“The Cost” – A Kansas City Royals preview

It’s over. It’s finally, finally over.

Since Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Lorenzo Cain got together for their first full season in Royal blue in 2012, the White Sox have posted a mere 43-70 (.381) record against Kansas City. The decrepit performance probably only cost the Sox a playoff berth one time, but very little about White Sox baseball has been more frustrating and daunting than seeing “KC” approach on the calendar, especially when you think the season’s about to turn a corner. Here’s a brief history of the suck.

2012: The White Sox finish 6-12 against the Royals and a particular critical series in September helped to sink their playoff push. The Sox had just won their most important game of the season, a 5-4 victory in an isolated make-up game against the Tigers at U.S. Cellular Field that put them up 3 games in the division with 16 to play. The White Sox then ventured to Kansas City and took the opener, but then got blanked by Bruce “Cy” Chen in game 2. The rubber match had a very familiar arc. With the game tied, Jarrod Dyson stole second base in the bottom of the ninth, in what feels like one of about a hundred instances of that particular ominous setup. Robin Ventura elected to walk Jeff Francoeur to get Matt Thornton a lefty-lefty matchup with Eric Hosmer, who shot a single the opposite way to send the Sox to the showers. Reeling from that loss, the Sox kicked off a series in Anaheim the next day and got swept.

2013: Who cares.

2014: The surprising upstart White Sox were treading water and hovering around .500 into June until getting swept in series at U.S. Cellular Field while getting outscored 22-6. The Royals blitzed starters Jose Quintana (okay), Hector Noesi (well…) and Andre Rienzo (yeah…) and the Sox never came within a game of .500 the rest of the way.

2015: The most frustrating of them all. With hopes sky-high after an eventful offseason, the White Sox opened the season in Kansas City and fell completely flat, as prized new acquisition Jeff Samardzija was rocked and the Sox got swept. On April 23, they’d get into a brawl with the cocky, up-and-coming Royals team that caused suspensions and a broken Matt Albers finger before the Sox lost the game in 13 innings. Finally, after going on a 9-3 run into the All-Star break and bringing themselves back into the fringes of the playoff conversation, the Royals came into Chicago and took three of four, killing whatever momentum the Sox had and their hopes for the season along with it.

2016: The White Sox got off to a hot 23-10 start, but struggled to maintain it. The Royals must have smelled blood in the water when Ventura’s squad rolled into late May, because what followed was the most absurd run of lead-blowing that I can ever remember. The White Sox choked away margins of 5-1, 7-1, and 4-2 in the late innings to get swept. The middle game was particularly painful, as the Royals rallied for seven runs in the bottom of the ninth off of David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle. Brett Eibner‘s walk-off single off of Kahnle pushed the White Sox out of first place for good.

2017: Cracks begin to show, and the White Sox actually post a winning 10-9 record against Kansas City.

One hopes that the White Sox can continue to trend upward in this matchup, as the state of the 2018 Kansas City Royals is deplorable. Cain and Hosmer have moved on, and the team that remains is worse than most of those that tortured the White Sox for years. Still, there are some familiar faces hanging around. Very late in the offseason, the Royals re-upped the power-hitting Moustakas after teams around the league determined that he both wasn’t project-able enough to justify a long-term risk and wasn’t good enough that the short-term boost would offset the loss of a draft pick. Alcides Escobar and his league-worst-for-a-regular bat are still in the fold at shortstop. So is Salvador Perez, who’s probably the most overrated player in baseball; he’s made five All-Star teams and won four Gold Gloves, despite being a horrible receiver and posting at least 1.0 WARP just one season in his career. Alex Gordon‘s smoldering husk is still wandering around left field and ex-Sox castoff Paulo Orlando is still showcasing his speed and complete lack of plate discipline.

If you want to look for positives among Kansas City’s position player forecast, you’re in for a tough time. The Royals’ best player is probably second baseman Whit Merrifield, who not only brings some pop and speed (his 34 stolen bases led the American League last year), but also represents one of the few plus gloves on Kansas City’s severely depleted defense. Right fielder Designated hitter Jorge Soler was hurt for most of last season and hit .144 when he was able to play. There’s a strong chance the Royals wound up with nothing in return for Wade Davis. Hunter Dozier was a shortstop in college, but has slid all the way down the defensive spectrum to first base, where the demands on his bat are considerably higher. His 2016 season in the minors suggests he has a chance to provide value, but injuries sapped his 2017 season, so there will be a lot of eyes on his performance this year. Perhaps recognizing that Dozier might need a re-adjustment period, the Royals inked platoon lefty Lucas Duda to give themselves coverage in the meantime.

