Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts published by Craig Brown

Utilizing an offensive attack that can be described as equal parts anemic and pathetic, the Royals lost to the fading Twins on Thursday.

Kansas City mustered just four hits on the night. Two of them were bunts. From Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer. That’s how awful it was. They were somehow able to get two runners on base at once in the fourth and in the eighth. Heady times. Except in the fourth Kendrys Morales hit into a fielders choice and Sal Perez struck out looking. Looking! In the eighth, Lorenzo Cain went down on strikes and Hosmer rolled it over and hit a harmless ground ball to second.

That’s your offensive attack in a nutshell.

On the other hand, the Minnesota offense was doing everything it could to give the game away. They had five extra base hits, but ran into two outs on the bases. Except they had two hits in 12 chances with runners in scoring position. The Royals had no hits in five chances in a similar situation.

There’s a lot of hand-wringing over a four-game losing streak. I guess that’s to be expected when you are the defending AL champions. Although I’m contractually obligated to point out the team is still in first place in the AL Central and they own the second best winning percentage in the league. Houston is at .580. Kansas City is at .579. This four game skid is the second time all year the team has lost four games. They have also had one three game losing streak. If you’re looking for something that will get you off the ledge, maybe that little factoid above is what will accomplish that. This time last year, the team had already run through a couple of four-game losing streaks and had lost five in a row for added measure.

Losing streaks aren’t fun, but they are a fact of baseball. The good teams minimize those plateaus. I still think the Royals are a good team.

Having said that, the blame for this rests solely on the shoulders of the offense.

Small sample size caveat ahead:


That’s the Royals offensive output the last four games, courtesy the Baseball Musings Day by Day Database. And it’s pretty ugly. The only Royal hitting with distinction is Cain. The only other Royal who gets on base is Alex Gordon. And the hottest guy on the squad (in this smallest of samples) is Jerrod Dyson and he can’t get a regular game in the lineup. Look at Escobar (.083 OBP) and Moustakas (.125 OBP). The top two hitters in this lineup aren’t doing their job and setting the table. Although with the middle of the order stinking it up, I’m not sure that matters so much.

This is the Royals offense. No, I’m not saying they’re this awful. I’m saying that they are prone to disappearing acts. This is what happens when you collectively preach contact and eschew working the count and taking your share of walks. At some point the BABIP Gods will frown and when they do, you get a table like the one above.

The Royals team walk rate of 5.7 percent is low. It’s historically low. And it’s a problem. You can’t score if you can’t get on base. League average this year is 7.5 percent. Here are the bottom five teams as ranked by walk rate:

Colorado – 6.3%
Chicago White Sox – 6.2%
Milwaukee – 6.1%
Philadelphia – 6.0%
Kansas City – 5.7%

Among those teams, only Colorado and Kansas City score more runs that the league average. Colorado is always the offensive exception. Only Kansas City has a winning record.

We remember this is the same position the Royals occupied last year and they made it to the seventh game of the World Series. It’s possible to win and despise the walk. But if you’re going to do that, you’re also going to have stretches where your offense goes walkabout.

This road trip couldn’t have started in a more ideal fashion.

Winning two of three in Seattle and sweeping the evil A’s… That’s some tasty baseball right there.

I’d like to flashback to Saturday’s game and the pivotal moment – the double steal. McCullough’s gamer provides an outstanding account.

Rusty Kuntz glanced at his stopwatch and logged the times for usage on Saturday: 1.7 seconds to the plate, 1.8, 1.9, “at least,” Kuntz said, whenever Oakland starter Scott Kazmir pitched with a runner at second base. Manager Ned Yost banked the research from his first-base coach and waited until the sixth inning of a 3-2 Royals victory to deploy it.

This has been written before on this tiny sliver of bandwidth, but it’s extremely easy to second-guess and criticize moves the manager makes (or doesn’t make) when those moves backfire. The problem with being a major league manager is losing decisions are magnified. The nuanced decisions that lead to wins, for some reason, not so much.

On Saturday, Kuntz and Yost came up with a way to literally steal a win from Oakland. Maybe bookmark that gamer so the next time Yost goofs on an intentional walk or a bullpen move and fans start screaming that he’s costing his team games, you can pull up that story and point to at least one game where Yost (and Kuntz) earned the win.

But when to fire it? The team felt it was unwise to do so with Cain at first base after his sixth-inning walk. Kazmir reaches the plate at about 1.1 to 1.2 seconds with a runner at first. He feels comfortable pitching with a slide-step, which reduces opportunities for would-be base-thieves. When a runner reaches second base, the Royals knew, Kazmir slows down his delivery with a leg kick. 

“Instead of taking a gamble to try to get to second base,” Kuntz said, “let’s try to wait him out.” 

It took a single from Hosmer to set the scene. Kazmir raised his right leg and fired. Kuntz clocked him at 1.9 seconds. The opportunity was perfect, and the Royals duo did not hesitate. Oakland catcher Josh Phegley threw to second, where Hosmer arrived before second baseman Eric Sogard could drop a tag.

The moment arrived at the perfect time for the Royals.

Source: FanGraphs

According to Win Expectancy, advancing the runners from first and second to second and third with two outs increased the chances of a Royals win by eight percent. That gain alone makes the double steal attempt worthwhile. Although it’s balanced by the knowledge the Royals had – at that point in time – only ten more outs. And naturally, it only works if you have decent baserunners on the bags at that moment, so it was fortunate the Royals had Cain as the lead runner with Hosmer the trail.

(The only downer here is both runners were hurt on the double steal. Cain tweaked a hamstring that had been bothering him since Tuesday in Seattle. Hosmer sprained a finger on his headfirst slide into second.)

None of this counts if Kendrys Morales doesn’t come through. He lines a single to right, plating both runners and providing the Royals with their margin of victory. While the steal improved the Royals chances of winning by eight percent, Morales’s single boosted their WE by 22 percent. In the span of three pitches, the Royals went from decided underdogs to heavy favorites. You can see from the game graph above, post-single, the Royals were 70 percent favorites. This doesn’t take into account the Royals shutdown bullpen. The HDH triumvarate is usually good for the other 30.

Moving to Sunday, the Royals came up with another stealth inning to complete the sweep. I say it was a “stealth” inning because up until that moment, the offense was dormant. Granted, the Royals did leave the bases loaded in the third, but all those runners came with two down which is a difficult time to ignite a rally.

