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

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

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

Then things got real interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Royals made several cuts on Sunday, shipping nine players to the minor leagues. Among those was one of the heroes of last October, Brandon Finnegan.

This is very good news.

You recall the Royals had been weighing keeping Finnegan in the majors as a reliever, or farming him out to be a starter. Would they go for the short-term option and bring him north with the team as a piece of the bullpen? Or would they keep an eye on the long-term and send him to the minors in order to get work as a starter? Finnegan’s struggles this spring made it all but impossible for the Royals to break camp with him on the roster.

Finnegan made four appearances this spring, throwing 6.1 innings and allowing nine hits, four walks and four strikeouts. Among those hits were two home runs. And it’s not like he was getting crushed by major league hitters. Sure, there were some players in the mix that he faced, but according to Baseball Reference, his quality of opposing hitters faced graded out at a 7.7. An eight is considered Triple-A talent.

Between Finnegan’s final collegiate season, his start in the minor leagues after being the Royals first-round draft pick, and his final September and October turn in the Royals bullpen, he logged over 145 innings. Quite the workload for someone of his age and experience. Although it was an amazingly successful year for Finnegan, no matter where he was pitching, he wasn’t able to replicate that high level of output this spring.

Baseball Prospectus had this scouting report on Finnegan from early in the spring:

While the TCU product is coming off an impressive inaugural campaign, there are notable transformations in his frame and pitching approach. Finnegan looks to have put on weight, with some thickness noticeable in the mid-portion of his body. The extra bulk on the frame isn’t necessarily a red flag, but could potentially push him towards a bullpen role sooner rather than later. Finnegan is showing more exertion in his delivery this spring, with a mild arm drag. He still has the big drive and hides the ball out of his hand due to a slight rotational delivery. The fastball was 91-93 mph and lacked the same big plane and explosiveness from last season, which led to a first-pitch homer to Kyle Kubitza on a grooved fastball down the middle. The slider was sharp and displayed hard bite while entering the zone, flashing plus.

I was wondering about Finnegan’s weight (yes, I know) as he looked a little puffier in interviews he conducted in Surprise, although I was wanting to actually see him pitch before I made a comment. Finnegan carries a little weight at 5’11” and 185 pounds and his frame seems like the kind that would gain a few if he wasn’t devoted to winter conditioning. It’s only speculation on my part, but maybe he didn’t take the best care of himself this winter (gasp!) and maybe he wasn’t in the best shape of his life. He wouldn’t be the first prospect to fall into that trap. Everything was spectacular for him last year, so maybe he didn’t think about, or didn’t understand, the required work he needed to put in in order to remain a major leaguer.

So maybe this is a win-win. The Royals win because they get to try to develop one of the better arms in their system as a starter. Finnegan gets an early career wake-up call that hard work is required to play in the bigs. As I wrote earlier, Finnegan’s future is in the Royals rotation. I still believe that despite the above scouting report. Even if he washes out as a starter, at least the Royals will have tried and they can fall back to Plan B. However, the Royals will have at least one spot open in the rotation in 2016. It would be nice to have him compete – and win – a key role on this team going forward.

For now, Finnegan is going to the minors to pitch out of the rotation. He will build stamina and work on refining his change-up. If he can do those two things, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t contribute in Kansas City next season. Barring another late-season call-up for an October run.

Young is a fastball/slider pitcher who will occasionally mix in a change-up. His average fastball is clocked at 84 or 85 mph. As you are probably saying to yourself at this moment, “I bet he doesn’t miss many bats with that kind of velo,” you would be correct. He got a swing and miss on 7.1 percent of all swings last year. That’s Jeremy Guthrie-esque. (Guthrie has a swing and miss rate of 7.2 percent.) For some league-wide perspective, Young’s swing and miss rate was the 13th lowest among 88 qualified starting pitchers.

Generally, it’s a good idea to miss bats. I say generally, because there are exceptions. One of those exceptions is if you have a quality defense behind you, scooping up all those inevitable balls in play. Another exception would be if you pitch in a pitcher-friendly environment where your fly balls are more apt to stay in the yard. Young had both those things working for him last year in Seattle.

2004 25 TEX 3 2 .600 4.71 7 7 36.1 36 21 19 107 5.06 8.9 1.7 2.5 6.7
2005 26 TEX 12 7 .632 4.26 31 31 164.2 162 84 78 108 3.80 8.9 1.0 2.5 7.5
2006 27 SDP 11 5 .688 3.46 31 31 179.1 134 72 69 117 4.60 6.7 1.4 3.5 8.2
2007 ★ 28 SDP 9 8 .529 3.12 30 30 173.0 118 66 60 128 3.43 6.1 0.5 3.7 8.7
2008 29 SDP 7 6 .538 3.96 18 18 102.1 84 46 45 96 4.40 7.4 1.1 4.2 8.2
2009 30 SDP 4 6 .400 5.21 14 14 76.0 70 47 44 73 5.49 8.3 1.4 4.7 5.9
2010 31 SDP 2 0 1.000 0.90 4 4 20.0 10 2 2 416 3.88 4.5 0.5 5.0 6.8
2011 32 NYM 1 0 1.000 1.88 4 4 24.0 12 5 5 199 4.32 4.5 1.1 4.1 8.3
2012 33 NYM 4 9 .308 4.15 20 20 115.0 119 58 53 92 4.50 9.3 1.3 2.8 6.3
2014 35 SEA 12 9 .571 3.65 30 29 165.0 143 70 67 100 5.02 7.8 1.4 3.3 5.9
10 Yrs 65 52 .556 3.77 189 188 1055.2 888 471 442 107 4.38 7.6 1.2 3.4 7.4
162 Game Avg. 12 9 .556 3.77 34 34 190 160 85 80 107 4.38 7.6 1.2 3.4 7.4
SDP (5 yrs) 33 25 .569 3.60 97 97 550.2 416 233 220 110 4.29 6.8 1.0 3.9 8.0
NYM (2 yrs) 5 9 .357 3.76 24 24 139.0 131 63 58 101 4.47 8.5 1.2 3.0 6.6
TEX (2 yrs) 15 9 .625 4.34 38 38 201.0 198 105 97 108 4.03 8.9 1.2 2.5 7.3
SEA (1 yr) 12 9 .571 3.65 30 29 165.0 143 70 67 100 5.02 7.8 1.4 3.3 5.9
NL (7 yrs) 38 34 .528 3.63 121 121 689.2 547 296 278 108 4.33 7.1 1.1 3.7 7.7
AL (3 yrs) 27 18 .600 4.03 68 67 366.0 341 175 164 104 4.48 8.4 1.3 2.8 6.7
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 3/8/2015.

