Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

This column is not what you might expect it to be. You might even need to sit down.

I think Royals’ manager Ned Yost has done an exceptional and even creative job of managing his pitchers through nine games this season.

Now, yesterday Yost left Chris Young in too long. I thought that (but, no, did not execute a signed affidavit and have it notarized to prove so) before Young threw a pitch in the 8th inning.  Young, as you like your long relievers to do, had breezed through three innings having allowed just one baserunner. Unless you are trying to guard him in the low post, Young is not overpowering.  He had struck out no one and pretty much spent three innings serving up flyballs that were caught. That’s what Chris Young is and, frankly, that is all you can ask of him:  three innings of no blood.  I thought right then that four was stretching it, especially down just two runs. Yost pushed his luck going for another inning, especially with a well rested bullpen.

Pin one on Ned, but give him credit for going against a lot of opinion (Twitter opinion anyway) last Saturday night and sticking with starter Jeremy Guthrie after many (myself included) thought the veteran should have been pulled.  Guthrie rewarded Yost’s judgement with perfect sixth and seventh innings on the way to a 6-4 Royals’ win. Yes, I would have pulled Young yesterday after three innings and maybe kept my team close enough to make the ninth inning rally an actual comeback, but I also would have pulled Guthrie last Saturday and taken two more relief innings out of the account (and gotten no better results than Guthrie got).

At worst, through nine games, Ned Yost is even on the pitcher handling scale.

I’ll be honest, I think Ned is better than even.  With this bullpen, it is a little hard to make a bad move, but I will give Yost some credit for being creative.

Yes, the seventh inning is Herrera’s, the eighth belongs to Davis and Holland is the closer, but remember last year when Yost stubbornly adhered to those roles and also to Aaron Crow being the ‘sixth inning guy’?  Yesterday, with Jason Vargas struggling, Yost went to the currently ordained sixth inning guy, Jason Frasor, in the FOURTH inning.

First off, what a luxury it is to have a reliever of Frasor’s abilities around to use that early and still not have disrupted your standard plan for the final three innings of the game, but more importantly, well done by Yost to go against the ‘my starter is out in the 4th inning, the book says use your long man’ logic and go to a a better pitcher no matter the earliness of the inning. Even through nine games?  Hell, Ned was no worse than even yesterday.

While it is the general plan – and a good one at that – to have the HDH trio handle the last three innings, Yost has also utilized his assets to not burn out that group in the early season.  After Greg Holland worked in the first three games, Yost went to a Frasor-Herrera-Davis combination to finish out a 4-2 win in game four of the season.  In the ‘Guthrie game’, Yost had already determined that Herrera was going to be unavailable and had Ryan Madson warming up in the bullpen for a possible seventh inning appearance.

Those two moves are obviously even too little a sample to be a pattern, but it shows some thought towards not adhering to The Book all the time.

Think about this bullpen when Luke Hochevar comes back.   Ryan Madson, who had a rough outing yesterday but has otherwise looked good, is your sixth best reliever.  Assuming Hochevar is who he was two years ago (and that may or may not be a big assumption), Yost will have the continued luxury of using Jason Frasor as he did yesterday or Madson or Hochevar or rest one of HDH for a night.

It has to be fun to have that many weapons to utilize and even more fun when your starters have not made it out of the fifth inning just once in the first nine games. Time will tell when it comes to Ned and his pitching changes.  Chances are most of us – well, not those of you who automatically accuse everyone of freaking out at the mention of any discussion of anything – will forget most of the good moves and remember all of the moves (or non-moves) that blow up in Yost’s face.  For now, however, at least in this area of management, I mostly like what I have seen out of the Royals’ manager.

 

 

 

It was going to happen. Sure, it felt like the Royals were never going to lose, but trust me, it was going to happen. The Royals fall 3-1 to the Twins on Wednesday in Minnesota.

It was a straight-up pitcher’s duel. Edinson Volquez was nails for the Royals. He got off to a slow start, allowing the first three hitters of the game to reach, but settled down and allowed only two baserunners until Torii Hunter forced him from the game with a two out single in the eighth. Unfortunately those two were a Plouffe single followed by an Arcia home run. Ballgame. Twins.

The bats slumbered as the Royals once again turned Kyle Gibson into the pitcher of the century. But let’s focus on the positive because there was plenty of good things to note from this one.

