Recapping 2018: Kansas City Royals Edition | The Process Report

Recapping 2018: Kansas City Royals Edition

With the end of the regular season comes a time for reflection for the majority of baseball fans. What went right? What went wrong? You probably have a few ideas where your teams fell short or exceeded expectations, but what about a completely emotionless point of view? Throughout this season I have shown what batter and pitcher production looks like when we regress balls in play to look more like what the players should have seen using exit velocity and launch angle. The offseason will be no different as I take a team by team look at how the season fared for the team, while going a little deeper on a handful of players from each. The order will mirror the final team rankings running in reverse order so you can expect to find some depression leading to elation here. It’s going to take some time, but I would like to get one to two of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts. Here’s a link to the report for this club from last offseason.

Past:

30 – 21: BAL CWS MIA TEX KCR

After spending the dawn of the twenty-first century looking something like a 60-70 win team annually, the Kansas City Royals saw things start to come together by the twenty-teens culminating in their World Series triumph over the New York Mets in 2015 after losing the Series in the year prior. You can see that strong five-year run stand out with each year being around .500 or better, but while the team wins total peaked and then fell back, the payroll has continued to tick upward in the ensuing years. This past season saw a $122M payroll lead to more than 100 losses or roughly $12M per marginal win, which is quite literally off the charts. It took the team a long time to accumulate enough talent to win it all, and they’re still paying the price for that. However, with the team firmly entrenched in their next rebuild progress will not be measured by how many wins the team can garner. Instead, the path forward is about developing good players that can either beget other good players or stick around long enough to see the next very good Royals club down the road.

Somewhat surprisingly, the team ran pretty close to a league average offense. There was a sustained run in the middle where the Royals found it harder to produce, but for the most part they were around the average if not a little better. Some of the best performance came to start the season leaving it probably well forgotten for most. Despite having to replace Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer the team came out hitting fairly well, though not quite getting to all of their fine expectations. After the aforementioned lull the team settled in a little below average before seeing a massive spike and mostly above average performance to close the season. The club was able to inject good performance from some youthful players like Ryan O’Hearn and Adalberto Mondesi, saw Hunter Dozier start to find his sea legs, and got a resurgent finish from one of the remaining holdovers in Alex Gordon.

They weren’t alone, though, the best performance on the season came from Mike Moustakas who was eventually flipped to the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Brett Phillips and potential starting pitcher Jorge Lopez. Mous got his walk rate up approaching the average, while striking out a good deal less than his peers. He showed good pop on the expected side, but did fall well short with his actual a bit below average. This will be a common theme with a couple of his teammates ahead, as well, though several others did not show this under-performance. The venerable third-baseman showed this gap throughout the season with most of his best performance coming out of the chute. Becoming more of a three true outcomes guy might be in play here as his walk rate and launch angle increased while he lost velocity off the bat as the season progressed.

Mike Moustakas

With Moustakas gone the team’s best offensive player became Whit Merrifield who has shown in repeated viewings to be a tough at bat. He doesn’t strike out much, but still manages to run an above average walk rate, while getting to all of his average production on balls in play. His ability to spray the ball around coupled with speed that allows him to beat out infield singles or turn singles into doubles probably makes him a little under-rated by this analysis. While he often hits the ball at ideal trajectories on a line or in the air, his exit velocity is limited enough that over the fence power is a rare sight. Still, a guy that can pepper those short liners and end up on second a good deal of the time is incredibly valuable.

Whit Merrifield

Like Moustakas, Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon gave pretty good theoretical production that didn’t quite make it off the cutting room floor. They get there differently with Gordon still walking at a high level, and Perez striking out a bit less, while hitting for a bit more power. Perez also doesn’t show much of a handedness split, while Gordon shouldn’t see a lefty.

Salvador Perez

Alex Gordon

It’s remarkable how similar Ryan O’Hearn and Jorge Soler looked this year from a production standpoint despite never being on the team at the same time. They walk and strike out essentially the same, and both show thunder when they put it in play even if O’Hearn looks like some of his results were unearned. Soler started the season smoking hot before losing control of the zone. O’Hearn got the call up later in the year, and also came out on fire before seeing his expected results dropping off linearly, while his actual results stayed extremely strong. Soler’s over-performance came early with actual results falling off noticeably as the season progressed despite his expected contributions mostly stabilizing, if not down slightly from the strong start. Two players that each saw some over-performance and enough flags to warrant worry yet nearly identical production ratios.

Jorge Soler

Ryan O’Hearn

The team was able to literally cash in Lucas Duda to the Braves, and also flipped Jon Jay to Arizona for a couple of arms with neither player standing out at the plate. Jay looked like an average hitter that could play a premium position, while Duda was an above average hitter, but not likely enough of one considering his defensive inability. The benefit of trading some of these guys is the created opportunity for other in-house options on the way. Adalberto Mondesi seized that chance to become a fantasy darling down the stretch. His DeJongian strikeout and walk ratios are hideous, though he did close the gap a bit as the season wore on before reverting to more aggressive tendencies. Once he got settled you can see the expected production might not have quite gotten to his very strong actuals, but he was still more than making up for the high K/BB. He does this by absolutely tatering balls as you can see in the spray below. He’s kind of a lanky kid, but not small, and it shows up here with good exit velocity and ideal launch angles that often lead to hard hit low liners or over the fence dingers. This is a good player, and one that likely offers better speed than his counterpart in St. Louis.

