PECOTA and the Royals: The offense

Projection season is here!

Baseball Prospectus released their PECOTA projections this week. For me, the first thing I do when I download the initial spreadsheet (I know, I know…I’m an internet-writing cliché!) is sort by team and check out the projections for the Royals’ bats. Apologies to the pitchers!

With that in mind, here are four takeaways about the Royals’ projected offense from the start of PECOTA season.

The projected lineup has a familiar feel to it.

One of the issues of the Royals lineup the last couple of seasons has been a lack of balance. The top four (or five) hitters have often been miles better than the bottom four. Rallies are short-lived when, once you get to the sixth spot in the batting order, you fall into an offensive abyss.

Sadly, PECOTA doesn’t think this year will be any different. Here’s a projected Royals lineup with DRC+.

  1. Merrifield - 103

  2. Santana - 126 DRC+

  3. Perez - 106

  4. Soler - 119

  5. Cordero - 80

  6. Dozier - 101

  7. Mondesi - 77

  8. Lopez - 84

  9. Taylor - 76

This is my best guess for the moment. Cordero hits fifth to provide a little lefty balance, which pushes Dozier to sixth. Lopez is penciled in at eighth as Michael A. Taylor hits ninth. You could swap in Edward Olivares; his projected DRC+ is 92 which would make the lineup stronger overall, but a bit heavy on the right-handed bats.

As I mentioned in the first graph, despite the addition of Santana, that’s once again an unbalanced lineup, but quite a few of these projections are on the pessimistic side. Merrifield averaged 114 DRC+ from 2017 to 2019. Dozier is two years removed from a career-best 118 DRC+. And Perez is coming off a shortened season of offensive excellence (more on that in a moment). But that doesn’t address that aforementioned abyss. Last year’s lineup averaged 4.1 runs per game, well below the league average of 4.7. It looks like PECOTA projects another year of below-average production.

Now we know why the Royals are searching for that left-handed bat.

Adalberto Mondesi is the best overall player on the roster.

It’s an annual rite of PECOTA season: The projections are released, the spreadsheets are downloaded and Mondesi is ranked as the best player on the Royals. The baserunning and the defense heavily outweigh an overall lack of offense. It’s no different this year.

Which Mondesi will we see at the plate this year? As you are well aware, the nadir of Mondesi’s 2020 was reached on September 3. At that point, he was hitting .179/.209/.231. Honestly, if it had been anything resembling a normal season and Mondesi posted those numbers over the first 37 games of the season, he would have earned himself a ticket to Triple-A. Or lower.

With few options, the Royals stuck with him. On September 4, he collected three hits in four at bats. And he kept hitting. And hitting. And hitting. Over the season’s final 22 games Mondesi hit .376/.424/.706. That’s quite the turnaround. And as you can see from the projected lineup above, if Mondesi can channel his strong finish into a productive 2021, the Royals lineup will gain a massive benefit. PECOTA, however, remains skeptical. Understood.

PECOTA does not buy Salvador Perez can continue his offensive outbreak.

As noted in yesterday’s dispatch, Perez was the obvious choice for Royals’ Player of the Year after leading the team in slugging percentage and home runs. That particular production wasn’t necessarily shocking, but what did catch the eye was his .353 OBP and .333 batting average, numbers Perez hasn’t come close to since his debut in 2011.

PECOTA doesn’t buy that Perez can continue that lofty offense. It projects him to hit .253/.289/.459 with 24 dingers. It’s certainly not surprising that the projections for OBP come in way under what Perez posted last summer. I’m no computer, but there’s no way I would wager Perez would top .350 in OBP. Still, a .289 projected OBP…ouch. That’s 11 points under his career rate and would be tied for the third-lowest of his career. Overall, PECOTA projects Perez to finish with a 105 DRC+, which is still above average thanks to the power, but quite a tumble from his 2020 135 DRC+.

Carlos Santana will be worth it in his first season in Kansas City.

If Santana matches his PECOTA projection of a .370 OBP, he would be the first Royal batter to top that mark since Eric Hosmer in 2017. In fact, he would be just the sixth different player to post that rate for the Royals in the 21st century. (The others: Billy Butler and Mike Sweeney three times, Alex Gordon, Carlos Beltran, Jermaine Dye and Johnny Damon once each.)

PECOTA isn’t as bullish on his power, perhaps a combo of his new home (despite what the man himself says about hitting at The K) and a slugging percentage under his projected .426 in two of the last three seasons. Still, those walks! That on-base percentage. Embrace the avoidance of outs!

Tomorrow, I’ll look at the pitching side of the PECOTA spreadsheet.