Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

What can we say about Bruce Chen?

The guy is simply a freak of nature.

Yeah, the Twins offense is dreadful (except on Monday when it was pretty good) but whenever a starter puts up a line like this…

7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 SO

You’re thrilled.

Chen threw 88 pitches and 62 of them were strikes. He was cruising.

And they were largely low stress innings. The Twins put a couple of runners on second, but both reached there with two down – a double by Dozier and a single and a steal by Mastroianni.

I was surprised Yosty didn’t send him back out for the eighth inning. At only 88 pitches and with Chen being a low effort kind of guy (not exactly a flamethrower who runs out of gas) and with those low stress innings, it seemed like an opportune time. Save Greg Holland for another night and let Chen go eight before turning it over to the ninth inning guy.

Shows you what I know when Holland comes on and simply punches out the side.

Nice.

– The Royals gave their free baserunning out away early in this one when Alex Gordon was picked off first in following his first inning walk.

– Chen evened the ledger when he scored a pickoff of his own. Looked extremely close to a balk to me where the lefty isn’t allowed to bring his right leg past the pitching rubber, but it wasn’t called so good enough. Dozier was going on movement, so nice job by Chen to get the ball to first to start the out.

– The Royals seemingly had an opportunity to tack on an insurance run in the eighth when Gordon laced a one out double. Although he was the giver of the Royals Free Out on the bases in the first with his pickoff/caught stealing (that’s how it’s scored) I can’t hang a baserunning blunder on A1 in this situation. The ball was sharply hit, Gordon was going on contact when he saw it wasn’t hit to the left side of the infield, took two steps and was caught in a proverbial no man’s land. Maybe the proper play was to freeze until you saw the ball get by the pitcher, but I’m betting Gordon was thinking about getting a good jump so he could score on a single up the middle. With one out and Butler up, maybe he should have played it safe, thinking Butler could at least get him home with a fly ball. Dunno.

– The Jonathan Broxton highwire act came on in the ninth. Really, the only true scoring opportunity for the Twins all night came in the ninth inning. Antacid time. A double and a walk with one out and he gets a pair of fly balls to end the game. The Dyson grab was a little unnerving. He hasn’t exactly inspired confidence out there when asked to run far to make a grab.

Whew.

– The Royals now have three wins on the homestand. More importantly, they are still on track to win six of their nine games against the A’s, Twins and Pirates.

– Speaking of Pirates, with the glory of interleague the Royals will be forced to play Eric Hosmer in right, slide Jeff Francoeur to center in order to keep Butler’s bat in the lineup at first.

Seriously, with an interleague game scheduled every day of the season next year with the Astros moving to the AL, it’s time to put the DH in the National League. It’s laughable that the Royals construct their team the way they do and then are told they can’t use it in that fashion.

Fix it, Bud.

The Royals did two very important things yesterday, they selected Kyle Zimmer as their 1st pick in the draft and they exposed Ned Yost as almost certainly unworthy to manage this, or any Major League team.

Let’s start with the newest of Royals: Kyle Zimmer. First I think it would be cool to call him Kyle “The Don” Zimmer. It works for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s the mascot of the University of San Francisoco where he played. Second, it sounds like Don Zimmer the pre-historic but culturally relevant baseball player, manager and bench-coach. When it comes to analysis this is really all I’ve got. I’ve never seen him pitch and can’t pretend I have a scouting report. Instead, I’ll present you with a couple of videos for you to peruse:

 

The Royals say that he was the top pitcher on their board. I can’t exactly believe them because they would say that and should say that about anyone they get at this position. The bottom line is that the draft is a risk, pitchers are a bigger risk, but they are essential to winning games. We’ll watch his development and hope he becomes a front line starter.

While the front-office was working the draft room, the soldiers and their leader Ned Yost took the field in contest against the Twins of Minnesota.  The Twins took an early lead and going to the bottom of the 4th were up by a score of 4-1. It was at this point that the Twins and Royals had a Judge Reinhold – Fred Savage moment where their bodies seemed to switch.

The Royals hit a couple of singles, the Twins looked like they had never fielded a ball before and then the young stud Mike Moustakas blasts a two-run double. Still no outs. Then Francoeur and Hosmer reach on astonishing errors by the Twins the last of which allows Mike Moustakas to score.

Tie game.

No outs.

Opposing pitcher on the ropes.

Warm, run-scoring wind blowing.

Third most effective hitter this season at bat, followed by two of the worst.

Ned Yost thinks to himself and calls out for a

BUNT!

Escobar gives up a free out, the next two batters strike out and the Royals lose.

I need to preface this by saying that I’ve rarely been critical of Ned Yost. I don’t always agree with him, but overall I’ve been pretty pleased by what he does. But that decision was one of the worst decisions I’ve seen a Royal manager make. It was astounding in it’s ineptitude. There is absolutely no good reason to help the Twins in that situation. None.