The sixth opened with a Mike Moustakas double and was followed by a Kendrys Morales single. With runners at the corners, Hosmer hit a harmless fly to center that failed to bring home the run. (I’ll cut Hosmer some slack here, with the injured finger and all. Although I will note that in the last over his last 28 games, he’s slashing .265/.315/.328. In over a month, he’s managed just four extra base hits. Hosmer’s bat has disappeared. Again.) That brought Perez to the plate with the key moment of the game.

Perez chopped a grounder to third base. Moustakas went home on contact. Max Muncy charged, grabbed the ball and fired home. The throw was high, Moustakas was in with a run and no outs were recorded on the play.

Replays showed that had the throw been good, Moustakas would have been out. Even so, at the moment I thought the smart play was to get Perez at first. It wasn’t a particularly easy play because the grounder was topped and wasn’t hit especially hard. With the slow running Perez, he’s still a sure out at first. I figured you give the Royals a run there and get the sure out. With the error on the play at home, Morales moved to third and Perez made it to second. So the A’s walked Alex Gordon to load the bases. Alex Rios hit a sac fly to tie the game and Omar Infante (that’s All-Star Omar Infante to you) broke the deadlock.


Again, we can probably credit Yost and his coaching staff for stealing that win. With Perez at the plate there was the chance he would put the ball on the ground to the left side of the infield. With the A’s shaky defense this year, it made sense to put the pressure on their infielders to make the play at home, should they make that decision. We know Moustakas isn’t the fleetest of foot, so there’s a risk involved but you send him knowing that if you don’t and the A’s record an out, they could still walk Gordon to pitch to Rios. And these days it seems the only way Rios can contribute is through the “productive out.” It was a risk worth taking, and it worked.

Source: FanGraphs

Like on Saturday, this moved the Win Expectancy needle in the Royals favor, improving their chances by 18 percent. They still weren’t favored at that point since they were still trailing, but Infante took care of that three batters later. By the end of the inning, the Royals were favored to win with a WE close to 67 percent.

The WE hung around that neighborhood until Perez crushed a pitch in the eighth to allow his hermanito, Lorenzo Cain to score without pushing his sore hamstring. The cushion was useful as the A’s grabbed another run in the eighth. Sometimes things have a way of working out in the end.

So the Royals move to Houston to square off against the second best team in the AL. They just swept aside the hottest team in the league. They are 16 games over .500, own a +46 run differential and hold a 5.5 game lead in the AL Central. It’s about an ideal a start to a west coast swing as you could imagine. It feels like things could be difficult over the next couple of weeks. Cain’s hamstring is barking at him. Hosmer’s hurt finger feels like that would hinder any kind of break out of his extended slump. Alcides Escobar split a fingernail. Yordano Ventura’s rehab start on Friday wasn’t especially promising. There are no off days between now and the All-Star Game. It’s a key stretch and if the Royals can hold on and weather the nagging injuries, they can coast into the break in fine shape.

As the Royals make their way to Oakland for a three-game weekend series, it’s natural for fans to speculate as to the revenge factor.

Rewind yourself all the way back to April, when Brett Lawrie blew up Alcides Escobar at second base. The beanballs and the pointing to the coconuts. Things were finished and then things started back up. It was a wild and uncomfortable rematch between the Wild Card combatants.

Seems like such a long time ago.

Don’t look now, but Oakland is the hottest team in the AL, non-Canadian division. They have won 19 of their last 30. A’s manager Bob Melvin is the anti-Yost in that he stacks his best hitters at the top of the order. Billy Burns has posted a .363 OBP this year and has slashed .344/.377/.459 with a 137 wRC+ over his last 30 games. He’s the leadoff hitter. Catcher Steven Vogt usually hits third in the order and is having a breakout season, hitting .308/.401/.552.

The Royals miss rotation stud Sonny Gray this weekend, but get to face the Jesse Hahn, Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez. That’s a solid core of starters. All three excel in keeping the ball in the yard. Hahn doesn’t strikeout a ton of batters (5.6 SO/9) and Kazmir is more likely of the trio to issue a free pass (3.5 BB/9).

This series is no longer about “Round 2″ or whatever boxing term you’d like to use. Rather, it’s about standing toe to toe with a team that, due to their awful start, is much better than it’s current record would indicate. Both teams have been playing good baseball of late. Forget the revenge factor. (Who’s supposed to be taking revenge on who anyway?) That’s old news and hopefully is forgotten. This weekend is about the Royals trying to derail a team playing great baseball of late.

Hey, this is supposed to be about the Royals rotation, not some preview of the Oakland series. Where’s my starting pitching info?

Fine. Let’s start with some injury updates.

— Yordano Ventura is scheduled to make his first rehab start for Omaha Friday night. We haven’t seen fire thrown in Kansas City since June 12. Ventura is scheduled to throw around 75 pitches.

— Jason Vargas threw a bullpen session on Wednesday and the Royals are confident he will return soon. They don’t expect he will need a rehab start.

— Kris Medlen made his second rehab start on Wednesday for Double-A Northwest Arkansas. The Naturals kicked the ball around a couple of times, which led to a different kind of outing than I’m sure was hoped for from the starter making his way back from his second Tommy John. He allowed four runs in six innings, but results aside, reports were encouraging. Which is what is the most important thing when a pitcher is on a rehab assignment.

Barring setbacks, pitchers have 30 days to rehab in the minors before they must be added back to the roster. Day 30 is July 18. He seems to be right on schedule.

The above injury update is why I’m feeling skeptical the Royals will pursue starting pitching ahead of the trade deadline. Dayton Moore likes to examine and exhaust all internal options before moving beyond his organization. If Ventura and Vargas return to the rotation ahead of the All-Star Break and if Medlen stays on track and if Danny Duffy makes progress you could have pretty much a brand new rotation on July 17.

Granted, that’s the best case scenario, something that hardly ever happens in baseball. Especially with pitching.

