Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts published by Craig Brown

Do you remember, back in the early days of the season, when the typical Royals fan lament went something like this:

“If only they could get the bats going.”

May I present to you, the last week of Royals baseball.

Damn.

After sweeping the Indians at home and the White Sox on the road, the Royals own a seven game winning streak and are winners of eight of their last 10 and 12 of their last 20. There’s hot, and then there’s Royals Hot.

Baseball is a game of peaks and valleys. They say once you think you have the game figured out, it will humble you just as fast. The Royals, it seems, are the masters of the peaks and valleys. We saw the exact same thing last year when the team bottomed out at the All-Star Break, prompting this writer to call for the dismissal of Dayton Moore. Part of the reason for the call of Moore’s firing at the time was his apparent detachment from reality when he stated his 2013 Royals were capable of a stretch where they could win 15 out of 20. Laughable, I wrote, pointing out that very few Royals teams in the past had actually accomplished such a run of successful baseball. Then what happened? Ummmm… they won 15 out of their next 20. (Baseball is humbling? Damn. Try blogging.) Anyway, it’s about the peaks and valleys. Peaks and valleys.

This year, it’s looking like a carbon copy of 2013. Straight down to the reassignment of a hitting coach. Except now the Royals have found (or are close to) the peak at a much earlier date. At least one month earlier in 2014 they finally figured out where the switch for the afterburners is located and they hit the damn thing.

From Baseball Musing’s Day by Day Database, here’s how the offense has looked this month:

DBD_67

And how the offense looked last week.

DBD_66

Funny game, baseball. At the end of May I insisted that it was bad business to set your lineup based on streaks (both hot and cold) and advocated Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain move to the top third of the order. Well, one out of two isn’t bad. Gordon is his typical awesome self. Mr. Everything for this club. Cain, however, has had a bit of a rough go this month. Break it down to look exclusively at this winning streak and who are the two of the worst offensive performers? Yep. Gordon and Cain.

But take a moment to revisit those numbers from the last week. Eric Hosmer is hitting like Hosmer post-May 2013. Sal Perez is a destroyer of baseballs. Billy Butler is an on base machine. Mike Moustakas is FIXED! And good grief, Alcides Escobar. Look at those numbers. And that’s after an 0-3 day at the plate. Somehow, he drew a walk and saw a grand total of nine pitches in four plate appearances. But those numbers. This offense is now running on best-case scenario. These guys are just killing it. Early and often. It’s been a helluva week.

Here’s the great thing about this peak I just spent 500 words extolling: It’s coming against teams in the AL Central.

When the Royals opened this stretch of baseball, I said it was a pivotal moment of the 2014 season. At that moment, the Royals had won a grand total of six intra-division games. No other team in baseball had fewer than 10 wins against intra-division opponents. In other words, the Royals had become experts at laying down in their own division. That’s no way to win a wild card spot, never mind the division itself. Having dug such a hole in the Central, it was imperative the Royals stop the bleeding and get better. Immediately. And nine games against Central opponents presented the first opportunity. So here we are, five games in and the Royals have won all five.

Have I mentioned baseball is a funny game?

Now, attention turns to Detroit and the Tigers. It’s far too early in the season for me to get caught up in the standings. I could care less who is in first place on June 16. It doesn’t matter. Positioning matters. If teams harbor October expectations, they need to hang close. You can’t pull a Tampa Bay and drop 13 games out of the division and 10 games out of the wild card because that’s ground you just can’t make up over the course of three and a half months. We’ve said it over and over – and experienced it last year – but if you fall so far behind and allow multiple teams to move ahead of you and a playoff spot – it’s difficult to climb over those teams to get to the top.

At some point, hot streak will end. (I’m not trying to rain on your Plaza Parade. It’s a streak. If you are unfamiliar with the term, look it up somewhere.) At some point the Royals will probably play a stretch of baseball where they go 10-10. Maybe a little worse. The important thing to remember is positioning. The Royals are in a good position right now. If they stumble a bit, they may remain on the outside of a playoff spot, but if they can maintain their positioning, they can be OK.

And that’s exactly what I think this team can do. They can keep themselves in position. No way was the offense as bad as we saw back in April and May. Sadly, it’s not this good either. The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in-between. And that’s OK. Because with the pitching and defense, that gives this team a pretty good chance.

This isn’t a team built on the premise they can dominate. (No sane Royals fan can believe that. Not after what we saw in April and May.) But this is a team that can compete and this team can cause some problems. There’s a ton of mediocrity in the American League this summer. So many teams have opportunity. So few will capitalize.

