Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts published by Craig Brown

By any account, this has been a wonderful summer. The Royals are the best team in the AL by a large margin. They have won 80 of their first 130 games. They are surpassing heights set previously by a team that took the field 35 years ago. This is a team that has been rolling almost since they won seven in a row to kick of the 2015 season.

They have survived an injury to their all-world left fielder. They have survived having a leadoff hitter with a .301 OBP. They have survived playing a black hole nearly everyday at second base. They have weathered the struggles of their closer.

The 2015 Royals have met each and every challenge head on as they have torn through the American League.

But can they survive chickenpox?

Before the start of the Tigers series on Tuesday, it was revealed the Royals had two cases of chickenpox within their ranks. Alex Rios was sent home from Tampa on a chartered jet on Saturday. Kelvin Herrera travelled the same way on Sunday.

The good news is, the Royals are hopeful that the disease is limited to those two. The bad news is, they can’t be sure.

The chickenpox overshadows the return of Alex Gordon to the lineup, the return of Frank White to the Kauffman Stadium field, the trade for Jonny Gomes, a slew of September call-ups, and the match-up between Justin Verlander and Johnny Cueto. Infectious diseases tend to cast a long shadow.

Fans were probably the most excited about the return of White as part of MLB’s Franchise Four festivities.

White, along with George Brett, Bret Saberhagen, and Dan Quisenberry were voted in as the four Royals who were the face of the franchise. Or something. Honestly, I’m confused by the criteria. Although since it was put to a fan vote, I would imagine there were millions of ballots to shuffle through.

I’m glad White is back in the Royals family, although I’m not as excited about it as I thought I would be. I’ve written about this at length, but I’m not a fan of how the episode was played out in public. Dan Glass is a convenient (and fitting) villain, but White didn’t exactly take the high road in all of this.

I guess what rubs me the wrong way about this is there have been a number of opportunities for White to come back. He could have been part of the postseason celebration. He could have come back for the Mike Sweeney Royals Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Hell, he could have just walked out of the dugout before some random game to deliver a first pitch. Instead, he comes back at a time when it’s more about the individual than about the team and the organization. I’m aware this is probably an unpopular opinion. White is a Royal deity. His number 20 is one of only three on that won’t be worn by a Royal again. Understood.

This isn’t to say White isn’t deserving of a “Franchise Four” designation. We all know his story. He is a Kansas City Royal. Maybe that’s why I have such a difficult time reconciling the estrangement between the team and one of the cornerstones of the franchise.

All water under the bridge. I’m glad he’s finally decided to come back. Whatever the circumstances. Kauffman Stadium is better with him on the field.

A more anticipated return undoubtedly belongs to Alex Gordon. Gordon has been out of the lineup for the better part of two months. In that stretch, the Royals have won 31 of 48 to pad their Central cushion by about 10 games. That’s not to say he hasn’t been missed. Still, it’s unbelievable the way the Royals were able to weather the Gordon Groin Injury of 2015. No small part of that was due to the late July arrival of Ben Zobrist.

Gordon marked his return by hitting sixth in the lineup. The hope here is that after he gets a few games of major league action under his belt, Yost jettisons Escobar from the leadoff spot and puts Gordon in that place. A Gordon/Zobrist one-two punch at the top of the order is dreamy. The two best place-setters up in front of some seriously productive run producers like Cain, Hosmer and Morales? That’s a strong, strong lineup.

Chickenpox arrives to knock this team for a loop, but with the return of Gordon, the Royals just improved their roster.

When the news broke the Royals acquired Jonny Gomes on Monday, the initial reaction was to ask, “Why?” Not that Gomes can’t contribute. As Clark chronicled on Tuesday, there is a role for a guy like Gomes on an October roster.

But with Rios down for the count with chickenpox, now we know why the Royals moved to make this trade.

Chickenpox tends to affect adults more harshly than kids. It doesn’t sound like a fun time. Plus, it’s Alex Rios. A pro tip for when estimating a Rios comeback, take the provided worst-case scenario and add a week. Rios could legitimately be down for four weeks before he returns to full strength. And as we saw when he came back from his hand injury, there’s no guarantee he will be ready when he returns. This isn’t Alex Gordon we are talking about here. Rios has a history of being a slow healer. Given the time of year, I just don’t think the Royals can count on him at this point.

So going forward, I expect we will see that platoon in right field we’ve been hankering for the last couple of months. Jarrod Dyson will start against the right-handed pitchers and Gomes will probably get plenty of time against the lefties. Paulo Orlando – who I thought was surplus when the Gomes deal was announced – is certainly still in the mix.

One very important factor to consider: Gomes is not a good defender. Plus, he’s played only 102 innings in right over the last three seasons. The Royals could use him almost exclusively as a pinch hitter. Although that seems far-fetched as well. Ned Yost has called on a pinch-hitter just 24 times this year, by far the fewest in the AL. The next closest team, the Minnesota Twins, has double the number of pinch-hit appearances. Yeah… Yost doesn’t feel the need to pinch-hit.

In that scenario, I see Dyson starting against the right-hander, then lifted for a Gomes PH if the opposition brings in a lefty. Then, Orlando goes to right to keep a solid defense on the field. Don’t forget, this is September baseball. Anything goes.

The point is, even with Rios down, there are myriad ways for Yost to fill that spot in right field.

Speaking of September, a little housekeeping is in order. On Tuesday, the Royals called up Francisco Pena, Christian Colon, Cheslor Cuthbert, and Terrance Gore, along with pitchers Scott Alexander and Miguel Almonte.

Alexander and Almonte were not on the 40-man roster. The Royals had one spot open after the Gomes acquisition. They moved Jason Vargas to the 60-day DL in order to free up the other one.

And about that game on Tuesday… Not so great. The Royals had chances, but just couldn’t ever grab that lead. It was the kind of game that would really hurt if they were in a tight pennant race. Good thing they have a sizable cushion.

The Royals magic number is 20.

You can’t win them all.

As much as you’d like to, that’s just not going to happen. Although sometimes, one team may dominate the other to such a dramatic extent that it may seem like it, odds say it’s unlikely. That was the position the Royals found themselves in on Sunday afternoon against the Rays. They were going not only for a series sweep, they were going for a season sweep. The Rays aren’t an especially good team, but the Royals are, which made this possible in the first place. Those odds, though… They can be difficult to scrape by.

The Royals found themselves in a spot on Sunday where they needed length from their starter, Danny Duffy. Length and Duffy are rarely synonymous, and this again proved problematic as he needed 99 pitches to get through just five innings. As usual, it was the foul balls that added to his pitch count. Of his 99 pitches, 70 of them were strikes. Of those 70, a whopping 22 pitches were fouled.

