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Royals Authority

Long Live The Process

Winning back to back championships in any sport is difficult. Stunning revelation there, I know, but given that winning one is hard (ask the Detroit Lions) it stands to reason that coming back the very next year and winning another one would be even more unlikely.  So, here stand our Kansas City Royals, champions of the world and entering the 2016 season with back to back World Series appearances (which is kind of a feat in and of itself).

As most of you know, there has not been a repeat World Series Champion in this century and during that same arbitrary timeframe, only two teams have made it back to the World Series after winning it the year before.  Have a look:


WS Champions

Only three defending champs have fallen off a cliff the next year, dropping anywhere from 18 to 26 wins from their championship regular season total.  Conversely, only three champions have increased their regular season total and, not all that surprisingly, two of those three were the teams that did manage to make it back to the Series the year after winning it all.

Do you believe in cosmic tumblers and such?  If so, baseball is due for a repeat champion.  Do you believe in the odd roller-coaster that we refer to as the San Francisco Giants?  Well, it is an even numbered year.  Of course, we could use things like projections (gasp!), true talent levels and, I don’t know, a bit of common sense as well.

We know the projections don’t much care for the Royals and the discussion/outrage/analysis associated with that have been beaten into the ground the past week.  Are the Royals better this year than last or did they overachieve in 2015?

To be honest, the Kansas City Royals coasted to a 95 win season in 2015 and hardly came out of nowhere to do so.  They won 89 in 2014 and 86 games the year before that.  This team has morphed around the edges and at the top of its starting rotation, but the Royals of 2013 are not all that different than the Royals of 2015 or, probably, 2016.  If this year’s Royals conform to the norm of past champions they would seem far more likely to win 90 games than just 76.

Back to back championships?  I’ve heard crazier things.



The full squad is in Arizona, but the games don’t start for awhile. So here we are, already settled into a routine of the early days of camp.

Except this routine is about getting fitted for World Series rings. And enough pitching depth to fill a couple of major league rosters. And Jarrod Dyson on a hoverboard.


Speaking of that pitching depth, the Star is reporting the Royals still have interest in bringing Greg Holland back on some sort of deal where he would rehab from his Tommy John surgery with the team before returning to the big leagues in 2017. That’s an interesting proposition, given Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis are under team control for the next two seasons and new addition Joakim Soria has a three year deal. Assuming Holland successfully rehabs (and given how long he pitched with the tear in his ligament, who doubts his ultimate recovery?) where exactly would he fit in the back of the bullpen? Sixth inning guy? Holy cow, that’s an embarrassment of bullpen riches. Except we’re talking about Tommy John surgery, so any assumption means we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Clark touched on this yesterday, but the Royals pitching depth is ridiculous. The Royals have so much major league pitching pedigree in camp, you can’t help but think that there’s at least two or three or more arms who can give the club some innings this year. Kansas City is now a destination for pitchers recovering from injury or underperformance. We’ve come a long, long way from having to overpay to bring a mediocre free agent to the team.

The good news about this depth, is that a pitcher has to be good enough to actually work his way onto the roster. The Royals already have a good base in place in the rotation. And you know about the bullpen. So this depth isn’t about a having a fringe guy who is going to make over 25 starts or throw more than 70 innings out of the pen. This depth is about filling small holes that will reveal themselves over time. Obviously, they can’t keep everyone who is in camp as a non-roster invitee, but they will surely be able to stash an arm or two in Triple-A for an emergency. One of the developments of these new look Royals the last couple of years is how well they manage their pitching roster. There seems to be quite a road map in place where the club knows exactly who to bring up at what time. It’s quite a dance between players with options and major league contracts and whatnot. In my opinion, the whole, “The Royals know what they’re doing, so get off their back and enjoy the ride” frame of thought is generally misguided, although in the case of how they handle their arms in bringing them on and off the roster generally makes perfect sense. So how about I enjoy the I-29 Shuttle?

Depth is the theme of this camp. (I’m not including Eric Hosmer‘s choice of t-shirt here.) And that remains a good theme, given this team won a World Championship just a few months ago and is returning nearly every key player from that squad. Yes, the routine of spring is upon us. Welcome back.


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As pitchers and catchers reported to Surprise, the Royals added another surprise by signing Mike Minor to a two year deal with a third year mutual option (always a mutual option, my friends, always).  Minor is guaranteed $2 million this year, $4 million next year and a $1.25 million buyout after the 2017 season if the Royals and he decide not to mutually agree to pay him $10 million for the 2018 season.

Having not pitched in 2015 and, frankly, not being very good in 2014, Minor is not even expected to be ready to pitch this year until late May or early June. Let’s not kid ourselves, we all know how pitching you way back from injury works:  count yourself lucky if Mike Minor is ready to face major league hitters any time before July 1st.  Count yourself doubly lucky if a Royal clad Minor resembles the very competent major league starter he was in 2012 or the quite good starter that pitched for Atlanta in 2013.   All of that though is really not the point of this signing.

