Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts published by Clark Fosler

Dayton Moore cannot bury his head in a bucket and do nothing in the next seven days.  His team is not good enough and will not get hot enough and will not improve enough to be neither a buyer or a seller at the trade deadline.BtOtpgvIcAA8-DdIt was fun to have Mike Moustakas hit two home runs in a game and threaten the Mendoza line.  It’s also a great thing when your manager actually uses his three best relief pitchers to get four innings of work and Bruce Chen – freaking Bruce Chen – came through with a nice effort.   Winning’s fun, the Royals should do more of it.

Let’s look in the mirror, however, Mr. Moore and realize that this team you have so patiently constructed in eight/nine years of service is what it is.  The Kansas City Royals right now are going to win about 81 games.   With rare exception, winning between 78 and 84 games in a season is about the worst thing you can do in baseball:  good enough to be respectable, close enough to not sell off pieces, but not enough wins to be a post-season participant of any relevance.

If this is a ‘go for it year’ and it sure seems like it was supposed to be, then Dayton Moore needs to buy and buy big.   On the other hand, if Alex Rios, Ben Zobrist and Ian Kennedy still doesn’t get this team into more than a one game play-in, then swallow your pride and sell.

To be honest, I know in my head that the Royals need to sell.  Take a look at the Dodgers’ bullpen:  what would they give for Wade Davis or Greg Holland or, hell, even Aaron Crow at this point?

My heart, if only to keep things exciting for a while, kind of leans toward buying.  Some of that comes from my skepticism of the Royals being able to consistently develop prospects.  Is the return on James Shields better than a compensation draft pick? I don’t care, I am weary of coveting draft picks.  Basically, I’d rather have someone else’s Sean Manaea from two years ago than our Sean Manaea.

What I fear the most and, frankly, expect the most is for Dayton Moore to neither buy nor sell.  We will be told that there just wasn’t the value for value trade out there.  That this group is good enough and ‘we like are team’ and whatever clumsy rhetoric this organization will toss out to us.

The Royals will have a nice little hot streak, get close, and then fall back: probably end up 84-78 and be set up in 2015 to win 84 or 85 wins again.   It’s better than losing 100 games a year, but it will get really, really annoying three or four years in a row.

Buy or sell.  Pick one, but for godssake do one or the other in a big way.

 

“We’re not playing good situational offensive baseball” – Ned Yost, courtesy the Kansas City Star.

I think I will start every post (however sporadic they have become) with a quote from Ned Yost.  Perhaps I’ll even begin each meeting in my office with a quote from Dayton Moore.  Hey, if the Royals are going down, I’m taking all of you with us.

We have been fed the company line for a long time with regard to how the Kansas City Royals just need to hit better with runners in scoring position.  Many of you have already figured out just how absolutely whacked out that line of reasoning is, but if not (and that means you are NOT spending enough time in your Mom’s basement!) let’s boil it down.

Overall, your Kansas City Royals – the team you have been waiting for, mind you – is hitting .263/.313/.374.   That is good for fourth in the American League in batting average, but only 12th in on-base percentage and 13th in slugging percentage.  Apparently, it is not only impossible to hit home runs in Kaufmann Stadium, but also difficult to walk as well.

The problem, remember, is not a .313 on-base percentage: it is how poorly they perform with runners in scoring position.  In those scenarios, Kansas City is hitting just .262/.324/.386.    Those numbers are good for 5th in batting average, 11th in on-base percentage and 9th in slugging.

So….the Royals offense is good enough, they just need to hit better with runners in scoring position, but yet they ARE better hitters with runners in scoring position then they are overall.  Wait.  What?

To put it another way, the Kansas City Royals have put 2,229 runners on base this season (not counting solo home runs) and scored 14.67% of those runners.  In the American League, only Texas, Oakland, Detroit and the Angels have scored a higher percentage of runners.   That’s right, your situationally deficient Royals are fifth in the league in actually scoring runners they put on base.

The Royals, from coaches to manager to general manager to team president to team owner, always have an explanation.  They will be happy to explain to us why this team is not quite good enough, while also making us aware of just how much smarter they are than the rest of us.  Listen, kid, you may have your numbers and stuff, but WE know how the game of baseball really works.

