Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Greg Holland is ridiculous.

Those four words could be his complete player profile. Greg Holland is ridiculous.

This may be the most difficult player profile I will post. How many different ways can you say someone is dominant? Because Greg Holland is ridiculous.

Let’s just start with some raw, basic numbers.

Year Age Tm Lg ERA G GF SV IP BF ERA+ FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2011 25 KCR AL 1.80 46 15 4 60.0 233 228 2.21 0.933 5.6 0.5 2.9 11.1 3.89
2012 26 KCR AL 2.96 67 36 16 67.0 289 142 2.29 1.373 7.8 0.3 4.6 12.2 2.68
2013 ★ 27 KCR AL 1.21 68 61 47 67.0 255 342 1.36 0.866 5.4 0.4 2.4 13.8 5.72
2014 ★ 28 KCR AL 1.44 65 60 46 62.1 240 277 1.83 0.914 5.3 0.4 2.9 13.0 4.50
5 Yrs 2.19 261 182 113 275.0 1104 188 2.06 1.069 6.4 0.5 3.2 12.5 3.85
162 Game Avg. 2.19 68 47 29 72 288 188 2.06 1.069 6.4 0.5 3.2 12.5 3.85
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/5/2015.

 

How can you comment on that? This is just four years of brilliance.

And to me, that’s the key when discussing Holland: His consistency. It seems that baseball is finally wising up about closers and their unpredictability. Something like 20 closers who finished the season in that role weren’t considered closers at the beginning of the season. Mortal closers aren’t so reliable. Greg Holland is not a mortal closer. When Holland began his career with the Royals, Joakim Soria was their ninth inning guy. In ’12 it was Jonathan Broxton. It didn’t happen and as much as I don’t like to deal in hypotheticals or what-ifs, take just a moment and imagine what we would be looking at had he been the full-time closer since ’11.

That consistency is something else.

Batters have yet to solve the mystery.

Year Age Tm G PA AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip
2010 24 KCR 15 87 78 23 5 0 3 8 23 .295 .360 .474 .835 .385
2011 25 KCR 46 233 211 37 8 2 3 19 74 .175 .246 .275 .521 .252
2012 26 KCR 67 289 248 58 12 3 2 34 91 .234 .323 .331 .653 .354
2013 27 KCR 68 255 235 40 6 2 3 18 103 .170 .228 .251 .479 .285
2014 28 KCR 65 240 218 37 5 0 3 20 90 .170 .238 .234 .472 .270
5 Yrs 261 1104 990 195 36 7 14 99 381 .197 .269 .290 .559 .301
162 Game Avg. 68 288 258 51 9 2 4 26 99 .197 .269 .290 .559 .301
MLB Averages .254 .319 .398 .717 .297
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/5/2015.

 

That slider… It’s pitching porn. There’s just no other way to describe it. It’s so dirty. So nasty. And definitely NSFW.

When Holland jumps ahead in the count, batters are going to get that slider. He throws it over 60 percent of the time when he’s ahead. And when Holland throws that slider, opposing batters have no chance. They hit .122 with a .194 slugging percentage against him last year when they managed to put his slider into play. Making contact was a feat in and of itself. Batters missed over 26 percent of the time they swung the bat.

Greg Holland is ridiculous.

MLB Trade Rumors estimated Holland could cash in for $9.3 million. It was a bit of a surprise when he filed for less than that at $9 million, which seems to be a relatively kind ask. The Royals have offered $6.65 million, which feels far too low given his track record. You would hope that the two could find some sort of compromise in the neighborhood of $8 million. That’s above the midpoint, but Greg Holland is ridiculous. Pay the man.

Holland presents a quandary for me. The sabermetric side believes closers can be found and the Royals have a deep bullpen, loaded with talent. If anyone could net a decent return in a trade, it would be Saveman. If anyone could be replaced, it would be Saveman. But after writing this and looking at those crazy numbers he’s posted over the last four seasons, I’m not so sure. The fan in me wants the Royals to not only hold on to him, but I want him to get an extension. Buy out his remaining arbitration years and then grab a pair of his free agency seasons as well. The funny thing is, the financial pendulum seems to be swinging the other way on closers. Three years ago, the Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year, $50 million contract. This winter, David Robertson signed a four-year, $46 million deal with the White Sox. The inflation that runs throughout baseball has bypassed the closer market.

Of course the danger is you live to regret the long-term deal. Like the Phillies do with Papelbon. If Holland gets hurt, loses velocity off his fastball, or loses the bite on his slider, his value plummets. Plus, the Royals control Holland for two more seasons – through his age 30 year. He’s not racking up starter mileage on that arm, but you wonder about durability. The Royals, being a small-market team, can barely afford to pay a dominant closer more than $10 million. If they end up on the hook for big money and Holland loses effectiveness… I can’t even bear to think about what that would do to this franchise.

Remember though, teams are getting smarter about closers. Sure, there’s still some big cash being thrown around in free agency, but that probably won’t translate to the trade market. The return on a potential Holland trade won’t be as much as the Royals would hope. Besides, I tend to think the bullpen and closer market gets hottest closer to the trade deadline. Teams think they have internal options in the winter, or look to free agency. When injuries or ineffectiveness happens and a team is on the cusp of contention, that’s when desperation sets in and that’s when a team may pull the trigger for a trade on a closer.

Probably all wishful thinking. The right move is to probably hold on to Holland for the next two seasons, give him a qualifying offer, let him walk and collect a draft pick.

The Player Profile series began a couple of weeks ago with the idea that we should look at the Royals players eligible for arbitration. Holland is the ninth profile. Hopefully you’ve found this site or rediscovered it through some of these posts the last couple of weeks. If you’ve just now stumbled here, welcome. Here are the posts so far.

Tim Collins
Louis Coleman
Danny Duffy
Jarrod Dyson
Mike Moustakas
Lorenzo Cain
Kelvin Herrera
Eric Hosmer

Remember, Greg Holland is ridiculous.

Eric Hosmer was the October hero.

The triple in the Wild Card Game. The home run in Game Two of the ALDS. He walked in 14 percent of his plate appearances and posted a .439 OBP. He collected six extra base hits, drove in 12 and slugged .544. His best month of 2014? October. And boy, did the Royals need that offensive spark. Impeccable timing.

Hosmer is a tantalizing, yet confounding player. You can see the potential. He just has yet to find a consistent run of results to underscore he’s capitalizing on that potential. There was the Hosmer who blistered through the last four months of the 2013 season. And there was the Hosmer who sputtered in the middle of 2014. Swings and roundabouts.