According to Baseball Savant, batters foul off 19 percent of all of Duffy’s pitches. Among starters, that’s the 17th highest foul ball rate. Ahead of Duffy on the list are successful starters such as Jacob DeGrom, Max Scherzer, and Lance Lynn. Oh, and Johnny Cueto. An abundance of fouls doesn’t act as a limit on success. But for Duffy, the foul balls often preclude him pitching deep into games. It wasn’t control that cut his start short after five innings. He threw only 29 called balls on Sunday. It was the foul balls.

It should also be noted that Duffy was a supreme strike throwing machine in his start. He collected 18 swings and misses while striking out six. This was a departure for him. He’s seen his strikeout rate tumble to a career-low 5.7 SO/9 and has generated a swinging strike in just 7.2 percent of his strikes thrown. His swinging strike rate is well below league average of 9.8 percent.

Another way to frame it, in a game where strikeouts are on the increase, 20.2 percent of all plate appearances end with one. For Duffy, he’s striking out just 14.6 percent of all batters faced. His six whiffs were just one off his season high. And in 21 starts in 2015, it was just the third time he has struck out that many batters.

Again, it was the early accumulation of pitches that cut his start short. It was the fourth time in his last five starts that he failed to complete six innings. Since his eight inning outing against the White Sox on July 19, Duffy has averaged just five and a half innings per start. Sure, the Royals bullpen is a weapon, but to rely on it to that extent is a bit much.

The other story to come from the game on Sunday was the bizarre turn of events in the eighth inning when the Royals were threatening to tie the game. With KC down one, Ben Zobrist starts the inning with a walk. (Brief interlude… Can we talk about how great Zobrist has been for the Royals? Seriously. A 13.3 percent walk rate while hitting .327/.414/.509. I knew he would be an ideal addition to this team for his versatility and his ability to get on base, but he’s exceeding expectations. Just a massive pickup for the Royals.) With one out, Eric Hosmer singles him to third.

Up steps Kendrys Morales.

This is one of those times when the Baseball Gods smile on your team. Down one in the late innings on the road, and your top run producer steps to the plate. Forget RBI, Morales has been a rock in the middle of the Royals lineup. He has brought home 21 percent of all baserunners this year. That’s a phenomenal amount, second in the league only to Josh Donaldson among hitters who have had 300 or more runners on base. And he’s second by decimal points. (I don’t know how close they are. Baseball Reference rounds all of their Runners Scored percentages.)

Morales is even better when he comes to the plate with a runner on third and less than two outs. In that situation, he’s bringing the runner home 68 percent of the time. Again, among hitters who have had that opportunity at least 25 times, Morales ranks fourth in the AL.

Simply put, this is the guy you want up at the plate in this situation.

Morales grounded the ball down the first base line. James Loney fielded the ball and threw home to nail Zobrist at the plate. Then, catcher Rene Rivera needed to take just a couple of steps to lay the glove on Morales who didn’t move out of the batter’s box. Double play. Inning over.

So why didn’t Morales run? He thought the ball was foul. Replays seemed to confirm what Morales saw: Loney fielded the ball in foul territory. It wasn’t about being “lazy” as some pegged it on Twitter. It wasn’t about a lapse in concentration as others may claim. It was a guy who hit a foul ball.

One problem with this situation was the wrong umpire made the call. Loney fielded the ball in front of the first base bag, which means the call belongs to the home plate umpire. He made no distinction either way, which is the norm on a close play on the line. Instead, the first base umpire made the call. Except it’s not his call to make until the ball passes the first base bag.

Again, if you follow me on Twitter, you know my position on replay. I think it’s a garbage system. Defenders tell me it’s about “getting the call right.” If that’s so important, why is it limited? Why doesn’t it cover fair or foul balls. It would seem to me, those are among the most difficult calls for an umpire to make. If we are going to look at a blurry play from an out of position camera on a call at second base, why can’t New York look at where a ball lands or where a fielder makes a play in relation to a white line? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Either way, the call stood. Morales was out. The rally was over. And the Royals chances for a series sweep were over.

An off day Monday, followed by a nine game homestand against AL Central teams. The next time the Royals take the field, it will be September, which means rosters will expand. Which also means we will have the return of Alex Gordon to the Royals lineup. That the Royals have done so well in his absence is a testament to this team. Still, seeing Gordon in the field will be a welcome sight. We are through the dog days and now in the home stretch.

The Royals magic number is 20.

On Thursday afternoon, it was all about one man, his right arm, and a performance of the most dominant quality.

Yordano Ventura sliced through the Orioles lineup, throwing six innings with 11 strikeouts. Sure, there were some blips on command – he issued four walks – but he minimized the damage by being pretty much unhittable when he was in the zone.

The strikeouts were a career-high, topping his previous best of 10 set in May of 2014. His Game Score of 75 was tied for his best mark of the year, set in May against Cincinnati. It was truly a dominant start.

It wasn’t all easy. Because is wouldn’t be a Ventura 2015 start without a few speed bumps along the way. He wobbled in the first inning. Yes, he struck out the side, but he also walked two batters and needed 27 pitches to negotiate the inning. From that frame, it was clear that it would be difficult for the Orioles to put the bat to the ball and make solid contact against Ventura. It was also clear that Ventura’s command would be an issue.

Except it really wasn’t. Not too much of an issue, anyway.

There were spots of trouble. In the third, when a walk, a single, and a wild pitch placed two runners in scoring position. Strikeout. In the sixth, a single and a walk put runners on first and second. Groundout.

Two things were working for Ventura. First, his fastball was pure heat. His four-seamer, which has been averaging 96 mph for the season, averaged a whopping 99.6 mph. He cut loose with the pitch 36 times, according to Brooks Baseball, and hit a high speed of 101.5 mph. Incredible.

The second thing that was working for him was his curve. By my count, nine of his 11 strikeouts came on the breaking ball. The pitch had incredible bite. As such, Ventura had batters guessing (and guessing wrong) all afternoon.

From Brooks Baseball, here is Ventura’s velocity chart from his start.

Ventura_Velo-082715

So damn impressive. About a 14-16 mph separation between his fastball and his curve. With a few change-ups thrown in the mix for good measure.

Ventura threw his curve 32 times and generated nine swings and misses. He also got quite a few takes in the strike zone for a called third strike. It was just a great pitch for him all afternoon.

Ventura blamed his rocky first inning on not being properly prepared. The game was scheduled for a 1 PM start, but a rain delay meant it didn’t get underway until closer to 2:30. All starters go through an individual routine to get ready for their start, and delays like that can knock them for a loop. Now, having said that, starters need to be adaptable. Not every appearance is going to come with perfect conditions. Yet let’s give Ventura the benefit of the doubt here and mark it up to yet another learning experience.

Speaking of learning experiences, the narrative here is much of Ventura’s turnaround this month is thanks to the tutelage of one Johnny Cueto. I’m sure there’s something there. At the same time, I’m sure that his impact will be oversold. Since Cueto put on the Royal blue (which coincides with Ventura’s one day demotion to the minors) Ventura has made seven starts and posted a 3.07 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 44 innings.