Once the last Royal pitch is thrown in 2016 – hopefully on national TV in a World Series game – Kansas City will have to decide if they want to pick up their side of the $10 million dollar mutual options on Edinson Volquez ($3 million buyout) and Kris Medlen ($1 million buyout).  And we all know how mutual options work, if the Royals want to pick up their side of either one it is because the pitchers in question had outstanding seasons and will likely have no desire to exercise their side of the option.  If the players and keep in mind what even average starting pitching goes for these days, want to pick up their options it is likely the Royals will have zero desire to reciprocate.

Truthfully, those might be the last two options the Royals make a run at after the 2016 season.  Remember, Wade Davis has a team option, Kendrys Morales a mutual as does Luke Hochevar, and let’s not forget the team options held for Escobar and Perez.  To quote Kevin Costner in Bull Durham, ‘we’re dealing with a lot of sh*T here.’

Kansas City will stay have Yordano Ventura, Ian Kennedy and Chris Young under contract for 2017.  Also there (via arbitration) will be Danny Duffy, who will be a factor in the 2017 rotation question no matter his role in this coming season. Back will come Jason Vargas to join the above mentioned Minor and, of course, we’ll all be expecting Kyle Zimmer to make some type of impact ‘around mid-season’ for the fourth straight year.

So, the Royals have essentially positioned themselves to swap Minor and Vargas for Volquez and Medlen, keep the other five and once again go into the spring with seven pitchers fighting for five spots (and that does not factor in Dillon Gee, who is a factor…sort of, anyway).  Inventory.  Remember that word from years’ past?

Remember when ‘inventory’ meant signing Horacio Ramirez, trading for Vin Mazzaro and assuming Bruce Chen and Luis Mendoza were locks for a rotation spot?  Back when Will Smith (who, to his credit, is fashioning himself a decent relief career) and Felipe Paulino were your ‘extra guys’?  Times have changed.

Listen, I loved the Medlen signing and think he may surprise us by a lot this year, but I am less sold on Mike Minor and, as you can tell, I might just faint if Kyle Zimmer actually does stay healthy long enough to throw a major league pitch that matters.  All said, that the Royals’ starting pitching depth might be Duffy at six, Gee at seven, Minor at eight and Zimmer at nine is really quite impressive given this organization’s not too distant past.

Without question, there are legitimate questions with regard to the top of the rotation (nine ‘number four’ starters is just too much of not enough) and you cannot point to one starter in the group that is without concerns, but there is also not one starter in this group (maybe Gee is one) that is without the potential to be a good major league starting pitcher.  If nine back of the rotation guys is bad, then four middle rotation guys and a hot hand at the five spot with this bullpen is certainly good enough.

Dayton Moore has inventory, actual major league inventory mind you, for this year AND for next year. That’s a start and that is exactly what the Mike Minor signing was all about.

On Sunday the Royals announced Omar Infante would miss the first week to week and a half of Cactus League games. You would be excused if your reaction was, “Here we go again.” This is the third spring in as many years with the Royals that Infante will not be completely healthy. He missed time in 2014 with shoulder and arm issues and he sat out a portion of the 2015 spring with elbow soreness.

There are a couple of recurring themes here. One, Infante is just not a good player anymore. In his two seasons with the Royals, Infante has hit .238/.268/.329. That’s horrific offensive production no matter how you slice it. His defense wasn’t great in 2014, but it was better last season. Still, there is absolutely no way his glove compensates for his lackluster bat.


The Royals have been vocal this winter that second base is an open competition between Infante and Christian Colon. I’ve been skeptical since this idea was first floated because this is so unlike the Royals. Sure, since they’ve gotten good they have been more calculating than emotional when it comes to certain players. (And that’s a good thing.) However, given the circumstances where Infante is a veteran with a track record and over $16 million owed to him over the next two seasons, and where Colon is unproven in the majors and we know how the Royals shy away from that at second base, it seemed that the idea of a competition was their way of selling something that no one was going to line up to buy.

Now, it kind of makes sense.

Since Infante is going to miss time again this spring, and if he struggles in the spring, or continues to be plagued by elbow soreness, you could certainly see where the Royals would lean to Colon. At least out of the gate.

At the very least, Colon should be on extreme standby. Second basemen don’t generally age well. And Infante is showing signs of suffering a complete medical breakdown.

Let’s revisit his 2015 injury list:

Feb 26

Infante arrived at camp and said he felt fine. Ominous quote: “I don’t really feel anything with the elbow… maybe just a little bit. Not worried.”

Which leads us to a week later.

March 6

Infante was scratched from his first scheduled Cactus League game with soreness in his elbow.

March 8

Infante received a cortisone shot in his elbow.

March 13

For the first time, Infante mentioned surgery as an offseason possibility to deal with bone spurs in his elbow.

March 23

Infante made his 2015 Cactus League debut in the field. He had been getting plate appearances as a designated hitter.