Well, guess what?  Baseball is not all that complicated.  In fact, it is not complicated at all.  It is hard, yes, but not complicated.

If you hit about the same with runners in scoring position as you do as a team, then I am going to wager that if I could get more runners on base, I’m going to score more runs.  If, by the way, I happen to find a guy or two who actually can perform the impossible and hit a ball over the fence at Kaufmann, then I will score even more runs.

The Royals are not going to the moon here.  They also are not going to the playoffs.

 

“I outsmarted myself” – Ned Yost

It may well be the defining moment of what is appearing to be a disappointing 2014 season by the Kansas City Royals.

With Kansas City clinging to a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the sixth Friday night, Ned Yost trudged to the mound and pulled his starter, James Shields.    The Royals’ ace had given up a two run homer, followed by a double, but had then struck out David Ross for the second out of the inning.  Jackie Bradley Jr., at the time posting a .225/.303/.309 line, was about to bat.

Shields had already thrown 112 pitches – a laboring 112 at that – and I frankly thought it might be time to make a change.  After all, with the addition of Jason Frasor, Yost could go to the pen early in games and still put in a quality pitcher.  You know, a guy like Frasor or Aaron Crow (who looks a lot better in the sixth than the eighth) or, I don’t know, how about Kelvin Herrera who was already warming in the pen.

Instead, the Royals’ manager opted for lefty Scott Downs to face the lefthanded hitting Bradley. It is probably important to note that Bradley is not a good hitter versus right or left-handers.  It is also relevant to note that Downs, released from a team with a bad bullpen, is at this point in his career ONLY effective versus left-handed hitters.

Enter Downs.

Enter Jonny Gomes.

Were you surprised that Red Sox manager John Farrell used a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning?  If you were, then you did not check Baseball-Reference and note that Gomes had been used as pinch-hitter twice in the sixth already this season and four other times in the seventh.  Now, you have school or work or kids or friends or read or watch too much television or a hobby or an X-Box, so if you did not know that it’s okay.  On the other hand, it is kind of Ned Yost’s job to be aware of that sort of stuff.

While Jonny Gomes  became something of a joke on Twitter as the series progressed –  courtesy of some ‘odd’ defense and the idea that Gomes success against the Royals would certainly lead to him be traded for immediately – he was not the guy you wanted to see facing your sixth best reliever with a one run lead on the road.

What followed was a two run homer and the Royals managed just one run and nine hits over the next 21 innings in Boston.  Over the course of the weekend, we say Nori Aoki get more at-bats than Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson.   We saw Danny Valencia bat clean-up, Salvador Perez miss a game with ‘groin thing’ and Raul Ibanez pinch-hit.

Not all of that paragraph is Ned Yost’s fault.  He is not in charge of player acquisition.  His options to pinch hit on Saturday  were the slumping Lorenzo Cain (0 for his last 20), the 42 year old AND slumping Ibanez, Brett Hayes and the only-hits-lefties Danny Valencia.    All this, in year whatever of Dayton Moore’s process.

The Royals’ GM has labored all these years to give us a basically .500 ballclub and put a manager in charge who (and you can debate how much a manager can do, but he can do something) is not going to make this team any better than its base talent level.

So, what can you get for James Shields these days?

Francisely Bueno probably should have made it out of last night’s eighth inning unscathed.  He fumbled a bunt single by a fast guy (that what speed do) – hardly the first pitcher to have that happen.   Then he got a groundball for a possible double play only to have his Gold Glove caliber shortstop make a little league decision to not get any outs at all.

Bueno might have deserved better.   That does not mean Ned Yost’s decision to go to Bueno in the eighth was right.

Let’s ignore for a moment, Yost’s steadfast and defiant refusal to use Wade Davis when his team is trailing.  There is another guy out there, Kelvin Herrera, who has not thrown since June 30th:  that’s SEVEN DAYS OFF.  No, let’s go with Francisely Bueno.

To be clear, Bueno has pitched quite well of late.  Heck, he has thrown 5.2 innings of shutout baseball in his last two appearances.  Both of those appearances having occurred SINCE the last time Herrera appeared in a major league baseball game.  What am I missing here?