— Starting with Volquez. He had all his pitches working. Fastball, curve and change. He located his pitches extremely well and had the Twins hitters mostly off balance for most of the evening. The curve had some outstanding break, dropping off the table, but it was the change that was the hammer Volquez swung with ferocity. He threw his change 35 times and got 27 strikes with that pitch. Twins batters swung at the Volquez change 24 times and missed on 12 of them. An amazing 50 percent swing and miss rate. Amazing undersells it, actually.

You know my skepticism regarding Volquez. Namely, his track record of spotty control was a concern of mine when the Royals signed him. Now, through two starts and 15.2 innings, Volquez has walked just two batters. One in each start. And, as I mentioned earlier, his command was impeccable. We’re dealing with a small sample, but from what I’ve seen in his two starts, let’s just say I’m very encouraged.

Volquez said Perez called for a change on the home run to Arcia. He shook off his catcher and left a two-seam fastball up in the zone. Interesting. Volquez gave a great postgame interview. Thoughtful, reflective and honest. Solid character. You can understand why Dayton Moore signed him.

— Speaking of Volquez, he’s impressed me with his awareness on the mound. We saw it in the sixth when Hosmer laid out for a ground ball and had it pop out of his glove. It dribbled to Omar Infante, who picked it up and quickly threw to Volquez covering first. Your textbook 3-4-1 play if you were scoring at home. Credit to Volquez for doing what he was supposed to do, which was to keep running to the bag. A small thing, to be sure, but something that was impressive none the less.

— Alex Gordon has been scuffling at the plate, but ripped a 3-0 pitch to right to drive in the lone Royals run of the evening. I heartily endorse this approach. Gibson was cruising and didn’t want to put another runner on base. Gordon sat dead red and executed.

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 10.13.18 PM

Hopefully, this will give Gordon a little push to get going.

— Mike Moustakas continued his assault on the opposite field, collecting a bunt single in the first and another single on a soft liner in the fourth. I know I said this was going to be positive, but jeez… Moustakas has the plate appearance with the highest leverage index in the game in the seventh with two on and two out.


Source: FanGraphs

In the chart above, you can easily find the Moustakas PA. The Twins summoned lefty Brian Duensing and he retired Moustakas on one pitch. One stinking pitch. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: A pop-up to third.

So let’s say that as encouraging as it may be that Moustakas is going to the opposite field, he can still fall into the old habits and frustrate. He’s a work in progress. Will he succeed? I remain skeptical. Although I will always give him credit for attempting. And there is evidence that it will improve his performance. How much exactly remains to be see. However, after last year, he can’t go much lower.

— Not only did the Royals not hit a home run for the first time this season, they also failed to collect a walk in a game for the first time of the year. Coincidence they lost? I think not.

— I’ll give the final word to former Toastmaster Ken Arneson:

Very true.

Every day is now a new experience for a whole generation of Royals fan. And it’s an opportunity to recall decades earlier for the older fans. Last year, while the Royals played in the World Series, there was no “march to the championship.” The club didn’t lay waste to the opposition in what was some sort of inevitable push to the postseason. They did win five in a row at one point in April and finished the month with 14 wins against 11 losses, but stumbled in May and spent most of that month under .500. The Royals have played some strong baseball out of the gate in season’s past, but they’ve never piggybacked a successful April on a successful October.

Heady times.

When a team plays in the World Series and then dashes out of the gate to open the following season, people tend to take notice. Bandwidth gets filled with national hot takes. “Are the Royals for real?” A national internet baseball writer asks. “The answer is no, of course they’re not for real.”

Harsh.

The real answer to that question can be found on the Magic 8 Ball: “Reply hazy. Try again later.”

That’s not to put a damper on what has been a helluva fun start to a season. That’s simply because after seven games in a 162 game schedule, we can’t draw many – if any – conclusions about this team. We know they will have more power in their lineup, but they are on pace to hit 231 home runs. Not even the most star-struck Royals fans would concede that’s possible. We know their bullpen is nails, but they aren’t going to go the entire season without surrendering a run. We know the defense is great, but… Wait. Never mind. Their defense is the most wonderful thing since Justin Bieber stopped making records.

There were a bunch of projections and predictions that had the Royals finishing fourth in the Central. There were also a bunch that pegged them second. Or third. (The Twins, as we have witnessed, have the basement locked up all to themselves.) Basically, no one said the Royals were going to win the division. While Jon Morosi called attention to himself with a brilliant flip-flop over the weekend, I would be inclined to hold onto my own predictions for longer than a single week of games. Although I can certainly listen to the argument for revisions. The Royals aren’t just winning games, they are pulverizing the opposition, outscoring them by 34 runs and becoming only the second team in baseball history to win their first seven games of the season by a margin of two or more runs. Nail biters? Those are for losers.

