Royals Authority

Long Live The Process

Browsing Posts published by Craig Brown

OK, OK… I’m late on this. But it’s the offseason. That Thanksgiving week lull where we are a few weeks removed from the World Series and a week or two ahead of the winter meetings. There’s not much going on, so why not talk about Ned Yost.

Yost, if you will recall, wasn’t even a finalist for the Manager of the Year award handed out last week. Meaning he wasn’t even in the top three.

(Now feels like the appropriate time to remind everyone that the voting for the awards is done prior to the start of the postseason. That way everyone is held to the same standard of the 162 games of the regular season. October glory does not count for this particular set of hardware.)

When the finalists were announced, I went on a mild Twitter rant – it’s kind of difficult to get worked up over these awards – expressing a little disdain that Yost was ignored in the balloting. After all, it seems like the Manager of the Year award goes annually to the manager who led his team to the most surprising, positive finish. The Houston Astros were pretty bad last year and were expected to be pretty bad again this year. Therefore, being in the hunt for the AL West title for most of the year before ultimately settling for the Wild Card meant AJ Hinch would receive consideration. Paul Molitor in Minnesota didn’t have his team atop the division, but they did massively beat the expectations of a fifth place finish. And Jeff Banister… You get the point.

Anyway, the point of this isn’t to bemoan Yost’s lack of support. When I received my annual delivery of the Bill James Handbook, I flipped to the section on managers. What jumped off the pages was exactly how much Yost didn’t do. He has, by his experience and familiarity with his team, become the ultimate push-button manager. And it works.

Let’s look at how Yost has managed his team over the last season.

The Lineup

That the Royals were so set with their starting nine uncovers another Yost nugget and that was his lineup was pretty much set in stone. Granite, if you will.

The average American League manager filled out a total of 128 different lineup cards. Yost had 83 different lineups. Here are the five managers who fielded the fewest different batting orders.

Ned Yost – 83
Robin Ventura – 114
Brad Ausmus – 122
Paul Molitor – 124
Mike Scioscia – 125

Again, that’s simply amazing. Yost had the fewest lineups in the AL and it wasn’t even close. We clogged copious amounts of bandwidth complaining about Alcides Escobar hitting leadoff and Alex Gordon hitting sixth (or eighth!) but it was never going to make a difference.

However, this is an area where I give Yost a ton of credit for his willingness to go outside of the box. When he installed Mike Moustakas as his number two hitter, that seemed to make as much sense as insisting the sun rises in the west. Then, paired with Escobar at the top seemed a special kind of lunacy. Yet it worked. Why? In retrospect it was clear that moving Moustakas to the top of the order actually took the pressure off, where he could focus just on making contact and going to the opposite field, rather than trying to drive the ball all the time, which in year’s past had led to a bag of mixed up swing mechanics and a plummeting of confidence. Fixing that is what a good manager is supposed to do. Yost fixed it.

The consistency carried over into October. The only time he deviated from his end of the year lineup in the postseason was when he lost his designated hitter for the games at Citi Field. The Royals most popular regular season lineup?


That was Yost’s lineup for 11 games in 2015. His second most popular lineup was the exact same, except for a flip-flop of order of Alex Rios and Sal Perez that was used 10 times. Stability, man.

Pinch Hitting

With such a set lineup, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that Yost avoided pinch hitters. Myself, I can’t get over how little he uses bats off his bench. Last summer, he summoned a pinch hitter just 40 times, by far the least in baseball. How far?

1 TBR 217 195 14 40 7 2 4 35 13 64 .205 .272 .323 .595 66 92
2 OAK 159 137 13 34 4 2 0 14 19 43 .248 .340 .307 .646 87 110
3 CLE 137 122 10 28 7 1 5 24 10 28 .230 .296 .426 .723 97 131
4 SEA 131 117 10 27 6 0 5 20 10 35 .231 .305 .410 .716 98 129
5 HOU 119 103 17 23 3 0 6 14 15 33 .223 .328 .427 .755 102 142
6 NYY 117 106 8 27 3 0 4 17 9 29 .255 .319 .396 .715 93 130
7 CHW 116 102 14 20 3 1 2 12 9 32 .196 .276 .304 .580 70 87
8 LAA 112 101 8 22 3 0 2 14 8 23 .218 .273 .307 .580 66 87
9 TOR 96 79 8 18 5 0 3 13 15 19 .228 .354 .405 .759 93 145
10 TEX 93 82 6 18 3 0 1 6 8 32 .220 .312 .293 .605 67 96
11 BAL 88 81 10 17 1 0 1 6 6 28 .210 .273 .259 .532 50 72
12 DET 83 74 3 11 4 0 1 9 6 30 .149 .220 .243 .463 25 50
13 MIN 75 71 4 9 1 0 1 6 4 16 .127 .173 .183 .356 3 15
14 BOS 72 66 5 16 4 0 0 5 4 22 .242 .306 .303 .609 67 97
15 KCR 40 36 1 7 0 1 0 1 3 9 .194 .275 .250 .525 46 70
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 11/24/2015.

This speaks to the strength of the Royals lineup combined with a lack of depth. The Royals decided to keep speedsters and glovemen along with the basic backup catcher. Not to mention the fact they rolled with 13 pitchers for most of the season, rendering their bench only three deep. On occasion they had four on the bench is consisted of a back up infielder like Christian Colon, a pair of defense-first outfielders in Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando and a catcher. You may decide to work those guys into a game, but it’s understandable when they aren’t used for their bat.

Pinch Running

This was an area where Yost seemed to overmanage, removing players from the game a little too early, or in situations where their run didn’t matter. In 2014 Yost led the AL using 63 pinch runners. I would imagine roughly 62 of them were used to remove Billy Butler from the game. In 2015, with Butler gone from the roster, it wasn’t a surprise Yost’s pinch running number dropped. He used only 40 pinch runners. That was tied for the sixth most among AL managers and just ahead of the average of 37.

The Bullpen

We know about The Seventh Inning Guy, The Eighth Inning Guy, and The Closer. Yost loves his roles and for the most part, the bullpen was an area of strength for the second consecutive year. According to the Bill James Handbook, Yost had a “Quick Hook” 51 times last summer. That’s tied for the fourth most in the AL, which makes all kinds of sense, given the relative weakness of the rotation as compared to the strength of the bullpen.

Not that the manager always jumped the gun when going to the bullpen. He would give his starters some length. Yost had a “Slow Hook” 42 times, which was right in line with the league average.

As good as the Royals bullpen, Yost did seem to find the proper balance as to usage. He used relievers on back to back days 90 times, which was well under the AL average of 104 times. As much as Yost preferred to have defined roles, he seemed to do a strong job when he needed to move beyond – or around – those roles. Of course, that’s ignoring his refusal to use his closer on the road in a tie game. There are 29 other managers in baseball who do the exact same thing. Until someone arrives to blow up the notion of The Closer, this is a non-issue.

Intentional Walks

Yes, this is a stat that is found in the Bill James Handbook. Yes, Yost issued only 10 intentional walks all summer, again, by far the lowest in the AL. League average was 26 IBB.

The Tactics

This is a bit of a grey area because we know that so often Royals hitters are allowed to do things like bunt on their own. Generally, it’s ok that the manager trusts his players enough to give them the freedom, but sometimes players take advantage and attempt to give themselves up far too early in the game, or in a situation where giving away the out is actually throwing the odds back in favor of the opponent. I really wish Yost would have a “Don’t Bunt!” sign to enlighten some of his players with lower baseball IQs.

