Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

This is happening, isn’t it?

A quick recap of my most recent emotional roller coaster:

— At the All-Star Break, I wrote the Royals needed to make a move in the first 13 games of the second half.

— The Royals went 7-6 in those games and lost ground in the Wild Card chase.

— I wrote the Royals should sell.

— Dayton Moore made me angry when he didn’t.

— The Royals have won four of their five games in August. That’s 11-3 in their last 14.

— They currently stand 3.5 games behind Detroit in the Central and just a half game back of the Blue Jays. They are solidly in second place in both races. There are no teams to leapfrog. They’re not in pole position, but they’re pretty damn close.

This season. This team. Bananas.

The patented Ned Yost Baseballing Formula worked on Wednesday. Get six innings from your starter. One or two big hits. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland. Chalk up a win.

The hero was Mike Moustakas. A two-run home run, a run-scoring single and a run-scoring fielders choice. The guy drove in all four runs. When he hits free agency, the dude needs to make sure the Diamondbacks are bidding. MoustakAZ is clearly the king of Arizona. The guy crushes in Surprise every March and that’s just carried over to the desert in August.

His home run plate appearance was interesting. Josh Collmenter started him with three pitches away. He came down Main Street on 3-0 and MoustakAZ swung. This drives me crazy and I’m sure I’m not alone. MoustakAZ has seen 27 3-0 counts this season and has swung four times. I know, I know… It’s not a lot. But still. Exactly what has he done to deserve the option to swing 3-0? He doesn’t have a base hit in that situation, missing (or fouling off the pitch) twice and making a pair of outs. Please, just stop. I don’t care if it’s Collmenter offering an 84 mph cutter. You’ll still have a favorable hitting count 3-1.

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 12.06.18 AM

Speaking of 3-1, the next pitch was down, but MoustakAZ dropped the barrel and whacked it out of the park on a line drive. A flawed process with a good final swing that was rewarded with two runs. It’s the Royals. It’s how they roll.

Yordano Ventura threw fire, wasn’t exactly sharp, but managed to whiff seven and routinely get out of trouble. And that’s all the Royals ask of their starters these days. The bullpen was a touch wobbly, but they were able to hang on and power through. Hey, you’re not always going to get nine consecutive outs from the Big Three. You just ask for those outs as rapid as possible, please. And thank you very much for allowing just the single run.

So we’re at this point in the season. I don’t know when the last time was the Royals were this close in mid-August. I want to go “all in” with the club, but I’ve seen too much and been burned far too often. I do know this… What I said last month is still valid. All the teams in the Wild Card hunt have some serious flaws. The winner will be the team that doesn’t necessarily overcome those flaw, but it will be the team that is able to gloss over them effectively over the last seven weeks of the season. The Royals have as good a chance as any team to grab that second Wild Card. Are the Blue Jays, Yankees, Mariners, and Indians appreciably better? Does any one of the five teams in the mix have a marked advantage over the other four. The answer to both of those questions is, “I don’t think so.”

I guess it’s time to soak it all in. Yeah, we can get hurt all over again. But that pain subsided for me a long time ago. Another season without October? Yeah, I can deal with that. Because I’ve dealt with that for almost three decades. Missing out on a potentially joyous ride of my adult life with a baseball team I’ve pulled for for almost 40 years? That’s not happening. I’m here. You’re here. Let’s do this together.

Royals baseball, man.

1B/DH ∙ 1974—76

Tolia “Tony” Solaita (so-LEE-tah) blazed a unique trail to the majors: He is the only MLB player born in the tiny territory of American Samoa, located midway between Australia and Hawaii. There was no baseball being played on the island when Solaita was growing up, but he loved to play cricket. That passion switched to baseball at the age of eight after the family moved to Hawaii. He is also unusual on my top 100 Royals list as a Rule 5 draft acquisition (Joakim Soria is the only other).

The Yankees had signed him way back in 1965 but only gave him one MLB plate appearance for the next nine years while he toiled in the minors. Jack McKeon took a liking to Solaita when he managed him in the minors before McKeon shifted to the Royals system in 1968, and told Solaita the Royals would take him in the 1968 expansion draft. But the Yankees ended up protecting Solaita, and he remained buried in the minors. The Royals, with McKeon now the big league manager, finally got their chance five years later and selected Solaita in the Rule 5 draft in the winter of ’73-’74.

