Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

In a season of signature wins, the Royals just recorded the best of the bunch. If you’re Ned Yost, what do you do?

You talk about the fans.

Here’s the entire Yost comment as excerpted from Mellinger’s column:

“We’re in a pennant race, yeah. We’ve been working on trying to build this team for the last three or four years to put ourselves in a position where we can contend for a championship. And not only the division, but we want to contend for a world championship. It’s really, really important we have our fans behind us at the stadium.

“I know it’s a school night. But I’ve been through this before in Atlanta (when the Braves first made the playoffs) in ‘91, where it didn’t matter what night it was, that place was packed at the end of August and September. The fans really got into it.

“I know there’s different things you can do. You can watch it on the Internet. You can watch it on TV. But there’s a real need for our fans to be a part of this. We had a great crowd last night, and I was kind of hoping we’d have another great crowd tonight, and we really didn’t.

“They’re a big part of our success, especially at home. Because the electricity they provide, the energy they provide, helps you get through games like this. You know? We’ve been working hard to make our fans happy and make our fans proud for a lot of years, and we’d like them out here to enjoy a night like this with us. Because this was a special night. This was a fun night. I just wish there could’ve been more out here to enjoy it with us.”

Now, because I’ve been told that hearing Yost comments is just as important, here’s the audio.
I don’t know I needed to read and hear the quote. It comes across the same to me either way I consume it. It’s a measured response to a question Yost begged to be asked. And make no mistake. Yost wanted that question asked. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have opened his press conference with a “casual” remark about the fans who were there.
We can parse Yost’s statements a thousand different ways. They’ve been trying to “build this team for the last three or four years?” Hilariously tone deaf to what’s happened the last three decades. The Atlanta attendance comparison? Laughable. The team feeds off electricity? Eh, maybe I can give you that one.
An analogy: You have a restaurant in your neighborhood. It’s been there for a long time. It used to be known for fine dining. You used to eat their weekly. But over the last thirty years, it’s gone downhill. Yet, it’s a neighborhood establishment and you really want to like it, so you keep going back – just not as often – even though the food is a little bit shit. So you find other ways to spend your money. Other diversions. Then, one night, you have a great meal. Like once in the last 30 years great. Now you have a quandary. Is the restaurant back? Does one great meal erase decades of poor meals? You’ve been going a couple times a year. Now, do you go a couple of times a week? Just based on one great meal?
OK. Maybe I’m not the best at analogies, but I don’t think you talk attendance when you have a fan base that has gone through what Royals fans have experienced the last 29 years. This team has spent the last three decades specializing in shit. And someone wants to talk attendance just weeks after the team has become relevant for the first time in that span? Come on. Trust doesn’t happen on the back of two good months of baseball. Not after what we’ve seen as Royals fans. Not after what we’ve collectively gone through.
Crowds are going to build through the rest of the season. Attendance is going to be crazy this weekend. After this home stand, there’s one home stand left. That will be crazy, too. Especially with the Tigers coming for the final home series of the year. Make no mistake, The K is going to start rocking. In fact, it has been rocking. The fans have responded. Just like we knew they would. To ignore that support and focus on a Tuesday in late August is selling the fans a bit short. Especially after the last 29 years and all that.
My take: You never question the motivation of the fans. Like ever. If they don’t show up for your game, look at yourself and your performance as manager. Maybe they want to see Alex Gordon hit higher than third. Maybe they don’t like seeing Mike Moustakas. Maybe they’ve seen this story before and are worried about being burned again. The point is, everyone has different motivation and feelings about the situation. I didn’t go to the game last night. I had other stuff going on that I had to deal with. Does that mean I’m a bad fan? Disclosure: I don’t own a Royals jersey. Because I’m too old to play the game and I think wearing a jersey is kind of dumb. But you may own and wear a jersey. Even though I may feel a certain way, I don’t judge. Fans celebrate their teams all different ways. Some guys wear a costume and go to every game. Others listen to the radio while they enjoy an adult beverage in their garage. No fan is better than the other. I firmly believe that. We’re fans together. It’s a collective. That’s why it’s so great. Television ratings are through the roof. I bet radio ratings are similarly on the uptick. My unscientific finding shows I see more fans wearing Royals shirts and hats around town. Fans are tuned in to this team and this season. Despite not turning out on Tuesday.
Yost didn’t rip the fans. That’s just a convenient headline. But he did give a measured response to something that was obviously on his mind. I don’t think he owes an apology for speaking his mind. I just think he should be more careful about what he says about his team’s support going forward. His team is in a pennant race. His words will come with a little more scrutiny. It’s added pressure. Hopefully, he can handle it better than he did last night.
It’s too bad this happened. Last night, several amazing things happened.
– Danny Duffy pitched really well, flashing what Denny called, “no-hit stuff.”
– Billy Butler made a great catch, running with his back to the plate.
– Butler made the catch and then fell over Christian Colon. And then didn’t help Colon to his feet. (I don’t know why, but that seems like a very Butler thing to do. Which made me laugh.)
– Alcides Escobar made an amazing play deep in the hole at shortstop in the seventh. A huge play as it came with no outs, a runner on first and a run already across. You cannot underestimate this. It was massive.
– And of course the Alex Gordon walk off.
I’d rather talk about any of these over the attendance. So consider this my final word on this subject.
Until you rotten fans do something rotten again.

