Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts published by Clark Fosler

Monthly splits are a dangerous toy, an annoyance to some. That a player is good in May and bad in June is taking liberties with arbitrary start and end dates. I use them sometimes, as they are a quick tool to get a snapshot of an approximate period of time.  In the end, however, turning the calendar from April 30th to May 1st should really mean very little to a player or a team.  Yet, here we are, greeting May once more and hoping, once more, that the Royals don’t go into the tank this month.

Last year, the Royals were 14-12 on May 1st and proceed to go 12-17 that month.  They were 14-10 in April of 2013 and imploded for an 8-20 month of May. Kansas City actually posted a winning May in 2012, albeit on the heels of a 6-15 start to the season.  In 2011, however, the Royals turned a 14-12 start into another one of ‘those’ years by going 10-17 in May (and 9-18 in June).  You can’t blame May for 2010, as the team did not post a winning month the entire season, but for the record they were 12-17 that year in May.  A familiar refrain for 2009:  two games over .500 heading into the month and then just a 12-17 mark for May.  Remember when the Royals went 18-8 in September of 2008?  They were 10-19 in May.  The Royals were not good in Alex Gordon’s rookie year of 2007, going 8-18 in April, but holding form to flounder through an 11-17 May.

Let’s face it, the Kansas City Royals spent many of those season losing lots of games in many a month, but it is a little freakish that in four of the last six seasons they have entered May with a winning record and never been better than five games under .500 for the month of May.  One winning May in the time span of Alex Gordon’s career?  Weird….and certainly more the result of the first and last day of May encompassing a period of time where a team that has been over .500 just twice in that timeframe played true to form than some pattern of inability to function in a month that begins with a big communist holiday.

While extremely encouraged and excited by Kansas City’s 15-7 start, let’s all note that Houston – HOUSTON I TELL YA! – has the same record. To think that the Royals are immune this year to the usual crash and burn May is foolish.  That said, I do not believe the 2015 Kansas City Royals are going to fall victim to the May swoon.  Here’s why:

  • Greg Holland will be back and he’s pretty good. All accounts of Holland’s time of the disabled list seem to lean towards the Royals being cautious with a minor injury. With a deep bullpen, that was smart (would this organization been as saavy even as recently as two years ago?).  Having Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera, et.al. makes it easier to be smart, but still.
  • Luke Hochevar:  let’s dream a little. Many are eager for Hochevar to return, but we’ll need to dream some as Luke has walked seven and struck out six in seven innings for Omaha this year.  Still, it is one more bullet to add to an already loaded weapon.  Should Hochevar return and be effective, it is one more ‘new’ arm to keep the bullpen from being worn down.
  • Danny Duffy.  Last night, we saw how good Duffy can be and, frankly, it was not like he was 100% on his game. Yes, Edinson Volquez had a great April and Yordano Ventura throws all the fire, but Duffy might just end up being the Royals’ best starter this season.  A string of strong outings from Duffy during the month would go a long way towards avoiding any major losing streak.
  • The Rotation. They can’t be this bad all season, right?  RIGHT?  Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie are never going to be great, but they are both better pitchers than what they showed for most of April. The suspensions of Volquez and Ventura had a nice effect of splitting Vargas and Guthrie up in the rotation sequence, which will help the bullpen from having to throw four plus innings two nights in a row if nothing else.
  • All the Offense. The bats were something in April. Heck, even Omar Infante got a little hot towards the end of the month.  They won’t all stay hot (I mean, they can if they want) for another month, but it would be shocking if they all went cold at once and for a long period of time. The new and improved Mike Moustaskas and better than expected Kendrys Morales make me all warm and giggly inside.   Lost in all the glitzy numbers is the fact that this team consistently strings together good at-bats.  I will delve into pitches and swing zones when I have more time, but this group seems to have a much better approach at the plate.  The BABIP fairy loves a good approach at the plate.

May swoon?  Let’s hope not.

Anybody heard that twenty baseball games is equal to having played just two in the NFL?  Anyone want to dispute that starting off 2-0 in the NFL is better than going 0-2?  Good starts can be the real deal or flukes, but they are nice to have in your back pocket.

After starting off the season with seven straight wins, the Royals have since gone 7-6. There is nothing all that special about going 7-6.  In fact, it doesn’t seem as though winning 7 of every 13 games is that difficult a task.  If the Kansas City Royals go 7-6 every thirteen games from now through September 20th (the next 130 games), they will wake up on the morning of September 21st and enjoy their last off-day of the season sitting on an 84-66 record with twelve games left to play.  Split those remaining twelve and the Royals would have a 90 win season.  All by just going 7-6 from here on out.  Seems easy…..

