Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Edinson Volquez gave up six runs in three innings last night.  An agonizing 78 pitch outing in a game that was full of runs, hits and took just this side of forever to complete. A game the Royals won by eight runs and it wasn’t even a surprise.

A starter and one of your best relievers out with the chicken pox?  No problem.  Your All-Star leftfielder playing at something less than 100%?  Not an issue. Your third baseman out with a minor injury and your regular shortstop resting? All is well.  Your most consistent starting pitcher being flat out awful and leaving after just three innings? Yawn.  An eight run win to go 31 games over .500 and 13 games in front of the AL Central?  Of course.

Welcome to dream world, kids.

The Royals, after a tough loss to Justin Verlander on Tuesday, have used 28 position players to score 27 runs over the past two nights.  Sure, Detroit only kind of sort of cares at this point, but Kansas City just plain pummeled the Tigers and did so while employing more of a Spring Training approach to the games than a ‘coming down the stretch’ style. I remember the mid to last seventies.  I liked those years. 2015 feels a lot like 1976 through 1980. There was a time not long ago when I was uncertain the Royals would ever thrill us like that again.

Kansas City finds itself with a six game lead for the best record in the American League this morning and that is really about all there is to play for at this point. I think there is some importance to maintaining that advantage as I have no desire to play Games 6 and 7 of the ALCS at Toronto.  Yes, I know there is a playoff series before that one and yes, I bet the Angels were thinking some about the ALCS when they ran aground against the Royals in the ALDS, but I would very much like to have home field advantage in my back pocket.  I would also like to see Toronto, you know, lose a game once in a while.

Upsets can and do happen. Houston is a weird-tough matchup for the Royals (should they not win the West) and the Yankees would be interesting just from a historical perspective, but the Royals will be favored in any ALDS series.  The scary team is Toronto.  The one team in the league I look at and actually wonder if they might be better than the Royals is the Blue Jays. The remainder of the month is, and here is some striking new analysis, about Kansas City getting healthy and getting primed to beat Toronto.

Encouraging signs that the Royals are getting there:

  • Alex Gordon is back.  His bat looks good, but does anyone else feel like Alex is not quite ready to go full force after balls in the outfield?  I don’t blame him and frankly, he probably shouldn’t be laying out for a line drive against the fence with his team 30+ games over .500, but at some point I think Alex has a bit of a mental hurdle to get over.  That is not a criticism, it is just pointing out that Gordon is human.
  • Ned Yost intimated that he might consider batting Gordon lead-off, Zobrist second and Escobar somewhere else. Just when you think Ned is stubborn and doesn’t get it, he does. Look for the Royals to actually bat their two best on-base guys one and two come the post-season.
  • Yordano Ventura has his mojo back. Oh yes, my friends, mojo exists and Yordano has it.
  • Lorenzo Cain is a star. Over the winter, I said, you said, we all said “If Lorenzo Cain can parlay his post-season success into regular season performance than the Royals are going to have some fun in 2015”.  He did, they are.
  • Eric Hosmer is a star. Over the winter, I said, you said, we all said “If Eric Hosmer can parlay his post-season success into regular season performance than the Royals are going to have some fun in 2015”.  He did, they are.

Warning signs that the Royals could encounter post-season trouble:

  • Johnny Cueto has arguably had the worst three game stretch of his career. Some are panicking.  Of course some panic every time Cueto has the audacity to give up hit.  ‘Not an Ace’ is the mantra and it is stupid because everyone defines an ‘ace’ differently and most that say cannot be bothered to look up Cueto’s stats, game logs or anything that didn’t happen further back than the previous inning.  That said, it is a bad time to have a rough patch for Cueto.  He is simply not able to locate any of his pitches with any consistency and in the battle to fix that, Johnny has gone away from using his variety of deliveries and, hell let’s just say it, he has lost his mojo. There are way, way too many great starts (years worth if you bother to look it up) in Cueto’s history to panic quite yet.  Concern?  Yes, you can be concerned and I won’t scold you.
  • Who is the closer? Is it Greg Holland?  Is it Wade Davis?  Does Ned Yost know? Certainly, we know the company line, but who do you trust with the Royals up one and Troy Tulowitzki at the plate and Josh Donaldson on deck? When Herrera returns, I pretty much expect Yost to go back to the traditional HDH and that might be okay.  Are most of Holland’s past issues the result of a minor injury (early) or too much rest (more recently) or is he ‘losing it’? While we like to discount the mental side of the game as it cannot be quantified, it does exist. In the odd world of bullpen minds, certainty of roles seems to be critical. If it is HDH or bust, so be it, but the Royals need to decide well before the end of the season.
  • Who plays rightfield? Will Jarrod Dyson hit?  Will Jonny Gomes catch the ball?  Will Alex Rios be interested? And no, Paulo Orlando has not done enough to ‘deserve’ a spot on the post-season roster. Unlike the delicate mind of a reliever, Yost can mix and match at this spot.  Dyson and Gomes have been part-time players most of their careers and Rios?  Well, he can’t be worse than when he was out there everyday as the Royals surged to an 82-51 record can he?
  • The fourth starter.  Ventura’s locked down the third spot in the playoff rotation, so it comes down to Medlen or Duffy.  Hell, that’s NOT a problem.

