Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

A new book, misleadingly titled The Pine Tar Game, thankfully examines a much broader scope than the infamous 1983 Royals vs. Yankees game. I might have suggested the title The Pine Tar Rivalry since the book really takes a broad view of Royals and Yankees history, including the four playoff meetings of the teams between 1976—80, the contrasting personalities of George Steinbrenner and Ewing Kauffman, and the changes in baseball that contributed to the rivalry fizzling out. The pine tar game does indeed get the most attention, but is the direct focus of just six of the book’s 24 chapters. This was a pleasant surprise for me, as I doubted how interesting a book-length treatment on the one game could be.

While I’ve heard many of the stories related in the book, author Filip Bondy brings a richer understanding to this particular thread of Royals history. He also introduces plenty of new information for my Royals-addicted brain to feed on, such as a particularly enjoyable chapter on the details of David Cone’s upbringing in Kansas City as a die-hard Royals fan who can’t believe his luck to get to pitch for them…until they make a massive mistake in trading him. Twice. Another chapter tells of Rush Limbaugh’s time as a Royals employee. Sometimes Bondy’s scope gets a little too wide, such as a passage relating some KC Monarchs history. That’s one of my favorite topics, but I wasn’t sure what the connection was to this particular book.

While I’ve almost grown tired of seeing the brief clip of George Brett’s famous pine tar game freak out over and over, it was fun to read the more complex tale of that crazy game told in as much detail as anyone probably needs. Don Zimmer’s role as a Yankees coach, Dean Taylor as the Royals “rules nerd” helping draft the team’s protest, the Yankees going through the courts to try to block the three weeks later resumption of the ninth inning, and the umpire’s reactions to Brett the next time they saw him on the field are a few examples of the fresh (to me) details Bondy uncovered. It’s a fun, easy read, recommended to all Royals fans.

During the 2014 season, Johnny Cueto threw 244 innings for the Reds.  He struck out 242 batters and allowed just 6.2 hits per nine innings.  His earned run average finished at 2.25….pitching half his games in the best hitters’ park outside of Colorado.  Cueto’s ERA+ was 163, his FIP 3.30, his ERA- was 61.   Pick a number, they are all good.  With Johnny Cueto, they are almost always all good.

Don’t care about last year?  Well, in 2015, Cueto has tossed 131 innings, stuck out 120, allowed 6.4 hits per nine innings, fashioned a 2.65 ERA and an ERA+ of 145.  His FIP is 3.12 and Cueto has already provided 2.9 fWAR. I was told that Cueto had a bad May and he did, for him, allowing a 4.45 ERA. In other words, the worst month (by far) that Cueto had was better than what the Royals have gotten this year from Jeremy Guthrie, Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy (before his last two starts).

Johnny Cueto is a Kansas City Royal.

You can name some major league pitchers who are better than Johnny Cueto, but the list is not very long.

Johnny Cueto is a Kansas City Royal and, by the way, Raul Mondesi, Kyle Zimmer, Sean Manaea and Miguel Almonte are still members of the Royals’ organization.  The Royals did have to give up John Lamb, Brandon Finnegan and Cody Reed.

Sure, Finnegan was a great story last season and gave the Royals some decent innings in relief this year, but he was seventh reliever in a stacked bullpen and very little progress had been made in 2015 towards steering Finnegan back to a starter. I have little doubt Brandon Finnegan will have a long major league career, but many doubts that much of it will be spent being an effective starter. It is also doubtful that Finnegan was slated for many (if any) critical innings the final months of the season or in the post-season.

John Lamb is another great story and a guy you would have hated to trade away in say, 2011.  As it is, even a great half season in AAA seemed to do little to advance Lamb’s status with the organization. Joe Blanton and Yohan Pino got starts while Lamb staying in Omaha. Once he profiled as a top of the rotation starter, now he looks to be a back of the rotation guy….and one who has yet to throw a major league pitch.

Quite honestly, the name that might come back to haunt you in this deal might be Reed.  Hat tip to Clint Scoles (@clintscoles) who, after speculation that Sean Manaea’s medicals might be an issue on Saturday night offered that Reed was a pitcher that might be a suitable replacement. Reed, however, was just moved up to AA.  I thought a lot of guys were going to be stars when they were in AA that never went anywhere.

These three guys all have potential, but they all have question marks and none of them will ever by Johnny Cueto.  Of course, the argument goes, the Royals only get Cueto for a short period of time.  There is this ‘I don’t like rentals’ sentiment that runs perilously close to being a ‘get off my lawn’ mindset.  There is also the ‘hate to part with prospects’ mentality, drummed into many of us when all we had as Royals’ fans was the hope of prospects. I’m not buying either mindset.  This was at worst a fair trade and quite possibly a clear win for the Royals.

