The Royals are a little more than halfway done with the season, so it seems an appropriate time to give out first-half grade cards. It has been an up-and-down season for the defending champs. They have had a 17-11 month of May, but went on to drop eight in a row to start June. They have the league's third-best home record coupled with the league's second-worst road record. The bullpen continues to be outstanding, and the Royals have gotten surprising performances from some rookies, but the awfulness of the starting rotation and key injuries have dragged the team down. Let's look at some individual performances and hand out some grades.
Salvador Perez: A
You would be forgiven for thinking that the catcher who set the record for most innings caught over a two-year period might regress in the third year. However Salvador Perez has flourished in 2016, easily outpacing the American League catching corps both offensively and defensively. According to Fangraphs, he has been the ninth-most valuable defensive player in baseball. Offensively, he has increased his power from last year, when he set the franchise record for most home runs by a catcher. His Isolated Power (ISO) is at an all-time high, as is his slugging percentage. If there is a drawback to his game, it is his plate discipline, but even his walk rate has gone up this year. The improvement has not come from more rest - he is on pace to catch just slightly fewer innings than he did last year.
Wade Davis: A-
He hasn't seemed quite right all season, suffering from a velocity drop to start the year, then showing a loss of command more recently, signalling what turned out to be a forearm injury. Still, it is hard to argue with the results. The Cyborg has put up a 1.23 ERA and converted 19-of-21 save opportunities. Only two American League relievers have allowed a lower opponent's hitting line than his .176/.276/.186. The only questions is - will we see him in the second half?
Kelvin Herrera : A-
As great as Kelvin was last year, he has improved a great deal this year. His strikeout-to-walk ratio has improved dramatically, and he is fourth in all of baseball among all relievers with seven strikeouts to every walk issued. His 1.40 ERA is the sixth-lowest in baseball, and he has been the fourth-most valuable reliever in baseball by WAR, according to Fangraphs.
Eric Hosmer: B+
Hosmer has shown flashes of brilliance many times before, but he has put it together for longer stretches this year, which has helped him land his first All-Star nod. He is on pace to have his first 20+ home run season, and it has not come at the expense of hitting for average, as he has hit .over .300 so far. Although he did slump a bit in June, he avoided the type of major slump that has doomed seasons before. His defense is still a point of controversy, but overall Eric Hosmer is having a career season that could help him land a lucrative payday in less than eighteen months.
Danny Duffy: B+
Danny Duffy did not even begin the season in the rotation and by mid-June he was the most consistent starter the Royals had. Since the beginning of June, he has gone six innings or more in five of his seven starts. Twice he has completed eight innings, finishing an out shy of his first career complete game on July 2. He has the third-highest velocity on his fastball by a starting pitcher. Most impressively, however, he has kept the walks down and been able to go deep in games.
Drew Butera: B+
I don't know what has gotten into Drew. He is hitting for average. He is hitting for power. He is drawing walks. His hair looks great. He even pitched an inning and looked good doing it. He should run for President. I'm not kidding.
Mike Moustakas: B+/Incomplete
Moose was really off to a good start, showing that last year was no fluke with him until he got hurt with a thumb injury. Then he got hurt again, this time for good, and we won't get to see what more he has in store for us until 2017.
Lorenzo Cain: B
Lorenzo Cain got off to a rough start in April, but since the calendar turned over to May, he has hit .319/.352/.466, similar numbers to what he put up last year when he finished third in MVP voting. His defense is still top notch and he third among all outfielders in defense, according to Fangraphs. Unfortunately, his streak of avoiding injury has come to an end, and he has found himself shelved with a hamstring injury.
Kendrys Morales: B
Morales was such a disaster for the first two months that fans were calling for his release. His turnaround in June has been nothing short of amazing. The 2015 Silver Slugger Award winner hit .402/.453/.655 in the month of June, and over the last 30 days, only Josh Donaldson has been a better offensive player in all of baseball. Morales now leads the team in home runs with 15, and is second on the team in RBI, slugging percentage, and OPS. If he can find a happy medium between his awful start and his sizzling June, his bat will play.
Luke Hochevar: B
Luke has become a pretty dependable fireman out of the bullpen, there to get the Royals out of any jam in any situation.
Whit Merrifield: B
Whit was a sensation when he first came up, impressing fans with his hustle, his speed, and his contact ability. Unfortunately he has slumped lately, hitting just .224/.250/.259 over his last 14 games, but he still leads American League rookie position players in WAR, according to Baseball-Reference. Merrifield's high strikeout rate (21%) and low walk rate (2.8%) may eventually be his undoing, but so far he has electrified fans and made them grateful for the change at second base.
Paulo Orlando: B
Paulo was also a sensation to begin the year, he had his average up to .356 just a few weeks ago. A recent 6-for-36 slump has brought those numbers down, but Orlando has been an offensive surprise in right field this year. His plate discipline is still a major weakness and his defense has shown holes at times, but it is hard to be upset with how Orlando has performed in the first half.
Cheslor Cuthbert: B
When Mike Moustakas went down with an injury, it seemed as though third base might be a major problem this season. Cheslor Cuthbert started slowly, but he has come on to hit .304/.341/.522 with seven home runs over his last 32 games. Even more surprising has been his defense, which has been top notch.
