2021 ZiPS Projections: Kansas City Royals

After having typically appeared in the hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have now been released at FanGraphs for nine years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Kansas City Royals.

Batters

The Royals are not a dreadful team. They likely won’t lose 100 games or find themselves setting any horrifying, ineptitude-based records like when the 2019 Orioles allowed 75% of the home runs hit in baseball history. But they’re a phenomenally uninspiring club and like most Royals squads since owner Ewing Kauffman passed away in 1993, one that looks forever stuck in the limbo between not really being close to contending and only half-heartedly rebuilding. The Royals briefly broke the wheel in the mid-2010s when the players acquired in return for Zack Greinke, late 2000s prospects, and a few reclamation projects all peaked simultaneously, but they never had a plan to sustain winning beyond those amazing highlights. Since the strike in 1994, the Royals have a .441 winning percentage, the worst in baseball and the third-worst since Dayton Moore replaced Allard Baird as the general manager.

As such, the Royals have several talented veterans, none of whom are remotely likely to be in Kansas City the next time the team is good. It’s not a great sign for a rebuilding club when the offensive players with the most projected WAR remaining in their careers are largely the oldest ones. Adalberto Mondesi is the exception at age-25, at the top of the team with 19.6 estimated wins remaining, followed by Whit Merrifield, Jorge Soler, Salvador Perez, and Franchy Cordero. If you’re keeping score, that’s a 32-year-old outfielder, a 31-year-old injury-prone catcher, a late-20s designated hitter, and a player who last had 200 plate appearances in a season in 2017. Bobby Witt Jr. is the only position player under 25 with a mean projection of five wins in the majors in his entire career. Only Lucius Fox and MJ Melendez even project above replacement level.

Merrifield is a durable and flexible player and if the Royals aren’t an enjoyable franchise, you can least enjoy him in his last few years with the team. To suggest the Royals trade him is probably a lost cause at this point; they wouldn’t trade him for the offers of two years ago and he has a lot less trade value now. And while his 2020 wasn’t anything notable, Jorge Soler’s power is great fun to watch and when he’s both healthy and “on,” as he was in 2019, he can pile up as many homers as I do tweets involving tacos. ZiPS is more bullish on Soler than Steamer is, so he’s one of the points to watch in Projection Thunderdome.

While it doesn’t affect the trajectory of the team, it was nice to see Salvador Perez’s comeback in 2020. After missing 2019 with Tommy John surgery resulting from a spring workout elbow tear, Perez returned to crush 11 round-trippers in just 37 games, finishing at 1.9 WAR, his highest total since 2014. His caught-stealing rate behind the plate was one of the lowest of his career at 27%, but it’s a ludicrously small sample with only 11 attempts; just catching one more runner would have landed him at 36%, slightly above his career-average. No, Perez didn’t return as a highly-disciplined, Joey Votto-esque hitting professor or anything — he is what he is at this point in his career — but watching him attack every pitcher and occasionally come out ahead is fun. If the Royals aren’t going to be good, at least they can be fun.

Pitchers

I wouldn’t describe the rotation as contention-ready or even good, but it might be…goodish? Goodishish? ZiPS doesn’t see much upside in the rotation, but does think the five starters the Royals are likely to field are both best candidates for the job and likely to be above replacement level. There are two places here I’m more bullish than the computer. The first is Danny Duffy; I might just be overly sentimental, but I still have this feeling that he has an ace-like season left in the tank. The other is Carlos Hernández. I’m not offended that the computer doesn’t know what to make of him; after never pitching above the Sally League, Hernández and his 96-97 mph fastball were not completely overmatched in his short stint in the majors. This season presented less-than-ideal circumstances to throw a young, talented pitcher into, but I give the Royals a lot of credit for being forward-thinking. They were never going to be good this season and there just wasn’t an opportunity to pitch guys like Hernández against appropriate-level minor league pitching in 2020.