THE BEST:

Prior to the Oakland series, I speculated that Alex Gordon’s issues at the plate were less wrist and more the result of being about thirty live action plate appearances behind the rest of baseball. He hit the thirty plate appearance mark in game one of that Oakland series and since then has gone 13 for 35 with three doubles and three home runs.  After last night, Gordon has a triple slash of .293/.423/.500 and somehow seems to be playing even better defense than he has in the past.  I have mostly listened to the Cleveland radio broadcast the last two nights and, for what it’s worth, there is no doubt in that announcing teams’ mind that Alex Gordon is the best player on this team.  There  isn’t much doubt in my mind, either.

THE RELIEVERS:

Speaking of the Indians’ announcers, they would like to have a couple of Kansas City relievers – any two will do.  The quote from last night, “Ned Yost strolling to the mound.  How nice must it be to say ‘which one of my eight quality relievers should I use tonight?’

Last night, Ned did strike upon the one reliever (Brandon Finnegan) who could not get anyone out, but he was a little bit stuck. I don’t believe Herrera or Madson was available, which meant Yost was hoping to save Jason Frasor for a later inning.  Franklin Morales had pitched two days in row as well and either Chris Young or Yohan Pino has to start for the suspended Edinson Volquez on Friday.   Let’s face it, while he was making his season debut last night, Finnegan’s pitched in some high pressure spots in his career AND he was facing a string of lefties.  It was worth a shot.

As it turned out, the Royals’ offense solved the problem and now, with the exception of Young and Pino (or at least one of them), they head into tonight’s game with likely everyone on import ready to go.  All this with Greg Holland on the disabled list and Luke Hochevar in Omaha.

THE SUSPENSIONS

The Royals, should they win their last two games of the month, could tie the 2003 team’s 16 wins for the most in April.  One record I am sure they have already set is for most suspensions in one month. I’m done being worried too much about the fights, the reasons and the perception of it all.  There has been plenty of rabble around all that from plenty of folks.

The reality of it all starts to hit home this week with Volquez serving his five games (i.e. one start).  Despite pitching last night, my guess is Chris Young will start with Yohan Pino ready to go when Young runs out of juice.  The way those two have thrown, feels like a combination shutout.

Now, if I were a betting man, I would look for Yordano Ventura to drop his appeal and begin serving his seven game suspension tomorrow.  Here is how I think this would shake out:

  • April 30 – Duffy
  • May 1 – Young/Pino (end of Volquez suspension)
  • May 2 – Volquez
  • May 3 – Vargas
  • May 4 – off day
  • May 5 – Duffy (on regular rest)
  • May 6 – Guthrie
  • May 7 – Volquez
  • May 8 – Vargas (end of Ventura suspension)

Two suspensions totaling 12 games and only one spot start needed.  Now, if you want to be a little snarky or a little realistic (take your pick), you can argue that a Young/Pino combo start would be a better alternative than Vargas or Guthrie, but the above at least gives you the option to only have to use that once.

The more daunting suspension(s) is that of Kelvin Herrera.  I don’t imagine we will see him drop any appeals before Greg Holland returns and proves to be healthy and almost certainly, Herrera will drop one appeal at a time:  possibly serving the two game shortly after Holland returns (no doubt after pitching three days in a row or something) and putting off the five game stint as long as possible.

THE FUTURE

Just enjoy the ride, kids.

The Royals might lead the league in runs scored, but probably won’t.  The ‘old’ offense – the one that hits a bunch of singles, walks very little and never seems to get the timely hit – reared its head in Chicago and will come back around from time to time.

The bullpen very likely will be the best bullpen in baseball all season, but they will give up runs a little more often than they have.  There is no way for a unit to be this great for 162 games and when they go from crazy, stupid awesome to just very good, the starting rotation simply has to be better.  It starts with Ventura not being asked to leave games by the umpire and would be greatly helped by a pitch efficient out machine named Danny Duffy coming back into form.  Now, Guthrie and Vargas……  Well, be better, guys.

 

 

 

 

It has become a little bit cool to look down on technology. You all have them, friends or family or co-workers, who ‘aren’t tied to a smart phone’ or ‘don’t spend much time on the internet’. You know the ones that ask you if the Royals won last night before you have your first cup of coffee.  You can find out on your own, you know, using the internet…on your smart phone…genius. Those flip-phoners touting that they live in ‘the real world’ are not going to be excited by the arrival of Statcast.  I, however, am eager to see it in action.