Adalberto Mondesi

While Mondesi represents an incredible bright spot for the team, a couple of other homegrown players have left quite a bit to be desired. Jorge Bonifacio and Hunter Dozier have only known one system their entire lives and have finally been given some opportunity for the big club. Neither has done a whole lot to cement their future in said organization with both showing below average production in broad samples this year. Pairing with the subpar production, Bonfacio also missed half the season for a PED suspension. Unlike Bonifacio, Dozier seems like a guy that might have been starting to figure it out a little bit. He became a more aggressive hitter as the season went along that showed up as fewer walks, but also fewer strikeouts. This might leave him as something like a low-OBP masher going forward, but there’s a role for that on a team trying to get guys experience. He hits the ball hard and gets it in the air with a good deal of frequency, while ending the season on a strong run of production.

Jorge Bonifacio

Hunter Dozier

 

The bats showed a couple of interesting players on the come up to go with the established guys still giving good production, but the pitching-side of the equation was a nightmare. Virtually anybody that saw extensive work provided below average results. If you’re looking for a silver lining it looks like the first half the season was more of a nightmare with the last two months, especially, looking much stronger. We saw many batters that fell short of their expected production, but things look much tighter over here. Considering both batter and pitcher production was reasonably better during that final month there could be some competition issues owing to the rest of the division, but it’s encouraging to see the team start to sort things out a little bit.

Some of those bright spots include flyer trade acquisition Brad Keller show surprisingly well in a starter role. He was outmatched on a rate basis by Tim Hill, but providing three times the volume is enormous with so many outs to get in a year. Better than expected results eventually met back on the wrong side of the average, but he showed legitimate improvement in both metrics over the rest of his season. Adjustments like this are nice to see from an unheralded prospect given a chance to shine, and a feather in the cap for those that pushed for his acquisition. You can see this in the slight climb shown by his strikeout rate, but much better with the dramatic improvement to his walk rate. You can also see how he closed the season by nullifying hard contact of any kind. This is a player I was leery on when he first came up due to that gap in expected and actual results, but I’d be happy to have Keller in the back of my rotation going forward.

Brad Keller

The aforementioned Hill is kind of an older player with a newer name as this was his first season in the Show despite pitching all year at 28 years old. He looked better on paper than in reality, though the gap does tighten over the course of the season. He got there by being one of the few guys on the club that came close to the league-wide strikeout rate. He also did a remarkable job of inducing groundballs. While the lefty obliterated same-handers he was also a little better than average against righties leaving him looking like a high leverage candidate for next season.

Tim Hill

In addition to the bats moved above the team also traded longtime relief ace Kelvin Herrera for three minor leaguers. The opening allowed some other players to get some run like Glenn Sparkman or Kevin McCarthy with both looking like ok mid-game options. Neither strikes anybody out, but they also keep the walks down, in turn, and continue the trend of keeping the ball on the ground. Considering all these good groundballers it would behoove the team to ensure they have a good defensive unit on the infield next year.

Glenn Sparkman

Kevin McCarthy

Jakob Junis was another rotation stalwart that helped shoulder the load. He looks fairly average across the board, but lost in the bottom line was how he got there. There were a couple of strong runs of production including most of the end of the season, but offsetting the strong stretches was that massive bubble in the middle. This looks like a guy that made an adjustment mid-season and whatever it was things looked a lot better. He got his strikeout rate back into the 20-30% range, and wasn’t walking anybody down the stretch. The overall line looks rather pedestrian, but there is a lot to like here.

Jakob Junis

 

When throwing spaghetti at the wall inevitably some of it isn’t going to stick. While several of these players took steps forward toward becoming regulars down the line there were plenty of misses. Brian Flynn, Eric Skoglund and Burch Smith all got enough run to determine that they’re probably not going to be part of a winning club someday. It should be expected that all internal candidates aren’t going to work out, but when paying real money for free agents like Jason Hammel or Ian Kennedy there is an expectation of performance. Both pitchers fell well short of being positive contributors with Hammel as one of the worst in the game this year. Kennedy missed time for an injury and seemed a little better when he came back.

Jason Hammel

Ian Kennedy

With another three years and $46 million owed to Danny Duffy the team will be married to him going forward whether they want to be or not. Poor performance has eroded once promising trade value, but there were some encouraging signs once you dig past the initial ugly surface. There’s no getting over just how terrible he was to start the season. It was awful performance and over a long stretch. Then he figured it out putting up better than average production for most of the rest of the year. He got his strikeout rate back to a level where it could mitigate the higher walk rate than you would like to see. He was also able to lower the angle and the velocity off the bat leaving him looking like an above average rotation candidate. It’s well hidden, but there’s an awful lot to like here.

Danny Duffy

Below you will find the rest of the prominent players from this past season and how they broke out in four different ways. I will save the commentary here as the charts speak for themselves once you’ve got an idea of what you’re looking at, and by cutting down on the verbiage it allows for looks at more players. Each chart looks at a rolling 100-plate appearance (or ball in play) average with the top left showing each player’s true and actual wOBA* over the course of the season. Top right shows the rolling strikeout and walk plus hit by pitch rates, and the bottom left shows the exit velocity and launch angle combinations for every ball in play. Lastly, the bottom right quadrant shows each player’s exit velocity and launch angle over the course of the season. Feel free to start a conversation on twitter if you have any questions or want to talk about any of these players. More than happy to have those chats.

 

 

 

 

Burch Smith

Eric Skoglund

Brian Flynn

Brandon Mauer

Heath Fillmyer

 

 

 

 

Rosell Herrera

 

Jon Jay

 

Lucas Duda

Alcides Escobar



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