Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

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.

For the second straight game, the Royals drop a heartbreaker by a 2-1 scoreline. For so little action, there’s plenty to discuss.

Let’s start with the offense.

Another brutal performance all around. After Sal Perez singled with one out in the fourth, the Royals didn’t put another runner on base. That’s 17 consecutive outs to end the game. Perhaps the most frustrating string of outs came in the eighth and ninth when Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Kendrys Morales and Alex Gordon were four straight strikeout victims.

The Royals have now scored 2 or fewer runs in six of their last seven games. This is not how you win baseball games. Not with this starting staff.

Now this is the part that may make some of you angry. This is what we mean when we talk about regression.

The Royals bolted out of the gate to start the season. The offense was firing on all cylinders. Wins were coming easy and triple digit win totals were seemingly on the horizon.

The simplest way to illustrate this is to break it down by month.

Split PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
April/March 866 782 119 239 47 6 18 112 20 7 52 131 .306 .362 .450 .812 .346 118 130
May 943 871 105 220 48 8 19 99 8 6 49 147 .253 .297 .392 .688 .282 84 93
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/2/2015.

The column to key on is the BABIP. A .346 BABIP is simply unsustainable. It’s a sign of a team on a roll. If you’re into the markets, think of the Royals April as the housing market in 2007. Good times. The correction was coming, but the question was always going to be, exactly how painful would it be? It turns out that, really, the correction the Royals saw in May wasn’t all that bad. They finished the month with 14 wins, which was over .500. The starting pitchers turned in a brilliant week, just when the offense started to hibernate. Sometimes, the signs are a little difficult to find, because other events obscure the facts.

There wasn’t anything to hide in the just completed road trip. And now it seems, we’re in full-blown panic mode.

Can we be OK with it? Hell, no. It’s not fun when our team loses. And especially when they lose with such anemic offense. Except to me, this was inevitable. At some point, the Royals were going to slump. And at some point, they were going to lose five of six. It’s happening now.

The silver lining (if you’re the type looking for a glass that is half-full) is that the Tigers posted similarly inflated offensive numbers in the season’s opening month. And sure enough, the Tigers are stumbling, losers of eight of their last 10. (Let’s not even worry about the Twins. They are welterweights trying to spar with a couple of middleweights. It’s not going to end pretty for them.) If you’re going to slump, have the good fortune to time it to a similar slump of your closest rival. While the devil magic may be running cold, there are signs that it’s at least still somewhat operational.

Now let’s discuss the broken system of replay.

If you have read this blog for any length of time, or if you follow me on Twitter, you know exactly what I think of replay:

It’s a steaming pile of horseshit.

My issues with replay are myriad. For starters, each stadium is built with it’s own quirks, so the camera angles vary from yard to yard. For a system designed to be perfect (or as perfect as it can possibly be) this is a huge disadvantage. The camera bay at Kauffman, may lend itself to a better view of second base than at Target Field. But maybe the high angle at Comerica is more advantageous than the high angle at Wrigley. Whatever. If you are creating and using a system to “get things right” you damn well better have uniform coverage. For the play at first on Tuesday, it seems that there were just two or three angles, and all of them were from behind the base. There was absolutely no variety. The coverage just isn’t consistent or good enough.

If you have four minutes of your life to flush down the toilet:

Second, the speed of the cameras isn’t conducive to judging close plays. Even when it’s freeze framed. You’ve seen Fox’s “Phantom Cam.” That’s an amazing product. It’s also damned expensive. But if you don’t want a ball entering a glove to be a white smeary blur, or if you want to be able to discern if that spike is actually making contact with the base, you need a camera capable of shooting higher frame rates. It’s prohibitively expensive to place these cameras throughout the ballpark, but maybe replay should be shelved until the price comes down or even better technology is in place. Anyway, baseball is awash in cash. They can afford to outfit ballparks with these cameras.

