Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

My confidence in the Kansas City Royals is such that before last night’s game, I was already formulating a stunning piece of literary genius documenting how Edinson Volquez was the Royals’ stopper.  How he was doing what James Shields did for two years only cheaper or what Gil Meche did for the Royals years ago, only for a better Royals’ team.  The Royals are too good to get swept by the Houston Astros, right?  Especially with Volquez on the mound, right?

Baseball is funny about sure things.

The Royals had won nine of Volquez’ last ten starts with six of those wins coming after Kansas City had lost the game before.  Last night felt like a win was coming, especially after Kendrys Morales lobbed a first inning opposite field home run to give the team an early lead.   Alas, it was not to be.

Volquez simply unraveled in an ugly four run fifth inning.  The Royals rallied to tie, but then Kelvin Herrera and the replay umpire in New York combined to give the Astros the winning run without the benefit of a hit.   It was the icing on this dry cake of a series that felt a lot like the old Royals.  Those guys show up once in a while.  This team is not without weakness, particularly when it is dinged up and, by the way, the Astros aren’t bad.  These things happen.

Now, all that is not to resign yourself to ‘tomorrow is another day’ and just smile and go on (that’s an old Royals thing, too).  This team has now scored two runs or less in 28 games.  There is no scenario where a team consistently wins scoring one or two runs.  Sure, the Royals have held their opponents to two runs or less 35 times, but I am still pretty sure scoring more is better.

I was happy to hear that at least one national pundit (and, yes, it’s hip and cool to bash the national guys, particularly since we’re from the Midwest and are certain everyone is looking down on us and insulting us at every turn) indicating the Royals were far more concerned about improving in rightfield and second base (#VoteOmar pisses me off, by the way) than starting pitching.   Given the price that a real improvement in the rotation might cost and the limited prospects the Royals have to deal, it makes sense to pin your hopes on Ventura, Vargas and Medlen getting healthy and effective and spend your ‘commodities’ on upgrading what is becoming a pretty mundane offense.

Who might be available (Ben Zobrist has been a target of mine for three years) is for another day.  Those targets, quite frankly, may not get your heart pumping either, but that does not mean they won’t be an improvement.  Let’s face it, when the Royals have their front nine all playing, the bottom third of the order is Salvador Perez (.279 OBP), Alex Rios (.248 OBP) and Omar Infante (.236 OBP):  that’s not optimal.

We can obviously give Perez a pass.  He is hitting for power and brings a lot of tangibly intangible baseball thingys to the field.  Rios?  His SLUGGING percentage is lower than Salvador Perez’ on-base percentage.  Infante?  I have come across an undercurrent of ‘Omar Infante is not the problem theory’ lately. He’s your ninth hitter, they say.  He’s clutch, blah, blah, blah.  Stop it.  You are trying to portray yourself as knowledgeable and logical by not criticizing a player who the majority of the fan base are criticizing.  Omar Infante is a BAD baseball player right now.  You want to be a cerebral traditionalist with his hand in the dirt?  Omar Infante has less RBI than Chase Utley this year.  Find me something, besides this ridiculous All-Star voting, that indicates Omar Infante is helping this team win.

Okay, I got a little fired up there.  Three game sweeps do that to me, even when I know it was bad timing against a good team playing in a ballpark tailor made for them and seemingly designed to squash a team constructed like the Royals.  The point remains, be it a juggling of the batting order (just because at this point and ‘just because’ sometimes works really well as a reason to do things) or making a minor move (more Dyson, more Colon? I mean, they might get on base at a .305 clip) or, as I think must be done, a major move, the Royals need to get aggressive.

If you want to give Alex Rios some more time to get healthy (or interested), I can buy into that.  I am not sure that keeps you from giving Jarrod Dyson some more at-bats against right-handed pitching, but I can live with that logic for a couple more weeks.  Infante?  No, no more time and I don’t want to hear about the money.  Are you playing to win the World Series or are you trying to balance the books?  If it is the latter and I don’t really think it is at this point (for once), then screw it and hope.  If the money, at least for 2015 is not an issue, then the Royals would be fools to not seize whatever opportunity there is to upgrade.

Let’s face it, as constructed right now (majors and minors) the Royals’ window likely closes at the end of 2016.  If enough things go right and enough money flows, maybe that gets extended, but the number of ‘ifs’ that keep this team not just contending but being a frontrunner is a long list.  If you can see it, you have to take it.  The Royals can see a championship at the end of 2015.

