Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts published by Clark Fosler

The Royals lost a pitching duel this afternoon, just a day after winning a pitching duel.  Those two games were preceeded by nine games in which Kansas City basically bashed their way through opposing teams.  Baseball’s fun when you score seven runs or more in seven of nine games.  It’s easy, even, when you are on a roll like that.

Now, my friends, is when the real games begin.

Three runs scored in two games is going to make the hands grip the bat a little tighter.  Maybe that guy hitting behind me isn’t going to drive in the baserunner if I don’t.  Maybe I can’t give up three runs and win.  Maybe…

The Royals lost a game and are still in first place, that’s cool.  They will return home for a nine game homestand that will likely see the biggest crowds since opening day.  THIS is why we watch baseball.   While a ton of past Royals’ roster may not have realized, THIS is why you play baseball, too.

Friday night will be a test as the Royals face Hisashi Iwakuma, who I think might be the most underrated good pitcher in the game right now.   No Royal has faced him more than seven times:  you can decide if that is good or bad.  On Saturday, they face Chris Young, who no Royals has faced more than six times.  Young, you’ll remember, had his best start of the year in early May against Kansas City.   The series will conclude with the Mariners sending Roenis Elias to the hill.  The Royals roughed Elias up for five runs in five innings in May and since then he has been touched for four runs in more in four of seven starts.  Beware, however, as in those seven starts, Elias also has a complete game shutout and another outing in which he allowed just three hits and a run over seven innings.

You want to be a division winner?  You take two of three from the Mariners in your home ballpark.

A couple of other notes:

  • Last week, I suggested that Ben Zobrist should be a potential trade target for the Royals.  This week, national media rumors suggest that the Royals are indeed looking at Zobrist.  Not sure why Dayton Moore hasn’t called me, but then he never calls.
  • Hunter Dozier was promoted to AA this week.  He plays third base (pushing Cheslor Cuthbert to first in the Naturals’ lineup).  Makes you wonder what might happen next spring if Mike Moustakas and the Mendoza line remain close friends all season.
  • Soren Petro on WHB has been beating the ‘trade for David Price’ drum lately.  At first, I paid little attention, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t make some sense.  The market for an impact bat acquisition seems a little thin, so perhaps making the starting rotation that much better might be an option to adding a bat that may or may not make this team better in 2014.  The price for Price (chuckle) might be too extreme, but the Royals would be getting him for this season and next.  Here’s what I know, if you could trade prospects for David Price, Kansas City would absolutely be better THIS year.  I’ve pretty much become a THIS year kind of guy.

Why not?

James Shields will be a free agent, Billy Butler will be expensive as will Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer and Greg Holland and especially Wade Davis.  Kansas City is getting a career year out of Jason Vargas and a rookie of the year campaign out of Yordano Ventura.   Danny Duffy is, at least part of the time, getting people out and Lorenzo Cain is hitting and healthy (for now, knock wood!).   The Royals are not really a young team anymore.

So, go for it.

Kansas City won 86 games last season, but dug themselves such a hole in May that it did not really matter.   They danced with the idea of contention, but never really contended.  Playing catch-up is for suckers – or really good veteran teams that have won before.  This is not a sit back and see what happens year:  this is the year that Dayton Moore has been telling us to be patient for since the five year plan became a seven year plan and then an eight to ten year process.

So, go for it and do so immediately.

There is a reason most trades happen closer to the July 31st deadline.   Sellers often don’t know they are sellers until late July and, even if they do realize it sooner, want to wait for the best and final offer before pulling the trigger.  Buyers may or may not know they need help (or be willing to admit they need help, because Eric Hosmer is surely going to hit 12 home runs in July right?).  It takes two willing partners to execute a trade, not just one guy in boxers sitting in his Mom’s basement.

That said, if you want to make a trade to improve your team, doesn’t it make sense to do so in June and get four months of production from said player than to wait until July 31st and get just two months?  In a race where the margin for the post-season might be one game would it not be worth a bit of an overpay to get the trade done now?

Ahh, what trade?  What magic bullet have you discovered within the tortured thoughts of your twisted mind, Mr. Fosler?  Well…nothing great.

Listen, unless Eric Hosmer hits, Gordon continues to hit, Infante gets better and Escobar and Cain continue to play well, no trade is going to put this team over the top.  If Vargas regresses substantially, Duffy loses whatever it is he has found and Ventura starts looking more rookie than rookie of the year, nothing will get the Royals to the playoffs.  I can make up all sorts of trades for Giancarlo Stanton or Matt Kemp, but they are not going to happen.   Trade speculation is mostly fantasy, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to add in some measure of realism.

So, with that in mind, my first move is a very, very, very, very modest one.

Nick Evans was designated for assignment by the Arizona Diamondbacks yesterday.  If you don’t know who Nick Evans is, you are like most everyone else.  He is 28 years old, hits right-handed, plays all the corner spots (or has been reported to have stood in all four corner positions at various times in his career) and has 11 major league plate appearances since 2011.  Oh yeah, he was DFA’d by a team that is already out of it.

