Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts in Our Time

A few weeks ago, Clark, Nick and myself learned that Will McDonald of Royals Review was going to be turning in his Hot Pockets, exiting his mom’s basement and entering the real world. He was leaving the blog he founded many years ago. How did we know this? The powers that run the SB Nation baseball blogs approached us about joining their network. The idea was to bring our group to the SB Nation platform, get together with the remaining writers at the Review and form a larger, stronger collective to deliver the ultimate Royals website.

We accepted.

So you are reading our final post at Royals Authority. We’re closing up shop and moving down the street to Royals Review. It’s a larger neighborhood with a pretty damn strong infrastructure.

The move is not without some trepidation. Will McDonald is a force. A talent. We’re not going to Royals Review to replace him. His style is incredibly unique. We are going there to be ourselves. To use our voices to continue to cover the Royals the only way we know how. It will be fun. And maddening. And sometimes a little strange.

Change happens. It’s necessary. Sometimes it takes a little bit of time to get used to the new order. We are not going away… The only thing that’s changing is the name of the website and the URL where you will find us. That’s it. Our content isn’t going to change. I suspect a large number of you visit Royals Review daily. Consider this our effort to make your life easier. One bookmark, all the info you’ll need. In the off chance you’re not aware of Royals Review, we urge you to follow us down the road and see what it’s all about. You’ll like it.

The three of us have been a team at Royals Authority for a long time. We’re still a team. This is really about changing our address and joining forces with three outstanding writers that love the Royals. If this was an ad, at this point, I’d tout this as being “50 percent more!” With the amount of writers on staff, the goal moving forward is to post several times a day. With our roster, I’m thinking that won’t be a problem. So if at Royals Authority you’ve been visiting once a day knowing you’ll likely be reading that day’s output, at Royals Review we’ll have several stories each day as well as game threads and recaps. You’ll want to return again and again.

Our hope is to provide you with the best landing spot on the internet for Royals news and views.

Making a move like this isn’t easy. In the last couple of years, we’ve been fortunate enough to build a community of our own. We have countless commenters whom I immediately recognize. (I don’t want to name names, because I’ll inevitably forget someone.) Your comments and efforts at community have been greatly appreciated. We hope you will hop on the moving van and join us at the new digs. The commenting system may be intimidating at first glance, but if you jump in I think you’ll find it welcoming. Plus, the comments are threaded. Threaded! This provides a great opportunity to have an actual internet conversation.

Yes, it will take some getting used to. For all of us. For the last week or so, Clark, Nick and myself have been wandering around the inner sanctum of Royals Review, learning the software and trying to get comfortable with the new platform. If you aren’t a member of the Royals Review community, I suggest you head over there and sign up so you can start commenting. If you don’t want to comment, sign up anyway… Each time you visit the site, it tells you how many “new” comments have been posted since your last visit. It’s so damn easy to follow along with the community. And they’re constantly evolving the software to make things better. It’s a great landing place for us and for the blog.

Still, this move is bittersweet.

In 2005 I started a Royals blog and called it Warning Track Power. At the exact same time, a couple hundred miles away, Clark opened shop in his corner of the internet with a blog called the Royals Op-Ed Page. In July of that year, we were approached by Evan Brunell, the owner of the now-deceased Most Valuable Network. The idea was to join forces and create a Royals blog for his network.

Royals Authority was born.

We opened for business July 14, 2005. (Holy crap… We’ve been doing this for almost seven years. That’s an eternity in internet years.) I don’t remember our first post or any of the details of the first couple of weeks. It seems I’ve blocked out entire years. (Just like Dayton Moore.) I do know that we’ve grown our daily readership from the hundreds to the thousands. That’s pretty cool. And it’s something neither of us dreamed was possible when we started.

Thank you.

Still, this being the internet, we haven’t been standing still. After a few years, we jumped from MVN to Bloguin to be their featured Royals blog. After around a single year on that platform, we added Nick to our lineup and angled our way into the arms of ESPN and their fledgling SweetSpot Network.

In the meantime, we tried to host a bulletin board, self-published two books – the second of which was really good, but nobody bought – and learned how to design our own site. It’s been fun. Believe me, if it wasn’t fun, we wouldn’t be doing this.

We owe Evan a great deal of gratitude. He’s told me on more than one occasion that bringing the two of us together was one of his better success stories in the time he operated MVN. That’s pretty cool. There have also been a ton of great writers along the way who have encouraged us and motivated us. Joe Hamrahi at Baseball Prospectus has been a huge champion of this site and I personally owe him a ton. I’ll try to pay it off the entire All-Star weekend. Marc Normandin at SB Nation has been instrumental in our move. He’s another guy who has done far too much in helping us advance our work. Geoff Young of the recently departed Ducksnorts has always been ready to help with advice and provided the motivation for the Royals Authority Annuals.

And the mainstream media in Kansas City has always been extremely welcoming to us. Joe Posnanski wrote the foreword to our first Annual. Sam Mellinger has been fantastic to exchange emails with from time to time. Bob Dutton is always available to answer a question… We probably don’t bother him enough. Kevin Kietzman at WHB has become a huge champion of this blog. So has Todd Leabo. It’s possible one of these guys directed you to our blog. They didn’t have to do that, but they did. And we appreciate it.

Thanks also have to go out to Rob Neyer, who was instrumental in bringing us on board at ESPN. As you probably know, he’s since moved to SB Nation as well. We’re stalking you, Rob. Also, thanks to David Schoenfeld, who took over the reins as ESPN’s lead SweetSpotter. Both guys have been instrumental in championing our work, linking to it with regularity and helping drive our audience.

And of course we have to thank you, the readers. Every day we get countless comments, emails and Tweets. It’s astounding to the three of us that we have created something that has become part of a daily ritual for so many. Too cool. There’s something about this Royal fanbase… We’ve been beaten down for so long, we need each other to survive. Yet we remain strangely hopeful that someday this team will turn it around and will get back to the summit. Personally, when that happens, I’m going to blow the internet up. I can’t wait.

What will happen to Royals Authority? We own the domain, and I suppose I’ll keep renewing it. The writers and commenters have wrung our hands and occasionally celebrated for the last couple years at this spot. It’s been our hangout. Our little corner of the Royals web. I have no clue how often our archives are visited, but I figure it’s worth it to keep those open. Plus, maybe I’ll get around to updating the Payroll tab at the top of this page and this site can continue to be a resource.

