Can the Royals Surprise the AL Central? (Even if they right now are in last)

The Kansas City Royals, are 12-23 after their 5-2 walk-off loss to the Detroit Tigers on Sunday. To say expectations were low for this team going into 2019 may be an understatement: after all…this is a club that was coming off a 104-loss season, a far cry from their World Series championship run four years ago, and also lost their franchise player (Salvador Perez) to Tommy John surgery before the season even started. Safe to say, it’s not out of the question to think that most Kansas Citians were looking more forward to the NFL Draft and the Chiefs offseason rather than the Royals 2019 campaign.

Which is a shame, because even though this team hasn’t really performed record-wise, you can’t help but get that feeling that this is spunky Royals bunch who may be able to compete and surprise in the AL Central division. The 2018 Royals were a “no man’s land” bunch that was stuck in a time warp, thinking that it was 2016 and they still could compete for a playoff spot. That is not the case anymore: the Royals are in full rebuild mode, shedding veterans like Jason Hammel, Alcides Escobar, and Paulo Orlando for younger guys within the farm system like Ryan O’Hearn and Kelvin Gutierrez to name a few. And in the transition, we have seen the positive and negatives of Dayton Moore’s approach in 2019.

At the very least, it’s easy to think that this Royals team will entertain more than last year’s bunch. Let’s take a look at why there is room for optimism, even after a crushing series loss to the division rival Tigers over the past weekend.


The offense is already better than last year…

Last season, the Royals were pretty punchless at the plate. They ranked 24th in the league in wRC+ with 88, which is 12 runs below average, and also ranked 25th in wOBA at .303. While they were entertaining on the basepaths (they ranked 6th in the league in stolen bases with 117), it didn’t necessarily lead to more runs on the basepaths, as they ranked 26th in BsR (baserunning runs above average) at negative-7.4. Combine this with lousy pitching (they ranked second-to-last in pitching WAR), and it makes sense why the Royals topped the 100-loss mark in 2018.

Now, the pitching for the Royals is still an Achilles heel in 2019, as they rank 25th in pitching WAR (1.4) and 23rd in team FIP (4.60). But, the offense has actually been better than expected, even though they lost All-Stars Perez and Mike Moustakas from a season ago. They rank 16th in wRC+ at 99, just one run below average, and 11 points better than a season ago. Their .320 wOBA is also an improvement from last year, as it is 17 points better than last year, and ranks 17th currently in the league. When it comes down to understanding what Dayton Moore needs to fix, the offense is actually low on that priority list.

And what has carried the Royals offense this year thus far? Career renaissances from outfielder Alex Gordon, shortstop Adalberto Mondesi, and utility extraordinaire Hunter Dozier. Gordon has displayed an incredible approach at the plate so far in 2019 (9.2 BB% and 10.6 K%) which has resulted in a .390 wOBA and 146 wRC+ to go along with six home runs and 27 RBI in what may be his last season in Royals blue and maybe as a Major Leaguer in general. Mondesi still is a free swinger (27 K%), but he hasn’t let it hurt him too much, as he has a .346 wOBA and 116 wRC+ to go along with four home runs and a team-high 10 stolen bases.

However, Dozier is the biggest revelation of them all. Dozier’s numbers are insane: .455 wOBA, 189 wRC+, .346 batting average, .308 ISO, and seven home runs. And he is doing this while playing without a true position: he has rotated between third, first, outfield and DH this season. Dozier has always been a top prospect in the Royals system in the past, and injuries certainly have slowed down his development in the past. However, there were many fans that felt that Dozier would be better off in another organization and that he was done after another “disappointing” season in 2018. Well, Dozier has not only proven them wrong, but he is actually giving the Royals and the “loyal” fanbase hope that they have another franchise player on their hands in the mold of Eric Hosmer, Gordon, and Moustakas. Only the difference now is that they will have him for at least a few more seasons.