Evans, however, has always hit for power in the minors, generally gets on-base at a good clip and would certainly seem to be the kind of guy that a team with a third baseman that can’t hit, a rightfielder that falls down a lot, a 28 year old DH who suddenly looks old and a first baseman with three home runs might want to stash at AAA just in case.  He’s pretty much Matt Fields, but I’d rather have two of them than one of them.

My second move is partially stolen from Jeff Zimmerman from back when both of us were over at Royals Review.  This spring, Jeff proposed a Johnny Giavotella for Scott Van Slyke trade.  I liked it at the time, even though Van Slyke and Justin Maxwell seemed redundant.   Since then, Dee Gordon has played well for the Dodgers, so their zest for a AAAA second baseman is probably gone (if it even existed).  However, Jamey Wright is in their bullpen and the shell of what used to be Chris Perez.  The Royals have a bunch of relievers, the fourth best of which is Aaron Crow.

Aaron Crow for Scott Van Slyke.   Maybe an overpay, maybe not.  Van Slyke is already 27 and, while decent in a part-time role this year, did not light the world on fire during his previous two stints in the majors.  He has, however, torched minor league pitching for the past three seasons.    Of course, it is important to note that the bulk of the Dodgers’ minor league affiliates play in hitter friendly environments and you need to keep that in mind when you note Van Slyke’s career AAA of line of .330/.425/.584.  All things considered, Van Slyke is better than Justin Maxwell and likely better (at least right now) than Nori Aoki.   I might try him every day in rightfield, but would be equally as happy platooning him with Jarrod Dyson.

Finally, I look to our old trading partners in Florida, the Tampa Bay Rays.  Ben Zobrist is making $7 million this season for what is currently the worst team in the league.  The Rays hold a team option on the 33 year old for $7.5 million in 2015.  While Zobrist is not a high average guy, he gets on-base and has shown power.   Once a full-time shortstop, Zobrist has spent much more time at second and in rightfield (although he has even played a few innings at short this season).

There are warning signs associated with Zobrist.  He slugged just .402 last season and is scuffling along with a .246/.325/.367 triple slash this year.  Over his career, Zobrist has established a .262/.352/.431 line and, in his five previous seasons, has posted an fWAR of 8.5, 3.7, 6.3, 5.8, 5.4.   Even this year, with a low line drive percentage pushing down his BABIP, Zobrist is likely to be at least three wins above replacement.

To me, it seems that Zobrist is a reasonable gamble to be better the rest of 2014 than he has been thus far.  He’s not getting younger and likely never going to be as good as he was even a couple of years ago, but how would a .350 on-base percentage with at least some power look in this Royals’ lineup.

Where you ask, does Ben fit?  Everywhere, my friends, everywhere.

You can play him in right – especially if you don’t acquire Scott Van Slyke – and at second.   Sure, the Royals are paying Omar Infante a tidy sum of money, but not so much that you absolutely have to play him every day (and he has not been the picture of health as it is).  You can give Zobrist time at DH if Billy Butler (who has been swinging better as of late) scuffles.  If you want to be bold, you can put Zobrist and his 13 career games at third (minors and majors combined).  While it would be a defensive downgrade from Moustakas, I like the chances of a player with Zobrist’s skill set to not embarrass himself at third.  I mean, Ben Zobrist at third seems more plausible than Danny Valencia at second.

Essentially, the Royals are hoping a lot of guys in their lineup start to hit and stay healthy, but it is impossible to truly determine which of the current group will actually do so.  The acquisition of Zobrist would give Ned Yost the flexibility (which is something of a scary thought) to plug a number of spots, depending on who’s hot and who’s not.

To acquire Zobrist, we have to start with the assumption that the Rays have reconciled themselves to being out of the race this season.  We also have to assume/hope that Tampa does not want to pay a 34 year old who may be in decline $7.5 million in 2015.   It’s a gamble:  Zobrist could be on his way to done.  Of course, he could be Raul Ibanez, too.

What would it take?

Bill Hall was once traded from Casey Kotchman,  Scott Brosius was dealt for Kenny Rogers and Dave Hollins for Tomas Perez.  In their current situation, I doubt the Rays are looking for any veteran talent and, if the Royals are in ‘go for it’ mode, they won’t be dealing any, either.

I bet you Kyle Zimmer gets it done, but even me and my ever growing distaste for coveting prospects cannot make that leap. Would you go so far to trade John Lamb, Miquel Almonte and Jorge Bonafacio?  Would the Rays hang up the phone on that offer?  Here is where trade scenarios get hard, because we really don’t know.  Keeping in mind that the Royals would have to overpay some to make a trade happen now instead of a month from now, it seems to me that the deal mentioned above would be enough and quite possibly too much.