Time and time again it’s shown that the one precious commodity in a game are outs. They are to be preserved and hoarded. Regardless of what the past-worshiping, numbers-hating, critical thinking deprived folks tell you, that was a horrendous decision by Ned Yost. If on some magical planet I were the General Manager, I’d tell Ned Yost that if he does that again he’s fired. If he objects he’s gone that day.

This mistake isn’t just about screwing his team over for one single game. It’s about an inability to understand some basic truths about baseball and a refusal to understand core concepts of strategy. The way teams did things in 1903 is not correct and the fact that they did it in the 1950′s is not proof to the contrary.

A manager of a winning baseball team needs to be able to motivate his players and deal with multimillionaire 20 somethings with giant egos. But he also needs to be aware of the latest research and understanding of the business he is in. This is true of all managers, not just of the baseball variety. Sure, maybe it was cool to call a female colleague “toots” in the 1950′s, but that is not acceptable now and it’s something that can get you fired. In baseball it’s something celebrated and I’m at a loss as to why.

It’s time for Ned Yost to make some changes, to get up-t0-date and to help this team win games. He needs to get out of the way and allow baseball players to make baseball plays. The game does not need his interference, this isn’t the brain-washed National League where some fans believe that watching a manager make decisions is interesting. We’re here to see baseball, let it happen.

- Nick Scott

Just like last year, the 2012 draft was turned upside down. In 2011, it was the Mariners selecting a starting pitcher with the second overall pick. This time, it was the Astros passing on a starting pitcher.

By the time the Royals were on the clock, two college arms they thought to have targeted remained on the draft board – Kyle Zimmer and Mark Appel.

Appel was the one generally thought to be the top selection overall, so it looked as though the Royals struck gold… Yet they selected Zimmer. The Royals say he was their top pitcher in the draft all along. So if that’s the case, good for them.

Surely some of this has to do with Appel, his agent (Scott Boras) and his demands. Under the new rules, the Royals have a total budget of $6.1 million for their selections in the top 10 rounds. That includes $3.5 million budgeted for the fifth overall pick. Had Appel been selected number one overall, the Astros have $7.2 million to spend. Or $1.1 million more for that pick than the Royals have for the entire first 10 picks. Do you think a Boras client will happily accept $3.7 million less? Don’t think so.

(Appel went to the Pirates who have a total draft budget of $6.5 million and $2.9 slotted for their top pick. Good luck, Pittsburgh.)

Anyway, congrats to Lonnie Goldberg and the Royals scouting department, who got the arm they coveted. Under the new rules he should be signed by July and hopefully the Royals will have him start his professional career later this summer.

Game on.

Probably before the Royals take the field on Monday night, almost certainly by the time they have lit up the Twins for three runs in the bottom of the first, Kansas City fans will know who the next big prospect in their system will be.   It is nothing new for the Royals picking early in round one, but not much else about the 2012 Draft is familiar.

Gone are the recommended slots from the commissioner’s office with the only penalty for not adhering to them was a mean look from Bud Selig.   In their place comes a prescribed bonus pool for each team’s picks in the first ten rounds.   The penalty for exceeding them by even just five percent is a punitive tax and the spectre of the loss of draft picks in future drafts.   Personally, I think this is probably a bad development for the Royals, but no one really knows how this new system will play out.

What we do know is that Kansas City has a total of $6.1 million to spread across Rounds 1 through 10, during which time the Royals have ten picks.  While the Royals first round pick is assigned a value of $3.5 million, they can spend as much or as little of their total allotment of $6.1 million as they want on that pick.  

There are two kickers to this process.   First, if a team does not sign one of their picks in the first ten rounds, the value of that pick goes away and cannot be used on another.  If the Royals are unable to sign their 8th round pick, as was the case last year with Evan Beal, the $139,000 assigned to that pick is deducted from the allotted total of $6.1 million.   In addition, any bonus in excess of $100,000 given to any pick from Round 11 on counts against the first ten round allotment.   There will be no more $750,000 signing bonuses to a 16th round pick like Kansas City did last year to sign Jack Lopez away from his college commitment.

For the first couple of years of this new system, I think teams will be focused a great deal on the signability of a player at or near the value assigned to that pick.   One never knows exactly how a system works and hence, how to work said system, until one actually sees it in action.   Until the teams figure out the nuances of this, or Scott Boras figures it out for them, my guess is the picks are going to sign right around the value assigned or not at all.   Three times in the Dayton Moore era players picked by the Royals in the first ten rounds have not signed, it will be interesting to see if that number increases.