Third, and this is just my theory, I have no smoking gun on this, I believe there has been a conscientious decision to be absolutely, 100 percent certain that the evidence is iron-clad before they will overturn a call on the field. That’s what happened on Tuesday in the eighth inning. It certainly looked like the ball was in Hosmer’s glove before Ramirez’s spike hit the bag, but that wasn’t enough. It needed to be crystal clear. There needed to be an “ah-ha!” moment. It feels to me we’ve seen many more replay challenges upheld due to evidence that could be termed inconclusive. And again, that evidence is inconclusive because we have cameras positioned at less than ideal angles with less than ideal frame rates. If you need clearly conclusive evidence to overturn a call, yet have just a single angle to make that call, how is that serving the game?

Because of this, the umpires and the phantom umps in New York somehow screwed up the replay call and said Ramirez was safe.

Replay is a system that strives for perfection, yet it’s handcuffed by it’s own imperfections.

While the allegedly blown replay call in the eighth was bad enough, Omar Infante booting a grounder hit right at him off the bat of the following hitter was a worse sin.

It’s time for Infante to ride the pine.

He’s not the worst offensive performer in baseball through the season’s first two months, but he’s certainly in the discussion. On Tuesday he came up to bat twice in the first four innings with runners on first and second. He struck out both times.

The first plate appearance:

Omar_PA1_060215

I mean, what the hell? How can we describe the second plate appearance? An improvement? Good grief.

Omar_PA2_060215

As horrible as those were, the play in the field in the eighth was the death knell for Tuesday’s game. After the blown replay call, Jason Kipnis followed with a ball hit right at Infante. A taylor-made double play. Only somehow Infante booted the ball and had to rush his throw to second. Because of his inability to cleanly field the ball, Escobar wasn’t able to even try to complete the turn. Kipnis, of course, came around to score the game-winning run.

Don’t go looking for an error on Infante. Your old school stats don’t work here. Because the Royals got one out, there can be no error charged on the play. You can’t assume a double play. Even one as inevitable as the one Infante booted.

Infante has been negatively affecting the lineup for most of the season by just being there. Tuesday was one of those instances where we can point to his overall effort and say: Not good enough. Not even close.

Unfortunately, the Royals still owe him $18 million over the next two seasons (including a buyout on a club option), so it’s not like they can just move him to the scrap heap even if his production merits. While the Royals are battling regression, they need to figure out ways to improve their current situation. That means giving Christian Colon the majority of the time at second base going forward. Colon may not be the long-term answer at the position, but based on Infante’s production, Colon would have to be roundly awful not to be at least a slight improvement. Dayton Moore gave out a bad contract to a declining player, who’s decline seemed to accelerate the moment the pen hit the paper. The money is gone, but that doesn’t mean steps can’t be taken to rectify the situation.

Free Colon.

This post is running long and we haven’t even discussed Jeremy Guthrie’s high-wire act or Sal Perez’s concussion-like symptoms. And after such a depressing night, I wanted to end on a high note and have video of the best moment of the game which was Alex Gordon’s first inning catch of a fly ball off the bat of Kipnis. Except MLB Advanced Media won’t let me embed that clip.

What a bunch of crap.

The Royals finished off May with a leisurely three games in six days – what is this?  The NBA?

After winning five games in a row, Kansas City proceeding to lose four in a row and five of their last six games.  While that has caused the Royals to fall out of first place, they did blow through the Memorial Day barrier with one of the best records in baseball.  If you believe in the ‘you don’t know anything until Memorial Day’ mantra, then you now know that your Kansas City Royals are pretty decent.

The Royals remain right on my quirky path to 90 wins, by taking 7 of 13 games three times in succession (they are currently 1-1 in this new thirteen game stretch) and have done so despite erratic starting pitching and an offensive swoon that has seen them score two runs or less in five of their last six games. Of course, if you can win 90 games by simply going 7-6 all year, why not go 8-5 once in a while and win 95 games?  Seems like a smart idea.

