2004 Preview Part 2- 85 Wins?
2004 Season Preview- Part 2
Six Key Issues
1) How many ABs for Juan Gonzalez and Matt Stairs?
Continuing his strange journey from most hated to most anticipated, GM Allard Baird drew rave reviews in acquiring Gonzalez and Stairs to replace Raul Ibanez. In 305 at bats last season Stairs posted a .292/.389/.561 line, uhh, "that'll do pig". Similarly, despite nearly constant reports that he was a bad clubhouse citizen Gonzalez hit .294/.329/.572 in 327 ABs. Ideally, the Royals would find a way to squeeze 800 plate appearances out of this tandem. One game into the 2004 season, and it isnt clear this will happen, as Ken Harvey refuses to go away, despite spending last season being one of the worst DH/1bs in the major leagues. If Tony Pena goes Jimy Williams and finds creative reasons to leave Stairs out of the lineup, and Juan Gone suffers his inevitable mid-season injury, then the thoroughly middling Raul Ibanez will actually be missed. The Royals scored a fair amont of runs last year, but this team desperately needs numerous games in which both Stairs and Gonzalez bat, in order to compete adequately. Quite simply, everything above might be a complicated way of saying Harvey needs to be replaced, and that Stairs needs to do so.
2) Angel Berroa- Lead-Off Man?
Berroa showed some mild discipline last year, and it helped him improve as the season wore on. Following the ideological line, I believe I'm supposed to say something to the effect of "lineup order really doesn't matter that much over the long haul", but it does seem like someone with a slightly better OBP (.338) should be leading off (and hitting in front of Beltran). In the last 2-3 years Joe Randa has really changed his approach at the plate and its completely possible that Berroa could similarly inch that OBP up into the .350-360 range. Of course, there are guys on the team already capable of doing that, but Berroa's speed might be too seductive for Tony P. Then again, wouldn't Berroa's offensive skill set best be used lower in the order, where his weekly homer might have someone on base, and his speed could be better utilized? He should not, under any circumstances be running with Beltran at the plate, or Sweeney. PECOTA's projection shows that he has some room to improve, but adjusting for park effects, those improvements probably won't show up much on the back of the Topps card. At SS, and with a glove thats getting better, Berroa's definetly a building block, but leadoff man might be an ill-fit.
3) Beltran & Sweeney- Good is Bad, Great is Good
Mike Sweeney's one injury away from legitmately being considered "fragile" or "brittle". Mike has missed over 100 games the last three years and is already 30 years old. If he were playing a demanding position in the field, it might be possible to see this as a secret blessing, and saying something about him being "fresh". Unfortunately, he's firmly entrenched in the DH/1B role and his primary job on defense, when he plays, is to stand upright when asked. Last season, in Coors East, Sweeney only slugged .467, which is dangerously close to Joe Randa territory. Again, as with Berroa, Sweeney is an asset, but he carries a heavy load on this team, and the Royals need him to be the positvely stellar extra-base hit machine he was before his injury last season. Like Sweeney, Beltran has some injury history, but at this point is more likely to leave the lineup due to a mid-season trade. Unlike Sweeney, Beltran's numbers are headed straight up, and he continues to be one of the 5 best position players on the planet. 1000 plate appearances from these two with a .310/.380/.550 line might be a little optimistic, but is also possible. It needs to happen, because Brian Anderson isn't getting any better.
4) Can the Rotation be Adequate?
Playing in baseball's version of the Atlantic 10, the Royals Rotation inherits a role similar to the St. Joe's frontcourt, something along the lines of "don't embarass us, and the talented portions of our team will allow us to win". Smart-aleckness aside, in Gobble and Affeldt there's considerable potnetial, and May and Anderson are good bets to be league-average. Barring the unexpected, George and Appier won't be the components of a winning team in 2004 and unless Zach Grienke shows up to save the day, the Royals starting staff figures to be in the bottom half of the American league.
5) Can the Bullpen become a strength?
Assuming Mike MacDougal comes back reasonably soon, the bullpen could really and truly be half-way decent in 2004. Granted, Leskanic and Grimsley will likely carry a heavy load and are fully capable of dropping off the cliff. But Sullivan was a savvy pickup by Allard, and Reyes has the potential to be OK. There are numbers, lots of numbers I could throw out here, but this preview is getting really long. Nonetheless, MacDougal's hot start last year nicely coincided with the magic of April '03, and as long as Leskanic's reconstructed arm stays in one piece, its OK to be positive. Getting rid of Graeme Lloyd (10.95 ERA) and ALbie Lopez (12.71ERA) should work wonders.
6) Tigers and Indians
The Royals went 13-6 against the Tribe and 14-5 against the Tigers, accounting for 32% of their 2003 wins. Sadly for the Boys in Blue, it is almost mathematically impossible for the Tigers to not improve upon their historically bad 2003. This season they could easily still suck, still finish with the worst record in baseball, and win 15-30 more games. Those wins have to come against someone, and it ain't gonna be the Yankees. Its gonna be tough for the Royals to go 27-11 against the Tndians again, and even if they go 24-14, thats three games that are gonna have to be made up somewhere else. Granted, the Royals went 19-19 against the Minnesota/CWS tandem, so there is some room to improve. But, there is an easily imaginable scenario in which the Royals go something like 21-17 against the doormats, at which point the season is basically doomed. (See Chicago White Sox 2003, who did just that, going 22-16 against DET/CLE)
As discussed in Part 1, the Royals weren't really an 83 win team last year, performing at a level closer to 79 or 80 wins. Either way, 83 wins wasn't good enough anyway as the Royals finished in third between two teams who spent most of the season underachieving. The roster is somewhat improved, but suffice to say, theres a potential that the Santiago, Stairs and Gonzalez signings won't amount to much. The Twins and White Sox aren't any better than they were before, but the Indians and Tigers probably will be. If the Royals get 1800 plate appearances out of Beltran/Sweeney/Gonzalez/Stairs they really could win 85 or so games. I'll stay upbeat (inspired by today's miracle win over the Sox) and predict 85-77 and a one game playoff victory over the Twins to win the AL Central. The Yankees/Red Sox might score 85 runs against them in the first round of the playoffs though.
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