Over the years, Yost has developed a reputation as a guy who can’t wait to order the sac bunt, but as we’ve written about, that’s an unfair characterization. Last season, Royals attempted 45 sacrifice bunts according to the Bill James Handbook. Baseball Reference has them at 48. Either number is just slightly above league average.

What the Royals love to do is run. They attempted 138 steals last year and were successful 75 percent of the time. That’s right around where you want to be at the break even point. They’re successful enough that their running isn’t hurting the team, but they’re not so successful as to gain an advantage.

Overall, Yost doesn’t distinguish himself from his peers with his in game tactics such as bunting or steals.

The Conclusion

If you’re looking for ways Yost stands apart where you would say, “Jeez, that guy is really great at what he does,” keep looking. It seems like Yost’s strength as a manager is finding a system or a role that works for a player and then taking his hands off. Of course, there’s the intangibles to consider as well. He’s a different manager from his days in Milwaukee where now, he seems to keep things in the proper perspective to keep the clubhouse steady. It’s clear his players love him and it’s clear he loves his players. It’s a highly functional and productive relationship. He may not use pinch hitters, or bunt like a madman, but he has the proper feel for his team. That may not win him any awards, but that will will you championships. That’s probably just fine with Yost.

Just in case you’re busy thinking this is a hit piece on our newly-beloved field marshall, let me give you a word of advice: Stop. This isn’t a criticism. How could that be? He won the World Series. I know. I was at the parade. This is simply to point out that Yost is the ultimate paint by numbers manager. He gets credit for finding roles where his team (if not his players… cough… Escobar… cough) was able to thrive. His HDH bullpen formula was a hit for five months. When the Royals lost that, the seventh and the eighth innings were a little more anxious. Why? Because Yost never hit on a guy who would pair with Herrera in whatever inning. Again, not necessarily a criticism of his managerial style, more an observation that by taking one of his three best relievers out of the mix created an unstable bullpen.

Yost is the right guy in the right place at the right time. He’s the winningest manager in franchise history and has led the team to consecutive World Series appearances. He may not distinguish himself with his tactics, but it’s clear his team responds to his leadership and his style. It’s also clear he has learned how to utilize his players in a way they can succeed as a team.

Someday, his statue will be just beyond the fountains. And it will be much deserved.

In his Sunday Notes column in the Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo writes the following:

The Royals had their organizational meetings a day after their World Series parade in Kansas City. GM Dayton Moore met with his scouts to go over possible moves for next season. The concern is losing Alex Gordon and Ben Zobrist. The feeling is that Zobrist could re-sign, but Gordon is likely gone. The Royals are looking not only at Jackie Bradley Jr. but free agent Gerardo Parra as possible replacements. They don’t feel they need to replace Gordon with a power hitter, given the dimensions of Kauffman Stadium, but rather a run preventer. Parra and Bradley would fit that description.

Hmmm… Where to start. I guess let’s start with the depressing part of that graph – The Royals don’t think they can retain Gordon. Deep in your heart, you’ve probably been expecting that. At the very least, the above statement shouldn’t come as a surprise. The market for outfielders is robust and Gordon is one of the top choices. It’s been just a few days, so the full market for the top free agents – or really any free agents for that matter – is just now formulating. It will be another couple of weeks before things really start cooking. Yet if you forced me to guess, I’d say there will be close to 10 serious suitors for Gordon.

Still, it’s the hot stove and that cooktop wouldn’t be worth a damn if there wasn’t some speculation. Major League Trade Rumors took a stab at a potential Gordon free agent contract and settled upon five years and $105 million. Jim Bowden at ESPN presented five years, but at $90 million. And Fangraphs crowdsourced about the same. It always feels foolish to take some of these numbers and figure a way a contract could come in for less. This is a free market where more is always the name of the game. So put me down for five years for Gordon as well.

This is where I fear the Royals will remove themselves from the bidding process. I just can’t see them reaching for five years for Gordon. Here’s my guess as to their reasoning:

1. He’s turning 32 just before the start of spring training. A five year deal would tie him up through his age 36 season. Gordon has been a fairly consistent performer over the last five seasons. His 2011 season was his best all around, while his 2013 was probably his worst. (Be gentile. “Worst” is a relative term simply pointing out the least productive of his last five seasons.)

2011 27 KCR AL 151 690 611 101 185 45 4 23 87 17 8 67 139 .303 .376 .502 .879 140
2012 28 KCR AL 161 721 642 93 189 51 5 14 72 10 5 73 140 .294 .368 .455 .822 123
2013 ★ 29 KCR AL 156 700 633 90 168 27 6 20 81 11 3 52 141 .265 .327 .422 .749 103
2014 ★ 30 KCR AL 156 643 563 87 150 34 1 19 74 12 3 65 126 .266 .351 .432 .783 118
2015 ★ 31 KCR AL 104 422 354 40 96 18 0 13 48 2 5 49 92 .271 .377 .432 .809 120
9 Yrs 1136 4818 4245 605 1140 262 21 134 523 81 35 468 1000 .269 .348 .435 .783 112
162 Game Avg. 162 687 605 86 163 37 3 19 75 12 5 67 143 .269 .348 .435 .783 112
AL (9 yrs) 1136 4818 4245 605 1140 262 21 134 523 81 35 468 1000 .269 .348 .435 .783 112
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 11/17/2015.

You get the feeling going by the trends that you can spot in the above table, that Gordon is playing at his peak. That means, if you reward him with a five year contract, you are going to maybe get another couple of years of this kind of production, but then you’re going to be paying for the opening years of the decline phase of his career. That’s something the large market teams can afford to do. The Royals are not – and never will be – in a position to pay upwards of $15 million to a player who is not worth that kind of money.

The large question in front of every team with interest in Gordon is, if they are willing to pay for a couple of his decline years, what will that decline look like? No one has the crystal ball, obviously, but this is important. Some players age more gracefully than others. A guy like Zobrist, for example, just completed his age 34 season and seems like he possesses a skill set (good plate discipline, moderate power) that will help him continue to be productive throughout his mid 30s.

Gordon has been a steady – and superior – offensive performer, a strong baserunner and an amazing defender. Studies have shown exceptional athletes like Gordon can maintain their offensive performance past what we would consider their peak seasons. The decline in value for such a player come from a loss in speed and defense. In the case of Gordon, you have an all-world defender. How is his defense going to play over the next five seasons? Jeff Zimmerman, writing at Beyond The Box Score, came up with some pretty nifty graphs on outfield UZR aging patterns. He found for left fielders, their defensive peak was generally in their age 27 season. From there, they held steady until around age 32. After that… look out.

Funny thing, though. Gordon doesn’t fit the typical pattern.


His peak came in his age 30 year, or three years after the peak of the average left fielder. Then, even though he played the final month plus of the regular season after recovering from his groin strain, Gordon still turned in a defensive performance commisurant with what he was doing in his late twenties. If he is slowing down in the outfield, the numbers sure don’t notice. Of course, UZR and other defensive metrics aren’t ironclad, but considering his defensive work from 2014 and the first three months of 2015, the eye test tells me the same thing.