These Royals. Man.

Offensively impotent for eight innings. Then a Alcides Escobar single and an Alex Gordon home run. Everyone goes home happy.

Just wow. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game like that from the Royals. With the stakes so high. That’s what makes these games Must-See TV. Anything can happen. And in this season, there’s a better than average chance it probably will.

Let’s rewind ourselves.

Let’s start with the oft-discussed lineup.

I added the “getting there…” at the end because I felt (and feel) this is probably the most optimal lineup we will see from Ned Yost. He’s always going to hit a middle infielder second because dammit, that’s where a middle infielder has to hit. Just like the speed guys goes number one. But what I liked about this lineup was the Gordon/Butler/Perez/Willingham middle. Sure, stacking three right-handed batters may not be ideal for the later innings, but these guys need to be in the middle of the lineup. Obviously, you could drop Perez, but with this offense, who do you put in his place? Anyway, this is probably my favorite Yost lineup of the year. The game started and there was not much offense. In fact, our man Danny Duffy was doing some good pitching things.

That would be Denny Matthews on the radio, speaking in the third inning. Of course, the Duff Man didn’t throw a no-hitter, but he was sharp. Throwing fastball, curve and change, he went 6.2 innings, gave up four hits, two walks and struck out four. Duffy’s trouble came in the seventh when he allowed a leadoff double to Brian Dozier and a single to Joe Mauer. I don’t think Duffy was tired at that point – he was still throwing 94 mph – but he didn’t locate as well in those plate appearances as he did earlier in the game, leaving both pitches up in the zone.

Yost pulled Duffy after 95 pitches and two outs in the seventh. It was the right call. Bring in Kelvin Herrera to face the right-handed batter. Let Herrera throw his 100 mph smoke. Then, I liked Yost sticking with Herrera in the eighth before going to Wade Davis in the ninth. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This was the first attendance tweet I saw. It quickly devolved into the Kansas City media calling out Royals fans.

Stop. And really, don’t ever. For starters, you get to go to games for free. As part of your job. How dare you call out fans for not showing up on a late August Tuesday night game against the Twins. Would I have liked to seen more? Sure. But I understand. Tickets are expensive. School is back in session. Fall activities are in full swing. And while the Royals are in the thick of a pennant race, can you blame the fans for being a little hesitant to embrace this team? We haven’t really been in this situation recently. We come by our skepticism naturally, built up over the last 29 years. If we want to take our time to get fully on board, who are you to try to speed up our process. I’m guessing the Labor Day weekend games will be packed. And the remaining home stands will be equally boisterous if the Royals can maintain their position.

I’m sure there are studies out there, but it seems to be the true attendance bump comes the year following the initial success. That’s when you grow your season ticket base and when you become the “it” thing to do. String together three or four successful seasons and you have 40,000-plus on a regular basis. (Well, not in Kansas City. Maybe 35,000 after the renovations. But you know what I mean.) If you want a comparable look, turn to Pittsburg last year. They were drawing in the low 20s on September weekdays while they were in the hunt for the wild card. That is what happens when you get into a pennant chase after 20 years of losing seasons. Fans are slow to come around. But if you give them a reason, they will.

Plus, these games aren’t inexpensive. It blows my mind how much it costs to take a family of four to a baseball game. I’m not even talking about those Cost of Fan Index things the business mags do at the beginning of the year. I’m just talking about spending on four tickets, parking and some random snacks. With 162 games, you have to pick your spots. Do you want to go on a Tuesday night against the Twins? Or are you going to try to hit a weekend with a promotional giveaway? Where’s the best value?

My former bossman at SB Nation asked “When is it a good time to question the attendance?” I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know to question a fan base that has suffered through 29 years of some pretty lousy baseball is bad form.

As the attendance talk was evolving and as I was getting set to post some snarky comment about the Royals offense, something happened.

That’s it. That’s all I could muster. Alex Gordon gets a belt-high fastball and barely gets it over the wall. Walk off. Royals win.

Gordon_Walkoff

 

I mean, that’s just beautiful. I hit rewind at least 30 times. After I post this, I’ll watch it at least 10 more times before I go to bed.

It’s just another moment in a season that has been amazing.

There are a lot of flaws with this team. We saw them on display tonight when the Royals could only muster three hits off Ricky Nolasco. This offense has the nasty ability to hit the “off” switch a little too frequently for my liking. Before the Gordon home run, they had scored just two runs in their last 26 innings. This is a problem that’s not going away. Walk off home runs tend to obscure the issues I suppose. Some of you will be angry with me for even bringing it up at this point.