Here’s hoping the Royals continue to capitalize.

A whole weekend passed without any worthy Nori Aoki gifs. I feel cheated.

At least there’s a 2-1 win against the hated Yankees on Sunday. Six strong from James Shields and three from the shutdown bullpen.  Aaron Crow, Wade Davis and Greg Holland with the honors. I’m sure Ned Yost would have liked to have gotten seven from Shields, but the Yankees worked him for 110 pitches in the six innings. Eight whiffs against two walks. Seven ground outs and just one fly ball out.

Yost likes it when he doesn’t have to think. Automatic situations are good. Eighth inning with a one-run lead? Davis. It works for the bullpen because he has two of the best relievers in the league at his disposal. With the offense it’s a different story. Top of the lineup card? Aoki-Infante-Hosmer. Damn the numbers. Damn the facts.

At this point, it feels like a point of pride for Yost, doesn’t it? Everyone who pays attention to baseball and the Royals know this lineup is the pits. They also know the two best hitters on this team are buried at number five and number seven in the order. How the hell does that make any sense? Yet there’s Nervous Ned, sticking to his guns. The Titantic may be bearing down on that iceberg, but dammit he’s not going to steer around it just because it’s in his way. Come on.

The fact is, Gordon is one of the best hitters on this team, no matter what. A few years ago, it seemed inspired when Yost bumped him to the top of the order. Now the pendulum has swung the other direction with a stubborn Yost refusing to see what is clear to everyone.

Because it’s not kosher to criticize and not offer a solution, here would be my lineup going forward:

Gordon
Aoki
Cain
Perez
Hosmer
Butler
Escobar
Infante
Moustakas

Gordon is the only guy on the team who can work a walk and is the best hitter. He should get the most plate appearances. I know I just mocked the idea of Aoki hitting leadoff and I only push him down one spot, but he has to hit somewhere. His .318 OBP rates fourth among regulars. (Have I mentioned this offense is horrible?) Yeah, he’s striking out more than advertised, but his contact rate is second highest on the team which is useful in that position. Cain is the best hitter not named Gordon, so he hits third. Not ideal, but this lineup is a hot mess. Perez is my power bat, so he’s fourth. That’s two left-handed bats followed by two right-handed bats at the top of the order. Time to change things up a bit. But really that’s the only method to this madness in the lower half. It’s really about minimizing Moustakas and Infante.

My other solution involves cloning Gordon eight times.

Being a manager is about positioning your guys to where you give the team the best chance to succeed. So many times a manager gets fired when players don’t produce. You’ll hear things like, “It wasn’t his fault we weren’t hitting (or fielding, or pitching.)” A manager can fill out an optimal lineup card but will pay when if team doesn’t execute. What happens when a manager knowingly ignores mounting evidence that his lineup defies baseball logic?

It’s amazing Yost is still employed.

– Hey, Eric Hosmer hit a home run on Saturday. A real, actual home run. And it was a bomb, traveling 445 feet according to Hit Tracker. This seems like a decent time to break out Hosmer’s home run plots for the 2014 season.

Hosmer_Eric_2014_scatter

Grim. Seriously. His other home run this year came in San Diego and traveled just 362 feet, barely clearing the wall at Petco.

Compare the above chart to last summer. Last year, Hosmer clubbed 17 home runs, but didn’t hit his second on the season until June 13. This year, he hit his second on June 7! He’s almost a full week ahead of the pace last year! Amazing.

Hosmer_Eric_2013_scatter

When he got hot last summer, his power was from the left-center gap to right-center. Pretty impressive, actually.

So is this the start of another summer streak? I don’t know about that. In 2013, when he went on a tear, the power came later. I mentioned his second home run was hit on June 17. Well, if we subscribe to the theory that George Brett’s arrival helped drag Hosmer out of his doldrums, then we see that from May 29 (Brett’s first day on the job) to June 16, Hosmer hit .308/.345/.365. Sixteen hits in that stretch with only three for extra bases – all doubles. The power arrived later. Eight of his 17 home runs came in a stretch from June 17 to July 4.

You thought this post would be about the bullpen, didn’t you? I mean we all saw the game on Thursday. Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Damn.

But, no. This is about Yordano Ventura. And his valgus.

Ventura returned to the mound after missing a start with elbow discomfort. (I guess it was “discomfort.” Ned Yost said, “It wasn’t an elbow issue.” Umm… OK?) I don’t know about you, but I was damned nervous. Not that I thought the Royals would send a damaged pitcher back out to start. They obviously thought he was OK. No, my concern was over the idea of a “what if.” What if he lost velocity in the third inning? What if his command was helter-skelter from the start? What if he experienced the same issues that derailed his last start?

