Rany: So, it’s another year, and I’m pretty sure that, for the 12th consecutive season, I’m more bullish on the Royals than you are. I don’t think the Royals are divisional favorites are anything, but I think that they have maybe a 15% chance of winning the division – just slightly less than you’d expect by arranging the teams at random. I think they’ve got the best 1-2 starters in the division, the best closer/set-up man combination in the division, and a deep if not particularly star-laden lineup. Is that enough? More specifically, what do you think has to happen for the Royals to win the division?
Rob: What do I think has to happen...well, Alex Gordon and Billy Butler both have to hit like we used to think they would and one of the Royals’ many No. 5 starters has to actually pitch like a No. 3 starter (care to predict which of them will actually do that?). If those three things happen, I can see this team getting to .500. And in this division, it’s just a hop and a skip from there to seriously contending.
Rany: Wow, if I didn’t know you better, I’d say it sounds like you also think the Royals have a chance. I take it you agree that the AL Central is a remarkably even division at this moment in time – you can make a case for every team in the division to finish first based on its strengths, and to finish last based on its flaws. The Royals’ biggest flaw, as it stands, is an infield defense that looks just absolutely awful. I can almost justify the decision to send Hochevar to
What do you think about Teahen at second base, anyway? I think it can work, if Teahen can find a way to be even adequate defensively and if Kevin Seitzer really has unleashed his bat. I think it’s a really cool gamble, but I can’t deny the potential for this to backfire. I think the risk is worth the reward, because on paper the Royals are still five or ten games behind the Indians. If the Teahen experiment costs them a few games, well, they’re just farther back in the standings. If it wins them a few games, you’ve cut that gap in half right there.
Rob: More than five. Close to 10. Which isn’t an impossible gap to close. That’s two standard deviations. Indians drop one SD, Royals bump one SD...except the Tigers and probably the Twins are better than the Royals, too. On paper.
I like the Teahen Gambit. Why not? But I suspect that if Kevin Seitzer wasn’t named Kevin Seitzer, we might not take Teahen’s March numbers quite as seriously. My guess is that we get the worst defensive second baseman in the league, with (roughly) Teahen’s career hitting stats. At best, because if he struggles with the glove – as he almost certainly has to, particularly on the DP – itmight well affect his hitting.
Not be a wet blanket or anything. I like the creativity it shows. I just wonder if the same creativity is what led to Sidney Ponson entering the season with a rotation slot.
Rany: Yeah, it seems like an inordinate amount of hope in the Royals has been placed on Seitzer’s shoulders. Unfortunately for him, I’m not helping - I truly think that if the Royals make the playoffs this year, at year’s end we’ll be calling Seitzer the team’s MVP. That’s a lot to ask of a hitting coach, given that most hitting coaches don’t seem to have much effect one way or another.
Which brings up the Royals’ other big flaw, which is that once again, for all the lip service the Royals have given to OBP, they went out and got a bunch of players that think walks are for sissies. Mike Jacobs’ career high in walks is 45. Miguel Olivo walked 7 times (7!) in over 300 at-bats last year, and he’s going from second-string to first-string. Coco Crisp has a below-average walk rate for a leadoff hitter.
I don’t think the Royals will come anywhere close to last year’s total of 392 walks – mainly because that’s one of the lowest walk totals of the last 50 years – but for them to be competitive you’d really like to see them up near 500 walks, and it’s hard to see where that kind of improvement is going to come from. I think Gordon might walk more, and maybe even Teahen. But the lineup is what it is – a lineup with little ability to walk, and not enough power to make up for that. If the Royals do find a way to walk 500 times, I think the Royals ought to induct Seitzer into the team’s Hall of Fame on the spot.
Rob: Sure. And for my next trick...
We may project improvements for Gordon and
I guess I’ve circled back around to old material. Sorry...I think it’s going to be an interesting team when the good starters are starting. But otherwise I think it’s going to be pretty dreary.
Rany: I think you’re selling Juan Cruz a little short – he could be a huge addition to the bullpen, if only because he ought to keep Kyle Farnsworth out of game situations in the 8th inning. But to me, the key to the entire pitching staff is probably Kyle Davies. If his September was a mirage – if his ERA is closer to his 5.63 career mark than his 4.06 ERA last season - then I think we can safely call this season toast.
The thing about Davies is not only was he such a good pitcher on a statistical basis late last year, but the impression I’m getting is that the scouting evaluation has also changed – you’re hearing a lot of guys saying that he could be an above-average starter this year based on his stuff. He’s done nothing in
Rob: Sure, if Davies is good everything looks a little better, particularly because the Ponson Gambit surely can’t last long. If Hochevar deserves that spot, he’ll pitch well in
My worry – which I mentioned somewhere else recently – is that NONE of these guys...not Davies or Hochevar or Bannister, and certainly not Ponson or Horacio Ramirez...is going to post even a league-average ERA.
