Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts published by Clark Fosler

It was just one week ago when I wrote that the Royals might well have to consider making a serious move to upgrade the starting rotation. That was written on the heels of Yordano Ventura giving up five runs the day after Edinson Volquez gave up four runs in five innings, which came right after Danny Duffy gave up six in less than four innings.  There were three more turns through the rotation before the end of May, I said, if things don’t improve by then something will have to be done.

Well, so far, so good.  Maybe not a rebound, but certainly a nice bounce.

It started last Thursday night as Jeremy Guthrie allowed two runs over five innings.  That is not a great start, but given what the rotation had been providing, it was a nudge in the right direction. That was followed by 5.2 innings of one run work by Chris Young in a game in which the Royals scored twelve and Aaron Brooks got to pitch. The next night was Danny Duffy night.  Some saw progress out of Duffy by wallowing through five innings.  Well, let me tell you, I have seen Progress and Saturday night was no Progress.

Then things got real interesting.

Edinson Volquez pitched seven shutout innings, allowing just three hits.  Wade Davis and Jason Frasor combined to allow five baserunners in two innings (I think they were bored), but managed to complete the shutout.  After an off-day, we finally got to see THE Yordano Ventura: seven more shutout innings on just four hits and zero walks.  Those two were followed by six MORE shutout innings from Jeremy Guthrie.

The Royals were a two-out double of Ryan Madson away from three consecutive shutouts and, by the way, scored 16 runs while it was happening.  Baseball is an easy game when things are rolling like this.  With their bullpen, things are real easy for the Royals when their starters give them six or seven good innings.  It is easy even if Kansas City was playing with last year’s offense.

Certainly, twenty innings of shutout ball from your rotation is not going to happen very often, but it is a positive trend.  Volquez has been a delight this year, showing more pitch efficiency than his track record suggested we could expect and, frankly, being the Royals best starter. Ventura, at least for one night, was the guy we expected to be at the front of the Royals’ rotation in 2015.  Was he too hyped up to start the season, then two laid-back after all the commotion? Mental stuff, man, you never know.

Guthrie?  We all know who Jeremy Guthrie is.  He will give you all he has and sometimes that won’t be good enough, but sometimes it is and he is prone to hot streaks.  Ignoring the money, there is nothing wrong with Guthrie at the end of your starting rotation.  That is, nothing wrong with it, if Ventura and Volquez pitch well.

In the middle is Chris Young, who has a track record when healthy and especially in the early parts of season, to be quite good.  Now, if you send me your address, I will mail you a dollar bill if Young throws more than 150 innings this year.   When we talk of track records, staying healthy and effective long enough to log major innings does not show up on Young’s.  For now, he has been truly outstanding and the Royals would be wise to ride him as long as he stays hot.

Then there’s is Danny Duffy.  Oh Danny, Danny, Danny, Danny….

With two off days sandwiched around a two game series, I would have skipped Duffy in the rotation this time through and opted to go with Young tomorrow (on 6 days rest), Volquez on Saturday (on 5 days rest) and Ventura on Sunday (on regular rest).  That said, it is early in the season, and I believe the Royals may be worried about a skipped start digging Duffy into a deeper hole and also he may need to pitch more than he need to think.

With Jason Vargas seemingly on the verge of being ready to return (the Royals’ karma has changed so much that now when they put a guy on the 15 day disabled list, it really is just for 15 days – not a year and a half!), this could well by Duffy’s last start for a while.  Another short outing with lots of runs and shotgun control and I could see Duffy in Omaha. I mean, really, we have Stormchaser season tickets, I could SEE him.  I would prefer not to, however.

The Royals, long term, need Danny Duffy to be an effective starting pitcher and probably that is the primary reason he will make his next scheduled start even though there is ample opportunity to juggle the rotation this time through.  Frankly, the way the rotation has pitched since last Thursday, who is going to put money against Duffy going a strong six against the Cardinals this weekend?

 

Since starting the season with seven straight wins, the Kansas City Royals have gone 14-13.  Thus far, that has been good enough to get into and stay in first place.  A few weeks back, I noted that the Royals could put themselves into position to win 90 games by simply going 7-6 over each of eleven thirteen game stretches between the seven game win streak to start the season and the evening of Sunday, September 20th.  That would put them at 84-66 with twelve games to play.