The obvious place to jumpstart a ‘plus 90′ campaign would be the starting rotation.  However, the Royals do not seem to be motivated to make a big move on the acquisition front and, to be honest, I doubt any potential trading partners are ready to help them out, either. A rival general manager may know that his team is not a contender by Memorial Day, but seldom is one ready to give up in public before Independence Day.  With every impact starting prospect in the system either hampered by injury or simple ineffectiveness, the Royals are pretty much stuck.  They will have to grit their teeth and hope some combination of Ventura, Volquez, Young, Vargas, Guthrie and Duffy turns into a better rotation than what they were in April and May.

While it seems odd to cast a critical eye at an offense that leads the American League in runs per game, the time may be coming (or already here) for a shuffle.  While Sunday was a very non-traditional lineup for the Royals they did bat Alcides Escobar first (.310 OBP) and Omar Infante second (.241 OBP)….on a team with five guys with on-base percentages north of .350.  Now, Infante batting second was a fluke of the day – although why not put Christian Colon there for a day and see if that .348 OBP holds up? – but Escobar batting lead-off is the rule.

Let’s get one thing straight, I love Alcides Escobar.  He might be my favorite Royal.  That does not make him the Royals’ best player and it probably doesn’t make him my everyday lead-off hitter.  He runs the bases well, he fields tremendously, he can handle the bat (I actually would not mind seeing him bunt for a hit more), but he doesn’t walk.  On a team that loves to swing, Escobar stands out as one of the swingiest (yeah, swingiest – that’s a technical term).  When it comes to batting order construction, I kind of like to have guys who are more likely to get on base get more at-bats than those that don’t.

That discussion, however, often has a ‘well, you can’t have two lefties in a row’ and that mindset derails a lineup that has Gordon and Moustakas at the top or Gordon and Hosmer or Hosmer and Moustakas back to back.  Should we care?   Is there too much concern about running into the dreaded LOOGY?

In the American League, these are your left-handed reliever leaders in games:

  • Glen Perkins MIN
  • Aaron Thompson MIN
  • Justin Wilson NY
  • Marc Rzepczynski CLE
  • Nick Hagadone CLE
  • Fernando Abad OAK
  • Andrew Miller NY
  • Aaron Loup  TOR
  • Blaine Hardy DET
  • Zach Britton BAL
  • Zach Duke CHI
  • Charlie Furbush SEA
  • Dan Jennings CHI
  • Tony Sipp HOU
  • Brian Duensing MIN

Those are the relievers in the American League who have appeared in more games than the Royals’ Franklin Morales.  If, as the Royals are prone to doing, you have great angst over changing the batting order in any way, then it makes sense to construct a set lineup based on facing your divisional foes.

In Minnesota, Perkins is worse facing lefties than he is against right-handers.  Thompson is tough on lefties, but in a relatively small sample (both 2015 and for a career) and there is no reason to ever factor Brian Duensing into your lineup making decisions.  In addition to old friend Blaine Hardy, against whom lefties are hitting .184 this year, the Tigers offer Tom Gorzelanny who is graciously allowing both left and right-handed batters many pitches to hit this season. Of course, they close with the resurgent Joakim Soria, who is tough on all hitters, but moreso against righties.

Chicago? Dan Jennings is being lit up by lefties this season.  Zach Duke is much better against lefthanded hitting (but not dominant) and is the set-up man for David Robertson, who gets everyone out, but lefties at a higher rate than their right-handed counterparts.

Cleveland? Hagadone is a lefty killer with a big platoon split.  Rzepczynski’s splits for his career show him very good against lefties as well, very average (or worse) against righties.  His 2015 splits are less skewed for what that’s worth. The Indians’ closer, Cody Allen, also has a much more success (over his career) against left-handed hitting than against right.

While my perception was that the fear of running into a lefty specialist with the game on the line was overblown, it certainly does not seem like one wants to be done one to Cleveland late and have three lefties in a row coming up.   Of course, maybe relievers are not really the issue at all.

