3 X Factors Will Determine the Royals 2014 Season

Spring training is finally here.  We will all read and hear about how the players look.  We’ll watch as roster decisions are made leading up to opening day.  We will enjoy second guessing Ned Yost and his decisions this year.  Many will bemoan the financial and roster decisions made by Dayton Moore.  But, as always, the outcome of this coming season lies with the performance of the players on the team.

This is a sound roster. The most balanced and logical line up the squad has seen since the early 2000′s.  There is a great feeling of security with the majority of this team’s major pieces.  But there are X factors.  There are 3 players who have to “arrive” in order for Kansas City to again enjoy playoff baseball.

The worst thing about this line up is the lack of power. It’s a gaping hole that was not addressed this off-season.  I expect surges from Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler, but that won’t cut it.  Mike Moustakas needs to hit over 20 home runs for the Royals in 2014.  Mike had a treacherous 2013 and became the punching bag of the fan base.  It was well-earned.  Not only was his performance poor, but he looked out of shape, and was rumored to not see the value in watching tape of his at bats.

Moose was sent south of the border to work on his swing, and the Royals signed Danny Valencia to provide platoon insurance.  Mike has slimmed down and covered his arms in tattoos.  I smell an attitude adjustment!  Bravo to the team for forcing this maturation.

Just a few years ago, it was Moose, not Hosmer, seen as the jewel in the minor league crown.  There was talk of him hitting 40 plus home runs at some point, and not just from the Roylas.  We saw the highly drafted Alex Gordon blossom after initial struggles at the big league level.  It’s now time for Mike to arrive.

Alcides Escobar was the worst hitter in baseball last year, with a .559 OPS.  Think about that for a moment.  The Royals flirted with the play offs last year while trotting out the worst hitter in the bigs, often at the top of the line up.  He’s been an asset with the bat in the past.  In 2102 he had a .721 OPS.  The team doesn’t even need him to get back to that level.  The team does need him to get on base more, hit more ground balls, and continue to be an elite stolen base threat.  A line up without much power can not have an everyday player acting like an out machine.  Escobar needs to regain some respectability at the plate.

Major hole number two for this team?  Dominant starting pitching. The Royals can look forward to a great year from James Shields.  Always great, always durable, Shields may compete for the Cy Young during his contract year.  Then the rotation is made up of slightly above average, number four starters.  Jason Vargas may do a 2013 Ervin Santana impression, enjoying the fly ball pitching friendly K.  That’s a big if, and still not strong enough to go toe to toe with the Tigers.

Yordano Ventura needs to be that break though starting pitcher, developed by the team.  Hey, Dayton Moore is due.  Math is on their side.  Danny Duffy has number 3 starter upside and very good stuff.  His ability to command his stuff and stay healthy is big, but his ceiling doesn’t reach the heights of Pedro-Light, Yordano Ventura.  Ventura’s stuff is devastating and he has ace written all over him. The Royals need a young gun to emerge, a la Bret Saberhagen, for this staff to make a dent come October.  The gun with the most power and upside is Yordano.  They are going to need him.

There are many keys to this team’s success, but none weighing heavier than Moose, Escobar, and Yordano.

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Tags: Alcides Escobar Kansas City Royals Mike Moustakas Yordano Ventura

  • Brian J.

    Great article. I’d like to see Shields, Vargas, Guthrie, Duffy and Ventura in the rotation. Too bad Bruce Chen is guaranteed a spot in the rotation since he won’t be evaluated in Spring Training.

    • Daniel Ross

      Hopefully he will only be a starter until the All-Star break at the very latest because we NEED Duffy and Ventura in the rotation in order to even mention the word playoffs.

      • Ed Connealy

        Thanks Brian. I agree w/ you both….but If Bruce just keeps the seat warm for Duffy or Ventura, it could be ok. I mean a May call up though.

  • Dave Lowe

    So…what were the 3 X factors?