Well, the Royals have gone 7-6 in the first two thirteen game spans.  Last night’s loss was the first game of a new thirteen game span.  Why thirteen games?  No reason, just happened to be the random point of the season when I thought of it.  You can slice and dice however you wish, but the premise is that the Royals can play just a little better than .500 ball for the rest of the year and likely be in decent to very good shape of making the playoffs.

That seemed like a doable task when I first wrote it, but that was before Danny Duffy managed to accumulate all of four innings of work in two combined starts, before Jason Vargas went on the disabled list and before Yordano Ventura ate 13 innings over two starts that included allowing 9 runs and burying his team early both times. I ranted on Tuesday (and it was just a rant, not analysis, not noteworthy) about the starting rotation and things got worse.

A few weeks back, I took in a game with a couple of friends and we were talking about how deep the Royals’ bullpen was.  My thought was it was a fertile stockpile with which to make a trade and my friends asked a very logical question:  ‘Well, where would you improve?’  At the time, second base was (and remains) squarely in my sights.  Dollars be damned, if the Royals could upgrade second, they should.  They won’t, I don’t think, because Omar Infante is under contract for two seasons after this, but it seemed like the place to look.  Now, three weeks later, with the rotation offering us two good Chris Young starts, one by Jeremy Guthrie and a whole bunch of yuck, it seems obvious the Royals should be seriously considering a rotation upgrade.

The minors offer very little in the way of help.  Joe Blanton has an opt-out tomorrow and, well, is still Joe Blanton.  Christian Binford is in Omaha and does not really have the ‘look’ of anything more than a back of the rotation starter at best in the majors.  John Lamb? That would be a nice surprise, but it is difficult to see him going six and two-thirds effectively in the majors any more regularly than the current rotation.  Kyle Zimmer?  Yeah, prove to me he even exists.  Sean Mannea?  Injured.  Almonte? Not ready, not close.  Brandon Finnegan? He’s on the reliever merry-go-round.  You get the idea.

Without question, it is early.  I am not advocating trading for Johnny Cueto tonight…well, if you want to Mr. Moore, go ahead, but it’s too early to go into full panic buyer’s mode.  That said, the time is coming when the Royals will either have to get better starting pitching or seriously make a move.  The best bullpens in the world don’t do much other than get worn out if their starting pitcher consistently puts them in a 4-0 hole. The best offense in the world (and the Royals are good, but not the best in the world) cannot consistently battle back from an early deficit.  It wears you out, just because it cannot be statistically quantified does not mean it doesn’t happen.

So, let’s get back to the deep bullpen. I don’t believe trading a reliever for a starter, no matter how good the reliever might be, straight up happens in baseball: not if you are looking for a real upgrade in a starter.  The Royals also don’t have THAT prospect to center a trade around.  There is no Wil Myers in the system or Yordano Ventura (rumored to be the asking price for Howie Kendrick at one point) or Zack Greinke (rumored to have been asked for in exchange for David Wright before Zack made his major league debut). I am not even sure there is a Jake Odorizzi to offer.

There are those who love and covet prospects, I’ve lost that attachment to most or at least to the current group in a good, not great, Royals’ system. If Hunter Dozier and Raul Mondesi (currently hurt) greases the wheels of a trade for a starter, I am not sure I lose sleep over it.  That said, to get the conversation even started, Dayton Moore would have to part with one of the vaunted Herrera-Davis-Holland triad of doom.  All three are good and all three are not getting any cheaper.  How much less effective would Madson/Hochevar-Davis-Holland or Madson/Hochevar-Herrera-Davis be than the current group?  Would you trade Greg Holland and Hunter Dozier for two and a half months of Johnny Cueto?  Would you throw in Bubba Starling or Brett Eibner to make it happen?

The Royals will take a spin through the starting rotation three more times before the end of May.  A couple of lights out Ventura starts, twenty innings from Danny Duffy and news that Jason Vargas really isn’t going to need Tommy John surgery and maybe these thoughts go away.  That, obviously, is the best case scenario.

What if the above doesn’t happen and the Royals limp to the end of May with an overtaxed bullpen and little improvement in the rotation?  Then it will be time to pick your target, swallow hard and start thinking about trading players you would rather not.

The Royals, I think almost without question, have the deepest bullpen in the majors.  They certainly have the best bullpen in the history of the franchise. I cannot tell you the best bullpens in history – or let’s say the best bullpens since starters stopped pitching complete games.  I have to believe the current unit has to rank in the top twenty, maybe/probably higher. Jason Frasor, a good, solid, dependable long-time relief pitcher, is the SIXTH best pitcher in the pen.