This link is to a brief explanation of what Statcast brings to the table and how it is being rolled out by MLB.  The glossary of terms gives you an idea of the types of things Statcast will measure. For those like me who utilize advanced stats, but don’t devour them, there is going to be an overwhelming amount of data to digest early on.  I cannot imagine the hot mess that the Royals television crew will make of this data as it comes online for the regional networks later this year. Say what you want about Rex Hudler, good or bad, but I doubt anyone wants him delving into the nuances of the hitting vector (or horizontal launch direction into five equal zones of 18 degrees each for those of you scoring at home).

Probably the most anticipated portion of this new toy comes in the measurement of fielding. Nothing can generate debate more than fielding metrics – any of them, advanced or traditional. Statcast’s measuring of how much distance a fielder covers to field a batted ball, the efficiency of the route of an outfielder, time elapsed turning the pivot on a double play and many others will give smart and flip phoners alike a whole new data set about which to argue. Will it settle the debate about defense?  I’m not sure, but it seems like it ought to get us all a lot closer to the answer.

Major League teams have had access to this data for some period of time now and I wonder if the Royals’ decision to keep Lorenzo Cain in center and let Jarrod Dyson play right (or left) was actually based less on getting Cain a Gold Glove and more on his Route Efficiency.  Speculation, obviously, but worth keeping in the back of your mind.

Open your mind and jump in.

About last night…

Took in the Royals game via the Crown Seats last night, making the three hour drive down and back up in the dark worth the journey.  In doing so, I witnessed a workmanlike 7-1 drubbing of the Twins who, by the way, really play horrible defense.

With every game, Alex Gordon seems to be getting better contact on the ball and better overall at-bats.  He is right now, closing in on the 35 or so plate appearances he missed in Spring Training and, assuming the wrist continues to stay strong, would seem to be rounding into form. That is a good sign as some inevitable correction is due to some others in the Royals’ lineup.  That is not a criticism of anyone, just the simple point that Lorenzo Cain is not going to hit .400 this year. A healthy Gordon will go a long way to filling the offensive void as others fall back to earth.

Edinson Volquez, my goodness.  Right now, he is the Royals’ best starting pitcher, but has had the advantage of facing the Twins twice. Still, he is one bad pitch away from three straight starts of allowing just one run. I think that is about all we can ask, right?

It was also nice, by the way, to see the Royals back to just playing baseball and not worrying about who hit whom and why. I enjoy and applaud the Royals’ non-traditional enthusiasm for the game, but too much emotion (i.e. too much worrying about retribution and not being disrespected) can wear you out.  With four straight series against Central Division foes, now is the time to focus on the game, not what people are saying.

 

 

This column is not what you might expect it to be. You might even need to sit down.

I think Royals’ manager Ned Yost has done an exceptional and even creative job of managing his pitchers through nine games this season.

Now, yesterday Yost left Chris Young in too long. I thought that (but, no, did not execute a signed affidavit and have it notarized to prove so) before Young threw a pitch in the 8th inning.  Young, as you like your long relievers to do, had breezed through three innings having allowed just one baserunner. Unless you are trying to guard him in the low post, Young is not overpowering.  He had struck out no one and pretty much spent three innings serving up flyballs that were caught. That’s what Chris Young is and, frankly, that is all you can ask of him:  three innings of no blood.  I thought right then that four was stretching it, especially down just two runs. Yost pushed his luck going for another inning, especially with a well rested bullpen.

Pin one on Ned, but give him credit for going against a lot of opinion (Twitter opinion anyway) last Saturday night and sticking with starter Jeremy Guthrie after many (myself included) thought the veteran should have been pulled.  Guthrie rewarded Yost’s judgement with perfect sixth and seventh innings on the way to a 6-4 Royals’ win. Yes, I would have pulled Young yesterday after three innings and maybe kept my team close enough to make the ninth inning rally an actual comeback, but I also would have pulled Guthrie last Saturday and taken two more relief innings out of the account (and gotten no better results than Guthrie got).

At worst, through nine games, Ned Yost is even on the pitcher handling scale.

I’ll be honest, I think Ned is better than even.  With this bullpen, it is a little hard to make a bad move, but I will give Yost some credit for being creative.

Yes, the seventh inning is Herrera’s, the eighth belongs to Davis and Holland is the closer, but remember last year when Yost stubbornly adhered to those roles and also to Aaron Crow being the ‘sixth inning guy’?  Yesterday, with Jason Vargas struggling, Yost went to the currently ordained sixth inning guy, Jason Frasor, in the FOURTH inning.

