Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Alex Gordon struck out four times on Wednesday night. It was one of, if not the worst, games of the season for the Royals and (obviously) for Alex.  These things happen.  You know, baseball and such.

Not only do these things happen, they happen more often than you might think.  Four strikeouts or more in a single game?  It has happened 109 times to a Royals’ batter and actually three times prior to Wednesday to Alex Gordon.

Bob Hamelin, Greg Gagne and Bo Jackson all hold the distinction of striking out FIVE times in one game.  I remember listening on the radio to the game when Jackson managed (?) the feat against the Yankees on April 18, 1987.

Gordon is the first Royal to strikeout four times this season, but Lorenzo Cain did so twice in 2014 and was joined in this unlucky club by Omar Infante and Eric Hosmer.  Cain also struck out four times in a game in 2013, while Hosmer did so in 2012.  Also getting the quad sombrero in 2012 were Billy Butler, Jarrod Dyson and Mike Moustakas twice.  To be fair to Mike, however, one of those four strikeout games came when he managed seven plate appearances, so not really a sombrero if I am reading the unwritten rules of baseball correctly.

Somewhat interestingly, Gordon’s other three occurrences all came in 2011, which was arguably the best offensive season of his career.  In all three of those games, Gordon actually batted five times and got hits in two of those contests.  Old friend, Jeff Francoeur struck out four times twice in 2011, in the span of just two weeks.  Frankly, I’m surprised it didn’t happen more often.

Going back beyond 2011, you run into a string of Royals who will neither surprise you, nor stir up longing for the past:  Guillen, Pena, Brown, Sanders, Guiel, Gotay, Berroa, Harvey.. you get the picture. Of course, it happens to the best, too.  Mike Sweeney did it, so did Carlos Beltran and Jermaine Dye.  Michael Tucker managed to do it two times in each stint with the Royals.

Bo Jackson, struck out four times in a game FIFTEEN times, fourteen times more than Joe Zbed ever did.   Pitcher Dick Drago struck out four times in a game four times, both a testament to bad hitting, but good pitching I suppose.   Hal McRae did it (twice), Willie Wilson and Amos Otis did it once.  Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew wore the hat once in his one season with Kansas City.  You know a Hall of Fame member who didn’t strike out four times in a game?  George Brett. Not once, not ever.

There are plenty of obscure names on the list, but I will wager the most obscure would be Scott Northey, whose major league career consisted of 68 plate appearances with the 1969 Royals.  The very first Royal?  Jackie Hernandez on June 6th, 1969.

Baseball is full of bad days and Alex Gordon had one on Wednesday.  How did he do the following game the first three times?

One for two with a home run, two walks and a hit by pitch. Two for four. Two for five with a double.

 

It was not too long ago that a former Royal enjoying success with another team hurt. It might have even haunted us. Dayton Moore himself, floundered through some odd roster maneuvers that, at times, seemed to indicate a tremendous fear of letting go of a player who might have success somewhere else. After all, he didn’t want to make ‘another Philip Humber mistake’.

Funny what some success does to your mindset, isn’t it?

By and large, no one seems to agonize that much about this issue anymore.  Certainly, the Royals have moved well past the anthem of just a decade ago that ‘this guy couldn’t play for anyone but the Royals.’  A quick survey of ex-Royals who have appeared in the majors for another team in 2015 totals up to 37 (and I may well have missed some).  Of those 37, the bulk are not Royals because of the team’s choice, not theirs.  What would a team of ex-Royals look like in 2015?