So, remember when we used to have ten bullet points that should the Royals be able to solve them they MIGHT get into contention?  We are down to four – three really – that if they are solved the Royals should end up in the World Series.

Don’t wake me up, I like this dream.

Seven innings, one run, eleven strikeouts, just one walk.  That was Yordano Ventura’s Wednesday night. That will get a guy into the playoff rotation.

Last night was the fifth decent to great outing in a row for Ventura, covering a stretch of 32 innings in which he has allowed just 20 hits and four runs.  Along the way Ventura, who struck out 11 batters for the second straight start, has fanned 43 while walking 13.  If you eliminate the August 11th start that began this run – a somewhat odd two hit, six walk outing – Ventura has struck out 35 and walked just 7 in 26 innings.  THAT is the guy we saw on Opening Day and the pitcher we expected to see throughout the year.

No need to chronicle Ventura’s string of odd injuries and occasional mental hiccups in 2015.  We know them all too well and, knock wood, they all seem to be behind Yordano at this point.  Without getting too complicated, Ventura was throwing hard last night:

Ventura Velocity

Of course, Ventura always throws hard.  Yet, according the Brooks Baseball, his fourseam fastball is actually slower in August (96.55 average) than it was in July (97.1), but his two-seam or sinker is faster.  In fact, what Brooks calls a sinker is averaging 96.97 mph in August:  faster than the fourseam fastball.  You know what that tells this uneducated onlooker?  It tells me the computer is having a hard time distinguishing between Ventura’s four and two seam fastballs and/or all his fastballs have some sink to them.

If that kind of data confusion was happening to a guy getting lit up, that would be one possible indication that a pitcher was throwing piles of slop up to the plate.  When it happens with a pitcher on a run of domination, I am going to tend to believe he is throwing some nasty stuff up there and confusing (or maybe just flat out overpowering) batters as much as the machines.  That is breakfast table analysis, but something to think about…for a few seconds.

Perhaps it is as simple as using a better mix of pitches. Since July 20th, Ventura has thrown his curveball at least 20% of the time in each of his starts.  Last night, he threw it 28 times and induced six swing and misses.  At the same time, Ventura has gone less and less to his changeup, particularly in his last four starts.

Oversimplification?  You betcha.  Funny thing is, when you have Yordano Ventura’s stuff, sometimes it really is simple.

By any account, this has been a wonderful summer. The Royals are the best team in the AL by a large margin. They have won 80 of their first 130 games. They are surpassing heights set previously by a team that took the field 35 years ago. This is a team that has been rolling almost since they won seven in a row to kick of the 2015 season.

They have survived an injury to their all-world left fielder. They have survived having a leadoff hitter with a .301 OBP. They have survived playing a black hole nearly everyday at second base. They have weathered the struggles of their closer.

The 2015 Royals have met each and every challenge head on as they have torn through the American League.

But can they survive chickenpox?

Before the start of the Tigers series on Tuesday, it was revealed the Royals had two cases of chickenpox within their ranks. Alex Rios was sent home from Tampa on a chartered jet on Saturday. Kelvin Herrera travelled the same way on Sunday.

The good news is, the Royals are hopeful that the disease is limited to those two. The bad news is, they can’t be sure.

The chickenpox overshadows the return of Alex Gordon to the lineup, the return of Frank White to the Kauffman Stadium field, the trade for Jonny Gomes, a slew of September call-ups, and the match-up between Justin Verlander and Johnny Cueto. Infectious diseases tend to cast a long shadow.

Fans were probably the most excited about the return of White as part of MLB’s Franchise Four festivities.

White, along with George Brett, Bret Saberhagen, and Dan Quisenberry were voted in as the four Royals who were the face of the franchise. Or something. Honestly, I’m confused by the criteria. Although since it was put to a fan vote, I would imagine there were millions of ballots to shuffle through.

I’m glad White is back in the Royals family, although I’m not as excited about it as I thought I would be. I’ve written about this at length, but I’m not a fan of how the episode was played out in public. Dan Glass is a convenient (and fitting) villain, but White didn’t exactly take the high road in all of this.

