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What we know (and don’t know) after 40-ish games

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Baseball wisdom tells us 40 games is the first point to know things about a season.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Man, the Royals season has been a rough one to watch. I started this article a few weeks ago, basically knowing the direction it would be going at the time. I put the finishing touches on it during the off-day. Of course, everyone in baseball is writing up articles similar to this, and I’ve already read a few about the Royals. That’s normal at the 40ish game mark.

So here is my totally unoriginal, totally predictable (if you’ve been watching the team) assessment of the Royals at this time.

Alex Gordon is still human, but has certainly found himself again.

Gordon started the season hot, very hot. Hotter than we thought possible. And yeah, as expected, he came back to earth. At one point, he was putting up MVP numbers, and now, well, he’s still putting up impressive numbers, but not quite the MVP numbers he started with.

What does this mean? I’ve read a lot of people speculate over the future of Gordon, and in my mind it’s entirely up to him. After this, how could the Royals not offer him a one-year deal if he wants it? The minor league crop of outfielders has been underwhelming this season, and seems they could mostly all use another season to develop. Also, I just can’t see Gordon playing for anyone else, barring potentially agreeing to a trade this season to make one more post-season run (and even that seems... unlikely), but next season playing for someone else just seems unlikely. Either way, Gordon has been a very nice surprise this season, and it makes me feel good to see him looking to go out with a bang rather than a whimper.

Dozier and Mondesi have come into their own

Coming into the season, I was very bullish on Mondesi, but suspected this would be Dozier’s last chance to lock down an every day spot in for the Royals. Both have been better than we reasonably had a chance to hope for, producing numbers to this point that merit All Star consideration for both.

Both have had their ups and downs. Dozier seems to be (at least now) the more offensively minded, whereas Mondesi has flashed the glove, leads baseball in stolen bases, and is still hitting above league average.

I think Dozier’s output is likely to drop off some, and Mondesi is likely to grow into his power more and increase his output, but either way I see both as potential 115-130 wRC+ (where 100 is average) hitters in the future. Having both under control through 2023 gives you two guys to build around moving forward.

The rotation is not good (edited from earlier)

The rotation has had some struggles, but when your front four starters are a 23-year old rookie, a 26-year old with 20 Major League games under his belt who struggles to throw strikes, a 32-year old reclamation project and Jakob Junis (I couldn’t think of anything clever to refer to him as), you really expect there to be some struggles.

(note:this section contains edits from a previously published version that had some serious mistakes. I apologize)

The starting rotation is tenth in innings pitched, and 26th in ERA. Their advanced stats basically match that. They’ve not been good.

Homer Bailey’s name shows up right next to Chris Sale’s name when sorting by pitching fWAR (hardly the most telling metric, but hey, it’s something). With the upper tier of rental pitchers being made up of MadBum and Wheeler, Homer Bailey will still likely net a decent return at the deadline if he continues his production through another 5-10 starts.

Dat Bullpen, Doe!

Ugh. The bullpen has been just terrible, hasn’t it? It’s so bad, I actually usually turn the TV off around the 6th or 7th inning.

Just out of curiosity, to see just how bad the bullpen is now at the 41 game mark, I went to look at their stats sorted by ERA. Sure enough, they rank right at the bottom at... 9th?!?!?! Oh, sorry, I was sorting it backwards (wouldn’t THAT have been embarrassing?). Yeah, they’re 22nd. And xFIP? Yeah, 20th. Basically, they’ve been bad. It’s what we’ve seen.

Though Scott Barlow has been a REAL surprise. I won’t expound too much, as Jack Johnson did a fantastic job of it here, but he’s been very good. Kennedy has also been very good, being the best reliever in the bullpen by FIP, xFIP and fWAR. Diekman has had some rough outings, but has also been very good and should make a good trade piece at the deadline. Richard Lovelady rounds out the positive contributers out of the bullpen, with Sparkman and Chris Ellis (remember him?) having 0 fWAR contributions. The rest... have been bad.

Soler, O’Hearn and Maldonado have been guys.

Maldonado has been a worse hitter than advertised, but his catching prowess is what we expected. We’ll get something for him at the deadline, but it will likely be nothing of much value.

O’Hearn has struggled, but maintains an on base percentage basically equal to Mondesi. His BABIP is low, and he hits the ball hard, though a lot more on the ground than you’d like (sound like someone you remember?). I think he’ll likely have a career as a bat-first lefty off the bench, but is a place holder for now.

Soler has been good... at the plate. He’s posted a 114 wRC+ and hit 10 home runs (on pace potentially to break Moose’s record... another article about this later), but has been bad bad bad in the outfield.

Overall, these three equal out to replacement level production from the three of them, about what I really expected. If Maldonado could hit his weight, Soler could strike out less and field a bit better (or not at all) or O’Hearn could stop hitting the ball in the air and have a bit more batted ball luck, all three could become decent role players for a contending team.

The Rest

Hamilton? Ick. Duda? No. Owings? Uh, never. Gutierrez? Incomplete. Merrifield? Merrifield. Gore? Better in a small sample size at the plate, but basically who we thought he was.

Conclusion

Look guys, this team isn’t going anywhere but the basement. I still think they’ll wind up with less than 100 losses as they’ve been pretty unlucky in run distribution so far this season, but last place in the division seems at least highly possible.

At least we have a few guys really worth watching, and some pieces that you could see building around in the future. Now if we can only find a way to jetison Duda, Hamilton and Owings to make room for Gutierrez, Lopez and maybe Arteaga (I don’t really care much at this point, just not owings TBH) we might have a fun second or third quarter.