The Royals are a terror on the basepaths

It’s kind of the same deal from a year ago if you look at the whole picture: the Royals lead the league in stolen bases (34), but it hasn’t led to much baserunning runs (0.4 above average). But for a team that was so mediocre offensively a year ago, manager Ned Yost’s free-wheeling approach on the basepaths definitely is an advantage that separates the Royals from the rest of the league. The lineup is loaded with speed: Mondesi, Whit Merrifield, and Billy Hamilton are all guys who can swipe 40 or more stolen bases this year (they have 10, 6 and 8 so far, respectively). And on the bench, Terrence Gore, who was strictly pinch running material prior to this year, has actually shown some life with the bat (.416 wOBA in 21 plate appearances). With already four stolen bases, it’s possible to see Gore perhaps get 20-25 stolen bases despite not being a regular player, which is an extraordinary weapon for Yost to have.

The Royals are showing more pop in the lineup than a year ago, which is surprising without Perez, who hit over 20 homers last year and was a regular in the 4-5 hole. Now, while Gordon and Dozier have displayed improvement from a year ago, we are just over a month into the season, and it is possible that both those guys will experience some regression as we hit the dog days of summer. That being said, the Royals can make up for any Gordon and Dozier regression with their depth of speed, and they’ll be in better shape if Hamilton can pick it up at the plate (he has a .250 wOBA and 51 wRC+) as we enter the summer months. That may be hard to imagine (he is coming off a down year in Cincinnati), but considering how much Ned likes to run, Hamilton could help this Royals club (and his own stat line) immensely if he can creep his OBP up another 20-30 points in the next month or so (which isn’t an easy task…but it doesn’t hurt to dream about).


The AL Central still is questionable

The Indians may be in trouble: they’ve underperformed this year (18-14), and now they may not have ace Corey Kluber for most of the season. Though they took 2 out of 3 from the Royals this weekend, the Tigers are a Miguel Cabrera injury/trade away from hitting the skids and bottoming out, as they too are in clear rebuilding mode and emphasizing a youth movement. And the White Sox, though sporting some offensive firepower with Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson (who got in his own dustup with the Royals...gotta love the low-key Royals-White Sox rivalry), have a plethora of pitching issues that will keep them from being seriously competitive this season (they rank 25th in FIP).

As you can see, the AL Central is up for the taking, with the Twins surprising and leading the division at 20-12 entering Sunday. But, the Twins are coming off a down year, have a new, unproven manager in Rocco Baldelli, and are still mediocre when it comes to pitching (they rank 18th in FIP). Now, their offense is legit (6th in WAR), and their lineup is flat out dangerous with Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco, Nelson Cruz, and a rejuvenated Byron Buxton, just to name a few. But unless the Twins make a serious upgrade to their pitching mid-season, they will be vulnerable to the rest of the division.

And that includes the Royals…after all, their Pythagorean win-loss isn’t all that far off from the other teams in the division.


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Hunter Dozier is having a career year; and he could be the spark the Royals need this summer (Photo credit: MLB Daily Dish)

Realistically, the Royals will be a long shot to do anything in the division or make a run at the Wild Card. Their pitching is bad. And if you don’t believe me, think about this: Homer Bailey, who went 1-14 a year ago, is their best starting pitcher so far this year according to WAR (0.7) and FIP (3.77). The bullpen is a mess, as Yost has failed to find much stability in the late innings, and the Ian Kennedy “trying to be Wade Davis” experiment has gone through its fair share of ups and downs this year (he has a 0.84 FIP, though that will probably go up after giving up the game-winning homer today). Unless Danny Duffy regains his stuff after missing most of the year so far due to injury, this pitching staff has a bleak outlook for 2019. And as we know…it’s hard for a team to compete without much pitching.