The season is long and we are just getting a taste of how things are going to play out going forward. The only thing we can definitively say was the first week was a rousing success for our team. We could reconvene here in three weeks and have a completely different feeling. Because that’s baseball.

We are Royals fans, so we want to believe this was close to the real deal. We want to believe the power is real, the bullpen is spectacular and the defense is the best thing since Henry Ford introduced the assembly line . I think there are only positives that can be taken from this week plus of games. The Alex Rios injury the exception. And Alex Gordon’s start. And Omar Infante’s presence in the lineup. Oh, crap. We’re doomed.

No joke, there are certainly a few things to be concerned about. And they aren’t going to continue to post a .401 OBP. They aren’t going to keep slugging a league leading .532. And their .353 BABIP is certainly in for a correction. Injuries and underperformance are going to happen. We’re watching them happen at this moment. And yet, the Royals are 7-0. That’s good news. Maybe in a week when the bats go into a slumber (it will happen) the pitching will step forward and steal a few wins. Remember last year, Denny calling Gordon’s walkoff home run and mentioning that sometimes, things just go your way and how this may be the year? Maybe it’s still the Royals year. Maybe there’s some magic left and they outperform the projections and the predictions. Or maybe not. Seven games in to the season, it’s probably a little too soon to tell.

Wherever you may land on the fan spectrum, know these seven wins are important.

Seven wins in the early part of the season means the Royals are seven wins closer to the postseason. Think about it. April is just as important as September and at some point in the 2015 season, we will gain some clarity of exactly how many wins it will probably take to advance. It may be 89 like last year. Or it could be 92. Whatever the number, as it currently stands the Royals have a lower number to reach than all the other teams in baseball by virtue of their seven victories in the early stages of the regular season. That gives them a greater margin of error. Seven games in a 162 game season doesn’t exactly provide a comfortable margin of error, but it’s better than the converse of losing the first seven games of the season and having to figure out how to get on track.

The only thing you can speak to with any certainty in baseball is the past. Seven wins is seven wins. The Royals may go on a five game losing streak starting tomorrow, but those first seven games reside firmly in the win column. They’re not going anywhere. Maybe they account as a cushion. A brace against what will certainly be a regression. Maybe the Royals will ride away with the division and clinch in mid-September. The more likely scenario is this race will go down to the wire. Every one of those seven wins matter. They matter because it’s one less win this team needs to throw into the win column down the road. They matter because any time you can put a little distance between yourself and your competition, that’s a good thing.

Maybe there was some luck involved. The Royals didn’t face Chris Sale in the opener. The BABIP fairy has been awfully good to this team. The home runs the Royals starters have been serving haven’t hurt as only one of the six have come with runners on base. Every team steals a win – or seven – during the season. Maybe this is the week where the Royals use all of theirs. Or maybe luck didn’t have so much to do with this streak. They won all their games by two or more runs. It’s not like we had a player scamper around from second on a wild pitch in the ninth inning to steal a win. That’s so last year.

In his post, Rob Neyer mentioned the Brewers and the Rockies as teams who set the early pace in 2014, but faded. They’re not the first teams to have dropped from contention after a solid start. They won’t be the last. More injuries, Moustakas starts going pull happy again, Hosmer goes into another one of his extended funks, Perez gets overworked… It really wouldn’t take much for the Royals to be lumped into this group. We want to think it’s not going to happen – They were in the World Series last year! – but if you’re being honest with yourself, last year’s World Series appearance doesn’t mean anything this year. New year, new team, new challenges.

While we are a long way from the finish line, let’s not kid ourselves: This feels different. It does. It feels different for exactly the reasons I wrote didn’t mean anything in the previous paragraph. The World Series changed the calculus of this organization and its fanbase. Already hopeful for a repeat, the hot start is rocket fuel. That’s what makes sports fun. We know the darkness. The last year and a half, we have seen plenty of light. That doesn’t mean this is going to end in success, or that it will even continue. It just means it feels different to me, from say, 2003. Or other years where there have been successful Aprils.

Who knows what tomorrow brings? I just know I’m having a blast today.

