Opinion

A look at the Royals’ biggest overachievers (and underachievers) in 2016

Unfortunately, this was a big moment in the season for the Royals: left fielder Alex Gordon and third baseman Mike Moustakas collided during the eighth inning of a game against the Chicago White Sox in May.
Unfortunately, this was a big moment in the season for the Royals: left fielder Alex Gordon and third baseman Mike Moustakas collided during the eighth inning of a game against the Chicago White Sox in May. The Associated Press

This is the continuation of a weekly stats column to examine how this year’s Royals compare to the 2015 World Series champions. All numbers through Tuesday’s game.

If I told you before the season that the 2016 Royals would not make the playoffs, I’m sure you could have guessed a few things that could have gone wrong.

The team could have injuries. The starting pitching could have struggled. Or perhaps the Royals would have a few players regress from their previous years’ production.

So what actually is the story of the 2016 season? I thought it would be interesting to look at it based on how each player performed against his own preseason projection.

In this blog, I’m going to use Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections, which use past performance and age trends to come up with a player’s expected output. According to MLB.com, ZiPS is “widely regarded as one of the most accurate predictors in the industry.”

Another thing to keep in mind: ZiPS did not hate the Royals coming into the season. In fact, the Szymborski’s numbers had KC finishing 83-79 — a projection that will be exactly right if the Royals finish the year 3-2.

Two caveats: ZiPS can only predict chances of injuries without knowing them, so the assumption will be a mostly full year from each player. Also, the season is not quite over yet, so players could still add or decrease from their WAR in the final week.

Having said that, let’s take a look at the Royals hitters.

 

Royals vs. Projections

PlayerProj. WARActual WarDifference
Paulo Orlando0.21.51.3
Whit Merrifield0.51.51.0
Jarrod Dyson1.62.40.8
Drew Butera-0.10.50.6
Brett Eibner0.20.50.3
Raul A. Mondesi-0.4-0.5-0.1
Omar Infante0.10.0-0.1
Cheslor Cuthbert0.90.6-0.3
Kendrys Morales1.30.9-0.4
Salvador Perez3.02.2-0.8
Alcides Escobar1.50.5-1.0
Christian Colon1.10.0-1.1
Lorenzo Cain3.62.4-1.2
Mike Moustakas2.50.7-1.8
Alex Gordon3.21.4-1.8
Eric Hosmer2.3-0.4-2.7
*-Minimum 50 plate appearances

The good news first: Paulo Orlando and Whit Merrifield are two of the best success stories to come from 2016. They led the Royals hitters in WAR above projection, giving the team strong numbers from positions that were question marks heading into the season.

Now, the bad news: The Royals hitters underperformed as a whole this season, as the players above produced 14.2 WAR compared to the 21.5 that was projected. In addition, only four players on the current team exceeded their expected value.

The bottom of the list also tells a story. Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas’ seasons were hampered by injuries. Alex Gordon’s was to an extent, but it also was an overall down year for him.

Then there’s Eric Hosmer, whose production according to Fangraphs was nearly three wins below expected. We covered last week why his defense isn’t loved by advanced metrics, and earlier how his batted-ball mix probably could be improved.

With all that said, this has to be considered a disappointing year for Hosmer. After hitting 23 percent better than a league-average hitter last year, he’s at 1 percent better this year, according to the all-encompassing stat Weighted Runs Created Plus. His baserunning also has appeared to regress after he ranked as above average last season.

It appears the easiest way for the Royals to take a step forward in 2017 would be to get the 2015 Hosmer back.

Here’s a look at the Royals pitchers.

