Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

This road trip couldn’t have started in a more ideal fashion.

Winning two of three in Seattle and sweeping the evil A’s… That’s some tasty baseball right there.

I’d like to flashback to Saturday’s game and the pivotal moment – the double steal. McCullough’s gamer provides an outstanding account.

Rusty Kuntz glanced at his stopwatch and logged the times for usage on Saturday: 1.7 seconds to the plate, 1.8, 1.9, “at least,” Kuntz said, whenever Oakland starter Scott Kazmir pitched with a runner at second base. Manager Ned Yost banked the research from his first-base coach and waited until the sixth inning of a 3-2 Royals victory to deploy it.

This has been written before on this tiny sliver of bandwidth, but it’s extremely easy to second-guess and criticize moves the manager makes (or doesn’t make) when those moves backfire. The problem with being a major league manager is losing decisions are magnified. The nuanced decisions that lead to wins, for some reason, not so much.

On Saturday, Kuntz and Yost came up with a way to literally steal a win from Oakland. Maybe bookmark that gamer so the next time Yost goofs on an intentional walk or a bullpen move and fans start screaming that he’s costing his team games, you can pull up that story and point to at least one game where Yost (and Kuntz) earned the win.

But when to fire it? The team felt it was unwise to do so with Cain at first base after his sixth-inning walk. Kazmir reaches the plate at about 1.1 to 1.2 seconds with a runner at first. He feels comfortable pitching with a slide-step, which reduces opportunities for would-be base-thieves. When a runner reaches second base, the Royals knew, Kazmir slows down his delivery with a leg kick. 

“Instead of taking a gamble to try to get to second base,” Kuntz said, “let’s try to wait him out.” 

It took a single from Hosmer to set the scene. Kazmir raised his right leg and fired. Kuntz clocked him at 1.9 seconds. The opportunity was perfect, and the Royals duo did not hesitate. Oakland catcher Josh Phegley threw to second, where Hosmer arrived before second baseman Eric Sogard could drop a tag.

The moment arrived at the perfect time for the Royals.


Source: FanGraphs

According to Win Expectancy, advancing the runners from first and second to second and third with two outs increased the chances of a Royals win by eight percent. That gain alone makes the double steal attempt worthwhile. Although it’s balanced by the knowledge the Royals had – at that point in time – only ten more outs. And naturally, it only works if you have decent baserunners on the bags at that moment, so it was fortunate the Royals had Cain as the lead runner with Hosmer the trail.

(The only downer here is both runners were hurt on the double steal. Cain tweaked a hamstring that had been bothering him since Tuesday in Seattle. Hosmer sprained a finger on his headfirst slide into second.)

None of this counts if Kendrys Morales doesn’t come through. He lines a single to right, plating both runners and providing the Royals with their margin of victory. While the steal improved the Royals chances of winning by eight percent, Morales’s single boosted their WE by 22 percent. In the span of three pitches, the Royals went from decided underdogs to heavy favorites. You can see from the game graph above, post-single, the Royals were 70 percent favorites. This doesn’t take into account the Royals shutdown bullpen. The HDH triumvarate is usually good for the other 30.

Moving to Sunday, the Royals came up with another stealth inning to complete the sweep. I say it was a “stealth” inning because up until that moment, the offense was dormant. Granted, the Royals did leave the bases loaded in the third, but all those runners came with two down which is a difficult time to ignite a rally.

The sixth opened with a Mike Moustakas double and was followed by a Kendrys Morales single. With runners at the corners, Hosmer hit a harmless fly to center that failed to bring home the run. (I’ll cut Hosmer some slack here, with the injured finger and all. Although I will note that in the last over his last 28 games, he’s slashing .265/.315/.328. In over a month, he’s managed just four extra base hits. Hosmer’s bat has disappeared. Again.) That brought Perez to the plate with the key moment of the game.

Perez chopped a grounder to third base. Moustakas went home on contact. Max Muncy charged, grabbed the ball and fired home. The throw was high, Moustakas was in with a run and no outs were recorded on the play.

