Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

With Ned Yost becoming the Royals winningest manager yesterday, I want to take a look back at the six managers to spend a significant amount of time calling the shots from the KC bench. The Royals are yet to have a skipper who sticks around for a truly long period of time. At the end of this season, Yost will become the first person to manage five full seasons for the Royals. I could see him easily managing two or three more years, so he’ll probably qualify as the first true long-timer. Dick Howser should have had a good long run had cancer not prematurely ended his career.

Below, I take a look at those managers who spent at least three full seasons at the helm. Partial seasons are thrown out in the below numbers. Before I get to the numbers, let me stress that I think evaluating managers with numbers gives an extremely limited picture and that how they interact with the players and what kind of environment they foster is more important than their in-game strategies and tendencies. But here’s a look at a few things we can judge, in the hopes they can shed a little light.

With a nod to Adam Darowski’s attempt to see how managers have fared relative to what we might expect, I look at how many more or less wins the managers earned than their teams’ Pythagorean record and the teams’ wins above replacement would expect. Dave Cameron has written that variations from Pythagorean records is due mostly to “clutch” hitting, something that probably has little to do with a manger, so take all these numbers with a huge salt mine. There is a huge amount of noise there, but it is at least intriguing when a rare manager consistently outperforms Pythag. Does a manager deserve some credit when a team squeezes out more wins than their total wins above replacement suggest? Your guess is as good as mine.

I also look at how the skippers performed in one run games, where there is again plenty of noise, but perhaps managers have a bigger role in those games where every pinch hit, bunt, steal, and bullpen maneuver is magnified. Then I take a look at how many more or less intentional walks and sacrifice bunts happened on their watch compared to AL averages over the same seasons just to get a feel for their philosophies in those regards.

1. Whitey Herzog • 1976—79

G W L Pyth
Wins
Above
Expected
WAR
Wins
Above
Expected
1 run
W
1 run L IBB
Above
Avg.
Sac
Bunts
Above
Avg.
648 369 279 2 4 118 93 1 -76

Herzog was given more talent than any other manager, but he also comes out looking pretty good in these categories.

2. Dick Howser • 1982—85

SacBuntsAboveAvg.

G W L Pyth
Wins
Above
Expected
WAR
Wins
Above
Expected
1runW 1runL IBB
Above
Avg.
648 344 304 16 14 105 81 -47 -40

Wow. Howser looks just incredible here. His teams squeezed out just about all the victories they could. He didn’t intentionally walk and he didn’t sac bunt. Just trusted his players to go out and get the job done, and they did.

3. John Wathan • 1988—90

G W L Pyth
Wins
Above
Expected
WAR
Wins
Above
Expected
1runW 1runL IBB
Above
Avg.
Sac
Bunts
Above
Avg.
484 251 233 -3 -8 73 68 13 -53

Nothing much to see here, except to note Duke was not a sac bunt fan.

4. Hal McRae • 1992—94

G W L Pyth Wins Above Expected WAR Wins Above Expected 1runW 1runL IBB Above Avg. Sac Bunts Above Avg.
439 220 219 6 -11 73 75 -12 -6

McRae’s teams outperformed their Pythag but underpformed their WAR. Who knows what to make of that. Probably not much.

5. Tony Muser • 1998—2000

G W L Pyth Wins Above Expected WAR Wins Above Expected 1runW 1runL IBB Above Avg. Sac Bunts Above Avg.
484 213 271 -3 -7 49 74 3 57

Ew. Lost the close ones, sac bunted a lot. Muser and Yost are the only mangers on the list to sac bunt more than the AL average.

6. Ned Yost • 2011—June 18, 2015

G W L Pyth Wins Above Expected WAR Wins Above Expected 1runW 1runL IBB Above Avg. Sac Bunts Above Avg.
711 356 355 -6 -18 112 114 -8 26

These totals don’t tell the story. Look how it breaks down year-by-year:

Yr G W L Pyth Wins Above Expected WAR Wins Above Expected 1runW 1runL IBB Above Avg. Sac Bunts Above Avg.
2011 162 71 91 -7 -11 25 32 9 16
2012 162 72 90 -2 -6 27 26 12 -9
2013 162 86 76 -1 1 31 25 -9 10
2014 162 89 73 5 0 22 25 -17 7
2015 63 38 25 -1 0 7 6 -3 2

You probably know the team’s win totals have increased every year under Yost, but it’s interesting to see how the other numbers have changed too. Yost has grown and changed in his time in KC, which is a really cool thing to see from a guy in his late 50s/early 60s in a game that often fears change. He told the Star how much he’s changed in how he handles players, mentioning the 2013 season specifically as a turning point, and a change even shows up in his in-game style and results that season. Ned should be lauded for rarely issuing intentional walks anymore, and the team is just a bit over average when it comes to sac bunts. You can still legitimately question his lineup construction, but you can’t really argue that has a major impact on wins and losses or that the team isn’t winning with his lineups. It’s been a stunning reversal. Here’s to Ned, the winningerest of ’em all.

At some point around the All-Star Break last year, Royals fans came to the realization that in all probability, Ned Yost was going to become the all-time leader in franchise history in managerial wins.

This realization was met with almost universal incredulity. How in the hell could Ned Yost lap the patron saints of this franchise in Dick Howser and Whitey Herzog? Those two brought pennants and glory to the franchise. Yost used his alias, Frank, who ordered coffee at the local Starbucks and had his own hashtag: #Yosted. How was it possible that Yost could stick around long enough to pass the best managers in franchise history?

Little did we know last summer that the events of September and October would change everything.

Yost passed Herzog with his 411th win as Royals manager on Thursday. The K celebrated. Yost gave a celebratory on-field interview with Fox Sports 1. He got a Gatorade bath courtesy of Sal Perez and Alcides Escobar. And Kansas City thanked the baseball gods that Yost was their leader.

An absolutely amazing turn of events.

When Yost was hired as the Royals manager, I didn’t have high hopes. Sure, he helped developed the young talent in the Brewers organization, but his team spit the bit when it was time for them to win and it cost him his job. I wondered if the same thing would happen here. Or if he would even be able to lead a team to .500. To me, he was just another managerial retread. A guy like Buddy Bell.

The first three seasons, that’s who Yost was. Sure, his winning percentage improved each season, but it was incremental. To paraphrase Spinal Tap, his teams were treading water in a sea of mediocrity. Yet things were happening. The Process guys were getting the call. The Trade happened. And suddenly, Yost’s 2013 Royals finished above .500. That seems like small potatoes now, but we can’t forget that this was a pretty huge achievement.