First off, what a luxury it is to have a reliever of Frasor’s abilities around to use that early and still not have disrupted your standard plan for the final three innings of the game, but more importantly, well done by Yost to go against the ‘my starter is out in the 4th inning, the book says use your long man’ logic and go to a a better pitcher no matter the earliness of the inning. Even through nine games?  Hell, Ned was no worse than even yesterday.

While it is the general plan – and a good one at that – to have the HDH trio handle the last three innings, Yost has also utilized his assets to not burn out that group in the early season.  After Greg Holland worked in the first three games, Yost went to a Frasor-Herrera-Davis combination to finish out a 4-2 win in game four of the season.  In the ‘Guthrie game’, Yost had already determined that Herrera was going to be unavailable and had Ryan Madson warming up in the bullpen for a possible seventh inning appearance.

Those two moves are obviously even too little a sample to be a pattern, but it shows some thought towards not adhering to The Book all the time.

Think about this bullpen when Luke Hochevar comes back.   Ryan Madson, who had a rough outing yesterday but has otherwise looked good, is your sixth best reliever.  Assuming Hochevar is who he was two years ago (and that may or may not be a big assumption), Yost will have the continued luxury of using Jason Frasor as he did yesterday or Madson or Hochevar or rest one of HDH for a night.

It has to be fun to have that many weapons to utilize and even more fun when your starters have not made it out of the fifth inning just once in the first nine games. Time will tell when it comes to Ned and his pitching changes.  Chances are most of us – well, not those of you who automatically accuse everyone of freaking out at the mention of any discussion of anything – will forget most of the good moves and remember all of the moves (or non-moves) that blow up in Yost’s face.  For now, however, at least in this area of management, I mostly like what I have seen out of the Royals’ manager.

 

 

 

Earlier today, it was Alex Gordon and his wrist.  Just a few hours later, it has become Alex Rios and his hand.  Broken, you know.  Out indefinitely.

Lots of speculation with this news, not the least of which was the removal of Terrance Gore from his AA game today.  In combination with the speedster already being on the 40 man roster, one would be led to believe that Gore will take Rios’ spot on the 25 man roster.  I don’t hate it.

After all, it took six games and an injury to get Jarrod Dyson into live action and, far as we can tell, neither Eric Kratz or Christian Colon really exist.  This is not a team or a manager that is going to utilize the bench very much. Quite frankly, if you want strategery, Gore is probably more likely to see action than say a Whit Merrifield or someone of that ilk.

In the regular lineup, it appears that Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando will platoon and likely do so in right field with Lorenzo Cain staying in center. Dyson, I assume because he is small and fast, is perceived as not having a good arm.  Truthfully, Dyson’s arm is no worse than average, probably not a lot different than that of Cain.  I like the idea of the guy playing everyday (Cain) staying in one spot, where he might be better than Dyson anyway.  So, keeping Lorenzo in center and leaving rightfield to Dyson and Orlando makes sense to me and likely leads to better overall defense than the Royals were getting out of Rios.  That is, by the way, not a criticism of Rios’ early season defense, but more a compliment for the amount of ground Dyson can cover.  It should also be noted that Orlando is considered a superb defender with a very good arm.

The Royals are not blessed with a ton of major league ready depth, but they actually were assembled to, at minimum, get by with an injury to the very player who got hurt.  Write this down, because I’m sure it has never been said before, are part of the game.  This is as good a time and as tolerable a position to take the hit as the Royals could hope for.  It’s not the best situation, but it is far from the worst.

Remain calm, everyone.  Don’t panic.

 

Alex Gordon is off to a 1 for 16 start and that one hit was a seeing eye roller up the middle that was not exactly mashed.  There has been some mock-snarky panic, some actual concern and an occasional casual fan wondering if they shouldn’t play ‘that kid’ Orlando more.  Hey, Paulo Orlando is a great story.  A guy I touted highly as a prospect long ago and then gave up on.  A guy who did something that had never been done in baseball by hitting triples for his first three career hits.  Let’s not get carried away, however.

Quick aside.  With Orlando’s triples this year and Brandon Finnegan’s College World Series to actual World Series in the same season feat last year, Kansas City has had two guys in two years do something that has not been done in baseball ever before. It is hard to find something that has not already been done in this game these days – especially something good.  Just kind of a cool side note.

Anyway, back to Gordon.