April 19

In a game against the Oakland A’s, Infante leaves in the fifth inning with a groin strain he suffered while legging out a double. At the time, he was hitting .250/.244/.350 in 41 plate appearances.

The Royals termed his injury as “day to day.” Infante returned to the lineup four days later.

June 3

Ned Yost backs Infante as the Royals starting second baseman. Infante is hitting .222/.232/.315 at the time.

June 15 – June 30

Infante goes on a run where he collects 19 hits in 57 plate appearances over 15 games. During this stretch, he hits. 333/.333/.421.

August 15

Infante sits out with back spasms. With Ben Zobrist at second base, the Royals are in no hurry to rush Infante back to the lineup. He sits for a week, making one appearance in the field as a late-inning defensive replacement.

Sept 7 – 16

The Royals go through a stretch where Infante sits out all but one game where he entered as a late-inning defensive replacement. There is no reported reason for Infante’s absence from the lineup. Zobrist started all games at second.

Sept 17

Infante returns to the lineup and posts a career high seven RBI going 3-4 with a double and a home run.

Sept 18

After two at bats, Infante exits the game against the Detroit Tigers with an oblique strain. He would miss the rest of the regular season and would not be included on any of the Royals post-season rosters. He travelled to Arizona in mid-October for a rehab assignment, but the Royals weren’t satisfied he was making enough progress to activate him for the World Series.


Infante underwent surgery to remove the bone spurs in his elbow. This is the surgery that was revealed last weekend to be a little more extensive than previously thought.

The Royals will try to convince themselves that a healthy Infante equals a good Infante. The reality is they have a 34 year old second baseman who can’t avoid injury and just isn’t that good anymore. He may have his moments, like that seven RBI game last September, but if the Royals choose to award Infante with the lion’s share of plate appearances at second base this year, they should expect to be underwhelmed offensively while keeping the trainers on the clock.

The Royals have had a black hole at second base for years. They thought they addressed the issue by bringing Infante on board. Sometimes, you convince yourself you need a new car and despite due diligence, you end up with a lemon. Infante will get every opportunity to stay healthy and remain in the starting lineup. The conventional wisdom will say the Royals built a big lead in the AL Central last year and won the AL pennant the year before with Infante in the lineup, so anything they can get from him in 2016 would be bonus. That’s the kind of short-sighted thinking second division teams engage. These are the new Royals. They should do the right thing and limit Infante’s appearances while actively looking to upgrade the position in 2016 and beyond.

Perhaps a bit under the radar in the aftermath of the celebratory spray of locker room champagne was the contract status of Ned Yost and Dayton Moore. Both Royals manager and general manager were under contract for 2016, but when you win a World Series, you pretty much get to set your terms. And besides, teams like the Royals don’t usually allow their management to go into lame duck seasons. Stability and safety count.

So when the Royals announced on Thursday they extended the contracts of Yost and Moore, it was met with a nod of the head, possibly a sigh of relief, and the resumption of business at hand.

Yost had two years tacked on to his deal and is now signed to the Royals through the 2018 season. That timing is interesting given we’ve only spent all winter discussing the core and how they will be together for the next two seasons before a potential rebuild is at hand. So think for a moment about that lame duck comment from above. This assures that as the current version of the Royals play out the string in 2017, Yost’s contract status won’t be an issue. It may not feel like it because that’s something the Royals haven’t gone through, but this is actually a pretty smart decision they tacked two years on beyond this season. There will be plenty of questions late in the 2017 season and Yost’s contract won’t be among them.

That’s not to say everything is done and dusted. It’s difficult to imagine Yost wanting to remain through another rebuild. He will be 63 at the end of the 2017 season and after going through some very lean years with a pair of organizations, it’s doubtful he would want to press the reset button. And you can’t blame him at all for that.

Yost is a future Royals Hall of Famer. Two World Series appearances and the franchise leader in wins will get you there. It’s also easy to imagine they will retire his number and they will put a statue out beyond the fountains in right field. I submit something like this for the design:


Yost has 925 managerial wins in his career, which ranks him 66th on the all-time list. PECOTA may not think it’s within the realm of possibility, but I’d say it’s very likely he gets that 1,000th win at some point this year. His transformation from tactical dunce (Yordano Ventura in relief in the Wild Card game, anyone?) to genius with his finger on the pulse of his ball club was sealed at some point last October. That may be a simplistic, national perception, but those of us who have followed the Royals for a long time know that Yost has always had the respect of his players. They have formed the ultimate mutual admiration society. We’ve discussed in-depth in the past Yost has his moments where he’s managing through a tactical haze, but he always has his player’s backs. That’s the managerial long view. That’s why Yost is such a good manager.

When Moore’s first extension with the Royals was announced in 2009, the Royals were on their way to a 97 loss season, the worst in his tenure with the club. It was announced at the end of August in that year. It was not a happy time. To me, it symbolized all that was wrong with the club. Perhaps Moore just needed extra time to get The Process in place. After just three years in charge, I was willing to listen to that argument. Even if the results at that point were less than promising. The timing was brutal, though. Maybe in retrospect, it was more ballsy that anything. A statement that the Glass family knew Moore was their guy in leading the team forward.