For me, the most impressive and potentially meaningful thing about the Royals start is not their perfect record but their ridiculous run differential (RD). They have obliterated the White Sox, Angels, and Twins to the combined tune of 52 runs scored and 18 allowed. Since 1900, their +34 RD is tied for the fourth best after the first seven games of a season, and it represents the best RD a team has had after seven games since 1962. Only 17 squads since 1900 have had a +30 or better RD at this point in the season. (Unfortunately one of those teams is the 2015 Tigers.)

Here’s a look at those 17 teams, along with their final record and postseason performance:

Team Year 1st 7 RS RA RD Final W-L Postseason
St. Louis 1962 7-0 70 28 42 84-78 -
NY Giants 1905 6-1 57 17 40 105-48 WS Champ
Brooklyn 1940 7-0 46 11 35 88-65 -
San Fran 1962 6-1 59 25 34 103-62 NL Pennant
Kansas City 2015 7-0 52 18 34 ? ?
Chi Cubs 1934 7-0 44 11 33 86-65 -
Yankees 2003 6-1 61 28 33 101-61 AL Pennant
Cleveland 1999 6-1 63 30 33 97-65 Division Champ
San Fran 2002 6-1 41 8 33 95-66 NL Pennant
Yankees 1927 6-0-1 55 23 32 110-44 WS Champ
Yankees 1999 6-1 48 17 31 98-64 WS Champ
Mets 2007 5-2 47 16 31 88-74 -
Cleveland 1920 6-1 59 29 30 98-56 WS Champ
Detroit 2015 6-1 51 21 30 ? ?
Seattle 1995 6-1 48 18 30 79-66 Division Champ
Phillies 1915 7-0 39 9 30 90-62 NL Pennant
San Diego 1996 5-2 57 27 30 91-71 Division Champ

Holy Moses. It’s almost scary how good most of those teams went on to be. Ignoring the 2015 Royals and Tigers, the other teams have a combined final winning percentage of .599, which is a 97 win season. Only four of the 15 teams missed out on postseason play.

Another way to look at the potential significance of KC’s RD is to find recent teams that have had a +34 or better RD during any seven game stretch in a season (not just the first seven of the year). (Rob Neyer has an interesting question about whether or not all streaks are created equal.) Over the last five years, 2010-14, there have been just 27 teams to put up such a good RD during any seven game stretch, or an average of five or six teams a year. Those 27 teams ended the year with an average of 88 wins, and 14 of them made the postseason. Holy Moses.

These numbers seem pretty exciting to me, but there are also a few teams that serve as cautionary tales. You may have noticed in the table above that the team with the best ever RD start to a season, the ’62 Cardinals, ended up with a just OK 84 wins and out of the playoffs. And over the last five seasons, three truly terrible teams have fluked into dominant seven game stretches at some point (2010 Twins, 2014 Red Sox, and 2014 Rockies). So of course this great start guarantees nothing. But more often than not, teams that have a stretch of seven games this good are for real.

Shout out to the magical Baseball Reference Play Index.

Earlier today, it was Alex Gordon and his wrist.  Just a few hours later, it has become Alex Rios and his hand.  Broken, you know.  Out indefinitely.

Lots of speculation with this news, not the least of which was the removal of Terrance Gore from his AA game today.  In combination with the speedster already being on the 40 man roster, one would be led to believe that Gore will take Rios’ spot on the 25 man roster.  I don’t hate it.

After all, it took six games and an injury to get Jarrod Dyson into live action and, far as we can tell, neither Eric Kratz or Christian Colon really exist.  This is not a team or a manager that is going to utilize the bench very much. Quite frankly, if you want strategery, Gore is probably more likely to see action than say a Whit Merrifield or someone of that ilk.

In the regular lineup, it appears that Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando will platoon and likely do so in right field with Lorenzo Cain staying in center. Dyson, I assume because he is small and fast, is perceived as not having a good arm.  Truthfully, Dyson’s arm is no worse than average, probably not a lot different than that of Cain.  I like the idea of the guy playing everyday (Cain) staying in one spot, where he might be better than Dyson anyway.  So, keeping Lorenzo in center and leaving rightfield to Dyson and Orlando makes sense to me and likely leads to better overall defense than the Royals were getting out of Rios.  That is, by the way, not a criticism of Rios’ early season defense, but more a compliment for the amount of ground Dyson can cover.  It should also be noted that Orlando is considered a superb defender with a very good arm.

The Royals are not blessed with a ton of major league ready depth, but they actually were assembled to, at minimum, get by with an injury to the very player who got hurt.  Write this down, because I’m sure it has never been said before, are part of the game.  This is as good a time and as tolerable a position to take the hit as the Royals could hope for.  It’s not the best situation, but it is far from the worst.

