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Three Outs: 2020 Royals’ Best Case Scenario

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So you’re saying there’s a chance?

Kansas City Royals shortstop Adalberto Mondesi (27) fields and throws for an out against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning at Target Field.
Kansas City Royals shortstop Adalberto Mondesi (27) fields and throws for an out against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning at Target Field.
Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Three Outs, the column that will forge ahead regardless of what kind of virus is going around. This week, we take a look at a realistic best case scenario for the Royals, ponder about what ball the league will use this year, and take a look at history to see what the Kansas City Chiefs might do in the years to come.

Out One: A Realistic Best Case Scenario for the 2020 Royals

Every year, Joe Posnanski used to write a column in the Kansas City Star about why the Royals would make the playoffs. Posnanski’s tenure at the Star spanned from 1996 through 2009. During that time, the Royals had a winning season exactly once—2003. It was an exercise in hope against hope, if there ever was one.

I’m not quite going to do that here. But I think it is worth thinking about what a realistic best case scenario would be. For the 2020 Royals, I think that’s in the neighborhood of 75-80 wins. But what does that look like? Well, take a look at the 2008 Royals, who won 75 games. Per Baseball-Reference, the team accrued 28.7 WAR from its players (as opposed to 16.5 last year).

In order to make up the gap, a few things have to happen. First, the Royals need to have better pitching. Buoyed by future Hall of Famer Zack Greinke, the 2008 Royals’ core five starters and top two relievers accumulated 17.8 WAR together. For the Royals to make a big step, they’ll need at least one stellar campaign from their young arms. There’s no way around it.

Second, the Royals need to cut down on how many bad players they have. The 2008 Royals had 5 pitchers (min IP: 10) and 8 batters (min PA: 10) accrue negative WAR. The 2019 Royals had 11 pitchers and 8 batters accrue negative WAR. Yeeting half a dozen guys away and replacing them with positive producers makes a surprisingly large impact.

Now, the 2020 Royals will look different than 2008—there are heavier on position player talent and lighter on pitching—but hopefully end up similar nonetheless: deeply flawed but filled with some clear talent.

Out Two: What Will the Ball Be Like?

Over the past few years, Major League Baseball has been using a new ball. This ball is more aerodynamic, meaning that it simply flies further off the bat. It’s not a big difference, but it’s just enough to have a gigantic accumulative effect. Furthermore, we know for sure that it’s a new ball because of what happened in Triple-A last year, where the league was using the MLB ball instead of the minor league ball.

The results were definitive. In 2018, the league average ERA of the Pacific Coast League—where the Omaha Storm Chasers and 15 other Triple-A teams play—was 4.60. The best team had an ERA of 3.54. In 2019, the league average ERA was 5.48 and the best team had an ERA of 4.15. The league’s teams scored nearly 2000 additional runs last year.

So what ball will we be getting in 2020? We don’t really know. Teams don’t really know, either. The league has put itself in a position where the choice of baseball is affecting whether or not teams evens end their top prospects to Triple-A. In the past, Brady Singer et. al would have almost assuredly gone to Omaha for their next step. But now, with the league ERA at five and a half, it just doesn’t make sense to subject them to that kind of punishment.

Major League Baseball has the power to change the ball unilaterally and without approval from anyone because they have a certain amount of plausible deniability. Will the 2020 ball look like the 2019 ball, in both the majors and Triple-A? I guess we’ll find out.

Out Three: Can the Chiefs Become a Dynasty?

The Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs seem set up for a dynastic run. They’re in a division with three other teams that have big question marks at quarterback. Patrick Mahomes is, hilariously, not even 25 yet and probably has a dozen or more more years left in the tank. They’ve got a Hall of Fame head coach at the top of his game, multiple important pieces locked into long-term deals, and a smart and aggressive front office.

It’s easy to dream on the Chiefs. They’re already the betting favorites to win next year’s Super Bowl. No quarterback has been as accomplished as Mahomes at his age, who is head and shoulders (and knees and toes) above every player in the rest of the league. Could the Chiefs win three? Four? Five? More?

This is really uncharted territory for Kansas City fans, so I think it’s reasonable to set expectations. Tom Brady and Bill Bellichick are the exception, not the rule. Most other recent great quarterbacks and coaches have a much more modest rate of success.

Consider: Peyton Manning won two Super Bowls. Eli Manning won two. Ben Roethlisburger has won two. Russell Wilson has won one. Aaron Rogers has won one. Drew Brees has won one. Heck, Brees and Rogers have only appeared in one each. In all of NFL history, only four quarterbacks have won more than two Super Bowls.

Making and winning championships is hard. Mahomes, Reid, and the Chiefs are set up as well as any team that has attempted to become a dynasty. But if this is the only Super Bowl Mahomes wins, it wouldn’t be without precedent. And if he only wins one more in the next 14 years, it won’t be without precedent. So enjoy the win, Chiefs fans—just don’t get angry if they don’t do it every year.