To say that Kansas City Royals fans are optimistic about this season would be a bit of an understatement. For the first time in a long time, the Royals are expected to be playing meaningful games deep into September with an eye towards clinching a postseason berth. The idea of seeing James Shields taking the ball in a nationally televised playoff game is almost enough to help warm us up during these frigid months.
While we as fans may be optimistic, and while the Royals may be a trendy playoff pick, not every projection appears to be as sold on the Royals playoff chances. Clay Davenport, a noted sabermetrician and one of the co-founders of Baseball Prospectus, posted his projections for the 2014 season, complete with playoff odds.
First, the good news. The Royals are not expected to have a repeat performance of the last time they went into a year following a winning season. Those 2004 Royals infamously bottomed out, following their 83-79 season with the second worst record in baseball, going 58-104. So, there is that, at least.
The bad news is that the Royals are expected to revert back towards the miasma of mediocrity. Instead of building upon their successful 2013 season, the Royals are expected to take a step back and finish 77-85, fourth in the American League Central. Although the lineup is projected to improve, as they are projected to score 32 more runs in 2014, the pitching staff is expected to take a major step backwards, giving up 111 more runs than last season.
Yes, the Royals starting rotation is missing Ervin Santana, who was a revelation last season. Jeremy Guthrie is primed to take a step back in 2014. But has the Royals pitching staff really taken a step that far back where they are allowing almost a run per game more? The bullpen should still be one of the best in baseball, and the Royals defense should be much better than it was in 2013. Surely that can help mitigate some regression from the pitching staff.
Of course, there are other variables in play as well. What if Santana resigns? What if Yordano Ventura earns a spot in the rotation from Opening Day and pitches as well as the Royals expect? In the expansive Kauffman Stadium, Jason Vargas may actually be better than expected.
Offensively, the Royals may not have the one or two pure sluggers anchoring their lineup, but the offense should be better than to just have a 32 run improvement. This year’s lineup will not involve Jeff Francoeur and Chris Getz receiving significant amounts of at bats. Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez may be about to stake their claims as true building blocks for the Royals rotation. Omar Infante and Norichika Aoki are on base machines, and should be able to get on base consistently. If Billy Butler can perform closer to his 2012 levels and Mike Moustakas can produce anything, the Royals lineup should be considerably better than projected.
These projections should do nothing to temper the optimism that surrounds the Royals at this point. After all, Davenport projected the Royals to finish below .500 last season, and they had their best year since 1989. At this point, all we have to do is wait for the games to play out on the field, and hope that the Royals live up to our expectations, instead of living down to those projections.