Another way to look at his defense is through The Fielding Bible’s Defensive Runs Saved. Here are his lifetime numbers in left:

2010 – 3
2011 – 20
2012 – 24
2013 – 16
2014 – 27
2015 – 7

Those numbers conform to the UZR/150 graph above. Throw out 2010 if you like, since he played just under 500 innings in left after returning from Triple-A. While his single-digit tally for 2015 may cause some alarm, realize that Defensive Runs Saved is more or less a counting stat. Gordon played 864 innings in left last summer, his lowest tally since 2010. If you extrapolate his innings to a more normal total (say around 1,375) his final total would be closer to 12 Defensive Runs Saved. Still off the high standard he established in previous seasons, but still well above average.

Offensively, Gordon takes a patient approach at the plate. It’s quite different in the context of the Royals who think you’re legally bound to swing at everything. (Contact rates, baby!) Last year, he saw 3.99 pitches per plate appearance.  He’s tightening his zone, reducing his chase rate in each of the last two seasons. Since he’s become ALEX GORDON! he’s been offering at pitches outside the zone at a rate between 30 and 27 percent annually. Last summer, that was down to 23 percent. As a result of his improved discipline, his walk rate was at 11.6 percent. Not a career best mark, but better than he’s been over the last couple of seasons. Those walks helped him to a .377 OBP which was a career high.

What does the improved discipline mean? That’s a skill that can stay with Gordon throughout his mid 30s. And by working the pitchers to get into counts that favor the batter, Gordon should be a productive hitter for most of his next contract. It’s not a coincidence that Gordon enjoyed a 24.8 percent line drive rate last year, which again was close to his career best set back in 2012.

Gordon may lose a step in the outfield and on the bases, but his superior athleticism should ease his decline from his peak years. Then, his profile as a hitter should bring continued consistency. The decline is coming during his next contract, but it’s doubtful it will be a steep one.

2. The injuries are starting to become a concern. Sure, Gordon is a physical marvel. He should probably wear a cape in the outfield. But he doesn’t and injuries happen. Gordon missed 51 games with his groin injury last summer, and clearly wasn’t comfortable or at 100 percent when he returned. The season before, he sprained his wrist and ultimately had surgery in the winter. As you can see from the table above, it didn’t seem to hamper his ability to maintain his slugging percentage.

Still, Gordon is the kind of player who puts everything on the line when he’s in the field. That’s absolutely something we love about him, but it’s also something that could accelerate the decline of his overall production. The wrist injury that necessitated surgery last December? It was because of a head-first slide. The groin injury last July? It was from going all out to track down a fly ball hit to deep left field. That’s just who Alex Gordon is, so it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he had a couple more of these types of injuries over the term of his next contract. And we all know that as you get older, the body takes a little longer to heal.

Those are two very important points the Royals must deal with when approaching their decision on Gordon. They simply can’t afford to dole out a long-term contract where they aren’t going to get value in return. We know this. It’s something I’ve come to really like about this team. There’s no way they are ever going to overpay a player like Boston did Hanley Ramirez last winter when they don’t have a position for him on the team. (You could argue that Ramirez doesn’t have a position no matter what. But I digress.) Being on a budget does have some benefits. The flip side is they may not be able to extend and take what amounts to a calculated risk.

There are a couple more intangible points the Royals need to think about.

3. The Royals must consider what Gordon means to the team. Gordon is a clubhouse leader, a guy his teammates look up to thanks to a tireless work ethic and quality production. We all know his story… He is from the area, grew up a Royals fan, has a brother named after George Brett, blah, blah, blah. It’s great, but it’s ultimately meaningless. What does matter is his presence in the clubhouse and his role as an anchor for this team.

Obviously, the Royals played a good portion of the 2015 season without Gordon and not only survived, they thrived. I think to jump to a conclusion the Royals could function for an entire season without Gordon in their lineup would be misguided. The Royals need his on base ability in their lineup. Put aside for the moment the insanity of batting Gordon eighth and realize on a team built on free swingers and high contact rates, his patience is needed. They need his defense. They need the threat of his arm in the outfield. They need his health and they need his consistency.

Gordon is second on the Royals in fWAR the past three seasons. He’s the leader over the past four. He was fourth among position players last summer, but again, it’s not a stretch to see him as the most valuable Royal behind Cain if he had stayed healthy for the entire season. Bottom line, Gordon is an integral part of this team and this lineup.

This is an interesting discussion to have about Gordon because it’s so rare. Seriously, count the number of players who mean so much to their team. This takes added weight since the Royals have been so successful over the last couple of seasons. Take away the pennants and we aren’t even discussing his impact in these terms. He’s not a superstar by definition, but he’s the rock of the Royals.

Which brings us to the final point.

4. The Royals have a window of opportunity. I know, I know… Such windows don’t really exist. Except I think they do. Look at the Royals and their current position in The Process. Eric Hosmer is under team control for the next two seasons. Same for Mike Moustakas. Same for Lorenzo Cain. Wade Davis, Danny Duffy… The Royals control them for two more years as well. Salvador Perez is being abused each summer catching more innings than any human should be allowed. The point is, the nucleus of the 2015 World Champion Kansas City Royals will be scattered across baseball in the coming seasons, with question marks for replacements in the minors. Keeping the band together for as long as possible, even if it means paying Gordon for a couple of years where his production may not match the dollars, isn’t a bad idea. The Royals, more than anyone, understand how difficult it is to build a championship team. The last two seasons, they won an American League pennant and a World Series. With the core of this group under contract for another couple of seasons, if they can find a way to bring back Gordon – at many ways the heart of the core (if I may go deep metaphor for a moment) – they can still be a force in the American League Central.

The Royals went through this last winter with Billy Butler. Butler was thought to be an integral piece of the Royals lineup. And he was. Except there are a couple of asterisks that come with his situation. One, he was pretty clearly already declining and given he’s maybe one-tenth the athlete Gordon is, his decline figured to be abrupt. And two, the Royals were able to upgrade at his position with Kendrys Morales. Now at the time, the upgrade wasn’t so obvious. Yet the potential was there. Should the Royals decide to walk away from Gordon, they will be walking from a player who could likely hold off the regression monster for a few of the years of the multi-year deal he is certain to secure, plus they will be doing so without an obvious upgrade at his position.

I mentioned at the open of this post that I thought Gordon would score five years. What about the dollars? Put me down for somewhere in $80-90 million range. That’s between a $16 million and $18 million average annual value. The Royals have been extremely creative with their contracts and there’s no reason to think they can’t continue that with Gordon. They could front load his deal to give them some financial flexibility in years four and five of his contract when the rest of the core have moved on. Or they could backload the deal in anticipation of a new television contract and continued success of MLBAM. Or they could throw in an option year at the end with a buyout to push the AAV to where he needs to be.

David Glass and Moore have both gone on the record saying they want to retain Gordon, but that he will ultimately do what’s right for his family. That’s an admirable stance to take, but the Royals need to do what’s best for their franchise. Nearly 10 years ago, Moore and the Royals signed Gil Meche to a five year deal valued at $55 million. That continues to be the largest Royals contract ever, both in years and dollars. It’s not difficult to think that given the Royals recent success and the way the game continues to rake in the money, the Royals should be able to not only equal the length, but they should comfortably be able to go past the dollar amount. Bringing back Gordon would maximize their current position as the class of the AL. October glory is never guaranteed, but keeping Gordon on the team for the next couple of seasons keeps the Royals in position to continue this franchise’s success.