Pitchers are scary creatures. Anymore it feels like each pitch could be their last. It’s nauseating. And when you have a stud like Ventura… Yeah. Scary.

According to Brooks Baseball, Ventura uncorked a 101 mph fastball. Cool. Even better, he found a comfort zone and maintained his velocity throughout the contest.

Ventura_Velo65

Yost pulled him after six innings and 91 pitches. The right move after the issues of the last two weeks.

While the velocity was positive, there were still some bumps along the way to the win. His command wasn’t all that great. He also had a helluva time closing out innings. In the first, he got two outs on six pitches. Then needed 18 more pitches to get the third out. In the second, he got the first batters out, then coughed up a single and a triple before getting the third out. And in the fourth, he got the first two outs on three pitches. Then allowed a single, a walk and a single before getting the third out. He did settle down in the fifth and sixth, working what you would term efficient innings. Although Yadier Molina helped out by running on Alex Gordon after another two-out single.

For the game, Ventura stuck out one batter. He got only seven swings and misses. That’s not the Ventura we saw pre elbow discomfort. But the velocity was there. I’m not ready to move past the elbow discomfort, but I do feel better about how he’s doing moving forward.

And finally, from gifsection, your latest gif of Nori Aoki losing his battle against baseballs.

aokihead

Happy Friday. Be careful out there.

The Royals – yes, the Kansas City Royals – survived a slugfest in St. Louis and vanquished the Cardinals by a 8-7 score on Tuesday. The game capped a successful road trip that saw the Royals take four of six from the Blue Jays and then the Cardinals. Call it the Running of the 1985 Gauntlet.

Bookending a mini-slump where the Royals scored two runs in the final two games in Toronto were games where Kansas City scored eight and six runs. Add everything together and since May 29, the Royals have scored 30 runs in six games and pocketed the aforementioned four wins.

Dale Sveum, hitting whisperer, indeed.

On Tuesday, James Shields wasn’t exactly Big Game as he walked four and allowed nine hits while striking out a single hitter. He allowed two home runs for good measure. Not to be alarmist following a solid stretch of baseball, but Shields just hasn’t been himself of late. In his last 18.1 innings, he’s allowed 17 runs. That’s courtesy of seven (seven!) home runs.

I suppose at this point, I should point east and laugh. Suck it, St. Louis and all that. Maybe it’s misguided on my part, but beating the Cardinals doesn’t move me any more than beating the Marlins. A win is a win. It’s good when the Royals can shutout a team one night and turn around and score eight and win by a single run the next. I mean, St. Louis is still a wannabe east coast city that I avoid at all costs, but they just don’t matter so much to me. I’m aware their fans are spectacular or whatever. Best fans EVAR!!!!!1! Eh. I tend to ignore the self-absorbed. It’s a character flaw.

I read much hand-wringing of the ESPN treatment on Monday night. “How disrespectful they don’t know this team!” “Why can’t they talk about something other than 1985?” “It’s like they’ve never seen the Royals play!” Uh, hello. This is the Kansas City Royals ESPN is talking about. Is there really any reason for ESPN – or any other national sports outlet – to discuss this team over the last 25 years? Three decades of losing will render your favorite team irrelevant. It happens. But the 1985 is our World Series and when the Royals and Cardinals meet, it’s as good a reason as any to revisit some history. It gives the national guys a news peg. Fortunes have kind of diverged since those late October nights in 1985.

Did you read the Bob Nightengale article in USA Today about the Royals? It contained some wonderful quotes from Dayton Moore As I do from time to time, I’ll do a little translation. Moore is a wonderful quote machine. He speaks like the guy who writes those inspirational posters you find in sterile corporations who haven’t updated their decor from 1993. I can’t resist.

“It’s been a frustrating year,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “But the frustration I feel is no greater than the players, or (manager) Ned (Yost) or the coaching staff. We’re all in it together.

“Yeah, we expected more out of our players, but they expect even more out of themselves. We’re making some very honest evaluations.”

Oh, spare me. Notice he didn’t mention the owner. I wonder if David Glass is frustrated? Out of sight, out of mind. Maybe Glass hasn’t brought up the fact his team and their record payroll is underachieving. Maybe a better quote would be something along the lines of, “I thought everyone would get better. Isn’t that what happens?”

And the “honest evaluation” line is pretty funny. I imagine him saying it the way Neidermeyer put Delta house on “double secret probation.”