It will also be interesting to see if drafting of college seniors with no leverage who will sign for $1,000 returns.  The Royals got Mike Aviles that way, but not a lot else.  However, if you want to sign this year’s Wil Myers (and no, I have no idea who that is) it may require using your round eight through ten picks on guys who will sign for next to nothing.   Again, I’m not a fan of the new system, but don’t really know enough to hate it, either.  I know a Jack Lopez is likely playing shortstop for the University of Miami this spring instead of being in the Royals’ system if the 2011 Draft had been subject to the new agreement.   Good for college baseball, I suppose.

The big plus of the new system is the signing deadline is in mid-July instead of mid-August.   That means that we will get to see almost every signed draftee play at some level yet this year.   Going back to 2011, that would mean Bubba Starling (if he had signed, which may have been unlikely) would already have a half season of rookie ball under his belt and likely two months in Kane County by now instead of still playing instructional ball in Arizona.   Starling is not a great example, because he probably slides even further in the draft based on signability and ends up playing football instead.

Anyway, ifs, buts, candies and nuts.   How about the players?

It is no secret that the Royals are looking at advanced starting pitching.  It’s a slippery slope when teams start drafting for need over talent, but in this case the need and the talent might coincide nicely.  Greg Schaum at Pine Tar Press, Baseball America, and many others spend much more time actually watching and analyzing these guys than me, but with three good college right handers near the top of the board, the Royals would seem to be in nice shape to take a talented player at a position of great need with the number five pick.

The options are Mark Appel of Stanford (who is likely to go either first or second), Kevin Gausman of LSU and Kyle Zimmer of San Francisco.    All three throw hard, sitting in the mid-90s and touching higher with their fastballs.   Appel follows up with a slider and developing changeup.  Gausman brings along a good changeup and two seam fastball,  and offers both a curve and slider with mixed results.   Zimmer, who became a full-time pitcher just last year, couples his fastball with a hammer curve and developing changeup.

Any of you who follow the draft at all have read more in-depth analysis of these three.   Of the three, particularly knowing that Appel is likely to be gone by number five, I prefer Kyle Zimmer.   John Manuel of Baseball America compared him to Jesse Foppert, which is both good and bad.   Foppert, just a year after being drafted, was ranked as the top prospect in the Pacific Coast League and was in the majors a year and one half after signing.    For those keeping score at home, a similar path would put Zimmer in the majors by Opening Day of 2014.   Now, Foppert’s story does not have a happy ending, as he went under the knife and never made it back from Tommy John surgery, but therein lies the hazard of drafting pitchers.

Now, anything can happen and we only have to look back to last summer when the Royals, hell bent on taking the best of what was left of five talented arms, saw them all go in a row and ended up with Bubba Starling.  It seems unlikely that Appel, Gausman and Zimmer will all be gone before Kansas City picks, but it is possible.    Should that happen, the organization will be faced with taking an arm that is, at least in some circles, thought to be a step down from the three mentioned above (Max Fried, Lance McCullers Jr. and Marcus Stroman are among names that have come up) or seize on one of the three top position players in the draft.

Those three are high school outfielder Byron Buxton (who it would seem almost impossible that he will still be there), Florida catcher Mike Zunino and Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa.   All three are excellent prospects, but all three reside in positions of non-pressing need for the Royals.   Here is your slippery slope, folks, do you start sliding because your major league rotation is problematical at best and your minor league pitching prospects have not come along as quickly as expected?

Is there a play to get a pitcher at five, who might sign for less than the value of that slot and use the extra money to get talent with some signability issues later on round two or three?  There is some logic to that approach, but it is risky as well.

How the Royals, and the rest of baseball, manage this new era of drafting will be almost as interesting as who Dayton Moore and his braintrust actually end up selecting on Monday night.

xxx

The Royals return to The K where they look to build on their league worst 5-17 home record. Just about the most bizarre split I can remember since Brian Bannister dominated the day. In 22 home games, they’ve allowed 122 runs, or 5.5 per game. In 27 road games, they’ve allowed 97 runs, or 3.6 per game.

They’re scoring more on the road (4.3/g vs 3.8) but the spread isn’t as extreme. As always, it’s all about the pitching.

A couple of notes following an off day where we popped the champagne on a winning record in May…

Decisions, Decisions

The Royals will be looking to make a couple of decisions with their 25-man roster in the coming days. Both Yuniesky Betancourt and Jonathan Sanchez are rehabbing in Omaha and look close to being activated.

For Sanchez, there’s no question… He’ll be slotted into the rotation as soon as humanly possible. Not because he’s anything great, but because he’s making $5.6 million and the Royals are still desperate for starting pitching. Like ugly girl in a bar at 2 am desperate. Neither scenario is something worth waking up to in the morning.