Let’s focus on his 2014 because that’s just a microcosm of his major league career. As a factor in the Royal April power outage, he went 30 games at the start of the season before he hit a home run. He then went another 30 games before he hit his second long ball. He was still providing some offensive spark with a .354 OBP at the end of April, but his .388 slugging percentage was unacceptable for a first baseman who hit third in the order. Maybe he was pressing, but May and June were a couple of brutal months for Hosmer. In a 56 game stretch, he hit .221/.258/.323.

As his decent OBP from April evaporated, Hosmer arrived at the All-Star Break with a slash line that read a pedestrian .268/.315/.347 with a 95 wRC+. Despite going on a mini-tear in the two weeks leading to the Break.

When play resumed, it was more of the same struggles from May and June. Then, on July 31, it was discovered Hosmer suffered a stress fracture when he was hit by a pitch 10 days earlier. He landed on the disabled list for the first time in his career.

To Hosmer’s credit, he immersed himself in his recovery and spend his time on the sidelines working with hitting coach Dale Sveum who had him take a shorter path to the ball. Hosmer caught fire in September, hitting .290/.347/.495. Post Break, he slashed .280/.328/.449 with a 115 wRC+.

Just another Jeckyl and Hyde season from the Royals first round pick from the 2008 draft. He suffered a shorter, yet similar, slow start to the 2013 season before he rallied with his best offensive performance to date. Likewise, his 2012 season was wildly inconsistent with great performances peppered in between lengthy stretches of lethargy.

While I’ve declared there is no mystery to a player like Mike Moustakas, I can’t help but to be confounded by Hosmer. Who is he? Offensively speaking… Is he the player who we’ve seen rake? Or is he guy who disappears for stretches. Or is he just inconsistent, prone to fits of streakiness and that’s just the way it’s going to be.

Let’s focus on a couple of issues that could be holding him back.

First, his walk rate has declined since 2012.

2012 – 9.4%

2013 – 7.5%

2014 – 6.4%

That’s just a symptom of being on the Royals. Although it may reveal an underlying problem that is his approach at the plate. According to Pitch f/x data collated by Brooks Baseball, Hosmer was ultra aggressive against fastballs last summer and had what they classified as a “poor eye.” He swung at 68 percent of fastballs in the zone and chased 35 percent of fastballs outside the strike zone. While he was league average (around 15 percent) on his swings and misses, his raw number would be higher because he was swinging at fastballs more than the average major league hitter.

Last year, Hosmer’s O-Swing rate (swings on pitches outside the zone) was 37.2 percent. League average was 31 .3 percent. Oof. Way too aggressive. His O-Contact (contact when swinging on pitches outside the zone) was 74.6 percent. League average was 64.9 percent. Yikes. As Kevin Ruprecht noted at Royals Review, making more contact on pitches outside the zone is putting a ceiling on whatever upside Hosmer once had. I absolutely agree. This is a Royal epidemic where batters expand the zone and put pitches in play where they can’t possibly get the best contact necessary to drive the ball.

Which brings me to the next problem with Hosmer, his ground ball rate. Check his ground ball rates since 2012:

2012 – 53.6%

2013 – 52.7%

2014 – 51.2%

It’s getting better, but damn… That’s way too high of a ground ball rate. In fact, it was the 18th highest among major league regulars last summer. That’s not where you want a corner infielder.

Why is he killing so many worms? My theory is when he’s going badly, he gets pull-happy. He gets out in front of the ball, pitchers pitch him away and he rolls his wrists and hits a harmless four-hopper to the right side. Hosmer’s spray chart is fascinating:

HosmerSpray

The heavy cluster of green on the right side is exactly what I’m talking about. That’s when he’s out in front and rolling over on the pitch.

What is also fascinating is the equal distribution of line drives and fly balls to the outfield. Clearly, Hosmer has the ability to square a pitch and drive it to all fields. As long as he stays within himself and is making contact on pitches in the zone. That’s crucial.

Since Hosmer is grounding out on pitches he’s jumping ahead of, it makes sense that most of the green cluster above happens when he sees offspeed and breaking pitches. The data backs this assertion. The following chart breaks down Hosmer’s batted balls by type of pitch he puts in play.

HosmerSpray2

But he was so great in October! That has to mean something!

It does. But not what you may think. Turns out the Angels, Orioles and Giants threw Hosmer more fastballs than he saw at any point in the regular season.

HosmerPitchCategory

Fewer breaking and offspeed pitches, means fewer ground balls, which means a higher BABIP. Oh… He also had improved plate discipline. He hit .500 against fastballs in the postseason. Small sample size caveat applies, but you see how he was locked in during the month. That’s a good thing. But I think for him to come close to repeating that performance, he will need to see a pitch profile like he saw in October. And that’s unlikely.

Let’s talk defense. The Fielding Bible says Hosmer was worth three Runs Saved at first base last year, good for 14th best in baseball. Data from Inside Edge says Hosmer converted 95.5 percent of the “routine” plays he handled at first base, which was second worst to Chris Davis among qualified first basemen. On the flip side among “likely” plays, Hosmer made 95 percent of those. That was tops among first basemen. So Hosmer’s a good enough athlete he can make the difficult plays, but he can lack focus on the easier, more routine, moments on the field? Watching him, that looks about right.

The difficult plays for a first baseman come from behind the bag and down the line.

HosmerDef

There’s a little too much green on the “Missed Plays” which is why Hosmer was downgraded on the “routine.” That’s counterbalanced by the cluster of lighter green on the “Made Plays” side. Homer is probably a little overrated as a defender, but is still very good. A Gold Glover? Eh, maybe not. But he certainly has the potential to develop his defensive game further. Hosmer already has the defensive reputation among his peers and the fans. If he could just get the various defensive metrics to fall in love with him, it would be game over.

Hosmer is eligible for arbitration for the second time in his career. Last season, he made $3.6 million and provided 0.2 fWAR and was valued at Fangraphs at $1 million. Not good enough. This year, he’s asking for $6.7 million while the Royals countered at $4.6 million. That’s a huge gulf for a second year player with his kind of track record. Hosmer is a member of the Boras Corp., so this is just the beginning as the Royals will go through this dance two more times before he’s eligible for free agency.

Hosmer is a solid, if frustrating player. It sounds trite, but he needs to put together a consistent season in order for him to provide value for the Royals. He’s capable of being that middle of the order anchor we’ve been seeking. It’s just a matter of putting it all together for six (or seven) months. That would be nice.

Two signings to report from Tuesday as the Royals reached deals with Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas. The deals mean both players will avoid an arbitration hearing.