But it all worked out in the end, didn’t it? Which is really all that matters.

I fight an internal battle about Moore’s effectiveness as a general manager. There’s no doubt nearly everything he’s touched the last two and a half years has turned to gold, but the player development track record remains pretty dismal. Yet he did build a pair of World Series teams. Those are just two examples, there is so much that goes on behind the scenes. There is no such thing as a perfect general manager, but Moore, more than anyone, is responsible for setting the tone and building the foundation of what the organization stands for. He’s been wildly successful at transforming the Royals for also-rans to powerhouse. No small feat. If anything, he’s earned the security of attempting of keeping the window open beyond 2017.

At this point Moore and Yost are the Batman and Robin of the American League. After five and a half years, it’s difficult to imagine another paring of manager and general manager in the organization. It’s clear they feel the same. Yost has gone on record as saying he didn’t want to finish up his extension until Moore had his in hand. Such loyalty is admirable, as it’s seldom seen in this game.

Whatever they’re doing in management at One Royal Way, it works. Together, these two men built this Royals team and they deserve every opportunity to keep this run going. It’s nice to see they’ll be a part of this organization, and this city, for the foreseeable future.

Well, we have beat up, analyzed and railed against PECOTA’s 76 win projection for the Royals this season for several days now. A Kevin over at Royals Review provided a really nice compilation of all the projections on a player by player basis, complete with charts mind you, that provides us with a summary of who is projected where.  Bookmark it, sigh – print it if you must, and we can all look back in October as we wait for the World Series to start in Kansas City and see what the systems got right.

As I scrawled on Tuesday, I put some stock in individual player projections, but not much in the overall team wins.  That’s me and it is not an analytical conclusion, just that ever reliable gut feeling that too many variables get lost in translation between individual projections moving into team wins.  So, as we are in ‘gut mode’, that is different from ‘grit mode’ as I am not currently close enough to the dirt to engage that mode of action, let’s take a look at the individual projections.

For this exercise, I am going to revert to the old man stats:  the triple slash. I am a big fan of WAR, even if I cannot figure it out on my Casio hand-held calculator, but let’s not get bogged down in which defensive metric is being used, how they are weighting baserunning, pitch framing and the like. Quite honestly, a lot of us look at WAR when these projections come out, but let’s eliminate the noise and focus on the numbers that you will see quoted (i.e. contested) out there above ground in the light of day.

Lorenzo Cain – .269/.321/.398

Listen a big first step towards winning 76 games is have Lorenzo Cain post that triple-slash.  I don’t think he will, as I (and this is not a unique conclusion) believe that PECOTA and really all projections cannot get past the 2012/2013 seasons.  You know, the ones before Cain announced himself as one of the better all-around players in baseball.  Could he regress off his 307/361/477 mark of 2015?  You bet.  His BABIP was .347 last year and .380 the year before, but for what it’s worth, his BABIP even in the minors has always run high. Still, projections are not tailor-made for players and late to baseball, late to the majors but very skilled athletes such as Cain are kind of outside the curve.  I’m taking the over on Cain….by a lot.

Mike Moustakas – .245/.301/.397

Yes, Kevin, I am following your chart in exact order.  Now, you can shout to the high heavens about that line and tout Mike’s new approach at the plate in 2015.  That is THE valid argument against projections:  a fundamental change in how the player approaches and plays the game. Really all this projection says is that four years of the old Moose still outweighs one good year of the new Moose. Truthfully, if you are looking for a guy who might really regress, Mike Moustakas is your guy.  Of course, he might not.  Like Alex Gordon before him, a big change like last year might just stick as it did with Gordon in 2011.  A few opposite field liners the first week of the season will go a long ways towards alleviating my fears of major Moose regression.

Eric Hosmer – .276/.335/.423

As pointed out by others, it is an even numbered year and Hosmer was ungood for the bulk of 2012 and 2014.   His last two odd numbered years were freakishly similar numerically, so I’m pretty sure the WTF circuit in PECOTA came on when Hosmer’s data passed through. Hosmer’s walk rate took a big jump from 2014 to 2015, which is generally a good sign.  Yes, my gut says Eric Hosmer is the real deal and will not regress to the triple slash projected, but then my gut has been saying that since 2010.  Hey, it’s been right half the time…sort of.

Alex Gordon – .266/.344/.420

PECOTA projects Gordon to basically hit his career triple slash in 2016.  Alex has been better than that in four of the last five seasons, but it is hell getting old.  The Royals can live with Gordon hitting that line, especially if his defense stays the course.  I would be surprised if he hit worse than that and not very surprised if the on-base percentage was higher, maybe even a lot higher.

