Morning Coffee: Looking Back on One Little Comment
Two years ago in spring training, Jon Heyman tweeted the following:
‚Äúthere seems to be a consensus as to who‚Äôs the best¬†#cactusleague¬†team. Answer: the 2013 kansas city royals‚ÄĚ
Well here we are in 2013, and spring training is just around the corner. Back in the spring of 2011, the Royals had lot going for them. They had just traded Zack Greinke to the Brewers and received a shortstop and center fielder who they felt could play immediately, a flame throwing ¬†reliever who might be able to finally put it all together and a starting pitcher who was a couple years away still, but had some legitimate potential and a very high floor. They were coming off being ranked as the number one farm system in all of baseball. While there were a lot of excellent bats in the organization, I think a lot of the reason for the high ranking was the four left-handed starters (Montgomery, Lamb, Duffy and Dwyer) who looked like they had all the potential in the world. Eric Hosmer looked amazing with the bat and it looked for all the world like the Royals were close, but just not quite there.
Well it’s been two seasons and I think it’s safe to say the 2013 Royals are not going to be the best team in the Cactus League, which is both unsurprising and a little disappointing based on what we saw in the spring of 2011. Everybody knows what happened between then and now, but just like the number one ranking by Baseball America and many others was mostly due to the pitching, the big reason why things have changed so much since that spring is because the pitching simply didn’t pan out. I know that isn’t new news at all, but it’s unfortunately the truth. So we know what’s gone wrong since March of 2011 when Jon Heyman tweeted that comment out, but is it possible for things to work to make him correct?
The short answer to that questions is yes, but only with an insane amount of things going right. You look around the league at some of the other teams, and it’s pretty easy to find more than a handful of teams who you can safely say are going to be better than the Royals in 2013. Of course, every team has their potential pitfalls, but a team like the Nationals, for example, are tough to imagine as not being one of the four or five best teams in baseball. And similarly, it’s tough to imagine the Royals as that good. But this isn’t about the Royals being the best team in baseball. Sure, the tweet literally mentions it that way, but it’s about what could go right to help the Royals achieve a status that fits the tweet.
While the young pitching is what had everybody turning their heads in that off-season, it’s the young offense from that spring that I always thought had the chance to be the big winner between the two groups. I say that because we all know what pitching prospects do, and that’s break hearts. There’s a reason the acronym TINSTAAPP (there is no such thing as a pitching prospect) exists. We’ve talked about this before, but if you look around the diamond, most of the positions on the field are filled with players who either have crazy amounts of upside or are firmly in the peaks of their careers. Yes, everything has to come together at one time, but the Royals offense has potential to be elite. It even has the potential to be elite with a below average Jeff Francoeur in the lineup. If I had to bet, I’d say it’s more middle of the pack than elite, but the potential is actually there.
The one place where the young pitching has come together, of course, is the bullpen. One thing I haven’t talked much about with the bullpen is that it can work together nicely with an offense that could potentially be very good. Even if the rotation isn’t improved enough to make as big a difference as the Royals hope, it most likely will be better than it was in 2012. If the offense takes that step forward, a rotation that maybe doesn’t lower it’s collective ERA by the run the Royals probably expect, might not actually be¬†that big of a¬†hindrance. The quality of the bullpen should allow the Royals time to get back into games in the later innings if the rotation let the game get a little out of hand (I’ll get to this in a second). A game that the Royals trail 5-2 heading into the seventh will most likely stay at 5-2 with such a good bullpen, and a hopefully more patient and more powerful offense has a chance to get back into that game.
One thing I’ve talked about a few times regarding the rotation is that even if it’s not significantly better, each spot appears to be improved enough that the blowouts will be fewer and farther between. The Royals were 14-21 last season in blowouts, which is one of the signs of a bad team and maybe more importantly a bad team with a really rough starting rotation. Even if it’s just the offense that improves, the Royals maybe pick up four or five games on that blowout front. Then add in some improved pitching and maybe they do even better than that. Obviously that isn’t the only factor that will go into them winning, but it’s one of them that isn’t being discussed quite as much.
For Heyman’s comment two years ago to even be remotely true, the Royals need a lot of things to go right. Eric Hosmer has to get back on the track of becoming an MVP candidate. Mike Moustakas needs to hit like he did in the first half. Alex Gordon probably has to be more 2011 than 2012 and 2012 was good. Billy Butler’s power needs to stay. Lorenzo Cain needs to stay healthy¬†and he has to hit. Jeff Francoeur has to be at least moderately close to average. And Salvador Perez has to stay healthy. Then we go to the bullpen and they have to pretty much do what they did last year, but maybe even a touch better. And finally, the rotation has to be better. I’m not talking a drop in starter ERA from 5.01 to 4.79. It has to go down closer to 4.01.
It’s always fun to take a look back at previous happenings to see how things panned out. For some reason while I was driving down the road this weekend, I thought about that tweet from Jon Heyman and realized that 2013 team is the team we’re about to root for every night for six months. It’s too bad all that pitching hasn’t panned out, but I still think it can be a fun season.
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