Also, do the Royals have the necessary prospect depth to deal for a front line starter? I’m not sure they do. A move without quality would take quantity, something we know the Royals are loathe to do given their desire to build a strong pipeline to the majors. Plus, do they have the stomach to ship a key prospect in a deal where they would have a rental starter for two months? Johnny Cueto would be a nice addition, but there’s no way the Royals are going to keep him beyond this year, should they land him in a trade. Cole Hamels is under contract for the next three seasons at $22.5 million per (with an option for 2019) which is nice to have that certainty, but is that something the Royals can add to a payroll? Especially when Alex Gordon is a pending free agent and they will certainly look to restructure Sal Perez’s contract. Not to mention the possibility of extending Mike Moustakas. Anyway, the Phillies are a shambles and difficult to deal with, setting the prices extremely high for their trade chits.

The drumbeat to make a move will grow louder, the closer we move to the trade deadline, but Moore has never paid attention to that. If the best case scenario pans out, the Royals will look at their arms as if they have depth with Chris Young and maybe Joe Blanton back in the the pen for the swingman role and with someone like Guthrie bumped. Heck, they could even go to the six man rotation if they felt like they had the arms.

We’re still about five weeks away from the trade deadline. The picture is just as murky today, as it was at the start of the season. The needs haven’t changed, but the situation won’t gain clarity until the last week of July.



A little late on this, but the All-Star updates were released on Monday. Their were two headlines to glean from the latest voting tallies:

1) The Royals are still in position to dominate the game, fielding starters in seven of the nine positions.


2) Their hold on their seven starting positions has become, in some cases, tenuous.

Let’s discuss item number one. The usual suspects are leading everywhere, with the exception of Eric Hosmer who has fallen behind Miguel Cabrera at first. If you read last week’s update, it was very clear there was some movement in favor of a number of Tigers. With Detroit doing their own get-out-the-vote thing combined with his nationwide visibility, it’s not surprising Cabrera added enough to his totals to leap back to the top of the first base pack.

Here’s how the first base race looks through five updates:


It remains the same two-man race, but Cabrera owns the largest lead since the updates began. He added 4,040,933 votes, a massive number. By comparison, Hosmer picked up 2,236,382 votes. Hosmer got almost the same number of votes added to his column the week prior.


Since the Tigers got serious about the All-Star vote, Cabrera has seen a nice increase. We still have one update and the final announcement, but this one feels over to me. The Royals dominating the ballot box has been a nice story, but it’s difficult to overcome the national following of Cabrera.

Moving on to the second point, Mike Moustakas saw his lead at third reduced to a dead heat with Josh Donaldson.


We knew there was building support for Donaldson, who is a strong first-half MVP candidate – if not the first-half MVP. I don’t think anyone saw this coming. Donaldson picked up 4,124,561 votes, the most in Update Number Five.


Even with the gain from week four, Donaldson’s tally in the fifth week is extremely impressive. A little further explanation of the above table: Pablo Sandoval dropped out of the top five in week four and replaced with Nick Castellanos. The Castellanos number for week three is an estimate, so his week three and four gain totals are not accurate. His week five gain is accurate, though. Again, the Tigers are driving some fans to the virtual ballot box.

Also notable this week was Mike Trout passing Lorenzo Cain for the overall lead in the outfield.


Trout’s move was similar to Cabrera. It was a superstar with a national fanbase getting into gear. If it’s really important to you that Cain (or Alex Gordon) win the overall outfield vote, I don’t know how to break this to you, but that was never going to happen. Trout is just too powerful. He will get more votes added to his account than any outfielder in the next two weeks. Count on it.

The good news to glean from this graph is the top three are pretty much set, meaning Gordon and Cain will be in the starting lineup. The danger comes from Yoenis Cespedes. Again, a Tiger. See what’s happening here? Cespedes was the second biggest gainer on the update, but was only able to pick up 300,000 votes on Cain and about 550,000 on Gordon.


Gordon gets enough national love for his defense and Cain is Cain (love that guy) so this one feels pretty safe. Two million votes in the outfield in two weeks is a lot of ground to gain.

The #VoteOmar campaign is fun and everything, but it looks like he’s running out of steam. Jose Altuve drew more votes than Infante for the first time since the first week of the voting to narrow the gap to around 450,000 votes. I’ll predict Altuve moves into first in the next update. The same thing happened at designated hitter as Nelson Cruz finally pulled more votes than Kendrys Morales. The edge there is fewer than 300,000 votes. Morales will likely lose his starting spot next week as well.

Sal Perez and Alcides Escobar are locks. Perez leads the league in total votes and Escobar is 2.6 million ahead of Jose Iglesias.

The question on everyone’s mind (at least Royals fans) is, is Major League Baseball tampering with the numbers? I don’t think so. The Royals moved ahead early, have maintained their pace, but have been passed by a national backlash and more deserving candidates. When Donaldson added four million to his total, those numbers look legit when looking at overall gains by each position with the third, fourth, and fifth place players getting smaller gains compared to another position where no single player earned a Donaldson-esque boost.

With two weeks left in the voting, my prediction is the Royals will get four starters: Perez, Escobar, Cain and Gordon. Order will be restored. Baseball will survive.

Coming off of what amounted to a four game sweep of Milwaukee, expectations where high coming in to the weekend series against the Red Sox. After all, Boston had once again assumed the title of Team Turmoil. Languishing in last in the AL East, they were another team ripe for destruction in a three-game set at The K.

Sometimes baseball doesn’t work the way you think it should.

After a 13-2 drubbing on Sunday, the Red Sox hung 24 runs on the Royals in the three games. The Royals could plate only half that number, scoring just 12.

Still getting used to this “favorite” business, I won’t say individual wins and losses aren’t important. We’ve discussed this before. Games in April (and June) count just as much as the games in September. Winning is great and losing sucks. Having said that, I’ve been attempting to look at the larger picture more frequently. Clark touched on it in a post back in April. He pointed out that thanks to the Royals hot start, should they manage only to play .500 ball the rest of the way, Kansas City should still be in position to nab a playoff spot. It thought that was a great point.

So instead of looking at Sunday’s blowout individually, or the series as a loss for the Royals, I’ll look at either the homestand, where the team won three and lost two, or I’ll look at the entire week, which ended with a 5-2 record.

That doesn’t mean I will ignore the alarm bells. (Cough, cough… starting pitching.) That means I’ll try to maintain a healthy perspective. All good teams have bad losses. All good teams go through rough patches. (Maybe I should just amend that to most. Most good teams. In baseball in 2015, without a dominant team, avoiding four game losing streaks isn’t mandatory.)