Sanchez threw 5.2 innings (of course he did) and struck out five while walking one in his first rehab start. He’s likely to get one more start before rejoining the team. Sanchez’s return still leaves the Royals with just four “definites” in the starting rotation: Chen, Hochevar, Paulino and Sanchez… That means your option for the fifth starter is either Will Smith, Luis Mendoza or Vin Mazzaro. Or they can add another starter from the minors.

Either way, this rotation is a hot mess.

Yosty seemed to be keeping his options wide open when he said Sanchez will “probably” make one more rehab start. If he stays in Omaha, it looks like Mazzaro will get the start on Sunday.

I’m not sure either option is a good one.

Then there’s Betancourt. He has progressed to Omaha after a brief stint in Northwest Arkansas and went 2-4 with a home run in his lone appearance for the Storm Chasers. According to Ned Yost, he could be activated this weekend.

This is where things will get interesting.

Do the Royals keep Johnny Giavotella with the big club? Or do they ship Irving Falu back to Triple-A? Since the Royals have need eight pitchers in the bullpen, they have a three man bench. It’s possible they ship a pitcher out and keep all three, but that seems really unlikely. In my heart, I’d like them to keep Giavotella and just let him play second. Yeah, he’s unimpressive with the glove, but just give him a couple of months and see what the kid can do. Betancourt isn’t a long-term solution. (God help us all if the Royals seem him that way.) Neither is Falu. Is Gio? Maybe… Maybe not. But while we’re certain about the futures of the other two players, the jury is still out on Giavotella. At least it should be.

I’d keep Falu, too. He has proven his value as a utility player. And he could provide the Royals with a late inning defensive replacement for Gio.

Of course, I never would have signed The Yunigma is the first place. So maybe I’m biased. Biased against bad ballplayers.

We’ve covered this topic at length. And after all the bandwidth we’ve filled, I still haven’t a clue as to what the Royals will do. I know what I hope they’ll do. This situation is beginning to feel like Christmas morning when I was 10… Full of hope and anticipation, but ultimately a day of disappointment when I opened a gift from Radio Shack.

Numbers

The Royals have used 20 pitchers through the first two months of the season. Nine of them have started a game. By comparison, last year the Royals used 23 pitchers and 10 starters.

Here are the top five teams ranked by bullpen innings:

Royals – 190
Orioles – 174.2
Twins – 172.1
Rockies – 165.2
Brewers – 163.1

It’s a damn good thing this bullpen is a strength of the team. Their collective 3.13 ERA is tied for the seventh best mark in baseball. Right now, if you asked me to name the Royals Pitcher of the Year, I would vote for “Bullpen.” Quantity and quality.

A1 Back On Top

According to Dutton’s notes column, Alex Gordon feels like the leadoff spot in the lineup is a “fit.” That’s cool. I don’t think lineup position matters at all, but I do understand that some players have a certain approach and state of mind when it comes to hitting leadoff. Hey, if Gordon is able to focus a little better because he’s feeling it in the leadoff spot… More power to him.

In the last four games since Yosty returned him to the top spot, A1 has added 10 points to his average and eight points to his OBP.

Works for me.

Winning The Month

About that winning month of May. The Royals finished two games above .500 at 15-13 despite scoring and allowing the exact number of runs. The offense crossed the plate 117 times while the pitchers surrendered the same amount. We don’t need an advanced degree in sabermetrics to know that the Royals Pythag record in May was 14-14.

Their overall Pythagorean record stands at 22-27, just a game off their actual record of 21-28. Remember during their losing streak how they were something like five games off their Pythag record? Over the course of a long season, these things have a way of finding a balance.

Time To Win

The Royals next six home games are against Minnesota and Oakland. You can’t find two worse run scoring offenses in the American League. (They follow this homestand with three against the Pirates. Their offense is dreadful. Like deadball era bad.) This is a chance to pick up some wins. Success will be defined as six wins in their next nine, including four out of six on the homestand.

I’m still not a believer in contention. I am a believer in development. And development, like contention, means winning ballgames. This is a real chance for the Royals to inch closer back to the ever elusive .500 mark. If they’re going to make a move at any time this season, it has to be over the next week and a half.

Play ball.

With a 6-3 win over Cleveland yesterday, the Kansas City Royals completed a quite successful 5-4 road trip.   That is five out of nine against the then leaders of both the AL East and Central divisions, plus the New York Yankees.   That’s five out of nine after starting out the trip by losing three of the first four games and going through a five game stretch where the Royals scored only 15 total runs.

Frankly, if prior to the start of the trip, I told you the following would happen, what would you have pegged the nine game record to be?

  • The Royals would commit 12 errors
  • Starting pitchers would go five innings or less in five of the games.
  • Opposing baserunners would steal 14 bases in 15 attempts

I don’t know, 2-7 probably?

