Have you heard? The Kansas City Royals want to win! They even expect to win this year! This information is straight from the horse’s mouth, which in this case means general manager Dayton Moore. You can watch the press conference in full on the Kansas City Royals YouTube channel, but here is the full quote in question:
“We expect to win next year,” Moore said. “What does that look like? Is it going to be enough wins to make the playoffs? We’ll find out. But our mindset is going to be to go out and win every single pitch, every inning, every game. That’s the only way we’re ever going to win another championship. You’ve got to expect to win in all aspects. And trust me, (manager) Mike Matheny and the coaching staff understand that completely.”
This is wonderful! I do not believe them for a second.
Rewind a few years—before the election, before COVID-19, before Bobby Witt’s selection as the second overall pick of his draft, before, even, the Royals’ second consecutive 100-loss season in 2019. Coming off a 100-loss season in 2018, Moore spoke strongly about wanting and expecting to compete.
“Major league players are paid to win baseball games,” Moore said in his office recently. “We’re going to expect this team to play well and win a lot of baseball games, so that hopefully in July there’s pressure on us as a front office to really improve the team for the final two months of the season.
“A lot of people say the Royals aren’t ready to take this step. But we’re not going to put limitations on this team. (Royals owner David Glass) says it all the time: Expectations drive results. Our expectations are to win our division.”
I lampooned the expectation to win the decision on these digital pages a few days later, and nooobody could have guessed what happened a few months after that: the 2019 Royals were a horrible train wreck of a team, a 103-loss disaster that was only the fourth-worst squad in Major League Baseball only because three other teams were rather aggressively tanking on purpose. And no, they were not buyers at the deadline.
The Royals are in a significantly better spot in November 2020 than they were in February 2019. Sure, 2020 was a shortened season, but they played at a 70-win pace over their 60 games, an 11-game improvement in winning percentage over their previous year. Even more intriguingly, the Royals were unlucky and played a particularly brutal schedule in 2020. As a result, their first, second, and third order winning percentages suggested that the underlying data reflected up to a 76-win pace.
As for why this was the case, the simple answer is that the Royals started producing pitching talent, and a not insignificant amount of it. Brady Singer and Kris Bubic posted above average ERAs and started over a third of the team’s games. Meanwhile, Josh Staumont and Kyle Zimmer turned in killer bullpen appearances, and both of them are still making the league minimum. Those four players combined to pitch 30% of the team’s total innings, and all four still have sizable upside.
But let’s be real: the Royals are in no position to compete for a playoff spot next year. While they have a decent amount of quality players, they simply don’t have enough talent depth. In 2020, the Royals had 36 players who accrued at least 10 plate appearances or pitched at least 10 innings, and 31% of them—11 players—were “worth” negative Wins Above Replacement per Fangraphs. As a point of comparison, the Minnesota Twins had 35 such players, and only 4 had negative WAR.
So, is Moore lying here? Am I going to lampoon what he’s said here? In short: no. This is a different situation than in February 2019. First, and most notably, we are at the precipice of an offseason as opposed to the end of one. We don’t know what the Royals will do. It could be something big! We don’t really know. It’s certainly an odd offseason and the potential to upgrade the club at a relative bargain could be a thing thanks to COVID.
At the same time, I am simply not going to believe Moore here, and I suggest that you join me. That is because statements of expectation are meaningless without action to back them up. The Royals organization can say all they want about being competitive; that’s fine and dandy, and I even applaud them for keeping that mindset and keeping focused. However, all this is to say that I will believe that they expect to win when they make concrete moves to make their team better, or when they actually put together a competitive season. The Royals have done neither—so far.