As KC Royals players begin funneling into spring training over the next couple of weeks, it may feel less like a reunion and more like the first day at a new school with so many new faces. But, the new addition will help after a rough off-season.
Wednesday afternoon, the Kansas City Royals added yet another new face by signing starting pitcher Jason Hammel. Spring training games do not begin for more than two weeks, so it’s impossible to speculate on what kind of 25-man roster will ultimately shake out for Opening Day on April 3. Here are some reasons Royals fans should be optimistic.
Hammel was a big catch
Heading into any season, any team wants more pitching than it needs. Cuts are easier to make than acquisitions. With the death of Yordano Ventura on Jan. 22, Kansas City was looking at a gaping hole in its starting rotation.
Hammel was touted as the best arm left on the market when the Royals picked him up. He is coming off a long off-season after his last outing late last September. Hammel did not throw for the Cubs in their post-season run.
Hammel has been a reliable arm over the past two seasons in Chicago. He started 31 games in 2015 and 30 games in 2016, combining for a 25-17 record and an ERA around 3.80. The 34 year old was up and down last year, coming out of the gates with a 0.75 ERA in his first four starts, and later posting a paltry 2.84 ERA his six starts in the month of August.
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More power in the lineup
It’s no secret that the Royals have struggled with the long ball in recent seasons. Last year, only three teams had fewer home runs than Kansas City. In 2015, the Royals were 24th out of 30 teams.
The acquisition of first baseman Brandon Moss could bring some power to the lineup. Moss will have to bring up his average to earn a spot as the team’s designated hitter – it’s been mostly downhill since he posted a .291 average in Oakland in 2012. Last season, he batted a meager .225 in 413 at bats for St. Louis. The good news is he hit 28 home runs last year.
Outfielder Peter O’Brien has even more to prove. With just 79 plate appearances in the majors and a .176 average, O’Brien has a long way to go before becoming a factor in the lineup. But the promise is there. O’Brien has homered once in every 12.33 at bats as a professional. Unfortunately, he strikes out once in every 2.31 at bats. As a minor leaguer, O’Brien belted out 61 home runs in 1,061 at bats over the last two years.
Trade acquisition Jorge Soler has more significant time in the bigs and hit 12 home runs in just 86 games last year. Hunter Dozier has shown some promise of pop as more of a utility man. Finally, let’s not forget, Mike Moustakas is set to return. His power was trending upwards before going down with an injury after just 27 games last season.
Pecota slams Royals
The PECOTA projections, which use a variety of mathematical equations to determine how many games a team will win, have been unkind to Kansas City in the past. Two years ago, the projections said Kansas City would win just 72 games. Of course, the Royals led the American League with 95 wins and won the World Series. This season, PECOTA projects that the KC Royals will win a mere 71 games—which is the lowest total for any American League team and the second worst in all of MLB with only the Padres at 68 games behind them.
After back-to-back trips to the World Series, the 2016 season was disappointing at a mediocre 81-81. Those 81 wins were still five more than PECOTA predicted. The Royals won 10 more games than PECOTA predicted in each of the 2013 and 2014 season. Can KC outperform PECOTA’s expectations once again?
Royals management – as well as fans – will get a better look at the many off-season moves when Spring Training games begin on Feb. 25.