The Royals begin the second half today, and it seems the team has nowhere to go but up, right? They are a league-worst 27-68, on pace to be the worst team in Royals history by a good margin. We assembled our writers to discuss this terrible, horrible, no-good season.
Why are the Royals so bad?
sterlingice: I honestly have no idea. Sure, I’m the resident optimist but none of us saw it anywhere near this bad. The low water mark in our pre-season predictions was 70-92, a far cry from their current 116-loss pace. Yes, yes, they’re bad at both hitting and pitching but they don’t feel historically bad. This doesn’t feel like the mid-2000s Royals that Joe Posnanski once remarked “don’t just lose - they lose funny. “
Patrick Brennan: Bad drafting, bad player development, lack of recent hits on the international market, bad trades, bad signings, playing Alcides Escobar, Paulo Orlando, Blaine Boyer, Brandon Maurer, and Justin Grimm. Their terrible start was aided by their main catcher being Drew Butera. There have been disappointments on the pitching staff, as Duffy, Hammel, Junis, and Kennedy have all been bad for the majority of the season.
Sean Thornton: A lethal combination of under-performing pitching and an inconsistent offense. The pitching might be dealing with a bit of the ‘Eiland Effect’ (if you buy into that) and the hitting has dealt with the ‘Death Row of Inferior Offense’ for most of the season. In other words: the offense is bad and the pitching is bad.
Matthew LaMar: I wrote about this last month. Basically, it’s a three step process.
- Step one: Take an 80-win team from 2017 that outperformed its Pythagorean win-loss record
- Step two: Remove the two best position players (Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer), most reliable starter (Jason Vargas), and all five most used relievers by games pitched (Peter Moylan, Mike Minor, Scott Alexander, Joakim Soria, and now Kelvin Herrera)
- Step three: Sprinkle in standard injuries and an extremely thin farm system
The Royals were able to outperform their Pythagorean, second, and third order winning percentages in the past because of exemplary defense, baserunning, and lockdown bullpens. The Royals are this bad because they’ve gotten worse, but also because they’ve stopped outperforming what they should have done in a vacuum, so it’s a double regression.
Josh Duggan: Nearly a decade of abject failure in drafting—Aaron Crow was ten drafts ago—and player development meant that the front office’s denial that the window was slamming shut on competitive baseball was going to cook down into a fetid stew of rotting flesh and dead dreams.
Hokius: It’s all because Ned Yost is a terrible manager!
No, I kid. It’s because almost everyone on the team is not good enough at baseball to be playing at the major league level, currently. The grind of major league baseball means that most of your players have to be pretty good to be competitive. The Royals have 4-5 above-average players and everyone else is noticeably below average.
Ryan Heffernon: Short term: The roster is bad and they got punched in the gut early, which I don’t think they have recovered from. They are the worst team in Royals history, but they just haven’t been able to recover from April. Long term:
“Small market teams have to tear down in order to compete”— scobes (@scobes15) April 4, 2018
No they don’t, they just can’t do this: pic.twitter.com/dwlITSe8Ky
Max Rieper: Bad drafts. Most attention goes to the first round as Ryan pointed out, but they’re not finding many gems in the later rounds. From 2011-2014, the only picks that look like they’ll be pretty useful big leaguers are Jake Junis, Matt Strahm, Sean Manaea, and we’ll see about Hunter Dozier, Cody Reed, and Brandon Finnegan. By comparison, the Indians found Francisco Lindor, Cody Anderson, Cody Allen, Tyler Naquin, Joey Wendle, Clint Frazier, Kyle Crockett, Brad Zimmer, as well as top prospect Justus Sheffield in those draft classes.
Shaun Newkirk: The 2016 and 2017 teams weren’t that good, roughly a .500 team talent-wise. Then they lost a couple of their better players, retained one of their worst, got rid of maybe their best reliever, and pitched more of their bad relievers. Is it a cop out to just say this team is bad because they are a collection of bad players? I’m not sure anyone is drastically underperforming and there was no real expectation that this was even a decent team to begin with.
Alex Duvall: The pitching has been infinitely worse than I think anyone expected. Danny Duffy was one of the worst pitchers in baseball for a while. Junis regressed and Kennedy didn’t make improvements.
What should they be doing that they’re not doing?
Shaun Newkirk: I think the season is a failure if Merrifield, Perez, and Moustakas aren’t traded. That seems bold, and it seems unlikely that Perez and Merrifield are, but those guys are worth more to the Royals on another team than they are on their team.
Ryan Heffernon: Getting Alcides Escobar the heck out of the lineup.