The 2014 season brought heightened expectations. And the Royals stumbled. Badly. They hit the midway point of the year just two games over .500 and 6.5 games back of first. Immediately following the break, the team lost their first four games, one of which were Yost admitted he “outsmarted himself” when he brought Scott Downs in to face Jackie Bradley, Jr. but didn’t think about Jonny Gomes lurking on the Red Sox bench. Gomes homered. Ballgame. Same old Yost.

Despite the difficult losses, something was different about the team. Maybe it was the veteran leadership and the now infamous Ibanez meeting in Chicago. That’s what everyone points to as a behind the scenes turning point in a championship season. I would submit to you that that moment doesn’t happen, if Yost hadn’t set the tone in the clubhouse throughout his previous seasons. He’s every bit a player’s manager. Yost gives his players room and they have repaid him with respect. It’s an interesting dynamic that doesn’t always work. Given another team, maybe Yost’s methods don’t work so well. For the Royals, it was a perfect fit as they went 41-23 down the stretch to clinch their first postseason berth since 1985. They qualified for the Wild Card.

We know what happened in that game. We also know about the aftermath. The game has been celebrated and will continue to be celebrated. You simply cannot underestimate how the fortunes of a franchise swung on the outcome of a single game. If the Royals lose to the A’s, everything is different. Everything. The Wild Card win cleared the collective baseball psyche in Kansas City. It also did something to Ned Yost. It lifted some sort of burden. Maybe it’s a burden all major league managers feel. The ones who have yet to get to the post season. Especially those who have managed over 1,500 games in their career. Or maybe it’s just the ones fired in the midst of a pennant race with 12 games back.

We can’t forget, though the game served as a microcosm of Yost’s managerial career. For some still unsatisfactorily explained reason, he brought Yordano Ventura into the game to pitch to Brandon Moss. Like in Boston, Yost outsmarted himself. Instead of happening in a run of the mill July game, this was on the national stage. Posts were written during the game that Yost was a terrible manager. But then, the Royals, and Yost, rallied. He pinch ran and ordered steals. He bunted like a deranged lunatic. He pinch hit Josh Willingham for Mike Moustakas in the ninth. An obvious call, yet so massive. And so correct. He ran his bullpen for the rest of the game like a boss. Whatever the demons Yost battled as a manager, when Sal Perez hit that grounder down the third base line, they were exorcised.

Unshackled and playing with house money, Yost managed the postseason with the cool of a Vegas card shark. I think he knew he was lucky to be there. I also think he knew just getting to that point was the entire battle. Managers know this. The best teams may not always win the championships, but the best teams to get to the postseason. Yost survived. Yost won. And he was going to kick ass all the way to Game Seven.

Today, Yost is a hero in Kansas City. Forget needing a pseudonym to order coffee. He shouldn’t have to buy his own cup of joe for the rest of his days in our fair city. Maybe Yost is the same as he ever was. I don’t know. One thing that is certain, the house money is still good. Maybe the confidence wears better with success. It feels like there’s a difference. A little more swagger. It’s crazy. Suddenly, he’s our guy. Stay the hell out of his way, because he’s the manager of the reigning American League Champions. That counts for something. It also helps he has his team playing like October never ended. Success suits Yost.

That doesn’t mean he still won’t drive you crazy on occasion. He continues to bunt too much for my liking, but so does every major league manager. He avoids pinch hitting like it’s Ebola. And he still won’t rest Sal.

And Yost has won 411 games as a Royals manager. More games than any other manager in Royals history.

Someday, when this wild ride of a managerial career is over, they will have a day at The K to honor Yost. They will hang his portrait in the Royals Hall of Fame. The fans will cheer because they will remember the good times. They will remember he was the man in charge when baseball was reborn in Kansas City. The cheers will be long and loud as they echo across I-70. Yost will wave and will soak it all in with a smile, just like he did in the celebrations of October. We will never forget.

Thanks, Ned. For everything.

It’s too early to render a verdict, but damn if Chris Young isn’t on the shortlist for best free agent signings heading into 2015. His latest masterpiece was flummoxing the Milwaukee Brewers for seven innings on Tuesday. Just the latest in a year that has taken Young from the sidelines, to the bullpen, to the rotation, and finally, to most reliable starter in the rotation status.

Seven innings. Five hits. No walks. A Game Score of 70.

Young shoved his ERA to sub 2. When he exited the game after those seven innings, his ERA stood at 1.98.

Young was never in danger. The helpless Brewers bunted their way to third in the third inning, but Young worked out of the jam. In the seventh, Aramis Ramirez strolled into second with a one-out double. (Literally, strolled. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone move 180 feet in such an unhurried fashion.) Scooter Gennett followed with a single to left, but Ramirez had to hold at second because there was no way he could challenge Alex Gordon’s arm. That put runners at first and second with one out and a starting pitcher who didn’t have much left in the tank.

Then this happened.

Young_SO2_061615

And this.

Young_SO3_061615

The first, was an 11 pitch Battle-Royal against Jean Segura. So massive, it didn’t fit on the whole Gameday screen cap. Young brought his mid-80s fastball and his high-70s slider and kept it up in the zone. Foul, foul, foul… Segura fouled off seven pitches total until Young broke off a slider up out of the strike zone and Segura could only wave at it.

The second was less of a battle, but just as impressive. Young showed slider the first three pitches to Shane Peterson and all three were down. He then changed the vertical with back to back fastballs, the second of which dove into his hands. Peterson pulled the trigger and came up empty. The victim of 86 mph smoke.

For the night, Young got nine swings and misses out of his 89 pitches. A very average ratio for him given he’s generating a whiff about 9 percent of the time this year. And very nice he saved three of those for his final two batters with a pair of runners on base.

It was vintage Young. He threw 19 first pitch strikes out of the 26 batters he faced. He let the Brewers put the ball in play. The Brewers obliged by hitting balls in the air. Twelve of the 18 balls in play were in the air. A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how Young was running short on luck. Yeah. His start Tuesday followed his blueprint to the very last out. Young is more Rodrock than Frank Lloyd Wright, but who cares? The walls are still standing for now, so let’s get comfortable.

The way I’m carrying on about the brilliance of Young would make you think the game was close. Heh. This was another one where it was never in doubt. Three hits to open the game, punctuated by Lorenzo Cain’s second bomb in as many days and the Royals were rolling. Every Royals starter had at least one hit. Mike Moustakas and would-be All-Star Omar Infante each had a trio. Moustakas attend a home run he blistered to the pull field.

Even Young got in the action with a pair of hits and driving in three runs. Seriously. Young became the first Royals pitcher to drive in three since Steve Busby in 1972. He also saw just five pitches in his three plate appearances. Naked aggression with the lumber. Young is already Forever Royal.