If the Royals are serious about continuing this amazing run of success, they will bring back Alex Gordon.

Baseball never stops. Well, the games stop. But the business… The business of baseball never stops.

That’s why, just a couple of days removed from a gathering of 800,000 of your closest friends, the Royals brain trust reassembled and began making the necessary adjustments to the roster for the 2016 season.

The Royals declined their portion of the mutual option for Jeremy Guthrie.

When Guthrie signed as a free agent following his brief tour with the Royals in 2012, it was for a straight three-year contract for $25 million. A year later, the Royals asked him to restructure, taking $3 million off his 2014 salary and placing it into a buyout on a mutual option valued at $3.2 million. It’s basically money that was deferred with a little interest tacked on as a thank you.

And thank you, JGuts. You were an asset to this community and an all-around stand-up guy. Every team needs someone like this – a guy you feel good rooting for. Sadly, the contract was a massive overshot by Moore and his staff. Guthrie clears over $25 million and finishes his Royals career 4.38 ERA with a 4.70 FIP and an ERA- of 93. Those are massively substandard numbers for a guy with that kind of contract. According to Fangraphs, he was worth 0.6 fWAR during the life of his contract, providing the Royals with roughly $5 million in value.

Coming off his age 36 season, it’s difficult to imagine Guthrie getting a major league deal this winter. I think it would be outstanding if the Royals find a place for him in their front office. That’s the kind of deal that would be worth it, just to keep him in the community.

The Royals declined their portion of the mutual option for Alex Rios.

As if there was ever a question. Rios was hurt early, struggled upon his return, got chicken pox, played himself (probably) onto the postseason roster with a solid September, and had a fine October. He had some big hits in the ALDS and the ALCS, which ensures he will be Forever Royal.

The Royals acquired him to be a solid, if unspectacular bat, and for a solid, if unspectacular glove in right. What they got was more underwhelming than anything. Since 2013, his production has declined sharply at the plate. His wRC+ numbers from 2012 onward – 126, 105, 91, to 72 with the Royals – tell you everything you need to know about the bat. Forgetting how many outs there were in a World Series game tells you everything you need to know about his concentration.

Alex Gordon declined his player option and will become a free agent.

Oh, the angst. This is the big one. I know, I know… Gordon has said he would love to stay. He even hinted that he would consider picking up the player option for $14 million for 2016. But come on. That was never, ever going to happen. Gordon has become too good a ballplayer for such foolishness. Put yourself in his shoes. You’re among the best in your profession. You have an opportunity to start a bidding war for your services. Yet, you do like your current job. Of course you are going to shop around. You owe it to yourself to find out exactly how much you are worth in the open market.

Besides, there is the small matter of the qualifying offer, which the Royals announced they would exercise for Gordon. Not that he’s going to take the QO (nobody ever does) but that offer is $1.8 million more than his player option. Even if Gordon was planning to stay, the smart thing to do would be to decline the player option and get yourself a little raise. Baseball economics are funny.

Will Gordon return to Kansas City. My Magic Eight Ball says, “Ask me again.” I think Gordon is in line for a four year, $70 million deal. The Royals have never given a free agent more than $55 million. His production has been rocksteady the last couple of years, so there’s no reason to think he’s about to fall into a rapid decline due to age. But I have some serious questions about his health. He’s had a wrist injury and of course the groin injury from last summer. He’s the kind of guy who takes brilliant care of his body, yet the way he plays is enough to make me worry about future injury.

The Royals certainly want to keep him. Can you imagine the backlash if he signs somewhere else? Never mind. It’s too painful to consider. Yet the Royals can’t blow up their economics just to keep one guy in the fold. You’re going to be paying him for the beginning of the decline phase of his career. How steep a decline is dependent upon his health. And that’s a gamble.

I think the Royals will do everything in their power to keep him. That could mean, a creatively structured contract that pays him beyond the normal life of his time on the field. I hope the two parties can work something out that is mutually beneficial to both.

The Royals exercised their option on Wade Davis. 

Do you want to know why the Wade Davis Trade was do great? Because the key to the trade came with three club options. So if the Royals hadn’t put Davis in the bullpen, so if he had been awful as a starter, at some point, they could have just walked away. Instead, they have the best reliever in the game on an extremely club-friendly contract. I mean, damn.

Davis will make $8 million next year and the team holds another option for 2017 at $10 million.

The Royals exercised their option on Alcides Escobar.

As crazy as the Sal Perez contract is, consider Escobar. At six years of service time, he would have been a free agent. Instead, the Royals pulled the trigger on an option that will pay him $5.25 million in 2016. Oh, they also hold the option for ’17 at $6.5 million. Oh, they also paid him a grand total of $9 million to cover his three years where he was eligible for arbitration. Just over $20 million for five years of #PeakEsky? Sign me up.

Watch this space for future angst over Escobar leading off next summer. But scoreboard! Right?

The payoff


We don’t normally runs guest posts on the blog. (Who am I kidding? We’ve never run a guest post on the blog.) But in the days since the Royals WON THE WORLD SERIES, we’ve gotten a strong amount of email. Fans old and new have reached out with some exceptional stories.

(I think that all references to WINNING THE WORLD SERIES should be in all caps for at least a year.)

Obviously, there are a huge number of fans who are in their 30s. They grew up hearing about the glory years and as a reward got to watch Mark Redmon, and Ken Harvey, and Kerry Robinson. If you turn back the clock a couple of years, it’s difficult to understand why this generation of fans so loved the Royals when they were never loved back. Credit to those who stood by this team. The win on Sunday was extra sweet for those who suffered through the 100 loss seasons and are experiencing a championship for the first time.

Dave Hettrick is one of those fans. He grew up in Lee’s Summit and has been a fan his entire life. Yes, he was alive during the ’85 World Series, but he was so young, he probably doesn’t remember much. Never mind. Like many around his age, his roots to Royals fandom start with one Bo Jackson. Why not? Bo was amazing. He just arrived at the wrong time to play a part in the Royals postseason.

Anyway, Dave wrote some nice words that we thought would resonate with those experiencing the bliss of the championship for the first time. He’s moved away from Kansas City, but he will never leave. Experiences like his are what make the last year and a half so special. I’m sure we have many more readers who can relate. He’s agreed to let us post them here.

You can follow Dave on Twitter at @dhettrick.


In 1989, I watched Bo Jackson hit a homerun to lead off the all-star game on a small black and white TV in Tennessee while on family vacation. At the time, as an awestruck baseball loving 9 year old, I had no idea this would be my last great Royals memory for nearly 25 years.

In 1994, I watched as the Royals had an incredible 14 game winning streak.  Major League Baseball literally cancelled the season exactly one week later for the players to go on strike.

In 1998, I worked as an usher where I was lucky enough to work the section immediately behind home plate where all the players’ families and Royals scouts (including super scout Art Stewart) sat.  It was the best job I ever had.  The Royals lost 89 games.

In 2001, while away at college, I discovered the Kansas City Star updated their website every night at midnight.  This meant I could read all the Royals stories online about 8 hours before they were in the newspaper the next morning.  The Royals lost 97 games.

In 2004, I started going to Royals Spring Training (and have gone every year for the last 13 years!).  They were predicted to have their first great season in years.  The Royals lost 104 games.