In the American League, thirty-two starting pitchers currently are holding left handed hitters to a batting average of .240 or less (two of those are Royals, by the way).  Only twenty-one starters hold right handed hitters to a the same paltry average.  Ten pitchers (Edinson Volquez among them) appear on both leaderboards, which leaves twenty-one starting pitchers who carry a hefty advantage against left-handed hitters, with ten of those taking up residence in the American League Central.

It is admittedly shotgun research at best, but it shows that the idea of not bunching your lefties has some weight and that causes some issues when it comes to switching up the order.  If you are hellbent on L-R alternation it is almost unavoidable to not have one of your best on-base guys (Gordon, Hosmer or Moustakas) at least hitting fifth, if not sixth.  Also, in the thirst to get more at-bats to your best hitters it is practically impossible to avoid a vortex of on-base ineptitude at the bottom of the order.  One could go weeks without a Perez-Escobar-Infante bottom of the order getting a walk.

That’s over a thousand words with no answer for the batting order and, honestly, the team does lead the league in runs per game AND run differential.  Perhaps the answer really is:  ‘Don’t Touch Anything!  You Might Break It!’

Games like Sunday are interesting to parse after the fact. A close one. Maybe one that could have gone either way. Bullets dodged late. And a devastating, knockout blow to end it.

Let’s start with the good. Which was basically all about Yordano Ventura’s start. For six-plus innings, he had it going on. Flat nasty. Unlike his last start in St. Louis, where the first four batters reached (and two of them scored), Ventura opened strong. He allowed a first inning hit to Kris Bryant and then basically shut the rest of the Cubs lineup down the rest of the afternoon. The non Chris Coghlan portion of the Cubs lineup, anyway.

Ventura didn’t exactly ease through the innings. There was some hard graft involved. But he kept his pitch count manageable by throwing anywhere between 12 and 19 pitches in each of his seven innings. What was most encouraging to me was his velocity. He tickled 100 a couple of times and gained strength as the game progressed. Courtesy of Brooks Baseball, his velocity chart is very impressive on a cold, blustery afternoon at Wrigley.

Ventura_Velo_53115

That’s two very good starts out of his last three. And honestly, there wasn’t much to complain about in his start in St. Louis other than that shaky first inning. It looks like our Yordano is back to form. Which is very good news for a team with a starting rotation that looks like it’s operates on the precipice of a black hole far too often.

Good news, except this is baseball played on National League rules. And National League rules exist to handcuff their American League counterparts. Ventura had thrown 87 pitches through six innings and was slated to bat third in the top of the seventh. Undoubtedly, Ned Yost would have pulled Ventura for a pinch hitter had either Alex Rios or Christian Colon reached base. Instead, after both made out, Ventura walked to the plate. This isn’t to second guess strategy. Had this game been played in an AL park, Ventura certainly would have returned to the mound for his half of the inning. The near pinch hit opportunity is mentioned to note how close the Royals were to perhaps putting this game away. Had Ventura been removed, the H-D-H Triumvirate would have been activated for their full compliment of work. Of course, there’s no way of knowing how that would have turned out. Although we have a pretty good idea.

In the seventh, Ventura walked Miguel Montero with one out. He was wild pitched to center, where he was promptly removed for a pinch runner. With two outs, up strode Ventura’s kryptonite: Chris Coghlan. Entering the game, Coghlan owned a slash line of .207/.282/.422. He had just one game in 2015 where he collected three hits. It’s not an understatement to write he’s having a disappointing season.

Yet it should be noted, of the nine bats in the Cubs lineup, Coghlan was the only one who consistently hit Ventura the first two times up. Hell, yes, it’s a small sample size. But maybe Coghlan had an extra protein shake at breakfast. Maybe he was inspired by the Blackhawks win the night before. Maybe, just maybe, he was seeing Ventura exceptionally well for whatever reason. All we know going into the plate appearance was Ventura needed one more out to record his seventh shutout inning. Yost rolled the dice. He lost.