But the Royals have a shot. This is more of a “glass half-full” club compared to a year ago, and it will be interesting to see how the Royals faithful get behind them. They won’t lose 100 plus games this year (as long as they stay healthy), but they are still a couple of years from seriously competing, which may deflate Royals fans who were spoiled from the 2013-2016 run of success. But if this team can get their pitching to inch toward average, and if the offense can continue to produce, it’s conceivable to see a “hot” May or June from this club, and if that happens, then it’s possible to see the fans get behind this team and push them toward unexpected success, just like in 2013 when the Royals surprised and won 86 games out of nowhere.

And we all know what 2013 set up for the next two seasons…wishful thinking, I know, but it’s worth dreaming about, right?

How to get through the rest of the Royals’ 2018 season…

“Do you consider yourself a masochist?”

My senior English teacher asked me that during a seminar-style class period where we had to discuss the topic of “relationships”. I went to an all-boys high school, and as expected, the seminar conversations were ripe with machismo and testosterone, especially initially. Despite that obvious roadblock though, my English teacher was able to navigate through our initial thoughts and tendencies and actually produce appropriate and worthwhile conversation amongst 20+ 18-year-old boys, ready to graduate and go to college. That 60-minute class could have easily turned into a “measuring” contest (i.e. who was the best at attracting the opposite sex) or a “venting” session (i.e. people bashing their exes). Instead, it turned into mature, thoughtful dialogue about relationships as a whole, why we seek them, and how we change or are shaped from relationships in our lives, even if they do not last for long. My conversations with my classmates from that particular day still ring in my memory, though I feel sheepish reveling the exact topics from my classmates that day, especially considering this is a Kansas City Royals and Fantasy Baseball blog.

But one bit I will share is the one above. I asked my English teacher, “I know why a relationship fails, and why we didn’t work. But I always go after the same kind of person. Why do I do that?”

And that’s when he dropped it on me: “Well…Do you consider yourself a masochist?”

I don’t think I had an answer then. I really don’t have an answer now. 13 years later since that class, I still wonder if I am actually a masochist when it comes to relationships, seeking ones that are doomed to fail out of some perverse subconscious enjoyment. I will say I am in a good relationship now, the best I’ve ever been, so maybe I’m not actually a masochist, but someone who needed more time to find the right person.

So what does this have to do with Royals baseball?

Well, I brought up that quote and that story because I got to thinking… is it possible that you have to be a bit masochistic to not only be a Kansas City Royals fan but a baseball fan in general?


Baseball is an odd game in comparison to other sports. There are no set time limits. The game from pitch to pitch moves slowly. The season runs a 162 games long, an insane amount of contests when you compare it to other major American sports. The game is mired in number, statistics, and analysis to the point where one almost has to have a love of math to enjoy the game nowadays. Opportunities vary for players on the field. In some games, the hits come in bunches, and a player is making play after play. In some games, he goes o-fer and doesn’t touch the baseball.

And opportunities for teams? It may be even worse. Only five teams from each division make the playoffs, only 33% (less than the nearly half per division as it is in the NBA), and two of those teams from each division have to play in a “one-game playoff” just to advance to the next round, where it is only a five-game series. In the NBA playoffs, each round consists of seven games, usually resulting in the best overall team winning each round (with some exceptions every now and then of course). But in baseball, there are only two seven-game series’: the Championship Series (Pennant) and the World Series. Often times, it’s not the best regular season team that wins the World Series…it’s just the best team in October. That can be infuriating for a fan who watched his team be successful over 162 games, only to see that success erased in as little as 1 to 3 games.

Some say that the baseball season is akin to “running a marathon, not a sprint”. I agree, but with some conditions: It is like running a marathon, but you have to carry cinder blocks on your shoulders while doing it.

And for the Royals and their fans this season, it’s been like running a marathon with cinder blocks that have 100-pound steel weights attached to them. In other words, this season has been an awful, painful, dragging slog to get through.

