Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Eric Hosmer

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gordon
Aoki
Cain
Perez
Hosmer
Butler
Escobar
Infante
Moustakas

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

My other solution involves cloning Gordon eight times.

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

It’s amazing Yost is still employed.

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

Hosmer_Eric_2014_scatter

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

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

Hosmer_Eric_2013_scatter

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

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

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.

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.

Ned Yost trotted out three radically different lineups this past weekend against Arizona and managed to get one win.  Hey, for this particular Royals team, any win at home is an accomplishment.  After a 4-1 road trip, we all expected a better result than a 1-4 homestand.   That result was made all the more bitter by the fact that the Royals seemed in control of the first three games, only to lose all of them.

What this team does or, more precisely, does not do at home is a topic for another column.  Let’s get back to the lineups.   They were basically just all over the place – kind of like that softball team you were on that was not very serious and the batting order was simply the order in which you showed up for the game.   Frankly, I don’t blame Yost for trying some things and, for right now, I like Escobar at or near the top of the order, but it is probably worth noting that the most traditional of the three lineups this weekend did happen to score the most runs.

Truth is, though, you can design just about any lineup you want and as long as Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon are not hitting, it is likely to have production problems.   Just as the ball seems to find the weak defender, the circumstances of the game seem to put the slumping hitter in the eye of the storm at critical times.    Gordon, who is 1 for 25 in what Fangraphs describes as high leverage situations, seems to come up with two outs in the ninth every freaking night.    By contrast, Billy Butler has only 15 high leverage plate appearances thus far in 2012.

What’s going on with these two guys?

If you have been following the Royals at all this year, you have heard more than one reference to Eric Hosmer hitting in bad, make that horrible, luck.  That may sound like a copout, but the numbers back that up.

In 2011, Hosmer had a BABIP of .314 and a line drive percentage of 18.7%.   His 2012 line drive percentage is 17.6% (pretty much league average), but his BABIP is an almost bizarre .165.   You can’t make a living with a .165 BABIP, but you also should not have to endure a long stretch at that level if your line drive percentage is around league average. 

Those numbers are but one component of a player’s performance at the plate, but for a struggling hitter, Eric Hosmer does not exhibit any of the statistical evidence that would indicate that he is struggling.  His strikeout rate is down (14.6% in 2011, 11.6% in 2012)  and his walk rate is up (6.0% in 2011, 7.9% in 2012).     Hosmer is swining at fewer pitches out of the strike zone (almost 7% less than in 2011) and his overall contact rate is virtually identical to 2011.   Overall, after swinging at 48% of the pitches he saw as a rookie, Eric is swinging at 46% this year.  What the above shows is a player who is not hacking at everything, failing to make contact and losing his plate discipline.   

I don’t know what Eric Hosmer did, but he really pissed off the baseball gods.

Are pitchers approaching him differently this year?  A little is the answer.  Less fastballs, more changeups with everything else being thrown to him in roughly the same percentages as last year.   In 2011, Hosmer put 26.5% of changeups thrown to him into play, but in 2012 that percentage is just 15.4%.   More changeups, less balls in play, hmmm.

In 2011, Hosmer swung at over half the changes thrown to him, whiffing just 11.3% of the time.  While Eric is not swinging at the change as much in 2012 (41%), he’s missing it almost 17% of the time.   I am not going to tell you that the changeup is the reason for all of Hosmer’s struggles, we are talking about just 15% of the pitches he has seen and, as the numbers above show, Eric’s overall plate performance has not really taken a hit.  The changeup is an issue, but it is hardly the only reason Hosmer is buried beneath the Mendoza line.

Here is what I will tell you:  I don’t believe you learn to hit major league changeups in AAA and I don’t think you really consider sending Hosmer down until his strikeout rate jumps and his percentage of swings at balls outside of the strike zone increased dramatically.

If the solution for Hosmer is to keep sending him out there and bank on the odds turning in his favor (it works in Vegas, right?), then what about Alex Gordon?

After a sensational 2011 campaign, we wake up this morning to find Alex Gordon hitting .231/.320/.363.   Triple slash lines are hardly detailed analysis, but that ain’t what the doctor ordered.  Is Gordon striking out a lot?  He is, 21% of the time, but Gordon always has struck out a lot.   In 2011, when he was one of the better players in the American League, Alex struck out 20% of the time.   Plus, if you are about plate discipline, Alex’s walk rate is up from 2011.

Going down the same path as we did with Hosmer, we find that Gordon’s line drive percentage thus far in 2012 is 23.8% (it was 22% in 2011), but his BABIP is just .280 compared to a robust .358 in 2011.   Gordon had some good fortune last year, but he is having some misfortune so far this season.