In 2005, I was working for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.  The Royals had an embarrassing 19 game losing streak.  The Tonight Show writers would call me into their office every afternoon and torture me by reading the Royals jokes they had written that inevitably made it into Leno’s monologue.  The Royals lost 106 games.

In 2008, I went to New York to watch the Royals and for the last season of Yankee Stadium.  The Royals shockingly beat Rivera in the 9th to win the game but for some reason Yankee fans were still overwhelmingly nice to us.  After the game, a fan let us know it was because we were the Royals.  Yes, it was “cute” that Kansas City had a team, but they were no threat to the mighty Yankees.  The Royals lost 87 games.

In 2010, I bought the MLB package so I could now watch nearly every Royals game on my computer (as I have every year since).  The Royals lost 95 games.

In 2014, 25 years after Bo Jackson’s homerun, I found myself in shock as I flew back to Kansas City (twice!) to watch the Royals finally in the playoffs (including witnessing the greatest Wild Card game of all-time).

And then it happened….


For people that aren’t from Kansas City, it’s impossible to understand just how shocking this World Series victory is and how much it means.  For the past 25 years, not only were the Royals the laughingstock of baseball, being relegated to the last 15 seconds of SportsCenter, but really, most of the time, it felt like we were playing an entirely different sport.

While it absolutely kills me that I haven’t been able to be back in Kansas City this week – and that I’m missing the championship parade today – it’s very clear this journey has been about so much more than baseball.  It’s been about life.  It’s been about giving me a reason to call my Dad from 2000 miles away for no other reason than to talk baseball for two minutes.  It’s been about learning how to get back up after you’ve been repeatedly kicked down (we refer to that as the Buddy Bell years).  It’s been about texting with Brady during every game for the last three years.  It’s been about forging a life-long bond with five friends every year in Spring Training, when no matter the Royals team, optimism abounds.  It’s been about moving to a different city but being able to still leave a part of you at home.  And most importantly, as the 2015 Royals so clearly showed the world, it’s been about never giving up.

They saved their most Royals win for last. Held in check against a dominant starting pitcher for eight innings, the door opened in the ninth. Just enough. With the battle of bullpen attrition underway, it was just a matter of time. Confidence was high and by the time the 12th rolled around and Wade Davis entered, it was all but assured.

The Kansas City Royals are the champions of the baseball world.


This caps the most amazing year and a half of my baseball fandom. From the second half of the 2014 season, to clinching a Wild Card spot in Chicago in September, to the Wild Card Game, to the sweeps in the ALDS and the ALCS, to being 90 feet away, to storming out of the gate this April, to cruising to the Central title, to being down to their final six outs in Houston, to battling the dangerous Blue Jays, to this. This moment. This wonderful, zany moment when we reach the summit.

World Series champions.

True to Royals form, this was a total team effort.

From Edinson Volquez, a big free agent signing this past winter, who pitched his heart out just days after attending the funeral for his father. With Matt Harvey on point, Volquez was tasked with keeping his team in the game. Six innings with two hits and five strikeouts were exactly what the team needed. Sure, there were runs, but Volquez continually pitched around and out of danger. Without his start, the Royals aren’t in position to comeback. I mean, the Royals are never out of the game, but some comebacks are easier than others.

Kelvin Herrera, signed as an international free agent in 2006, pitched three innings in relief of Volquez. He set the tone for the bullpen, allowing just a single baserunner while getting his nine outs.

Lorenzo Cain, part of the Zack Greinke deal, had a couple of the ugliest at bats I’ve seen from him all season against Harvey early in the game. He led off the ninth inning against the Mets starter and drew a walk. The second night in a row a LoCain base on balls ignited a rally.

Eric Hosmer, the first round pick of 2008, who was nails with runners in scoring position all postseason, drives Cain home with an opposite field double, after Cain swiped second base.

Mike Moustakas, the first round pick of 2007, needing to at the very least hit the ball to the right side, did in fact pull the ball for a ground out, advancing Hosmer to third.

Sal Perez, signed by the Royals as a 16 year old when the Royals finally expanded their international scouting department, hitting a little squibber, in no-man’s land between third and short. Fielded by David Wright, Hosmer took off when the Mets third baseman stepped to first to make the throw. It was a play that was equal parts stupid and equal parts brilliant. Force the Mets defense to make a play. Hosmer was dead to rights. The game was over. But the throw home sailed wide and Hosmer slid, head first, across home with the tying run.

Luke Hochevar, the Royals 1st round draft pick in 2006, the longest tenured Royal, coming in from the bullpen and throwing two shut down innings.

Jarrod Dyson, the Royals 50th round draft pick in 2006, pinch running for Perez in the 12. Stealing second, moving to third on a ground out and coming home with the winning run.

Christian Colon, the fourth overall draft pick in 2010, who hadn’t had an at bat since October 4, coming up with Dyson on third. He laced the most beautiful single I’ve seen.

Let’s be honest. It was over at that moment. With you know who, lurking in the bullpen, one run was going to be enough. But the Royals weren’t done. They had rallied all year. They had avoided elimination in Houston, they battered a tough Toronto team. They were going to make a statement in their final inning of 2015.

Paulo Orlando, traded for Horacio Ramirez for crying out loud, hits one to second that gets booted.

Alcides Escobar, picked up in the Zack Greinke trade, so hot all month, drives in the insurance runs with a double.

Ben Zobrist, acquired at the trade deadline, is intentionally walked to load the bases.

— Cain again, doubling to clear the bases and provide the final margin, setting the stage for…

Wade Davis, the key to the Wil Myers trade. Wait, screw that. It’s forever The Wade Davis Trade. Three up. Three down. The Wade Davis Experience.

World Champions.

Congratulations to the architect, Dayton Moore. Congrats to the scouts, the baseball ops guys, the support staff, the coaches… Everyone. You have given Kansas City a team for the ages. This has been the most memorable summer of baseball. When Clark and I started this blog in 2005, the Royals lost 106 games. World Series? We were just hoping they could hit the damn cutoff man. It wasn’t always smooth, and it took a little longer than we may have liked. But it happened. It really happened.

This post is a bit of a mess. I’m a bit of a mess. Never in my wildest dreams did I think this was possible. Over the next few days, I’m sure Clark and Aaron and I will be able to step back a bit and process what we saw.

What a night. What a season. Thanks for coming along for the ride with us.

One final Gatorade bath for 2015.

The parade is Tuesday. See you there.

At this point, if you decided to forgo the first five or six innings of a Royals postseason game, no one in their right mind would criticize you.

The Royals rode the singles (and error) train once again, waiting until the later innings to fire up the engine, and now stand one victory from their first world championship in 30 years.

The first 16 innings or so of their Citi Field odyssey had been underwhelming. The bats, aside from a good start on Friday night, had been silent. The pitching, generally solid, but not solid enough to keep the Mets off the board. The fielding, curiously inconsistent.

It left the Royals just five outs away from dropping their second consecutive game and allowing the Mets to even the series while guaranteeing a return trip to Kauffman. Make no mistake, as comfortable as home has been this October for the Royals, not a single member of that club wants to have a home game there in November.

Funny how all this works. Roughly 24 hours after coming in for some criticism on how he managed his bullpen and bench, Ned Yost seemed to push the right buttons. Meanwhile, his counterpart Terry Collins failed at the most crucial moment of the game. Although with the way these Royals rally, Collins could have thrown the love child of Mariano Rivera and Rollie Fingers and it probably wouldn’t have mattered.