Go out and take it.

photo by Ed Zurga

With having the best record in the American League comes the feeling that the Royals should win every game.  That is a nice problem to have as opposed to the not so distant past when the mindset was ‘how will the Royals manage to lose this game?’.   When your team is good, fans hold them to a higher standard and when they have a bad night, the criticisms are all the harsher.  I don’t mind the hot reactors, they are good entertainment. Nor do I think just because the Royals are the reigning AL Champions and hold the best record in the American League this season that one cannot criticize them.  It’s all good, react how you want and criticize how you want.  That’s pretty much what being a fan is about.

That said, keep in mind that there will be nights like last night.   Plain and simple, the Royals were about five runs behind before the first pitch was thrown.  With Eric Hosmer and Alcides Escobar unable to play and Lorenzo Cain relegated to designated hitter due to a sore hamstring, the vaunted Kansas City defense was pretty well gutted.  This on a night when the Royals were playing on the road…in a hitters’ park…with their number seven starter pitching.

Let’s not overlook that last sentence.  Despite two good starts, Joe Blanton was the back up plan to Chris Young, who was the backup plan to anyone in the starting rotation being injured.  Frankly, Yohan Pino got a start before Blanton, so maybe Joe is the Royals’ number eight starter and he was taking the hill against the team with the second best record in the AL.

Oh, and in addition to the injuries referenced above, the Royals’ lead-off hitter, Jarrod Dyson, was also playing at less than 100%.  Did Dyson dog it down the first base line last night?  Maybe, but he also got on base three times.  The Kansas City bench last night consisted of Drew Butera, so maybe we can cut Dyson a bit of slack.

Now, I was going to discuss exactly why the Royals’ bench was Butera and no one else, but would it really have mattered if the team had also had Paulo Orlando (who I saw homer in Omaha yesterday) or Cheslor Cuthbert or Lane Adams or whomever there to keep him company?   The Royals simply got caught in a minor injury plague an an unfortunate time in the rotation.  Over 162 games, these things happen.

Certainly no one should be surprised if Brandon Finnegan, who pitched well in three plus innings last night, gets back on the merry-go-round and is sent down in exchange for a position player.  Cuthbert did not play for Omaha yesterday afternoon, but I don’t know what significance that holds.  With Hosmer out for the series and both centerfielders gimpy, simply having a body not named Butera to put into a game would likely make Ned Yost’s lunch digest a little better.

The Royals, with an eight man pen, have gone out of their way to use that eighth man.  Michael Mariot has pitched and so has Aaron Brooks, but they probably did not really need to.  We saw Jason Frasor, a very serviceable major league reliever, for the first time in eight days last night.  We saw Luke Hochevar for the first time in six days.   Sure, it is nice to have a Finnegan (or worse) to throw into a game you are nearly certain to lose, but the Royals have innings to burn before they even get into having to use HDH or HDHMM.

While the Kansas City starting rotation may be the poster child for why you need eight relievers, I am not sure even they can justify carrying eight bullpen arms all the time.  Given the current roster situation, the Royals have to and almost certainly will make am move to bolster the bench.   That may not change how this Houston series plays out, but it at least could give Ned Yost an option or two if the game stays close.

This road trip couldn’t have started in a more ideal fashion.

Winning two of three in Seattle and sweeping the evil A’s… That’s some tasty baseball right there.

I’d like to flashback to Saturday’s game and the pivotal moment – the double steal. McCullough’s gamer provides an outstanding account.

Rusty Kuntz glanced at his stopwatch and logged the times for usage on Saturday: 1.7 seconds to the plate, 1.8, 1.9, “at least,” Kuntz said, whenever Oakland starter Scott Kazmir pitched with a runner at second base. Manager Ned Yost banked the research from his first-base coach and waited until the sixth inning of a 3-2 Royals victory to deploy it.

This has been written before on this tiny sliver of bandwidth, but it’s extremely easy to second-guess and criticize moves the manager makes (or doesn’t make) when those moves backfire. The problem with being a major league manager is losing decisions are magnified. The nuanced decisions that lead to wins, for some reason, not so much.

On Saturday, Kuntz and Yost came up with a way to literally steal a win from Oakland. Maybe bookmark that gamer so the next time Yost goofs on an intentional walk or a bullpen move and fans start screaming that he’s costing his team games, you can pull up that story and point to at least one game where Yost (and Kuntz) earned the win.

But when to fire it? The team felt it was unwise to do so with Cain at first base after his sixth-inning walk. Kazmir reaches the plate at about 1.1 to 1.2 seconds with a runner at first. He feels comfortable pitching with a slide-step, which reduces opportunities for would-be base-thieves. When a runner reaches second base, the Royals knew, Kazmir slows down his delivery with a leg kick. 