 

Royals vs. Projections

PlayerProj. WARActual WarDifference
Danny Duffy1.22.81.6
Matt Strahm-0.40.81.2
Kelvin Herrera1.02.01.0
Ian Kennedy0.81.81.0
Scott Alexander-0.30.10.4
Peter Moylan-0.10.20.3
Edinson Volquez1.41.50.1
Luke Hochevar0.10.20.1
Brian Flynn0.40.40.0
Wade Davis1.41.2-0.2
Chien-Ming Wang0.2-0.1-0.3
Joakim Soria0.50.0-0.5
Kris Medlen0.80.0-0.8
Dillon Gee1.0-0.3-1.3
Yordano Ventura2.71.3-1.4
Chris Young0.4-1.3-1.7
*-Minimum 15 IP

Danny Duffy, not surprisingly, was the team’s biggest overachiever, while nine of the pitchers performed at or above expectation. Overall, the Royals pitchers on the list have produced 10.6 WAR compared to a projected 11.1 with five games left.

The biggest disappointments were at the bottom. Dillon Gee, Yordano Ventura and Chris Young failed to give the Royals what could have been expected from them in April, which led to rotation issues that weren’t solved until late in the year. This also points to the struggle of Dayton Moore’s 2016 free-agent/minor-league signings, as four of them (Joakim Soria, Chien-Ming Wang, Gee, Young) were below replacement level, hampering the depth of a team that needed to pick up a few more wins from fringe players.

In the end, injuries to key position players (combined with a down year from Hosmer) and a lack of production from the fourth- and fifth-starter spots were part of a formula that left KC just short of the playoffs. With better health plus more pitching depth, it’s easy to see a potential path for a return to the postseason in 2017.

Let’s get to this week’s team numbers.

Hitting

2015 — .269/.322/.412 (Batting average/On-base percentage/Slugging percentage)

2016 — .262/.313/.401

Last 7 days — .278/.322/.444

In a year that offense was up across baseball, the Royals’ hitters took a significant step back in 2016. As a whole, KC hit 12 percent worse than league according to wRC+ — a number that ranked last in the American League and 27th in the majors.

Hitting with runners in scoring position

2015 — .282/.347/.426

2016 — .270/.331/.410

KC hit better with RISP but still wasn’t able to reach the magical “clutchness” level of 2015.

Starting pitching

2015 — 4.34 ERA, 16.8 K%, 7.6 BB%

2016 — 4.68, 19.9, 8.4

Last 7 days — 7.56, 18.9, 12.6

The Royals’ increased strikeout rate wasn’t enough to make up for worse walk and home-run numbers this season. With five games left, KC’s starters have surrendered 1.54 home runs/9 innings — a rate that ranks eighth-worst in baseball history going back to 1871.

Relief pitching

2015 — 2.72, 22.9, 8.7

2016 — 3.41, 22.3, 8.2

Last 7 days — 3.21, 18.6, 11.3

Though Soria’s struggles might distract from this, it was another strong year for the Royals’ bullpen. KC ranked sixth in bullpen ERA and eighth in bullpen WAR, which is more impressive considering the team’s notable injuries and lost free agents from last season.

Defense

2015 — 51 defensive runs saved (.315 per game, 2nd in MLB)

2016 — 14 defensive runs saved (.089 per game, T-8th in MLB)

KC’s DRS numbers plummeted late, with the system especially disliking Cheslor Cuthbert at third (team-worst negative-11 runs). It still was a standout year for the Royals outfielders, as Jarrod Dyson, Cain and Orlando combined for 36 runs saved.

Top 5 in Fangraphs WAR

2015 — Cain 6.6, Moustakas 3.8, Hosmer 3.5, Gordon 2.8, Ventura 2.7

2016 — Duffy 2.8, Cain 2.4, Dyson 2.4, Perez 2.2, Herrera 2.0

The Royals and Athletics are the only two teams without a 3-WAR player on their roster. The fact that no KC player elevated himself to a superstar-level season could be considered one of the biggest disappointments in 2016.

Bottom 5 in Fangraphs WAR

2015 — Infante -0.9, Guthrie -0.9, Almonte -0.4, Gomes -0.3, Coleman -0.2

2016 — Young -1.3, Pounders -0.6, Mondesi -0.5, Hosmer -0.4, Gee -0.3

Quietly, Young is going to set an all-time MLB record for home run rate. In 87 innings, he’s allowed 2.90 homers per 9 this season — the highest number among 23,918 pitchers who have thrown at least 50 innings in a season.

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell

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