Replays showed that had the throw been good, Moustakas would have been out. Even so, at the moment I thought the smart play was to get Perez at first. It wasn’t a particularly easy play because the grounder was topped and wasn’t hit especially hard. With the slow running Perez, he’s still a sure out at first. I figured you give the Royals a run there and get the sure out. With the error on the play at home, Morales moved to third and Perez made it to second. So the A’s walked Alex Gordon to load the bases. Alex Rios hit a sac fly to tie the game and Omar Infante (that’s All-Star Omar Infante to you) broke the deadlock.

Ballgame.

Again, we can probably credit Yost and his coaching staff for stealing that win. With Perez at the plate there was the chance he would put the ball on the ground to the left side of the infield. With the A’s shaky defense this year, it made sense to put the pressure on their infielders to make the play at home, should they make that decision. We know Moustakas isn’t the fleetest of foot, so there’s a risk involved but you send him knowing that if you don’t and the A’s record an out, they could still walk Gordon to pitch to Rios. And these days it seems the only way Rios can contribute is through the “productive out.” It was a risk worth taking, and it worked.


Source: FanGraphs

Like on Saturday, this moved the Win Expectancy needle in the Royals favor, improving their chances by 18 percent. They still weren’t favored at that point since they were still trailing, but Infante took care of that three batters later. By the end of the inning, the Royals were favored to win with a WE close to 67 percent.

The WE hung around that neighborhood until Perez crushed a pitch in the eighth to allow his hermanito, Lorenzo Cain to score without pushing his sore hamstring. The cushion was useful as the A’s grabbed another run in the eighth. Sometimes things have a way of working out in the end.

So the Royals move to Houston to square off against the second best team in the AL. They just swept aside the hottest team in the league. They are 16 games over .500, own a +46 run differential and hold a 5.5 game lead in the AL Central. It’s about an ideal a start to a west coast swing as you could imagine. It feels like things could be difficult over the next couple of weeks. Cain’s hamstring is barking at him. Hosmer’s hurt finger feels like that would hinder any kind of break out of his extended slump. Alcides Escobar split a fingernail. Yordano Ventura’s rehab start on Friday wasn’t especially promising. There are no off days between now and the All-Star Game. It’s a key stretch and if the Royals can hold on and weather the nagging injuries, they can coast into the break in fine shape.

As the Royals make their way to Oakland for a three-game weekend series, it’s natural for fans to speculate as to the revenge factor.

Rewind yourself all the way back to April, when Brett Lawrie blew up Alcides Escobar at second base. The beanballs and the pointing to the coconuts. Things were finished and then things started back up. It was a wild and uncomfortable rematch between the Wild Card combatants.

Seems like such a long time ago.

Don’t look now, but Oakland is the hottest team in the AL, non-Canadian division. They have won 19 of their last 30. A’s manager Bob Melvin is the anti-Yost in that he stacks his best hitters at the top of the order. Billy Burns has posted a .363 OBP this year and has slashed .344/.377/.459 with a 137 wRC+ over his last 30 games. He’s the leadoff hitter. Catcher Steven Vogt usually hits third in the order and is having a breakout season, hitting .308/.401/.552.

The Royals miss rotation stud Sonny Gray this weekend, but get to face the Jesse Hahn, Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez. That’s a solid core of starters. All three excel in keeping the ball in the yard. Hahn doesn’t strikeout a ton of batters (5.6 SO/9) and Kazmir is more likely of the trio to issue a free pass (3.5 BB/9).

This series is no longer about “Round 2″ or whatever boxing term you’d like to use. Rather, it’s about standing toe to toe with a team that, due to their awful start, is much better than it’s current record would indicate. Both teams have been playing good baseball of late. Forget the revenge factor. (Who’s supposed to be taking revenge on who anyway?) That’s old news and hopefully is forgotten. This weekend is about the Royals trying to derail a team playing great baseball of late.

Hey, this is supposed to be about the Royals rotation, not some preview of the Oakland series. Where’s my starting pitching info?

Fine. Let’s start with some injury updates.

— Yordano Ventura is scheduled to make his first rehab start for Omaha Friday night. We haven’t seen fire thrown in Kansas City since June 12. Ventura is scheduled to throw around 75 pitches.