Jarrod Dyson: B
Dyson had a chance to grab the right-field job, but got hurt and when he returned, Paulo Orlando had gotten off to a hot start. Dyson has not helped his cause by hitting for a low average, but if you look beyond traditional stats he has had a solid season. He has the second-best walk rate on the team (behind Drew Butera!). He has stolen 12 bases at an 80% success rate, and is fifth among all outfielders in assists.
Ian Kennedy: B-
Kennedy has not quite lived up to his $70 million contract, but he has been serviceable with an 112 ERA+ and a strikeout per inning. He has had trouble with the long ball as expected, and 16 of his 20 home runs allowed have come on the road. His FIP of 5.21 suggests trouble may be ahead, and he has walked far too many hitters, but Kennedy has been a decent middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher this year.
Edinson Volquez: B-
If you toss out "the start" - you know which one I'm talking about - his ERA is 3.97, which isn't great, but isn't terrible either. We can't ignore that one start, but it is a bit of an outlier and Volquez has been fairly steady aside from that. His strikeout rate, walk rate, and FIP are all very similar to last season.
Brian Flynn: B-
Flynn has pitched mostly slop innings and has walked too many hitters, but his overall numbers are pretty decent and the Royals may see him as a starting rotation candidate before too long.
Peter Moylan: B-
The sidearmer has been healthy all season, which is probably the most encouraging news for him. He has been a serviceable last man out of the bullpen and his near 60% groundball rate is among the best in baseball.
Joakim Soria: C+
Soria's ERA is actually lower than Luke Hochevar's, but his strikeout rate is worse, his walk rate is worse, and he has looked worse this season. His walk rate has been up at an alarming rate, and his command overall has looked suspect. Soria has not been as bad as his critics say he has been, but few Royals fans have much confidence in him with the game on the line.
Yordano Ventura: C+
Ventura got off to a good enough start with a 2.35 ERA over his first four starts. But then he began to get hit around and his season blew up when he got into a brawl with the Baltimore Orioles. He continues to show signs of briliance but no ability to put it together for stretches, unlike his second half last year. His walk rate is at a career-high, and his strikeout rate of 6.6 per-nine-innings is pitiful for a pitcher with his kind of velocity. Yordano continues to be an enigma, and with trade rumors reported surrounding him, doubts have crept in as to whether he will be in Kansas City long-term.
Alcides Escobar: C+
Esky has never been known for his bat, but his glove has not been rated highly in the defensive metrics this year. While he still makes highlight reel plays, he seems to be making more routine flubs than in past year. His bat continues to be a negative, one of the worst among Major League regulars. Ned Yost finally demoted him from the leadoff spot, but he is on pace to put up his second-worst offensive season ever.
Chien-Ming Wang: C+
Wang has pitched in mostly low-leverage situations when the game is out of hand. His strikeout rate is poor, especially for a reliever, and he has allowed the second-greatest percentage of hard-hit balls among all relievers. His ERA is decent, but he is suited for the long-relief role and not much else.
Dillon Gee: C
He has been serviceable when called upon, but he has proven to be not be much more than an emergency solution to the starting rotation woes. When he keeps the ball down, he is pretty good, but he has suffered from the same long-ball problems that have plagued the rest of the starting staff.
Scott Alexander: C-
The Royals have been looking for a left-handed relief arm, and Alexander failed in his audition. He could still come up and contribute, but that may have been his best shot at landing a Major League job.
Alex Gordon: D+
Since signing a $70 million contract last winter, Alex has been a disappointment. He struggled mightily the first two months, then missed a month with a wrist injury. His average has hovered around the Mendoza Line and his strikeout rate has taken a huge spike upwards. His defense has taken a dip, according to the metrics, although that may be due to a small sample size, as his defense looks fine by the eye test. If there is a plus, it is that Alex is still drawing walks. However, he will need to turn things around for the Royals to succeed in the second half.
Chris Young: F
Dayton Moore found such a great gem in Chris Young when he signed him to a cheap, incentive laden deal in the spring of 2015. Young was a valuable member of the pitching staff, particularly in the post-season. But like many of Dayton Moore's diamonds-in-the-rough, the shine wears off as soon as the team commits real money to the endeavor. He leads Major League Baseball in home runs allowed, despite throwing just over 60 innings. His flyball tendencies are catching up to him, and the Royals may have to decide if it is even worth keeping him around on the roster, even with a full year left on his deal.
Kris Medlen: F
When he was healthy, he was quite awful, walking hitters left and right. He has been hurt the last two months, and it does not sound like his rehab is going very well, giving the Royals rotation another setback.
Omar Infante: F
It was the end of the line for Omar. The Royals cut him loose with over a year left on his $30 million deal, cutting bait on a .239/.279/.321 hitter who had also lost his defensive ability. Omar tried his best, but his body was no longer responding.
Brett Eibner: Handsome
He has looked good in a handful of games, and I mean that in every sense of the word.
Reymond Fuentes: Meh
The speedster made the team out of spring training, but had some defensive miscues that hurt his chances, and he has been hurt a lot in the minors. Could still be a valuable asset going forward, but he has been passed by some other players in the organization.
Terrance Gore: Fast
He won that one game, remember? That was fun.
Tony Cruz: Who?
Did you even know he was on the team this year?
Alec Mills: Brief
He faced five hitters. He retired two of them. Those were heady times, man.