Overall, unlike the lineup, ZiPS does like some of the young talent here. Whereas the computer only has a single position player under 25 passing the five-win mark, it sees Kris Bubic, Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, and Ronald Bolaños, along with Hernández, passing that threshold and projects 11 pitchers overall to finish their major-league careers above replacement-level should they get the opportunity. Between Bolaños and Cordero, ZiPS thinks the Royals acquired 10 WAR (pre-free agency) for Tim Hill, which is a solid return.

The bullpen isn’t particularly good or particularly deep, but at this point, does it really need to be? The best use of the bullpen right now is as a home for the starters who don’t work out and as a testing ground for reclamation projections. Trevor Rosenthal was an immensely successful experiment for the team and sending him to the Padres in return for Edward Olivares is the type of move that Kansas City should make at every opportunity. The Royals had been hinting about re-signing Rosenthal, repeating their mistake of hanging onto Ian Kennedy when the latter successfully transitioned to the bullpen in 2019. But in this case, they proved me wrong. More of that please! After 2020, there are likely to be a number of rehabbing veterans like Danny Salazar and Aaron Sanchez in search of opportunities to demonstrate their arms are still attached.

One pedantic note for 2021: For the WAR graphic, I’m using FanGraphs’ depth charts playing time, not the playing time ZiPS spits out, so there will be occasional differences in WAR totals.

Ballpark graphic courtesy Eephus League. Depth charts constructed by way of those listed here.

Batters – Standard
Player B Age PO PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Whit Merrifield R 32 CF 653 605 85 173 34 4 16 65 37 101 28 9
Salvador Perez R 31 C 449 426 49 113 23 0 24 75 12 98 1 0
Jorge Soler R 29 DH 526 455 63 112 23 0 30 80 61 158 2 0
Adalberto Mondesi B 25 SS 528 492 68 125 24 9 15 63 24 154 46 11
Hunter Dozier R 29 RF 553 491 69 120 26 5 21 64 58 147 6 2
Cam Gallagher R 28 C 288 260 30 66 14 0 6 23 21 48 0 0
Franchy Cordero L 26 CF 318 292 43 69 14 5 11 44 23 95 8 2
Matt Reynolds R 30 SS 382 342 43 79 20 3 7 31 36 99 4 2
Nicky Lopez L 26 2B 540 490 55 120 20 4 5 39 40 78 7 8
Maikel Franco R 28 3B 536 493 53 124 28 1 18 75 37 83 1 0
Erick Mejia B 26 SS 513 468 53 108 21 4 5 38 33 114 17 7
Kelvin Gutierrez R 26 3B 424 388 39 89 12 4 7 36 32 112 11 2
Lucius Fox B 23 SS 533 477 56 110 21 8 5 36 42 126 29 11
Ryan McBroom R 29 1B 463 424 51 103 21 1 17 48 31 126 1 2
Meibrys Viloria L 24 C 379 344 29 76 16 1 5 28 27 104 1 1
Ryan O’Hearn L 27 1B 497 438 49 96 24 2 17 65 53 135 1 0
Humberto Arteaga R 27 3B 476 448 43 109 16 2 4 31 18 76 7 5
Kyle Isbel L 24 CF 316 296 33 67 15 2 8 31 16 85 15 7
Oscar Hernández R 27 C 208 192 20 38 8 0 5 16 11 55 1 0
Khalil Lee L 23 RF 550 490 59 107 23 3 10 45 49 166 36 11
Nick Heath L 27 CF 367 325 35 64 10 3 4 25 32 129 33 12
MJ Melendez L 22 C 464 422 40 66 22 3 15 54 34 209 5 6
Nick Hutchins R 25 C 231 216 20 44 12 0 4 19 8 69 1 1
Blake Perkins B 24 CF 532 466 54 92 17 4 8 35 55 146 16 8
Edward Olivares R 25 RF 515 479 56 117 19 5 11 50 25 115 15 9
Travis Jones R 25 1B 437 385 44 84 15 2 6 31 30 125 18 10
Dairon Blanco R 28 CF 456 426 40 88 15 10 5 33 24 143 21 9
Brewer Hicklen R 25 LF 464 420 48 83 14 3 13 43 30 172 22 12
Bubba Starling R 28 CF 361 337 36 71 13 1 7 28 20 105 5 2
Kevin Merrell L 25 SS 467 439 40 96 15 5 2 27 20 117 14 6
Sebastian Rivero R 22 C 396 366 30 70 17 1 4 27 16 105 1 3
Jeison Guzmán L 22 SS 445 416 37 89 16 4 4 30 19 112 13 12
Nick Pratto L 22 1B 464 431 41 80 21 2 10 41 30 177 15 8