Yesterday’s game underscored the fragility of the Royals rotation. Readers of this site will know my opinion of Chris Young and how his success has been a product of both smoke and mirrors in copious amounts. Sunday’s game was going to happen to him at some point. If I had to guess, the longer he’s in the rotation, the more likely we will see a few more starts like his most recent one. At 7-0 and with the Royals bats crawling back into their bed after some sort of wild night out on Saturday, this one was over by the fifth. I can’t get too bent about the performances of Jason Frasor and Aaron Brooks. Brooks is a non-factor on this team. He will be returned to Triple-A as soon as I-29 is ready for his car. He was brought up for exactly the kind of game he was thrown into on Sunday. While it would have been nice had he been able to resemble a major league pitcher, it wasn’t a huge deal when he pitched like Aaron Brooks.

Frasor is cut from better quality, but he’s very much your average major league reliever. We’ve been spoiled in Kansas City. Bullpens through baseball are loaded with Frasor types. He’s the guy for whom my “Bullpen Roulette” term was coined. That’s where you bring in relievers any given night and you have no clue how it’s going to turn out for your team. Aside from most closers, bullpens across baseball are filled with uncertainty. Except in Kansas City.

While the loss on Sunday was not fun, it doesn’t have to serve as the start of a losing streak or raise alarm bells that weren’t already there. The good news is with nine games in the next 10 days, the key arms in the bullpen got a day off. So did Sal Perez. Those are both good things.

Wednesday in Seattle, Danny Duffy will make his return to the rotation. Obviously, this is a key moment. The Royals cannot survive on Young, Pino and Blanton as three-fifths of this rotation. Duffy is just one arm, but right now, he’s the most important arm.

In the meantime, it’s good to note last Monday, the Royals entered the week with a two game lead in the Central. They enter this week with a 3.5 game lead.


At some point around the All-Star Break last year, Royals fans came to the realization that in all probability, Ned Yost was going to become the all-time leader in franchise history in managerial wins.

This realization was met with almost universal incredulity. How in the hell could Ned Yost lap the patron saints of this franchise in Dick Howser and Whitey Herzog? Those two brought pennants and glory to the franchise. Yost used his alias, Frank, who ordered coffee at the local Starbucks and had his own hashtag: #Yosted. How was it possible that Yost could stick around long enough to pass the best managers in franchise history?

Little did we know last summer that the events of September and October would change everything.

Yost passed Herzog with his 411th win as Royals manager on Thursday. The K celebrated. Yost gave a celebratory on-field interview with Fox Sports 1. He got a Gatorade bath courtesy of Sal Perez and Alcides Escobar. And Kansas City thanked the baseball gods that Yost was their leader.

An absolutely amazing turn of events.

When Yost was hired as the Royals manager, I didn’t have high hopes. Sure, he helped developed the young talent in the Brewers organization, but his team spit the bit when it was time for them to win and it cost him his job. I wondered if the same thing would happen here. Or if he would even be able to lead a team to .500. To me, he was just another managerial retread. A guy like Buddy Bell.

The first three seasons, that’s who Yost was. Sure, his winning percentage improved each season, but it was incremental. To paraphrase Spinal Tap, his teams were treading water in a sea of mediocrity. Yet things were happening. The Process guys were getting the call. The Trade happened. And suddenly, Yost’s 2013 Royals finished above .500. That seems like small potatoes now, but we can’t forget that this was a pretty huge achievement.

The 2014 season brought heightened expectations. And the Royals stumbled. Badly. They hit the midway point of the year just two games over .500 and 6.5 games back of first. Immediately following the break, the team lost their first four games, one of which were Yost admitted he “outsmarted himself” when he brought Scott Downs in to face Jackie Bradley, Jr. but didn’t think about Jonny Gomes lurking on the Red Sox bench. Gomes homered. Ballgame. Same old Yost.

Despite the difficult losses, something was different about the team. Maybe it was the veteran leadership and the now infamous Ibanez meeting in Chicago. That’s what everyone points to as a behind the scenes turning point in a championship season. I would submit to you that that moment doesn’t happen, if Yost hadn’t set the tone in the clubhouse throughout his previous seasons. He’s every bit a player’s manager. Yost gives his players room and they have repaid him with respect. It’s an interesting dynamic that doesn’t always work. Given another team, maybe Yost’s methods don’t work so well. For the Royals, it was a perfect fit as they went 41-23 down the stretch to clinch their first postseason berth since 1985. They qualified for the Wild Card.

We know what happened in that game. We also know about the aftermath. The game has been celebrated and will continue to be celebrated. You simply cannot underestimate how the fortunes of a franchise swung on the outcome of a single game. If the Royals lose to the A’s, everything is different. Everything. The Wild Card win cleared the collective baseball psyche in Kansas City. It also did something to Ned Yost. It lifted some sort of burden. Maybe it’s a burden all major league managers feel. The ones who have yet to get to the post season. Especially those who have managed over 1,500 games in their career. Or maybe it’s just the ones fired in the midst of a pennant race with 12 games back.

We can’t forget, though the game served as a microcosm of Yost’s managerial career. For some still unsatisfactorily explained reason, he brought Yordano Ventura into the game to pitch to Brandon Moss. Like in Boston, Yost outsmarted himself. Instead of happening in a run of the mill July game, this was on the national stage. Posts were written during the game that Yost was a terrible manager. But then, the Royals, and Yost, rallied. He pinch ran and ordered steals. He bunted like a deranged lunatic. He pinch hit Josh Willingham for Mike Moustakas in the ninth. An obvious call, yet so massive. And so correct. He ran his bullpen for the rest of the game like a boss. Whatever the demons Yost battled as a manager, when Sal Perez hit that grounder down the third base line, they were exorcised.

Unshackled and playing with house money, Yost managed the postseason with the cool of a Vegas card shark. I think he knew he was lucky to be there. I also think he knew just getting to that point was the entire battle. Managers know this. The best teams may not always win the championships, but the best teams to get to the postseason. Yost survived. Yost won. And he was going to kick ass all the way to Game Seven.

