The Rangers Could Win the Series … The KC Way
The Texas Rangers beat the Kansas City Royals twice in Spring Training and so, obviously, are now on their way to winning it all this season.
The Royals have flipped the script on how to compose a championship team and are now the darlings of the baseball world. How exactly did they do it, and can the Rangers replicate the Royals’ blueprint to recreate a successful championship run?
According to Jerry Crasnick, the Royals achieved greatness through developing homegrown prospects (Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas), having a strong presence in the Latin market (Yordano Ventura, Salvador Perez), acquiring free agent help on the cheap (Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales), and making timely (and smart) trades (Zack Greinke for Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, and Jake Odorizzi, who subsequently netted James Shields and Wade Davis).
Additionally, the Royals built a team devoid of power (24th overall in HR) and shunning the big-armed rotation (8.4 WAR, bottom third of league), spending heavily on their bullpen (5.0 WAR) and relying on team defense (T-4th overall .985 fielding percentage), making contact (1st overall, 81.9% contact rate), and speed (top 5, 104 SB). If this truly is the new path to win it all, it is worthy to explore whether JD and the front office are buying into this philosophy, and whether a championship is coming to Arlington this season.
First, let’s look at Crasnick’s breakdown to see how the Rangers stack up:
Texas has been in the upper echelon of MLB farm talent for the last few years, clocking in most recently at #9 at MLB.com and #7 at Baseball America. Recent graduates Delino DeShields, Jr. (1.3 WAR), Roughned Odor (2.3 WAR), Elvis Andrus (1.6 WAR), Keone Kela (1.5 WAR) and Martin Perez (1.7 WAR) made positive contributions in 2015, and future prospects Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, Jurickson Profar, and Lewis Brinson could be valuable additions as soon as 2016 and future stars if everything clicks. No one would question the Rangers’ commitment to their farm and developing their homegrown talent.
Kansas City’s trio of Hosmer, Moustakas, and Alex Gordon (combined 10.1 in 2015) definitely has propelled the Royals into rarefied air, but given the talent knocking on the door in Arlington, it is not a stretch to imagine that the Rangers’ farm will be significantly contributing wins throughout 2016 and in the future.
Advantage: Kansas City (there is no denying the impact of the three Royals’ stars on their World Series championship, but don’t discount the combination of Texas’ talent coming up this year in addition to what they are already running out in 2015).
Presence in the Latin Market
The aforementioned Elvis Andrus (Venezuela), Martin Perez (Venezuela), and newcomers Jurickson Profar (Curacao), Nomar Mazara (Dominican Republic), Andy Ibanez (Cuba), and Leodys Taveras (Dominican Republic) are currently close to producing for the Rangers or part of the top 10 prospects in the organization. The club has committed itself to the international market and is starting to see the return on investment this season, with more international signings than any other club in baseball.
Kansas City has gotten unbelievable returns on backstop Sal Perez, flame-thrower Yordano Ventura, and Kelvin Herrera. However, in terms of overall quantity and quality of talent, there is no other club that can boast the international talent that the Rangers have acquired over the past few seasons.
Free Agent Signings
In order to be completely fair, we’ll look at free agent signings whereby the teams offered MLB contracts, as opposed to minor league contracts, from 2012 onward. Additionally, the 2015 WAR values are included along with average annual value (AAV) to try and compute average value per win above replacement (WAR):
Kansas City Royals
Alex Gordon (32 yrs) – 4 years/$72mm (AAV: $18mm/2.8 WAR)
Ian Kennedy (31 yrs) – 5 years/$70mm (AAV: $14mm/0.8 WAR)
Joakim Soria (31 yrs) – 3 years/$25mm (AAV: $8.3mm/0.4 WAR)
Chris Young (36 yrs) – 2 years/$11.5mm (AAV: $5.75mm/0.9 WAR)
Edinson Volquez (33 yrs) – 1 year/$10mm (AAV: $10mm/2.6 WAR)
Kendrys Morales (32 yrs) – 1 year/$9mm (AAV: $9mm/2.1 WAR)
Kris Medlen (30 yrs) – 1 year/$5.5mm (AAV: $5.5mm/0.5 WAR)
Luke Hochevar (32 yrs) – 1 year/$5mm (AAV: $5mm/0.1 WAR)
Omar Infante (34 yrs) – 2 years/$15.8mm (AAV: $7.9mm/-0.9 WAR)
Jason Vargas (33 yrs) – 2 years/$16.5mm (AAV: $8.25mm/0.4 WAR)
Overall, the Royals have committed approximately $91.7mm in free agent salary in 2015 for a combined 9.7 WAR. If we use a conservative estimate of about $7mm/WAR then the Royals are operating this season at an above league average rate shelling out about $9.5mm on free agents, which is 26% above league average.
Ian Desmond (30 yrs) – 1 year/$8mm (AAV: $8mm/1.7 WAR)
Colby Lewis (36 yrs) – 1 year/$6mm (AAV: $6mm/2.6 WAR)
Shin-Soo Choo (33 yrs) – 5 years/$102mm (AAV: $20mm/3.5 WAR)
The Rangers have committed a meager $34mm between 2012-2015 for an average $4.35mm/WAR, 38% below league average. Simply based on free agent dollars alone, the Rangers are clearly more cash conscious than the Royals have been the last few years.