Looking at his stats, Young seems the picture of a very average starting pitcher. When he is healthy. His injury report is enough to make the most hardened baseball observer cringe. He had shoulder surgery in August 2009, which caused him to miss the rest of the season. He missed most of 2010 with a sprain in the anterior capsule of his shoulder and missed most of 2011 when he had a second shoulder surgery to repair the anterior capsule. He spent 2013 in the Nationals system where his season was cut short by another shoulder surgery designed to remove pressure on a nerve. No pitcher wants to have their shoulder cut open. It’s difficult enough to come back from one. Three? Tip of the cap to Young. The guy is obviously a competitive animal.

Young usually starts batters with his fastball. In fact, it’s his first offer 85 percent of the time to lefties and 70 percent of the time to same-side batters. He stays with the fastball if he falls behind, but will show slider when he’s ahead in the count. He will mix in a change against left-handed batters, but will rarely throw one against hitters from the right side.

Both fastball and slider yield a ton of fly balls. Last summer, Young got a fly ball almost 59 percent of the time the ball was put in play. That was the highest fly ball rate in the majors, and it wasn’t even close. Second place belonged to our old friend Jake Odorizzi who’s fly ball rate was just under 49 percent. That’s right. A ten point gap between Young and the rest of the field. That’s not some anomaly. Young’s fly ball rate has been in the mid-fifties nearly every season since 2006. His career fly ball rate is 55 percent.

It’s easy to see why Young is such a fly ball pitcher. For one, velocity. For two, it’s all about the location. From Brooks Baseball, here is a chart illustrating the location of all pitches Young threw in 2014.


He works up in the zone and on the left side of the plate. (Meaning he’s inside to right-handed batters.) Despite what Uncle Hud may tell you, pitching up in the zone doesn’t necessarily mean you are a fly ball pitcher. In fact, the red concentration in the upper left corner is an area where Young generates a bunch of ground balls. It would seem left-handed batters reach and roll their wrists for the pitch up and off the plate which results in a few more worm-burners. But for Young, those pitches up inside the strike zone do help his amazingly high fly ball rate.

Let’s be real for a moment. If there is any team in baseball that could be defined as “the perfect fit” for Young, it’s the Royals. The high-acreage outfield, the tremendous outfield defense, the infielders who can snag pop-ups of all shapes and sizes. Kudos to the Royals for looking at the market and, while there may not be an immediate need, they recognized the fit. He’s in the fold and should one of the top five starters fall early in the year, Young is clearly the next in line. That’s just good roster management. And that’s something you haven’t often read from me about this team.

Young signed for a base salary of $675,000. There are enough incentive clauses built into his contract that, should he hit them all, he would net around $6 million. According to The Star, Young can earn $1 million in service time bonuses. That’s $250k for making the Opening Day roster along with another quarter million for each of 30, 60 and 90 days on the roster. He can pocket $1.975 million in bonuses for innings pitched and $2.35 million in bonuses for games pitched. I like this kind of deal. It’s a, “Yeah, we know you are a starter but we don’t have room for another starter, so why don’t you come here for less money, and if you do end up in the rotation we will make it right” kind of contract.

Dayton Moore has informed the world that Young will make the team out of spring training. Knowing the Royals rotation is set at this point, barring injury, Young will debut for his new club out of the bullpen. That brings up some interesting bullpen calculus. We know the locks (Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Jason Frasor, and now Young.) If Luke Hochevar is healthy and ready to go, he’s there too. That’s six arms for what should be seven spots. There’s Rule 5 draftee Jandel Gustave to consider. And also Louis Coleman who is out of options. Of course we can’t forget about Brandon Finnegan. (Although the hope remains the Royals will do the right thing and send him to the minors to continue his development as a starter.)

Could the Royals go with an eight-man bullpen? That would be insanity, but the Royals don’t always do the conventional when it comes to roster management. I bet they will. At least at the start of the season, to keep Coleman on the roster so they have less of a risk of losing him on waivers should they send him down after that first week.

Either way, Young will open the season in Kansas City on a team-friendly deal that will pay him appropriately should he find himself in the rotation. It’s a shrewd move that brings this team some depth in the rotation.

I noticed a blog the other day where the author wondered if Yordano Ventura should start Opening Day for the Royals. I found it interesting. Etiquette says I should post the link to the blog. So I will. (LINK) My conscience says to tell you to click at your own risk.

I’m breaking all sorts of personal blog rules here. But I thought the post deserved a thoughtful response.

A couple years ago I was standing behind a backstop on one of the Royals spring training fields in Surprise, Ariz. A skinny kid was on the mound and he cut loose with a fastball. After one pitch I immediately turned to the person next to me and asked: “Who is that guy?”

It was my first look at Yordano Ventura.