“Instead of taking a gamble to try to get to second base,” Kuntz said, “let’s try to wait him out.” 

It took a single from Hosmer to set the scene. Kazmir raised his right leg and fired. Kuntz clocked him at 1.9 seconds. The opportunity was perfect, and the Royals duo did not hesitate. Oakland catcher Josh Phegley threw to second, where Hosmer arrived before second baseman Eric Sogard could drop a tag.

The moment arrived at the perfect time for the Royals.


Source: FanGraphs

According to Win Expectancy, advancing the runners from first and second to second and third with two outs increased the chances of a Royals win by eight percent. That gain alone makes the double steal attempt worthwhile. Although it’s balanced by the knowledge the Royals had – at that point in time – only ten more outs. And naturally, it only works if you have decent baserunners on the bags at that moment, so it was fortunate the Royals had Cain as the lead runner with Hosmer the trail.

(The only downer here is both runners were hurt on the double steal. Cain tweaked a hamstring that had been bothering him since Tuesday in Seattle. Hosmer sprained a finger on his headfirst slide into second.)

None of this counts if Kendrys Morales doesn’t come through. He lines a single to right, plating both runners and providing the Royals with their margin of victory. While the steal improved the Royals chances of winning by eight percent, Morales’s single boosted their WE by 22 percent. In the span of three pitches, the Royals went from decided underdogs to heavy favorites. You can see from the game graph above, post-single, the Royals were 70 percent favorites. This doesn’t take into account the Royals shutdown bullpen. The HDH triumvarate is usually good for the other 30.

Moving to Sunday, the Royals came up with another stealth inning to complete the sweep. I say it was a “stealth” inning because up until that moment, the offense was dormant. Granted, the Royals did leave the bases loaded in the third, but all those runners came with two down which is a difficult time to ignite a rally.

The sixth opened with a Mike Moustakas double and was followed by a Kendrys Morales single. With runners at the corners, Hosmer hit a harmless fly to center that failed to bring home the run. (I’ll cut Hosmer some slack here, with the injured finger and all. Although I will note that in the last over his last 28 games, he’s slashing .265/.315/.328. In over a month, he’s managed just four extra base hits. Hosmer’s bat has disappeared. Again.) That brought Perez to the plate with the key moment of the game.

Perez chopped a grounder to third base. Moustakas went home on contact. Max Muncy charged, grabbed the ball and fired home. The throw was high, Moustakas was in with a run and no outs were recorded on the play.

Replays showed that had the throw been good, Moustakas would have been out. Even so, at the moment I thought the smart play was to get Perez at first. It wasn’t a particularly easy play because the grounder was topped and wasn’t hit especially hard. With the slow running Perez, he’s still a sure out at first. I figured you give the Royals a run there and get the sure out. With the error on the play at home, Morales moved to third and Perez made it to second. So the A’s walked Alex Gordon to load the bases. Alex Rios hit a sac fly to tie the game and Omar Infante (that’s All-Star Omar Infante to you) broke the deadlock.

Ballgame.

Again, we can probably credit Yost and his coaching staff for stealing that win. With Perez at the plate there was the chance he would put the ball on the ground to the left side of the infield. With the A’s shaky defense this year, it made sense to put the pressure on their infielders to make the play at home, should they make that decision. We know Moustakas isn’t the fleetest of foot, so there’s a risk involved but you send him knowing that if you don’t and the A’s record an out, they could still walk Gordon to pitch to Rios. And these days it seems the only way Rios can contribute is through the “productive out.” It was a risk worth taking, and it worked.


Source: FanGraphs

Like on Saturday, this moved the Win Expectancy needle in the Royals favor, improving their chances by 18 percent. They still weren’t favored at that point since they were still trailing, but Infante took care of that three batters later. By the end of the inning, the Royals were favored to win with a WE close to 67 percent.

The WE hung around that neighborhood until Perez crushed a pitch in the eighth to allow his hermanito, Lorenzo Cain to score without pushing his sore hamstring. The cushion was useful as the A’s grabbed another run in the eighth. Sometimes things have a way of working out in the end.

So the Royals move to Houston to square off against the second best team in the AL. They just swept aside the hottest team in the league. They are 16 games over .500, own a +46 run differential and hold a 5.5 game lead in the AL Central. It’s about an ideal a start to a west coast swing as you could imagine. It feels like things could be difficult over the next couple of weeks. Cain’s hamstring is barking at him. Hosmer’s hurt finger feels like that would hinder any kind of break out of his extended slump. Alcides Escobar split a fingernail. Yordano Ventura’s rehab start on Friday wasn’t especially promising. There are no off days between now and the All-Star Game. It’s a key stretch and if the Royals can hold on and weather the nagging injuries, they can coast into the break in fine shape.