The Royals close a road trip bookended by sweeps. They took three in Minnesota and the pair in Milwaukee. Sandwiched in there were the two losses to the federally investigated St. Louis Cardinals. A week and a half ago if I had told you the Royals would go 5-2 on this road trip, you would have been overjoyed. You may be overjoyed right now. You should be. This is exactly how the remainder of the season should play out. The Royals clobbered the slumping pretender, stomped all over one of the worst teams in the game and battled to a couple of close loses to The Hackers, who have the best record in baseball, if not the best IT department.

A brief five game homestand is on the docket as the Brewers follow the Royals to KC before the Royals host the Red Sox for three. Five more games against teams ripe for the stomping. This is baseball, so things may not go according to plan, but even if the Royals stumble to close out the week, it’s not the end of the season. At 36-25, the Royals have the best winning percentage in the AL and own a three and a half game over the fading Twins and a four game lead over the third place Tigers.

As long as Young is shoving his fastball/slider combo in the Royals rotation like he did on Tuesday, things may just turn out OK.

A lot of strange things have happened since Clark and I fired up the old blog machine some 10 years ago. Managers have showered in full uniform. Players were assaulted by a tarp. Annual double-digit losing streaks. Trey Hillman managed major league players. The Trade. And finally a World Series.

And since it apparently can’t get any more bizarre, how about a weekly All-Star update?

When it comes to the All-Star Game, I stand with Clark: I don’t really give a damn about the game. I went back in 2012 when it was at Kauffman, but I couldn’t tell you the last time I watched one on television. It’s difficult enough to digest FOX and their postseason coverage. A single night of pre-planned storylines is a little much for me.

When the schedule comes out and I see the game, along with the sandwiched days off, I simply think, “There’s four days without baseball.” That’s where I was when the 2015 season opened. I would be lying if I said I gave the game more than a cursory thought. I didn’t even think about the possibility of putting one or two Royals in the starting lineup. Then the first round of results were posted and five Royals were leading their respective positions. The next week, those five solidified their leads. And then last week, two other Royals joined the All-Star parade, putting seven of the nine starters in Royal uniforms. Amazing.

And here we are. The latest All-Star voting results were released on Monday. This week, 10 players gained at least two million votes. Here are the biggest gains in Week 4.

Sal Perez – 2,782,672
Josh Donaldson – 2,550,573
Mike Moustakas – 2,458,522
Alcides Escobar – 2,403,996
Lorenzo Cain – 2,400,309
Miguel Cabrera – 2,368,108
Mike Trout – 2,275,491
Eric Hosmer – 2,226,358
Alex Gordon – 2,187,962
Kendrys Morales – 2,152,616

For the Royals, it’s about consolidating their leads. Both Moustakas and Hosmer lost a few votes off their leads, but in both cases it was about 100,000 votes. Hosmer is in a much more precarious position since Cabrera held the lead at first in the first two voting updates.

Speaking of Hosmer and first base, here is how the voting has gone through the first four updates.

1B_4

It’s obviously a two-man race at this point. This one also has the second-thinnest margin for the Royals. Hosmer’s growth has been steady, but Cabrera picked up more votes this week. Detroit was much more active all over the ballot this time. Alex Avila and Nick Castellanos both make their debuts in the top five at their respective positions. The Motor City is getting serious about this. If any Royal is at risk, it’s Hosmer.

How about second base where it’s all about the worst everyday player in baseball: Omar Infante.

AL2B_4

This is kind of the inverse as to what’s happening at first. Altuve has had steady support. Infante, as soon as Royals fans realized the power they had, created a spike the last two weeks. Enough to push Infante to the lead. Again, there’s a massive gap between the top two spots and the rest of the field. I would assume Kipnis is the biggest threat to make a late charge, but his jump in votes was behind even Kinsler this week. Again, Detroit made some noise this week.

The race that interests me the most is at the hot corner:

3B_4

Josh Donaldson is a legit MVP candidate over the first two-plus months of the season. His 3.8 fWAR is tops in the league and is a complete number. He’s the top offensive third baseman by far and his defense is at or near the top as well. Moustakas is having some kind of season. The kind of season no one ever thought they’d see. That, combined with his play in October has kept him out in front in the third base voting. We can’t discount the postseason when trying to figure out how this started. Without their deep run all the way to Game Seven, none of this happens. Moustakas made his big gain in week 3 of the voting and gave a little bit back in week 4. Still, he’s leading by 1.625 million votes. At this point it will take a major movement to push Donaldson past Moustakas.

The last graph I’ll post today is for the outfield.

OF_4

Cain actually expanded his lead over Trout by about 125,000 votes. It makes sense as this is the residue of the bump for Rios. Again, the top three here have been unchanged since the first round of results and the trio continues to extend their lead over the second three. Again, the big gain here was a Tiger: Cespedes didn’t get enough to move past Jones, but he’s knocking on the door. But we’re just talking about first runner up.

I continue to be amused by the reactions. And if I’m being honest, I’m kind of confused as to the motivations of Royals fans. That’s not criticism. Not at all. Except I’ve seen some try to position this as being a statement about how ridiculous the voting process is when selecting All-Star starters. I don’t disagree the process is less than ideal. But the Royals fan stuffing the ballot box wasn’t about that, at least as I perceived it from the beginning. This isn’t some sort of statement. For me, the simple explanation suffices: Several Royals jumped out to leads due to their solid October and hot start to 2015, fans took notice and decided to run with it. It’s a fun takeover. And as the backlash began, it only made us vote with increasing frequency. If you have an issue with it, I suppose that’s your problem. If major league baseball decides to step in and supersede what’s happening, they can deal with the fallout. It won’t be pretty.

 

I assume the likely result will be some sort of change of the process in 2016. Maybe the players will get a ballot. Maybe the voting will return to the stadium. It’s pretty obvious why MLB moved the voting to online only was because they could get more total votes that way. It’s no different from a slide show on a worthless website. Instead of clicks, MLB is collecting votes in bulk. That way, they can point to the millions of ballots cast and prop up their legitimacy. It’s a baseball banana republic. Except they didn’t realize the potential consequences of removing the ballots from the parks. Oh, well. Lesson learned, I guess.

I’ve been going through my old baseball cards lately. Something that I got interested in all over again because of… yep, October. Anyway, I started collecting in 1977. (Save it. I’m old. But not as old as Clark.) That first year for me, the Reds had five All-Stars from ’76 celebrated on their cards: Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepcion, Pete Rose and George Foster. I remember thinking how cool that was for one team to have so many All-Stars and I remember catching bits and pieces of the World Series the previous year that featured all those All-Stars. Aside from the hometown Royals, the Reds were the first team to enter my baseball psyche. They were The Big Red Machine. That’s why I’m christening the 2015 version of the Royals The Big Blue Machine. They’re going to top the Reds ’76 All-Star total and next year, some six year old kid collecting their first set of baseball cards will find the All-Star notation on nearly every Royal of relevance. He or she may become a fan of the team because of this. Maybe Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon and Sal Perez will resonate with them the same way Bench, Rose and Morgan resonate with fans of my generation. That’s pretty damn cool.