I’ve written this before, but I have no idea how this next month is going to play out for the Royals. They’re either going to win the division and go to the playoffs for the first time in almost three decades, or they’re going to flame out and miss everything. I’m not ignoring the flaws. I acknowledge them. But flawed teams win in baseball all the time. With 31 games remaining, the Royals are in a great position.

Whatever happens, I’m going to enjoy the hell out of this.

The Royals lost back to back games for the first time since the end of July. That’s an amazing factoid that only underscores how hot this team has been. They’ve been surface of the sun hot.

Games like Monday underscore the fragility of the offense. If Alex Gordon and Billy Butler aren’t contributing – they were two for eight on the night – the bats aren’t going to get it done. That’s probably not factually accurate, but it’s how is seems things are going. By the way, did you catch this nugget from our fearless leader?

“We’re still capable of playing way better than we are — I mean that,” he said. “We’re doing the things necessary to win, and that’s a great sign. But we really don’t have anyone who is really hot offensively right now. That’s why I say we can be better, and I fully believe we will be even better down the stretch.”

They don’t have anyone who is “really hot offensively right now.” This quote is Exhibit A (or Royals Fan Evidence Number 1,673,874) as to why Dayton Moore isn’t a good general manager. Check these numbers.

Royals_30

Ummm… There seem to be two hitters who have been kind of hot over the last 30 days. I like to call them “The Baird Boys.” Because, you know… They’re holdovers from the previous regime.

I don’t understand why Dayton says some of the things he does. I used to think it was this bizarre paranoia brought on by constant losing. But hey, he says crazy, nonsensical things even when the team is winning.

The other thing about that Flanagan post that left me scratching my head was his insistence the Royals can play better. This team has been playing wonderful baseball (ignore the last couple of games) and at one point they won 24 out of 30. That’s an amazing stretch of baseball. And the GM thinks they can be better? Damn. It’s almost as if he hasn’t checked the standings or he hasn’t taking particular notice of the last month.

While I dispute that the Royals can be better, the table above does give me pause as the Royals march down the road to the AL Central title. Salvador Perez and Omar Infante have been stinking up the lineup. And Ned Yost stubbornly continues to hit them third and second, respectively. Well, that’s not entirely true as he’s shuffled the lineup a bit the last couple of games, dropping Perez to fifth on Monday. But still, the Royals are giving away far too many plate appearances to hitters who aren’t pulling their weight. Mike Moustakas is Mike Moustakas. He’ll run into one every few weeks and park it over the fence, but the guy is an out machine.

One guy who isn’t represented on the table is newcomer Josh Willingham. In 39 plate appearances since joining the Royals, he’s hit .324/.410/.618. Damn. Now, let’s be a little realistic. There’s no way he keeps that production up over an entire season. But there’s 32 games left. I don’t know… The guy seems like he’s swinging a hot bat. If I were the manager, I’d get him into the lineup at every opportunity. They’re not really using him in a platoon. Who knows why Yost didn’t have him in the lineup the last two games. All we know is the Royals lost both, scoring two runs in the process. Put Willingham in the middle of the order and this team is immediately better offensively. At least I like their chances better than with Raul Ibanez in there.

Besides, who knows how much longer Willingham will be an option. Reports are Eric Hosmer is taking “dry swings” meaning he’s doing what I do in my office to relieve the occasional stress – he’s swinging a bat at air. On Friday, he will hit off a tee. Should everything progress, the Royals may send him on a minor league rehab assignment to get a few games under his belt before he joins the pennant race. Remember, when Hosmer left the Royals were just three games over .500, were four back of Detroit in the Central and 3.5 back of Toronto for the second Wild Card. Since then, the Royals are 17-6, the best record in the AL in that span.

The Royals are expecting Hosmer to return sometime after Labor Day. I would imagine he goes straight back to first base and probably the third spot in the lineup. Yost will grumble something about how Hosmer was really beginning to hit just before his injury as justification. A Hosmer return pushes either Butler or Willingham to the bench. But the way Butler has been raking, you absolutely cannot justify sitting him down more than once a week. And at this point in the season, I have much more faith in Willingham than I do Hosmer.

In my mind, this is how it ends. An inflexible manager reinserts a subpar hitter into a key spot in the lineup and bounces two hot hitters in and out so they lose their groove. The offense sputters down the stretch and the Royals don’t make October. You can see it, can’t you? Sorry to be a bit pessimistic, but the last 29 years haven’t exactly been the stuff of optimism. I hope I’m wrong, though. I hope Yost figures out how to balance his hitters.

This is the part where I’m supposed to tell you what I would do if I were in the manager’s shoes. And right now, I haven’t a clue. I suppose I would bring Hosmer along slowly, and drop him in the order. I’d make damn sure Butler played at least 30 of the remaining games. And I’d try to get Willingham in 20 to 25. If that makes Hosmer the odd man out, then so be it. This team proved they can win with him on the sidelines. They’ve been so hot for so long they’re bound to cool down a bit, but I think you run the risk of glaciers forming around the lineup should you remove Butler and/or Willingham. And for god’s sake, leave Ibanez on the bench.