Would this make the Royals better?  Yes.  Would it make them good enough? Maybe.  Is it worth the risk of trying?  I think so.

 

In an aerial dogfight, the furball is the very middle of the battle.  It is also just about the last place you want to be if you are a fighter pilot.  Get in, get out and get clear is how you successfully survive aerial warfare, no matter the era.

The Royals, thanks to a nifty four game winning streak, are in the furball.  Four American League Central teams, including Kansas City, have 33 wins and the Twins are right there with 31 victories.  Eight teams in the American League are within three games of the .500 mark and constitute the current battle for the final wild card spot.

That’s a furball.

Given how the team struggled through May, it is actually nice to be part of the mess right now.   However, a team or two or three will eventually put together a big winning streak or simply start playing better than .500 ball and leave the furball behind.

For the Royals, they need to hope that no team separates themselves from the pack too soon.  You see, our boys in blue have a little bit of a journey in front of them starting with three games at Chicago and followed by four more in Detroit.

You can all do the math:  seven games against A.L. Central opponents, one of whom (Tigers) has lost 8 of their last 10 games and all on the road.   Four wins?  I think we would all take that right now and move on.

After those seven, the Royals get a nine game homestand, but the adversaries are Seattle, the Dodgers and the Angels.  Five wins?  Have to get that many or this team reverts to pretender status.  More?  That’s a tall order.

Kansas City could arise on the morning of June 30th, coming off a 9-7 run through the above and certainly be in the thick of it.  At 42-39 and having played even with half the teams in the furball with them, Kansas City could be poised to go on a hot streak, separate from the pack and be a real contender.

What would Dayton Moore do then?

Will he sit back with his ‘smartest man in the room’ smirk and assume all is well?  The process has worked, his team is in contention, you just watch:  we don’t need to do anything.  Or, for once, will Moore worry less about justifying his past moves and more about results right now?

What if Mike Moustakas (one good game does not a recovery make) is still hitting .160?   What if Billy Butler is still shuffling along as a DH with a .320 slugging percentage?  The Royals could win 9 of the next 16 based solely on their pitching, Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar, but they won’t make the playoffs doing that.

My prediction is that Moustakas will still be struggling, but Billy Butler won’t.  I have no real feel for what Eric Hosmer will be doing or Aoki or Infante or Cain….   Truthfully, if the Royals get to 42-39 and Dayton Moore thinks all is well and just ‘has to get value for value’ in any trade, then he should be ripped without reserve by media, fans and his boss.

This team might be a contender, but it is not a playoff team.  It is closer to the latter than in any year since 1994, but I am pretty sure professional sports is not played to ‘get close’.

Make this team better, Mr. Moore.  The sooner the better.

What would I do?  Well, you’ll have to tune in tomorrow…..

 

I have been out of the country, out of the loop, off the grid – whatever – I have not been paying attention lately.   Sure, you can keep up with the world from almost everywhere, but I was on a beach with a drink in my hand and while I would catch the score most evenings that was about all.  You want my attention when on vacation Mr. Moore?  Get a team ten games over .500.

Back in the real world, mostly, I find that very little has changed:

The Royals Are a .500 Baseball Team

6-4 in their last ten games, 9 -11 in their last twenty, 15-15 in their last thirty.  After years of just wishing Kansas City could at least be respectable, I now remember that respectability is boring.  Contention, my friends, THAT’s fun.   Really, do you see this team suddenly surging forward?   I feel as though the anticipated hot streaks from Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler might well be accompanied by a simultaneous regression from the starting rotation: particularly from Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie.

 

Hey Genius, the Royals are only 3.5 games behind the Tigers

Indeed they are, thanks to Detroit deciding not to run away with the division and winning just six of their last twenty.  Thank you, Tigers, but no thanks to the Indians, who went hog wild in my absence (who’s job was it to watch the Indians?!!!) and streaked into second place.

While we wait for Hosmer and Butler to heat up, don’t you imagine that Cleveland is expecting the same from the likes of Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana?   Do you imagine Detroit assumes Justin Verlander likely won’t end the season with an ERA north of four?  Hell, Minnesota signed Kendrys Morales while I was gone!   I had no real desire to see Morales in Kansas City, but they at least did something.

Oh yeah, I forgot, the Royals fixed Mike Moustakas via 34 Omaha plate appearances.

 

The Wild Card

Is a mess.   Depending on how you define contention, HOUSTON is in contention for a Wild Card spot.  It’s nice there are two spots and it is nice that the Royals are just three games out, but how optimistic are you about chasing down the Angels, the Mariners, the Orioles, the Indians, and holding off the rest of league as well?

 

The Lineup

Craig wrote about this yesterday and it begs the question:  Do you construct your lineup to follow the hot streak or to project for the perceived talent level going forward?