The outlook for the Royals’ pitching staff is no better. It’s mostly a starting rotation of arms that hope to tread water for five or six innings, which worked a lot better when Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland were lurking behind them. It’s also a bunch of guys who will let opposing offenses hit the ball in the air, which worked a lot better when Dyson, Cain, and a younger Gordon were roaming the outfield (and when the ball wasn’t juiced). Lefty Danny Duffy is the ace of the staff and his go-to out pitch is the changeup, which is effectively set up by a fastball that has quite a bit of lift to it. Behind Duffy, there isn’t much. Jason Hammel is a durable, run-of-the-mill innings muncher who belongs in a major league rotation, but not near the front. Ian Kennedy allowed over a .900 OPS to opposing hitters the second time through the order last season. Nate Karns probably has the highest upside of the non-Duffy starters and has genuine strikeout ability, but has yet to suppress both homers and walks in the same season. Jake Junis had a competent turn with the Royals late last season, but the White Sox never faced him. The righty throws a fourseam/slider/sinker mix that looks like it could stick at the back of a major league rotation.

*****

The Royals have lost two core position players, have gone from great to terrible on defense, and no longer boast a lights-out bullpen. We’ve seen this franchise defy expectations time and time again, and even in 2017 they managed to outpace PECOTA’s forecast by 9 games despite their sub-.500 finish. PECOTA is once again predicting them for a low win total (65), but this year it feels about right. Kansas City mortgaged everything they could for their two trips to the World Series and the two subsequent years of treading water with their expiring core. Now it’s time for the cost of all that to sink in. Unlike the rival White Sox and Detroit Tigers, though, the Royals can at least head into their collapse knowing they have a championship in their pocket.

Probable Starters:

  • Thursday, March 29: James Shields vs. Danny Duffy
  • Saturday, March 31: Lucas Giolito vs. Ian Kennedy
  • Sunday, April 1: Reynaldo Lopez vs. Jason Hammel (TBD)

Probable Starting Lineup:

  1. Jon Jay – CF
  2. Mike Moustakas – 3B
  3. Whit Merrifield – 2B
  4. Salvador Perez – C
  5. Lucas Duda – 1B
  6. Jorge Soler – RF
  7. Alex Gordon – LF
  8. Cheslor Cuthbert – Designated “hitter”
  9. Alcides Escober – SS

Pitching:

  • SP1. Danny Duffy – LHP
  • SP2. Ian Kennedy – RHP
  • SP3. Jason Hammel – RHP
  • SP4. Nate Karns – RHP
  • SP5. Jake Junis – RHP
  • CL. Kelvin Herrera – RHP
  • RP1. Brandon Maurer – RHP
  • RP2. Wily Peralta – RHP
  • RP3. Justin Grimm – RHP
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Patrick Nolan
Patrick Nolan
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mikeyb

Who ends up bringing the most WAR to the table this year?:
Alcides Escobar
Jorge Soler
Adam Engel

Follow up question: does that player post a positive WAR? I’m thinking Escobar runs away with the crown, with something like a -0.1 WAR.

Reindeer Games

Yeah the only way I could see it being someone else is if Engel is so bad with the bat he gets benched and Soler finally doesn’t suck.

mikeyb

Man, I sure hope he can become a positive contributor, because he’s fun to watch play defense. But he’d have to improve offensively an absurd amount. Like raising his batting average 50 points. Right? A full season of Engel last year would have been worth a full -1 WAR by either BRef or Fangraphs.

Greg Nix

He also had a very low BABIP for a fast guy last season. Some of that was probably due to low-quality contact, but if it normalizes to even the .280 range and he cuts his strikeouts by a bit, a bad-but-playable bat is within reach.

tommytwonines

Tallest midget. Forgive me pc police. 

Trooper Galactus

That’s “least vertically challenged midget” you insensitive jerk.

ParisSox

My french wife once accidentally used the word “maggot” instead of “midget”. Oops

tommytwonines

“Hello Maggot… Oh, I’m so sorry, I meant midget.”  

That’s so wrong it’s right. 

MadManx

I’m still dumbfounded that fangraphs thinks this team is 5 games better than the white Sox. It is absolute garbage.

GrinnellSteve

Garbage with no upside. I’m bullish on the Sox this year, but short of the team bus being struck by the comet Kahoutek, there’s no way to create a scenario where the Sox finish behind KC and Detroit.