Today, Yost is a hero in Kansas City. Forget needing a pseudonym to order coffee. He shouldn’t have to buy his own cup of joe for the rest of his days in our fair city. Maybe Yost is the same as he ever was. I don’t know. One thing that is certain, the house money is still good. Maybe the confidence wears better with success. It feels like there’s a difference. A little more swagger. It’s crazy. Suddenly, he’s our guy. Stay the hell out of his way, because he’s the manager of the reigning American League Champions. That counts for something. It also helps he has his team playing like October never ended. Success suits Yost.

That doesn’t mean he still won’t drive you crazy on occasion. He continues to bunt too much for my liking, but so does every major league manager. He avoids pinch hitting like it’s Ebola. And he still won’t rest Sal.

And Yost has won 411 games as a Royals manager. More games than any other manager in Royals history.

Someday, when this wild ride of a managerial career is over, they will have a day at The K to honor Yost. They will hang his portrait in the Royals Hall of Fame. The fans will cheer because they will remember the good times. They will remember he was the man in charge when baseball was reborn in Kansas City. The cheers will be long and loud as they echo across I-70. Yost will wave and will soak it all in with a smile, just like he did in the celebrations of October. We will never forget.

Thanks, Ned. For everything.

It’s too early to render a verdict, but damn if Chris Young isn’t on the shortlist for best free agent signings heading into 2015. His latest masterpiece was flummoxing the Milwaukee Brewers for seven innings on Tuesday. Just the latest in a year that has taken Young from the sidelines, to the bullpen, to the rotation, and finally, to most reliable starter in the rotation status.

Seven innings. Five hits. No walks. A Game Score of 70.

Young shoved his ERA to sub 2. When he exited the game after those seven innings, his ERA stood at 1.98.

Young was never in danger. The helpless Brewers bunted their way to third in the third inning, but Young worked out of the jam. In the seventh, Aramis Ramirez strolled into second with a one-out double. (Literally, strolled. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone move 180 feet in such an unhurried fashion.) Scooter Gennett followed with a single to left, but Ramirez had to hold at second because there was no way he could challenge Alex Gordon’s arm. That put runners at first and second with one out and a starting pitcher who didn’t have much left in the tank.

Then this happened.


And this.


The first, was an 11 pitch Battle-Royal against Jean Segura. So massive, it didn’t fit on the whole Gameday screen cap. Young brought his mid-80s fastball and his high-70s slider and kept it up in the zone. Foul, foul, foul… Segura fouled off seven pitches total until Young broke off a slider up out of the strike zone and Segura could only wave at it.

The second was less of a battle, but just as impressive. Young showed slider the first three pitches to Shane Peterson and all three were down. He then changed the vertical with back to back fastballs, the second of which dove into his hands. Peterson pulled the trigger and came up empty. The victim of 86 mph smoke.

For the night, Young got nine swings and misses out of his 89 pitches. A very average ratio for him given he’s generating a whiff about 9 percent of the time this year. And very nice he saved three of those for his final two batters with a pair of runners on base.

It was vintage Young. He threw 19 first pitch strikes out of the 26 batters he faced. He let the Brewers put the ball in play. The Brewers obliged by hitting balls in the air. Twelve of the 18 balls in play were in the air. A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how Young was running short on luck. Yeah. His start Tuesday followed his blueprint to the very last out. Young is more Rodrock than Frank Lloyd Wright, but who cares? The walls are still standing for now, so let’s get comfortable.

The way I’m carrying on about the brilliance of Young would make you think the game was close. Heh. This was another one where it was never in doubt. Three hits to open the game, punctuated by Lorenzo Cain’s second bomb in as many days and the Royals were rolling. Every Royals starter had at least one hit. Mike Moustakas and would-be All-Star Omar Infante each had a trio. Moustakas attend a home run he blistered to the pull field.

Even Young got in the action with a pair of hits and driving in three runs. Seriously. Young became the first Royals pitcher to drive in three since Steve Busby in 1972. He also saw just five pitches in his three plate appearances. Naked aggression with the lumber. Young is already Forever Royal.

The Royals close a road trip bookended by sweeps. They took three in Minnesota and the pair in Milwaukee. Sandwiched in there were the two losses to the federally investigated St. Louis Cardinals. A week and a half ago if I had told you the Royals would go 5-2 on this road trip, you would have been overjoyed. You may be overjoyed right now. You should be. This is exactly how the remainder of the season should play out. The Royals clobbered the slumping pretender, stomped all over one of the worst teams in the game and battled to a couple of close loses to The Hackers, who have the best record in baseball, if not the best IT department.

A brief five game homestand is on the docket as the Brewers follow the Royals to KC before the Royals host the Red Sox for three. Five more games against teams ripe for the stomping. This is baseball, so things may not go according to plan, but even if the Royals stumble to close out the week, it’s not the end of the season. At 36-25, the Royals have the best winning percentage in the AL and own a three and a half game over the fading Twins and a four game lead over the third place Tigers.

As long as Young is shoving his fastball/slider combo in the Royals rotation like he did on Tuesday, things may just turn out OK.

A lot of strange things have happened since Clark and I fired up the old blog machine some 10 years ago. Managers have showered in full uniform. Players were assaulted by a tarp. Annual double-digit losing streaks. Trey Hillman managed major league players. The Trade. And finally a World Series.

And since it apparently can’t get any more bizarre, how about a weekly All-Star update?

When it comes to the All-Star Game, I stand with Clark: I don’t really give a damn about the game. I went back in 2012 when it was at Kauffman, but I couldn’t tell you the last time I watched one on television. It’s difficult enough to digest FOX and their postseason coverage. A single night of pre-planned storylines is a little much for me.

When the schedule comes out and I see the game, along with the sandwiched days off, I simply think, “There’s four days without baseball.” That’s where I was when the 2015 season opened. I would be lying if I said I gave the game more than a cursory thought. I didn’t even think about the possibility of putting one or two Royals in the starting lineup. Then the first round of results were posted and five Royals were leading their respective positions. The next week, those five solidified their leads. And then last week, two other Royals joined the All-Star parade, putting seven of the nine starters in Royal uniforms. Amazing.

And here we are. The latest All-Star voting results were released on Monday. This week, 10 players gained at least two million votes. Here are the biggest gains in Week 4.