Now, if you are like me, the thought on Gordon might be that he back to trying to pull everything.   Much as it seems like Gordon is always up with two outs in the ninth, it also seems like he grounds out to second base pretty much every at bat.   Truth is, Gordon is pulling the ball less than he did last year.

Here is how the balls in play breakdown for Alex in 2012:

  • Pull – 38%
  • Center – 41%
  • Opposite – 21%

And how it broke down in 2011:

  • Pull 44%
  • Center  – 31%
  • Opposite – 25%   

Basically, Alex is pulling less, going to the opposite field less and hitting up the middle more.  Using the middle of the field is generally considered to be a good thing, but in Gordon’s case it does not seem to be helping.

How about Hosmer?   Here is the breakdown for 2012:

  • Pull – 32%
  • Center – 38%
  • Opposite – 30%

And 2011:

  • Pull – 39%
  • Center – 34%
  • Opposite – 27%

Hosmer was pulling the ball considerably more in 2011 with considerably more success.   Maybe it is not such a good thing when we see Eric take a ball to the opposite field? That’s an oversimplification to be sure, but pulling the ball and being aggressive worked in 2011.   Would you tolerate a few more strikeouts for some more pop (or any pop for that matter) out of Hosmer? 

What’s the bottom line of all of this?  Pick a spot in the order for both of them, leave them there and wait it out.

xxx

 

Games like the one the Royals played on Tuesday are fantastic. It’s a recipe for a great evening.

– They spotted Vin Mazzaro four runs before he ever took the mound. Wait… The Royals had a “big inning?” An inning where they scored more than one run and didn’t bunt? This is the Royals?

Adding to the confusion was leadoff man Jerrod Dyson clubbing the ball over the head of the right fielder for a leadoff double. What’s up with that? Joey Gathright never hit one off the wall.

Given the opportunity to play everyday, Dyson has exceeded expectations. That’s likely an understatement. On Tuesday, he reached base three times and saw a team high 24 pitches in five plate appearances. That is exactly the kind of stuff you want to see from your leadoff hitter. Oh, and all three times he reached… He scored.

Dyson is now hitting .304/.383/.362 in 81 plate appearances. He’s scored 17 runs in 18 games. And get this… Dyson is scoring 55% of the time he reaches base. No player in baseball with more than 80 plate appearances has scored as frequently as Dyson.

I know we’re still at least a month away from Lorenzo Cain returning from his hip flexor injury, but man… If Dyson can somehow keep this going, there’s no way Cain gets back into the lineup.

– I suppose lost in the “Eric Hosmer batting second” hubbub is that if Jerrod Dyson reaches base in the first inning, we can pretty much forget about Hosmer bunting him over. Although he did execute the swinging bunt in the first on the tapper back to Lewis. I guess what happened is an example of how speed affects the game, as Lewis looked Dyson back to second, then turned to first and lofted a flat footed throw over the head of Moreland.

– Hosmer then executed a boneheaded baserunning play when he broke for third on a ground ball in front of him. You don’t go for third in that situation… You just don’t.

More Royals running into outs.

– After a Jeff Francoeur double and Mike Moustakas was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Brayan Pena saw a meatball from Lewis and laced it into right for a two-run single. Does Pena love hitting in Arlington, or what?

– Finally, a nice job by Chris Getz to line the Lewis curve into center for the Royals final out of the inning. A slow, looping curve that didn’t exactly hang, but it was still in the “happy zone” when Getz drove it to center to bring home the Royals final run of the inning.

It also helps that the Royals were able to keep the pressure on, adding single runs in each of the next two innings. Again it was that leadoff man, Dyson, setting the table with a more Dysonesque base hit than in the first. The error on the pickoff allows him to advance to second, although I was surprised he didn’t go for third. Probably the right call since there weren’t any outs in the inning.

Then a nice piece of hitting from Butler to line the low and away pitch to right to bring Dyson home. That was the sort of inning that wasn’t happening during the first month of the season.

In the third, it was the MooseBomb. All the dude is doing is hitting .310/.371/.540. Nice. It’s weird, but when Hosmer started crushing minor league pitching, he kind of shoved Moustakas to second tier prospect status. But if Moose wasn’t number one on those prospect lists, he was 1A. He’s a damn good ballplayer. Now if we could only get that other guy going…

– Speaking of Hosmer, he did pick up a pair of hits, one of which was an opposite field double. Opposite field hits are always a good sign, but he’s teased us before. Anyway, it was his first multi-hit game since May 3 – the first game of the homestand against the Yankees. And only his sixth multi-hit game of the year. When I say “multi-hit,” I mean two hit games… Because he’s yet to collect more than two hits in a game this season.