Is it Cueto? Is it being scared straight? Hell if I know. I’m not sure I really care, either. What I do know is that Ventura has recovered from a rocky first half of the season and is putting up his most dominant stretch as a starter since he reached the big leagues. It seems like every post I write these days references the Royals playoff rotation. With the Royals holding such a large lead for the division (and home field advantage) it’s probably one of the more important questions remaining. I mentioned in my last post, that three weeks ago, I had Danny Duffy as a “soft number three” starter for October. Meaning, he was currently the Royals third best option, but I didn’t think the club was thrilled with that possibility. Now, after Thursday, let’s move Ventura to that number three slot.

While Ventura is answering questions, closer Greg Holland is raising a few. In his first appearance since missing time with a “cranky” arm, Holland struggled through his inning. To my untrained eye, it looked like his slider was creeping up in the zone, allowing the Oriole hitters to barrel that pitch. And “barrel” may not be the proper adjective. They certainly made good contact, but it wasn’t like they were crushing Holland. No, this was a very Dirty South outing these days. A couple of great pitches, sandwiched around a handful of baserunners.

It was pretty clear that Holland wasn’t in top form when he first took the mound. His velocity was down between 90 and 92 mph. That’s not where he should be. However, he got stronger as his inning progressed.

Holland_Velo_082715

It’s one thing to pitch like that with a four run cushion in August when your team is effectively on cruise control. It’s another to pitch like that in the highest of high leverage situations in October. Holland has a few weeks to work through his issues.

It also should be noted that Mike Moustakas continues his August renaissance. He was the offensive star of the day, with three hits in four at bats. In his last 15 games, he’s hitting .357/.446/.750 with 12 extra base hits. It’s too small of a sample size to say he’s fixed, but he’s going to the opposite field again, so this is very much a positive development. Now, if he can sustain it for another month-plus.

The Royals magic number is 23.

Winning. It’s not getting old.

The Royals rolled to another victory on Tuesday night at The K, taking a 3-2 decision from the Baltimore Orioles.

Kendrys Morales hit a monster bomb. Mike Moustakas collected a couple of hits. Lorenzo Cain made a heads-up base running play. Danny Duffy pitched well. The bullpen did its thing. Victory.

These Royals do seem to make things look easy.

Morales’ home run came in the second inning. Just a textbook plate appearance against a pitcher who didn’t vary his pitches enough.

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 6.15.11 AM

Gonzalez was working Morales away and with fastballs. The only offspeed pitch thrown in the at bat was pitch number four, which was way high and outside. Morales fouled off the fastball on the inside corner and the 3-1 pitch that was on the outer half. On a 3-2 count, he got a belt-high fastball and obliterated the baseball. Let Statcast give you the gory details.

Those are the hallmarks of a baseball that is destined to get wet at The K.

I’m sure there will be a longer post after this season wraps, but damn if the Morales signing hasn’t been an absolute masterstroke from Dayton Moore. The Royals said all along they thought his 2014 season was an aberration, not some harbinger of decline. And you know what, they were absolutely correct. His power is still down from his 2009 vintage, but he’s back to where he was post-injury that caused him to miss a season and a half.

Morales is fourth on the team with a 121 wRC+. He’s also fourth with a 118 OPS+. He’s a rock in the middle of this Royals lineup.

I know the Royals will mention Morales’ RBI, but I’m much more interested in his overall percentage of base runners he brings home. Baseball Reference tracks RBI%. Morales ranks third among hitters who have come to the plate with more than 250 runners on base. He has driven home 21 percent, which is good for the third best mark in the AL. He’s just decimal points behind first place.

Just an outstanding comeback year. Kudos to the Royals for seeing that potential.

Speaking of potential, it looks like Moustakas is setting up for one of his patented hot streaks. Too often in the past, these stretches where he catches fire have lasted just a handful of games. We’re talking about like a week. This year, we’ve obviously seen a different Moustakas. His hot streak at the beginning of the season lasted for the better part of two months. He cooled off in June before he went missing in July and the first half of August. However, he’s brought the bat back to life over his last 11 games, hitting .310/.420/.667.

It’s an impressive rebound from a guy who seems to have spent this entire summer in unchartered territory, which is reason to be skeptical. When he was hitting the ball to the opposite field with consistency early in the year, the question was, how long could he keep it going? When he reverted back to some old, nasty habits, the question was, could he find his way out of the slump? And now I guess the question is, can he keep this going through October?

This is an important question because we all know the return of Alex Gordon is imminent. Gordon, if you recall, regularly hit in the sixth spot for most of the season. Which was absolute lineup malpractice. You simply don’t hit your best hitter sixth. Now, with Moustakas occupying the number six spot in the lineup, I would imagine Yost would be even more inclined to keep his third baseman there and find a new home for Gordon when he completes his rehab. This makes it less about moving an unproductive Alcides Escobar out of the leadoff spot, but keeping a productive Moustakas in the sixth place in the order. Yost supports his guys (which is a good thing) so this is a positive move I can see him making.

One guy who isn’t moving anywhere is Cain. Another nifty piece of baserunning from the Royals center fielder in the third inning. With runners on the corners, Hosmer bounced a grounder to the right side of second that was fielded by the shortstop Janish, as the infield was shaded to the right side. Cain stopped in his tracks midway between first and second. Janish’s momentum was taking him toward Cain and first base, so he threw to first. At that point, Cain sprinted to second and the Orioles needed to tag him for the out. Cain slid around the tag, headfirst, and just got his hand around the glove at second. Instead of an inning ending double play, the Royals stole a run. Given they won by a single tally, that play was huge.

On the pitching side, Duffy is in a battle for his playoff life. I’ve done a couple radio interviews in the last couple of weeks and everyone wants to talk postseason rotation, which makes sense. This is a huge question that needs to be sorted in the next six weeks. For the Royals, the first two spots are locked in place. I had been answering that Duffy was my number three, but that he was a “soft” number three. The meaning was, he could be pushed out of that spot by Yordano Ventura. Yet now, with the emergence of Kris Medlen as an option, there is much stronger competition for the third and fourth spots. Medlen is a guy who can get you six innings as we saw on Monday. So basically, every start from here on out from both Duffy and Ventura is a statement about their chances to be an integral part of the rotation in October. That’s outstanding to have that kind of competition when the team has their spot in the postseason tournament all but secure.

Duffy rose to the challenge on Tuesday. He cruised through the first three-plus innings before he wobbled a bit in the fourth, allowing four consecutive hitters to reach base. All with two outs. He was able to escape with his lead intact. It was a microcosm inning for Duffy where he looked sharp and then couldn’t put hitters away. The good news, he was able to find his footing before things really escalated.