As the Royals make their way to Oakland for a three-game weekend series, it’s natural for fans to speculate as to the revenge factor.

Rewind yourself all the way back to April, when Brett Lawrie blew up Alcides Escobar at second base. The beanballs and the pointing to the coconuts. Things were finished and then things started back up. It was a wild and uncomfortable rematch between the Wild Card combatants.

Seems like such a long time ago.

Don’t look now, but Oakland is the hottest team in the AL, non-Canadian division. They have won 19 of their last 30. A’s manager Bob Melvin is the anti-Yost in that he stacks his best hitters at the top of the order. Billy Burns has posted a .363 OBP this year and has slashed .344/.377/.459 with a 137 wRC+ over his last 30 games. He’s the leadoff hitter. Catcher Steven Vogt usually hits third in the order and is having a breakout season, hitting .308/.401/.552.

The Royals miss rotation stud Sonny Gray this weekend, but get to face the Jesse Hahn, Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez. That’s a solid core of starters. All three excel in keeping the ball in the yard. Hahn doesn’t strikeout a ton of batters (5.6 SO/9) and Kazmir is more likely of the trio to issue a free pass (3.5 BB/9).

This series is no longer about “Round 2″ or whatever boxing term you’d like to use. Rather, it’s about standing toe to toe with a team that, due to their awful start, is much better than it’s current record would indicate. Both teams have been playing good baseball of late. Forget the revenge factor. (Who’s supposed to be taking revenge on who anyway?) That’s old news and hopefully is forgotten. This weekend is about the Royals trying to derail a team playing great baseball of late.

Hey, this is supposed to be about the Royals rotation, not some preview of the Oakland series. Where’s my starting pitching info?

Fine. Let’s start with some injury updates.

— Yordano Ventura is scheduled to make his first rehab start for Omaha Friday night. We haven’t seen fire thrown in Kansas City since June 12. Ventura is scheduled to throw around 75 pitches.

— Jason Vargas threw a bullpen session on Wednesday and the Royals are confident he will return soon. They don’t expect he will need a rehab start.

— Kris Medlen made his second rehab start on Wednesday for Double-A Northwest Arkansas. The Naturals kicked the ball around a couple of times, which led to a different kind of outing than I’m sure was hoped for from the starter making his way back from his second Tommy John. He allowed four runs in six innings, but results aside, reports were encouraging. Which is what is the most important thing when a pitcher is on a rehab assignment.

Barring setbacks, pitchers have 30 days to rehab in the minors before they must be added back to the roster. Day 30 is July 18. He seems to be right on schedule.

The above injury update is why I’m feeling skeptical the Royals will pursue starting pitching ahead of the trade deadline. Dayton Moore likes to examine and exhaust all internal options before moving beyond his organization. If Ventura and Vargas return to the rotation ahead of the All-Star Break and if Medlen stays on track and if Danny Duffy makes progress you could have pretty much a brand new rotation on July 17.

Granted, that’s the best case scenario, something that hardly ever happens in baseball. Especially with pitching.

Also, do the Royals have the necessary prospect depth to deal for a front line starter? I’m not sure they do. A move without quality would take quantity, something we know the Royals are loathe to do given their desire to build a strong pipeline to the majors. Plus, do they have the stomach to ship a key prospect in a deal where they would have a rental starter for two months? Johnny Cueto would be a nice addition, but there’s no way the Royals are going to keep him beyond this year, should they land him in a trade. Cole Hamels is under contract for the next three seasons at $22.5 million per (with an option for 2019) which is nice to have that certainty, but is that something the Royals can add to a payroll? Especially when Alex Gordon is a pending free agent and they will certainly look to restructure Sal Perez’s contract. Not to mention the possibility of extending Mike Moustakas. Anyway, the Phillies are a shambles and difficult to deal with, setting the prices extremely high for their trade chits.

The drumbeat to make a move will grow louder, the closer we move to the trade deadline, but Moore has never paid attention to that. If the best case scenario pans out, the Royals will look at their arms as if they have depth with Chris Young and maybe Joe Blanton back in the the pen for the swingman role and with someone like Guthrie bumped. Heck, they could even go to the six man rotation if they felt like they had the arms.

We’re still about five weeks away from the trade deadline. The picture is just as murky today, as it was at the start of the season. The needs haven’t changed, but the situation won’t gain clarity until the last week of July.

 

 

Alex Gordon’s on-base percentage is .383, best on the Royals. He hits sixth in the batting order.