In a rather amazing trick, Gordon has a .348 on-base percentage despite having just one hit in five games.  That number is courtesy of three walks (one intentional) and four hit by pitch. Getting on base half the time via the hit by pitch is a hell of a way to make a living and, check the math on this, likely not a sustainable model.  Rickey Henderson posted on-base percentages of .400 and .410 in back to back seasons despite hitting below .250 both years.  In one of those (1997), splitting time between Seattle and Anaheim, Rickey hit just .183 in 144 plate appearances but still got on base at .343 clip.  I am not comparing Gordon to Henderson (Alex does not refer to himself in the third person and seems to be aware of who his teammates are and even knows their names), just another fun set of numbers to go with a quirky early season line from the Royals’ Gold Glove left-fielder.

Early is the key word in the previous sentence.

Seven games into 2014, Gordon was sporting a triple slash of just .231/.276/.308 with no home runs. I believe you will note that 2014 turned out alright for Alex. He started hot in 2013, but in 2012, Gordon began the season 0 for 16, didn’t get over the Mendoza line until April 26th and wound up hitting .294/.368/.455. Even in 2011, Gordon started 2 for 13 before notching 11 hits in his next four games on his way to his best triple slash line of his career and tying for his best WAR season of his career.  The point of this is that a) Gordon has a bit of a slow start history, b) five games is JUST FIVE GAMES and c) a player in Gordon’s physical condition who has put up fWARs of 6.6, 5.5, 3.7 and 6.6 the last four years suddenly does not lose it.

Let’s also keep in mind The Wrist. Is it healthy? I don’t know – Ned has not called me this morning (weird, right?), but as cautious as the Royals were throughout the spring, it is hard to believe Gordon is out there playing in pain. And they were cautious this spring.

Gordon only appeared in 10 Major League spring training games, logging just 35 plate appearances:  basically half of the other regulars.  That is also not the entire story, either.  The wrist surgery had to interfere with Alex’s off-season workouts.  We have all heard tell of Gordon’s dedication to working out and while he certainly did not let himself go, the sore wrist and eventual surgery certainly changed the regimen this off-season.  Let’s not underestimate the impact of a change of routine to a creature of habit.

While I am not privy to how many times Gordon steps in a batting cage during the winter, but I would wager the wrist kept him from doing it as much as in prior years. Even after getting back into physical shape, Gordon was still not cleared for actually swing a bat until spring training games were already underway.

Bottom line of all this: Alex Gordon is more than 30 spring training at-bats behind. I don’t know that it’s a stretch to say the Alex likely doesn’t quite feel like he is ready and may feel a tad behind. The wrist may not be, or at least feel quite as strong as it has before. True or not, it would be human nature to have at least a sprinkling of those thoughts going through Gordon’s head right now. Hell, who knows? None of that may be happening and it all may simply be that Alex Gordon is 30 at-bats behind the rest of baseball.  If that is all there is to this story, then Alex is a couple of games from being right where the Royals need him.

If a 7-0 start means nothing, then a 1-16 start from a hitter means even less.  I’m leaning towards Alex Gordon getting more hits this weekend against Oakland than Billy Butler collects against the Royals.

By the way, 7-0 is kind of fun, isn’t it?

Lorenzo Cain went yard with authority last night to give the Royals a second straight win.  Four home runs in two games?  What the hell is going on here?

While the home runs are a pleasant early surprise, there are pleasantly no surprises when it comes to the bullpen.  Four innings last night, two hits, no runs, no walks and five strikeouts. Jason Frasor did allow an inherited runner to score, but walking into a first and third/no out situation and allowing just the one run to score is really about all you can hope for.  He’s not Wade Davis, after all.

In addition to a big three run homer by Eric Hosmer to erase an early 3-1 deficit and, of course, Cain’s absolute rocket shot in the bottom of the eighth to put the Royals ahead, finally for good, Kansas City drummed out 12 other hits and even sprinkled in a couple of Alex Gordon walks to pretty much litter the bases with baserunners all night.  Neither starting pitcher had a stellar night and the Duffy/Perez combination seemed to outthink themselves on at least a couple of occasions when it came to pitch selection: notably the Flowers home run on a changeup.

The preceding, however, is only criticism I have for Salvador Perez from last night.  All the Royals’ catcher did was rap out two hits, throw out two runners and frame some balls into strikes.  Perez has generally not had a good reputation for framing pitches.  In my mind, there is plenty of background noise when it comes to pitch framing metrics, but the statistical consensus (and, yes, the eye test) indicate that Salvy has not been particularly good in that area of the game.  Last night, I thought he brought several pitches smoothly into Hunter Wendelstedt’s strike zone.