After a 7-2 loss to the New York Yankees in game one of a four-game series, the Royals are 31-71, 40 games under .500. With the July 31st Trade Deadline less than a week away, Royals fans are preparing for certain players to be wearing another team’s uniform in a matter of days. And speaking of fans, the tension with the club is at an all-time high, especially after Fangraphs writer, Dan Szymborski went on a Twitter tirade bashing General Manager Dayton Moore for not capitalizing on the Royals’ success in 2014 and 2015, and allowing the team to fall back to where it was prior to his arrival (i.e. one of the worst clubs in baseball) to the detriment of Royals fans.

As you can see from above, one can understand where I’m coming from when I say that it may be “masochistic” to be a Kansas City Royals fan. And there are still 60 games left to go this year.

How the hell am I, or any Royals fan for that matter, going to get through it all?


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It would be easy and understandable to throw in the towel on the Royals this season. And for the most part, a lot of people already have. Why follow a team that’s going nowhere this season? Why not spend time, money, and attention on other sports teams, activities, hobbies? If the Royals cause this much frustration, why stick with it, like a bad relationship doomed for failure?

I’m not saying you have to be masochistic to enjoy the Royals. As a matter of fact, I think there’s a lot to still enjoy with the Royals, even during this season.

I just don’t want Royals fans to grow pessimistic and jaded.

It’s amazing how easy it is to fall into those categories as a Royals fan. It’s easy to bash on Moore and blame him for all the Royals problems. It’s easy to bash manager Ned Yost and his lineup and bullpen decisions. It’s easy to bash the players and talk about how much they suck, or that they should be jettisoned from the sport immediately. It’s easy to bash on baseball and say the game is dying and that nobody cares about it anymore, especially in comparison to basketball and football.

But while it’s easy to do those things (and get into the habit of Randy Marsh finger pointing), it’s important to try to avoid it as much as possible (I get it…venting is needed from time to time). Instead, it’s important to remember the joy of 2014 and 2015. The positivity. The playoff games. The excitement. Blue adorning the city everywhere you traveled within the KC Metro. Those were good times. Good times for baseball fans. Good times for the Royals and Kansas City, overall. The parade at Union Station still is one of my best memories as a sports fan, period.

It’s important to remember because it helps give fans hope that it can happen again.  Just look at the difference between 2014 and 2015. Once the Royals got to the playoffs a second time, it seemed to be destiny that they were going to win it all. The Royals and the fans knew what it took to win, and they weren’t going to let it slip away a second time, as they proved by beating the New York Mets in the World Series in 2015.

So it’s important to hold on to hope. It’s important to not tune out on the Royals for the rest of 2018. And here are five things to remember that will help you get through the remaining 60 games of what some may say is a “lost season”


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1. Remember…2015 was only three seasons ago

Some may look at that statement and say “And look how bad we are after winning the World Series three years ago!” I get that, but you have to keep things in context, especially in comparison with other MLB teams. The Cleveland Indians have not won a World Series since 1948, good for the longest World Series draught currently. The Brewers, Padres, Nationals, and Mariners, have never won a World Series in their club’s history (49 years for Milwaukee, San Diego, and Washington; 41 for Seattle). The Royals, on the other hand, have two World Series titles: 1985 and 2015.

Yes, it sucks that the Royals are not competitive, and are in the process of rebuilding. It sucks that the Royals may not experience that playoff magic for at least a few more seasons. But compared to other clubs in baseball, at least we have those recent memories of success to comfort us in these down times.

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2. Remember the kids (in the farm system)

Much like a divorced couple or a relationship on the rocks, it’s important to remember the kids in all of this. Not your own kids (though if you have kids, certainly don’t neglect them), but the Royals prospects. There is a lot of talent coming up through the system who may be the next generation of Royals stars. Seuly Matias hit his Minor-League leading 28th and 29th home runs on Thursday night. Khalil Lee is starting to show promise in Northwest Arkansas. Recent first-round draft pick Brady Singer is the 67th rated prospect according to MLB.com. There are good things going on with Royals’ affiliates, which could mean good things on the horizon for the Royals organization as a whole in the next 2-3 years.

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3. Remember that there’s still some talent on the roster for the future.

Though he had a rough start Wednesday, Danny Duffy is finally turning it around as a starter this season in the Royals rotation. Whit Merrifield consistently proves to be one of the Royal’s strongest overall players, a great story considering he was overlooked for so long while toiling in the minors. Adalberto Mondesi is finally getting an opportunity to play every day, and he is finally developing into the infield mainstay many envisioned him to be when he first broke into the Majors as a 19-year-old. The roster has some players who can not only play this year, but could provide a nice foundation for the future for this Royals club as well. Yes, the farm system isn’t deep, and there are a lot of players on this roster that probably won’t be around when Spring Training hits next year. But the cupboard isn’t bare, and there are some players on this roster worth investing in as a fan for next season and beyond.

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4. Remember that even though there are struggles, the veterans aren’t mailing it in.

It would be easy to see Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon, and even to an extent Alcides Escobar, just throw in the towel on the season. After all, they were the main cogs during those 2014-2015 runs, and the roster around them is a far cry from those glory days. They could be out in the media, demanding trades, wanting to be on a winning team, hoping to snag one last ring in their prime. Instead, they have come to the ballpark and played hard as professionals. Even watching the game in person Wednesday, the veterans I listed above approached the game as if it were 2015, and they were in line for a playoff spot, not the first overall pick in the 2019 draft. That kind of professionalism and effort is not something we see all the time in baseball, and even Royals fans can attest to that. I mean, did you remember the 2005 Royals coming to the park every day like this squad here? And doing so even though all those veterans I listed above have gone through down seasons in 2018?

Yes, maybe they’re not doing well. Maybe a couple of them should’ve left a year or two ago. But they bring it each and every game, and that at the very least deserves some respect in the grand scheme of things.

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5. Remember…going to Kauffman Stadium is fun.

I talked about my experience at Kauffman Stadium in my last post. Going to a game at Kauffman is a great time. It doesn’t matter if you’re with a bunch of friends, tailgating a couple of hours before a game or going solo with a scorecard. There’s something about the stadium and the ballpark experience that make a day or night at the K special. It’s easy to forget that with all the losing going on. But don’t. Go to a game. Go to a game with friends. Go to a game by yourself. But just go. The specials are starting to happen in even greater frequency now, and tickets will only get cheaper as we head into August.

So don’t just settle for watching a game on television. Don’t settle for just listening to it on the radio on the way back to work as you’re stuck on I-35 traffic. Don’t just settle for following it on your MLB At-Bat app. Go to the K. Get a ticket. Sit in the cheap seats. Watch the Royals hit the field and hear the crack of the bat and the snap of the catcher’s mitt and the roars of the crowd.

A day at the ballpark in person captures you in ways that other mediums simply can’t.


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2018 will be a season that will either live in infamy (as the worst Royals team of all time) or will quickly be forgotten in Royals lore. I’m betting more on the latter. After all, nobody talks about the 2005 team (the current worst team in Royals history) with the exception of Royals fans comparing it to this year’s team. After 2018, people will only talk about the squad that season, future teams, or the 2015 team that won it all, and that will be a good thing. Think about Milwaukee. What years are they talking about other than the current season or the ones in the future? What years can they talk about when they had a parade in the heart of their city?

I’m not trying to sugar coat this Royals season or excuse this year’s poor performance by any means. It’s been a lousy year, plain and simple. There are players in this organization that need to go and management needs to make some changes in the organization (scouting, development or even the front office) if the club ever wants to be competitive again. 2018 has been a slap to the face of Royals fans this year. 2015 showed how all-in this city could be with the Royals and baseball. They deserved a better team than a bunch of band-aid free agent signings and short-sighted trades that ended up hindering the club for years to come.

But despite all that frustration…keep following the Royals. Keep going to Kauffman Stadium. Keep the faith in this club for the future. Don’t give up or ignore them for Chiefs football just yet.

Because that commitment will pay off. When the Royals turn it around…whenever that is…it will make the experience that much sweeter.

Maybe I’m not such a masochist after all…