“You wonder how we can underachieve offensively the second year in a row,” Yost says, “with the talent we have. The pitchers are giving us chances to win, but we have to score runs.”

No, it’s really not that puzzling. When you do something more than once, it’s a trend. And when it’s a trend, you’re not underachieving. You are what you are. Now there’s interpretation that can be done as to why your team has turned into an offensive pumpkin. (Perhaps the revolving door of hitting coaches has been counterproductive and perhaps you had a good one on your staff but turned him loose.) Why is Billy Butler’s ground ball rate above 50 percent for the second consecutive season and rising? Why has Eric Hosmer returned all his gains he realized from last season and hit just one home run? Why has Mike Moustakas regressed every season since his debut? Why has Salvador Perez suffered the same fate? Read through those names again. That was supposed to form the nucleus of this team. That’s the way the master plan was drawn up when Dayton Moore circled 2014 on his ten-year day planner. The only guy who is worth a damn is Alex Gordon. Moore loses points because Gordon is an Allard Baird refugee. But he gains points for moving him off the hot corner and to left field. And inspired last-ditch move that saved a career and should be worth some goodwill.

How about this for a wonderful tidbit: Since 2011, Alex Gordon has collected 18.1 fWAR. That’s the highest total among regular left fielders in all of baseball. Yeah, that’s right. Awesome. This guy is criminally underrated because he’s surrounded by so much damn offensive dead weight. Do you want to think about this team without Alex Gordon? I answer for you: No. No, you don’t.

Back to the USA Today article. Did you catch this:

Certainly, there’s enough blame to be shared throughout an organization that has run through several failed regimes.

If anyone deserves the most blame, Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog said, it’s owner David Glass.

He was the one who was offered by Commissioner Bud Selig to move the franchise to the National League in 1998. Glass declined. The Milwaukee Brewers accepted. The rest is history.

“That’s one of the most major mistakes in the history of ownership,” said Herzog, who managed the St.Louis Cardinals and the Royals. “It was natural to go to the National League. They would have had a natural rivalry with the Cardinals. The Cubs would be sellouts. People would come from Denver. And they wouldn’t have to worry about their offense.

“When I talked to David about it, he said, ‘Everybody wanted to see the Yankees.’ I said, ‘Was there anyone complaining if you went to the NL?’ He said, ‘We got about a hundred letters.’

“I said, ‘Jesus, you’re running Wal-Mart and you let 100 letters change your mind? What a screw-up.’

I remember that time well. I was still a season ticket holder and the Royals polled us about the potential move. Myself? I wasn’t for it. I thought it was foolish to move from the American League. Kansas City had always been an AL city. The World Series title – at that point, not so much a distant memory – was won in the AL. I guess the irony is, the Yankees will visit Kansas City between three and four times a year now thanks to the unbalanced schedule. Instead of the bandwagon Yankee and Red Sox fans for six to eight dates at The K, you would have 20 dates with the Cardinals and Cubs. Equally obnoxious fan bases.

Maybe it was a mistake not to move, but a bad offense is a bad offense. Just spitballing here, but since National League pitching has been superior, wouldn’t that render our tepid attack even more impotent? We’d be wallowing in the muck with the Padres. Carry a negative run differential and it’s difficult to contend.

As much as I enjoy Herzog and as much as I enjoy Herzog ripping on Glass, it’s revisionist history at this point. Besides, if Tampa can hang with the Yankees and Red Sox (although not so much this year) the Royals should be able to find a way to get past the Twins and the Tigers.

Nightengale mentions free agent Kendrys Morales as a potential match. Let’s play a little game of internet telephone. I bet Nightengale picked up this nugget from a certain Tweet.

And I wonder where Heyman heard this? Hmmmm. Morales has a certain agent who has been known to feed info to Heyman in the past… Hmmmmm.

Anyway, does it make sense for the Royals to sign a guy like Morales at this point in the season? After he’s missed two-plus months. Stephen Drew signed a couple weeks ago with the Red Sox and spent 10 days in the minors to get game ready. That would put a potential Morales arrival a little after mid-June. That’s great and he would certainly represent an upgrade, but what do you do with Billy Butler? He’s making $8 million this year, so the Royals aren’t going to keep him around as a right-handed bat off the bench. Besides, you think he would accept any kind of demotion? So you have to trade him, but to whom and for what? His market is limited as a designated hitter. His contract is on the high side for a one dimensional player and you’d be selling at his absolute low point.

