KBO baseball has kicked off this week in Korea, which gives the world two functioning forms of competitive professional baseball (with the CPBL being the other in Taiwan). That being said, it still seems like Major League Baseball is probably a couple of months away from starting. Here’s a Tweet from Jeff Passan on the potential challenges Major League Baseball faces for a June “Spring Training” and July 1st start:
Thus, while the news brings some hope that Royals fans will see baseball in the States this summer, there has not been a whole lot of diversion for Royals and baseball fans who are aching for the game, especially as we begin the month of May. That being said, one of the interesting projects to follow has been the multiple “simulations” of the 2020 season that have been going on. There have been two “simulated seasons” worth following:
Personally, I like Strat-O-Matic better because it’s the original baseball simulation (I remember playing the board game as a kid). However, the web site is difficult to navigate, especially when you are trying to find Royals-specific box scores and stat lines. (You have to look up stats by day, which can be kind of frustrating when it comes to finding individual lines.) The OOTP simulation on BR is organized as if it were an actual season going on, as the stat lines, especially the team ones, posted on BR are not much different from what you would see on BR if an actual season was going on.
The simulations have been unique and interesting for Royals fans to follow as well. In the OOTP simulation, the Royals are currently 16-21 and in 4th place in the AL Central, which probably reflects how they would have done in real life had COVID not affected the 2020 season. They are better than the 13-24 Tigers, but despite being competitive, they obviously can’t compete with Top 3 of the Central (the Indians, White Sox, and Twins are 1, 2, 3, respectively). However, one interesting note about the OOTP simulation is that Brett Phillips has been the starting center fielder since Opening Day, which has moved Whit Merrifield to right and Hunter Dozier to third. This has left Maikel Franco on the bench, which doesn’t seem realistic considering he was Dayton Moore’s prized free agent signing this off-season (well…if a $3 million, one-year deal is a prize).
Strat-O-Matic has been more optimistic on the Royals, as they currently have a 22-15 record and are tied for first in the Central with the Cleveland Indians, who are 23-16. Strat does have Franco starting at third, and Ryan McBroom has kind of taken over as the starting first baseman for Ryan O’Hearn in the Strat simulation. It seems like the Royals’ offense in the Strat simulation is doing a 2003 impression, as it seems unlikely that the 2020 Strat Royals will continue this hot start over the course of a 162 game season. But it’s nice to see the Royals not only with a winning record, but in first place for a change.
In addition to examining the Royals’ performance as a team, some players also stick out, which should make them intriguing to follow once the games actually begin for real. I decided to focus on five Royals players who have put up polarizing simulation numbers in both simulations. Hence, these five players should be closely followed by Royals fans in July, as it will be interesting to see which simulation they will mirror when it comes to actual production on the field.
Jorge Soler, DH/OF
OOTP Sim Stats: .162 average, 4 home runs, 14 RBI in 150 PA. Strat-O-Matic Sim Stats: .351 average, 13 home runs, 37 RBI in 148 AB.
Soler is the Royals hitter that the two simulations disagree on the most. In OOTP, Soler is looking like his 2017 self, which was pretty horrendous and only confirmed the negative feelings Royals had for Soler when he was acquired from Chicago for postseason hero and closer Wade Davis. However, Strat views Soler as an MVP candidate, as his 13 home runs ranks him second in baseball, and his 37 RBI lead baseball as well.
The big stat to pay attention to in these simulations is Soler’s BB/K ratio. In OOTP, his BB/K ratio is 0.31, which is pretty mediocre, and below his 0.41 ratios in 2018 and 2019. In Strat, his BB/K ratio is 0.51, which is a 10 point improvement from his mark the past two years. Not only will this be an interesting metric to follow over the course of these simulations, but should also be watched when the games begin. If Soler improves on his 0.41 mark in 2020, then it’s possible that Soler could possibly match or at least hit 90 percent of his Strat numbers in real life, which would be more than satisfactory for Royals fans.
Salvador Perez, C
OOTP Simulated Stats: .227 average, 4 home runs, 15 RBI in 113 PA; Strat-O-Matic Sim Stats: .298 average, 5 home runs, 18 RBI in 121 AB.
Salvy’s home runs and RBI are not much different, but Start is projecting Salvy to get off to a better start average wise, while OOTP projects that Salvy will continue his swing and whiff tendencies after missing all of 2019. Perez has struck out 22 times and walked only 2 times in the OOTP simulation, which is good for a BB/K ratio of 0.09. Granted, his BB/K ratio was 0.16 in 2018 and hasn’t been over 0.20 since 2014, according to Fangraphs, so this 0.09 ratio is not all that surprising. Strat has him walking five times and striking out 16 times, which is a 0.31 clip and almost double his ratio from the past five seasons. At some point, that ratio will regress, and Salvy’s average probably will regress accordingly in his Strat simulation.
