Improvement and anticipation. At the beginning of 2011, realistically, I am not sure the Royals organization or fans had much expectation beyond just improvement. There was also anticipation of seeing some of the best farm system in baseball play at some point over the summer. The Royals didn’t disappoint in either fashion. The Royals improved from 67 wins in 2010 to 71 wins in 2011. A modest improvement, but an improvement nonetheless, and they did so with the debuts of a bunch of players. The Royals farm system showed well, especially their bullpen and 1B Eric Hosmer. Heading into 2011, the starting pitching looked questionable, and that proved to be the weaker link of the team. The rotation for much of the year was pieced together by guys who should be fighting for a 5th spot in the rotation, putting a lot of pressure on the offense.
What Went Right?
A couple of things went right for the Royals. First, the offense showed that it could produce. Off-season pick-ups Melky Cabrera and Jeff Franceour contributed mightily, and look like they are coming into their own. Alex Gordon finally became the player they thought he could, leading the A.L. left fielders in WAR. Billy Butler continued to hit. The Royals saw a plethora of young players contribute, mainly Eric Hosmer, who looked like a mainstay in the middle of the order for years to come. Mike Moustakas finished the season strong, going for a .960 OPS in the month of September. The Royals also found an impressive array of young bullpen arms, led by Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Louis Coleman, Greg Holland, and Everett Teaford.
What Went Wrong?
Well, when Bruce Chen is your best starter by far, there is something wrong. This is no knock on Bruce, he had a good year, going for an ERA of 3.77 in 25 starts. But for a team that is going to be built on youth going forward, they didn’t get any help in that regard from their starting rotation. “Ace” Luke Hochevar went 11-11 on the season and finished with an ERA of 4.68. Veteran pick-up Jeff Francis went 6-16 with an ERA of 4.82. They did pick up Felipe Paulino off of the waiver pile, and he performed alright going 4-6 in his 20 starts with a 4.11 ERA. The starting rotation also saw the debut of lefty youngster Danny Duffy, who flashed good stuff, but didn’t show a good idea of how to put away major league hitters just yet.
What really went wrong regarding the rotation was the non-development of a couple of the Royals youngsters that we might have seen otherwise. Two guys struggled in the minors in lefties Mike Montgomery and Chris Dwyer. A third, John Lamb, had to undergo Tommy John surgery.
Youth and talent. Regardless of the record, there is talent on this team. The offense is going to good, and it’s led by a bunch of guys that are well under 30. The Royals are solid defensively as well, led by whiz SS Alcides Escobar, Jeff Franceour and young catcher Salvador Perez. There is a lot to like here. Just need some guys to take a step forward in the rotation.
Inexperience. Starting pitching. One of the things you notice when watching the Royals is the inexperience can come through from time to time. When they gain some experience, it will turn some of the close losses into close wins. The Royals played a bunch of one run games and were 25-32 in those contests.
Pending Free Agents:
Nothing of consequence here except Bruce Chen. Just Jeff Francis and Jason Kendall. I don’t think either will be re-signed, but Chen is more than likely a somewhat sought after commodity.
Starting Pitching. Experience. It’s weird to say this about a team that won only 71 games and finished fourth, but there are no holes really on the diamond beyond pitching. Position wise, the Royals look like they are set going into the off-season. The thing that is going to help them guys most is experience. With Duffy, Paulino, Hochevar and potentially Everett Teaford, being locked into the rotation, the Royals could use a couple of guys to compete for spots next season.
Things are looking better in Kansas City. The team went 34-37 in the 2nd half, and could be a team that surprises a little in 2012. 2013 has always been the window for competing seriously in my opinion, so I don’t think the Royals will be very active in free agency this off-season. There could be some trading, but not a lot makes sense for the Royals unless they make a big splash and get C.J. Wilson or a Roy Oswalt. One guy that could make sense for the Royals is Edwin Jackson.
Make no mistake though, this team is on the rise.