This offseason there has been relatively little impact talent changing hands. However, here are the most significant trades that have occurred on each club.
Kansas City Royals
Texas acquires Tom Wilhelmsen (RP), James Jones (OF) and Patrick Kivlehan (IF/OF) for Leonys Martin (OF) and Anthony Bass (RP). IMPACT: Not much to see here as Martin will be a platoon bat and Gold Glove defense in CF for the Mariners, while Wilhelmsen will provide another power arm in the Rangers’ bullpen and Jones could end up being a nice bench piece.
Advantage: Rangers. Given the defensive dropoff from Martin to Deshields, it remains to be seen how much better Texas got with this trade. However, it’s clear that the front office was intent on improving the bullpen and Wilhelmsen is a power arm that will add to the impressive amount of depth they already acquired via the Cole Hamels trade last season.
Now it’s time to break down some basic statistics to see if we can whittle this down further:
Given that both lineups will remain essentially the same as last season we will use Steamer projections along with last season’s results to see who has the advantage. The Royals produced a top 5 WAR (24.8 WAR) as opposed to the Rangers’ top 11 rank (21.1 WAR). However, when it comes to straight power, the Rangers excelled, putting up a top 8 ISO (.156) to a middling top 15 ISO (.144) for KC.
Advantage: Rangers. With Gallo and Brinson coming up soon along with basic park factors (106 for Globe Life Park versus 101 Kauffman Stadium), the Rangers stand to continue to pull away from their AL Central counterparts. (*Editor’s Note: 100 is considered neutral in regards to Park Factors. Anything over 100 is considered a hitters park and anything under is considered a pitchers park*)
While both starting rotations finished in the bottom half of the league, the Rangers still finished with a 9.5 WAR mark compared to an 8.4 WAR mark for the Royals. With Yu Darvish returning, albeit on a limited, Tommy John recovery basis along with a full year of Cole Hamels, there is no reason to believe that the Rangers won’t continue to best the Royals’ starters.
The Royals’ bullpen was one of the best in the league in 2015, posting a 5.0 WAR (T-3rd overall), while the Rangers struggled to the tune of a 1.7 WAR (T-18th overall). However, during the second half of the season (concurrent with the addition of Sam Dyson and Jake Diekman) the bullpens essentially tied, both putting up 1.5 WAR. Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, and Joakim Soria are a formidable trio, but Shawn Tolleson, Sam Dyson, Jake Diekman, and Keone Kela are a frightening bunch in their own right. In fact, new pitching coach Doug Brocail claimed that the Rangers have five guys who could close presently. There is reason to believe that the Rangers could have one of the best bullpens in the league this season, health permitting.
Advantage: Rangers, albeit by a hair. Wade Davis is a monster and negates most other teams’ advantage. However, the depth that the Rangers have acquired via trades and the farm could prove invaluable this season. Look for Texas to make a leap into the top 5-6 in bullpen WAR this season.
According to Fangraphs’ defensive leaderboard the Royals scored a 56.9 defensive rating (first overall) while the Rangers were in the top 5 at 20.8. I’m not sure that DeShields in center is going to be a great long-term solution, but hopefully Lewis Brinson can make the leap soon. The Rangers have a surplus of gloves up the middle with Odor, Andrus, and (hopefully) Profar, and a surprising Robinson Chirinos behind the dish providing a 5.5 defense score.
Advantage: Royals, and it’s not close, although the Rangers are still considered a top defensive team in the league.
As mentioned above the Royals make contact better than anyone in the league, which makes them able to take advantage of their team speed. The Rangers, meanwhile, posted a middling 78.3% contact rate (T-15th overall). There is no reason to believe this will improve this season as the lineups are essentially the same. If Odor and Deshields can make some gains in this area then there is reason for optimism. Additionally, new hitting coach Anthony Iapoce, who has most recently been a special assistant to the Cubs’ Minor League hitting program, should be a great asset to the club.
Advantage: Royals, and again, it’s not close.
The Royals stole 104 bases last season and were caught 34 times (net SB 68%), while the Rangers stole 101 bases while being caught 39 times (net SB 61%). They were number 5 and 6 overall in the league in total stolen bases so there is not much that separates the two in terms of sheer speed. Given the addition of Ian Desmond, the Rangers may be in position to overtake the Royals this season, but that remains to be seen.
When adding up all the individual components the Rangers seem to have the advantage. While Kansas City’s home grown talent has been a huge asset for them, the presence in the Latin market, free agent signings, and trades have been at least equal to or better than the Royals. When factoring in statistical analysis, it seems that the Rangers’ power, starters, and bullpen seem to have an edge, while the Royals’ team defense, contact rate, and speed are better.
There is certainly reason for optimism this season in Arlington, as the Rangers, like the rest of the league, seem to be duplicating the blue print for success that has propelled Kansas City from MLB laughingstock to back-to-back World Series. However, the Rangers’ talent and smart front office acquisitions seem to have backed up this philosophy with the talent to implement it. If the KC way is the new path to becoming a champion, then the Rangers just might be on to something here.