I recently wrote about the 2018 Royals and what might happen if none of their free agents returned to the team. As a result of that article, several readers predicted that the Royals would go back to losing 100 games in a single season.
Keeping in mind that I’ve proven myself to be spectacularly bad at predicting the future — the Internet is just a fad, right? — I think the 2018 Royals losing 100 games is unlikely.
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The last time the Royals lost 100 games was 2006, so let’s compare that team to the team the Royals might field in 2018.
We probably ought to get the bad news out of the way first:
You can look at a bunch of offensive numbers and draw a variety of conclusions, but ultimately the offensive number that counts is runs scored and how that number compares to the runs scored by the teams you’re playing.
In 2006 the Royals scored 757 runs, which ranked 12th in the American League; in 2017 the Royals scored 702, which ranked 13th.
Take Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar and Melky Cabrera out of the picture and it seems likely that the 2018 Royals offense might not be as good as the 2017 offense and the 2017 offense wasn’t as good as the 2006 offense that was part of a 100-loss season.
(See? I told you this was the bad news.)
Fortunately, there are two sides of the ball — offense and defense — and while fans tend to get more excited about offense, defense is just as important; you can win games by putting numbers on the board or keeping numbers off the board.
If you bought a ticket to a Royals game in 2006, you might see this defense on the field:
▪ Catcher: John Buck
▪ First base: Doug Mientkiewicz or Ryan Shealy
▪ Second base: Mark Grudzielanek
▪ Third base: Mark Teahen
▪ Shortstop: Angel Berroa
▪ Left field: Emil Brown or David DeJesus
▪ Center field: Joey Gathright or David DeJesus
▪ Right field: Reggie Sanders or Emil Brown
If you trust advanced defensive metrics — and for the most part I don’t — you could look those numbers up and draw your own conclusions. Meanwhile, here’s mine:
Grudzielanek won a Gold Glove in 2006 and Mientkiewicz won a Gold Glove in 2001, but, depending on who got the start that night, the 2006 Royals might have had a below-average defender at catcher, first base, shortstop, third base, left field and right field. That’s an awful lot of below-average defense.
Now compare that to a projected 2018 lineup that looks like this:
▪ Catcher: Salvador Perez
▪ First base: Brandon Moss
▪ Second base: Whit Merrifield
▪ Third base: Cheslor Cuthbert
▪ Shortstop: Raul Mondesi
▪ Left field: Alex Gordon
▪ Center field: Bubba Starling or Paulo Orlando
▪ Right field: Paulo Orlando, Jorge Bonifacio or Jorge Soler
Depending on who got the start in right field, that defense might have a below-average defender in right and an average or above-average defender everywhere else.
In 2006, the Royals pitching staff allowed 846 earned runs; most in the American League. The overall pitching staff had the worst ERA in the league, the starters had the worst ERA in the league and the relievers had the worst ERA in the league.
The 2006 Royals also had the fewest quality starts in the league.
That year the Royals bullpen led the league in blown saves and converted save opportunities into saves 53 percent of the time. Only one team — the Cleveland Indians — converted save opportunities into saves at a lower rate.
Now let’s look at 2017:
The Royals pitching staff allowed 737 earned runs, sixth most in the league. The Royals overall staff had the 10th-highest ERA in the league, the starters had the 12th-highest ERA and the Royals relievers had the ninth highest.
The 2017 Royals had the 10th-most quality starts in the league.
The bullpen was tied for sixth-fewest blown saves and they converted save opportunities into Saves 65 percent of the time, which was eighth-best in the league.
The 2018 Royals might lose three pitchers who made a big contribution to the team in 2017: Jason Vargas, Peter Moylan and Mike Minor. But even without those guys, it’s hard to imagine the 2018 Royals pitching staff falling to the depths of the 2006 Royals pitching staff.
It’s not that easy to lose 100 games, you really have to be bad. The Royals have been playing since 1969 and have lost 100 games in a single season four times; 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006.
The 2018 Royals might not be a playoff team, but to assume the Royals are going right back to the bad old days seems overly pessimistic.
If the Royals do not re-sign some of their free agents — most notably Eric Hosmer — and decide to let the kids in their system play instead, I think it’s reasonable to assume they’ll take a step back, but not a step all the way back to 2006.
And I’m really hoping I’m right, because I still have to watch 162 games even if I’m not.