Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts published by Clark Fosler

And you’re just plain wrong if you don’t know it.

Last night, Cueto was not good.  After a remarkable display of pitching to get out of runners on first and third with no one out in the second, Johnny gave up three two-run homers on his way to a second bad outing in a row.  Two bad starts in a row?  You’re right, he’s a bum.

Let’s ignore, as Twitter strikingly did last night, the four starts before that.  You know, a complete game shutout, a one run over eight innings performance before that, two runs over seven the start before that and three runs over six innings in his first Royal start.  That first start, by the way, coming against the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto. Not impressed by six innings and three runs?  Do note that the Blue Jays AVERAGE 5.5 runs per game and are 17 games over .500 at home.  Since acquiring Troy Tulowitzki, the Blue Jays have scored less than three runs in a game THREE times with only one of those occurring at home.  Buy yeah, as one tweet went last night:  Cueto’s a bum, bad in 3 of 5 starts.  Weird, looks like six starts to me, with four of them being good, but math is hard.

Now, I fully understand Twitter is built for the instant, knee-jerk reaction and also that anyone talking baseball on Facebook is likely to be firmly over on the very casual side of baseball fandom. I also know the need to be a contrarian and so, like the Cueto trade, when something occurs that most people like, there is the group that wants to be different.  They were out last night, too.  The ‘I was worried about this with Cueto’ or ‘I didn’t see why everyone is so excited about this trade’ group.  Yes, you are all so insightful.

Listen, if you want to debate that three months of Cueto is not enough to trade Finnegan, Lamb and Reed, I will acknowledge that opinion.  I personally don’t think it was, but there is an argument to be made.  You can also express concern that maybe Cueto would not stay healthy for half a season and have some standing.  Johnny did, after all, miss portions of both the 2011 and 2013 seasons.   If your reason is because you don’t think Johnny Cueto is not that good, then you are just not paying attention.

Since 2010, Johnny Cueto:

  • ranks 16th among all pitchers in total fWAR
  • ranks 4th in ERA
  • despite missing parts of two seasons with injury, he is still in the top 25 in innings pitched
  • ranks 6th in batting average against
  • led the league in innings pitched and strikeouts in 2014
  • pitched seven innings or more in 24 of his 2014 starts
  • pitched seven innings or more in 16 of his 25 starts this season and six innings plus in six others

Now, Cueto’s FIP and SIERA numbers for 2010 through 2015 rank in the twenties for all starting pitchers.  If you want to make an argument that Cueto is not an ‘ace’, whatever that really means, you have some standing.  He isn’t Clayton Kershaw, but do be aware as you dance the ‘he’s not an ace’ line of the following:

  • Kershaw has started eight post-season games in his career and allowed five runs or more three times and given up five runs in a start twice in 2015
  • Zack Greinke, between winning the Cy Young in Kansas City and going to the Dodgers, posted an ERA of 3.48 or above in three straight seasons.  He also has given up five runs or more in start twice this year
  • Felix Hernandez has allowed five runs or more in four starts in 2015 and did so three time in 2014
  • Dallas Keuchel?  Two starts allowing five runs, three more allowing four.
  • Chris Sale has allowed five runs or more five times this season

After the second inning escape last night, I tweeted ‘Johnny Cueto just gave us a lesson in what it means to be an ace’.  Like I said, Twitter is made for the instant reaction and, if pressed and if you demand some adherence to the nebulous ace, one, two, three, five rating system of starting pitchers, I might lean to saying that Cueto is not really an ace.  He is certainly a ‘number one’ and at the very high end of whatever scale you might use to designate who a ‘number one’ is.  An ace? I don’t know, man, define ace.  However you define it, be careful or you will end up describing no one.  Every ace has his warts.  Every ace and every number one has a bad start or two….and sometimes they come back to back.

Now, if you want to say Cueto is a ‘bum’ and ‘not that good’ and ‘has not been very impressive with the Royals’, then I do have to ask very sincerely, ‘What the hell color is the sky in your freakish, odd little world?’

 

Kris Medlen’s first start as a Royal did not start out in storybook fashion.  His first pitch was ripped by Manny Machado (who is pretty good, by the way) to the wall in right-center.  Lorenzo Cain, as he is known to do, ran about four miles only to have the ball go into and out of his glove, off the wall and back into his glove.  Seven minutes later the umpires in New York figured out what everyone else knew after the first replay and Medlen got to throw a second pitch.

After inducing a groundout, Medlen gave up a complete bomb to Adam Jones (who is pretty good, by the way).   It was not a particularly bad pitch, a curve ball down,  and was really more of Adam Jones being a good hitter.  Funny thing about Medlen’s curveball, after that it was almost unhittable (to everyone but Jones, who would single his next time up) and the ‘out pitch’ on four of his six strikeouts.

While the reaction to Jones’ home run was predictable, because it is 2015 and we hyper-react to everything or, even better, react to the hyper-reaction by indicating how little we are reacting (get off my lawn, kids), cooler heads prevailed.  Specifically, Kris Medlen had the coolest of heads.

He struck out Chris Davis, who was the only Oriole to get to a three ball count against Medlen all evening, and then struck out Clevenger to end the first and then just got silly good.  It took Kris just 8 pitches to work around an infield single in the second.  Fourteen to get through the third and eleven to escape the fourth allowing just one run thanks to two strikeouts and a Steve Clevenger base running vapor lock.   Seven pitches got Medlen through the fifth and just eleven more to get through the sixth.  After the first inning, Medlen never threw more than three balls in any inning.  Hell, he even managed to get Adam Jones out once.

How consistent was Medlen?  Here’s a very boring release point chart for you:
Release-Medlen

 

While repeating his delivery well, Medlen was also giving hitters a wide variation of speed:

Medlen-Speed

When you combine the variation of speed with the ability to throw all four pitches for strikes, well, you saw the result.

After a seven run explosion in the bottom of the sixth, Ned Yost went to his bullpen to finish off the game even though his starter had only thrown 69 pitches. No harm with being cautious with Medlen, who had not gone more than four innings since being added to the major league roster.  That is the luxury of being thirteen games up in August.

The last time Kris Medlen was a full-time starter (2013) he went six innings or more in 24 of his 31 starts and allowed three runs or less in 22 of those.  This was just one start, but if the Royals have added a pitcher that in any way resembles the 2013 version of Kris Medlen to a playoff rotation that will start with Johnny Cueto.  Well, folks, October just got even more exciting.

Before scores of fans, the Royals defeated the Reds last night the ‘Royal Way’:  four runs and five innings of relief pitching.

The official attendance was 18,078 in Cincinnati.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say the actual number of people in the seats last night was closer to half that number.   As Royals fans we can make fun of that and smirk at how of may of those who actually did attend were cheering for Kansas City.  We can do that this year because the Royals are averaging 33,609 people per home game and, already past the two million mark, currently are fourth in the league in attendance.

 

 

 

Those attendance numbers are the ‘good team spike’ for an organization that has seen a steady rise in attendance for the past five years and a far cry from the paltry 16,928 average per game back in the dark days of 2005.  The Royals are very likely going to break the all-time franchise attendance record set in 1989 of 2,477,700.   For a team that ranked no higher than 10th in American League Attendance in any year since the strike, this is heady stuff.

Of course, it brings out the snark as well.  Those ‘die-hard’ fans who count themselves among the core 16,000 that showed up night after night to watch the Royals lose 310 games in three years might sneer at the ‘newbies’, some of whom have the audacity to not know who the number three started in Northwest Arkansas is.  Where were you back then, they ask.  I don’t probably at home watching on television until the game inevitably turned into a pile of garbage.  I don’t know maybe taking a bike ride instead of seeing if Shawn Camp could get the Royals out of the sixth inning while keeping them within four runs.   Maybe a portion are just bandwagon fans who are showing up because the Royals are hip and fun right now.  Most are somewhere beyond bandwagon, but not quite die-hard in fandom.  That’s how the world works.

Outside of Kansas City, we have all seen the comments.  The ‘oh look, there are Royals fans now’ and other classic dumbassery.  As if the Royals are unique in having more fans now that they are winning as opposed to when they were, and let’s be honest, pretty much a joke.  Weird, winning teams draw better than losing teams.  Who would have thought?  If you are cocky enough to think your franchise is immune, you might want to check the record book.

That last sentence might have seemed pointed at the Cardinal Nation.  You can hate St. Louis all you want, but you cannot deny the organization’s competence.  They have posted a winning record in 17 of the last 20 seasons, made the playoffs 12 of those years and won the World Series twice.  They have been no worse than fourth in National League attendance in all but one of those seasons (weirdly the year they won 105 games they finished sixth).  To their credit, Cardinal fans have shown up in the losing seasons during that time, but if you go back to the last time the Cardinals posted back to back losing seasons (1994 and 1995), they sank to 7th and 8th in attendance.

How about the Angels?  They have been second, third or fourth in AL attendance since 2003, but prior to that they were solidly entrenched at 8th or 9th for years….in a market that is pretty much people as far as you can see.  I am a farmer, so I can say this, but you drive by a lot of corn and cows on the way to Kaufmann Stadium.   Been to Anaheim lately?  Lots and lots and lots of people.  When the Angels were going 70-91, they drew 1.7 million.

Detroit?  They have been consistent winners since getting to the World Series in 2006, but the four years prior to that?  You know when the lost 91, 90, 119 and 106 games.  The Tigers were 10th, 9th, 13th and 12th in AL attendance.  To their credit, they were never last in attendance, but then the Royals were last in that category just one season.  Hell, even the Yankees, who have led the league in attendance every season since 2003 fell as far down as 11th in the early nineties when they had three straight losing seasons.

There is no new information here.  More people are fans of teams that win or, maybe more accurately, more people express their fandom of a winning team than when it is losing.  I live in Nebraska and, like it or not Kansas and Missouri, the Royals are the dominant franchise up here and where before Alex Gordon was drafted, by the way.  Royals gear, always around, is being worn with full fury up here these days.  Some are bandwagonners, most are just paying closer attention.  There is nothing wrong with any of that and nothing unique about it.

Royals fans, welcome aboard or welcome back or thanks for not being ashamed of being a KC fan anymore.  There’s room for everybody, even those of you who don’t realize there are two Morales’.  Fans of other teams?  Get over yourself and get used to it.  There are more of us this year and we are making more noise…. just like you do when your team is really good.

 

 

The Royals signed Joba Chamberlain and Wandy Rodriguez to minor league deals the other day and I had to chuckle at some of the reactions.  Why? Some asked.  Keep them in Omaha, please, others said.  Hey, I understand some of the wonder/concern/angst.  I’ll make fun of it because I am only a marginally nice person at best, but I do understand.