— Jason Vargas threw a bullpen session on Wednesday and the Royals are confident he will return soon. They don’t expect he will need a rehab start.

— Kris Medlen made his second rehab start on Wednesday for Double-A Northwest Arkansas. The Naturals kicked the ball around a couple of times, which led to a different kind of outing than I’m sure was hoped for from the starter making his way back from his second Tommy John. He allowed four runs in six innings, but results aside, reports were encouraging. Which is what is the most important thing when a pitcher is on a rehab assignment.

Barring setbacks, pitchers have 30 days to rehab in the minors before they must be added back to the roster. Day 30 is July 18. He seems to be right on schedule.

The above injury update is why I’m feeling skeptical the Royals will pursue starting pitching ahead of the trade deadline. Dayton Moore likes to examine and exhaust all internal options before moving beyond his organization. If Ventura and Vargas return to the rotation ahead of the All-Star Break and if Medlen stays on track and if Danny Duffy makes progress you could have pretty much a brand new rotation on July 17.

Granted, that’s the best case scenario, something that hardly ever happens in baseball. Especially with pitching.

Also, do the Royals have the necessary prospect depth to deal for a front line starter? I’m not sure they do. A move without quality would take quantity, something we know the Royals are loathe to do given their desire to build a strong pipeline to the majors. Plus, do they have the stomach to ship a key prospect in a deal where they would have a rental starter for two months? Johnny Cueto would be a nice addition, but there’s no way the Royals are going to keep him beyond this year, should they land him in a trade. Cole Hamels is under contract for the next three seasons at $22.5 million per (with an option for 2019) which is nice to have that certainty, but is that something the Royals can add to a payroll? Especially when Alex Gordon is a pending free agent and they will certainly look to restructure Sal Perez’s contract. Not to mention the possibility of extending Mike Moustakas. Anyway, the Phillies are a shambles and difficult to deal with, setting the prices extremely high for their trade chits.

The drumbeat to make a move will grow louder, the closer we move to the trade deadline, but Moore has never paid attention to that. If the best case scenario pans out, the Royals will look at their arms as if they have depth with Chris Young and maybe Joe Blanton back in the the pen for the swingman role and with someone like Guthrie bumped. Heck, they could even go to the six man rotation if they felt like they had the arms.

We’re still about five weeks away from the trade deadline. The picture is just as murky today, as it was at the start of the season. The needs haven’t changed, but the situation won’t gain clarity until the last week of July.

 

 

Alex Gordon’s on-base percentage is .383, best on the Royals. He hits sixth in the batting order.

Alcides Escobar’s wildly fluctuating on-base percentage currently sits at .322.  He hits lead-off.

Last season, the number one spot in the batting order came to the plate 85 times more than the number six spot in the order.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?  Frankly, most of us are thinking the same thing.  Some, however, are more bothered by it than others.

To be honest, when I first actually looked at the situation, 85 plate appearances seemed like a LOT.  It is, roughly, twenty games worth of at-bats and, with the possible exception of the new Mike Moustakas, there is no one else on the roster I would rather see get that many extra chances than Alex Gordon.  That said, what does 85 extra plate appearances really mean?

Using this season’s on-base percentages, Gordon would get on-base 33 times in those 85 plate appearances.  Escobar would be expected to reach 27 times.  The Royals are currently plating about 37% of the runners they put on-base.  In theory, Gordon would score two, maybe three, more runs during those 85 extra plate appearances than Escobar.  TWO RUNS.

Now, there are plenty out there who really love to dig deep into the statistical analysis.  I don’t have the patience.  I would expect that getting on base at the top of the order, with Moustakas et.al. coming up behind you probably leads to scoring a greater percentage of the time than the lower part of the order.  That said, we only have six additional baserunners to play with here, so do we add a run and say Gordon would score three more runs than Escobar?  I would, if only because I think Gordon should be batting at the top of the order.

We can also make the case that Escobar, a career .301 on-base guy, will not keep up his ‘lofty’ .322 OBP.  We could make a similar case for Gordon, who is clipping along 35 points above his career on-base percentage.  You can slide the scale however you wish and add a baserunner for every 10% difference between the two players.  Is the difference four runs, even five?  Is that a difference maker?