Josh Nelson

I disagree with your last point.
– Injuries are a thing.
– The White Sox still have James Shields and Miguel Gonzalez starting games for them.
– Moncada/Giolito/Lopez are entering their first full regular season and will have high’s and low’s
– Tim Anderson may not bounce back.
– Matt Davidson may still get 500 PA.
– Avisail Garcia may fall back to Earth.
– Adam Engel probably still can’t hit.
– Nicky Delmonico probably still can’t field.

I’m sure there is more, but those eight points are why I’m still not confident the White Sox finish ahead of the Royals. It will be tight between them this year as I don’t see either team winning more than 75 games in 2018.

gooch

I agree. Assuming young players can only get better is a dangerous mindset. Gordon Beckham is a prime example.

MadManx

Besides Duffy and DH is there really any spot that you prefer the royals? What about in June when Eloy, Kopech and Rodon are knocking at the door?

Of course the royals could end up ahead. I just can’t see that being the median outcome.

Reindeer Games

Jason Hammel has a reasonable chance of beating out most of our pitchers*

*this would be a disaster for the rebuild, but it certainly a possibility.

Otter

What about in July when Eloy and Kopech still aren’t up and Jones, Soria, and maybe Avi have been traded? (and if they’re not traded, that means they’ve been bad/hurt)

For this season, I’d take Moose over Yolmer, Gordon over Delmonico and Jay over Engel (and DH as you said). Other than Giolito; I’d probably take every KC starter over the Sox. I wouldn’t take Escobar over Anderson or Perez over Castillo; but they both could easily have better seasons.

Otter

I’m not totally buying Delmonico yet… he never posted a walk rate in the minors like he did in the majors, and if that falls by 5 or 6 points, he becomes less interesting. None of the projection systems seem to be buying it either. And even given the age gap, Gordon’s got the edge defensively.

Gordon’s bat might be done, but at 34 a (small) bounce back is possible, even if it’s only to 2016 levels. That would probably make him a more valuable player than a non-walking Delmonico.

But we’re splitting hairs, and obliviously for the next three or five years it’s not close.

Josh Nelson

Catcher, third base, left field, center field, starting pitching (barely) and DH are all areas Kansas City is projected to be better than the White Sox according to Fangraphs.

What I’m objecting to is the comment “…there’s no way to create a scenario where the Sox finish behind KC and Detroit.”

I find that to be false. There are many ways to create such a scenario.

Mike Check

As much as love me some Yolmer, I think Mustakas is a wee bit more dangerous at 3B

Trooper Galactus

My money is on Yolmer. Much better defender and I think he’ll close some of that gap with the bat this season. Also think he’ll be healthier and more active.

GrinnellSteve

If Jose loses his arm in a farming accident.
If Castillo is deported.
I hear what you’re saying, but everything, absolutely everything, would have to go wrong. Even then, I think they’re better than KC.

As Cirensica

9th point: Sox bullpen is yuck

Otter

It’s amazing that the Royals and Tigers have managed to put together worse bullpens. Any games between these three teams in August and September are going to be comical, I’m taking five lead changes in the last three innings comical.

Ted Mulvey

Good lord that sounds awful. Of course, if that happens, I’ll always have the excitement of not knowing which team won until morning.

PauliePaulie

I think the Sox’ ‘Pen will be better in Sept. than in May/June.

Otter

This, oddly, would be a bad thing, because it probably means Jones and Soria got hurt, weren’t traded, and came back and pitched well in September.

PauliePaulie

My crystal ball says 2 of the June ‘Pen arms will throw well enough to return something interesting in trade. I think Lopez and Fulmer will be moved to the ‘Pen, where they will dominate. Depends on how you look at it whether that’s good or bad. I say good.

Trooper Galactus

So who replaces Fulmer and ReyLo in the rotation? Kopech and….Santiago?

Greg Nix

Rodon, presumably. I’d guess Lopez makes it through the year in the rotation, though. Fulmer goes to the bullpen and Gonzalez gets traded.

Trooper Galactus

I’ve gotten to the point where I forget Rodon even exists. Also, I think Lopez sticks in the rotation as well. He only needs minor adjustments to vastly increase his effectiveness.

ParisSox

agreed about Reylo. He’s a number 2 or 3 starter, which is still better than a BP piece, IMO

lil jimmy

I think you see this clearly.

tommytwonines

Likely

Trooper Galactus

I dunno, while we’re lacking in a reliable, top-level guy, we do have some presumably reliable guys and others with upside. The bullpen won’t be something that carries the team like early last season, but I think it can still be average-ish.

