Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

It was in the bottom of the seventh inning, when the Royals were behind by a run, that I felt a sense of serenity. I was centered. Locked into a Zen-like state, I thought to myself, “The Royals are going to win this game.”

I didn’t yet know how. And I certainly didn’t Tweet out my feelings. (Check my feed sometime. I have a brilliant reverse jinx track record.) But there’s something about this team and this young season that I had all the confidence in the world.

And damn if they didn’t rally for two runs in the eighth to pull of yet another come from behind win. The 6-5 win was the Royals 11th on the season, pushed them into a first place tie with the Tigers in the Central and was their first one-run margin of the year. Nice.

It was just another ho-hum type of Royals games we’ve all come to expect. Timely hits, solid – and sometimes spectacular – defense, and a lockdown appearance from the bullpen. It feels like this has been written myriad times already (we’re only in April for crying out loud) but this winning methodology never gets old. Hell, winning never gets old. It’s just the way the Royals are doing it.. It’s fun and it feels sustainable.

— New Mike Moustakas continues to roll. Three hits in five plate appearances, driving in three runs. Naturally, two of the hits were opposite field knocks. We’re now in the third week of the season and his change in approach at the plate hasn’t seemed to have wavered. His spray chart is equal parts stunning and effective:

MooseSpray_042215

On Tuesday against Tommy Milone, I found myself thinking about his power. Milone’s fastball lives in the mid to upper 80s and his secondary stuff isn’t overwhelming. While he is a left-handed pitcher, his arsenal is such that he’s the type of pitcher a locked-in Moustakas should sit on and – with a favorable or early count – try to pull. And damn if he didn’t do that in the fifth inning.

It wasn’t a moon shot by any stretch, but the ball when far enough to reach the Twins bullpen. The guy is just doing so much right at the plate. That was just the 10th home run of his career against a lefty.

Fast-forward to the eighth inning as the Royals are rallying. Paulo Orlando is at third with two outs. Moustakas steps to the plate. The Twins counter with their closer, left-handed Glen Perkins. Perkins gets ahead of Moustakas 0-2 and serves a 94 mph fastball on the outer half of the plate that is returned and lined to left field for the go-ahead single. Had this scenario happened last year – or any other time in Moustakas’s career – we all know how it would have turned out. (I’m thinking pop-up in foul territory on the third base side or a ground out to the right side of the infield as he rolled over on the pitch.) Instead, ballgame.

The big hits keep coming, no matter who is on the mound. For the short season, Moustakas is hitting lefties at a .333/.419/.556 clip. Small sample caveats all around, but I’m fairly certain he’s never had a stretch like this where he’s hit everyone like he’s Ted Freakin’ Williams.

— Eric Hosmer isn’t hitting for much power early in the season, but he’s just getting on base and letting the bottom half of the lineup do their thing. Another day and three more walks for the first baseman. His OBP is now .419, second highest on the team.

— If we’re going to talk about plate discipline or good approaches at the plate, we have to bring up Paulo Orlando. When he’s not hitting triples, he’s simply giving the Royals great plate appearances. This guy is so impressive. He came through once again in the eighth following a Sal Perez single with one of his own to get the rally going.

I know there’s much love in these parts for Jarrod Dyson, but Orlando has shown enough in the small sample to officially be named the Royals fourth outfielder.

— The Royals +35 run differential is the best in the league. On the offense, it’s not difficult to figure why. Check the lineup Ned Yost rolls out night after night. Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Hosmer and Kendrys Morales are all off to hot starts with OBPs over .400. Gordon after them is warming up and Sal Perez is scorching at the plate as well. When all the tumblers in the middle of the order are clicking, you’re going to plate some runs.

— I feel like I’ve ignored the bullpen, but I suppose that’s what happens when they shut down the opposition night after night. On Tuesday, just 3.1 innings of scoreless baseball. The bullpen has now thrown 42.1 innings and allowed just three runs. I’ll save you the hassle of reaching for your calculator. That’s a 0.64 ERA.

The Royals go for the sweep Wednesday night. Roll on.

It has become a little bit cool to look down on technology. You all have them, friends or family or co-workers, who ‘aren’t tied to a smart phone’ or ‘don’t spend much time on the internet’. You know the ones that ask you if the Royals won last night before you have your first cup of coffee.  You can find out on your own, you know, using the internet…on your smart phone…genius. Those flip-phoners touting that they live in ‘the real world’ are not going to be excited by the arrival of Statcast.  I, however, am eager to see it in action.

This link is to a brief explanation of what Statcast brings to the table and how it is being rolled out by MLB.  The glossary of terms gives you an idea of the types of things Statcast will measure. For those like me who utilize advanced stats, but don’t devour them, there is going to be an overwhelming amount of data to digest early on.  I cannot imagine the hot mess that the Royals television crew will make of this data as it comes online for the regional networks later this year. Say what you want about Rex Hudler, good or bad, but I doubt anyone wants him delving into the nuances of the hitting vector (or horizontal launch direction into five equal zones of 18 degrees each for those of you scoring at home).

Probably the most anticipated portion of this new toy comes in the measurement of fielding. Nothing can generate debate more than fielding metrics – any of them, advanced or traditional. Statcast’s measuring of how much distance a fielder covers to field a batted ball, the efficiency of the route of an outfielder, time elapsed turning the pivot on a double play and many others will give smart and flip phoners alike a whole new data set about which to argue. Will it settle the debate about defense?  I’m not sure, but it seems like it ought to get us all a lot closer to the answer.