In the end, this trade really comes down to this:

  • Are the Royals more likely to win a World Series with Johnny Cueto on this team THIS year or more likely to win a title with Finnegan, Lamb and Reed paired with what is left in 2017?

Truthfully, the acquisition of ‘just a rental’ this year does not really effect the team’s ability to be a good team in 2016 given that Reed likely would not yet be ready, Lamb would – at best – be a rookie at the back of the rotation and Finnegan would almost certainly be in a similar role as this year.

While I was at the forefront of the ‘Royals need a bat more than an arm’ movement, I freaking love this trade. Some claim all this gets the Royals is just a handful of Cueto starts, but the math indicates that it gets them FOURTEEN regular season starts and, knock wood, at least two starts a piece in three post-season series. Maybe that is just a handful, but it is a damn valuable handful.

Couple Cueto with the just maybe possible resurgence of Danny Duffy and a hopeful start from Yordano Ventura and all of a sudden, the Kansas City Royals can at least dream about being four deep in starting pitching with the best and deepest bullpen in the game.  Say what you want about teams acquiring aces not parlaying that acquisition into post-season success, but I like the idea that Jeremy Guthrie and Chris Young (as good as he has been, he falters in the second half with regularity and, by the way, do you want a flyball pitcher on the mound in a playoff game in Houston?) never being considered for a post-season start.

I like the idea that Dayton Moore and the Royals are buyers at the trade deadline. I like the idea that an organization and a general manager who have always relied on staying the course this time said that a seven game lead in the division is not enough.  This was a move made to make the Kansas City Royals THE team to beat, not just one of the teams. And it was a bold move made without giving up any of the very best prospects in the system.

Johnny Cueto is a Kansas City Royal.

Today is a very good day.

 

Yesterday, Clark wrote about the Royals position in the upcoming trade deadline. Today, that feels just a little more urgent with the realization Chris Young is turning into a starting pitching pumpkin.

Young completed three innings yesterday before he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the fourth. (Yes, that happened. More on that in a few graphs.) He allowed five hits – two of them home runs – and four runs in those frames. Hey, everyone has a rough start or two. More troubling than his line in securing nine outs was the fact he required 68 pitches to get them.

In the last month, Young has made seven starts for the Royals. Here’s the damage:

36 IP, 5.5 SO/9, 3.3 BB/9, 2.5 HR/9, 5.50 ERA, 6.54 FIP

I know… Arbitrary endpoints and small sample size. Meh. Any way your parse the above numbers, they’re not good. Especially given his recent track record of fading as the season rolls along. I bet after the season if you are able to talk to Ned Yost or Dayton Moore, they will tell you the plan was to use the All-Star Break to reshuffle the rotation so Young would receive the optimal amount of time to recharge his batteries. Except the rainouts and schedule backlog, along with the other starting pitching issues, forced them to lean on Young more than they would have liked. He went on short rest just ahead of the break and then started on the first Friday back. The mileage of the season is starting to wear.

“These things have a way of working themselves out.”

That was Yost earlier this month when reporters asked what he would do with the presumed surplus of starting pitching. Things change quickly in the baseball landscape. Jason Vargas is gone for the rest of this season and all of the next. Yordano Ventura was optioned and then recalled before his car even warmed up for the trip north on I-29. And now Young is running short of fuel. Suddenly, it doesn’t feel like a surplus. And we still have to wait and see how these things are going to work out.

The Royals are 20 games over .500 and have a comfortable lead in the Central. According to Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds Report, the Royals have a 95 percent chance to reach the postseason. Yet nothing is guaranteed.

Young can probably be allowed a couple more starts, but I would wager that by this time next month, the Royals will bump him back to the bullpen. The trade market opened up yesterday with Scott Kazmir going to Houston for a pair of prospects currently playing in High-A ball. The centerpiece of the deal for Oakland is Daniel Mendgen, a catcher with impact bat potential. From BP’s analysis of the trade:

When you add up the elements here there’s the makings of a realistic 55 Major League catcher and the potential for a true Role 6 if it all comes together. That’s a rare bird indeed, and a reflection of Houston’s aggressiveness in making a push this year that they were willing to sacrifice him from their system to do it.

Kazmir is playing out a two year deal he signed with Oakland in December of 2013. He’s earning $11 million this year and that bumps by $500k since he was traded.

