Offensive Improvement Will Key Success In 2013
Although the discussion over the last two weeks has revolved around the rotation, if the Royals expect to catch the Tigers next season they are going to have to see as much (if not more) improvement from their lineup.
The Royals, as a team, finished 8th in the AL in pitching WAR, due in large part to the strength of their bullpen. A bullpen which, with the exception of one three-hundred pound individual, returns intact. Their top two pitchers, Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera, figure to slot back in to the closer/setup roles they finished the season with, as Aaron Crow and Tim Collins continue to slot into the earlier innings. With the additions of Santana and Shields, and Guthrie back for a full season, it is easy to see where the improvement in pitching is coming from.
The lineup, on the other hand, is a little less assured. The club finished 10th in the AL in batting WAR, due mostly to the relative sinkholes occupying the right side of the field. Between Eric Hosmer, Jeff Francoeur, and whomever they decided to run out at second base, the Royals accumulated -3.1 WAR. And while they had an upgrade for right field waiting in the wings, alas, it was not meant to be.
So the Royals need to find some improvement. And while nobody expects Eric Hosmer to put up a negative value again next season, nobody expects Jeff Francoeur to produce much, if anything. And while the idea of platooning him is a good idea and assuages a great deal of our concerns, the Royals themselves have not shown any inclination in doing so.
Likewise, the second base position seems to be no less muddled than it was a season ago. Organizational favorite Chris Getz appears to be the incumbent, while Johnny Giavotella continues to be seen as a non-solution. Additionally, 40-man entities like Irving Falu and Tony Abreu may finally have a chance to fulfill a utility role, as the Royals have yet to bring in Yuniesky Betancourt for a third tour of duty.
Aside from improvement from Hosmer, the Royals will rely on full, healthy seasons from Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez to key an increase in offensive production next season. Perez, who showed very little offensively in the minor leagues, now has 463 plate appearances at the major league level, where he has hit .311/.339/.471. A full season of him behind the plate and in the lineup could go a long way to improving the team. Cain, on the other hand, hit .266/.316/.419 in limited time, as setback after setback set in from an early season injury, limiting him to 61 games.
How much you believe the Royals’ offense can improve stems mostly from your perception of these three players (to say nothing as to whether or not they can stay healthy). While offensive improvement from Moustakas is likely, regression defensively makes any improvement with his bat value-neutral. If you believe that Cain can be a four win player, as his WAR/150 would have made him last year, and if Perez can stay healthy, and if Hosmer can produce back at his rookie level, then the Royals might have as much as five to seven wins in improvement to look forward to.
Which would have put them somewhere between 6th and 4th in the AL last year. Progress, with a lot of if’s.
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