Kendrys Morales – .263/.322/.425

Let’s not kid ourselves, Big Ken is coming off his best season since 2009 and there is a load of injury riddled crap in between then and now.  The eye test certainly says that last year was legit and it is hard to see his slugging dropping all the way down to .425.  The concern would be that some day that bat will slow down – it happens to everyone at some point.

Jarrod Dyson – .243/.301/.319

If the Royals use Dyson properly – as in NEVER against lefties – I think this slash line is low.  Does PECOTA know Ned and his distaste for straight platoons?

Salvador Perez – .273/.303/.422

Not to get into the intangibles, but much of Perez’ value to this team is in what he does when not hitting. That said, the system that hates the Royals projects Salvador to hit better than he has the past two years.  Give me the above right now, I’ll take it.

Alcides Escobar – .256/.288/.338

What PECOTA is saying is ‘this is who Escobar is’.  His career triple slash is .262/.298/.344.  Last year he hit .257/.293/.320.  He is now four seasons removed from hitting .293/.331/.390.  Are you hung up on odd/even numbered years, Mr. Voodoo Magic?  If so, Escobar is due for a good – well decent – year at the plate.   Hey, you have all seen him play 800 games for the Royals.  You know who he is…and so does PECOTA.

Omar Infante – .256/.284/.357

Yes, I skipped Orlando and will skip Colon.  Whether you choose to remember or not, the above numbers are not far off what Infante did for Kansas City two years ago.  You know, back when we were all being told he was ‘just fine’ and ‘look at all those RBI!’.  What does it say about Omar’s 2015 when the above line is a dramatic improvement?  What does it say about Infante when the above line is quite similar to what he did in 2014 and 2012?  Yes, he was definitely playing hurt last year and he has finally, FINALLY, had surgery to hopefully get healthy.  Still, you have a 34 year old ball-player with basically pretty bad hitting numbers in three of his last four seasons.

Of course, all of the above is ‘old fashioned’ statistical review.  We have not factored in baserunning or even the very basic advanced offensive metrics.  Without question, the defense of the likes of Cain, Escobar, Perez, Gordon…well, everyone on this team adds value to the above. Quite frankly, with this group, it adds a lot of value as this might be one of the very best defensive lineups (all 8 positions considered) to play the game.  Oh yeah, and there is the whole ‘pitching thing’ we haven’t discussed.  (I’m waiting for Kevin’s chart to come out at RR.  Charts are time consuming.  I have coffee to drink and women to look at.)

All that said, the Royals will not win the World Series if everyone above hits to the PECOTA projections.  I am not certain those above numbers necessarily point towards 76 wins (maybe more like 83), either.  Can the Royals carry an Escobar and Infante PECOTA performance?  If Cain, Hosmer and Moustakas can replicate last year, you betcha.

Craig said don’t sweat the projections.  He’s right.   Besides, when we discuss stating pitching, you will have plenty of opportunity to sweat.


You may have thought it was going to be different, but deep down, you knew the outcome wasn’t going to be favorable. Again.

PECOTA Day was Tuesday, when Baseball Prospectus unleashes their projections. Last year, those projections caught the wrath of Royals fans with an estimation of 72 wins. Bulletin board material! Surely, the best record in the American League in 2015, coupled with a second consecutive trip to the World Series  – this time with a championship – would find the Royals in a better frame of projection, right? It turns out, computers just don’t give a damn.

PECOTA says 76 wins and last place in the AL Central.



That makes the Royals three for three in coming in at under .500. In addition to PECOTA, ZiPS and Steamer both have the Royals finishing in the second division, well out of reach of the postseason. While all projection systems have their strengths and weaknesses, one particular system doesn’t tend to separate itself from the pack. And while it’s too early to call their 2016 projections failures (pitchers and catchers haven’t even reported yet) we can certainly get the ammo ready.

These computer models don’t like the Royals. Fact. Last year, that negative sentiment was shared by the national media, who routinely partake in the exercise of making postseason predictions in April. This year, I have a feeling there will be more of a disconnect between the machines and the writers. Why? Because individuals can’t avoid but to pick with their heart, their gut, and their own built-in biases.

Let’s take the Royals from last year as an example. Heading into the 2015 season, the staff at ESPN made their predictions and of 15 individuals, only two had the Royals winning the Central. And just two more had the Royals winning a Wild Card spot. That’s four out of 15 picking the then defending American League champs of simply returning to the playoffs. Drill down a little further none of the four who predicted playoffs for the Royals thought they would return to the World Series.

Why? If I may be so bold as to remove my Royals hat and place my dime store psychologist cap upon my dome, it’s because after 29 years of futility, there wasn’t a groundswell of support for the Royals to continue to capitalize on their success. They were too new, rank outsiders who happened to rally from the brink in a one-game Wild Card contest, and rode their good fortune 90 feet away from tying the seventh game of the World Series. In other words, they caught everyone off guard and there was considerable doubt they could pull the same trick again. Understandable. Besides, the Detroit Tigers had won their fourth consecutive Central Division title that year. Even though they had been pushed aside by the Orioles in their division series, their pedigree meant they remained the team to beat. The confirmation bias held that the Tigers owned the division and were the leaders until someone got it together to knock them from the top of their kingdom.

