Multi-faceted Royals out to continue baffling the sabermetric systems

Back in February, PECOTA, the sabermetric system that forecasts player performance through a variety of analytical stats, projected the defending champion Royals to win only 76 games.

It was strange, to say the least, especially considering the Royals had brought back their core players from a championship team that had played in back-to-back World Series.

So why does PECOTA hate the Royals?

"I don't pay much attention to it," general manager Dayton Moore said. "The thing I like about our team is we can win in so many ways. We can win with defense, with speed, alert, smart, aggressive baserunning. We can win with a bullpen that matches up well, and we feel our rotation is going to give us more innings. And the other thing that we have are players who truly are prepared to play and give their best every day.

"I know that sounds very simple, and shouldn't every team do that? But of course we all would say yes, but it's not that easy. It's a genuine chemistry, pulling for one another, that exists. You have to have two good months and play around .500 the rest of the way and you have a good chance to be in the playoffs, or one great month and .500 the rest of the way.

"We've been able to do that the last couple of years. In 2013 I thought we had a great chance to be in the playoffs as well. We had a horrible May when I think we won five games."

Actually they went 8-20 that May, their only losing month in an 86-win season.

"The other part is our power production is improving as a group," Moore said. "And we can win in multiple ways. It's not just predicated on hitting the ball out, or dominant starting pitching or a dominant bullpen, or station to station, or defense where we're good up the middle and weak on the wings because of the power. We can win in multiple ways. That's what we focus on."

The Royals were 26-22 after Saturday's remarkable ninth-inning comeback victory over the White Sox after trailing 7-1 in the ninth. They're much closer to the PECOTA projections than the club and fans expected, but coming on strong the last few weeks.

"It definitely wasn't the start we wanted," first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "But in the long run it'll be good for us because it definitely gave us a reality check, woke us up a little bit. It gave us a boost, a different energy."

But the Royals will have to get by for the next three to four weeks without left fielder Alex Gordon (broken hand) and for the rest of the season without third baseman Mike Moustakas (torn ACL). The two were injured in a collision Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field while going for a foul ball.

"To lose two All-Stars on one play, it's kind of tough," manager Ned Yost said.

It was deja vu Saturday when All-Star catcher Salvador Perez collided with third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert on a pop foul and had to leave the game in the ninth. The Royals said Perez suffered a left quad contusion, but he will have an MRI and may go on the disabled list, too.

The Royals' rotation hasn't been great. The starters were a combined 16-20 with a 4.66 ERA going into the weekend, ranked 23rd. But last year the rotation was only 22nd with a 4.34 ERA, so it's not a significant drop.

The biggest change has been their lack of offense. They ranked 26th in the majors in runs scored (174) on Friday after ranking seventh overall (724) in 2015.

But the Royals still manage to find ways to win by putting the ball in play and using their speed, as they did Friday and Saturday in their comeback victories.

"A bunch of guys who haven't been up here a long time either," Sox third baseman Todd Frazier said after Saturday's game. "Goes to show you the type of team they have. Resilient. … That's why this game is beautiful. It can humble you in a heartbeat."

The players rely on hitting coach Dale Sveum, the former Cubs manager, to keep them consistent in their approach, which is unconventional by today's standards.

"(It's) an approach you can really lean on and feel confident about," Hosmer said. "A lot of teams like going up there and seeing what a guy has and work themselves into the count.

"Dale's theory and approach is kind of the opposite. He feels the secondary stuff that these guys have nowadays is really good, so you can't afford to give up pitches. The first good pitch you see you want to put a swing on it. We've all bought into that approach, and it has been working for us."

Hand jive: Every team seems to have a routine now whenever one of its players reaches base. He looks back to the dugout and makes some kind of crazy hand gestures to his teammates, like the Cubs rubbing their helmets last year.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he's not crazy about the hand gestures but has learned to go with the flow.

"I don't like all this stuff at second base, but our guys love it," Matheny said. "And that has become commonplace. Every team has it. I don't even know. Is that league-mandated? If that's what they want to do and it's for their team, let me get out of the way and my archaic viewpoint on that sort of thing.

"I don't want to be stuck in a time warp. If our guys are all right with it, I'm all right with it."

Young and the restless: Brewers general manager David Stearns is 31, which used to mean he had another 10 years or so to move up the ladder. Since Theo Epstein's success with the Red Sox, young GMs are the norm now, and brains are more important than experience in front offices.

"I don't know that the age comes into play much here at all, to be honest," Stearns said. "The good news is we're going to continue to get older, and before too long there will be someone younger than me as a general manager. And then they can answer all the age-related questions.

"Whether this is a trend in the industry or not, there have been plenty of younger general managers before me, and they've proven that age is not necessarily a hindrance to performing this job at a high level."

psullivan@tribpub.com

Twitter @PWSullivan

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