Reliving the 2017 Season: Kansas City Royals Edition | The Process Report

Reliving the 2017 Season: 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 team. The order will mirror next June’s draft slotting 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 two to three of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts.


Many folks were eager to tell the Royals to pack it in there run was over. Instead, with multiple useful players set to leave via free agency the team doubled down on their efforts for one last ride. It predictably fell short, but focusing on the destination misses the wild journey that was fraught with excitement. The team played meaningful baseball down to the wire getting good seasons from those expiring vets, but also getting to test run what might make up the next wave.

After a sluggish start you can see the team mostly oscillating around the mean indicating to me a lot of exciting baseball being played even if the results looked a lot like a .500 team. While the bats picked up quite a bit down the stretch, perhaps due to some deadline deals, the pitching absolutely fell apart with actual outcomes grossly bubbling up well above the still quite bad expectations. Despite the gas up during the season it looks like the arms were running on fumes by the end.

When the wheels fell off for the pitchers at the end of the season it overshadowed what had quietly been a strength of the team. Royals pitchers did well to suppress hard contact with walks around the average, but strikeouts a good deal under their league brethren. Add it all up and I saw the unit as close to 43 runs above average even with a bit of underperformance on those balls in play. Meanwhile, the bats just couldn’t quite get to that level. They weren’t terrible as they were roughly 18 runs worse than average, but they weren’t good, either. Kansas City hitters put up a similar level of production as the pitcher’s allowed on balls in play, though we see a similar level of underperformance showing up in the boxscore. That production proved important as the team put tons of balls in play running a very low walk rate that came with the benefit of seeing fewer strikeouts, as well.

Four of the top six hitters were greeted by free agency after the season with both Hosmer and Moustakas representing the best of the bunch. Salvie Perez will be back as his contract with the team requires him to never leave. Ever. He was extremely productive for the position, though more on him below. Previous offseason acquisition Brandon Moss looked strong using these metrics, but reality left much to be desired. Being an old, slow, pull-heavy guy might leave him as an underperformer next year, but the team will be stuck with him either way. Some team is going to get a good player in Lorenzo Cain this offseason. Lastly, relative newcomers Jorge Bonifacio and Whit Merrifield acquitted themselves relatively well despite being completely opposite hitters. The team should seek to build around these two players for the next few years hoping to build enough value that they can then be flipped to put the icing on the next good Royals team.

The other side of the coin shows yet another free agent, Alcides Escobar, putting up a monstrously bad season at the plate showing allergies to the walk and hitting the ball hard, but still finding time to strike out more often than you would like from this profile. Fans might have been excited when the team re-committed a ton of money to Alex Gordon, and while the disaster that was his season looks somewhat overblown here, it will still be difficult for him to get his career back on track. These are two examples of glove-first players not hitting enough and there are others like Drew Butera, the backup catcher/mop up man, Cheslor Cuthbert, Raul Mondesi, Paulo Orlando, amongst others. All of this group would be fine depth on a good team, but would similarly look worse when pressed into full time duty. The product of the Wade Davis trade, Jorge Soler, does not present as a solid defender, but he also didn’t hit a whole lot, either. Actual results on balls in play were abysmal, but even regressing that stuff he didn’t show an ability to hit the ball hard enough to justify striking out a third of the time.

After years of looking like a young bull that could really hit in the minors Jorge Bonifacio came up and did exactly that from jump street. Of course, the league has a fondness for corralling these young’ns, and that looks like it was mostly the case as he saw both actual and true production tail off as the season wore on. Chalk it up to pitchers having more looks, fatigue, or reduced opportunity once Melky Cabrera came aboard, but it looks like the strong start was not able to be maintained. At 24 years old there is a good chance that Bonifacio is already molded clay, but it is not unusual for a young player to come up, do well, do less well, then adjust back to the league to become a useful player going forward. It’s a common path. Despite a very high strikeout rate he does strike the ball at well above average rates and takes his walks, too. Being penned in next year should help him deal with the rougher stretches, and I can see his above average season climbing another gear if things break right. I like him as an afterthought sleeper type player with some upside at a low cost.

No such buying opportunity will exist when it comes to Merrifield who became something of a hot commodity in fantasy last year mostly due to his ability to pilfer bags in a league where few are doing that sort of thing these days. Being able to do so while also looking like a league average hitter with infield eligibility is a nice little piece for the middle to back of your team, but I don’t see a ton of growth potential here. He doesn’t walk or strike out much, but he also doesn’t hit the ball with all that much authority. You can also see above that his production tends to be on the streaky side. I would discount the scintillating start as pitchers clearly made an adjustment, and you can see that he, in turn, tweaked his approach to climb back above the average in the middle and at the end. The troughs in the middles, however leave him as a tough player to roster. You can also see that his best actual stretch of the season flew in the face of the underlying figures. It is possible his skillset leaves him as an overperformer going forward, but I would not bank on it, and would not look forward to spending any sort of real capital on him in a draft or real life.

