I Have Learned Something Bad About the Royals

In a sense, we’ve all been able to see this coming. For the Royals, it’s long been a race against time, trying to win as much as possible before the simultaneous free agencies of Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, and Mike Moustakas. This past season was pretty clearly going to be a last ride, and now the organization will have some tough decisions to make. They’ve already denied the Braves permission to interview Dayton Moore for a job in baseball ops. It might even stay that way. Moore might remain in Kansas City to try and see this through.

But let me share with you a fun fact. Maybe it’s more a collection of three related fun facts. You already knew that next year’s Royals were going to feel pretty different. You already knew they were likely to take a step back. It’s a good thing the core managed to win a World Series. Obviously, it’s always good to win a World Series. But the recent championship might take some of the edge off. What the Royals have left, as of today — theirs isn’t the best roster picture.

Let me try to do this quickly. There’s no more actual baseball to discuss. It ended last week, or, for the Royals, last month. In place of actual baseball, we’ve got imaginary baseball, projected baseball. We already have 2018 Steamer projections uploaded. That should be fun, for the forward-thinking among you. There’s regular Steamer, which projects performance over estimated playing times, and there’s Steamer600, which projects performance over full seasons, more or less. With Steamer600, everyone is set to the same denominator. Makes it easy to compare.

What I did: I looked at all the hitter and pitcher projections, by Steamer600. I arranged everything by team, now that free agents have been removed from team affiliations. I also manually removed some strange entries, like a projection for Cliff Lee on the Phillies. Then I ran some simple additions. For every team, I calculated the combined projected WAR for its top five players. Then I did the same for every team’s next five players. Then I did the same for every team’s next ten players. These are kind of artificial groups, but I figured this could provide a sense of top talent, supporting talent, and depth. A snapshot of the projected landscape, in early November of 2017.

With no further delay, here are all the teams, by their projected top five players.

There should be nothing too weird about this. Many of the projected best players are projected that way because they were most recently excellent performers. The majority of the excellent recent performers are still on the same rosters. Of course the Nationals are projected to have great top talent. Of course the A’s aren’t. Of course the Dodgers are projected to have great top talent. Of course the Padres aren’t.

You can find the Royals all the way to the right. They’re in last place. They’re actually in a tie for last place, with the A’s. But a tie for last is still last. This kind of isn’t fair; what chance have the Royals had of keeping Hosmer, Cain, and/or Moustakas? That doesn’t make their situation any less real. The Royals don’t currently have a single player projected for 3 WAR. The best projected player on the team is Salvador Perez. Perez just finished with a .297 OBP, which was a step above the season before.

No need to dwell. Now on to projected players six through ten.

All right, Astros. All right, Dodgers! Good teams are likely to stay good. You find many of the usual suspects over there to the left. And, all the way to the right? The Royals, again. This time, they have last place all to themselves, a full win below the White Sox. This is a group that begins with Alex Gordon. I don’t know what just happened to Gordon; I never took him to finish with a wRC+ of 62. Not last season. Remember, he was supposed to be the safe one. But Gordon came apart, performing as a replacement-level player, and now he’s projected to bounce back, up around a win or two. This is optimistic. This is including some Alex Gordon optimism.

The Royals don’t have the top-end talent. They don’t have the supporting talent. As for the depth? Here’s one more plot, showing players 11 through 20.

The Dodgers are practically off the chart. Their 11th-best player is Cody Bellinger, projected at 2.5 WAR. The Royals’ best player, Perez, is projected at 2.6 WAR. In this plot, it’s the Dodgers who most catch the eye, and that makes all the sense in the world, but I chose to focus this post on the Royals, so, look to the right, again. You find the Royals in last, a fraction of a win below the Giants. The Royals’ 11th-best player might be Sam Gaviglio, or Ian Kennedy. It doesn’t matter which; they project the same. Down it goes, to the Jorges Soler and Bonifacio. It’s not that the Royals don’t have any upside, that they don’t have any potential surprises. It’s just that Steamer doesn’t see much of anything there, and all Steamer is is a projection system that makes use of what players have actually done.

In terms of top talent, the Royals are last. In terms of supporting talent, the Royals are last. In terms of depth, the Royals are last. Steamer presents a rather damning case, even if all this does is confirm what you kind of already suspected. It’s known around the industry that the Royals are in a challenging spot. They’d tell you as much, themselves. Yet this might not just be a window closing. This could be a window slamming shut. Slamming shut so hard the window itself shatters into a million little pieces.

There are other points worth making. Points that might soften this a little. First, it’s November, not March, and the Royals will be active. Perhaps they’ll bring back one of the major free agents. Perhaps they’ll find talent somewhere else. The Royals have roster holes, but they’re going to try to plug them. Beyond that, this is all based on one single projection system, and you might argue that the projection systems have some trouble with this current weird era, where it seems like more players are emerging out of nowhere. Last year’s Royals just found a solid regular in Whit Merrifield. What if there were other Whit Merrifields? You have to give a chance to the player development. For all I know, the Royals might be sitting on the next Chris Taylor. He didn’t project well a year ago, either.

But the Royals have work to do. Seemingly a lot of it. When you look at the rival Tigers, you see a team that might be several years away from returning to contention. Yet between Detroit and Kansas City, I’m not actually sure which team has it worse.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Viva Montenegromember
6 years ago

At least they’ve got that vaunted, well-maintained farm system to look to.

Wait, what?