The Kansas City Royals won the 2015 World Series. Quick! Name some reasons why they won.
They were clutch! They had a #Superbullpen, great clubhouse chemistry, blah blah, starters that kept them in the game, Wade Davis, something something Hosmer dash. The defense was the exact opposite of the Maginot Line (read: IMPENETRABLE), they played with fire, they had so many intangibles that Casper the Friendly Ghost became jealous. Played the game the right way, baserunning!, mumble mumble victory.
Ask anyone their memory of that championship Royals squad and you’re likely to get answers based on their defense, bullpen, and base stealing. That certainly isn’t wrong. The Royals had the best defense in the league, the only team in the league gauged at +50 runs above average by both Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved. Their bullpen was second in baseball in ERA at 2.72, captained by the best reliever of the year, Wade Davis. They were top five in both total stolen bases (108) and success rate (75%).
But flying under the radar was another factor. Listed below are the regular season runs per game in 2015 and the MLB rank. See if you can pick out which one was the Royals:
- 4.05 runs/game, 21st
- 4.34 runs/game, 10th
- 3.98 runs/game, 25th
- 4.47 runs/game, 7th
The order of teams was: Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals, Tampa Bay Rays, and...Kansas City.
That’s right! The Royals were a top-ten offense in 2015, even better in the postseason with the swap of Ben Zobrist for Omar Infante. If you prefer to look at a number that’s a little more involved, Kansas City tied for 10th in wRC+ as well.
Kansas City’s offense was overlooked a bit because of its eschewing of convention; the Royals tied at dead last in walk rate (a measly 6.3%) and were only tied for 19th in Isolated Slugging Percentage (.144). Instead, the Royals had the lowest strikeout rate in baseball at 15.9%, a huge margin over the next best team. Their contact rate of 81.9% was the best in the Majors, and the team’s batting average of .269 was tied for second-best among all big league teams.
Despite its oddball nature, the Royals’ 2015 offense worked. It scored a lot of runs, and was a threat at any time. It could win with small ball, and it could win with home runs. That World Series won’t be remembered for offense, but make no mistake, the Royals’ very good scoring potential was a huge part of why they got there.
Fast forward to last year - 2016. Let’s look at what some of these same stats look like in relation to the league.
- Runs/Game: 4.17, 23rd
- wRC+: 88, 27th
- BB%: 6.3%, 30th
- K%: 20.2%, T-9th
- ISO: .139, 28th
- Contact: 78.2%, 18th
- AVG: .261, T-7th
A few key points here: though the Royals maintained a relatively high average, they lost their elite contact skills at the same time as their strikeout rate spiked and their power fell. That, like any recipe calling for coconut or Kansas City Masterpiece BBQ sauce, is a recipe for disaster. The 2016 Royals won 14 fewer games than the 2015 squad. That’s not a small total. The offense’s disappearance into Narnia was the biggest reason why.
So as we turn into 2017, we’re looking at a team that will, in all likelihood, still have a good bullpen, defense, and basestealing ability. So the biggest area improvement is going to be the offense. The 2017 Royals can only go as far as this offense can carry them.
The positive outlook is pretty simple: it suggests that significant bounceback will occur, and the existence of some much needed power will help the Royals get over the hump. Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, and Alex Gordon played a combined 258 games last year, and healthy seasons from each of them this year would bump that total to about 420 games (or more). That removes games from guys like Whit Merrifield, Paulo Orlando, and Cheslor Cuthbert, who don’t have the pure talent that Cain/Moose/Gordon have.
In addition, the Royals had a lot of guys hit worse than they were expected to. Cain and Gordon, alongside Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, and Alcides Escobar, put up offensive numbers under their career averages. All five will be back next year.
Finally, the signings of Brandon Moss and Jorge Soler add a lot of potential to the team, as well as power. In the last five years, Moss has hit 123 home runs. The list of Royals players who have done that in a five-year period is...diminutive, not unlike*
*CHOOSE YOUR OWN POLITICAL JOKE FROM THE FOLLOWING OPTIONS:
- DONALD TRUMP’S HANDS
- STEVE BANNON’S HANDS
THANK YOU FOR PLAYING
Anyway, the number is one—Danny Tartabull from 1987-1991. So Moss brings bigtime power. That, combined with the incoming Jorge Soler, will give the Royals a lot of offensive ceiling. Soler has all the tools to become a great hitter, and that’s something the Royals desperately need.
There is no scenario where the Royals make the playoffs and don’t have a good offensive year. The death of Yordano Ventura significantly lowers the rotation’s upside, the departure of Wade Davis removes the best piece from a bullpen that struggled outside its top options, and the trade of Jarrod Dyson removes one of the top ten defensive outfielders in the entire last decade of baseball from the team. This isn’t a team that is built to win like the 2014 team, in other words; there’s no way this particular team could be dragged to victory that way.
But what could happen is this: Gordon, Hosmer, Moustakas, Soler, Perez, and Moss all crack 20+ home runs, sprinkling power throughout a balanced lineup. Meanwhile, Cain, Orlando, and Merrifield hit around league average while also offering great defense, eliminating the giant holes that perforated the 2016 lineup.
This team is only going as far as the offense will go. If it’s a playoff-calibur offense, we might be looking at a playoff-calibur team. If it’s not, though—which is the scary part—we’re looking at 2016 redux. Let’s hope it is the former.