No, it looks like the Royals are stuck with Butler. If anything, it should be fun watching them decide what to do with that $12.5 million option for next year.

And by next year, the narrow window of opportunity may be closing.

Sunday morning, the Royals made some transaction news when they shoved Danny Valencia to the disabled list and recalled Mike Moustakas from him Triple-A sojourn.

Moustakas played seven games for Omaha. Overall, he hit .355/.412/.548 in 34 plate appearances. Solid, no? Or you could dive a little deeper inside the number and see that most of that damage was done in his last two games when he went 6-8 with a pair of doubles. Either way, it’s semantics. We’re parsing the smallest of sample sizes. He got off to a slow start in Omaha, went on one of his patented mini hot streaks and got a recall when the Royals disabled Valencia.

What exactly is going on in the front office? You have a player who has seen his production slip for three consecutive seasons. This player has the fourth worst wRC+ among American League hitters with at least 130 plate appearances. A player who was hitting .153/.225/.323 in 130 plate appearances at the time of his demotion. And apparently, all he needed was seven games in Triple-A.

I get that no one is saying he’s “fixed.” Because you can’t wash away 1,600 subpar major league plate appearances with a handful of at bats in the minors. But if you’re going to send down a guy who has struggled nearly every single day of his major league career, why on Earth would you do such an abrupt about-face? What purpose was the demotion supposed to serve?

The only thing I can think of was the demotion was meant to be a wakeup call to Moustakas. Maybe the Royals thought he needed a kick in the ass. A fire lit under his attitude and motivation. Because I can’t imagine why else he would be down to Omaha and back just 10 days later. It just makes no sense.

Christian Colon and Johnny Giavotella are options. Both are on the 40-man roster. Pedro Ciriaco is already here. Or you could recall recently demoted Jimmy Paredes. None of the above are what you would consider good – or even acceptable – options. The cupboard is bare. There is no depth. Which is another story altogether.

The Moustakas demotion was long overdue. His promotion was premature. There are no winners in this. So very Royals.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

On Friday, Dayton Moore gave Ned Yost a sort of vote of confidence:

“Here’s the bottom line: It’s not Ned, it’s not Pedro (Grifol), it’s me,” Moore said. “I’m responsible. It’s all on me. At least that’s the way I feel about it.”

“It’s my job to give the managers and the coaching staff the right players to succeed. I have to be able to give them the tools to win. So if we’re not succeeding, ultimately the responsibility comes back to me. No one else.”

We have a tendency to parse everything Moore says. Especially when he says stuff to Jeff Flanagan, who gets some of the more choice quotes from our favorite general manager. But this… I don’t know. It doesn’t seem particularly noteworthy to me. It’s a general manager who remains under fire from a fan base fed up with eight years of underachieving baseball. He’s saying what he’s supposed to be saying.

And here’s the (not really) funny thing: He hasn’t given his staff the tools to win. Ever. Or more importantly, he’s hired the wrong guys who are supposed to shape and mold the players that are supposed to make up the pipeline of major league talent. There has been a systematic failure of player development, bad drafts and regression at the major league level. Moore hired the coaches and scouts who have brought us this debacle. Moore is responsible for all of this.

It’s on him. Duh.

I stand behind what I wrote nearly a year ago at Royals Review.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

And finally, Nori Aoki. Yeah. We all thought he would be a little better than this. But there is entertainment. I’m all for entertainment.

aokinuts

From our friends at Fansided. Very nice. Have a good Monday. And wear a cup.

On May 17, Danny Duffy threw what was among the best starts of his still-young major league career. Remember that? A 1-0 Royals victory over the Orioles?

I ask because in the haze of Wednesday’s debacle at the hands of the Houston Astros, it may be difficult to summon that outing from the memory bank.  Duffy was, in his own words, “hogwash,” against the former worst offensive team in the AL. (The Royals, in addition to being swept by the Astros, also seized the opportunity to supplant them as the worst offense in the American League. Victory cigars for everyone!)

Anyway, it wasn’t about the miserable performance from Duffy. We’ve seen plenty of those. What we saw on Wednesday was much more alarming. Duffy’s fastball averaged 92.8 mph while his sinker clocked in at 90.1 mph. In the start against the Orioles referenced above, his fastball was 94.9 mph and his sinker averaged 93.8 mph. Simple math: Duffy’s fastball was two mph less than in his best start of 2014 and his sinker was almost four mph less. This is not good.

(I don’t want to look at Duffy’s seasonal velocity average because it will be skewed by his time in the bullpen.)