Instead the Royals, whose 16-11 road record trails only that of the division leading Orioles, White Sox and Rangers, came home a happy 5-4.  Oh yeah, five wins on this road trip is equal to the number of home wins the Royals have compiled ALL year.  This team is anything but boring.

This road trip really underscores that you don’t need to play perfect to play decent baseball.  The Royals are not going to go on any fifteen game winning streaks playing like they did the past week and a half, but when they make the plays at the right time, they can slowly climb back to .500….despite themselves.

Yesterday, the Royals got only five marginally effective innings out of Bruce Chen.  They were picked off twice, while Cleveland ran wild on the bases.  Kansas City bailed a befuddled and disgruntled Jennmar Gomez out of trouble when Johnny Giavotella was picked off first base with Billy Butler at the plate.   Later in the game, after rookie Scott Barnes loaded the bases on two walks and a hit batter, Jeff Francoeur bailed him out of trouble by popping out on the FIRST pitch he saw.   And, let’s not even get into what Jonathan Broxton did in the ninth.

The day before the Royals committed three errors behind rookie Will Smith (who also walked the first two batters of the game) and the team still cruised to an 8-2 win.   On Sunday in Baltimore, Luke Hochevar did not make it out of the fifth, but the Royals still won 4-2 and the day before that, Felipe Paulino walked five in five innings and the Royals won that game, too.   A team doesn’t have to be perfect to play winning baseball.  In the Royals case, on the road at least, they don’t have to even come close to perfect.  

Over the last thirty games – basically a fifth of a baseball season – the Kansas City Royals are 16-14.   They have done so with a starting rotation so jumbled that the occupants of  both the fourth and fifth starter slots are almost always in a state of flux.  Although the lineup and, more particularly, the batting order has recently settled down, but for most of those thirty games it has been a roulette wheel every night.   Let’s put it another way, the best two starting pitching performances of the road trip were turned in by two guys who did not make the rotation out of spring training and the biggest hit in yesterday’s game came from a player who was sent out to the minors with two weeks left in spring camp.

This is not the Royals team most of thought we would have in 2012.  No one, no matter how correctly skeptical of the rotation, envisioned this team being 5-17 at home.   Of course, this Royals team is not ’5-17 bad’.   The very basic whims of the baseball gods means the Royals are due for some good luck at home, it not actually destined to, you know, play better baseball on their own field.

The White Sox, by virtue of an 8 game winning streak, have surged to the lead in the Central with a 29-22 record.  However, they don’t really strike one as a team that is going to play .560 baseball all year.  I could be wrong – it’s been known to happen – but the longer the Tigers flounder about the more it seems like the Central Division is in play for whichever mediocre team wants to back into it.

The Royals have begun to see signs of life, or at least signs of better luck, from Eric Hosmer.   Alex Gordon has started to get on base again and Mike Moustakas is emerging as a middle of the order impact bat.    Is Salvador Perez as savior?  Not sure, but I like him in the Royals lineup way more than Brayan Pena or Humberto Quintero and that is going to happen before the end of June.  

While the Royals don’t really know what they have in Lorenzo Cain and likely won’t find out for at least another month, I still believe he is an upgrade in centerfield.  Could Wil Myers find a place by mid-summer?  How about Jake Odorizzi?  What if Will Smith pitches another strong outing this weekend? 

At the end of that awful 12 game losing streak, most of us had this season as being effectively over.   Times have changed.   The Royals don’t need to be perfect to win baseball games.   The season is far from over.

xxx

 

 

Last Friday, I went around the infield and looked at how the Royals offensive production at each position compared to league average. Today, it’s time for the outfield (and DH) to get the similar treatment.

Left Field
League Average – .243/.320/.412
Royals – .230/.324/.364, sOPS+ 85

Alex Gordon’s numbers look very much like the ’09-’10 version of Alex Gordon. That’s the version we thought we’d left behind. At least, we had hoped that version had been left behind after the Royals penned him to a contract extension just ahead of the season opener.

If you’re into arbitrary end points, Gordon did have a fine stretch of 19 games where he hit .321/.398/.487 from April 25 to May 16. That was when we collectively exhaled. Great. Except in the 11 games since then, he’s hit .146/.255/.220.

Although Gordon won’t admit it, I wonder if he’s been unsettled by Yosty’s Revolving Lineup Card. Gordon opened the year as the leadoff hitter (where he had most of his success last year), but when he was slow out of the gate, he was dropped to second, then third, then cleanup and even spent a few games in the sixth spot. In the last three games, he’s returned to the leadoff spot and has picked up four hits in 13 plate appearances. There’s still time for him to salvage his season, but it’s been much more of a grind.