I’ll continue to write this about the All-Star balloting: What you’re witnessing is the reawakening of a fanbase that has had so little to cheer or care about for the last 29 years. September and October changed the calculus.

This is a great thing for Kansas City. And no matter what anyone else may say or write, this is a great thing for baseball.

A trip to the east side and the Royals bats fall into another slumber. It felt so promising after the Twins series where the Royals performed the requisite role of favorite and brushed aside the upstarts with ease. Not your time, Minnesota.

The Cardinals, as much as it pains to write, are good. Very good. They are not the Twins. They have been to the top of their division, they have been the favorites and they enjoy the view from the penthouse, thank you very much. My snide May remarks about them being “the second-best team in Missouri” was wishful thinking on my part.

Friday’s game was painful. Five hits. Four of them were of the infield variety. We know the Royals like to ride the singles train, but this was the kiddie version at the mall that goes around in a tight circle at under 5 mph. Pathetic. Hats off to Cardinal starter Jaime Garcia, though. He throws a nasty sinker and has had his struggles with shoulder injuries the last couple of seasons. It’s a minor miracle he’s still in the game. Add to the gross factor was Yordano Ventura exiting the game after he lost feeling in two fingers and the thumb on his pitching hand. Yeah. Friday sucked.

Saturday’s game was painful as well, but for different reasons. With a lefty on the mound for the Cardinals, Ned Yost opted for his NL Special Right-Handed Hitting Lineup with Alex Gordon the only left-handed bat in the game. When your lineup features Christian Colon, Omar Infante, the pitcher and rolls over to Alcides Escobar, you’re going to struggle to score. It’s not a coincidence the Royals only two runs on the day came on solo home runs. This was not a lineup constructed for the big inning.

Which brings me to another point: Yost has to address his lineup. Not in a week, a la Bobby Cox. Today. We are at a critical point in the Royals offensive struggles. It’s not so much about shaking things up. It’s about righting a wrong. Let’s start at leadoff. Escobar has to go. He is hitting .255/.285/.341. Unacceptable for a leadoff hitter. The only team that has gotten worse production out of the top of their order is Oakland. If you go by OPS+, the Royals have actually been the worst team in the AL at the leadoff spot. You simply cannot have October thoughts and have Escobar leading  off. I understand he was the guy at the top of the order for September and October. Spare me the arguments for keeping him at leadoff. That was six weeks in a six year career. The Royals got lucky with Escobar at the end of last year. Luck tends to run out.

From Baseball Reference, here is the performance of American League leadoff batters by team, ranked by on base percentage. You’ll find the Royals second from the bottom. They also have the fewest total bases and their slugging percentage is the worst among AL teams. Don’t even get me started about their 10 walks. There is no way you can shine the turd of this table:

Rk G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP ▾ SLG OPS TB tOPS+ sOPS+
1 CLE 63 289 245 42 76 21 3 5 25 33 44 .310 .402 .482 .884 118 143 143
2 NYY 67 286 252 51 73 11 1 4 21 30 49 .290 .374 .389 .763 98 111 112
3 HOU 65 286 259 28 80 13 0 6 29 21 46 .309 .363 .429 .791 111 125 118
4 BOS 63 297 270 35 78 13 1 9 36 20 38 .289 .338 .444 .782 120 125 114
5 BAL 71 271 250 40 72 10 2 9 23 16 55 .288 .337 .452 .789 113 117 116
6 DET 68 287 267 42 78 14 9 2 17 17 66 .292 .337 .434 .771 116 105 112
7 MIN 63 276 249 47 66 18 3 11 29 20 60 .265 .327 .494 .821 123 140 124
8 TBR 81 283 255 30 63 11 3 5 20 18 50 .247 .313 .373 .686 95 100 89
9 TEX 69 294 271 37 70 15 4 5 21 18 69 .258 .303 .399 .702 108 93 92
10 LAA 68 277 255 35 66 12 1 5 24 16 48 .259 .303 .373 .675 95 96 86
11 TOR 71 291 264 35 66 16 0 7 36 19 54 .250 .302 .390 .692 103 78 90
12 CHW 65 271 251 33 61 11 4 3 14 18 44 .243 .299 .355 .653 89 100 80
13 SEA 78 280 260 24 62 12 0 9 20 15 62 .238 .290 .388 .679 101 98 86
14 KCR 62 266 245 34 61 11 1 2 21 10 36 .249 .286 .327 .613 80 72 69
15 OAK 70 302 278 38 64 10 5 3 16 18 57 .230 .282 .335 .617 93 75 70
TOT 1024 4256 3871 551 1036 198 37 85 352 289 778 .268 .324 .404 .728 1563 105 100
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/14/2015.

While the leadoff spot has been an issue all season, it’s also time for Omar Infante to take a seat on the bench for an extended vacation. The dude has five hits (all singles) in his last 62 at bats. One walk and 14 strikeouts. And Yost still insists he’s the choice at second base. You know my feelings on the situation.

And Alex Rios. Oh. My. God. I haven’t seen outfield play that uninspiring since Kevin McReynolds couldn’t be bothered back in the early ’90s. There is a decided lack of focus out there, which isn’t surprising given Rios’s past. When he’s going good, he’s locked in and a valuable performer. When he’s not… It’s all downhill. It’s a shame he suffered the injury to his hand in Minnesota because it felt like his season was going to be about the former. Now, it’s about the latter. He took longer than expected to recover from his injury (which also wasn’t a surprise to those who have followed his career) and has yet to find his swing since returning. And now it appears he’s carrying the offensive struggles to the field. Lackadaisical and careless. That’s how you describe his defense over the last couple of weeks.

Glaring holes at second base and right field. The more things change…

OK. You’ve read this far and are thinking, “Enough with the bitching. What’s your solution?” Fair. Here’s my suggested lineup:

Gordon
Moustakas
Morales
Hosmer
Cain
Perez
Rios
Escobar
Colon

I’m not entirely pleased with the construction here, but I have my best hitters stacked one through four, so I can’t complain too much. It happens that the Royals best hitters this year are left-handed, so the lineup dispenses with Yost’s favored LRLRLR kind of alternating of bats, but so it goes. Cain has just six extra base hits in his last 30 games, so he needs to drop. I’d like to move him lower, but Perez should never hit in the top half, in my opinion. Rios, as I mentioned above, has lost me, but I don’t see Dyson as an everyday alternative. A spot start, fine. Not six days a week. Although I could be talked into a Dyson/Rios platoon. But you think Rios has checked out now? Wait until he only starts half the games.

