The parent site of i70baseball, Baseball Digest, has recently been running their end of the year Report Cards for each franchise. The following is the post written by Todd Fertig for the site about the Kansas City Royals.
The revolving door has spun crazily in Kansas City the last several years, but the turnover may finally have come to a halt. The decade-long “youth movement” may finally have produced some youth worth keeping. The Royals minor league system earned a number one ranking last winter, and though the big league team lost 91 games, one by one top prospects matriculated to KC. By the end of the season the team’s entire starting lineup was 27 years old or younger, and only dreadful pitching kept the youngsters from contending in the AL Central.
Hopes for the Royals’ pitching staff were especially low entering 2011, so you would think it would be hard for the starters to disappoint. But the Royals’ youthful offense and fielding were unexpectedly strong, making the weakness of the rotation all the more glaring.
Kansas City finished 27th in the league in quality starts, as well as team ERA, and 26th in opponents’ slugging and OPS. Royal starters managed a mere two complete games, and just six shutouts. To comprehend just how directionless was the staff, consider that for an extended period KC utilized a six-man rotation, prolonging the Kyle Davies train wreck. He finished 1-9 with a 6.75 ERA before he was mercifully released.
It’s hard to believe the team’s best starter was nearly left off the roster prior to the season. But after searching high and low for anyone else, the Royals kept Bruce Chen, who wound up the team’s only starter with a winning record. Chen led the team in wins (12) and ERA (3.77).
Danny Duffy gained experience, but that’s about all you can say. Jeff Francis was a stop-gap at best. But Luke Hochevar may have turned a corner – he went 6-3 after the All-Star break, and finished with a 1.283 WHIP. Felipe Paulino was a revelation, posting 8.6 SO/9 and a 1.372 WHIP.
Though the bevy of young arms in the pen gained a measure of acclaim, this group was not really all that effective as a whole in 2011. Closer Joakim Soria’s troubles were well documented. Soria blew several saves when the Royals still had hopes of contending, and the psychological effect of those collapses on the rest of the club cannot be overestimated. Soria had never posted an ERA above 2.48. This year it was 4.03.
Setup man Aaron Crow started with the sizzle the Royals hoped for from a first-rounder. But after being named to the 2011 All-Star Game, he let teams hit .313 and score 4.34 earned runs after the break. The cast of Tim Collins, Louis Coleman, Blake Wood, Nate Adcock and Greg Holland was at times serviceable, while at other times atrocious.
The Royals foolishly hoped Jason Kendall had something left in the tank. The 37-year-old never made it off the DL. Matt Treanor filled in admirably, but there was never a hope he would hit. Bryan Pena disappointed at the plate as well, and the Royals finally turned to 21-year-old phenom Salvador Perez in September. His lock on the position is now rock-solid.
Seemingly every month, an infield position was handed over to one of the Royals’ coveted prospects. Alcides Escobar assumed the shortstop duties on opening day. In May, first baseman Eric Hosmer made his feverishly-anticipated debut. June saw Mike Moustakas move in at third base. The transition was complete in August when Johnny Giavotella took over at second.
Giavotella and Moustakas had mixed results. Moustakas struggled mightily for much of the season. But he broke loose with 12 doubles, four homers and 19 RBI in his last 36 games. During that span, only one player bested his .379 average.
Hosmer asserted himself as the team leader and will only get better. The 21-year-old made a push for Rookie of the Year with 19 homers and 78 RBI in just 128 games. Escobar, meanwhile, looks to be the long-term answer at short.
Billy Butler is a capable fill-in at first, and is arguably one of the best designated hitters in the league. He hit .291 and found his power stroke in the second half to finish with 19 homers and 44 doubles.
A very convincing argument could be made that Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur made up THE BEST outfield in all of baseball in 2011. Defensively, they blew the curve with 49 assists. Gordon earned a Gold Glove in left, and Francoeur got snubbed in right in favor of Nick Markakis.
The trio was also a doubles machine. They combined for 136 doubles, each finishing in the top 8 of the league. As a group they also belted 61 homers.
At the plate, Gordon had one of the best seasons by a Royals outfielder in history. He was one of just five players in all of baseball to hit better than .300 with 20+ homers and 45+ doubles.
Top Offensive Player
Gordon’s 5.9 WAR was KC’s highest since 2003. In just his second year in left field, he became one of the best.
Chen missed more than a month, or his numbers might have been even more impressive. Even so, he continues to pitch like an adult, as opposed to Davies, Hochevar, Duffy, etc. Few in baseball get more from their physical ability than Chen.