Shockingly Closer Than You Think

Hoch's 2nd half turnaround lights the path to contention.

The season has only been over for about 10 days, and already there are blogs and articles being posted targeting who the Royals will need to acquire before next year to compete in 2012.  And already there are the usual naysayers who say no matter who they pick up, it won’t be enough to climb to within striking distance of the Tigers.

This article is doing what the others don’t do, refuse to do, or don’t fathom.  Nearly all of the advanced metrics kicked around in comments sections of the posts mentioned above site WAR differences Dayton Moore must make up in order to win an AL Central crown, but in all actuality, it boils down to one relatively simple metric:

Run Differential.

For a 20 games below .500 team (the Royals finished 71-91), the run differential should mirror what the Chicago Cubs did in 2011:  a -100 run differential between the runs scored for your club and the runs allowed generally will cause a 20 games below .500 result. The problem is, it didn’t.  They were only outscored by 34 runs, which forced their Pythagorean win-loss record to 78-84, good enough to be 2nd in the AL Central this year, behind the Tigers by just 11 games instead of the 24 games they actually finished behind Detroit.

The first question that should be asked is this:  Can the Royals maintain an offense that ranked 6th in the American League with 730 runs?  Secondly, can they do anything about preventing more runs than the 764 yielded this past season, even yield much fewer?  Third, can they do both?

To address the first question, a simple yes will do.  In more detail, Kansas City was blessed with career years from their outfield trio of Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera, and Jeff Francoeur.  But all three are 27 and are still in their prime, so repeating their performances is not outside of the realm of possibility, in fact, I would suggest it should be expected.  It isn’t like they hit 50 homers apiece and drove in 150 runs.  No.  What they did do is hit 40+ doubles, steal nearly 20 bases, and hit nearly 20 homers.  Easily repeatable.

Also in the offense was an influx of highly talented young players like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Johnny Giavotella, and returned lineup stalwart Billy Butler.  All but Giavotella had good-to-great stretches in their rookie year, hitting for power and average over the last 6 weeks.  Butler hit 19 homers and drove in 95 after a typical slow 1st half start.

Hosmer

The notion that we should not expect players to do any better over the next season or two is illogical, but I have seen it more than once on the internet.  Granted, I don’t have a crystal ball, but it would seem that players who have improved at each level of the minors like Hosmer, Giavotella, and Perez have done (and Moose didn’t disappoint in AAA), should be expected to have an excellent chance of making strides in the near future.

But the intent of this article is to address the second question.  Can the Royals prevent fewer runs from scoring.  Aside from the obvious upgrade of Melky’s glove in center with Lorenzo Cain’s, the defense is much improved over 2009-10 levels and actually could be described as above-average.

No, what I am after is the pitching staff.  The whole pitching staff, bullpen and starters included.  Below is a construction of the staff, which also includes reasonable and attainable statistical levels.

STARTING ROTATION

Luke Hochevar.  Sadly, Luke is once again our “ace”.  But before you roll your eyes skyward, consider this.  After a much publicized adjustment after the All-Star Break, Hoch put together a very good 2nd half:

6-3, 3.53 ERA, 7.7 K/9, 2.7 BB.9, opponent’s triple slash of .222 / .283 / .364.

I’m sorry, but that is borderline dominant.  But can he repeat it?  Let’s assume so.  I will give Luke 33 starts next year with a 3.65 ERA, a full run better than where he finished 2011, but slightly worse than what he proved over 12 starts to close this last year.  Reasonable?

2.  Bruce Chen.  Bringing Chen back for a year or two for relatively cheap money should be no problem.  He’s proven he is a reliable #4 starter, and that’s just fine for this exercise.  He finished 2011 with a 3.77 ERA, following up a 4.17 ERA from 2010.  Would it be outlandish to chalk Bruce up for a 4.00 ERA in 2012, should he come back?

3.  Felipe Paulino.  Many praise Moore for claiming Paulino off the waiver wire scrap heap in May of this year.  Paulino is a big dude, and came with absolutely nothing good in his history in the bigs, save for the ability to strike people out.  His ERAs have been atrocious in the NL, making his 4.11 ERA in 20 starts for the Royals all the more amazing.  I have some questions about his durability, but he has the chance to be a sub 4 ERA guy.  I’m penciling him in for 33 starts and a 3.90 ERA.

4.  Danny Duffy.  The first of the coveted group of lefties the Royals began the year in the minors with, Duffy struggled to command his good-to-great stuff.  He also made 20 starts, but high pitch counts and periods of ineffectiveness limited his ability to go deep into games.  Judging from what he was able to do in all levels of the minors with his command, I would think Duffy has a better than good chance of “finding it” and improving a whole run on his 5.64 ERA performance.  Count on 31 starts at a 4.64 ERA in 2012 from the young southpaw.