He’s presumably on the “second tier” of starting pitchers available on the trade market. Meaning he’s not Johnny Cueto or Cole Hamels, rather a guy who can give you solid innings in the middle of the rotation every fifth day. The price for that appears to be at least one ascendant prospect and another with projectable back end of the rotation stuff. Given the position the Royals are in currently, that’s a move Moore and company should be willing to make.

A couple more notes about Thursday’s makeup game…

There was a bit of a debate that could be had about how Yost handled his pinch hitters. When Yost lifted Young in the top of the fourth inning, it was with runners at first and third and two outs. We are playing by National League rules. (Don’t get me started on this. It’s a separate blog post that will run thousands of words.) The Royals were down by two. It was a scoring opportunity against a savvy starter who had seemingly found his groove in the previous two innings. With Young unlikely to get through the fourth inning on the mound, I thought it was absolutely the correct call to lift him for Kendrys Morales in that situation. I don’t care for your argument that it was too early to burn a pinch hitter or whatever. I like Morales up with a runner on third. When your pitcher is piling up the pinch count, doesn’t go deep into games anyway, and when you have a quality bat on the bench, why wouldn’t you go to that bat in a run scoring situation. If you “save” Morales for later, there’s no guarantee he will have a similar moment to make an impact. After all, a run in the fourth counts just as much as a run in the ninth.

Naturally, this bit the Royals and Yost when Alex Rios and Omar Infante led off the top of the ninth with back to back hits to cut the Cardinal lead in half. Jarrod Dyson walks and that brings up… the pitcher’s spot in the batting order. How to people even tolerate this nonsense? (I know… Another blog post.)

The Royals, as we all know, generally play with a three-man bench. They have Drew Butera as the backup catcher, Dusty Coleman as the utility infielder and either Paulo Orlando or Dyson as the fourth outfielder. It’s ridiculously thin, but Yost eschews the pinch hitter with gusto. Before Thursday, the Royals had used a pinch hitter 17 times all year, the fewest in the AL by far. Second to last is the Twins and they’ve sent up 38 pinch hitters. It’s just not part of Yost’s managerial tool kit. So when the team travels to the NL park, they seem to be handcuffed even more than your typical AL team.

So by going to the pinch hitter in the fourth, Yost needed another in the seventh (Orlando) when the pitcher’s spot rolled around again. That left two choices for the ninth: Coleman or Butera. The Unwritten Rules mandate your backup catcher can only be used as the last man off the bench, so Yost turned to Coleman. He isn’t having a good debut as a major leaguer. Coleman was overmatched by Trevor Rosenthal, couldn’t put the bat on the ball, and left the tying run at third. I heard the complaints about Coleman and I understand that, but the way Yost handles his regulars and his bench largely renders Coleman irrelevant. Until he becomes relevant. Like in the ninth inning of a one run game. National League baseball.

And by the way, those “defensive indifference” calls in the ninth on the Dyson and Escobar steals of second… Total horseshit. How on earth can the lead run in the ninth inning be allowed to move to scoring position and the official scorer call that indifference? Protecting Molina’s caught stealing percentage, I guess. Just another reason to love The Cardinal Way.

Thankfully, we can close the book on the St. Louis series. There may be sentiment that it would be cool to meet again in October, but I disagree. I was rooting against the Cardinals more than usual last October and I will do the same this year. Let’s keep this in the regular season, thank you very much. That’s plenty for me.

I think the Pittsburgh Pirates are a very good baseball team….and your Kansas City Royals just took two of three from them.  The Royals currently enjoy a 7.5 game lead over Minnesota in the American League Central, have the best record in the AL and the second best record in baseball.  My brother-in-law (a Padres fan) asked me the other day what it’s like to root for a team that wins every day.  My goodness times have changed.

As good as things look for Kansas City right now, they need to make a move to get even better.  This season is not about making the playoffs.  It is about winning the World Series and with that goal in mind, the Royals need a little something more.

If you have been reading this site for the last few months or run across a tweet or two from me, you know that I have long been beating the drum to acquire a bat more than a starting pitcher.  Even assuming that Alex Gordon comes back by September 1st and is back into Gordonish form by post-season time, the bottom third of the order is an on-base trainwreck of Salvador Perez, Alex Rios and Omar Infante.  My mindset has been, and mostly still is, that with the Royals’ marvelous bullpen compensating for ‘here and there’ starting pitching, that getting a bat to beef up the bottom of the order was more important.

I still believe that the Royals are in something of pick one mode when it comes to the trade deadline.  They don’t seem to have enough prospect cache to go get both an impact bat AND a premier starter.  Now, as quiet as the trade market has so far been, maybe someone will panic and actually have a true fire sale.   Then maybe the Royals could do something crazy and end up with a Cueto, a Bruce and still have Raul Mondesi in the farm system.  I think that is unlikely, but it could happen.