Have a look at Brooks’ Baseballs strike zone plots from last night:

April 8 Strikezone vs LHH
April 8 Strikezone vs Rhh

Red squares are called strikes when the Royals are pitching, while red triangles are called strikes for the Sox pitchers.

These plots are from the umpire’s point of view and confirm what I thought I was seeing last night: that Perez and the Kansas City pitchers were getting most of the borderline strike calls.  Particularly those calls on the left edge (Wendelstedt’s left) of the zone and more calls then Flowers and the Chicago pitchers were getting.  One game, one umpire, one night out of 162, but an encouraging sign.

Mostly because the graphs, plots and information at Brooks’ is so fun, we’ll end with one last plot regarding Danny Duffy last night:

Duffy Speed April 8

Danny’s velocity was way up at the start of the game, touching 98 once and lingering at 97 mph, but declined with each inning.  Perhaps, as has been an issue in the past, Duffy was just a little too amped and paid the price as the game went on.  It was not horrible outing, as there were at-bats where Duffy was simply overpowering, but certainly not a performance anyone wants to see on a consistent basis.  Like Perez’ pitch framing, watching Duffy’s early (and late) velocity will be interesting in the coming weeks.

Today, a businessman’s special with Edinson Volquez making his Royal debut.  I’m curious to see what Ned Yost does with the bullpen this early in the season.  Will he pitch Davis and Herrera for the third time in four days or back off that pace?  I would be tempted to avoid using either, simply because it is – not sure if you’ve heard this yet – a long, long season.

It’s just two games, but damn it is nice to win them isn’t it?

After a little damp, but tolerable and overall enjoyable Opening Day, the Royals may or may not play tonight. It has been a while since we had one of ‘those’ Aprils, but it happens.

Should Kansas City take the field tonight, we will get our first look at the 2015 version of Danny Duffy. He is looking to get 200 innings this year.  I’m not greedy, 190 innings will do just fine. In my mind, Duffy is the key to this year’s rotation.  If he can parlay his performance of last year into a full starter’s workload, this rotation can absorb a sub-par year from one of the remaining three starters that fill out the backend.  If Danny struggles to get through five innings – as happened in 2014 – things could become the bad kind of interesting.  Especially with another high pitch count per inning guy in the rotation right behind Duffy in Edinson Volquez.

Some random notes, likely covered by others already, from Monday’s win:

  •  Kendrys Morales had a full day’s worth of quality at-bats.  He looked nothing like the flailing mess of a hitter that he was the past couple of seasons. I am not even sure that was THE Kendrys Morales.  Whoever it is, I like his approach…at least for one day.
  •  There are European soccer players who think Yordano Ventura overreacted to his thumb cramp. I have no doubt it hurt and was a shock, but I am also not sure it should send you to the ground. Thankfully, it turned out to be only a cramp and not an elbow or a shoulder or a knee or a gunshot.
  •  It turned out to be nothing, given the 10-1 result, but the decision by third base coach Mike Jirschele to hold Alex Rios at third in the bottom of the second seemed overly cautious.  Now, next to the manager changing pitchers, what the third base coach does is easily the most second guessed action in baseball and it was just the second inning of the game.  That said, if the Royals are an ‘aggressive’ team on the bases, then act like it.  In this instance, I was sitting up the right field line and had essentially the entire play in front of me.  The throw from the rightfielder Garcia was obviously coming in too high for the first cutoff man and too low to the second cutoff man and Rios was at least 20 feet around third and at full speed.  It was wet, Juan Abreu – no defensive wizard – was going to have to take a low throw or short hop, pivot and make a good throw to the plate, and Omar Infante was the next hitter.  Send him. Send him every time.
  •  Wade Davis:  still filthy good.

While a day or two late, here are my predictions for the year:

I have the Royals at 86 wins.  I think Ventura will be great, Duffy will be good and two of the three other starters will be ‘good enough’.  The bullpen will be dominant, the defense very good and either Hosmer or Cain will be outstanding.  That’s enough, in my mind, for 86 wins, but likely not enough to get in the playoffs.

AL CENTRAL:  Detroit, Kansas City, Cleveland, Chicago, Minnesota

AL EAST: Boston, Baltimore, Toronto, New York, Tampa

AL WEST: Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles, Texas, Houston

NL CENTRAL: St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Milwaukee

NL EAST: Washington, New York, Miami, Atlanta, Philadelphia

NL WEST: San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Colorado, Arizona

 

AL Wild Cards: Baltimore and Toronto

NL Wild Cards: Los Angeles and Cincinnati

World Series: Seattle and San Diego (Can you hear the national media bemoan this ‘boring matchup’?)