5a.  Mike Montgomery.  The other top lefty in the system, Monty struggled numbers wise at Omaha in 2011, his first at the AAA level.  From what I read several times in the Star, he was being asked to work on “developmental things”, which led to inflated numbers.  Moore and Yost both think he will be “fine”.  Would it be crazy to get 20 starts out of Montgomery at a 4.75 ERA?  This is probably the biggest stretch, but if you think that’s insane, give the starts to…

5b.  Everett Teaford.  The dark horse lefty in the system from 2010, Teaford pitched fairly well this past season, both as a reliever and as a starter.  His peripherals don’t add up to the pitcher Duffy or Montgomery can be, but he does get batters out, and he deals with fewer runners due to better BB/9 and H/9 figures.  Between Montgomery and Teaford, I expect 32 starts (20 Monty / 12 Teaford).  Give Teaford a 4.25 ERA too.  Reasonable?

In summary for the starters (using innings / start from 2011 for the most part):

Hochevar:  33 starts, 210 innings, 3.68 ERA = 86 earned runs

Chen:  33 starts, 198 innings, 4.00 ERA = 90 earned runs

Paulino:  33 starts, 205 innings, 3.90 ERA = 87 earned runs

Duffy:  32 starts, 170 innings, 4.64 ERA = 88 earned runs

Montgomery:  20 starts, 120 innings, 4.75 ERA = 63 earned runs

(Teaford’s stats below, as he will split time in rotation and in the bullpen).

Innings pitched = 903

Earned runs = 416

ERA = 4.15

RELIEVERS

Soria needs a bounce-back year in 2012.

Joakim Soria.  He can’t possibly be as bad as he was in 2011.  I am banking on Jack having a comeback year of sorts, to the tune of a 2.50 ERA in 65 innings.

Greg Holland.  The first Moore-era draftee to make the majors, Holland is more than just the answer to some inane trivia question.  He was a revelation out of the bullpen last year.  His 1.80 ERA might be unsustainable, as well as his stranded runner percentage, but I would not be out of my mind to expect a 2.30 ERA in 75 innings, right?

Aaron Crow.  I don’t see Crow sticking in the rotation out of spring training (can you imagine if he can?  Rewrite my above rotation).  He’s seen a full year in the majors and if he stays healthy, he could post a 2.90 ERA in 65 innings, which looks an awful lot like his 2011 campaign.  Do I need to be committed to an insane asylum yet?

Tim Collins.  Many people seem almost gleeful at the prospect of Tiny Tim toiling in Omaha next year.  I see a guy who is 21 years of age and can only get better with his command with experience.  If he does, his walks go down, his strikeouts go up, and his effectiveness goes with it.  I may be stretching him a little, but a 3.30 ERA in 70 innings sounds good enough.

Blake Wood.  As the mop-up guy next year (no Adcock on the 25 man anymore), his performance is of little consequence.  But he could continue to improve, and a 3.60 ERA in 70 innings doesn’t sound mental.  His 3.75 from last year was coupled with good strikeout numbers, and along with Holland, improved a ton over 2010, their de facto rookie years.

Louis Coleman.  Coleman is tough on righties and can rack up strikeouts in a hurry.  He’s a perfect 7th inning man, and I could see him rack up a 2.50 ERA in 70 innings in relief next year.  This is only a very small improvement over this past year.

Summary of the relievers (minus Teaford):

Soria:  65 innings, 2.50 ERA = 18 earned runs

Holland: 70 innings, 2.30 ERA = 19 earned runs

Crow:  65 innings, 2.90 ERA = 21 earned runs

Collins:  70 innings, 3.30 ERA = 26 earned runs

Wood:  70 innings, 3.60 ERA = 28 earned runs

Coleman:  70 innings, 2.50 ERA = 19 earned runs

Innings pitched:  415

Earned Runs:  131

ERA:  2.84

The swingman, Teaford, has numbers that make the team “whole”, or getting to the 1450 innings pitched in 2011.  His line is:

Teaford:  45 games, 12 starts, 102 innings, 4.25 ERA = 48 earned runs.

Final tally

Innings pitched:  1450

Earned runs:  611

Earned runs-to-runs allowed conversion for Royals defense in 2011 = 1.0642

Total runs allowed:  650

ERA = 3.79

Who had a 3.79 ERA in the American League this past year?  The AL West Champion Texas Rangers did, ranking 5th in the league.

What does a run differential of +80 get you (730 runs scored vs. 650 allowed)?

90!

Now, in the American League, the Royals were the most unlucky team, as measured by the difference between their Pythagorean expected wins and their actual wins, finishing at -7.  So, that creates a range of expectation of 83-97 wins with this configuration.

I think Moore and the Royals know this.  Average/casual fans probably don’t.  They don’t need to be insanely crazy on the free agent market in the offseason, nor do they have to trade away precious prospects to get top-flight pitchers.  Moore has assembled a very strong bullpen and the acquisition of Paulino as an effective innings-eater (not to mention buffets) has position himself to reap the rewards of internal improvements.

The 730 runs scored in 2011 would be a good target, and I feel there is just as good of a chance to exceed that level of production as there is to regress.

But 90 wins in run differential is 90 wins.  Detroit’s Pythag was 89, but they finished with 95 wins.  We are closer than one thinks to contend.  Nothing in the above math is crazy, but there is one shortcoming this exercise can’t address accurately, and that is injuries.  How they play into the calculation is unknown, and a free agent pickup like Edwin Jackson or Javier Vasquez would be insurance against mediocrity, as long as they don’t break the bank.

~Greg

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~ by goetgre on October 8, 2011.

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