– Mazzaro was successful because he threw strikes. According to PITCH f/x, 14 of his 16 four seam fastballs were strikes as were 21 of his 34 two seamers. He doesn’t miss many bats – he only generated four swings and misses of his total 50 fastballs – which against the Rangers feels dangerous. Especially if you’re living in the zone as much as Mazzaro was on Tuesday. But for one night at least, it worked. It also helped that the Rangers seemed a little overzealous, chasing a number of pitches out of the zone.

Whatever… It worked. It also helps that Mazzaro limited any potential damage by walking just a single batter. His final line:

5 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO

If you had offered that line to me ahead of the game, I would have gladly accepted. Baseball is a funny game.

– And then the bullpen… What an effort. Timmay Collins set the tone by striking out five of the six batters he faced. That curve… Just devastating. He’s just been amazing this year. Collins was followed by Aaron Crow, Jose Mijares and a rejuvenated Greg Holland. Here’s the combined bullpen line of the evening:

4 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 7 SO

That’s how Dayton drew it up, right? Cobble together five half-decent innings from your mediocre starting pitcher and then have the bullpen lock things down for the next four? And hope like hell your lineup strings together enough runs to give your team a fighting chance?

It’s a wonderful thing when a plan comes together.

Last night, Ned Yost wrote down a lineup whose number four through eight hitters combined had ZERO home runs.   Jarrod Dyson, batting lead-off, also has not hit a dinger and Alcides Escobar batting ninth has only one.  Basically, it was Billy Butler, Alex Gordon and no hope…right?   Well, dummy, of course the Royals win with that lineup against Jon Lester.  We all should have known.

Sure, the Red Sox outfielders certainly helped the Royals along and, to be honest, this is hardly the starting nine that Boston fans expected to be on the field when the year started.  Of course, this was hardly the nine that Royals’ fans expected, either.   Let’s call it even and let’s call it what it was:  a good win and a good homestand.

The Royals finished 4-3 on this homestand:  finally winning at home, finally beating a left-handed starter and hopefully giving themselves a good dose of relaxation.    This team started the year anxious, hyped up and fell flat on their faces.  Now, one would hope they should be in something of a groove.

A 4-3 road trip followed by a 4-3 homestand, while not ‘hot’, is certainly in a groove (which is different than a rut, which is different than what Luke Hochevar is in, but I digress).  In fact, if the Royals could win 8 games out of every 14 until the end of June, they would be back at .500.    Realistic?  Maybe.

The Royals head on the road to play three at Chicago and two at Texas.  The Rangers flat out scare the crap out of me, but even though they are playing better than expected, the White Sox are considerably less imposing.    Two out of five on this short trip would not be a disaster, while three out of five would be a great success.

After that, KC comes home to play two against Baltimore (are they for real?  I’m skeptical) and three against Arizona.   Combined with the five games on the road, coming out of this ten game stretch, I would take a 5-5 record right now and head out on a nine game road journey to New York, Baltimore and Cleveland.   That is followed by six games at home against Minnesota and Oakland, then three games at Pittsburgh.

That is twenty-eight games, two groups of fourteen.  Do you see a couple of 8-6 records in there?  Maybe, maybe not.  I know for a fact it won’t happen unless:

The Starting Pitching Stops Going Short

Truthfully, it is kind of amazing the Royals managed to go 8-6 with some of the starting pitching performances that occurred during this span.    In eight of the last eleven games, Royals’ starters have not made it out of the sixth inning.  In six of those they have not made it out of the fifth.   The bullpen, as expected, has been very good (hell, who is kidding who, it’s been great) and Ned Yost and Dayton Moore have done a nice job of cycling guys through to keep it semi-fresh, but you can’t keep doing that.

I am not asking for seven innings plus, but the starting rotation cannot implode on back to back nights, bracketed by five inning grueling performances.   There are not enough relievers in the universe to cover for that all summer.   With one exception, Bruce Chen has given the Royals’ innings and one would hope that Danny Duffy will start to as well.  The addition of Felipe Paulino and the subtraction of Jonathan Sanchez from the rotation can’t hurt, either.

More innings, gentlemen.   More, better innings, please.

Just Hit Eric

He’s going to hit, you hope that Eric Hosmer starts doing it before summer and certainly before next year.   Although it made last night’s lineup look pretty funky, sitting Hosmer for a day was a sound idea.   Frankly, I’m a little surprised Yost did not do it sooner or at least have Hosmer DH for a couple of days just to change things up.    While Hosmer had some pretty bad hitting luck during a lot of this year, lately his contact has been less solid and, frankly, Eric looks a little lost at the plate (or worse, looks a little like Mark Reynolds).

I would have no problem with Hosmer swapping places in the order with Mike Moustakas (man, is he playing well or what?) and, as mentioned above, spending a day or two at DH just to give him something different to think about.  I’m not Kevin Seitzer, (even though I did hit .556 at Fantasy Camp) but my advice to Eric Hosmer is to stop thinking so much and just swing the stick.