Obviously, one or more of them might surprise us. But counting on surprises is a good way to go broke (if you’re betting) or look foolish (if you’re writing).
Rany: Hey, I’ve never let the fear of looking foolish stop me from counting on surprises from the Royals before. And I’ve had many opportunities.
Rob: Yeah. You and Posnanski both. Can’t wait to see his prediction.
Rany: The difference is, with Poz I always think his optimism is at least a little tongue-in-cheek. With me, it’s totally earnest and totally pathetic.
Honestly, it sounds to me like we really don’t disagree all that much about the Royals’ fortunes this year: better (but still mediocre) offense, strong top of the rotation but major issues at the back end, good bullpen, horrifying defense. Sounds like a pretty average team overall, but for an average team it seems like the Royals have an unusual number of strengths and weaknesses. This might be a good thing, in the sense that if they can patch up those weaknesses – in particular, if they can find or trade for another starter – they could go from average to above-average rather quickly. How badly could this team use Orlando Hudson right now? And how intriguing would the back end of the rotation look if
Rob: Ah, money ... I have this vague memory of protesting at some point that some money might have been better saved than spent on Jose Guillen ... Probably just a dream I once had.
Rany: There’s one more thing I want to cover, and that’s the issue of depth. I was talking to a reporter from the Omaha World-Herald today, and he was pointing out how strong the O-Royals’ rotation was - I think it’s going to go something like Hochevar, Bannister, Duckworth, Lenny DiNardo, and Matt Wright - and it occurred to me that honestly, that rotation might be better than the Royals’ major league rotation just three years ago. Six guys made 10 or more starts for the 2006 Royals: Mark Redman, Runelvys Hernandez, Scott Elarton, Luke Hudson, Odalis Perez, and Jorge de la Rosa. And let’s not forget the eight starts from Ducky, or six each from Bobby Keppel and Joe Mays...my God, what a horrible rotation.
Rob: That was only three years ago? I had already forgotten most of that ugliness (though for some reason Bobby Keppel’s never left me).
Rany: As much as teams struggle to put together their 25-man roster for Opening Day, no team gets through a season without getting significant contributions from guys who start the year in the minors. I don’t think the Royals have a Mike Aviles ready to break through (although no one thought they had a Mike Aviles to break through last year), but inevitably they’re going to need contributions from their bench or from Triple-A. I think the Royals may be taking the issue of depth a little too far, in that their replacement starters are likely better than the guys they’d replace, but at least when they inevitably need to use a sixth or seventh starting pitcher, they have someone capable of filling in.
While the Royals look strong in terms of their established veteran depth, it’s unlikely we’re going to see an impact prospect come up during the year. Carlos Rosa might pop up in the bullpen before long, and it’s possible that Daniel Cortes could be ready for the rotation by September. But unless some combination of ineffectiveness or injury opens up a spot for Kila Ka’aihue, or unless Mike Moustakas makes some sort of Travis Snider-like leap and gets promoted just before the playoff roster deadline, I think most of the Royals’ best talent on the farm won’t be seen until 2010.
Rob: Of course, that 2006 team did lose 100 games ... and that was an improvement over the previous two seasons. Which reminds me/us that I/we shouldn’t be too greedy. Last season was the Royals’ best in quite some time, and if they win 78 this season, it’ll be another (small) step forward. All things considered, they would seem to be on track for another (small) step next year, and then who knows?
Rany: Let’s wrap it up on that note, then. Gun to your head, how many games do you think the Royals will win this year? And just for fun, what do you think the front office’s best and worst decisions will be this year?
Rob: I actually have them at 74 wins, a game behind the White Sox. Can’t remember if that’s how the numbers came out, or if I bumped them down a game or two for spite.
Best Decision: Releasing Ponson on the 21st of April.
Worst Decision: Waiting too long to trade Juan Cruz.
Rany: I think I’ll put them at 80 wins, which gives me cover if they tank (hey, I said they’d finish below .500!) but also hedges the upside (hey, I said their win total will be in the 80s!) Somewhere between 78-81 wins sounds about right – they’re pretty much the definition of average overall, but the infield defense knocks them down a peg. And that still puts them just two breakout seasons away from contention.
Best decision: I’ll go crazy here and say the decision to make Teahen a second baseman.
Worst decision: They give Ponson and Ramirez more than 20 starts combined before realizing they should have danced with who brung ya.
(Look for another edition of Rob & Rany soon – just in a different format. Hopefully you’ll all understand soon enough.)