Not too very long ago, Chamberlain would not be headed to the minors to try to revive his career but instead would be pitching tonight in Cincinnati…in the seventh inning…of a tie game.  One does not have to reach back too far into history to a point when instead of trading for Johnny Cueto to win the World Series, the Royals were signing Wandy Rodriguez to start eight games down the stretch just to get through the season.

Now, Rodriguez gets a month to show if he has anything left as he assumes the role of a warm body in the Omaha starting rotation which was thinned out thanks to the trades of Aaron Brooks, Brandon Finnegan and John Lamb. While I think the end of a good career is well within sight for the 36 year old Rodriguez, there is no harm in giving him a look in AAA. Curiously, Wandy’s strikeout rate is up this year, but sadly most of the bad stats are up, too. If you see him in September, which I highly doubt, it will be because of a catastrophic string of injuries (knock wood!) or simply a spot start to get the rotation aligned for the playoffs.  His role is really just to eat up some innings for a AAA team short on starters and maybe do well enough to earn a 2016 Spring Training invite.

As much as it appears that Wandy Rodriguez is well into the twilight of his career, I feel as though Joba Chamberlain is pretty much past the bed time of his own. After a passable year for Detroit in 2014, Chamberlain was ineffective in 2015.  He was victim to a big (and likely to regress in a good way) home run rate (21.7% of flyballs became home runs), but it is hard to look away from the fact that batters hit line drives off him almost 30% of the time.   His is a career that basically has gone down hill via injuries and just plain non-performance since 2008 and shows no real sign of getting better.  Yet, the guy was basically sitting 50 miles up the road from where the Stormchasers play, so what is the harm in taking a look?

There is no harm in either signing because, quite frankly, if either Rodriguez or Chamberlain pitches a meaningful inning in a meaningful major league game for the Royals, the team has far, far bigger problems. I think it is unlikely that we see either in a Royals’ uniform this September and quite possible that the month they spend in the system will be their only time with organization.  Maybe we’ll see them in Spring Training – again, no harm in having a bunch of arms in camp in March.

It is easy to overestimate the amount of angst contained in a Tweet or a comment on the internet, but if you had any – even one brief sliver of it – over these two minor league signings, you need to note that the calendar says 2015, not 2009.  It is not like it used to be.   Oh, and by the way, after years of very logical questioning of Dayton Moore, who are we to criticize the signings made by a GM who picked up Chris Young, Ryan Madson and, yes, even Joe Blanton for virtually nothing this year?

Among other things….

  • When would you let Omar Infante play second base again?  My answer would be next April, but I fear Ned Yost will re-insert Infante as soon as tonight or tomorrow.  Some have defended Infante playing every day by siting his defense.  Sure, Omar ranks as high as sixth in the majors among second basemen defensively (depending on your preferred defensive metric).  You have all watched him and Infante is a good defender, but he is not a great defender.  He is no Frank White or Cookie Rojas.  Frankly, he is no Mark Grudzielanek.  And, by the way, you CANNOT play good enough defense at second base in the 21st century to justify the batting line that Omar Infante carries.  You want to play Zobrist over Rios and keep Infante?  I’ll listen.  It is a pick your poison choice, but lose no sleep over Omar sitting.  Also, Ben Zobrist can play some defense at second as well.
  • Fun story of the day.   My seven year old discovered that our next door neighbors are Cardinal fans – he was appalled.  They have a ten year old who was lecturing Max on how the Cardinals had a better record than the Royals, to which Max responded, “Well, we have Johnny Cueto now.”  and walked away.   Johnny Cueto: fun to say, fun to have on your team.
  • A fair portion of you have a distaste for Nebraska.  I have said in the past that you cannot find four states that are more similar than Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa or, best I can tell, four states from which people are so certain they are different.  As an aside, you know the difference between a die-hard Kansas basketball fan and a die-hard Nebraska football fan?  Me neither, there isn’t one and you are fooling yourself if you think there is one.   At any rate, the Stormchasers will certainly enjoy a nice little attendance bump should Alex Gordon do a rehab stint in Omaha AND Joba Chamberlain is in the bullpen.  Even I (keep in mind I live in Lincoln) will think that might be a few too many Husker fans.
  • Speaking of Gordon and again, knock wood, he would seem to be right on track for an early September return.  It seems like perfect timing:  three to four weeks for Alex to get back in the groove in the majors and the same amount of time for Ned Yost to settle into his post-season lineup.  As I wrote last week, I don’t have major issues with Yost resting players liberally and maneuvering the lineup around through the end of this month and the first part of September.  Come the weekend of September 19th, however, I believe Yost needs to know and play ‘his playoff nine’ and part of that is putting Ben Zobrist at either second base or in rightfield full-time.

It’s August 18th and we are already talking playoffs.  It truly is not like it used to be.

Even great baseball teams lose games.  I am not sure the 2015 Royals qualify as ‘great’, but they are certainly very good…and they lost last night.  They lost in a game in which Ned Yost quite understandably sent Edinson Volquez out to start the eighth inning, only to see his starter fall victim to an infield hit, a walk, a swinging bunt and not exactly the most ‘ripped’ double of all-time.  Did Yost stay with Volquez too long in the eighth?  Sure, he did, but it was a weird inning that got away from the Royals’ manager and his team. Weird innings and slow decisions happen to good teams once in a while.

