Sep 15, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon (4) is congratulated by teammates after hitting a home run in the fourth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Halfway Home: Can the Royals Be Crowned Again?

The Kansas City Royals finished 86-76 in 2013, good for 3rd place in the AL Central, but seven games back in the surprisingly strong division. It was their first winning season since 2003, which was an important factor in Dayton Moore and Ned Yost keeping their jobs after the team invested so much of their future in the acquisition of James Shields from the Tampa Bay Rays prior to the 2013 season. The 2014 offseason was another busy one for Moore and the Kansas City management, as the team added Nori Aoki (trade with Milwaukee for left-handed reliever Will Smith), Danny Valencia (trade with Baltimore for outfielder David Lough), Omar Infante (four-year, $30.25 MM free agent deal), and Jason Vargas (four-years, $32 MM free agent deal) to a solid foundation of talent, as the club continues to lean on their ace Shields, first baseman Eric Hosmer, catcher Salvador Perez, and a powerful bullpen to hold onto the leads that they develop. While the Royals have had little to no help from third baseman Mike Moustakas and the quickly declining and powerless Billy Butler, they have had production from Lorenzo Cain in center, and some impressive starts from homegrown arms Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy. Regardless, how does this club look and where are they going in the second half? Glad you asked…

Where Do the Kansas City Royals Stand? The Royals are 40-38, four games back of Detroit and in 2nd place in the AL Central. The club’s Pythagorean record is also 40-38.

Manager: Ned Yost is in his fifth season at the helm in Kansas City. He has led the Royals to a 324-367 record (.469) and has a career managerial record of 781-869 (.473) over 11 seasons between Kansas City and Milwaukee.

Jun 8, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher James Shields (33) delivers a pitch against the New York Yankees during the first inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Rotation: The Kansas City rotation has the 10th best ERA in MLB (3.68), 11th best WHIP in MLB (1.26), and are ranked 22nd in MLB in FIP (4.04). James Shields, Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie, Yordano Ventura, and Danny Duffy each have an ERA of 3.79 or lower, while only Shields has a WHIP over 1.25 in 2014 (1.29). This group has been very effective, but with the young arms at the back of the rotation, consistency could be an issue over the course of the season, while innings limits late in the year could reek havoc on a late season push by the Royals. There likely wasn’t much expected out of Jason Vargas after he posted a 4.02 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in 150 innings for the Angels last season, but his 3.16 ERA and 1.21 WHIP to this point has been a positive for Kansas City. Shields has been the weakest link in the rotation on ERA and WHIP alone, but his FIP is at 4.12, so he will need to be much better if the Royals are going to continue to thrive this season.

Bullpen: The Kansas City Royals bullpen numbers are inflated by those who aren’t named Greg Holland, Aaron Crow, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera. The team bullpen ranks 18th in MLB in ERA (3.66), 18th in MLB in WHIP (1.31), and 9th in MLB in FIP (3.43). Holland, Crow, Davis, and Herrera have combined to pitch 130.1 innings with a 2.14 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP, and a 143:47 K:BB. While they’re all right-handed flame-throwers, once the Royals can line up this group in consecutive innings, there isn’t much hope for the opposition. Unfortunately, the rest of the bullpen hasn’t been nearly as effective, tossing 109.2 innings with a 4.60 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP, while posting a 62:39 K:BB. This is still a strong group, even with the weak links, but solid contributions beyond the four top arms would be helpful for workloads and overall success.

Offense: The Royals rank 7th in team average (.260), but they have the fewest home runs in baseball (45), and they rank 24th in team OPS (.684) and 24th in team wOBA (.303). Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer have combined to hit just six home runs in 659 plate appearances after hitting 32 last season, but Hosmer, along with left fielder Alex Gordon, have 21 doubles each, which is within the top 15 in that category. Still, the offense is quite putrid at times. Gordon continues to have tremendous overall value at the plate and in the outfield, which has led to a 4.3 WAR early in the season, which ranks as the 3rd highest in MLB behind Mike Trout and Troy Tulowitzki. Salvador Perez should be an All-Star, having developed into an excellent game manager with his already strong bat, while shortstop Alcides Escobar‘s average is back in the .280-range and he has 18 stolen bases, although his defensive numbers aren’t where they once were.

Defense: The Royals are 4th in MLB in defensive runs saved (DRS, 23), with Alex Gordon in left (16 DRS) and Jarrod Dyson (14) and Lorenzo Cain (9) in center being defensive wizards for the Royals. Perez has done well behind the plate (5 DRS) while gunning down 12 of 33 would-be base stealers. While the defense isn’t perfect, it certainly isn’t going to cost the club many games, even when Nori Aoki (-8 DRS) returns.

Feb 24, 2014; Surprise, AZ, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher Kyle Zimmer poses for a portrait during photo day at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

On the Farm: When the Royals traded Wil Myers with Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard for Shields and Davis, many thought that it was a crazy move by Dayton Moore; however, the Royals had a winning record with Shields and Davis has established himself as one of the top relievers in baseball. Beyond those moved and acquired, Dayton Moore and his staff have continued to fill the Royals pipeline with top-level talent. Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy have graduated, of course, but the Royals have right-handers Kyle Zimmer and Miguel Almonte, as well as left-hander Sean Manaea on the way through the system. There are also a few bats, as Raul Mondesi, Jr., Jorge Bonifacio, Hunter Dozier, and Bubba Starling have various skill sets that may be useful in the future. The club had three of the first 40 picks in the 2014 MLB Draft (Brandon Finnegan and Foster Griffin, both left-handed pitchers, and prep catcher Chase Vallot), which will help to further restock the system.

Buyers/Sellers? This one is tricky. The Royals seem to have all of the parts in the pitching staff, but they could certainly use a bat or two based on the unfortunate production from the current group; however, with James Shields heading towards free agency, could they be the dark horse in any David Price deal? They certainly have the pieces to jump into the trade market, but after hovering around at the top of the AL Central, even having a 1.5 game hold on first place as recently as June 18, should the club fold on the cards that they have when they have shown themselves as capable before? They have to assume that they will get more out of Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, and Omar Infante in the second half, which would immediately improve the roster and offense on a nightly basis. They could stand pat and be a better team than they are today if players with a greater potential to hit actually do begin to hit.

What to Expect in the Second Half: Anticipate the Royals improving offensively, while being very cautious with Ventura and Duffy to ensure that they can pitch deep into September. They could pitch Shields and Vargas on short rest several times to give the young arms extra days of rest, or limit innings by utilizing their electric bullpen arms after five innings. You’ll see more of Nori Aoki, and he will be very valuable and show better results at the plate, which will make his acquisition for a bullpen arm look like that much more of a steal. Eric Hosmer may never hit 25 home runs, but he’s much better than what he has shown. Some of those 21 doubles will start going out over the second half, but it appears that it doesn’t matter who the hitting coach is, Hosmer and Mike Moustakas just aren’t who we all thought they were. The Royals will compete and they will hover around the top and middle of the division. They have the talent in the rotation and bullpen to shutdown opposing teams, but it will all depend on where their bats can take them, which should be good enough to earn the second wild card if things break right for them.

Tags: Cleveland Indians Eric Hosmer Halfway Home James Shields Kansas City Royals

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