PauliePaulie

Less worried about a lack of talent. More about struggles in the rotation hurting them. As well as it taking time to cycle through the depth to find a successful group.

Trooper Galactus

At least we have some depth to speak of this time around.

lil jimmy

Penalty for rounding up .Davidson 414 at bats. Paddle machine for you sir.

asinwreck

On the “injuries as a thing” point, Salvador Perez injured his MCL handling luggage. Out 4-6 weeks.

Otter

The Sox enter this year with less talent than last year, were neither lucky or unlucky, and only won 67 games last year. I’m not saying they’ll be worse than the Tigers and Royals, but there are a LOT of scenarios were the Sox are.

PauliePaulie

I’d argue a fair amount of luck in Sept. got them to 67 wins.

Otter

And bad luck probably cost them in July. They were 21-23 in one run games and only under performed their Baseruns record by a game.

Trooper Galactus

Last year they lost a lot of time waiting to call up superior options like Giolito, Lopez, and Moncada. They gave over 400 PAs to Matt Davidson for below replacement-level production. Even minor progression by younger players will make a marked improvement on the team’s fortunes.

PauliePaulie

I only see them being better at 1 position than they were this time last year.

Trooper Galactus

Oh? I see them being better at second (full season of a more seasoned Moncada), shortstop (Anderson rebounding), left field (non-Melky defense), center field (Engel got a lot of play last year while not hitting at all), DH (Davidson will do better or be replaced by somebody who can), and catcher (Castillo). The rotation should be a bit better also, with Shields looking at least serviceable, MiGo returning to the fold, the addition of Giolito and Lopez, and not having the likes of Holland, plus plenty of depth behind Fulmer et al.

GrinnellSteve

Pito is going to be better. I think a full season of Yolmer at 3B will be better than the cumulative crew they employed last year.

By the time the playoffs start, this team will be downright dangerous.

The Cubs and the Astros both arrived earlier than expected. I think that holds true for the Sox this year. By the end of the year, after we’ve lived with it all summer, it will seem natural and obvious.

Even if I’m wrong, the Royals still suck and the Sox will top them.

Otter

CUB FAN

tommytwonines

Grinnell please read and re-read Josh’s comments. BTW whatever stuff you’ve been smoking the last week or two – I want some. 

tommytwonines

If anyone cares

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comet_Kohoutek

From the wiki page: “…it was believed that this was the comet’s first visit to the inner Solar System, which would result in a spectacular display of outgassing.” I think I witnessed a facsimile there of at the Illinois State Fair. 

tommytwonines

Fangraphs is right 51% of the time so tread carefully, sonny. 

VAChisox

Thankful that the White Sox did not sign Alex Gordon as a free agent in 2016 when we were all hoping for a FA impact outfielder.

MrTopaz

I can’t remember the ins and outs of that sad off season, but was it ever confirmed that the Sox were going after Gordon harder than any of the other options, or was that just our “woe is us, that’d be so typical of this team” tendencies coloring conventional wisdom?

Because, yeah. Hot DAMN did we ever dodge a bullet. If it was Gordon followed up by the Shields trade, I think we would’ve burned down the park, no mean feat for a building composed primarily of concrete and steel.

VAChisox

NOt that it means much, but MLB Trade Rumors predicted on 11/9/15 that he would sign with the Royals. Still, there was lots of noise around the pursuit of an OF that year—Heyward, Upton, Cespedes, Gordon, Fowler, and we ended up with Austin Jackson. Sometimes the best deals and signings are those that don’t get made.

Trooper Galactus

Supposedly the White Sox had offered slightly more money than KC, but it wasn’t enough to pry him away. Yeah, they dodged that bullet, but they also didn’t go hard after any of the other premium options that offseason, any of which would have been preferable to rolling out J.B. Shuck in center field.

Ted Mulvey

“The most absurd run of lead blowing I can remember” is spot-on. The 7-1 blown lead taking the cake. I remember turning that game off when it was 7-1 and then doing a double-take when I read Jim’s “LOL” recap of the game. Also: 43-70 against the Royals since 2012? Yech. Here’s hoping they improve upon last year’s 10-9 season series win. (Which brought us what I think has been Jason Benetti’s signature call thus far, “And the Royals are TOAST!”)

Thanks for the preview. Looking forward to tomorrow afternoon.