That said, they don’t make bullpens deep enough to…

  • Overcome a starting rotation with four of the five members sporting earned run averages over five.  Say what you want about the ERA stat, but it has some validity on starting pitcher performance.  FIP? Four of five over 4.22 and three of five over 4.70.
  • Overcome your number two starter going a combined 4.2 innings in back to back starts, or not make it out of the sixth inning in five of seven starts.
  • Deal with your supposed ace allowing four runs or more in three of six starts or, for that matter, pitching into the seventh inning just twice in those six starts.
  • You simply cannot handle the above if your number five starter pitches like a number five starter.  Jeremy Guthrie has managed to go at least five innings in every start and posted a great bounce back outing his last time out, but he has still basically pitched like a back of the rotation guy.  That’s fine and good, if the top of the rotation isn’t pitching like the back of the rotation as well.

It’s not a revelation that the rotation has been below average thus far in 2015.  A great bullpen and a whole bunch of unexpected offense has masked it.  Eventually, bats go cold or the can’t hit enough to make up for being buried early (as they have been three times in eight days).  Bullpens, even the deepest of the deep, get tired and overused.  Dayton Moore has designed a bullpen equipped to pitch a lot of high leverage innings, but even this one probably cannot handle four innings a night from here until October.

Chris Young has been a revelation, but it is worthy noting his ERA is a full run higher in the second half of the season opposed to the first.  That and the fact that his 165 innings last season was 50 more than he pitched in any year since 2008.  Sure, Jason Vargas might be back and he is a capable back of the rotation guy as well.  BACK…OF…THE…ROTATION.

Unless and until Ventura and Duffy begin pitching as the Royals expected them to going into the year, your Royals rotation is Volquez, Young and three days of ‘boy, I sure hope he manages to make it out of the third inning tonight’.

Admittedly, this is all a rant based on a really bad game last night on the heels of a really awful Danny Duffy start in his previous turn.  It is an overreaction…maybe.  Yordano Ventura spent all of 2014 being the real deal and has had moments even in 2015 (good ones, I mean, not the overdramatic cramping, running your mouth moments). Two young pitchers having two kind of rough patches.  Patience, my friends, patience.

And you thought it was hard being patient when the Royals were losing.

Alex Gordon struck out four times on Wednesday night. It was one of, if not the worst, games of the season for the Royals and (obviously) for Alex.  These things happen.  You know, baseball and such.

Not only do these things happen, they happen more often than you might think.  Four strikeouts or more in a single game?  It has happened 109 times to a Royals’ batter and actually three times prior to Wednesday to Alex Gordon.

Bob Hamelin, Greg Gagne and Bo Jackson all hold the distinction of striking out FIVE times in one game.  I remember listening on the radio to the game when Jackson managed (?) the feat against the Yankees on April 18, 1987.

Gordon is the first Royal to strikeout four times this season, but Lorenzo Cain did so twice in 2014 and was joined in this unlucky club by Omar Infante and Eric Hosmer.  Cain also struck out four times in a game in 2013, while Hosmer did so in 2012.  Also getting the quad sombrero in 2012 were Billy Butler, Jarrod Dyson and Mike Moustakas twice.  To be fair to Mike, however, one of those four strikeout games came when he managed seven plate appearances, so not really a sombrero if I am reading the unwritten rules of baseball correctly.

Somewhat interestingly, Gordon’s other three occurrences all came in 2011, which was arguably the best offensive season of his career.  In all three of those games, Gordon actually batted five times and got hits in two of those contests.  Old friend, Jeff Francoeur struck out four times twice in 2011, in the span of just two weeks.  Frankly, I’m surprised it didn’t happen more often.

Going back beyond 2011, you run into a string of Royals who will neither surprise you, nor stir up longing for the past:  Guillen, Pena, Brown, Sanders, Guiel, Gotay, Berroa, Harvey.. you get the picture. Of course, it happens to the best, too.  Mike Sweeney did it, so did Carlos Beltran and Jermaine Dye.  Michael Tucker managed to do it two times in each stint with the Royals.

Bo Jackson, struck out four times in a game FIFTEEN times, fourteen times more than Joe Zbed ever did.   Pitcher Dick Drago struck out four times in a game four times, both a testament to bad hitting, but good pitching I suppose.   Hal McRae did it (twice), Willie Wilson and Amos Otis did it once.  Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew wore the hat once in his one season with Kansas City.  You know a Hall of Fame member who didn’t strike out four times in a game?  George Brett. Not once, not ever.