Anyway, a funny thing happened since I wrote about how truthfully dismal both Alex Rios and Omar Infante were with a bats in their hands.  After hitting .188 in June with two extra base hits, Rios has raked to the tune of .339/.388/.468 in July with five doubles, a home run and four steals.  Sure, monthly splits are an arbitrary endpoint (but they are easy to access), and you can pick and choose whatever start and stop you want, but the bottom line is Rios has spent basically the last 100 plate appearances being a good major league hitter.

No matter how well he hits, Rios is going to be a guy that will generate some frustration.  He will not always display a ton of zest on defense.  He will make mistakes on the basepaths.  He is, after all the same Alex Rios who has been in the league for ten years.  We have to be cautious that baseball history is full of bad players who had good runs for a 100 or so plate appearances.

ZiPS projects Rios to hit .276/.309/.401 for the remainder of the season, which seems reasonable to me.  If Alex wanted to hit .340 the rest of the way, I would be delighted, but I think we all know the odds on that.  Say what you want about projections, but if ZiPS is close to right, would that be enough to stick with Rios and have the Royals focus their trade energy in a different area?

If you believe that Rios will give the Royals enough and, frankly, if you believe that Paulo Orlando and Jarrod Dyson will continue to hold the line until Alex Gordon comes back, then the decision comes down to a starting pitcher (or two) or upgrading over Omar Infante.  The majority of folks probably will say starting pitcher and that may or may not be the right answer.  I remain haunted, however, by the thought of Omar Infante getting 60+ post-season plate appearances.  The thought is not as scary as it was a few weeks back when Rios was somehow a worse hitter than Infante, but it is still not something to be discounted because the national guys say you have to have a true number one to win playoff series.

What would you do, hotshot?  What..would..you..do?

 

RHP ∙ 1992—98

 

Hipolito Pichardo has a great name for a pitcher. Pitch-hard-o! He also represents the best Latin American signing the Royals organization made before Dayton Moore came to town. For the first 36 years of the franchise, the Royals took a look at the high-risk/high-reward practice of signing young Latin American talent and said, “Nah, we’re good.” Occasionally they would offer tiny contracts to guys that other teams weren’t pursuing heavily, a strategy that worked out about as well you’d expect. After Pichardo, Robinson Tejeda (#100 on this list as of this writing) and Carlos Febles (#145) were the most productive Latin signings for KC. (With Salvador Perez, Kelvin Herrera, and Yordano Ventura, Moore already has the three best Latin American free agents in team history.)

Pichardo hails from the Dominican Republic. John Schuerholz’s front office signed him in 1987, and Pichardo worked his way through the system between 1988 to the beginning of 1992. That he never pitched even 100 innings in a single minor league season suggests the possibility of health troubles, but I can’t confirm that hunch. Two weeks into the 1992 season, he got the call to the big leagues. He got his feet wet with some relief appearances before making his first start on May 20 at Comiskey Park. He kept a strong White Sox lineup off the board for all five innings he worked, and remained a reasonably effective piece of the rotation for the rest of the season. The Royals “like(d) the movement on his sinker and his poise.”[i] That low-90s, groundball-inducing sinker was his best pitch, complemented with a slider and a change. Pitching coach Guy Hansen explained that Pichardo earned the nickname “Double D,” which stood for debajo dinero, or “down” and “money” in English, because, “If he keeps the ball down, he’ll make lots of money.”[ii] He was almost perfect on July 21, 1992 when he allowed just one base-runner to the Red Sox in a shutout.

He slotted right back into the rotation in ’93, and, for the most part, continued his run as a solid number three starter. It was the best year of his career, but stamina problems cropped up as Pichardo had difficulty pitching deep into games and also missed time with shoulder fatigue. Those issues pushed Pichardo to pitch exclusively out of the ‘pen for the next four seasons. That 1994—97 stretch was spent mostly setting up for closer Jeff Montgomery and was a mess of occasional strong pitching, occasional terrible pitching, and occasional elbow and shoulder problems. That inglorious run inspired manager Tony Muser to make the curious decision to turn Pichardo back into a starter for 1998. His performances were generally decent, but, not surprisingly, he usually couldn’t go deep into starts, and then on August 20 he strained elbow ligaments that kept him off the mound for the rest of the season and all of 1999, and ended his time with the Royals.

[i] Dick Kaegel, “Kansas City Royals,” The Sporting News, June 1, 1992.

