In 2008, the Royals were outscored by 90 runs. Now, you can define good baseball teams by a lot of different factors, some statistical, some intangible, some even more nebulous than that. Still, without a doubt, good baseball teams score more runs than they allow.
You might have a season in the sun once in a while (ala Kansas City 2003) where you post a winning record with a negative run differential, but that’s a tough way to go through a baseball season. More often than not, playoff teams outscore their opponets by a wide margin. Take a look at these run differentials:
So, with our beloved Royals sitting a nice fat -90 for the year, it is not rocket science to know that the Royals need to find some runs…..and prevent some, too. See, in our thirst for more offense, it is important to note that the four of the six American League teams to score more than 800 runs in 2008 did NOT make the playoffs. In fact, Texas outscored second place Boston by 56 runs and was nowhere near contention.
With those facts in mind, let’s search for some way to narrow that run differential. We can speculate about free agents and trades all we want, but that is currently just conjecture. Instead, we’ll focus on the current roster and, in doing so, we might just identify where Dayton Moore should focus his efforts this off-season.
As a point of information, I will refer to ‘Runs Created’ a lot from here on out. For whatever reason, it seems there is a little disparity about how this statistic is arrived at, as I can find several different numbers under Runs Created depending on which website I visited. For today, I will use ESPN (don’t panic, not everything associated with ESPN is pure evil) as their Runs Created almost exactly adds up to the actual runs scored by the Royals.
The ‘They’ll Be Back and Be About the Same’ Group
Now, it’s possible some of these guys won’t be back, but my hunch is Greinke and DeJesus are both Royals in 2009.
David DeJesus created 84 runs in 2008, leading the team despite missing 27 games. Given that DDJ created 77, 76 and 87 runs in the three prior years and played more than 140 games just once in that span, we can pretty much assume that David will play about 135 games and create about 80 runs. That’s good enough for me, not sure why that doesn’t seem to be good enough for a fairly good sized block of the Royal fandom.
Like or not, Jose Guillen will also be back in 2009. If you exclude the lost 2006 season, Jose created 98, 72 and 90 runs leading up to the 72 he was credited with creating for the Royals in 08. One could reasonably expect that if Guillen reported in better shape and avoided the nagging injuries that maybe he could rise back up towards 90 runs. I don’t see it, however. Jose will be another year older and likely to hack his way towards an OBP in the very low .300s: expect another 72 runs or so.
On the pitching front, we have Gil Meche (210 IP, 3.98 ERA), Zack Greinke (202 IP, 3.47 ERA) and Joakim Soria (67 IP, 1.60 ERA). They will all be back and, short of a suprise move of Soria to the rotation, likely to put up virtually the same sort of numbers. Sure, if Meche manages to avoid the horrendus April he had in 2008, he might be better, but for now let’s just assume these three will give us very similar run preventing performances as they did in 2008.
So, there are our five core guys (count ‘em FIVE) - likely to fill the same roles with the same level of performance. Now, it gets interesting.
There Be Runs Here
Alex Gordon created 69 runs in his rookie season and improved it up to 78 runs in 2008. With his on-base percentage improving by 25 points, there is hope that Gordon is about to move his game to the next level. Maybe he’s not the next George Brett or even the next David Wright, but is it out of line to see Gordon post a .280/.370/.500 line in 2009? If so, that would likely translate into 90 plus runs created. The Royals gain 12 runs here.
Billy Butler created almost exactly as many runs in 2008 as he did in 2007, except it took him 32 more games to do it. Not quite what Royals’ fans were expecting out of a guy whose sole contribution to the team is and forever will be his bat, but he still created 11 more runs than Ross Gload in the same amount of time. I hope Butler will be better in 2009. I’m almost postive he will play more games. At worst, Billy should account for at least a ‘Teahen level’ of production, which was 72 runs in 2008. The Royals gain 21 more runs.
Who doesn’t love Mike Aviles? Who isn’t just a little skeptical of what might happen in 2009? Mike probably won’t post a .325/.354/.480 line again (that was worth 67 runs created in just 102 games). Still, even regressing a fair amount, Aviles will play somewhere everyday and certainly recreate his 67 runs, plus the 4 Tony Pena Jr. contributed (that’s right FOUR) and probably a few more beyond that. Let’s be conservative and say the Royals get five more runs out of Aviles in 2009.
