The Kansas City Royals are once again getting underestimated by pundits this off-season. Lack of headlines this winter doesn’t mean they can’t improve in 2017.
SI.com’s Dayn Perry proclaims that there are three super-teams in the American League: Boston, Cleveland, and Houston. CBSsports.com’s Mike Axisa asks if Cleveland will repeat after signing Edwin Encarnacion. ESPN.com’s David Schoenfeld informs us that the ZiPs projection system estimates that Kansas City will finish 79-83 in 2017. That’s 15 games behind the ZiPs forecast for the Indians.
Other analysts see the Kansas City Royals as the team most likely to hold a fire sale before the trade deadline.
Of course, little to no respect from the media has been the norm for the KC Royals the last three seasons. Despite winning two A.L. pennants and one World Series title, MLB talking heads didn’t see any of those successes coming. After falling one run short against the San Francisco Giants in 2014, most pundits expected the Kansas City Royals to fall back into mediocrity.
Heck, even Royals loyalist Rany Jazayerli predicted that the Chicago White Sox would win the A.L. Central in 2015. If you click the link, you’ll see that none of the five Grantland.com contributors cited in the piece picked the Royals. The PECOTA projection system said they’d lose 90 games. Of course, Kansas City won the World Series.
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All Hail The Mighty Cleveland Indians
The Kansas City Royals are yesterday’s news after the Cleveland Indians fell one run short in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. Funny how everyone expects Cleveland to repeat in 2017. The Royals were supposed to collapse in 2015 after falling one run short in another seven game World Series.
Certainly, I can understand the positive vibes around a team that won 94 regular season games last season. Not only have they added Edwin Encarnacion, the Indians should get back star outfielder Michael Brantley. Injured starting pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar should also return.
Dramatic Fall-Off From The Royals Core
But, the 2016 KC Royals suffered from a serious run of injuries that compromised their core offensive players. Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, and Lorenzo Cain produced 14.4 bWAR in 2015. Their production dropped to 4.6 bWAR in 2016. If you add in Eric Hosmer who crashed from 3.6 bWAR in 2015 to 1.0 bWAR in 2016, and the Kansas City Royals lost 13.4 wins from four players.
Certainly, age will cause players to regress. But, losing 13 wins from four players is pretty extreme. It’s not as if they’ve got an age problem. Alex Gordon was 32 last season. Cain was 30. Moustakas was 27 and Hosmer 26.
If the above four players produce even 12 bWAR next season, that would put KC in the conversation for a wild card. Adding another 6.4 wins to their 81 victory total from 2016 would have left Kansas City just 1.6 games short of the 89 wins that earned post-season bids for the Blue Jays and Orioles.
The Kansas City Royals Consistently Befuddle Projection Systems
I suppose you could argue that the KC Royals exceeded their win projection from their -37 run differential by seven games (Pythagorean Wins). However, Kansas City has outperformed their Pythagorean projection by 14 wins the last three seasons. While the sabermetric faithful would like to attribute it to luck, many believe the Kansas City Royals strong defense and relief pitching causes them to consistently perform better than statistical models expect.
The Kansas City Royals have certainly busted PECOTA. They’ve performed better than PECOTA‘s projections for seven years running.
While I’m not predicting a big year from the Royals, another playoff run is hardly out of the question. Danny Duffy should pitch the entire season as a member of the rotation after his breakthrough in 2016. Dominant rookie reliever Matt Strahm will play a full season rather than just two months. Trade acquisition Jorge Soler stands to get regular playing time that could spark a breakthrough season.
Let the sports media ignore the Kansas City Royals. The snubs will just fuel the players fire.