I’m a bit of a short-term hot streak chaser, particularly when guys you might move down in the lineup are names Infante and/or Aoki.    It gets a bit tricky when a hitter with proven past performance (Billy Butler) or definite upside (Eric Hosmer) start getting moved, but would the world end if the bounty Lorenzo Cain paid to the BABIP Fairy continue to pay off for two weeks AND Hosmer hit four home runs out of the six spot?

Here is an easy one, however.  Alex Gordon is both hot and has a past record of performance:  seems as though getting him an extra at-bat per game might be helpful for the rest of the season.

 

Going Forward

So, they draft happened and with its completion, baseball GM’s traditionally turn their full attention to the trade market.   Just a little heads up, the Dodgers sure seem to have a lot of outfielders….just sayin.

Now, where is that third baseman tree planted?

 

Well, Ned Yost did, but that’s not the point.

However, I think there is a plan when it comes to Mike Moustakas.   I am not saying it is a good plan, but Mr. Moore might have an idea.  Hell, Moustakas is hitting – more accurately not hitting – to the tune of a .152/.223/.320 triple slash:  there needed to be some kind of plan for something!

One would assume the Moore plan is based on the Alex Gordon model that eventually turned a spiraling downward third basemen into a Gold Glove All Starish left fielder.  That excludes a couple of key facts:

  • When Gordon was sent down for real in 2010 (he was demoted in 2009 as well, under the guise of injuries/rehab), Alex was hitting just .194/.342/.323 on May 1st.  For his career, 1,399 plate appearances, Alex sported a .249/.311/.360 triple slash.  (Yes, I’m using triple slashes here – you don’t get advanced metrics Mr. Moustakas until you routinely top the Mendoza line).   Moustakas has been worse that Gordon, even in his best year, at least offensively.
  • When Alex Gordon came back later in 2010 as an outfielder, he managed to hit just .218/.311/.360.  Two months in Omaha where he hit .315/.442/.577 did not a major league hitter make.
  • Only after an off-season of a complete swing rebuild (this remains Kevin Seitzer’s most valuable contribution to the Kansas City Royals) did the player we see now actually emerge.

The more accurate ‘plan’ would be the Mark Teahen experience.   Teahen was floundering as well when sent down in May of 2005 with a season mark of .195/.241/.351 and career line of .237/.297/.369 in just under 600 plate appearances.   He proceeded to smack AAA pitching around to the tune of .380/.500/.658 in just under 100 plate appearances and then just kept on going in the majors.

For one beautiful summer, Mark Teahen was tremendous, hitting 50 extra base hits in just 82 starts (including 16 home runs) and raking to the tune of .313/.384/.557.   Of course, Mark went into decline after that, but 2014 is the ‘go for it year’, so who cares about 2015 right now?   Could Moustakas do the same as Teahen?  I could see it, sure.  Sadly, I could see him come back no better as well.

He could be Andy Marte.

You might remember Marte as the 2004 #11 prospect in baseball.  And #9 in 2005 and #14 in 2006.  Trust me, Mark Teahen was miles better in the majors than Marte and Mark doesn’t have a job anymore.

Maybe there is not a plan.   There’s a chance that Yost and Moore just got fed up with Moustakas and wanted a change of scenery for all involved.   However, as this whole string of words started out, my guess is they are hoping for a big month in Omaha out of the former star prospect while Danny Valencia rides a hot streak in the majors, followed by a triumphant return to KC for Mike (maybe they’ll have a parade, too).

Reasons and plans, or lack thereof, aside:  this was an actual big boy baseball move.  One that admits that the Royals pinned their hopes on a guy who simply was not getting the job done.   In a small way, it makes the Royals seem like an organization thinking first of getting better instead of making themselves appear to be the smartest kid in the class.

 

As an aside, great to be back here at Royals Authority.   While I had fun over at Royals Review, a more casual and less corporate environment made all the sense in the world to both Craig and myself.  We are, after all, just a couple of grumpy old men, sitting in the lobby of Authority HQ smoking cigars and leering at the receptionist.  

 

Yesterday afternoon, Jonathan Broxton notched his 18th save of the year (good for fourth in the American League) and with it secured a winning road trip for the Royals.   He did so in what has become typical Broxton fashion, allowing two baserunners before finally getting his team out of the inning.

So far in 2012, Broxton has had 21 save opportunities and blown (generally in spectacular fashion) three of them.  Obviously, in those three, Jonathan allowed baserunners.   In the 18 successful saves, Broxton has retired the side in order just five times.   Broxton has had some other perfect innings, but in non-save situations. 

In the remaining 13 saves, Broxton has allowed just one baserunner six times, two baserunners six more times and loaded the bases once.   Is that normal? 

In 2008, we saw Joakim Soria in this prime just dominate.  He went seven straight appearances without allowing any baserunners and had another stretch where he did not allow a baserunner in eight out of nine appearances.  Soria blew three saves that entire season.   In 2006, division rival Joe Nathan blew two saves all season and in 21 of his 36 successful save conversions, threw perfect innings.