That leads to another facet to these preseason predictions and that was the fact the Central last year was the home to the Hot Team. The Hot Team is the annual phenomena where a club gathers enough support for one reason or another and become the sexy pick. The dark horse. It’s the opposite of the confirmation bias. In other words, the Tigers couldn’t possibly continue their hegemony, so let’s look to see if an up and coming team has the pieces to pull the surprise. Only, because everyone is picking them, that’s not really going to count as a surprise. Welcome to the expectations saddled upon the 2015 Cleveland Indians. Indeed, even though the Tigers were the defending champions, the majority of the ESPN panel tabbed the Indians for AL Central glory.

This year, I’ll assume there isn’t much doubt behind the Royals. They now have the benefit of having national (i.e. a lot of ESPN) exposure behind them. Writers and broadcasters who will make the predictions are familiar with the team, and with the core intact, the individual players as well. The familiarity harbors a certain sort of selection bias. The national media is so familiar with the Royals, their individual stories, and obviously their successes, they will strongly lean to favoring Kansas City in their preseason predictions. The Royals are a likable team and with mostly everyone returning, they’re easy to like again. And again.

Yet last year’s success isn’t enough. The Royals needed to make an off season free agent splash and they did by re-signing Alex Gordon. That keeps them on the radar of the national media, not just because they retained one of their own, but because they signed one of the consensus top 10 available free agents. For the Royals, this is huge. They are financially relevant. Their payroll is middle of the pack. They have national credibility. There is no Hot Team in the Central this year. The Tigers traded a couple of stars and replaced them with lesser players. The White Sox are, despite what USA Today thinks, still the White Sox. The Twins are a couple of years away as their young talent marinates much in the same way the Royals young talent did in the first part of this decade. And the Indians… Haha. You don’t burn the national media and get a second chance.

In six weeks time, when the prognostications are made at ESPN, I would suspect at minimum 10 of the 15 will fall for the Royals to win the Central. The rest will pick them to win a Wild Card. Most will peg them to advance to the World Series. You will be happy.

On the other hand, computers are cold bastards. Circuits and tubes and microchips. They harbor no such biases. Nor do they play favorites. They parse the facts, formulate, and crank out a conclusion. Damn your emotions.

Computers don’t get defense. They don’t get bullpens. They don’t get heart. They don’t understand soul. And they certainly can’t comprehend joie de vivre. Such is PECOTA, who on Tuesday impassively hung 76 wins for the Royals in 2016. What. The. Hell.

Should you be surprised? Probably not. This is largely the same group of players who were projected to win only 72 games the season before. I’ve found that projections seldom seem to buy in to individual breakout performances or improvements. So while Dayton Moore and Ned Yost can contend that “everyone will get better,” projections don’t hear those declarations so much. Hell, you’re lucky PECOTA popped for 76 wins this seasons.

Why are the projections so wrong when it comes to the Royals? As Sam Miller pointed out at BP, the systems don’t ignore the aggregate. When looking at Wade Davis, we see him as a cyborg who features an upper 90s fastball and a deadly cutter. The computer sees Davis as a failed starter. Harsh, but true. The two most recent years on his resume accounts for plenty, but there are still three to five years of struggle behind that. It happened. So when you have a player like Mike Moustakas who suddenly decided to hit the ball to all fields, how does a computer handle that? With skepticism, that’s how. Last year, Moustakas posted a .291 TAv, which was a career high by nearly 40 points. This year, PECOTA projects a .254 TAv, which is one point higher than his career average. (TAv is “True Average.” It’s a measure of total offensive value scaled to batting average. Adjustments are made for park and league quality, as such the league-average mark is constant at .260.) Then you have Eric Hosmer. One year he’s quite good. The next year, he never really fires on all cylinders. How does a projection system handle that? By splitting the difference, but leaning more toward the most recent outcome.

The previous paragraph is just a long-winded way to say you can explain the projections away, especially if you find the disagreeable. Yet the projections can sound the alarm. In the case of the Royals, this is far from a complete team. Sure, it’s felt like one the last two years, but it’s difficult to ignore the abyss at second base. Or the platoon in right. And the poor production behind the plate. While the raw number may be surprising, it’s understandable why the projections dislike the Royals again.

So why pay attention? Let me throw that question back at you: What else are we going to talk about in mid-February? It’s a diversion. Something to kick around before the games start. Something to prime the pump to get us ready for the season.

We’ve been through this drill before. There’s value to be found in the projections, but you don’t want to hang your hat on them. We know that the computers are inexact and the prognosticators deal with their own sets of biases. Neither one is perfect, and thankfully so. If we knew the outcome of the season before the season, exactly how would that be fun. The joy is in the journey that often uncovers the unexpected. Take those projections and predictions, file them away, and let the season begin.