Managing in hindsight is simple. And delightful to those of us who write a blog. As fun as it is, I really try to avoid it, but sometimes you just have to scratch your head and wonder what the hell the manager was thinking. Third time through the order. Coghlan hit Ventura hard the first two times. A rested bullpen at the ready. Man, I’m not sure how you don’t go to Kelvin Herrera in that situation.

Tie game.

As Coghlan was for the Cubs, Alex Gordon was the only bat operational in another anemic offensive output from the Royals. Three hits, including the single that plated the Royals only run of the afternoon. Gordon also came up huge in the bottom of the 11th when he threw out Dexter Fowler at the plate for the first out of the inning, saving the game for the Royals.

It was a brief stay of execution.

Ryan Madson breezed through the tenth and it made sense to bring him back for the 11th. Runs were always going to be at a premium, so it made sense to be prudent in the managing of relievers. But the Royals half of the 10th inning seemed to take an extended length of time with a pair of pitching changes. Maybe that was the reason Madson wasn’t sharp when he entered the game in the bottom of the inning. From Brooks Baseball, here is his pitching chart for the 11th:

Madson_Location_053115

He was missing by a ton.

The first out was provided courtesy of Gordon. The second out fell just out of the reach of Alcides Escobar. Ballgame.

Yost could have done a few things differently here or there, but other than batting Omar Infante second, he didn’t do anything egregious that cost the Royals this one. Maybe he could have held Mike Moustakas and used him to pinch hit for Infante, then shifted Colon to second. Maybe he could have kept Hosmer in the the game after he pinch hit with a double switch. Whatever. Sometimes that is the stuff that can cost you games. When you play 11 innings and can only muster four hits, you’re not going to be scoring enough runs to win. The offense needs to get back into the groove.

The Royals return home in second place. They ready themselves for three against Cleveland, who have won seven of their last 10. The offense needs to find a pulse, otherwise the dreary end to May will follow them into June.

Joe Posnanski has a recent series of posts about his preferred way to improve the way pitcher wins and losses are tracked. Pos argues the decision should always go to the starters of a game. Start a game and your team wins, you get the win, and vice versa. That simple. I certainly agree that it tells a more complete story than the current rule book version of wins and losses, though Pos’s method of course maintains many of the flaws the current rule holds (mostly that individuals don’t win or lose games).

Piggybacking on that, I wondered how Pos wins and losses would affect Royals starters’ numbers. I looked at the 22 players to have started 100 or more games for KC and compared their actual record to their Pos record. No one’s Pos winning percentage was wildly different than their rule book winning percentage, but it does shed a few pitchers in a different light. Zack Greinke’s official record with the Royals is a not-so-great 60-67, but the team was a dreadful 69-100 in games he started. Tim Belcher has a winning record at 42-37, but the team lost one more than they won when he started (50-51). Bruce Chen similarly flops from a winning to losing record (47-43 vs. 55-58). Bud Black is the one guy who looks dramatically better with his Pos record. Nobody would give a second thought to his official 56-57, but it’s pretty impressive for the team to go 70-58 when you take the mound.

Royals to reach 100 Pos wins:

1. Splitt – 212
2. Leibrandt – 188
3. Leonard – 173
4. Gubicza – 169
5. Appier – 148
6. Saberhagen – 130
7. Gura – 129
8. Gordon – 103

Since I had all this data loaded into a spreadsheet, I thought I may as well throw in another little study. For the 22 pitchers with 100+ starts, I compared the team winning percentage in games they started vs. the team winning percentage when anyone else started during the same years as their Royals career. Clear as mud? Basically it’s measuring how much of a boost or a drag they were to the team compared to their rotation mates.

Danny Jackson was a good pitcher for the Royals, but for some reason the team didn’t find ways to win with him on the mound as much as you’d expect. The 1983-87 Royals won only 43% of his starts while winning 52% of their other games. That’s the only dramatic dip in a negative direction. Rich Gale, Jeff Suppan, Luke Hochevar, and Jorge Rosado also got to 100 starts while their teams actually won at a lower rate with them, but the effect was slight in their cases.