Those are two very good closers in probably their two best years, however.  Where does Broxton stand right now?  Is he getting just plain lucky and due for a series of devastating team gutting blown saves?  Or is this how it is across baseball?   Royals’ arch-enemy Chris Perez leads the league in saves, let’s take a look at what he has done.

Perez has converted 22 out of 23 save opportunities.   He had a one out save, which we will sort out of the equation.  Of the 21 remaining saves, Perez was perfect in 9 of those.   He allowed one baserunner in 6, two baserunners in 5 and three baserunners in the other.   It is noteworthy that while Broxton has not allowed a run in any of his 18 successful saves, Chris Perez has three times allowed  a run to score, but had enough cushion to still get the save.   In comparing Perez vs. Broxton, we see a few more flashes of dominance out of Perez, but also some poorer outings as well:  not a tremendous difference, frankly.

The Orioles Jim Johnson is second in the league in saves and has allowed just 15 hits in 31 innings of work.   Johnson has converted 20 of 21 save opportunities and been perfect in 9 of those 19 saves.   He has allowed one baserunner eight times, two on three occassions and never has put three runners on base.   Johnson has, however, allowed a run and still gotten the save twice.  It is also noteworthy that in his last six save opportunites, Jim has blown one and been perfect the other five times.

 The only other closer in the AL with more saves than Broxton is Tampa’s Fernando Rodney.  Two of his twenty saves (the first two actually) were just one out saves and Rodney has blown one save opportunity as well.  Of the remaining 18 saves, Rodney has been perfect in 12 of them.   He allowed one baserunner in four (along with an unearned run), two baserunners just once and three baserunners once (along with a run).

I am going to skip down a couple of spots to the most established closer type on the leaderboard:  Joe Nathan.  The Rangers’ closer has converted 15 of 16 save opportunities and been perfect in 10 of those.   In the other five saves, Nathan has allowed one baserunner four times and two runners just once.  He has not allowed a run in a successful save situation.

Now, baserunners happen.  Allowing one batter to reach base in the ninth inning is hardly a sign of the apocalypse (at least I don’t think so, the Mayans are hard to figure out), so let’s forgive all those outings for the guys we are looking at and compare the number of multiple runners on in save situations:

  • Perez – 6 out of 21 (1 blown save)
  • Johnson – 3 out of 20 (1 blown save)
  • Rodney – 2 out of 18 (1 blown save)
  • Broxton – 7 out of 18 (3 blown saves)
  • Nathan – 1 out of 15 (1 blown save)

Quick and dirty research tells us that Broxton’s success, if not lucky, has come in a manner different than that of the other save leaders in the league.   That said, closers are all different (I mean, most of them are really, really different) maybe Broxton has always been this way.

Well, in 2009, Broxton had a career high 36 saves, striking out 114 in 76 innings.   He allowed more than one baserunner in just 7 of those 36 successful saves, but he also suffered six blown saves.   In 2010, he was 22 of 27 in save opportunities and allowed multiple baserunners in five of his 22 successful saves.  It is noteworthy that his 2010 performance resulted in Broxton losing his closer job in August.

In his prime, Broxton did not walk the high wire to quite the extent he has thus far for the Royals (although he was still prone to the blown save).  That does not mean that Jonathan will not be able to continue:  the ability to throw 98 mph can help offset runners on base.   However, the odds would seem to suggest that Broxton might be running out of wiggle room.

There is, however, one additional consideration.   Broxton is really just two and one-half months back from injury.   He has spent the better part of the last two years getting lit up.  Could this all be just part of ‘getting back’?  I think that is a very real possibility and the truth is, if Broxton ends up saving 36 games this year, blowing six and taking us on a ride in half of those 36 successes, that is still going to be a pretty decent year.

It’s not dominant and it’s not ideal, but not everyone can be Joakim Soria.   Heck, Joakim Soria wasn’t Joakim Soria the last couple of years.

xxx

I have to be totally honest.  My Sunday started before seven o’clock with a two and one-half hour drive, followed by seven hours of watching girls’ tennis (with bad cell service so no MLB Gameday), followed by a two and one-half hour drive home and immediately continuing on for four more hours into the bowels of Iowa for a business meeting Monday morning.   I know, I hear you:  shut up, we don’t care about your personal life. 

Fair enough.   All I was getting to in a roundabout way was that I missed the entire 15 inning Royals’ win today.   In doing so, I missed what has to be one of the most exciting, excruciating, maddening, thrilling, bizzare and euphoric of the past five years.   Pick an adjective, any adjective, and I bet you can make it apply to this game.

Let’s start with the fact that the Royals, after asking for seven plus innings out of their bullpen on Saturday, needed a good start from Luis Mendoza.   They got exactly that, as Luis went six innings and allowed just two runs (back to back homers to Halladay and Craig when he was ahead in the count – I consider 2-2 to be ‘ahead for the pitcher’).   All that and the bullpen still had to toss nine innings!