Solaita stuck with the Royals for the next two and a half years, but he still had a hard time getting regular playing time with John Mayberry, Hal McRae, and Harmon Killebrew holding down first base and DH duties much of that time. Solaita took full advantage when given a chance, and nearly matched the great Mayberry and McRae at the plate. He started off 1974 with a homer in the fifth game, and just kept hitting whenever he was sent up there. A couple of injuries suffered by Mayberry allowed Solaita to play first base in 65 games (DHing and pinch-hitting tacked on 15 more). He possessed the perfect combo of taking walks plus hitting for power.

It is easy to see in retrospect that the Royals made a mistake signing an over the hill Killebrew to DH in 1975 instead of just handing the job to Solaita. “I think I can play every day and hit up here,” Solaita said. “I know I can.”[i] The way he crushed the ball in 1975, he should have been given the chance. But the afterglow of Killebrew’s great career was too bright, and the Royals ended up giving Killebrew the bulk of the time at DH while Solaita hit circles around him in fewer chances. Hitting 16 homers in just 275 PAs gave Solaita the best home run rate in the AL. One of them was a massive 550 foot blast in Tiger Stadium, and three of them came in a single game, which was the first time anyone did that at Anaheim Stadium.[ii] He ended up getting just the 12th most plate appearances for the team in 1975 but the fifth most runs created. McKeon, Solaita’s biggest booster, was replaced mid-season by Whitey Herzog.

Solaita remained on the team at the beginning of’76, but continued to have a hard time cracking the lineup with Mayberry at first and McRae reinstated as the usual DH. The roster crunch finally caught up with him in July and the Angels claimed him on waivers. Few Royals players have produced as much given so little opportunity. Solaita’s unique baseball life took him to California, Montreal, Toronto, Japan, and then back to American Samoa to grow the game in his homeland. His life ended tragically and early, but his dream of bringing baseball to Samoa was realized. Kids there today play little league on Tony Solaita Field.

Read Rory Costello’s broader biography of Solaita here.

[i] Del Black, “Born to Cricket, Tony Now Loud Royal Chirper,” The Sporting News, June 7, 1975.

[ii] Rory Costello, Tony Solaita, http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/86186fe8

Dayton Moore is laughing at us.

Blasted for doing nothing at the trade deadline.  Lampooned for discovering that Eric Hosmer had a broken bone just hours after the deadline. Chided for carrying a three man bench.  Winners of two of three against one of the best teams in the league.  Go figure, man, go figure.

While I would not say the Royals played great baseball this past weekend, they played good enough to not waste two outstanding pitching performances.  That is really the recipe for this team: get good pitching and cobble together just enough quality at-bats (they are few and far between with this lineup) to get the game to the back end of the bullpen.  Can they do that enough to overtake Toronto for the second wild-card spot?  I’m skeptical, but we’ll have to give them credit for taking two of three on the road from a team that is really, really good.

Some random thoughts:

  • For the thirteenth time this year, James Shields pitched seven innings or more and also for the thirteenth time  this season he allowed two runs or less in a start.  Yes, we all miss Wil Myers and we all know how good Jake Odorizzi has been of late, but perhaps we can maybe not make fun of Shields’ nickname every time he gives up a two-run homer?   You can lay all the blame for The Trade on The Process Master and do it all day long, but let’s give James Shields credit for being exactly what the Royals thought they were getting.
  • I can barely tolerate a seven man bullpen, much less EIGHT.  Yet, the Royals – fed by Ned Yost’s absolute hysteria about overusing relievers – carried eight pitchers in the pen through the weekend and might continue to do so for the coming week.  After all, you the world would probably stop spinning if you lost Scott Downs, Francisely Bueno or Bruce Chen to a waiver claim.
  • Of course, the flipside to the above is who should the Royals actually call up?  There are roster implications to be sure, but perhaps the overriding factor is the ‘who’.  Justin Maxwell has been up and down and out and in and up and down with one constant:  he never hits like you think he should.  Francisco Pena?  Intriguing.  Matt Fields?  A feel good story. Whit Merrifield? Versatile.  Johnny Giavotella?  Okay, just stop it.  Let’s face it, can’t you just feel a Ryan Howard acquisition coming?
  • With regard to the above, the Royals have called many of the names in mentioned ‘org guys’.  I know what that means, but what does it mean? Aren’t the ‘org guys’ who you turn to for a few spot starts when you’re regulars are hurt?  Almost unquestionably none of the org guys are long-term solutions, but they might give you a good week or two (remember ‘org guy’ Aaron Guiel?) or maybe even a BABIP-fairy fueled great half-season (remember ‘org guy’ Mike Aviles?).  A team that is batting Eric Kratz, Mike Moustakas and AARP member Raul Ibanez in the six hole can probably take a flyer on someone against a lefty starter.