Patrick Brennan: First, stop playing guys that don’t contribute to the future at all (mainly Escobar, Orlando, and what they were doing with Goins and Almonte earlier). Second, stop trying to hold onto Blaine Boyer. Third, stop refusing to eat salary. They did it with the Soria and Moss trades earlier (losing Alexander and Buchter along with them) and they did it with Herrera more recently. No reason to believe they won’t do it with Moustakas.
sterlingice: Whatever they’re doing has them in position for the #1 pick next year so don’t mess with “success”! Seriously, though, once the trade deadline is past, phase out the older guys who aren’t a part of the future and use the valuable asset of major league playing time to see what guys in the high minors can do. See if you can get something from a Cheslor Cuthbert (if healthy), Hunter Dozier, Frank Schwindel, Trevor Oaks, etc. Maybe another potential player for the future emerges. Or maybe someone surprises and can be traded for prospects. This stuff should be Tanking 101 by now.
Hokius: Two things. They need to be trading more guys and they need to be playing younger players. Paulo Orlando isn’t the future. Lucas Duda isn’t the future. Jason Hammel isn’t the future. Alcides Escobar is NOT the future. Ryan O’Hearn, Frank Schwindel and other guys in the minors might be. Or they might help the team get the guys who are.
Josh Duggan: Honestly self-evaluating and realizing that they made this bed which should result in cleaning house on the player development side of the organization. And selling off every piece that won’t be here when a window could conceivably open again in four-plus years.
Matthew LaMar: The Royals have seven guys 30 years old or older on their 25-man roster. Ideally, they should only have two: Alex Gordon and Ian Kennedy, and only so because they are not good and have immovable contracts. The Royals ought to be scouring every organization for their top AAAA masher or intriguing reliever, acquiring the best of them, tossing them at the wall, and seeing if they stick. That includes their own AAAA guys.
Alex Duvall: Marketing the hell out of Whit Merrifield to potential suitors. The Merrifield rumors seem to have ceased. With Brad Hand and Adam Climber returning Francisdco Mejia, seems like a great chance to cash in.
Sean Thornton: An actual rebuild. This patchwork of veterans has done their job & held things down to let some of the younger players develop. Now it’s time to see what the future could actually entail.
Max Rieper: Offering free tickets.
Will Mike Moustakas be traded? Where? Anyone else?
Hokius: If he isn’t then Dayton Moore needs to be fired. I’m thinking Philadelphia or Atlanta. Duda should also get dealt and might be. Whit should absolutely be dealt, his value is never going to be higher than it is now, but I suspect they’ll hang on to him.
Shaun Newkirk: Yes, to the Angels or Braves. I’d imagine the Royals will trade a reliever or some ancillary guy.
Patrick Brennan: He’s the only player I’m confident will be traded. They should trade Merrifield (and probably Perez). I can understand if they wanted to flip Duffy in the offseason. Duda seems like a guy that could be traded in August. If you have any takers on someone like Wily Peralta or Kevin McCarthy, why not?
Max Rieper: I am pretty confident Moustakas will be traded, although the teams rumored to be interested in him don’t make that much sense to me. I think Dayton will sit tight on Whit Merrifield and Danny Duffy, only trading them away if he is blown away by an offer.
Ryan Heffernon: Yes, I think he will be traded but the Royals aren’t going to get the haul they want. Whit is the other obvious candidate and while I think he could wind up being traded, I think it’s more likely that he won’t.
sterlingice: I have to assume he will be. Like this winter, it looks like he’s running out of suitors so I’ll with the generic Braves guess. Phillies seem like a fit, too. I can’t think he’ll bring back a lot. Everyone assumes Duda will get swapped for some generic low minors lottery ticket that will amount to nothing. I’ve gone on at length on these digital pages about trading Merrifield. If you get a really good offer, take it - it seems like there should be an opportunity. However, if you don’t get someone who can be a key part of the future (i.e. a top 100 prospect), don’t move him. Don’t just trade him to “get something for him”. Maximize what you get for him.
Josh Duggan: He’ll be traded for sure. Probably to Philly or Atlanta. Yankees could fit too. Moore might trade a reliever or two, but it would be shocking to see him honestly evaluate the long-term picture and see that assets like Pérez, Duffy, and Merrifield should be moved too.
Sean Thornton: I would expect Moose to be traded, with the likely destination being Atlanta or New York. Since last winter Atlanta has felt like a perfect fit & I’m not 100% for sure why they just haven’t given in and embraced Moose into their fold. It just makes sense. I also could see Whit traded, as his value is probably higher right now than if they waited until winter. Philadelphia or Milwaukee both feel like great fits.
