The story of the 2019 Royals seems to be built around an upstart pitching staff, and team speed. Now is that worth 11 more wins this season as Vegas predicts, or is it worth more, as many in KC are predicting? We here at Royals Blue have decided to delve into this and probably a little more.
As sure as snow will cancelled school on Wednesdays this Winter, the PECOTA predictions will be widely discounted here in Kansas City. The PECOTA projections have the Royals at 72 wins for 2019. The exact same mark was predicted in 2015, but believe me….I am not going there. Last year the Projections had us at 66.5 wins, a mark missed by almost 9 full games. I also am not going there. What I will say is that I am betting the over in Vegas, at 69 wins, and with the Royals +1400 to win the Central, that may be a value laden $10 bet as well. After all my mantra is, “go big or go home!”
So how exactly do I think the team that was second from the bottom in ALL of the MLB last year turns it around and win 14 more games? Well I am glad you asked. The last time the Royals blew away the prognosticators they found an under valued commodity with bullpen pitching. HDH and the likes of Luke Hochevar and Ryan Madson turned games into a 5 inning sprint for the opponent. Think back to how many games the Royals came back and won during their run. That turned the tides in the Royals favor in a way the computers could not predict. In 2019 computers actually devalue offenses based on speed. Machado didn’t get $300 Million because he stole lots of bases or has a huge UZR (which he actually does, but the Pads weren’t too worried about that or else our guy Hos isn’t getting $121 Mill from them). He got it because teams over value the homerun. Even in a stadium as unfriendly to power as Petco, the Padres still value power enough to sign the biggest deal in club history.
So this go-around’s undervalued comodoty is team speed/athleticism. Which in my mind is genius because it plays right into the Royals biggest strength. Starting Pitching. The Royals don’t have a strikeout first pitching staff. They have Brad Keller who is a ground ball machine. Ian Kennedy who manages to give up fly balls (that usually go out of the park) at one of the highest rates in the AL and Jake Junis and Danny Duffy who both show flashes of swing and miss stuff, but also give up their fair share of hard contact. To combat this the Royals have gone out and improved their team defense. Up the middle it will be hard to find a faster team. Whit, Mondesi and the newly acquired centerfielder Billy Hamilton will make things difficult on opposing offenses. Add in the constantly golden glove of Alex Gordon in Right and the center fielder we pick to play right in Brett “Maverick” Phillips or Brian Goodwin and you have a defense built for contact pitchers in a big yard like the K. Add in Terrance Gore as a defensive replacement late in a game and I would like to see the exit velo/launch angle necessary to drop a ball in our outfield.
Now that I have said all that let me also say, I actually believe the Royals Pitchers will strikeout more batters this year than they have in the past two. Junis and Keller are both still developing as pitchers. Hell Keller was a rule 5 guy last year. This year Salvy has proclaimed him the ace of the staff. Duffy won’t have as much attention with these new younger stars, and this lack of stress could finally let him pitch free and easy for the first time since 2014. Kennedy will be moved to the pen eventually, and clear room for Jorge Lopez, possibly Brady Kowar after the super 2’s time is cleared, and god willing Richard Lovelady finally cracks the pros!
Offensively we have a little less to be excited about, but let me just lay out a path to increased run support. Whit has lead the majors in stolen bases the last two years. He may be third on his team this year. Whit also has been in the top 5 of most no-power offensive stats over the last season and a half. His offense should be about the same. Mondesi is going to get 500+ at bats this year. That alone means more runs when you realize he is replacing a 600 ops with those at bats. Now those that want to dream a little read on. Rusty Kuntz is going to have a statue one day. Maybe not at the K, but definitely somewhere, I know this because Zach is currently building it out of butter to match his hair. So with that said I would like to point out the success Jarrod Dyson has had in the pros. Dyson thinks the world of Rusty. He still talks about him even though he is in Arizona. Dyson has a career OBP of .320. Dyson’s highest OBP years just so happened to coincide with the years he had the most ABs with the Royals. “So what” you say, well now is the time to start dreaming. Billy Hamilton has a career obp of .298. If Hamilton can work with Rusty on increasing his contact (when Rusty isn’t pedaling around on his Huffy), and getting on base an extra 20 times this year, that could increase his run production by 10 runs. If you just adjust his previous years stats that brings you to 113 total runs from him. Salvy and Whit are the only two from last years squad that achieved that mark. And that was based on 500 at bats. Salvy had 544 and Whit had over 620. Is that a huge mark, not by any means. Is it more value out of another teams cast off. Heck ya. And that is kind of what the Royals do when they over achieve.
So let’s review. Bet the Over in Vegas. Put $10 bucks on the Royals to win the Central for me (I’ll venmo you later), and always hate the PECOTA projections. But take this time to positively remember Royals great Bill Pecota who is not behind these numbers in any way.
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