[ii] Ibid.

Well, last night was the first time the Royals scored seven runs or more in a game and lost.  Given Monday night was Kansas City’s 91st game of the year, that’s not bad.  You would like to think that it would never happen, but it does.  Even to good teams with great bullpens.

The Royals, after an early first inning lead, were in a hole all night courtesy of starting pitcher Yordano Ventura. A weird night for Ventura who needed 92 pitches to get through four innings (plus one batter) and gave up 10 hits.  Yet, he also struck out seven and walked only one.  The velocity was back and Ventura was throwing strikes (maybe too many strikes?), but the results were – being kind – mixed.

If Ventura had been enjoying the type of season we were all hoping for this year, I might just chalk this up to ‘one of those nights’.  Given Yordano’s odd season to date, you wonder if this is not just ‘one of those nights’, but going to be ‘one of those years’.  One untrained thought might be that Ventura, whose fastball velocity was dancing just under 100 mph most of the night, is throwing too hard and, as has a tendency to happen, too straight.  That is untrained eyes and ten minutes of thought (interrupted by a yogurt and coffee) and could be totally off base.  Here is Ventura’s strike zone plot from last night:

Ventura Strike Zone Plot

You have swinging strikes right next to balls in play (no outs) in the middle of the zone.  You also have a good number of swinging strikes out of the zone, which to me indicates that Ventura has some stuff going last night and might well invalidate my observation two sentences before.  I don’t know, boys and girls, just one of those nights?

As the Royals tried to comeback, as this team seemingly always does, we also got a look at Kris Medlen.  If you did not catch the game last night, you awoke to a box score that made you grimace, but Medlen really did pitch better than his line indicates.

Medlen entered with a runner on second and no one out, struck out two batters, then gave up a home run to Kang.  I refer to him only as Kang, because I think it sounds cool.  I’m not sure I realized this before, but if there is a team that is as much fun as the Royals are, it might well be the Pirates.  I digress, however.

A groundout and two more strikeouts by Medlen comprised the next inning and that was followed by a lead-off single that eventually came around to score via a stolen base, fly ball and ground ball.  To be fair, Ned Yost has done a very good job of managing his pitchers this year, but I thought going to Medlen for a fourth inning was probably wrong.  Kris left with two on and just one out and then had his line lit up thanks to a Luke Hochevar allowed triple to the next batter.

All in all, I was encouraged by Medlen’s outing, but you do wonder if it was him tiring in that fourth inning or the Pirates’ hitters having a better idea seeing him the second time around?  That is something worth monitoring the next few outings if, like myself, you have this hope of Medlen being a consistent STARTING pitcher yet this season for Kansas City.

We can probably forgive Luke Hochevar as well, who gave up three hits in just under two innings of work.  Those were the first hits Luke has allowed in nine innings, spanning nine outings and going back to June 23rd.

Like I said, one of those nights.

For fans, baseball is the rhythm of the summer. Games fill the days and provide the soundtrack to the nights. Reliable.

For the players and managers, baseball is a grind. A matter of survival for six months for the bonus of playing into a seventh.

The grind is something to keep in mind over the next couple of weeks, as the Royals strive to complete 18 games in 17 days. The weatherman has not helped their cause as rainouts called for the Royals to play a doubleheader out of the gate to start the second half and to sacrifice what was to be an offday this Thursday. The grind demands that Ned Yost use his roster with an eye on the big picture. A game may be lost in this stretch for the greater good. A struggling starter may be left in the game longer than usual, or a reliever from the back end of the bullpen may be summoned in a key situation. Planning and preparation are great, but sometimes the baseball gods don’t give a damn.

On Sunday in Chicago, just three days into the second half of the season, the Royals bullpen was spent.

BullpenUsage_071915

Every Royals reliever, save Brandon Finnegan, had thrown Friday and Saturday. And just ahead of the game the Royals had shipped Finnegan back to Omaha so they could bring in the fresh arm of Yohan Pino. There was still Joe Blanton, but he figured to be the reliever on the out when Kris Medlen was activated. Before the game, Yost said his list of available relievers was Pino and Blanton. The end.

To say there was a tremendous amount of pressure on Danny Duffy would be an understatement. Before Sunday in Chicago, Duffy had made 69 starts in his major league career. In those outings, he had thrown seven innings nine times. He had thrown a pitch in the eighth inning of a start only once. In that game against the White Sox a year ago June, he threw just two pitches, allowing a single to Adam Eaton, before he was lifted for the relief corps. Duffy doesn’t pitch deep into games because he has a tendency to bloat his pitch counts. It’s an issue that has dogged him his entire career. The knock on Duffy as a starter is he will jump ahead and nibble to get that third strike.