I have zero faith in any of these.  Although, once again, it should be noted that I was dead on my Royals’ win prediction last year and missed by one game the year before.  Gut and grit over logic and stats, right?

 

 

 

I was attempting to write my 2015 season predictions, but continue to struggle with how I believe the 2015 season will play out.  Hey, internal struggles are tough to overcome when you have six to ten voices in your head at any one time.  Plus, I find myself burdened by the fact that I pegged EXACTLY the number of wins by the Royals in 2014 and missed by ONE (1) win in 2013. That’s a lot of pressure.

Anyway, ground down by a Spring Training that was as mundane as any in recent memory (perhaps that is the byproduct of a successful prior season?) and not too fired up to even go into the renewed idea of carrying eight relievers to avoid the apparent catastrophe that losing Ryan Madson might be or, for that matter, whether the final roster spot goes to Orlando, Sierra or Merrifield (or Madson), I thought I would offer nothing to society today.

My First Week of Real Baseball Predictions:

  • Alcides Escobar will attempt to bunt in his first at-bat of the season.
  • We will wake up on the morning of April 13th and Yordano Ventura will lead the American League in strikeouts.
  • Someone will mention Famous Daves or Dickey’s and Twitter will explode with righteous indignation.
  • Alex Gordon AND Eric Hosmer will each homer twice in the first week of the season.
  • Greg Holland will blow a save.  (He always blows a save in the first week…always.  It means nothing, but we will wonder if it means SOMETHING).
  • There will be mention of a liking of some national beer and Twitter will explode in defense of Boulevard Beer.
  • Omar Infante will sit out at least one game in the first week as a ‘precaution’.
  • Craig will wonder why I didn’t get him tickets to Opening Day and I will respond “Get back to work, Craig.”
  • Alcides Escobar will attempt to bunt for a hit, again….and bunt as a sacrifice at least twice.
  • Edinson Volquez will not make it out of the fifth inning in his first start.
  • The Royals will have a winning record on the morning of April 13th. NOTE: The most disappointing season in my recollection (2004) started with a 4-2 record.
  • Hang on to this one, kids:  Salvador Perez will NOT start one of the first six games!
  • A guy who looks a lot like me will be seen playing craps at Harrah’s.
  • Kendrys Morales will have at least two at-bats that make us think Salvador Perez has better plate discipline than we thought.
  • Wade Davis will not allow a run.  Not. One. Run.
  • Kendrys Morales will hit a home run and someone on Twitter will tweet ‘I still miss Billy’.
  • A guy who looks a lot like me will be seen slinking to the ATM to get more cash….again…at Harrah’s.
  • Lorenzo Cain will have exactly as many hits as strikeouts during the first week. It might be a big number or it might be a small number and, no, I don’t know where this prediction is coming from.
  • Yordano Ventura will hit 100 mph in the first inning on Opening Day.

Whether you like it or not, I will follow up sometime before first pitch on April 6th, with actual predictions.  I want to be optimistic, but there is a ton of logic that is pulling me in the other direction.  Opening Day, beer in hand, wife at my side, surrounded by 40,000 other Royals’ fans, you can bet I’ll be optimistic…if only for a day.

Opening Day is now less than one week away and with little roster intrigue surrounding the Royals our attention is turned towards the soon to be ‘real’ baseball games. Unless you are still busy monitoring what music everyone else likes, what clothing they choose to wear or what television shows and entertainment they choose to watch.  If that’s the case, I apologize in advance for wearing shorts to baseball practice tonight while listening to Charlie XCX and discussing Mountain Monsters with my assistant coach.

Anyway, the Royals’ fandom (and I imagine most teams’ fans) often fall into two very different camps about this time of year.  The first is the ‘everyone will be better’ camp where no projection is good enough and every other team has weaknesses but the Royals’ weaknesses will be erased by, you guessed it, everyone getting better.  I’ve been there.  It’s a happy place where one can believe that Mark Teahen and Ruben Gotay are just the guys to lead the Royals out of the darkness or that Angel Berroa will actually parlay a hot spring into a great regular season…or Mike Moustakas will.

The second camp is the ‘no one will be better, all the moves were crap’ group. In this circle, most projections are optimistic, any player who had a bad season will get even worse and most of those who had good seasons were lucky and, gasp!, are now a year older. It is kind of a grumpy and surly place, where one has a lot to write about and you can feel pretty smug when Mike Jacobs really cannot hit anything round and Juan Gonzalez disappears into The Plaza in May and is never seen again.