There are plenty of obscure names on the list, but I will wager the most obscure would be Scott Northey, whose major league career consisted of 68 plate appearances with the 1969 Royals.  The very first Royal?  Jackie Hernandez on June 6th, 1969.

Baseball is full of bad days and Alex Gordon had one on Wednesday.  How did he do the following game the first three times?

One for two with a home run, two walks and a hit by pitch. Two for four. Two for five with a double.

 

It was not too long ago that a former Royal enjoying success with another team hurt. It might have even haunted us. Dayton Moore himself, floundered through some odd roster maneuvers that, at times, seemed to indicate a tremendous fear of letting go of a player who might have success somewhere else. After all, he didn’t want to make ‘another Philip Humber mistake’.

Funny what some success does to your mindset, isn’t it?

By and large, no one seems to agonize that much about this issue anymore.  Certainly, the Royals have moved well past the anthem of just a decade ago that ‘this guy couldn’t play for anyone but the Royals.’  A quick survey of ex-Royals who have appeared in the majors for another team in 2015 totals up to 37 (and I may well have missed some).  Of those 37, the bulk are not Royals because of the team’s choice, not theirs.  What would a team of ex-Royals look like in 2015?

  • CATCHER – Brayan Pena backed up by Brett Hayes. Yeah, think we’ll stick with Salvador Perez, but worthy of note that Pena is hitting .302/.387/.358 in 17 games for the Reds.
  • FIRST BASE – Billy Butler.  We will have to give up a little defense based on who else is available, but Billy is hitting like Billy used to hit.  Clint Robinson currently holds a roster spot in Washington if you need a back-up.
  • SECOND BASE – Johnny Giavotella.  I don’t want to start the ‘did Johnny get a chance in KC or not’ argument again, but he is playing well early for the Angels.  Honestly, this is the only spot where you might say the Royals would be better off with an ex-Royal than what they have, but I imagine the difference between Infante and Giavotella by year’s end probably won’t be enough to get all twisted up about.  If you don’t like Johnny long term here, you can plug in Emilio Bonifaco as well.
  • SHORTSTOP – Mike Aviles or Andres Blanco. Not a lot to choose from here, but these two guys have carved out pretty long careers and have stood in the general vicinity of the shortstop position this season.
  • THIRD BASE – Albert Callaspo or Jimmy Paredes.  Paredes is red-hot for the Orioles.  Callaspo keeps getting work (now in Atlanta).  Again, Bonifaco could play here, too or even Danny Valencia:  who is likely bitching about playing time in Toronto right now.
  • OUTFIELD – You want outfielders?  We can cheat a little here and claim Jose Bautista, but that’s a stretch given he was barely in KC and no one cared when the Royals parted ways (and didn’t care for seasons after that).  Carlos Beltran? Age has not been his friend.  However, I think a team could win games with an outfield of Melky Cabrera, Wil Myers (that might be cheating, too) and Nori Aoki, backed up by Gregor Blanco and Justin Maxwell.  Hell, the San Francisco Giants think they can win with an outfield that is pretty much all ex-Royals as it is.  If injuries ravage your ex-Royals, you can fall back to David DeJesus, still plugging along in Tampa, David Lough, Carols Peguero and, yes, Jeff Francoeur.
  • STARTING ROTATION – This team would be in good shape at the top with James Shields followed by Jake Odorizzi (2.21 ERA in 6 starts for Tampa), but your number three is probably the seemingly always injured Jorge de la Rosa.  The back end gets really dicey with Jesse Chavez and Sean O’Sullivan (or Jeff Francis) closing it out.  Hey, you would at least have to go six deep before your started Kyle Davies (2.1 scoreless innings with the Yankees this year).
  • BULLPEN – You could do worse than have Joakim Soria be your closer.   Joel Peralta is currently injured, but was having a nice season with the Dodgers, where he was teammates with another former Royal, J.P. Howell.   In front of those three, you could turn to Jeremy Affeldt, Will Smith and the svelte Jonathan Broxton.  Your seventh man would be Jeremy Jeffress, who has pitched well early for the Brewers, with former Royal farmhand Sugar Ray Marimon as a fallback option.

The good news is the Royals’ have reached the stage that you can assemble an entire team of former players.  The better news, that team would be nowhere near as good as the current Royals’ squad.  That sounds like a no-brainer, but not very long ago it would not have been.

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.

 

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