We all know that Ned is paranoid about overusing his bullpen.  Sometimes seven relievers is simply not enough.  I am pretty sure they would have eight pitchers in the pen now if the team was not absolutely convinced that Raul Ibanez was going to wake up one of these mornings and be five years younger.

Still, Herrera – on pace to pitch 70 innings this year and idle for a week – stood and watched as the Royals gave up two runs in the eighth inning.  They were somewhat meaningless runs until Kansas City connected for two runs themselves in the following half inning.

It’s hardly all on Bueno, but it should have been Herrera simply because this is was a close game, he was rested and Kelvin is a better pitcher.  If not him, then Wade Davis.

Down one run with your offense getting hits (no runs, but hits – law of average stuff has to start coming into play) and Escobar then the top of the order coming up in the ninth, one almost has to stop being a stubborn by the book manager and go with your dominant eighth inning guy.

Let’s also keep in mind that other than the last week of the season, this is the one week when you can really push your guys – especially your best guys.  You have four days off coming up, so if Davis, Herrera and Holland pitch in five times this week, they’ll have time to recover over the All-Star Break.    One could even get real crazy and use Greg Holland for more than inning this week.  Theoretically, the world would not implode.

Of course, if Tim Collins and Louis Coleman had not forgotten how to get people out or Luke Hochevar had not gone under the knife, this bullpen might be Ned-proof.  Instead, however, the vaunted depth is really not there.  Assuming Herrera might have a tweak or something that makes the team hesitant to use him right now and knowing that Wade Davis simply cannot be used (because – NED), then Bueno was far more palatable than Bruce Chen or Scott Downs or any of the six other pitchers who have appeared for the team this season.

The bullpen depth is not there and the imagination of the man who handles it is lacking.

 

If you don’t like fireworks and cheap beer in someone’s driveway, then this was not your kind of weekend. I like fireworks:  I don’t go out of my way to see them, but when they are in front of my house or above us on a friend’s boat, well, why not?

Oh and beer.  I like beer.

Anyway, not to get lost in the pro vs. con firework debate or the ‘I’m too cool to really celebrate the 4th’ or, even better, the ‘it’s not the Fourth of July, it’s Independence Day!’ argument.  One thing lacking in fireworks this past holiday weekend was the Kansas City Royals.

With the Tigers losing three of four to Tampa, your Royals managed to make up one (1) game on the Tigers and actually lost a game in the Wild Card Standings.  Not fun.

Billy Butler was moved to sixth in the order and, you may have heard this on Twitter (that’s sarcasm), Eric Hosmer continues to hit second.  Raul Ibanez batted cleanup once.  Christian Colon had a nice first start, but then Omar Infante batting fifth after that.   Scott Downs was acquired to either be the 7th guy in the bullpen or the first guy Ned Yost goes to with a tough lefty at the plate.

After winning on Friday behind another good Yordano Ventura start, the Royals did a fantastic job of getting smoked the next two days.  Saturday was particularly frustrating given that Kansas City loaded the bases twice and managed one (1) run.

So, while batting order is a tenuous thing and one can certainly debate the final effect the order of the nine hitters has versus, you know, the overall skill level of the nine.  Here is a marginally unconventional, seat of your pants suggestion.

Versus RHP:

  • Jarrod Dyson CF
  • Alex Gordon, LF
  • Alcides Escobar, SS
  • Billy Butler, DH
  • Lorenzo Cain, RF
  • Salvador Perez, C
  • Eric Hosmer, 1B
  • Omar Infante, 2B
  • Mike Moustakas, 3B

Versus LHP:

  • Lorenzo Cain, CF
  • Alex Gordon, LF
  • Salvador Perez, C
  • Billy Butler, DH
  • Danny Valencia, 3B
  • Eric Hosmer, 1B
  • Alcides Escobar, SS
  • Raul Ibanez, RF
  • Omar Infante, 2B

I don’t love these lineups, but I like them better than Ned’s.  Oh, who’s kidding who?  These lineups are money and guarantee a sweep this weekend against Detroit.

Eric Hosmer had four ground ball singles in a meaningless game two nights ago.  He walked three times yesterday in a game the Royals really needed to win.  That’s a whole lot of on-base for two games and exactly what the Royals’ offense needs.