Seldom (ever?) does everyone on a team get better (or luckier) and rarely does everyone on a team get worse.  Now, a team can come close to both and, just off the top of my head, a team is more likely to have the majority of their roster implode than explode.  That said, I thought I might take a stab at the position players and pitchers most likely to make the happy camp pleased and also the ones most likely to make the gloomy guys feel smart.

THE HERO

Eric Hosmer has been pegged to be the next great Royal since, well, since we kind of gave up on Alex Gordon being the next great Royal (which he kind of has become, by the way). While ZiPS projects him to be good (.345 wOBA, 2.6 fWAR, .293/.346/.443 – basically Alex Gordon without the great defensive component in WAR), it doesn’t indicate Hosmer taking that next step. He has alternated two good years with two not very good years and punctuated the last with a very good post-season which, as Craig wrote some time back, was aided by a generous diet of fastballs from the Royals’ post-season opponents.

All that said, Hosmer is still young and has been through as many hitting coaches as major league seasons. While we like to scoff at scouts and ‘their feel’, there is something to the opinion of guys who do nothing but watch baseball players for a living. Like Gordon, the general feeling is that Hosmer almost has to be better than this or, at least among all the youngish players on the roster, he is at least the one that has the best chance to be really good.

That said, Eric’s walk rate has declined each of the last three seasons while his strikeout rate has increased and with those declines came a decrease in power. It is not a great trend line, but dammit my gut says Hosmer is better than all that. Truthfully, I think the ZiPS projection is probably about right, but if one guy is going to break out above the projections and be the hero, I think it will be Hosmer.  If it happens, it could lead to a fun – or at least interesting – summer and fall.

THE GOAT

I really like Alcides Escobar.  I also sense that the ZiPS projection of .270/.301/.356 is painfully close to optimistic. Given what Escobar can do in the field and, when he actually gets on, what he does running the bases, Alcides does not need to be a monster at the plate to be valuable. That said, the Royals’ shortstop is just one season removed from a painful 2013 where he posted a .259 on-base percentage.  Even Mike Moustakas thinks that is a bad season.

Although Escobar has posted a line drive percentage of 23% or greater in each of the past three years, his BABIP has fluctuated from .344 to .264 to .326.  With his BABIP, so goes Escobar’s on-base percentage. This is the guy who is going to be getting the most plate appearances on the team for at least the first few weeks of the season and likely beyond.

Hey, there are always corners to be turned and things to be figured out, but we are now 3,200 major league plate appearances in and Escobar has a career .299 on-base percentage. Do you feel lucky? Do ya?!!!

THE HERO

Most projections expect Danny Duffy to be an effective pitcher, just not one that is going to pitch a full season worth of innings. That is understandable, given the 149.2 Danny pitched last year doubled his major league total from the three previous seasons. Although he was still plagued by high pitch counts last year, Duffy was awfully good most times he took the mound.  He exhibited his best control since his years in the low minors and allowed just 113 hits in those 149 innings.

I see Yordano Ventura being every bit the pitcher he was last year, but one does not have to squint all that hard to see Duffy parlaying his 2014 effectiveness into 190 innings of ‘fun to watch’ in 2015. While there are not tremendous similarities between the two, it is kind of fun to draw a parallel to Mark Gubicza.  In 1985, a young Gubicza went unused in the World Series after spending the season in the starting rotation as the team was concerned about his mentality in a big game (sound familiar?).   He came back to be good in 1986, better in 1987 and great in 1988.

Perhaps Danny Duffy can do something similar, maybe even skip the ‘good’ and go directly to ‘better’ in 2015. I like his odds and, let’s face it, the Royals really, really need him to be that guy.

THE GOAT

Is there anyone, anywhere, optimistic about Edinson Volquez? Probably, but not here or there. This is not even an original theory and I am not going to spend much time discussing it.

I see Volquez struggling to find the strike zone, laboring through five innings, taxing the bullpen and hoping that the Royals’ outfield really can run down every flyball hit. Quite frankly, I am not sure the Royals might have been bettered served by simply using Chris Young as the fifth starter to hold the line until Zimmer, Finnegan, Lamb or someone was ready to step in.  They might not have spent the $10 million they paid for Volquez this year, but they sure could use it next year.

In the end, there is nothing scientific here, just some discussion and guessing. That is pretty much what the last week of Spring Training is for.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: