During this offseason, one of the primary tasks facing Dayton Moore was to improve the Kansas City Royals lineup. He certainly did so by acquiring Norichika Aoki and Omar Infante, two players that have a knack for getting on base, which should translate to more opportunities for the middle of the order. By bringing Aoki and Infante into the fold, Moore also appeared to improve the Royals defense to the point where there is not a weak spot defensively in the starting lineup.
That projected defensive improvement has caught the attention of the people at BaseballProspectus.com. Not only are the Royals expected to be the only team in the American League Central with an above average defense, but they are expected to have the second best defense in baseball, expected to rank only behind the Tampa Bay Rays.
While the Royals were not terrible defensively last season, ranking eleventh in baseball in fielding percentage, Aoki and Infante do represent an upgrade over what the Royals had last year in those positions. Their revolving door at second was essentially league average, and while Infante was a bit below average last season, he also has a much better supporting cast in the infield. Eric Hosmer will be able to handle throws that Prince Fielder simply could not, and Infante will have the benefit of actually playing an entire season with a competent defensive shortstop.
Likewise, Aoki is a dramatic upgrade over what the Royals trotted out in right in 2013. Last season, Aoki was worth 13 runs saved, while any right fielders not named David Lough combined to cost the Royals a run. With a team of flyball pitchers and the spacious outfield at Kauffman Stadium, the Royals overall defense should be dramatically improved.
That defensive improvement may be, more than anything else, the key to the Royals season. While the offense has improved from the team that ranked eleventh in the American League in runs last season, the pitching staff will be hard pressed to perform at the same level as they did in 2013. However, having a defense that could easily be above average at every spot on the diamond may help to mitigate some of that regression.
In baseball, defense tends to be fairly underrated. Aside from seeing flashy plays on highlight shows, not much attention is paid to defense. However, there is something to be said for being able to make all the plays and being able to track down fly balls with ease. There is something to be said for making difficult plays look routine. That is what the Royals defense may be able to do this season.
The Kansas City Royals may find themselves back in playoff contention this season not just because of their offensive improvements, but due to how their defense should perform.