Kansas City Royals
2017 Record: 80-82
Third Place, AL Central
Team ERA: 4.61 (20th)
Team OPS: .731 (23rd - tied)
Editor’s Note: FanDuel is hosting the Rotoworld Beat the Writers Series, where you can play against five Rotoworld football writers for your chance at cash prizes and free entry into their Sunday Million. Put your knowledge to the test!
What Went Right
This was the last go-around for the core of this roster and for a little while, it looked like they could make another run. It didn’t turn out that way in the end, but we still saw some strong individual performances. Impending free agents Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas both enjoyed the best seasons of their respective careers. Pretty good timing. Hosmer batted .318/.385/.498 with 25 homers and 94 RBI while Moustakas set the franchise record with 38 homers. Lorenzo Cain, who is also poised to hit the open market, played in a career-high 155 games while batting .300/.363/.440 with 15 homers and 26 steals. After being passed over for the Opening Day roster in favor of young Raul Mondesi, Whit Merrifield broke out with a .288/.324/.460 batting line to go along with 19 homers, 78 RBI, and 34 steals. Salvador Perez produced career-highs with 27 homers and 80 RBI while posting his highest OPS+ (105) since 2013. Jason Vargas earned an All-Star nod with a brilliant first half before falling apart in the second half. Mike Minor was awesome (2.55 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 88 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings) in a relief role after missing multiple seasons due to injury. Jake Junis showed some potential during the second half, compiling a 3.55 ERA and 52/9 K/BB ratio in 63 1/3 innings over 10 starts and two relief appearances. Rookie Jorge Bonifacio slugged 17 homers in 113 games, though he's still a work in progress offensively. Scott Alexander (2.48 ERA) emerged as a valuable bullpen piece.
What Went Wrong
The Royals finished two games under .500 despite having a -89 run differential. As noted earlier, there were a number of interesting individual standouts, but the offense was underwhelming on the whole. This was mostly because the lineup was weighed down by 1,170 plate appearances from Alcides Escobar and Alex Gordon, who were among the worst hitters in the majors. Only the Rangers’ Rougned Odor had a lower wRC+ among qualified hitters. Jorge Soler was a worthwhile gamble in the Wade Davis trade with the Cubs, but he was a tremendous flop with a .144/.245/.258 batting line in 35 games. Free agent addition Brandon Moss picked things up over the final three months, but he still batted just .207/.279/.428 on the year. Danny Duffy was arrested for a DUI in late August and missed some time with an elbow injury. He underwent surgery earlier this month to remove a bone spur from the elbow. Kelvin Herrera didn’t work out as hoped in the closer role, posting a 4.25 ERA in 64 appearances. The Royals’ midseason acquisitions (Melky Cabrera, Trevor Cahill, Brandon Maurer, Ryan Buchter) didn’t pan out. The Royals gave up Matt Strahm in the deal with the Padres, which they could regret in the long-term. Nate Karns showed some early promise before undergoing surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. Ian Kennedy took a big step back with a 5.38 ERA over 30 starts.
**This is the sort of season we’ve been waiting on from Eric Hosmer. The 27-year-old managed to retain the power he showed in 2016 while improving his plate discipline. He posted the highest walk rate of his career and his contact rate jumped by nearly five percent (75.4 percent to 80.2 percent, per FanGraphs) compared to 2016. He also sprayed the ball all over the field, a partial explanation for the .351 BABIP. Hosmer still finds himself among the league leaders in ground ball rate, which limits his upside in the power department, but he’s now posted a HR/FB rate north of 20 percent in back-to-back years. Still, I don’t see much room for growth here unless he lofts the ball more often. When looking to 2018 and beyond, the big question is where Hosmer will end up this winter. Signing with, say, the Red Sox, would be mighty interesting from a fantasy perspective. Sorry, Royals fans.
**Mike Moustakas appeared to be trending in the right direction from a power perspective before suffering a torn ACL in 2016, but he took things to a new level this year, blowing away his previous career-high in homers while batting .272/.314/.521 in 148 games. There were some real changes behind the surge, as he was the latest player to increase his fly ball rate while pulling the ball more often. I’m not sure about buying a full repeat, though. I’d have more faith if his production was backed up by his exit velocity and hard-hit rate. He didn’t rank highly in either area. Similar to Hosmer, we’ll have a better idea about how to value him depending on where he signs this offseason.
**Whit Merrifield showed flashes of being a useful fantasy option in 2016, but nobody saw this coming. Certainly not the Royals, who had Merrifield begin the season in the minors after Raul Mondesi was given a chance at the starting second base job. It didn’t take them long to realize that it was a mistake. Merrifield was back up in the majors by late April and soon ran away (quite literally) with the second base gig, and eventually, the leadoff spot. The 29-year-led the American League with 34 stolen bases and cut down on his strikeouts in a big way compared to 2016. He’s never posted power numbers like this before in the minors, but it’s worth noting that he enjoyed a 10-point jump in his fly ball rate compared to last season. It would be nice if he showed more patience, but the Royals don’t have a clear in-house alternative to the leadoff spot at the moment. Merrifield is in a good spot here, though the supporting cast might not be as solid if Hosmer, Moustakas, and Cain depart. As for Mondesi, another potential speed option in fantasy leagues, he will presumably get every opportunity to take over shortstop duties from impending free agent Alcides Escobar.
**After breaking out with a 3.51 ERA and 188/42 K/BB ratio over 179 2/3 innings in 2016, Danny Duffy signed a five-year, $65 million extension with the Royals in January. The Royals envision Duffy as their ace moving forward, especially in the wake of Yordano Ventura’s tragic death earlier this year. The results were still pretty good when Duffy was on the field this year, as he posted a 3.81 ERA across 24 starts, but he was a different pitcher than he was in 2016. He failed to maintain his velocity spike, so we saw decreases in swinging strike rate and strikeout percentage and a small increase in his walk rate. On the other hand, he switched up his pitch mix and somehow gave up just 13 homers in 146 1/3 innings after giving up 27 homers last year. Maybe that’s not completely sustainable — we only saw slight changes in his batted ball profile — but Duffy continues to evolve in interesting ways.
**Fantasy owners were understandably intrigued to see Kelvin Herrera get a chance in the closer role this year. The 27-year-old had a 2.30 ERA in 214 appearances from 2014-2016 and did just fine on a fill-in basis in the ninth inning last year, but he had his worst season to date in 2017 and saw save opportunities go elsewhere down the stretch. While Herrera was throwing just as hard as ever, he missed significantly fewer bats and saw his walk rate almost double from 2016. He was bothered by a forearm strain during the second half, which partially explains the drop-off. Herrera made $5.325 million in 2017 and has one more year of team control remaining, so barring a trade, he figures to be in the mix for save chances again. Mike Minor is expected to test the open market and might find a more appealing offer elsewhere. Joakim Soria and Scott Alexander could be worth watching here, depending on what happens with Herrera.
Team Needs: Some clarity about the future direction for this franchise. Hosmer and Moustakas figure to be among the most sought-after free agents this offseason, which obviously doesn’t bode well. Perhaps Cain could be a more realistic target for a return, though one wonders whether it’s worth spending the money to retain him if they will be missing some big pieces moving forward. Rebuild time?