Cain – profiled here – will earn $2.725 million in 2015. As the sides exchanged figures last month, Cain asked for $3.6 million. The Royals countered with $2 million. The settled amount is $75,000 below the midpoint. Also included in his contract is an incentive clause of $25,000 if he reached 505 plate appearances. That means, he will have to avoid his annual trip to the disabled list. If he is named to the All-Star team, that’s worth an additional $50,000.

As I mentioned in his profile, Cain will be a massive bargain for the Royals. His glove alone is worth millions. Even if he regresses at the plate, as I believe he will, he will still bring plenty of value. Plenty.

Apparently, the Royals got this deal done at the 11th hour.

Cain was this close to being the first Royal under Dayton Moore to have a hearing. With a difference of just $1.6 million, it’s surprising the deal just got done ahead of the hearing. This also raises an interesting point. Often these hearings are held in secret. We know the general fact that hearings are scheduled over the next couple of weeks. We lack the specifics of who will have a hearing and at what date.

Moustakas will make $2.64 million next season. He had asked for $3.1 million and the Royals answered with an offer of $1.85 million. Midpoint was $2.475. His profile is found here.

This raises another interesting point about the inequity of the arbitration process. Both were eligible for arbitration for the first time. Cain was worth 4.9 fWAR in 2015 and hit .301/.339/.412. For his career, he’s posted a slash line of .279/.326/.392 with a cumulative 10.3 fWAR.

Meanwhile, Moustakas hit .212/.271/.361 en route to a 0.9 fWAR. In his career, he’s hit .236/.290/.379 and has been worth 5.3 fWAR. Most of his value came in 2012 when he finished with a 3.1 fWAR.

Quite the discrepancy of production. It hardly seems fair they are within almost $100,000 of each other. Such is the failing of the arbitration process. Also, these one-year deals won’t preclude the Royals and the players from talking a long-term deal. If there’s interest. Remember a few years ago, Alex Gordon avoided arbitration and a few weeks later the Royals and Gordon reached a deal for a contract extension. Although I couldn’t imagine why they would sign Moustakas to anything beyond this year. And as I mentioned in the Cain profile, I don’t think he’s a good candidate for an extension.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I have always been confused by the love showered upon Moustakas. I wonder if that will start to change now he’s elevated from the ranks of minimum wage earners and is now set to make his first million (actually two-plus million) in a single season. Will there be a perception that he’s overpaid?  Will he start to hear more boos than Moose calls? A little million dollar fallout? Maybe not this year. Maybe next year or the year after when his paycheck figures to increase even more.

With Moustakas and Cain reaching deals, the Royals have four pending hearings: Danny Duffy, Kelvin Herrera, Eric Hosmer and Greg Holland. If I were a betting man, I’d wager the next two down will be Duffy and Herrera. Of course all of that falls by the wayside should Hosmer or Holland have a hearing scheduled in the next day or so. I still think the Royals get everyone under contract without a hearing.

Here is the Royals current payroll estimate. The red numbers are the midpoints between team and player. The players at the bottom are estimated to make close to the major league minimum. Remember from my last payroll post, the names for the players making the minimum may change – I’m not betting Brandon Finnegan will make the Opening Day roster. It also includes Luke Hochevar and Kris Medlin who will likely open the year on the DL.

RoyalsPayroll020315

Not surprising, they are still on target for around a record $112 million payroll.

The Royals unveiled their 2015 slogan during the Super Bowl on Sunday.

Forever Royal.

This is going to get a huge “thumbs up” from me. That’s just a great, great slogan created by Walz Tetrick Advertising. Not only is it a natural follow-up to “Be Royal” from last summer (which I also liked) it carries more weight following the Royals October run. Simple, yet permanent. No one who was at The K or who watched the games on TV will ever forget. It’s stamped into your baseball consciousness. Forever, right? Declarative and powerful.

As I was writing this post, I went through the categories we’ve created at this website and found a couple of the old slogans. “It All Happens Here.” Ugh. How generic. And I’m sure since it’s from the Jose Guillen years, it’s intentionally vague. Then there’s “Come To Play.” Whoa. It’s like an invitation to a swingers party. Creepy and potentially deviant. And, of course, “Our Time.” No comment necessary on that one.

“Forever Royals” is not only a great slogan. It’s the best Royals marketing tag for a long, long time.

Let’s talk about some of the marketing materials. The TV spot that aired during the Super Bowl is really good.

Combining images of Kansas City landmarks, along with signature plays from the 2014 postseason, the commercial hits all of the right notes. Yordano Ventura opens the spot by throwing fire on the back of the scoreboard. Sal Perez’s Wild Card winning single is projected on Union Station. Mike Moustakas falling into the dugout suite down the third base line is displayed on Bartle Hall. Eric Hosmer hitting a home run against the Angels in Game One of the ALDS is at the Nelson-Atkins. Lorenzo Cain is doing Lorenzo Cain things against the Kauffman Center. The game footage is composited against still photos of the Kansas City landmarks and looks great. I’m lukewarm on the script because it feels a little cliched to me. But to be honest, the visuals are so great – and it’s so fun to see those moments again – I’m not sure I’m even paying attention to the voice over. But the audio mix is strong, with Ryan Lefebvre’s “Fair ball!” call on Perez’s hit and the final “Let’s go Royals” chant at the end bringing us home.

And let’s make no mistake. Producing a commercial to debut during the Super Bowl – even a regional commercial – takes some serious stones. Get it wrong and there’s no getting around it. But this commercial was done right. It fit in nicely with the other spots of the game. Well done.

Then there’s the billboards. These have become something of a talking point for their creativity the last couple of years. This year did not disappoint.

The Royals are known for speed. To use speed, you kick on the burners. Burners bring fire, flames, whatever. So we have the legs of Jarrod Dyson presumably at the moment he’s taking off for second and he’s leaving a charred billboard in his wake. Pretty damn good. That’s going to catch the eye of drivers on the interstate. And it fits in perfectly with the other billboard work done by Walz Tetrick in support of the Royals the previous two years.

I maintain that marketing a professional sports team is difficult. You can come up with the best creative in the world, but nothing tops wins. Winning makes everything better. Marketing included. Good commercials and strong billboards aren’t going to boost attendance. Wins (and let’s be honest, bubbleheads and Buck Night) are what creates the buzz that puts asses in the seats. But when you have a winning team combined with a strong marketing campaign, the buzz just gets a little louder. Just a little. That’s what the TV spot and the billboard have done. They are building the buzz that starts with being the defending American League champions. And that’s good marketing.