Major League teams have had access to this data for some period of time now and I wonder if the Royals’ decision to keep Lorenzo Cain in center and let Jarrod Dyson play right (or left) was actually based less on getting Cain a Gold Glove and more on his Route Efficiency.  Speculation, obviously, but worth keeping in the back of your mind.

Open your mind and jump in.

About last night…

Took in the Royals game via the Crown Seats last night, making the three hour drive down and back up in the dark worth the journey.  In doing so, I witnessed a workmanlike 7-1 drubbing of the Twins who, by the way, really play horrible defense.

With every game, Alex Gordon seems to be getting better contact on the ball and better overall at-bats.  He is right now, closing in on the 35 or so plate appearances he missed in Spring Training and, assuming the wrist continues to stay strong, would seem to be rounding into form. That is a good sign as some inevitable correction is due to some others in the Royals’ lineup.  That is not a criticism of anyone, just the simple point that Lorenzo Cain is not going to hit .400 this year. A healthy Gordon will go a long way to filling the offensive void as others fall back to earth.

Edinson Volquez, my goodness.  Right now, he is the Royals’ best starting pitcher, but has had the advantage of facing the Twins twice. Still, he is one bad pitch away from three straight starts of allowing just one run. I think that is about all we can ask, right?

It was also nice, by the way, to see the Royals back to just playing baseball and not worrying about who hit whom and why. I enjoy and applaud the Royals’ non-traditional enthusiasm for the game, but too much emotion (i.e. too much worrying about retribution and not being disrespected) can wear you out.  With four straight series against Central Division foes, now is the time to focus on the game, not what people are saying.

 

 

The slide by Brett Lawrie was dirty. There can be no debate on this. I don’t care about intent. I don’t care about where Alcides Escobar was positioned. It was flat dirty.

The Royals have been human pinatas in the batters box in the season’s first two weeks. They just lost their starting right fielder because a Rule 5 guy couldn’t locate. Now they have someone attempt to separate their shortstop from his leg. This means Lawrie is going to wear one. Before we go any further, you should know that I think throwing a baseball with intent at any individual is not cool. Having said that, I understand that at some point enough is enough. A team can only take so much before they choose to retaliate. While Lawrie may not have meant for injury to come to Escobar, it happened. And because of that, he was going to get drilled.

I did not want Yordano Ventura to be the pitcher to retaliate. For me, this is just filed under common sense. Ventura is the Royals best pitcher. Whomever does the follow-up deed is likely to be suspended. Obviously, for a starting pitcher a five game suspension is not huge deal. A starter is only going to have his start pushed back a day. Plus, he will appeal his suspension, so he will continue to pitch until he drops his appeal, which he would do if he needed an extra day or two of rest. It’s farcical, really. But it’s Major League Baseball. Whatever.

Obviously, I am a fan of Ventura. He’s done relatively well at the start of the season, but there’s been plenty of intrigue around his starts. The cramps are bizarre, but hopefully something that won’t resurface. The confrontation last weekend with Mike Trout in Anaheim was a little more unsettling. Why did he decide to escalate something that was seemingly innocuous? I marked it up to a bad decision by a young pitcher who throws with some emotion.

Anyway, on Saturday Ventura chose the absolute worst time to retaliate. He struggled with command for most of the night, fed Josh Reddick a 2-0 fastball that split the middle of the plate and a two-run deficit ballooned to five. It was not Ventura’s night. Then, on his final pitch of the evening, he drilled Lawrie with a fastball that PitchF/X clocked at 100.1 mph.

Here’s some graphical evidence that Ventura basically decided to cash out for the evening.

Ventura_041815_Velo

If the timing wasn’t bad enough, Ventura decided to walk toward Lawrie and have a word or two. Look, the “unwritten rules” can be silly, but Ventura violated several of them. The timing made it so really the home plate umpire Jim Joyce had no alternative but to hit the eject button on Ventura’s night. The ejection now means the league office will be looking into what happened. And then there’s the second game in a row that Ventura needlessly approached a player. Not a good look.

I had hoped the Royals would have discussed how to respond to Lawrie’s takeout slide and the consensus would have been to wait to retaliate. Waiting would have had the benefit of keeping Lawrie uncomfortable in the batters box, not knowing when it was going to happen. Let a veteran handle it. Or a reliever at the back of the bullpen if the game got to the point where it was largely settled. Suspension and potential harm to reputation aside, if things had gotten nasty out there, the target would have been squarely on Ventura. Remember last year when Zack Greinke broke his collarbone in a fight with Carlos Quintana? Why take that kind of chance? Ventura was not the guy to do this.

I’m not going to give credit to Lawrie for putting his head down and jogging to first, because Lawrie was the one who started everything. He knew he was going to get dusted at some point in the weekend and he accepted his punishment. Ventura was tossed. The league will review the video.

It should have been over.

Instead, following the game on Saturday, Josh Reddick had words. Maybe he felt responsible for Lawrie getting drilled by fire because he was the guy who hit the home run immediately ahead of the retaliation. He couldn’t have been surprised Lawrie got drilled. Really, it was crazy talk to call what happened “bush league” by Ventura. One player was injured by a reckless play and the player that caused the injury was hit. Accept it for what it is and move on. Case closed. Except Reddick didn’t want it to be over.

“There’s no need for a season to be ruined between two teams that have something so small that happened, that’s obviously not going to be forgotten when they come to our place,” Reddick said. “You never know what’s going to happen or if we’re going to retaliate when they come to our place.”