On the flip side, quite a few of the pitchers had a dramatic positive effect on their clubs relative to their contemporary starters. Bruce Chen, Charlie Leibrandt, Bud Black, Steve Busby, Tom Gordon, Dennis Leonard, and Larry Gura all made their teams noticeably better on days they started. Four guys were especially head and shoulders above their mates: Tim Belcher drug otherwise .429 clubs up to .495 in his starts between 1996-98. The team won 58% of Bret Saberhagen’s starts compared to 50% of the other games between 1984-91. Kevin Appier was able to lift some very bad teams (.460 without him) up to a .538 winning percentage. But the biggest difference maker of all was a surprise to me: Al Fitzmorris. The 1970-76 squads grew up rapidly from an expansion team to the brink of the playoffs, and it turns out Fitzmorris deserves quite a bit of credit for the increased winning in those years. Without Fitz, those clubs were a combined .497. But when Fitz started, they turned into an 80-56 (.588) juggernaut.

I’m not in the mood to discuss losing streaks. Guess I just fell out of habit.

Let’s discuss something that is currently moving the national baseball media: The Royals are storming the All-Star Game virtual ballot box. Storming. The first round of results were released on Tuesday and five Royals (five!) are in pole position to get the start for the American League.

AllStar_Update1

In a post last week, I wrote about how you could easily justify giving the starting nod to Hosmer, Moustakas, Gordon, and Cain. The leaders also include Perez and perhaps in a bit of a surprise, Escobar. Hosmer is trailing Miguel Cabrera at first.

Those numbers above are more than a little staggering. Moustakas leads by almost 400k? Cain leads Mike Trout? The other thing that strikes me as a little strange is that the third place in all of the positions besides outfield has fewer than 400k votes. There is already a strong gap between second and third place, which would appear to mean these contests are basically two-man races. Although you have to take any attempt to parse the ballot with a little skepticism. This is the internet, after all.

Still, how is this for a pretty picture?

RoyalAllStar

While the sanctimony from the national baseball writers (“Harumph! Too many Royals!”) is loud, it feels necessary to point out what we are seeing is a fanbase unleashed from 30 years of Baseball Hell. Mix that suddenly resurgent base with a national profile gained from playing in October, then combine that with one of the best starts in baseball through the first seven weeks, and that’s how we’ve arrived at a loaded Royals All-Star roster. Should the Royals somehow get five starters on the team, they would be the first club since the ’76 Reds to load the roster. Fitting. And hilarious. Maybe we’ve been getting this slogan thing wrong all this time. Forget “Forever Royal.” They’re the Big Blue Machine.

There is the little issue of how the balloting is performed. For the first time since 1970, there are no paper ballots available at the stadiums. All-Star voting is entirely unscientific to start, but it seems to me that removing paper ballots will cause some sort of consequence. Maybe Royals fans have a larger internet presence, or are just more likely to vote the maximum 35 times per email address. Or maybe Royals fans are more likely to have multiple email addresses. Even still, maybe Royals fans are more likely to create multiple email addresses for the specific purpose of voting for the All-Star Game. You guys are monsters.

Really, it’s impossible to take the All-Star Game seriously. The game is a glorified exhibition that carries zero juice. I’ll spare you the “good old days” platitudes because that’s kind of bogus, too. Yet there is something the All-Star Game has lost over time. There isn’t one reason, but interleague, all the games on TV, tie games and the silly “This Time It Counts” campaign are good starting points. I digress. The point is, I just can’t get worked up about a silly exhibition. So if one team is overrepresented, so be it.

Yet since I am a Royals fan, I have a definite sense of pride about the whole thing. It’s not exactly a storming of the Bastille, but it’s a nice way to shake our collective fist at the baseball establishment. You’ve force-fed us Yankee and Red Sox laden All-Star teams for years. Now it’s our turn. I’m not going to lie: It’s pretty damn cool.