The Royals, after years of afterthought, pushed their way through to the collective consciousness of the casual, and the not so casual fan. The new slogan perfectly encapsulates how we felt. And how we hope we continue to feel.

“And each of us became, Forever Royal.”

I don’t think you can dispute that.

Kansas City shook off the winter doldrums to embrace their AL Champion Royals as the annual FanFest descended upon downtown. With pitchers and catchers due to report in two weeks, there was plenty of news.

— Ned Yost developed an interactive baseball app.

What? I would have bet the house I would type “Royals re-sign James Shields” before I ever wrote anything about Yost and an “interactive baseball app.”

I downloaded the app and gave it a spin. My impressions are less than favorable at this point. It’s too easy to accidentally sign yourself out. The point, as far as I can tell, is you pick a defensive position and the game gives you a situation. Your goal is to throw to the proper base. At least, that’s what I think is happening. There aren’t any instructions.

At the end of the drill, you get a screen that gives you a score based on “accuracy,” “average response,” and “correct percentage.” I have no idea what accuracy is all about. You’re tapping a screen in the general area where you are making the throw. Then the correct percentage thing is confounding. I was dinged for a wrong answer because with a runner on second and one out, as a first baseman I was supposed to throw to… second?

Good thing this app is free. I’d hate to think anyone would pay money for this.

— The season hasn’t even started and we already have a new Twitter hashtag: #TGM.

That stands for “Total Gordon Move,” which is what happens when Alex Gordon slams into the wall (or the ground) and slowly gets up. With the ball in his glove.

And that’s why they have FanFest.

— Speaking of Gordon, he’s recovering well from wrist surgery. He missed two weeks of workouts (which is probably the equivalent to a year of workouts for us mortals) and says he’s been lifting weights and pretty much doing his normal winter prep ever since.

Gordon played most of the second half with the injury, which happened while sliding. He had a scorching hot August, but wore down in September, had a good ALDS and ALCS, but stumbled in the World Series. Injuries (and surgeries) to the wrist are worrying. It’s to his right wrist which means it’s his lower hand when he swings the bat. Hopefully, this won’t be something that saps his strength or slows down his snap.

The cast comes off at the start of next week.

– I enjoyed this Tweet:

Sometimes players aren’t the best judge of things. No matter how close they reside to the dirt. I’ll just leave this here:

Sal Perez 1st half – .283/.329/.437 with a .337 wOBA and 117 wRC+
Sal Perez 2nd half – .229/.236/.360 with a .259 wOBA and 61 wRC+

Ned Yost abused the hell out of Perez. Fact. Those numbers don’t lie. Although it should be noted that his 1st half numbers look good due to a June where he hit everything. (.347/.383/.535 with a .403 wOBA and 162 wRC+) His April and May weren’t special, but they weren’t as bad as any month in the second half. His grip-and-rip approach caught up to him, but I would submit his workload crushed his numbers even more in the second half. It will be very interesting to see how Perez bounces back.

Perez wants to play everyday. Yost wants his best players on the field. I get that. But at some point, common sense should prevail.

Yost floated the idea of tying Erik Kratz to a pitcher as a personal catcher. That would force Yost to give Perez a day off at least once a week. Whatever works.

— Brandon Finnegan figures to be one of 10 starting pitchers the Royals will use in spring training. The problem for Finnegan is all five spots in the regular season are already taken. So even if he has some sort of lights out spring – and remember it will be his first spring training – it’s pretty much going to take an injury to one of the starting five to have the Royals take him north in the rotation.

What will likely happen is at some point, the Royals will have to make a decision. Do they send him to the minors to start, or do they keep him in Kansas City in the bullpen. (This is assuming he has a productive spring.) It sounds as if there’s a vocal camp within the organization that Finnegan should return to his normal role as a starter. Whew. It would be a colossal mistake to keep him on the big league team as a reliever. Finnegan is a starter. That’s his future. We hope. As such, he should be given every opportunity to hone his craft in the minors with an eye on a spot in the rotation in 2016. Realize last season was the perfect way for the Royals to handle their first round draft pick. He had accumulated some mileage on his arm, pitching his team to the College World Series. The Royals needed (and could add once the rosters expanded) some bullpen depth. He acquitted himself enough in September, the Royals gave him a spot on their postseason rosters. Everyone’s happy.

Just because it was a success in the short-term, doesn’t mean the Royals should use him as a reliever in the long-term. He can provide much more value to the team in the rotation.

— Eric Hosmer felt third base coach Mike Jirschele made the right call in holding Gordon at third in Game Seven. I’m probably the lone Royals fan who feels this way, but I enjoy that we’re still talking about this. It would have been much worse if the team had lost 11-0. Much worse. For the record, I don’t think there’s any way you could have sent him. Still, that’s a moment I’ll never forget. It stinks that the team came up 90 feet short, but I had a blast.

— Luke Hochevar is throwing pitches off the mound – around 30 at a time – as he continues his recovery from Tommy John surgery.

Whichever admitted it was difficult watching his teammates in October. I can’t even imagine what that would be like. To play next to those guys through five years of mediocrity and bad baseball, only to miss the action when the team finally reaches the pinnacle? Oof. It sounds like Hochevar embraced his October role as cheerleader. Good for him.

He didn’t say he had other offers, but he did say he wanted badly to remain a Royal. Hopefully, he can slot into the bullpen to give Yost yet another weapon he can lean on next season.

Denny Matthews signed a four-year contract extension to continue as the radio voice of the Royals. By the end of this deal, he will have been with the team for 50 seasons. Hell of an accomplishment.

I’m glad he’s going to be around. I enjoy his regular season broadcasts. Postseason? Not so much.

I’m not going to get into the criticisms from October here because we’ve heard them a thousand times. If there was one thing I wish Denny would change about his regular season work it would be having someone he could interact with and talk baseball during the broadcasts. He’s a great storyteller, but with The Steves alongside, he just doesn’t seem interested enough to bother. Maybe at some point in the next four years they will find a competent partner for him.

— Apparently, winning brings out the fans. Last year’s FanFest sold 11,000 tickets. This year? 20,000. No word if Royals officials were surprised.

We have reached the point in the winter where prospect lists and projections are accumulating. As January turns to February, it’s a nice diversion. Baseball is around the corner.

But do these lists and projections mean anything?

This year, PECOTA projects the Royals to win 72 games. Yikes. That’s like Year Two of The Process bad. This projection is causing so much gnashing of the teeth. On the surface, this projection seems incredibly unfair. Last year, PECOTA pegged the Royals at 79 wins and a second place tie with Cleveland. The Royals won 89, outperforming that projection by 10 wins. And they did that minor thing where they won the AL Pennant. I can just feel the indignation among certain corners of Royals Universe building. “PECOTA sucks! They are always wrong about the Royals! I hate them!!!”