There must be a few pages missing from his book of Unwritten Rules.

Then, Scott Kazmir hit Lorenzo Cain on the foot in the bottom of the first. Kazmir tried to make it like it was unintentional, but after Reddick’s words on Saturday, there’s no way anyone is buying that. Yeah, yeah, yeah, there are going to be the “but he hit his foot!” arguments that will be made, but Cain jumped to try to get out of the way. If he doesn’t move, it hits his lower leg. Kazmir had pinpoint control all afternoon. If he missed on that pitch, it was because he missed his vertical location. Maybe he didn’t mean to hit Cain and was merely attempting to bounce a two-seamer in his direction. Maybe he was throwing at his thigh and missed low. Semantics. That pitch had intent and by throwing it, Kazmir reopened a fresh wound.

What happened next is what contributed to the farce of the weekend. Home plate umpire Greg Gibson did not eject Kazmir. I understand the situation between Ventura and Kazmir was different, but if the umpires truly wanted to squash this beef there and then, they would have sent Kazmir to the showers. On Friday, Ubaldo Jimenez was ejected for hitting Pablo Sandoval in a 1-0 game in the 4th. In that instance, there was no history between the teams or the players. Although there was a takeout slide at second by Sandoval earlier in the game, but the slide didn’t result in injury and it didn’t result in any words or controversy at the time. If Jimenez was tossed for his pitch, Kazmir should have been run for his. Instead, they issued warnings. Insanity. The whole thing should have been over on Saturday. Kazmir throwing at Cain ensured that this would not end. And the umpires put the Royals in the position of being punished once again. Pitching coach Dave Eiland was ejected. Then Ned Yost was run. Yost rarely gets angry at the umpires, but he was irate and justifiably so. The umpires were making hash of the situation.

Overshadowed in all the shenanigans was Danny Duffy, who remained unfazed by everything. Duffy, as we all know, can have a difficult time controlling his own emotions on the mound, and while his command was less than ideal, he did not seem to be preoccupied with retaliation. The five strikeouts were nice, but the five walks were not so ideal. Nor was the 93 pitches it took him to survive five innings. He didn’t have his best stuff, but he battled and left the game with his team down just two runs. In a weekend when the gutless prevailed, Duffy’s performance was all about intestinal fortitude.

I know plenty of Royals fans who were wondering why no A’s were ejected and the Royals had six players and staff tossed over two days. The answer is simple: The umpires never punish the first strike. It’s always on the retaliation. The Royals twice found themselves in a situation where they felt the need to retaliate. Yost and Eiland knew this and they knew it wasn’t right. Kudos for Yost for standing up for his players in a situation where they felt the umpires and their actions were against them.

Then came Kelvin Herrera and his pitch behind Lawrie. That was just plain idiocy. Idiocy. At that point, the Royals were trailing 2-1 in the eighth. The last thing they needed was to put an A’s runner on base. Especially if it was at the expense of one of the Royals best relievers. Think about that for a moment if you applauded Herrera’s action. He chose to put a runner on base in a one-run game while removing himself from the proceedings. Dumb trade.

As I said earlier, there is a time and a place for retaliation if that is the decided course of action. The Royals are headed to Oakland in June. There will be more games. It didn’t have to be today. Besides, why Lawrie again? He’d already been drilled. Kazmir hit the Royals center fielder and number three hitter, so why not hit their equivalent? And why not wait for when the game isn’t on the line?

Herrera didn’t help things by pointing at his head as he was exiting the field. Even if his gesture was to tell Lawrie to “think about it,” that’s not how anyone is going to take a pitcher pointing at his head after intentionally throwing at someone. That just escalated the stupidity and gave the league more to think about when they decided to convene to discuss punishment. The whole incident with Herrera was unnecessary and distasteful.

Honestly, all of this would feel differently had the Royals not rallied for three runs in the eighth. It was a beautiful thing. The plate appearance from Paulo Orlando to lead off the eighth had some veteran moxie behind it as he fouled off three two-strike pitches before he worked the walk. Mike Moustakas almost had a hit through the right side of the infield (no shift all weekend!) but was able to advance Orlando to second. Cain squared up a pitch and drove a beautiful liner to left. The steal of third was a nice touch, too. After a walk to Hosmer (another good PA) Kendrys Morales blasted a double to almost dead center. He thought it was gone and if the damn wind wasn’t screaming from left to right, it would have cleared the fence without problem. Instead it hit close to the middle of the fence for a two-run double. To have Kazmir out of the game and have his bullpen blow it was a nice touch of justice.

The final tally for the Royals weekend: Two injuries, six ejections (seven if you count Don Wakamatsu getting thrown out twice), and two wins.

Are the Royals now Public Enemy Number One? Honestly, I don’t care. If opposing teams are irritated at their celebrations or whatnot in 2015, they weren’t paying attention in 2012 or 2013. They have been doing this sort of things for years. Ironically, I can remember Royals fans who used to get irritated at these guys for doing those little celebrations when they had never done anything of relevance in the major leagues. Now they have actually won something, the tables have turned and now it’s the opposition that may be annoyed. Sorry. Understand though, this is in the DNA of the team. They aren’t going to change. Nor should they. If another team has issue with that, that’s entirely their problem. It shouldn’t open the Royals to crazy takeout slides or beanballs. You don’t want to see a celebration? Try getting them out.