You can make an argument that in baseball, especially in the Royals’ world of get a lead early and hand it to the bullpen, that you should not turn down even just a handful of runs.  Is even five runs enough to make a change to a team currently in first place?  While we like to be snide about the mental aspect of the game and the supposed fragility of players’ minds, let’s not kid ourselves into thinking something that is not statistically quantifiable does not exist.   Baseball give a player a lot of time to sit around and think and worry and get all worked up over, say, batting lead-off all year and suddenly coming to the park and seeing your name down at seventh.   It might be silly, but I think you are kidding yourself if it is not a factor a manager would need to consider.

Another consideration is that you can make a very viable case that those 85 extra plate appearances would all be packed into the last two innings of a baseball game.  An extra plate appearance in the ninth inning of a 7-1 game doesn’t mean much, but they carry a lot of weight in a 2-2 game with Wade Davis and Greg Holland in the bullpen.

All in, what is the difference between batting Alex Gordon first instead of sixth?  Is it one win?   The standard theory is that 10 extra runs equates to an extra win, so we are stretching the stats considerably to even get to one win (not to mention we are closing in on the halfway point of the season already).

In the end, it makes sense for Alex Gordon to be leading off for the Kansas City Royals.  I’m just not sure it makes sense to make the change or has the impact that is seems like such a move should.

A little late on this, but the All-Star updates were released on Monday. Their were two headlines to glean from the latest voting tallies:

1) The Royals are still in position to dominate the game, fielding starters in seven of the nine positions.

and

2) Their hold on their seven starting positions has become, in some cases, tenuous.

Let’s discuss item number one. The usual suspects are leading everywhere, with the exception of Eric Hosmer who has fallen behind Miguel Cabrera at first. If you read last week’s update, it was very clear there was some movement in favor of a number of Tigers. With Detroit doing their own get-out-the-vote thing combined with his nationwide visibility, it’s not surprising Cabrera added enough to his totals to leap back to the top of the first base pack.

Here’s how the first base race looks through five updates:

1B_5

It remains the same two-man race, but Cabrera owns the largest lead since the updates began. He added 4,040,933 votes, a massive number. By comparison, Hosmer picked up 2,236,382 votes. Hosmer got almost the same number of votes added to his column the week prior.

1B_5_gain

Since the Tigers got serious about the All-Star vote, Cabrera has seen a nice increase. We still have one update and the final announcement, but this one feels over to me. The Royals dominating the ballot box has been a nice story, but it’s difficult to overcome the national following of Cabrera.

Moving on to the second point, Mike Moustakas saw his lead at third reduced to a dead heat with Josh Donaldson.

AL_3B_5

We knew there was building support for Donaldson, who is a strong first-half MVP candidate – if not the first-half MVP. I don’t think anyone saw this coming. Donaldson picked up 4,124,561 votes, the most in Update Number Five.

3B_5_gain

Even with the gain from week four, Donaldson’s tally in the fifth week is extremely impressive. A little further explanation of the above table: Pablo Sandoval dropped out of the top five in week four and replaced with Nick Castellanos. The Castellanos number for week three is an estimate, so his week three and four gain totals are not accurate. His week five gain is accurate, though. Again, the Tigers are driving some fans to the virtual ballot box.

Also notable this week was Mike Trout passing Lorenzo Cain for the overall lead in the outfield.

OF_5

Trout’s move was similar to Cabrera. It was a superstar with a national fanbase getting into gear. If it’s really important to you that Cain (or Alex Gordon) win the overall outfield vote, I don’t know how to break this to you, but that was never going to happen. Trout is just too powerful. He will get more votes added to his account than any outfielder in the next two weeks. Count on it.

The good news to glean from this graph is the top three are pretty much set, meaning Gordon and Cain will be in the starting lineup. The danger comes from Yoenis Cespedes. Again, a Tiger. See what’s happening here? Cespedes was the second biggest gainer on the update, but was only able to pick up 300,000 votes on Cain and about 550,000 on Gordon.

