In a strange way, I think this season is more indicative of the change in the Royals franchise over the last few years than even winning in 2014 and 2015. That might seem ridiculous, but I see a team that is 81-78 and has clinched their fourth straight .500 season that has done that with injuries, ineffectiveness and everything else. And the reaction from the fanbase is disappointment to some extent. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be disappointed. This was a team with championship aspirations and they were dashed before they reached the final series of the year.
That said, if the Royals have this season a mere five years ago, people are doing backflips and cartwheels in excitement over a winning season. I think back to 2003. I was a freshman in college and when the Royals clinched a winning season, people in my dorm were confused why I was so excited. And now, simply a winning record is disappointing. That’s how it should be. Winning a World Series was the culmination of everything, but disappointment in a winning record shows what this organization and franchise has become, and I think that’s a pretty cool silver lining in a season when we won’t get to experience postseason baseball as fans.
- Eric Hosmer has 25 home runs and 103 RBIs this season. Both numbers are career highs. Both numbers look very good and are very shiny. Now, you might argue that RBIs aren’t even worth talking about, and I’d disagree with you. RBI truthers will tell you that the RBI doesn’t mean much, and they’re wrong. A run is a run. You win by scoring more runs, so driving in runs leads to wins. I will agree that RBIs are not nearly as indicative as the other side will believe, but they are meaningful. Anyway, I digress. So I look at this season he’s having and the power is there, the RBIs there and it looks like he’s finally becoming that corner infield power that we all hoped for. And then I look around baseball. Heading into play on Thursday, 56 players had 25 or more home runs. Last season, just 35 did. The 56th most homers in baseball last year belonged to Buster Posey, who popped 19. I’m not saying that means that in a normal home run year, Hosmer would have hit 19, but I do think we have to temper our excitement just a bit on those power numbers because relative to the game, he’s kind of been the same hitter power-wise, but this year his average has tumbled. My hope is that he has a big pre-free agent campaign. Keep in the back of your mind that at some point this offseason, I’m going to look at the Boras impact on pending free agents.
- In a conversation at BP Headquarters on Wednesday night, we were talking about the injuries and the ineffectiveness from various players and a thought crossed my mind. What if the Royals season was actually torpedoed by Bubba Starling and Kyle Zimmer? I know what you’re thinking. What? How? That’s why I’m here. I’m going to tell you. I’m basing this on conjecture, but I believe both of these players were in the plans for the Royals in a big way in 2016. I think the Royals organization truly believed that if Lorenzo Cain went down for any length of time, they could plug in Starling and have a similar-type player ready to go. And I think we all know that the plan was for Zimmer to be starting games in Kansas City. So what if Zimmer’s injury issues became a thing of the past this year and Starling hadn’t struggled so mightily this season? Imagine a rotation of a healthy Zimmer along with Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura and Ian Kennedy. That could be two or three extra wins over what they had to deal with most of the season. Now imagine the Royals not having to run with guys who don’t drive the ball but rather someone who could hit .260/.310/.430. No that’s not great, but with Starling’s defense and the 8-10 home runs that would probably be good for, maybe that’s an extra win or two. Any team that misses the playoffs has a million “what-ifs” but the bottom line is that they just weren’t as deep as they expected and these two are a big reason for it.
- I’ve been surprisingly impressed with Jason Vargas. I mean the numbers are obviously there. He made three starts with increasing pitch counts and ended up with a 2.25 ERA in 12 innings. His control was there, his changeup was there, everything was there. I wasn’t completely on board with pitching him, but the fact that the whole insurance payout was received helped my thinking, and then I guess I understood the thought behind it. In total, he ended the season with 32 innings pitched after totaling 48.1 in 2015 between the majors and a short rehab start he had. So my question is how many is he good for in 2017? I think the answer is more than a typical young pitcher coming off Tommy John, and that’s partially because the Royals don’t control him long-term. I’m sure they’ll monitor him closely, but I would guess he’d be all set to throw 160-180 innings next season and if they make the playoffs, I doubt the Royals would back off him. It’s encouraging how well he threw at the big league level in his three starts and makes me feel much better about the number four spot in next year’s rotation. I still think they need two starters in the offseason, but we’ll see if that comes to fruition.
- You ready for your mind to be blown? I think it’s fair to say that the roles for Kelvin Herrera in 2015 and Joakim Soria in 2016 have been pretty similar. Both guys pitched in the seventh and eighth innings, even though the order they moved around was different. So far this season, Soria has pitched in 69 games and the team is 44-25 in those appearances. Last year, Herrera pitched in 72 games and the team was 47-25. That surprised me. The difference, of course, is that Herrera didn’t surrender what seemed like every lead he inherited while Soria has been just awful at times. So no, I’m not saying that Soria this year has been just as good as Herrera last season, but it struck me as interesting, so I wanted to share it with all of you fine folks.
- And finally, with the season wrapping up, I wanted to say thank you to all of our readers for reading this column every week, every series preview, every other article I write, every RECAP, every Diamonds in the Rough, every phenomenal article from Hunter, Darin, Clint, Craig and Clark, every podcast from Mike and Jeff and everything else we’ve put up this year. It’s been really fun to be able to become a part of the Baseball Prospectus family and be able to bring you all this great Royals content over the course of the season. We’re not stopping either. We’re in for a very interesting offseason, so keep coming back every day to see what we have to say about it.