We’ve heard it on repeat since before the 2012 season started, and we’ll continually hear it all offseason. The Royals need starting pitching. They need it bad. They need it like Zac Brown needs wool knit hats to cover his bald head.
But perhaps the focus on starting pitching is obscuring the fact that the Royals are an imperfect team in other respects as well. With that in mind, I give you a list of the other things the Royals need to make 2013 less of a train wreck than 2012.
A near elite offense
The lack of high level numbers offensively was a tough reality for the Royals in 2012. They’ve scored 669 runs in 159 games, that’s 4.2 runs per game good for 20th in the majors. Compare that to last season when they scored 730 runs, 10th in the majors, and 4.5 runs per game. In a season when people thought a great offense and a mediocre pitching staff gave them a chance at .500, the offense actually got worse.
To change this, a few obvious things need to take place. Eric Hosmer has to hit like he did during his time in the majors in 2011. Mike Moustakas has to take another step forward, especially with his plate discipline. It’s fine if he only hits .265, but if he does that, he has to hit for power and get on base a little bit.
Step two, Jeff Francoeur has to go (and hopefully I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know). He is terrible, and really there’s no other way to define him. Wil Myers should be the one to take his place, but a replacement level player would be an improvement. Francoeur has a -1.3 WAR this year. Yes, this man who has 587 plate appearances for the Royals is not even at replacement level.
If these things don’t happen, the Royals have no chance. They cannot put up average or even above average offensive numbers and compete. They must be near an elite level offensively to compete.
Even better defense
The defensive metrics for the Royals are probably pretty good. By most accounts the Royals have a very rangy defense with good arms in the outfield. They also have a stud defensive catcher who can greatly impact the game throwing out runners.
But from a consistency standpoint, 2012 wasn’t the greatest year for the Royals defense. We too often saw our All-Star caliber shortstop drop routine groundballs that for him should be like tying his shoes, and that was indicative of the number of routine mistakes the Royals made this season. In terms of fielding percentage, the Royals’ are 24th in the majors at .982. Last year, they were 12th with .985. Next year, they need to be top-8 and do well in the areas the metrics bring into play, which is almost a given unless something unexpected happens.
Because the pitching will be bad and they probably won’t strike out many hitters, the defense needs to be elite. Kauffman Stadium sets up well for pitchers like Jeremy Guthrie who have trouble with the long ball, but in order to neutralize a pitching staff that doesn’t strike anybody out, as much as they can anyway, the Royals need elite defense.
Normally, I do not assign much value to managing in baseball. They don’t hit, pitch, field, or run so how on Earth can we say they win or lose baseball games? But after watching some of the atrocious decisions made by Ned Yost this season, I’m starting to change my tune a bit.
If anyone ever needed to just get out of his team’s way, it’s Yost. If there were a WAR for managers it would clearly show that Yost lost the Royals games this year. He bunts in ridiculous situations (apparently he still thinks he’s in the NL and has been transported to 1920). His dedication to Francoeur makes me physically ill, and he always seems to stick with a pitcher just long enough for him to put a game out of reach.
They won’t replace him, but if he could just see the error of his own ways … that won’t happen either. They might be screwed on this one.