That’s the natural reaction to that type of projection. It’s a macro view that elicits a macro reaction. Myself, I see that projection and ask, “Why?” Looking into this year’s PECOTA, the system really doesn’t like the Royals rotation. Like actively loathes it. Serial killers and email spammers get more love. Edinson Volquez? A 4.73 ERA and -0.7 WARP. Jeremy Guthrie? Not much better with a 4.66 ERA and the same WARP as Volquez. I don’t even know if I want to pass along the numbers for Yordano Ventura. (OK, a 4.16 ERA and 0.5 WARP.) Fold in the underwhelming numbers for Danny Duffy and Jason Vargas and the Royals starting five projects to have a -0.3 WARP. Damn. Those numbers are pretty grim.

Is that likely? Hell, no. Last year, eight pitchers in the majors finished with a negative WARP value. PECOTA projects the Royals to have three starters post a negative WARP. I don’t have team numbers broken down, but I’d guess that for an entire rotation to collectively have a negative WARP, it would be a historically terrible rotation.

Believe it or not, PECOTA saves some of its distaste for the Royals offense. It projects a .257 TAv and 641 runs scored. Both marks are dead last in the American League. This computer clearly didn’t get the memo that everyone is supposed to be better. But hang on to your pitchforks… Last year the Royals finished with a .254 TAv. So PECOTA does think the Royals offense will be marginally better? Yet they’ll still be awful? The nerve. What I find interesting is that last year the Royals plated 651 runs. I can do the simple math – that’s 10 runs fewer than they are projected to score this year. However, while their projected run total for 2015 is last in the AL, their real run total in 2014 ranked them ninth out of the 15 teams. So clearly, PECOTA thinks the run scoring environment is going to change for a number of teams. After seeing the shrinking offensive trends of the last several seasons… I’m skeptical.

The system thinks Mike Moustakas will be better than Kendrys Morales, but both would be worse than Josh Willingham, had he not retired. It calls for regression from Lorenzo Cain, but thinks Omar Infante will bounce back offensively. Billy Butler will not be missed.

In a nutshell, PECOTA doesn’t really like any Royal player outside of Alex Gordon. Does this make PECOTA a bad projection system? I don’t think so. It makes it like all the other systems. Imperfect.

You know how everything went right for the Royals last October? Flip that around and that’s how PECOTA is looking at 2015 for the Royals. Everything would have to go wrong. But those are the kinds of projections that happen when you have guys with short track records (like Ventura and Duffy), or players who dabble in mediocrity (Hosmer and Vargas), or out-of-nowhere breakouts (Cain), or are just plain bad (Moustakas). Basically, the computer sees a lot about the Royals that raises red flags and causes a great deal of skepticism. Nothing personal, you know.

Steamer (found on Fangraphs) is more bullish on the Royals chances, but still has them at just 81 wins. They like the starting rotation more than PECOTA – I don’t think anyone can like anything less than PECOTA likes the Royals starting rotation –  but Steamer thinks Moustakas is capable of a 2.7 fWAR season. OK.

All in good fun. Until you realize these silly projection systems don’t give a damn the Royals won the AL Pennant last year. What? October doesn’t count? Nooooooo.

It’s a computer. As some bloggers at The Star will point out, they play the games on the field. I’m aware of the differences, thanks. That doesn’t mean I can’t be entertained by the various projection systems.

What does annoy me is those who take the projections as some kind of mantra. Extremism in all forms is unappetizing. I cite Steamer and PECOTA on this site from time to time in order to give a big picture of a player going forward. I use these projections as a talking point. A conversation piece. When Steamer says Lorenzo Cain is going to hit .267/.315/.377 which would be a huge drop in offensive production, I acknowledge that the system thinks that Cain is going to regress and then I move along. I’m not going to say with certainty that Cain will post a 2.7 fWAR (his Steamer projection) because there are 162 games to play. When someone says the Nationals are only two wins better with Max Scherzer based on his Steamer projection, that may be accurate, but that’s no fun. What’s fun is saying, “The Nationals rotation is going to dominate!” According to PECOTA, they are the anti-Royals.

Now that baseball has leveled the playing field and mediocrity is rewarded with a pair of Wild Cards, you just have to hover around .500 for as long as you can before you make your move. So the good news is PECOTA also projects the Tigers to win the division with 82 wins. Sweet. Instead of looking at the whole numbers, maybe this is a notice that the entire AL Central just isn’t a strong division. Steamer agrees, giving the Tigers 85 wins. The really good news is the White Sox and all those fancy moves last month still aren’t enough to push them to the postseason. Take that, South Siders!

I love the projections. They are something fun to parse when the wind is blowing from the north and it’s dark at dinnertime. It’s fun to try to crack the code… Which system is too optimistic? Which one favors rookies the most? Is it possible to identify a sleeper team?

I just try to keep everything in perspective. Opening Day is about two months away. And we’re eight months away from finding out about the accuracy of these projections.

In 2014, Kelvin Herrera finished with a 1.41 ERA, a 7.6 SO/9, 3.3 BB/9 and held opposition batters to a slash line of .214/.295/.266. He faced 285 batters and surrendered just 13 extra base hits. All of them doubles.

I don’t need to tell you he was the primary “H” in the H-D-H bullpen that powered the Royals to the Wild Card and beyond. Herrera was just as good in the postseason, throwing an additional 15 innings (!) with 16 strikeouts and a 1.80 ERA. He had a bit of a blip relieving Yordano Ventura against the A’s, allowing an inherited runner to score and then coughing up three consecutive singles to surrender another run. He settled down the next inning and the rest is October lore. He was magnificent in two of the three Royals wins in the ALDS and in all four games of the ALCS, allowing just four base runners. Herrera stumbled a bit and battled his control in the World Series, but by this point he had thrown over 78 innings, most of them in high-leverage situations.

Herrera is an extreme ground ball pitcher. His four-seam fastball averages 98 mph and generates a ground ball 53 percent of the time. Pure filth. He compliments that with a two-seamer that clocks around 97 mph and results in a ground ball over 61 percent of the time when it’s put in play. That’s when hitters actually make contact. He generates a miss in 20 percent of the swings off his two-seamer, 28 percent of the time against his straight fastball. Seriously unfair.

