Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts in All Star Game

The news came at the bottom of a press release. They way bad news often comes.

The release was titled “Royals Award Luncheon Set for January 11.” It immediately struck me as odd. Because for the last three years, the team has handed out their post season honors at the annual FanFest held in Overland Park. Why would they do it at lunch on a Wednesday?

Then I got to the end…

In addition to the Royals Awards Luncheon, the club will also set out for annual Royals Caravan in January.  Royals FanFest, which debuted in 2008, will not be held in 2012 due to preparations for the upcoming MLB All-Star Game and related festivities, including the MLB All-Star FanFest.  Plans call for the event to return to the Overland Park Convention Center in 2013.

Boom.

Just like that, one of the best events in Kansas City during the winter (quick… name something else that is as well attended over the course of a weekend from December to February. I’m coming up empty.) was cancelled.

The Royals once again lead the league in public relations ignorance.

This is a move that is inept. Incompetent. Insane.

Seriously, how dumb is this? This organization spent the last three years cultivating and rebuilding a fan base where the annual FanFest plays an enormous role. It’s an opportunity for the fans to get up close and personal with the players and staff of the team. I’ve attended every year and have marveled at how accessible Dayton Moore and some of the players have been. It’s great to see. I enjoy rummaging through the game-used gear (I have a Rusty Kuntz game used Negro League cap. Authentic!), the crap they cleaned out from the clubhouse (anyone interested in a locker sign for Luis Mendoza?) and other assorted junk. I’m not a collector or anything, but it’s fun to browse. It’s like the best garage sale in the universe.

Really, FanFest is just a chance to hang out with a bunch of like-minded baseball addicts in the middle of a long, cold winter. I want to be clear about this: I don’t care about the memoribilia, the autographs or the other collectables. I’m always ready for baseball, but when I leave the FanFest, my craving jumps a couple notches… From “I wish it was baseball season,” to “If I don’t have a game to watch, I’m going to go on a tri-state rampage.” I kind of think that’s the point.

GMDM talks about building a “culture of winning.” I believe in that. Losing is contagious and it drags an entire organization down. Moore has done a great job rebuilding the baseball operations. Unfortunately, the business side of the team is still dominated by the Wal-Mart culture that demands every nickel and dime be counted and stretched as far as fiscally possible.

They basically abandoned their biggest and best event of the winter and the excuse for that is the All-Star Game.  Really? Someone needs to help me here because I’m having trouble. How does an event in July have anything to do with an event in January? Yes, they are both technically “FanFests,” but come on… The Royals FanFest is about preparation… It’s about getting pumped for the upcoming season. It’s for Royals fans. The MLB All-Star thingy is a celebration of the game as a whole. It’s about the star power of the entire league. These are two different events.

Yet, somehow the Royals have made it sound like they’re the same. Way to justify your cheapskate ways.

Here’s what I don’t understand: The Royals FanFest has happened for several years now. In other words, the mechanism to pull this event off and make it successful is already in place. They’ve been through this drill before. I could see if they were gearing up for their first one ever, and they needed to direct manpower and resources to the All-Star event, how they could decide to postpone for a year. But at this point, the Royals FanFest should be a drop kick. You have the stages, the layout, the staff… But you decide to stick all this in mothballs because of another event – a different event – that is scheduled for six months later? In what universe does this make sense?  Besides, MLB runs the show at the All-Star weekend. Sure, they’ll rely on the Royals staff for a few things, but by and large, there will be a huge contingent out of the commissioner’s office pulling the strings. Good thing, too. Can you imagine if the Royals were in charge of some of the All-Star events? They’d probably drop the home run derby because baseballs are sooooo expensive. Then they would play the futures game at Community America Ballpark because they would have to pay their grounds crew overtime to get the field ready. There’s cheap. And then there’s the Royals.

Supposedly, FanFest is a money loser for the Royals. Maybe, but can you put a price on going out into the community and developing relationships? Particularly with the younger fans who have never seen your team win? How many extra ticket packages, Blue Crew memberships and gear is bought because of FanFest? If you know me, I’m all about maximizing your profit margins, but this is a one time event that builds excitement and goodwill for your team. If you lose a few bucks in January, there will be plenty of opportunities to make it back down the road. Because that’s how these things work. You sacrifice a dollar today to earn two tomorrow.