Sal Perez – 2,782,672
Josh Donaldson – 2,550,573
Mike Moustakas – 2,458,522
Alcides Escobar – 2,403,996
Lorenzo Cain – 2,400,309
Miguel Cabrera – 2,368,108
Mike Trout – 2,275,491
Eric Hosmer – 2,226,358
Alex Gordon – 2,187,962
Kendrys Morales – 2,152,616

For the Royals, it’s about consolidating their leads. Both Moustakas and Hosmer lost a few votes off their leads, but in both cases it was about 100,000 votes. Hosmer is in a much more precarious position since Cabrera held the lead at first in the first two voting updates.

Speaking of Hosmer and first base, here is how the voting has gone through the first four updates.


It’s obviously a two-man race at this point. This one also has the second-thinnest margin for the Royals. Hosmer’s growth has been steady, but Cabrera picked up more votes this week. Detroit was much more active all over the ballot this time. Alex Avila and Nick Castellanos both make their debuts in the top five at their respective positions. The Motor City is getting serious about this. If any Royal is at risk, it’s Hosmer.

How about second base where it’s all about the worst everyday player in baseball: Omar Infante.


This is kind of the inverse as to what’s happening at first. Altuve has had steady support. Infante, as soon as Royals fans realized the power they had, created a spike the last two weeks. Enough to push Infante to the lead. Again, there’s a massive gap between the top two spots and the rest of the field. I would assume Kipnis is the biggest threat to make a late charge, but his jump in votes was behind even Kinsler this week. Again, Detroit made some noise this week.

The race that interests me the most is at the hot corner:


Josh Donaldson is a legit MVP candidate over the first two-plus months of the season. His 3.8 fWAR is tops in the league and is a complete number. He’s the top offensive third baseman by far and his defense is at or near the top as well. Moustakas is having some kind of season. The kind of season no one ever thought they’d see. That, combined with his play in October has kept him out in front in the third base voting. We can’t discount the postseason when trying to figure out how this started. Without their deep run all the way to Game Seven, none of this happens. Moustakas made his big gain in week 3 of the voting and gave a little bit back in week 4. Still, he’s leading by 1.625 million votes. At this point it will take a major movement to push Donaldson past Moustakas.

The last graph I’ll post today is for the outfield.


Cain actually expanded his lead over Trout by about 125,000 votes. It makes sense as this is the residue of the bump for Rios. Again, the top three here have been unchanged since the first round of results and the trio continues to extend their lead over the second three. Again, the big gain here was a Tiger: Cespedes didn’t get enough to move past Jones, but he’s knocking on the door. But we’re just talking about first runner up.

I continue to be amused by the reactions. And if I’m being honest, I’m kind of confused as to the motivations of Royals fans. That’s not criticism. Not at all. Except I’ve seen some try to position this as being a statement about how ridiculous the voting process is when selecting All-Star starters. I don’t disagree the process is less than ideal. But the Royals fan stuffing the ballot box wasn’t about that, at least as I perceived it from the beginning. This isn’t some sort of statement. For me, the simple explanation suffices: Several Royals jumped out to leads due to their solid October and hot start to 2015, fans took notice and decided to run with it. It’s a fun takeover. And as the backlash began, it only made us vote with increasing frequency. If you have an issue with it, I suppose that’s your problem. If major league baseball decides to step in and supersede what’s happening, they can deal with the fallout. It won’t be pretty.


I assume the likely result will be some sort of change of the process in 2016. Maybe the players will get a ballot. Maybe the voting will return to the stadium. It’s pretty obvious why MLB moved the voting to online only was because they could get more total votes that way. It’s no different from a slide show on a worthless website. Instead of clicks, MLB is collecting votes in bulk. That way, they can point to the millions of ballots cast and prop up their legitimacy. It’s a baseball banana republic. Except they didn’t realize the potential consequences of removing the ballots from the parks. Oh, well. Lesson learned, I guess.

I’ve been going through my old baseball cards lately. Something that I got interested in all over again because of… yep, October. Anyway, I started collecting in 1977. (Save it. I’m old. But not as old as Clark.) That first year for me, the Reds had five All-Stars from ’76 celebrated on their cards: Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepcion, Pete Rose and George Foster. I remember thinking how cool that was for one team to have so many All-Stars and I remember catching bits and pieces of the World Series the previous year that featured all those All-Stars. Aside from the hometown Royals, the Reds were the first team to enter my baseball psyche. They were The Big Red Machine. That’s why I’m christening the 2015 version of the Royals The Big Blue Machine. They’re going to top the Reds ’76 All-Star total and next year, some six year old kid collecting their first set of baseball cards will find the All-Star notation on nearly every Royal of relevance. He or she may become a fan of the team because of this. Maybe Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon and Sal Perez will resonate with them the same way Bench, Rose and Morgan resonate with fans of my generation. That’s pretty damn cool.

I’ll continue to write this about the All-Star balloting: What you’re witnessing is the reawakening of a fanbase that has had so little to cheer or care about for the last 29 years. September and October changed the calculus.

This is a great thing for Kansas City. And no matter what anyone else may say or write, this is a great thing for baseball.

A trip to the east side and the Royals bats fall into another slumber. It felt so promising after the Twins series where the Royals performed the requisite role of favorite and brushed aside the upstarts with ease. Not your time, Minnesota.

The Cardinals, as much as it pains to write, are good. Very good. They are not the Twins. They have been to the top of their division, they have been the favorites and they enjoy the view from the penthouse, thank you very much. My snide May remarks about them being “the second-best team in Missouri” was wishful thinking on my part.

Friday’s game was painful. Five hits. Four of them were of the infield variety. We know the Royals like to ride the singles train, but this was the kiddie version at the mall that goes around in a tight circle at under 5 mph. Pathetic. Hats off to Cardinal starter Jaime Garcia, though. He throws a nasty sinker and has had his struggles with shoulder injuries the last couple of seasons. It’s a minor miracle he’s still in the game. Add to the gross factor was Yordano Ventura exiting the game after he lost feeling in two fingers and the thumb on his pitching hand. Yeah. Friday sucked.

Saturday’s game was painful as well, but for different reasons. With a lefty on the mound for the Cardinals, Ned Yost opted for his NL Special Right-Handed Hitting Lineup with Alex Gordon the only left-handed bat in the game. When your lineup features Christian Colon, Omar Infante, the pitcher and rolls over to Alcides Escobar, you’re going to struggle to score. It’s not a coincidence the Royals only two runs on the day came on solo home runs. This was not a lineup constructed for the big inning.