    • moretrouble

      They are identified in the last line of the blog post – “…Moose, Escobar, and Yordano.”

  • Ed Connealy

    I see Moose, Ventura and Escobar as the 3 X Factors.

  • moretrouble

    Very nice article, Ed. Although I agree with your premise, my take is just a bit different. You’re correct about the starting pitching. They simply must perform well, but if Duffy and Ventura emerge as dominant pitchers, then KC becomes a dominant team.

    I disagree somewhat with your power argument. Yost ran his offense similar to an NL team last season — running, sacrificing, bunting, etc. And, since the pitching and defense were strong, KC looked very much like they were in the wrong league. Yost has better players this year and I expect him to continue that style. Plus, if Aoki and Infante get on base at a greater rate than the 1-2 hole did last year, I expect the power numbers for the middle order guys to improve. They’ll get better pitches to hit, see more fastballs with men on base and I believe those guys will put up very good numbers.

    Yost will have a better bench. Valencia gives Yost more options than he’s had in the past. I predict that Valencia will turn out to be a huge help to KC’s offense. And, if Cain can stay on the field the entire season, he has a chance to improve his numbers, too, while freeing Yost to use Dyson’s speed as a late inning weapon.

    I think KC is in very good shape, but they must play up to their potential. If they falter early in the season, as they did last year, momentum will be lost. And some of that responsibility rests with Yost. He must manage those early season games to win. I don’t think he always did that last year.

    • bret

      We were pretty small-ball last year, but like I mention in my comment, there were several deficiencies in getting runners home when we had 0-1 out. I don’t have the stats handy but I would venture to guess we left more runners on base at a greater rate than probably two thirds of baseball. Sac flies ain’t sexy, but they’re better than a one run loss. I feel like those can be a result of, maybe not power hitters, but guys who can hit the ball deep fly balls and move the runners up. We didn’t get that last year with Billy’s GIDP, getz/johnson piddling the ball around the infield, and moose swinging like the batter’s box is covered in ice and he’s wearing blindfolds.

      • moretrouble

        I think you’re right about that. It’s a good point.

  • bret

    Hit the nail on the head about the top of rotation and power. That’s it. We got on base last year, closed out games, and got middling to poor rotation most of the time from the bottom half of the pitching rotation.

    We added no extra power at RF/2B, but we got solid defensive players who can get on base, Aoki does not strike out, period, but we weren’t losing any power by subtracting lough/getz so we’re cool there. Valencia platoon at 3B could net him 15+ homers, Moose could be 15+, so in total 3B might turn out to be a plus power position this year. We know Billy, Alex, Sal are locked in around 20 homers a piece, so hopefully Hos continues to swat the ball out of the park like he did late last year. We’re talking he was one of the best all around hitters after the all star break last year.

    James is an ace. Chen/guthrie/vargas are 3/4′s, and the rest are wild cards and I turn my nose at Wade/Hoch when starting, but revere them when out of the pen. James is gone in 2015, so these rookies can’t wait until late in the year to get a feel for the big leagues, or even worse be waiting in the wings for 2015. They need experience now so a year from now we aren’t looking at a blank resume with no idea what we’ve got.

    A side point: Recall how many times we had runners on 2nd and/or 3rd last year with 1 or 0 outs, needing just one run, and we couldn’t get the dude home. Sacrifice flies were all we needed, and we couldn’t generate those types of runs.

  • Bigtexjayhawk

    The X factor I see is signing Santana. Stockpile and corner the market so to speak on starters. Showcase Hoch, Davis or Chen this spring. Hope they dominate then trade them to say a team like the Rangers who are desperate and have assets to trade. Get some of that extra salary off the books then Santanas money wont be so detrimental to their so called threshold they cant go over. Shields, Santana, Ventura, Duffy then Vargas/Guthrie for the playoff run. Dominant starting pitching trumps innings eaters in my book.