But we’re moving on… To a new look Royals Review

This isn’t the end. It’s a beginning. One that we’re excited about. We hope you are, too.

We are looking forward to working with Jeff Zimmerman, Old Man Duggan, Royals Retro and the entire community of Royal Review. And we wish Will the best of luck in his endeavors in the real world.

This new beginning is going to be great. I hope you’ll join us.

The Royals return to The K where they look to build on their league worst 5-17 home record. Just about the most bizarre split I can remember since Brian Bannister dominated the day. In 22 home games, they’ve allowed 122 runs, or 5.5 per game. In 27 road games, they’ve allowed 97 runs, or 3.6 per game.

They’re scoring more on the road (4.3/g vs 3.8) but the spread isn’t as extreme. As always, it’s all about the pitching.

A couple of notes following an off day where we popped the champagne on a winning record in May…

Decisions, Decisions

The Royals will be looking to make a couple of decisions with their 25-man roster in the coming days. Both Yuniesky Betancourt and Jonathan Sanchez are rehabbing in Omaha and look close to being activated.

For Sanchez, there’s no question… He’ll be slotted into the rotation as soon as humanly possible. Not because he’s anything great, but because he’s making $5.6 million and the Royals are still desperate for starting pitching. Like ugly girl in a bar at 2 am desperate. Neither scenario is something worth waking up to in the morning.

Sanchez threw 5.2 innings (of course he did) and struck out five while walking one in his first rehab start. He’s likely to get one more start before rejoining the team. Sanchez’s return still leaves the Royals with just four “definites” in the starting rotation: Chen, Hochevar, Paulino and Sanchez… That means your option for the fifth starter is either Will Smith, Luis Mendoza or Vin Mazzaro. Or they can add another starter from the minors.

Either way, this rotation is a hot mess.

Yosty seemed to be keeping his options wide open when he said Sanchez will “probably” make one more rehab start. If he stays in Omaha, it looks like Mazzaro will get the start on Sunday.

I’m not sure either option is a good one.

Then there’s Betancourt. He has progressed to Omaha after a brief stint in Northwest Arkansas and went 2-4 with a home run in his lone appearance for the Storm Chasers. According to Ned Yost, he could be activated this weekend.

This is where things will get interesting.

Do the Royals keep Johnny Giavotella with the big club? Or do they ship Irving Falu back to Triple-A? Since the Royals have need eight pitchers in the bullpen, they have a three man bench. It’s possible they ship a pitcher out and keep all three, but that seems really unlikely. In my heart, I’d like them to keep Giavotella and just let him play second. Yeah, he’s unimpressive with the glove, but just give him a couple of months and see what the kid can do. Betancourt isn’t a long-term solution. (God help us all if the Royals seem him that way.) Neither is Falu. Is Gio? Maybe… Maybe not. But while we’re certain about the futures of the other two players, the jury is still out on Giavotella. At least it should be.

I’d keep Falu, too. He has proven his value as a utility player. And he could provide the Royals with a late inning defensive replacement for Gio.

Of course, I never would have signed The Yunigma is the first place. So maybe I’m biased. Biased against bad ballplayers.

We’ve covered this topic at length. And after all the bandwidth we’ve filled, I still haven’t a clue as to what the Royals will do. I know what I hope they’ll do. This situation is beginning to feel like Christmas morning when I was 10… Full of hope and anticipation, but ultimately a day of disappointment when I opened a gift from Radio Shack.

Numbers

The Royals have used 20 pitchers through the first two months of the season. Nine of them have started a game. By comparison, last year the Royals used 23 pitchers and 10 starters.

Here are the top five teams ranked by bullpen innings:

Royals – 190
Orioles – 174.2
Twins – 172.1
Rockies – 165.2
Brewers – 163.1

It’s a damn good thing this bullpen is a strength of the team. Their collective 3.13 ERA is tied for the seventh best mark in baseball. Right now, if you asked me to name the Royals Pitcher of the Year, I would vote for “Bullpen.” Quantity and quality.

A1 Back On Top

According to Dutton’s notes column, Alex Gordon feels like the leadoff spot in the lineup is a “fit.” That’s cool. I don’t think lineup position matters at all, but I do understand that some players have a certain approach and state of mind when it comes to hitting leadoff. Hey, if Gordon is able to focus a little better because he’s feeling it in the leadoff spot… More power to him.

In the last four games since Yosty returned him to the top spot, A1 has added 10 points to his average and eight points to his OBP.

Works for me.

Winning The Month

About that winning month of May. The Royals finished two games above .500 at 15-13 despite scoring and allowing the exact number of runs. The offense crossed the plate 117 times while the pitchers surrendered the same amount. We don’t need an advanced degree in sabermetrics to know that the Royals Pythag record in May was 14-14.

Their overall Pythagorean record stands at 22-27, just a game off their actual record of 21-28. Remember during their losing streak how they were something like five games off their Pythag record? Over the course of a long season, these things have a way of finding a balance.

Time To Win

The Royals next six home games are against Minnesota and Oakland. You can’t find two worse run scoring offenses in the American League. (They follow this homestand with three against the Pirates. Their offense is dreadful. Like deadball era bad.) This is a chance to pick up some wins. Success will be defined as six wins in their next nine, including four out of six on the homestand.

I’m still not a believer in contention. I am a believer in development. And development, like contention, means winning ballgames. This is a real chance for the Royals to inch closer back to the ever elusive .500 mark. If they’re going to make a move at any time this season, it has to be over the next week and a half.

Play ball.

Last Friday, I went around the infield and looked at how the Royals offensive production at each position compared to league average. Today, it’s time for the outfield (and DH) to get the similar treatment.

Left Field
League Average – .243/.320/.412
Royals – .230/.324/.364, sOPS+ 85

Alex Gordon’s numbers look very much like the ’09-’10 version of Alex Gordon. That’s the version we thought we’d left behind. At least, we had hoped that version had been left behind after the Royals penned him to a contract extension just ahead of the season opener.

If you’re into arbitrary end points, Gordon did have a fine stretch of 19 games where he hit .321/.398/.487 from April 25 to May 16. That was when we collectively exhaled. Great. Except in the 11 games since then, he’s hit .146/.255/.220.

