So I wrote an article a couple weeks ago about the potential of Adalberto Mondesi and Whit Merrifield up the middle of the Royals lineup. It hasn’t aged particularly well, to say the least, as they currently worth nearly 8 fWAR despite Mondesi spending half the season in AAA. Some of you would argue that it didn’t age well the moment it was conceived, which is fine. But Mondesi isn’t even the only rookie on the roster to completely exceed expectations for an extended period of time.
Forget about upside/potential, who has had the best performance for the Royals this year?— Shaun Newkirk (@Shauncore) September 27, 2018
Whit Merrifield and Heath Fillmyer received the majority of the write-in votes, in case you were wondering. Shaun was aiming more for the rookies which is why Whit isn’t on his list. And, honestly, Heath’s performance while significantly better than I think any reasonable person expected, is not in the same league with Adalberto Mondesi, Brad Keller, and Ryan O’Hearn.
This is the great thing about losing seasons that I’ve been going on about all season. Sure, maybe no one was on a top 100 list. But as long as you’re playing a lot of young guys there’s a real chance at least one of them will surprise you. The fact that the Royals managed to get three or four such surprises this season is both incredibly fun and amazingly lucky.
I want to do some more examination in the coming weeks as to exactly what that might mean for the team. But for now, it’s just exciting to wonder what they might do with full seasons. The pessimistic Royals Review writer in me feels compelled to point out that other teams will adjust to them, next year, and they may face some struggles early as they learn to adjust back. But this off-season should be a lot more fun than last off-season simply because there is a lot more hope of an interesting baseball team even if the Royals do very little in free agency. Or perhaps especially if the Royals do very little in free agency. Blaine Boyer, Justin Grimm, and Lucas Duda weren’t exactly highlight machines. Still...
Dayton Moore seems to be jumping the gun
Most of us assumed going into this off-season that it was the first in a long line of losing years before the team would be competitive again. The last time Dayton Moore ran a team bereft of significant major league talent it took ten years to get to the playoffs. No one really expected it to take quite that long, this time, but five years didn’t seem entirely unreasonable. The Royals front office has repeatedly assured us it would be less than that. Expecting to compete in 2021 or maybe even 2020.
Vahe Gregorian, however, had an article in the Kansas City Star, yesterday, in which Dayton Moore announced that the rebuild was complete.
“We’re not going to talk about rebuilding anymore,” said Moore, who said he expects Yost back next year. “Whatever team we put on the field next year, we’re going to expect that team to win a lot of baseball games. … Major-league players are paid to win baseball games. They’re not paid to play, they’re paid to win.”
That seems, well, a bit optimistic. Like if I tried to announce that my diet was over; the weight was just going to lose itself now that I had spent a couple days feeding myself vegetables. Sure there have been a few surprises, as outlined above. But the entire outfield is still a mess. Hunter Dozier and Salvador Perez also spent huge chunks of the season being largely unproductive before coming on, lately. The rotation has some potential but it’s got room for some really bad streaks between Danny Duffy’s injury potential, and inconsistency from basically everyone not named Brad Keller.
Of course, that’s to say nothing of the bullpen. Even without the wrong-kind-of-three-headed-monster of Grimm, Boyer, and Brandon Maurer, the unit hasn’t exactly been stellar. The ten guys to appear this year who seem most likely to be able to battle for spots next year have combined for an uninspiring 4.25 ERA and -0.2 fWAR. They also only managed 73 shutdown appearances against 56 meltdowns. Those are FanGraphs stats to help determine the effectiveness of a reliever regardless of save situation. You’d like there to be a lot more shutdowns than meltdowns.
Can the team be better next year, than this year? Absolutely. They could hardly be much worse. But while the September team has been fairly impressive you might want to recall that a bunch of these guys were here in August, too, and that roster managed only to go 10-18. There’s plenty of work to be done before we can start wondering about which starter to drop from the rotation for the playoffs.
And one more thing...
You didn’t think I was going to walk away without picking on this little tidbit from that Gregorian piece, did you?
Certainly, the turn has changed the perspective of Moore, who now believes the worst is behind and says: “This is the most fun I’ve ever had in baseball — most fun I’ve ever had.”
In the realm of weird things to say it’s nothing compared to his 2013 announcement that he felt like he had won the world series after the team completed its first super-.500 season in a decade but had still missed the playoffs for the twenty-eighth consecutive year. This time some people might even agree with him that this roster is more fun. But come on, Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, and a younger Alex Gordon were pretty fun to watch in the outfield, too. You can talk about being a “process” guy - yeah, that’s how Dayton was described in that piece, I didn’t pick the word - over a “results” guy. But watching all the athletic pieces that Dayton had assembled combine with the devastating bullpen in 2014 and 2015 was more fun than a 10-hour marathon of Kingdom Hearts. I suspect that if you asked a random sampling of Royals fans 99% of them would say 2015 was more fun than this year even excluding the playoffs.
It’s also kind of a weird thing to say after the mea culpa he issued closer to the midway point of this year when he announced he was embarrassed about how bad the team was. I, personally, have never found embarrassment to be particularly enjoyable. It’s not like the team turned things around all that drastically since then, either. They’ve still played losing baseball and have lost more than 100 games for the fifth time in franchise history. Something Dayton promised wouldn’t happen when he signed on. Is this an extremely nitpicky thing to comment on? You betcha. But that’s why you all pay me your subscription fees every week.