The Royals relax in Arizona today before starting a three game set against a not very good Diamondbacks team.  They return home for seven against the Giants and A’s before finishing off the month with 12 of their next 16 against Minnesota, Colorado and Texas.  You can do the math on that:  hold your own over the next ten games and then do damage against a soft schedule.

I think it is okay to be excited about the playoff race and simultaneously disgusted by 80% of what this organization does (or doesn’t) do. That’s pretty much what following the Royals is all about.

 

 

 

CF ∙ 2011

melky

Heading into 2011, Dayton Moore signed a pair of 26 year-old outfielders coming off down years, buying low on what he hoped would be bounce-back seasons. Jeff Francoeur was the new right fielder, and Melky Cabrera the new center fielder. Cabrera reportedly was promised a starting role to entice him to sign (a promise the Royals kept despite getting Lorenzo Cain by trade a few days after signing Melky). 2011 was Alex Gordon’s first full season in left field, so it was a brand new look all over the outer garden. Cabrera’s peak so far had been some average-ish seasons with the Yankees, so really a bounce-back year would just mean returning to decency. Even Moore’s expectations were modest: “We just feel like he’s capable of playing more at that .270, .280 level and getting 10 to 15 home runs and playing solid defense.”[i]

Things started off on the right foot when Cabrera went 3-for-4 with a walk and a stolen base on Opening Day. In the fifth game, he had a walk-off hit, then another a few weeks later. The hits just kept coming. There was a grand salami in late July, and a career day in Denver when he collected a HBP, single, double, two homers, and five RBI. The switch-hitter had more than bounced back, he had suddenly become a well above average player. Gordon too had a breakout year, and Francoeur regained some of his form. The trio put together quite a year, perhaps the third best for a Royals outfield (behind the Damon-Beltran-Dye years of 1999 and 2000). All three hit at least 40 doubles, the only outfield in MLB history to pull that trick.

Cabrera was approaching the 200 hit plateau by the end of the year, and manager Ned Yost played him until he got numbers 200 and 201 before shutting Cabrera down for the team’s last couple games. Cabrera joined a short list of Royals players to knock 200 in a season (George Brett, Willie Wilson, Kevin Seitzer, Mike Sweeney, and Johnny Damon are the only others). The team’s hitting coach, Kevin Seitzer, was impressed with Cabrera’s season: “A great year, phenomenal. A most consistent hitter all season. He’s just been diligent, disciplined. His work ethic every day has been the same.”[ii]

Cabrera was still under club control for 2012 as an arbitration eligible player. But with Lorenzo Cain coming up, the Royals traded from a position of strength and sent Cabrera packing to San Francisco in an attempt to bolster their pitching by getting Jonathan Sanchez in return. Sanchez was a spectacular bust in KC while Melky kept right on tearing the cover off the ball in 2012—until he was suspended for performance enhancing drug use. That leaves open the question of how clean his 2011 season for the Royals was, but regardless, he did put together one surprisingly stellar year for the club.

[i] Dick Kaegel, “Royals sign Melky, proclaim him center fielder,” http://kansascity.royals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20101209&content_id=16289356&vkey=news_kc&c_id=kc, December 10, 2010.

[ii] Dick Kaegel and Adam Holt, “Melky hustles to reach 200-hit plateau,” http://kansascity.royals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20110926&content_id=25229176&notebook_id=25239182&vkey=notebook_kc&c_id=kc, September 27, 2011.

The trade deadline passed with the Royals engaged as bystanders. They stood by as teams surrounding them decided to become buyers (Yankees, Mariners) or sellers (Indians, Rays).

In the aftermath, Dayton Moore gave a press conference. I enjoy the heck out of these. Equal parts paranoia and defensiveness, it’s breathtaking to watch.

Here are a few choice quotes:

We gotta concentrate on who the players are and who we are and not necessarily what the payroll is. It’s always a factor. I can’t speak for anyone else, but you see some of the players that went today and there’s money exchanged for a reason. There are certain players available to certain teams for a reason. It’s just the way it works.