Remain calm, everyone.  Don’t panic.

 

Alex Gordon is off to a 1 for 16 start and that one hit was a seeing eye roller up the middle that was not exactly mashed.  There has been some mock-snarky panic, some actual concern and an occasional casual fan wondering if they shouldn’t play ‘that kid’ Orlando more.  Hey, Paulo Orlando is a great story.  A guy I touted highly as a prospect long ago and then gave up on.  A guy who did something that had never been done in baseball by hitting triples for his first three career hits.  Let’s not get carried away, however.

Quick aside.  With Orlando’s triples this year and Brandon Finnegan’s College World Series to actual World Series in the same season feat last year, Kansas City has had two guys in two years do something that has not been done in baseball ever before. It is hard to find something that has not already been done in this game these days – especially something good.  Just kind of a cool side note.

Anyway, back to Gordon.

In a rather amazing trick, Gordon has a .348 on-base percentage despite having just one hit in five games.  That number is courtesy of three walks (one intentional) and four hit by pitch. Getting on base half the time via the hit by pitch is a hell of a way to make a living and, check the math on this, likely not a sustainable model.  Rickey Henderson posted on-base percentages of .400 and .410 in back to back seasons despite hitting below .250 both years.  In one of those (1997), splitting time between Seattle and Anaheim, Rickey hit just .183 in 144 plate appearances but still got on base at .343 clip.  I am not comparing Gordon to Henderson (Alex does not refer to himself in the third person and seems to be aware of who his teammates are and even knows their names), just another fun set of numbers to go with a quirky early season line from the Royals’ Gold Glove left-fielder.

Early is the key word in the previous sentence.

Seven games into 2014, Gordon was sporting a triple slash of just .231/.276/.308 with no home runs. I believe you will note that 2014 turned out alright for Alex. He started hot in 2013, but in 2012, Gordon began the season 0 for 16, didn’t get over the Mendoza line until April 26th and wound up hitting .294/.368/.455. Even in 2011, Gordon started 2 for 13 before notching 11 hits in his next four games on his way to his best triple slash line of his career and tying for his best WAR season of his career.  The point of this is that a) Gordon has a bit of a slow start history, b) five games is JUST FIVE GAMES and c) a player in Gordon’s physical condition who has put up fWARs of 6.6, 5.5, 3.7 and 6.6 the last four years suddenly does not lose it.

Let’s also keep in mind The Wrist. Is it healthy? I don’t know – Ned has not called me this morning (weird, right?), but as cautious as the Royals were throughout the spring, it is hard to believe Gordon is out there playing in pain. And they were cautious this spring.

Gordon only appeared in 10 Major League spring training games, logging just 35 plate appearances:  basically half of the other regulars.  That is also not the entire story, either.  The wrist surgery had to interfere with Alex’s off-season workouts.  We have all heard tell of Gordon’s dedication to working out and while he certainly did not let himself go, the sore wrist and eventual surgery certainly changed the regimen this off-season.  Let’s not underestimate the impact of a change of routine to a creature of habit.

While I am not privy to how many times Gordon steps in a batting cage during the winter, but I would wager the wrist kept him from doing it as much as in prior years. Even after getting back into physical shape, Gordon was still not cleared for actually swing a bat until spring training games were already underway.

Bottom line of all this: Alex Gordon is more than 30 spring training at-bats behind. I don’t know that it’s a stretch to say the Alex likely doesn’t quite feel like he is ready and may feel a tad behind. The wrist may not be, or at least feel quite as strong as it has before. True or not, it would be human nature to have at least a sprinkling of those thoughts going through Gordon’s head right now. Hell, who knows? None of that may be happening and it all may simply be that Alex Gordon is 30 at-bats behind the rest of baseball.  If that is all there is to this story, then Alex is a couple of games from being right where the Royals need him.

If a 7-0 start means nothing, then a 1-16 start from a hitter means even less.  I’m leaning towards Alex Gordon getting more hits this weekend against Oakland than Billy Butler collects against the Royals.

By the way, 7-0 is kind of fun, isn’t it?

The Royals failed to notice the calendar said April as they played as if it was October in sweeping away the first week of the regular season. Six games. Six wins. No problem.

They’ve done it with quite a bit of panache, clubbing nine home runs, swiping seven bags and outscoring their opponents by a 40 to 15 margin. Along with two cramps.