OF_5_gain

Gordon gets enough national love for his defense and Cain is Cain (love that guy) so this one feels pretty safe. Two million votes in the outfield in two weeks is a lot of ground to gain.

The #VoteOmar campaign is fun and everything, but it looks like he’s running out of steam. Jose Altuve drew more votes than Infante for the first time since the first week of the voting to narrow the gap to around 450,000 votes. I’ll predict Altuve moves into first in the next update. The same thing happened at designated hitter as Nelson Cruz finally pulled more votes than Kendrys Morales. The edge there is fewer than 300,000 votes. Morales will likely lose his starting spot next week as well.

Sal Perez and Alcides Escobar are locks. Perez leads the league in total votes and Escobar is 2.6 million ahead of Jose Iglesias.

The question on everyone’s mind (at least Royals fans) is, is Major League Baseball tampering with the numbers? I don’t think so. The Royals moved ahead early, have maintained their pace, but have been passed by a national backlash and more deserving candidates. When Donaldson added four million to his total, those numbers look legit when looking at overall gains by each position with the third, fourth, and fifth place players getting smaller gains compared to another position where no single player earned a Donaldson-esque boost.

With two weeks left in the voting, my prediction is the Royals will get four starters: Perez, Escobar, Cain and Gordon. Order will be restored. Baseball will survive.

Because of course he does.

Had I told you back in March that the Royals would head to Seattle, fresh off a blow out loss at home to Boston and would be sending Joe Blanton to the mound to face Felix Hernandez, I am pretty sure your thoughts would have been ‘what a freaking mess 2015 is going to be.’  Let’s face it, after throwing 230 innings in 2007, Blanton has worked diligently towards pitching himself right out of baseball.  At age 33 in 2013, Blanton fashioned a 6.04 earned run average and while we scoff at pitcher won-loss records, went 2-14.  Listen, it is hard to go 2 and 14.

Enter 2015, when Blanton was just another of Dayton Moore’s add-ons: a low cost insurance policy in the unlikely event that the Royals would need three extra starters at the same time.  I saw him pitch in Omaha early in the year and he looked like Joe Blanton.  With nine major league seasons under his belt, Blanton simply outsmarted younger opponents, but my uneducated eye offered no real hope that Joe has much to offer a team hell-bent on getting back to the World Series.

Now, 26 innings later with an ERA of 1.73 and an 8/1 strikeout to walk ratio, I simply shake my head and smile.  Of course Blanton goes six innings and allows one run while the Royals touch up King Felix for four runs, that’s just how it goes for the Kansas City Royals and Dayton Moore.

Chris Young has more starts now than Danny Duffy or Jason Vargas and has been better (even with the weekend blowout) than we could have realistically expected either to have been.  Blanton has given the Royals 26 more good innings than I thought he would.  Ryan Madson is second in innings pitched for the relief corp and has virtually identical numbers to Kelvin Herrera.  While Edinson Volquez does not fit into the bargain bin class as the aforementioned three, he leads the staff in innings pitched and appears to be next in the line of starters Dayton Moore evaluated (guessed?) correctly on, following in the footsteps of Vargas, Santana and, yes, even Gil Meche.

All that, and Kris Medlen just threw four effective innings in a rehab start in the minors.  Who is this Dayton Moore guy?

It is still okay to question Moore and it is even okay to question Ned Yost and some of his strategic moves.  That is baseball and it is not ‘freaking out’, it is just discussion.  That said, an off-season largely panned by most of us has turned out to be at least a half-season success for Moore.   2015 has thus far not been a case of getting the right twenty-five and sailing through the first three months.  The rotation has been shaky at best, with the staff’s supposed ace just a hot mess.  The closer has been hurt and so has the right-fielder.  Second base?  Don’t get me started.  Yet the Royals roll on.

Paulo Orlando hits five triples.  Young, Blanton and Madson do what they’ve done.  Wade Davis, well, he really is better than Greg Holland, so of course he excelled as a fill-in closer.  Of course.