The first part of that statement is just kind of gobbledygook. It just makes no sense to me. I’ve replayed it a number of times and it just sounds like a guy who has no answers trying to give an answer. And failing.

The second part makes a little more sense, but still comes off as defensive. Although Dayton then played the small market card.

There’s an economic analysis taking place with every player. We’re not going to apologize for our market and what we can and can’t do. But there are certainly limitations.

I love that. “Hey, I’m not going to use this as an excuse, but… It’s the reason why nothing happened.” Hilarious. Singing the small market blues again.

The Oakland A’s Opening Day payroll was $82 million. They own the best offense in the AL. They play in a stadium that leaks raw sewage into the dugout. They own the best record in baseball. They recently traded for Jeff Samardzija. And on Thursday, they acquired Jon Lester.

I’m sure there are limitations in Oakland. Yet somehow, they don’t use those as an excuse. In fact, I’m not even certain they acknowledge them. They work around them.

Go a little further. Remember how Moore has always said because of our market, the majority of the Royals lineup needs to be homegrown? How it’s the only way we can succeed?

Here’s Oakland’s lineup from MLB Depth Charts and how each player was acquired:

Coco Crisp – FA
John Jaso – Trade
Josh Donaldson – Trade
Brandon Moss – FA
Stephen Vogt – Trade
Derek Norris – Trade
Jed Lowrie – Trade
Josh Reddick – Trade
Eric Sogard – Trade

And their rotation:

Jeff Samardzija – Trade
Sonny Gray – Draft
Jon Lester – Trade
Scott Kazmir – Trade
Jason Hammel – Trade

The contrast between a successful GM and Dayton Moore is obvious. Billy Beane sees his players as assets he can use as an opportunity to improve his team. Dayton Moore seems to fall in love with his players. Somehow, in eight plus years as the general manager of a major league baseball team, Moore has made what I would classify as two big trades. The first was the Zack Greinke deal. The second was the Wil Myers trade. Billy Beane made two big trades this month. It’s criminal how long Dayton Moore holds on to his assets. Granted, he hasn’t had many “big” players to build “big” trades around, but he’s been loathe to move prospects as well. (Myers being the lone notable prospect.) There have been so many trades for bullpen parts and replacement level infielders, it makes the head spin.

What we have is a general manager who is, for whatever reason, gun shy to make an impactful deal. Just add it to the list of reasons for him to be removed from his position as General Manager.

There’s a lot of teams that would love to have some of our pitching in the rotation. But at the end of the day, where are you going to get that pitching back?

Ahh… To me this is the smoking gun. We are over eight years with Dayton Moore in charge and here he is telling us the minor league cupboard is bare. There is no pitching depth. There is no one in the minors ready to take a shot at the big leagues. The Omaha rotation has featured Aaron Brooks, Brett Tomko and Sugar Ray Marimon. John Lamb has had some good outings lately, but he’s not ready. Somehow, this part of The Process has gone completely off the rails. Pitching is the currency of baseball. How the hell did this happen?

We added Vargas, we added Infante, we added Aoki. We felt like we made some nice additions to our bullpen here this season already with some veteran guys. I feel like we improved upon our team. It’s important our current group of players produce and I believe we will.

I was waiting for this comment. The insistence the Royals have already done so much to improve their team. If you want to revisit the offseason, I’ll agree with Moore. Infante was a clear upgrade over the Getz parade at second. We thought Aoki was going to be decent in right. (We all were wrong.) And I think Vargas is realizing his upside as a serviceable rotation replacement for Ervin Santana.

Except we’re not talking about what the Royals did last winter. Every team made moves last winter. That’s what happens in baseball’s offseason. We are talking about what the Royals failed to do Thursday.

It’s a comment that reeks of failure. Which makes it the perfect Dayton Moore comment.

The second part is the same tired song and dance. The whole “our guys will improve” schtick. Please. Quit insulting the intelligence of your fanbase. Own up to the fact that maybe these guys you scouted, drafted, and signed aren’t as good as you thought they would be. Make some moves to rectify the situation. Maybe you’re “selling low” on a guy like Hosmer, but if this is the real Hosmer, you’re not going to get much anyway. Same for Moustakas. Package a few guys together who still have an upside with a commodity from your bullpen. Do something to improve your team. Do something.