Yost grabbed Duffy in the sixth with two outs, to give his bullpen the chance to save the game. With Greg Holland still out with a “cranky” arm, Luke Hochevar, Kelvin Herrera, and Wade Davis did their collective thing to lock down the win.

In his 900th game as Royals manager, Yost now owns a perfectly symmetrical .500 record.  He has 450 wins against 450 losses. At the start of the 2013 season, that didn’t seem possible.

And he got his record to .500 in typical Royals fashion. Some timely hits. Some heads-up base running. Six innings from the starter. A lockdown bullpen. Just another night in Kansas City.

The Royals magic number is 25.

Boston has been a dangerous place.

For whatever reason, it’s been difficult for the Royals to grab a win there. I think we all remember last season, when the Royals opened the second half at Fenway and promptly dropped three in a row. They did win two of three back in 2013, sweeping a doubleheader, so maybe I’m exhibiting a recency bias. Maybe because the Red Sox used to be Eastern Division bullies, throwing their money around with abandon, winning pennants and championships while beating up on the poor (literally) Central teams is fresh in my mind. At any rate, the Royals didn’t do much to change my opinion, dropping the first two games of this four game series. It didn’t help that both losses were lackluster.

The Royals knocked that bias on it’s head on Saturday, as Yordano Ventura threw a solid game, holding the Sox bats in check. Ventura now has a 3.55 ERA in his five starts since his one day demotion to Omaha. In those starts he has 31 strikeouts in 38 innings and is holding opponents to a line of .229/.297/.396. Good numbers all around, especially if you consider there are two clunkers included in those six starts.

Ventura didn’t throw a clunker on Saturday. As I wrote on Friday, the Red Sox aren’t a good team, but their offense is an area of strength. The six innings Ventura threw felt like a bit of a grind, but credit where it’s due as he battled around scoring opportunities in the first and fourth, before allowing a single tally in the sixth. There’s been a lot of internet bandwidth taken up with the examination of Ventura’s struggles – particularly with runners on base. Over the last three starts, it certainly seems as though he has addressed those concerns.

This is obviously great news.

The other bit of news to come from Saturday was Salvador Perez’s opposite field home run. When Perez first came up to the majors, his power was actually to all fields. Seven of his first 15 home runs were hit to right or right-center. Here are his home run plots from Hittracker Online from the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

PerezHRPlot

His big power was to left-center, but he was hitting a number of pitches down the left field line. This isn’t unusual for a right-handed hitter. Power is to the pull field. Studies have shown that nearly 75 percent of all home runs are pulled. It’s the opposite field power that is special. It’s a sign of a player who is a complete hitter. And that’s certainly what we thought Perez was – or at least we hoped he could be. Indeed over his first two seasons (spanning 115 games and 463 plate appearances) Perez hit .311/.339/.471.

Since then however, it’s been a story of steady decline. It kind of tells you about his lost promise as a hitter as when the ball cleared the fence, I immediately hit Baseball Reference to figure out the last time he actually hit one out to the opposite field. Let’s jump into the Wayback Machine to April 27, 2013.

That’s correct. Over two and a half years ago.

Look at how he’s transformed his power profile in the last two seasons. The 2014 season is on the left, this year is on the right.


PerezHRPlot2

Quite the change.

At any rate, this isn’t to declare Perez as some kind of new hitter, or that he will now kick on the offensive afterburners and will now revert to the stylings we saw his first two partial seasons in the big leagues. This is really just to point out how rare an event it is, to see Perez hitting with power to the opposite field. I hope you got to witness it on Saturday. Who knows when we will see it again.

Sunday was a different sort of story, with a different offensive star. A grey, dreary day at Fenway saw the Royals fall behind early. Edinson Volquez wobbled a bit in the second, allowing two runs, but settled into a groove in the middle innings which allowed his team to chip away at the deficit to crawl back into the game. Boston’s defense and Mike Moustakas’ double in the fourth gave the Royals a brief lead.

Speaking of opposite field power, it was Moustakas going the opposite way in the sixth, to extend the Royals lead. For all the talk about Moustakas learning to go to left field, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his home run production hasn’t exactly followed. Moustakas has always been a pure pull power hitter. To expect this change in approach where he goes the other way more frequently  to come with a similar change in his power profile wouldn’t be reasonable. Indeed, the home run on Sunday was only his second home run to left this year. His other came on Opening Day.

This one came on the ninth pitch of the at bat.

Moustakas PA 1

He fouled off a couple of hittable pitches before he found one on the outer half. This was like April Moustakas, going with that pitch and taking it the other way. The difference was, this was hit with authority.

It was a big day for Moustakas. He tallied three hits – all for extra bases – and drove in four. He was undoubtedly the star of the game. Yet I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some questionable decisions that were made in this game that could have cost the Royals the victory.

The first was when Ned Yost send Volquez back out to the mound in the seventh inning. The Royals were short in the bullpen which necessitated sticking with Volquez for what amounted to an inning too long. Luke Hochevar was ill and Ryan Madson was unavailable. So, too, apparently was Greg Holland. Certainly, it can be frustrating watching the game, seeing the starting pitcher wobble in the middle innings, and not have the manager bring in relief. Sometimes, we don’t have all the data. All I can offer is that in a similar situation in October, Volquez wouldn’t have gone back out for the seventh, because everyone in the bullpen would have been available. And that’s the Royals luxury. They are positioning for October.

The Royals were down to their final three outs when Omar Infante stepped to the plate. Infante snapped an 0-31  skid on Saturday and added another hit on Sunday. In the ninth, he lofted a high fly ball to left that was misplayed and took a crazy bounce toward center. Infante, perhaps rested from almost a month of not needing to run the bases, was cruising with abandon. By the time he reached third, third base coach Mike Jirschle was waving him home. He was out by a mile.

That was a serious lapse in judgement. Down two in the ninth with no one out, that is a run you desperately need. Why in the world would you send him? There is absolutely no reason to take that chance.

Fortunately, the Royals were able to kickstart the rally. Back to back singles by Drew Butera and Alcides Escobar put two on. After another out, Lorenzo Cain loaded the bases with a single of his own before Eric Hosmer tied it up. The Royals were jumping all over Boston closer Junichhi Tazawa, swinging early in the count and doing damage.

After Kendrys Morales walks to again load the bases, up steps Moustakas. Just a brilliant plate appearance where he fouled off pitch after pitch. Finally, 10 pitches in, he got what he was looking for: A fastball in the meaty part of the zone. He didn’t miss.

Moustakas PA 2

Moustakas fouled off five consecutive pitches before driving the ball to the gap in right-center for another double. Just an outstanding pair of plate appearances. His bat won this game.

This was where Jirschle’s nightmare of an inning continued. He decided to send Morales home for another run. Since 2012, Morales has been on first base 25 times when a double has been hit. He’s scored exactly twice.