I love the Royals, but sometimes their actions are difficult to understand. In the big picture, this isn’t a huge deal. We’ll survive and won’t even think about it once the season starts. But this is a huge PR fail by the Royals, and points to a team that is still cutting corners at the risk of alienating its fanbase. They haven’t learned from past mistakes and remain the Wal-Mart of baseball. Sad.

I thought we were past all this nonsense.

Consistency. It’s probably the most over used and therefore worthless term used in the baseball lexicon. “If only pitcher X could be more consistent, then he’d really be something.” When used, it’s also the most obvious. Yes, if a pitcher could pitch as well as his best game, every game, then he’d be Roy Halladay. Not surprisingly, there’s only one Roy Halladay because pitching, by it’s nature is an inconsistent art. What can happen from time to time is a pitcher will increase the number of games where he is highly effective and also limits the damage when he isn’t. Luke Hochevar last night pitched another example of his “A” stuff and since the All-Star break, he’s been pretty, well, consistent (seriously, I’m not using that word again, starting…….now).

During the All-Star break there was some rumblings about Luke Hochevar making some adjustments that would make him more effective. The rightly-skeptical public greeted this with a believe-it-when-we-see-it mentality. I’ve been calling Hochevar “Big-Inning Luke” for years now, because that’s exactly what he’s produced. He’ll be cruising along, just mowing down batters and then WHAM, five runs in an inning out of nowhere.

The arm-chair Freud’s out there posited that Luke Hochevar was a mental case. Everyone without a better explanation thought it sounded reasonable and so it became accepted. Many people believed and stated out loud that a guy who had pitched his way to a top College program and then into the Major Leagues, was a mentally strong pitcher until he decided to freak out on the mound in front of the same 30,000 fans he’d been pitching in front of for the four previous innings.

I had gone along with this same thinking until I decided to look for more logical and rational reasons for these big-inning collapses. My thoughts ran like this: In order to give up a big inning, you have to allow a lot of base runners. When you allow base runners, you completely change your motion from the wind-up to the stretch. Small adjustments can make a big difference in the effectiveness in the pitcher.  Viola! Luke Hochevar isn’t good at pitching out of the stretch!

Granted, I have as much evidence at this point to prove this hypothesis than those who claim he’s a crazy-person. But when forced to choose between mental issues and mechanical, I’ll go mechanical every single time. So, let’s see if Luke Hochever is worse than the average pitcher with runners on base.

  Empty Men On %Diff
Luke Hochevar .711 .834 17.30
AL Average .704 .731 3.84
Luke Career .716 .873 21.93

So Luke Hochevar is significantly worse with runners on base than he is when they are empty. This doesn’t lead us to a cause, but it does support the hypothesis somewhat. One piece of anecdotal evidence that contributes to my theory is that I’ve seen him on a couple of occasions go to the wind-up when there is a runner on third and no other runners on. That tells me that he’s willing to give up the slight advantage to the runner so he can be more comfortable and possibly effective out of the wind-up. It’s a small sample size but in 2011 with a runner only on 3rd, Luke gives up an OPS of .708. Could mean nothing with only 24 plate appearances, but it’s something to ponder.

Back to the adjusments that were alluded to over the All-Star break. Since that time Luke Hochevar has started five games and posted an ERA of 2.41 with an OPS against of .582. It’s only five games, so it could just be a hot or lucky streak.

Whether Luke Hochever continues to pitch like the top-of-the-rotation starter that the Royals believed him to be is unknown. For now, he’s been effective since the Royals claimed he made an adjustment. Sure, maybe he went on prozac and had an intimate 0ne-on-one conversation with Dr. Laura to cure his mental instability. I think it’s more likely that he improved the way he pitches out of the stretch and has been able to limit the big innings he was known for. Regardless of the fix, the question is whether he’ll be more consistent (damnit).


Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.
Aaron Crow has been a very useful pitcher for the Royals in 2011. True, he blew the game last night against the White Sox by allowing three runs in 1.2 innings and topped it off by balking in the wining run, besides that he’s been the definition of lights-out. He’s been fantastic in the setup role and even owned the closer role for a minute while Joakim Soria was demoted. His season hasn’t gone unnoticed as he was named to the 2011 All-Star team. It’s a great honor for a really good pitcher. It’s also completely asinine.
.
I’m not knocking Aaron Crow. He’s done a marvelous job in the role he’s been given, however that role is a small one. He’s only pitched 41.1 innings, which is less than Felipe Paulino who the Royals acquired at the end of May. He’s appeared in 34 games, which is only 6 more than the rarely used Mitch Maier. Nobody is even considering those two as representatives for the Royals in Arizona and rightfully so. Yet if you look at their fWAR they have as good or better cases than Crow to be the team’s representative.
.
fWAR
Felipe Paulino 1.2
Mitch Maier 0.4
Aaron Crow 0.4
.
The All-Star roster is not created in a vacuum and is rarely representative of the best players of the season up to that point. Often, players are rewarded for popularity, longevity or merely by being a decent player on a terrible team. If the roster were created by selecting the best players at each position in the American League and relief pitchers were considered, then Aaron Crow would be a no-doubter. Unfortunately, that’s not even close to how the rosters are picked.
.
First, there is a fan vote to decide the 9 starting position players. The primary goal of this vote is to market the All-Star game. Get people to care about who makes the team, let them tell you who they want to see and develop a series of sign-posts to remind people that the game is coming up and to keep them voting. Since the game is an exhibition game I have no problem with this process. The biggest problem is that MLB has allowed Fox and ESPN to dictate which teams get the most coverage in exchange for money. The networks obviously choose large-market teams and so their players are over-represented in any kind of fan vote. It’s not the fans who are to blame, it’s the short-sighted decision-makers at MLB who have allowed their brands to be manipulated by other parties.
.
Next, the players, coaches and managers vote for 8 pitchers (five starters and three relievers) and 8 position players. In theory, allowing the people who actually play the game to vote on their peers is a nice inclusion. You’d think that the players would have a pretty good idea who deserves a spot in the All-Star game, but that doesn’t exactly seem to be the case. These players are extremely busy people and often are working when the rest of the teams are playing baseball, since, you know, they are baseball players too. So again, their primary source for learning about players they don’t see regularly is through major media outlets like ESPN. Their approach is typically more nuanced, but again relies primarily on legacy and popularity. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it’s just the way it is.
.
Then the manager of the All-Star team selects 8 players to fill out his roster. This is part politics, part marketing and part trying to actually win the game. At this point, the manager in conjunction with the Commissioner’s office has to make sure that every team is represented and fill needs on the team. It’s the first time in the process that anyone truly considers which player from each team is most deserving of a spot in the game. Meanwhile, the roster as it’s already constructed has 8 pitchers and 17 position players. With the possibility of extra-innings and the brief appearances of pitchers, it’s no surprise that the managers select a lot pitchers. When a team like the Royals needs to get a player on the roster and they have a very good reliever, then it’s an easy decision for the manager.
.
Finally, there is one roster spot left and again the fans get to vote from a small selection of players deemed worthy of inclusion but who weren’t selected in the first three methods of roster creation. It’s actually the first time in the entire process where players are put to a vote who most deserve to be included on the All-Star team for their performance this season. But again, the fans vote on the winner and it boils down to a popularity contest.
.
An almost non-existent part of this process is looking at which players have out-performed their peers and should represent their teams at the game. It seems to be at best a tertiary criteria for selection. So given the way the system works now, Aaron Crow was the obvious selection. However, he’s far from the most valuable player on the team. That distinction belongs to Alex Gordon, who has been the best left-fielder in the American League.
.
Among left fielders in the American League, Alex Gordon is 1st in fWAR, 2nd in wOBA, 1st in OBP, 2nd in SLG. He’s been an excellent defender, an excellent hitter and he’s been doing it for the entire season. He’s been mercifully placed into the Final Vote where he will almost undoubtedly lose to a player from a better team in a larger market. Meanwhile, his teammate who hasn’t come any where near being as productive as he has (nor jerked around near as much), will be representing the Royals at the All-Star game.
.
The worst part of this whole debacle is the fact that for the 4th year in the last 6 there will almost assuredly be no Royals in the box score of the All-Star game. In the modern “it counts now because we can’t have a tie for some reason in an exhibition game” All-Star game, pitchers are left on the bench in case of exta-innings. Barring some extraordinary scenario or a mandate from the Commissioner’s office to ensure every team’s representative makes it into the game, Crow will languish on the bench. That will leave the thousands of Royals fans feeling a bit empty after the game.
.
As fans of one of the worst franchises in sports, we have few moments of pride in our team. The chance to see one of our own on the same field with the superstars is one of them. Watching Soria enter the game and saying “Hey, that’s our guy! Show ‘em what you got!” is a moment of true pride for Royals fans. Watching one of our own take the plate is a fuzzy memory that last took place in the 2004 when Ken Harvey went 0-for-1. The last time we got to stand up in our living rooms and cheer for a Royal getting a hit in the All-Star game was in 1989 when Bo Jackson won the game’s MVP award.
.
I’m a huge fan of Aaron Crow. I’m proud of him for making the All-Star game and I sincerely hope he gets in the game and succeeds. I also hope that somehow Alex Gordon will win the Final Vote and earn his rightful spot amongst the games best players. Regardless, he’s a victim of being a part of a woeful franchise and a terrible selection process. A process, much like baseball itself that is stacked against the Kansas City Royals.
.
It may seem trivial to care which Royal dons the All-Star jersey in Arizona next week, but it’s our team’s one moment to shine in the national spotlight. It’s the one moment where dad’s can nudge their kid and show him that there is a good reason to be a Royals fan. It’s a moment that will likely not come this year and a moment which will mean a bit less as the most deserving player is watching from his home in Kansas City and possibly pondering if he’d have been there if he was on a different team. It’s those thoughts that can combine to form a decision to walk when free agency presents itself. It’s those decisions which perpetuate a downward spiral for a franchise that hasn’t been relevant since the last time a Royal got a hit in the All-Star game 22 years ago.


Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

Episode #056 – In which I discuss Ned Yost’s comments regarding Eric Hosmer and break down the options for the Royals All-Star Game representative. Also, special guest Jon Schieszer stops by to discuss comedy, being a Royals fan in L.A., the Dodgers and his upcoming show in Kansas City.

 

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 


 

Check out Jon Schieszer live in Kansas City

 

Music used in this podcast:

Afro Cuban All Stars – Tumba Palo Cocuye

The Aggrolites – 5 Deadly Venoms

Modest Mouse – Dramamine

 

How to Get the Podcast:

Click here to be taken to the site to download directly.

Subscribe via iTunes

Subscribe via Zune

Subscribe via any other feedreader.

I hope you all enjoyed your Royals off-day yesterday. They’re  much nicer when the team is in sole possession of 2nd place in the American League Central. On days without games my thoughts wander across a multitude of things across the baseball landscape. Since I’m a baseball junkie and a subscriber to MLB.tv, I spend my off-days watching a variety of non-Royals baseball.  I like to look in on what the other AL Central teams are doing and root for them to lose. However even on Royals game-days I tend to end my evenings listening to the soothing sounds of Vin Scully, the announcer for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The term “living legend” seems to get tossed around quite a bit, but rarely is it as appropriate as when discussing Vin Scully. He’s been calling Dodgers games since 1950. Let that sink in for a moment. For a bit of perspective, he was calling the game for the Dodgers when Bobby Thomson hit “the shot heard around the world”. It would be an epic display of hubris if I were to believe that I could sum up the greatness of hearing Vin Scully in a post on this website. It’s something one must hear and experience in it’s raw form to truly enjoy.

My thoughts yesterday also drifted towards the 2012 All Star game which will be held in Kansas City. It’s going to be the biggest sporting event that our fine city will host since the 1988 Final Four. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a spotlight of that magnitude on the city of fountains and it will be remembered for decades.

Fox will be broadcasting the 2012 All-Star game which means they will probably trot out their pairing of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver to do the announcing duties. That duo has called every All-Star game since 2001 and before that they called the game in 1999, 1997, 1991 and 1990. If you’re counting at home, that’s 15 times including 2011. They are a duo which has become synonymous with big baseball events, but only out of sheer repetition.

The All-Star game should be voiced by All-Star caliber announcers. Too many fans never got to hear Ernie Harwell or Harry Kalas call a game before they passed away. Few fans outside of Kansas City have ever heard Denny Matthews ply his trade. Giving them the spotlight for one night where fans around the country tune in would be a fitting tribute.

So I want to launch a campaign today here on this blog. I want Vin Scully to call the 2012 All-Star game. Every fan in baseball should get the privilege of hearing Vin Scully’s voice accompanying a baseball game without having to shell out the money it takes to subscribe to MLB.tv or MLB Extra Innings. The summer classic deserves a voice worthy of the event.

I know that it’s likely an impossible task and the possibility of it actually coming to fruition is nearly non-existent, but hey it’s worth a shot, right? That one guy got Betty White to host Saturday Night Live. Maybe we can even get really crazy and have Denny Matthews and Vin Scully in the booth together. An epic pairing of  Hall-of-Fame announcers presiding over a field with future Hall-of-Fame players.

