After two years atop the American League, are the Royals poised for a three-peat? CG Technology has the win total for the 2016 Royals at 84.5. Here’s why we think the Royals will fall back to Earth this season…
2015 Recap: Well, you can’t do much better than they did. The 2015 World Series champs finished the regular season with the American League’s best record at 95-57 (51-30 at home, 44-37 on the road). The Royals had a run differential of +83, scoring 724 runs and giving up 641. Kansas City got out to a great start last season, sweeping the White Sox and LA Angels to begin the season 7-0. The Royals’ starting pitching was middle-of-the-pack for much of the season, but turned it on late in the year. They gave up 1.9 runs per game over the last week of the season, holding five opponents to one run or fewer in five of their last eight games. At the plate, Kansas City’s lineup and approach mirrored more of a “make contact and advance the runner” National League style, than a power hitting American League strategy. The Royals hit for the third-best average in baseball at .269. Kansas City hitters struck out a league-low 973 times – 134 fewer times than the next best team. And they stole 104 bases – Second-most in the American League.
Key Additions/Subtractions: The Royals added some big arms in the offseason, but they come with an asterisk. Ian Kennedy, Joakim Soria, and Mike Minor were acquired in the offseason, and Kris Medlen was signed during last season following Tommy John surgery. All four of them are coming to the Royals from the National League. Pitchers who flip from the National League to the American League have historically struggled in their first season in the new league. Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto are the two biggest names missing from the 2016 roster, but there are plenty of “glue” guys from last year’s team that have found different homes. Jeremy Guthrie, Greg Holland, Ryan Madson and Wandy Rodriguez all contributed significant innings on the mound. Alex Rios and Johnny Gomes are both past their prime, but both provided a strong clubhouse presence and provided big moments during the Royals’ championship run.
Schedule Notes: Mid-May to Mid-July will be the crucial two-month stretch for the Royals. Kansas City will play 20 consecutive days without a day off between May 20 and June 8, with 13 of those games on the road. From June 2 through July 6, the Royals will play 20 of 32 games on the road with trips against some of the projected best teams for the upcoming season: The Mets, Cardinals and Blue Jays. The Cleveland Indians are once again a sexy pick to win the AL Central. The Royals and Indians play 10 times between May 6 and June 15, with seven of those meetings in Cleveland.
Our Pick: The hunter becomes the hunted. After years of floundering at the bottom of the American League, the Royals suddenly find themselves with a target on their back. We’ll be looking to back the under for the Royals win total for the upcoming season for a couple reasons: a) The AL Central is going to beat each other up. The Royals, Tigers, White Sox, and Indians are all projected to be .500+ teams, and the lone team outside of that mix, the Twins, won 83 games last season. b) The biggest strength of last year’s team, the bullpen, has been largely overhauled. Ask the Astros, Blue Jays, and Mets how much fun generating a late-game run in the playoffs was. Removing guys like Holland and Madson from their roles will change the dynamic and chemistry that was so successful for Kansas City last season. c) From an analytics perspective, the Royals over-achieved quite a bit last season. Based on advanced stats, Kansas City resembled an 85-win team in 2015, not a 95-win team. The smart guys at FanGraphs are projecting a 77-85 season for the defending champs. We’ll be looking to back the under for Kansas City’s win total in 2016.