How about this tasty nugget? Herrera finished 67 plate appearances in 2014 with his two-seam fastball. Exactly one of those were put in play for extra bases. A double. One lousy double. That’s all that opposing hitters could generate off that sinker. For the record, they hit .185 against the two-seamer and the lone double pushed their slugging percentage to .200.

Then what about his change-up?

Herrera’s change has an average velocity of around 87 mph, or 10 mph slower than his fastball. With similar arm action and release point, and a slight arm-side fade, this is the offering that keeps hitters off balance. Herrera generates a miss on over 37 percent of his swings against the change. He will throw his change 24 percent of the time against lefties and it’s his “go-to” pitch against them when he’s ahead in the count.

Last summer was the first time Herrera has thrown more two-seamers than change-ups. I think that can partially explain his decline in strikeout rate. The two-seamer was a challenge pitch: Here’s something you can hit, but go right ahead, because you’re going to keep this on the ground and I’m going to get an out (or two.)

From Brooks Baseball, here is Herrera’s pitch selection through his career.

HerreraSelection

That’s quite a change between his sinker and his change and it tells me he must have confidence in his two-seamer to get results. I realize strikeouts are fascist and ground balls are more democratic, but whatever works.

Herrera gives Yost some flexibility in the bullpen. While Wade Davis and Greg Holland were strict eight and ninth inning pitchers, respectively, Herrera had the ability to throw more than a single inning. While Davis was tasked with getting three outs just four times last summer, and Holland never did, Herrera got more than three outs in an outing 12 times.  That was the most on the team.

Yost also relied on Herrera more than any reliever to get his team out of trouble. Herrera inherited 43 runners in 2014, by far the most on the team. (Second was Aaron Crow, who inherited 28 runners.) Herrera allowed just nine of those runners to score. That’s a rate of 21 percent, well below league average of 28 percent.

Herrera was outstanding last year. He’s been outstanding his entire Royals career. Such is the life of a seventh inning set-up man that he flies relatively under the radar.

If there’s one thing about Herrera’s season that raised a red flag was his drop in strikeout rate. In 2014, he whiffed 7.6 batters per nine, way down from his 2013 strikeout rate of 11.4 SO/9. I looked for a possible cause in the decline, but there isn’t anything that points to his falling strikeout rate as continuing. His swing and miss rate fell by a couple of percentage points and his contact rate was around 75 percent. Eh. Opposition batters swung more frequently in the past, and with the decline in missing bats, I suppose that’s as good a reason as any. Thankfully his 99 mph four-seamer and 98 mph sinker have been rock steady. Last year, his change-up velocity jumped to 90 mph, up three mph from 2013. The decline in strikeouts is something to watch going forward, but I expect it will increase in 2015. PECOTA is projecting a whiff rate of 8.9 SO/9. I’ll buy that.

Herrera is eligible for arbitration for the first time. While his performance was dominant, the system favors closers (because saves) over guys who just get the job done. While there’s no doubt in my mind Herrera can close, he’s not going to make Greg Holland money. Although his presence on the roster could render Holland (or Davis) expendable, should the Royals decide to jettison some payroll or add a bat in exchange for a reliever. Herrera asked for $1.9 million and the Royals offered $1.15 million. With the midpoint at $1.525, I expect the Royals and H1 (get it?) to settle at that number, give or take $25,000.

I noticed a blog the other day where the author wondered if Yordano Ventura should start Opening Day for the Royals. I found it interesting. Etiquette says I should post the link to the blog. So I will. (LINK) My conscience says to tell you to click at your own risk.

I’m breaking all sorts of personal blog rules here. But I thought the post deserved a thoughtful response.

A couple years ago I was standing behind a backstop on one of the Royals spring training fields in Surprise, Ariz. A skinny kid was on the mound and he cut loose with a fastball. After one pitch I immediately turned to the person next to me and asked: “Who is that guy?”

It was my first look at Yordano Ventura.

We’ve almost all had that very same reaction. Ventura is a slight, skinny kid from the Dominican Republic. He looks like he’s skipping his high school algebra class to go to a baseball game. Except he’s pitching. And throwing heat. And regularly getting major league hitters out. You wouldn’t believe it just from looking at him, but after just one pitch, you know. Ventura has a special, special arm.

It’s easy heat in that it doesn’t look like he’s giving max effort to attain max velocity. So smooth. So unhittable when he’s on his game.

When you’re sitting in the upper deck you might think a big-league fastball doesn’t look all that fast, but if you ever get to stand close to home plate when a big-league pitcher throws a big-league fastball, you’ll realize they’re throwing a lot harder than you think — and Yordano Ventura throws harder than almost anybody else.

Translation: I’ve been on the dirt. You haven’t. Therefore, I come to you with knowledge. Knowledge that can only be found on the dirt. Mixed with grit and shells of sunflower seeds. You just can’t understand these ballplayers unless you are with them. On the dirt. Because the dirt is where they play.

So here’s the question: if the Royals get to opening day and their starting rotation is Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie, Edinson Volquez, Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura, and Ventura has the best stuff on the staff, should Ventura be the Royals’ opening day starter?

Good question.

It depends.

That’s not an answer.

——————————————————————————————————————–

What follows from the writer is a reminder that Ventura is young and has made a limited number of big league starts. Personally, that’s part of what makes him so exciting. So much potential. And so much heat. Youth!

Here’s why that matters: During the 2014 AL Wild Card Game…

Oh, god.

Ventura threw Moss two fastballs and both missed the zone. With the count 2-0, Ventura threw a third fastball — a fastball in a fastball count — and Moss didn’t miss it. Ventura’s 98 mph fastball was lined over the center-field wall for a three-run homer and the Athletics had the lead.

How about this? Who called for the third consecutive fastballs to Moss?

Makes you think. Which is sometimes the point.

Let’s dive a little deeper…

Ventura throws a fastball about 44 percent of the time to left-handed batters. He offers that pitch 45 percent of the time when he’s behind in the count. Also, when he’s behind, Ventura will throw his two-seamer 29 percent of the time and his change-up 15 percent of the time. Yes, it was a fastball count, but the sinker and the change are certainly options. Interestingly enough, in all counts he throws his sinker 18 percent of the time to left-handed batters. He will throw it 29 percent of the time when he falls behind in the count to lefties. That deviation (18 percent in all counts versus 29 percent when he’s behind) suggests to me that Ventura is extremely confident about his command of that pitch. If he’s confident of his command, it’s a good strategy to throw that pitch. It comes in a tick slower than his four-seamer, and features a nice little downward sink. When it’s put in play, left-handed batters hit a ground ball 49 percent of the time. Given the situation – runners on first and second – why wouldn’t Ventura and Perez gone for a ground ball to get the double play? Why throw three consecutive fastballs to a hitter who has already clubbed a monster home run? Sure, it’s a fastball count, but again given the situation, you can’t give him a 98 mph pipe shot. Because home runs.