 

 

All of that is nothing to get too upset about.  My late night scan of Twitter indicated some people did get upset.  Although more people seemed to be upset about people being upset than there were actual people upset about the loss.   Twitter, maybe the world, was in a weird mood yesterday, with people exceptionally focused on proving how much more rational they were than other people and basically just plain argumentative about everything.  It was the kind of day that breeds an eighth inning like the Royals had last night.

Of the piles of douchery that was populating bandwidth last night, however, an interesting question did arise:  if the Royals has a one game lead in the division and a healthy Wade Davis, does Volquez come out in the eighth or pitch to as many batters once he ran into trouble?  I think most of us agree the answer is no to at least one of those propositions.  Therein lies the greater question.  How and how much should Ned Yost attempt to rest his team over the last two months of the regular season?

There is a delicate line there in that baseball is a game of repetition.  No one expects Alex Gordon to come back in early September and be in top form.  This is a sport, after all, that plays THIRTY exhibition games to get ready for a 162 game regular season.  One can’t sit Wade Davis for ten days and then expect him to be razor sharp his first time out.  There is nothing new to that or a surprise to anyone.

Can you and should you, pull back the reigns to the point that your regulars are resting one or day days every week?  Where you best relievers are pitching only when they are perfectly healthy and then only every third day?  At one point do you get your team back into post-season mode prior to the actual post-season?  And how many games do they need to essentially ‘flip the switch’?

Since 2005, thirteen teams have won their division by 10 games or more and of those thirteen, only one has made it to the World Series (the Texas Rangers).  That number mostly points to the narrow margin for error in the playoffs, but does at least offer enough to make one leery of doing too much coasting into the post-season.   It will be an interesting test for Ned Yost, who has managed to make young players better and managed the latter half of 2014 like every game was a playoff game, but never been in an admittedly enviable situation like this.

For the record, I don’t mind trying to get through the eighth with Edinson Volquez last night or having Ryan Madson close out a one run game last Sunday.  It makes sense to not pitch Wade Davis with a sore back and to hold out Salvador Perez and his sore wrist even if it means letting Drew Butera bat with two on in the bottom of the ninth.  It is just one game after winning five straight and being a 99% lock to get to the playoffs.

The funny thing about ‘just one game’ is that sometimes those turn into more than one game and the next thing you know you have gone 13-17 and lost a little (or a lot – ask Oakland last year) of the team that surged to the best record in baseball.

Should Ned Yost rest players, get his regulars healthy and try to give the bullpen some light duty?  Without question he should, but he needs to do so with an eye on both keeping his team sharp and maintaining the number one seed in the post-season.  If you want to go play a game six or seven at Toronto, you are a more confident human than I!

If you are asking me, I would try to dance through August and the first week of September liberally resting regulars and relievers alike.  Come the last three weeks of the season, however, I would advocate locking in my playoff lineup and managing those final twenty or so regular season games as if it was the playoffs.  Sure, you don’t pitch HDH three days straight down the stretch or get ‘actual playoff crazy’, but I think you get the drift.

Last night was ‘just one game’ and, for once, that’s fine.  The Royals just need to not fill up August and September with a basket full of ‘just one games’.

 

Let’s do more of them.

Life is a little bit in the way this morning, so the usual Pulitzer Prize caliber stuff will have to wait.  I’ll just let the whole debacle that was ESPN last night slide by, along with how much Cardinal fans apparently hate Johnny Cueto and anyone who cheers for him.  I’ll not make fun of the angst among some in the fanbase over Star Wars day or Husker Night (oh no! fans from an adjacent state cheering for my team and putting revenue into my local economy!).

Instead, let’s just take a quick stroll back down memory lane and look at the complete game shutouts by Royals over the past few seasons.

Prior to Johnny Cueto’s masterpiece last night, the Royals had not gotten a complete shutout from a starter for almost an year.  Jason Vargas did the trick last August 13th, shutting out Oakland on three hits just four days after James Shields shutout the Giants on four hits (where was THAT in the World Series, James?).

That Shields shutout was almost year after Jeremy Guthrie’s four hit shutout of Minnesota on August 5, 2013.  Guthrie also threw a four hit shutout against the White Sox in May of 2013, making him the first Royal starter since Zack Greinke to throw multiple complete game shutouts in the same season.  Greinke spun three of them in his great 2009 campaign.

Now, between Guthrie’s first shutout and Greinke’s last as a Royal, there were three shutouts by pitchers that are so unlikely to throw them that I bet you already know the answer.  Luke Hochevar did it twice…three years apart…and no, the 80 pitch Cincinnati complete game isn’t one of them.  The always-turning-a-corner-never-getting-anywhere Hochevar shutou the Rays on June 15, 2012 scattering seven hits along the way.  He also shutout the White Sox on just three hits on September 18, 2009.  In between, on October 1, 2010, Bruce Chen two hit the Rays to lead the 67-93 Royals past the 94-66 Rays.  Josh Fields played third that day for KC, Kila Ka’aihue batting clean-up and Gregor Blanco lead off.  James Shields was the opposing pitcher and Ben Zobrist played second base for Tampa.