I guess what rubs me the wrong way about this is there have been a number of opportunities for White to come back. He could have been part of the postseason celebration. He could have come back for the Mike Sweeney Royals Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Hell, he could have just walked out of the dugout before some random game to deliver a first pitch. Instead, he comes back at a time when it’s more about the individual than about the team and the organization. I’m aware this is probably an unpopular opinion. White is a Royal deity. His number 20 is one of only three on that won’t be worn by a Royal again. Understood.

This isn’t to say White isn’t deserving of a “Franchise Four” designation. We all know his story. He is a Kansas City Royal. Maybe that’s why I have such a difficult time reconciling the estrangement between the team and one of the cornerstones of the franchise.

All water under the bridge. I’m glad he’s finally decided to come back. Whatever the circumstances. Kauffman Stadium is better with him on the field.

A more anticipated return undoubtedly belongs to Alex Gordon. Gordon has been out of the lineup for the better part of two months. In that stretch, the Royals have won 31 of 48 to pad their Central cushion by about 10 games. That’s not to say he hasn’t been missed. Still, it’s unbelievable the way the Royals were able to weather the Gordon Groin Injury of 2015. No small part of that was due to the late July arrival of Ben Zobrist.

Gordon marked his return by hitting sixth in the lineup. The hope here is that after he gets a few games of major league action under his belt, Yost jettisons Escobar from the leadoff spot and puts Gordon in that place. A Gordon/Zobrist one-two punch at the top of the order is dreamy. The two best place-setters up in front of some seriously productive run producers like Cain, Hosmer and Morales? That’s a strong, strong lineup.

Chickenpox arrives to knock this team for a loop, but with the return of Gordon, the Royals just improved their roster.

When the news broke the Royals acquired Jonny Gomes on Monday, the initial reaction was to ask, “Why?” Not that Gomes can’t contribute. As Clark chronicled on Tuesday, there is a role for a guy like Gomes on an October roster.

But with Rios down for the count with chickenpox, now we know why the Royals moved to make this trade.

Chickenpox tends to affect adults more harshly than kids. It doesn’t sound like a fun time. Plus, it’s Alex Rios. A pro tip for when estimating a Rios comeback, take the provided worst-case scenario and add a week. Rios could legitimately be down for four weeks before he returns to full strength. And as we saw when he came back from his hand injury, there’s no guarantee he will be ready when he returns. This isn’t Alex Gordon we are talking about here. Rios has a history of being a slow healer. Given the time of year, I just don’t think the Royals can count on him at this point.

So going forward, I expect we will see that platoon in right field we’ve been hankering for the last couple of months. Jarrod Dyson will start against the right-handed pitchers and Gomes will probably get plenty of time against the lefties. Paulo Orlando – who I thought was surplus when the Gomes deal was announced – is certainly still in the mix.

One very important factor to consider: Gomes is not a good defender. Plus, he’s played only 102 innings in right over the last three seasons. The Royals could use him almost exclusively as a pinch hitter. Although that seems far-fetched as well. Ned Yost has called on a pinch-hitter just 24 times this year, by far the fewest in the AL. The next closest team, the Minnesota Twins, has double the number of pinch-hit appearances. Yeah… Yost doesn’t feel the need to pinch-hit.

In that scenario, I see Dyson starting against the right-hander, then lifted for a Gomes PH if the opposition brings in a lefty. Then, Orlando goes to right to keep a solid defense on the field. Don’t forget, this is September baseball. Anything goes.

The point is, even with Rios down, there are myriad ways for Yost to fill that spot in right field.

Speaking of September, a little housekeeping is in order. On Tuesday, the Royals called up Francisco Pena, Christian Colon, Cheslor Cuthbert, and Terrance Gore, along with pitchers Scott Alexander and Miguel Almonte.

Alexander and Almonte were not on the 40-man roster. The Royals had one spot open after the Gomes acquisition. They moved Jason Vargas to the 60-day DL in order to free up the other one.

And about that game on Tuesday… Not so great. The Royals had chances, but just couldn’t ever grab that lead. It was the kind of game that would really hurt if they were in a tight pennant race. Good thing they have a sizable cushion.

The Royals magic number is 20.

The Royals traded a minor leaguer most prospect hounds didn’t even know much about and got cash back from the Braves last night.  Oh, and Jonny Gomes, too.  While minor in scale, this is a big boy trade.  One we are used to seeing from the big market teams as they stock their bench for the post-season.  Your Kansas City Royals are stocking their bench for the post-season….in August. Savor that for a while.