The Duffy we have seen since his return from the disabled list is a different one we’ve ever seen. He’s focused on making his mechanics more repeatable, content on throwing strikes and letting his defense help him collect outs. Duffy’s whiff rate as a (mostly) starter last year was 6.8 SO/9. Over his previous four starts, it was a Guthrie-esque 4.2 SO/9. Opponents are hitting .271/.337/.400 off Duffy in those 23.2 innings, but his 3.0 BB/9 and the fact he’s has allowed only two home runs means he’s keeping runs off the board. Well, that and some fortunate sequencing.

The benefits of his new mound strategy were evident three outs into the game. The first batter, Adam Eaton hit a smash to Mike Moustakas at third. Moustakas got a glove to it, but only enough to ricochet to Escobar at short, who fired to first to get the leadoff man. One out later, Escobar ranges to his left, pivots, and throws out Jose Abreu for the final out of the inning.

(I would love to use video from these plays to enhance my post, but MLBAM doesn’t want to spread the gospel of the game. Why promote the amazing? Thanks for nothing, MLBAM.)

Duffy crushed through the first five innings, needing only 57 pitches to retire 15 batters. By that point, we had what could be called a very promising start. The Royals, however, didn’t need promising. They needed length. They needed at least seven innings from Duffy, maybe more depending on the margin late in the game. In the sixth, the wheels threatened to fall off.

With the score 2-0, the Sox opened the inning with back to back singles. Tyler Saladino was out at first on a sacrifice bunt, moving the tying runs into scoring position for Abreu and Melky Cabrera, the Sox third and fourth place hitters. If Chicago was going to rally, this was the moment.

Against left-handed pitching, Abreu is susceptible to fastballs up and away. He also struggles against the curve down and in. In the most important plate appearance of the start, take a gander at how Duffy worked Abreu.

DuffyVsAbreu

Pitches 3, 6, 7, and 8 were curves Abreu fouled off. Pitches 1, 4, and 5 were fastballs. Abreu swung and missed on pitch number 1. After six consecutive foul balls, Duffy reared back and deposited a 95 mph fastball in a spot where Abreu couldn’t get any part of his bat on the ball. Swing and a miss. Amazing.

As epic a moment that was in the game, Duffy wasn’t out of the woods. Up stepped Cabrera, who had already collected a pair of hits against Duffy on the day. Both hits had come on fastballs in the lower part of the zone.

Against left-handers, the book on Cabrera is to throw up and away.

CabreraZone

The first pitch in the plate appearance was a low fastball. Exactly the kind of pitch Cabrera had barreled for a base hit in his previous two at bats. He took it for strike one. After getting ahead, Duffy seemed to lose his release point and delivered two fastballs up and so far out of the zone, there was no way Cabrera was going to chase those. Duffy then came back with a beautiful curve perfectly placed in the upper, outside quadrant of the strike zone that Cabrera took for a strike. He’s hitting .105 on pitches in that area, so he probably figures it’s OK to let that one go. Cabrera fouls off two more pitches and watches another hit the dirt. With the count full, Duffy spins his finest curve of the day, in the perfect spot.

DuffyVsCabrera

Duffy was gassed after the sixth when he threw his 85th pitch.

Duffy_velo_071915

Paulo Orlando doubled Duffy’s cushion with a home run to left of center in the top of the seventh and, despite the diminished velocity, Duffy worked a clean seventh and eighth, getting four ground outs, a strikeout, and a fly out. That’s kind of how the afternoon went for Duffy. Of the 24 outs he recorded, 15 came on the ground. Quite the anomaly for the guy with a 37 percent ground ball rate.

And how many spectacular defensive plays were made up the middle for Duffy? This team never fails to amaze on defense. Escobar started a hellacious double play in the fourth. Omar Infante chipped in with a couple of stellar defensive plays himself. And the Shortstop Jesus himself closed it out with another mind-bending play deep in the hole at short. If the Gold Glove awards were like the Emmys, this would be the game Escobar would submit to the judges. He was spectacular. Amazing. Superb. Pick your damn adjective and it’s not good enough. That’s how great Escobar was in this game.

Duffy, who had never gotten an out in the eighth inning of a game he started, recorded three. He returned for the ninth, but was pulled after he gave up a home run. Joe Blanton, whose Royal clock is ticking down, recorded his first career save. Baseball.

This team is something special.