Although Gordon won’t admit it, I wonder if he’s been unsettled by Yosty’s Revolving Lineup Card. Gordon opened the year as the leadoff hitter (where he had most of his success last year), but when he was slow out of the gate, he was dropped to second, then third, then cleanup and even spent a few games in the sixth spot. In the last three games, he’s returned to the leadoff spot and has picked up four hits in 13 plate appearances. There’s still time for him to salvage his season, but it’s been much more of a grind.

Center Field
League Average – .268/.333/.432
Royals – .236/.312/.322, sOPS+ 70

Aside from the DH spot, the most productive position in the American League so far this year has been center field. And it’s where the Royals have struggled to get any production at all. Jerrod Dyson has seen the most appearances in center, with Mitch Maier with the second most. Lorenzo Cain and Jason Bourgeois have also seen time at the position.

Dyson’s production has been solid as far as reaching base. With a .252/.328/.331 line, he’s proven himself adept at working the count and drawing the base on balls. He still doesn’t hit enough to justify the leadoff spot in the lineup, but like I said… He’s pretty close to league average when it comes to OBP. That makes him a decent fourth outfielder to have on your roster. Look out, Mitch.

Still, this feels like a lost season for Cain. He was supposed to get most of the reps in center, but the injury bug bit him hard. Cain is in extended spring training rehabbing from a torn hip flexor. He’s probably a good three to four weeks away from returning. At which time, the Royals will have a decision to make: Will they hand him back his everyday job in center, or will they write off this season and rotate him with Dyson and/or Maier? Maier is buried so far on Yosty’s bench, he could be the odd man out.

Oh… At this point, I’m supposed to ask, “Got Melk?”

Right Field
League Average – .258/.326/.434
Royals – .276/.320/.443, sOPS+ 96

We know from watching the Royals several certainties: Ned Yost will call for myriad sac bunts in situations where they won’t help his team. The Royals will give the opposition at least one free out per game. And Jeff Francoeur will hit fifth.

Like most of the Royals, The Frenchman got off to a slow start, but picked up the pace of late. In May, he’s hit .327/.371/.582. Most impressive have been his seven walks this month. Currently, he’s walking in 6.2 percent of his plate appearances, which is the highest rate of his career. I think it has something to do with the Mayans. Or a Kardashian. And with five home runs this month, he’s knocking one out of the yard about every 36 at bats, which is very close to his career mark of 32 AB/HR. And this for a guy who didn’t hit his first bomb until May 13 and didn’t hit his second until May 21.

Nice road trip.

Designated Hitter
League Average – .259/.333/.450
Royals – .290/.345/.505, sOPS+ 118

The Royals have utilized two designated hitters all year: Billy Butler and… Johnny Giavotella. Ummm, OK.

We all know about Country Breakfast. And long time readers will know about my affection for the man. Dude can rake. And he’s the only thing – the only thing – that you can count on in the Royals lineup. He will show up every year, drill line drives to the gaps and put up a line around .300/.370/.470.

Except this year, he’s hit a few more home runs.

The party line from the Royals is Butler is finally hitting for more loft. Sounds great, except he’s not. His fly ball percentage is 32.2 percent which is the lowest of his career. The lowest. Yet, the ball is flying out of the part and he’s become the number one threat to wipe Steve Balboni from the Royals record book. How? Maybe it’s because he’s stronger. It doesn’t look like he’s changed his approach as the Royals would like you to believe. He’s swinging at pitches at roughly the same rate. It’s just that the fly balls have a little more charge in them this year.

It’s a nice development.

And as I Tweeted a few weeks ago, if you don’t like Billy Butler, I don’t have a lot of time for you. Sorry. I think he’s a great hitter. And the kind of guy you need on your team.

Country Breakfast is awesome.

Early in the spring, I theorized that Johnny Giavotella would win the job as the Royals starting second baseman. I went further and speculated he would struggle out of the gate with his bat (and glove, naturally) and he would fall out of favor for the Prodigal Royal, Yuniesky Betancourt.

It wasn’t like I was sticking my neck out on a line… The signs have been there all along that the Royals aren’t Giavotella’s biggest fans. Why else would you sign the Yunigma? ($2 million!) You’re not paying him that kind of scratch if he’s going to sit in the dugout. And despite the Royals claiming that Betancourt possessed some sort of defensive versatility, the plan was always for Yuni to play second base.

So Gio made the trek up I-29 and set up shop in Omaha. Of course, having crushed Triple-A pitching in 2011, he went to work straight away. In 152 plate appearances for the Storm Chasers, he hit .331/.408/.504. Minor league baseball is easy for Johnny Giavotella. He has now played 141 games in Omaha – roughly a full minor league season. And he’s put up a line of .336/.394/.486 in 655 plate appearances. Easy.

While Gio was laying waste to Triple-A pitching, the Royals second base tandem of Betancourt and Chris Getz actually formed a bright spot in what was a dismal April for the club.

Betancourt, despite playing on a bad wheel the entire season, hit .280/.333/.420 until he landed on the disabled list on May 2. He made contact on an amazing 90 percent of his swings and ultimately took more walks than he had strikeouts. Crazy. Meanwhile, on May 3, Getz was hitting .326/.354/.500. (Seriously, he was slugging .500. Even in a small sample size… Chris Getz!) With the dynamic duo hitting so well (and playing adequate defense) even with an opening due to the injury to the Yunigma, it seemed like it could open the door for Gio to make his return to the big leagues.

Except the Royals recalled Irving Falu.

Look, nothing against Falu. He’s a great story. Drafted in the 21st round, over 4,000 minor league plate appearances covering 10 years, he finally gets a chance to play in the bigs… Who doesn’t like that kind of perseverance? Allegedly, the Royals brought him up because of his versatility. Although they had the Yunigma on the roster for that same (alleged) reason, at the point where Betancourt hit the DL, Alcides Escobar had played every inning at short and Mike Moustakas had played all but eight innings in the field at third. Versatility, indeed.

Anyway, Falu has acquitted himself quite well. He’s played three games at third and even had a game at short, to go along with his time at second. He picked up single in the third inning of Tuesday’s game and now has at least one hit in each of his first nine games. Great start. Glad for the guy. He’s done everything the Royals have asked.

Meanwhile, the Royals finally recalled Giavotella when Jonathan Sanchez got hurt. OK. Now they have Gio and Getz and Falu… Three guys who play second. Although at least Falu does have the versatility to play other positions. But why bring up Gio at this point?

