How the Royals can win the AL Central
December, 11, 2012
By Mark Simon | ESPN.com
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesImprovement from Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, right, could lift the Royals into contention.
What would it take for the Kansas City Royals to unseat the Detroit Tigers, overtake the Chicago White Sox and hold off the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins to win the American Central in 2013?
Over the past three seasons, the AL Central champions finished the season with a roster totaling about 38 wins above replacement.
The 2012 Royals finished the season 25 wins above replacement, so there is a gap to be closed. We’re going to see if we can come up with the combination of numbers to close it.
The chart on the right shows MLBdepthcharts.com's projected Royals lineup for 2013 along with 2012 WAR total for those players.
Let’s take the youngest players in that group and give them some room to grow. Let’s bump Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Billy Butler, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez up an average of half a win each. And let’s work off the idea that Alex Gordon and the Chris Getz/Johnny Giavotella platoon will match in 2013 what they did in 2012.
Then, let’s make two leaps of faith.
1. That Jeff Francoeur goes from being the lowest-valued position player in baseball (minus-2.7 WAR) to borderline-replacement level (minus-0.7 WAR) by getting his defensive game back to something reasonable and by improving slightly as a hitter and baserunner (remember, he’ll be only 29 when the season starts).
2. That Eric Hosmer fixes what ailed him during his sophomore slump and gains back the WAR that he lost from 2011 to 2012, pushing him back up to 1.3 for 2013.
If all of that was to happen for the Royals, that lineup would be worth a collective 22.8 WAR, up 6.5 wins from what it was worth in 2012.
The Royals are not projected to have a strong bench in 2013, and most of their top-prospect position players are projected to start the season in Double-A or below.
So we’re going to presume that when they do go to reserves, they are hurt by replacement-level-or-less players more often than they are helped by Jarrod Dyson and Irving Falu.
Let’s subtract 2.0 WAR over the course of the season for the time seen by the bench.
That gives the Royals a position-player group worth 20.8 WAR.
The Royals basically have a No. 2 starter (James Shields) filling a No. 1 role, a No. 3 starter (Jeremy Guthrie) filling a No. 2 role, and a No. 4 starter (Ervin Santana) filling a No. 3 role. They have Wade Davis as their No. 4, which seems about right, and Bruce Chen as the No. 5.
Again, remember that we’re creating a scenario in which the Royals win the AL Central. So let’s take a rosy view of this fivesome and hand them 140 starts.
Let’s peg Shields as a 4-WAR pitcher, Guthrie as a 3-WAR pitcher and Santana as a 2-WAR pitcher.
That’s not a horrendous reach. Those numbers would rate as the third-, fourth- and fifth-best seasons for those pitchers, respectively.
Davis was a 1.1-WAR starter in 2010, so let’s plug him in for 1.0 in 2013.
With Chen set to turn 36 in June and trending downward, we’ll drop him from -0.2 to -1.2.
We’ll split up the remaining 22 starts among Luis Mendoza, Luke Hochevar, Guillermo Moscoso, Will Smith, Tommy John-recoverees Felipe Paulino and Danny Duffy and whichever prospects (and they still have a few) emerge from the minors.
The big thing here is that if those top five Royals starters are healthy, their fill-ins can’t do too much damage. We’ll subtract 1.0 WAR for their work.
Now to the bullpen -- and we know that relief pitching is volatile. But again, we’re trying to establish what the Royals need to win, not what they will do.
Among Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, Aaron Crow, Louis Coleman and Tim Collins, two will probably struggle to duplicate their 2012 numbers, and maybe one of the others gets hurt.
As a group, those five guys were worth 6.8 WAR last season. That’s pretty good and strikes us as hard to duplicate. But again, this is a young group, so maybe the drop-off isn’t so great.
Let’s give them 5.0 WAR this time around and take away 1.0 WAR for anyone else who fills in for a time (the starters listed above, and Everett Teaford get the first crack).
Let’s add it all together. The lineup has a value of 20.8 WAR. The starting rotation is worth 8.0 WAR and the bullpen is worth 5.0 WAR.
That gets us to almost 34 wins above replacement.
Our target was 38.
So we still have four wins to make up.
How do we do that? We change a few numbers.
Let’s add a win to Shields and make him a 5-WAR pitcher, something he has done once before in his career. That means he should be getting some Cy Young votes.
Let’s make Guthrie a 3.5-WAR pitcher, meaning he basically does what he did in 91 innings for the Royals in 2012 for 200 innings in 2013.
Let’s make Davis a 1.5-WAR pitcher, which is better than he has done before, but he's young enough to improve.
That takes care of half of the win gap. Now we need to find two more wins among the position players.
There are a number of ways to do this, such as adding 0.2 WAR to every regular (boring), taking a couple regulars and making them a bit better (also boring), making Francoeur into an almost-average player (meh) or hand all of that WAR to one player (fun!).
I like the last option, even though it’s a bit reckless.
I’m going to give those 2 WAR to Hosmer and make him a 3.3 for 2013.
Hosmer rated 26th in WAR among the 30 players with 300 at-bats who played at least half their games at first base last season. Bumping him to a 3.3 would jump him 20 spots, to the point of being viewed among the better first basemen in the game.
So, Royals fans, that’s what you’re looking at. Unrealistic? Probably.
But here’s the key point: No one said this was going to be easy.