Batters – Advanced
Player BA OBP SLG OPS+ ISO BABIP RC/27 Def WAR No. 1 Comp
Whit Merrifield .286 .331 .435 107 .149 .322 5.6 5 3.2 Dom DiMaggio
Salvador Perez .265 .294 .488 108 .223 .293 5.3 5 2.6 Dick Dietz
Jorge Soler .246 .342 .495 125 .248 .307 6.1 0 2.4 Gene Tenace
Adalberto Mondesi .254 .289 .431 93 .177 .341 5.0 4 2.2 Kurt Stillwell
Hunter Dozier .244 .325 .446 108 .202 .307 5.2 -2 1.3 Michael Cuddyer
Cam Gallagher .254 .312 .377 87 .123 .291 4.3 2 0.9 Steve Holm
Franchy Cordero .236 .293 .432 94 .195 .312 4.6 1 0.9 Jesus Hernandez
Matt Reynolds .231 .307 .368 84 .137 .305 4.0 0 0.7 Andre Rodgers
Nicky Lopez .245 .307 .333 75 .088 .283 3.5 7 0.6 Kevin Riggs
Maikel Franco .252 .302 .422 95 .170 .270 4.6 -5 0.5 Fritzie Connally
Erick Mejia .231 .283 .325 66 .094 .295 3.3 7 0.4 Gary Weiss
Kelvin Gutierrez .229 .290 .335 71 .106 .305 3.6 5 0.4 Lou Collier 클리어
Lucius Fox .231 .302 .340 75 .109 .303 3.8 -2 0.3 Tony Phillips
Ryan McBroom .243 .300 .417 93 .175 .306 4.4 1 0.3 Todd Betts
Meibrys Viloria .221 .284 .317 64 .096 .302 3.1 2 0.0 Eric Helfand
Ryan O’Hearn .219 .306 .400 91 .180 .276 4.2 -1 0.0 Mike Twardoski
Humberto Arteaga .243 .274 .315 61 .071 .285 3.0 10 -0.1 Richard Paz
Kyle Isbel .226 .270 .372 73 .145 .291 3.5 0 -0.2 Mark Budzinski
Oscar Hernández .198 .248 .318 53 .120 .250 2.7 1 -0.3 Bryce Terveen
Khalil Lee .218 .299 .339 74 .120 .309 3.8 0 -0.4 Bobby Abreu
Nick Heath .197 .271 .283 52 .086 .313 2.9 4 -0.4 Jo-Jo White
MJ Melendez .156 .225 .329 49 .173 .258 2.2 8 -0.5 Mark Johnson
Nick Hutchins .204 .243 .315 51 .111 .280 2.6 1 -0.5 Nick Derba
Blake Perkins .197 .285 .303 61 .105 .269 2.9 3 -0.5 Kerwin Moore
Edward Olivares .244 .288 .374 79 .129 .300 3.8 0 -0.6 Nick Capra
Travis Jones .218 .303 .314 70 .096 .307 3.2 3 -0.6 Ed Jurak
Dairon Blanco .207 .251 .324 55 .117 .299 2.8 3 -0.8 Donzell McDonald
Brewer Hicklen .198 .266 .338 64 .140 .298 3.0 4 -1.0 Tony Miller
Bubba Starling .211 .258 .318 56 .107 .284 2.8 -2 -1.0 Charles Thomas
Kevin Merrell .219 .254 .289 48 .071 .294 2.6 -3 -1.6 Rance Mulliniks
Sebastian Rivero .191 .231 .276 38 .085 .257 2.0 -1 -1.7 Brian Moon
Jeison Guzmán .214 .251 .300 50 .087 .283 2.3 -6 -1.9 Brandon Cromer
Nick Pratto .186 .239 .313 49 .128 .287 2.5 3 -2.1 Chris Weinke