Let’s start with Yost. He lifted his starter Chris Young after four innings when his spot in the order came around with a runner on first and two outs. Conventional wisdom says that’s a little early. Conventional wisdom goes on to scream that you shouldn’t use Kendrys Morales in that situation, rather save him for a higher leverage moment. (Literally, it screams. At least the beats on Twitter do.) I disagree. Fire your best bullet at the first opportunity. Morales is capable of the home run or the double, both of which would have scored Alex Gordon from first. After the Royals had broken through with a run to cut the deficit in half, it was the right call. Morales singled to move the line, but the inning was over when Alcides Escobar grounded out.

In the next frame, Collins made his first blunder of the night, allowing Stephen Matz to return to the mound to face the top of the order for the third time. Matz doesn’t have much big league experience, only making his fifth home start of the year, and was on a short leash as far as pitch count. The signs were there in the previous inning that he was tiring. Plus, Collins had the opportunity to remove his starter for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the fifth. Never mind. Mistake recorded. Ben Zobrist doubles and Lorenzo Cain singles to add another run to the tally. Collins goes to his bullpen to stop the bleeding, but the Royals scratched back another run.

Forward to the eighth. Collins goes to Tyler Clippard, who has been his normal eighth inning guy. Confidence in Clippard is low, but Collins needed someone to bridge to the closer after Jeurys Familia threw the night before in a blowout win. We know exactly what happened.

Zobrist and Cain – those two again – work back to back one out walks. Cain’s plate appearance was especially impressive as it came after he fell into an 0-2 hole. With the pressure on, Collins finally summons Familia. He gets a weak grounder to second off the bat of Eric Hosmer. As Royals fans, we’ve seen this millions of times where Hosmer rolls over and hits a harmless grounder to the right side of the infield. Except this one was a little different in that it was weaker than his usual 4-3. Second baseman Daniel Murphy charged, but the ball scooted under his glove. The floodgates open. The Royals tie the score.

Who knows what happened to Murphy. I thought for a moment he may have been shielded by Cain running to second, but that doesn’t seem likely. Murphy may have been wondering if he could get Cain at second, which perhaps caused him to speed up the play. Or maybe Royals Devil Magic arrived in the nick of time. Whatever the reason, the Mets middle infield has been a defensive playground all year. Sometimes, it just takes a ball put in play. The Kings Of Contact, indeed.

Mike Moustakas and Sal Perez fire up the singles train to plate two more. With a two run lead, Yost trumps Collins by going to his closer, Wade Davis, for the final six outs. It’s the second time Davis has done it in the postseason, and really, you get the feeling if Davis was called upon to get a 27 out save (relax, I know there’s no such thing) he could do it. That’s how great Davis is.

A minor blip in the ninth as the Mets string together back to back singles with one out. Sometimes, you receive an unexpected gift from a stranger. It just shows up on your door. You may wonder why it’s there, or who sent it, but you generally just smile, say thank you and accept the gift.

Thank you, Yoenis Cespedes.

Lucas Duda hits a soft line drive to Moustakas, who looks up and is surprised to see Cespedes went on contact. Throw to Hosmer and ballgame.

The Royals stand on the brink of a championship.

It rests on the shoulders of Edinson Volquez, who made his return following the funeral of his father in the Dominican Republic. Volquez will be pitching for his dad, and will have the entire Royals Universe lifting him up. It sounds trite, but that’s what this team does to us. We root for them as ballplayers, but we support them as people. These are our Royals. Since they reported to spring training last February, they have been part of the fabric of our daily routine. It’s been a helluva ride. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s mostly been fun. They now need just one more win. The finish line is in sight. The goal has almost been reached.

The Big Blue Machine rolls along.

The Royals had their chances to pounce early against the Mets. They plated one run in the first, then two more in the second. Then… silence.

Yordano Ventura found himself in hot water early, allowing a single to Curtis Granderson and a home run to David Wright. It was a nice recovery to retire the next three batters to escape the inning. It looked like his command was good and his pitch selection was OK. His velocity, however, was another story. It dropped immediately after the Wright home run and never recovered. From Brooks Baseball, here is how Ventura’s entire evening looked.


The first couple of fastballs are around his normal average for the entire season. Then, it drops. The game log will show that Ventura averaged a tick below 95 mph on his heater, but that’s skewed by a small sample size (he was in the game only long enough to throw 20 fastballs) and by the fact his first couple of pitches were way faster than anything he threw the rest of the night. For some perspective, here’s how Ventura’s velocity has looked game by game this year.


Knowing this, the Royals probably should of had someone warming in the bullpen earlier than they did. Especially after Noad Syndergaard opened the third inning with a single on an 0-2 pitch. And certainly after another two-run home run, this time by Granderson.

But the zaniness was just getting started.

When Ned Yost did finally get his starter, he brought in Danny Duffy. This would have been the time to perform a double switch. Before the game, I was listening to MLB Network Radio and they were interviewing Yost on the field. It was a fun conversation and they asked him about playing in the NL park with NL rules. The double switch came up.

This makes sense. The Royals lineup is constructed with everyday players who you want to stay in for every play of the game. Rios has been pulled of late for Paulo Orlando as a defensive replacement. So if the eighth place hitter (Rios) makes the final out of an inning and the Royals are in the situation where they would like to have multiple innings from a reliever (say… Duffy) then you may see a double switch.

In other words, the setup was perfect. And Yost did nothing.

Instead, he brought Duffy in to get two outs and lifted him for a pinch hitter. OK. Maybe he didn’t want to pull Rios so early in the game which necessitated this play. That’s understandable. What’s not so understandable is that Yost send Raul Mondesi up to lead off the inning. Mondesi has tools and has the potential to be an above-average player in the major leagues. His defense and speed are already excellent. His hit tool… Not so much. The Royals have been aggressive in his promotion and he’s always been one of the youngest (if not the youngest) player in his league. Why in the world would Yost give away an at bat in that situation? If you are so hell-bent on doing that, why not let Duffy go up and stare at four or five pitches? At least that way, you’re not starting to go through your bullpen.

With the bullpen carousel in full spin, Yost turned to Luke Hochevar. Hochevar got out of the inning on 15 pitches. In the bottom of the inning, the Royals loaded the bases with two outs. Rios up again. Having missed one opportunity to remove Rios from the game, Yost found himself at another critical junction. In that same interview on MLB Network Radio, Yost said he was hoping to use Kendrys Morales in a high-leverage situation. Well, if bases loaded, two outs in the sixth inning of a game where you have a two run deficit isn’t high-leverage, they should just remove that term from the baseball lexicon.

Yost stood still. Morales sat. Rios grounded out.

If you were expecting to see Hochevar return for the sixth, you were mistaken. Instead, Yost turned to Franklin Morales. It was clear at this point that Morales would be the dreaded “sixth inning guy.” At this point, the game was still close enough that Yost would go to his big late inning guns to at least keep the game within striking distance. Instead, it went off the rails, into the dumpster and it burst into flames.

Yost brought his reliever in to face a pair of right handed bats sandwiched around a lefty in Michael Conforto. Yost should of known that Conforto would probably be lifted for a pinch hitter, as this has been something Terry Collins has done frequently this October. The same would be true if anyone reached base and the pitcher’s spot came up. In other words, there was a very real possibility that Morales would face strictly right-handers.


vs RHB 151 137 15 39 11 1 3 9 21 .285 .333 .445 .779 126 118
vs LHB 107 99 8 19 5 2 1 5 20 .192 .245 .313 .558 63 52
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 10/31/2015.

