Early Thoughts on 2015 Royals

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So a sinus attack has me awake in the middle of the night. I get to watch the game from September 30, 2014 – again – in its entirety – for the first time since I watched it on live TV.

No, I wasn't at the K that night. I am sure in 25 years the attendance for that game will be 200,000 – but I won't be one of them. I attended ALDS 3, ALCS 4, WS 2. What a great post-season for me – and the first I got to witness at the stadium in my life (odd for a man who is 47 years old).

Well, was it the high water mark?

I'll say it's too early to know.

Will the Royals be better this year? That's a statement that can be answered probabilistically – but I doubt you want that! So, I'll put it out there: 83 wins is what I consider their most likely finish. Given that number, I'll state it in a more probabilistic fashion: there is a 16% chance that they will win 89 games or more in 2015.

That's not awful. It's not the end of the world. There was a far lower chance that they should have won 89 games in 2014. But they DID. And it was enough to get them to play the lovely game I am now watching at the K rather than at the O.Co Colosseum.

So, if we start by acknowledging that the Royals were an 84 win team that put their runs allowed and runs scored into favorable patterns to add up to 89. And were actually a 79 win team that put their base hits and base hits allowed and walk and walks allowed into similarly favorable patterns – we can see that I am not saying the Royals are worse…

Wait, it's the sixth inning and Ventura is coming in. Can I watch this? It's not good!

Anyway – the bullpen is still as good – perhaps better! If Hoch can be what he was in 2013, Ned has his sixth inning man (and he was better than most team's closers). So, the arrangement of runs scored/runs allowed should remain favorable.

Damn, Brandon Moss hit that ball a long way to centerfield!

Dayton also smartly resigned Jason Frasor. He also kept the HDH centerpiece. While any of them could regress, I'll say it's VERY unlikely that they all do or even that two do.

The starting rotation should not be quite as good in 2015 as it was in 2014. You take out Shields and replace him with Volquez who – stats say – was an extremely lucky pitcher in 2014 with the Pirates. He has a career history of wildness and had baseball's best framer behind the plate in Pittsburgh. I love Salvy, but framing is the weakest part of his game behind the plate.

So, I think Volquez becomes a 4.7 ERA #5 starter. That's not awful. It's bad. But he should stay healthy and deliver 170 IP.

Ventura might not be quite as good. I LOVE Ventura, but I think it more likely that his wildness brings his ERA up to around 3.60. I think controlling that release from that tiny frame is a hard thing to do.

Vargas pitched a little over his head in 2014. I think he is likely to still deliver 200 innings, but his ERA might creep up over 4 some.

Guthrie is older by one year and at some point could break down. I don't think it will be this year, but he seems like another number 4/5 starter.

The key to the starting rotation this year: Danny Duffy. I think Duffy could be very good. But I don't think he'll have a 2.5 ERA. That said, he doesn't NEED to have a 2.5 ERA. 3.3 but with solid health and 200 innings would be worth a TON. I'm not confident, but last Sunday's piece in the Star gave me some hope that he has at least taken his conditioning much more seriously. The Royals docs and training staff have EARNED our trust on how to make players less injury prone and more durable as the Royals have been the least injury prone team in the majors since 2011. We always hear about guys reporting to ST in the best shape of their lives, but in Duffy's case – it really could mean something good.

So the rotation is Ventura, Duffy, Vargas, Guthrie, Volquez. It's an average rotation overall. That's down from last year. The staff as a whole is slightly down as the bullpen can not be expected to improve enough to offset the loss of Shields. I love the signing of Medlen and I am excited to see Manea and Finnegan in the rotation at some point, but I don't think we should count on any of these three for a significant contribution (if we get it, we will see October baseball, though).

The key to this season, though, is in the lineup. And that's where I am overall pessimistic. I am happy that Dayton has decided to work from reclamation projects. Given the budget and the holes on this team, it made sense. But if you think that Rios and Morales will both be OK, I have some land for you. One is likely to be straight out horrible.

FWIW, one being horrible isn't that bad. If Rios is horrible, he can be platooned with Dyson leading to a very productive spot in the lineup. If Morales is horrible, he can be platooned with Rios at DH. But if they are both horrible, this team could score runs like the 2010 Mariners.

Yost has never been a fan of platooning, but this lineup could present some interesting challenges.

The scary part: there is no fallback position yet if Moustakas is horrible. That still must be considered a possibility.

Since Cain and Escobar are both candidates for some serious regression we must have improvements from Hosmer, Infante and Moustakas (all three!). For the weakest hitting team ever to make such an advance in the postseason (I guess I should refer to the 1906 White Sox, but i never saw them play) – the idea that the offense could actually be worse is quite frightening. But I don't think we can count on Cain to hit .301 (his BABIP was .380) or Escobar to hit .285 (his BABIP was .326). If Escobar drops to a more reasonable .260 and Cain to a more reasonable .270 you lose about 30 hits or about 20 runs… This is not a team that can afford to lose 20 runs – unless Hosmer and Moose perform to the level expected.

2015 is the year that we have to have the first round picks from 2007 and 2008 produce.

Finally, Salvador Perez. Someone – please – get to Yost and show him the splits from last year. Perez was awesome in the first half, but as the season wore on his performance deteriorated. His walks are the most obvious: 21 before the break (he drew 21 walks in three months – did you know that?). And 3 – THREE – after. His runner caught rate deteriorated. His mental gaffe at third base in our Royals Blue game at the K against Detroit happened in the second half… The man was exhausted. I LOVE SALVY. Who wouldn't? But he needs more rest.

If Ned won't play Kratz – the Royals need to find a backup who has the trust of Ned. Let Perez rest.

For all the people who wanted to take the bat out of Salvy's hand in game seven (absurd idea to run Gordon, actually – he's like 5% to make it) – they missed something: a healthy, fresh, Salvy is not a man you ever take the bat from! Give Salvy his stick back and get him some time off.

All this said – the pitching is slightly worse, the defense is close to the same, the hitting is about the same…. It's a guess but I am going with 83-79.

It's now the bottom of the seventh on September 30. Royals trail 7-3. I think on this very blog at that very time I wrote: this game is over….. Shows you what i know.

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Author: Charles Winters

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