Apparently, it was so he could be the designated hitter.

What?

Then Getz goes on the DL with his ribcage contusion. Finally, this will be an opportunity for Gio to play everyday, right? Not so fast. Our man, Yosty says Giavotella will be the right-handed side of a second base platoon. As the Royals embarked on their first game without Getz, Johnny Giavotella didn’t leave the bench. Sigh.

To recap, since his recall, Gio has been the DH three times, started at second twice and pinch hit three times.

I believe this is what psychologists like to call a mentally abusive relationship. Witness…

— Giavotella has an uphill battle to make the team in spring training after the Royals bring Betancourt back for his second tour of duty to go along with Chris “Power Stance” Getz.

— Betancourt makes the Opening Day roster despite playing with an injury that will land him on the DL in a month’s time.

— Once Betancourt lands on the DL, the Royals bypass Giavotella in favor of a career minor leaguer.

— They finally recall Giavotella and immediately place him on the bench. Or use him as the designated hitter when Eric Hosmer needs time to find his game. So strange.

— Now Getz is on the disabled list and Gio still can’t get regular duty at second base.

— With Betancourt preparing to begin a minor league rehab assignment, I’d bet anything that once he’s activated it will be Gio who’s farmed out.

Look, there are people in the Royals front office who have scouted Giavotella for years. They know his game inside and out. Those people have obviously decided he can’t play at the major league level. Did they make that assumption based on his 187 plate appearances last year? Can’t say for sure, but it certainly feels that way. Gio can’t beat out Betancourt, Getz or even Falu to stake an outright claim to second.

OK… now I have to throw a disclaimer. Do not interpret this post as saying Johnny Giavotella is the difference between fourth place and a pennant. He’s not. The purpose of this post is to point out the symptom of a problem I’ve seen with the Royals front office going back to the Allard Baird days… The staggering reluctance to play a guy who projects to be a solid everyday player, while giving numerous opportunity to guys who are already established fringe major leaguers.

This season isn’t about competing for a division. (Spare me the standings… It’s May.) This season is about development and preparation for competition. Yeah, the timeline seems to be on the operating table getting a new ligament, but you still have to create major league players. Gio may be dreadful at the major league level. Destined to be a tweener. Quad-A. Or maybe he’ll be a solid contributor who hits with some power and is average with the glove. Can you tell me exactly the player Gio is going to be? No. Nobody can. The only way we can find out is if the Royals commit to him and give him the time to show what he can (or can’t) accomplish.

What the Royals are doing to Johnny Giavotella only makes sense if they have decided he has no future as a Kansas City Royal.

If you’re among those who think that Getz or Falu or Betancourt give the Royals a better chance to “win now,” that’s fantastic. As the Royals gun for 74 wins, what’s better… Giving Getz and Betancourt myriad opportunity to again show they’re not very good major league players, or allowing a young former prospect the chance to show what he can do? The combined WAR of Getz and Betancourt wouldn’t be that much higher than Giavotella’s on his own. Not enough to justify this treatment.

They gave Mike Moustakas plenty of time to figure things out, and have been rewarded. They’re giving Eric Hosmer a ton of leeway. (Rightly so in my opinion.) They’ve stuck by Escobar and were going all-in with Perez. Gio doesn’t have the upside of the first two. And he doesn’t have the defensive skills of the last two. But there’s plenty of reason to think he is the Royals current best option at his position.

The point is, we’ve seen Getz and Betancourt. We know what they can do. We’re not impressed. Falu is fun to watch, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, we know he’s not part of the future of this team. Just like Getz and Betancourt.

That leaves Giavotella. Shame the Royals aren’t interested in seeing what they have.

Last night, Ned Yost wrote down a lineup whose number four through eight hitters combined had ZERO home runs.   Jarrod Dyson, batting lead-off, also has not hit a dinger and Alcides Escobar batting ninth has only one.  Basically, it was Billy Butler, Alex Gordon and no hope…right?   Well, dummy, of course the Royals win with that lineup against Jon Lester.  We all should have known.

Sure, the Red Sox outfielders certainly helped the Royals along and, to be honest, this is hardly the starting nine that Boston fans expected to be on the field when the year started.  Of course, this was hardly the nine that Royals’ fans expected, either.   Let’s call it even and let’s call it what it was:  a good win and a good homestand.

The Royals finished 4-3 on this homestand:  finally winning at home, finally beating a left-handed starter and hopefully giving themselves a good dose of relaxation.    This team started the year anxious, hyped up and fell flat on their faces.  Now, one would hope they should be in something of a groove.

A 4-3 road trip followed by a 4-3 homestand, while not ‘hot’, is certainly in a groove (which is different than a rut, which is different than what Luke Hochevar is in, but I digress).  In fact, if the Royals could win 8 games out of every 14 until the end of June, they would be back at .500.    Realistic?  Maybe.

The Royals head on the road to play three at Chicago and two at Texas.  The Rangers flat out scare the crap out of me, but even though they are playing better than expected, the White Sox are considerably less imposing.    Two out of five on this short trip would not be a disaster, while three out of five would be a great success.

After that, KC comes home to play two against Baltimore (are they for real?  I’m skeptical) and three against Arizona.   Combined with the five games on the road, coming out of this ten game stretch, I would take a 5-5 record right now and head out on a nine game road journey to New York, Baltimore and Cleveland.   That is followed by six games at home against Minnesota and Oakland, then three games at Pittsburgh.

That is twenty-eight games, two groups of fourteen.  Do you see a couple of 8-6 records in there?  Maybe, maybe not.  I know for a fact it won’t happen unless:

The Starting Pitching Stops Going Short

Truthfully, it is kind of amazing the Royals managed to go 8-6 with some of the starting pitching performances that occurred during this span.    In eight of the last eleven games, Royals’ starters have not made it out of the sixth inning.  In six of those they have not made it out of the fifth.   The bullpen, as expected, has been very good (hell, who is kidding who, it’s been great) and Ned Yost and Dayton Moore have done a nice job of cycling guys through to keep it semi-fresh, but you can’t keep doing that.

I am not asking for seven innings plus, but the starting rotation cannot implode on back to back nights, bracketed by five inning grueling performances.   There are not enough relievers in the universe to cover for that all summer.   With one exception, Bruce Chen has given the Royals’ innings and one would hope that Danny Duffy will start to as well.  The addition of Felipe Paulino and the subtraction of Jonathan Sanchez from the rotation can’t hurt, either.