Center Field
League Average – .268/.333/.432
Royals – .236/.312/.322, sOPS+ 70

Aside from the DH spot, the most productive position in the American League so far this year has been center field. And it’s where the Royals have struggled to get any production at all. Jerrod Dyson has seen the most appearances in center, with Mitch Maier with the second most. Lorenzo Cain and Jason Bourgeois have also seen time at the position.

Dyson’s production has been solid as far as reaching base. With a .252/.328/.331 line, he’s proven himself adept at working the count and drawing the base on balls. He still doesn’t hit enough to justify the leadoff spot in the lineup, but like I said… He’s pretty close to league average when it comes to OBP. That makes him a decent fourth outfielder to have on your roster. Look out, Mitch.

Still, this feels like a lost season for Cain. He was supposed to get most of the reps in center, but the injury bug bit him hard. Cain is in extended spring training rehabbing from a torn hip flexor. He’s probably a good three to four weeks away from returning. At which time, the Royals will have a decision to make: Will they hand him back his everyday job in center, or will they write off this season and rotate him with Dyson and/or Maier? Maier is buried so far on Yosty’s bench, he could be the odd man out.

Oh… At this point, I’m supposed to ask, “Got Melk?”

Right Field
League Average – .258/.326/.434
Royals – .276/.320/.443, sOPS+ 96

We know from watching the Royals several certainties: Ned Yost will call for myriad sac bunts in situations where they won’t help his team. The Royals will give the opposition at least one free out per game. And Jeff Francoeur will hit fifth.

Like most of the Royals, The Frenchman got off to a slow start, but picked up the pace of late. In May, he’s hit .327/.371/.582. Most impressive have been his seven walks this month. Currently, he’s walking in 6.2 percent of his plate appearances, which is the highest rate of his career. I think it has something to do with the Mayans. Or a Kardashian. And with five home runs this month, he’s knocking one out of the yard about every 36 at bats, which is very close to his career mark of 32 AB/HR. And this for a guy who didn’t hit his first bomb until May 13 and didn’t hit his second until May 21.

Nice road trip.

Designated Hitter
League Average – .259/.333/.450
Royals – .290/.345/.505, sOPS+ 118

The Royals have utilized two designated hitters all year: Billy Butler and… Johnny Giavotella. Ummm, OK.

We all know about Country Breakfast. And long time readers will know about my affection for the man. Dude can rake. And he’s the only thing – the only thing – that you can count on in the Royals lineup. He will show up every year, drill line drives to the gaps and put up a line around .300/.370/.470.

Except this year, he’s hit a few more home runs.

The party line from the Royals is Butler is finally hitting for more loft. Sounds great, except he’s not. His fly ball percentage is 32.2 percent which is the lowest of his career. The lowest. Yet, the ball is flying out of the part and he’s become the number one threat to wipe Steve Balboni from the Royals record book. How? Maybe it’s because he’s stronger. It doesn’t look like he’s changed his approach as the Royals would like you to believe. He’s swinging at pitches at roughly the same rate. It’s just that the fly balls have a little more charge in them this year.

It’s a nice development.

And as I Tweeted a few weeks ago, if you don’t like Billy Butler, I don’t have a lot of time for you. Sorry. I think he’s a great hitter. And the kind of guy you need on your team.

Country Breakfast is awesome.

As the heat begins to descend upon the Paris of the Plains, so does baseball begin to trickle from the lips. Conversations around grills and between sips of Boulevard beer drift towards the Boys in Blue.

“How about that Moustakas?”

“Hosmer will come around. I’m not worried”

“We really need some starting pitching”

“Luke Hochevar is just terrible”

Some variation of that last comment is typically thrown around while heads nod in agreement. Depending on my willingness to disagree with the person, which is directly proportional to the amount of alcohol imbibed, I’ll retort. Because while on occasion, Luke Hochevar has an epically disastrous outing, he is not in fact That Bad.

Just last week, I crowned Felipe Paulino the Ace of the staff. However, if you look at his numbers they aren’t a far cry from those of Luke Hochevar. Paulino strikes out 9.9 batters every 9 innings while Hochevar whiffs 7.4. Paulino clearly has his number here, but he also is superior to every other American League starter not named Max Scherzer.* Hochevar’s rate is just below Jared Weaver’s and just above Josh Beckett’s. It’s a very respectable strikeout rate.

* Former member of the recently crowned Big 12 baseball Champions, natch.

The yin to the strikeout’s yang is of course the dreaded base on balls. Paulino gives out 3.5 free bases every 9 innings compared to just 3.1 for Hochevar. These rates are not as highly ranked as their respective strikeout rates, but they aren’t completely dreadful. Hochevar this time nestles between Hiroki Kuroda and Max Scherzer. It seems walks are always an issue with the Royals, and while there is improvement needed, it’s not a huge issue with Luke Hochevar.