As mentioned, Salvador Perez is one of the very best hitting catchers in the game. I know, that’s a lot like bragging about beating up a gang of 12 year olds, but imagine how good he could be if they ever let him have a day off. Once again he was demonstrably better over the first two-thirds of the season before wearing down and bottoming out to close the season. While fellow UCF alum Drew Butera isn’t much of a hitter, he is a solid gloveman that should allow the team to give, arguably, there now best player the occasional day off this year. The bat was more like a 120+ xwRC+ for the bulk of the season, but once you factor in the late fade he drops to the still quite good 110 area. The team, and owners in two-catcher leagues, would benefit more if he had 50 fewer plate appearances, but was that good of a hitter all season long.

The pitching might have been the strength of the team, but it had very little to do with the starters. Once again the Royals built a pen around age and injury question marks only to see the strategy pay off handsomely. Reclamation project Mike Minor was one of the very best pitchers, not just relievers, in the game last year, though he has since moved on to greener (like money, get it) pastures. Scott Alexander was the shutdown lefty that perhaps works around too many right-handed batters, but did very well to suppress hard contact. The aged Joakim Soria turned in yet another strong season buoyed by strong strikeout rates, though I agree with the team that they should flip him while they can. Moylan was yet another casualty to free agency, however mid-season acquisitions Morin and Buchter offer plenty of control. The latter of whom was really quite good for the entirety of last season and a sneaky great reliever.

One of their stronger trade chips due to performance, control and contract was Danny Duffy who has no-hit stuff when it’s all going right. I’m sure it would be tough to see him go, but spinning him off could provide plenty of water for the young horses still on the ranch. Jason Vargas showed himself to be essentially a league average pitcher, though it was mostly front-loaded with a nasty second half. He represents one of the more polarizing arms in free agency that makes a guy like Duffy worth so much. Both Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel will be back next year due to their contracts, and should soak up some innings on a staff in transition. They pitched poorly, but not so badly that the team couldn’t run them out there in a lost season in order to ease the transition of other players. Jake Junis represents one of the few up and coming arms, though the loud contact will need to improve if he wants to be anything more than fodder.

Talking about Duffy’s availability in trade does a disservice to just how very good he is. Unfortunately, he’s pretty good at the wrong time as the team has little likelihood of success over the next year or two. You can see excellent strikeout to walk ratios above, while also doing a good job of limiting hard contact. There were a couple blips last year, but for the most part he was a better than average starter that also had an exceptional close to the season when they needed it most. I don’t see a ton of divergence between true and actual here, which should breed confidence that these strong results were fully earned. If I’m a team that feels it is only a strong pitcher away from contention, and ideally could use a high risk left fielder, then I’m getting on the horn to see if I can take on most of Alex Gordon’s $40M owed in order to get Duffy for essentially nothing. The more the Royals pay those figures down the more they could receive so I don’t think it would be crazy to see a team like the Giants take both these players on  while shedding a contract like Hunter Pence in the process. If the Royals want to throw another $30M in they might even be able to buy a helium prospect like Heliot Ramos for their efforts.

Throughout the season Jason Hammel looked like a fairly bad pitcher. There were flirtations with the average, and his actual performance dipped well into this creamy center for extended stretches, but for the most part he was lousy. He also faced close to 800 hitters, which does have some value for a team that features a strong bullpen that you would prefer to not wear out by May. Hammel is a fine fit on a rebuilding club, in this sense, as he should be reliable enough to make 30+ starts while mostly keeping the team in games outside of his most brutal performances. Nothing sexy here, and he’s non-viable in fantasy, for me, but for the real life Royals he should be able to contribute something useful.

After the Royals ground the farm down to the nub to help actualize all the promise from what was once called the best farm system ever there isn’t a whole lot left. In that respect, Jake Junis represents one of the few bright spots of what is to come. A lousy start led to a couple of demotions where he excelled in triple-A, and it looks an awful lot like they got the ship righted once he came back for good. There was a massive gap of overperformance during that early strong stretch, but everything eventually came together showing him as an average or better pitcher in the Show. With six full years of control left it looks like the Royals might have a foundational piece during their transition and eventual attempt to return to glory a few years from now. Without much name value I think Junis could be a nice, cheap pitcher in your leagues with deeper rosters or if your dynasty team is in a similar transition to the Royals. There may not be another gear here, but steady production is something worthwhile.


Over half the league has now been reviewed so we have plenty of familiar names in the top and bottom 20-hitter and pitchers that can give you an idea of who the best and worst performers were last year and where the Royals players slot. Below that you will find the team aggregate lines and then, lastly, the combined xwRAA where Kansas City shows up very strongly.

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