More innings, gentlemen.   More, better innings, please.

Just Hit Eric

He’s going to hit, you hope that Eric Hosmer starts doing it before summer and certainly before next year.   Although it made last night’s lineup look pretty funky, sitting Hosmer for a day was a sound idea.   Frankly, I’m a little surprised Yost did not do it sooner or at least have Hosmer DH for a couple of days just to change things up.    While Hosmer had some pretty bad hitting luck during a lot of this year, lately his contact has been less solid and, frankly, Eric looks a little lost at the plate (or worse, looks a little like Mark Reynolds).

I would have no problem with Hosmer swapping places in the order with Mike Moustakas (man, is he playing well or what?) and, as mentioned above, spending a day or two at DH just to give him something different to think about.  I’m not Kevin Seitzer, (even though I did hit .556 at Fantasy Camp) but my advice to Eric Hosmer is to stop thinking so much and just swing the stick.

Hosmer’s going to hit…eventually.   When he does, the Royals’ lineup goes from alright to really good.

LET THEM PLAY, NED.

There exists a very good probability that if I was a major league manager, I would want to ‘manage all the time’ as well.  I mean, that is Ned Yost’s job and is one where every single decision, including where you stand in the dugout, can and will be second guessed.  It’s the nature of the beast, it’s not going to change and, frankly, there is nothing wrong with that.

That said, Yost needs to let the games unfold on their own sometimes.   This team, if you assume Hosmer will hit and Francoeur will sort of hit, once in a while, will score runs all on their own.  The Royals swing the bats well enough that they don’t have to manufacture runs (there is a time and place of that, but it is nowhere near as often as Yost thinks), they don’t have to force the issue and risk running into outs at a breakneck pace.  

Believe in your lineup and let them score runs.  Besides, Ned, with this starting rotation, you will have many, many chances to ‘manage’ each night.

After a dismal beginning, this team has won on a regular basis over the past couple of weeks.  They have done so without playing really good baseball and certainly with the handicap of poor starting pitching.  There have been baserunning gaffes, defensive miscues and questionable strategy, but the Royals have managed to grind out a nice 8-6 run.

Taking whatever opinion you might have of Ned Yost, positive or negative, out of the equation, whether this team can keep moving forward will come down to the other two issues above.   Eric Hosmer needs to hit and hit a lot and the rotation is whatever form it becomes needs to take games into the sixth inning.   

Easier said then done to be sure, but doable…..maybe.

xxx

 

It was over almost before it began. It took Luke Hochevar eight batters to record his first (and second) out of the game on Tuesday. It was the second time in five starts he’s allowed the opposition to put up a crooked number in the first frame. It’s almost becoming habit.

Here, for your reading pleasure, is a batter by batter breakdown of the carnage.

1 – Austin Jackson

Hochevar starts with a slider and falls behind 2-0 and 3-1 to the Tigers leadoff man. Once he fell behind to Jackson, Hochevar went exclusively to his fastball, except for a 3-2 cut fastball. That is pitch number six down the heart of the plate. I’m thinking Jackson fouled it off because he was looking fastball. That pitch was 88 mph, instead of Hochevar’s typical 92 mph heater.

The next pitch was thigh-high fastball that was grounded back up the middle for a single.

2 – Brennan Boesch

Hochevar actually makes a decent pitch – an 0-1 change that was low and away in the strike zone. Boesch was out in front and dribbles a ground ball to right. Yuniesky Betancourt was shading up the middle, but shows his amazingly horrible lack of range going to his left and can’t make a play. He should have made the play. Hochevar probably knows this. Instead of one out and a runner on second, we have two on with nobody out.

I cannot understate this – Yuniesky Betancourt is Public Enemy Number One.

3 – Miguel Cabrera

How dumb of a pitch is this?

The answer: Exceptionally dumb.

4 – Prince Fielder

As bad as the pitch was to Cabrera, the pitch to Fielder wasn’t bad. It was a curveball, down and out of the strike zone. And it should have resulted in an out. Except Eric Hosmer decided to make a play at the plate and airmailed the throw. Two runs score. Still no outs.

A really dumb decision from Hosmer. He double-clutched pulling the ball out of his glove and still tried to come home. And he was playing back. The correct play would have been to take the ball to the bag for the easy out. This isn’t hindsight, this is fact.

5 – Andy Dirks

A sinking fastball that hangs in the upper half of the strike zone. Dirks squares it up and Jarrod Dyson misplays the liner allowing Prince Fielder to score from second.

Going back, that was a big error by Hosmer. Had he gone to first to get Fielder out, a run would have scored but the Royals would have had an out in their back pocket. Another run would have scored on the Dirks liner, but at that point the Royals would have been down by three with one out. Instead, they were down four with no outs.

Tiger announcers were discussing how they thought Hochevar’s ankle was bothering him. He wasn’t comfortable landing on his left ankle and that was leading to him keeping the ball up in the zone. I’ll buy that.

6 – Alex Avila

Hochevar starts Avila out with a change-up taken down the heart of the plate. Good pitch because he had yet to throw a change to start an at bat. I say good pitch, but the location sucked. Had Avila been able to pull the trigger on that, he would have put it into orbit. The selection is what makes it a good pitch. Then he followed that with a cut fastball down the middle that Avila was able to drive into center.

The cutter was in Avila’s wheelhouse. He’s a low ball hitter, especially pitches down the center of the plate. Here is Avila’s chart detailing his hitting zones:

Just a horrible location for Hochevar.

7 – Jhonny Peralta

Discouraging because Hochevar had him down 0-2 with back to back curveballs. He went with a belt-high slider that Peralta went with and took to right field for a single and a five run lead.

Ahead 0-2, Hochevar controlled the at bat. By hanging a slider on the outer half to a right-handed batter, he essentially surrendered control.

8 – Ramon Santiago

Finally. Solid execution. Santiago can’t lay off the pitches high and away. And when he makes contact on those pitches, he doesn’t do much with them. Hochevar delivers two pitches up and away. Santiago takes the first one, but can’t resist the second.

Double play. I’m sure in the pregame planning session, the Royals told Hochevar to attack Santiago up and away. (At least they should have… As I said, that’s his weak spot.) Locate your pitches and good things can happen.