So he has pretty good numbers of two of the Three True Outcomes, and his runs given up are poor, so it must be what’s left: home runs. Once again, lets start with staff ace Paulino. He allows 0.9 home runs per 9 innings, while Hochevar surrenders 0.7. Once again he tops Paulino in an important statistical category. In fact Hochevar ranks 9th in the American League in home runs given up per 9 innings. The list of pitchers in the top 10 is like a who’s who of starting pitching: Lowe, Millwood, Sale, Verlander, Hammel, Wilson, Weaver, Price, Hochevar and Hernandez. I know, right?

In three important categories, Hochevar is very similar to Felipe Paulino and other quality starting pitchers. However, under his name on gigantic outdoor LCD screens everywhere, is plastered his ERA of 6.19 which is good for 2nd worst in the American League. It’s this number which gets people angry at Luke and suggest he be kicked out of the rotation in favor of…well I honestly don’t know who.

The thing about Luke Hochever, and this won’t be a surprise to anyone, is that he gives up a bunch of runs in a single inning. He has taken the disaster inning to a new artistic height. Everyone in the ballpark knows it’s going to happen, yet we’re glued to the game to find out how. I’ve been calling him “Big Inning Luke” for a couple of years now. It’s just his thing. Some people point to it being mental, whatever that means. But it doesn’t seem like it’s something that’s going to go away any time soon.

The question though, is how much does it really matter? If Hochevar goes out and implodes every few games and surrenders 9 runs, but then pitch as a well-above average starting pitcher the rest of the time, is that acceptable? It kind of seems like it is to me. Runs don’t carry over to the next game, so if Hochevar gives up 29 runs in the 4th inning of a game on Tuesday, it has no impact on the game that Sunday. It certainly mars his ERA and his adoration by fans, but so?

Anyone spending their Tuesday looking at this blog already knows that what Hochevar seems to have a very special knack for is surrendering lots of runs. Championships aren’t given out to the team with the most strikeouts or fewest walks. It’s the runs that matter. They can be deceiving however when used to rate a pitcher. Once the ball leaves his hand, the game is out of his control. Poor defense, bad luck, a small ballpark, these are situations the pitcher cannot control. What a pitcher can control are his strikeouts, walks and home runs. Those are called the Three True Outcomes. In those, Luke Hochevar is a good pitcher.

The question as to whether he can survive giving up as many runs as he does, well only time will tell. The bottom line is that he isn’t just another Kyle Davies. A pitcher who had stuff, but no results. Hochevar has some good results, but they’re disguised by some abhorrent results. He still unfairly carries the baggage as a Number One Overall Draft Pick, however he got paid a lot of money for the burden.

Each Hochevar start at the very least is going to provide entertainment and drama. Everytime a couple of batters get on base with soft singles, every one watching begins to think “Is this the Big Inning?” It’s like watching an episode of the Walking Dead, the scary moment is always just around the corner and even when it doesn’t come you get that thrill of expectation. So while Hochever might not be the best pitcher on the team, he’s surely the most entertaining.

 

- Nick Scott

I’m told this weekend is the unofficial start to summer. It appears it’s also the unofficial point where a third of the baseball season is past. Strange dichotomy, that.

Seems as though now is as good a time as any to check some league wide numbers and see how the Royals are comparing offensively. I’m looking at slash stats and dropping in sOPS+ for the numbers. Just a rough measuring stick of how the Royals are getting production out of their infield positions when looking at the scope of the entire league.

Catcher
League AVG – .239/.310/.389
Royals – .244/.274/.359, s OPS+ 76

Brayan Pena and Humberto Quintero have combined for 15 doubles, tied for the top number in the AL. They’ve also combined for a single home run. Believe it or not, that’s not the worst in the league. Thanks to the Oakland A’s.

It’s also worth noting that Pena and Quintero have drawn just six walks between them. But they’ve only struck out 18 times. I suppose if we were going to make a blanket statement here it would be Royals catchers make contact. It’s not good contact, but it’s contact.

First Base
League AVG – .242/.317/.406
Royals – .203/.279/.360, sOPS+ 72

The Royals slash line would be worse if not for Country Breakfast who has collected 13 plate appearances while spelling the struggling Eric Hosmer. In that limited action, Butler has hit .400/.538/.800, which is enough to add 14 points to the collective batting average and 19 points to the OBP.

Second Base
League AVG – .245/.311/.372
Royals – .272/.318/.380, sOPS+ 102

There you have it… No clue how this is happening, but it is. The first four weeks of the season, Betancourt was taking walks and Getz actually hit a couple of doubles. Since then, the Yunigma has hit the DL and Getz started struggling before he took his turn on the sidelines.