That’s less than ideal. Morales is a guy you could turn to for a full inning for sure, but you’d feel better about your chances if you had him face at least two left-handed bats. Instead, in Game Three of the World Series, he didn’t face a lefty until Granderson, his fifth batter of the inning. And that’s when things got really interesting.

With runners on the corners and one run already in, Granderson hit a comebacker to the mound. Instead of turning and throwing immediately to second to start a potential inning-ending double play, Morales did a little dance, spinning every which way, before finally chucking a throw wide of second. The runner held at third, but the bases were now loaded. Enter Kelvin Herrera, who Yost didn’t want to use in the sixth. Herrera coughed up all three runners.


Oh. Morales finally got to hit. With two outs in the ninth with his team down by six. Not exactly high-leverage.

There’s something glorious and fun – and demoralizing – about the Royals singles train. Death by a thousand paper cuts. This is a team that has lived this way for the better part of two seasons. Probably longer, but you don’t notice it so much when they’re losing. Maybe because the singles train doesn’t make so many appearances for a losing team.

The Royals rode the train again in Game Two of the World Series on Wednesday. It’s become a theme of the last two postseasons. Lacking pure, consistent power, the Royals have to string together hits in order to hang a crooked number on the board. It can be effective.

Source: FanGraphs

When the Royals broke the game wide open, the frame opened with a walk. What followed were five singles and some ill-advised bunt attempts. The hardest hit ball of the inning – the Lorenzo Cain line drive to center – was caught for an out. Death by a thousand paper cuts, indeed.

I’ve tried to catch up on my reading during the off day, but probably failed at that. There’s so much to digest when your team is playing into October. Analysis, too. One thing I heard yesterday on MLB Network Radio was speculation the Royals would opt to keep Kendrys Morales’s bat in the lineup at Citi Field, so they would move Eric Hosmer to right field. It can be very difficult to keep the car on the road sometimes.

There’s simply no way that a team that prides itself on its defense would weaken itself at two positions just to keep a bat in the lineup. No way. Besides, we know with Ned Yost and his love of pinch running for his designated hitter, the odds are always long that Morales would be in the lineup for the full nine no matter where the game would be played and under any set of rules. Plus, Hosmer in right? Woof.

Time for a mini rant: Baseball needs to get its act together regarding the DH. With interleague, a pool of MLB umpires no longer restricted to each particular league, and the foolish way they award home field in the World Series, it’s time MLB reached a consensus here. It’s cute they still have the pitchers hit in the NL and that some relish the strategy – I mean who doesn’t get out of their seat and jump up and down when a manager pulls a double switch? – but the difference in rules puts teams at a massive disadvantage. For the Mets, they have to find a capable bat to use in the lineup. For the Royals, they have to remove a bat they are paying millions of dollars just for that purpose. Can you imagine any other sport doing this? “Hey, you’re going to want to find a guy who can hit, but in the most important games of your season, you can’t use him three or four times. Depending on the outcome of the All-Star Game.”


Morales is hitting .250/.302/.500 in the postseason. He is tied for the team lead with four home runs. The Royals will absolutely miss his bat and the threat of power in the middle of the order. They can survive. All aboard the singles train.

Yordano Ventura gets the start in Game Three. Going over some of his tendencies, I noticed he’s throwing his change less in the postseason. He’s moved away from that pitch and is throwing more two-seam and cut fastballs.


His favored off speed pitch remains the curve, which he continues to use the ahead in the count.

This will be Ventura’s fifth start of the postseason, and searching for adjectives, I’d say he’s been steady. That’s what the Royals will need on Friday. The bullpen has two days of rest and with Chris Young still slated to start Game Four, it would be helpful if Ventura could go deeper than the sixth inning, but it’s hardly necessary. I’ve been harsh on Yost in this space for his reluctance to remove his starters and turn the game over to the bullpen, so I’ll continue to beat that drum. Let’s not forget how Ventura does each time the batting order turns over.

1st PA in G, as SP 28 252 228 18 56 7 2 3 16 59 .246 .307 .333 .640 84 83
2nd PA in G, as SP 28 244 220 27 53 6 1 5 22 58 .241 .316 .345 .661 90 83
3rd PA in G, as SP 25 184 162 25 44 14 3 6 19 37 .272 .348 .506 .854 143 122
4th+ PA in G, as SP 8 13 11 0 1 0 0 0 1 2 .091 .231 .091 .322 -4 -9
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 10/30/2015.

He’s worse than the league average on the third time through the lineup. If it’s a close game, Yost needs to keep him on a short leash and trust a rested bullpen. The Royals have two wins in their pocket and feel in control, but one bad game can wash that good feeling right away.

Clark discussed Johnny Cueto’s performance yesterday. I’m still shaking my head in amazement. You can make the case that his start on Wednesday was the best by a Royal in the postseason. Yes, that’s going back through the glory days of the 1970’s and the Bret Saberhagen dominance in ’85. Here are the top seven starts ranked by Game Score:

Rk Player Date Series Gm# Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit Str GSc ERA WPA RE24 aLI
1 Johnny Cueto 2015-10-28 WS 2 KCR NYM W 7-1 CG 9, W 9.0 2 1 1 3 4 0 122 70 80 1.00 0.271 3.510 .805
2 Bret Saberhagen 1985-10-27 WS 7 KCR STL W 11-0 SHO9, W 9.0 5 0 0 0 2 0 92 64 79 0.00 0.201 4.550 .337
3 Johnny Cueto 2015-10-14 ALDS 5 KCR HOU W 7-2 GS-8, W 8.0 2 2 2 0 8 1 91 62 78 2.25 0.227 2.009 .712
4 Bret Saberhagen 1985-10-22 WS 3 KCR STL W 6-1 CG 9, W 9.0 6 1 1 1 8 0 132 88 78 1.00 0.264 3.066 .773
5 Danny Jackson 1985-10-13 ALCS 5 KCR TOR W 2-0 SHO9, W 9.0 8 0 0 1 6 0 113 76 76 0.00 0.556 4.550 1.227
6 Dennis Leonard 1977-10-07 ALCS 3 KCR NYY W 6-2 CG 9, W 9.0 4 2 1 1 4 0 97 65 76 1.00 0.287 2.651 .603
7 Danny Jackson 1985-10-24 WS 5 KCR STL W 6-1 CG 9, W 9.0 5 1 1 3 5 0 125 80 75 1.00 0.247 3.066 .782
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/30/2015.

In his two “great” starts, Cueto has allowed just three runs in 17 innings. You could easily see how he could’ve held both opponents off the board. One bad pitch in the ALDS and if the double play is made in the World Series. Had Cueto been just average, and not thrown one of the worst postseason starts in history (forget Royals history for a moment, we’re talking in baseball history) we would be marveling at how he is a true ace and has carried this team.

We normally take the weekends off in this space, but if you check back, I would imagine there will be a few posts. The World Series is kind of a big deal.

Tragedy, comedy, drama, and even a little poetry. It was as if someone dumped the complete works of Shakespeare into a blender. That was Game One of the 2015 World Series.

The temptation is to try to rank these Royals postseason games. And why not? Contests of such epic scale demand they are accurately assessed and sorted in some manner. But there have been so many, at this point it’s futile.