9 – Don Kelly

Nice sequence here from Hochevar. Starting Kelly high in the zone with a curve for a strike. Then following that with a pitch in the dirt. His 22nd pitch of the inning was popped to Mike Moustakas for the third out.

For the inning, Hochevar threw 17 strikes and five balls. Two of his strikes were actually hits on swings that likely would have been called out of the zone – the curve to Fielder and a curve to Peralta. Regardless, he was leaving just a ton of pitches in the meat of the plate. Just awful location.

The worst pitch was probably the meatball served to Cabrera. I really, really hate how the Royals announcers mention the small sample size of hitter versus pitcher matchups. But in the case of Hochevar versus Cabrera, it may be worth noting that in 31 plate appearances, the Tigers third baseman has collected 15 hits and owns a 1.376 OPS. If a good pitcher makes a mistake like Hochevar made to Cabrera, he’s going to punish the ball. And when he already has strong numbers against that pitcher… Yeah.

The best pitch was the double play ball delivered to Santiago. As I mentioned, that was the one plate appearance where Hochevar had what resembled a game plan.

The bad break was on the curve to Fielder. He got him to chase – which was what he wanted – and his defense let him down.

I’ve written about Hochevar at length and bought into the fantasy that he had altered his delivery in a manner that would bring him continued success. Cliff’s Notes version: He dropped the arm angle when he threw his slider which resulted in a tighter spin, which meant more break, which equalled second half success. The arm angle is still there. The results are not.

This is now the second time in five starts Hochevar has plunged his team into the depths of a first inning hole. It was as if the seven pitch at bat to Jackson took something out of him… It was the first seven pitches of the freaking game. Check out Hochevar’s velocity chart (courtesy of Brooks Baseball) and see how his speed dips immediately following the first batter.

How does that happen? He delivers three pitches to Jackson 92 mph or higher and can’t reach that speed until he gets the double play ground ball against Santiago. Meanwhile, Tiger batters are having their way with him. Again, how does that happen?

Yes, there was some bad luck involved in this inning. But a good pitcher can overcome something like that to regain control. Hochevar needed eight batters to right the ship on Tuesday night. By then, the ballgame was over.

Unacceptable.

Two in a row! Winning streak!

In Thursday’s game, one of the crazier things that happened was Jeff Francoeur drove a runner home with a single. Because as poorly as this team has played in the last two weeks, Frenchy has stood out as perhaps the worst offensive performer on this struggling club. Seriously… Gordon hasn’t been good, but he’s still picked up some quality plate appearances every now and again. Hosmer has a dismal BABIP, but leads the team with five home runs. No, the worst hitter in this lineup has been Francoeur and it isn’t even close.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t know.

Let’s dive a little deeper into The Francoeur Abyss…

Francoeur has always had a strike zone that was more about zip codes than focusing on anything crossing over the 18 inch wide slab he’s standing over. Except this season he’s descended into a special kind of free swinging hell. According to Fangraphs, here is the percentage of pitches that would be called balls by a “perfect” umpire that Francoeur is swinging at over the last five seasons:

2008 – 36.3%
2009 – 36.0%
2010 – 43.4%
2011 – 41.2%
2012 – 44.3%

He’s really upped the ante the last three seasons, hasn’t he? And it’s not surprising that in the small sample that is the 2012 season, he’s at his highest rate of his career. Because when a free swinger like Frenchy starts struggling, what usually happens? Right… He expands the zone. When he should be selective – because it’s the only way he can escape – he’s taking a rip at virtually any pitch in any situation.

The average major league hitter is swinging at 45 percent of all pitches he sees this season. Francoeur is swinging at 55 percent. He’s not doing himself – or the Royals – any favors.

The complete lack of discipline is illustrated from the graph of pitches he’s offered at. He is literally swinging at everything. Most major leaguers have a weak spot. Think Eric Hosmer last summer not being able to lay off the high fastball. Francoeur’s weak spot is whatever state he’s playing in that night. Yes, the entire state.

Behold…

Just for fun, here’s the swing chart from another Royal hitter. Notice the tidy cluster of swings on fastballs inside the strike zone. I thought about having a little contest… Name that swing chart or something. But then I thought, it’s too damn obvious. The only guy on this team with that kind of discipline and strike zone management is Billy Butler. Professional Hitter. Destroyer of Country Breakfasts.

Beautiful…

It’s not a fair comparison. One is a really good hitter, the other isn’t. I present them both merely to illustrate the extremes.

So not only is Francoeur swinging at more pitches outside the zone, his contact has been dreadful. I know the Royals broadcasters have been talking about how he’s “due” to hit a home run. Right. The only problem is, in order to hit a home run, you have to get the ball in the air. Currently, Francoeur has a 1.94 GB/FB ratio. Over half the balls he’s put into play have been on the ground. (52.3% of all balls in play have been grounders.) It might actually be preferable that he miss a pitch. Amazingly, that’s not a problem. The problem is the miserable contact that comes with taking miserable swings at miserable pitches.

The results have been incredibly maddening. He’s hit into four double plays in 20 opportunities (as defined by having a runner on first and less than two outs.) He has a grand total of four walks and four extra base hits. And he’s come to the plate with 44 runners on base and has brought home three. Three. That’s an RBI rate of 7 percent. That’s not good.

The Royals have won two games in a row where they have scored a total of 12 runs. Which is fantastic. But the allegiance to Francoeur and his place in the lineup needs to stop. Yosty won’t send him to the bench, but he needs to drop him to eighth or ninth in the order until he modifies his ridiculous approach and begins driving the ball in the air a little more. But asking Francoeur to be more selective at the plate is like asking a Kardashian to shun attention. Probably not going to happen. So at the very least, he needs to drop until he stops hitting so many damn ground balls.

Right now, this season feels like a replay of Francoeur’s 2010, when he hit .237/.293/.369 for the Mets before they had seen enough and shipped him to Texas for Joaquin Arias. If Francoeur is still performing at his current level when Lorenzo Cain comes back, (which is entirely possible, no matter how long Cain is out) the Royals shouldn’t hesitate… They should play Cain in center, Mitch Maier in right and sit Frenchy’s butt on the bench.

Last year’s free agent success turns into this year’s extension nightmare. Well played, Dayton. Well played.

I figured that Jonathan Sanchez would have outings where he bordered on horrible. His lack of command combined with his electric pitches, mean he can strikeout a ton of hitters while giving away free bases. It’s like he’s a member of the Flying Wallendas.