And then Irving Falu comes up and starts hitting like he’s the second coming of Joe Morgan. OK then. I’m going to assume that Falu comes back to Earth (or Omaha) and Betancourt is close to a return and there’s no way he can keep his current slash line at .289/.347/.422. Still, a nice opening to the season from a position thought to be an offensive black hole.

Worth noting I suppose that in 13 plate appearances as a second baseman, Johnny GIavotella has yet to collect a base hit.

Shortstop
League AVG – .256/.313/.369
Royals – .310/.347/.437, sOPS+ 132

When I’m writing about shortstops, I’m writing about Alcides Escobar. He’s played every game but one at short. And his offensive production has been nothing short of phenomenal. His 13 doubles are second best among AL shortstops and is sOPS+ (which represents his OPS+ when compared to all shortstops) is the third best behind only Derek Jeter and Asdrubal Cabrera.

And he’s doing this while playing his usual exceptional defense. Sadly, his UZR isn’t reflecting that. (Am I crazy? I haven’t noticed him getting to fewer balls this year. Or an otherwise general malaise in his glove work. Really strange.) Otherwise, he’s probably be pushing Mike Moustakas for the team lead in fWAR. As it is, he’s second at 1.1 fWAR.

Third Base
League AVG – .254/.311/.406
Royals – .288/.337/.497, sOPS+ 130

Moooooooose.

At this point, he’s you’re Royals All-Star. Hopefully he’ll keep it going through June. The Royals need someone like Moustakas representing the team. Better him than a middle reliever.

He powers the Royals third basemen to a sOPS + that is fourth best among AL hot corners. The teams they trail: Tampa (Evan Longoria), New York (A-Rod), Detroit (Miguel Cabrera). Yeah, that’s pretty solid.

I’ll check back in next week with a look at the outfield and DH. Have a great (long) weekend.

I have to admit, I was nervous the first time I went to New York.   All I had to do was get off a plane, get in a car driven by someone else and go to a meeting with four other people.  I imagine, Will Smith, whose first trip ever to New York included pitching to the Yankees might not have been on top of his game. 

Will Smith is not a prospect, that’s the primary reason he was on the mound instead of someone else last night, but he is also not the next Eduardo Villacis either: even if the results of their major league debuts in Yankee Stadium were freakishly similar.  The Royals will give Smith another shot next week and that may give us a better indication of what Will brings to the table.

Last night was simply not Kansas City’s night.   The Yankees batted around in one inning despite getting just one hit and that was a bunt single.   Think about that for a minute.   The Royals also failed to mount much offense despite being gifted, be it by lackadaisical Yankee defense or the kind heart of the baseball gods, at least five soft hits.   Eric Hosmer, whose three hits combined probably don’t reach the centerfield wall, rightly believes the baseball gods owed him, but in the end it all added up to just three runs.

The 2012 Kansas City Royals were not built to score three runs and win games.   Remember back in the spring?  This squad was going to score runs, a lot of runs, and stay in games despite poor starting pitching until their lockdown bullpen took over the game.  For the most part, the bullpen had done their job.   They may not be ‘lock down’, but they are pretty good most of the time.

The offense, however….

While sporting the fourth best batting average as a team in the American League, the Royals rank just 10th in runs scored per game at just 3.98 per contest.   Kansas City’s team on-base percentage of .315 is nothing to crow about, but it is 8th in the league (that’s despite being dead last by a lot in walks).   It’s not a case of the Royals not getting on base, it’s a matter of getting those baserunners around the diamond.

As a team, the Royals are slugging an even. 400, which is 7th best in the AL, but they rank next to last in home runs with just 33.   That hurts, even if Kansas City is second in doubles.  A home run is the quickest way to put up crooked numbers and the easiest way to avoid something bad happening.   You know, something like running into outs.

According to Fangraphs, Kansas City is the third worst baserunning team in the AL (Indians and Angels rank below them).  That stat does not factor in stolen bases, where the Royals are just 10th in the league in steals (24), but are second worst in being caught stealing (14 times).  The Rays lead the league in caught stealing with 16, bu have 39 successful steals.

The Royals are not running smartly or stealing effectively.    Their eight sacrifice bunts and seven sacrifice flies is middle of the pack stuff in the league, so little advantage is gained there as well.  Not that I’m advocating small ball, mind you.

Kansas City ranks fourth in percentage of balls outside of the strike zone that they swing at (31%), but I will point out that the Tigers and Rangers rank second and third in that category and those two teams score a run or two.   While you might be encouraged that the Royals are second in contact percentage, it is worth noting that the Twins, who can’t score at all, are first in that category.

No wonder Ned Yost changes the lineup every day. 

xxx

 

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