With more snow on the way thoughts naturally turn to spring and baseball. The second question most people ask after, “Have you ever seen anything like this snow?” is “How do you think the Royals will do this year?”
Of course, it’s February, spring training has just begun, so the question is full of hope. It’s part of the rhythm of our lives, the way humans have learned to cope with the seasons, as long as they insist on populating these ridiculous climates. It’s the same with gardening. You look in the seed catalogue and all you see is potential.
The Burpee Ultra Big Boy. Yields bushels of 8 to 10-pound redder-than-red fruits with tender flesh, all meat, no seeds, perfect for slicing, canning, cooking, salads, salsa… stores for months… disease resistant, deer resistant, cat resistant, heat resistant, snow resistant, never needs water… utterly foolproof.
You pore over the seed catalogue in February and all you see is potential. You don’t see wilt or bugs or drought, or your own inability to control the urge to water, water, water. You don’t see the weeds, the dead plants, the bottom end rot. You see bushels of 10-pound ultra tomatoes and big flat slices on big fat hamburger patties.
It’s the same with baseball in February. All Aristotelian potential.
The Royals? Well, let me offer a simple, sober, admittedly one-dimensional, analysis of the situation.
Baseball is a hard game. It’s every bit as hard as growing Rutgers tomatoes through a Kansas City summer. Because its statistics are accumulated across a huge number of events, and because the game is so difficult, its numbers are pretty consistent, pretty sober, indicators.
We don’t like to think of life in these terms. We like the idea of improvement. We like to imagine a breakthrough is just around the corner for us, just 100 more situps away. We like to believe – we have to believe – this will be the summer the garden flourishes, the tomatoes are all perfect, the beans don’t dry up, the squash bugs don’t appear.
So, I’d say in a nutshell the Royals of 2013 are all potential. In baseball, that ain’t ever good because the numbers rarely lie.
To be competitive, the Royals need their first baseman, third baseman, second baseman, centerfielder and right fielder to hit significantly better than they did in 2012. Significantly better.
In the case of the right fielder and the second baseman, two of the five potentials, that would mean accomplishing something their significantly large body of work suggests is out of reach.
Because the first and third baseman have logged far fewer at-bats, their respective ceilings are pure speculation. Scouts think their ceilings are pretty high. For the Royals to be competitive this summer, the scouts will have to be right and the two players will have to accomplish breakout years.
The center fielder is a question mark because both his small body of work and the scouting reports are modest in their estimates. And, he will have to stay healthy, which is the one worrisome trait emerging from his brief time in the major leagues. So, three of the five will have to realize a good deal of their potential right now for the team to be competitive and the other two will have to cheat their numbers and accomplish something logic says is out of reach.
In the real estate business, you’d say that’s a lot of blue sky.
Here’s one way to look at it. For those five key players to each hit .300, they’d have to raise their collective batting average 250 points, an average of 50 points each. That’s a lot of blue sky.
Now, two players, the shortstop and the catcher, will have to maintain a high level of play from last season for the Royals to be competitive. Their respective bodies of work are also brief; it is difficult to know if last season was indicative of their skills or not. For the team to be successful, you have to hope last season was not an anomaly for either. Can the catcher hit .301 again and the shortstop hit .293?
The shortstop has close to 2,000 plate appearances across five years and his cumulative batting average is .263. He would need to play roughly 40 points above that to produce the same season. The catcher has less than 500 major league at-bats but his average is .311. Chalk him in.
Of the seven unproven key players, only one appears a solid bet to produce competitive numbers based on history.
The left fielder and the designated hitter have a pretty large body of work and they played about even with it last year. They are the only two of the nine everyday players you can pencil in for 2013. The left fielder will probably hit in the neighborhood of .280 or .290 with a decent slugging percentage and generally good production. The designated hitter, the only other proven major league player of the nine, will hit once in every three at-bats, show significant power to the alleys, show a high slugging percentage and ground into more double-plays than most fans like.
In fact, if fans had their way, he’d have been traded years ago. Think about it. The only legitimate all-star, the only everyday player on the team likely to be a starter on any actual first division club in the major leagues, would have been traded by fans long before now.
So, if you look at the coming season from a sober perspective, you realize this spring, hope indeed springs eternal in the Royals’ breast. This is, perhaps, the most hopeful team in baseball. And, I guess I’m about as hopeful about a playoff spot in 2013 as I am the weather scientists are wrong about today’s big snowstorm.
Then again, if Major League Baseball has its way, we’ll eventually see three-fourths of its teams in every division in the playoffs every September. I say September because that’s when the playoffs will have to start. It works for the NBA, you know.