Let’s revisit 2009, the year of Hochevar’s first and Greinke’s three shutouts.  The Royals had a memorable fifth shutout by a starter that year:  Gil Meche.  Meche four hit the Diamondbacks, but took 132 pitches to get it all done, thanks mostly to Stephen Drew’s 10 (?) pitch at-bat in the top of the ninth.  If that did not do it, the 121 pitch medley the next time out, did Meche in.  Thanks, Trey Hillman.

Now, you think a year between complete game shutouts is a long?  The Royals went over two seasons without one before Greinke’s first in April of 2009.  In September of 2006, and it’s okay if you did not see or remember, because it was September of 2006, Mark Redman threw a five hitter against Minnesota.  That was just THREE days after Runelvys Hernandez scattered seven hits in a 2-0 shutout of the Blue Jays.  Oh, those were the days, my friend.

The first Royals’ complete game shutout?  Roger Nelson in 1969.

The most as a Royals?  Dennis Leonard with 21.

A lot of the big names in Royals’ lore threw back to back shutouts, but I bet you did not remember that Ted Power did so in June of 1988.

Did you know that Luis Aquino (3) had more shutouts than Jose Rosado (2)?  Or that Darrell May and Chris Haney each had three as Royals?  How about the fact that Dan Reichert, Jay Witasick and Mac Suzuki each managed to accomplish the feat?  Or that Jim Colborn’s no-hitter was his only shutout in a Kansas City uniform.

Most strikeouts in a shutout?  Kevin Appier with 13 on September 15, 1995.

Most walks allowed in a shutout?  Six, done by Paul Splittorff, Rich Gale and Steve Busby.

Most hits allowed in a shutout?  Ten, done by both Bret Saberhagen and Mark Gubicza.

One pitcher in the history of the Royals had an extra inning shutout.  If you thought Steve Busby, you were thinking along with me, but we’re wrong.  It was Al Fitzmorris who threw ten shutout innings on June 29, 1976 against Minnesota in a 1-0 win.  The attendance that day in Minnesota was 6,201 with Hal McRae (playing leftfield) scoring the only run on a Freddie Patek RBI.

Shutouts are fun.

 

There have probably not been two trades that were so overwhelmingly greeted with joy by Royals’ fans than the acquisition of Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist, since…well, Joe Foy for Amos Otis?  That said, there was still some angst and a decent amount of grumbling about impending doom in the near future.  One has to give to get, and the Royals gave up Sean Manaea, Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, Cody Reed and Aaron Brooks.   Five guys who were not going to have major – if any – roles with the team in 2015, but for whom there were modest to sky high expectations in the coming years.

 

What of those coming years, however?  While the Cueto and Zobrist trades are an indicator that the Royals are certainly ‘going for it’ for 2015, that does not necessarily mean that Kansas City is ‘going for broke’.  It may be very likely that the Royals best chance for a World Series is 2015, but they won’t drop off the face of the earth before next spring.  I actually saw a tweet bemoaning that the Royals were going to be ‘just like the Marlins’ and another comment (here, there, somewhere – I get confused) that ‘the Royals better win this year because they’ll be back in the dark ages in coming seasons’.  Sometimes, I think people just like to complain….

Anyway, let’s have a look at the future or maybe more appropriately The Window.

Following is a table of the players, by position, that are under team control in one form or another through 2018. Players who have a player option at the end of their contract (Alex Gordon) or those who have a mutual option (Morales, Volquez and a bunch of others) are not shown in the year an option of that type would have an effect.  Team options are noted, buyouts of team options are not.

2015 2016 2017 2018
C Perez (1.75) Perez (2.0) Perez (3.75 team opt) Perez (5.0 team opt)
1B Hosmer (5.65) Hosmer (8.25) Hosmer (Arb)
2B Infante (7.5) Infante (7.75) Infante (8.0) Infante (10.0 team opt)
SS Escobar (3.0) Escobar (5.25 team opt) Escobar (6.5 team opt)
3B Moustakas (2.64) Moustakas (Arb) Moustakas (Arb)
LF Gordon (12.5)
CF Cain (2.73) Cain (Arb) Cain (Arb)
RF Rios (11.0)
DH Morales (6.5) Morales (9.0)
BENCH Zobrist (7.5)
BENCH Dyson (1.23) Dyson (Arb) Dyson (Arb)
BENCH Butera (0.9) Butera (Arb)
BENCH Orlando/Cuthbert/Colon/etc
SP Cueto
SP Ventura (0.95) Ventura (1.2) Ventura (3.45) Ventura (6.45)
SP Volquez (7.5) Volquez (9.5) Volquez (10.0 team opt)
SP Duffy (2.42) Duffy (Arb) Duffy (Arb)
SP Guthrie (9.0) Guthrie (10.0 team opt)
RP Holland (8.25) Holland (Arb)
RP Davis (7.0) Davis (8.0 team opt) Davis (10.0 team opt)
RP Herrera (1.66) Herrera (2.55) Herrera (Arb) Herrera (Arb)
RP Hochevar (4.0) Hochevar (5.5)
RP Medlen (2.0) Medlen (5.5)
RP Morales (1.85)
RP Madson (0.85)
RP Young (0.68)
INJ Vargas (8.5) Vargas (8.5) Vargas (8.0)
INJ Collins (1.48) Collins (Arb) Collins (Arb)

A quick glance shows three big holes on the 2016 roster:  the two corner outfield spots and that which will surely be vacated by Johnny Cueto.  Now, you would hope that Kris Medlen joins the 2016 starting rotation and Yordano Ventura returns to his rookie form to give the Royals four solid starting pitchers.  The fifth spot could be Jeremy Guthrie’s – if one wanted to pay $10 million for what Guthrie gives you.