We’ve almost all had that very same reaction. Ventura is a slight, skinny kid from the Dominican Republic. He looks like he’s skipping his high school algebra class to go to a baseball game. Except he’s pitching. And throwing heat. And regularly getting major league hitters out. You wouldn’t believe it just from looking at him, but after just one pitch, you know. Ventura has a special, special arm.

It’s easy heat in that it doesn’t look like he’s giving max effort to attain max velocity. So smooth. So unhittable when he’s on his game.

When you’re sitting in the upper deck you might think a big-league fastball doesn’t look all that fast, but if you ever get to stand close to home plate when a big-league pitcher throws a big-league fastball, you’ll realize they’re throwing a lot harder than you think — and Yordano Ventura throws harder than almost anybody else.

Translation: I’ve been on the dirt. You haven’t. Therefore, I come to you with knowledge. Knowledge that can only be found on the dirt. Mixed with grit and shells of sunflower seeds. You just can’t understand these ballplayers unless you are with them. On the dirt. Because the dirt is where they play.

So here’s the question: if the Royals get to opening day and their starting rotation is Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie, Edinson Volquez, Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura, and Ventura has the best stuff on the staff, should Ventura be the Royals’ opening day starter?

Good question.

It depends.

That’s not an answer.


What follows from the writer is a reminder that Ventura is young and has made a limited number of big league starts. Personally, that’s part of what makes him so exciting. So much potential. And so much heat. Youth!

Here’s why that matters: During the 2014 AL Wild Card Game…

Oh, god.

Ventura threw Moss two fastballs and both missed the zone. With the count 2-0, Ventura threw a third fastball — a fastball in a fastball count — and Moss didn’t miss it. Ventura’s 98 mph fastball was lined over the center-field wall for a three-run homer and the Athletics had the lead.

How about this? Who called for the third consecutive fastballs to Moss?

Makes you think. Which is sometimes the point.

Let’s dive a little deeper…

Ventura throws a fastball about 44 percent of the time to left-handed batters. He offers that pitch 45 percent of the time when he’s behind in the count. Also, when he’s behind, Ventura will throw his two-seamer 29 percent of the time and his change-up 15 percent of the time. Yes, it was a fastball count, but the sinker and the change are certainly options. Interestingly enough, in all counts he throws his sinker 18 percent of the time to left-handed batters. He will throw it 29 percent of the time when he falls behind in the count to lefties. That deviation (18 percent in all counts versus 29 percent when he’s behind) suggests to me that Ventura is extremely confident about his command of that pitch. If he’s confident of his command, it’s a good strategy to throw that pitch. It comes in a tick slower than his four-seamer, and features a nice little downward sink. When it’s put in play, left-handed batters hit a ground ball 49 percent of the time. Given the situation – runners on first and second – why wouldn’t Ventura and Perez gone for a ground ball to get the double play? Why throw three consecutive fastballs to a hitter who has already clubbed a monster home run? Sure, it’s a fastball count, but again given the situation, you can’t give him a 98 mph pipe shot. Because home runs.

The counterpoint to this is his two-seamer isn’t a great pitch to throw to left-handed batters. Lefties hit .356 and slugged .452 against that pitch. They swing and miss at the pitch just five percent of the time.

Is there a correct answer? A certain pitch we can say he definitely should have thrown? No. But that’s baseball. I get what happened, though. With two runners already on base, Ventura felt he couldn’t take any chances, so he went fastball and left that third consecutive heater over the heart of the plate in Moss’s happy zone.


Let’s return to the blog post.

Ventura had faced three batters, given up two hits, allowed two earned runs and finished his one-third of an inning with a postseason ERA of 54.00.

Let’s get crazy. One-third of an inning. Three batters. That is just about the smallest sample size you can have. You are forming an opinion off of three batters. You can be anti-stats, but to pass judgement on someone’s guts or confidence based on three batters faced… That just flies in the face of common sense.

The writer fails to bring up two very important points which may have played a role in the outcome of the cited small sample. First, Ventura entered the game having made a start just two days prior. In that start he threw 74 pitches and labored through four innings. That outing followed his penultimate start of the regular season in Cleveland where he threw a season-high 117 pitches. Given an elevated, late season pitch count and the short rest, do you think there was a chance Ventura was a little fatigued? Could that have had anything to do with his struggles in the Wild Card game?

Second, that was just the second time in 2014 that Ventura pitched in relief. And although he had success in his previous relief outing, I personally dislike bringing in a starting pitcher in the middle of an innings, especially with runners on base. Starters are creatures of habit. They have their routines to get ready. Now if you want to bring a starter in in the fourth inning, their may have to abbreviate or rush their routine, but they at least have the luxury of starting a clean inning. Ventura had no such luxury. This wasn’t about cracking under pressure. This was about a pitcher in an unfamiliar spot in a high-leverage situation.

Pedro Martinez, who has spent some time in the dirt, was highly critical of Yost bringing Ventura in to the game in the middle of an inning.

Ugly goat. Perfect. That’s why Pedro is in the Hall of Fame.

CJ Nitkowski also Tweeted from the dirt with some criticism for the Royals manager.

Writers chimed in immediately. Yost’s decision was called questionable and his skill as a manager was classified as terrible. That was a spot for Kelvin Herrera. That’s not hindsight. It was a key situation in a winner-take-all game and with the Royals amazing bullpen, it was appropriate for Herrera to take the mound. Everyone but Yost knew it and I suspect, based on his managerial moves later in October, he learned something from his error in judgement.

Nevermind all that logic above. According to this blog, Ventura pissed himself and nearly threw away the Royals October before it even started.

So what’s all that have to do with being the opening day starter?

Nothing. Duh.
At the beginning of the season, No. 1 starters face No. 1 starters. Each team throws their best guy out there on opening day and for a while — until days off or rainouts throw matchups out of sync — an opening day starter can assume he’ll face the best pitcher the opposition has to offer. 
And that means you can pitch great and still lose.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. You can pitch great anytime against any other starting pitcher in the league and still lose. I’ve seen it. Truth.
If a pitcher is mentally strong that might not matter; he knows what he can control and how well the other guy pitches isn’t on the list. But if a guy isn’t confident it can get in his head; he feels like he’s pitched very well and is still losing.

How about this… Three days later, Ventura started Game Two of the ALDS and dominated. He threw seven innings, struck out five and walked just one. He left with the score tied at 1. This means two things: One, he didn’t get the pitcher win that surely is important to this blogger. Two, he was pitching in some high leverage situations as the game progressed. In fact, Ventura’s average Leverage Index for that start was 1.31 which was his highest in a start in October.
Oh, let’s not forget Game Six of the World Series. Do or die. Backs against the wall. And Ventura held the Giants in check for seven innings. His command wasn’t sharp (five walks against four strikeouts), but he survived, kept the Giants off the scoreboard and rode the Royals bats to the decisive Seventh Game. That took some cojones.
Should Yordano Ventura be the opening day starter?

I’m pretty sure I’m unqualified to answer that question.


I’ll go ahead and take a stab. Sure, Ventura should start the opener. Why not? Ventura was the second-best starter on the team last year to James Shields. He was the best starter in October. With Shields gone, Ventura is the best starting pitcher on the team, so I think he should be the Opening Day starter. Will he get the assignment? That’s an entirely separate question. Yost loves him some veterans. I could see him handing the ball to Jason Vargas. Or it could be Edinson Volquez because he’s the new, big free agent signing. Or maybe Shields makes some sort of triumphant return to Kansas City to complete some unfinished business.

Either way, with the rotation seemingly set, who starts the Opener is going to an interesting subplot of the spring. Glad I could help clear up a few things.

I hope you’ve had a moment to read one or two of the player profiles we published this week. It’s something we’ve done in the past to help us get through the winter, usually on Mondays through Thursdays. Since today is Friday, I thought I’d take a little break and look at a former Royal.

If you haven’t noticed, we are now down to a single, Big-Name free agent. The guy who led the Royals rotation the last two years and culminated his tenure in Kansas City as an integral part of a pennant winner, can’t find work.

It’s difficult being James Shields.

We are less than 30 days away from pitchers and catchers reporting and Big Game James is still looking for a team. I’m pretty certain this wasn’t supposed to happen. We knew the market for starting pitching would be slow to develop, but when Jon Lester signed with the Cubs, I figured Shields would be the next to go. It just seemed like smart business to get his money while Max Scherzer (and Scott Boras) took his time. To hell with Scherzer setting the market. Let Lester get paid and then Shields could jump on the same train.

Not happening that way.

For those thinking of a short-term impact, at Fangraphs, Jeff Sullivan ran some numbers and figured out how much Shields would improve each team. Dan Szymborski did the same at ESPN. I urge you to visit both sites (although you’ll need Insider for Dan’s post at ESPN) because the results are interesting.

Sullivan has Shields improving the Royals rotation by about 2.1 fWAR which places the Royals in the lower third of teams who would benefit from signing Shields.  Szymborski says ZiPS has the Royals as currently constructed in the low 80s for wins and figures adding Shields would throw them back into contention for the Wild Card.

Looking at the Royals payroll – which will be around $112 million – it’s difficult to find the wiggle room to add Shields. Especially when you figure the arm he would be pushing out of the rotation in Jeremy Guthrie, is due to earn $9 million next year, making him the highest paid pitcher on the roster. Kind of difficult to shove a guy making that much cabbage into a long-relief role. (Obviously the $9 million Guthrie will earn isn’t enough to land Shields. It’s not a straight-up proposition. But we are talking about a payroll structured so a number five starter is the top earner. That was always going to cause budgetary issues. Remember things like this when GMDM signs his next mediocre player to a three or four year deal.)

Moore was on MLB Network radio on Thursday and the subject of Shields naturally was discussed.

We can parse this several different ways. I would assume that if Shields is open to returning to Kansas City, his agent and the Royals have been in touch at various times throughout his free agent process. But still… I would put the Royals chances at less than 10 percent at this point. Although we can dream, can’t we? A couple of weeks ago, it was mentioned that Shields had received an offer of five years at $110 million, but turned it down. What? Maybe it’s not always about the money.

If you’re going to turn down $110 million for a team you don’t want to play for, you are still feeling confident you can at least come within $10 million of that offer. Right?

If you read the articles at Fangraphs and ESPN, the teams that would benefit the most from adding Shields are teams that aren’t in the best shape to contend. Although the Tigers could get a significant bounce now they’ve lost Scherzer. The consensus is the White Sox, Giants and Marlins would all benefit from a Shields signing in that it would solidify their October aspirations. Those are teams who are close to contention and Shields would seemingly put them right in the pack.

Shields isn’t an ace, but he is good enough that he can make a positive difference for a team looking for postseason baseball. Let’s look at some of the teams Shields has been linked with during the winter:

— He was considered a “fall-back option” in October if the Cubs failed to land their top target Lester.

— In early November, Joel Sherman of the New York Post speculated Shields was a fit for the White Sox, who were lurking under the radar and ready to spend. Instead, they signed Jeff Smardjia.

— Don’t forget the Fish.

— At the Winter Meetings, Shields was linked to the Diamondbacks, Red Sox, Dodgers and Rangers, with the Giants thought to be the frontrunners.

The Diamondbacks denied their interest. The Red Sox acquired Wade Miley, Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson for their rotation. The Marlins got Mat Latos. And the Dodgers paid big bucks for the high risk of Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson. The Rangers rumor just kind of fizzled.