Sanchez entered the game averaging 89.6 mph on his fastball this year. On Tuesday in Cleveland, 89 mph was his maximum velocity as he averaged just 87.2 mph. To go along with the drop in speed, Sanchez is moving away from that pitch. Of the 115 magnificent pitches he threw, only 30 of them were classified as fastballs. That’s just 26 percent. Unreal. He’s going away from the fastball in favor of his change-up. As Hudler pointed out in the key at bat against Jack Hannahan, when Sanchez is throwing almost exclusively off speed stuff, they just wait… And wait… And wait.

Sigh. More on that plate appearance in a moment.

Not that Sanchez is any kind of great pitcher. He’s not… Because he can’t locate consistently. However, it’s baffling as to why he would move away from the fastball. Is this a coaching call? Or is this something he’s doing on his own? In the postgame, he simply said he “didn’t have his fastball.” Velocity, location… All of the above. I suppose in the grand scheme it’s accurate that he didn’t have his fastball. He didn’t generate a single swing and miss of the 30 he threw and only 12 of them were strikes. That’s just a brutal pitch. Here’s his velocity chart from Tuesday, courtesy of Brooks Baseball.

That’s the profile of a starter who didn’t leave the bullpen with a full tank of gas.

So the game on Tuesday can be boiled down to two key moments. The first, I already alluded to – the Sanchez matchup against Hannahan with runners at the corners with two down and the Royals trailing by a run.

At that moment Sanchez had surrendered three walks in the inning. It was the second time in the game he had walked three batters to load the bases. Read that previous sentence again… It was the second time in the game Sanchez walked the bases loaded.

OK… So the guy can’t locate. He’s in trouble. And at this point, he’d thrown around 109 pitches and he had practically stopped throwing his fastball entirely. Aside from an Asdrubal Cabrera double in the first inning, he had scattered a few hits… but that’s largely because he wasn’t around the strike zone. Sanchez was fortunate the Indians hadn’t broken the game open by this point.

So in a nutshell, your starter isn’t throwing in a manner he which he normally pitches. He’s deep into a pitch count and losing what little steam he brought with him to the mound. He’s somehow kept the Royals in the game, with a deficit of just a single run. Do you…

A) Stick with him. It’s his jam, let him get out of it.
B) Thank your lucky stars you’re still in the game and pull him for another lefty that’s warm in the bullpen – Tim Collins.

Everyone probably chooses “B.” Except Yosty. He’s such a contrarian.

And as previously noted, a steady diet of change-ups and Hannahan hits a bases-clearing double.

Later in the game you have this situation… Royals are trailing 4-1. Hosmer walks to leadoff the inning, advances to second on a ground out and moves to third on a Moustakas single. Quintero whiffs, so we have runners on the corners and two out. All we’ve heard about is how the Royals have failed with runners in scoring position. Failing to get “The Big Hit.” Naturally, Our Mitch delivers a line drive down the right field line. Hosmer, of course, walks home. Moustakas is busting it around second and heading for third… This is a sure-fire double. And look! Shin Soo Choo – while he has a strong throwing arm – isn’t exactly flying to the corner to field the ball. This looks like a perfect opportunity to put two on the board and cut the deficit to a single run.

Screeeeeech!

Third base coach Eddie Rodriguez throws up the stop sign. Now, it’s difficult to tell from my couch, but it sure looked like Moustakas was at third the moment Choo fired the ball in from the corner. Meaning there was an outstanding chance that Moose scores. A better than outstanding chance.

Yet he was held at third.

Apparently, third base coaches get tight, too.

Unreal. The Royals have been running stupid all season and they now they back off? When they’re scuffling to score and are presented an opportunity on a silver platter? You absolutely have to send the runner in that situation. Have. To.

So in our two situations we have one where the Royals gave away two runs on a slow hook and failed to capitalize on a sure-fire run scoring opportunity. That’s a net loss of three runs.

Ballgame.

An all too familiar refrain.

The bats are still ice-cold and aside from Maier, nobody is delivering with runners in scoring position, but I’ll hang this loss on the coaching staff. Yost’s slow trigger and Rodriguez’s bizarre decision cost this team a great opportunity to break this slide. Instead it continues.

And I adjust the doomsday clock one minute closer to midnight.

The Small Sample Size rule says these stats don’t mean a thing. Still, I found them interesting.

Hitting

— The Royals are second in the league with 29 doubles and second in the league with three triples. Yet, rank tenth in the league with 168 total bases.

— Royal batters have been hit by a pitch four times. Two of those led to the benches clearing. Alcides Escobar has been hit twice, but has yet to instigate a bench clearing incident. He must be a coward.

— Unfortunately, Escobar is tied for the team lead in grounding into double plays with three. He’s tied with Jeff Francoeur, who is looking slower than Country Breakfast on the bases.

— Alex Gordon has struck out in just over 30 percent of his plate appearances. Yes, that’s a crazy, high rate. But for his career he whiffs in almost 22 percent of his PAs.

— Here something only The Yunigma could accomplish… Even in a small sample. He currently leads all Royals by putting the ball in play in 88 percent of all plate appearances. Yet his line drive rate is a wee four percent. And his ground out to air out ratio is 0.5.

— Speaking of line drive rate, Eric Hosmer is at five percent. That’s the kind of stat I look at and immediately think a correction is coming. And when it does, it’s going to be a helluva hot streak.

— Royal batters are seeing 3.66 pitches per plate appearance. League average is 3.87.

Baserunning

— The Royals have stolen six bases in 13 attempts. A 46 percent success rate. Or a 54 percent fail rate.

— Counting the caught stealings and the pick offs, the team has made 12 outs on the bases. Since we can do simple math, that’s one out on the base per game. And as we saw on Gordon’s ill advised attempt at third in Wednesday’s game, these baserunning outs usually come back to bite you in the ass.

— Hosmer has scored 50 percent of the time he’s reached base. Too bad his OBP is at .259.

Pitching

— Royals starters have a 4.41 ERA. Their 63.1 innings pitched by starters is tied for the third least among all teams. Cleveland and Pittsburgh have thrown 61.2 innings.

— Tim Collins has whiffed 35 percent of all batters. And walked just 3.5 percent.

— Jonathan Sanchez has pitched in 17 double play opportunities where a runner is on first with second base open and less than two outs. He has yet to get one.