  • CATCHER – Brayan Pena backed up by Brett Hayes. Yeah, think we’ll stick with Salvador Perez, but worthy of note that Pena is hitting .302/.387/.358 in 17 games for the Reds.
  • FIRST BASE – Billy Butler.  We will have to give up a little defense based on who else is available, but Billy is hitting like Billy used to hit.  Clint Robinson currently holds a roster spot in Washington if you need a back-up.
  • SECOND BASE – Johnny Giavotella.  I don’t want to start the ‘did Johnny get a chance in KC or not’ argument again, but he is playing well early for the Angels.  Honestly, this is the only spot where you might say the Royals would be better off with an ex-Royal than what they have, but I imagine the difference between Infante and Giavotella by year’s end probably won’t be enough to get all twisted up about.  If you don’t like Johnny long term here, you can plug in Emilio Bonifaco as well.
  • SHORTSTOP – Mike Aviles or Andres Blanco. Not a lot to choose from here, but these two guys have carved out pretty long careers and have stood in the general vicinity of the shortstop position this season.
  • THIRD BASE – Albert Callaspo or Jimmy Paredes.  Paredes is red-hot for the Orioles.  Callaspo keeps getting work (now in Atlanta).  Again, Bonifaco could play here, too or even Danny Valencia:  who is likely bitching about playing time in Toronto right now.
  • OUTFIELD – You want outfielders?  We can cheat a little here and claim Jose Bautista, but that’s a stretch given he was barely in KC and no one cared when the Royals parted ways (and didn’t care for seasons after that).  Carlos Beltran? Age has not been his friend.  However, I think a team could win games with an outfield of Melky Cabrera, Wil Myers (that might be cheating, too) and Nori Aoki, backed up by Gregor Blanco and Justin Maxwell.  Hell, the San Francisco Giants think they can win with an outfield that is pretty much all ex-Royals as it is.  If injuries ravage your ex-Royals, you can fall back to David DeJesus, still plugging along in Tampa, David Lough, Carols Peguero and, yes, Jeff Francoeur.
  • STARTING ROTATION – This team would be in good shape at the top with James Shields followed by Jake Odorizzi (2.21 ERA in 6 starts for Tampa), but your number three is probably the seemingly always injured Jorge de la Rosa.  The back end gets really dicey with Jesse Chavez and Sean O’Sullivan (or Jeff Francis) closing it out.  Hey, you would at least have to go six deep before your started Kyle Davies (2.1 scoreless innings with the Yankees this year).
  • BULLPEN – You could do worse than have Joakim Soria be your closer.   Joel Peralta is currently injured, but was having a nice season with the Dodgers, where he was teammates with another former Royal, J.P. Howell.   In front of those three, you could turn to Jeremy Affeldt, Will Smith and the svelte Jonathan Broxton.  Your seventh man would be Jeremy Jeffress, who has pitched well early for the Brewers, with former Royal farmhand Sugar Ray Marimon as a fallback option.

The good news is the Royals’ have reached the stage that you can assemble an entire team of former players.  The better news, that team would be nowhere near as good as the current Royals’ squad.  That sounds like a no-brainer, but not very long ago it would not have been.

RHP ∙ 1970

Bob Johnson was involved in two brilliant trades by wizard/Royals GM Cedric Tallis. In the ’69—’70 off-season, the Mets had their eye on Royals third baseman Joe Foy. In what was called at the time a calculated risk, the Royals sent the Mets Foy, a steady, known quantity, for two prospects, Johnson and Amos Otis. In retrospect, it is one of the game’s great lopsided trades. Foy faded while Otis famously went on to stardom with KC. Tallis also got one excellent season out of the little remembered Johnson and then packaged him in another steal of a trade.

The 27 year-old Johnson impressed the Royals with his power arm in spring training and earned a spot in the bullpen to start the 1970 season. After a few relief appearances in April and some casualties in the starting rotation, Johnson was tapped for his first big league start on May 2 and shined with 10 strikeouts to just one walk in eight innings of work. He earned his first win in his next start, after which manager Charlie Metro let Johnson burn a $100 check he’d written as a fine for missing curfew a few nights prior. “Thank God for strong arms,” pitching coach Bob Lemon said after the game. “The guy made 155 pitches and was still throwing hard at the finish.”[i] Johnson anchored the Royals pitching for the rest of the season. After a string of good starts, he was shifted back to the bullpen in mid-June, but this time as the fireman. He pitched well, but was “going crazy…I’m better suited as a starter. I have to get psyched up for a game. I really get keyed up. In relief, I had to get up every day, and that’s tough.”[ii] That experiment lasted just a couple of weeks before Johnson got his wish and returned to the rotation. He suffered from poor run support on a bad Royals team, but just went out and put together fantastic start after fantastic start. Right handed hitters might as well have not even stepped into the box against him. He especially racked up strikeouts in historic fashion. In his last game of the year, he fanned 10 Twins to finish with 206 strikeouts. He was just the ninth rookie to reach 200 Ks since 1901. He was also the first major leaguer in Kansas City to strike out 200 in a season, and only Dennis Leonard, Kevin Appier, and Zack Greinke have pulled the trick since.

With Johnson’s value sky-high after such a promising rookie year, Tallis made the gutsy move to ship him to Pittsburgh along with Jim Campanis and Jackie Hernandez in exchange for Bruce Dal Canton, Jerry May, and Freddie Patek. Tallis was wary about how the fans would react to losing Johnson, but “was pleased to discover that most of the fans were willing to accept the idea that the Royals needed a shortstop and a catcher even more than they needed a pitcher of Johnson’s potential.”[iii] Tallis certainly deserved the benefit of any doubt, and the trade wound up being another master stroke. Patek of course became a franchise cornerstone while Johnson never came close to finding his 1970 form again.

[i] “Johnson Puts $100 Fine to the Torch,” The Sporting News, May 23, 1970.

[ii] Sid Bordman, “Kaycee’s Big 4 of ’69 Royal Flop This Year,” The Sporting News, August 29, 1970.

[iii] Joe McGuff, “Royals Delighted At Fans’ Support Of Johnson Deal,” The Sporting News, December 26, 1970.

What a four-game series at The K. The Royals and Tigers split the honors, with Kansas City winning the first two and Detroit coming back to take the last pair. These teams feel evenly matched, so this is something we are going to see in the AL Central all summer.

The series could have turned out a little less in the Royals favor as Kelvin Herrera wobbled in the eighth inning on Friday night. When he entered the game, the Royals held a 4-0 lead and were working on a combined no-hitter thanks to a brilliant performance by Chris Young and the relief pitching of Ryan Madson. With Herrera followed by Wade Davis, this game all but over. Then, things started to unravel…

The no-no was intact after a leadoff walk to Alex Avila, but Nick Castellanos singled to left. Goodbye, no-hitter. Not really a huge deal as the Royals were in position to take their second straight from their division rivals. Then, Jose Iglesias followed with an infield single and the bases were loaded. After an Anthony Gose ground out plated a run, the Royals led 4-1.

Herrera didn’t seem to be himself and walked the next batter, Ian Kinsler, on four pitches. All four were up and out of the zone. With the bases loaded again, the Royals lead didn’t seem so safe.

Miguel Cabrera walked to the plate.

What happened next was, quite simply, the duel of the season.

Pitch One:
Fastball, 99 mph
Foul, Strike One

Herrera throws a variety of pitches, but will feature mostly a fastball, a two-seamer and a change. In his career, Herrera starts right-handed batters off with a fastball 58 percent of the time. With the bases loaded, Herrera must challenge Cabrera, so it makes perfect sense he is going with his bread and butter heater. After allowing four of the first five batters in the inning to reach base, he desperately needed to get ahead in the count. In his career, opposing hitters are hitting .206/.242/.320 when they fall behind in the count 0-1.

The first pitch was a little too good. I mean, it was grooved. Belt-high and right down the middle of the plate. Fortunately, it was 99 mph and all Cabrera could do was foul it off for strike one. A mistake pitch, but once Cabrera failed to square it up, the odds shifted strongly in Herrera’s favor.

Pitch Two:
Fastball, 97 mph
Foul, Strike Two

Herrera doesn’t really offer a cut fastball, but this pitch seemed to have a little more lateral movement than his normal fastball. Delivered higher in the zone than the first pitch Cabrera fouled off, this one rode in on his hands. Quickly. Frankly, it’s surprising he was able to stay in and get the bat head out enough to even foul it off. Against a mortal hitter, it would have caught the handle and split the bat in two. Against Cabrera, he fouled it straight back and off the mask of the home plate umpire.

The up and in location is where Herrera likes to work against right-handed hitters. It makes sense considering he’s throwing 100 mph. Keep it in on the hands where the batter can’t get extension. From Brooks Baseball, these are the zones where Herrera has worked the last two-plus seasons.

HerreraPlot

Pitch two was delivered in the area where Herrera throws most of his pitches to right-handers.

Pitch Three:
Fastball, 100 mph
Ball One

Under normal circumstances, this is where Herrera would spike a change to fish for that third strike. Especially after throwing the first two pitches in the plate appearance up in the zone. With the bases loaded, Herrera doesn’t want to take the chance that a pitch low in the zone bounces and gets by Salvador Perez. Worst case scenario would for a run to come in to score, cutting the lead to one, and putting the tying run at second base. So he went back to his heater. Instead of throwing it down in the zone, he threw it on the outside corner. Cabrera laid off for ball one, but it was an extremely gutsy take on his part. I think it was the only thing he could do.

Pitch3

With two strikes, Herrera throws his change 29 percent of the time. I’d bet Cabrera was thinking he’d get off-speed, saw fastball, and with the pitch hitting triple digits on the radar gun, couldn’t adjust in time to pull the trigger.

Pitch Four
Fastball, 99 mph
Ball Two

This was the only time in the plate appearance where Herrera seemed to overthrow his fastball. The pitch was delivered well up and out of the zone. As close as pitch three was to being a strike, there was no way Cabrera was going to offer at this one. Easy take.

Pitch Five
Fastball, 98 mph
Foul

After throwing the first four pitches belt-high or higher in the zone, Herrera decided to work down. A good location after the four pitches up, but a risky gambit. Cabrera’s heat map is not of a hitter from this universe. From Brooks Baseball, this is Cabrera’s heat map going back to 2012:

CabreraProfile

Herrera’s pitch didn’t catch the center, but it was down in the area where Cabrera hit’s .390. Risky. Basically, anything in the inner and lower quadrant of the strike zone his Cabrera’s happy place. That’s relative, of course. The whole damn zone except for the up and in portion is his happy place. The guy is just a great hitter.

Pitch Six:
89 mph, change-up
Ball Three

The only change of the entire plate appearance came on the sixth pitch. I’m not sold Herrera wanted to bounce the pitch for the reasons I stated above, but I do think he wanted to keep it low and possibly out of the zone to get Cabrera to chase. Maybe this would have been a better pitch if Herrera hadn’t thrown the previous pitch down in the zone that was fouled off. This would have been the pitch to throw after the first four pitches were all fastballs up. As it was, the change barely traveled 60 feet and, like the fourth pitch that was way up and out of the zone, this seemed like an easy take for Cabrera.

Herrera has limited the use of his two-seam fastball this year, instead going heavy on his fastball and change combo. When the count is even (like it was in this situation) against right-handed batters this season, Herrera will throw his change 24 percent of the time, while he will go to his fastball 70 percent of his pitches. In his career with the count even, he’s thrown his change just 14 percent of the time. Traditionally, he saves his change for when he’s ahead in the count to right-handers.

Here is the pitch plot for the first six pitches.

Pitch6

After jumping ahead 0-2, he went for the third strike with straight gas on the outer half. When Cabrera didn’t offer, Herrera went for changing the vertical eye level, sandwiching a strike with two pitches that weren’t close to the zone.

Pitch Seven:
Fastball, 100 mph
Foul

More accurately, according to Brooks Baseball, this pitch traveled at 100.6 mph. One pitch after his only change-up of the battle against Cabrera, Herrera uncorked his fastest pitch. Here is how the entire plate appearance looked from a velocity standpoint:

Herrera_Cabrera_Velo

Not a bad pitch by Herrera given the situation. While Cabrera could tie the game (or give his team the lead) with one swing, the potential for a walk was still a factor. In his career, Herrera had gone to a full count 100 times. He had walked 29 of those batters and whiffed 31. Given the teams involved and the stakes at play, you can understand he didn’t want to give in and lose this battle by surrendering a walk. Still, from Cabrera’s heat map above, the location of the seventh pitch was getting close to his happy zone.

Pitch7

At 100+ mph, the best Cabrera could do was to drop the barrel and get a piece of it for another foul.

Cabrera had faced Herrera 11 times prior to this encounter. He had collected just two hits and walked once. He had never struck out.

Pitch Eight
Fastball, 97 mph
Foul

Pitch Nine
Fastball, 98 mph
Foul

Pitches eight and nine were similar in velocity and location. Both were inside, out of the strike zone and at about the knees. The ninth pitch had a little more horizontal movement than the eighth, and was the pitch that Cabrera barely made contact with, dribbling it foul.

Either pitch would have been the fourth ball, resulting in a walk and a run scored, but I imagine in that situation it’s next to impossible to lay off those pitches. For one thing, they are very close to Cabrera’s happy zone where he can do the most damage. And for another, the pitch looks good for a split second, then rides laterally out of the zone. At the velocity Herrera’s throwing, it’s amazing anyone can actually adjust fast enough to make contact, no matter how feeble.

Here is how the entire plate appearance set up through the first nine pitches:

Pitch9

Which brings us to one of the best pitches I’ve ever seen.

Pitch Ten:
Fastball, 99 mph
Swinging Strike Three

After going low on the previous five pitches, and after going inside on the previous three, Herrera throws a perfect pitch: A belt-high fastball on the outer half.

Pitch10

When you go inside on any hitter with the kind of gas Herrera throws, it’s a difficult adjustment to get the barrel out in front to reach the pitch on the outer half of the plate. Herrera’s 10th pitch wasn’t thrown any harder. Nor did it have more lateral movement. It was simply a perfectly located pitch after the previous three were down and in.

The final pitch wasn’t just perfectly located given the previous sequence. It was perfectly located for Cabrera to swing and miss. Cabrera is one of the best hitters of the game. He’s off to an incredible start in 2015. Like all hitters, he has a weakness. His weakness is pitches on the upper and outer half of the zone. Here is a heat map going back to the start of 2012 of where Cabrera swings and misses.

CabreraWhiff

With the bases loaded and a full count, the situation dictated that Herrera had to stay in the zone. While allowing a single run wouldn’t have been the end of the world, he either wanted a ground ball for a double play or a strikeout. From the above heat map, we see the best place to locate a pitch to Cabrera for a swing and a miss is up in the zone and away. Exactly where Herrera placed his final pitch.

Perfection.