Hosmer’s going to hit…eventually.   When he does, the Royals’ lineup goes from alright to really good.

LET THEM PLAY, NED.

There exists a very good probability that if I was a major league manager, I would want to ‘manage all the time’ as well.  I mean, that is Ned Yost’s job and is one where every single decision, including where you stand in the dugout, can and will be second guessed.  It’s the nature of the beast, it’s not going to change and, frankly, there is nothing wrong with that.

That said, Yost needs to let the games unfold on their own sometimes.   This team, if you assume Hosmer will hit and Francoeur will sort of hit, once in a while, will score runs all on their own.  The Royals swing the bats well enough that they don’t have to manufacture runs (there is a time and place of that, but it is nowhere near as often as Yost thinks), they don’t have to force the issue and risk running into outs at a breakneck pace.  

Believe in your lineup and let them score runs.  Besides, Ned, with this starting rotation, you will have many, many chances to ‘manage’ each night.

After a dismal beginning, this team has won on a regular basis over the past couple of weeks.  They have done so without playing really good baseball and certainly with the handicap of poor starting pitching.  There have been baserunning gaffes, defensive miscues and questionable strategy, but the Royals have managed to grind out a nice 8-6 run.

Taking whatever opinion you might have of Ned Yost, positive or negative, out of the equation, whether this team can keep moving forward will come down to the other two issues above.   Eric Hosmer needs to hit and hit a lot and the rotation is whatever form it becomes needs to take games into the sixth inning.   

Easier said then done to be sure, but doable…..maybe.

xxx

 

There was very little (anything?) to like about the game last night. The Royals should have entered into Oakland coming off of a series win against the heavily favored Anaheim Angels with some swagger and confidence. Instead they limped in with easily the worst lineup they could put on the field. For posterity, lets put it down here and then the amount of times each guy got on base last night:

Bourgeois LF – 1
Cain CF – 0
Hosmer 1B – 2
Butler DH – 0
Francoeur RF – 1
Betancourt 3B – 1
Pena C – 0
Escobar SS – 1
NeuGetz 2B – 0

The entire starting lineup got on base 6 times. Let me get out the slide-rule…..carry the one….adjust pocket protector….yep that’s not very good. So the team was terrible at getting on base, it happens from night to night and with these particular players (Yuni, Getz, Bourgeois, Escobar, I’m looking at you) it will happen more often than not. That’s why when the guys actually get on base they need to make the best of those opportunities.

Unfortunately the Royals didn’t do that either. Hosmer was caught stealing 3rd base (not a typo), Francoeur was caught trying to steal second AND he was picked off at first. I’ll ignore Bourgeois getting caught at third, it was an amazing throw and worth the effort. So the starting lineup gets on base 6 times and they give up half of those baserunners by making boneheaded decisions on the basepaths.

The real shame of it all is that the Royals only needed 2 runs to win the game. It’s impossible to say that if the Royals had started their best offensive team that they would have put those runs across, but there is certainly a higher probability. Had the Royals let Gordon play left, Moustakas at third or if they had kept Kevin Kouzmanoff rather than Getz, they could have put up more of a fight. Instead Ned Yost wants to keep his bench involved in the game and he is scared to death of letting Moustakas hit a lefty. The Royals sacrificed their chance to win in order to make sure Chris Getz, Yuniesky Betancourt and Jason Bourgeois don’t get a little rusty. Priorities, guys, priorities.

So let’s turn to what happened on the mound for the Royals. In the ultimate results category, Mendoza had a heck of a game. The Royals only allowed 1 run in the 5.2 innings he was pitching. However, it wasn’t a pretty 1 run and it portends bad things. Mendoza allowed 5 hits and 4 walks while striking out only 2. That’s a WHIP of 1.59, which is not good. A pitcher can not survive long giving up that many baserunners. Eventually the regression to the mean specter will come calling.

I know, it’s one game in April. The Royals only lost by 1 run and it was on the road. There’s a whole lot more games to come and it’s a lot to expect the best 9 to play 162. There was just a whole combination of things last night that had me thinking about how many things can go wrong and how much has to go right for the Royals to contend.

They just can’t give away a game to a team like the A’s in this fashion. They can’t put the happiness of Getz over the welfare of the team. They absolutely can NOT run into outs and walk from the batters box to the dugout at this rate. Fortunately today is a new day and the Royals get another shot at the A’s. Maybe, just maybe the team and management were given their copies of Moneyball (sent from a nice doctor in the Chicagoland area) and realized how important outs are and that they should cherish them at all costs.

In the quest for the postseason every game is important. That includes tonight’s game.

- Nick Scott


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