To my mind, this whole process started back in 2012. Not only did the entire city represent at the All-Star Game, we made headlines for our support of the entire event. We also made headlines for our lack of support of a certain Robinson Cano. And the cheers for Billy Butler were enormous and amazing. It was a helluva party. The buzz carried over through The Trade and of course it reached a crescendo last September and October. The Royals and their fans have made their presence felt nationally.

This is just the culmination of the last three years. Or is it the continuation? The Royals are drawing an average of 31,815 fans per game. That number is astonishing. Can I interest you in another attendance fact that could blow your mind? The Royals are playing to an average of 83.9 percent capacity at The K. Only the Giants, Red Sox and Cardinals play to fuller stadiums on average. The Royals are ahead of teams from Los Angeles and New York for crying out loud.

Kansas City is a baseball town. It manifests itself in the support of the city at the turnstiles. And it manifests itself at the virtual All Star ballot box. I’m thrilled. It’s been a long winter. Thirty years. And I don’t give a damn about what anyone from anywhere else in the country thinks about the Royals. I hope we can get Hosmer ahead of Cabrera and I would laugh myself sick if we could bump Omar Infante to the top of the second base pool.

Time to wrap this up. I have another email address to create and 35 more votes to stuff in the virtual ballot box.

Dayton Moore’s new book More Than A Season, written with Matt Fulks, is a quick and mostly enjoyable look at GMDM’s leadership philosophies and his first nine seasons at the helm of the good ship Royals with a focus on the 2014 season. It is worth the read for die-hard Royals fans to get a slightly better understanding of Moore’s guiding baseball and life beliefs, though there won’t be anything too surprising for those who have been closely tracking his time in KC. Too much of the book reads like cliché motivational poster headlines, but Moore’s recent success lends at least a hint of substance behind the buzzwords. I personally bristle at pat aphorisms such as “stay calm in the eye of the storm,” which is one of Moore’s seven points for “organizational harmony,” but, hey, if it works for him and the team is winning, I’m all for it. Moore also repeatedly brings up his Christianity and quotes the Bible to the point of proselytizing, which I could do with less of, but I’m glad if it works for him—so long as non-Christian Royals employees are welcomed and respected under his watch.

Those issues aside, there are enough nuggets of behind the scenes info to redeem the book. I enjoyed learning more about Moore’s life before coming to the Royals, including his collegiate baseball career and climb up the ranks after going to work for the Braves. His telling of his hiring for the Royals job in 2006 and his discovery that things were much worse in KC than he realized before taking the job was illuminating. But some of Moore’s nuggets needed to be fleshed out. He briefly touches on the expansion of the team’s analytics department, and that (rather obviously), “an in-depth statistical analysis” happens before player acquisitions, and that “(analytics is) an area where I have grown professionally.” Would be interesting stuff, but he offers no details about that growth or instances where analytics have helped the team. The fact that he relies on fielding percentage, batting average, and RBI when mentioning stats in the book doesn’t exactly inspire confidence (though that might just be because those are the numbers familiar to the average reader).

Moore dedicates an entire chapter to Alex Gordon which contains some good specifics about how and why Rusty Kuntz proposed and guided Gordon’s position switch from third base to left field. Moore echoes my sentiments by calling Alex “the heartbeat of the team,” which makes me slightly more optimistic that the Royals will do all they can to keep him in KC. Alex contributed a foreward to the book in which he calls Moore a father figure. (I think it is safe to say both sides would prefer for Alex to remain in KC long term, but I still fear another team swooping in with an enormous offer Alex couldn’t refuse and the Royals wouldn’t match.)

Overall, it’s a flawed but enjoyable book, and recommended for those who can’t get enough Royals. Moore’s corporate jargon, proselytizing, and blind spots would have driven me up the wall before 2014, but it goes down a lot easier these days. As long as the fun continues, you just keep doing you, Dayton.