Here is what you need to know about Jonny Gomes:

  • He destroys left-handed pitching.  For his career, Jonny has a .275/.378/.483 triple slash against southpaws and a 133 wRC+.   With the possible exception of Ben Zobrist, Gomes is probably the best hitter against lefties on the Royals roster right now.
  • Gomes swings and misses a fair portion of the time (27% career strikeout rate), but he walks as well (10.4% career walk rate) and has gotten better at working the base on balls late in his career, posting a walk rate above 12% in three of the last five seasons.
  • He cannot field.  You can put him in left (4033 career innings) or in right (1173 career innings) and pick whatever defensive metric you want and it all comes out with a negative sign in front of the number.
  • By all accounts, Jonny is helluva a guy in person and in the clubhouse.  Some discount chemistry almost completely, some agonize over it way too much. Whatever your position on the issue, most agree the Royals have a ‘good’ clubhouse right now and nothing in Gomes reputation would seem to be a flag that he would do anything to disrupt that.


Did I mention Jonny Gomes is not a good defender?
It is September 1 and Alex Gordon is coming back.  Alex Rios is kinda sorta a little hot.  Lorenzo Cain is tremendous.  Jarrod Dyson can more than hold his own against right handed pitching.  Paulo Orlando has gotten some big hits (although let’s all remember the guy has a .260 on-base percentage).  So where does Jonny Gomes fit?
I will tell you where Jonny Gomes fits:  on the playoff roster of a really good team, coming off the bench against a left-hander.  Quite frankly, and this will seem like blasphemy to a fan base that was willing to live with Omar Infante’s noodle bat for two-thirds of a season because he plays good – not great – defense, you might see Gomes starting in right field against a lefty.  His bat might be good enough to live with six or seven innings of bad defense in right, at least on occasion.
We all know that Ned Yost does not pinch hit very much and one of the big issues is the guys you would consider pinch hitting for in a close game are also the guys you want playing defense in a close game.  Do you bring in Gomes for Moustakas against a LOOGY and sacrifice the defense at third?  Would he even consider pinch hitting for Alcides Escobar?  Will the Royals stick with Alex Rios in right or are they at last willing to run with a Dyson/Gomes platoon?
Given that the Royals gave up virtually nothing to get Gomes, if the only meaningful at-bats he gets are in a National League park as a pinch hitter in the World Series, this move was still worth it. That is how far the Kansas City Royals have come: they added a proven twelve year veteran to their bench whose only contributions might be a handful of at-bats in a post-season series the team is six weeks away from even qualifying for.  I like this version of the Kansas City Royals, my friends.


You can’t win them all.

As much as you’d like to, that’s just not going to happen. Although sometimes, one team may dominate the other to such a dramatic extent that it may seem like it, odds say it’s unlikely. That was the position the Royals found themselves in on Sunday afternoon against the Rays. They were going not only for a series sweep, they were going for a season sweep. The Rays aren’t an especially good team, but the Royals are, which made this possible in the first place. Those odds, though… They can be difficult to scrape by.

The Royals found themselves in a spot on Sunday where they needed length from their starter, Danny Duffy. Length and Duffy are rarely synonymous, and this again proved problematic as he needed 99 pitches to get through just five innings. As usual, it was the foul balls that added to his pitch count. Of his 99 pitches, 70 of them were strikes. Of those 70, a whopping 22 pitches were fouled.

According to Baseball Savant, batters foul off 19 percent of all of Duffy’s pitches. Among starters, that’s the 17th highest foul ball rate. Ahead of Duffy on the list are successful starters such as Jacob DeGrom, Max Scherzer, and Lance Lynn. Oh, and Johnny Cueto. An abundance of fouls doesn’t act as a limit on success. But for Duffy, the foul balls often preclude him pitching deep into games. It wasn’t control that cut his start short after five innings. He threw only 29 called balls on Sunday. It was the foul balls.

It should also be noted that Duffy was a supreme strike throwing machine in his start. He collected 18 swings and misses while striking out six. This was a departure for him. He’s seen his strikeout rate tumble to a career-low 5.7 SO/9 and has generated a swinging strike in just 7.2 percent of his strikes thrown. His swinging strike rate is well below league average of 9.8 percent.

Another way to frame it, in a game where strikeouts are on the increase, 20.2 percent of all plate appearances end with one. For Duffy, he’s striking out just 14.6 percent of all batters faced. His six whiffs were just one off his season high. And in 21 starts in 2015, it was just the third time he has struck out that many batters.

Again, it was the early accumulation of pitches that cut his start short. It was the fourth time in his last five starts that he failed to complete six innings. Since his eight inning outing against the White Sox on July 19, Duffy has averaged just five and a half innings per start. Sure, the Royals bullpen is a weapon, but to rely on it to that extent is a bit much.

The other story to come from the game on Sunday was the bizarre turn of events in the eighth inning when the Royals were threatening to tie the game. With KC down one, Ben Zobrist starts the inning with a walk. (Brief interlude… Can we talk about how great Zobrist has been for the Royals? Seriously. A 13.3 percent walk rate while hitting .327/.414/.509. I knew he would be an ideal addition to this team for his versatility and his ability to get on base, but he’s exceeding expectations. Just a massive pickup for the Royals.) With one out, Eric Hosmer singles him to third.