As much as I dread what’s going to happen when Hosmer returns, I’m looking forward to the next couple of weeks. This is still shaping up to be one helluva ride.

It all happened so fast.

Let’s rewind ourselves just a bit. The first five and a half innings were blueprint Royals baseball. They led 2-1. Their runs scored on an Alex Gordon bomb and an Erik Kratz sacrifice fly. Danny Duffy was looking good. He got two quick outs to start the bottom of the sixth. Nolan Arenado swung at the first pitch he saw and hit a routine grounder to Christian Colon at third. Colon throws off target and in the dirt, Billy Butler can’t grab it on the bounce, and Arenado is safe. Willin Rosario singles on the next pitch and Duffy walks Corey Dickerson on four pitches.

Then, the dagger. Matt McBride crushes a 95 mph belt-high fastball and sends it just over the fence in left.

Grand slam. Ballgame.

That was it. Seven pitches. An error, a single, a walk, and a home run. Duffy spun 102 pitches on the evening. Yet seven stinking pitches define the game.

Duffy really pitched a good game. He threw 76 fastballs, 14 change-ups and 12 curves. It’s a pitching mix that’s notable because he’s throwing curves about 23 percent of the time and usually throws more curves than changes. I’m guessing it was a Mile High game plan to move away from the curve. It seemed to work for most of the game. Duffy couldn’t put hitters away in the first and the Rockies featured a couple extended plate appearances, but he settled in and managed his pitch count well.

Hey, they can’t win them all. It only feels like it when they get on a serious roll.

A couple of other notes from the game:

— The error in the sixth is on Colon. Entirely. Sure, Butler had the opportunity to grab the throw on the bounce and he didn’t. But that’s a throw that has to be made. Billy has played what I would term “more than acceptable” defense at first. In the past, when I watched him play in the field, the thing that stood out was his footwork. It looked like he had a peg leg. (Insert your own “Hey, that’s why he’s so slow” quote here. Or if you’re creative, something about how he’s a pirate.) Anyway, he could field with slightly below average range and he could catch the ball. He just didn’t look comfortable around the bag. Now though, that’s changed. I’m not going to nominate him for the Eric Hosmer Gold Glove for The Most Amazing Defensive Excellence You’ve Ever Seen At First Base, but I will say that I don’t notice the poor footwork. Which probably means it’s gone.

Billy takes a ton of grief from a segment of the Royals fan base. While his offensive production early in the year certainly deserved criticism, he’s capable of playing an all around game.

Besides, we’ve seen Hosmer fail to come up with a few of those exaggerated scoops of his in the past. It’s not an easy play for a first baseman. Especially on the backhand.

— Salvador Perez was a late scratch which was termed as a “precautionary” measure by the Royals. Ummmm… Who’s worried. Perez, you will recall, left Monday’s game after straining his right knee while running the bases. Ned Yost had him in the lineup on Tuesday. Ho-hum, nothing to see here. Sadly, this is Royals business as usual. I know their training staff gets accolades, but why on earth would you play your catcher, a guy who has already seen action behind the plate in 112 of the Royals 125 games, the day after he left the game with a knee issue? Give him a full day to see how it feels. He could probably use another day off anyway. But the Royals send him back out there and he’s unable to go on Wednesday.

Then late word comes that Perez will have a “precautionary” MRI on his knee tomorrow.

Stay tuned.

— Speaking of Royals doing Royals things, Josh Willingham saw action in right field for the first time since 2009. And he made a couple of catches. He didn’t look comfortable out there, but he made the plays. I understand what Yost was doing by loading his lineup with right-handed hitters against the lefty Jorge de la Rosa and there’s no DH in the National League park.

I’m just relieved it worked out.

— And finally, that set lineup that Yost insists on using is starting to slowly drive me to insanity. Alex Gordon hitting fifth? Omar Infante second? I continue to maintain that if the Royals fail to make the playoffs, we will be able to trace it to the obstinance of Yost as it comes to the lineup. Sure, weird things happen like Infante hitting three doubles in a game, but the fact is he’s been an abysmal offensive performer for most of the season. Move him down. Move your best hitter (and MVP candidate) up in the lineup where he can bat more than three times in a game.

It’s not rocket science, but Yost does everything he can to make it so.

On Monday, Royals backup catcher entered the game as a replacement for starter Salvador Perez in the seventh inning. (Perez exited with right knee soreness. More on that in a moment.)

Kratz saw three pitches.

Kratz hit two home runs.

Let’s just let Gameday illustrate.

