Who Should I Give a Crap About on this Royals Team?

At 22–49, the Kansas City Royals have the second-worst record in all of baseball (only the Orioles are worse at 20–50; at least they have the excuse that they play in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox). For Royals fans who followed this team pre-2013, it seems like it’s back to half-empty stadiums, bad jokes, and constant L’s both at Kauffman and away. As someone who recently moved to Kansas City, and got caught up in the “Royals Fever” post 2013, it’s interesting to see the difference between who the true baseball fans are, and the ones who just jumped on the bandwagon because those teams during that three to four-year stretch were competitive (already those fans in the latter category are only talking about how good Patrick Mahomes is looking in training camp).

As someone who enjoys baseball, plays fantasy baseball, and has a soft spot for the Royals as my favorite KC-based sports team (sorry Chiefs, can’t do your semi-racist mascots or chants), I figured it would be good to write a post about which Royals players you should pay attention to on this Royals team if you are an avid player of fantasy baseball or if you still plan on going to Royals games this summer (i.e. get drunk in the parking lot before remembering four innings of baseball and then blacking out and getting a 50 dollar Uber ride home). Some of them will be obvious (especially to the “three-year fans”), and some will be a little under-the-radar, but hopefully this analysis will help Royals as well as fantasy baseball fans get a little excited over what already has been a lost season (and perhaps one of many to come) here in Kansas City.

Merrifield has been the Royals’ best offensive player (and new “hunk” for female Royals fans).

Whit Merrifield, 1B, 2B, OF; 2018 stats: .294 average, .795 OPS, 4 home runs, 23 RBI, 15 SB, 31 runs scored; 88% owned in Yahoo and ranked 126th.

The former minor-league journeyman was on the Crash Davis career track until he broke out after a call up in 2016, posting a .283/.323/.390 slash with two home runs, 29 RBI, and 8 stolen bases in 81 games as a super utility guy. Since 2016, while many of the other Royals batters have fluttered with inconsistency, Merrifield has been a pillar of steady production, as in 2017 he posted a .288/.324/.460 slash with 19 home runs, 80 runs scored, 78 RBI, and 34 stolen bases in double the amount of plate appearances (630 compared to 330 in 2016). And if that isn’t enough, Merrifield has been even better in 2018. Merrifield’s batting average is higher (.294) and he leads the team in stolen bases (15), on-base percentage (.371) and WAR (2.1). One could argue that not only has he usurped the role of most “beloved by female Royals fans 34 and under” (once held by the now departed Eric Hosmer; Alex Gordon still holds the 35 and over crowd), but he has also become the team’s most valuable offensive player during this somewhat dismal season.

Unless you’re in a really shallow league, it’s hard to imagine Merrifield being available, but he’s worth exploring for in trades simply because of his great slash value, and excellent stolen base production. He’s probably not going to duplicate the power numbers he displayed from a year ago (ZiPS projects him for seven more homers over the remainder of the year; good for 11 total), and his age makes him a shaky candidate as a keeper for next season (he’s 29 years old). That being said, Merrifield is not only a fun player to watch, but a productive one who can fill three positions on your roster, making him a perfect utility guy you can squeeze in if a starting player is a late-scratch or gets injured and hasn’t made it to the DL just yet.

Keep mashing Whit. The young ladies of KC as well as fantasy baseball owners are rooting for you.

Despite Mondesi’ struggles at the plate, he has been good on the basepaths over his career.

Adalberto Mondesi, 2B; 2018 stats (Omaha): .250 average, .786 OPS, 5 home runs, 21 RBI, 10 SB, 19 runs scored; 1% owned in Yahoo and ranked 1044.

I was going to write initially on Jorge Soler, who has been one of the Royals most productive hitters this season(he leads the team with a weight runs created plus of 125) and was finally looking like the top prospect he was once hailed to be when he was in the Cubs system. But then Soler broke his damn foot, and even though he’s on the 10-Day DL, it’s plausible that he may be out for an extended period of time, and won’t be back until the end of the year at best.

So instead, I’m writing on one of Royals’ fans most polarizing young prospects: Adalberto Mondesi.

Mondesi came to the Royals system with a lot of expectations. Not only is he the son of Raul Mondesi, a baseball mainstay in the 90’s, but he also signed a $2 million bonus in 2011 as a 16-year-old, riding high on the early days of the “I’m evaluating this player solely on this cool, 2 minute YouTube mixtape I found” movement within fantasy baseball circles (it is also big in college basketball scouting circles as well). However, despite the hype, Mondesi’s tenure so far at the big-league level has been disappointing.

After starting the year in Double-A, and getting knocked for a 50-game suspension due to PEDs (which turned out to be cold medicine, apparently; thank God the school I work at doesn’t drug test for PEDs; I’d be our school’s Barry Bonds), Mondesi got an extended look in 2016. However, the youngster failed to produce results, as he hit .185 and put up an OPS of .512 in a 149 plate appearances, and provided little else beyond stolen base prowess (he stole 9 bases in 10 attempts). In 2017, he earned 60 plate appearances at the big-league level, and continued to do little with it, posting as slash of .170/.214/.245 with the Royals before spending most of the year back in Omaha.

