About a week ago, I promised to provide my prediction for this season. I also indicated that it would probably be a little more optimistic than most. Yes, I understand that the Royals haven’t had a winning season since 2003, and yes, I know the over/unders from most sports books are around 78. I’m also aware that I’m as prone to the hopes of spring as anyone—perhaps even more than most.
But there’s not much I can do about that. I’ve tried to be as objective as I can, giving credence to data, patterns, comps, and general understanding. I tried to limit the influence of things I feel matter less—how I wantthe team to do and certain statistical elements. With that in mind, here is my prediction for the Royals’ 2013 season: 90-72.
I know; I know. It’s much more optimistic than most people’s, but someone has to be the outlier, the nut job. I have no problem being that guy. Let me tell you why it’s so high.
For starters, read my last post. The basis of my very generous prediction is my belief that the Royals are set for a breakout similar to that of the Rays in 2008. The Rays greatly improved an atrocious pitching staff in 2008, which allowed them to make a tremendous jump in wins.* The Royals probably aren’t set for as large a jump in pitching performance—mostly because their bullpen wasn’t as bad in 2012 as the Rays bullpen in 2007. But the Royals have the potential to improve greatly both offensively and in pitching (the Rays improved only slightly offensively).
* I am currently working on a theory that improving starting pitching may disproportionately improve a teams win total.
What would it take for the Royals to orchestrate a Rays-like turnaround? I’m glad I rhetorically asked. Essentially, the Royals need flip their run differential from -70 to +100—keeping in mind of course that the number of runs they scored and surrendered last year will not effect the number they score and surrender this year. A +100 run differential puts them in the general neighborhood of 90 wins. (Note: run differential is the difference between how many runs the score and how many they give up.)
It all starts with starting pitching. If the Royals get their starting staff’s ERA down to roughly the American League median (4.30) and increase their innings by 100 to 990 and their bullpen simply stays the same, their runs allowed would drop from 746 to 635. An increase in starter innings to 990 is very reasonable, perhaps even conservative, as Ned Yost and James Shields have already stated that their expectation is 1000 innings from the starting rotation. For the sake of conservative estimate, this is also predicting no improvement at all from the bullpen, though it should improve with the starting staff going deeper into games. Last year, the bullpen was woefully overused forcing the Royals to rely on a large number of bullpen arms some of which were not their best. Which is to say, 635 is a conservative expectation for runs allowed; it could be lower.
Of course, the Royals only scored 676 runs last season so ONLY improving the starting pitching would put them at what most people are predicting, roughly 85-87 wins. The Tigers had a Pythagorean win-loss of 87-75 last season with a run differential of +56. But if the Royals improve offensively, they should make a significant jump in wins. In 2011, the Royals scored 730 runs with fantastic years from five of their top-nine players (in terms of playing time) and four pretty bad years from Chris Getz, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, and a combination of Matt Treanor and Brayan Pena. Given where players like Moustakas, Escobar, Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, and Johnny Giavotella are in their development, I think it’s very possible that the Royals make it to around 730 runs. Maybe in another post I’ll do an analysis of this lineups potential to score runs, but for now, let’s just say I think they can make it to around 730. The caveat, of course, is health, but I think they’re more capable of dealing with a few injuries than in the past few seasons (though perhaps not certain injuries to key players).
A run differential of around +100 gives the Royals a chance to win around 90 games. Last season, Texas had a run differential of +101 and had a Pythagorean win-loss of 91-71 (actually record, 93-69). And all it really requires is that the starting pitching pitch average (which is honestly asking too little of the first four, especially James Shields), and the lineup progress as young lineups do.
Honestly, I think the low predictions for the Royals by most people are the result of viewing 2012 conservatively: The Royals ONLY won 72 games in 2012. I see 2012 and say Wow the Royals were able to win 72 games despite the never-ending stream of crap that came their way. Four Tommy John surgeries, including the two most effective starting pitchers. Cain–out for half the season. Perez–out half the season. Jeff Francoeur—the worst everyday player in baseball. Hosmer—a year no one expected. Jonathan Sanchez—12 of the most horrific starts I’ve ever seen. All of this stuff happened and more, and yet, they still managed to win 72 games—one more than in 2011. And their Pythagorean win-loss was 74-88 (in 2011 it was actually better at 78-84).
Now, I know bad stuff happens, but I just cannot image all of this bad stuff happening again. And I think if something bad does happen—if Francoeur has another abomination of a season, if Perez misses time—the Royals are more equipped to handle it. George Kottaras is better than Humberto Quintero and Pena. The Royals have two people in place who can play a serviceable right field and seem more willing to bench Francoeur if he’s not performing.
Yes, on the flip side, some of the players who had great seasons in 2012 may regress, but really, only three players had better than expected seasons in 2012: Escobar, Billy Butler (with increased power), and Jeremy Guthrie (with the Royals anyway). I don’t think anyone thinks Butler is going to have a bad season. He may not hit 29 homers again (I think he’ll hit at least as many), but he will produce. Escobar seems likely to regress a little, but he’s a young guy so it’s not unusual for him to be getting better. Don’t be surprised if he can stick in the .280-.290 range. Guthrie may regress, but I don’t think he’ll fall too far—certainly not to where he was in Colorado. I imagine he can regress and still be at least league average.
Essentially, my prediction for the Royals sees what most people see; I just think it will yield more wins than they do. Most people see Hosmer having a bounce-back season. Most see the starting staff getting better. Most see the Royals getting a better year out of right field. Most see Moustakas improving as well. So, why won’t they win 90? And you can’t say because they’re the Royals.
For more encouragement, look at the addition by subtraction. Sanchez will not make 12 starts this year. Yuniesky Betancourt will not make 228 plate appearances. I love Pena, but he and Quintero will not have a combined 370 plate appearances. Luke Hochevar will not be allowed to make 32 starts with a 5.73 ERA, and the Royals have pieces to replace him.
To me, this is a recipe for a big turnaround. So … I’m predicting a big turnaround. Sure, some things have to go right. The Royals need to stay healthy, especially Perez, Alex Gordon, and Shields. But that’s every team in every season. Maybe my prediction is overly optimistic, but I just can’t look at the data and see only average in this team. The talent is better than that. If they play as they can play, they have a chance.