— By the new year, the Giants were out of the Shields market.

— Oh, hey… The Rockies have his agent’s phone number.

Boston checks back early in the new year, but they’re playing the waiting game.

— Don’t forget about Toronto. But the price needs to drop.

Marlins. Again.

— The Padres have been busy on the trade front and have upped their payroll, so the chances they could spend on Shields is “very remote.”

— Maybe the Marlins could do something, but they would have to trade Dan Haren. Who wants to be traded anyway.

— As late as last week, Diamondbacks were still “in the mix.”

— The Tigers popped up on the Shields radar around the same time Scherzer jumped to the Nationals.

— Once the Brewers unloaded Yovani Gallardo, they emerged as a potential candidate.

— There have also been random rumblings the Astros and the Cardinals have interest.


By my count, 16 teams (including the Royals) have been linked to Shields in varying degrees of interest. Over half of baseball. And we are still no closer to resolution that we were when you began reading this post.

So what happened? Were teams scared off at a price tag of $100 million. Was it a 33 year old pitcher asking for five years. Was it all the innings he’s pitched in his career? Was it his less than stellar postseason performance? Was it all of the above?

At any rate, I don’t think anyone expected we would be late in January without Shields on a team. That hurts his market as a number of clubs have budgeted for their arbitration players and have pretty much set their payrolls going forward. That’s not to say someone who thought (or said) they were done can’t jump in at this point. As time ticks, the price drops which has the effect of allowing more teams to enter. But supply and demand has its limits. He’s not going to get $100 million. And he’s not going to get five years.

I’ll take a stab and guess Shields ends up with a four-year deal around $80 million. And I’ll go one step further and say it’s the Tigers who land Shields, with the Red Sox lurking around the periphery should they get wind of the negotiations that could take him north of the border. You don’t want to hear that (hell, I don’t want to write that) but it just makes too much sense for Detroit. They have Price for one more year. Shields gives them extended depth with Verlander and Sanchez. Plus, the Tigers have been known to make the stealth free agent signing. They have the means and it appears adding Shields would make them the prohibitive favorites in the Central once again.

Although at this point, it’s anyone’s guess. Which is what makes this kind of fun.

For a year, Royals fans heard a refrain: Just wait until Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura are in the starting rotation and contributing. That was when the club would truly turn the corner and contention would finally be reality. The damnedest thing… That actually happened in 2014. Last season Danny Duffy indeed enjoyed his finest season as a major league professional. And the Royals actually played in October.

Mission accomplished.

You have to admit, you were surprised how it all worked out. There’s no way you could have seen this coming.

In spring training in 2014, Duffy insisted he wanted to be in the Royals bullpen. Huh? Aren’t starting pitchers, you know… Supposed to want to start? Apparently, not Duffy. At least not in March, 2014. Duffy lost the competition to be a starter to Ventura and the Royals shipped him to Omaha. Just days later, the Royals obliged Duffy’s wish and he was recalled to throw out of the bullpen. And Duffy was quite good. In his first four relief appearances, he threw 8.1 innings, struck out 11 and walked just two without allowing a run to score.

Then, he hit rock bottom.

In a tie game in Baltimore on April 26, Duffy was summoned in the tenth inning of a 2-2 game. He walked the first batter on four pitches. The next batter bunted on the first pitch (remember in October, how Buck Showalter was a managerial savant of some kind?), Duffy fielded and threw it away. The next batter also bunted. Also to Duffy. And again, Duffy threw the ball away. He exited with the bases loaded and the Royals lost game two batters later on a Markakis single.

Four days later, Duffy relieved Ventura in the sixth inning in a game against Toronto with the Royals leading 2-0. Again, he hit the leadoff batter. Then he walked the next man. Ned Yost pulled him after just six pitches thrown. And one strike.

But with Bruce Chen sidelined, the Royals needed another starter. Relief issues aside for Duffy, he was summoned to the rotation. And for four months, he thrived.

Overall, Duffy appeared in 31 games for the Royals, made 25 starts, threw 149 innings, struck out 113 batters and walked just 53. He finished with a 2.53 ERA, a 4.42 xFIP and an ERA- of 56.

From May 2 to August 31, Duffy threw 133 innings, struck out 97, allowed hitters a .203/.277/.314 line. His ERA was 2.44. He was magnificent.

The underlying positive for Duffy in 2014 was his command. Entering the season, he had a career walk rate of 4.7 BB/9. The falling behind in the count, the failing to put hitters away after hanging two strikes on them, and the walks were a cumulative issue that threatened to hold him back from his potential. Factor in his recovery from Tommy John surgery where the last thing pitchers typically recover is command and you can see how it was a concern.

In 2011, in 250 plate appearances where Duffy got two strikes batters, he them a .263/.324/.452 line with 20 walks and 84 strikeouts. By comparison, in 2014, Duffy had 304 plate appearances where he had at least two strikes on a hitter. In those instances, he approved to a .149/.211/.206 line with 113 strikeouts and 20 walks. His sOPS+ (split relative to the league’s split) went from an obscene 197 (with 100 league average and a lower number better for pitchers) to 65. Basically, he went from having two strikes on a hitter as a liability to where it should be – a point of strength.

He also finally started to jump ahead of hitters. In 2014, he threw a strike with his first pitch 59 percent of the time. Going back to 2011 and 2012 (before the Tommy John) he was around 52 percent. That improvement of seven percent is massive. To give you some perspective of how awful his first pitch strike rate was, consider that even at 59.1 percent, Duffy was still 1.5 percentage points below league average in the AL. Had he thrown enough innings to qualify, his first strike rate would have been the 31st best in the AL out of 40 starters. So let’s not treat his improvement as though he’s running with the big strike-throwing dogs now. But let’s do acknowledge he needed to improve that rate and he figured out a way to accomplish that.