Craig touched on it the other day, but way-way back when, I noted that if the Royals simply went 7-6 over each 13 game set (after the 7-0 start) they would get to 90 wins.  I came up with that only because the Royals actually went 7-6 in games 8 through 20.  After that, they went 7-6 again and then they went exactly 7-6 a third time.   The most recently completed 13 game set saw the Royals go 6-7.  They, however, are 6-2 in the current 13 game stretch whose ending coincides with the end of the Oakland series this weekend.

 

Coming off of what amounted to a four game sweep of Milwaukee, expectations where high coming in to the weekend series against the Red Sox. After all, Boston had once again assumed the title of Team Turmoil. Languishing in last in the AL East, they were another team ripe for destruction in a three-game set at The K.

Sometimes baseball doesn’t work the way you think it should.

After a 13-2 drubbing on Sunday, the Red Sox hung 24 runs on the Royals in the three games. The Royals could plate only half that number, scoring just 12.

Still getting used to this “favorite” business, I won’t say individual wins and losses aren’t important. We’ve discussed this before. Games in April (and June) count just as much as the games in September. Winning is great and losing sucks. Having said that, I’ve been attempting to look at the larger picture more frequently. Clark touched on it in a post back in April. He pointed out that thanks to the Royals hot start, should they manage only to play .500 ball the rest of the way, Kansas City should still be in position to nab a playoff spot. It thought that was a great point.

So instead of looking at Sunday’s blowout individually, or the series as a loss for the Royals, I’ll look at either the homestand, where the team won three and lost two, or I’ll look at the entire week, which ended with a 5-2 record.

That doesn’t mean I will ignore the alarm bells. (Cough, cough… starting pitching.) That means I’ll try to maintain a healthy perspective. All good teams have bad losses. All good teams go through rough patches. (Maybe I should just amend that to most. Most good teams. In baseball in 2015, without a dominant team, avoiding four game losing streaks isn’t mandatory.)

Yesterday’s game underscored the fragility of the Royals rotation. Readers of this site will know my opinion of Chris Young and how his success has been a product of both smoke and mirrors in copious amounts. Sunday’s game was going to happen to him at some point. If I had to guess, the longer he’s in the rotation, the more likely we will see a few more starts like his most recent one. At 7-0 and with the Royals bats crawling back into their bed after some sort of wild night out on Saturday, this one was over by the fifth. I can’t get too bent about the performances of Jason Frasor and Aaron Brooks. Brooks is a non-factor on this team. He will be returned to Triple-A as soon as I-29 is ready for his car. He was brought up for exactly the kind of game he was thrown into on Sunday. While it would have been nice had he been able to resemble a major league pitcher, it wasn’t a huge deal when he pitched like Aaron Brooks.

Frasor is cut from better quality, but he’s very much your average major league reliever. We’ve been spoiled in Kansas City. Bullpens through baseball are loaded with Frasor types. He’s the guy for whom my “Bullpen Roulette” term was coined. That’s where you bring in relievers any given night and you have no clue how it’s going to turn out for your team. Aside from most closers, bullpens across baseball are filled with uncertainty. Except in Kansas City.

While the loss on Sunday was not fun, it doesn’t have to serve as the start of a losing streak or raise alarm bells that weren’t already there. The good news is with nine games in the next 10 days, the key arms in the bullpen got a day off. So did Sal Perez. Those are both good things.

Wednesday in Seattle, Danny Duffy will make his return to the rotation. Obviously, this is a key moment. The Royals cannot survive on Young, Pino and Blanton as three-fifths of this rotation. Duffy is just one arm, but right now, he’s the most important arm.

In the meantime, it’s good to note last Monday, the Royals entered the week with a two game lead in the Central. They enter this week with a 3.5 game lead.

Perspective.

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

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

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

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

1. Whitey Herzog • 1976—79

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

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

2. Dick Howser • 1982—85

SacBuntsAboveAvg.

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

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

3. John Wathan • 1988—90

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

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

4. Hal McRae • 1992—94

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

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

5. Tony Muser • 1998—2000

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

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

6. Ned Yost • 2011—June 18, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An absolutely amazing turn of events.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Ned. For everything.

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

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

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

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

Then this happened.

Young_SO2_061615

And this.

Young_SO3_061615

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1B_4

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

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

AL2B_4

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

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

3B_4

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

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

OF_4

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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