It’s not just disgruntled east coast football writers that hate the Royals.  Now even the computers hate our boys in blue.

Not really, of course.  Unless you believe PECOTA has become self-aware, that is.

By now, you have likely heard that the PECOTA projections have come out and they project the Royals to finish last in the AL Central, winning just 76 games.  I am fairly, mostly, kind of certain that Craig is going to give you a much better drilled down analysis tomorrow in this regard.  You can get an interesting explanation right now from Sam Miller at Baseball Prospectus.  You can get outrage from any number of sources on Twitter as well as snarkiness about the outrage on Twitter and other outlets from even more of us.  We are all annoying today.  Even you over there, don’t kid yourself.

Sarcasm aside, I doubt you will find many that truly believe the 2016 Royals are going to fall from a 95 win regular season and World Series Champions all the way down to just 76 victories.  Although they would not be the first defending champ to under perform.  Those of us old enough to remember or those of a younger generation who will accept knowledge from things ‘that happened before they were born’ will note that the 91 win one 1985 World Champion Royals did, in fact, fall to exactly 76 wins the following season.   Heck, even those who manage PECOTA generally believe the Royals will win more than 76 games.

Many, many in the Royals’ sphere of writing, blogging and commenting are far more in tune with the data side of the equation we know as baseball than I am. In general, however, every projection system is aimed towards projecting the individual player and they are not horrible at it.  Some might take umbrage to this statement, but if a projection system is plus or minus 10% versus what a given player actually produces, that seems decently accurate to me.  Being off by that amount on a team’s overall win total?  Well, that can be a big difference in a hurry.

That last sentence does not even account for what I perceive to be a fair amount of ‘lost in translation’ when we take individual player projections and combine them into a team win total.  I have always felt and, having watched what the Royals have done the past few seasons has certainly jaded my view even further, that team projections undervalue overall team defense, great bullpens and good team baserunning.  Certainly the Kansas City teams have excelled in those three areas (the first two in particular) and maybe that has helped to darken the tint on my rose colored glasses to the point that my opinion is more gut than fact at this point.

However, the purpose of this quick little ditty is not to defend or condemn PECOTA.  There will be far better discussions and analysis that will drill into this year’s projections or determine why the Royals so outperformed similar projections in past years.  The purpose here, early this Tuesday afternoon, is to say calm down.  The Royals are not suddenly 14 games behind the leader of the AL Central.  They are essentially the same team that won 95 games in 2015.   There is not a sinister national plot to disrespect the Kansas City Royals.

All is well.  Spring is near.  Come April 3rd, everybody starts out dead even no matter what the projections say.


With the Mike Moustakas contract settled at the end of last week, the final tumbler in the Royals payroll is in place. Before we get to the big picture, let’s look at the Moustakas contract.

As I wrote on Wednesday, the gap between player and club, while wide, wasn’t an enormous divide. Percentage-wise, it was the same that separated the two sides last winter, although with smaller raw numbers. Given that Dayton Moore has never gone to a hearing, (did you know that?!?) it wasn’t a surprise in the least the two parties would reach an agreement at exactly the midpoint. It’s a fair number for a player with four years of experience, coming off of what could be a true breakout season.

I overshot my estimate of the second year at $10 million, but in retrospect, it’s easy to understand why that number was a reach. Lorenzo Cain will make $11.5 million in his final year of eligibility, and is a bona fide MVP candidate at a premium defensive position. As nice a year Moustakas had, he’s not in Cain’s talent area code. To have him at $1.5 million less than Cain wasn’t the best guess on my part. I did amend my guess on 810 WHB (the proof is in the podcast) so moral victory for me.

By giving two year deals to Moustakas and Cain, the Royals have given themselves a measure of cost certainty heading forward. It will be an interesting contrast when we arrive at next offseason where only four key Royals will be eligible for arbitration, with all of them in their final year of eligibility. Technically, it’s five players, but the way the Royals go through backup catchers, I would be surprised if Tony Cruz is around at the end of the year. Since the core came of age, the list of arbitration candidates has been massive.

2014 – 12 players eligible for arbitration
2015 – 9
2016 – 8
2017 – 5

This is something you don’t want to hear, but if the Royals stumble in 2016, the cost certainty of most of their core would help facilitate a trade or two, should the Royals decide to move with haste toward a teardown. Now, I’m not saying that I think it’s likely, only that the players under contract for 2017 have a little more added value. Prepare for any eventuality. That’s just good General Managing.

With Moustakas signed, there are just two spots on the 25 man roster that need to be filled. Since those two will be around the major league minimum, we can get a firm idea of where payroll will land as we get closer to Opening Day nirvana.


Figure those spots go to Paulo Orlando and Christian Colon and the total payroll inches above $126 million. That number will never stop being amazing. These aren’t your older brother’s Royals.

As usual, some reminders:

— The 2016 total does not include the buyouts from Alex Rios and Jeremy Guthrie. Those are included as reference since I have them listed in columns for players with options beyond 2016. Buyouts happen when the option is not exercised, so they are applied to the year just completed.