It all added up to improved command and a career-best walk rate of 3.2 BB/9. I know Duffy has a legion of Royals fans who have always believed in him, but I’m not sure any rational analyst saw that kind of improvement in the cards for his walk rate.

Time to stare at the elephant on the blog and that is Duffy’s health. He exited a start in Yankee Stadium at the start of September after throwing just a single pitch. The Royals medical staff diagnosed it as inflammation in his rotator cuff. I’m not a doctor, but the words “rotator cuff” make me cringe. Duffy missed a couple of starts and returned to throw 96 pitches in six innings in a 2-0 shutout of the Indians. In his final regular season start, Duffy lasted just two innings before exiting with what the Royals initially thought was a strained intercostal muscle.

In October, Duffy made just three appearances for the Royals in their 15 games. He pitched the bottom of the 10th inning for Kansas City in Game One of the ALDS against the Angeles, throwing 19 pitches before sending the game to the 11th where the Royals eventually won. Duffy didn’t make another appearance for 18 days, finally making it to the mound for some mop-up duty in the Game One shellacking in the World Series. Another appearance followed in the fifth inning of Game Four and Duffy was done for the year.

For September and October, Duffy made six appearances, threw 250 pitches in 12.1 innings. After the postseason, it was revealed Duffy’s alleged intercostal muscle strain was actually a stress reaction in his ribcage; a hairline crack on the outside of a rib where the discomfort would limit him to two or three innings per outing. Basically, there was no way he could start. And looking back, Yost was clearly nervous about using him.

As exceptional as Duffy’s turn as a starter was for four months of 2014, there are signs regression is lurking around the corner. He allowed a .239 BABIP, his career-best rate and nearly 60 points lower than league average. Part of that can surely be attributed to the Royals defense. However, know that of the other four Royals starters, none had a BABIP lower than .288. If you’re going to credit the Royals defense for Duffy’s BABIP, why didn’t that carry over to the other starters?

His strikeout rate was down. He whiffed 18.7 percent of all batters, off his career pace of close to 20 percent entering the 2014 season. The Royals will tell you his strikeout rate was down because he was harnessing his command by taking something off his pitches and locating the ball with purpose. They will also tell you strikeouts aren’t a huge deal for the Royals because they have a phenomenal defense behind their pitchers. Don’t believe them. It’s usually not a good development when a 25 year old pitcher sees his strikeout rate decline. Although in this instance we have the caveat of the Tommy John surgery and the fact this was his first full season of pitching since his rehabilitation from that surgery. Perhaps the strikeout rate will bounce back in 2015.

Also, there’s the fact he morphed into an extreme fly ball pitcher. Among starters with at least 130 innings, Duffy had the sixth-highest fly ball rate at 46 percent. His HR/FB rate was a low 6.1 percent. If he keeps allowing so many fly balls and his HR/FB rate normalizes, his ERA is going to increase. The defense can’t make a play on a ball over the fence. The fly ball rate, the HR/FB rate, his decline in strikeouts and BABIP all contribute to his 4.42 xFIP, which was almost two full runs higher than his actual 2.53 ERA.

When I hear talk about James Shields and how great of a leader he was to the Royals pitchers, I inevitably think of Duffy. Leadership gets the shaft in the sabermetric community, but it shouldn’t. Baseball is an incredibly difficult game chock full of ups and downs. Some players need a little guidance from time to time. Not only about how to handle the failures, but the successes, too. That’s where Shields supposedly played a part in the maturation of Duffy. Remember, this was a guy who never tasted failure until he turned pro and then at one point became so frustrated that he walked away. He was also the guy who, as I mentioned, asked to be a reliever. It’s OK to say there were some makeup and maturity issues with Duffy. He’s a young guy. That’s why a mentor like Shields is so valuable. If he can get through to someone like Duffy, he can absolutely make a difference. And by all indications, that’s what happened. Good for Duffy for accepting help. Good for Shields to being the guy in the clubhouse. And good for the Royals for enduring the ridicule that comes with trading a prospect for a “leader” and making a positive difference in a young man’s career.

There were positives. There are warning signs for some regression. And James Shields isn’t around to dispense advise. How will it affect Duffy. That’s a good question. Steamer projects Duffy to finish with a 3.95 ERA while seeing an increase in both his strikeout (7.4 SO/9) and his walk rate (3.7 BB/9). They have him making 25 starts and throwing 144 innings, which would be low obviously, but not so low if he misses time due to injury again.

I side with Steamer in thinking his ERA is going to increase, but I’m not so sure it’s going to approach four. A correction is coming, but that’s one rude adjustment. I’ll be happy with an increase in his strikeout rate, if he can induce a few more ground balls and if he can keep his ERA in the 3.50 neighborhood. If you want to be the optimist on the projections, Steamer really only has a few months of Duffy as a starter to work with.

Duffy is eligible for salary arbitration for the first time in his career. He’s asking for $3 million. The Royals countered at $1.75 million. Major League Trade Rumors projected Duffy would play for $2.6 million. If he can build upon last year’s 2.2 fWAR and give the Royals something around 2.5-3.0 fWAR for a full season, he will be quite a bargain and a true number two starter. He’s probably going to be a bargain no matter how much he makes next year.

This is a statistical snapshot of  the Royals rotation prior to James Shields’s disaster start on Tuesday.

1 SP Jeremy Guthrie 3.69 17 17 0 112.1 110 48 46 16 27 68 469 111 4.67 1.220 8.8 1.3 2.2 5.4 2.52
2 SP Jason Vargas* 3.53 17 17 0 112.1 115 45 44 14 25 74 469 116 4.20 1.246 9.2 1.1 2.0 5.9 2.96
3 SP James Shields 3.79 17 17 0 111.2 120 58 47 15 24 87 476 108 4.12 1.290 9.7 1.2 1.9 7.0 3.63
4 SP Yordano Ventura 3.26 15 15 0 88.1 87 33 32 7 25 76 372 125 3.29 1.268 8.9 0.7 2.5 7.7 3.04
5 SP Danny Duffy* 2.60 17 11 1 72.2 49 23 21 5 29 55 294 157 3.80 1.073 6.1 0.6 3.6 6.8 1.90
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 7/1/2014.

The symmetry of the top three starters is kind of cool. Seventeen starts for each, they are within two-thirds of an inning and they are within seven batters faced.

What causes some concern is the ERA column followed by the FIP column a little further down the line. Entering Tuesday, all three were outperforming their FIP. Guthrie has been outpacing his FIP and xFIP for his entire career. Last year, the difference between his FIP and ERA was 0.75 and that was good for a 1.1 fWAR. This year, the difference is nearly a full run and at the halfway point, his fWAR is 0.5. Vargas is usually a little closer. Shields’s FIP is his highest since 2010. Not coincidentally, that was his worst season as a starter.

This is three-fifths of the rotation. These are the guys making the serious cash. And they look to be walking the tightrope.

Shields has been miserable his last nine starts. In his last nine starts, he has a 5.43 ERA covering 56.1 innings. During that time, he’s struck out 36, walked 14 and surrendered 10 home runs. Opponents are hitting .323/.362/.557. He doesn’t look hurt or mechanically broken. He’s just hittable.

If you revisit the chart above, Guthrie and Vargas are exactly the same pitcher, statistically speaking. And it looks like both will regress. ZIPS has Guthrie throwing 88 more innings this year with a 4.64 ERA. It has Vargas down for 98 innings and a 4.55 ERA. Obviously, these are projections so they have to be taken as such, but those numbers are frightening. At this point, the best thing we can say about Guthrie and Vargas is they have kept their team in games when they make starts. That’s not meant to be some kind of backhanded compliment. It’s fact. These two are going out there knowing their offense isn’t going to give them a ton of runs, and they grind out their appearances. The Royals have won 19 of their 34 starts. That’s a .559 winning percentage. That gets you into first place in the AL East.

The projection on Shields is more positive. ZIPS has him down for 106 innings and a 3.83 ERA.

Any time we gaze into the crystal ball, we really don’t know what’s going to happen. This isn’t meant to be a negative type of post where I’m spreading gloom and doom. Shields could find his change-up magic and Guthrie and Vargas could beat the projections all season, just like they have so far. That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Or everyone could go off the rails. Hell, if anyone missed time due to injury, the whole thing could fall to shambles as there’s no major league depth in the organization right now.

The point is, Shields is scuffling and Vargas and Guthrie are way outperforming their peripherals. The Royals really need Shields to get it together if they are going to make any kind of run at October. Because to count on the rest of this rotation to continue to be this great would be risky.

You thought this post would be about the bullpen, didn’t you? I mean we all saw the game on Thursday. Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Damn.

But, no. This is about Yordano Ventura. And his valgus.

Ventura returned to the mound after missing a start with elbow discomfort. (I guess it was “discomfort.” Ned Yost said, “It wasn’t an elbow issue.” Umm… OK?) I don’t know about you, but I was damned nervous. Not that I thought the Royals would send a damaged pitcher back out to start. They obviously thought he was OK. No, my concern was over the idea of a “what if.” What if he lost velocity in the third inning? What if his command was helter-skelter from the start? What if he experienced the same issues that derailed his last start?

Pitchers are scary creatures. Anymore it feels like each pitch could be their last. It’s nauseating. And when you have a stud like Ventura… Yeah. Scary.

According to Brooks Baseball, Ventura uncorked a 101 mph fastball. Cool. Even better, he found a comfort zone and maintained his velocity throughout the contest.


Yost pulled him after six innings and 91 pitches. The right move after the issues of the last two weeks.

While the velocity was positive, there were still some bumps along the way to the win. His command wasn’t all that great. He also had a helluva time closing out innings. In the first, he got two outs on six pitches. Then needed 18 more pitches to get the third out. In the second, he got the first batters out, then coughed up a single and a triple before getting the third out. And in the fourth, he got the first two outs on three pitches. Then allowed a single, a walk and a single before getting the third out. He did settle down in the fifth and sixth, working what you would term efficient innings. Although Yadier Molina helped out by running on Alex Gordon after another two-out single.

For the game, Ventura stuck out one batter. He got only seven swings and misses. That’s not the Ventura we saw pre elbow discomfort. But the velocity was there. I’m not ready to move past the elbow discomfort, but I do feel better about how he’s doing moving forward.

And finally, from gifsection, your latest gif of Nori Aoki losing his battle against baseballs.


Happy Friday. Be careful out there.

On May 17, Danny Duffy threw what was among the best starts of his still-young major league career. Remember that? A 1-0 Royals victory over the Orioles?

I ask because in the haze of Wednesday’s debacle at the hands of the Houston Astros, it may be difficult to summon that outing from the memory bank.  Duffy was, in his own words, “hogwash,” against the former worst offensive team in the AL. (The Royals, in addition to being swept by the Astros, also seized the opportunity to supplant them as the worst offense in the American League. Victory cigars for everyone!)

Anyway, it wasn’t about the miserable performance from Duffy. We’ve seen plenty of those. What we saw on Wednesday was much more alarming. Duffy’s fastball averaged 92.8 mph while his sinker clocked in at 90.1 mph. In the start against the Orioles referenced above, his fastball was 94.9 mph and his sinker averaged 93.8 mph. Simple math: Duffy’s fastball was two mph less than in his best start of 2014 and his sinker was almost four mph less. This is not good.