To say the Royals are firing on all cylinders may actually be selling them short. This team is locked in, charging forward and winning everything in sight.

For the second start in a row, Yordano Ventura was cruising, only to see his start short-circuited by a cramp. In the opener, it was his thumb. In his start on Sunday, it was a calf that ended his afternoon. It was too bad his day ended prematurely, as he has the Angels largely off balance all day, whiffing seven and touching 99 mph with his heater while spiking his curve. The Angels were hopelessly overmatched. Maybe they should have come to the plate with white flags instead of bats.

Ventura made one mistake in the first when he left a fastball middle in and Albert Pujols did his thing and deposited the pitch into the left field seats. Mike Trout and Pujols combined for the Angels second run on a couple of hard hit balls. It was Trout’s hit that set off the first Royal controversy of the season.

Why did Ventura feel the need to stare at Trout after the base hit? Who knows. Was it wrong? No. Ventura can look at whomever he wants to look at. Was it something you don’t see everyday? Sure, but Ventura is a little different. As Yost said following the game, he’s a confident guy and is difficult to rattle when he’s on the hill. I suppose the timing was a little weird. Whatever. What we know is that Trout took exception.

The pair had a chance to further discussion when Trout scored on Pujols’s double. And, as happens in this situation, the benches clear. I swear when Pujols broke for home from his spot on second base, that was the most agile he looked all weekend. Credit to Salvador Perez for removing his pitcher from what could have escalated into an ugly scene. And credit all the Latin ballplayers on the roster for rallying around Ventura to get his mind back on the game. And credit to the bullpens for getting in some light jogging. A minor kerfuffle.

That leads me to something I’ve been thinking about since the start of the season: The Royals are setting themselves up as a major target. Look, I’m not passing judgement here. I enjoy the enthusiasm and the brotherhood of the dugout they have working. These guys are winning, they’re fired up, and they are enjoying themselves. There’s a little ’86 Mets swagger about them. When Mike Moustakas leaves the dugout after every home run to perform a handshake ritual, that’s going to rub the Unwritten Rules Mob the wrong way. And we all know about the unwritten rules usually include some baseballs thrown with intent.

Speaking of Moustakas, he was hit by a pitch. Again. So far Royal batter have been plunked a league-leading 10 times. Coincidence? Random statistical noise? While there have been a couple of unintentional plunkings to be sure, there have been a few that could be classified as mysterious. On the flip side, Moustakas is getting drilled with such regularity Craig Biggio should start to worry his name may be wiped from the record books. Although pitchers are trying to pitch Moustakas inside to get him to pull the ball so he will hit into the shift, which makes sense. Yet I doubt some of these guys are upset if one runs just a little too far inside.

Whatever. This unwritten rule stuff bores me. The Royals play the game with a passion. As someone who has followed this team for close to 40 years, that makes me happy. We saw more than enough Royals teams sleepwalk through an entire season. This team is a blast to watch, although I can understand how the Angels and their fans don’t like it. Getting swept in the ALDS and then in the season’s first week doesn’t go down well. The Royals are still the scrappy upstarts that America (outside of Orange County) loves. If they are able to keep this run going, they will quickly shed the scrappy upstart label and will be called something a little less respectful. I’ll be OK with that, too. Because I love this team.

A couple of other notes:

— I enjoyed Pujols’s attempted steal of third being down five. Angels free out.

— The Royals bullpen has thrown 16.1 innings of scoreless relief. They are the only team in the majors whose bullpen has yet to surrender a run.

— The Royals were also the last team in the majors to be charged with an error this season. Lorenzo Cain earned their first one of the year on the play where Trout scored in the fifth when he failed to cleanly field the ball in center.

— Paulo Orlando collected a pair of triples on Sunday. As far as the record books go, he’s the first player in the history of the game to have his first three big league hits as triples. That’s something. That’s so Royals.

— Eric Hosmer saw his five game hitting streak come to an end, but Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain and Kendrys Morales all extended their streak to six games. The only other players in the AL to have collected a hit in every game are Trout and Billy Butler. Forever Royal.

— The Royals flew to Minnesota after the game and will play Monday afternoon in the Twins home opener. This would be an ideal time to get Perez a day off behind the plate. Yeah. I’m certain that is an option.

It’s as if 2014 never ended. We are suspended in time, just before the clock strikes midnight on December 31, 2014. In sweeping the Chicago White Sox for their first three wins of the new season, the Royals proved they haven’t lost their touch from last October.