They were two very different scenarios, but late in Duffy’s start on Sunday, I flashed back to Yordano Ventura’s Game Six start against the Giants last October. Similar, in that a young Royals starter was entrusted to succeed in a high-pressure situation. Similar in that both excelled, giving hope for tomorrow and further into the future. This wasn’t Game Six, but the Royals are leading the Central and have designs on playing deep into the postseason once again. These games are important, too. Especially against bottom-feeding teams like the White Sox.

Monday is Ventura’s turn to show what he has in the chamber for the second half. If Duffy and Ventura step forward for this team, the sky is the limit. The second half is off to a pretty good start.

As the second half of 2015 ramps up today, here is a look at some numbers from the first half in the AL Central. First up is the current standings plus each team’s likelihood of taking the division crown using Fangraphs projections:

W L DIV
Royals 52 34 68%
Twins 49 40 12%
Tigers 44 44 9%
Indians 42 46 8%
White Sox 41 45 3%

Fangraphs projects KC going just 36-40 the rest of the way, yet at 68% to win the division. Incredible. And the Royals have wildly outperformed projections in the first half. I’m not sure how to handle this position of being the favorite to win the division. It’s new territory for me. But I know there’s a lot of baseball still to be played and 1,001 unforeseen things will take place between now and October 4.

Here are the most productive batsmen of the division so far:

15 central wrc at break

The Royals balanced attack is represented by the four at the bottom. But Alex :(

Here is the cream of the crop of twirlers:

15 central pitcher war leaders

 

And hey, look at this. A comparison of the team pitching stats (starters & relievers):

15 central pitching at break

I didn’t realize how poorly the Tigers have been pitching. They haven’t done anything particularly well to this point.

No surprise that the Royals defense is carrying an otherwise average pitching staff. Oversimplifying things, you could say the defense has added about five wins to the pitchers fielding independent numbers (the difference between fWAR and RA9W). Or that the defense takes an exactly average FIP (100 FIP-) and turns it into a 10% better than average run-preventing unit (90 ERA-). The 40% quality start rate is worst in the AL, and would normally be a major problem, except that KC has just enough hitting and that embarrassingly good bullpen and defense that can cover for so many lackluster starts.

Finally, the players with the best win probability added in the division:

15 central wpa at the break

Here’s to a great first half, and to the fun to come in the second.

The All-Star break is stupid.

I know the players can use a mini vacation in the middle of summer. Recharge the body and the mind. Save it. I demand baseball. There’s something unAmerican about a summer night without baseball.

In the meantime, here’s a blog post. Both Clark and I can’t really be bothered by the All-Star Game itself. It was a fun diversion, but it’s already time to get back to business. There’s a division to win.

When action resumes Friday, the Royals will be in Chicago for a doubleheader. Rainouts take away a scheduled off day for July 23 when the club travels to St. Louis to finish their interrelate rivalry series. That means the Royals kick off the second half of the season with 18 games in 17 days. That’s a brutal schedule, no matter the opponent. The rotation looks to set up like this through the first turn:

Friday – Edinson Volquez/Chris Young
Saturday – Jeremy Guthrie
Sunday – Danny Duffy
Monday – Yordano Ventura

So with five games in four days and a five man rotation… Do the math. The Royals are either going to turn to Young for a second start on short rest, or the burden will fall to Volquez. Another option would be to call up an arm from Omaha. There’s speculation that we could see the major league debut of John Lamb. Lamb has a 2.68 ERA with a 9.2 SO/9 and 2.9 BB/9 in 15 starts for the Storm Chasers. He’s gone from prospect, to injured prospect, to fringe starter, to intriguing candidate to take a turn in the major league rotation. Lamb hasn’t pitched since July 9 when he threw five innings against the Iowa Cubs and punched out 10. He made the Triple-A All-Star team for the PCL, but didn’t take the mound in his home park.

I think the more likely scenario is the 2015 major league debut of Kris Medlen. Medlen completed his final minor league rehab start on Wednesday in Northwest Arkansas with seven shutout innings. He’s on a rehab assignment, which limits pitchers to 30 days in the minor leagues. His clock started when he made his first start on June 18. His 30 days are up on Saturday. His normal turn in a five man rotation would be on Monday the 20th.

The Royals have 39 players on their 40-man roster, so activating Medlen will be painless, speaking from a personnel angle. More complicated is what the Royals do with their 25-man roster. The two obvious options are sending Brandon Finnegan to the minors or designating Joe Blanton for assignment. Finnegan has been on the I-29 shuttle for most of this season. Blanton doesn’t have minor league options, so the Royals would have to put him on waivers in order to release him.