This team isn’t much different from last year’s club. Last year, the Royals won 86 games. This year, they are three games over .500. We have seen this collection play for over 260 games. They are a slightly better than .500 team. That’s not good enough to get into the playoffs. And if you’re in that situation you either find a way to fill the holes on your team or you sell off your best assets in an attempt to rebuild and make another run next year.

That’s not Dayton Moore’s style. His style is to stand pat, safe in the knowledge another season hovering around the .500 mark will buy him some more time as a major league general manager. All the while other teams are aggressively either improving their teams or positioning themselves for a rebuild.

Not the Royals. The Royals continue to tread water in a sea of mediocrity.

The trade deadline just came and went. Guys like Lester, Lackey and Price were dealt. So were the likes of Denorfia and Drew and Austin Jackson and Allen Craig. Young guys like Cosart and Marisnik and Smyly, too.

The Royals? Not involved. Not interested. No upgrades necessary.

If one player or even two, as some speculated, would not be enough to get Kansas City in the playoffs in the final year of James Shields’ tenure as a Royal, then the organization needed to sell and make sure next year’s team would not be another 83 win ballclub.

Nope.

Just hope. Everyone will get better.

“Guys are what they are. You’re not going to say ‘OK, take more pitches.’ That doesn’t work. They play their game. Nights like tonight, when a guy’s on his game, you’re going to get what we got tonight.”

Ned Yost as quoted in the Kansas City Star.

I got Vine, specifically for Ned’s soundbites. Embedded in a Tweet here.

It’s an interesting comment from Yost. Born of frustration, most certainly, after being force-fed another abysmal offensive performance on Tuesday against the Minnesota Twins. Five hits through nine (with two of those leading off the ninth) and a 2-1 scoreline that made it look closer than it actually was. The Royals were never in this game.

At the All-Star Break, I wrote this was a crucial stretch for the Royals if they harbored any true hopes of October baseball. We are 11 games into a 13 game stretch. The Royals are 5-6. They have lost a game and a half in the Wild Card standings, but more importantly, they have been passed by the Yankees and the Blue Jays and still trail the Mariners. And don’t look now, but the Rays, counted out a couple of months ago, are streaking and are just a single game behind the Royals.

I said I’d give them 13 games, but the returns through 11 aren’t encouraging. The Royals are scuffling to stay at .500 both in this stretch and in the season. We’re over 100 games into 2014. As Ned would say, this is who they are. They are going to land somewhere between 79 and 83 wins. They are not going to make the playoffs. The offense won’t allow it.

Which brings me back to Yost’s comment from last night. Pretty damning, isn’t it? A public acknowledgement that his team doesn’t know how to work the count and doesn’t know how to have what you would consider to be a professional at bat. And while we can certainly be outraged (or any other emotion) about how this team performs, this lack of discipline isn’t on Yost. It’s on the architect of the team. The guy charged with assembling a coherent 25-man roster. This is Dayton Moore’s fault.

Look at Kyle Gibson’s strike zone plot from last night.

Gibson_Plot

Find the cluster of dark red in the lower left. Look at the dark red and the off yellow in the lower right. See the dark red and the blue in the upper left. All pitches outside of the strike zone. All swung at by inept Royal batters. Of Gibson’s 95 pitches, I count 26 out of the strike zone that the Royals couldn’t resist. That’s an undisciplined team.

And we know what happens when they make contact: Singles. Lots and lots of singles. No walks, no power, and a plethora of singles leads you to score an average of 3.97 runs per game. Well below the league average of 4.24 runs per game. This offense doesn’t stink. It’s rancid.

But as Yost said, they are who they are. In a simple post-game comment, Yost gave us more evidence (as if we needed any more) that Dayton Moore isn’t fit to assemble a major league roster.

The Royals traded Danny Valencia on Monday to the Toronto Blue Jays. In exchange, they received minor leaguers Liam Hendriks and Erik Kratz.

I know with the trade deadline approaching, there’s been a ton of talk about the Royals being either “buyers” or “sellers.” This ignores the more obvious middle ground of the “stand paters.” Or the “standing pats.” While this trade is technically a transaction, this has a “stand pat” kind of vibe.

Since this seems to be the case, let’s look at a few ramifications of this trade:

– The Royals just made a trade with a team two games ahead of them in the Wild Card standings.