Maybe we can dismiss the velocity on his sinker since that’s a pitch he doesn’t use that frequently. Perhaps more notable was his usage of his change-up. In his start on May 17, Duffy mixed 10 change-ups among his 97 pitches. Wednesday, he threw his change once in 83 pitches. Maybe that’s another reason the Astros were banging the ball around the yard. They were sitting fastball and adjusting slider. There was no in-between.

Speaking of his slider, he was throwing that like normal. The break was close to his usual movement, accounting for the fact it was averaging about three mph less than his May 17 outing.

Perhaps more alarming was how Duffy was losing velocity through those 83 pitches. From Brooks Baseball, here’s the ugly velocity chart:

Duffy_Velo528

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compare that to the May 17 game.

Duffy_Velo517

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Duffy always loses a little off his fastball the deeper he goes into the pitch count. But Wednesday’s game was something we haven’t seen in some time. Post-game, it was revealed Duffy was battling a “dead arm.” I suppose that’s possible. It’s fairly common. I just wonder how common for a pitcher who has thrown 35 innings in the season’s first two months to have a dead arm. With eight of those innings coming in relief.

I’m still not sold on Duffy being anymore than rotational filler. But with the uncertainty of Yordano Ventura, the Royals rotation is already stretched. (Yeah, there’s uncertainty around Ventura. Do you believe anything the Royals say when it comes to injuries? How many starters leave a start with elbow pain and are back a week and a half later?) Last I saw, the Royals starter for Ventura’s turn on Saturday was “TBA.” Because there aren’t any palatiable options. Lose Duffy at the same time… Let’s put it this way: The offensive struggles won’t be the only thing we’re discussing.

We’ve been over this before. At four games under .500, the season isn’t lost. But with a corpse-like offense that is showing no signs of a pulse, the season is slipping away. Lose two guys from your rotation and this team becomes a runaway freight elevator heading for the basement.

Long time readers know, one of my favorite things is to quote the Buddy Bell Axiom:

Never say things can’t get worse.

It seems appropriate because we are now talking about a Royals team that has scored a grand total of two runs in two games against the Houston Astros. They have 15 hits in that time. All singles. Their last home run was May 18, 2014. (Yeah, I need to add the year as a qualifier. You never know.)

I don’t usually like to compare sports teams in different leagues. But last night something happened I thought was appropriate. The Royals were at home against the Astros. On the other side of the 435 loop, Sporting KC was at home to New York. Sporting, with their rebranding, new stadium and engaged ownership, are definitely in the ranks of major league sports. As such, both the Royals and Sporting will be spending the summer competing for the entertainment dollar of Kansas City. You can get tickets to Royals games for as low as $7. At Sporting, the cheapest ticket is $32. This makes sense as the Royals will have 81 home dates while Sporting will play a quarter of that at home.

Last night, Sporting drew an announced crowd of 19,221.

The Royals drew 17,862.

Let that sink in for a moment. On a Tuesday night in May, with all things being equal, more Kansas Citians chose to spend more money to attend a soccer game in KCK than a baseball game at The K. You could have walked up to the box office at Kauffman (or logged in to StubHub), bought a ticket for under $10 and basically selected where you sat once you entered your stadium. Or you could have bought a standing room only ticket at Sporting Park and squeezed along a rail behind the north goal.

Spare me your “But soccer sucks” rants. Whether or not you like soccer isn’t relevant to the point.

The point is, the Royals aren’t just losing on the field. They have waged a three decade long war against their fan base. Every time I meet someone in their teens or 20s who is a Royals fan, I ask them, “Why?” Why would you give your fandom to a team who shoves a subpar product in your face and otherwise treats you like the garbage that sticks to the bottom of your shoe? Myself? I’m a lost cause. I was there for the glory and I remember it and I think about how perfect it would be to get back to that level. I guess that makes me kind of dumb. Or hopeless. Or both.

This Royals franchise is at a crossroads. 2014 is the year it was all supposed to come together for Dayton Moore and his Process. And here we are, treading water in the dreaded sea of mediocrity. What is the cost of another failure? Wholesale firings? I’m not necessarily against that (I’ve called for Dayton’s dismissal and I continue to stand behind that. I wrote it, after all) but that likely means another complete rebuild. Or at least a rethinking. That’s probably a good idea, but how long would it take a new regime to affect change? One year? Two years? Do we have the stomach for that? Do we have a choice?

I don’t know anymore. And that makes me sad for the state of baseball in Kansas City.

Last year, we were at a similar point and the Royals went on a second half roll where they at one point won 15 of 20 games and wedged themselves back into contention. Can they do it again for the second consecutive season? Watching the hitters fail at an alarming rate and the pitching regress, I’m skeptical.

