Why Won’t the Royals Win 90?
I’m going to prove to you why you should be optimistic for the 2013 Royals season. I’m going to do it with numbers, speculation, and projection but please know that my attempt is not to be pie-in-the-sky hopeful, only to see what is actually there. But when I see what is actually there for the Royals, it looks hopeful to me.
Greg Schaum, the awesome operator of and writer for Pinetarpress.com, recently projected the Royals to win 78 games next year; if you don’t follow him on Twitter you should. I was a little surprised by how low that number was, as were many others who let Greg know about it, I think. But I wanted to think about this myself as well so I started really digging into numbers, mostly projections and numbers from last year.
Schaum’s prediction seemed overly cautious but reasonable. In the offseason, things always look rosier than in reality. I was thinking maybe a little higher, 81, but certainly not 95. Then, I dug into the numbers and started to see that the potential for 90 wins is certainly there. Is it likely? Probably not. But the Royals wouldn’t really need a chorus of career years to get to 90 wins. They’d just need guys to perform as expected and stay relatively healthy.
Here’s why I believe that. I think people are actually underselling the importance of pitching changes and player growth—hard to believe, I know. This makes sense given the battered psyche of Royals fans. But if we dig into the numbers, the future looks a little brighter than the darkest parts of our hearts might believe.
We’ll start with the hitters and the projections Bill James has made for the Royals lineup, which is virtually unchanged from 2012:
September 25, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon (4) at bat against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Gordon(.284/.366/.457) 19 HR, 95 R
Alcides Escobar (.272/.314/.365) 5 HR, 74 R
Eric Hosmer (.276/.342/.442) 20 HR, 79 R
Billy Butler (.300/.368/.490) 24 HR, 78 R
Mike Moustakas (.264/.316/.455) 23 HR, 75 R
Salvador Perez (.299/.329/.456) 16 HR, 65 R
Lorenzo Cain (.280/.332/.424) 15 HR, 83 R
Johnny Giavotella (.286/.339/.407) 7 HR, 55 R
Jeff Francoeur (.260/.314/.418) 13 HR, 50 R
Chris Getz/Irving Falu (.267/.327/.337) 1 HR, 32 R
Jarrod Dyson (.257/.323/.314) 0 HR, 29 R
Brett Hayes 0 HR, 10 R
I put homeruns and the slash lines in for context, but the most important stats are the runs scored. That’s what we’re interested in. Add up those runs scored and you get 725 runs. That’s not bad. That’s one run less than the Tigers scored last year and good enough for 12th in MLB. It’s also only five short of the 730 the Royals scored in 2011 with career years from Francoeur, Gordon, and Melky Cabrera. But remember, in 2011 Escobar wasn’t hitting and the Royals didn’t get full seasons from Perez, Moustakas, or Hosmer. If those players give full seasons of what is expected of them, the Royals can get to the 730 range again. They might need to maximize players’ opportunity to be successful *cough* sit Francoeur against righties *cough*, but they can be that offensively productive without out-of-this-world seasons from a bunch of guys.
Now, the pitching, and this seems to be where people are underestimating the value of the changes—hard to believe, right. Here are the projections by James for the Royals starting rotation:
James Shields (3.67 ERA, 89 R, 218 IP)
Jeremy Guthrie (4.20 ERA, 92 R, 197 IP)
Ervin Santana (4.04 ERA, 92 R, 205 IP)
Wade Davis (4.20 ERA, 89 R, 190 IP)*
Bruce Chen (4.25 ERA, 86 R, 182 IP)**
*This is my projection for Davis. James’ projection was for Davis as a reliever. I tried to approximate him based on his previous starting experience.
**I made Chen the fifth starter because I believe he should be the fifth starter.
By these projections, the Royals starting staff will account for 448 R over 992 IP in 2013. That’s a 4.06 ERA, which is an incredibly drastic change from 2012 when the starting rotation accounted for 527 R in 890 IP for a 5.00 ERA. This is a remarkable projection. For a team to shave a full run off the starting staff’s ERA while adding 100 innings is remarkable. If the Royals can do that, they will be playoff contenders almost certainly.
However, with starting pitching, injuries ineffectiveness are bound to play a role. So, for the sake of making this projection as fair as possible, let’s raise that ERA a little to 4.20 to account for some of those unknown variables. That’s around major league average. That brings the starting staff to 463 R over 992 IP (I’m still going to assume we get the same number of total innings from starters).
Sep 27, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher James Shields throws a pitch against the Chicago White Sox during the first inning at US Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
The bullpen was fantastic last year, and because there are so many pitchers in the bullpen I’m going to do their numbers as a group. They had a 3.17 ERA last year, and there’s no reason that with a years worth of experience and a better starting staff they won’t at least stay that good. Assuming the Royals pitch roughly the same number of innings this year as last, that means the bullpen will account for 162 R in 459 IP in 2013. That brings the total number of runs allowed to 625 (Again, that’s using our conservative estimate of starting pitching. If we go with James’ estimation, it’s 610 R).
Luckily, we can come up with projections on win totals from projections on run totals. The Pythagorean winning percentage formula gives our projection (725 runs scored and 625 runs allowed) a record of 92-70. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Royals will win 92 games, but I think it means that the Royals have the capability of winning 92 games without some miracle scenario.
Let me be clear. I do not think the Royals are going to win 92 games. Things are going to happen that the numbers, projections, and so on can’t account for, but I think it’s fair to say that their expectation should be between 86-88 wins. They easily have the players to win that number of games. The improved starting rotation will make an extreme difference from last year when not only did they have a staff full of 4 and 5 starters, but that staff underperformed as well. They were expected to pitch like 4s and 5s and pitched like minor leaguers (some of that was due to the injuries to Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino). On offense, getting a full year of Perez and bounce back years from Hosmer and Francoeur will help tremendously (Yes, Francoeur is terrible, but he’s not as bad as he played last year).
The reason I think some people are coming up with projections lower than 86 wins is that we’re programmed as Royals fans to expect our players to underperform. We’re programmed to expect more damaging injuries than other teams, and it’s fair to have these reactions because it’s happened so many times. But let’s consider the alternative. What if there isn’t massive underperformance? What if there aren’t too many serious injuries? If those two are true, this team should win at least 86-88 games with the potential to win 92 and up.
That will be an extremely fun season to watch.