Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

This needs to stop.

This isn’t to say I want the Royals to tone down or curb their emotion. I enjoy Sal Perez coming out of the dugout to greet someone after they hit a home run. I like how the pitchers tip their cap to a player who just made a sterling defensive play. I love the energy this team brings to the game. As I’ve written before, this is their DNA. It’s who they are. It’s real and is extremely fun to watch. I like the fire, I love this team and I embrace the way they play the game.

I’m also good with other teams in the league not liking the Royals. They can be hated by fans of opposing teams. A heel turn is OK by me. But this has gotten ridiculous. Sadly, the common thread has been Yordano Ventura. Anaheim with Mike Trout. The beaning of Brett Lawrie after surrendering a three run home run. The jawing with Adam Eaton on Thursday. That’s a year’s worth of immaturity packed into three starts.

After the kerfuffle in Anaheim, TJ Carpenter on WHB asked me if we should be worried about Ventura and his immaturity. After all, the entire incident with Trout was bizarre in that his crime was hitting a baseball back up the middle and then coming around to score. At the time, I answered “no.” Absolutely not, I said. Ventura is a great pitcher and I wouldn’t do anything to reign in his style. He is who he is and to ask him to tone it down would be impossible and probably counterproductive.

I think I was wrong.

Two starts later and the Ventura rap sheet is growing. The Trout incident was dumb. You know how I felt about his plunking of Lawrie. Now he ignites the latest bench clearing by staring down and yelling at Eaton. Three games to develop a reputation. It’s going to take more than three games to reverse that.

He’s young and we’ve all done stupid things due to youth, but at some point that stops being a valid excuse. Ventura needs to think of the consequences of his actions. By escalating on Thursday, it wasn’t surprising Lorenzo Cain and Jeff Samardjiza found each other in the scrum. Flash back to Opening Day and Cain was plunked by Samardjiza on a pitch that was most certainly on purpose following a Mike Moustakas home run. It was a gutless move and yes, it demanded a response. These teams play each other 19 times during the regular season, so there would be plenty of time to find a way to get even. A donnybrook in the late innings of a tie game on the road really isn’t that time. What’s going to happen with Edinson Volquez, who took a healthy swing at a White Sox? Cain gets ejected and his spot comes back up three times before the end of the game. Of course, his replacement was Jarrod Dyson, who beat out a fielder’s choice in the 13th and scored from first on an Eric Hosmer two-out double for the winning margin.

Royals devil magic is still strong.

Of course, there are two sides to every story. Fox Sports Kansas City alluded to the idea that Eaton was the instigator by flinging some choice words at Ventura. They didn’t show the video. (Think about the children!) Apparently, he was upset with a quick pitch from Ventura. Ventura confirmed as much when he talked to the media after the game. MLB Network seemed to justify Ventura’s “F-You” response because it was Eaton who acted first. Regardless, my take is that Ventura has to be better than that. He can’t be baited into response. Especially now. To his credit, he was contrite after the game, saying he needs to control his emotions better.

There’s fire and then there’s stupidity. Nothing productive comes from the benches emptying. Ventura already escaped discipline with a fine from his previous skirmish. As a repeat offender, I doubt he gets off lightly again. Volquez could get some time on the sidelines, too. That’s two Royals starting pitchers who could miss time because Ventura wasn’t mature enough to make the throw to first and keep his mouth shut.

Ventura is the best starting pitcher on the Royals. He has made four starts in 2015. He left his first two due to cramps. He left his last two when he was ejected.

No matter what, that’s a bad look.

Meanwhile, the Royals keep winning. In a post game interview, Eric Hosmer said the team was addressing the situation. This team was close when the season opened. If anything, this brings them closer together. With a healthy dose of irony, the fights, which I don’t like, create a stronger sense of team. Which I love.

Here’s the attached pic, which is a transcription of his interview with Joel:

HosmerQuote

There’s no leadership vacuum on this team. These guys are going to be fine. Someone will get with Ventura and help him harness his emotions in a positive way. Honestly, we should be talking about his overall pitching performance on Thursday. The guy was flat dominant for stretches. He truly is the best starter on this team. The Royals need him. He seems to understand that and – maybe this is because I am a fan – I believe him when he says he needs to get a better grip on those emotions. There was some regret there when he was talking to the media after the game. That’s good. He has to strike the balance, which I think he can certainly do.

These two incidents with the A’s and the White Sox, they weren’t started by the Royals. There will be other teams who provoke. The Royals need to get smarter about how to respond. They’re dangerous now because they look like a complete team. Imagine how dangerous they will be when they figure out how to handle the upstarts who want what they have – the AL pennant.

RF ∙ 1977—81

The Royals selected Clint Hurdle with the ninth overall pick in the June, 1975 amateur draft and quickly shipped him to the Gulf Coast rookie league to squeeze in his first pro games before the ’75 season ran out. Hurdle then headed to Florida to get some reps in the winter instructional league, where he was observed by Royals skipper Whitey Herzog. “I don’t like to go overboard on an 18-year-old kid just out of a rookie league,” Herzog said before going on to do just that: “…I’ve been going to the winter instructional league since 1964…and Hurdle is the best 18-year-old hitter I’ve seen.”[i] Hurdle had been in the organization for less than half a year before hype and expectations were being placed on his shoulders.

Hurdle put together a good 1976 season in Class A, and then looked so good at the following spring training that the team sped up their plans and jumped Hurdle all the way to Class AAA Omaha for ’77. The leap did not seem to faze Hurdle as he continued to inspire hyperbole. Omaha teammate Joe Lahoud gushed, “Clint Hurdle is going to be a super star. He’s only 19 and he’ll have an armored truck to carry his pay checks to the bank before he’s finished in this game.”[ii] His performance in Omaha earned him the American Association MVP award and a September call-up to the show. In his MLB debut on September 18, 1977, Hurdle, at 20 years and 50 days, was the youngest player to appear for Kansas City, and homered in his second trip to the plate. He got in nine games that September, and became perhaps the first Royals prospect to endure the curse of George Brett comparisons when Herzog said, “From what I’ve seen, Hurdle is a lot like George Brett.”[iii]

Sports Illustrated piled on with their March 20, 1978 cover featuring Hurdle and the words “THIS YEAR’S PHENOM” and a feature story that almost reads like a parody of going overboard about a prospect. Even George Brett makes a George Brett comparison in the article. Hurdle was a candidate to take over either first base or one of the outfield corners in ’78, but it was a crowded picture with John Mayberry at first and Al Cowens, Amos Otis, and fellow hot prospect Willie Wilson all in the mix in the outfield. So sure were the Royals of Hurdle that they allowed Mayberry to go to Toronto for peanuts a few days before Opening Day and Hurdle took over first base duties. Hurdle failed to follow the script by not setting the league on fire. In July he shifted to the outfield for the remainder of the year, where his range was limited but he could utilize his powerful throwing arm. His hitting picked up slightly. In mid-season, perhaps showing signs of the undue pressure placed on him, Hurdle cracked, “If I had done everything I was supposed to up to now, I’d be leading in homers, have the highest batting average, given $1,000 to the cancer fund and married Marie Osmond.”[iv] Instead, he was more like an almost average major leaguer, not too shabby for a 20 year old rookie, but it could only feel like a disappointment after all the hype. “This has been a tough year for a young guy,” admitted Hurdle. “Things were not smooth from the start of spring training for me. There was that controversy about John Mayberry…There was all of that noise about how much I had done in the minors and winter ball. But people don’t realize there’s a lot of difference between the minors and the big leagues…One of these days I think I’ll do what a lot of people predicted me to do.”[v] He got his first taste of playoff baseball as the Royals fell to the Yankees in four games.

Hurdle earned the starting left field spot heading into 1979, but couldn’t get going with the bat. By June, Willie Wilson took over in left and Hurdle headed down to Omaha. Herzog explained, “We want him to go to Omaha and try to get back his stroke. He’s had trouble pulling the trigger on fast balls. He’s doing too much lunging…I know when he first joined us in September of 1977, Hurdle had his stroke. Somehow he lost it. I think he can get it back.[vi] Unfortunately the slump followed Hurdle to Nebraska. He got the call back to KC in time to get into a few late season games, but overall just played 59 MLB games in ’79.

The Royals were not ready to give up on Hurdle, and in fact traded away Al Cowens with the idea that right field now belonged to Hurdle. “I’m a prospect again, huh?” Hurdle joked.[vii] 1980 turned into something like a success for him, or at least the closest he would get as a big league player. It was the only season he was able to enjoy some positional stability (though he was still benched against some lefty starters), and his .349 OBP and .458 SLG were helpful in getting the team the division title. He only got into the ALCS for two plate appearances, but was the starting right fielder in four of the six World Series games. He reached base in half of his 14 World Series plate appearances, but it was mostly in vain as he scored just one run in the series and drove in none.

1981 held some promise considering Hurdle was still just 23 years old and he had finally put together a decent year in ’80. And Hurdle did absolutely destroy the ball in 1981. But forces conspired to limit that damage to just 28 games played. Back spasms and pain took him out of the lineup after just five games. After rest wasn’t taking care of it, a muscle tear was finally discovered. In early June he was finally able to start swinging the bat again, and joked, “It was like I had my old swing back—the swing that got me sent to Omaha in 1979.”[viii] He was back in the lineup on May 30 and knocked a 430 footer out of Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis. But just six games later a strike kicked Hurdle (and everyone else) off the field again. Hurdle and the Royals came back to have a good “second season” after the strike, and faced the A’s in the ALDS. The Royals were swept easily, and Hurdle observed, “We stunk. Good God were we awful.”[ix] Hurdle was responsible for one of the low points of the series when he was picked off of second base at a crucial moment.

The Royals were finally out of patience with Hurdle and traded him to the Reds for minor league pitcher Scott Brown. Hurdle battled health problems, subpar hitting, and minimal playing time through 1987 before calling it a career as a player. His story is certainly one of unmet expectations, and a prime reminder that there is no such thing as a sure thing in baseball. We’d all do better not to place undue expectations on any prospect. But his story is also one of redemption, since Hurdle has found success in the majors as a manager, most notably with a World Series appearance and a manager of the year award.

[i] Joe McGuff, “Herzog Jumps For Joy Over Hurdle,” The Sporting News, November 15, 1975.

[ii] “American Assn.,” The Sporting News, August 6, 1977.

[iii] Del Black, “Heirs Apparent Make Instant Hit With Royals,” The Sporting News, October 22, 1977.

[iv] “Insiders Say,” The Sporting News, August 5, 1978.

[v] Sid Bordman, “Clint Clearing Hurdle With Royals,” The Sporting News, September 2, 1978.

[vi] Del Black, “Brett Boosts His Bat Mark With Torrid Month,” The Sporting News, June 16, 1979.

[vii] Del Black, “Clint Faces New Hurdle As Royals’ Right Fielder,” The Sporting News, January 12, 1980.

[viii] Mike McKenzie, “Quisenberry Discoveries ‘Delivery in My Flaw,’” The Sporting News, June 6, 1981.

[ix] Kit Stier, “Up-and-Coming A’s Frustrate Royals,” The Sporting News, October 24, 1981.

It was in the bottom of the seventh inning, when the Royals were behind by a run, that I felt a sense of serenity. I was centered. Locked into a Zen-like state, I thought to myself, “The Royals are going to win this game.”

I didn’t yet know how. And I certainly didn’t Tweet out my feelings. (Check my feed sometime. I have a brilliant reverse jinx track record.) But there’s something about this team and this young season that I had all the confidence in the world.

And damn if they didn’t rally for two runs in the eighth to pull of yet another come from behind win. The 6-5 win was the Royals 11th on the season, pushed them into a first place tie with the Tigers in the Central and was their first one-run margin of the year. Nice.

It was just another ho-hum type of Royals games we’ve all come to expect. Timely hits, solid – and sometimes spectacular – defense, and a lockdown appearance from the bullpen. It feels like this has been written myriad times already (we’re only in April for crying out loud) but this winning methodology never gets old. Hell, winning never gets old. It’s just the way the Royals are doing it.. It’s fun and it feels sustainable.

— New Mike Moustakas continues to roll. Three hits in five plate appearances, driving in three runs. Naturally, two of the hits were opposite field knocks. We’re now in the third week of the season and his change in approach at the plate hasn’t seemed to have wavered. His spray chart is equal parts stunning and effective:

MooseSpray_042215

On Tuesday against Tommy Milone, I found myself thinking about his power. Milone’s fastball lives in the mid to upper 80s and his secondary stuff isn’t overwhelming. While he is a left-handed pitcher, his arsenal is such that he’s the type of pitcher a locked-in Moustakas should sit on and – with a favorable or early count – try to pull. And damn if he didn’t do that in the fifth inning.

It wasn’t a moon shot by any stretch, but the ball when far enough to reach the Twins bullpen. The guy is just doing so much right at the plate. That was just the 10th home run of his career against a lefty.

Fast-forward to the eighth inning as the Royals are rallying. Paulo Orlando is at third with two outs. Moustakas steps to the plate. The Twins counter with their closer, left-handed Glen Perkins. Perkins gets ahead of Moustakas 0-2 and serves a 94 mph fastball on the outer half of the plate that is returned and lined to left field for the go-ahead single. Had this scenario happened last year – or any other time in Moustakas’s career – we all know how it would have turned out. (I’m thinking pop-up in foul territory on the third base side or a ground out to the right side of the infield as he rolled over on the pitch.) Instead, ballgame.

The big hits keep coming, no matter who is on the mound. For the short season, Moustakas is hitting lefties at a .333/.419/.556 clip. Small sample caveats all around, but I’m fairly certain he’s never had a stretch like this where he’s hit everyone like he’s Ted Freakin’ Williams.

— Eric Hosmer isn’t hitting for much power early in the season, but he’s just getting on base and letting the bottom half of the lineup do their thing. Another day and three more walks for the first baseman. His OBP is now .419, second highest on the team.

— If we’re going to talk about plate discipline or good approaches at the plate, we have to bring up Paulo Orlando. When he’s not hitting triples, he’s simply giving the Royals great plate appearances. This guy is so impressive. He came through once again in the eighth following a Sal Perez single with one of his own to get the rally going.

I know there’s much love in these parts for Jarrod Dyson, but Orlando has shown enough in the small sample to officially be named the Royals fourth outfielder.

— The Royals +35 run differential is the best in the league. On the offense, it’s not difficult to figure why. Check the lineup Ned Yost rolls out night after night. Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Hosmer and Kendrys Morales are all off to hot starts with OBPs over .400. Gordon after them is warming up and Sal Perez is scorching at the plate as well. When all the tumblers in the middle of the order are clicking, you’re going to plate some runs.

— I feel like I’ve ignored the bullpen, but I suppose that’s what happens when they shut down the opposition night after night. On Tuesday, just 3.1 innings of scoreless baseball. The bullpen has now thrown 42.1 innings and allowed just three runs. I’ll save you the hassle of reaching for your calculator. That’s a 0.64 ERA.

The Royals go for the sweep Wednesday night. Roll on.

It has become a little bit cool to look down on technology. You all have them, friends or family or co-workers, who ‘aren’t tied to a smart phone’ or ‘don’t spend much time on the internet’. You know the ones that ask you if the Royals won last night before you have your first cup of coffee.  You can find out on your own, you know, using the internet…on your smart phone…genius. Those flip-phoners touting that they live in ‘the real world’ are not going to be excited by the arrival of Statcast.  I, however, am eager to see it in action.

This link is to a brief explanation of what Statcast brings to the table and how it is being rolled out by MLB.  The glossary of terms gives you an idea of the types of things Statcast will measure. For those like me who utilize advanced stats, but don’t devour them, there is going to be an overwhelming amount of data to digest early on.  I cannot imagine the hot mess that the Royals television crew will make of this data as it comes online for the regional networks later this year. Say what you want about Rex Hudler, good or bad, but I doubt anyone wants him delving into the nuances of the hitting vector (or horizontal launch direction into five equal zones of 18 degrees each for those of you scoring at home).

Probably the most anticipated portion of this new toy comes in the measurement of fielding. Nothing can generate debate more than fielding metrics – any of them, advanced or traditional. Statcast’s measuring of how much distance a fielder covers to field a batted ball, the efficiency of the route of an outfielder, time elapsed turning the pivot on a double play and many others will give smart and flip phoners alike a whole new data set about which to argue. Will it settle the debate about defense?  I’m not sure, but it seems like it ought to get us all a lot closer to the answer.

Major League teams have had access to this data for some period of time now and I wonder if the Royals’ decision to keep Lorenzo Cain in center and let Jarrod Dyson play right (or left) was actually based less on getting Cain a Gold Glove and more on his Route Efficiency.  Speculation, obviously, but worth keeping in the back of your mind.

Open your mind and jump in.

About last night…

Took in the Royals game via the Crown Seats last night, making the three hour drive down and back up in the dark worth the journey.  In doing so, I witnessed a workmanlike 7-1 drubbing of the Twins who, by the way, really play horrible defense.

With every game, Alex Gordon seems to be getting better contact on the ball and better overall at-bats.  He is right now, closing in on the 35 or so plate appearances he missed in Spring Training and, assuming the wrist continues to stay strong, would seem to be rounding into form. That is a good sign as some inevitable correction is due to some others in the Royals’ lineup.  That is not a criticism of anyone, just the simple point that Lorenzo Cain is not going to hit .400 this year. A healthy Gordon will go a long way to filling the offensive void as others fall back to earth.

Edinson Volquez, my goodness.  Right now, he is the Royals’ best starting pitcher, but has had the advantage of facing the Twins twice. Still, he is one bad pitch away from three straight starts of allowing just one run. I think that is about all we can ask, right?

It was also nice, by the way, to see the Royals back to just playing baseball and not worrying about who hit whom and why. I enjoy and applaud the Royals’ non-traditional enthusiasm for the game, but too much emotion (i.e. too much worrying about retribution and not being disrespected) can wear you out.  With four straight series against Central Division foes, now is the time to focus on the game, not what people are saying.

 

 

The slide by Brett Lawrie was dirty. There can be no debate on this. I don’t care about intent. I don’t care about where Alcides Escobar was positioned. It was flat dirty.

The Royals have been human pinatas in the batters box in the season’s first two weeks. They just lost their starting right fielder because a Rule 5 guy couldn’t locate. Now they have someone attempt to separate their shortstop from his leg. This means Lawrie is going to wear one. Before we go any further, you should know that I think throwing a baseball with intent at any individual is not cool. Having said that, I understand that at some point enough is enough. A team can only take so much before they choose to retaliate. While Lawrie may not have meant for injury to come to Escobar, it happened. And because of that, he was going to get drilled.

I did not want Yordano Ventura to be the pitcher to retaliate. For me, this is just filed under common sense. Ventura is the Royals best pitcher. Whomever does the follow-up deed is likely to be suspended. Obviously, for a starting pitcher a five game suspension is not huge deal. A starter is only going to have his start pushed back a day. Plus, he will appeal his suspension, so he will continue to pitch until he drops his appeal, which he would do if he needed an extra day or two of rest. It’s farcical, really. But it’s Major League Baseball. Whatever.

Obviously, I am a fan of Ventura. He’s done relatively well at the start of the season, but there’s been plenty of intrigue around his starts. The cramps are bizarre, but hopefully something that won’t resurface. The confrontation last weekend with Mike Trout in Anaheim was a little more unsettling. Why did he decide to escalate something that was seemingly innocuous? I marked it up to a bad decision by a young pitcher who throws with some emotion.

Anyway, on Saturday Ventura chose the absolute worst time to retaliate. He struggled with command for most of the night, fed Josh Reddick a 2-0 fastball that split the middle of the plate and a two-run deficit ballooned to five. It was not Ventura’s night. Then, on his final pitch of the evening, he drilled Lawrie with a fastball that PitchF/X clocked at 100.1 mph.

Here’s some graphical evidence that Ventura basically decided to cash out for the evening.

Ventura_041815_Velo

If the timing wasn’t bad enough, Ventura decided to walk toward Lawrie and have a word or two. Look, the “unwritten rules” can be silly, but Ventura violated several of them. The timing made it so really the home plate umpire Jim Joyce had no alternative but to hit the eject button on Ventura’s night. The ejection now means the league office will be looking into what happened. And then there’s the second game in a row that Ventura needlessly approached a player. Not a good look.

I had hoped the Royals would have discussed how to respond to Lawrie’s takeout slide and the consensus would have been to wait to retaliate. Waiting would have had the benefit of keeping Lawrie uncomfortable in the batters box, not knowing when it was going to happen. Let a veteran handle it. Or a reliever at the back of the bullpen if the game got to the point where it was largely settled. Suspension and potential harm to reputation aside, if things had gotten nasty out there, the target would have been squarely on Ventura. Remember last year when Zack Greinke broke his collarbone in a fight with Carlos Quintana? Why take that kind of chance? Ventura was not the guy to do this.

I’m not going to give credit to Lawrie for putting his head down and jogging to first, because Lawrie was the one who started everything. He knew he was going to get dusted at some point in the weekend and he accepted his punishment. Ventura was tossed. The league will review the video.

It should have been over.

Instead, following the game on Saturday, Josh Reddick had words. Maybe he felt responsible for Lawrie getting drilled by fire because he was the guy who hit the home run immediately ahead of the retaliation. He couldn’t have been surprised Lawrie got drilled. Really, it was crazy talk to call what happened “bush league” by Ventura. One player was injured by a reckless play and the player that caused the injury was hit. Accept it for what it is and move on. Case closed. Except Reddick didn’t want it to be over.

“There’s no need for a season to be ruined between two teams that have something so small that happened, that’s obviously not going to be forgotten when they come to our place,” Reddick said. “You never know what’s going to happen or if we’re going to retaliate when they come to our place.”

There must be a few pages missing from his book of Unwritten Rules.

Then, Scott Kazmir hit Lorenzo Cain on the foot in the bottom of the first. Kazmir tried to make it like it was unintentional, but after Reddick’s words on Saturday, there’s no way anyone is buying that. Yeah, yeah, yeah, there are going to be the “but he hit his foot!” arguments that will be made, but Cain jumped to try to get out of the way. If he doesn’t move, it hits his lower leg. Kazmir had pinpoint control all afternoon. If he missed on that pitch, it was because he missed his vertical location. Maybe he didn’t mean to hit Cain and was merely attempting to bounce a two-seamer in his direction. Maybe he was throwing at his thigh and missed low. Semantics. That pitch had intent and by throwing it, Kazmir reopened a fresh wound.

What happened next is what contributed to the farce of the weekend. Home plate umpire Greg Gibson did not eject Kazmir. I understand the situation between Ventura and Kazmir was different, but if the umpires truly wanted to squash this beef there and then, they would have sent Kazmir to the showers. On Friday, Ubaldo Jimenez was ejected for hitting Pablo Sandoval in a 1-0 game in the 4th. In that instance, there was no history between the teams or the players. Although there was a takeout slide at second by Sandoval earlier in the game, but the slide didn’t result in injury and it didn’t result in any words or controversy at the time. If Jimenez was tossed for his pitch, Kazmir should have been run for his. Instead, they issued warnings. Insanity. The whole thing should have been over on Saturday. Kazmir throwing at Cain ensured that this would not end. And the umpires put the Royals in the position of being punished once again. Pitching coach Dave Eiland was ejected. Then Ned Yost was run. Yost rarely gets angry at the umpires, but he was irate and justifiably so. The umpires were making hash of the situation.

Overshadowed in all the shenanigans was Danny Duffy, who remained unfazed by everything. Duffy, as we all know, can have a difficult time controlling his own emotions on the mound, and while his command was less than ideal, he did not seem to be preoccupied with retaliation. The five strikeouts were nice, but the five walks were not so ideal. Nor was the 93 pitches it took him to survive five innings. He didn’t have his best stuff, but he battled and left the game with his team down just two runs. In a weekend when the gutless prevailed, Duffy’s performance was all about intestinal fortitude.

I know plenty of Royals fans who were wondering why no A’s were ejected and the Royals had six players and staff tossed over two days. The answer is simple: The umpires never punish the first strike. It’s always on the retaliation. The Royals twice found themselves in a situation where they felt the need to retaliate. Yost and Eiland knew this and they knew it wasn’t right. Kudos for Yost for standing up for his players in a situation where they felt the umpires and their actions were against them.

Then came Kelvin Herrera and his pitch behind Lawrie. That was just plain idiocy. Idiocy. At that point, the Royals were trailing 2-1 in the eighth. The last thing they needed was to put an A’s runner on base. Especially if it was at the expense of one of the Royals best relievers. Think about that for a moment if you applauded Herrera’s action. He chose to put a runner on base in a one-run game while removing himself from the proceedings. Dumb trade.

As I said earlier, there is a time and a place for retaliation if that is the decided course of action. The Royals are headed to Oakland in June. There will be more games. It didn’t have to be today. Besides, why Lawrie again? He’d already been drilled. Kazmir hit the Royals center fielder and number three hitter, so why not hit their equivalent? And why not wait for when the game isn’t on the line?

Herrera didn’t help things by pointing at his head as he was exiting the field. Even if his gesture was to tell Lawrie to “think about it,” that’s not how anyone is going to take a pitcher pointing at his head after intentionally throwing at someone. That just escalated the stupidity and gave the league more to think about when they decided to convene to discuss punishment. The whole incident with Herrera was unnecessary and distasteful.

Honestly, all of this would feel differently had the Royals not rallied for three runs in the eighth. It was a beautiful thing. The plate appearance from Paulo Orlando to lead off the eighth had some veteran moxie behind it as he fouled off three two-strike pitches before he worked the walk. Mike Moustakas almost had a hit through the right side of the infield (no shift all weekend!) but was able to advance Orlando to second. Cain squared up a pitch and drove a beautiful liner to left. The steal of third was a nice touch, too. After a walk to Hosmer (another good PA) Kendrys Morales blasted a double to almost dead center. He thought it was gone and if the damn wind wasn’t screaming from left to right, it would have cleared the fence without problem. Instead it hit close to the middle of the fence for a two-run double. To have Kazmir out of the game and have his bullpen blow it was a nice touch of justice.

The final tally for the Royals weekend: Two injuries, six ejections (seven if you count Don Wakamatsu getting thrown out twice), and two wins.

Are the Royals now Public Enemy Number One? Honestly, I don’t care. If opposing teams are irritated at their celebrations or whatnot in 2015, they weren’t paying attention in 2012 or 2013. They have been doing this sort of things for years. Ironically, I can remember Royals fans who used to get irritated at these guys for doing those little celebrations when they had never done anything of relevance in the major leagues. Now they have actually won something, the tables have turned and now it’s the opposition that may be annoyed. Sorry. Understand though, this is in the DNA of the team. They aren’t going to change. Nor should they. If another team has issue with that, that’s entirely their problem. It shouldn’t open the Royals to crazy takeout slides or beanballs. You don’t want to see a celebration? Try getting them out.

This weekend, the Royals got the ejections and they will get the notoriety, but let’s not forget the A’s twice put the Royals in the position where they felt they had to stand up for their teammates. Not once. Twice. I can’t get over how Kazmir and Reddick are somehow above the fray on this. It should have been over after Saturday, but the A’s postgame comments – mainly from Reddick – coupled with Kazmir’s actions in the first have ensured this will live for quite awhile. If the Royals throwing at A’s hitters twice in the weekend was “bush league,” so was Kazmir throwing at Cain. And so was Lawrie’s unnecessarily aggressive slide at second. Stop playing the victim, Oakland. You’re as culpable as anyone wearing blue. Lawrie was talking postgame about how it’s unfair that he has to worry about getting hit now when he stands in the box… Cry me a river. And talk to your starting pitcher.

I think the whole thing is dumb. I get the need to stand up for teammates and while I’m not pleased Ventura threw at Lawrie after the Reddick home run, I suppose it was going to happen sooner or later. That’s fine. It should have ended there. The A’s chose to escalate on Sunday. There’s plenty of blame to go around for what happened on Sunday. The A’s should stand up and accept theirs.

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.

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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.

 

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