What do the Royals need to do to earn respect? Apparently winning the World Series isn’t enough. One year after most MLB writers were embarrassed for ignoring Kansas City as contenders, new projections have emerged that put the champs under .500 with 79 wins in 2016. As we enter a new season, the numbers that advanced stat teams punch into their computers continue counting out the Royals in what should be another strong season for the title club.
The FanGraphs forecast is bleak for K.C. next year, and the 16-win drop from the club’s 2015 total only begins to tell the story. Depth charts say the Royals will have a negative run differential in 2016 (-22), which would represent a 105-run swing from the previous season. Division rivals Cleveland (85 wins), Chicago (81 wins), and Detroit (79 wins) all fared better in some respects.
Somehow, it’s difficult to see the loss of Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto amounting to such a deep hole after the two contributed a total of 1.9 WAR once they joined the team late-season. Granted, both were valuable to the Royals in the playoffs — which gave us pause about the team’s chances next season — but this projection has them not even making the postseason, even with Alex Gordon and Chris Young resigning.
So who did the FanGraphs computers like? The list starts with the Cubs, projected to have a 126-run advantage over the competition in 2016. This model won’t be the only one picking Chicago to go all the way with its massive upgrades the club made over the playoff team it ran out last season. Other teams expected to dominate were bigger surprises.
Not far behind the Cubs (95 wins) were the Boston Red Sox, projected to win 92 games by FanGraphs after winning 78 games and holding down last place in the AL East. Along with the huge addition of David Price, Boston has upgraded its bullpen and should claw its way out of the basement next season. However, a 14-game swing in the standings and +109 in run differential seems far-fetched.
Rounding out the top five were the Dodgers (92 wins), Nationals (88 wins), and Yankees (86 wins). On the other side of the ledger, Kansas City was not the only team that made FanGraphs computers skeptical. Arizona was projected to end up 26 runs worse while maintaining the club’s win total (79) from 2015. With Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller in tow, this call seems doomed to fail. Otherwise, the problem with models like this one (or the annual Vegas picks) is that only a few teams rise above the pack.
Real baseball doesn’t work that way. When a hot team comes to town and the opposition is plagued by a rash of injuries, the result is usually a sweep, not a split series. Computers have their own reality in these models, but maybe the equation actual people create to determine talent could use an upgrade. So the Royals may actually start 2016 with another chip on the club’s collective shoulder. In this case, history doesn’t rhyme. It repeats itself without variation.
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Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.