The counterpoint to this is his two-seamer isn’t a great pitch to throw to left-handed batters. Lefties hit .356 and slugged .452 against that pitch. They swing and miss at the pitch just five percent of the time.

Is there a correct answer? A certain pitch we can say he definitely should have thrown? No. But that’s baseball. I get what happened, though. With two runners already on base, Ventura felt he couldn’t take any chances, so he went fastball and left that third consecutive heater over the heart of the plate in Moss’s happy zone.

Ventura_Moss

Let’s return to the blog post.

Ventura had faced three batters, given up two hits, allowed two earned runs and finished his one-third of an inning with a postseason ERA of 54.00.

Let’s get crazy. One-third of an inning. Three batters. That is just about the smallest sample size you can have. You are forming an opinion off of three batters. You can be anti-stats, but to pass judgement on someone’s guts or confidence based on three batters faced… That just flies in the face of common sense.

The writer fails to bring up two very important points which may have played a role in the outcome of the cited small sample. First, Ventura entered the game having made a start just two days prior. In that start he threw 74 pitches and labored through four innings. That outing followed his penultimate start of the regular season in Cleveland where he threw a season-high 117 pitches. Given an elevated, late season pitch count and the short rest, do you think there was a chance Ventura was a little fatigued? Could that have had anything to do with his struggles in the Wild Card game?

Second, that was just the second time in 2014 that Ventura pitched in relief. And although he had success in his previous relief outing, I personally dislike bringing in a starting pitcher in the middle of an innings, especially with runners on base. Starters are creatures of habit. They have their routines to get ready. Now if you want to bring a starter in in the fourth inning, their may have to abbreviate or rush their routine, but they at least have the luxury of starting a clean inning. Ventura had no such luxury. This wasn’t about cracking under pressure. This was about a pitcher in an unfamiliar spot in a high-leverage situation.

Pedro Martinez, who has spent some time in the dirt, was highly critical of Yost bringing Ventura in to the game in the middle of an inning.

Ugly goat. Perfect. That’s why Pedro is in the Hall of Fame.

CJ Nitkowski also Tweeted from the dirt with some criticism for the Royals manager.

Writers chimed in immediately. Yost’s decision was called questionable and his skill as a manager was classified as terrible. That was a spot for Kelvin Herrera. That’s not hindsight. It was a key situation in a winner-take-all game and with the Royals amazing bullpen, it was appropriate for Herrera to take the mound. Everyone but Yost knew it and I suspect, based on his managerial moves later in October, he learned something from his error in judgement.

Nevermind all that logic above. According to this blog, Ventura pissed himself and nearly threw away the Royals October before it even started.

So what’s all that have to do with being the opening day starter?

Nothing. Duh.
At the beginning of the season, No. 1 starters face No. 1 starters. Each team throws their best guy out there on opening day and for a while — until days off or rainouts throw matchups out of sync — an opening day starter can assume he’ll face the best pitcher the opposition has to offer. 
And that means you can pitch great and still lose.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. You can pitch great anytime against any other starting pitcher in the league and still lose. I’ve seen it. Truth.
If a pitcher is mentally strong that might not matter; he knows what he can control and how well the other guy pitches isn’t on the list. But if a guy isn’t confident it can get in his head; he feels like he’s pitched very well and is still losing.

How about this… Three days later, Ventura started Game Two of the ALDS and dominated. He threw seven innings, struck out five and walked just one. He left with the score tied at 1. This means two things: One, he didn’t get the pitcher win that surely is important to this blogger. Two, he was pitching in some high leverage situations as the game progressed. In fact, Ventura’s average Leverage Index for that start was 1.31 which was his highest in a start in October.
Oh, let’s not forget Game Six of the World Series. Do or die. Backs against the wall. And Ventura held the Giants in check for seven innings. His command wasn’t sharp (five walks against four strikeouts), but he survived, kept the Giants off the scoreboard and rode the Royals bats to the decisive Seventh Game. That took some cojones.
Should Yordano Ventura be the opening day starter?

I’m pretty sure I’m unqualified to answer that question.

OK.

I’ll go ahead and take a stab. Sure, Ventura should start the opener. Why not? Ventura was the second-best starter on the team last year to James Shields. He was the best starter in October. With Shields gone, Ventura is the best starting pitcher on the team, so I think he should be the Opening Day starter. Will he get the assignment? That’s an entirely separate question. Yost loves him some veterans. I could see him handing the ball to Jason Vargas. Or it could be Edinson Volquez because he’s the new, big free agent signing. Or maybe Shields makes some sort of triumphant return to Kansas City to complete some unfinished business.

Either way, with the rotation seemingly set, who starts the Opener is going to an interesting subplot of the spring. Glad I could help clear up a few things.

If you followed the Royals throughout 2014 and at this point Lorenzo Cain isn’t your favorite player, I don’t know what you’re thinking.

(I’ll listen to Alex Gordon arguments, but this is Cain’s profile. So deal with a hyperbole-packed lead.)

While Cain wasn’t able to avoid the disabled list (again), he put his early season groin strain behind him and recovered to have the best season of his career. He finished with a .301/339/.412 slash line, a .330 wOBA and a 111 wRC+. He followed up his regular season with an October to remember as he hit .333/.388/.417 in all postseason series while playing his usual stellar defense. Oh, he was also named the MVP of the American League Championship Series.

It only feels right that any profile of Cain start with his defense. Sadly, Cain he so much time between center field and right, he was ineligible for the Gold Glove due to the innings played requirement. I understand why the innings requirement is in place (thank you past voters of Rafael Palmiero) but to apply that to an outfielder is disappointing. But the neat thing was Cain won a defensive award anyway when he was named The Fielding Bible award winner for a new “multi-position” category. Kind of a cool idea to award a guy who excels across the field so to speak. Let’s look at how Cain did according to The Fielding Bible’s Run Saved metric. First in center field:

RS_CF

Now in right:

RS_RF

The takeaways from the tables above is that while Cain played two positions, he was a top five defender in both places. Sure, there are other players with fewer innings that hang with Cain, but no one is on both lists. Then, think about Alex Gordon in left. He was worth 27 Runs Saved, which set a record for left fielders. Gordon in left, Dyson and his 14 Runs Saved in just under 700 innings in center, and Cain who would be worth over 30 Runs Saved if he was a full-time right fielder… Damn. That is a defensive outfield for the ages.