The Royals won in the 14th inning on an Eric Hosmer walkoff sacrifice fly. It was Tuesday night. Or Wednesday morning. Hell, it could’ve been December for all we knew. The game lasted forever. Except it didn’t. There was an end. We saw it. And tiredly celebrated.

The game opened against the bizarre backdrop of the news breaking on social media that Edinson Volquez’s father passed away earlier in the day. Some outlets said Volquez knew. The Royals said he didn’t. Fox, the broadcast rightsholders, properly remained mum.

The Royals, as their prerogative all October, hit Alcides Escobar leadoff and it continued to pay dividends. He launched the first pitch to left-center. We know all about what happens in that area in the postseason. Outfielders get a bit… disoriented. By the crowd noise, by the lights, by their nerves, by whatever, we’ve seen more key hits to that area seemingly than any other part of the yard. In this one, Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes converged, then stopped, then kind of looked at each other. By that time, the only question was whether Escobar would stop at second.

He wouldn’t.

An opening pitch inside the park home run. On the first pitch to Escobar. Do the Mets even employ advance scouts? How can you even decide to throw a first pitch strike to Escobar?

From there, the game settled into a comfortable rhythm.

The Mets boarded their own singles train to scratch a run to tie the game in the fourth. Curtis Granderson homered in the fifth. It was around this point, it looked like Volquez was fading. His velocity has been up all month, seemingly “from Gatorade” as he liked to joke. Does the tank empty a little faster when he’s so amped up so early? You would think so, but Ned Yost had confidence to leave him in the game to continue working through the order for a third time.

In retrospect, it was probably the wrong call at the time, but given how events unfolded, it was the right call by the end of the game. Singles by Cespedes and Lucas Duda (beating the shift for the second time of the evening) set up first and third with no one out. A batter latter, Cespedes came home with the third run of the night on a sacrifice fly. The Royals were down two.

This is where the Royals appear to like to do things. Ben Zobrist takes the first pitch of the bottom of the inning down the line for a double. Lorenzo Cain follows with a single. Eric Hosmer brings in a run with a sac fly of his own. It’s 3-2. Cain swipes second, which should be a theme for as long as this series goes. We know the Royals have shelved their running game this October, but against the Mets, this would be prime time to break it back out. There are rumblings their catcher, Travis d’Arnaud, is battling a sore shoulder. They need to take advantage.

Thanks to the steal, the Royals tie the game on a Mike Moustakas single up the middle.

With the game now turned over to the bullpen, you figure the Royals would find a way to scratch out the win. You just didn’t think it would take so long. In the eighth, with Kelvin Herrera on the hill and two outs, Juan Lagares singled. Lagares did not start but entered the game for defensive purposes in the sixth after the circus in the outfield to open the game. He stole second. With two strikes, Wilmer Flores hit one down the first base line. It’s a play Hosmer has made millions of times. This time, the ball had a little extra spin and skidded away from his glove as he moved toward the line to field it. It was a deserved error. Hosmer could have gotten his body in front of the ball. Even if the spin handcuffed him, he could have at least kept it on the infield. Instead, the rare defensive blunder led to the Mets fourth run of the night.

The Mets turned to their setup man Tyler Clippard to open the eighth. He’s had a difficult time finding outs this October. The Royals, to absolutely no one’s surprise, began to make some noise. It was that man Zobrist again, with another double to lead off an inning.

This is where things went off the rails. With Cain at the plate, he squared and pushed at a ball at his eyeballs. Strike one. He squared again on the next pitch and fouled it back. Strike two. He then waved at another high fastball. Strike three. It was an awful at bat. Just awful. There is no other way to describe it. It was made worse when you realize Cain had attempted exactly no sacrifice bunts all year. In fact, over his entire career he’s sacrificed exactly one time. Once. Just horrific baseball. Anyway, forget the numbers. You do not let your number three hitter bunt in that situation. Never. If Cain was freelancing, Yost needed to be on the top step yelling at him to knock it off. If Yost called for it… I don’t even want to consider that.

Hosmer followed with a putrid plate appearance of his own. The Royals had a golden opportunity and left it on third. At that point, you could be excused if you thought the game was over. It certainly felt like the team let the air out of the stadium after squandering a half inning that started so full of promise.

We know the baseball axiom: “It’s not over, ’til it’s over.” That’s never felt more true when applying it to these Royals. Down to their final two outs, it’s Alex Gordon who pulls his team back from the precipice. A monster bomb to dead center field against Jeurys Familia, a closer who has been absolutely lights out the last couple of months. Salvation in one swing.

From there, the bullpen took over. What another amazing, yet routine, outing from the pen. Eight innings. Five hits. One run. And 12 strikeouts. Chris Young, slated to pitch in Game Four, came in and was brilliant, even pumping his fastball to 90 mph. That’s a velocity he hasn’t reached since 2009. World Series baseball, man.

The great thing about baseball is it’s a game where redemption is always a possibility. Screw up one inning, you can make a difference the next one. That’s where Eric Hosmer was with the bases loaded in the 14th. He just needed to get the ball to the outfield to bring home the run and victory. His second sac fly of the ball game came with a bat flip. Because how else could this one end? Escobar, who opened the scoring some five hours earlier, crossed home with the winning tally. Mission accomplished.

That was a helluva ballgame.

Prospect hounds love to sniff around the backfields in spring training. They measure the young talent to try to get a feel about which newcomers could contribute in the coming season. If you want to discuss prospects in the fall, Arizona and the Fall League is where you want to be. The World Series is serious business.

Except the Royals turned that conventional wisdom upside down this morning when they announced Raul Mondesi, Jr. would be on the World Series roster in place of designated burner, Terrance Gore.

The way Ned Yost manages never reaches state secret status. It doesn’t even rate secrecy status in a municipality or a hamlet. In October, Yost has been using Paulo Orlando as a defensive replacement for Alex Rios. Jarrod Dyson (and Gore) have been the featured pinch runners. Plus, with Gore off the roster, Mondesi fills that role, but gives Yost the added utility of his defense in the middle infield.

Then there’s the added uncertainty around Ben Zobrist and his availability for the next week. His wife is expecting and is due after the Series. Of course, infants like to arrive on their own schedule. We could have shades of Bret Saberhagen in ’85 again, pitching just ahead of his own son being born. Should Zobrist miss time, you could see where the Royals would start Christian Colon, hit him low in the order, and swap him out in the later innings, using Mondesi as a defensive replacement.

I would write something pithy about this being a new age Royals team that would call up a 20 year old playing above his level in Double-A, but if you had told me 16 months ago the Royals were going to be playing in their second consecutive World Series in 2015, I would flamed you on Twitter for being super mean. Instead, I’ll just nod, secure in the knowledge that Dayton Moore and his staff understand their team better than anyone, and they have a firm grasp on the current situation. As a sucker for rookies and their first major league base hits, I’ll be over here, spending a good chunk of the Series rooting for Mondesi to not only get a plate appearance, but to collect his first hit. Could you imagine?

Meanwhile, the rest of the roster is unchanged. You know the rotation. The batting order will be unchanged. The sequencing out of the bullpen… Yeah, that could be changed. Except for Wade Davis. As I write this, first pitch is five hours away. The only certainty (besides the lineup) is Wade Davis. And thank goodness for that.

Buckle up. Should be a helluva series.

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