Plate appearance number one:

Kratz HR1

Plate appearance number two:

Kratz HR2

Kratz has a little bit of pop – he hit 18 home runs in limited action for the Phillies in 2011 and 2012 – but to enter the game in the seventh inning and launch not one, but two home runs? Ned Yost is playing with house money. That’s not to give Yost credit. Perez left the game with an injury. Just to say Yost – and the Royals – are living right. One of their key players exits and the backup answers the bell. Get on board. Seriously. Get on board now.

The Kratz bombs gave Ned Yost the luxury of holding Greg Holland back for a single out. Before the inevitable Aaron Crow implosion that created a save situation. The final cushion of two runs was provided by Mr. Kratz.

As I said, if you weren’t on the bandwagon before, you best get your butt on board.

The Royals are 14 games above .500 for the first time since August 9, 1994. They have a two game lead on Detroit. They are two and a half games behind Baltimore for the second seed in the playoffs. Man, I don’t know. This is some rare air.

The Kratz Cameo may get in the way of the other storyline – the dominance of Jason Vargas. Seriously, this guy is pitching lights out.  Seven innings, three hits, a walk and three strikeouts. The only blemish was the Oswaldo Arcia home run in the seventh. Vargas mixed his four and two-seam fastballs with a lethal change-up. He threw 35 change-ups and got seven swings and misses. It was an irresistible pitch as the Twins offered at 21 of those. The only hit they collected on the change was the aforementioned home run to Arcia. It was a change inner-half. Arcia waited, kept his hands in, and barreled the ball. Crushed it was more like it. But if Vargas is going to be so nasty with that pitch, we can forgive a moment where a hitter turns on one.

Arcia HR

It’s a tip your cap kind of thing.

The change has always been Vargas’s best pitch. It’s been effective again for him this year. His walk and home run rates are down, and he’s dropped his xFIP to a career-low 4.05. The interesting thing is he’s throwing fewer pitches in the zone. He’s throwing just 40 percent of his pitches in the zone, but hitters are chasing 34 percent of his pitches that are outside the strike zone. That’s keeping them off balance and preventing hitters from barreling the ball. Otherwise, they’re making contact, but he’s content with letting the Royals defense do the heavy lifting. You really can’t argue with that recipe. It feels like he should be able to keep rolling. Maybe not as good as he has been since returning from his appendectomy. But good enough to keep his team in any game he starts.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

As I mentioned before, Perez left the game with a sore right knee. Ned Yost said he tweaked it running the bases in the fifth and termed him “day to day.” Under normal circumstances, I’d mock Yost and any diagnosis he would give. But I’m not stupid. I’m not betting against Ned Yost.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

If you frequent Fangraphs, you may have noticed the WAR leaderboard on Monday morning:

Alex Gordon – 5.7
Mike Trout – 5.6
Giancarlo Stanton – 5.1
Josh Donaldson – 5.1
Robinson Cano – 5.0

The leaderboard only confirms what we in Kansas City have known since Gordon exploded in 2011: Alex Gordon is one of the most complete players in baseball. He hits, he fields, he throws, he runs. He does it all.

The “Five Tool Player” is romanticized. I mean, there’s only one Willie Mays. Or Mickey Mantle. In the modern game, it’s Mike Trout. But I’ll submit that Gordon is a five-tool player in his own right. He may not lead the league in home runs or stolen bases, but he will give you enough power and speed to go along with his spectacular defense that he’s one of the few five-tool players in baseball today. And Ned Yost continues to hit him fifth. Ok.

In 2011, Gordon had the seventh best fWAR in the AL and somehow netted just three votes for MVP. All were 10th place votes. (Shame on the KC chapter of the BBWAA for that one. Not a good look.) This year, I suspect he will do a little better.

Gordon is simply one of the best, most complete players in the game.

RHP ∙ 2001—04

grimsley

The Royals first acquired Jason Grimsley in mid-1997 in a minor league trade after Grimsley had pitched in the bigs between 1989—96 as a mostly ineffective starter. Grimsley got into just seven games for Omaha in 1997 before becoming a free agent at the end of the year. Grimsley then became a full-time reliever and started a cocktail of amphetamines, steroids, and human growth hormone to aid his return as a viable major league pitcher for the Yankees in 1999 and 2000. The Royals acquired him for a second time as a free agent before the 2001 season, and he went on to pitch the best three and a half years of his career for KC. His role never shifted in that time: never a mop-up man and never a closer, Grimsley pitched most often in the seventh and eighth innings of close games. 2001 and 2002 were his best years. He led the team in appearances both seasons, had the best ERA in 2001 and the second best in 2002. He was clearly the team’s best reliever both years, so why he never got a shot to take over as closer from Roberto Hernandez, I do not know. There seems to be little remarkable about those years. He did give up the Scott Hatteberg home run in the wild game that gave the A’s 20 straight wins in ’02, but mostly Grimsley was just a good set-up man on some terrible teams. Only a crazy person dedicates a blog post to that 12 years later, but here we are.