The Royals polished off the Sox in myriad ways. They won the blowout (Monday), the comeback (Wednesday) and the pitching and defense special with the timely hit (Thursday). They say there is more than one way to skin a cat and likewise, there is more than one way to win a ballgame. The Royals provided three days of evidence of that.

On Thursday, it was newcomer Edinson Volquez who provided the quality start. In his Royals debut, Volquez spun eight innings of . He mixed equal parts sinker, change and knuckle-curve to keep the Sox off balance all afternoon. And the spotty command that has plagued him in the past? Didn’t happen on Thursday. Volquez issued a lone walk all day. It came in the seventh just after he hit Adam LaRoche with two outs. Lots of hit batters and LaRoche was the guy Duffy threw behind on Wednesday. Bad blood brewing.

Anyway, on Volquez, all his pitches were working and he was keeping the ball down in the zone. He threw first pitch strikes to 20 of the 29 batters he faced and with his sinker, he collected eight ground ball outs. And on those times he gave up fly balls, Lorenzo Cain had Jackson County covered.

Pitching and defense. Defense and pitching.

My concern about Volquez has been his history of poor command which has plagued him for pretty much his entire career. (Although a certain illustrator for the Kansas City Star will tell you career stats don’t carry as much weight as your last eight to ten days.) Prior to his start, I set his over/under for walks at 4.5. As I mentioned above, he walked one. For a guy who, just two seasons ago was walking over five batters per game, that’s an outright success.

I remain skeptical about the long-term success of Volquez, but after watching Ervin Santana and Jason Vargas come to Kansas City and pitch with a relative amount of success, maybe Dayton Moore and the Royals brain trust have indeed found a magic formula in regards to starting pitching. Hell, he’s done it on defense.

— The Royals have five home runs in three games. It’s inevitable that this will draw comparisons to last year’s power-averse club. So for reference, last year it took the Royals five times longer to hit five home runs. (That’s 15 games for the mathematically challenged.)

It was Salvador Perez who drove the bus to DongTown with a blast to left that plated Kendrys Morales in the sixth that knocked out starter John Danks.

I don’t think you will find a Royals fan (a rational one, anyway) who will claim the Royals are the second coming of the ’27 Yankees, but this qualifies as a notable development. And a good one.

— Paulo Orlando made his major league debut and collected his first hit with a triple in the bottom of the fifth. How can you not root for this guy? Grinding for 10 years in the minors, acquired for the long forgotten Horacio Ramirez in August of 2008, he’s paid his dues. Good for him. I saw on Twitter that Orlando went home to third in under 11 seconds. He will fit right in with this team.

Lorenzo Cain went yard with authority last night to give the Royals a second straight win.  Four home runs in two games?  What the hell is going on here?

While the home runs are a pleasant early surprise, there are pleasantly no surprises when it comes to the bullpen.  Four innings last night, two hits, no runs, no walks and five strikeouts. Jason Frasor did allow an inherited runner to score, but walking into a first and third/no out situation and allowing just the one run to score is really about all you can hope for.  He’s not Wade Davis, after all.

In addition to a big three run homer by Eric Hosmer to erase an early 3-1 deficit and, of course, Cain’s absolute rocket shot in the bottom of the eighth to put the Royals ahead, finally for good, Kansas City drummed out 12 other hits and even sprinkled in a couple of Alex Gordon walks to pretty much litter the bases with baserunners all night.  Neither starting pitcher had a stellar night and the Duffy/Perez combination seemed to outthink themselves on at least a couple of occasions when it came to pitch selection: notably the Flowers home run on a changeup.

The preceding, however, is only criticism I have for Salvador Perez from last night.  All the Royals’ catcher did was rap out two hits, throw out two runners and frame some balls into strikes.  Perez has generally not had a good reputation for framing pitches.  In my mind, there is plenty of background noise when it comes to pitch framing metrics, but the statistical consensus (and, yes, the eye test) indicate that Salvy has not been particularly good in that area of the game.  Last night, I thought he brought several pitches smoothly into Hunter Wendelstedt’s strike zone.

Have a look at Brooks’ Baseballs strike zone plots from last night:

April 8 Strikezone vs LHH
April 8 Strikezone vs Rhh

Red squares are called strikes when the Royals are pitching, while red triangles are called strikes for the Sox pitchers.

These plots are from the umpire’s point of view and confirm what I thought I was seeing last night: that Perez and the Kansas City pitchers were getting most of the borderline strike calls.  Particularly those calls on the left edge (Wendelstedt’s left) of the zone and more calls then Flowers and the Chicago pitchers were getting.  One game, one umpire, one night out of 162, but an encouraging sign.

Mostly because the graphs, plots and information at Brooks’ is so fun, we’ll end with one last plot regarding Danny Duffy last night:

Duffy Speed April 8

Danny’s velocity was way up at the start of the game, touching 98 once and lingering at 97 mph, but declined with each inning.  Perhaps, as has been an issue in the past, Duffy was just a little too amped and paid the price as the game went on.  It was not horrible outing, as there were at-bats where Duffy was simply overpowering, but certainly not a performance anyone wants to see on a consistent basis.  Like Perez’ pitch framing, watching Duffy’s early (and late) velocity will be interesting in the coming weeks.

Today, a businessman’s special with Edinson Volquez making his Royal debut.  I’m curious to see what Ned Yost does with the bullpen this early in the season.  Will he pitch Davis and Herrera for the third time in four days or back off that pace?  I would be tempted to avoid using either, simply because it is – not sure if you’ve heard this yet – a long, long season.

It’s just two games, but damn it is nice to win them isn’t it?

After a little damp, but tolerable and overall enjoyable Opening Day, the Royals may or may not play tonight. It has been a while since we had one of ‘those’ Aprils, but it happens.

Should Kansas City take the field tonight, we will get our first look at the 2015 version of Danny Duffy. He is looking to get 200 innings this year.  I’m not greedy, 190 innings will do just fine. In my mind, Duffy is the key to this year’s rotation.  If he can parlay his performance of last year into a full starter’s workload, this rotation can absorb a sub-par year from one of the remaining three starters that fill out the backend.  If Danny struggles to get through five innings – as happened in 2014 – things could become the bad kind of interesting.  Especially with another high pitch count per inning guy in the rotation right behind Duffy in Edinson Volquez.

Some random notes, likely covered by others already, from Monday’s win:

  •  Kendrys Morales had a full day’s worth of quality at-bats.  He looked nothing like the flailing mess of a hitter that he was the past couple of seasons. I am not even sure that was THE Kendrys Morales.  Whoever it is, I like his approach…at least for one day.
  •  There are European soccer players who think Yordano Ventura overreacted to his thumb cramp. I have no doubt it hurt and was a shock, but I am also not sure it should send you to the ground. Thankfully, it turned out to be only a cramp and not an elbow or a shoulder or a knee or a gunshot.
  •  It turned out to be nothing, given the 10-1 result, but the decision by third base coach Mike Jirschele to hold Alex Rios at third in the bottom of the second seemed overly cautious.  Now, next to the manager changing pitchers, what the third base coach does is easily the most second guessed action in baseball and it was just the second inning of the game.  That said, if the Royals are an ‘aggressive’ team on the bases, then act like it.  In this instance, I was sitting up the right field line and had essentially the entire play in front of me.  The throw from the rightfielder Garcia was obviously coming in too high for the first cutoff man and too low to the second cutoff man and Rios was at least 20 feet around third and at full speed.  It was wet, Juan Abreu – no defensive wizard – was going to have to take a low throw or short hop, pivot and make a good throw to the plate, and Omar Infante was the next hitter.  Send him. Send him every time.
  •  Wade Davis:  still filthy good.

While a day or two late, here are my predictions for the year:

I have the Royals at 86 wins.  I think Ventura will be great, Duffy will be good and two of the three other starters will be ‘good enough’.  The bullpen will be dominant, the defense very good and either Hosmer or Cain will be outstanding.  That’s enough, in my mind, for 86 wins, but likely not enough to get in the playoffs.

AL CENTRAL:  Detroit, Kansas City, Cleveland, Chicago, Minnesota

AL EAST: Boston, Baltimore, Toronto, New York, Tampa

AL WEST: Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles, Texas, Houston

NL CENTRAL: St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Milwaukee

NL EAST: Washington, New York, Miami, Atlanta, Philadelphia

NL WEST: San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Colorado, Arizona

 

AL Wild Cards: Baltimore and Toronto

NL Wild Cards: Los Angeles and Cincinnati

World Series: Seattle and San Diego (Can you hear the national media bemoan this ‘boring matchup’?)

I have zero faith in any of these.  Although, once again, it should be noted that I was dead on my Royals’ win prediction last year and missed by one game the year before.  Gut and grit over logic and stats, right?

 

 

 

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