As 2016 comes to its conclusion, I thought it would be fun to use Friday Notes to review the year a little bit and look ahead to what 2017 could bring for the Royals. While 2016 wasn’t the greatest year we’ve seen as fans, it was much better than some of the alternatives. When I really step back and think about the season the Royals had and how it was looked at as a failure, it made me realize just how far this organization has come since the truly terrible days in the mid-2000s. You want your franchise to be at the point where an 81-81 season is looked at as a near disaster.
- One thing I got right heading into the 2016 season was that I was worried about Edinson Volquez and his workload in the postseason. It wasn’t the innings necessarily as much as how much stress was put on him with those high leverage innings he threw in October 2015. Volquez obviously had a horrible year and probably cost himself a pretty good chunk of change even though he was rewarded handsomely by the Marlins anyway. The good news that comes from missing the postseason is that the Royals pitching staff shouldn’t be tired heading into 2017. Among returning pitchers, Ian Kennedy and Yordano Ventura paced the team, but neither reached 200 innings. Danny Duffy finished just shy of 180 and in the bullpen, only Kelvin Herrera threw more than 70. If you’re looking for that silver lining, it’s that the team should head into 2017 without many issues on pitchers being tired from the previous season’s workload. Hopefully that can translate in the regular season and help the Royals get back on top.
- Speaking of Kelvin Herrera, one of the most positive things to come out of the 2016 season was him improving both his strikeout rate and his walk rate. He was already a top shelf reliever, but now that he’s set to become the team’s closer, I think the Royals are in very good hands. I think you can make an argument that only four or five closers are better than him heading into the season. He struck out nearly 11 batters per nine innings and walked less than two, which is pretty amazing. Craig Brown did talk about how he stopped using his slider that was so effective for him, so that’s a bit of a concern when it comes to him maintain dominance, but he did strike out 34 and walk just five in 32.1 innings after he seemingly scrapped the pitch. His September was certainly not kind, but I wonder if maybe he was feeling the effects of an additional 31 high stress games over the previous two seasons as well. Now, he’s had a full extra month of recovery and should lead a Royals bullpen that is hopefully still elite in 2017 because the team is going to need that.
- The ground ball trend for Eric Hosmer was one of the more disappointing storylines of the 2016 season. He’d always hit a lot of them, but he ratcheted it up to a new level last year with a rate of nearly 59 percent. He hit the ball quite hard and was hitting way more home runs per fly ball, but just was hitting the ball on the ground so much that he couldn’t do as much damage as he probably should have. The good news is that his average exit velocity of 93.4 MPH was tied for 13th in all of baseball among hitters with at least 100 batted ball events, but his 40 “barrels” was tied for 33rd. Something has to give there. If you want to be optimistic, Hosmer desires a big ol’ contract following the 2017 season. Even if he just puts up another season somewhere around his career line, he’s probably going to get a truckload of money just on reputation and potential alone, but if he can somehow cut that ground ball rate, barrel some more balls and maintain his home run rate to put up something like a .300/.370/.530 season, he can earn himself tens of millions of dollars more. If that’s a motivating factor to him, then 2017 could be a very, very good year for Hosmer.
- I’m just scratching the surface of looking into this, but I have a feeling getting Mike Moustakas back for what we all hope is a full season is going to be even more important to the Royals than we realize. If he’s capable of playing third base almost every day (think 130 games or so), then his defense alone will be a huge upgrade over Cheslor Cuthbert, who flashed some great plays at times, but also struggled mightily at times. I have a hunch that Moose’s superior range will actually be a boost to both the third base spot and Alcides Escobar at shortstop. Escobar is better to his right than anywhere, but if Moustakas can handle going to his left a little farther than Cuthbert, Escobar can potentially position himself closer to the bag to help improve his overall defensive work as well. Plus, I think Moose is simply a better than Cuthbert and while you may argue that he’ll just be replacing the production of Kendrys Morales, I’d argue that I’m okay with that because the Royals will need that replaced. Of course, this all depends on how he recovers from a major knee injury, so we don’t know anything yet, but a healthy Moustakas probably does help this team more than we even think about from a high level.