After those two solid years, Grimsley faltered in 2003 while the Royals went on their improbable pennant chase. He still appeared in at least 70 games for the third straight season, but his bread-and-butter fastball was not working as well. Grimsley was a free agent at the end of the year, but wanted to stay in KC. Though he had two-year offers on the table from other teams, Grimsley gave the Royals a bit of a home-town discount and signed for one year. “I sat down with my wife and we talked about how our kids are here and our home is here now,” Grimsley said. “What kind of a price are we going to put on that? That pretty much made my decision right there.”[i]

Grimsley went back to pitching effectively in 2004 but had a scary collision with Royals first baseman Ken Harvey in early June. On a slow roller between them, the two players read the play completely differently. Grimsley was charging to cover first while Harvey picked up the ball and was going to whip it home to try for an out. Harvey’s forearm and the ball smashed into Grimsley’s head, and Grimsley lay motionless on the grass for quite a while. Fortunately, Grimsley came away with nothing worse than bruises and knots on his forehead and jaw and was only kept out of action for a few games. His time with the Royals concluded at the end of June when he was dealt to Baltimore for minor league pitcher Denny Bautista. After leading the team in relief appearances for three straight years, Grimsley was again in the lead in 2004 at the time of the trade. His 251 relief appearances rank sixth in Royals history. Grimsley’s career after that spiraled into controversy stemming from his performance enhancing drug use and an affidavit in which he allegedly named other players using. There was also a bizarre and tragic accident in 2005 when a small plane crashed into Grimsley’s Overland Park home, killing all five persons on the plane but sparing Grimsley’s wife and daughter who were home at the time.

[i] Robert Falkoff, “KC is Grimsley’s home, sweet home,” http://kansascity.royals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20040128&content_id=631580&vkey=news_kc&fext=.jsp&c_id=kc, January 28, 2004.

Well, today is exactly why Dayton Moore traded for James Shields.

There has been a good deal of snark directed at Shields’ nickname, some of it with a firm foundation in fact, but when you trade your best hitting prospect (by a mile at the time) and one of the best prospects in the game, one is pretty much expecting James Shields to take the mound late in the summer with first place on the line.   And one is pretty much expecting that James live up to his nickname.

After a rough three start stretch at the end of June (14 runs allowed in 19 innings), Shields has been – dare we say it? – a number one starter.  He has gone seven innings or more in five of seven starts and allowed two runs or less in six of those seven starts.  That includes going eight innings on August 3rd while allowing just four hits, no walks and two runs and going the distance in a four-hit shutout on August 9th.

The Royals have gone 3-1 in Shields’ last four starts, despite scoring a combined total of just 12 runs.

Yeah, this is pretty much the guy you want out there when facing the Oakland A’s and Jeff Samardjiza on a Thursday afternoon with your team holding a half game lead in the A.L. Central.

We can debate whether Shields is really ‘Big Game James’, but I don’t believe you can debate that today’s non-televised businessman’s special is indeed a Big Game.  The Royals need Shields to be his nickname…or at least do a Jason Vargas impersonation.

You can’t win them all.

That’s how the cliche goes. Allegedly.

The Royals were dropped by the A’s by a score of 11-3 on Tuesday, ending their eight-game winning streak.

It’s a game that, were you able to extrapolate the entire season, from beginning to end, to examine the pitching match ups, you would have circled on your calendar as an obvious loss. Jeremy Guthrie versus Jon Lester. That loss is as guaranteed as the Royals not removing a poor bullpen arm from their roster because they’re frightened they would lose him to waivers. That’s how guaranteed this loss was on paper.

But they don’t play these games on paper. At least that’s what I’m told. No, they play on the field and that’s where the Royals have been invincible the last couple of weeks. So, what the hell. Play the game. Because as Joaquin Andujar once said, “Youneverknow.”

Sadly, it went about as expected.

The Royals rotation has been pretty good this summer. Really good. But don’t let anyone tell you Guthrie has been anything but the weak link. Yes, he’s thrown some gems. He was especially sharp his last two outings. But he is the Royals least effective starter as ranked by fWAR and his peripherals are pretty lousy. Just for fun, here’s the Royals rotation as ranked by fWAR:

James Shields – 2.6
Yordano Ventura – 2.0
Jason Vargas – 1.9
Danny Duffy – 1.8
Jeremy Guthrie – 0.9

Guthrie is the guy you’re nervous about every time he takes the mound. Sure, he can give you a game like he did against the Diamondbacks last week, but he’s a few more times as likely to throw one like Tuesday. And that’s one of the continuing underlying issues with this team. Guthrie seems like a decent guy. He originally signed for $11 million for 2014, but restructured his contract to knock $3 million off that sum. But he will collect it – with interest – should his mutual option for 2016 not be picked up by either party. According to Fangraphs, Guthrie has been worth around $5 million this year. With eight to nine starts left on his season, there’s no way he’s going to provide value for his contract. Hey, not everyone signed to a contract will. However, I’ve always argued that the Royals, given their market, must be smart enough to avoid those kinds of expensive mistakes.

