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November 25, 2013

Fantasy Team Preview

Kansas City Royals

by Craig Goldstein and Paul Sporer

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One of the songs of summer, if not the song of summer was Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. The electronic music duo’s smash hit also serves as the overriding factor of what determines fantasy champions over the course of a grueling baseball season. Call it chance, call it fortune, call it what you want to call it (wait, that’s a different song), luck is unavoidable. Either good or bad rolls of the dice affect all of us as we try to navigate our way through the labyrinth that is living vicariously through the accomplishment of others. But, as summer gave way to fall and fantasy playoffs ended, Get Lucky has given way to another pop hit… Royals by Lorde.

And baby I'll rule, I'll rule, I'll rule, I'll rule / Let me live that fantasy.

You might have heard the above line in the last month or so. Alternatively, you might be deaf. It’s hard to know these things sitting behind one’s computer, in one’s mother’s basement. What you might not know is that the song this line comes from was inspired by the Kansas City Royals. It’s true! With that in mind, let’s take a look at what Royals will rule your fantasy...

Projected Lineup

  1. LF Alex Gordon
  2. 2B Emilio Bonifacio
  3. 1B Eric Hosmer
  4. DH Billy Butler
  5. C Salvador Perez
  6. 3B Mike Moustakas
  7. CF Lorenzo Cain
  8. RF Justin Maxwell
  9. SS Alcides Escobar

For a lineup that struggled to produce runs for stretches throughout the 2013 season, there’s plenty of fantasy goodness here. Gordon is alternately overrated and underrated depending on your league’s scoring. He’s a phenomenal option in OBP and OPS leagues, but can suffer in leagues that shade towards power. It was a down 2013 for him, but his value shouldn’t crater and something between 2012 and last season can be anticipated. Much of the same analysis applies to cleanup man Billy Butler, who is rumored to be on the trade block as we speak. There was a severe power outage from Butler, that I expect to correct itself, though not back to it’s .500-plus peak. Hosmer is the star of the show of course, with his post May slash line whetting the appetites of fantasy owners everywhere. He might be overdrafted because of this, but I’d rather be on the Hosmer bandwagon than off it, even if it means going slightly earlier than I’m comfortable with. Perez is the last major fantasy player here and while his season last year featured slightly less power than hoped for, getting a .292 average from the catcher spot is a huge boon. He should hit for average again, and it will weigh heavily (which is good) as he doesn’t walk much.

Bonifacio and Escobar are steals plays who might luck into solid averages but you’ll be better off only expecting speed from them. Maxwell is of interest in deep daily leagues when you can play him in a platoon role (as the Royals will). I’m all out on Moustakas at this point. There’s talent there but the upside isn’t worth the downside, and he’s not someone I can recommend owning in anything shallower than 14-team leagues. Cain is a mystery, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that solving the mystery will be anticlimactic. He’s got a little bit of pop and can occasionally hit for a solid average, but outside of extremely deep leagues, there will be better options available.

Projected Bench

The bench isn’t completely barren but it’s not exciting either. Lough is more useful in real life than he is in fantasy. Dyson is the intriguing member of the bunch as he swiped 34 bags in less than 250 at-bats, while posting a career high in the slugging department (still under .400). He should see similar at-bats behind the fragile Cain, as well as some starts in CF that push Cain to RF once in a while. The trick of course is knowing when he’ll get his playing time so you can take advantage of his speed. Pena makes the cut, as Kottaras was sent packing to make room for Vargas. There’s nothing to be excited about with Pena, as Perez will likely catch a disturbing number of games.

Projected Rotation

Shields is a manimal and deserves to be drafted in the second tier of pitchers, conservatively. He’ll give you bulk innings, and the only thing that might keep him from the first tier is where you draw your line (it might only be 2-3 pitchers deep), and the fact that he had a bit of a dropoff in strikeouts last season. Guthrie is... there. Like Shields he soaks up innings and throws a baseball, but the similarities more or less end there. Duffy and Ventura are pure upside plays. Ventura has long been an object of my affection and I actually prefer him to Duffy despite the smaller big-league sample. While Ventura is preferable from a skills standpoint, there is additional risk thanks to his size. The fact that he threw about 50 innings more than Duffy more than shifts the balance of the equation in his favor, in my opinion. Duffy has the talent to be useful in fantasy as a fourth or fifth starter-type, but that he capped out at under 100 innings in 2013 makes it unlikely that he’ll be available down the stretch run in 2014. Wade Davis should be ignored until further notice. He’ll tap on the window. Do not look at him.

As far as those not mentioned, Kyle Zimmer looks to be the prospect to own in terms of contributions from outside the five names above. He might not get the first look, but he finished 2013 rather strong and has the highest upside of all the arms in the system. In reality, a free agent is going to be slotted into the middle of that rotation, likely pushing Davis to the bullpen, where he’s much better suited.

*Update: Jason Vargas signed on Thursday afternoon. He helps the rotation in real life by giving the Royals innings, if nothing else. It’s a solid landing spot for Vargas as he needs to be in a stadium that handles fly balls well, and Kauffman does just that. He won’t rack up strikeouts or help your WHIP though, so he’s a waiver-wire option only outside of deeper leagues.