Forget for a moment there are other teams between the Royals and the Jays for the final Wild Card spot. Why on Earth would you help a rival for a postseason position. I know all GMs say the right things. They want each team to come out of a trade looking good. Win-win and all that. That’s understandable when a club sends a player to another league, or when a selling team at the deadline trades off major league assets for a couple of prospects. But why if the team you’re allegedly chasing in the standings needs a right-handed bat, would you provide said bat for them? Especially on who hits .333/.369/.510 against southpaws for his career? (Valencia is hitting a robust .354/.386/.492 against lefties this season.) I just don’t get it.

– Valencia has a… reputation.

There are a certain subset of major league players who have – let’s call it delusions – as to their value and skill. Valencia has always chafed at the “lefty masher” tag and has insisted he can clobber all pitchers. The stats say otherwise. Yet that hasn’t stopped him from jockeying for increased playing time. Not that I blame the guy. He’s a competitor. But when you see yourself one way and your bosses see you in a different light, that can be a little awkward. And word is, Valencia isn’t the greatest guy to be around sometimes.

We know the Royals pay lip service to the culture of the clubhouse, which kind of made his acquisition a little strange last winter. Maybe he finally wore out his welcome in Kansas City.

– The Royals officially believe in Mike Moustakas.

I didn’t know where to place this. Good? Or bad? Depends on your perspective, I suppose. The Royals will tell you he’s been great since his exile in Omaha, hitting a team high nine home runs since the first of June. The other numbers don’t paint as nice of a picture. Since his return to the bigs, Moustakas is hitting .231/.292/.449. Yes, that’s better than when he was shipped out. But let’s face it, if that’s how we’re judging Moose, you can’t set the bar any lower.

Moustakas has been a streaky hitter throughout his career. He also has power potential. I don’t think what we’ve seen over the last two months signals a rebirth or even a hot streak. Look at those numbers above again. This is probably who Moustakas is going forward. That means he needs a platoon partner. That the Royals are gambling on Moustakas being “fixed” or whatever, seems misguided.

But the Royals do seem to give certain players in their organization a lot of rope.

– Christian Colon breaks free from the shackles of Omaha.

Colon is hitting .307/.361/.430 for the Storm Chasers and has seen his extra base hit totals spike over the last month or so of action. The former fourth overall draft pick will never live up to the status that comes with that selection, but he can be a useful part on a team that lacks depth on the infield. He can play second, third, and short (along with some outfield) which gives the Royals some desired versatility. Also, at the major league minimum salary, he’s as affordable as they come.

I’ve always said that Dayton Moore struggles with roster math – the art of assembling a coherent 25-man roster. In other words, I’m not surprised the Royals have had what looks to be a decent option in the minors to fill the utility infield void. It seems like Colon should have been up a long time ago.

– Pitching remains the currency of baseball.

Two years ago, Hendriks was rated as the Twins seventh-best prospect by Baseball America.

“His fastball sits at 86-92 mph and peaks at 94. He uses both two- and four-seamers, complementing his sinker with a solid slider. When he’s in rhythm, Hendriks peppers the bottom of the zone and commands his fastball to his arm side, allowing him to induce weak contact with his slider and above-average changeup on the other side of the plate… He has an outside chance of becoming a No. 3 starter.”

A year later, Hendriks was claimed off the Twins by the Cubs, who then lost him to a claim by the Orioles, who then had him claimed by the Jays. That’s three waiver claims in three months for a former prospect. He’s thrown 169 major league innings with a 6.06 ERA and 5.38 FIP. Hendriks has had success this season in Triple-A, posting a 2.33 ERA and 2.52 FIP. He also has a ground ball rate of around 50 percent with a 22 percent whiff rate. Very solid numbers for Triple-A. Is it possible he’s figured things out? He had similar success before in Triple-A, back in 2012.

But we do know how the Royals have taken fringe starters and found value from them in the bullpen.

– Kratz is a backup catcher.

Hence the release of Brett Hayes. I dunno. This seems like a shuffling of deck chairs. Kratz has some power potential that Hayes lacks, but really… We’re talking about Salvador Perez’s backup. It’s not like the guy is going to play all that much.

Final thoughts

It’s a trade that really elicits a shrug of the shoulders, except I can’t get over the fact the Royals got a pair of role players for someone who will fill a hole in the lineup for a team whom they are competing against for a playoff spot. I wonder if the Royals checked the standings before making the trade.

RHP ∙ 2007—10

banny

Brian Bannister came to the Royals in a trade with the Mets in the ’06—’07 off-season. He was excited about the trade mostly because he went from a crowded staff in New York to a great shot at a spot in the rotation in KC. He also had a soft spot for the Royals after living in KC and watching his dad Floyd pitch for them in 1988 and ’89. Back when the Royals switched to natural grass at Kauffman Stadium, the Bannisters shipped some of the old turf to their Phoenix home. “So my backyard was left field from Kauffman that Bo played on,” Bannister has said. “I was destined to be a Royal.”[i]

A relatively soft tosser, Bannister the younger had to get by on smarts and command. According to him, “I really had like an A ball or AA arm, but I pushed myself to be the best I could be and to learn the game as much as possible and to push my performance up to a big league level.”[ii] He started 2007 in Omaha, but was in the big league rotation after just a few weeks. Relying mostly on a cut fastball plus a curve and change, 2007 turned out to be a charmed rookie season. Bannister both threw well and was smiled on by the baseball gods. His K-rate, batting average against on balls in play (BABIP), and home runs per fly ball suggested that he was fortunate to post a low ERA, and he was, but only in addition to being legitimately good. He was twice recognized as the AL rookie of the month and finished third in rookie of the year voting.

The amazing thing about Bannister is that he realized and understood that he was partly lucky in ’07. For a player, Bannister was unusually aware of and interested in sabermetrics, and was candid about using them to try to improve his performance. In a Q&A on the Royals official website, he explained relatively advanced concepts like BABIP and why he believes pitchers should focus on the things they can control like walks, strikeouts, and homers.[iii] He likened himself to Bill James with a 90 MPH fastball.[iv] How many pitchers enter a season with the expectation of giving up more hits? His plan going into ’08 was to “work on missing some more bats to counteract the more hits I’m going to give up. And I want to walk fewer guys.”[v] He was successful in slightly increasing his strikeouts, but the walks, homers, and BABIP also went up, and the season was semi-disastrous. It’s almost as though his ’07 and ’08 seasons were made to be lessons in the vagaries of things like BABIP, home runs per fly ball, and sequencing. On the surface, Bannister went from excellent to scrub in those seasons. But if you wipe out some noise, his combination of strikeouts, walks, and ground ball rate was actually slightly better in ’08.

Still, the results were not there, and he started 2009 in Omaha. But he was back in the big league rotation quickly, and for his first 20 starts, Bannister finally put it all together. The fielder independent numbers and the results were fantastic. The biggest change seems to have been mixing in an effective change more often. He threw seven spotless innings in Tampa in his 20th start of the year, but woke up the next morning with a burning pain in his shoulder, unable to raise his right hand above the shoulder. He stayed in the rotation for six more starts, all of them disastrous, the cut gone from his cutter. When the shoulder was examined, the doctors discovered a major tear in his rotator cuff. They told him it needed surgery that would require a two-year rehab with very little chance of ever coming back. So he opted not to have the surgery, instead hoping he could rehab his way back.

The Royals gave him a chance to keep pitching in 2010, but the damage to his shoulder was too much, and he usually got lit up. He did somehow manage to mix in a few excellent starts, including six shutout innings in Washington to spoil Stephen Strasburg’s debut. But the injury forced him out of the majors after that season. It is touching to hear Bannister’s passion for the game and how hard it was for him to have to walk away in this highly recommended interview he did with Dave O at Clubhouse Conversation. After some time away, he is diving back into the game in various ways, including cheering on the Royals with the rest of us nerds on Twitter.

[i] Brian Bannister, https://twitter.com/RealBanny/status/458364028268462080, April 21, 2014.

[ii] Brian Bannister, http://clubhouseconversation.com/2014/04/brian-bannister/, 2014.

[iii] Brian Bannister, “In Focus With Brian Bannister,” http://kansascity.royals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080604&content_id=2837801&vkey=news_kc&fext=.jsp&c_id=kc, June 4, 2008.

[iv] Rustin Dodd, “For Bannister, the secret is in the numbers,” http://kansascity.royals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20090806&content_id=6279440&vkey=news_kc&fext=.jsp&c_id=kc, August 7, 2009.

[v] Dick Kaegel, “Bannister has game plan heading into ’08,” http://kansascity.royals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080329&content_id=2464560&vkey=news_kc&fext=.jsp&c_id=kc, March 29, 2008.

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