Here is the first spot where those who cannot stand to lose prospects sound the alarm.  The Royals will need another starter and there is no certainty that Chris Young will return.  Brandon Finnegan and John Lamb were certainly two names that would have come into play.  Sean Manaea, although the start of 2016 might have been a tad optimistic would have gotten mention, too.  All three, obviously, are gone, leaving Kyle Zimmer (stop laughing) and Miguel Almonte as the in-house possibilities.  Sure, five names – especially minor league pitching names – is better than two, but it is not a bad two names, either. Not to mention that it is nice to type Cueto and Zobrist into the 2015 roster.

Speaking of Zobrist, he is up there around the other two gaps in the 2016 roster.  It would be fun to have the Royals ink a healthy Alex Gordon to a new contract (or have Gordon do them a favor and pick up his $12.5 million player option) AND get Zobrist to sign a decent value two year deal to come back.  Hey, it’s easy!  Corner outfield spots solved!  Of course, we know that scenario is highly unlikely, but nothing that Dayton Moore did in July had or will have any effect on that situation.

The Royals, with only a little bit of luck (Ventura/Medlen) and maybe one big contract (Gordon) could be close to or as good in 2016 as they have been in 2015.  Sure, it might be nice to have Manaea and Finnegan hanging around spring training next March, but it seems nicer to have Cueto and Zobrist hanging around the regular season this year.

Come 2017, then maybe we’ll lament the loss of those five arms a bit more, but the Royals’ cupboard will hardly be bare.  The future was not mortgaged to get Cueto and Zobrist, not even close.  The window will certainly be open in 2016 and, with some breaks, stay open in 2017 as well.  In theory, anyway.

Elbows and shoulders come apart, knees buckle,  and a time may come when an owner tires of carrying a $120 million payroll.  These are things less easy to predict and all real possibilities, but the foundation for the Kansas City Royals to compete this year, next year and the year after that remains intact.

 

After a well timed, from a both a physical and mental aspect, off-day yesterday, the Royals embark on a 13 games in 13 days stretch.  Ten of those contests come at home and only four are against a team with a winning record.

As you likely all know, the Royals open up with three in Detroit tonight against a team that just traded David Price, Joakim Soria and Yoenis Cespedes and is still without Miguel Cabrera.  The Tigers have lost 13 of their last 20 games to fall three games under .500.  This is not the Tigers that we are used to facing, but it does not mean the Royals should glide into Detroit and think they can just show up and win.  This is a chance for Kansas City to run away and hide from not just the AL Central, but the American League.

While the Royals get six with the Tigers, four with the White Sox (a .500 team the last 20 games) and four with the Angels (who have lost 8 of 10), the Twins intersperse two series with Cleveland with Toronto and Texas and then go on the road to play New York and Baltimore.  When the Twins are on the East Coast, your Royals will also go on the road, but to Cincinnati and Boston.  Between taking care of business themselves against Detroit and Chicago and what Minnesota has in front of them, Kansas City could truly end any slim division hopes for the other teams in the Central.

Winning the division, however, is not the target.  Having the best record in the league gives the Royals a little extra post-season edge.

They can put the Angels in a hole just by virtue of winning three of four in Kansas City, but the Angels also have Baltimore and Toronto on the horizon.   Speaking of Toronto, six of their next twelve are against the Yankees and those two teams have 13 games remaining between themselves.  Baltimore plays New York and Toronto six times each the rest of way.  I think all three of those teams are good, likely good enough to beat each other up enough to keep any one of them from piling up a bunch wins.

Then there is Houston (who’d of thought?) who has Texas, the Giants, the Dodgers and the Yankees between now and the end of August.  I like the Royals’ August schedule better than any of the other contenders, even there is just one more off-day between now and August 31st.

Going out a little further, the Royals have seven games with Baltimore and six with Minnesota.  As it stands right now, those 13 games and the four with the Angels referenced above are the ONLY games that Kansas City plays against teams with winning records for the rest of the year.  Quite frankly, if Kansas City does not end up with the best record in the league and home field advantage throughout the playoffs it will be entirely their own fault.  It probably should not even be a contest and it might be worthy goal to keep the team focused on playing good baseball.

None of the above, however, should keep Ned Yost from liberally resting the struggling Salvador Perez or from at least entertaining the idea of playing Ben Zobrist and Jarrod Dyson more in place of Omar Infante.  Just because the Royals are twenty games over .500 and cruising does not mean that a shuffle of the batting order (basically unchanged since Opening Day) might be warranted.  Taking a chance with a two or three run lead late and not going to HDH on consecutive days for a while might be worth it as well.

It will be a delicate dance for the Royals – one they have not been in a position to try since the early eighties – as they try to simultaneously keep the team fresh and sharp.

The Royals finished last night’s game in spectacular fashion.  A two out go ahead home run from Eric Hosmer in the top of the ninth and a spectacular Omar Infante flip to Alcides Escobar’s barehand and then a laser to Hosmer for an out.  If you haven’t seen it, FIND IT!  It is worth any trouble you have doing so.  I have seen that play before, most notably from Cookie Rojas and Freddie Patek way, way back when I was young.  Spectacular is about all you can or need to say about it.

