2021 ZiPS Projections: Kansas City Royalson November 24, 2020 at 3:30 pm

2021 ZiPS Projections: Kansas City Royals

After having typically appeared in the hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have now been released at FanGraphs for nine years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Kansas City Royals.





Batters

The Royals are not a dreadful team. They likely won’t lose 100 games or find themselves setting any horrifying, ineptitude-based records like when the 2019 Orioles allowed 75% of the home runs hit in baseball history. But they’re a phenomenally uninspiring club and like most Royals squads since owner Ewing Kauffman passed away in 1993, one that looks forever stuck in the limbo between not really being close to contending and only half-heartedly rebuilding. The Royals briefly broke the wheel in the mid-2010s when the players acquired in return for Zack Greinke, late 2000s prospects, and a few reclamation projects all peaked simultaneously, but they never had a plan to sustain winning beyond those amazing highlights. Since the strike in 1994, the Royals have a .441 winning percentage, the worst in baseball and the third-worst since Dayton Moore replaced Allard Baird as the general manager.

As such, the Royals have several talented veterans, none of whom are remotely likely to be in Kansas City the next time the team is good. It’s not a great sign for a rebuilding club when the offensive players with the most projected WAR remaining in their careers are largely the oldest ones. Adalberto Mondesi is the exception at age-25, at the top of the team with 19.6 estimated wins remaining, followed by Whit Merrifield, Jorge Soler, Salvador Perez, and Franchy Cordero. If you’re keeping score, that’s a 32-year-old outfielder, a 31-year-old injury-prone catcher, a late-20s designated hitter, and a player who last had 200 plate appearances in a season in 2017. Bobby Witt Jr. is the only position player under 25 with a mean projection of five wins in the majors in his entire career. Only Lucius Fox and MJ Melendez even project above replacement level.

Merrifield is a durable and flexible player and if the Royals aren’t an enjoyable franchise, you can least enjoy him in his last few years with the team. To suggest the Royals trade him is probably a lost cause at this point; they wouldn’t trade him for the offers of two years ago and he has a lot less trade value now. And while his 2020 wasn’t anything notable, Jorge Soler’s power is great fun to watch and when he’s both healthy and “on,” as he was in 2019, he can pile up as many homers as I do tweets involving tacos. ZiPS is more bullish on Soler than Steamer is, so he’s one of the points to watch in Projection Thunderdome.

While it doesn’t affect the trajectory of the team, it was nice to see Salvador Perez’s comeback in 2020. After missing 2019 with Tommy John surgery resulting from a spring workout elbow tear, Perez returned to crush 11 round-trippers in just 37 games, finishing at 1.9 WAR, his highest total since 2014. His caught-stealing rate behind the plate was one of the lowest of his career at 27%, but it’s a ludicrously small sample with only 11 attempts; just catching one more runner would have landed him at 36%, slightly above his career-average. No, Perez didn’t return as a highly-disciplined, Joey Votto-esque hitting professor or anything — he is what he is at this point in his career — but watching him attack every pitcher and occasionally come out ahead is fun. If the Royals aren’t going to be good, at least they can be fun.

Pitchers

I wouldn’t describe the rotation as contention-ready or even good, but it might be…goodish? Goodishish? ZiPS doesn’t see much upside in the rotation, but does think the five starters the Royals are likely to field are both best candidates for the job and likely to be above replacement level. There are two places here I’m more bullish than the computer. The first is Danny Duffy; I might just be overly sentimental, but I still have this feeling that he has an ace-like season left in the tank. The other is Carlos Hernandez. I’m not offended that the computer doesn’t know what to make of him; after never pitching above the Sally League, Hernandez and his 96-97 mph fastball were not completely overmatched in his short stint in the majors. This season presented less-than-ideal circumstances to throw a young, talented pitcher into, but I give the Royals a lot of credit for being forward-thinking. They were never going to be good this season and there just wasn’t an opportunity to pitch guys like Hernandez against appropriate-level minor league pitching in 2020.

Overall, unlike the lineup, ZiPS does like some of the young talent here. Whereas the computer only has a single position player under 25 passing the five-win mark, it sees Kris Bubic, Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, and Ronald Bolanos, along with Hernandez, passing that threshold and projects 11 pitchers overall to finish their major-league careers above replacement-level should they get the opportunity. Between Bolanos and Cordero, ZiPS thinks the Royals acquired 10 WAR (pre-free agency) for Tim Hill, which is a solid return.

The bullpen isn’t particularly good or particularly deep, but at this point, does it really need to be? The best use of the bullpen right now is as a home for the starters who don’t work out and as a testing ground for reclamation projections. Trevor Rosenthal was an immensely successful experiment for the team and sending him to the Padres in return for Edward Olivares is the type of move that Kansas City should make at every opportunity. The Royals had been hinting about re-signing Rosenthal, repeating their mistake of hanging onto Ian Kennedy when the latter successfully transitioned to the bullpen in 2019. But in this case, they proved me wrong. More of that please! After 2020, there are likely to be a number of rehabbing veterans like Danny Salazar and Aaron Sanchez in search of opportunities to demonstrate their arms are still attached.

One pedantic note for 2021: For the WAR graphic, I’m using FanGraphs’ depth charts playing time, not the playing time ZiPS spits out, so there will be occasional differences in WAR totals.

Ballpark graphic courtesy Eephus League. Depth charts constructed by way of those listed here.

Players are listed with their most recent teams wherever possible. This includes players who are unsigned, players who will miss 2021 due to injury, and players who were released in 2020. So yes, if you see Joe Schmoe, who quit baseball back in August to form a Finnish industrial death metal fourth-wave ska J-pop band, he’s still listed here intentionally.

Both hitters and pitchers are ranked by projected zWAR, which is to say, WAR values as calculated by me, Dan Szymborski, whose surname is spelled with a z. WAR values might differ slightly from those which appear in the full release of ZiPS. Finally, I will advise anyone against — and might karate chop anyone guilty of — merely adding up WAR totals on a depth chart to produce projected team WAR. ZiPS is assuming that the designated hitter will continue in force in 2021; if it does not, there will be widespread minor adjustments across the board come April.

ZiPS is agnostic about future playing time by design. For more information about ZiPS, please refer to this article, or get angry at Dan on Twitter or something.

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