In the at bat, Cabrera saw nine fastballs of 97 mph or faster. He had ample opportunity to get his timing down against Herrera. Instead, thanks to the outstanding location of pitch ten, he was another victim.

And, as noted above, it was the first time Herrera had ever struck out Cabrera.

I’d love to embed the video of this plate appearance, but since MLB is rather draconian in their sharing, I’ll have to link to it here. It’s worth watching. Again. And again.

The Royals went on to win 4-1. In the long season ahead of 162 games, there will be similar pivotal moments, but this one, at least in the early weeks of the season, stands alone. Herrera’s gas. Cabrera’s power. Bases loaded. Central Division rivals. Game on the line.

Baseball.

Monthly splits are a dangerous toy, an annoyance to some. That a player is good in May and bad in June is taking liberties with arbitrary start and end dates. I use them sometimes, as they are a quick tool to get a snapshot of an approximate period of time.  In the end, however, turning the calendar from April 30th to May 1st should really mean very little to a player or a team.  Yet, here we are, greeting May once more and hoping, once more, that the Royals don’t go into the tank this month.

Last year, the Royals were 14-12 on May 1st and proceed to go 12-17 that month.  They were 14-10 in April of 2013 and imploded for an 8-20 month of May. Kansas City actually posted a winning May in 2012, albeit on the heels of a 6-15 start to the season.  In 2011, however, the Royals turned a 14-12 start into another one of ‘those’ years by going 10-17 in May (and 9-18 in June).  You can’t blame May for 2010, as the team did not post a winning month the entire season, but for the record they were 12-17 that year in May.  A familiar refrain for 2009:  two games over .500 heading into the month and then just a 12-17 mark for May.  Remember when the Royals went 18-8 in September of 2008?  They were 10-19 in May.  The Royals were not good in Alex Gordon’s rookie year of 2007, going 8-18 in April, but holding form to flounder through an 11-17 May.

Let’s face it, the Kansas City Royals spent many of those season losing lots of games in many a month, but it is a little freakish that in four of the last six seasons they have entered May with a winning record and never been better than five games under .500 for the month of May.  One winning May in the time span of Alex Gordon’s career?  Weird….and certainly more the result of the first and last day of May encompassing a period of time where a team that has been over .500 just twice in that timeframe played true to form than some pattern of inability to function in a month that begins with a big communist holiday.

While extremely encouraged and excited by Kansas City’s 15-7 start, let’s all note that Houston – HOUSTON I TELL YA! – has the same record. To think that the Royals are immune this year to the usual crash and burn May is foolish.  That said, I do not believe the 2015 Kansas City Royals are going to fall victim to the May swoon.  Here’s why:

  • Greg Holland will be back and he’s pretty good. All accounts of Holland’s time of the disabled list seem to lean towards the Royals being cautious with a minor injury. With a deep bullpen, that was smart (would this organization been as saavy even as recently as two years ago?).  Having Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera, et.al. makes it easier to be smart, but still.
  • Luke Hochevar:  let’s dream a little. Many are eager for Hochevar to return, but we’ll need to dream some as Luke has walked seven and struck out six in seven innings for Omaha this year.  Still, it is one more bullet to add to an already loaded weapon.  Should Hochevar return and be effective, it is one more ‘new’ arm to keep the bullpen from being worn down.
  • Danny Duffy.  Last night, we saw how good Duffy can be and, frankly, it was not like he was 100% on his game. Yes, Edinson Volquez had a great April and Yordano Ventura throws all the fire, but Duffy might just end up being the Royals’ best starter this season.  A string of strong outings from Duffy during the month would go a long way towards avoiding any major losing streak.
  • The Rotation. They can’t be this bad all season, right?  RIGHT?  Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie are never going to be great, but they are both better pitchers than what they showed for most of April. The suspensions of Volquez and Ventura had a nice effect of splitting Vargas and Guthrie up in the rotation sequence, which will help the bullpen from having to throw four plus innings two nights in a row if nothing else.
  • All the Offense. The bats were something in April. Heck, even Omar Infante got a little hot towards the end of the month.  They won’t all stay hot (I mean, they can if they want) for another month, but it would be shocking if they all went cold at once and for a long period of time. The new and improved Mike Moustaskas and better than expected Kendrys Morales make me all warm and giggly inside.   Lost in all the glitzy numbers is the fact that this team consistently strings together good at-bats.  I will delve into pitches and swing zones when I have more time, but this group seems to have a much better approach at the plate.  The BABIP fairy loves a good approach at the plate.

May swoon?  Let’s hope not.

Seems like every time I settle down to write something about a Royals game, I end up having to discuss a Royals batter hit by a pitch.

This is getting tiresome.

Wednesday night, it was Alcides Escobar who was drilled. And it was the scariest one of a season already filled with far too many similar incidents. Escobar took a 96 mph fastball from Indians starter Danny Salazar on the helmet. The sound of ball connecting with plastic is nauseating. Escobar left the game and will continue to be evaluated for symptoms of a concussion. Initial reports are optimistic. We will see.

The April script calls for Yordano Ventura to be on the mound when something notable happens to a Royals batter, and there he was. This time, he held his emotions in check throughout the game. His command was another issue.

It’s been an interesting season already for Ventura and when I write that, I’m not taking into account the cramps, the ejections and the settling of scores. It’s like he has an on-off switch that is flipped on a per inning basis. He was so clearly in command in the first inning. Then he walked the first batter he faced in the second and you could see the cracks forming. The rails came off in the third. He delivered three straight balls to the leadoff batter, before surrendering a single to Roberto Perez on a 3-1 count with a 94 mph fastball. The next batter, Michael Borne, perhaps knowing since Ventura was struggling with his command would try to ease one into the zone, was all over a 94 mph fastball that caught all of the plate. Ventura then fell behind Jason Kipnis 2-0. Trouble. Kipnis sat dead-red and launched one into the bleachers in right field.

Ventura walked four batters and whiffed just one. He was pulled in the sixth after coughing up back to back doubles with one out. It was the first time all year Ned Yost walked to the mound to pull Ventura from a game.

The final line on Ventura: 5.1 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 1 SO. He exited with a game score of 33. In 37 starts with the Royals, that is his fourth-lowest Game Score. His third lowest was the start against Oakland when he was asked to leave after plunking Brett Lawrie.

After the game, Ventura admitted that maybe he dialed things back just a bit in an effort to harness his emotions. His velocity chart confirms this. This was not a typical Ventura start:

Ventura_042915

This was exactly the thing I was worried about. Ventura is a young kid and can certainly be immature at times, but he pitches with great emotion. Remove that, and you remove his fire. You get this kind of Zombie Ventura on the mound which, as we saw on Wednesday, is not a good thing. Yet I hope that Ventura understands that he was able to finally have a start this year where he didn’t become the story because of the unique way he exited the game. Hopefully, this is a step in the right direction to get him back on track. The Royals don’t need him offering paybacks or jawing at the opposition. They need him throwing fire. The byproduct of the sideshow from the first four starts is we get a pitcher who is unsure of himself and who feels the need to keep things under control. It’s a stretch to call this start successful – the box score is ugly – yet it was successful in that he was able to actually have his manager decide when it was time for him to leave the game. The side effects may linger, but the hope is Ventura will soon be back throwing fire.

Anybody heard that twenty baseball games is equal to having played just two in the NFL?  Anyone want to dispute that starting off 2-0 in the NFL is better than going 0-2?  Good starts can be the real deal or flukes, but they are nice to have in your back pocket.

After starting off the season with seven straight wins, the Royals have since gone 7-6. There is nothing all that special about going 7-6.  In fact, it doesn’t seem as though winning 7 of every 13 games is that difficult a task.  If the Kansas City Royals go 7-6 every thirteen games from now through September 20th (the next 130 games), they will wake up on the morning of September 21st and enjoy their last off-day of the season sitting on an 84-66 record with twelve games left to play.  Split those remaining twelve and the Royals would have a 90 win season.  All by just going 7-6 from here on out.  Seems easy…..

THE BEST:

Prior to the Oakland series, I speculated that Alex Gordon’s issues at the plate were less wrist and more the result of being about thirty live action plate appearances behind the rest of baseball. He hit the thirty plate appearance mark in game one of that Oakland series and since then has gone 13 for 35 with three doubles and three home runs.  After last night, Gordon has a triple slash of .293/.423/.500 and somehow seems to be playing even better defense than he has in the past.  I have mostly listened to the Cleveland radio broadcast the last two nights and, for what it’s worth, there is no doubt in that announcing teams’ mind that Alex Gordon is the best player on this team.  There  isn’t much doubt in my mind, either.

THE RELIEVERS:

Speaking of the Indians’ announcers, they would like to have a couple of Kansas City relievers – any two will do.  The quote from last night, “Ned Yost strolling to the mound.  How nice must it be to say ‘which one of my eight quality relievers should I use tonight?’

Last night, Ned did strike upon the one reliever (Brandon Finnegan) who could not get anyone out, but he was a little bit stuck. I don’t believe Herrera or Madson was available, which meant Yost was hoping to save Jason Frasor for a later inning.  Franklin Morales had pitched two days in row as well and either Chris Young or Yohan Pino has to start for the suspended Edinson Volquez on Friday.   Let’s face it, while he was making his season debut last night, Finnegan’s pitched in some high pressure spots in his career AND he was facing a string of lefties.  It was worth a shot.

As it turned out, the Royals’ offense solved the problem and now, with the exception of Young and Pino (or at least one of them), they head into tonight’s game with likely everyone on import ready to go.  All this with Greg Holland on the disabled list and Luke Hochevar in Omaha.

THE SUSPENSIONS

The Royals, should they win their last two games of the month, could tie the 2003 team’s 16 wins for the most in April.  One record I am sure they have already set is for most suspensions in one month. I’m done being worried too much about the fights, the reasons and the perception of it all.  There has been plenty of rabble around all that from plenty of folks.

The reality of it all starts to hit home this week with Volquez serving his five games (i.e. one start).  Despite pitching last night, my guess is Chris Young will start with Yohan Pino ready to go when Young runs out of juice.  The way those two have thrown, feels like a combination shutout.

Now, if I were a betting man, I would look for Yordano Ventura to drop his appeal and begin serving his seven game suspension tomorrow.  Here is how I think this would shake out:

  • April 30 – Duffy
  • May 1 – Young/Pino (end of Volquez suspension)
  • May 2 – Volquez
  • May 3 – Vargas
  • May 4 – off day
  • May 5 – Duffy (on regular rest)
  • May 6 – Guthrie
  • May 7 – Volquez
  • May 8 – Vargas (end of Ventura suspension)

Two suspensions totaling 12 games and only one spot start needed.  Now, if you want to be a little snarky or a little realistic (take your pick), you can argue that a Young/Pino combo start would be a better alternative than Vargas or Guthrie, but the above at least gives you the option to only have to use that once.

The more daunting suspension(s) is that of Kelvin Herrera.  I don’t imagine we will see him drop any appeals before Greg Holland returns and proves to be healthy and almost certainly, Herrera will drop one appeal at a time:  possibly serving the two game shortly after Holland returns (no doubt after pitching three days in a row or something) and putting off the five game stint as long as possible.

THE FUTURE

Just enjoy the ride, kids.

The Royals might lead the league in runs scored, but probably won’t.  The ‘old’ offense – the one that hits a bunch of singles, walks very little and never seems to get the timely hit – reared its head in Chicago and will come back around from time to time.

The bullpen very likely will be the best bullpen in baseball all season, but they will give up runs a little more often than they have.  There is no way for a unit to be this great for 162 games and when they go from crazy, stupid awesome to just very good, the starting rotation simply has to be better.  It starts with Ventura not being asked to leave games by the umpire and would be greatly helped by a pitch efficient out machine named Danny Duffy coming back into form.  Now, Guthrie and Vargas……  Well, be better, guys.

 

 

 

 

If you thought two losses in one day spelled doom for the 2015 Royals, think again. Monday, they bounced back with a nifty 6-2 win over the Cleveland Indians.

It certainly felt touch-and-go in the early going. Jason Vargas was not sharp. He battled command issues all night as he walked five. It was epidemic through his five innings. Of the 22 batters Vargas faced, he threw a first pitch strike to just nine. Yet somehow, he dodged bullets like Keanu in the Matrix. The only runs he surrendered came in the fifth on a two-run Mike Aviles home run. 

We’ve seen this movie before. With he Royals bullpen, all that is required from the starter is five solid innings. While we can debate the adjectives used to describe Vargas’s performance, there is no debating the fact he battled through his issues and was able to keep his team in the game. When he turned the game over to his bullpen in the sixth, it was with a 3-2 lead. It could have been so much worse. Yet with the steady bullpen doing Royals bullpen things, four lockdown innings from Madson, Morales, Herrera and Davis where they allowed just a lone base runner between them and the Royals had their 13th win on the young season. 

Naturally, no recap of Monday’s game would be complete without mentioning Mike Moustakas. Four hits! (Every writer worth his salt knows you limit – or completely omit – exclamation points, but if you can’t use them when Moustakas has four hits, you may as well remove them from the keyboard.) In true Moustakas form, he continues to go to the opposite field. He also produced the plate appearance of the season in a nine pitch battle against Corey Kluber in the seventh. With a 2-2 count, he fouled off four pitches in a row before he got a pitch up in the zone and drove it to left for a run-scoring single. Moustakas improved his plate discipline last year and saw more pitches than before. But this… This is simply astounding.  Last year, he rolls that ninth pitch over and grounds out to first or second. This year, he stays back and takes it the other way. Amazing.

It’s still a small sample size againsth is 2,000-odd career plate appearance, but the longer this continues, the better you feel about eventually removing that SSS disclaimer. 

Baseball is an amazing game. 

This needs to stop.

This isn’t to say I want the Royals to tone down or curb their emotion. I enjoy Sal Perez coming out of the dugout to greet someone after they hit a home run. I like how the pitchers tip their cap to a player who just made a sterling defensive play. I love the energy this team brings to the game. As I’ve written before, this is their DNA. It’s who they are. It’s real and is extremely fun to watch. I like the fire, I love this team and I embrace the way they play the game.

I’m also good with other teams in the league not liking the Royals. They can be hated by fans of opposing teams. A heel turn is OK by me. But this has gotten ridiculous. Sadly, the common thread has been Yordano Ventura. Anaheim with Mike Trout. The beaning of Brett Lawrie after surrendering a three run home run. The jawing with Adam Eaton on Thursday. That’s a year’s worth of immaturity packed into three starts.

After the kerfuffle in Anaheim, TJ Carpenter on WHB asked me if we should be worried about Ventura and his immaturity. After all, the entire incident with Trout was bizarre in that his crime was hitting a baseball back up the middle and then coming around to score. At the time, I answered “no.” Absolutely not, I said. Ventura is a great pitcher and I wouldn’t do anything to reign in his style. He is who he is and to ask him to tone it down would be impossible and probably counterproductive.

I think I was wrong.

Two starts later and the Ventura rap sheet is growing. The Trout incident was dumb. You know how I felt about his plunking of Lawrie. Now he ignites the latest bench clearing by staring down and yelling at Eaton. Three games to develop a reputation. It’s going to take more than three games to reverse that.

He’s young and we’ve all done stupid things due to youth, but at some point that stops being a valid excuse. Ventura needs to think of the consequences of his actions. By escalating on Thursday, it wasn’t surprising Lorenzo Cain and Jeff Samardjiza found each other in the scrum. Flash back to Opening Day and Cain was plunked by Samardjiza on a pitch that was most certainly on purpose following a Mike Moustakas home run. It was a gutless move and yes, it demanded a response. These teams play each other 19 times during the regular season, so there would be plenty of time to find a way to get even. A donnybrook in the late innings of a tie game on the road really isn’t that time. What’s going to happen with Edinson Volquez, who took a healthy swing at a White Sox? Cain gets ejected and his spot comes back up three times before the end of the game. Of course, his replacement was Jarrod Dyson, who beat out a fielder’s choice in the 13th and scored from first on an Eric Hosmer two-out double for the winning margin.

Royals devil magic is still strong.

Of course, there are two sides to every story. Fox Sports Kansas City alluded to the idea that Eaton was the instigator by flinging some choice words at Ventura. They didn’t show the video. (Think about the children!) Apparently, he was upset with a quick pitch from Ventura. Ventura confirmed as much when he talked to the media after the game. MLB Network seemed to justify Ventura’s “F-You” response because it was Eaton who acted first. Regardless, my take is that Ventura has to be better than that. He can’t be baited into response. Especially now. To his credit, he was contrite after the game, saying he needs to control his emotions better.

There’s fire and then there’s stupidity. Nothing productive comes from the benches emptying. Ventura already escaped discipline with a fine from his previous skirmish. As a repeat offender, I doubt he gets off lightly again. Volquez could get some time on the sidelines, too. That’s two Royals starting pitchers who could miss time because Ventura wasn’t mature enough to make the throw to first and keep his mouth shut.

Ventura is the best starting pitcher on the Royals. He has made four starts in 2015. He left his first two due to cramps. He left his last two when he was ejected.

No matter what, that’s a bad look.

Meanwhile, the Royals keep winning. In a post game interview, Eric Hosmer said the team was addressing the situation. This team was close when the season opened. If anything, this brings them closer together. With a healthy dose of irony, the fights, which I don’t like, create a stronger sense of team. Which I love.

Here’s the attached pic, which is a transcription of his interview with Joel:

HosmerQuote

There’s no leadership vacuum on this team. These guys are going to be fine. Someone will get with Ventura and help him harness his emotions in a positive way. Honestly, we should be talking about his overall pitching performance on Thursday. The guy was flat dominant for stretches. He truly is the best starter on this team. The Royals need him. He seems to understand that and – maybe this is because I am a fan – I believe him when he says he needs to get a better grip on those emotions. There was some regret there when he was talking to the media after the game. That’s good. He has to strike the balance, which I think he can certainly do.

These two incidents with the A’s and the White Sox, they weren’t started by the Royals. There will be other teams who provoke. The Royals need to get smarter about how to respond. They’re dangerous now because they look like a complete team. Imagine how dangerous they will be when they figure out how to handle the upstarts who want what they have – the AL pennant.

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