But I’ll keep coming back. Yet it increasingly feels like I’m in the minority. And that’s not a good thing for the Royals.

I am a Royals fan.

That’s a rather straightforward declarative statement. Not a surprise, either. This is a Royals blog, after all. On the scale of “shocking development” to “no duh,” it gal

The last 25 years or so (I’ve lost count and really, it’s not all that important) the Royals as a team have presented us with little to be happy about. A nice run of games here or there – That 15-5 run from last year was pretty insane – but largely we are talking about some really dreadful teams. It’s been a struggle finding reasons to watch. Thankfully, there have been some individual performances of quality in the midst of some awful team efforts.

Happy Greinke Day was born in a season where the Royals lost 96 games and had Jose Guillen in the lineup. Horrible team. A great individual season gave us reason to watch at least every fifth day.

The 2011 team had 325 doubles, which was the second highest total in the league. It featured four guys – Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur – who all hit at least 44 two-baggers. They lost 91 games, but the offense could be kind of fun to watch.

Eric Hosmer’s second-half renaissance was equal parts amazing and enjoyable. Even if it wasn’t enough to rescue the Royals from the hole they dug for themselves in May.

Your mileage may vary on the positives above, but the point is, when you’re a fan of a dreadful team, you need to search for those kind of things. You need something to pull you to tune into the game. A favorite player. A good player. A sustained performance of the highest quality. Something. Anything. It’s about finding something fun to watch on an mediocre to poor baseball team.

For me thus far in 2014, it’s been all about Yordano Ventura.

Ventura has been Must-See TV. The fastball, the change and the curve. I can’t wait for every fifth day to roll around so I can watch him start. He isn’t as dominant as early ’09 Greinke, but that electric stuff is so fun to watch. The Royals offense is awful. Their pitching is keeping them around .500. And Ventura is the most entertaining of the bunch.

As I said above, this is just my personal preference. You may like James Shields. Or Greg Holland. Or Wade Davis The Reliever. Any of those (and others) are acceptable. But for me, Ventura has become my favorite Royal.

It was immediately obvious something was wrong with Ventura on Monday. Diminished velocity. Location was all over the place. He just wasn’t right.

This is his confrontation with Dexter Fowler, the third hitter in the game for the Astros. Gameday doesn’t do justice to how badly Ventura missed.

FowlerPA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the saddest image of all, Ventura’s velocity chart from Brooks Baseball:

Ventura_Velo525

 

That decline after around pitch 33. Oh, jeez.

The Royals announced during the game Ventura left with lateral elbow discomfort. He’s going for an MRI on Tuesday. A quick Google says lateral elbow discomfort is basically tennis elbow. Tennis elbow is treated with rest and anti-inflammatory medication. At this point, we can consider this the best case scenario. If the Royals were incorrect in their initial diagnosis (or decided to float a smoke screen) and it’s the medial portion of the elbow… Yeah. We’re all baseball fans. We know what’s happened this year to basically every decent young pitcher. And we’re Royals fans, too. Total doomsday scenario.

I’m reserving my total freak out for when the announcement is made, but let me put it this way: I’m stockpiling like it’s Y2K. You can’t be a Royals fan without a touch of fatalism. What happened to Ventura on Monday is simply another notch on the bedpost of bullshit we have to endure as Royals fans. I’m not going to type the words, but I fear it’s coming. It’s just better to be prepared.

To add insult to injury, the same game Ventura leaves with elbow discomfort, the Astros young phenom George Springer goes 4-4 with five runs scored and a monster jack into the fountains in left. Sometimes, baseball just isn’t fair. Sometimes, it’s three decades of crap.

Nobody said baseball was fair. As Royals fans we’ve become accustomed to abuse. What happened Monday was just cruel. It’s not about Ventura pitching this team to October. He’s good, but he’s not that good. For me, it’s about watching a potentially great pitcher do his thing every fifth day. It’s about looking forward to a game. It’s about electricity. It’s about excitement. It’s about fun.

Hey… Looks like Alex Gordon is warming up.

So the schedule maker got a little freaky. The Royals just finished a seven game west coast swing a couple of weeks ago. Now, they head back to California for three games and a short road trip.

They’re headed to Anaheim, former home of Steve Physioc, Rex Hudler and Jason Vargas. They will face an Angels team that is hot, winners of 18 of their last 30.

This is a pretty complete team. They lead the majors in team WAR and has an offense that ranks among the top of the AL.