Matthew LaMar: Sure. Someone will bite. Moose is a good third baseman and can handle first, so he’s not as defensively locked as some opine. That being said, Moose hasn’t been as stellar as he was last year and is only a rental, so he isn’t going to bring back a whole lot. Danny Duffy’s putrid start pretty much guaranteed that he would be a Royal through the end of the year at least, as his stock is too low now. Whit Merrifield is a 50/50. Kansas City doesn’t need to deal him now because he’s not a rental, so if the right deal doesn’t come then they could pass.
Alex Duvall: Yes. Atlanta. Keep an eye on local product Joey Wentz.
Is there anything to keep an eye on in the second half?
Matthew LaMar: Jorge Soler will be back, and he was a lot of fun to watch before he broke a bone. Otherwise, debuts will be a lot of fun. We could see debuts of Bubba Starling, Nicky Lopez, Frank Schwindel, Ryan O’Hearn, Richard Lovelady, Josh Staumont, Donnie Dewees, Jonathan Dziedzic, and maybe others. None of those guys save Lopez and Lovelady are anything to get too excited about, but it’s fun to root for starry-eyed rookies.
Ryan Heffernon: Salvador Perez. Historically, he has had big first halves and ugly second halves. It will be interesting to see if he recovers and puts together a respectable season.
sterlingice: Just the usual rebuilding stuff: the race for the #1 pick, how are the young guys playing, trades, and minors. More Royals specific stuff to look at is Salvy off days and Whit contract talk. If you like misery, watch what Joakim Soria gets traded for, Scott Alexander’s ERA, and weigh them against the Royals dwindling payroll and the performance of Trevor Oaks.
Shaun Newkirk: Just Baltimore’s loss total. That’s the only thing we’re trying to beat right now.
Patrick Brennan: Definitely. Progression of players that could play a role in the future is a big one, such as Keller, Dozier, Bonifacio, Mondesi, and Soler. Any possible trades, obviously. September call-ups are always fun (I’d watch for Staumont, Lovelady, and Oaks). And then of course the race with the Orioles for the number one pick. My number one suggestion would be to get more acclimated with players in the minor leagues. The Royals system still lacks, but watching certain players develop is always fun.
Sean Thornton: The whole purpose of the second half is to see what the young talent can do. Wins and losses won’t really matter as much as letting these kids go out and excel or fail on their own. While some of the baseball is assured of being bad, it is what has to happen for the future of the organization. Bring it on!
Hokius: September callups and Baltimore’s record.
Josh Duggan: If it implies that someone should be watching this team actually play baseball, then no. Skip it.
Alex Duvall: Of course. Watch the Royals to keep track of the progress on Mondesi, Bonifacio, Soler, Dozier, Duffy, Junis, Keller, Salvy, etc. 2019 will happen eventually.
Shout out to Larry Martin at Belinder Elementary in Prairie Village, Kansas.
How many games do you expect the Royals to lose?
Sean Thornton: A lot. I’ll go ahead and just guess 110, which is way higher than most of us expected. It won’t be pretty, but then again it hasn’t been a ray of sunshine up to this point.
Alex Duvall: 111.
Shaun Newkirk: I’m going to say 115. That’s a lot but my math is this: They have 67 games left. They will lose 70% of those games, which is 47 losses. Add 47 to their current 68 losses gets you to 115. Maybe they only lose 65% of their games and end up at 111.
Ryan Heffernon: 105. I don’t care about the pace, really. This team isn’t this bad and I think they are bound to get warmer at some point.
sterlingice: It’s so hard to be this bad over a whole season. There are so many banked losses that it’s hard to envision them coming in under the century mark. They’d have to play above .500 (34-33) the rest of the way to avoid it. However, even Fangraphs has them going 28-39 the rest of the way and coming in at 55-107. That sounds about right at this point.
Matthew LaMar: Kansas City is on pace for 116 losses, but that is a historically bad figure. If the Royals go even a two-week stretch of .500 ball, their chances of hitting that figure go way down. I’m guessing they’ll end up somewhere between 106 and 108 losses for the year, second-to-last overall behind a Baltimore team with 110 or more losses.
Max Rieper: If they improve to win 40% of their remaining games, they’ll finish 54-108, which seems about right.
Hokius: I’ll go with 110. They’re on pace to lose more than that but I have a sneaking suspicion the rookies will put up a 5-game win streak in September somehow.
Patrick Brennan: 117. I truly believe this is one of the worst teams in history of the game. They have a non-zero chance at having the worst record in the modern-era. And the talent level on this team will only get worse post-deadline.
Josh Duggan: All of them.