Which brings me to another point: Yost has to address his lineup. Not in a week, a la Bobby Cox. Today. We are at a critical point in the Royals offensive struggles. It’s not so much about shaking things up. It’s about righting a wrong. Let’s start at leadoff. Escobar has to go. He is hitting .255/.285/.341. Unacceptable for a leadoff hitter. The only team that has gotten worse production out of the top of their order is Oakland. If you go by OPS+, the Royals have actually been the worst team in the AL at the leadoff spot. You simply cannot have October thoughts and have Escobar leading  off. I understand he was the guy at the top of the order for September and October. Spare me the arguments for keeping him at leadoff. That was six weeks in a six year career. The Royals got lucky with Escobar at the end of last year. Luck tends to run out.

From Baseball Reference, here is the performance of American League leadoff batters by team, ranked by on base percentage. You’ll find the Royals second from the bottom. They also have the fewest total bases and their slugging percentage is the worst among AL teams. Don’t even get me started about their 10 walks. There is no way you can shine the turd of this table:

1 CLE 63 289 245 42 76 21 3 5 25 33 44 .310 .402 .482 .884 118 143 143
2 NYY 67 286 252 51 73 11 1 4 21 30 49 .290 .374 .389 .763 98 111 112
3 HOU 65 286 259 28 80 13 0 6 29 21 46 .309 .363 .429 .791 111 125 118
4 BOS 63 297 270 35 78 13 1 9 36 20 38 .289 .338 .444 .782 120 125 114
5 BAL 71 271 250 40 72 10 2 9 23 16 55 .288 .337 .452 .789 113 117 116
6 DET 68 287 267 42 78 14 9 2 17 17 66 .292 .337 .434 .771 116 105 112
7 MIN 63 276 249 47 66 18 3 11 29 20 60 .265 .327 .494 .821 123 140 124
8 TBR 81 283 255 30 63 11 3 5 20 18 50 .247 .313 .373 .686 95 100 89
9 TEX 69 294 271 37 70 15 4 5 21 18 69 .258 .303 .399 .702 108 93 92
10 LAA 68 277 255 35 66 12 1 5 24 16 48 .259 .303 .373 .675 95 96 86
11 TOR 71 291 264 35 66 16 0 7 36 19 54 .250 .302 .390 .692 103 78 90
12 CHW 65 271 251 33 61 11 4 3 14 18 44 .243 .299 .355 .653 89 100 80
13 SEA 78 280 260 24 62 12 0 9 20 15 62 .238 .290 .388 .679 101 98 86
14 KCR 62 266 245 34 61 11 1 2 21 10 36 .249 .286 .327 .613 80 72 69
15 OAK 70 302 278 38 64 10 5 3 16 18 57 .230 .282 .335 .617 93 75 70
TOT 1024 4256 3871 551 1036 198 37 85 352 289 778 .268 .324 .404 .728 1563 105 100
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 6/14/2015.

While the leadoff spot has been an issue all season, it’s also time for Omar Infante to take a seat on the bench for an extended vacation. The dude has five hits (all singles) in his last 62 at bats. One walk and 14 strikeouts. And Yost still insists he’s the choice at second base. You know my feelings on the situation.

And Alex Rios. Oh. My. God. I haven’t seen outfield play that uninspiring since Kevin McReynolds couldn’t be bothered back in the early ’90s. There is a decided lack of focus out there, which isn’t surprising given Rios’s past. When he’s going good, he’s locked in and a valuable performer. When he’s not… It’s all downhill. It’s a shame he suffered the injury to his hand in Minnesota because it felt like his season was going to be about the former. Now, it’s about the latter. He took longer than expected to recover from his injury (which also wasn’t a surprise to those who have followed his career) and has yet to find his swing since returning. And now it appears he’s carrying the offensive struggles to the field. Lackadaisical and careless. That’s how you describe his defense over the last couple of weeks.

Glaring holes at second base and right field. The more things change…

OK. You’ve read this far and are thinking, “Enough with the bitching. What’s your solution?” Fair. Here’s my suggested lineup:


I’m not entirely pleased with the construction here, but I have my best hitters stacked one through four, so I can’t complain too much. It happens that the Royals best hitters this year are left-handed, so the lineup dispenses with Yost’s favored LRLRLR kind of alternating of bats, but so it goes. Cain has just six extra base hits in his last 30 games, so he needs to drop. I’d like to move him lower, but Perez should never hit in the top half, in my opinion. Rios, as I mentioned above, has lost me, but I don’t see Dyson as an everyday alternative. A spot start, fine. Not six days a week. Although I could be talked into a Dyson/Rios platoon. But you think Rios has checked out now? Wait until he only starts half the games.

Colon is my second baseman, but like the Royals, I’m not happy about it. His defense doesn’t do anything for me and he continues to be overmatched by big league pitching. Neither facet of his game is going to improve.

You know what’s funny about all of this? The Royals are still in first place in the Central. They still have the best record in the AL. That’s great that the Royals are still in the pole position, but smart teams are constantly analyzing their operation and identifying their weaknesses. With the current offensive struggles, you could make the case the Royals are already not moving fast enough to make those critical adjustments. Yost likes to point out he doesn’t do panic. It’s not panicking when you are repositioning your hitters in order to put your team in a better position to win.

Baseball is a funny game. The Royals were getting dressed for their own funeral on Saturday. They won on Sunday, but it was the finale of a 2-4 homestand. They had lost nine out of 11 and had fallen out of first place. Three days later and the Royals are riding a four game winning streak. They are back in first and – catch this fact – they own the best record in the American League.

After a couple of close games to open the series in Minnesota, the offense came to life on Wednesday. Well, most of the offense. It seems Omar Infante is doing his best to keep his game in reverse. Since his six game hitting streak ended on May 22, Infante has five hits in his last 55 at bats. All five hits are singles. Oh, he has one walk. It’s a brutal offensive performance that, except for that six game stretch in mid-May, has been roundly awful.

We’ve seen enough. It’s time for the Royals to permanently remove Infante from the lineup.

To determine just how awful Infante has been in a historical context, I ran a report at the Baseball Reference Play Index. I limited my search to players whose primary position was second base and further narrowed it by searching for those who had an on base percentage less than .226 and a slugging percentage less than .300. Those are Infante’s current numbers through Tuesday. Oh, I also set a minimum number of plate appearances to 175.