Alcides Escobar’s wildly fluctuating on-base percentage currently sits at .322.  He hits lead-off.

Last season, the number one spot in the batting order came to the plate 85 times more than the number six spot in the order.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?  Frankly, most of us are thinking the same thing.  Some, however, are more bothered by it than others.

To be honest, when I first actually looked at the situation, 85 plate appearances seemed like a LOT.  It is, roughly, twenty games worth of at-bats and, with the possible exception of the new Mike Moustakas, there is no one else on the roster I would rather see get that many extra chances than Alex Gordon.  That said, what does 85 extra plate appearances really mean?

Using this season’s on-base percentages, Gordon would get on-base 33 times in those 85 plate appearances.  Escobar would be expected to reach 27 times.  The Royals are currently plating about 37% of the runners they put on-base.  In theory, Gordon would score two, maybe three, more runs during those 85 extra plate appearances than Escobar.  TWO RUNS.

Now, there are plenty out there who really love to dig deep into the statistical analysis.  I don’t have the patience.  I would expect that getting on base at the top of the order, with Moustakas et.al. coming up behind you probably leads to scoring a greater percentage of the time than the lower part of the order.  That said, we only have six additional baserunners to play with here, so do we add a run and say Gordon would score three more runs than Escobar?  I would, if only because I think Gordon should be batting at the top of the order.

We can also make the case that Escobar, a career .301 on-base guy, will not keep up his ‘lofty’ .322 OBP.  We could make a similar case for Gordon, who is clipping along 35 points above his career on-base percentage.  You can slide the scale however you wish and add a baserunner for every 10% difference between the two players.  Is the difference four runs, even five?  Is that a difference maker?

You can make an argument that in baseball, especially in the Royals’ world of get a lead early and hand it to the bullpen, that you should not turn down even just a handful of runs.  Is even five runs enough to make a change to a team currently in first place?  While we like to be snide about the mental aspect of the game and the supposed fragility of players’ minds, let’s not kid ourselves into thinking something that is not statistically quantifiable does not exist.   Baseball give a player a lot of time to sit around and think and worry and get all worked up over, say, batting lead-off all year and suddenly coming to the park and seeing your name down at seventh.   It might be silly, but I think you are kidding yourself if it is not a factor a manager would need to consider.

Another consideration is that you can make a very viable case that those 85 extra plate appearances would all be packed into the last two innings of a baseball game.  An extra plate appearance in the ninth inning of a 7-1 game doesn’t mean much, but they carry a lot of weight in a 2-2 game with Wade Davis and Greg Holland in the bullpen.

All in, what is the difference between batting Alex Gordon first instead of sixth?  Is it one win?   The standard theory is that 10 extra runs equates to an extra win, so we are stretching the stats considerably to even get to one win (not to mention we are closing in on the halfway point of the season already).

In the end, it makes sense for Alex Gordon to be leading off for the Kansas City Royals.  I’m just not sure it makes sense to make the change or has the impact that is seems like such a move should.

A little late on this, but the All-Star updates were released on Monday. Their were two headlines to glean from the latest voting tallies:

1) The Royals are still in position to dominate the game, fielding starters in seven of the nine positions.

and

2) Their hold on their seven starting positions has become, in some cases, tenuous.

Let’s discuss item number one. The usual suspects are leading everywhere, with the exception of Eric Hosmer who has fallen behind Miguel Cabrera at first. If you read last week’s update, it was very clear there was some movement in favor of a number of Tigers. With Detroit doing their own get-out-the-vote thing combined with his nationwide visibility, it’s not surprising Cabrera added enough to his totals to leap back to the top of the first base pack.

Here’s how the first base race looks through five updates:

1B_5

It remains the same two-man race, but Cabrera owns the largest lead since the updates began. He added 4,040,933 votes, a massive number. By comparison, Hosmer picked up 2,236,382 votes. Hosmer got almost the same number of votes added to his column the week prior.

1B_5_gain

Since the Tigers got serious about the All-Star vote, Cabrera has seen a nice increase. We still have one update and the final announcement, but this one feels over to me. The Royals dominating the ballot box has been a nice story, but it’s difficult to overcome the national following of Cabrera.

Moving on to the second point, Mike Moustakas saw his lead at third reduced to a dead heat with Josh Donaldson.

AL_3B_5

We knew there was building support for Donaldson, who is a strong first-half MVP candidate – if not the first-half MVP. I don’t think anyone saw this coming. Donaldson picked up 4,124,561 votes, the most in Update Number Five.