Lurker Laura

I don’t raise my voice at length about sports very often. Sure, I yell at a bad play or blown call, but I don’t rave for long. But after that 7-1 blown lead, I ranted at the top of my voice for at least 30 minutes.

Josh Nelson

The Memorial Day Massacre. I wish I could forget it.

Lurker Laura

I think I bought up every painful Sox loss, every ownership mistake, every cultural slight. “We don’t have a cute curse, we just give up 7 runs in the 9th inning to the freakin’ Royals!!!” I was on a rampage. Ugh. Still feel the for ice cream or a stiff drink just thinking about it.

winningugly

That’s hot. Wait, I’m not 25 anymore. Never mind.

lil jimmy

Sooooo many wives ago.

Trooper Galactus

I think I missed the Royals one, but I was watching the game against the Rangers just a few days before that (05/10/16) when the White Sox teed off on future franchise mainstays Derek Holland and Anthony Ranaudo for nine runs in 3.2 innings, only to have the combination of Scott Carroll, Zach Duke, and Matt Albers cough up seven runs in the bottom of the eighth, leading to a 13-11 loss. Carlos Rodon also gave up 6 runs in 6.2 innings, but at least walked away with a no-decision.

gibby32

These team summaries are fantastic, Patrick. I believe that you have accurately summarized the state of the Royals. And they still scare the hell out of me.

As Cirensica

Thanks for this post pnoles. I read those history comments on the White Sox vs Kansas always with the preceding ominous sentence…”In times when Robin Ventura was the manager, …….”

katiesphil

I’m sure others will have already said this below, but thank you, Pat. Damn, I’ve missed these over the last few months.

winningugly

Well done, pnoles.

Mike Check

You had me optimistic until I saw James Shields vs Danny Duffy.  Hope he proves me wrong !

Anohito

Goddamn those are some painful memories with the Royals. There’s also that methup game where we were stoked to see Q continue his streak of not giving up homers to righties. So of course Chelsor fucking Cuthbert hits 2.

We’ve already seen more than enough of these nightmares, let’s not see more starting tomo- (fucking shields starter)- starting the day after tomorrow!

tommytwonines

You’d make a lousy accountant. 

3GamesToLove

Anyone else going to OD in KC?

We’re leaving in an hour or so from Northern IL. It’ll be my first opening day; can’t wait. Also checking out the Negro Leagues museum in the morning.

tommytwonines

Don’t get the 2013 “who cares” dismissal/comment. What’s the obvious thing I’m missing?

Ted Mulvey

They were bad all season. 63-99 bad. 10-15 at the end of April, were 37-55 by the All-Star break.

tommytwonines

And bad against the Royals I’m sure. But how bad?  Doesn’t matter? For this story it does. 

Ted Mulvey

I disagree. Pnoles’point is that the Royals played a part in each of the other seasons spoiling a White Sox team looking to compete or make the playoffs (outside of 2017). 2013 didn’t count towards that since they were bad from pretty much the outset. (9-10 record against the Royals to answer your question, though)

lil jimmy

Played nine holes today with two Jim’s. Actually a Jim and a Jimmy. Jim, age 63, was a catcher for Kansas City. Who has a last name?( nice easy right hand swing)

Jim Margalus

Sundberg? Although he’s 66. There’s also a Jim Gaudet who’s 62.

ParisSox

Sundberg was my first thought, then he spent most of his time with the Rangers I thought.

tommytwonines

Ask to see a birth certificate next time. 

billyok

It really kicks in that baseball season is here when the first pnoles team preview hits my eyeballs. Impeccable, entertaining work as always! Happy Opening Day Eve everyone

L2R

Was it Hawk that said, and I am paraphrasing, “All teams win 60 and lose 60. It’s the 42 games where the team decides whether they are great or really bad”?

Our number of wins dwindles if they trade our veterans. The fan base has accepted ’18 to be a rebuild so I expect them to take full advantage of trading off those who will not be a part of the finished product if they get a decent offer-heck maybe even a < decent offer.

PauliePaulie

You and I are decidedly in the minority on this.

L2R

I would give myself a negative ding to my post if I could; it sounds bad but I see that as a very possible outcome.

Promotions last Fall, having good talent in AAA and having a slot waiting for them is just going to drain the farm system and fast. Not everyone remains healthy and reaches their potential. I just don’t see any other way to continue to flow for the long term but to trade the vets and restock in ’18.

billyok

Really makes you wonder why they don’t just play 42 games a year. I guess because that number’s retired? Smarter minds than me know the answer