Even though I may be tilting at windmills, I’ve created a facebook page that you can “like” and I’ve started using the Twitter hashtag #vinfor2012. If you’re so inclined, maybe our voices can be heard in enough numbers to give Vin Scully the recognition he deserves and let the millions of baseball fans across the world get one night of the greatest voice in baseball describing a game that we all will be watching.

Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

It’s the All-Star break, so forgive me if I take a moment to do an article on something a little bit more general. Besides, I’d kind of like to wipe the taste of that White Sox series out of my mouth for a moment. There is plenty of time remaining in the season to talk more Royals.

Last night was the Home Run Derby and David Ortiz won. Some of you watched and some of you didn’t (Craig said he wasn’t going to watch, but I still don’t believe him). The derby is something that gets a lot of criticism, and honestly most of it is deserved. But like almost everything other than the speed of light, it’s relative.

Let me step back for a moment. The All Star game and all of the related activities such as the Home Run Derby and the Futures Game are played at Angels Stadium this year, so there has been lots of looking back at the last game played there in 1989. That game was memorable for Royals fans because Bo Jackson hit a towering shot in the first at bat for the American League and was named MVP. In 1989 I was 10 years old, so I was basically in my prime for baseball worship and that was one of the highlights of my entire Royals fandom. Honestly, it still is. Yeah, I was at the 1985 World Series, but I didn’t really get what was going on, heck I barely remember it. The Royals have never been in a playoff game since then, so highlights (as you all know) have been hard to come by. Last night Bo threw out the first pitch and I thought to myself “Wow, how cool would it have been if they had the Home Run Derby when Bo was playing?” Think about that, it would have been spectacular particularly to any young Royals fan.

Back to the relative nature of the Home Run Derby. If you are like me, you read all kinds of baseball articles and blog posts. I read articles from Padres beat writers, Rockies bloggers, Tigers fans, prospect watchers, satirists, historians, stat gurus, geniuses, writers I loathe, writers I respect and every other angle that one can possibly fathom. I always felt that I had an amazing cross section of baseball opinions represented, until last night. With all of the unique voices writing about the game today, nobody captures that of the 10 year old fan. And THAT is who the Home Run Derby is for.

I remember as a young kid watching re-runs of that old home run derby show from the 50’s on ESPN and l loved it. I remember wishing that I could see the great power hitters of that day like Will Clark, Andre Dawson and Bo Jackson do the same thing. Going back and watching that old show now just doesn’t seem that great. Like the current home run derby, it’s kind of boring with little nuance, strategy or the million other things that make a real baseball game great. But most 10 year olds don’t really appreciate nuance and strategy and the subtleties of the game the way someone can with a couple of decades more experience. That’s why we don’t let them drink, drive or get married.

Just imagine what a blog post from a 10 year old fan regarding the Home Run Derby would be like: (I wish I knew a 10 year old, I would have absolutely let him/her write this part):

OH MAN! Did you see the Home Run Derby last night?!? Big Papi hit a ton of home runs and they went far. That was so awesome. Hanley Ramirez, that guy from the Marlins smashed huge home runs off of the rocks and stuff out in center field. It was soo cool. Oh, and did you see that one ball hit the camera guys and those kids falling all over the place trying to catch the balls? I totally could have caught those balls. Oh yeah, and that guy with the beard, that was sweet.*

*I apologize if I am not giving enough credit to the writing abilities of a 10 year old. It’s been awhile since I have been one and don’t exactly recall my writing skills at that point.

Just imagine how great you would have thought it was at that age. And quite frankly, in the eyes of Major League Baseball, aren’t they the most important fans? Not just in a Saturday Evening Post, aww-shucks-do-it-for-the-kids kind of way, but because they are future customers. Hooking a 10 year old on baseball is as lucrative as it gets. They are the fans who will have a lasting memory of this Home Run Derby, or tonights All Star game. I think sometimes we get too caught up in what would make an event most pleasurable for us, without thinking of the thousands and thousands of younger fans.

So while the complaints regarding the Home Run Derby are all valid, it’s because we are looking at it through the lens of adulthood and comparing it to the actual game of baseball, which is foolish. If the Home Run Derby were as good as or better than an actual game of baseball wouldn’t we just play that instead?  Sometimes it is easier than others, but especially with regards to the All Star Game festivities, we could probably all just harken back a little bit to when we were 10 year old fans.  I think we might have a new appreciation for some of this stuff.