This weekend, the Royals got the ejections and they will get the notoriety, but let’s not forget the A’s twice put the Royals in the position where they felt they had to stand up for their teammates. Not once. Twice. I can’t get over how Kazmir and Reddick are somehow above the fray on this. It should have been over after Saturday, but the A’s postgame comments – mainly from Reddick – coupled with Kazmir’s actions in the first have ensured this will live for quite awhile. If the Royals throwing at A’s hitters twice in the weekend was “bush league,” so was Kazmir throwing at Cain. And so was Lawrie’s unnecessarily aggressive slide at second. Stop playing the victim, Oakland. You’re as culpable as anyone wearing blue. Lawrie was talking postgame about how it’s unfair that he has to worry about getting hit now when he stands in the box… Cry me a river. And talk to your starting pitcher.

I think the whole thing is dumb. I get the need to stand up for teammates and while I’m not pleased Ventura threw at Lawrie after the Reddick home run, I suppose it was going to happen sooner or later. That’s fine. It should have ended there. The A’s chose to escalate on Sunday. There’s plenty of blame to go around for what happened on Sunday. The A’s should stand up and accept theirs.

This column is not what you might expect it to be. You might even need to sit down.

I think Royals’ manager Ned Yost has done an exceptional and even creative job of managing his pitchers through nine games this season.

Now, yesterday Yost left Chris Young in too long. I thought that (but, no, did not execute a signed affidavit and have it notarized to prove so) before Young threw a pitch in the 8th inning.  Young, as you like your long relievers to do, had breezed through three innings having allowed just one baserunner. Unless you are trying to guard him in the low post, Young is not overpowering.  He had struck out no one and pretty much spent three innings serving up flyballs that were caught. That’s what Chris Young is and, frankly, that is all you can ask of him:  three innings of no blood.  I thought right then that four was stretching it, especially down just two runs. Yost pushed his luck going for another inning, especially with a well rested bullpen.

Pin one on Ned, but give him credit for going against a lot of opinion (Twitter opinion anyway) last Saturday night and sticking with starter Jeremy Guthrie after many (myself included) thought the veteran should have been pulled.  Guthrie rewarded Yost’s judgement with perfect sixth and seventh innings on the way to a 6-4 Royals’ win. Yes, I would have pulled Young yesterday after three innings and maybe kept my team close enough to make the ninth inning rally an actual comeback, but I also would have pulled Guthrie last Saturday and taken two more relief innings out of the account (and gotten no better results than Guthrie got).

At worst, through nine games, Ned Yost is even on the pitcher handling scale.

I’ll be honest, I think Ned is better than even.  With this bullpen, it is a little hard to make a bad move, but I will give Yost some credit for being creative.

Yes, the seventh inning is Herrera’s, the eighth belongs to Davis and Holland is the closer, but remember last year when Yost stubbornly adhered to those roles and also to Aaron Crow being the ‘sixth inning guy’?  Yesterday, with Jason Vargas struggling, Yost went to the currently ordained sixth inning guy, Jason Frasor, in the FOURTH inning.

First off, what a luxury it is to have a reliever of Frasor’s abilities around to use that early and still not have disrupted your standard plan for the final three innings of the game, but more importantly, well done by Yost to go against the ‘my starter is out in the 4th inning, the book says use your long man’ logic and go to a a better pitcher no matter the earliness of the inning. Even through nine games?  Hell, Ned was no worse than even yesterday.

While it is the general plan – and a good one at that – to have the HDH trio handle the last three innings, Yost has also utilized his assets to not burn out that group in the early season.  After Greg Holland worked in the first three games, Yost went to a Frasor-Herrera-Davis combination to finish out a 4-2 win in game four of the season.  In the ‘Guthrie game’, Yost had already determined that Herrera was going to be unavailable and had Ryan Madson warming up in the bullpen for a possible seventh inning appearance.

Those two moves are obviously even too little a sample to be a pattern, but it shows some thought towards not adhering to The Book all the time.

Think about this bullpen when Luke Hochevar comes back.   Ryan Madson, who had a rough outing yesterday but has otherwise looked good, is your sixth best reliever.  Assuming Hochevar is who he was two years ago (and that may or may not be a big assumption), Yost will have the continued luxury of using Jason Frasor as he did yesterday or Madson or Hochevar or rest one of HDH for a night.

It has to be fun to have that many weapons to utilize and even more fun when your starters have not made it out of the fifth inning just once in the first nine games. Time will tell when it comes to Ned and his pitching changes.  Chances are most of us – well, not those of you who automatically accuse everyone of freaking out at the mention of any discussion of anything – will forget most of the good moves and remember all of the moves (or non-moves) that blow up in Yost’s face.  For now, however, at least in this area of management, I mostly like what I have seen out of the Royals’ manager.

 

 

 

It was going to happen. Sure, it felt like the Royals were never going to lose, but trust me, it was going to happen. The Royals fall 3-1 to the Twins on Wednesday in Minnesota.

It was a straight-up pitcher’s duel. Edinson Volquez was nails for the Royals. He got off to a slow start, allowing the first three hitters of the game to reach, but settled down and allowed only two baserunners until Torii Hunter forced him from the game with a two out single in the eighth. Unfortunately those two were a Plouffe single followed by an Arcia home run. Ballgame. Twins.

The bats slumbered as the Royals once again turned Kyle Gibson into the pitcher of the century. But let’s focus on the positive because there was plenty of good things to note from this one.

— Starting with Volquez. He had all his pitches working. Fastball, curve and change. He located his pitches extremely well and had the Twins hitters mostly off balance for most of the evening. The curve had some outstanding break, dropping off the table, but it was the change that was the hammer Volquez swung with ferocity. He threw his change 35 times and got 27 strikes with that pitch. Twins batters swung at the Volquez change 24 times and missed on 12 of them. An amazing 50 percent swing and miss rate. Amazing undersells it, actually.

You know my skepticism regarding Volquez. Namely, his track record of spotty control was a concern of mine when the Royals signed him. Now, through two starts and 15.2 innings, Volquez has walked just two batters. One in each start. And, as I mentioned earlier, his command was impeccable. We’re dealing with a small sample, but from what I’ve seen in his two starts, let’s just say I’m very encouraged.

Volquez said Perez called for a change on the home run to Arcia. He shook off his catcher and left a two-seam fastball up in the zone. Interesting. Volquez gave a great postgame interview. Thoughtful, reflective and honest. Solid character. You can understand why Dayton Moore signed him.

— Speaking of Volquez, he’s impressed me with his awareness on the mound. We saw it in the sixth when Hosmer laid out for a ground ball and had it pop out of his glove. It dribbled to Omar Infante, who picked it up and quickly threw to Volquez covering first. Your textbook 3-4-1 play if you were scoring at home. Credit to Volquez for doing what he was supposed to do, which was to keep running to the bag. A small thing, to be sure, but something that was impressive none the less.

— Alex Gordon has been scuffling at the plate, but ripped a 3-0 pitch to right to drive in the lone Royals run of the evening. I heartily endorse this approach. Gibson was cruising and didn’t want to put another runner on base. Gordon sat dead red and executed.

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 10.13.18 PM

Hopefully, this will give Gordon a little push to get going.

— Mike Moustakas continued his assault on the opposite field, collecting a bunt single in the first and another single on a soft liner in the fourth. I know I said this was going to be positive, but jeez… Moustakas has the plate appearance with the highest leverage index in the game in the seventh with two on and two out.


Source: FanGraphs

In the chart above, you can easily find the Moustakas PA. The Twins summoned lefty Brian Duensing and he retired Moustakas on one pitch. One stinking pitch. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: A pop-up to third.

So let’s say that as encouraging as it may be that Moustakas is going to the opposite field, he can still fall into the old habits and frustrate. He’s a work in progress. Will he succeed? I remain skeptical. Although I will always give him credit for attempting. And there is evidence that it will improve his performance. How much exactly remains to be see. However, after last year, he can’t go much lower.

— Not only did the Royals not hit a home run for the first time this season, they also failed to collect a walk in a game for the first time of the year. Coincidence they lost? I think not.

— I’ll give the final word to former Toastmaster Ken Arneson:

Very true.

Every day is now a new experience for a whole generation of Royals fan. And it’s an opportunity to recall decades earlier for the older fans. Last year, while the Royals played in the World Series, there was no “march to the championship.” The club didn’t lay waste to the opposition in what was some sort of inevitable push to the postseason. They did win five in a row at one point in April and finished the month with 14 wins against 11 losses, but stumbled in May and spent most of that month under .500. The Royals have played some strong baseball out of the gate in season’s past, but they’ve never piggybacked a successful April on a successful October.

Heady times.

When a team plays in the World Series and then dashes out of the gate to open the following season, people tend to take notice. Bandwidth gets filled with national hot takes. “Are the Royals for real?” A national internet baseball writer asks. “The answer is no, of course they’re not for real.”

Harsh.

The real answer to that question can be found on the Magic 8 Ball: “Reply hazy. Try again later.”

That’s not to put a damper on what has been a helluva fun start to a season. That’s simply because after seven games in a 162 game schedule, we can’t draw many – if any – conclusions about this team. We know they will have more power in their lineup, but they are on pace to hit 231 home runs. Not even the most star-struck Royals fans would concede that’s possible. We know their bullpen is nails, but they aren’t going to go the entire season without surrendering a run. We know the defense is great, but… Wait. Never mind. Their defense is the most wonderful thing since Justin Bieber stopped making records.

There were a bunch of projections and predictions that had the Royals finishing fourth in the Central. There were also a bunch that pegged them second. Or third. (The Twins, as we have witnessed, have the basement locked up all to themselves.) Basically, no one said the Royals were going to win the division. While Jon Morosi called attention to himself with a brilliant flip-flop over the weekend, I would be inclined to hold onto my own predictions for longer than a single week of games. Although I can certainly listen to the argument for revisions. The Royals aren’t just winning games, they are pulverizing the opposition, outscoring them by 34 runs and becoming only the second team in baseball history to win their first seven games of the season by a margin of two or more runs. Nail biters? Those are for losers.

The season is long and we are just getting a taste of how things are going to play out going forward. The only thing we can definitively say was the first week was a rousing success for our team. We could reconvene here in three weeks and have a completely different feeling. Because that’s baseball.

We are Royals fans, so we want to believe this was close to the real deal. We want to believe the power is real, the bullpen is spectacular and the defense is the best thing since Henry Ford introduced the assembly line . I think there are only positives that can be taken from this week plus of games. The Alex Rios injury the exception. And Alex Gordon’s start. And Omar Infante’s presence in the lineup. Oh, crap. We’re doomed.

No joke, there are certainly a few things to be concerned about. And they aren’t going to continue to post a .401 OBP. They aren’t going to keep slugging a league leading .532. And their .353 BABIP is certainly in for a correction. Injuries and underperformance are going to happen. We’re watching them happen at this moment. And yet, the Royals are 7-0. That’s good news. Maybe in a week when the bats go into a slumber (it will happen) the pitching will step forward and steal a few wins. Remember last year, Denny calling Gordon’s walkoff home run and mentioning that sometimes, things just go your way and how this may be the year? Maybe it’s still the Royals year. Maybe there’s some magic left and they outperform the projections and the predictions. Or maybe not. Seven games in to the season, it’s probably a little too soon to tell.

Wherever you may land on the fan spectrum, know these seven wins are important.

Seven wins in the early part of the season means the Royals are seven wins closer to the postseason. Think about it. April is just as important as September and at some point in the 2015 season, we will gain some clarity of exactly how many wins it will probably take to advance. It may be 89 like last year. Or it could be 92. Whatever the number, as it currently stands the Royals have a lower number to reach than all the other teams in baseball by virtue of their seven victories in the early stages of the regular season. That gives them a greater margin of error. Seven games in a 162 game season doesn’t exactly provide a comfortable margin of error, but it’s better than the converse of losing the first seven games of the season and having to figure out how to get on track.

The only thing you can speak to with any certainty in baseball is the past. Seven wins is seven wins. The Royals may go on a five game losing streak starting tomorrow, but those first seven games reside firmly in the win column. They’re not going anywhere. Maybe they account as a cushion. A brace against what will certainly be a regression. Maybe the Royals will ride away with the division and clinch in mid-September. The more likely scenario is this race will go down to the wire. Every one of those seven wins matter. They matter because it’s one less win this team needs to throw into the win column down the road. They matter because any time you can put a little distance between yourself and your competition, that’s a good thing.

Maybe there was some luck involved. The Royals didn’t face Chris Sale in the opener. The BABIP fairy has been awfully good to this team. The home runs the Royals starters have been serving haven’t hurt as only one of the six have come with runners on base. Every team steals a win – or seven – during the season. Maybe this is the week where the Royals use all of theirs. Or maybe luck didn’t have so much to do with this streak. They won all their games by two or more runs. It’s not like we had a player scamper around from second on a wild pitch in the ninth inning to steal a win. That’s so last year.

In his post, Rob Neyer mentioned the Brewers and the Rockies as teams who set the early pace in 2014, but faded. They’re not the first teams to have dropped from contention after a solid start. They won’t be the last. More injuries, Moustakas starts going pull happy again, Hosmer goes into another one of his extended funks, Perez gets overworked… It really wouldn’t take much for the Royals to be lumped into this group. We want to think it’s not going to happen – They were in the World Series last year! – but if you’re being honest with yourself, last year’s World Series appearance doesn’t mean anything this year. New year, new team, new challenges.

While we are a long way from the finish line, let’s not kid ourselves: This feels different. It does. It feels different for exactly the reasons I wrote didn’t mean anything in the previous paragraph. The World Series changed the calculus of this organization and its fanbase. Already hopeful for a repeat, the hot start is rocket fuel. That’s what makes sports fun. We know the darkness. The last year and a half, we have seen plenty of light. That doesn’t mean this is going to end in success, or that it will even continue. It just means it feels different to me, from say, 2003. Or other years where there have been successful Aprils.

Who knows what tomorrow brings? I just know I’m having a blast today.

For me, the most impressive and potentially meaningful thing about the Royals start is not their perfect record but their ridiculous run differential (RD). They have obliterated the White Sox, Angels, and Twins to the combined tune of 52 runs scored and 18 allowed. Since 1900, their +34 RD is tied for the fourth best after the first seven games of a season, and it represents the best RD a team has had after seven games since 1962. Only 17 squads since 1900 have had a +30 or better RD at this point in the season. (Unfortunately one of those teams is the 2015 Tigers.)

Here’s a look at those 17 teams, along with their final record and postseason performance:

Team Year 1st 7 RS RA RD Final W-L Postseason
St. Louis 1962 7-0 70 28 42 84-78
NY Giants 1905 6-1 57 17 40 105-48 WS Champ
Brooklyn 1940 7-0 46 11 35 88-65
San Fran 1962 6-1 59 25 34 103-62 NL Pennant
Kansas City 2015 7-0 52 18 34 ? ?
Chi Cubs 1934 7-0 44 11 33 86-65
Yankees 2003 6-1 61 28 33 101-61 AL Pennant
Cleveland 1999 6-1 63 30 33 97-65 Division Champ
San Fran 2002 6-1 41 8 33 95-66 NL Pennant
Yankees 1927 6-0-1 55 23 32 110-44 WS Champ
Yankees 1999 6-1 48 17 31 98-64 WS Champ
Mets 2007 5-2 47 16 31 88-74
Cleveland 1920 6-1 59 29 30 98-56 WS Champ
Detroit 2015 6-1 51 21 30 ? ?
Seattle 1995 6-1 48 18 30 79-66 Division Champ
Phillies 1915 7-0 39 9 30 90-62 NL Pennant
San Diego 1996 5-2 57 27 30 91-71 Division Champ

Holy Moses. It’s almost scary how good most of those teams went on to be. Ignoring the 2015 Royals and Tigers, the other teams have a combined final winning percentage of .599, which is a 97 win season. Only four of the 15 teams missed out on postseason play.

Another way to look at the potential significance of KC’s RD is to find recent teams that have had a +34 or better RD during any seven game stretch in a season (not just the first seven of the year). (Rob Neyer has an interesting question about whether or not all streaks are created equal.) Over the last five years, 2010-14, there have been just 27 teams to put up such a good RD during any seven game stretch, or an average of five or six teams a year. Those 27 teams ended the year with an average of 88 wins, and 14 of them made the postseason. Holy Moses.