Angels_Offense523

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Angels offense is all about Mike Trout. And that Albert Pujols guy is close to being that Albert Pujols guy. And Josh Hamilton is on the disabled list. Basically, this is the team you figured the Angels could be at the start of the season. This is how MLB Depth Charts sees the lineup:

Angels_Lineup523

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course Mike Scoscia would hit one of his lowest OBP guys first. David Freese is struggling and Raul Ibanez is eligible for carbon dating. So, like any lineup there are some holes. But the weapons are pretty powerful. The bench is useful, too.

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The pitching isn’t too shabby, either.

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A few more walks than league average, but sweet strikeout numbers and the xFIP is looking good. This is a team that if they keep their crap together will be in the mix for the postseason. Oh, yeah. The Royals will face their top two starters this weekend.

Angels_Rotation523

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m probably most excited to see the opening game. Just to see how Danny Duffy follows up his last outing that was so great.

Finally, it’s all about the runs. The Royals are hanging around because of their pitching. But you knew that. The Angels? Based on what I’ve shown you above, their run differential is positive and spectacular.

Angels_Runs523

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s going to be a difficult series for the Royals, but one that comes at a good time for this team.

Have a great holiday weekend. Thanks for the warm welcome back. I said in the comments last night, it’s great to see so many familiar names pop up in the last couple of days. There may be a post this weekend, but don’t count on it. We’ll talk to you again on Tuesday.

 

The move had the inevitably of the Sonny Corleone hit, yet the subtlety of that time Jerry bashed Tom over the head with a sledgehammer. Or an axe.. The Royals finally closed their eyes and did what was long overdue. They sent Mike Moustakas to Omaha.

There is much rejoicing amongst Royals fans. Finally. Finally, they are doing the right thing. Maybe this is the opportunity for Moustakas to rebuild his career the same way Alex Gordon and Billy Butler did theirs.

I’m not so sure about that. Three things stand out in my mind. First, while both Gordon and Butler struggled mightily at times early in their careers, neither player hit the depths where Moustakas currently resides. In 2008 when Butler was farmed out, he was hitting .263/.330/.339. Not so much power – just one home run and 11 doubles in 206 plate appearances – but he wasn’t an automatic out. Gordon, who you could argue had his development hampered by injury, was hitting .194/.342/.323 after returning from a thumb fracture suffered in spring training when he was sent down. Again, not an automatic out.

The difference is Moustakas is a career .236/.290/.379 hitter. That covers over 1,600 plate appearances. And he’s getting worse. Going back to the start of 2013 he’s hitting .216/.273/.355. That’s in 653 plate appearances. Gross.

Second, both Gordon and Butler are mentally strong. Gordon is a workout animal and I don’t think Butler has ever doubted his ability to hit the baseball. Yeah, it’s a bummer getting demoted and you never know how anyone will react. Ahead of his demotion, Gordon looked absolutely lost. Like he wanted to be anywhere but the diamond. The demotion and subsequent position change seemed a true last-ditch effort on the part of the team and the player. It doesn’t feel all that dissimilar to what’s happening now with Moustakas. But one thing we’ve learned over time is Gordon works tirelessly at his craft. Butler just seems irritated whenever he doesn’t barrel the ball. He’s always taken a ton of pride from his hitting. (I know I’m going all “body language” on you here, but it goes to mental state. Which is important in a player who has the tools but is struggling.) Fortunately, Gordon and Butler responded.

Will Moustakas? I’m not sure. We know he doesn’t watch video and while I haven’t heard anything negative about his work ethic, I haven’t heard raves either.

And third, Gordon and Butler possessed a more rounded hit tool than Moustakas. Both players were hitters, if that makes sense. Moustakas came through the organization as a power hitting prospect. The projections were always along the line of he won’t give you a high average and the OBP will be on the lower side of acceptable, but he could challenge the Steve Balboni Record. As I showed above, when Butler and Gordon went down, both were contributing offensively by getting on base. Moustakas isn’t contributing at all offensively.

Now what? I assume the Royals gave Moustakas some sort of idea of how long he will be in Triple-A. Now it’s up to him to pull his head out and perform. My reservation is even if he does well in Omaha, it won’t stick. We’ve been down this road before in spring training and Venezuela. He’ll hit great against lesser competition, but when it comes time to put it together in The Show he hits a rough patch and all the good quickly becomes undone. I hope that’s not the case. Because the Royals need a power bat in the lineup. They need Mike Moustakas to reach his potential.

I’m just afraid we’ve already seen his ceiling.

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