I think the Royals will DFA Blanton. As a swingman, he’s surplus to requirements. Also, with the Royals having 18 games in 17 days, fresh bullpen arms are going to be paramount. Because Finnegan has options, should the Royals need him for an extended outing, they can farm him out the next day and recall someone like Yohan Pino. Not saying Pino is an upgrade over Finnegan. It’s just with so many games, the Royals are going to be looking for live bullpen arms. It may not happen, but it’s at least an option, should the Royals find themselves with an overtaxed bullpen at any time over the next three weeks.

The bet here is that Medlen will take a turn in the rotation on Tuesday. That keeps Volquez on normal rest on Wednesday. Then, the Royals can shift Young back to the bullpen to act as swingman, replacing Blanton. Guthrie takes his turn on Thursday on normal rest. And so it goes.

I’d say this is amazing, but really, nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to Royals fans and their support for the team, the city, and baseball in general. Kansas City pulled a 31.4 rating and a 50 share. Amazing. A 50 share means that half of the televisions on in Kansas City were tuned in to the game. The second-highest rated market was Cincinnati which had a 22.8 rating and a 37 share. Ratings in KC were up 178% from last year’s All-Star Game. Basically, Kansas City lapped the field in the ratings game.

Almonte was rated the number two Royals prospect by Baseball Prospectus and has posted a 4.03 ERA in 67 innings for Northwest Arkansas. His strikeout rate is low at 7.4 SO/9 and his walk rate is elevated at 3.6 BB/9. Reports are the Royals have had him work more on fastball command, a problem that has popped up during his minor league travels. The moneymaker for Almonte is his change. Here’s a report from spring training from Baseball Prospectus:

Miguel Almonte has two plus pitches and a third that is making strides. His low- to mid-90s fastball comes with tons of life and his change borders on unfair when he throws it correctly. The breaking ball has tightened up since last viewing and has gone from a weird, slurvy pitch to a hard downer breaking ball. With Almonte, it’s all about repetition. When he keeps his tempo in his delivery and holds his three-quarters arm slot, everything comes out with life from the same window as his fastball. The problem is it seemed very easy for Almonte to lose his rhythm over the course of the game. Anytime the game slowed down, Almonte got in trouble for the next several pitches.

I suspect the issues with repetition remain. But with a fastball/change combination, he could slot in to the Royals bullpen when the rosters expand. It will be interesting to see how he assimilates into the Omaha rotation.

Sometimes, it’s a good thing to miss a Royals game.

I started my personal All-Star Break a day early and bypassed the closing contest of the first half. After reading a few recaps scattered through the interwebs, I’m not sorry.


Source: FanGraphs

That’s a prescription for high blood pressure.

Whatever. All that counts is the Royals cruise into the All-Star Break winners of eight of their last 11. They split with the Twins, swept the Rays and took two of three from the Jays. That’s a really, really great homestand.

It gives the Royals an American League best 52 wins. It is the fifth time in franchise history the club has topped the half-century mark at the break. It’s their best first half showing since winning 55 games in 1973.

Here’s a first half number I really like: 1,501,411. That’s the Royals attendance from their first 46 home games of the year, an average of 32,639 fans are passing through the turnstiles each game. That’s an increase of 9,973 fans per game over 2014. It underscores what we’ve been saying for years: Give Kansas City a winning baseball team, and they’ll support the hell out of it.

I know we point to last September and October, but for me, the renaissance began at this time in 2012. Of course you remember the Royals hosting the All-Star festivities that year. It was a four day party in Kansas City. FanFest was packed. The Futures Game was sold out and featured Yordano Ventura and Wil Myers. We booed Robinson Cano into taking the collar in the Home Run Derby. We serenaded Billy Butler with cheers.

Something happened that week that changed the course of baseball in Kansas City. Ownership noticed the passion. Here was proof that Kansas City truly loved baseball. It sounds insane, because the passion was always there. It could be difficult to find, but it was certainly there. Yet seeing all those people cheering the prospects in the futures game and giving Cano the business in the derby, flipped a switch. Baseball as a collective was impressed. They wondered aloud about why they took so long to return to KC, because the hospitality and the interest and the passion was off the charts. Kansas City wasn’t blasé about the game because we were in the midst of 29 years without meaningful baseball. For us, the All-Star Game was meaningful baseball.

It’s recent history, so there’s no need to go through a recap of the aftermath, but yes… baseball in Kansas City was reborn that All-Star week in 2012.

It’s as if we’ve come full circle. From the lone representative in 2012 and another 90 loss season, to this week with seven players for the defending American League champs. Quite a ride.

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