— After allowing just two of 33 inherited runners to score last year, Greg Holland has allowed four of his five inherited runners to cross the plate this year.

— Bruce Chen has thrown a first pitch strike to 69 percent of all batters.

There you go… Remember this is not an endorsement of the small sample size. Merely somethings I found interesting.

Positive Friday, people. The streak ends today.

After the outrage and invective that emanated from Twitter in the moments following the Royals sixth consecutive loss – and fifth straight at home – I was tempted to just cut and paste Nick’s post from yesterday.

Look, I understand the frustration. It sucks. There are a bunch of problems with this team and with this organization. They didn’t magically disappear in February and March. They didn’t suddenly reappear in April. They’ve always been there.

Clark has talked about the 62 games that can go either way… Win or loss… And how the season really hangs in the balance of those games. Catch some breaks and things look good. Have things go against you and it turns to crap in a hurry. We’re neck deep in crap.

Maybe I’m numb to the whole “Royals as a losing entity” thing. Twenty-seven years of horrible baseball can have that effect. In any case, I’m trying to keep my sanity and part of that is writing this blog. And part of that is telling myself that in the big picture, this team isn’t as bad as the first 11 games have represented.

Here’s why I feel this way…

— The Sal Perez injury. I never know how much to believe when you hear the Royals talk about character and clubhouse presence. But I do know it’s rare when those types of accolades are showered upon a 21 year old catcher. The kid is a special blend of talent and personality. His going down with the knee injury hurts this team in so many ways defensively. And it probably hurts the starting staff in ways that are difficult to quantify.

— Alex Gordon is slumping. I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know. He’s hitting .140 and for the second consecutive evening, made the final out when he could have either tied or won the game. If the Royals are going to have any kind of offensive attack, they have to get him going at the top of the order. Without him, we’re going to see a bunch of games like the one we’ve seen the last two nights with extremely depressed run totals.

— Eric Hosmer is lost. He is fishing for the pitches low and away. He is getting tied up inside. And he has one hit in six balls put in play that were in the dead center of the plate. Not the start we hoped for from the guy regarded as the future of the franchise.

— The Lorenzo Cain injury. After the Jerrod Dyson Experience in center field over the weekend – which was crazy because he is not as bad in the field as he looked – it’s safe to say we miss Cain’s glove. The question about Cain was all about the bat, so with the early injury the jury is still out. As much as I love Our Mitch, he’s not an every day player. And Jason Bourgeois doesn’t inspire confidence. Plus, his arm gives me Johnny Damon flashbacks.

— Greg Holland isn’t himself. Last year, Holland stranded 31 of 33 runners he inherited. This year, he’s stranded just one of five. For a guy who’s being used in extremely high-leverage situations, this is a combination of a judo chop to the stomach and a knee to the groin.

The Royals aren’t built to weather the slumps and injuries. It’s a thin team. I suppose we could point the finger at the architect – and many will – but these things happen. Center field has been an issue in this organization for years. Last year, maybe we could have gotten by if Melky Cabrera had gone down because we had Cain in Omaha. This year… Cabrera is in San Francisco because the Royals had a need at starting pitcher. Which now leaves us thin at CF. Tough cycle. Same with catcher – although the Royals have gotten decent production from the backup tandem of Pena and Quintero. Bullpens are notoriously finicky from one year to the next. Slumps happen. Etc, etc, etc…

The bottom third of the order has the potential to be abysmal. So when they play to their potential and the big guns are struggling, this team is in serious offensive trouble. Three of the five starters make Kyle Davies look like an All-Star. And the bullpen has had it’s share of hiccups. Unfortunately, if the Royals get a good start from Chen or Duffy, the bats go silent. If the starters get torched, the bats light up and mount a comeback that falls short. And the bullpen is no longer a strength… It’s a wild card.

The offense is striking out once every 5.5 at bats. That’s the second worst mark in the league. And they’re hitting a home run once every 48.1 at bats. Again, that’s the second worst mark in the league. Their line drive percentage is 16 percent – worst in the league.

Of course, the base running has been abysmal. Bourgeois got picked off on Tuesday… Another out made on the bases. When your team is reaching base at a sub .300 clip, every out is precious. The Royals have never, ever understood that there is a fine line between aggressive and reckless. And they’re not even coming close to that line.

I don’t think I’m some kind of optimist, but I still target Royals to finish with 74 wins. This isn’t 2004 all over again… Remember that one? Where we bought into the contention fantasy, only to have that team lose 104 games? This team isn’t going to be in the hunt for the pennant as “Our Time” would suggest, but they will right the ship and regain respectability.

Speaking of which, I know that there are a good number of people who bought into the Our Time campaign and the expectation that this team could play .500 baseball or even contend. You’re pissed. I get that. Fans want to desperately believe. It’s not foolish to think that this was “Our Time.” And it sucks that another slow start has happened. But given the fact that this team was not built for a championship, a stretch of bad baseball like we’re currently experiencing seemed inevitable. So my question is: If you were going to have a stretch where this team won just three out of 10 games, does it matter when it happens?

To me, no. It doesn’t matter when it happens. Although I do understand those who say it does. That April is an exciting time because it’s the start of the season and there’s the promise that this is finally a good year and a slow start dooms that promise.

All I can tell you is things will be OK.

There’s going to be a point in the season when the Royals reel off seven wins in 10 games. We’re not even eight percent through the season. I’m not ready to walk away from this team because of 11 games. No way. There’s too much potential here. There have been positives in this stretch…

— Bruce Chen has been really good in his three starts. Two walks and 14 strikeouts? A 0.83 WHIP? A 3.54 xFIP? I’ll take it.

— Danny Duffy is showing serious signs of development and intestinal fortitude to be an extremely good starting pitcher in this league. His performance on Monday was the best game I’ve ever seen him pitch. He was literally two pitches away from moving his start from “quality” to “freaking outstanding.”

— Mike Moustakas has been playing amazing defense at third base. I figured him as a solid defender, but he’s made some highlight-reel quality plays at the hot corner.

— Billy Butler is a hitting maniac. His plate appearances are worth the price of admission. Total professional hitter.

— Mitch Maier’s career ERA is still 0.00.

So I’m still on board. Maybe I’m crazy. Or maybe I’m some kind of masochist. But I really believe they will turn this thing around, catch some breaks and win some of these close games they’ve been losing.

I’m not ready to throw in the towel on my summer in mid-April.

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