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Handing out first quarter grades to the Royals

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Those that can’t do, teach. And teachers give out grades.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Judging by the fact that we’ve gone from 70 degree highs to “surface of the sun” hot in a matter of 24 hours, it would appear that summer is upon us, which means that the school year has come to an end. For me growing up, that meant anxiously awaiting my report cards. I’ve been on both ends of that anxiety spectrum. Being on the edge of my seat to see if my grades were better than my big brother’s and thus regaining the momentum in our sibling rivalry. In college, I remember the dread of getting grades because I walked the fine line between passing a class and not. The tables have turned and it’s my turn to start divvying (googles “divvying” - nailed it)...divvying out grades to things I pay attention to.

Barry on HBO: A
The driver of the Infiniti g37x I followed into work this morning: D-
The pork roast dip sandwich in the cafeteria: A+
The first 43 games of the Kansas City Royals: Let’s get into that shall we?

(For this process, I looked at the ZiPS preseason projections for the significant players as well as what the expectations we might’ve had for them coming in, and lined them up with what they’ve done so far. A “C” grade is considered meeting expectations)

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The starting rotation

Coming into the year, I don’t think anyone really expected a ton from the starting rotation. We wanted to see Keller and Junis carry over positive outcomes from last year, if not take some steps forward. We wanted to see Duffy maintain a healthy season while being an anchor of leadership among a young group. We wanted to see the flashes from Jorge Lopez to stretch into multiple great outings strung together. We wanted to see Homer Bailey turn into a trade asset.

Homer Bailey is currently clearing his low bar, which is what we were wanting. But those numbers aren’t necessarily jumping off the page. Individual Grade: B-
Danny Duffy doesn’t have the biggest sample size on the year but he’s been solid so far. He’s going right along his projected path while being just a touch lower. Ind. Grade: C-
Brad Keller had the highest bar to get to coming into the year and he would be exceeding those expectations if his BB% wasn’t so high. C-
Jorge Lopez is still flashing but isn’t quite getting over the hump fans wanted. His K rate balances out his BB rate, but he’s just giving up too many runs. D
Jakob Junis had relatively high projections to live up to and he’s failing in all areas. I think he bounces back, but his first quarter of the season ain’t cutting it. F

As a whole, the starting rotation has probably been the problem child of this team. The case can be made that the bullpen was the reason the team is under performing. Maybe it’s causing Ned to stick with the starter a little too long because he wasn’t confident in the bullpen. Regardless, these numbers are pretty gross and, in most cases, are in the bottom half of the league as a group. We didn’t think they’d blow the doors off the hinges, but they weren’t supposed to have the sixth worst xFIP either. Grade: D+

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The bullpen

Going into the season, I think this group had the lowest bar to clear. Gone are the days of six-inning games where any lead after the sixth was protected by HDH. The bullpen didn’t have a face/closer that someone could point to as “the guy” and no defined roles were assigned because, quite frankly, no one had earned them. And during that first month stretch, it looked like the bullpen would be the Achilles’ (why the hell is the spellcheck not liking “Achilles”?)...Achilles’ heel of this team. Since then, the bullpen has turned things around as the cream has started to rise to the top.

Scott Barlow has turned ALL the heads. He’s putting up elite numbers and what’s more important is that he leads the bullpen in innings pitched. He could be something special. Individual Grade: A+
Glenn Sparkman was a fringe starter coming into the season and has since become one of the better arms in the pen. He could start taking starts away from Jorge Lopez very soon. A
Ian Kennedy entered the year with a fuzzy role. We weren’t sure if he would be in the rotation or the bullpen but we knew he wouldn’t live up to his $16.5M contract. He’s managed to provide some decent value out of the back of the pen thus far, even if he is still a bit overpaid. A-
Jake Diekman was slow to get out of the gate but has really turned it around in the last month. Walks are still a little high but it’s hard to complain at the moment. B+
Richard Lovelady finally got the call up in early April and has been mostly solid since. He’s producing right along his projections if not a bit better. B-
Jake Newberry had pretty average numbers to live up to, which he has for the most part. He’s not going to get a lot of high leverage situations (especially in Omaha) but he’s been fine. C-
Heath Filmyer should probably be counted in the starting rotation considering three-quarters of his appearances this year have been starts, but he’s been more of a swing-man than a starter in his usage. Either way, he had a low bar to clear coming into the year and has not done so. D+
Tim Hill was expected to be a situational guy that shut down left-handed hitters and potentially one of the more productive guys in doing so. He has a small sample size, but what we’ve seen from him in ‘19 has not been good. D+
Kevin McCarthy was kind of an enigma coming into the year. He was one of the better arms in ‘18, but we weren’t sure that was real or not. Apparently it wasn’t. His sample size isn’t huge either, but even his AAA numbers aren’t much. D-
Brad Boxberger was a late offseason veteran addition looking to bounce back and bolster his resume with a solid ‘19. Control was an issue but there seemed to be some upside. That upside is potentially obsolete. F
Wily Peralta was looking to carry over a little momentum from his ‘18 season where he earned (by default) the closing duties. He’s been a major disappointment in ‘19 and might be on the roster bubble if they get into a crunch. F

Collectively, the bullpen has been about average. In the first month the bullpen was last in the league in xFIP. Since then, they’re 11th. So they’re rebounding due to the Ned realizing who should be pitching when. I think there are makings of a solid group once some of the fat is trimmed. Grade: C-

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The lineup

In order to get back to the ‘15 greatness, the focus turned back to speed and defense. We thought there was room for improvement in the power department but only one player (Ryan O’Hearn) was projected to get to 20 homeruns.

Hunter Dozier might be the biggest bright spot in the lineup so far. He’s been disciplined at the plate, hitting for both average and power, and not striking out. The only thing we could be critical of is his glove, but if he keeps his bat going, that won’t matter. A+
Adalberto Mondesi is putting up a historical pace and is showing some MVP potential and I think I love him. A
Alex Gordon has returned to vintage Gordon. Well kinda. At the plate, he’s never been better. In the field, well he’s left some plays out there and I think he’d be the first one to tell you that. Still, it’s very good to see him producing like this. B+
Whit Merrifield was predicted by many to be the cornerstone of this offense. And he has been and then some bringing his usual speed and a bit more power to the top of the lineup. B+
Jorge Soler has usually been productive when he’s been able to stay healthy. He’s been asked to man right field a lot this year, which has been an adventure to say the least. Still he’s hovering around his projection and stayed healthy. C+
Kelvin Gutierrez has had questions about his bat in the past but has shown the ability to play solid defense. Since his callup, those two things might’ve flip flopped a bit. Either way, there’s some potential there. C
Martin Maldonado was never going to replace Salvy’s bat but his defense and ability to call games was the reason so many of us saw his signing as essential. And that’s exactly what he’s brought. C
Billy Hamilton was another veteran looking to bolster his resume with a stint in KC. He’s been good on the bases and not good at the dish, but the main gripe with him has been his defense. He’s made some great plays but is not living up to the usual BHam defensive standards. C-
Ryan O’Hearn wasn’t expected to maintain the monster partial season he put up last year, but we still wanted to see more from him. His has hit the ball hard and is walking more/striking out less than projected, but his glove has been notably bad. D+
Lucas Duda was added at THE last minute before the season to be a left handed power bat that played good defense. Instead, he’s been slightly better in the field and slightly worse at the plate than O’Hearn for $1M more. And he’s been hurt for the last 3 weeks. D+
Chris Owings is actually ahead of his projections in home runs, walk rate, stolen bases, defensive rating, and (since yesterday) innings pitched! The issue lies in the fact that his bat has been one of the worst to start a season in history. D+
Cam Gallagher was never going to make his name with his bat (unless it was drawn in the dirt or something) but, holy tomatoes, a .291 OPS is something else. His defense has been fine but meh. D
Terrance Gore has only had one job as a pinch runner. He has some solid batting numbers that are a fluke. But his roster spot is maintained because he can steal bases and right now, he’s being caught stealing almost as often as he’s been successful. F

In all, the lineup has been better than expected. We’ve got (at least) two candidates for AL MVP building legitimate cases and with the recent callup of Nicky Lopez, there is one less hole in the lineup. We’ve seen that the pleasant surprise hasn’t been enough to carry the team to more wins, but if the pitching begins to catch up, the wins will come. B+