Let’s face it, Hosmer has been flailing at the plate for much of this season and done so batting either second or third in the batting order.  Ned Yost, the master of dome management, has steadfastly refused to move Eric down in the order.  Will his faith start paying off?

Hosmer’s triple slash by month for his career:

  • April: .250/.323/.365
  • May:  .253/.290/.381
  • June: .254/.308/.390
  • July: .303/.360/.454
  • August: .295/.356/.442
  • Sept/Oct: .294/.339/.453

Yes, month’s are arbitrary marking points, but I think it’s safe to say history might be on the Royals’ side when it comes to increased production out of the guy who, quite honestly, is supposed to be the best hitter on this team.  Given that Eric Hosmer was quite possibly the worst hitter in the lineup in June (and that includes Mike Moustakas), he really has nowhere to go but up.

The Royals need Hosmer to go up in a big way right now.  Two games in Minnesota does not a hot streak make, but it sure doesn’t hurt.  Especially with Kansas City heading into two three game sets against teams with losing records before coming home for four against the division leading Tigers.

 

When most of us were at lunch, things happened:

  • The Royals designated Justin Maxwell (again) and Pedro Ciriaco for assignment
  • They called up Christian Colon
  • They signed RAUL IBANEZ…..ten years too late.
  • And Bruce Chen and Yordano Ventura got called out for being cheap by a stripper.

Where are we?  New York?

Drafted as a shortstop, Colon has played 27 games at second, 12 at third and 33 at shortstop this year.  His call-up might well be a sign that the Royals’ infatuation with Danny Valencia as a platoon partner for Mike Moustakas is ending (as is there general infatuation with Moose) and certainly is an indication that they view Colon’s future as a utility infielder.  Hey, anytime you can use the number four overall pick on a utility infielder, you do it!

Ibanez?  Well, he’s hit home runs recently, just not this year and comments from the Royals seem to indicate they will use him in right, left (really?) and first.  Perhaps they will play Billy Butler at first and Ibanez at DH part of the time as it is possible the Royals just noticed Eric Hosmer’s on-base percentage.  I don’t know, gang.  Ibanez has been written off as ‘done’ at least three times in his career…..

The stripper?  I don’t care.  Does anyone really care?  Does anybody really know what time it is?

Before the Royals headed out on the road to Chicago and Detroit a few weeks back, I wrote an article advocating Dayton Moore do something should he find his team at 42-39 on the morning of June 30th.  Should the Royals win two of three this weekend, they will be exactly 42-39.

Now, how Kansas City got there was a much more eccentric ride than I anticipated, but they will be pretty much exactly where a lot of us thought they would be: a few games over .500, in the thick of the wild card race and trailing Detroit.  Should the Royals actually get to 42-39 or limp to the end of June at 41-40 does not really matter much.  Either way, this is a .500 or touch better team with not a lot of hope of being any different without its General Manager doing something.

Certainly one could point to the following:

  • Eric Hosmer has real talent, has to get better and could (as he did in 2013) get really hot.
  • Mike Moustakas has shown signs of moving from horrific to just below average.
  • Billy Butler is returning to form.
  • Lorenzo Cain is healthy.
  • Danny Duffy is stringing together some consistently good (maybe a little lucky) starts.

I would counter with the ‘this is baseball and things tend to balance out’ argument and state that as all or some of the above happen or continue to happen, they might well be accompanied by:

  • Alcides Escobar could slump at the plate.
  • The starting rotation really might not be this good all season long.
  • Wade Davis or Greg Holland could prove to be human.
  • Lorenzo Cain could get hurt.
  • Rightfield could become a giant black hole of suck.

They are who we thought they were and they need to be better.  One player?  Two players?

Let’s go to the basement and talk WAR:  fWAR specifically.  I’ll digress for a moment and inform everyone that in the modern age, utilizing a statistic that you cannot readily figure on your Texas Instruments calculator does not make one a nerd.   Like batting average, RBI, ERA or any other stat, Wins Above Replacement is not perfect, but it comes closer to defining a players overall offensive, defensive and baserunning ability than anything else.   We have smartphones, computers, tablets and brains, stop thinking you’re cool because you don’t believe in anything after the slugging percentage column in a statistical table.