Pitchers – Standard
Player T Age W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO FIP
Brad Keller R 25 11 11 4.45 29 29 165.7 161 82 21 63 124 4.58
Brady Singer R 24 9 10 4.68 29 29 152.0 156 79 22 51 123 4.61
Jakob Junis R 28 9 9 4.62 27 25 142.3 149 73 23 39 129 4.52
Kris Bubic L 23 6 6 4.52 20 20 97.7 95 49 13 41 92 4.44
Danny Duffy L 32 7 8 4.89 24 24 127.0 129 69 21 45 116 4.68
Jackson Kowar R 24 7 9 5.03 25 25 130.7 140 73 20 50 98 4.98
Mike Montgomery L 31 5 4 4.50 30 13 86.0 89 43 10 32 68 4.40
Jesse Hahn R 31 3 3 4.52 25 10 61.7 59 31 6 33 56 4.33
Josh Staumont R 27 4 5 4.80 47 11 80.7 70 43 9 63 95 4.80
Scott Barlow R 28 4 3 4.14 69 0 71.7 61 33 9 36 88 3.99
Ronald Bolaños R 24 7 9 5.33 24 21 103.0 109 61 14 57 88 5.10
Ian Kennedy R 36 3 3 4.22 53 1 53.3 50 25 8 18 56 4.10
Daniel Lynch L 24 3 4 5.30 16 16 69.7 77 41 11 27 50 5.13
Glenn Sparkman R 29 4 5 5.38 22 16 97.0 115 58 15 27 61 4.89
J.C. Cloney L 26 4 5 5.42 24 15 99.7 116 60 19 30 62 5.50
Carlos Hernández R 24 4 5 5.34 15 15 60.7 65 36 8 34 46 5.26
Greg Holland R 35 3 3 4.30 52 0 46.0 41 22 6 26 51 4.42
Richard Lovelady L 25 3 2 4.25 42 0 48.7 49 23 5 18 40 4.10
Marcelo Martinez L 24 5 8 5.55 26 20 116.7 132 72 22 41 81 5.45
Tyler Zuber R 26 4 4 4.53 49 0 53.7 50 27 7 26 55 4.45
Holden Capps L 26 3 3 4.92 34 3 60.3 67 33 8 20 41 4.74
Jake Newberry R 26 3 3 4.62 54 0 62.3 61 32 8 32 55 4.77
Kyle Zimmer R 29 3 3 4.74 59 1 49.3 46 26 5 33 48 4.68
Heath Fillmyer R 27 4 6 5.66 30 21 109.7 121 69 19 51 78 5.57
Braden Shipley R 29 5 7 5.64 28 15 97.3 108 61 18 41 77 5.42
Stephen Woods Jr. R 26 5 8 5.79 21 16 87.0 89 56 11 63 68 5.64
Randy Rosario L 27 2 2 4.97 44 0 50.7 55 28 6 22 37 4.68
Gabe Speier L 26 2 3 5.09 46 1 58.3 61 33 8 29 49 4.93
Chance Adams R 26 4 6 5.71 26 10 93.0 101 59 16 46 78 5.38
Matt Harvey R 32 4 7 5.90 21 18 87.0 102 57 18 28 64 5.50
Yunior Marte R 26 3 4 5.05 47 0 67.7 68 38 10 41 61 5.29
Scott Blewett R 25 5 8 5.99 20 18 94.7 112 63 18 44 60 5.94
Andrew Beckwith R 26 2 3 5.30 37 0 54.3 60 32 7 25 35 5.17
Foster Griffin L 25 5 8 6.05 21 19 102.7 121 69 21 45 69 5.96
Carlos Sanabria R 24 3 4 5.85 35 0 47.7 46 31 8 38 49 5.89
Andres Machado R 28 3 5 5.88 38 7 78.0 89 51 15 36 57 5.76
Daniel Tillo L 25 6 9 6.08 28 23 117.0 136 79 17 69 60 5.99
Grant Gavin R 25 3 5 5.75 42 0 51.7 52 33 10 33 54 5.70
Conner Greene R 26 5 8 6.15 32 17 108.3 119 74 16 78 75 6.07
Nick Howard R 28 1 3 7.01 21 0 25.7 29 20 3 25 15 6.57
Arnaldo Hernandez R 25 6 10 6.28 26 24 123.3 150 86 25 52 69 6.13
Franco Terrero R 26 3 5 6.58 42 0 53.3 59 39 10 38 42 6.35
Gerson Garabito R 25 6 10 6.66 25 25 121.7 143 90 24 75 78 6.48

