Counting Chickens

In 2009 the Royals September record was 15-13. If you count the three losses in October, it was 15-16. Still not all that terrible when you consider for the season the team finished 65-97.

In 2008 the Royals September record was 18-8. Pretty remarkable when you consider the good vibes of that one good month was followed by a season of 65-97.

Winners of seven straight (before Sunday) the Royals September record for this season is a glistening 11 wins against just 6 loses. The kind of start to a month – if it was any other month – that should get fans excited for the games ahead. And I guess it has only, the games ahead, aren’t until next year when this team probably won’t look the same at all. But that hasn’t stopped Royals fans, myself included, from being over-the-top optimistic and brimming with anticipation for next April.

Being a fan of this franchise should be the cautionary tale for what expectations can do to you. Heck, being a fan of Kansas City sports in general should do that to you. So with the evidence of the past, and how things have gone for this team, looking forward to next year’s playoff push is asking for more heartbreak. We’re just not there yet.

Alex Gordon has enjoyed a tremendous year, but the odds that he’ll repeat next season to be a 6+ WAR performer, are not very good. The same goes for both Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur where if you honestly think this season is a sign of things to come, when nothing about their careers says this is repeatable, you’re asking too much of your faith in your favorite team.

The only position player that we can expect to have the same type of season next year is Billy Butler, who has had pretty much the same year, each of the last three. Butler’s wOBA is down a little this season (from .372 to the current .354) but that is mostly due to a near 30-point drop in BABIP, and a slight increase in strikeout-percentage. Two things that should, given his history, normalize to his career averages.

Other than Butler, there really isn’t a player on the current roster we can pen-in their numbers for next season. And it’s because they’re still so stinking young.

The wildcards for predicting a playoff push for next year are the young players. Because of them the 2012 Royals can either look very unbeatable, or completely flawed. Or maybe it will be week-to-week with “unbeatable” and “flawed” taking turns.

However good we may all believe, or want, Eric Hosmer to be, he just isn’t quite yet. Advanced metrics hate him defensively to this point, which can either be a bad thing or a “who cares” because of their limitations with sample size, but there are clear things he needs to improve on. Offensively, while it isn’t a huge worry if he continues to square-up balls like he is now, his 6.4 walk-percentage is alarmingly low when compared to everything we’ve heard about him in scouting reports and his minor league numbers. If the walk rate doesn’t increase in year two for Hosmer, when the dreaded Sophomore Slump meme starts getting thrown around, he’ll be relying too much on his ability to put balls in play to be successful. Is that impossible? Not really. Is that probable? Not really.

The same question marks can also be written for Mike Moustakas whose last month-or-so has been a little more like what we all hoped he would be. But which Moustakas is he? Is he the one with three homeruns in 57 at-bats, or the one with zero in 193? Surely there’s a learning curve to performing at the major league level, but there isn’t enough in his current performance to be sure of what he will be next season.

It’s because of these six players this year, and the performances in late-seasons’ past, September records can be deceiving. Heck, one-month records can be deceiving.

Just this 2011 season, the Royals had two months where they played above or near .500 (14-12 in April; 13-14 in July) not including this 17-game stretch, and their record still stands at a less-than-inspiring 67-87. The team is playing better, but there’s still little to make one think that this time will be any different than the others, with all the question marks that still need to be answered. Each September pushes had their pluses, and their glaring negatives, and this season is no different.

That isn’t to say that this time couldn’t be a change. The youth of the team, from Hosmer to Moustakas to Salvador Perez to Danny Duffy and all the others, will at least mean that this team will be fun to watch next year. But it’s because of that same youth, and the holes in the starting rotation, that we should still all take a step away from any kind of postseason talk.

For much of this year those that don’t “trust” what Dayton Moore and Co. are doing have been told to just be patient – that things are getting better within the organization (and they undoubtedly are) so the time when this franchise competes for an AL Central title is drawing closer. I’ve been one to have doubts, and many of you have told me how negative I’m being because of those doubts.

But now I’m advocating patience, the same patience you asked of me. Even though I think the Royals could have (or possibly should have) been at this point two years ago in the rebuilding process, at least it is at this point now. The winning is getting closer, things are getting better. The team just isn’t there quite yet, especially if you’re basing those postseason dreams off a rather meaningless month of September record.

Let’s everyone take a deep breath and for once actually wait until the Royals start winning and playing meaningful games before we start expecting them. Let’s allow these young players to  mature, at whatever pace they need to mature, to make sure none of them have the type of season Jason Heyward is having in Atlanta. Let’s all stop counting our chickens before they’re hatched.

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Tags: Alex Gordon Eric Hosmer Jeff Francoeur Melky Cabrera Mike Moustakas Royals

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