Anyway, that was just the frosting on the cake of day that Tuesday turned out to be as the Royals traded for Ben Zobrist earlier in the day.  Don’t like the starting rotation?  Boom!  Dayton Moore gets you Johnny Cueto.  Worried about depth, second base, rightfield and maybe an extra bat?  Whammo!  Dayton Moore presents us with Ben Zobrist.

Now, there has been a little bit of angst about these deals in the land of Royal.  Some of it, I think, stemming from the fact that this fanbase had been beaten down for so many years that we may simply not believe we get to have nice things.  There is also some of the ‘well, I’m no follower’ in finding a reason not to be excited about a trade that is seen as a tremendous positive by the vast majority of the fanbase and, quite honestly, the baseball world.

There is another couple of sentiments that go along the lines of the Royals have a good thing going, why do we want to disrupt it?  In a similar vein, there is the Royals are almost certain to make the playoffs as it is and once there it is all really just a crapshoot, so why not save the prospects and roll with this unit?

Okay, now, I put probably more stock in clubhouse chemistry than a lot of folks who frequent this edge of the blog world, but I also believe that players know who can play and who can’t.  There is no doubt in my mind that every person in the clubhouse, including the starting pitchers, thought the Royals could really use another starting pitcher. I also believe that the team is not unaware that Omar Infante’s on-base percentage would be a bad batting average and his slugging percentage would be a poor on-base percentage.   They know that, until recently, Alex Rios was swinging a wet noodle, that Jarrod Dyson never has and never will hit lefties and that Paulo Orlando, for all his heroics, has some holes in his swing.  You know what else they know?  They know Ben Zobrist can play the game a little bit.

Moving along, as a craps player, I understand a little bit about luck.  As a Royals’ fan, I remember Buddy Biancalana being a World Series hero in 1985 even though he was not really a very good player.  We have seen the St. Louis Cardinals win a World Series with a team that was no very good in the regular season.  We saw Detroit get David Price last year and not make it through one playoff series.  Weird things happen in baseball, especially in a short series.  Luck happens.  Bad players get hot.  Good players get cold.  Any team on any given day stuff, you know the drill.

While I don’t buy that the woeful 2005 Royals would have a 40% change of beating this year’s Royals in a seven game series, I know they would have some chance (see the paragraph immediately above).  Let’s say the Royals, who I don’t think anyone can argue have improved their regular season team in the last week to the extent that they are virtual locks for the playoffs, end up facing the Astros in the first round.  I don’t know (or care) what the actual percentages were, but for discussion purposes we will say Kansas City had a 54% chance of winning the series.   If adding Cueto and Zobrist moved that needle to even just 57% I will take that action over the ‘playoffs are all luck’ approach.

Of course, both Cueto and Zobrist came at a cost.  While I will not be surprised if all five pitchers involved in these two deals have major league careers, the Royals might well be haunted by Sean Manaea in future years. That’s actually fine, in my opinion, especially if the Royals have a really big, tall new flag in leftfield next spring.  Manaea was not going to play for Kansas City this season and, frankly, probably was not going to be up at the start of 2016, either.  He might well be great…but that greatness will certainly not be in full effect until 2017 at the earliest.  Same timeline for Cody Reed.   John Lamb might have been a contributor on the 2016 team and we all know the Finnegan drill.   Good pitchers….maybe, but not good MAJOR league pitchers (other than Finnegan being decent out of the bullpen – not exactly a weakness for the Royals) this season or likely next.

You know who is good THIS season?  Johnny Cueto is and so is Ben Zobrist.

Dogged by injuries earlier this year, Zobrist has rebounded to hit .268/.354/.447, which is freakishly right on his career numbers.   He has been worth 1.1 fWAR so far, after being worth 5.6 in 2014, 5.2 in 2013, 5.8 in 2012 and 6.3 in 2011.   With Alex Gordon on the shelf, Zobrist is probably the Royals’ most consistent hitter right now.  I was not the first to come up with this and you do actually worry about changing too much (domes, you know), but I would be tempted to bat Zobrist leadoff.   His strikeout rate has declined in each of the last four seasons (that’s good), while his walk rate remains right at his career rate of 12%.   Dude can hit, boys and girls.

Defensively, Zobrist has played everywhere but catcher in his career.  He was a decent shortstop and even logged 236 innings there last year:  good enough to be there if something happens to Escobar during a game.   The metrics don’t like him at second this year, but it is very small sample size and effected by Zobrist playing hurt early on.  For his career, his defensive numbers (and reputation in the game) at second base are excellent.  If you are worried about a defensive dropoff there between Infante and Zobrist, you are worrying too much.  Zobrist has logged the majority of his time in right, where he was very good as well (metrically speaking) in seven of the last eight years.  He has played more innings in left this year (197) than any previous season and the metrics don’t like him there, but they loved him in left in a similar sample size in 2014.   When healthy, and Zobrist seems to be healthy now, Ben is a good defender just about anywhere and especially in the spots the Royals are going to play him.

