The 2010 Kansas City Royals won 67 games. The 2011 Kansas City Royals won 71 games. A four game improvement doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but look at it this way. The Royals slashed payroll from $74 million in 2010 to $38 million in 2011, a nearly 50% decrease. The average age of their hitters went from 28.8 in 2010 to 25.8 in 2011. The average age of their pitchers went from 27.5 in 2010 to 26.4 in 2011. They subtracted the 2009 Cy Young winner in Zack Greinke. And yet, despite all that…the Royals won more games than they did last year. The team was more successful, cheaper, and younger. These things usually don’t go hand in hand, but for the 2011 Royals, they did. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a great team by any means. The Royals finished tied for the fifth worst record in baseball, and will pick anywhere between fifth and seventh in the upcoming draft to even further bolster their farm system. But there were massive improvments from a year ago.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
When Jeff Francoeur was signed in the offseason, fans across the country laughed, knowing it was bound to happen with Royals GM Dayton Moore’s affection for former Braves players. But Francoeur was actually….dare I say….GOOD for the Royals this year. He hit .285/.326/.476 with 20 homers, and also stole 22 bases. Another former Brave, Melky Cabrera, was one of the worst players in baseball last year. He was one of the biggest surprises in 2011 for Kansas City, hitting .305/.339/.470 a year after hitting .255/.317/.354 in Atlanta. Alex Gordon was finally given a full season to perform in the majors, and broke out in a big way, with a .303/.376/.502 line. He was worth a team-leading 6.9 fWAR on the season, and was one of the best players in baseball. The team was also remarkably healthy, with five offensive starters playing in at least 150 games. Super prospect Eric Hosmer debuted in May, and finished his rookie year at .293/.334/.465.
WHAT WENT WRONG
The pitching staff was terrible. Only Jeff Francis and Luke Hochevar threw at least 160 innings, and both responded with ERAs above 4.50. Kyle Davies was horrific in 13 starts and was released. One of the Royals chosen young arms, Danny Duffy, made 20 starts and struggled with his control. Sean O’Sullivan somehow walked more hitters than he struck out in ten starts and was one of the worst starters in baseball. Despite being excellent with the glove, the exact opposite of predecessor Yuniesky Betancourt, shortstop Alcides Escobar was terrible offensively. Top prospect Mike Moustakas flopped in a half season in the majors, with a .676 OPS. Chris Getz was a horror show at second base.
Francouer and Cabrera looked to be left for dead coming into 2011, and yet, both responded with excellent seasons that has the Royals wondering if they should give the pair long-term deals. Cabrera will be entering his last year of arbitration in 2012, while Francoeur was given a two year extension until 2013, so the commitment to the two isn’t exactly forever. Starting pitcher Bruce Chen was a pretty big surprise too, with a 3.77 ERA in what seems to be a tour of duty with his 15th career team. Felipe Paulino came over from the Rockies bullpen, and flourished as a starter, despite a 4-10 record. Former first round pick Aaron Crow worked out of the bullpen, and struck out a batter per inning, though his walks and homers were a little out of control. He even made the All-Star team. Greg Holland also came out of nowhere to be a demon in the bullpen, with a 1.80 ERA and 11 strikeouts per nine innings.
Scouts had pointed out the holes in Moustakas’ approach during his rise as a prospect, and those holes came to light during his debut season. I’m sure he’ll be fine in the long run, but will he be a superstar? Only time will tell. Closer Joakim Soria started the season very rough, and the cries from the internet that the Royals should have traded him intensified. He was never really able to get a foothold on the season, and he had three months with an ERA above 4.50, finishing the year at 4.03, a run and a half higher than his former career worst.
The only real changes that will be going on with this Royals team are in the starting rotation. Chen and Francis are both free agents. Catcher Jason Kendall is also a free agent, but when you consider that he didn’t play in one game in 2011 after some awful injuries in 2010, nothing is really changing there.
Most of the Royals offense is set, with seven of the nine positions seemingly locked down. The only two that are questionable, second base and catcher, are probably going to be filled internally, with Salvador Perez impressing behind the plate during a late season tryout. As for second base…Johnny Giavotella looks to be the front runner after a great season in AAA Omaha, despite not being lights out during his 46 games in the majors this season. Duffy, Hochevar and Paulino look to be locked into the rotation, with the other two spots up in the air with the probable departures of Chen and Francis. Top prospect Mike Montgomery struggled in 2011, but still has a bright future at only 22 years old.