These numbers seem pretty exciting to me, but there are also a few teams that serve as cautionary tales. You may have noticed in the table above that the team with the best ever RD start to a season, the ’62 Cardinals, ended up with a just OK 84 wins and out of the playoffs. And over the last five seasons, three truly terrible teams have fluked into dominant seven game stretches at some point (2010 Twins, 2014 Red Sox, and 2014 Rockies). So of course this great start guarantees nothing. But more often than not, teams that have a stretch of seven games this good are for real.

Shout out to the magical Baseball Reference Play Index.

Earlier today, it was Alex Gordon and his wrist.  Just a few hours later, it has become Alex Rios and his hand.  Broken, you know.  Out indefinitely.

Lots of speculation with this news, not the least of which was the removal of Terrance Gore from his AA game today.  In combination with the speedster already being on the 40 man roster, one would be led to believe that Gore will take Rios’ spot on the 25 man roster.  I don’t hate it.

After all, it took six games and an injury to get Jarrod Dyson into live action and, far as we can tell, neither Eric Kratz or Christian Colon really exist.  This is not a team or a manager that is going to utilize the bench very much. Quite frankly, if you want strategery, Gore is probably more likely to see action than say a Whit Merrifield or someone of that ilk.

In the regular lineup, it appears that Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando will platoon and likely do so in right field with Lorenzo Cain staying in center. Dyson, I assume because he is small and fast, is perceived as not having a good arm.  Truthfully, Dyson’s arm is no worse than average, probably not a lot different than that of Cain.  I like the idea of the guy playing everyday (Cain) staying in one spot, where he might be better than Dyson anyway.  So, keeping Lorenzo in center and leaving rightfield to Dyson and Orlando makes sense to me and likely leads to better overall defense than the Royals were getting out of Rios.  That is, by the way, not a criticism of Rios’ early season defense, but more a compliment for the amount of ground Dyson can cover.  It should also be noted that Orlando is considered a superb defender with a very good arm.

The Royals are not blessed with a ton of major league ready depth, but they actually were assembled to, at minimum, get by with an injury to the very player who got hurt.  Write this down, because I’m sure it has never been said before, are part of the game.  This is as good a time and as tolerable a position to take the hit as the Royals could hope for.  It’s not the best situation, but it is far from the worst.

Remain calm, everyone.  Don’t panic.

 

Alex Gordon is off to a 1 for 16 start and that one hit was a seeing eye roller up the middle that was not exactly mashed.  There has been some mock-snarky panic, some actual concern and an occasional casual fan wondering if they shouldn’t play ‘that kid’ Orlando more.  Hey, Paulo Orlando is a great story.  A guy I touted highly as a prospect long ago and then gave up on.  A guy who did something that had never been done in baseball by hitting triples for his first three career hits.  Let’s not get carried away, however.

Quick aside.  With Orlando’s triples this year and Brandon Finnegan’s College World Series to actual World Series in the same season feat last year, Kansas City has had two guys in two years do something that has not been done in baseball ever before. It is hard to find something that has not already been done in this game these days – especially something good.  Just kind of a cool side note.

Anyway, back to Gordon.

In a rather amazing trick, Gordon has a .348 on-base percentage despite having just one hit in five games.  That number is courtesy of three walks (one intentional) and four hit by pitch. Getting on base half the time via the hit by pitch is a hell of a way to make a living and, check the math on this, likely not a sustainable model.  Rickey Henderson posted on-base percentages of .400 and .410 in back to back seasons despite hitting below .250 both years.  In one of those (1997), splitting time between Seattle and Anaheim, Rickey hit just .183 in 144 plate appearances but still got on base at .343 clip.  I am not comparing Gordon to Henderson (Alex does not refer to himself in the third person and seems to be aware of who his teammates are and even knows their names), just another fun set of numbers to go with a quirky early season line from the Royals’ Gold Glove left-fielder.

Early is the key word in the previous sentence.

Seven games into 2014, Gordon was sporting a triple slash of just .231/.276/.308 with no home runs. I believe you will note that 2014 turned out alright for Alex. He started hot in 2013, but in 2012, Gordon began the season 0 for 16, didn’t get over the Mendoza line until April 26th and wound up hitting .294/.368/.455. Even in 2011, Gordon started 2 for 13 before notching 11 hits in his next four games on his way to his best triple slash line of his career and tying for his best WAR season of his career.  The point of this is that a) Gordon has a bit of a slow start history, b) five games is JUST FIVE GAMES and c) a player in Gordon’s physical condition who has put up fWARs of 6.6, 5.5, 3.7 and 6.6 the last four years suddenly does not lose it.

Let’s also keep in mind The Wrist. Is it healthy? I don’t know – Ned has not called me this morning (weird, right?), but as cautious as the Royals were throughout the spring, it is hard to believe Gordon is out there playing in pain. And they were cautious this spring.

Gordon only appeared in 10 Major League spring training games, logging just 35 plate appearances:  basically half of the other regulars.  That is also not the entire story, either.  The wrist surgery had to interfere with Alex’s off-season workouts.  We have all heard tell of Gordon’s dedication to working out and while he certainly did not let himself go, the sore wrist and eventual surgery certainly changed the regimen this off-season.  Let’s not underestimate the impact of a change of routine to a creature of habit.

While I am not privy to how many times Gordon steps in a batting cage during the winter, but I would wager the wrist kept him from doing it as much as in prior years. Even after getting back into physical shape, Gordon was still not cleared for actually swing a bat until spring training games were already underway.

Bottom line of all this: Alex Gordon is more than 30 spring training at-bats behind. I don’t know that it’s a stretch to say the Alex likely doesn’t quite feel like he is ready and may feel a tad behind. The wrist may not be, or at least feel quite as strong as it has before. True or not, it would be human nature to have at least a sprinkling of those thoughts going through Gordon’s head right now. Hell, who knows? None of that may be happening and it all may simply be that Alex Gordon is 30 at-bats behind the rest of baseball.  If that is all there is to this story, then Alex is a couple of games from being right where the Royals need him.

If a 7-0 start means nothing, then a 1-16 start from a hitter means even less.  I’m leaning towards Alex Gordon getting more hits this weekend against Oakland than Billy Butler collects against the Royals.

By the way, 7-0 is kind of fun, isn’t it?

The Royals failed to notice the calendar said April as they played as if it was October in sweeping away the first week of the regular season. Six games. Six wins. No problem.

They’ve done it with quite a bit of panache, clubbing nine home runs, swiping seven bags and outscoring their opponents by a 40 to 15 margin. Along with two cramps.

To say the Royals are firing on all cylinders may actually be selling them short. This team is locked in, charging forward and winning everything in sight.

For the second start in a row, Yordano Ventura was cruising, only to see his start short-circuited by a cramp. In the opener, it was his thumb. In his start on Sunday, it was a calf that ended his afternoon. It was too bad his day ended prematurely, as he has the Angels largely off balance all day, whiffing seven and touching 99 mph with his heater while spiking his curve. The Angels were hopelessly overmatched. Maybe they should have come to the plate with white flags instead of bats.

Ventura made one mistake in the first when he left a fastball middle in and Albert Pujols did his thing and deposited the pitch into the left field seats. Mike Trout and Pujols combined for the Angels second run on a couple of hard hit balls. It was Trout’s hit that set off the first Royal controversy of the season.

Why did Ventura feel the need to stare at Trout after the base hit? Who knows. Was it wrong? No. Ventura can look at whomever he wants to look at. Was it something you don’t see everyday? Sure, but Ventura is a little different. As Yost said following the game, he’s a confident guy and is difficult to rattle when he’s on the hill. I suppose the timing was a little weird. Whatever. What we know is that Trout took exception.

The pair had a chance to further discussion when Trout scored on Pujols’s double. And, as happens in this situation, the benches clear. I swear when Pujols broke for home from his spot on second base, that was the most agile he looked all weekend. Credit to Salvador Perez for removing his pitcher from what could have escalated into an ugly scene. And credit all the Latin ballplayers on the roster for rallying around Ventura to get his mind back on the game. And credit to the bullpens for getting in some light jogging. A minor kerfuffle.

That leads me to something I’ve been thinking about since the start of the season: The Royals are setting themselves up as a major target. Look, I’m not passing judgement here. I enjoy the enthusiasm and the brotherhood of the dugout they have working. These guys are winning, they’re fired up, and they are enjoying themselves. There’s a little ’86 Mets swagger about them. When Mike Moustakas leaves the dugout after every home run to perform a handshake ritual, that’s going to rub the Unwritten Rules Mob the wrong way. And we all know about the unwritten rules usually include some baseballs thrown with intent.

Speaking of Moustakas, he was hit by a pitch. Again. So far Royal batter have been plunked a league-leading 10 times. Coincidence? Random statistical noise? While there have been a couple of unintentional plunkings to be sure, there have been a few that could be classified as mysterious. On the flip side, Moustakas is getting drilled with such regularity Craig Biggio should start to worry his name may be wiped from the record books. Although pitchers are trying to pitch Moustakas inside to get him to pull the ball so he will hit into the shift, which makes sense. Yet I doubt some of these guys are upset if one runs just a little too far inside.

Whatever. This unwritten rule stuff bores me. The Royals play the game with a passion. As someone who has followed this team for close to 40 years, that makes me happy. We saw more than enough Royals teams sleepwalk through an entire season. This team is a blast to watch, although I can understand how the Angels and their fans don’t like it. Getting swept in the ALDS and then in the season’s first week doesn’t go down well. The Royals are still the scrappy upstarts that America (outside of Orange County) loves. If they are able to keep this run going, they will quickly shed the scrappy upstart label and will be called something a little less respectful. I’ll be OK with that, too. Because I love this team.

A couple of other notes:

— I enjoyed Pujols’s attempted steal of third being down five. Angels free out.

— The Royals bullpen has thrown 16.1 innings of scoreless relief. They are the only team in the majors whose bullpen has yet to surrender a run.

— The Royals were also the last team in the majors to be charged with an error this season. Lorenzo Cain earned their first one of the year on the play where Trout scored in the fifth when he failed to cleanly field the ball in center.

— Paulo Orlando collected a pair of triples on Sunday. As far as the record books go, he’s the first player in the history of the game to have his first three big league hits as triples. That’s something. That’s so Royals.

— Eric Hosmer saw his five game hitting streak come to an end, but Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain and Kendrys Morales all extended their streak to six games. The only other players in the AL to have collected a hit in every game are Trout and Billy Butler. Forever Royal.

— The Royals flew to Minnesota after the game and will play Monday afternoon in the Twins home opener. This would be an ideal time to get Perez a day off behind the plate. Yeah. I’m certain that is an option.

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