The Royals Just Barely Resemble the Royals

Word came out over the weekend that the Royals have signed Brandon Moss to a two-year contract, pending a physical. There’s nothing too strange about it, and Moss should have little trouble finding himself regular plate appearances. He won’t cost the Royals too much, and he will bring a power bat. You can think of him as being pretty similar, overall, to Chris Carter. Decent eye, lots of power, lots of fly balls. Moss is a little more versatile, while Carter is a little bit younger. It’s a fine player signed to a fine contract by a team with an opening. Most people wouldn’t raise an eyebrow.

And — look, team profiles don’t mean very much. Every team just wants to win, and it doesn’t matter how it happens. Front offices wouldn’t often refer to themselves as having one particular style. Value is value. And as far as the Royals are concerned, transition was inevitable. Everyone knew about their impending free-agent situation coming into the winter. At some point, the Royals were going to look different. Teams go through phases.

I’d just like to point something out about how the Royals look today. We’ve spent so much time in the past discussing the Royals’ style of baseball. From the looks of things, these Royals aren’t those Royals. It’s just a team with a few familiar faces.

I don’t know if you can say the Royals are still at their peak, but we can at least describe how they’ve been at their best. Everybody with me, now! What did the best Royals teams do to stand out? They ran the bases, first of all. They made a bunch of contact. They played outstanding overall team defense. And their bullpen shut opponents down. We’ve been over and over and over this model, and it was fairly distinct. The best recent comparison might be an Angels ballclub from more than a decade ago. The Royals, without question, were unmistakably Royals-y.

Now to just cut to the chase, I’ve got a plot for you. This plot was informed, in large part, by actual stats from 2013 – 2016. Then I’ve also included 2017 team projections, based on Steamer and our present depth charts. Five stats are shown on the plot: team batting value, stolen bases, strikeout rate, defense, and bullpen WAR. Instead of plotting the stats themselves, I’ve plotted the Royals’ MLB rank in each stat, with the y-axis stretching from worst to first. The higher the point, the better the rank.

You’re smart, you get it. Here’s a picture!

Credit to the Royals’ defense — after all these years, it remains very strong. For past years, I looked at a combination of DRS and UZR, and the Royals ranked first, third, first, and fifth. This year, the Royals’ defense is projected to be second-best. In this way, the Royals are the Royals: They’re still going to get to baseballs and turn them into outs. It’s a definite team strength.

But now look at the other lines. I don’t know where to start. Bullpen? Opposing teams used to live in fear of the Royals’ late-inning bullpen. I don’t think we project bullpens well enough for us to all agree the Royals’ current bullpen is bad, but it’s projected at No. 23. There’s no more Greg Holland, of course. There’s no more Wade Davis. There’s no more Luke Hochevar. There is plenty of pressure on the admittedly interesting Matt Strahm. In any case, the bullpen doesn’t look very deep right now.

Stolen bases? It’s true that steals are pretty difficult to project, given that they’re based on decisions. A team could just choose to try to steal more, or to try to steal less. The Royals, though, led baseball in steals in 2013 and 2014. They were fifth in 2015, and sixth in 2016. They project for 12th in 2017. Still more than average, but also quite close to average. Jarrod Dyson is gone, and he led last year’s team in steals, by 13. Brandon Moss isn’t a runner. Jorge Soler isn’t a runner. The lineup is going to be less athletic.

And then you get to the strikeouts. The Royals used to be celebrated for their ability to put the ball in play and put the pressure on the other team. The team strikeouts actually slid last season, when the Royals’ team strikeout rate ranked 14th. At present, the Royals are projected for 16th — neither very high nor very low. It’s not a contact-oriented ballclub. Maybe it wishes it were, but Moss isn’t a contact hitter, and neither is Soler. Alex Gordon just saw his strikeouts shoot north last summer. So did Salvador Perez. There are contact hitters here, but not eight or nine of them every day.

I included the batting line to show how things are or aren’t offset. The Royals’ offense certainly hasn’t been a juggernaut. By batting value — just batting, and not including baserunning — the Royals topped out at 15th in 2015. The other three years, they were in the bottom 10. And this year, as of right now, they project for 25th. So while the steals could be reduced, and while the strikeouts will be elevated, it doesn’t look like there’ll be a lot more offense to make up for that. It’ll just be a different kind of mediocre lineup. One with a bit less speed, and a bit less contact.

Again, it doesn’t mean that much on its own. Every team goes through changes at some point. It doesn’t mean the Royals can’t be successful, and we can’t currently even pretend like the projections are automatic. Maybe Ned Yost will squeeze more out of this ballclub. But the Royals that appeared on the national stage — these Royals aren’t likely to play with the same kind of style. On the best days, they’ll look awfully familiar. Yet the extremity of that style seems a thing of the past.

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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7 years ago

Personally I think the Royals should add another starting pitcher, someone like Jorge de la Rosa who is decent and likely cheap.