I’m not trying to be a downer. The Royals are in first place, after all. It’s an exciting time to be a fan. But as Clark wrote last week, it’s fine to be a fan and disagree with the front office on how they value certain players. It’s why, while I’m hopeful the Royals can win the division (or the Wild Card), I remain wary of this team for the future. There are too many bad decisions that happen. Guthrie just happened to remind me of one last night.

(And I’m not even going to mention Bruce Chen. Wait, I just did. To pay that guy $4.25 million is… Unwise. But you probably knew that. Shame Dayton Moore and the Royals brain trust didn’t know that. Could have had some payroll flexibility at the deadline.)

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I haven’t done much reading about the game, but I wonder if the narrative will circle around about how the Royals always seem to have this “moment” to capture the fans, but can’t capitalize.

I’ve seen this theory before. It goes something like, “The Royals play well enough to get people on the bandwagon. They finally go to the game. Fill the stadium. Then they put up a stinker in front of 25,000+ and lose 11-3.”

If that happens, please don’t buy into that narrative.

We’ve discussed this before, but the Royals are one helluva streaky team. And streaks end. Sometimes bad baseball will be played. Last night, the Royals announced an attendance of greater than 27,000 with walkup sales of over 9,000. That’s impressive. That’s a signal that the fan base is buying what you’re selling. And lord knows, the Royals need that kind of support and they need to hold on to it tightly. Yes, last night was disappointing. But a game like that was going to happen sooner or later.

The Royals didn’t “choke” in front of a large crowd last night. They didn’t feel “pressure” and they didn’t fail to come through in the “clutch.” They lost. To a better pitcher and a better lineup. That’s baseball.

The beauty is, the Tigers lost last night, too. The Royals are still in first. And the beat goes on.

 

You read that headline right.   Although to be fair, it should continue to include ‘and his Tommy John surgery’.

Despite some rumblings to the contrary in the early stages of spring training, the Royals had pretty firmly decided to make Luke Hochevar their eighth inning guy.   While using a former number one overall pick as a set-up reliever is not the ideal end result, many/most of us were expecting good things from Luke in his new role.

I strongly doubt, however, that anyone would have willing to predict that Hochevar would strike out over 13 batters per nine innings or only allow a hit every other inning or allow ONE extra base hit (only a double at that) in his first 51 innings of work.  That would have been crazy talk.  No one does that.

No one except Wade Davis.

Within a day of the Royals discovering that Hochevar was lost for the season, they abandoned all thought of Wade Davis as a starter.  What happened and is happening since that point in time has been a spectacular success.  You can apply and debate the value of a pitcher who only pitches the eighth inning when his team has a lead, but I do not know that you can debate that Wade Davis is better in that role than anyone else in baseball this year.

Now, I’ve been jaded by years of organizational stubbornness when it comes to ‘their’ players. It took the Royals five years to allow themselves to use Hochevar out of the pen.  It took them just this side of forever to give up on Kyle Davies.  You do the math:  if Luke Hochevar is healthy in 2014, does Wade Davis take up space in the starting rotation?

In 2013, the Royals were 10-13 in games started by Davis.  In 2014, Kansas City is 12-10 in games started by Yordano Ventura and 9-9 in those started by Danny Duffy.    We don’t know and they don’t know, either, what the Royals would have done with regard to Davis with a healthy Hochevar in the picture, but I have a sense that he’s in the rotation to at least start the year.

Assuming Davis was, he might well have taken Bruce Chen’s spot and quite possibly have been roughly equal in effectiveness.  Does that really sound like something Dayton Moore and Ned Yost would have done in April?  After their team has surged back into first place, maybe we should give them the benefit of the doubt, but you almost have to believe that there was a better than even shot that Chen would stick in the rotation with Davis taking the spot of Yordano Ventura.

Anybody want to trade Ventura’s five April starts (the Royals went 3-2 in those) for five Wade Davis starts?  Anyone?  Bueller?

Carry it a bit further.  When Bruce Chen went on the disabled list in late April, that might well have triggered a Ventura promotion, but then when would Danny Duffy have been granted his first start?   Instead of May 3rd, where would Kansas City be if Duffy did not get the nod until mid-June?

Complete and total speculation on my part with regard to 97.3% of everything above. It is quite possible that the Royals would have broken camp with the exact rotation they did, called up Duffy exactly when they did, and done so even with Hochevar AND Davis in the pen.  It might have happened that way.

I wish no ill will on Luke Hochevar.  I was looking forward to him being an effective, if overpriced, weapon out of the bullpen this season.  However, I am not sure a healthy Hochevar would have equaled a better team record for the reasons listed above.

It is August 12th and the Kansas City Royals are in first place.  Tough break, Luke, but I’m digging this reality.