The big question on Royals fans’ minds will be whether or not his power will translate from the sims to real life. The Royals will benefit from the return of his 20-plus home run power, as the Royals were not able to get much power production from Cam Gallagher, Martin Maldonado, or Meibrys Viloria in 2019. Both simulations project that Salvy will keep his HR stroke after the layoff, so that is a promising sign for the Royals and the fanbase once play begins in July.
Adalberto Mondesi, SS
OOTP Sim Stats: .289 average, 5 home runs, 16 RBI, 14 SB in 159 PA. Strat-O-Matic Sim Stats: .269 average, 4 home runs, 27 RBI, 10 SB in 160 AB.
Mondesi may be the key to a Royals breakout in 2020. He will turn 25 years old by the end of July, and it seems like this may be Mondesi’s year to break out and be more than just a “speed demon” and good glove at the shortstop position. Mondesi has showed signs with his bat the past two seasons, but injuries have prevented him from having a complete and full campaign in 2018 and 2019.
OOTP views Mondesi as one of the club’s most important players, as he is nearing the .300 line, has 5 home runs, and continues to be the Royals’ most efficient runner on the basepaths (14 SB on 16 attempts). Mondesi also leads the Royals in WAR on the OOTP simulation, as his 1.3 WAR is 0.4 runs higher than Whit. In Strat, Mondesi’s average is not impressive, but he is making up for it in RBI, as his RBI total is 11 runs more than his OOTP total (though the Royals are much better offensively in Strat, and that may be making the difference). The average will be important to pay attention to for Mondesi once play starts, as the sims seem consistent that Mondi will push the 18-20 plus home run range, and also steal 40-plus bases in 2020.
Brad Keller, RHP
OOTP Sim Stats: 7.86 ERA, 1-3 record in 34.1 IP and 8 starts; Strat-O-Matic Sim Stats: 3.51 ERA, 4-2 record in 51.1 IP and 8 starts.
Keller will be entering his third year with the Royals and appears to be on track to be the Royals’ Opening Day starter for the second straight year. Keller is not the typical “ace” by any means: his K/9 has been under 7, and his K/BB ratio has been under 2 the past 2 years, signs of a mediocre starter, not a No. 1 pitcher. However, Keller is known for keeping the ball in the yard and on the ground, not a bad strategy considering Kauffman Stadium’s spacious confines and some Gold Glove defenders around him (Alex Gordon and Mondesi could challenge for one this year).
Unforunately, experts feel that once Keller’s BABIP spikes, it could spell disaster for his stat line. He has a career BABIP of .288, which is 12 points under the .300 average that is typical for most “average” starters. OOTP projects that his BABIP will spike, for not only his ERA flat out bad at nearly 8, but his H/9 is also high at 14.2, which leads starters. However, Strat views that he’ll be able to keep that BABIP and H/9 stable, as his H/9 is only 7.8 in his Strat simulation. Thus, it’s not surprising that Strat sees him continuing to be a reliable starter in the Royals rotation in 2020, but it will be interesting to see if those H/9 numbers will spike over the course of the year (and vice versa, regress in his OOTP simulations).
Jorge Lopez, RHP
OOTP Sim Stats: 3.44 ERA, 5-1 record in 36.2 IP and 7 appearances (1 start); Strat-O-Matic Sim Stats: 7.71 ERA, 2-2 record, 28 IP and 6 appearances (5 starts).
OOTP has been more pessimistic on the Royals pitching staff in comparison to Strat-O-Matic in the 2020 simulations (Strat projects Danny Duffy and Mike Montgomery to get off to hot starts, while OOTP projects both lefties to be high-5 ERA pitchers). However, Lopez is the exception, as Lopez, a whipping boy a year ago by most Royals fans, is projected to perform better in his OOTP simulation than his Strat one. Lopez, primarily used as a long-innings reliever in OOTP, is putting up a decent ERA and has displayed good command in his early OOTP campaign. He is only allowing 7.6 H/9 and is posting a K/BB ratio of 3.22. In his Strat campaign however, he is allowing a H/9 of 11.6 and his K/BB ratio is only 2.54, which is still solid, but not as impressive as his OOTP ratio.
The key difference in Lopez’s stat lines is that Strat views Lopez as a starter, while OOTP sees the Royals maybe trying an “Opener”, with Lopez coming in relief in the second or third inning. Granted, I am not sure if I agree with Kevin McCarthy and Greg Holland being the “Openers” (I would think Josh Staumont or even Trevor Rosenthal would be better in the role since they touch triple digits). But I think Lopez would fit in well as the Royals first long-reliever after the “Opener” and could find success in real life that would mirror is promising OOTP simulation numbers. It would be nice for the Royals to finally just let him be in the pen and not yo-yo him between the rotation and bullpen like they have done since he came over from Milwaukee. Furthermore, this OOTP role could work not just for him personally, but it could help boost the Royals pitching staff, especially if manager Mike Matheny wants to try the “Opener” experiment in order to ease Brady Singer in, which would have him only go 2-3 innings in his first 3-5 outings to start the year.