Colon is my second baseman, but like the Royals, I’m not happy about it. His defense doesn’t do anything for me and he continues to be overmatched by big league pitching. Neither facet of his game is going to improve.

You know what’s funny about all of this? The Royals are still in first place in the Central. They still have the best record in the AL. That’s great that the Royals are still in the pole position, but smart teams are constantly analyzing their operation and identifying their weaknesses. With the current offensive struggles, you could make the case the Royals are already not moving fast enough to make those critical adjustments. Yost likes to point out he doesn’t do panic. It’s not panicking when you are repositioning your hitters in order to put your team in a better position to win.

Baseball is a funny game. The Royals were getting dressed for their own funeral on Saturday. They won on Sunday, but it was the finale of a 2-4 homestand. They had lost nine out of 11 and had fallen out of first place. Three days later and the Royals are riding a four game winning streak. They are back in first and – catch this fact – they own the best record in the American League.

After a couple of close games to open the series in Minnesota, the offense came to life on Wednesday. Well, most of the offense. It seems Omar Infante is doing his best to keep his game in reverse. Since his six game hitting streak ended on May 22, Infante has five hits in his last 55 at bats. All five hits are singles. Oh, he has one walk. It’s a brutal offensive performance that, except for that six game stretch in mid-May, has been roundly awful.

We’ve seen enough. It’s time for the Royals to permanently remove Infante from the lineup.

To determine just how awful Infante has been in a historical context, I ran a report at the Baseball Reference Play Index. I limited my search to players whose primary position was second base and further narrowed it by searching for those who had an on base percentage less than .226 and a slugging percentage less than .300. Those are Infante’s current numbers through Tuesday. Oh, I also set a minimum number of plate appearances to 175.

Here’s the list.

Rk Name OBP SLG PA Year Age Tm Lg G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OPS
1 Joe Wagner .210 .223 210 1915 26 CIN NL 76 197 17 35 5 2 0 13 8 35 .178 .433
2 Hector Torres .215 .221 199 1972 26 MON NL 83 181 14 28 4 1 2 7 13 26 .155 .436
3 Pete Suder .225 .263 215 1954 38 PHA AL 69 205 8 41 11 1 0 16 7 16 .200 .489
4 Ryan Raburn .226 .254 222 2012 31 DET AL 66 205 14 35 14 0 1 12 13 53 .171 .480
5 Harry Pearce .209 .217 260 1919 29 PHI NL 67 244 24 44 3 3 0 9 8 27 .180 .427
6 Jerry Kindall .196 .276 192 1957 22 CHC NL 72 181 18 29 3 0 6 12 8 48 .160 .472
7 Dutch Jordan .225 .234 284 1904 24 BRO NL 87 252 21 45 10 2 0 19 13 51 .179 .459
8 Omar Infante .226 .300 186 2015 33 KCR AL 50 180 12 39 11 2 0 17 3 27 .217 .526
9 Vic Harris .192 .177 198 1972 22 TEX AL 61 186 8 26 5 1 0 10 12 39 .140 .369
10 Ryan Goins .209 .271 193 2014 26 TOR AL 67 181 14 34 6 3 1 15 5 42 .188 .479
11 Charlie French .223 .190 229 1910 26 TOT AL 54 210 21 36 2 1 0 7 11 30 .171 .414
12 Hughie Critz .198 .242 227 1935 34 NYG NL 65 219 19 41 0 3 2 14 3 10 .187 .440
13 Frank Coggins .215 .222 183 1968 24 WSA AL 62 171 15 30 6 1 0 7 9 33 .175 .438
14 Juan Bell .201 .249 223 1991 23 BAL AL 100 209 26 36 9 2 1 15 8 51 .172 .450
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/10/2015.

On thing you can quickly glean from the list is that Infante is the best of this ragged bunch. He should be, since I set the parameters for OBP and slugging at his current numbers. Everyone else would fall below his level of performance. Another thing to note is that as much as the Royals fanbase actively loathed Chris Getz, he’s not on this list. Minor miracles and all that. The other, main thing that should leap off this page of the Interweb is that most of these players had their playing time either limited or cut short due to their overall offensive ineptitude.

We are at the point where the Royals are going to be giving the lion’s share of the playing time to a historically bad player at his position. Now, if this were the Old Royals, we’d just nod our heads collectively and say, “Same old Royals.” Except this isn’t the Old Royals. It’s not even a reasonable facsimile. This is a team with the best record in the American League and it’s a team with designs on another October run. Infante alone can’t derail this effort. He’s simply one of nine guys in the lineup. But he can certainly kill more than his share of rallies or otherwise negatively impact the game from an offensive standpoint.

It’s not as if the Royals don’t have options. Christian Colon has spent this season collecting a major league paycheck and service time. For his efforts, he has been allowed to swing the bat in anger 74 times and posted a slash line of .269/.329/.313. That’s not great, but that’s a helluva lot better than the production the Royals have been getting at the position.

The Royals (who, if they are being honest, are the last defenders of Infante) will cite Infante’s glove as reason enough to keep him around. There is some validity to the argument that his defense is worthy of discussion. To this point, Infante has saved four runs at second according to The Fielding Bible. That’s tied for seventh among fielders at the keystone. His plus/minus rating is at +5, meaning he has fielded five more balls than would be expected of him at the position. Again, that gets him on the leaderboard, ranking seventh among all second basemen. From the limited opportunity we’ve had to see Colon in the field, he doesn’t impress. The question the Royals have to ask themselves: Is the team better off with Colon’s bat in the lineup or Infante’s glove? Does the sum of the team improve if you replace Infante with Colon?

I think the answer is yes. I think Colon’s defense may be below average at second base, but Infante has become so inept offensively, replacing him with a corpse could be a net gain. The Royals? I’m not sure they’re at that point yet. And I think it’s easy to figure out why that is.

You want to identify the main reason Infante is still haunting the lineup? How about he’s only in year two of a four-year deal. He’s set to pocket $7.5 million this year, $7.75 million in 2016 and another $8 million in ’17. (And he can also make an extra $500,000 if Royals fans somehow get him voted to the All-Star Game. I say it’s worth it. But I have a twisted sense of humor.) Oh, and then there’s the requisite Royals option for $10 million for 2018 with a $2 million buyout. So we’ve got a player who is firmly in his decline years and the Royals are on the hook for $24.75 million for the remainder of his contract.

There isn’t a perfect offensive stat to encapsulate his offensive decline, but wOBA can come close enough. From Fangraphs, we can see just how Infante has stumbled at the plate in recent seasons.