Mendoza’s performance comes on the heels of allowing just one run in six innings in his last start, which came after he gave up just two runs in five innings in relief of Felipe Paulino.   Now, I’m not ready to sign Mendoza to a long term contract or even to say that he will still be in the rotation by the end of July, but damn, Luis, well done.

Speaking of the bullpen, they went seven innings after Mendoza without allowing a run, surrendering just three hits and two walks with seven strikeouts.   The key guy, obviously, was Tim Collins, who went three perfect innings to allow Ned Yost to avoid having to call on Roman Colon for a third straight day or a used up Bruce Chen.

The Royals also got two innings of work out of closer Jonathan Broxton:  one more than they wanted.  Broxton, who makes a living dancing the high wire in save opportunities, fell off on Sunday and gave up the tying run in the bottom of the 14th.  Redemption came in the 15th, however, when Broxton struck out two (Cardinals pinch-hitting pitcher Joe Kelly is no Bruce Chen) on his way to a 1-2-3 inning and finally, thankfully, the win for Kansas City.

Of course, Broxton would not have had the save opportunity to blow or the chance at redemption had it not been for Yuniesky Betancourt.  The Yunigma, despised and reviled generally, gets to be the toast of the town for tonight.  A run scoring double in the 14th and a two run homer in the 15th after going 0-5 in his first five at-bats.   Of course, how often does a non-starter get SEVEN at-bats in one game?

Backing up to the 14th inning, Betancourt fouled the first pitch off while attempting to bunt.  Was that a call from the bench or Yuni acting on his own?  As you know, the sacrifice bunt is not a popular item around these parts, but I don’t hate it in this situation.  However, I’m not sure I like it with Yuni up.  The one occasional skill Yuni brings to the plate is some pop (you know like extra inning doubles and homers), so I am glad that either he cut it out or Ned called the bunt off after one attempt. 

But then, Yuni would not have had his chances if it had not been for Billy Butler turning around 99 mph fastball on an 0-2 count with two outs in the top of the ninth to tie the game in the first place.   I not sure everyone has noticed, but Billy Butler kinda knows how to hit a baseball.

This game featured, among other things:

  • FIVE walks by Alex Gordon.
  • Back to back intentional walks with no one on and two outs.  Sounds crazy, but it was the 14th inning, the Royals were out of bench players, Bruce Chen already had gotten his pinch hit knock, so the Cards gave free passes to Moustakas and Escobar to get to Nate Adcock.
  • As alluded to a twice already, we saw the first Royals pitcher to get a pinch hit when Bruce Chen, batting for Tim Collins singled.  I’m amazed that is the first time it has happened.   You would have thought that back before the DH, some Royals pitcher (Jim Rooker for example) would have gotten one in some wild game.

I bet you can list three or six or nine more things about Sunday’s game that deserve a bullet point:  it was simply that kind of game.  The kind of game that, more often than not, the Royals have ended up losing in the past.  Progress or just dumb luck?  Not sure, but I’ll take five out of six in any form.    Especially with three at Houston coming up.

The Royals are not really a contender, not yet.   They, however, are not exactly not contenders, either.   I bet you didn’t expect to see that when they were losing 12 in a row.

xxx

 

 

Two on, two out, bottom of the ninth with the Royals down by two.  It looked and felt like many other nights this season:  the trailing Royals would do enough in the ninth to make it interesting, but ultimately not get the big hit.   We have seen all too often.

Then, John Axford threw his fourth straight 97+ mph fastball to Alcides Escobar and Escobar, as he has a tendency to do with fastballs drilled it for a game tying triple.   A couple innings later, Mike Moutaskas drew his third walk of the game to ‘drive’ in the winning run.   Say what you want about the level of play (at times very good, at times pretty bad), but these two games with Milwaukee have been interesting.

Back to Escobar.

At the end of April, Alcides was hitting .295/.329/.449.   I don’t think anyone really expected him to slug at that rate for an entire season and he didn’t.   By the end of May, Escobar’s triple slash was .303/.344/.404 and after last night, it stands at .292/.330/.392.   Let’s get one thing clear:  Alcides Escobar can hit .292/.330/.392 from here until the end of his contract and I will have not one complaint about it.

There is starting to be a growing body of evidence that Escobar might be able to hit at something resembling that clip.   Starting at June 1st of last year, Escboar finished out 2011 at a .274/.310/.391 pace.   Certainly nothing special there, but a vast improvement over the .216/.252/.253 line he sported on May 31, 2011.

Now, we have bandied about the ‘arbitrary set of dates’ line fairly often around here.   If you look hard enough, you can string together a start and end date for just about any player to make them look as good or bad as you want to.   Fox Sports KC are experts at that:  Yuniesky Betancourt leads all American League right handed second baseman in batting average with a runner on second and the temperature above 81 degrees.