Now, Mondesi gets his third extended chance at the big-league level, and already a lot of Royals fans are calling him a bust. For starters, I would tell Royals fans to cool their jets for a couple of reasons: first, he’s only 22-years old, which is still a baby in Major League years (you really can’t give up on anyone until age 26, which is the cut off between “prospect” and “veteran” in scouting circles). And second, he’s got one plus-skill: stealing bases. This year, he is 10 for 10 on stolen base attempts in Omaha and he stole 21 out of 24 bases a year ago in Omaha. Mondesi desperately provides speed on the basepaths this team needs outside of Merrifield, and it’s plausible to see him as a 25–40 SB per year guy in the near future.

However, what will make Mondesi worth keeping? Whether or not he can solve his massive strikeout issues at the big league level. In 2016, he struck out in 32.2 percent of his plate appearances. Last year, he struck out 36.7 percent of the time. And unfortunately, he doesn’t walk enough to justify such high numbers (his career BB/K ratio is 0.13; 0.50 is considered average). With his speed, Mondesi needs to take a page out of the Lou Brown “Put the Ball on the Damn Ground!” playbook like Willy “Mays” Hayes before him in Cleveland.

The Adalberto Mondesi of the 80’s

Let’s see if Mondesi can do that in his call up this summer. If he can replicate Wesley Snipes’ beloved fictional outfielder, he may be an interesting keeper in deep leagues for next year.

It’s been a lousy June, but Junis has been the Royals’ best starting pitcher this year.

Jakob Junis, SP; 2018 stats: 4.43 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 5 wins, 79 strikeouts; 43 percent owned in Yahoo and ranked 501st.

I am big believer in “team.” And yet, if you really had to point one reason why the Royals are on the cusp of being the worst team in baseball, it has to be due to the crappy pitching. Yes, the Royals pitching is bad, and REALLY BAD. Not only do they have the worst ERA in baseball (5.39), but they also have the worst FIP (Field Independent Pitching; 4.83) and WAR (0.7). (They have the second worst xFIP, expected field independent pitching, trailing only the White Sox, which goes to show how lousy the Central is.) By all metrics, both standard and advanced, this Royals pitching staff has been awful and a far cry from their playoff days, where they rode great pitching and base running to back to back World Series appearances (and an eventual championship).

The Royals starting staff has been a motley crew of mediocrity this year in more ways than one: Danny Duffy has proved that he not only is unable to handle being the team’s ace, but that he can’t even be a good pitcher without the mentoring of James Shields. Additionally, Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel have been disappointing free agent pickups who have proved to baseball fans and analysts that they are overpaid and perhaps over-the-hill to boot. It’s almost as if this Royals’ rotation has been cursed since Yordano Ventura’s unfortunate passing.

However, the one pitcher on this starting staff worth following may be the 25-year-old Jakob Junis, a №4 starter who leads the team in wins with 5 (yes I know, wins is a shitty stat, but hey, he’s leading) as well as strikeouts (79). With a quick approach, and breaking-ball heavy repertoire (he throws his slider over 40 percent of the time in comparison to his fastball, which he only throws 31.2 percent of the time), Junis has been a decent surprise for a staff that has struggled the past couple of seasons.

Unfortunately, Junis has cooled in June after a strong start, as he is 0–3 in June and posted 10.13 ERA in his last two starts. This mostly is due to his propensity to give up the long-ball, as his HR/9 innings rate is the highest out of any Royals starter this year (1.90 per 9). His repertoire is probably the culprit, as batters have begun to sit on his slider, and his fastball isn’t powerful enough (it averages a little over 91 MPH) to make them pay for such a strategy. Junis has had trouble getting past the 5th and 6th innings once teams have already seen him once or twice at the plate. Either Junis has to get more creative with his pitches to be more effective, or perhaps Yost has to settle on him being a 5 inning guy (6 at best), and rely heavily on the pen the rest of the way.

However, Junis is an interesting pickup because he gets guys to swing out of the zone (he gets batters to swing at pitches outside the strike zone 32.3 percent of the time which is above average), and he has good control (his 3.95 K/BB walk ratio is better than other major starters such as Duffy, Hammel and Kennedy) with the potential for good command (as we saw earlier in the year). Junis isn’t going to set the world on fire, and he’s a streaky pitcher, as we have seen already during the first half of this season. That being said, Junis has the skill set to give fantasy teams solid innings, a good number of K’s, and he won’t kill your WHIP either (because he doesn’t walk too many batters).

Let’s hope he can turn it around, and have a July that’s a lot closer to what he did in April and May. At 25-years-old, he could give Royals a glimmer of hope for starting pitching in the future, and for fantasy team owners, he could be a surprise contributor to a teams starting pitching staff in the second half.


Originally published at medium.com on June 18, 2018.

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