Here’s the list.

1 Joe Wagner .210 .223 210 1915 26 CIN NL 76 197 17 35 5 2 0 13 8 35 .178 .433
2 Hector Torres .215 .221 199 1972 26 MON NL 83 181 14 28 4 1 2 7 13 26 .155 .436
3 Pete Suder .225 .263 215 1954 38 PHA AL 69 205 8 41 11 1 0 16 7 16 .200 .489
4 Ryan Raburn .226 .254 222 2012 31 DET AL 66 205 14 35 14 0 1 12 13 53 .171 .480
5 Harry Pearce .209 .217 260 1919 29 PHI NL 67 244 24 44 3 3 0 9 8 27 .180 .427
6 Jerry Kindall .196 .276 192 1957 22 CHC NL 72 181 18 29 3 0 6 12 8 48 .160 .472
7 Dutch Jordan .225 .234 284 1904 24 BRO NL 87 252 21 45 10 2 0 19 13 51 .179 .459
8 Omar Infante .226 .300 186 2015 33 KCR AL 50 180 12 39 11 2 0 17 3 27 .217 .526
9 Vic Harris .192 .177 198 1972 22 TEX AL 61 186 8 26 5 1 0 10 12 39 .140 .369
10 Ryan Goins .209 .271 193 2014 26 TOR AL 67 181 14 34 6 3 1 15 5 42 .188 .479
11 Charlie French .223 .190 229 1910 26 TOT AL 54 210 21 36 2 1 0 7 11 30 .171 .414
12 Hughie Critz .198 .242 227 1935 34 NYG NL 65 219 19 41 0 3 2 14 3 10 .187 .440
13 Frank Coggins .215 .222 183 1968 24 WSA AL 62 171 15 30 6 1 0 7 9 33 .175 .438
14 Juan Bell .201 .249 223 1991 23 BAL AL 100 209 26 36 9 2 1 15 8 51 .172 .450
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/10/2015.

On thing you can quickly glean from the list is that Infante is the best of this ragged bunch. He should be, since I set the parameters for OBP and slugging at his current numbers. Everyone else would fall below his level of performance. Another thing to note is that as much as the Royals fanbase actively loathed Chris Getz, he’s not on this list. Minor miracles and all that. The other, main thing that should leap off this page of the Interweb is that most of these players had their playing time either limited or cut short due to their overall offensive ineptitude.

We are at the point where the Royals are going to be giving the lion’s share of the playing time to a historically bad player at his position. Now, if this were the Old Royals, we’d just nod our heads collectively and say, “Same old Royals.” Except this isn’t the Old Royals. It’s not even a reasonable facsimile. This is a team with the best record in the American League and it’s a team with designs on another October run. Infante alone can’t derail this effort. He’s simply one of nine guys in the lineup. But he can certainly kill more than his share of rallies or otherwise negatively impact the game from an offensive standpoint.

It’s not as if the Royals don’t have options. Christian Colon has spent this season collecting a major league paycheck and service time. For his efforts, he has been allowed to swing the bat in anger 74 times and posted a slash line of .269/.329/.313. That’s not great, but that’s a helluva lot better than the production the Royals have been getting at the position.

The Royals (who, if they are being honest, are the last defenders of Infante) will cite Infante’s glove as reason enough to keep him around. There is some validity to the argument that his defense is worthy of discussion. To this point, Infante has saved four runs at second according to The Fielding Bible. That’s tied for seventh among fielders at the keystone. His plus/minus rating is at +5, meaning he has fielded five more balls than would be expected of him at the position. Again, that gets him on the leaderboard, ranking seventh among all second basemen. From the limited opportunity we’ve had to see Colon in the field, he doesn’t impress. The question the Royals have to ask themselves: Is the team better off with Colon’s bat in the lineup or Infante’s glove? Does the sum of the team improve if you replace Infante with Colon?

I think the answer is yes. I think Colon’s defense may be below average at second base, but Infante has become so inept offensively, replacing him with a corpse could be a net gain. The Royals? I’m not sure they’re at that point yet. And I think it’s easy to figure out why that is.

You want to identify the main reason Infante is still haunting the lineup? How about he’s only in year two of a four-year deal. He’s set to pocket $7.5 million this year, $7.75 million in 2016 and another $8 million in ’17. (And he can also make an extra $500,000 if Royals fans somehow get him voted to the All-Star Game. I say it’s worth it. But I have a twisted sense of humor.) Oh, and then there’s the requisite Royals option for $10 million for 2018 with a $2 million buyout. So we’ve got a player who is firmly in his decline years and the Royals are on the hook for $24.75 million for the remainder of his contract.

There isn’t a perfect offensive stat to encapsulate his offensive decline, but wOBA can come close enough. From Fangraphs, we can see just how Infante has stumbled at the plate in recent seasons.


Yes, there is an uptick in 2013, (it’s actually the best year of his career) but with below league average numbers in all other seasons since 2010, it’s safe to say that the ’13 season was an outlier. And it just so happens that was the year before Infante hit the free agent market and signed with the Royals. Rotten timing. A horrific contract results and the Royals are on the hook for a player who is no longer worthy of a spot on a major league roster.

(It’s weird how these contracts happen. The Royals bought on Infante’s career year and thought they would get a couple more years like that at the plate. A year later, the Royals bet against Kendrys Morales and his declining numbers. One deal worked out. The other deal… Not so much.)

Every team has a weak link. No team is perfect from one through nine. And the Royals collectively are good enough to cover for someone who isn’t pulling their fair share. At this point, given the depths Infante has fallen offensively, it’s time for the club to give him an extended break. Christian Colon may not be the long-term answer, but he’s a better option today than Infante. That’s pretty clear. And benching Infante won’t turn this team into some offensive juggernaut. That’s not the goal. The goal is simple: Try to field the best players at their position. Right now, there’s no way Infante is the best option for the Royals at second base.

The contract limits the Royals options. It’s toxic enough, no one will trade for him unless the Royals eat a sizable portion. It’s large enough the team certainly won’t release him. The only thing the Royals can do is put him on the bench. Hopefully, he would accept his demotion with some grace.  The bench is the only place the Royals can stash him so he stops hurting the team. This needs to happen soon.

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