Up steps Kendrys Morales.

This is one of those times when the Baseball Gods smile on your team. Down one in the late innings on the road, and your top run producer steps to the plate. Forget RBI, Morales has been a rock in the middle of the Royals lineup. He has brought home 21 percent of all baserunners this year. That’s a phenomenal amount, second in the league only to Josh Donaldson among hitters who have had 300 or more runners on base. And he’s second by decimal points. (I don’t know how close they are. Baseball Reference rounds all of their Runners Scored percentages.)

Morales is even better when he comes to the plate with a runner on third and less than two outs. In that situation, he’s bringing the runner home 68 percent of the time. Again, among hitters who have had that opportunity at least 25 times, Morales ranks fourth in the AL.

Simply put, this is the guy you want up at the plate in this situation.

Morales grounded the ball down the first base line. James Loney fielded the ball and threw home to nail Zobrist at the plate. Then, catcher Rene Rivera needed to take just a couple of steps to lay the glove on Morales who didn’t move out of the batter’s box. Double play. Inning over.

So why didn’t Morales run? He thought the ball was foul. Replays seemed to confirm what Morales saw: Loney fielded the ball in foul territory. It wasn’t about being “lazy” as some pegged it on Twitter. It wasn’t about a lapse in concentration as others may claim. It was a guy who hit a foul ball.

One problem with this situation was the wrong umpire made the call. Loney fielded the ball in front of the first base bag, which means the call belongs to the home plate umpire. He made no distinction either way, which is the norm on a close play on the line. Instead, the first base umpire made the call. Except it’s not his call to make until the ball passes the first base bag.

Again, if you follow me on Twitter, you know my position on replay. I think it’s a garbage system. Defenders tell me it’s about “getting the call right.” If that’s so important, why is it limited? Why doesn’t it cover fair or foul balls. It would seem to me, those are among the most difficult calls for an umpire to make. If we are going to look at a blurry play from an out of position camera on a call at second base, why can’t New York look at where a ball lands or where a fielder makes a play in relation to a white line? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Either way, the call stood. Morales was out. The rally was over. And the Royals chances for a series sweep were over.

An off day Monday, followed by a nine game homestand against AL Central teams. The next time the Royals take the field, it will be September, which means rosters will expand. Which also means we will have the return of Alex Gordon to the Royals lineup. That the Royals have done so well in his absence is a testament to this team. Still, seeing Gordon in the field will be a welcome sight. We are through the dog days and now in the home stretch.

The Royals magic number is 20.

On Thursday afternoon, it was all about one man, his right arm, and a performance of the most dominant quality.

Yordano Ventura sliced through the Orioles lineup, throwing six innings with 11 strikeouts. Sure, there were some blips on command – he issued four walks – but he minimized the damage by being pretty much unhittable when he was in the zone.

The strikeouts were a career-high, topping his previous best of 10 set in May of 2014. His Game Score of 75 was tied for his best mark of the year, set in May against Cincinnati. It was truly a dominant start.

It wasn’t all easy. Because is wouldn’t be a Ventura 2015 start without a few speed bumps along the way. He wobbled in the first inning. Yes, he struck out the side, but he also walked two batters and needed 27 pitches to negotiate the inning. From that frame, it was clear that it would be difficult for the Orioles to put the bat to the ball and make solid contact against Ventura. It was also clear that Ventura’s command would be an issue.

Except it really wasn’t. Not too much of an issue, anyway.

There were spots of trouble. In the third, when a walk, a single, and a wild pitch placed two runners in scoring position. Strikeout. In the sixth, a single and a walk put runners on first and second. Groundout.

Two things were working for Ventura. First, his fastball was pure heat. His four-seamer, which has been averaging 96 mph for the season, averaged a whopping 99.6 mph. He cut loose with the pitch 36 times, according to Brooks Baseball, and hit a high speed of 101.5 mph. Incredible.

The second thing that was working for him was his curve. By my count, nine of his 11 strikeouts came on the breaking ball. The pitch had incredible bite. As such, Ventura had batters guessing (and guessing wrong) all afternoon.

From Brooks Baseball, here is Ventura’s velocity chart from his start.


So damn impressive. About a 14-16 mph separation between his fastball and his curve. With a few change-ups thrown in the mix for good measure.

Ventura threw his curve 32 times and generated nine swings and misses. He also got quite a few takes in the strike zone for a called third strike. It was just a great pitch for him all afternoon.