Infante_wOBA

Yes, there is an uptick in 2013, (it’s actually the best year of his career) but with below league average numbers in all other seasons since 2010, it’s safe to say that the ’13 season was an outlier. And it just so happens that was the year before Infante hit the free agent market and signed with the Royals. Rotten timing. A horrific contract results and the Royals are on the hook for a player who is no longer worthy of a spot on a major league roster.

(It’s weird how these contracts happen. The Royals bought on Infante’s career year and thought they would get a couple more years like that at the plate. A year later, the Royals bet against Kendrys Morales and his declining numbers. One deal worked out. The other deal… Not so much.)

Every team has a weak link. No team is perfect from one through nine. And the Royals collectively are good enough to cover for someone who isn’t pulling their fair share. At this point, given the depths Infante has fallen offensively, it’s time for the club to give him an extended break. Christian Colon may not be the long-term answer, but he’s a better option today than Infante. That’s pretty clear. And benching Infante won’t turn this team into some offensive juggernaut. That’s not the goal. The goal is simple: Try to field the best players at their position. Right now, there’s no way Infante is the best option for the Royals at second base.

The contract limits the Royals options. It’s toxic enough, no one will trade for him unless the Royals eat a sizable portion. It’s large enough the team certainly won’t release him. The only thing the Royals can do is put him on the bench. Hopefully, he would accept his demotion with some grace.  The bench is the only place the Royals can stash him so he stops hurting the team. This needs to happen soon.

The Royals struck first, with a decisiveness that suggested this game was going to be a runaway in their favor.

Natural born leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar lashed an 0-2 pitch down the third base line for a double to open the game. He was followed by a Mike Moustakas special (an opposite field hit, as if you didn’t know) and the Royals were on the board. A Trevor May wild pitch moved Moustakas to second and it looked as if the Royals were in one of those offensively unstoppable modes. The game was barely minutes old and the rout was taking flight.

Ehhhh… Hang on.

Moustakas broke for third on a ground ball back to the pitcher and was dutifully thrown out. Instead of a blowout, the game turned into a series of missed opportunities, wasted chances and outs on the bases. All told, the Royals gave away a full inning of outs on the base paths. In addition to the Moustakas out in the first, Alex Gordon was picked off second base (on a play that looked a borderline balk) and Kendrys Morales was gunned down at home. The good news is, they weren’t the only ones making outs on the bases. The Twins first baserunner of the night, Eduardo Escobar, who owns a lone steal in 2015, was thrown out attempting for stolen base number two. Maybe he was emboldened by what feels a recent spate of successful thefts against Sal Perez. Maybe Royals starter Chris Young, with the deliberate delivery and slo-motion fastball was an appealing victim. Whatever the motivation, Escobar was out and only the throw to the third base side of the bag made it close.

At any rate, after looking like they were going to put this away early, one run was all the Royals would plate through the first seven inning.

That put the focus squarely on the aforementioned Young. And boy, did he come through.

According to the preliminary PitchF/X data, Young threw 60 fastballs and 23 sliders. The fastball averaged 88 mph, while the slider was routinely clocked at 81 mph. The Twins had to know what was coming, they had to know they could set dead-red (or in Young’s case, dead orangish), yet they couldn’t square the ball. The Twins swung and missed at only five pitches all night. They put 17 balls in play. The Royals defense turned 16 of those into outs.

Young carried a no-hitter into the seventh. It was one of the more unlikely, yet extraordinary pitching performances of the year. A Trevor Plouffe triple off the very top of the wall ended the bid.

I don’t know how that ball stayed in the yard. One night after the Twins cashed in a home run that barely found its way over the green padding in left-center, this seemed to be karmic payback. Plouffe’s triple hit off the extreme tip top of the giant wall down the right field line. (Lost in the moment was not one, but two potentially costly miscues by Alex Rios. One, he was way too close to the wall. The ball took a powerful carom back to the infield, but it hit so far up the wall, I don’t know why Rios was that close to said wall to begin with. And two, his throw back to the infield short-hopped Moustakas at third. Only Young, correctly backing up third, saved the shutout.)

After four really good starts to open his Royals career, Young wobbled in his previous two, allowing 10 runs in 11 innings of work. On Tuesday, it was vintage Young, getting 11 fly ball outs.

With Young, the knock has always been his inability to go deep into games. Yost was right in sticking with him to open the seventh. And he was right to pull him as soon as he surrendered his first hit. The velocity chart from Brooks Baseball is a perfect way to illustrate how Young simply doesn’t have the stamina to finish a game.

Young_Velocity_050915

That’s a gradual decline through 83 pitches. Then factor in Twins batters who were seeing him for the third time and it was definitely the correct call to remove him from the game.

And how about that bullpen? Yost played the platoon match-ups on Tuesday with brilliant success. Franklin Morales, with the infield drawn in, gets a ground out, and he’s followed by the normal seventh inning man, Kelvin Herrera who closes the inning out. All that was left was The Wade Davis Experience for the eighth and Saveman for the ninth.

Ballgame.

Second win in a row over the Twins and the Royals have moved back into first place in the AL Central. They also currently own the best record in the American League. The offense hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire in these wins, but a three-game winning streak is still a three-game winning streak. The point being, it’s a long, long season. No team will be defined by a slump in May or early June. Well, as long as the slump doesn’t extend into July and August.

I wanted to close this post with the video of the Sal Perez bomb that doubled the Royals tally in the eighth. It was a monster shot. Sal knew the moment bat made contact with ball. And that sound… Mercy. It carried into the second deck in left, no easy feat in Minnesota. It was a thing of beauty.

Except MLB, in their promotional wisdom, won’t allow that clip to be embedded. Alas. Instead, I’ll embed the Fangraphs win-expectancy graph for the game to show how close the entire contest was on Tuesday.


Source: FanGraphs

The fourth and sixth were the Royals best chances to put the game away (or at least tilt it in their favor), but those outs on the bases could have been costly. And all the credit to Young for mowing through the Twins lineup. When you’re living right, you’re living right.

 

There is still time for things to change, but right now seven Royals will comprise the nine starting spots for the American League All-Star team. That’s cool…and funny..and probably indicates a flaw in the new voting system instituted this season to pick the teams.

And it doesn’t matter.  It’s the All-Star Game.  The last time the ‘right nine’ were picked by the fans was, oh, never.  If it wasn’t the Royals dominating the voting, I would not care even a little.  Some folks are award people, I’m not one of them. The MVP winner – don’t really care that much.   So you can imagine that All-Star voting is not something that does much to my blood pressure.

Now, that said, it IS the Royals, so I AM interested this year. Let’s take a high view look at which of the boys in Blue might actual warrant an All-Star starting nod.

Salvador Perez is not only going to be the American League starting catcher, he’s likely to be the leading overall accumulator of votes. If you are a big believer in intangibles – and if you are, the catching position is the best spot for which to base your case – then Perez doesn’t even cause a ripple. He is highly respected around the game (you know, the guys close to the dirt) and quite honestly, I’m not sure there is another catcher in the AL for whom I would give up Salvy to have on my team.

According to fWAR – and let’s just relax here, traditionalists, – which you can’t figure on your Texas Instruments calculator, but which does attempt to judge players by offense, baserunning AND defense, Perez is fourth among catchers with 100 plate appearances or more.  Perez’ 0.9 fWAR trails Russell Martin, Stephen Vogt and Brian McCann. Probably Vogt might be the most deserving if your All-Star team is based on ten weeks of a baseball season, but I doubt there will be much uproar over Perez being behind the dish.

We can bluster all we want, but Miguel Cabrera plays first base and he is better than Eric Hosmer.  That said, Eric Hosmer is no slouch.  His fWAR is 1.9 this season compared to Cabrera’s 2.3 – close enough to not get all worried about who the starter might be.  If you are certain only the stats your Dad used matter, Hosmer is third in batting average, third in on-base percentage and fifth in slugging.  He’s a Gold Glove winner, which your Dad thinks is important as well.  Sure, Cabrera is better, but Hosmer is close enough to be defensible in what really is kind of a ‘cool-kid’ competition.

Now, some of you think it is funny that Omar Infante is second in the voting at second base.  Some of you are just hell-bent Royals’ fans. It’s all fine…as long as deep down every one of you acknowledges that Infante doesn’t deserve one single vote.

At shortstop, Alcides Escobar is fourth in fWAR among players with 100 or more plate appearances.  Let’s face it, the early part of 2015 is not flush with great shortstops, so yeah, you can make a case for a guy with a .302 on-base percentage. Jose Iglesias? Brad Miller? Xander Bogaerts? Marcus Semien and his 19 errors?  Is Escobar playing at an All-Star level? Well, if you grade on a curve, he’s in the conversation.

If I had told you Mike Moustakas had a legitimate case to be the starting third baseman in March, how much would you have bet me?  Second in fWAR, behind Josh Donaldson (who’s pretty good, by the way), first in batting average, second in on-base (if you count Brock Holt as a third baseman) and second in slugging. We love his defense, so do the metrics. Again, if your judgment is based on less than half a season, it comes down to Moustakas and Donaldson.  One gets to start, the other gets to play:  it will all work out.

The best player in baseball is not Lorenzo Cain, but instead is Mike Trout.  They will both be starters and, in no world, does Trout not deserve it.  Cain is in a virtual dead heat with six other guys for second in fWAR.  Cain has the cool-factor and the wow factor thanks to a marvelous post-season.  Taking baserunning and especially defense into the equation, there is no other outfielder being horrifically wronged by Cain getting more votes.

Now, I love Alex Gordon.  He has a great track record, but is not having a great 2015 at the plate, but is simply the best defensive left-fielder I have ever seen (and I’m old) and his fWAR is just a touch behind Cain and company. WAR was made for guys like Gordon, who play great defense, get on base and don’t run into outs:  you know guys that know how to play the game.

Kendrys Morales?  Well, he has been quite good, but so has Nelson Cruz and, frankly, Alex Rodriguez.  I think most of us would, if we took off our Royals’ jerseys, say Cruz is more deserving and he might yet overtake Morales.  The world won’t end if he does, but the very foundation of baseball will not crumble if Kendrys maintains the lead, either.

Are seven Royals’ the very best at their positions in the American League?  No, they are not.  Are seven Royals among the better players at their respective positions?  Yes, I think they are…for half a season, anyway.

All loses are not created equal.

Believe me, as a Royals fan I know a thing or two about that. There’s the mail-it-in loss that we became all too familiar with in the Tony Muser, Buddy Bell and Trey Hillman death march to 100 losses. There’s the tough loss which we saw when the Royals would run their best starter to the mound and would drop a 2-1 decision. Recently, there’s been the Yosted loss where poor bullpen management or the failure to anticipate match-ups squandered an opportunity for victory.

There’s also the gut-punch loss. We’ve seen a few of those already this year. Those are the games ripe for the taking where the Royals fail to capitalize.

Entering the top of the seventh on Sunday with a 3-0 lead while in the midst of a 2-9 stretch, the Royals were set for a loss seldom seen and often fatal: The Ultimate Gut-Punch.

This one had all the ingredients:

First, a really strong start from an unsuspecting candidate. Jeremy Guthrie has been one of the worst starters if not the worst in the early portion of the season. He owns a 3.3 SO/9 and is coughing up 11 hits per nine. His 1.67 HR/9 is a career high and his 35 percent ground ball rate is a career low. His 6.17 ERA is so bloated, you immediately go to his FIP to see if he’s been on the end of some rotten luck. Then you see he has a 5.95 FIP. Yeah… that ERA is real. And frightening.

Guthrie’s starts aren’t so much rollercoasters, as they’re just the part of the ride where you plunge 100 feet straight down in four seconds. Of his last three starts, he’s turned in two that were decent and one that was so horrible, it may have been the worst start by a Royals pitcher in the last 10 years. That’s saying something.

When he opened the afternoon needing 23 pitches to navigate the first, while allowing just a single baserunner, you would be forgiven if you reached for a seat belt. It looked like another rocky outing was on the horizon.

Then something happpened. After Guthrie walked Joey Gallo to open the second, Elvis Andrus swung at the first pitch and grounded into a double play. From that moment until the the end of the sixth inning, Guthrie allowed just a single, solitary baserunner. It was a Mitch Moreland double with two outs in the fourth. I’m kind of glad we’re not going to be seeing Moreland for the rest of the summer. He’s borderline Brandon Moss status based on how well he’s hit against the Royals this year.

Guthrie threw 82 pitches through six and returned for the seventh. He was pulled after allowing one-out, back to back singles to Moreland (him again) and Gallo. Guthrie handed the ball to the bullpen with a 3-0 lead after he posted a Game Score of 70. It was his finest start of the season at a time the Royals desperately needed to keep the opposition off the board.

Second, it has an offense that showed a pulse. If this were a medical drama, there would still be interns hovering over the body with looks of grave concern. Someone would call out something about a “thready pulse.” But the pulse was there. However faint. Two runs in each of teh first two innings. For the April Royals, not even noticeable. For the late-May, early-June edition? It’s a reason for celebration.

Never mind the first two runs were scored in a 2014 Royals vintage sort of way. Sacrifice flies by Eric Hosmer and Alcides Escobar staked the Royals to their early lead. Who cares how they scored? For a team in an offensive quagmire like the Royals, you take what you can get. Besides, two run leads aren’t happening too often these days.