The last time the Royals went 18-11 to start the season, they also had a debacle on Memorial Day:  losing 13-1 to Detroit in what was pretty much the beginning of the end to both that season and Gil Meche’s career.  What does that have to do with 2015?  Absolutely nothing, other than keeping the 18-11 meme alive.  That 2009 team was already taking on water, this year’s Royals squad just had a bad day.

Speaking of bad days, Jeremy Guthrie had the worst.  He brought absolutely nothing to mound yesterday – I’m pretty sure Craig Brown and Aaron Stilley got doubles off him.  That will happen when on a windy day in the Bronx when you are a pitcher who strikes out no one. Guthrie has the lowest strikeout rate (3.54/9) among qualified starting pitchers in baseball.   Jeremy’s earned run average is 6.70, his FIP is 6.02, which is only better than two guys pitching for the Rockies. To say Guthrie had some measure of ‘correction’ from his previous three starts is an understatement. Maybe it was just bad luck….and Jeremy Guthrie.

The Royals, however, are right on schedule. A little while back, I arbitrarily picked thirteen game stretches and determined if the Royals simply went 7-6 in each stretch (after their 7-0 start), they would end up with 90 wins. Well, they went 7-6 and then they went 7-6 again and are already 7-4 in this current thirteen game period.  Sure, they have been outscored 20-2, the last two games, but all that goes away with a win tonight.  Is 90 wins enough?  Maybe, maybe not, but if all the Royals have to do to get there is go 7-6 all year long, I like their chances of doing a little better.

Danny Duffy is on the disabled list. The Royals are crafty little guys, aren’t they? If Danny was third in the league in ERA, I’m pretty sure he would be pitching through this ‘soreness/stiffness’ issue.  As it is, this give the Royals a nice opportunity to let Duffy hit the reset button on 2015. A couple of rehab – some speculated he could get as many as five if Kansas City were to play out the entire minor league rehab scenario – in Omaha might be just what Danny needs.  I mean, it sure as hell cannot hurt.

Vargas is back. I wrote this last week, but Kansas City’s fortunes have turned so much that when they send a pitcher to the disabled list for fifteen days, that is actually all there is to it.  I had already written Jason Vargas off as a going under the Tommy John knife and here he is, back in action. Vargas has essentially been the exact same pitcher the past five seasons, which is better than he was in his first five starts for the Royals this year.  I cannot imagine the Royals are going to get major innings out of Jason tonight in New York – they held Joe Blanton out of yesterday’s debacle specifically because they are expecting to piggy back him with Vargas tonight – but it definitely helps the Royals’ rotation to have Vargas at least on his way back.  After all, a rusty Vargas can’t be worse than Danny Duffy was…or Jeremy Guthrie.

Or has it changed? The karma, I mean.  Greg Holland spent time on the disabled list with a minor injury, came back and saved three games, blew a save and then didn’t pitch for 11 days before looking bad yesterday.  Since his return, Holland has allowed five hits in six innings while walking SEVEN and striking out just four.  His average fastball velocity is more than two miles-per-hour slower in 2015 than it was last season. None of that screams ‘healthy’.

Rumor time. Some people hate it, some people love it, some people think there is something inhumane about it, but trade rumor time is coming – maybe it never left. Jim Bowden, beloved by all, has linked Matt Garza and Aaron Harang to the Royals. It is theoretically possible that this might possibly have a chance of being a little accurate.  Or not.  Garza is not as good as baseball has wanted him to be and would be under contract through 2017 (possibly 2018 with a vesting option that I’ll look up when someone other than Bowden links the Royals to him).  Harang is old, but still effective especially in Kaufmann with the Royals’ defense behind him. I kind of wonder how much (i.e. little) it might take to get Harang, who is under contract only through 2015.  I can understand you not being excited at the idea, but what if Danny Duffy cannot throw strikes in Omaha?  What if Jason Vargas really isn’t healthy?  What if we start seeing more of Memorial Day Guthrie and less of the guy who threw 18 effective innings in his three previous starts?  Those are the questions that make me drink.  Well, that and an intense desire to, you know, drink.

 

%d bloggers like this: