Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Billy Butler

So the other day, I went on the radio in Topeka. I channeled my inner Rex Hudler:

“At this point, it’s about maximizing the peaks and minimizing the valleys.”

Or something like that.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time (or probably followed the Royals at all) you know what I’m talking about. This team, over the last season and a half, has been streaky to the extreme. The offense is the worst in the world for two-plus months, then has a stretch where they are so hot, they move to the middle of the pack in several key offensive hitting statistics. Then, instead of leveling off, they swing wildly back the other direction where they look like they haven’t picked up a bat in their lives.

So damn frustrating.

This is a team who hung 22 runs up on the Tigers Cy Young Award winners in the span of two games in the early part of last week. They followed that up by scoring a grand total of 10 runs over their next five games. You sit back and watch this offense struggle in April and May. You tell yourself, this isn’t a world class offense by any means, yet they have to be better than this. Then, they go on the aforementioned tear. You tell yourself, this isn’t the true talent of this offense, but damn are they on fire. Then, they slide right back into the pits.

Ugh.

So how do you want it on this Monday? Glass half full? There are currently seven teams in the American League with a positive run differential. The Royals are one of those teams. Their +14 run differential is fifth best in the AL, in fact. They are ahead of Baltimore and Detroit. We know offense is down across the board. The league average team has touched home plate 321 times so far. The Royals have scored 311 runs. Given their lengthy offensive struggles, this is surprising news. I don’t know if it means anything, but it’s surprising. In a good way.

For those of you who prefer to see the glass completely empty, despite the recent 10 game winning streak, the Royals offense remains one of the worst in the game. Their 89 wRC+ is ahead of only the Mariners. Their .304 wOBA is also ahead of only the Mariners. (Who just came to Kansas City, stole our bread, peanut butter and jelly, made sandwiches in our own kitchen and then proceeded to eat our lunch, almost choking because they were laughing so hard.) Their OPS+ of 89 is worst in the league.

Their .371 slugging percentage and .313 on base percentage is 13th out of 15 teams.

I try to remain positive. The Royals are 2.5 games back in the suddenly tight Central, while they are half a game back in a five team scrum for the Wild Card. No, I don’t think the Royals are better than any of the teams they trail – except maybe Seattle. However, baseball in the Wild Card era is littered with teams that aren’t what you would term world class who have competed in October. Yet watching this team flail away at the plate tests my patience.

Two points before I wrap this up:

First, Ned Yost needs to juggle his damn lineup. He looked like the cat who got the canary in the early part of this month. Vindication! Just leave him alone, he knows what he’s doing! Except I don’t think he does. To continue to hit Eric Hosmer third at this point in managerial malpractice of the highest order. Keeping Alex Gordon fifth is the same crime. I’ve said this a thousand times: Being a major league manager is about putting your players in the best position to win the ballgame. Yost’s current batting order doesn’t come close to accomplishing this.

Also, what was the deal with the Billy Butler pinch running saga on Friday night? The game is tied in the eighth and Butler leads off with a single. It’s usually so damn automatic that Yost uses a pinch runner. Hell, he will pinch run in that situation when the Royals are leading by five runs. Yet he sat on his hands. I’m OK with that initially. But then Butler moves to second on the Gordon single. It was hit up the middle and hard, so not even Jarrod Dyson could have advanced to third. That moment seemed tailor-made for a pinch runner. Yet Yost sat on his hands. Sal Perez lifted a fly to center. Butler tagged. I’ve never seen someone try to run so hard they actually went backward. Butler is out, but the ball hit his foot and bounced away. Talk about catching a break. Then, Yost finally removes Butler for the pinch runner. And the Royals make the final two outs without bringing home the run.

I’m not blaming Yost for losing that game. I’m just pointing out the bizarre management of the team in a tight game in the later innings. It’s Yost being Yost. Something Brewer fans know all about.

Second point, this is Dayton Moore’s team. It’s Year Nine. This is the offense he’s built through draft, trades and a pair of holdovers in Gordon and Butler. And this offense will probably rank 13th or lower in overall production when the dust settles on the 2014 season. Pitching and defense are key, but fail to construct a competent offense and all you’ll do is get to .500. And until they add a couple more Wild Card spots, that isn’t good enough.

Which is too bad. You saw the crowd on Friday. Kansas City is hungry for a winning team. (Or maybe they’re just hungry for dollar hot dogs and fireworks.) Either way, this city and this organization deserve better. Maybe the next GM can deliver.

It gets weirder and weirder every day in the Royals Universe.

Nine in a row.

First place in the Central. In mid-June. Over the Detroit juggernaut.

My head is spinning.

Before we go any further, let’s check the latest offensive numbers from this nine game stretch.

DBD_617

They are all hitting. And the home runs. I can’t get over the fact this group, so punchless in the early going, has clubbed 12 out of the park in the last nine games. In the first two months, Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas hit six home runs combined. This month, they’ve already combined for seven. As I pointed out the other day, this is what a hot streak looks like.

The homers last night were glorious. Especially the Alex Gordon bomb. More on that in a moment.

According to ESPN, the Royals most productive June as far as winning percentage came way back in 1972 when they won 18 of 27, which is a .667 winning percentage. So far in this June, the team has captured 12 of 15. Ummm, that’s .800. That’s pretty good.

Another thing the Royals accomplished last night which should certainly be noted: They knocked the Tigers from the top of their AL Central perch for the first time since July 3. Yep. The Tigers held first place in the AL Central all season and for half (let’s face it, the really important half) of 2013. While I maintain my previous position that I don’t get giddy over being in first place on June 18, I have to admit, it’s kind of fun to see this:

Standings_618

Damn. I mean, look at the run differential. Only five teams are in the green and the Royals are one of them. After drubbing Detroit the last two nights, they’ve shifted to red. Even more impressive, this once anemic offense is now pretty damn robust. Again, it’s the peaks and valleys I discussed the other day. Everything levels out in the end. Except most teams don’t seem to experience the extreme highs and lows we see in Kansas City. The Royals have scored 301 runs. Or three runs fewer than the Tigers. Wow.

I guess all it took was a reassignment of a hitting coach.

I don’t know if the Royals can win their 10th in a row this afternoon. I do know if the winning streak ends today, it went out with an exclamation point of a seventh inning on Tuesday.

FG_WE_617

The Gordon home run following the Butler walk was a thing of beauty. I mean, most homers are, but this one was especially a bomb. Officially, it went 414 feet. Maybe that’s not so impressive, but it was hit to a part of Comerica where I haven’t seen many home runs land. And I thought it was cool. Doesn’t really matter. It was like a dagger in the heart of the Tigers. When Moustakas hit a hanging change over the fence in right, it felt like the Royals were again in control. To hang three more runs was gravy. It felt good.

Nine games. Winning. Yes.

There are a bunch of games left. In fact, there are 93. Far too many to start selling internal organs so you can afford playoff tickets. But maybe you should prepare for life with a single kidney.

This could be a fun summer.

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

“If only they could get the bats going.”

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

Damn.

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

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

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

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

DBD_67

And how the offense looked last week.

DBD_66

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

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

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

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

Have I mentioned baseball is a funny game?

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

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

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

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

Here’s hoping the Royals continue to capitalize.

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

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

Dale Sveum, hitting whisperer, indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This game featured, among other things:

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

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

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

xxx

 

 

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.

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.

Tons of interesting stuff in Tuesday’s game. Let’s dive in…

Where Duffy’s Pitch Count Explodes

Seriously, what’s the deal here? If felt like Duffy was getting squeezed, but really it was just the borderline calls that weren’t going his way. Whatever was happening, he piled up over 100 pitches in less than five innings. Given the way the rotation has gotten hammered in the last week, that’s just an unacceptable outing. I will put some of the blame at the mask of the home plate umpire. Duffy wasn’t getting the high strike called and there was one pitch in particular that was just an awful call. That can mess with a pitcher’s psyche. If he’s not getting calls, he starts to get too fine. He doesn’t want to serve it down the heart of the plate, but that’s basically what the ump is challenging him to do. It’s a helluva situation.

There was some speculation he was pitching hurt. It’s possible. His curve wasn’t effective again – he threw only 10 of them, and completely abandoned the pitch in the middle of his outing. He also generated only four swings and misses. Although his fastball had plenty of life, averaging a hot 95.5 mph on the Kauffman Stadium gun.

I think the likely scenario was that Duffy was unnerved by the home plate umpire. He reverted to his 2011 form where he was trying to be too fine – and failing. Hopefully, Duffy can shake this start off and move forward. Not much positive from this one.

Where Quintero Attempts To Steal

The Royals open the second inning down 2-0. Hosmer singles, Francoeur walks (!) and Moustakas grounds into a fielder’s choice at second to put runners on the corners and one out. Then the fun starts. Red Sox starter Daniel Bard balks not once, but twice! Chris Getz has a great plate appearance to drive home the run from third to tie the game. At this point, Bard is clearly melting down. Believe me, having watched Luke Hochevar pitch all these years, I know the symptoms.

The meltdown continued as Bard uncorked a wild pitch to move Getz to second. Escobar grounds out to move Getz to third and he scores the tie breaking run on Humberto Quintero’s single.

Then…

Quintero takes off for second.

Wait, what?

Quintero… He of one career steal. And three career attempts. Tried to swipe second base. With three runs home and the Red Sox starter on the ropes.

This was just all kinds of wrong. You have a pitcher on the ropes early in the game. And you let him off the hook by trying to steal with your slow footed backstop. What are you thinking, Yosty?

I thought this exchange was interesting in the post game.

Nate Bukaty: “Was Quintero going on his own there?”

Yosty: “Yeah, that’s a spot where you’re trying to pick their pocket. You know, you really cant lose. If he steals the base, then you’ve got a runner in scoring position. If he doesn’t steal the base, you’ve got your leadoff guy leading off the next inning. It was a spot we gambled. We just didn’t make it.”

Are you freaking serious? A Quintero attempted steal is a situation where you “can’t lose?” Just an asinine call.

I’m getting closer…

Where Yosty Reads His Starter The Riot Act

Duffy is nibbling in the third inning. Back to back walks after the Royals jump to a lead and he falls behind on the third hitter in the inning 2-1. Out comes Ned Yost with a purpose. He spends a few minutes laying down the law to Duffy. The result? A ground ball double play and a pop out. In just five pitches. Nice.

This is where Yost is valuable on a young team. His no-nonsense approach works well with players who may lose focus or otherwise don’t know how to handle certain situations. Duffy’s start was heading off the rails. Yost took initiative and kept him on track.

If someone challenged me to name a good thing Yost does as manager, that would be it. And that would probably be the only thing I could name.

Where You Can’t Assume A Double Play

After a one out double and a walk allowed by Duffy, he was pulled in favor of Kelvin Herrera. He got the grounder he was looking for, but Getz threw wide of the bag at first and it skipped by Hosmer. That allowed Gonzalez to score what was the go ahead run from second base. Ugh.

I know that Getz takes a ton of heat in this space (and others) but that play was entirely on Hosmer at first. Yes, Getz made the poor throw. But it was under duress. I’ll give him a pass as the Red Sox runner was bearing down on him – I think it caught Getz by surprise that he had so little time to make the pivot at second. Having said that, Hosmer was completely wrong in not coming off the bag to save the ball from skipping by him. The way he set his feet at first to receive the throw was correct… Because it would have allowed him to slide off the bag to block the ball. In that situation (tie game, middle innings) you have to do everything in your power to save the run. Hosmer went for the out, and it potentially cost the Royals the game.

That was an example of why the advanced defensive metrics didn’t take a shine to Hosmer’s D last year. He needs to make better decisions. He’ll learn.

Where Yosty Bunts His Way To Oblivion

According to the Run Expectancy Matirx, the average number of runs that score with runners on second and third and no out is 1.556. Not a bad place to be when you’re trailing by one run in the later innings. In fact, given that scenario, you can expect to score at least one run roughly 64 percent of the time.

And then Yosty gives away an out.

Now the Royals have runners on second and third with one out. Going back to the same Run Expectancy Matrix, the average runs that score in this situation is 1.447. So by giving away that out, you’ve basically decreased the total amount of runs you can expect to score. In the late innings of that one run game, that’s a pretty big deal. Now in this situation, you can expect to score 70 percent of the time. Yes, that’s higher than the previous situation, but I’m not sure the six point bump in percentage is worth the exchange of the out.

A big inning late in the game was what the Royals needed. (More on that obviously in a moment.) The situation was ripe for multiple runs. Yosty was playing for one and to tie the game. Managers who constantly feel the need to do something, often end up hurting their team. Yosty is that kind of manager. The right play was to let his hitters take their cuts.

I’m not sure what was going on with Alcides Escobar following the Getz bunt with one of his own. Was the SS Jesus freelancing there and bunting on his own? Yosty said he was. He said that Escobar was confused and thought the squeeze was on. How is that possible? How can you have a hitter, in a key situation late in the game, not understand what is supposed to happen. Color me livid. You are set up to score multiple runs and you’re basically playing for the single score. Besides, Frenchy was out at home and the Royals somehow didn’t score a single run in the frame. Unreal managing from Yosty.

I’m of the mind that a manager doesn’t generally win or lose the game for his team. Most of the decisions to be made during the game are elementary and rather benign. However, in this case, Yosty’s managing was definitely costing the Royals.

Closer…

Where Butler Saves The Day

After the Royals let Bard off the hook in the second, he started cruising. The strike zone seemed tight all night long, but the Royals never altered their approach at the plate. Of the 18 batters from the third to the seventh inning, only Chris Getz went more than three pitches without swinging the bat. And he drew a walk. Amazing how that works.

Then, in the eighth, Jerrod Dyson and Alex Gordon decided to take a few pitches. And they both walked. End of the line for Bard and in comes sinker ball pitcher Matt Albers to face Billy Butler. Albers gets a ground ball 54 percent of the time. And we all know about Butler and his proclivity for grounding into the double play.

Amazingly, Yosty resists the temptation to bunt.