And that is kind of the beauty of this trade.  You can play him everywhere and offend no one.  For now, we are likely to see Zobrist spend most of his time in left.  Personally, I would put him at second and roll with Dyson/Orlando, but that’s me.  While left might be Zobrist’s primary spot, the Royals would be silly not to give him a couple of days a week at second and another in right and maybe another day at designated hitter.  Until Alex Gordon returns and returns in full Alex Gordon mode, the Royals can pretty much play Ben Zobrist every day and not have truly benched anyone.

Let’s face it, every team could use Ben Zobrist and your Kansas City Royals got him.   In the span of less than a week, Dayton Moore added two very good veteran baseball players to his team without subtracting a single relevant piece of the club that was already the class of the American League.  There is nothing to fear here other than expending some angst over what MIGHT have been pieces of the 2017 starting rotation.

This is going to fun, kids.

During the 2014 season, Johnny Cueto threw 244 innings for the Reds.  He struck out 242 batters and allowed just 6.2 hits per nine innings.  His earned run average finished at 2.25….pitching half his games in the best hitters’ park outside of Colorado.  Cueto’s ERA+ was 163, his FIP 3.30, his ERA- was 61.   Pick a number, they are all good.  With Johnny Cueto, they are almost always all good.

Don’t care about last year?  Well, in 2015, Cueto has tossed 131 innings, stuck out 120, allowed 6.4 hits per nine innings, fashioned a 2.65 ERA and an ERA+ of 145.  His FIP is 3.12 and Cueto has already provided 2.9 fWAR. I was told that Cueto had a bad May and he did, for him, allowing a 4.45 ERA. In other words, the worst month (by far) that Cueto had was better than what the Royals have gotten this year from Jeremy Guthrie, Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy (before his last two starts).

Johnny Cueto is a Kansas City Royal.

You can name some major league pitchers who are better than Johnny Cueto, but the list is not very long.

Johnny Cueto is a Kansas City Royal and, by the way, Raul Mondesi, Kyle Zimmer, Sean Manaea and Miguel Almonte are still members of the Royals’ organization.  The Royals did have to give up John Lamb, Brandon Finnegan and Cody Reed.

Sure, Finnegan was a great story last season and gave the Royals some decent innings in relief this year, but he was seventh reliever in a stacked bullpen and very little progress had been made in 2015 towards steering Finnegan back to a starter. I have little doubt Brandon Finnegan will have a long major league career, but many doubts that much of it will be spent being an effective starter. It is also doubtful that Finnegan was slated for many (if any) critical innings the final months of the season or in the post-season.

John Lamb is another great story and a guy you would have hated to trade away in say, 2011.  As it is, even a great half season in AAA seemed to do little to advance Lamb’s status with the organization. Joe Blanton and Yohan Pino got starts while Lamb staying in Omaha. Once he profiled as a top of the rotation starter, now he looks to be a back of the rotation guy….and one who has yet to throw a major league pitch.

Quite honestly, the name that might come back to haunt you in this deal might be Reed.  Hat tip to Clint Scoles (@clintscoles) who, after speculation that Sean Manaea’s medicals might be an issue on Saturday night offered that Reed was a pitcher that might be a suitable replacement. Reed, however, was just moved up to AA.  I thought a lot of guys were going to be stars when they were in AA that never went anywhere.

These three guys all have potential, but they all have question marks and none of them will ever by Johnny Cueto.  Of course, the argument goes, the Royals only get Cueto for a short period of time.  There is this ‘I don’t like rentals’ sentiment that runs perilously close to being a ‘get off my lawn’ mindset.  There is also the ‘hate to part with prospects’ mentality, drummed into many of us when all we had as Royals’ fans was the hope of prospects. I’m not buying either mindset.  This was at worst a fair trade and quite possibly a clear win for the Royals.

In the end, this trade really comes down to this:

  • Are the Royals more likely to win a World Series with Johnny Cueto on this team THIS year or more likely to win a title with Finnegan, Lamb and Reed paired with what is left in 2017?

Truthfully, the acquisition of ‘just a rental’ this year does not really effect the team’s ability to be a good team in 2016 given that Reed likely would not yet be ready, Lamb would – at best – be a rookie at the back of the rotation and Finnegan would almost certainly be in a similar role as this year.

While I was at the forefront of the ‘Royals need a bat more than an arm’ movement, I freaking love this trade. Some claim all this gets the Royals is just a handful of Cueto starts, but the math indicates that it gets them FOURTEEN regular season starts and, knock wood, at least two starts a piece in three post-season series. Maybe that is just a handful, but it is a damn valuable handful.

Couple Cueto with the just maybe possible resurgence of Danny Duffy and a hopeful start from Yordano Ventura and all of a sudden, the Kansas City Royals can at least dream about being four deep in starting pitching with the best and deepest bullpen in the game.  Say what you want about teams acquiring aces not parlaying that acquisition into post-season success, but I like the idea that Jeremy Guthrie and Chris Young (as good as he has been, he falters in the second half with regularity and, by the way, do you want a flyball pitcher on the mound in a playoff game in Houston?) never being considered for a post-season start.

I like the idea that Dayton Moore and the Royals are buyers at the trade deadline. I like the idea that an organization and a general manager who have always relied on staying the course this time said that a seven game lead in the division is not enough.  This was a move made to make the Kansas City Royals THE team to beat, not just one of the teams. And it was a bold move made without giving up any of the very best prospects in the system.

Johnny Cueto is a Kansas City Royal.

Today is a very good day.

 

%d bloggers like this: