Team Profile – Kansas City Royals
If you saw the picture on the MLB Analysis page here at BVTSB (or you’re a Royals fan…who am I kidding, there aren’t any of those), then you know that the Royals lost all hope of being in the playoffs as of three hours prior to the start of their season. Then again, even KC fans had reason to celebrate when the Royals were off to a 3-2 start on the road this season. Too bad it all went downhill from there, and the Royals once again find themselves in an uphill battle against stiff competition. Early on, they were the favorites to give the Detroit Tigers the most competition in the division for the season. So what happened, and how can the Royals get back on track to find winning ways again?
Bruce Chen, Danny Duffy, Luke Hochevar, Luis Mendoza, and Jonathan Sanchez; if you’ve never heard of more than half these pitchers, then you’re like most of America. This is the Royals’ starting rotation, and it’s mediocre at best. Mind you, this is the team that brought up Zack Greinke, had him win the American League Cy Young…and then promptly traded him away. You can see from only one example that the Royals’ front office doesn’t always make the best moves possible. This left Bruce Chen as the ace of the staff, and he embraced the role like the Number Three starter that he is – by putting up Number Three starter numbers. In his last two seasons, Chen had 12 wins in each and a pretty okay ERA. The problem for the Royals is, however, that he’s a Number Three starter trying to play ace. Without a legitimate Number One, there’s not a whole lot the Royals can do to find lasting success.
Behind Chen are Duffy, Hochevar, Mendoza, and Sanchez. Sanchez was a below-average pitcher in all but one season in San Francisco (before being traded to the Royals this past offseason). Duffy is still learning in his sophomore season in the big leagues. Mendoza has been a combination starter/reliever throughout his career, never really having a lot of success in either role after his 2007 rookie season. Hochevar has never had a winning season in the majors, spending his entire career with the Royals. So when your ace is a Number Three starter on most staffs, and your 2-5 starters are all fourth or (more likely) fifth starters on most major league staffs, you’re going to have to rely heavily on the bullpen and offense to win games.
The Royals’ offense is actually not a bad group of players. Mike Moustakas, Billy Butler, Yuniesky Betancourt, Alcides Escobar, Brayan Pena, and Jeff Francoeur all have averages of .250 or above. That’s six players who are currently or are able to be everyday players. On any given day, the Royals’ lineup can really hit the ball. The Royals also have Mitch Maier and Eric Hosmer, both of whom will start hitting the ball better before the season is said and done. That’s a lot of everyday lineup players that have the potential to hit the ball. And that’s what the Royals have been doing over the years. The team has been arming its farm system with prospects from high draft picks and trades of successful players (See: Zack Greinke). The team currently has its Number One picks from 2003-2009 on the active roster. That speaks both to the success the Royals had in drafting, and the lack of any veteran talent on the team. Everyone was bred in-house, and that seems to be just the way the Royals like it.
The Royals’ bullpen, from top to bottom (with the exception of Greg Holland, who is currently on the disabled list), has been a very bright spot in games this season, even though it’s missing a key component in closer Joakim Soria. If they had Soria healthy, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the Royals jockeying with the Tigers and White Sox for the second-place position in the A.L. Central right now. The key components of the bullpen have managed to maintain very respectable ERAs, keep opposing players’ averages relatively low, and keep the offense in games late.
Current closer Jonathan Broxton is providing just the morale boost that a team missing Joakim Soria would need. After ten appearances, he’s 5/6 in save opportunities with a 1.86 ERA. If he even remotely maintains that level of pitching for the remainder of the season, the Royals will become a competitor to anyone they’re playing.
Keys to Success
I wish there was more to say about the offense and the bullpen here, but they really have been as good as any in baseball. So why, then, are the Royals sitting with an ugly 9-18 record? The starting pitching is pretty terrible. That’s the simple answer. So, if the Royals want to compete like they were predicted to, the rotation is going to have to get better. They’ve seen Hochevar and Chen long enough now to know what they’re going to get out of them. So it’s really on Danny Duffy, Jonathan Sanchez, and Luis Mendoza to start picking up the slack. Sanchez wasn’t too bad in San Francisco. He has a no hitter to his name, as well as a World Series ring with the Giants. He’s shown flashes of brilliance in the past, and perhaps he’s just struggling right now due to switching leagues. Duffy is still young, but he’s going to have to develop quickly if he wants to help the team compete. It’s all on the starting rotation. If opposing teams can score early in games, it won’t matter how good the offense or bullpen is. The Royals may also need to consider trading for or picking up a starter at the trade deadline, but that could be easier said than done. At best, they’d probably be able to pick up another pitcher with similar stats to Bruce Chen. Two Bruce Chens do not equal the same success of a true ace. If this lineup existed with Zack Greinke in the rotation, we’d be seeing a significantly different Royals team.
While they’re not out of the race just yet (and certainly faring better than the Twins thus far), the Royals will have to get their entire offense clicking at the same time in order to offset the subpar starting rotation. It’s the only way that this team will be any competition in the American League Central for the next few seasons to come.
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