However, I did not arbitrarily pick June 1, 2011 as a nice place to start out.  Not to be THAT guy, but I have been told by someone who was there, that in the first week of June last season, Alcides Escobar was given a ‘come-to-Jesus’ talk about needing to change what he was doing at the plate.   It’s outstanding to be a great fielding shortstop, but this is not 1965 and no team can carry anyone who hits .200 and slugs .250.

Since that point in time, Escobar started to hold his own at the plate.    Carrying that into 2012, Escobar has done more than that with the bat and I think you could call him an average offensive player.

Escobar’s current fWar is 1.1, his wOBA is .326 and his OPS+ is 98.   He has ten steals in eleven attempts.   Although the defensive metrics don’t like him as much as most of us like him, I have to believe that will even out as the year goes on.  It sticks in my head that early on last season, Alcides has some unappealing fielding metrics too, but ended up well into the positives by season’s end.  Of course, I’m old and drink a lot, so that might not be true.

For what the Royals are paying him through 2017, if Alcides Escobar is a 2.2 WAR player each year it will be a tremendous contract.   Buy your jerseys now, kids, because Alcides Escobar might end up being the best shortstop in Royals history when all is said and done.

xxx

 

Dismal.  

That is my complete analysis of the three game sweep at the hands of the Pirates.

Currently, Wil Myers is hitting .341/.388/.714 through right at 100 AAA plate appearances.    He has been playing centerfield in Omaha, but I have yet to get any definitve review of how he has been playing centerfield.   Is he Jeff Francoeur with a touch more range?  David DeJesus minus the instincts?  Melky Cabrera only…well, Melky Cabrera?   Maybe Myers will fall in with the Moustakas syndrome.  You know, we all thought that Moustakas might be passable defensively at third, only to see him be a very good defensive third baseman (at least preliminarily).  Maybe Myers could be the same sort of deal in center.  Maybe.

For fun, I did exhaustively comprehensive research in the last four and one-half minutes, and pulled the leaders in wOBA from Fangraphs and reviewed how many AAA plate appearances each of them had before hitting the major leagues.   The results, as you might imagine from such a small sample size is quite varied:

  • Joey Votto – 580 AAA plate appearances
  • Josh Hamilton – 0
  • Paul Konerko – 868
  • Carlos Gonzalez – 237 (Cargo played half a season with Oakland, then got 223 more AAA PA’s after getting traded to Colorado the next year)
  • David Wright – 134 (only 272 more in AA – all in the same season)
  • Mark Trumbo – 595
  • Ryan Braun – 134 (only 257 in AA as well)
  • Josh Willingham – 279 (Josh was 26 when he made the majors and was still playing A ball at age 24)
  • Carlos Beltran – 0 (just 208 in AA as well)
  • Bryan LaHair – 2,709

LaHair and Willingham are fun cases in that we often just discount those types of players as ‘too old for their level’ and ‘AAAA’ types.  Most times they are, but it is wise to remember that sometimes they are not. 

For our purposes, however, Wright, Beltran and Braun are noteworthy.  Myers already has more AA at-bats than any of them and is closing in on the amount of time Braun and Wright spent in AAA.   Beltran, who skipped AAA entirely, got a cup of coffee at the end of 1998 and then won Rookie of the Year honors in 1999.   He did end up spending some time in AAA in 2000, but that situation might apply more to a discussion on Eric Hosmer than Wil Myers.

Certainly and without question, those three players are elite level talents and highly thought of prospects on their way up.   However, isn’t that what most think Wil Myers might be?  Now, you could deal Ryan Braun out of the equation given that he was a college player prior to being drafted, but both Beltran and Wright were not and both were in the majors before age 21.   The point is not to call up Wil Myers this very second, but only to show a very few examples of some really good prospects who spent very little time in getting to the majors.

Of course, the Royals are not a ‘Wil Myers’ away from contention.  Had they drafted Chris Sale instead of Christian Colon and Tim Lincecum instead of Luke Hochevar (or Clayton Kershaw or even Brandon Morrow), then maybe the Royals would be just one player away.   The question is, just how many players away are they?

Let’s remember that even great teams don’t have great players at every position.  They all have a Jeff Francoeur or a Jarrod Dyson or a Johnny Giavotella in their lineup and a Hochevar in the rotation.   Truthfully, it is a bit unfair to even lump Frenchy in with the others.   He is not a good major leaguer, but he is a legitimate major league player:  decent enough to play right and bat seventh on a contending team.

For better or worse, the Royals are set at six spots in the lineup:  Gordon, Moustakas, Escobar, Hosmer, Butler and Perez.  If that core group does not perform over the next two to three years, then this discussion is irrelevant and Dayton Moore will not longer by your general manager.   That group is, as a unit, is not getting it done right now, but let’s pretend (if nothing else) that they will start doing so soon. 

In addition to that core, the Royals have a very good and very deep bullpen and one and one-half starting pitchers.  Bruce Chen is not a number one on any team, but he can certainly be a number four starter on a contender.   Felipe Paulino is good, when he’s healthy.   There is a pitcher like this on a lot of teams.  Hell, Jonathan Sanchez was that guy for the Giants when they won the World Series.

So, where are we?   Right back to where we all thought the Royals were in March?  Two good starting pitchers away from being decent?  Pretty much.

Truthfully, one really good starter and two ‘better than what they have now’ starting pitchers away from being pretty solid.   Throw in Wil Myers and you are getting there.   If Wil Myers can really handle centerfield, then Kansas City moves to very good.   Big ‘if’, but an intriguing if and one that should be explored once the Royals are willing to roll the dice on the Super Two timing as it relates to Myers’ service time.

Myers would make the Royals better and certainly more interesting, but the truth is it doesn’t matter when Vin Mazzaro and Luis Mendoza are your number three and four starters.   IF Paulino could get and stay healthy and IF Jake Odorizzi continues to appear to be and eventually becomes the ‘real deal’, then you could line up Odorizzi, Paulino and Chen in the rotation for the second half with the hope that Danny Duffy could be back by the middle of 2013 to be your number five starter.   That group has some hope.

Of course, that leaves a big blank spot at the top of the rotation.   Your move, Mr. Moore.

xxx

 

It is starting to feel like the Royals are slowly slipping into anonymity:  not good enough to be noteworthy and not bad enough to be made fun of.

Last night, Kansas City had to go to their bullpen for eight plus innings of work and quite honestly got decent enough results.   Luis Mendoza allowed an inherited runner to score in the first, gave up two more runs in the fifth and Kelvin Herrera was touched for another in the seventh.  That is not lock down work obviously, but it should have been good enough against Nick Blackburn and four Minnesota relievers.  It wasn’t.

On a six game homestand against maybe the two weakest teams in the American League, the Royals managed to plate just 17 runs in six games on their way to a disappointing 3-3 record.  All three wins came when the much maligned starting rotation combined with the much heralded bullpen to toss shutouts.    Before the season, I bet you didn’t expect three shutouts in six games at any point against anyone.

Sadly, the one night that the Royals’ offense actually did have some life (Monday’s 10-7 loss to the Twins), Ned Yost pulled back on the reigns and had Alcides Escobar sacrifice with no one out to give Jarrod Dyson and Humbo Quintero a chance to drive in two runners in a tie game…in the fourth inning.   Last night, as putrid as  the offense  performed, was still a good dose of rotten luck as the Royals, enjoying a marked advantage in the starting pitcher matchup for one of the few times all year, saw Felipe Paulino exit after facing just three batters.  Monday night, however, was the crippling game of this homestand. 

Four and two and all is right with the world.  Three and three seems so much worse.   Such is life when you are stuck in mediocrity.

Anyway, onto Pittsburgh, where the Royals are bravely forging ahead with Jeff Francouer in center, Eric Hosmer in right, Billy Butler at first and the Yunigma surely somewhere on the diamond.   To be fair, even if Ned Yost goes with Giavotella at second over Betancourt,  the entire right side of the diamond has the potential to look a lot like the right side of your slow-pitch softball defense.    That said, why not?

The Royals aren’t hitting and, quite honestly, haven’t played stellar defense in center or exhibited great range in right.   Maybe, just maybe, some quirky new defensive positions for three games might shake the cobwebs out of a lethargic offense.   I don’t hate this move as much as the statistical side of me says I should.   If Lorenzo Cain, who I think is dramatically better than Dyson defensively, was healthy my guess is I would hate it.   As it stands, let’s give it a whirl.

The thought crossed my mind, that moving Alex Gordon to center made more sense than putting the Frenchman there, but Gordon is far less experienced and then you have four guys in different positions instead of three, plus whoever wants to throw their glove at the ball playing second.   The real downside of this three game lineup changes is that Yost is likely to be more paranoid about the defense than most of us.   I can see him pulling the trigger on Dyson to center, Frenchy to right, Hosmer to first as early as the sixth inning, which obviously shuffles Billy Butler out of the batting order for what might well be crucial late inning at-bats.

The other interesting news of this short trip is that it appears Clint Robinson might get called up to the bigs.  Now, given the Royals are playing a first baseman in right field and a designated hitter at first, calling up another first baseman/DH type seems, at first, kind of silly.    One might have opted for the versatile Irving Falu, who can play just about anywhere and would allow Yost all sorts of managerial options.   Maybe that’s what Dayton Moore is trying to avoid?!

However, the Royals are likely looking to Robinson to simply pinch-hit.   I don’t know of Clint Robinson can hit major leauge pitching (and getting 2 or 3 pinch hitting chances as your debut is not a very good way of finding out), but I do know he is more likely to park one than Falu or Maier or Dyson or…you get the point.   If the Royals were moving to the NL for the summer, than Falu is the guy.   For three games in Pittsburgh, why not Robinson?

This trip could be fun for the Royals, but it might also be a bumbling disaster.  It won’t, however, be boring.

xxx

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