3B_5_gain

Even with the gain from week four, Donaldson’s tally in the fifth week is extremely impressive. A little further explanation of the above table: Pablo Sandoval dropped out of the top five in week four and replaced with Nick Castellanos. The Castellanos number for week three is an estimate, so his week three and four gain totals are not accurate. His week five gain is accurate, though. Again, the Tigers are driving some fans to the virtual ballot box.

Also notable this week was Mike Trout passing Lorenzo Cain for the overall lead in the outfield.

OF_5

Trout’s move was similar to Cabrera. It was a superstar with a national fanbase getting into gear. If it’s really important to you that Cain (or Alex Gordon) win the overall outfield vote, I don’t know how to break this to you, but that was never going to happen. Trout is just too powerful. He will get more votes added to his account than any outfielder in the next two weeks. Count on it.

The good news to glean from this graph is the top three are pretty much set, meaning Gordon and Cain will be in the starting lineup. The danger comes from Yoenis Cespedes. Again, a Tiger. See what’s happening here? Cespedes was the second biggest gainer on the update, but was only able to pick up 300,000 votes on Cain and about 550,000 on Gordon.

OF_5_gain

Gordon gets enough national love for his defense and Cain is Cain (love that guy) so this one feels pretty safe. Two million votes in the outfield in two weeks is a lot of ground to gain.

The #VoteOmar campaign is fun and everything, but it looks like he’s running out of steam. Jose Altuve drew more votes than Infante for the first time since the first week of the voting to narrow the gap to around 450,000 votes. I’ll predict Altuve moves into first in the next update. The same thing happened at designated hitter as Nelson Cruz finally pulled more votes than Kendrys Morales. The edge there is fewer than 300,000 votes. Morales will likely lose his starting spot next week as well.

Sal Perez and Alcides Escobar are locks. Perez leads the league in total votes and Escobar is 2.6 million ahead of Jose Iglesias.

The question on everyone’s mind (at least Royals fans) is, is Major League Baseball tampering with the numbers? I don’t think so. The Royals moved ahead early, have maintained their pace, but have been passed by a national backlash and more deserving candidates. When Donaldson added four million to his total, those numbers look legit when looking at overall gains by each position with the third, fourth, and fifth place players getting smaller gains compared to another position where no single player earned a Donaldson-esque boost.

With two weeks left in the voting, my prediction is the Royals will get four starters: Perez, Escobar, Cain and Gordon. Order will be restored. Baseball will survive.

Because of course he does.

Had I told you back in March that the Royals would head to Seattle, fresh off a blow out loss at home to Boston and would be sending Joe Blanton to the mound to face Felix Hernandez, I am pretty sure your thoughts would have been ‘what a freaking mess 2015 is going to be.’  Let’s face it, after throwing 230 innings in 2007, Blanton has worked diligently towards pitching himself right out of baseball.  At age 33 in 2013, Blanton fashioned a 6.04 earned run average and while we scoff at pitcher won-loss records, went 2-14.  Listen, it is hard to go 2 and 14.

Enter 2015, when Blanton was just another of Dayton Moore’s add-ons: a low cost insurance policy in the unlikely event that the Royals would need three extra starters at the same time.  I saw him pitch in Omaha early in the year and he looked like Joe Blanton.  With nine major league seasons under his belt, Blanton simply outsmarted younger opponents, but my uneducated eye offered no real hope that Joe has much to offer a team hell-bent on getting back to the World Series.

Now, 26 innings later with an ERA of 1.73 and an 8/1 strikeout to walk ratio, I simply shake my head and smile.  Of course Blanton goes six innings and allows one run while the Royals touch up King Felix for four runs, that’s just how it goes for the Kansas City Royals and Dayton Moore.

Chris Young has more starts now than Danny Duffy or Jason Vargas and has been better (even with the weekend blowout) than we could have realistically expected either to have been.  Blanton has given the Royals 26 more good innings than I thought he would.  Ryan Madson is second in innings pitched for the relief corp and has virtually identical numbers to Kelvin Herrera.  While Edinson Volquez does not fit into the bargain bin class as the aforementioned three, he leads the staff in innings pitched and appears to be next in the line of starters Dayton Moore evaluated (guessed?) correctly on, following in the footsteps of Vargas, Santana and, yes, even Gil Meche.

All that, and Kris Medlen just threw four effective innings in a rehab start in the minors.  Who is this Dayton Moore guy?

It is still okay to question Moore and it is even okay to question Ned Yost and some of his strategic moves.  That is baseball and it is not ‘freaking out’, it is just discussion.  That said, an off-season largely panned by most of us has turned out to be at least a half-season success for Moore.   2015 has thus far not been a case of getting the right twenty-five and sailing through the first three months.  The rotation has been shaky at best, with the staff’s supposed ace just a hot mess.  The closer has been hurt and so has the right-fielder.  Second base?  Don’t get me started.  Yet the Royals roll on.