Ventura blamed his rocky first inning on not being properly prepared. The game was scheduled for a 1 PM start, but a rain delay meant it didn’t get underway until closer to 2:30. All starters go through an individual routine to get ready for their start, and delays like that can knock them for a loop. Now, having said that, starters need to be adaptable. Not every appearance is going to come with perfect conditions. Yet let’s give Ventura the benefit of the doubt here and mark it up to yet another learning experience.

Speaking of learning experiences, the narrative here is much of Ventura’s turnaround this month is thanks to the tutelage of one Johnny Cueto. I’m sure there’s something there. At the same time, I’m sure that his impact will be oversold. Since Cueto put on the Royal blue (which coincides with Ventura’s one day demotion to the minors) Ventura has made seven starts and posted a 3.07 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 44 innings.

Is it Cueto? Is it being scared straight? Hell if I know. I’m not sure I really care, either. What I do know is that Ventura has recovered from a rocky first half of the season and is putting up his most dominant stretch as a starter since he reached the big leagues. It seems like every post I write these days references the Royals playoff rotation. With the Royals holding such a large lead for the division (and home field advantage) it’s probably one of the more important questions remaining. I mentioned in my last post, that three weeks ago, I had Danny Duffy as a “soft number three” starter for October. Meaning, he was currently the Royals third best option, but I didn’t think the club was thrilled with that possibility. Now, after Thursday, let’s move Ventura to that number three slot.

While Ventura is answering questions, closer Greg Holland is raising a few. In his first appearance since missing time with a “cranky” arm, Holland struggled through his inning. To my untrained eye, it looked like his slider was creeping up in the zone, allowing the Oriole hitters to barrel that pitch. And “barrel” may not be the proper adjective. They certainly made good contact, but it wasn’t like they were crushing Holland. No, this was a very Dirty South outing these days. A couple of great pitches, sandwiched around a handful of baserunners.

It was pretty clear that Holland wasn’t in top form when he first took the mound. His velocity was down between 90 and 92 mph. That’s not where he should be. However, he got stronger as his inning progressed.


It’s one thing to pitch like that with a four run cushion in August when your team is effectively on cruise control. It’s another to pitch like that in the highest of high leverage situations in October. Holland has a few weeks to work through his issues.

It also should be noted that Mike Moustakas continues his August renaissance. He was the offensive star of the day, with three hits in four at bats. In his last 15 games, he’s hitting .357/.446/.750 with 12 extra base hits. It’s too small of a sample size to say he’s fixed, but he’s going to the opposite field again, so this is very much a positive development. Now, if he can sustain it for another month-plus.

The Royals magic number is 23.

And you’re just plain wrong if you don’t know it.

Last night, Cueto was not good.  After a remarkable display of pitching to get out of runners on first and third with no one out in the second, Johnny gave up three two-run homers on his way to a second bad outing in a row.  Two bad starts in a row?  You’re right, he’s a bum.

Let’s ignore, as Twitter strikingly did last night, the four starts before that.  You know, a complete game shutout, a one run over eight innings performance before that, two runs over seven the start before that and three runs over six innings in his first Royal start.  That first start, by the way, coming against the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto. Not impressed by six innings and three runs?  Do note that the Blue Jays AVERAGE 5.5 runs per game and are 17 games over .500 at home.  Since acquiring Troy Tulowitzki, the Blue Jays have scored less than three runs in a game THREE times with only one of those occurring at home.  Buy yeah, as one tweet went last night:  Cueto’s a bum, bad in 3 of 5 starts.  Weird, looks like six starts to me, with four of them being good, but math is hard.

Now, I fully understand Twitter is built for the instant, knee-jerk reaction and also that anyone talking baseball on Facebook is likely to be firmly over on the very casual side of baseball fandom. I also know the need to be a contrarian and so, like the Cueto trade, when something occurs that most people like, there is the group that wants to be different.  They were out last night, too.  The ‘I was worried about this with Cueto’ or ‘I didn’t see why everyone is so excited about this trade’ group.  Yes, you are all so insightful.

Listen, if you want to debate that three months of Cueto is not enough to trade Finnegan, Lamb and Reed, I will acknowledge that opinion.  I personally don’t think it was, but there is an argument to be made.  You can also express concern that maybe Cueto would not stay healthy for half a season and have some standing.  Johnny did, after all, miss portions of both the 2011 and 2013 seasons.   If your reason is because you don’t think Johnny Cueto is not that good, then you are just not paying attention.