Okay, where do the Royals regulars rank in fWAR among the rest of baseball?

  • LF – Alex Gordon 4.3 fWAR – NUMBER ONE…..by a lot.
  • CF – Lorenzo Cain 2.2 fWAR – 6th
  • RF – Nori Aoki 0.9 fWAR – 12th (yeah, I thought it was worse, but it’s still not good)
  • 3B – Michael Moustakas 0.3 fWAR – 20th out of 24, all because of defense.
  • SS – Alcides Escobar 1.8 fWAR – 6th
  • 2B – Omar Infante 0.6 fWAR – 18th (Omar is better than this, but maybe not that much better, anymore)
  • 1B – Eric Hosmer  -0.8 fWAR – 26th out of 27th (gross – to be fair, Fangraphs does not like Hosmer’s defense, which is probably one of those defensive metric weird thingys)
  • C – Salvador Perez 2.4 fWAR – 3rd
  • DH – Billy Butler -0.6 fWAR – 8th (which is last among qualified full-time designated hitters)

As I wrote earlier this week, one can solve a little bit of the issue by simply playing Jarrod Dyson most of the time in place of Aoki.  The Royals, moving forward, would be wise to not get stuck on the idea that Infante is here for the next three years and ‘we still believe in Moustakas’ theory.  Would it be totally stupid to get a half year rental at second and restart with Infante next year?  If there is a big bat who takes time from Hosmer and/or Butler and/or anyone else not named Gordon or Perez, should Dayton Moore thumb his nose at the idea just because ‘Eric Hosmer is the future’?

The BP event is this weekend, make sure to buy Craig a danish if you see him.

It has taken me a long time to get onboard the Jarrod Dyson bandwagon.  I spent a lot of time grimacing at his subpar reading of fly balls and his once a month adventures fielding routine two hoppers to center.  The former 50th round pick’s approach at the plate would often irk me.  Irk me!  I tell ya!

No longer.  Give me more Dyson and I’m talking about more Dyson particularly when Nori Aoki comes back from the disabled list.

There is no doubt in my mind that Lorenzo Cain is a more gifted defensive centerfielder than Dyson, but I am even more certain that Cain is much better in right than Dyson (were Dyson to ever actually play an inning at that position).  My thought is based on a) The Royals love Lorenzo Cain’s defense and still move him to right when Dyson is in the lineup and b) Cain simply reads the ball better than Dyson and that ability makes him more suited to play ‘out of position’.

To be clear, both are exceptional defenders.   For his career, Cain has been credited with saving 41 runs over 1865 innings in center.  Dyson, in 1769 innings, has saved 31 runs (DRS via Fangraphs).  Their UZR/150 is equally as impressive:  Cain at 20.1 and Dyson at 22.0.   In the alternative, one could just watch those two play and see that they get to just about everything hit in the air these days.

The metrics (and we’re in small sample size territory here) show that Cain is quite possibly even better in right, with a UZR/150 of 33.9 and 12 Defensive Runs Saved in just over 400 innings.  You are going to have a hard time convincing me that an outfield of Gordon-Dyson-Cain is not the best defensive alignment in the game.

Offensively, check the career numbers of Aoki and Dyson versus right-handed pitching:

  • Dyson: .274/.341/.364   wRC+ 95
  • Aoki: .269/.346/.377  wRC+ 101

Right there, given Dyson’s ability in the field, should be all the evidence you need that Jarrod Dyson should be in the lineup against right-handed pitching every day for the rest of 2014.  There’s more, however.   Dyson appears to be getting better with his wRC+ progressing over the last three years from 89 to 104 to 101, while Aoki is regressing over the same period of time (125-98-64).

Let’s head down to the basement and check the two players’ fWAR:

  • Dyson 2012: 102 games, 1.4 fWAR
  • Aoki 2012: 151 games, 2.4 fWAR
  • Dyson 2013: 87 games, 2.4 fWAR
  • Aoki 2013: 155 games, 1.7 fWAR
  • Dyson 2014: 51 games, 2.0 fWAR
  • Aoki 2014: 68 games, 0.9 fWAR

No matter how much you love the idea of inserting Dyson as a pinchrunner onto the basepaths at a critical point in a game (which on this team with this manager, means whenever Billy Butler is on first in the 8th or 9th inning), you have to be willing to say Jarrod would be much more valuable playing all nine innings any time a right-hander appears on the mound.

Barring a hot streak from Justin Maxwell (which two different organizations have been waiting five years for) or a better-than-what-we-have-seen Aoki, I am inclined to think Dyson should play against left-handers as well, based solely on his defensive ability.  That is not ideal, of course, as Jarrod has never and probably never will be an effective hitter against southpaws, but it might be the best option for now.

Some/many of you might already be onboard the Dyson train.  My apologies for being late.

I fully understand those who get frustrated this time of year with all the trade rumors.  There is no real way to tell when a writer or commentator is just making stuff up (like I do sometimes), has actual inside knowledge or is being fed a line by a front office or agent to drum up interest.  I know of some who just get driven bat blank crazy over it all.

Hell, even when rumors turn out to be true (yes, the Royals once had Mike Sweeney traded for Casey Kotchman and Ervin Santana and yes, they almost picked Chris Sale instead of Christian Colon) there are those who simply refuse to believe it.   That’s fair.   If you are in that pack, don’t read on:  you’ll get frustrated, say something mean and make me sniffle.

First off, if you’re not having fun being a Royals’ fan right now, you need to start.  Even if you don’t believe this team is going to contend all year, have some freaking fun.  Winning baseball is fun and you can have fun, be excited and still be logically realistic.  It’s okay.  Hell, you can even listen to Nickelback if you want on the way to the ballpark tonight.

However, let’s get realistic (for one sentence).  Dayton Moore can say all he wants, but if he really believes this team is set to make a playoff run ‘as-is’ then he’s not doing his job.  Can this exact Royals’ team win the Central or, at least, get into the Wild Card game?  Maybe.  I don’t see it winning a seven game series in the playoffs.   That said, I don’t think this version of the Royals is terribly far away from being a team that could win a real playoff series.

Back to happy fantasy land….

Last week I proposed trading from Scott Van Slyke and Ben Zobrist.  I still like the idea of Zobrist as you can slot him into at least four positions.  That said, MLBTrade Rumors (rumors!  rumors!) has a report that the Rangers might be a seller if they continue to be wracked by injuries.  Alex Rios is a name that popped up – when hasn’t Alex Rios popped up at trade time? – and he has some warts.

Rios (33 years old) has been caught stealing eight times this year and grounded into FIFTEEN double plays.  He has been known to be pout or maybe even quit, but it is hard to believe he would do so playing everyday on a contender.   Rios, however, has a .319/.350/.462 line with 26 extra base hits.   He is expensive ($12.5 million this year with a $13.5 million team option for 2015) which is probably as much a blessing as a curse when it comes to working out a trade for him.

You want to dream a little?  What about trading for Rios to play right and Joakim Soria:  turning a very good bullpen into a silly great bullpen.  With the organization correctly concerned about how many innings Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy throw this year, how’d you like to line up Soria, Davis and Holland (with Kelvin Herrera in reserve) and limit both Ventura and Duffy to six innings or less per start for the next couple of months?

Pure, ridiculous speculation, but the thought intrigues me.   Now, what of the cost?

Again, Rios is due a bunch of money next year if the Rangers want to keep him.  If Texas determines they are out of it, what would there level of interest be in a 34 year old rightfielder with some issues and a closer who will be 31 years old next year and due $7 million (another team option)?  The Rangers are not dumb and they will demand value in return, but they also might not need ‘major league ready value’.

If the Royals could do a deal that did not involve anyone on the current major league roster, would you be onboard?  How in love with Kyle Zimmer (who has not thrown a pitch this year) or Raul Mondesi (who is A ball) or really anyone in the system?  My untouchable is Hunter Dozier.  After that, I am not sure I have a player that is not part of the discussion.

I know, I know – let’s enjoy the fun.  The FIRST PLACE Royals are going to play in front of  a full house tonight.  That is the focus.  I guy can do a little dreaming while he watches though, right?

 

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