I don’t expect Jirschle to know those kind of numbers, but there’s a reason Morales doesn’t make that trip very often: He’s just not that fast. Built for comfort and not speed, it would have been fine to keep Morales at third. Sure the next batter is Alex Rios, and we all know how he’s performed, although it feels like his bat is warming of late. Still, I know the Royals want to be aggressive on the bases, but that just wasn’t a smart send.

Somehow, the Royals scored four runs in the ninth when they had two runners thrown out at home. Royals Devil Magic is alive and well.

In the end, it’s a win. A great comeback win.


Source: FanGraphs

The Royals magic number is now 28.

Well, that was… uninspiring.

The Royals, as you may have heard, after what felt like the longest two game series in the history of the game, arrived in Boston around 5am on Thursday morning. They weren’t making excuses because they are the best team in the American League, and damnit, excuses are for teams like the Tigers. But they were probably tired. And so it goes.

The result was a lackluster 4-1 loss to the Red Sox.

Boston starter Wade Miley has been a little better since the All-Star Break, with a 3.99 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 39 innings before facing the Royals. He’s an inconsistent starter that has to have his teammates scratching their heads every fifth game. Which Wade Miley will show up today? On Thursday, we know the answer.

On the flip side, you have Danny Duffy. It feels like he, too, is inconsistent. Yet the game logs and results tell a bit of a different story. Since his return from the DL at the end of June prior to the game in Boston, the Duffman had thrown 60 innings with an ERA of 2.85. However, he had just whiffed 28 batters against 19 walks. I’ve written about Duffy’s declining strikeout rate, and when you frame it in terms of his SO/BB ratio, it looks even less appealing if that’s possible.

While I personally find the Red Sox struggles hilarious, they still have a league average offense. Scoring 4.53 runs per game (third best in the league and above the average of 4.28 runs per game) while slugging .410. The slugging percentage is a little less impressive, but still slightly above league average. In other words, the reason the Sox are in the basement of the AL East isn’t because of the bats. These guys can hit. When you have a starter like Duffy who is struggling to throw strikes and isn’t missing many bats (he got a swinging strike on nine of his 98 pitches, which is actually pretty good for him of late) a team like Boston is still going to get their knocks. As we’ve learned, sequencing matters. So when Boston put together two singles, a double and a triple in the bottom of the third, it was good for three runs.

The problem for the Royals was they were unable to force Boston to their bullpen in a timely fashion. Residing in the AL Central as the Royals do, we know all about the crimes of the Detroit relief corps. Well the only bullpen in the league worse that the Tigers is the Red Sox. (Hey! That’s Dave Dombrowski’s music!) When they are only summoned to get five outs, you’re not doing yourself a real favor.

If you truly want to know what kind of night it was, look at that eighth inning. They finally get Miley out of the game, put two runners on, yet fail to score. Oh, and those two runners? They reached via an error and a walk.

Somebody told me there’d be days like these.

A couple other notes…

— It seems as though there is much rejoicing over the Royals beating their PECOTA projection of 72 wins.

The angst over a computer and what they think of a particular team, never fails to amuse me. McCullough, who wrote the chapter on the Royals for the Baseball Prospectus annual, gives a nice breakdown on why the system overlooked the Kansas City nine.

The bottom line is the system has a difficult time projecting the value of defense and a lock-down bullpen, the two absolute keys to the Royals success. This makes sense. Unsaid in the article is the factor of a manager who knows how to use said bullpen. Let’s be honest and give some credit to Ned Yost. While the arsenal found in the Royals bullpen is a gift any manager would love to have at his disposal, is there any guarantee another manager would use it correctly? Maybe the quality of the arms makes any manager look like a genius, but I’d like to think that Yost (and pitching coach Dave Eiland) knows this collection of arms in a way that gives them an ultimate advantage. Sure, H-D-H is automatic, but they’re not available every night. Injuries and fatigue play a roll in a six month regular season. Yost has done a great job managing his pen.

So about that projection: PECOTA still hates your Royals. They are projecting a 20-22 record over the final 42 games. Yes, that feels like a low number of wins, from a team that has won over 60 percent of their games over their first 120 contests. It still hasn’t made the adjustments to the flaws in the system listed above.

I know some of you take umbrage with PECOTA, but it’s a projection. I figure the same people who are trashing it today, would be lauding it if they had projected 95 wins for the Royals. Whatever. It has no bearing on how a particular team performs. Hate on the system all you want. I prefer to figure out the why.

— Alex Gordon is heading to Omaha on Sunday to start his rehab assignment. I don’t need to tell you, but this is outstanding news.

He expects to play for about a week before returning to Kansas City. That seems like a sensible amount of games. Enough for him to get his timing back, and to see how his groin responds to a series of games. If everything goes according to plan, I would imagine he would be back on September 1st against the Tigers. It will be a much welcome return.

Gordon’s impending return gives the Royals about a week to decide how they will adjust their lineup. It’s painfully obvious the Royals would be a more dangerous offensive team if they have Gordon hitting leadoff with Ben Zobrist behind him. That puts their best two hitters at avoiding outs at the top of order. Revolutionary. Defensively, what’s going to happen? I’ve been on record saying I hope Yost removes Omar Infante permanently. His defense is slightly above average at second, but doesn’t come close to making up the ground he gives away with his bat. Baseball Prospectus has a visual breakdown of WARP by position per team. (WARP is their version of WAR.) No team has gotten less value from a position this year as the Royasl have received at second base. And you want to know something? Since Zobrist has been playing second, he’s added 0.3 WARP to the total. Here’s how it looks:

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 12.27.21 PM

By the way, their production from center and left ranks fourth and fifth best respectively in the league.

— Finally, Yost wouldn’t commit to Jeremy Guthrie remaining in the rotation. After Kris Medlen’s strong outing on Thursday, I would imagine he’s the top candidate to replace him.

The Royals were probably hoping to avoid placing Medlen in the rotation in 2015. He’s on board for 2016. However, a combination of his performance, his ability to recover from an outing, and the dreadfulness of Guthrie, means the Royals may accelerate the timetable. That’s not a bad thing as it could potentially give the Royals another rotation option as they focus on October.

— After the loss and the Twins victory last night, the Royals magic number remains at 29.

It was the never-ending game.

The scoring bookended regulation. Eugenio Suarez yanked a home run to left field in the bottom of the first. Ben Zobrist (The Zorilla!) tied the game in the ninth off the previously Teflon arm of Aroldis Chapman. It was his first blown save at home in 56 attempts. See? The Royals aren’t the only team that has had bullpen streaks come to an end.

Speaking of streaks… After going the entire season without a ninth inning come from behind victory, and just days after seeing their 111 game winning streak when leading after eight innings end, the Royals have now won two in a row when trailing after eight.

Baseball can be kind of amazing.

