructed to live in the 2015 world only to have the 2016 game change rather dramatically because home runs are suddenly markedly easier to come by, the effects are going to be significantly more pronounced.
Look at Chris Young's peripherals. The most extreme fly-ball pitcher in baseball by a wide margin is actually striking out way more batters (an increase of 6.8% from last year, 3.54 K/9 more) and has dramatically improved his K-BB% from 8.0% last year to 12.8% this year. His SIERA, the most advanced of the DIPS metrics which takes into account batted-ball data, is actually better than last year's mark by half a run. But when you take a guy whose career has been built upon inducing fly-ball contact and put that player into a new world in which fly balls travel farther, any hope of managing the damage done by home runs allowed is probably out the window.
As far as solutions are concerned, there doesn't appear to be much that can be done. Go out and get ground-ball pitchers?
Farmhand: I can’t/don’t follow the rest of the league enough to offer intelligent specific trade speculation. Ideally I’d like to see the team use the bullpen more creatively, putting starters on shorter leashes and pitching by committee. But expecting outside-the-box thinking in this regard is a recipe for disappointment soufflé.
Hokius: I'd let Flynn start for Young/Gee, and see if he can contribute anything because we already know the other choices in the major leagues can't. If they can find anyone in the minors or make a trade for a bad #3/good #4 starter, I'd let Ventura pitch in the pen or the minors for a couple weeks so he can figure out what's going on with his mechanics. Even though his line for that last start looks alright he had a ton of hard hit balls to the outfield that the defense kept bringing in for him anyway.
The honest truth is, though, the best way for this rotation to improve is for the guys who are already there to do better. Volquez, Kennedy and Ventura have all shown flashes in between the garbage. Obviously, Duffy has been a revelation. If the other three can match Duffy's performance between them (i.e. one of them pitches as well as Duffy, two of them each pitch half their games as well as Duffy, etc) I actually think this team looks a lot better just from that.
Give us some second-half predictions. Any surprises?
Shaun Newkirk: Matt Strahm gets a big league start. We see Bubba Starling in September. Eric Hosmer doesn't break 1.1 fWAR. Kendrys Morales finishes the season with a 100 wRC+. Whit Merrifield finishes with an 85 wRC+. Kyle Zimmer throws more than 25 innings. Mike Minor gets a start for KC. Royals make a few quiet moves. Danny Duffy finishes with a 3.40 ERA and 3.80 FIP Indians win the division. Toronto and Houston win Wild Card spots.
Matthew LaMar: At some point, one of Hunter Dozier, Bubba Starling, or Raul Mondesi will get an extended look either in August or September. This September could actually be particularly exciting as others, such as Jorge Bonifacio and Ryan O'Hearn, could also make a cameo appearance and figure to be important in the life-after-the-best-farm-system-in-the-history-of-whatever. I expect something akin to the 2013 Royals in ultimate positioning as far as winning goes--good enough for late games to matter, but bad enough that the playoffs were never realistically in play.
Sterlingice: The last two seasons, Cleveland has been hanging around .500 at the All-Star break only to go about .550 the rest of the way. That puts them around 42 wins the rest of the way and gets them home in the mid 90s. That's just too high of a hill to climb but if their offense hits one of those prolonged slumps and they fall a little off that pace to just 90 wins, the Royals can track them down.
I predict Alex Gordon gets healthy and destroys the month of August about the time a lot of people are calling for him to be benched for Eibner or some such nonsense. I kind of worry Wade Davis has pitched his last inning for the team this year and possibly for his career. People will keep calling for Herrera to close but the team will do better with Soria pitching with a two-run lead in the ninth and Herrera shutting down the 3-4-5 hitters in the eighth and Ned will keep coming up with some "bullpen by committee" excuse for as long as he can get away with it. As much of a hot mess as Ventura is now, he seems to do best in someone's shadow so if Duffy keeps this up, Ventura picks up last year's 2nd half form. Either a Whit slump or Eskie injury or something gives some quality ABs to Colon and he delivers modestly good returns.
Tim Webber: FOX's new fall drama "Pitch" convinces at least one commenter on our Facebook page that maybe the Royals should look to the fairer sex as a solution to their pitching woes. And since that's too easy, here's a bolder prediction: Salvador Perez will be the only Royal to win a Gold Glove this year.
BHWick: Erick Aybar will be traded. Cleveland either wins the division by 10+ games or 3 games. Chris Young makes a spot start after some sort of fluky occurance (doubleheader? starter scratched?). Four of the five AL Central teams finish with a winning record while the Twins lose 105 games. The Royals only make a run if the starting pitching gets hot.
Josh Duggan: Gordon will silence the detractors whining about how he's getting paid but not producing with a resurgent second half. Ventura can't continue to be this bad, can he? The Royals will probably play slightly less poorly than they did in the first half, contending for the Wild Card to the bitter end, but we might want to be prepared to watch teams other than the Royals in the postseason.
Kevin Ruprecht: Yordano Ventura's mechanics get fixed, and he becomes a decent #2 behind Duffy (whoa, weird sentence).
Farmhand: I say they stay a bit above .500, in contention into September, relying on someone else’s collapse to clear the way. It still wouldn’t surprise me to see Cleveland fall back to earth, reigniting the division race upon re-entry.
Hokius: I think Hosmer will give us a month-long tear that will make us think he's figured it out, again - probably August after the Royals decide not to make any big trades. We'll see Starling, Dozier, and Mondesi at some point. At least one of Strahm, Mills, or Farrell will start a game. Whit's going to have at least one more amazing month, too.
Max Rieper: Cleveland will have a terrible stretch that allows the Royals to sniff first place again, only to see the Indians pull away in September. Kendrys Morales will have a terrific second half, and the Royals will give him a contract extension. Alex Gordon will reveal he has been playing with an injury and will miss the rest of the season to repair it, allowing Hunter Dozier to get called up. Raul Mondesi will get called up in August to start at second so Whit Merrifield can be more of a utility player. Mike Minor will not throw a pitch for the Royals this year. Cheslor Cuthbert finishes second in Rookie of the Year voting.
What record do the Royals end the year with?
Kevin Ruprecht: 85-77
Hokius: I'm gonna say 88-74, and they will nab the second wild-card. I refuse to bet against the team that has repeatedly shown for 2 years that just when you're ready to count them out they find a way to scratch and claw their way back in.
Max Rieper: I think the Royals will barely hang in contention much of the second half, but will fall short of a playoff spot with about 84 wins.
Farmhand: If the Royals play at the same clip, they’ll end up around 83-79, not good enough. With a judicious trade, a settled-down Ventura, the more recent Morales, and no further disasters, I think they could improve to 86-76, which makes the WC at least conceivable. Anything beyond that would likely involve a sacrificial goat. Not that I’m offering.
Josh Duggan: I do expect the Royals to finish the season slightly stronger than they started it. I'd guess they finish with 88 or 89 wins
Tim Webber: I'm sticking with my preseason prediction: 87-75.
Sterlingice: My mind keeps coming back to 86 wins- it's a hair above the pace they're on but feels about right. Their post-ASB records the past 3 season are 43-27, 41-27, and 42-33, which is about .600. That would get them home around 88 or 89 but, even with the same core, I'm not sure they have that in them. If the injury gods, who smiled upon this team the last couple of seasons, are mostly finished collecting their due, they make it there. But I'm not sure any of this will be good enough for a playoff berth. I'd love to be wrong, though.