On the pitching front, Brian Bannister was horrid in 2008, you cannot spin it any other way. With a 5.76 ERA in 183 innings, Brian was so much worse than his 2007 season that it is almost impossible for him NOT to get better in 2009. Frankly, a 4.96 ERA is not very good, but if Bannister could fight his way to that level, then he would effectively prevent 18 more runs than he did in 2008. I am not a big Bannister proponet, but I’ll wager he can check in with a sub five ERA in 2009. The Royals are plus 18 here under that assumption.
Yeah, Luke Hochevar is not and never will be Tim Lincecum: we all just have to get over that. A 5.51 ERA over 129 innings is not exactly what you look for in a number one overall pick. That said, Hochevar at times looked like a pretty solid number three or four starter or, at least, looked better than Brian Bannister. Drop that ERA down to the high fours and run the innings up to 160 or 170 and Luke is saving his team right around 9 runs.
Is the late September Kyle Davies for real? I don’t know, but if you tell me Kyle Davies will match his 4.06 ERA over a full season, I will take it right now - damn the peripherals and my own gut feelings. Truthfully, 180 innings of Kyle with a 4.50 ERA would pleasantly suprise me. While that does not sound all that exciting, keep in mind that Brett Tomko started 10 times in 2008 and posted an ERA of almost seven. Davies might regress, but the Royals would still be, at worst, even in the runs department.
Okay, Where Do We Stand?
Well, taking in all of the above assumptions, the Royals will have narrowed the run differential gap by 65 runs, which means they are still 25 runs away from breaking even in 2009.
Mark Grudzielanek will be gone, taking his 45 runs created in 86 games with him. Prior to 2008, Grudz had created 68, 69 and 64 runs the three previous years. Alberto Callaspo created 28 runs in 213 at-bats in 2008 and, should the Royals stick with an Aviles/Callaspo middle infield, should be able to at least match Grudzielanek’s production in 2009.
Let’s assume the bench and the bullpen contribute about the same again, so the Royals still need to find 25 runs. We have accounted for every position except catcher, first base and one outfield spot. Here it gets kind of dicey.
John Buck created 39 runs in 109 games. In the three seasons leading up to 2008, John created 43, 43 and 37 runs, so the idea that suddenly Buck is going to jump up 25 runs or so is pie in the sky. Miguel Olivo created 37 runs in 84 games (some as DH, mind you), but he almost certainly is going to opt out. I don’t have any grand expectations here as prying productive catchers away from other teams is probably harder than trading for an ace pitcher. I like what Brayan Pena did for Omaha this season, but I’m not sure a Pena/Buck combo gets it done. Without a major move behind the plate, the Royals might lose a few runs here.
I am officially done whipping on Ross Gload…at least until he is the 2009 Opening Day first baseman. As mentioned above, Ross created 40 runs in 122 games. Ryan Shealy created 14 in 20 games. Now, we all know Ryan Shealy is not going to play all of 2009 at the level of his September 08 production. However, a Shealy/Ka’aihue combination almost has to be better than 40 runs doesn’t it? After all, Ryan created 32 runs in just 51 games way back in 2007. If Shealy flounders, than Ka’aihue is worth a shot. Listen if the Royals finish up 2009 with their only hole being a slugging first baseman, I’ll be happy. Give the Shealy/KK combo a chance in 2009, if they fall flat, the Royals will still be no worse at the position than they were in 2008. Focus on other problems first, solve first base last: in theory, it should be the easiest hole to fill.
Now, we come to our friend Mark Teahen. The consensus, and count me in there, thinks Teahen is not good enough, but he still created 72 runs in 2008 (that’s more than Jose Guillen by the way). Over his career, Mark has created 52, 79 and 82 runs, which makes him a little closer to David DeJesus than I would like. Still, therein lies the problem: one DeJesus is good, two DeJesus’ is not so good and an outfield full of DeJesus’s (sp?!!@) is a problem. Essentially, the Royals need ONE outfielder that is a legitimate power hitting monster.
There were seventeen outfielders in the American League who created more runs than DeJesus’ 84 this past season. Two of them stand out as they are likely to be available this off-season: Raul Ibanez (105 runs created) and Bobby Abreu (104 runs created). Now, I know neither of those names really gets you excited as Raul and Bobby are both sub-par defenders and not anywhere near young anymore. Still, are either going to fall off a cliff in 2009? Even if you do not like either of those options, they illustrate that finding a player who is both 30 runs better than Mark Teahen AND available is not impossible.
That’s the number isn’t it? Thirty runs makes the Royals plus five in run differential in 2009. By staying healthy and making modest improvements, the current Kansas City roster will get Dayton Moore two-thirds of the way there. This off-season, all Moore has to do is find those last 30 runs.