Edinson Volquez started and went a hard six innings. He limited the damage to just the home run, but the entire game was a battle. He needed 112 pitches to get those 18 outs. He faced 24 batters on the night and threw a first pitch strike to only nine. Command has been an issue in the past, no so much this season, but it just wasn’t a tidy ballgame. Volquez walked three and allowed four hits but was really only tested in the sixth inning when he intentionally walked Votto to load the bases. A grounder to Moustakas at third ended the threat and Volquez’s night.

Enter bullpen. Damn, that Royals bullpen was nails. Rollcall! Ryan Madson, Chris Young, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Franklin Morales, Kris Medlen, and Greg Holland. Combined, they allowed just four baserunners scattered over seven innings. With nine strikeouts. And you were worried.

Bullpen aside, it was truly a dreary affair until the 13th. The only other plays of note were a couple of replay decisions that went against the Royals. The first was on Lorenzo Cain at home plate in the ninth. Originally called safe following a rundown, New York overturned the decision on the field. Meh. It was difficult to tell, but Cain didn’t seem too disturbed. Maybe he just loves baseball so much and can see into the future, so he was fine with the extra innings. Either way the call went, it was a strong effort from him to stay in the rundown and to attempt to avoid the tag. I’ll pay money to watch Lorenzo Cain play baseball.

The next replay came in the top of the 11th when Alcides Escobar was thrown out at second trying to leg out a double. It was maybe a good move if Escobar had run at full speed out of the box. The ball was heading for the gap, so I really have no clue why he wasn’t busting it from the beginning. After Hamilton dove for the ball and grabbed it on one hop (a really great defensive play by the way, he was at full extension) Escobar was beat to second by the throw. However, it looked like the he evaded the tag, sliding over the glove. Replay thought otherwise and Yost, displeased, was promptly ejected. I’m clearly not a fan of replay, but the one good thing that has come from it is a decrease in ejections. Nothing looks sillier than a grown man yelling and gesticulating wildly about a call that he perceives has gone against his team. However, in this instance, Yost was justified in his frustration. Two close calls, one was overturned and one was upheld. Both looked like they could go either way.

Replay, in it’s current state, is a sham.

On to the 13th. Jarrod Dyson led off with a single. He was in the lineup only because Omar Infante was a late scratch with back spasms. (Does that make Infante a candidate for Player of the Game? Good question.) That pushed Zobrist, originally slated to play left, to second, while Dyson was tapped to field left. Out of bench players outside of Drew Butera (and Infante, who was suffering back spasms and you know… Isn’t that good when healthy), the Royals elected to allow Medlen to come to plate. Medlen’s twitter bio describes himself as a “Platoon DH” so I suppose he has some confidence carrying the lumber. He laid down a nice bunt on the first base line that was promptly launched into right field by the pitcher Mattheus. Dyson, did his thing, flipped on the afterburners and came around to score.

You read that correctly. The Royals scored the go-ahead run in the 13th inning when their pitcher laid down a sacrifice bunt… That scored a runner from first base. To paraphrase Denny Matthews, “When it’s your year…”

A wild pitch, a single by Escobar, and a Zobrist chopper that went for a single brought home Medlen for the insurance. This is a blog with a sabermetric bent, so you’re not going to read about pitcher wins in this space. But I do acknowledge they are important for the pitchers… They matter to them. So it does feel like it’s worth noting that Medlen picked up his first win since 2013. You can’t help but feel happy for the guy to persevere like he has. Just add his name to the list of the Feel-Good Royals of 2015. This team…

After Medlen crossed the plate, all that was left was for Holland to do his thing in the bottom of the 13th. He showcased a nasty curve against Votto on 0-1 before he lost him on a walk. The command abandoned him ever so briefly in that inning. His breaking balls were up in the zone and he caught a little too much of the plate before he spiked a slider for a swing and a miss for the final out.

Didn’t you feel confident when Zobrist went yard against Chapman in the ninth? Playing extra innings plays right into the Royals strength. It’s all about the bullpen, baby.


Source: FanGraphs

Win probability always throws the advantage to the home team in extras. Understandable. For the home team, one swing of the bat can end the game. However, win probability doesn’t take into account the wonder that is the Royals bullpen.

The Royals magic number is 31.

What a wild, wonderful, and weird – yes, weird – ballgame.

Back in the day, when the Royals were awful, they somehow always found a way to be interesting. As interesting as a god awful team could be. Thankfully, now they’re winning with regularity, they’ve managed to maintain that interesting characteristic. And then some.

Where to begin? Let’s start with the nuts and bolts. The 4-3 win over the Angels on Sunday night, capped off a homestand where the Royals went 8-2. They were this close to sweeping all whole enchalada. When you win eight out of ten, it’s seems kind of greedy to focus on the two that got away, so we’ll let that slide. They are also currently 12 games ahead of the Twins in the AL Central. They are six and a half up on the Yankees for best record (and home field advantage) in the AL. They also have the best home record in the league, at 42-20.

They now have 71 wins.

The win on Sunday was more difficult than most. They opened the game, like they always seem to open the games of late – by scoring some runs. Alcides Escobar swung at the first pitch he saw and dropped a single to center. Ben Zobrist doubled down into the left field corner and Escobar scored all the way from first. A couple of things from that very second play of the Royals offense: Escobar got a great jump on the hit, and it was about time the Royals decided to challenge the arm of David DeJesus. I could be completely wrong here, but it felt like they had some other opportunities to run on DeJesus this weekend, but they played it safe. His arm is not good.

The Zobrist double was followed by a Lorenzo Cain ground out to second, which move Zobrist to third. He came home on an Eric Hosmer single, which marked the 10th consecutive game where he’s brought home a run.

I hope you were paying attention in the first inning, because if you were watching the game for offense, that was it. The Royals wouldn’t record another hit in regulation.

On the other side, Yordano Ventura pitched an erratic, yet effective game. His fastball was humming along, touching 99 mph. His curve showed some snap and his change was, at times, pure filth. The problem I saw was a tendency to overthrow when he got ahead in the count. We saw this a number of times in the game, but I’ll highlight the most egregious of instances: The at bat of Mike Trout in the sixth.

After a Calhoun triple to leadoff the inning, you’d have to imagine Ventura was looking strikeout to keep the run off the board. Makes sense. He’s striking out over 23 percent of the time this season, so while he’s always dangerous, it’s possible to get around him without damage. Ventura starts him off with a fastball on the outer edge and a curve ball that was a bit of a hanger, but completely froze Trout. Ahead 0-2, Ventura uncorked a pair of pitches where it just looked like he was trying to do too much. Here’s his pitch sequencing.

VenturaTrout

Pitch three was his fastest pitch of the night, and way up and out of the zone. The fourth pitch was spiked in front of the plate, got away from Salvador Perez, and allowed Calhoun to walk home to cut the lead in half. Ventura eventually came back (and may have picked up some luck when Trout checked his swing and fouled off pitch six) and again froze Trout on another curve. So Ventura was successful in his showdown against Trout, but the method wasn’t that great.