Since 2010, Johnny Cueto:

  • ranks 16th among all pitchers in total fWAR
  • ranks 4th in ERA
  • despite missing parts of two seasons with injury, he is still in the top 25 in innings pitched
  • ranks 6th in batting average against
  • led the league in innings pitched and strikeouts in 2014
  • pitched seven innings or more in 24 of his 2014 starts
  • pitched seven innings or more in 16 of his 25 starts this season and six innings plus in six others

Now, Cueto’s FIP and SIERA numbers for 2010 through 2015 rank in the twenties for all starting pitchers.  If you want to make an argument that Cueto is not an ‘ace’, whatever that really means, you have some standing.  He isn’t Clayton Kershaw, but do be aware as you dance the ‘he’s not an ace’ line of the following:

  • Kershaw has started eight post-season games in his career and allowed five runs or more three times and given up five runs in a start twice in 2015
  • Zack Greinke, between winning the Cy Young in Kansas City and going to the Dodgers, posted an ERA of 3.48 or above in three straight seasons.  He also has given up five runs or more in start twice this year
  • Felix Hernandez has allowed five runs or more in four starts in 2015 and did so three time in 2014
  • Dallas Keuchel?  Two starts allowing five runs, three more allowing four.
  • Chris Sale has allowed five runs or more five times this season

After the second inning escape last night, I tweeted ‘Johnny Cueto just gave us a lesson in what it means to be an ace’.  Like I said, Twitter is made for the instant reaction and, if pressed and if you demand some adherence to the nebulous ace, one, two, three, five rating system of starting pitchers, I might lean to saying that Cueto is not really an ace.  He is certainly a ‘number one’ and at the very high end of whatever scale you might use to designate who a ‘number one’ is.  An ace? I don’t know, man, define ace.  However you define it, be careful or you will end up describing no one.  Every ace has his warts.  Every ace and every number one has a bad start or two….and sometimes they come back to back.

Now, if you want to say Cueto is a ‘bum’ and ‘not that good’ and ‘has not been very impressive with the Royals’, then I do have to ask very sincerely, ‘What the hell color is the sky in your freakish, odd little world?’


Winning. It’s not getting old.

The Royals rolled to another victory on Tuesday night at The K, taking a 3-2 decision from the Baltimore Orioles.

Kendrys Morales hit a monster bomb. Mike Moustakas collected a couple of hits. Lorenzo Cain made a heads-up base running play. Danny Duffy pitched well. The bullpen did its thing. Victory.

These Royals do seem to make things look easy.

Morales’ home run came in the second inning. Just a textbook plate appearance against a pitcher who didn’t vary his pitches enough.

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Gonzalez was working Morales away and with fastballs. The only offspeed pitch thrown in the at bat was pitch number four, which was way high and outside. Morales fouled off the fastball on the inside corner and the 3-1 pitch that was on the outer half. On a 3-2 count, he got a belt-high fastball and obliterated the baseball. Let Statcast give you the gory details.

Those are the hallmarks of a baseball that is destined to get wet at The K.

I’m sure there will be a longer post after this season wraps, but damn if the Morales signing hasn’t been an absolute masterstroke from Dayton Moore. The Royals said all along they thought his 2014 season was an aberration, not some harbinger of decline. And you know what, they were absolutely correct. His power is still down from his 2009 vintage, but he’s back to where he was post-injury that caused him to miss a season and a half.

Morales is fourth on the team with a 121 wRC+. He’s also fourth with a 118 OPS+. He’s a rock in the middle of this Royals lineup.

I know the Royals will mention Morales’ RBI, but I’m much more interested in his overall percentage of base runners he brings home. Baseball Reference tracks RBI%. Morales ranks third among hitters who have come to the plate with more than 250 runners on base. He has driven home 21 percent, which is good for the third best mark in the AL. He’s just decimal points behind first place.

Just an outstanding comeback year. Kudos to the Royals for seeing that potential.

Speaking of potential, it looks like Moustakas is setting up for one of his patented hot streaks. Too often in the past, these stretches where he catches fire have lasted just a handful of games. We’re talking about like a week. This year, we’ve obviously seen a different Moustakas. His hot streak at the beginning of the season lasted for the better part of two months. He cooled off in June before he went missing in July and the first half of August. However, he’s brought the bat back to life over his last 11 games, hitting .310/.420/.667.

It’s an impressive rebound from a guy who seems to have spent this entire summer in unchartered territory, which is reason to be skeptical. When he was hitting the ball to the opposite field with consistency early in the year, the question was, how long could he keep it going? When he reverted back to some old, nasty habits, the question was, could he find his way out of the slump? And now I guess the question is, can he keep this going through October?

This is an important question because we all know the return of Alex Gordon is imminent. Gordon, if you recall, regularly hit in the sixth spot for most of the season. Which was absolute lineup malpractice. You simply don’t hit your best hitter sixth. Now, with Moustakas occupying the number six spot in the lineup, I would imagine Yost would be even more inclined to keep his third baseman there and find a new home for Gordon when he completes his rehab. This makes it less about moving an unproductive Alcides Escobar out of the leadoff spot, but keeping a productive Moustakas in the sixth place in the order. Yost supports his guys (which is a good thing) so this is a positive move I can see him making.

