Injuries, unfortunately, are a part of baseball. The Royals have not been immune to this, suffering from key injuries to Eric Hosmer in 2014, Alex Gordon and Greg Holland in 2015, and Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Wade Davis in 2016. This year, it is Salvador Perez that has gone down with an intercostal injury, and the Royals have gone just 4-7 with him out, allowing 6.7 runs-per-game during that time.
While some, like Kansas City Star writer Vahe Gregorian, writes the Royals could cover for Salvy’s injury, his loss is still a blow to a team that has little margin for error as it fights to stay in the Wild Card hunt. As Gregorian points out, the Royals were able to cover for Eric Hosmer in 2014, and have overcome key injuries before. But not every player is as replaceable as the next. Who is the most irreplaceable player for the Royals? I took a look at what the Royals’ team record is with and without some of their key players over the last few years.
2014-2017 with Perez starting: 287-230 (.542)
2014-2017 without Perez starting: 38-50 (.432)
Well you can see why Ned Yost is so reluctant to ever give Salvador Perez a day off. Salvy is the heart and soul of this team, a captain on the field, and the instigator of the “Salvy Splash.” Salvy is a Gold Glove catcher, and the lapses by Drew Butera in recent weeks - while an aberration even for him - demonstrate how much the Royals miss Salvy’s glove behind his plate.
Then there is the impact on the pitching. It is still debatable whether “Catcher’s ERA” is a thing - whether the backstop has a significant impact on pitcher performance. But there is evidence that is does make a difference. For the Royals, the difference is quite clear. From 2014 to 2017, when Salvador Perez starts, Royals pitchers have a 3.71 ERA. When he doesn’t, that jumps a full run to 4.70.
As for Salvy’s bat, he has customarily always had a second-half swoon. Over the last four seasons, he has been just a .229/.258/.373 hitter after the All-Star break, much worse even than light-hitting Drew Butera has hit in the second half since joining the Royals - .274/.339/.396. So perhaps the offense might actually improve with him out of the lineup this time of year.
2014-2017 with Hosmer starting: 297-258 (.535)
2014-2017 without Hosmer starting: 28-22 (.560)
That record is a bit unfair to Hosmer, as most of the time he missed was in 2014, when he was out of action for a month with a hand fracture, just as the Royals were heating up for their pennant run. The club immediately ripped off a nine-game win streak and went 19-10 with Hosmer out of action that year. They were able to get by that year by putting Billy Butler at first base and using newly acquired slugger Josh Willingham at designated hitter.
First base is often an easy position to replace for that reason - pretty much anyone could play it, even if it may not be at a level as high as Hosmer (if you believe he plays defense at a high level). Brandon Moss could move to first base, and the Royals have a few sluggers in the minors at first base worth trying out if Hosmer was out, including Ryan O’Hearn, Frank Schwindel, and even Hunter Dozier.
But would they be able to replace Hosmer’s offense? Hosmer leads the Royals in batting average, on-base percentage, wOBA, and wRC+, and has been arguably their top hitter. Even if you expect some regression from Hosmer, ZIPS projects him to hit .290/.350/.457, far better than it projects for Brandon Moss or any of those minor leaguers. For a team that is struggling to get by offensively, the loss of Hosmer’s bat could leave a huge hole in the lineup.
2014-2017 with Cain starting: 258-218 (.542)
2014-2017 without Cain starting: 67-62 (.519)
The loss of Lorenzo Cain last year for the final six weeks was largely blamed for the Royals dropping out of post-season contention. At least last year, the Royals could replace Cain with Paulo Orlando - who was still considered a good baseball player - and Jarrod Dyson - who actually was a good baseball player. This year, if Cain goes down, the alternate is.....Billy Burns? Bubba Starling? Alex Gordon?
Kansas City Star columnist Sam Mellinger, argues Cain is the hardest to replace, writing:
My choice, for whatever it’s worth, would be Lorenzo Cain. I just believe he’s their best all-around player, a guy who can win a game with his glove, legs, or bat, and that the lineup works so much better with him in it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that last season dipped when he went on the disabled list.
While he may have lost a step, Cain continues to provide excellent defense in center field. His bat is also a steady presence at the top of the lineup, and he has quietly put up the best overall season for the Royals, presently 13th among American League position players with 3.3 WAR, according to Fangraphs.
2014-2017 with Moustakas starting: 226-173 (.566)
2014-2017 without Moustakas starting: 99-107 (.481)
Ah, how does last year play out if Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon never collide? Sure, Cheslor Cuthbert held his own at third base last year, but the difference between the two defensively was massive, and the Royals could have really used Moustakas’ newfound power. Even in 2014, when Moose’s bat wasn’t so hot, leading to a demotion to the minors, the Royals were 74-52 with him in the starting lineup, and 15-21 when he wasn’t.
But at least the Royals would have options if Moustakas had to miss time. Cheslor Cuthbert has been awful this year, but could improve his play with regular playing time. Hunter Dozier is finally working his way back from various injuries this year and could find himself in the mix as well if Moose was gone. Still, he has become one of the most prolific home run hitters in the league this year, and those kind of dongs are not easily replaceable.
The Royals are 86-87 with Whit Merrifield in the starting lineup over the last two years, which mirrors their near -.500 record those two seasons. Whit has really burst onto the scene this year, at age 28, with a career season. He has especially been hot the last month, hitting .302/.338/.519 over the last 30 days. It still seems bizarre that he not only lost the starting second base job to begin the year, but did not even make the Opening Day roster.
Merrifield is a fighter, leading the team in OPS when they are behind, by hitting .331/.377/.545. He has also given the Royals a steady presence at the leadoff spot, a spot they have been juggling for the last few years. Whit also provides some positional versatility, which helps with roster flexibility, especially when the team is not carrying a true reserve shortstop. The Royals did win a championship without Whit, although they had a Whit-like player in Ben Zobrist (although he drew far more walks). The Royals also have a talented replacement waiting in Raul Mondesi, who could be more prepared for the big leagues now that he has enjoyed great success at AAA. But this team has a different formula for winning games than the 2015 team, and Whit may be the straw that stirs the drink.
Who is the most irreplaceable member of the Royals?
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