During the first month of the 2021 MLB season, the Kansas City Royals were one of the most fascinating stories in the whole league, going 15-9 in April against all odds and looking like contenders.
Just a reminder that it’s almost May and the Kansas City Royals have the best record in baseball.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) April 27, 2021
However, May hasn’t been kind at all to the Royals as the team has, before Monday’s games, a 3-14 record since April ended.
Just a reminder that it's almost May 11 and the Kansas City Royals have the 20th-best record in baseball. https://t.co/RhetSI3jWf
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) May 10, 2021
The Royals’ season, therefore, has been a tale of two teams: one that overachieved in April and one that has crashed to earth in May.
The Royals have been so bad recently that they had an 11-game losing streak with all games against division rivals.
It’s fair to wonder, then: Which version of the Kansas City Royals is the real one? Is it the one that competed at the highest level in April, or the one that has won only three of 17 games in May?
As usual, the answer probably lies somewhere in between.
How Good is This Team?
The Royals are not as bad as their May performance could suggest, but they aren’t particularly close to contending.
That doesn’t mean it can’t happen soon for them, perhaps next year, but this year the Chicago White Sox are definitely the best team of the division.
And even with their hitting woes, Cleveland is also better.
There is an argument to be made that Minnesota, even if it is in last place right now, will soon surpass the Royals when luck, randomness, and other factors start evening out.
Kansas City’s offense isn’t particularly potent, as it only has four above-average regulars in Salvador Perez, Carlos Santana, Whit Merrifield, and Andrew Benintendi, at least judging by weighted Runs Created Plus, or wRC+.
The wRC+ stat is useful since it allows us to consider all offensive contributions, parks, and eras, to determine if a batter is an above-average performer (more than 100 wRC+) or below-average (fewer than 100 wRC+).
On the pitching side, Danny Duffy (1.94 ERA in 41.2 innings) and Brady Singer (3.96 ERA in 38.2 frames) have been very good, especially the former.
However, no other rotation option has performed up to expectations, and the staff is currently not good enough to make the Royals a contender.
A Team That Is Building For The Future, Not The Present
What Kansas City has in bunches is prospects, which provides an element that was lost five years ago: a promising future.
Daniel Lynch is a top-100 prospect who has already made his debut this year.
It hasn’t gone well for him (15.75 ERA in eight innings) but he can be a contributor after some seasoning in the minors.
The same can be said about Jackson Kowar, Kris Bubic (who debuted last year and is performing well in the bigs this year) and many other prospects in a really good system.
The addition of Benintendi gave Kansas City another outfielder to add to its foundation.
Additionally, the team has other useful pieces that are currently injured or underperforming, like Jorge Soler, Hunter Dozier, and Adalberto Mondesi.
In a best-case scenario where the aforementioned players regain their health/strokes, the Royals will win some games, but 2021 probably isn’t their year.
Starting in 2022 and with 2023 in mind, though, the Royals could potentially have a dominant rotation and a chance to make some noise as contenders.
For now, they are pretenders that will probably be selling come the trade deadline.