Paulo Orlando hits five triples.  Young, Blanton and Madson do what they’ve done.  Wade Davis, well, he really is better than Greg Holland, so of course he excelled as a fill-in closer.  Of course.

Craig touched on it the other day, but way-way back when, I noted that if the Royals simply went 7-6 over each 13 game set (after the 7-0 start) they would get to 90 wins.  I came up with that only because the Royals actually went 7-6 in games 8 through 20.  After that, they went 7-6 again and then they went exactly 7-6 a third time.   The most recently completed 13 game set saw the Royals go 6-7.  They, however, are 6-2 in the current 13 game stretch whose ending coincides with the end of the Oakland series this weekend.

 

Coming off of what amounted to a four game sweep of Milwaukee, expectations where high coming in to the weekend series against the Red Sox. After all, Boston had once again assumed the title of Team Turmoil. Languishing in last in the AL East, they were another team ripe for destruction in a three-game set at The K.

Sometimes baseball doesn’t work the way you think it should.

After a 13-2 drubbing on Sunday, the Red Sox hung 24 runs on the Royals in the three games. The Royals could plate only half that number, scoring just 12.

Still getting used to this “favorite” business, I won’t say individual wins and losses aren’t important. We’ve discussed this before. Games in April (and June) count just as much as the games in September. Winning is great and losing sucks. Having said that, I’ve been attempting to look at the larger picture more frequently. Clark touched on it in a post back in April. He pointed out that thanks to the Royals hot start, should they manage only to play .500 ball the rest of the way, Kansas City should still be in position to nab a playoff spot. It thought that was a great point.

So instead of looking at Sunday’s blowout individually, or the series as a loss for the Royals, I’ll look at either the homestand, where the team won three and lost two, or I’ll look at the entire week, which ended with a 5-2 record.

That doesn’t mean I will ignore the alarm bells. (Cough, cough… starting pitching.) That means I’ll try to maintain a healthy perspective. All good teams have bad losses. All good teams go through rough patches. (Maybe I should just amend that to most. Most good teams. In baseball in 2015, without a dominant team, avoiding four game losing streaks isn’t mandatory.)

Yesterday’s game underscored the fragility of the Royals rotation. Readers of this site will know my opinion of Chris Young and how his success has been a product of both smoke and mirrors in copious amounts. Sunday’s game was going to happen to him at some point. If I had to guess, the longer he’s in the rotation, the more likely we will see a few more starts like his most recent one. At 7-0 and with the Royals bats crawling back into their bed after some sort of wild night out on Saturday, this one was over by the fifth. I can’t get too bent about the performances of Jason Frasor and Aaron Brooks. Brooks is a non-factor on this team. He will be returned to Triple-A as soon as I-29 is ready for his car. He was brought up for exactly the kind of game he was thrown into on Sunday. While it would have been nice had he been able to resemble a major league pitcher, it wasn’t a huge deal when he pitched like Aaron Brooks.

Frasor is cut from better quality, but he’s very much your average major league reliever. We’ve been spoiled in Kansas City. Bullpens through baseball are loaded with Frasor types. He’s the guy for whom my “Bullpen Roulette” term was coined. That’s where you bring in relievers any given night and you have no clue how it’s going to turn out for your team. Aside from most closers, bullpens across baseball are filled with uncertainty. Except in Kansas City.

While the loss on Sunday was not fun, it doesn’t have to serve as the start of a losing streak or raise alarm bells that weren’t already there. The good news is with nine games in the next 10 days, the key arms in the bullpen got a day off. So did Sal Perez. Those are both good things.

Wednesday in Seattle, Danny Duffy will make his return to the rotation. Obviously, this is a key moment. The Royals cannot survive on Young, Pino and Blanton as three-fifths of this rotation. Duffy is just one arm, but right now, he’s the most important arm.

In the meantime, it’s good to note last Monday, the Royals entered the week with a two game lead in the Central. They enter this week with a 3.5 game lead.

Perspective.

With Ned Yost becoming the Royals winningest manager yesterday, I want to take a look back at the six managers to spend a significant amount of time calling the shots from the KC bench. The Royals are yet to have a skipper who sticks around for a truly long period of time. At the end of this season, Yost will become the first person to manage five full seasons for the Royals. I could see him easily managing two or three more years, so he’ll probably qualify as the first true long-timer. Dick Howser should have had a good long run had cancer not prematurely ended his career.