— The Jason Vargas insurance money is not figured in this total. Again, that will be paid out at the end of the season to the Royals.

Louis Coleman was released but had already signed a 2016 contract. Once he cleared waivers and became a free agent, the Royals owed him 30 days (or one-sixth) of his salary for 2016. That money is applied to the current season.

— Last season the Royals renewed a bunch of contracts on March 3. I would expect similar timing this year on Colon and Orlando.

The safe assumption here is the Royals aren’t done with their payroll for 2016. Dillon Gee is on the 40-man roster on a split contract where he will collect $2 million if he’s in the major leagues. It’s also doubtful the Royals will keep three catchers on their 25 man roster. They could trade either Drew Butera or Tony Cruz and remove that money from the books, or eat some cash in the same way they did with Coleman. Another factor is Cruz has options, while Butera does not. Either way, the 25 man roster I have above will most assuredly look different come April.

With the Moustakas contract covered, the heavy lifting is complete, though. Time for spring training.

Back In Time

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The off-season is ripe with prospect talk as usual.  The lists are coming out, the rankings are being disputed…you know the drill.

As I was placing the 2016 Baseball Prospectus on the shelf – temporarily – I ran across a long forgotten book entitled ‘2009 Minor League Baseball Analyst’ by Deric McKamey.  I remember buying it now at an airport bookstore (airport still forgotten – MSP maybe?).  There is a really decent amount of data, projections and comments on a large number of players.  Far superior to what that grumpy, bald guy wrote about prospects in the 2010 and 2011 Royals Authority Annuals.  So, let’s take a quick trip back in time and find some names you might have forgotten and have a little fun with some of the projections.

Leafing through publication, which has the players listed alphabetically, the first Royals you come across are Jeff Bianchi, whose potential was rated to be a reserve infielder, and Jose Bonilla.  Do you remember Bonilla?  At one time, well about 2009 actually, there was logical debate about him being a better prospect than Salvador Perez.  Here, Bonilla was seen as having the potential to be a starting catcher, although his probability of reaching that potential was doubted.  Bonilla, save for one plate appearance, never made it past A ball.

We work our way down the alphabet, past outfielders Joe Dickerson (I remember thinking he had a shot) and Jose Duarte and land on old friend Johnny Giavotella. Remember, back in 2009, Johnny was just coming off his first pro season. McKamey rated him as a 50-50 shot to be an average starting second baseman who might make his major league debut in 2011. Well, after all was said and done, I would say that is exactly what happened.  Fun fact, the entry right above Giavotella is that of Chris Getz.

If you know your alphabet well, you might have guessed that the next Royal we find is Eric Hosmer, who had collected 11 total professional at-bats in his first pro season (2008). With a projected major league debut of 2011 and the potential to be an elite first baseman with “arm strength and the ability to scoop low throws”.  I am not sure I would label Eric Hosmer as ‘elite’, but he did bat in the middle of the order on two World Series teams.

Before I forget, let’s go back and touch on then Brewers’ farmhands Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar.  Cain’s potential was seen as a solid regular in either center or right, who “has improved his power production through experience, better plate discipline and physical maturity.”  With the potential to be a solid regular at short, Escobar was described as “an athletic infielder with plus defense” and added this bit of prophecy “doesn’t hit for power or draw many walks”.

Kila Ka’aihue comes next as the reigning Texas League Player of the Year. Kila was seen as a potential platoon first baseman….oh, Kila, how I had such hopes for you.  McKamey didn’t see a lot of hope in Chris Lubanski and his “moderate bat speed” and was concerned about Mario Lisson’s regressing plate discipline.   Mitch Maier was a “strong/athletic player who plays above average tools” who was a near certainty (80% chance) of being a reserve outfielder in the majors.  Well, that was our Mitch, wasn’t it?

Of course the guy in the middle of the alphabet you care about is Mike Moustakas, projected to be a starting third baseman with a 50-50 shot at being ‘elite’.  It was noted that Moose was certainly better suited to third than shortstop, a move that was starting to be made that year.  Interestingly, there was this notation: “Adjusted well to league after initial struggles by being more disciplined and using the whole field.”  Hmmmm….

Adrian Ortiz (either needs to add walks or power) and Jordan Parraz (bat speed is present but lacks loft to hits) come next and Salvador Perez does not even get an entry.  We run across Jason Taylor, who could not/would not hit breaking pitches (or seemingly stay out of trouble) before running out of position players in this particularly publication.

Keeping in mind that prospect evaluations almost always end with what a player could be in the majors more than what he is likely to be, this particular publication did a pretty decent job of getting close to what these players turned out to be.  Overrated Moustakas a little, underrated Cain a little, pretty much nailed Escobar and Giavotella. As we wait for brand new baseball news to start happening this spring, I’ll likely dive back into what the pitchers were thought to be back then.  Today, however, I didn’t feel like ruining my appetite!

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