(I don’t want to look at Duffy’s seasonal velocity average because it will be skewed by his time in the bullpen.)

Maybe we can dismiss the velocity on his sinker since that’s a pitch he doesn’t use that frequently. Perhaps more notable was his usage of his change-up. In his start on May 17, Duffy mixed 10 change-ups among his 97 pitches. Wednesday, he threw his change once in 83 pitches. Maybe that’s another reason the Astros were banging the ball around the yard. They were sitting fastball and adjusting slider. There was no in-between.

Speaking of his slider, he was throwing that like normal. The break was close to his usual movement, accounting for the fact it was averaging about three mph less than his May 17 outing.

Perhaps more alarming was how Duffy was losing velocity through those 83 pitches. From Brooks Baseball, here’s the ugly velocity chart:















Compare that to the May 17 game.















Duffy always loses a little off his fastball the deeper he goes into the pitch count. But Wednesday’s game was something we haven’t seen in some time. Post-game, it was revealed Duffy was battling a “dead arm.” I suppose that’s possible. It’s fairly common. I just wonder how common for a pitcher who has thrown 35 innings in the season’s first two months to have a dead arm. With eight of those innings coming in relief.

I’m still not sold on Duffy being anymore than rotational filler. But with the uncertainty of Yordano Ventura, the Royals rotation is already stretched. (Yeah, there’s uncertainty around Ventura. Do you believe anything the Royals say when it comes to injuries? How many starters leave a start with elbow pain and are back a week and a half later?) Last I saw, the Royals starter for Ventura’s turn on Saturday was “TBA.” Because there aren’t any palatiable options. Lose Duffy at the same time… Let’s put it this way: The offensive struggles won’t be the only thing we’re discussing.

We’ve been over this before. At four games under .500, the season isn’t lost. But with a corpse-like offense that is showing no signs of a pulse, the season is slipping away. Lose two guys from your rotation and this team becomes a runaway freight elevator heading for the basement.

I am a Royals fan.

That’s a rather straightforward declarative statement. Not a surprise, either. This is a Royals blog, after all. On the scale of “shocking development” to “no duh,” it gal

The last 25 years or so (I’ve lost count and really, it’s not all that important) the Royals as a team have presented us with little to be happy about. A nice run of games here or there – That 15-5 run from last year was pretty insane – but largely we are talking about some really dreadful teams. It’s been a struggle finding reasons to watch. Thankfully, there have been some individual performances of quality in the midst of some awful team efforts.

Happy Greinke Day was born in a season where the Royals lost 96 games and had Jose Guillen in the lineup. Horrible team. A great individual season gave us reason to watch at least every fifth day.

The 2011 team had 325 doubles, which was the second highest total in the league. It featured four guys – Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur – who all hit at least 44 two-baggers. They lost 91 games, but the offense could be kind of fun to watch.

Eric Hosmer’s second-half renaissance was equal parts amazing and enjoyable. Even if it wasn’t enough to rescue the Royals from the hole they dug for themselves in May.

Your mileage may vary on the positives above, but the point is, when you’re a fan of a dreadful team, you need to search for those kind of things. You need something to pull you to tune into the game. A favorite player. A good player. A sustained performance of the highest quality. Something. Anything. It’s about finding something fun to watch on an mediocre to poor baseball team.

For me thus far in 2014, it’s been all about Yordano Ventura.

Ventura has been Must-See TV. The fastball, the change and the curve. I can’t wait for every fifth day to roll around so I can watch him start. He isn’t as dominant as early ’09 Greinke, but that electric stuff is so fun to watch. The Royals offense is awful. Their pitching is keeping them around .500. And Ventura is the most entertaining of the bunch.

As I said above, this is just my personal preference. You may like James Shields. Or Greg Holland. Or Wade Davis The Reliever. Any of those (and others) are acceptable. But for me, Ventura has become my favorite Royal.

It was immediately obvious something was wrong with Ventura on Monday. Diminished velocity. Location was all over the place. He just wasn’t right.

This is his confrontation with Dexter Fowler, the third hitter in the game for the Astros. Gameday doesn’t do justice to how badly Ventura missed.












And the saddest image of all, Ventura’s velocity chart from Brooks Baseball:



That decline after around pitch 33. Oh, jeez.

The Royals announced during the game Ventura left with lateral elbow discomfort. He’s going for an MRI on Tuesday. A quick Google says lateral elbow discomfort is basically tennis elbow. Tennis elbow is treated with rest and anti-inflammatory medication. At this point, we can consider this the best case scenario. If the Royals were incorrect in their initial diagnosis (or decided to float a smoke screen) and it’s the medial portion of the elbow… Yeah. We’re all baseball fans. We know what’s happened this year to basically every decent young pitcher. And we’re Royals fans, too. Total doomsday scenario.

I’m reserving my total freak out for when the announcement is made, but let me put it this way: I’m stockpiling like it’s Y2K. You can’t be a Royals fan without a touch of fatalism. What happened to Ventura on Monday is simply another notch on the bedpost of bullshit we have to endure as Royals fans. I’m not going to type the words, but I fear it’s coming. It’s just better to be prepared.

To add insult to injury, the same game Ventura leaves with elbow discomfort, the Astros young phenom George Springer goes 4-4 with five runs scored and a monster jack into the fountains in left. Sometimes, baseball just isn’t fair. Sometimes, it’s three decades of crap.

Nobody said baseball was fair. As Royals fans we’ve become accustomed to abuse. What happened Monday was just cruel. It’s not about Ventura pitching this team to October. He’s good, but he’s not that good. For me, it’s about watching a potentially great pitcher do his thing every fifth day. It’s about looking forward to a game. It’s about electricity. It’s about excitement. It’s about fun.

Hey… Looks like Alex Gordon is warming up.

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