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MLB Quarter Pole Team Capsules: the Kansas City Royals

It’s difficult to figure out which direction the Kansas City Royals are headed in.  On the surface, they aren’t heading anywhere.  This is the youngest team in baseball, and its performance on the year has been identical to the team’s performance from a year ago, when they were even younger.  In a lot of ways, the 2012 Royals have been disappointing, in that: the team was so young that it was expected to improve, and then a bunch of core players have come in and haven’t produced.

A bit of digging shows you that the main problem with the 2012 Royals  has been injury.  The Royals have been playing with replacement level performances at most positions: catcher, second base, center field, and first base.  That’s actually most of the lineup.  Of the four replacement positions on the Royals, only first base has underperformed without attribution to injury.  The Royals lost their first and second string catchers in spring training, Sal Perez and Manny Pina.  They lost their starting centerfielder Lorenzo Cain in the fifth game of the year.  And they lost their second baseman, Chris Getz, to the 15 day DL about two weeks ago.  1st baseman Eric Hosmer may have only himself to blame for a .220/.281/.376 batting line, but that’s up considerably over a recent nine game hitting streak.

Beyond injury though, the healthy members of the 2012 Royals have actually OVERperformed.  Injuries have struck the Royals rotation pretty hard as well, sending Felipe Paulino, Danny Duffy (out for season – Tommy John surgery), Jonathan Sanchez, and Everett Teaford to the DL this year, forcing the Royals to pull two starts out of Omaha every time around the rotation.  On top of that, Luke Hochevar (who at least has stayed healthy) has been wildly inconsistent (6.63 ERA).  And amazingly, the Royals rank fifth in the American League with a team FIP of 3.95.

The Royals rank highly on the strength of their excellent bullpen, which has thrown the most innings in all of baseball, but their rotation also deserves credit for keeping the ball in the ballpark.  The Royals have been a highly disappointing defensive team, ranking at the bottom of the AL with a .679 defensive efficiency, ahead of only the Detroit Tigers.  But as long as the Royals pitchers continue to keep the ball in the yard (of Royals who have thrown 24 or more innings, only Kelvin Herrera has a higher HR rate than 1.0/9 IP), the defense can improve the run prevention unit when it gets healthy.  The Royals pitching staff is doing this in a year where Kauffman Stadium has played like an extreme hitters’ park.

Which is a fact that really helps to frame how disappointing the starting lineup has been for the Royals.  When you’re 13th in the AL in defensive efficiency and 13th in the AL in runs scored, exactly what are you doing to help your pitching staff?  For the most part, what the Royals’ lineup has done is suck up money, and not a whole lot else.

The exceptions to the rule have been 3B Mike Moustakas and DH Billy Butler, both of whom are enjoying all-star caliber seasons, and with the all-star game being played in Kansas City this year, it’s going to be a travesty when Ron Washington picks the highly inconsistent Jonathan Broxton for the team instead.  Broxton is the member of the Royals most likely to be traded before the end of the season, and they haven’t played the all-star game in KC in 39 seasons.  Naturally, this will happen.

The 2012 Kansas City Royals can still conceivably trend towards either the outhouse (worst record in baseball) or the penthouse (shocking AL Central champs) and once the team is healthy, their plight will likely be determined by their reinforcements.  And rather than buying veteran talent at the deadline, the Royals enjoy the luxury of being able to promote from within.  There aren’t many teams who can choose to add a middle of the lineup bat to a punchless order without giving up the farm to do so, but the Royals can (and likely will) call up OF Wil Myers who now has more home runs than any player in minor league baseball this year, when he hit his 20th HR–a grandslam–off Roy Oswalt today in Omaha.  They also have SP Jake Odorizzi, who today dropped his triple A ERA to 2.22 (28.1 IP) in five games this year.

The Royals aren’t going to rush their prospects to the majors, but at this point, both top prospects appear to be MLB ready.  And while the Royals are probably going to be pretty patient through interleague play and try to win with the roster they have now, the Royals are going to look very different on July 1st than they do right now.  Up to 30% of the 25-man roster could be modified over the next month.

At the end of the year, it might not matter.  The Royals appear to be headed clearly towards another fourth place finish.  But then again, it might matter.  And until someone steps up and runs away with the AL Central, the Royals should do what they have to in order to stay in the race.

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