 

 

 

 

“We can’t get caught up in what Detroit’s doing. Or whoever’s behind us.”
– Jarrod Dyson

Forgive me if this is a bit stream-of-consciousness. This is being written immediately following my return from The K, where I watched the Royals defeat the Oakland A’s 3-2. With the win and the Tigers loss to Pittsburgh, the Royals have moved into first place in the AL Central by a half a game.

What?

The Ned Yost Baseballing Strategy again worked to perfection. A couple of timely hits by the evening’s offensive hero in Alcides Escobar. Six gritty innings from Yordano Ventura. Solid defense by Alex Gordon in left and Mike Moustakas at third. And the lockdown triumvirate of Kelvin Herrera, The Wade Davis Experience, and Greg Holland. Boom. Boom. BOOM!

First place.

I think I’ve written this before, but I don’t really believe in “celebrating” being in first place on August 11. But you cannot deny there is something going on here. On May 20, the Royals were in third place in the AL Central, seven games out of first. By June 17, they were in first. That stay was short lived. Again, the Royals stumbled. One month later, on July 12 they lost at Detroit and fell to 7.5 games behind the leaders. And now, on August 12 they are back in first place. Do you see what’s going on here? They have rallied from seven games back not once, but twice. To accomplish that once in a season is impressive. Twice? Oh, my.

So I’ll celebrate. Just a little. One eye on the standings. Another on the calendar.

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The Royals made a trade on Monday, acquiring Josh Willingham from the Minnesota Twins. (I really need to get around to updating my Dayton Moore database. Sorry.)

Willingham gives the Royals the right-handed bat they had been so desperately seeking. In many ways, he’s an anti-Royal. For starters, he walks. His career walk rate is 12 percent. He’s actually outperformed his career average in each of his three seasons with the Twins. Second, he strikes out a bit. Like in more than a quarter of his plate appearances. Third, he has a high OBP. His current .345 OBP ranks second on the Royals. Finally, he has some power. His career-high for home runs is 35, set a couple seasons ago. That’s impressive. (Remember, this is a Royals blog. Our idea about impressive home run totals is skewed by Steve Balboni and ballplayers wearing stirrups.) He’s kind of a Three True Outcomes Lite kind of guy. Sort of a poor man’s Adam Dunn. Which on a month and a half rental, is just fine.

Defensively, you don’t want him to have a glove. He’s played in left field for the Twins. We know that’s not going to happen here. He last played right field in 2009 for the Nationals. Ned Yost says he’ll move him around, but if Ned is smart (don’t answer that) Willingham is the DH. In 2011 and 2012, the right-handed hitting Willingham hit for a better average against right-handed pitchers, but hit everyone for power. In 2013 and this year, he’s reverted to the old fashioned platoon split. He’s been miserable against right-handers and passable against lefties. But he’s still hitting for more power versus the righties.

Even with his anti-platoon struggles, he’s still an above average offensive player. A nifty combination of on base-ability and power give him a 111 wRC+. He needs to be in the lineup as the everyday DH.

A nice piece of business from Dayton Moore to fill a big hole in the lineup.

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Being at The K on Monday was one of the more memorable experiences I’ve had there as a fan in the last 20-plus years. The crowd was Kansas City subdued, but there was a buzz in the stands. Kind of percolating, waiting for something big to happen. We didn’t get an Alex Gordon moon shot or a three-run Billy Bomb. The offense was kind of classic Royals. A couple of hits, another god-awful outfield throwing error and a double play led to the first run. Three singles created the second. And the third scored following a walk, a fielder’s choice, another weak grounder to second and a single from Escobar. Nothing sexy. Workman-like. And enough to secure the win.

The crowd obviously responded to the runs, but they seemed to save their energy for the bullpen. By the time Herrera entered the game, there was this odd sense that this team was in control. In control. How often have we used those words to describe a Royals team? Herrera throws straight gas and gets a flyable out on a nice play by Cain who had to run a long way, and then punches out Jed Lowrie on 101 mph petrol and follows that up with a whiff of John Jaso. Herrera yields to Davis who picks up a pair of strikeouts before ending the inning on a fly ball to left. The buzz is building the whole time through the seventh and eighth. It’s as if the fans know this is the appetizer. But it’s damn good. And then Holland. The place erupts. Saveman. He wobbles. A single. A wild pitch. A walk. Trouble. Yet the buzz continues to build. We’re on our feet. The chants. The cheers. And Holland comes through. He gets a ground ball double play and a fly out to center.

At the end, it was as loud and joyous a crowd I can remember at The K. We know what’s happening. We are aware. Everyone knows what the Tigers are up to. Everyone knows the stakes. It was a special, special evening.

It wasn’t a playoff-type of atmosphere. But 21,000+ made it a damn fine dress rehearsal.

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I don’t go for memorabilia, but I do have a few things. Odds and ends that are special to me. I have a bunch of ticket stubs. Playoff tickets dating back to 1976. World Series tickets. Random games from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. I haven’t kept much lately. I’m keeping that ticket.

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Finally, a couple of images from Monday.

 

 

It’s a damn crazy season. Buckle up.

 

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