One guy who isn’t moving anywhere is Cain. Another nifty piece of baserunning from the Royals center fielder in the third inning. With runners on the corners, Hosmer bounced a grounder to the right side of second that was fielded by the shortstop Janish, as the infield was shaded to the right side. Cain stopped in his tracks midway between first and second. Janish’s momentum was taking him toward Cain and first base, so he threw to first. At that point, Cain sprinted to second and the Orioles needed to tag him for the out. Cain slid around the tag, headfirst, and just got his hand around the glove at second. Instead of an inning ending double play, the Royals stole a run. Given they won by a single tally, that play was huge.

On the pitching side, Duffy is in a battle for his playoff life. I’ve done a couple radio interviews in the last couple of weeks and everyone wants to talk postseason rotation, which makes sense. This is a huge question that needs to be sorted in the next six weeks. For the Royals, the first two spots are locked in place. I had been answering that Duffy was my number three, but that he was a “soft” number three. The meaning was, he could be pushed out of that spot by Yordano Ventura. Yet now, with the emergence of Kris Medlen as an option, there is much stronger competition for the third and fourth spots. Medlen is a guy who can get you six innings as we saw on Monday. So basically, every start from here on out from both Duffy and Ventura is a statement about their chances to be an integral part of the rotation in October. That’s outstanding to have that kind of competition when the team has their spot in the postseason tournament all but secure.

Duffy rose to the challenge on Tuesday. He cruised through the first three-plus innings before he wobbled a bit in the fourth, allowing four consecutive hitters to reach base. All with two outs. He was able to escape with his lead intact. It was a microcosm inning for Duffy where he looked sharp and then couldn’t put hitters away. The good news, he was able to find his footing before things really escalated.

Yost grabbed Duffy in the sixth with two outs, to give his bullpen the chance to save the game. With Greg Holland still out with a “cranky” arm, Luke Hochevar, Kelvin Herrera, and Wade Davis did their collective thing to lock down the win.

In his 900th game as Royals manager, Yost now owns a perfectly symmetrical .500 record.  He has 450 wins against 450 losses. At the start of the 2013 season, that didn’t seem possible.

And he got his record to .500 in typical Royals fashion. Some timely hits. Some heads-up base running. Six innings from the starter. A lockdown bullpen. Just another night in Kansas City.

The Royals magic number is 25.

Kris Medlen’s first start as a Royal did not start out in storybook fashion.  His first pitch was ripped by Manny Machado (who is pretty good, by the way) to the wall in right-center.  Lorenzo Cain, as he is known to do, ran about four miles only to have the ball go into and out of his glove, off the wall and back into his glove.  Seven minutes later the umpires in New York figured out what everyone else knew after the first replay and Medlen got to throw a second pitch.

After inducing a groundout, Medlen gave up a complete bomb to Adam Jones (who is pretty good, by the way).   It was not a particularly bad pitch, a curve ball down,  and was really more of Adam Jones being a good hitter.  Funny thing about Medlen’s curveball, after that it was almost unhittable (to everyone but Jones, who would single his next time up) and the ‘out pitch’ on four of his six strikeouts.

While the reaction to Jones’ home run was predictable, because it is 2015 and we hyper-react to everything or, even better, react to the hyper-reaction by indicating how little we are reacting (get off my lawn, kids), cooler heads prevailed.  Specifically, Kris Medlen had the coolest of heads.

He struck out Chris Davis, who was the only Oriole to get to a three ball count against Medlen all evening, and then struck out Clevenger to end the first and then just got silly good.  It took Kris just 8 pitches to work around an infield single in the second.  Fourteen to get through the third and eleven to escape the fourth allowing just one run thanks to two strikeouts and a Steve Clevenger base running vapor lock.   Seven pitches got Medlen through the fifth and just eleven more to get through the sixth.  After the first inning, Medlen never threw more than three balls in any inning.  Hell, he even managed to get Adam Jones out once.

How consistent was Medlen?  Here’s a very boring release point chart for you:


While repeating his delivery well, Medlen was also giving hitters a wide variation of speed:


When you combine the variation of speed with the ability to throw all four pitches for strikes, well, you saw the result.

After a seven run explosion in the bottom of the sixth, Ned Yost went to his bullpen to finish off the game even though his starter had only thrown 69 pitches. No harm with being cautious with Medlen, who had not gone more than four innings since being added to the major league roster.  That is the luxury of being thirteen games up in August.

The last time Kris Medlen was a full-time starter (2013) he went six innings or more in 24 of his 31 starts and allowed three runs or less in 22 of those.  This was just one start, but if the Royals have added a pitcher that in any way resembles the 2013 version of Kris Medlen to a playoff rotation that will start with Johnny Cueto.  Well, folks, October just got even more exciting.

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