Below, I take a look at those managers who spent at least three full seasons at the helm. Partial seasons are thrown out in the below numbers. Before I get to the numbers, let me stress that I think evaluating managers with numbers gives an extremely limited picture and that how they interact with the players and what kind of environment they foster is more important than their in-game strategies and tendencies. But here’s a look at a few things we can judge, in the hopes they can shed a little light.

With a nod to Adam Darowski’s attempt to see how managers have fared relative to what we might expect, I look at how many more or less wins the managers earned than their teams’ Pythagorean record and the teams’ wins above replacement would expect. Dave Cameron has written that variations from Pythagorean records is due mostly to “clutch” hitting, something that probably has little to do with a manger, so take all these numbers with a huge salt mine. There is a huge amount of noise there, but it is at least intriguing when a rare manager consistently outperforms Pythag. Does a manager deserve some credit when a team squeezes out more wins than their total wins above replacement suggest? Your guess is as good as mine.

I also look at how the skippers performed in one run games, where there is again plenty of noise, but perhaps managers have a bigger role in those games where every pinch hit, bunt, steal, and bullpen maneuver is magnified. Then I take a look at how many more or less intentional walks and sacrifice bunts happened on their watch compared to AL averages over the same seasons just to get a feel for their philosophies in those regards.

1. Whitey Herzog • 1976—79

G W L Pyth
Wins
Above
Expected
WAR
Wins
Above
Expected
1 run
W
1 run L IBB
Above
Avg.
Sac
Bunts
Above
Avg.
648 369 279 2 4 118 93 1 -76

Herzog was given more talent than any other manager, but he also comes out looking pretty good in these categories.

2. Dick Howser • 1982—85

SacBuntsAboveAvg.

G W L Pyth
Wins
Above
Expected
WAR
Wins
Above
Expected
1runW 1runL IBB
Above
Avg.
648 344 304 16 14 105 81 -47 -40

Wow. Howser looks just incredible here. His teams squeezed out just about all the victories they could. He didn’t intentionally walk and he didn’t sac bunt. Just trusted his players to go out and get the job done, and they did.

3. John Wathan • 1988—90

G W L Pyth
Wins
Above
Expected
WAR
Wins
Above
Expected
1runW 1runL IBB
Above
Avg.
Sac
Bunts
Above
Avg.
484 251 233 -3 -8 73 68 13 -53

Nothing much to see here, except to note Duke was not a sac bunt fan.

4. Hal McRae • 1992—94

G W L Pyth Wins Above Expected WAR Wins Above Expected 1runW 1runL IBB Above Avg. Sac Bunts Above Avg.
439 220 219 6 -11 73 75 -12 -6

McRae’s teams outperformed their Pythag but underpformed their WAR. Who knows what to make of that. Probably not much.

5. Tony Muser • 1998—2000

G W L Pyth Wins Above Expected WAR Wins Above Expected 1runW 1runL IBB Above Avg. Sac Bunts Above Avg.
484 213 271 -3 -7 49 74 3 57

Ew. Lost the close ones, sac bunted a lot. Muser and Yost are the only mangers on the list to sac bunt more than the AL average.

6. Ned Yost • 2011—June 18, 2015

G W L Pyth Wins Above Expected WAR Wins Above Expected 1runW 1runL IBB Above Avg. Sac Bunts Above Avg.
711 356 355 -6 -18 112 114 -8 26

These totals don’t tell the story. Look how it breaks down year-by-year:

Yr G W L Pyth Wins Above Expected WAR Wins Above Expected 1runW 1runL IBB Above Avg. Sac Bunts Above Avg.
2011 162 71 91 -7 -11 25 32 9 16
2012 162 72 90 -2 -6 27 26 12 -9
2013 162 86 76 -1 1 31 25 -9 10
2014 162 89 73 5 0 22 25 -17 7
2015 63 38 25 -1 0 7 6 -3 2

You probably know the team’s win totals have increased every year under Yost, but it’s interesting to see how the other numbers have changed too. Yost has grown and changed in his time in KC, which is a really cool thing to see from a guy in his late 50s/early 60s in a game that often fears change. He told the Star how much he’s changed in how he handles players, mentioning the 2013 season specifically as a turning point, and a change even shows up in his in-game style and results that season. Ned should be lauded for rarely issuing intentional walks anymore, and the team is just a bit over average when it comes to sac bunts. You can still legitimately question his lineup construction, but you can’t really argue that has a major impact on wins and losses or that the team isn’t winning with his lineups. It’s been a stunning reversal. Here’s to Ned, the winningerest of ’em all.

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