That’s not to take away from Ventura, or to suggest he dial things down. He was very good on Sunday. He finished with seven innings, five hits, one walk and seven strikeouts. If anything, his performance shows he’s on the right track.

Now, for this next section, I need to present with a caveat: I really, really (really!) dislike complaining about the umpires. It’s a loser’s lament. However, I think we can all agree home plate umpire Quinn Wolcott had a difficult weekend. By the time his home plate rotation came up, he had already had three calls overturned by New York. In a season where seemingly everything has been “upheld” because of “inconclusive evidence” to have three calls turned over in two games is something. And just as we had feared, his strike zone was a train wreck.

Not only was it wide, it was wildly inconsistent. Eventually, Perez was tossed. You can understand why he was angry.

SalEjection

Ball one (pitch four) was really in the zone. Strike three (pitch five) was both lower and further off the plate than the previous pitch. Was it a makeup call? Maybe. I lean to general incompetence. Sal had an extended conversation and was eventually run. In this instance, I question why Ned Yost was so slow coming out of the dugout. Perez stood there expressing his displeasure for quite some time. It’s a no-no to argue ball and strike calls, so why did it take Yost so long to get out there? In that situation, it’s his job to protect his player. Not being critical here, just wondering why that moment was allowed to continue for so long that Wolcott had no choice but to give Perez the thumb.

In the next frame, we saw something we just aren’t used to: A Wade Davis home run. It was a hanging slider that was crushed and untied the game.

It was looking like the Royals bullpen was going to give up a game for the third time in five games. That sort of stuff just doesn’t happen.

Jump to the ninth. The Royals haven’t had a hit since the first inning. Hosmer leads off against Angels closer Huston Street and draws a walk. After Morales hits a tapper back to the mound that advanced Hosmer to second, the Angels intentionally walk Mike Moustakas to pitch to Drew Butera, in the game after the Perez ejection. Butera has picked up a couple of hits, but has looked largely overmatched at the plate in his limited at bats. He fell behind 1-2 before he eventually drew a walk. That was a helluva plate appearance, given the moving strike zone behind the plate. The closest take was the final pitch of the plate appearance. I think Royals Universe was collectively holding their breath on that one.

With the bases loaded, up walked Alex Rios. To that point, Rios had impersonated a statue in right field and had gone 0-3. In other words, just another night. I imagined what would happen on social media if the most likely outcome occurred – which was a double play. In fact, in my highly unscientific methodology, I put the chances of Rios hitting into a double play at 95%. Chances for a sacrifice fly were just 5%. Rios made a joke of my projections and Aoiked a fly ball to right field, deep enough to tie the game.

The late innings featured the Royals defense that had gone almost the entire evening without making a highlight caliber play. First, Cain made a great running catch in right field. That’s notable because he was playing center. Rios, man. Second, Zobrist made a nice little running grab in foul territory after he moved to third.

With the highlight reel plays checked off the box of “Things the Royals do ever game” it was time to bring home a winner. In the bottom of the tenth, Zobrist got their first hit since the first inning. He advanced to second after Hosmer walked on another 3-2 pitch that wasn’t really close but felt that way given who was calling the balls and strikes behind the plate. Finally, Morales stepped up and lined a single to left, bringing home Zobrist and the Royals win.

Another night at The K. Another game with a strong October vibe. We’ve had plenty of these since the opener of the 2015 season. This has been a special summer in Kansas City. With the Royals in control in the AL Central, it looks like the baseball fun will continue a little bit into the fall.

You can be damned if you do. And damned if you don’t.

One night after sticking with his starter for too long, Ned Yost activated the final two-thirds of the HDH Triumvirate in the same manner that has been so successful for the better part of two seasons. The result was the same.

Both losses hurt to different degrees. Your mileage may vary as to which one leaves a larger mark.

Entering the game, Wade Davis had pitched twice since the start of the month. Battling a sore back, the sight of him entering the game was a relief. One of our bullpen cyborgs was back and ready to do his thing. Davis gave up a leadoff single. That’s OK. That’s all part of the Wade Davis Experience. The next batter was Mike Trout.

Please keep in mind, I really dislike complaining about the umpires. There are some who it seems their lone reason to watch is so they can kvetch about the men in blue. You can say I’m not a fan of those fans. The umps are not perfect. Some are truly brutal at their jobs. I have no idea where Gary Cederstrom falls into the umpiring spectrum. I know his name simply because he’s been around forever. In the Deadspin series from a couple of years ago, Cederstrom was noted for being “pro-pitcher.” I wish that had been the case on Thursday.

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 6.52.50 AM

The above is the location of Wade Davis’ pitches to Trout. Ball one was a 96 mph fastball down the chute. How that pitch was missed by the ump, I’ll never know. Pitch two was borderline. An 86 mph curve that broke to the lower edge of the zone. A plate appearance that could have been 0-2 in favor of Davis, or at the very least even at 1-1, was skewed in favor of the Angels MVP. As you can see from his splits after certain counts in 2015, this gave Trout a massive advantage in his at bat.

Split PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
After 2-0 88 52 18 5 0 4 11 35 10 .346 .602 .673 1.275 35 .359 165 160
After 1-1 202 178 52 9 0 14 29 19 59 .292 .371 .579 .950 103 .358 90 183
After 0-2 102 97 22 3 0 6 12 4 44 .227 .265 .443 .708 43 .340 41 208
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/14/2015.

Trout is a great player. A once in a generation talent who will likely wrap this year with his second consecutive MVP award. To go with his two second place finishes. In four full seasons. The sOPS+ in the above table is how Trout performs in each scenario balanced against the rest of the league. Remember, 100 is average. Anything above 100 is considered above average. So while he hits .227 after he falls behind in the count 0-2, he’s still considered an outstanding hitter when compared to the rest of the league. (By the way, the rest of the league hits just .165 after they fall behind 0-2.) The lesson is, you never, ever want to face Mike Trout.

And you really don’t ever want to face Mike Trout if the home plate umpire is going to shrink the strike zone to the size of a pinhead.

Davis did battle back, but threw too many pitches to Trout. With a 3-2 count, he sat dead red, got a fastball over the heart of the plate (not to removed from “Ball 1”) and crushed it to center, over the head of Lorenzo Cain for a run-scoring double. Two ground outs later and two runs had been scored off Davis for the first time since April 5, 2014.

(Let’s not forget the Eric Hosmer brain cramp on the Johnny Giavotella bunt. It seems when the bullpen is struggling, it surprises the defense so much, the players on the field momentarily lose their minds.)

The four run lead was down to two. With three outs to go, this is Greg Holland territory. The game still should have been safe. It wasn’t.

Holland has been shaky all season. He’s had some rough outings that could be placed in the “Bad Luck” file and he’s had some outings where he’s struggled with command and created his own problems. On Thursday, it was the latter that derailed the Royals.

There is some thinking to do about Holland and why he’s lost effectiveness. That’s the subject for another post. Really. There are some numbers to crunch and some data to analyze to uncover what’s happened this year and even then I’m not sure we can get the whole story as to why Holland is no longer the automatic Saveman he’s been the last couple of years. This was Holland as his absolute worst. He faced six batters, retired none, and gave up four hits and two walks. And four runs.

After 111 consecutive wins when leading after seven innings, the Royals now have back to back losses when leading after seven. Sometimes, the Baseball Gods decide to take something back. The Royals bullpen has been a huge reason they are in the position they currently occupy. It’s vitally important to their success. We had to have known that at some point, it was going to falter. And because they have been rolling for so long, any failure was going to be uncomfortable and brutal. It’s amazing they were able to lock down so many wins for so long.

This isn’t the beginning of the end. While there are questions surrounding Holland, the rest of the bullpen is in fine shape. One night doesn’t define them. Not after the sustained success they’ve had over the last two seasons. Hopefully, they will ride the lead into the later innings again on Friday and Yost will once again activate his Bullpen Cyborgs. I still like their chances.

Just another Royals game.

Just another midsummer’s night at The K.

Lorenzo Cain goes 4-4, hits a monster bomb, and falls a triple short of the cycle. Mike Moustakas leaves the yard and drives in a total of three runs. Alcides Escobar nails a runner at home with another relay of perfection and made another run saving play in the field. Sal Perez nailed a runner wandering too far off first. Eric Hosmer continued rolling with a pure opposite field home run. Luke Hochevar was working a killer cutter and struck out three in 2.2 innings to pick up the save.

And let’s not forget the effort from Yordano Ventura to go six innings while generating eight strikeouts.

Just a total team effort. Not only a team effort, but an outstanding all-around game. Pitching, defense and the long ball. This game had just about everything. Honestly, if you’re just now hopping on the bandwagon, where the hell have you been?

I just… I mean… Holy crap. I’m running out of superlatives to describe this team and this season. This has been a special summer. No matter what happens in October, this has been a season to remember. I’ve been sitting here for the better part of a half hour, just staring at this blank page in my WordPress dashboard and I’m smiling like some kind of idiot. I can’t think of anything insightful to write mainly because this is straight up domination. Every facet of the game, almost every night. When this team is firing on all cylinders, there is nothing that can stop them. Nothing.

How about this relay from Escobar? Is there any shortstop in baseball who consistently makes this play like we’ve seen from Escobar? Doubt it.

When Cain was batting in the sixth with a 3-1 count, FSKC viewers were treated to this exchange:

Uncle Hud: Do you throw a fastball here, Monty?
Monty: I wouldn’t.
Uncle Hud: I wouldn’t either.
Monty: He could lean back on one.

CRACK

Uncle Hud: Ohhhhh…

Cain didn’t get that fastball. He got a slider in the lower part of the zone over the middle of the plate. Cain murdered that baseball. According to Inside Edge, it had a velocity of 110 mph when it left the bat and travelled a total of 450 feet. According to Baseball Savant, three different hitters have had an exit velocity that high on a home run this year. Hosmer has hit two home runs that left the bat at 113 mph and another at 110. Kendrys Morales has one that was measured at 110 mph. And the home run on Tuesday was LoCain’s second at 110 mph. That’s a long-winded way of saying that what we saw off Cain’s bat doesn’t happen very often.

(And thanks so much to MLBAM who doesn’t allow all video clips to be embedded. Way to spread the gospel of your game. How about a frame grab of the pitch location? That will have to do.)

Update: We have StatCast video! Behold, the beauty of the Cain Bomb.

And here’s the pitch sequencing. Slider lower half, middle. Ouch.

LoCainHR_081115

The guy is having just an outstanding all-around season. The crowd at The K broke out with the “MVP” chant, and while it may be a bit early he certainly is on the shortlist of candidates. Cain currently ranks fifth in fWAR and third in bWAR. A testament to his development as a top-tier player. The projection systems didn’t have faith in Cain at the beginning of the year due to his short track record and age. The projections aren’t always correct. That’s not always a knock on the computer. They only have the data Cain himself provided from his past performances. Sometimes, guys are outliers and are late bloomers. Cain, as we all know came to the game later in life. Maybe his development is behind the curve we’re used to seeing from guys who have been trying out for traveling teams since they were eight.

All I know is Cain’s breakout is real and it’s spectacular.

Now let’s take a moment to discuss Ventura’s outing. The eight strikeouts tied a season high set back on April 23. That was great. He also tied a career high with six walks. That’s not so great.

Ventura has made the 2015 season interesting, and he continued with this start. He threw a strike on his first pitch to 18 out of the 25 batters he faced. That’s an improvement over how he’s opened plate appearances this season. He was content to work up in the zone early in the count, but as the plate appearance evolved, he was commanding his pitches low. Check his pitch location from Brooks Baseball. I’ve included the pitch number in each at bat for reference.

VenturaLocation_081115

Note how the pitches up and out of the zone were frequently the first or second pitch in an at bat. The pitches that were taken for balls low were generally pitches three, four and five. (There are a few sixes and sevens thrown in, but you get the point.) It’s some interesting sequencing and it’s so consistent that I would wager this was the gameplay from the start. Open with strike one or miss up with some high heat and then as the at bat progresses, start working lower in the zone. If you miss, miss low where it would be more difficult for the opposition to put the hurt on the pitch. It’s also a good place to get a swing and a miss and there are a number of them below the strike zone. Indeed, he generated 15 swinging strikes on Tuesday, just one off his season high, again set back in April in that start against the White Sox.

The walks aren’t going to play. Ventura became just the fifth starter this year to throw at least six innings while allowing six walks. Incidentally, every one of those starters’ team won the game. Yet if there was any way to minimize the damage of the walks it was to not follow them with base hits. We know about Ventura’s struggles with runners on base and pitching out of the stretch. He was still wobbly in that situation. Twice, he issued back to back walks. His defense bailed him out in three consecutive innings. In the fourth it was the Dyson to Escobar to Perez relay to gun down a runner at the plate. In the fifth, it was Perez with the pickoff at first. And in the sixth, it was a diving gem from Escobar to end with inning with a putout at second.

It wasn’t a pretty outing from Ventura. Nor was it especially efficient. Yet when the heat was turned up, Ventura kept calm and made the pitches he needed. Strikeouts or defense. Pick your salve. And that was the difference in this outing from other trips to the mound for Ventura. Back to back walks and an error to load the bases like we saw in the second had been an invitation to implosion. On Tuesday, he settled himself and recorded a strikeout and a ground out to escape.

Maybe when we look back at this start, we will say that Ventura was lucky to emerge without surrendering a run. In the Royals special summer, wasn’t it his turn to finally enjoy some good fortune?

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