Projected Bullpen

This is one of the most stacked bullpens around with the only notable name that’s not on this list being Aaron Crow, who, despite nice surface stats took a peripheral nose-dive last season. The saves category, barring injury, starts and ends with Holland here. He’s been one of the best relievers in baseball the last couple years, second only to Craig Kimbrel in a variety of categories (including FIP). There’s still value to be had though, as Hochevar reinvented himself as a useful piece in the bullpen, registering a sub 2.00 ERA in 70 innings, including a WHIP under 0.90. Collins is likely to be a useful holds type, as the primary left-hander in the pen as well as just an all-around good reliever. Herrera throws really hard, and that counts for something, right? He’s another good reliever, though he is susceptible to the long ball. Coleman seems to be criminally underrated, including by the organization itself, as he rode the shuttle between Omaha and KC fairly often. When he was in the majors, he produced to the tune of a .61 ERA, a .84 WHIP, and a 32-to-6 K:BB ratio in just under 30 innings. —Craig Goldstein

Position Battle to Watch:
Last Rotation Spot: Wade Davis v. Yordano Ventura

Davis as a starter was a disaster last year as he posted a 5.67 ERA in 24 starts spanning 125 1/3 innings. In a short bullpen spell, he had a 0.90 ERA in 10 innings. He has the inside edge on the job as the veteran making real money ($4.8 million), especially because the Royals bullpen is excellent and doesn’t really need Davis to strengthen it.

Craig has Ventura in the role which might be more wishful thinking than anything else. He is the team’s top prospect and likely deserves the spot based on pure talent alone, but the 23 year old future stud could legitimately use some more Triple-A seasoning. The changeup certainly isn’t a finished product and his command isn’t always sharp, either. Typical issues for a young arm, but for a team looking to build on the success of an 86-win season in 2013, they might not be looking to go through the growing pains of a youngster from day one.

Of course, if Davis is just going to crash and burn in the rotation again, I can’t imagine Ventura actually being markedly worse. At that point, even a rough-around-the-edges version is an upgrade from Davis.

Player to Target: Alex Gordon
Even in a down year Gordon was the 25th-ranked outfielder by ESPN’s Player Rater as he still contributed in four of the five primary categories while his .265 AVG didn’t kill your team. All three of his triple slash numbers figures are down in each of the last two years after 2011’s career year, but he’s still scored 90+ runs in all three seasons and after dipping from 23 to 14 home runs in 2012, he jumped back up to 20 a season ago. Now 30, Gordon is established as a legitimate fantasy force and yet he doesn’t cost much at the draft table. In a recent 15-team draft I did at AFL, he went in seventh round as the 93rd-overall pick.

Player to Avoid: Jeremy Guthrie
Looking at his composite record, you might be lured in by his rather steady ability to post 200ish innings of league average work. “I just need innings and maybe he can repeat his 15 wins,” you’ll tell yourself before picking him in your deep mixed or AL-only, but I urge you not to do it. First off, even if he does somehow recapture the sub-4.00 ERA he managed in three of four seasons from 2007-2010, it will almost certainly be instantly offset by a WHIP that hasn’t been south of 1.34 in three seasons.

Beyond that, his already-horrendous strikeout rate is going down. He’s only reached or exceeded 15 percent in three of his seven full seasons, most recently in 2011 when rounded up to the level with his 14.6 percent mark, but he’s been below 13 percent in the two years since. If you have an innings cap, this is especially dangerous because your strikeouts league essentially becomes K/9 and he’s going to use 200 or more of your innings while offering zero strikeout upside. Five relievers notched at least 101 strikeouts a season ago while Guthrie had just 111.

He’s not worth your time in any format. Even in a deep AL-only league I would rather take a flier on a reliever not yet in a closer’s role, maybe even someone like Guthrie’s teammate Luke Hochevar, who shone brightly in a full-time relief role last year.

Deep Sleeper: Christian Colon
The Royals got a jolt at second base after acquiring Emilio Bonifacio in mid-August as he went on to give them a .700 OPS the rest of the way. It was a massive upgrade from the .580 they had gotten to that point, the second-worst production in the league. Of course, the worst was Toronto’s .533 mark at second, which is where Bonifacio had come from and “contributed” heavily with a .579 in 282 PA. That’s the long way of saying that his 179-PA burst may have been just that, as the career .662 OPS hitter has but a loose grasp on the job right now.

Colon was a top-100 prospect before 2011 before going on to have a terrible season with a .668 OPS at Double-A. He improved in 2012 with a .790 mark, but played just 85 games. He was far from special in his first full year at Triple-A in 2013, but did managed 12 HR and 15 SB while hitting .273 in 557 PA. Had he posted that line at the majors, he would’ve been tabbed as the “better in fantasy than real life” tag, as he had a meager .379 SLG leading to a .713 OPS.

This hasn’t been a ringing endorsement, but if he had tremendous upside, he wouldn’t be such a sleeper. The barrier to usefulness isn’t particularly high so if he builds on his 2013 and starts to show the tools that made him a Top 100 prospect three years ago, then he could snatch the job from Bonifacio and contribute a bit across the board. —Paul Sporer

Craig Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here
Paul Sporer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Paul's other articles. You can contact Paul by clicking here

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