Pitchers – Advanced
Player K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BB% K% BABIP ERA+ ERA- WAR No. 1 Comp
Brad Keller 6.7 3.4 1.1 8.8% 17.4% .280 101 99 2.2 Milt Pappas
Brady Singer 7.3 3.0 1.3 7.7% 18.6% .294 96 104 1.7 Don Welchel
Jakob Junis 8.2 2.5 1.5 6.3% 20.9% .304 98 103 1.7 Anthony Kelley
Kris Bubic 8.5 3.8 1.2 9.6% 21.5% .297 100 100 1.3 Mike Miller
Danny Duffy 8.2 3.2 1.5 8.2% 21.1% .297 92 109 1.1 Kent Mercker
Jackson Kowar 6.8 3.4 1.4 8.6% 16.9% .297 90 112 0.9 Cha Seung Baek
Mike Montgomery 7.1 3.3 1.0 8.5% 18.0% .300 100 100 0.9 Clarence Mitchell
Jesse Hahn 8.2 4.8 0.9 12.0% 20.4% .298 99 101 0.7 Don Brennan
Josh Staumont 10.6 7.0 1.0 16.8% 25.3% .300 94 107 0.5 Clay Bryant
Scott Barlow 11.1 4.5 1.1 11.6% 28.3% .297 109 92 0.5 Jim Stoops
Ronald Bolaños 7.7 5.0 1.2 12.0% 18.6% .308 84 118 0.4 Ben Hendrickson
Ian Kennedy 9.5 3.0 1.4 8.0% 24.9% .296 107 94 0.4 Barney Schultz
Daniel Lynch 6.5 3.5 1.4 8.7% 16.0% .300 85 118 0.3 Nate Robertson
Glenn Sparkman 5.7 2.5 1.4 6.3% 14.2% .311 84 120 0.3 Joe Mays
J.C. Cloney 5.6 2.7 1.7 6.8% 14.0% .298 83 120 0.3 John O’Donoghue
Carlos Hernández 6.8 5.0 1.2 12.1% 16.4% .303 84 119 0.3 Jesus Silva
Greg Holland 10.0 5.1 1.2 12.8% 25.1% .294 105 96 0.3 Ted Abernathy
Richard Lovelady 7.4 3.3 0.9 8.5% 19.0% .301 106 95 0.2 Norm Montoya
Marcelo Martinez 6.2 3.2 1.7 7.9% 15.6% .297 81 123 0.2 Edgar Ramos
Tyler Zuber 9.2 4.4 1.2 11.0% 23.3% .297 99 101 0.1 Joe Hudson
Holden Capps 6.1 3.0 1.2 7.5% 15.4% .304 91 109 0.1 Seth Morehead
Jake Newberry 7.9 4.6 1.2 11.5% 19.7% .293 97 103 0.1 Bill Kelso
Kyle Zimmer 8.8 6.0 0.9 14.6% 21.2% .297 95 105 0.1 Don McMahon
Heath Fillmyer 6.4 4.2 1.6 10.2% 15.7% .297 79 126 0.0 Landon Jacobsen
Braden Shipley 7.1 3.8 1.7 9.3% 17.5% .302 80 125 0.0 Elliot Brown
Stephen Woods Jr. 7.0 6.5 1.1 15.3% 16.5% .295 78 129 -0.1 Mike Torrez
Randy Rosario 6.6 3.9 1.1 9.7% 16.3% .306 90 111 -0.1 Jim Roland
Gabe Speier 7.6 4.5 1.2 11.0% 18.6% .303 88 113 -0.1 Mike Cosgrove
Chance Adams 7.5 4.5 1.5 10.8% 18.4% .305 79 127 -0.1 Dan Kolb
Matt Harvey 6.6 2.9 1.9 7.2% 16.5% .307 76 131 -0.1 Brian Moehler
Yunior Marte 8.1 5.5 1.3 13.2% 19.6% .297 89 112 -0.2 Joe Hudson
Scott Blewett 5.7 4.2 1.7 10.1% 13.7% .303 75 133 -0.2 Jake Dittler
Andrew Beckwith 5.8 4.1 1.2 10.1% 14.1% .299 85 118 -0.3 Hal Reniff
Foster Griffin 6.0 3.9 1.8 9.6% 14.6% .302 74 134 -0.3 Marty Reed
Carlos Sanabria 9.3 7.2 1.5 16.7% 21.6% .295 77 130 -0.4 Dave Cole
Andres Machado 6.6 4.2 1.7 10.1% 16.0% .302 76 131 -0.5 Claude Willoughby
Daniel Tillo 4.6 5.3 1.3 12.5% 10.8% .298 74 135 -0.5 Wade Blasingame
Grant Gavin 9.4 5.7 1.7 13.8% 22.5% .300 78 128 -0.5 Pete Sikaras
Conner Greene 6.2 6.5 1.3 15.0% 14.4% .299 73 137 -0.6 Charlie Zink
Nick Howard 5.3 8.8 1.1 19.2% 11.5% .302 64 156 -0.6 Tom Dukes
Arnaldo Hernandez 5.0 3.8 1.8 9.1% 12.1% .300 72 139 -0.7 Zack Segovia
Franco Terrero 7.1 6.4 1.7 14.8% 16.4% .301 68 146 -1.1 Sean Green
Gerson Garabito 5.8 5.5 1.8 12.9% 13.4% .301 68 148 -1.1 Jake Robbins

Players are listed with their most recent teams wherever possible. This includes players who are unsigned, players who will miss 2021 due to injury, and players who were released in 2020. So yes, if you see Joe Schmoe, who quit baseball back in August to form a Finnish industrial death metal fourth-wave ska J-pop band, he’s still listed here intentionally.

Both hitters and pitchers are ranked by projected zWAR, which is to say, WAR values as calculated by me, Dan Szymborski, whose surname is spelled with a z. WAR values might differ slightly from those which appear in the full release of ZiPS. Finally, I will advise anyone against — and might karate chop anyone guilty of — merely adding up WAR totals on a depth chart to produce projected team WAR. ZiPS is assuming that the designated hitter will continue in force in 2021; if it does not, there will be widespread minor adjustments across the board come April.

ZiPS is agnostic about future playing time by design. For more information about ZiPS, please refer to this article, or get angry at Dan on Twitter or something.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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Blech. Get out the McBroom, we need to clean this up.