Another thing to consider about Cain in right is if you extrapolate his innings to bring his playing time along Jason Hayward, Cain would have 34 Runs Saved. So as impressive as Hayward is topping this leaderboard by about 18 Runs Saved, he would likely be second best if Cain played exclusively in right.

If you’ve read this blog, you know I don’t normally engage in hypotheticals (“If he played a full season… blah, blah, blah.”), but with Cain, I just can’t help myself. It’s fun to imagine the guy as a full time right fielder. Or center fielder for that matter. Whatever. Wherever. I just want Lorenzo Cain on the field as much as possible. Old time Royals fans will remember watching Frank White make amazing plays at second base, turn an unmatched double play, and just generally appear super human with the glove… That’s Lorenzo Cain today. He’s Frank White level on defense.

How about some more defensive illustrations? How about his range in center field.


Source: FanGraphs

Yeah… He covers a lot of ground.

Contrast that with his missed plays.


Source: FanGraphs

The Inside Edge data breaks down the plays Cain made in center this way:

Routine Plays: 99.5% (Rank 14/24)
Likely Plays: 87.5% (11/24)
Even Plays: 83.3% (7/24)

The ranks can be a little misleading because some guys are up on the leaderboard having just a handful of chances even though they played a larger number of innings at the position. Such is the failing of defensive metrics. The point isn’t to gaze in wonder at his ranking. The point is to see that Cain does, in fact, cover a lot of ground. He not only makes the plays he’s supposed to make, often times he gets the difficult out. That’s why he’s a special defensive outfielder.

Offensively, 2014 was the best season of Cain’s career. He has a fine batted ball profile for the type of player he’s become, hitting grounders 51 percent of the time, while clubbing line drives at a rate of 22 percent. He has a little power potential and the ability to leverage his best offensive asset (speed) to steal a few hits or leg some singles into doubles.

Cain sprays his line drives to all fields. His doubles (and limited home run) power comes from the pull side.

CainSprayChart

There is some cause for concern going forward regarding his offensive game. Cain’s BABIP was a robust .380. His profile as a line drive hitter/speed guy means he’s always going to have a BABIP greater than the league average. A .380 BABIP is insane even for him. After his 2014 season, his career BABIP stands at .345, which has to be a little misleading considering that in the two previous seasons he posted BABIPs of .319 and .309. I know this is a lot of discussion of batting average on balls in play and often times, it’s a crutch to explain a deviation from the norm, but in Cain’s case because of his profile, it’s relevant.

Another trend that should set off an alarm bell or two is his proclivity to swing at nearly everything. Last summer, Cain swung at 50 percent of the pitches he saw. (OK, he didn’t swing at everything. How about half of everything?) Cain isn’t Sal Perez (56 percent swing rate) or Pablo Sandoval (60 percent swing rate) but again, given his profile as a speed guy with line drive potential, it would behoove him to be a bit more selective. He certainly took the Royals offensive mantra of making contact to heart. Cain’s walk rate dipped to a career-low of 4.8 percent. Keep that in mind the next time someone who doesn’t read this blog suggests Cain would be an ideal candidate to bat leadoff.

According to data collected by Brooks Baseball, Cain has a poor eye on identifying fastballs in the zone. In 2014, he swung at 66 percent of fastballs in the strike zone and 34 percent of fastballs outside the zone, which is a below league average ratio. The good news, his fastball discipline has actually improved over the last couple of seasons. While he shows below average discipline on the fastball, he can still rip the heck out of the heater. Last year, he hit .352 and slugged .520 on four-seamers. On two-seam fastballs, he hit .379 and slugged .448. It probably won’t surprise you he saw fewer fastballs last summer than at any time in his career.

CainPitchDiet

I suspect the black line will continue to decline while Cain will start seeing more breaking stuff to keep him off balance. Last year he hit just .243 with a .341 slugging percentage against breaking balls.

Now, let’s talk about an unpleasant subject: Injuries. From Baseball Prospectus here is Cain’s injury history going back to his minor league days. A trip to the DL is denoted by an asterisk.

4/9/09 – Hamstring strain. Missed 11 games.
4/24/09 – Knee strain. Missed 88 games.
4/26/10 – Groin strain. Missed 17 games.
4/7/11 – Groin strain. Missed 7 games.
4/11/12 – Groin strain. Missed 88 games.*
4/27/12 – Severe hip flexor strain. (Occurred during rehab for above injury.)
9/14/12 – Hamstring strain. Missed 19 games.
7/28/13 – Groin strain. Missed 3 games.
8/9/13 – Oblique strain. Missed 26 games.*
4/17/14 – Groin strain. Missed 17 games.*

Quite the injury past. A couple things stand out. First, let’s just get the guy through April, is that too much to ask? Second, all of these aside from the oblique injury in 2013 are leg issues. And third, he has yet to play a full major league season without spending time on the disabled list. In what should have been three full seasons with the Royals, Cain has missed 153 games due to injury. In other words, in three seasons, Cain has been healthy enough to play two.

Cain is eligible for arbitration for the first time and has asked for a $3.6 million contract. In the current market, his defense alone is probably worth $15 million. That’s not crazy. The Royals countered with $2 million, which is their prerogative. MLB Trade Rumors estimated Cain would make $2.3 million. The guess here is they will settle just above the halfway point. Figure Cain will earn $2.65 million next summer.

He is an exceptional defender at a premium position. The bat showed life last year. He also was relatively healthy for the first time in his career. Is Cain a candidate for a contract extension? I’m skeptical. He turns 29 next April and the Royals control his rights for the next three seasons. That means he won’t hit the free agent market until his age 32 season. While his offense was improved in 2014, he doesn’t have a track record of success with the bat at this level that would warrant a meaningful extension. Plus, I’m doubtful he can repeat his offensive output next year. Or in the next three.

Having said that, I could see the Royals, in an attempt to control costs over the next three years, try to sign Cain to a long-term deal to lock in his arbitration years. Of course, if they were going to do that, they would have to tack on at least a year of free agency at what could be a premium (for them) cost. It sounds good, but as much as I love watching Cain play, I think the Royals should at least see how this season goes before they commit big money long term. Sure, if he’s successful the cost will go up and may move the Royals out of their comfort zone. But that injury history scares the hell out of me. Yes, the frequency is a concern, but his legs have too often been what’s failed him. For a guy who relies on his speed in the outfield, that’s a massive concern.

Cain is an exciting, yet offensively flawed, player. His 2014 season was a delight to watch. I’m skeptical that he can keep his offensive performance at the level he found last year, but his defense and speed will keep me coming back for more.

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