And Butler gets wet.

Ironic, isn’t it? Yosty spends the entire game playing small ball and giving away outs, and it’s a three run home run that wins the game.

Somewhere Earl Weaver is smiling.

Wonder if we could get him to come out of retirement. I’m thinking a new manager would be nice.

Ten straight losses.   Nine straight at home.  New and inventive ways to lose every day.  A player to the disabled list every week. Welcome to the 2012 Kansas City Royals, ladies and gentlemen.

There have been a lot of things that have gone wrong through 15 games.  In fact, at one time or another, almost everything has gone wrong.  Enough, in fact, to have Ned Yost remark that changes may be on the horizon.  It is a deep, dark hole and there really is no way around it.   Losing 12 of 15, while accentuated by having it happen to start the season, would be a bad stretch and extremely noticeable at any time in the season.   Three and twelve is three and twelve, folks.   If you are not panicking just a little, then you are just being a contrarian for the sake of being contrarian.

All that said, the Kansas City Royals could reach .500 by the end of the season by simply winning two more games than the lose in each month.  Of course, that assumes they right the ship and manage to play it even until we get to May Day.  Sadly, that is a rather optimistic, sunshine pumping assumption right now.

As bad as the 2012 campaign has begun, some things have gone right. 

  • Mike Moustakas, with three hits on Sunday, raised his average to .269 and now has eight extra base hits.  Along the way, Sunday’s error was the first blemish on what has been a very good defensive start for him.   One cannot trust defensive stats this early in the year (or a player’s career), but the stats and the eyes certainly are pointing to Moustakas being a far better defender than was originally thought when he was coming up.  Decent or better fielding coupled with a pace that puts Moustakas on track for fifty plus extra base hits is indeed something good.
  • Speaking of good fielding.  Well, let’s be serious, really good and probably great defense.  Even after an 0 for 3 on Sunday, Alcides Escobar is hitting .286 with a .322 on-base percentage.  Those numbers don’t get you in the Hall of Fame, but when combined with Escobar’s impact on defense, they are more than enough to get him deep into the positive side of the ledger.  Sure, he has a somewhat fortutious .341 BABIP, but it is not crazy lucky.  Prior to the season, if you were told that Escobar would have four doubles, a triple and a home run by game number 15, would you have even asked how often he was getting on base?  Oh yeah, he has four stolen bases without being caught.
  • Billy Butler.  I almost didn’t put Billy on this list because he has done exactly what we expected:  hit.  You have arrived when an early wOBA of .394 gets you a ‘yeah, that’s Billy, he can hit’ response.
  • I will probably draw some ire here, but I am not going to expound on the early season runs of Yuniesky Betancourt, Humberto Quintero or Mitch Maier’s .370 on base percentage.  Maybe it’s bias, but I see Butler, Escobar and Moustakas building on their good starts and see the first three players in this bullet point falling.  Yes, they have all three had moments and, quite frankly, more moments than many on the roster.  Long term, I don’t see Yuni, Humbo and Mitch as answers to anything.  I will make a deal with you:  if Yuniesky Betancourt has an OPS over .800 May 23rd, I will write 1,000 words of something nice about him.
  • Bruce Chen and Danny Duffy.  While Duffy had a rough day on Sunday, he was outstanding in his first two starts and I think most of us would be delighted if Danny could produce two good starts out of every three in his sophmore season.   As for Chen, I give up, he appears to be the next Jamie Moyer and, for right now anyway, the Royals can sure use him.
  • Not a lot has gone right in the bullpen.  What was supposed to be a ‘Super Pen’ has been decidedly average.  While both Aaron Crow and Tim Collins have been tagged for some runs, both have had some really outstanding outings as well.  Maybe the biggest positive of the entire pen has been Collins’ 12 strikeouts to just 1 walk in his first 8.2 innings of work.  With the injuries to Soria and Holland, the deep pen is no a bit shallow and being able to rely on Collins and Crow (who has allowed 5 hits in 8 innings) is a nice fallback.

I know, some of this is reaching for sunshine.  Perhaps this column should have been used to take  some shots at Yost (who should just pick a batting order and let the guys settle in – this team is thinking too much, give them at least one less thing to think about!) or Moore or Glass or the coaching staff or just about anyone.  We could truly panic and call for Johnny Giavotella, Nate Adcock and whomever else is someone different than Jason Bourgeois, but it is just a fraction too early.  Not by much, mind you, but a week or two weeks too soon.

There are some positives and some really bad luck (entering Sunday’s game, Alex Gordon had a BABIP of .235, Hosmer just .163).   The Royals have played horrific ball, but they don’t look like a team that should be this bad.   This 3-12 start almost certainly means that Kansas City won’t win the division this season, but it does not doom them to laughingstock…at least not quite yet.

xxx

 

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