To make things even more exciting, they tacked on a third run thanks to a Kendrys Morales double. Three runs? For a team that had averaged 2.1 runs in their last 10 games (and that included an eight-run outburst on the North Side of Chicago) three runs is Haley’s Comet amazing.

Third, this was about a team that has found it difficult to win of late. You know they’ve won two of their last 11. You know the offense has been putrid and the starting pitching inconsistent. You know apart from that little barrage in Chicago when the wind was blowing out on a warm day, this offense hasn’t done a damn thing.

It all teetered on the brink in the seventh inning. Guthrie returned to the mound after throwing 82 pitches through six innings of yeoman work. Herrera is normally the seventh inning guy. Sure, we can second guess, but Guthrie had been working through the Rangers lineup. Not necessarily with ease, because that’s not how Guthrie operates. Yost has to know the type of pitcher Guthrie has become at this stage of his career. If you get five or six good innings, it’s time to cut bait and get it to the bullpen. Don’t wait around on Guthrie.

Then Herrera turned in a performance of Guthrie-esque quality. He was brining the heat as usual, topping out at 101 mph, but the Rangers didn’t give a damn. Andrus fouled off five pitches before he singled to load the bases. Leonys Martin fouled off two before he hit the single to bring in both of the runners belonging to Guthrie. (By the way, I enjoy Game Score, but those two runs knocked Guthrie’s Score down eight points. He finished with a 62. Rough.) Then Robinson Chirinos fouled off three more before he grounded out to shortstop, driving in the game-tying run.

At that moment, I found myself thinking that Yost needed to manage this game like it was October. All wins are important and over the course of a 162 game schedule, it seems foolish to point to one particular win as more important than any other. Yet, this felt like it was the most important game of the year thus far for the reasons stated above. To give this away… Ultimate Gut-Punch.

This is the win expectancy graph from Fangraphs. When Fielder grounded out for the first out of the seventh inning, the Royals win expectancy stood at 95 percent. Again… Ultimate Gut-Punch.


Source: FanGraphs

Thankfully, there’s a catcher named Salvador Perez. Two outs. Eighth inning. Boom.

You don’t think Sal wasn’t aware of how huge that home run was?

I tweeted a little after the game that the Perez home run was the biggest hit of the year for the Royals. If you’ve made it this far in the post, I suspect you feel the same.

I’m not a big believer in momentum in baseball, so I’m not going to go there and predict this as some sort of launching point for big things. Instead, I’ll just appreciate it for what it was – a magnificent home run at a crucial spot that may have saved this team from a tailspin they could ill-afford. If the Royals scrape and claw their way back to October, this could be one of the games we point to.

Thanks to Sal The Savior.

This Royals teams has imperfections. It always has. It’s just these days, those imperfections are bubbling to the surface.

Take Chris Young as an example. Young entered Thursday’s game with a 1.55 ERA in just over 40 innings of work. He had pitched masterfully in the majority of his starts for the Royals. Yet his FIP was 3.41. Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) to the uninitiated is an ERA-type number that strips out defense, luck and sequencing to give a more complete picture of how a pitcher performed. A gap between ERA and FIP isn’t always notable. Some starters – Young included – routinely outperform their ERA. However, the almost two run gap between Young’s ERA and FIP is wider than normal. That leads you to believe a correction was on the horizon.

Why did the gap exist? For one, the Royals otherworldly defense is going to help immensely. Especially for a fly ball pitcher like Young, who has Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain patrolling two-thirds-plus of Kauffman Stadium. On the season prior to his last start, Young has allowed batters to put the ball in the air 62.9 percent of the time the ball is in play. That’s high, even for Young, who’s career fly ball rate is 55.1 percent. For some perspective of how extreme Young’s fly ball rate has been, here are the top five pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched ranked by fly ball rate:

Young_FB_060415

Young is lapping the field. I mean, this is amazing.

What happens when you have so many fly balls hit to the Royals outfield? Yep, the batting average on balls in play can get insanely small. In Young’s case, before the game on Thursday, his BABIP was .184. Again, it’s important to keep in mind that because Young is an extreme fly ball pitcher, he is going to have a BABIP that would be considered below average. In fact, his career BABIP is .249, which if I had to guess, would be among the lowest of active pitchers with a similar amount of mileage on their arms. It’s certainly the lowest among pitchers with at least 40 innings thrown this season. Here are the bottom five ranked by BABIP:

Young_BABIP_060415

Also, it’s worth looking at Young’s strand rate. Frequent readers of the blog know that I favor strand rate when examining whether or not a pitcher can continue a successful sequence of starts. League average for starters  is around a 75 percent strand rate. It’s higher for relievers. Young’s strand rate entering Thursday’s game was an eye-catching 87.7 percent. Here are the top five pitchers ranked by strand rate:

Young_Strand_060415

No doubt some of those numbers are helped due to his time spent in the bullpen for the first month of the season, but he had thrown only 12 of those 40-plus innings in relief. That skews things, but not as much as you would think.

Young was a pitcher who was posting a higher than normal fly ball rate which resulted in an extremely depressed BABIP and an elevated strand rate. From the tables above, you can see exactly how out of whack those numbers are with the rest of the league. Either one of two things are going to happen going forward. One, more of those fly balls are going to leave the yard. Or two, his fly ball rate will normalize (for him) and his line drive rate will increase, which will lead to more hard-hit balls, which will lead to more base hits.

It should also be noted that Young entered Thursday’s game with an xFIP of 4.91. xFIP is the same as FIP, but it replaces a pitches home run total with the number of home runs they would be expected to allow, given their fly ball rate. Again, Young is always going to outperform his xFIP just due to his ballpark and his elevated fly ball rate. But a three run difference is too extreme. Young had allowed just three home runs in his 40.1 innings of work. He gave up a home run to Brandon Moss (who else?) which will cut the difference just a little.

What we saw on Thursday was a pitcher in the grips of regression. As long as Young stays in the rotation, there will be other starts like this. It’s who he is as a pitcher.

This isn’t to say the Royals should dump Young, or should shift him back to the bullpen. This is to say that with the Royals defense and their home ballpark, it is indeed the perfect scenario for Young. There isn’t a better team in the majors for him to ply his craft. But for every start like the one against the Tigers, there’s going to be one like we saw against the Indians. His great start to the season was never sustainable. As the innings pile up, he will continue to give back the luck he experienced over the season’s first two months. Baseball is funny that way. The Royals will continue to hope that Young can survive on the back of the Royals outfield defense and home ballpark. And they also will wait for their offense to awaken from this slumber.

And they will hope that Danny Duffy or Kris Medlen can push Young back to the bullpen.

%d bloggers like this: