Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Who knew he had it in him?

Royals GM Dayton Moore has a reputation for getting the off-season started in a hurry.  It had become common for Moore’s ‘big move’ of the winter to happen about thirty seconds after the final out of the World Series, but not this year.  Not unless the ‘big move’ was trading Aaron Crow.

Thus far, the Royals off-season has consisted of resigning reliever Jason Frasor, trading reliever Aaron Crow and resigning RELIEVER Luke Hochevar. I don’t buy the conversation that Hochevar will be in the starting rotation, if only because that sounds too much like the ‘old’ Royals and not the ‘we played in game seven of the World Series’ Royals.

If Moore was actually truthful when he speculated yesterday that the Royals might carry 13 pitchers in 2015, you might as well carry good ones. With an array of Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Jason Frasor and Luke Hochevar, an imaginative manager could really shorten a game and do so night after night.  I’m just going to the leave that there and let you ponder.

At any rate, it has been a busy off-season…for other teams, but I am not sure there are a lot of deals that have gone down that make you say ‘I wish the Royals would have done that.’

Quite obviously, the Royals are not in need of a big name reliever, but even if they were would you give Andrew Miller four years and $36 million or David Robertson four years and $46 million?

Bats?  They aren’t cheap, either, and a lot of them are old.

I don’t think anyone but Detroit was really in on Victor Martinez, but four years and $68 million?  Yikes.  Russell Martin signed a five year deal for $82 million, Nick Markakis went for four and $44 million, Nelson Cruz for four and $58 million, Billy Butler for godssake got three years and $30 million and the carcass of Torii Hunter got a $10 million to play another year.  A lot of people like Markakis, by the way, but put his numbers up next to those of Nori Aoki and tell me you want to write the check the Braves just did.

Those deals, by the way, at least made me give a couple of minutes of thought.  Hanley Ramirez?  Pablo Sandoval? Adam LaRoche?  Didn’t even take the time to look of the stats on those.

Listen, when the two ‘best’ deals of the off-season are Michael Cuddyer at 2/$21 million and a draft pick and Yasmany Tomas at 6 years/$68 million and hope he can hit major league pitching, being not in the news is not a bad thing.  Frankly, I think Tomas would have been worth the gamble and the money, but I can see the logic in not making that leap, too.

Trades?

Would you trade for one year of Jeff Samardzija?  Well, given the price, maybe, but I don’t know who is the Royals’ equivalent of Marcus Semien.  Let’s face it, I don’t know what Billy Beane is doing, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Oakland won 90 games again with Billy Butler and bunch of guys none of us thought were any good.

Josh Donaldson? Yes, but then I don’t know that anyone besides Oakland and Toronto knew that he was available.  Besides, Brett Lawrie is better than Mike Moustakas, which means the Royals’ package going to Oakland would not make the prospect hounds comfortable.

The other deals that have been completed are hard to see where Kansas City would fit or why they would want to.

Starting Pitching?

….crickets….

It would not be uncommon for Dayton Moore to be the first in the pool when it comes to signing a free agent starter, but the current demands (I think/hope) may be convincing him to slow play the market.  I like Ervin Santana, but I don’t like five year of him and he, along with most of the ‘second tier’ guys, probably aren’t coming down from their demands until they see what the losers of the Lester deal decide to do.

Anxious for a big winter move?  Sure, we are all.  Hell, Dayton, get an extra check blank from Mr. Glass and sign Melky Cabrera AND Santana!  In lieu of that, however, patience might serve the Royals well this winter.

Of course, there is a fine line between being patient and being paralyzed.

As the baseball world convenes in San Diego, Royals fans are wondering just where in San Diego Dayton Moore is hanging out at this moment.

The big news of the first day was the continuing Oakland fire sale with Billy Beane attempting to get back at Kansas City by selling off Brandon Moss to the Indians and Jeff Samardzija to the White Sox. The Central is getting better. The Royals saw their opening a year earlier and made their mark, now the Indians and Sox are positioning themselves to break through into October. If we learned anything from 2014, it’s that while the Tigers may be vunerable, you don’t have to knock them from their perch to make an impact in the postseason.

Meanwhile, the Royals have been barely in the news. Reports are they met with Melky Cabrera’s representatives on Monday evening, but the current smart money has Cabrera cashing checks in the Pacific Northwest over the next four to five summers. If they lose out to Cabrera, they may turn to Colby Rasmus. Rasmus hit .225/.287/.448 in 376 plate appearances for the Blue Jays last year and produced a 0.6 fWAR. He’s produced over 4 fWAR a couple of times in his career and at 28 years old, represents an intriguing option. Estimates I’ve seen have him getting anywhere between one to three years at an average annual value of around $10 million. But Rasmus is a left-handed bat. The Royals really need some pop (relatively speaking, this is the Royals) from the right side of the plate.

The Royals were also mentioned in the hunt for Justin Masterson. He’s an intriguing buy low candidate who could be had on a one-year deal as he attempts to rebuild some value. He was abysmal last year for the Indians and then the Cardinals. So bad that St. Louis bundled him off to the bullpen for their stretch run. Although to be fair, he pitched with knee issues for most of the year. He’s supposed to be healthy, so he’s a guy who could fill out the rotation. Notice I said “fill out the rotation” which is different from saying he could be a replacement for James Shields. There is most definitely a difference.

Your humorous rumor of the day was the Braves response to when the Royals inquired on Evan Gattis. Allegedly the Braves responded by asking for Yordano Ventura. I’ll give you a moment to stop laughing.

*Looks at watch.*

Yeah, I almost tore an oblique muscle when I heard that one. But this is the Hot Stove and there’s no shame in setting a high price out of the chute. It’s negotiation after all. Or maybe it’s the Braves way of letting the Royals know they’re not really interested in dealing Gattis. Whatever the thought process, it looks like Gattis isn’t going to be moved in the near future.

Tuesday, the Jon Lester sweepstakes is supposed to draw to a merciful close. When that happens, expect the floodgates to open and the pitching dominoes start to fall. Did I mix a metaphor there? Welcome to the Hot Stove.

 

The Royals arrive in San Diego for the Winter Meetings with a couple of king-size holes to fill.

First, they need someone to replace James Shields at the top of the rotation. We can debate whether Shields is an “ace” or even a true “number one starter” (he’s neither) but the fact is, on the Royals staff, he was the top dog. His 8.2 fWAR is clearly the best mark among pitchers during his two year tenure in Kansas City. That’s not simple to replace.

The Royals have been linked to former Royal Ervin Santana. Santana is an intriguing option, a year removed from his turn in Kansas City. He’s rumored to be looking for a five-year deal, which is insanity. Not insane on Santana’s part, he’s entitled to ask for whatever he can get. But for a “second-tier” free agent starting pitcher to get five years… I’m not certain that’s something the market will bear. The Royals rumored comfort level is a three-year deal, which is their prerogative, but let’s not forget they showered Gil Meche with a five-year deal once upon a time. Of course, that was on a different team with a different payroll, so I’m not sure that’s a relevant comparison. However, let’s not pretend the Royals have never awarded a large contract before.

Anyway, Santana was almost as good for the Braves in 2014 as he was for the Royals in 2013. That should lay to rest fears about his health. He’s still throwing a bunch of sliders, but last year, he cut down on the slider in favor of more change-ups. With the success he had, there’s no reason to think he can’t continue to move forward as a fairly valuable starter.

While hitters have gone off the free agent board, the starting pitching market has been slower to take shape. I suppose that has something to do with Jon Lester. Weird how he’s the guy everyone is focused upon and we don’t hear anything at all about the market for his alleged fellow first-tier starters, Shields and Max Scherzer. I would expect some movement on this front in San Diego with at least two of the so-called Big Three finding new homes this week.

Second, the Royals need to acquire a right-fielder, preferably one who swings a right-handed bat. This is where things get a little dicey. They are rumored to have interest in Melky Cabrera. (He’s a switch-hitter, so that will fill the bill as well.) Cabrera is now the best bat remaining on the market and is likely seeking a five-year deal of his own. Cabrera just turned 30, has been popped for a failed drug test in 2012 and had surgery to remove a tumor on his spine in 2013.

After Cabrera you have Alex Rios or Michael Morse. There’s also the possibility of Kendrys Morales. See what I mean? It’s thin on the hitter market. That means the Royals could look to make a move via trade. Dealing from a position of strength to patch a weakness. That means the Royals could look to break up the bullpen.

Having said that, I’m not sold the Royals will move a bullpen part. I’ll add the caveat of at this time. The blueprint the Royals established is three lockdown, late game relievers. Coverage for the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. That’s Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Yes, that trio is going to cost in the neighborhood of $18 million next summer, but the Royals rightfully believe those guys were key to their successes in 2014. I’m not saying they wouldn’t move a reliever if the price was right, but I wonder what the trade market will bring.

Davis is less expensive than Holland and has cost certainty for the next three seasons. Holland will cash in more than Davis thanks to arbitration this winter, and has one more additional turn before he hits the free agent market following the 2016 season. It stands to reason the Royals would rather hold onto Davis for fiscal reasons, but those reasons that make him attractive to the Royals likewise make him appealing to other teams looking to deal.

Adding to their reluctance is the face we can’t count on Luke Hochevar to be a member of that late inning triumvirate. He hasn’t begun a throwing program as of yet. The hope is Hochevar can start in January. Besides, there’s no way to tell how Hochevar will come back from his surgery until they get some game action. It’s useful to remember with Tommy John surgery, while the velocity returns quickly, the command lags behind. It would be wise for the Royals to ease him back into the bullpen. Maybe some low leverage situations or a handful of sixth inning appearances to get his arm reacclimatized to game action.

At any rate, I expect something to happen this week in San Diego. Either a starting pitcher or an outfielder. It would be a disappointing meeting if the Royals return to Kansas City with the same holes in the lineup as when they left.

The Royals were 90 feet from playing extra innings to become champions.  There is no diminishing that accomplishment.

The 89 win 2014 Kansas City Royals would have also missed the playoffs by three games in 2013, four in 2012 and by a game in 2011 (if the current two wild-card system was in place back then).

As well suited as the Royals were for post-season play, they were just an okay regular season team.  By some statistical measures, your 89 win Royals were really more of an 84-78 team (Pythagorean) or even an 81-81 squad (Base Runs). Read what you want into those numbers.   If you want to make the case that the 2014 Kansas City Royals’ true talent level was 89 wins, I would not argue too hard against you.

All of that said, whatever your perception of the American League Champions, you cannot dispute that at this very moment they are not as good as they were when Salvador Perez insisted on swinging at high fastballs from the surreal arm of Madison Bumgarner to end the season.  James Shields and his 227 innings and 3.7 fWAR is gone.  So is Billy Butler, who according to either bWAR or fWAR provided virtually no wins above replacement level, and Nori Aoki.  Everyone will remember the comic and eclectic stylings of Mr. Aoki, but might forget he was worth 2.3 wins (per fWAR) and posted a .349 on-base percentage.

Dayton Moore has work to do, even if ‘everyone does improve’.

Thus far, he has slow-played the off-season.  As Craig detailed earlier, Moore resigned Jason Frasor, who we would all think is pretty good if not for the immense shadow of Holland, Davis and Herrera.  He shipped off Aaron Crow, who had no value, for two minor league arms:  debunking the theory that one could not get a bucket of balls for him.  Moore signed another utility infielder in Ryan Jackson.   All solid, if minor, baseball moves.

And today (or last night), Moore resigned Luke Hochevar for real cash money (2 years/$10 million).  I am assuming the Royals have a better idea as to Hochevar’s health than any of the other 29 teams and outlaying this kind of contract indicates to me that the organization thinks Luke will be ready to pitch sooner rather than later.  As already speculated by many already, it might also indicate a future trade of one of the ‘big’ bullpen arms.

Either that, or the Royals have suddenly gone cutting edge and are planning on getting five innings out of their starters and going to the bullpen day after day for four innings of dominance.  That’s a tongue in cheek sentence there, but would it work over the course of a 162 game schedule?

All said, the Royals need to do more than just ‘replace’ Shields, Butler and Aoki and cannot rely upon the current group to improve enough to make up the difference.  Let’s have some fun and say that Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain are going to be the guys they were in the post-season for all of 2015 AND let’s say Danny Duffy will parlay 150 innings of very good pitching into 210 innings of the same AND let’s say the bullpen is just as good as last year:  that still feels like about 89 wins.  All that might not be enough to get back to the playoffs, much less the World Series.

For all the ‘stuff’ Dayton Moore has done, we have to give him credit for parlaying Zack Greinke into Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain and, let’s face it, he traded Wil Myers with the sole intention of getting the Royals into the playoffs and it worked.  It took him longer than we wanted (or probably that it should have, too), but that was pretty much Dayton Moore’s team that was one game from a really cool trophy.

The hardest part of Dayton Moore’s job started THIS off-season and all of us would be wise to remember that while Kansas City ended the year as the second best team in baseball, they spent the bulk of it somewhere in the middle of the pack of the American League.  There’s no World Series without first making the playoffs, and 89 wins usually doesn’t get you to the post-season.

Because this passes for news at this particular point in the offseason, it’s my blog duty to inform you the Royals did not tender a contract offer to left-handed reliever Francisley Bueno. He is now a free agent.

Tuesday was the deadline for teams to offer contracts to players not under contract for the 2015 season. If they didn’t offer a contract, the player would become a free agent. Every year this deadline usually impacts players in their arbitration years, as those years become relatively expensive and teams chose not to pay mediocrity. (Although there are still teams like the Twins. Welcome, Torii Hunter!) With the Royals roster including eight arbitration-eligible players, many thought Tim Collins was a non-tender candidate. Instead, it was his left-handed bullpen comrade Bueno.

It’s a moderate surprise in that Bueno has just under two years of major league service and is yet to become eligible for arbitration. Last year, he made just above the league minimum salary. Although next year, he will be 34 and in 2014 he really wasn’t good. Besides, he didn’t make any postseason rosters as the Royals chose Collins ahead of him for every series.

The Royals 40-man roster now stands at 38.

The really good news of Tuesday was that the aforementioned Hunter made his decision for whom to play for in 2015. And it wasn’t the Royals!

Hunter signed a one-year, $10.5 million deal to return to the Twins. An odd move for a couple of reasons. One, I had heard Hunter wanted to play for a contender. I know we still have a way to go this winter, but I’m pretty certain the Twins aren’t going to be joining the contention queue when the season opens. Second, what are the Twins thinking? They need a “veteran presence?” I suppose. But why not look in the bargain bin for that? Because I’m pretty sure no one looked at this signing and thought, “You know, Hunter was exactly the guy the Twins needed to put them in the playoff mix for next season.”

Anyway, I’m glad he’s their problem. Last year, Hunter was worth 1.1 fWAR, which means his dollar value according to Fangraphs was close to $7 million. Account for inflation and aging and Hunter will be lucky to be worth that much to the Twins in 2015. Like I said… Their problem.

 

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Dayton didn’t spend Thanksgiving on the beach. He had his own baseball version of Black Friday. Things happened. Not huge things like 50 inch televisions for $200. But things. Let’s recap and look at a few of those.

The Royals re-signed Jason Frasor.

Kansas City will pay Frasor $1.25 million for his services in 2015. And it wouldn’t be a Royals contract without a mutual option for the following year. That option contains a $550,000 buyout. Reports are also there are several incentives in the contract that could be worth another $500,000. So, let’s just say Frasor is going to get paid around $2 million next year.

The 37 year old right-hander strikes out around 23 percent of all batters faced and walks just above 10 percent in his career. He’s had a few ups and downs as relievers will, but his numbers have an air of consistency about them.

It’s a good deal for the Royals to bring him back and at a cost he can certainly justify. That 10 percent walk rate I mentioned above will be the key stat to watch going forward. His worst seasons have been when he’s finished with a worse than career average rate. That’s not exactly going out on a limb, but when you face as few batters as a short reliever like Frasor does, it’s imperative he keep the base runners to a minimum.

With Frasor in the fold for 2015, the Royals quickly made another move…

The Royals traded Aaron Crow to the Marlins for Bryan Flynn and Reid Redman.

Let’s be real. Crow punched his ticket out of Kansas City when he made those remarks about not being on the post season rosters. I defended his right to say those things at the time, and I’m still OK with what he said. However, knowing the type of guy Dayton Moore is, it’s not surprising at all Crow found himself exiled from KC.

Crow’s velocity was down across the board in 2014. He lost a whopping three mph off his fastball and lost two mph on his sinker. And for some reason, he threw his four-seamer more than ever. The result was a 14 percent strikeout rate, down from 25 percent just two years prior. That’s not going to work for a reliever in today’s baseball.

The former first round draft pick of the Royals in 2009, Crow has to be labeled as a bust. He’s doesn’t even own the highest WAR among relief pitchers drafted by the Royals in ’09, if you’re into that sort of thing. That honor goes to Louis Coleman who has a 0.6 career fWAR compared to a 0.3 fWAR for Crow. When Crow was drafted, he was selected as a starting pitcher but never made a start for the Royals in the majors.

By the way, if you want to worry about the future, look at the list of players drafted in 2009. Just start there. It’s not a good look.

Meanwhile, the Royals were still involved on the rumor mill…

Those Torii Hunter rumors won’t die.

That tweet makes it sound like Minnesota is on the outside. I always thought of them as frontrunners. It’s the Hot Stove. What the hell does anyone know? Then there was a link to the Royals and Kendrys Morales.  

OK. Stop. Please. I beg you.

First, the Royals let Billy Butler, a better hitter at this point than Morales, walk because they want to use some sort of revolving DH. You don’t sign Morales if that’s truly your strategy.

Second, Morales hasn’t been good since his horrific leg injury that caused him to miss a season and a half. Injury aside, it’s become increasingly obvious that the 2009 season where he hit .306/.355/.569 was an outlier. He’s never come within 80 points of that slugging percentage.

Third, he turns 32 next year. He hit .216 against fastballs last year. His ISO was a career low .120. Sure, it hurt he didn’t get into a game until June. It wasn’t as if he got off to a slow start and gradually got warm. He was in cold storage for most of the year.

So you have a player who has no position, struggled with the bat in 2014, and is clearly on the downside of his career. Pass. And when reacting to tweetable rumors, remember the source. In this case, it’s Heyman who seemingly helps advance the cases of Scott Boras clients. Of course it makes sense for Boras to float myriad teams to drum up interest after the DH market has kind of sorted itself out early in the hot stove. With Victor Martinez recommitting to Detroit and Butler going to Oakland, Morales is the next best DH candidate available. If you’re looking for a DH-only candidate. Which most teams are not doing.

I’ve seen estimates for Morales at anywhere from $6 million to $10 million a season. Most of those estimates peg him at a one or two year deal.

I just can’t see the Royals biting at this one.

It’s a done deal. We knew it was going to happen, but frankly, I’m kind of surprised it happened so fast. Once Victor Martinez re-signed with Detroit, the DH dominoes started to fall, so maybe the news shouldn’t have come as such a rapid surprise.

Billy Butler has left Kansas City for Oakland.

Initial reports have the A’s paying Butler a total of $30 million over three years. If the Royals thought Butler was worth $10 million per year, I’m guessing they would have bit the bullet on the $12.5 million option and I wouldn’t be writing this post. The Royals would have brought him back, but they were looking at a maximum two year commitment at an AAV of between $6 and $8 million. That was where they valued him.

On a related note, I saw a tweet from Dave Cameron asking if Butler’s contract was going to be this high, why wouldn’t the Royals have worked out a trade and then picked up his option? Similar to the situation with Ervin Santana a couple years ago. My guess is the Royals were worried they couldn’t make a trade and it wasn’t worth the risk. I mean, the guy’s name has come up in rumors for years but nothing has happened. It isn’t like the Royals haven’t tried to get rid of the guy. There just hasn’t been a good fit for whatever reason. So the Royals fear was they would owe $12.5 million to a guy they valued around $7 million. That’s quite a gamble.

As it is, Butler is going to need to produce around 4.4 WAR over the next three years to be worth the $30 million investment. (I’ve heard rumblings of a $5 million signing bonus, which is insane. But this is free agency, so you can’t rule anything out. For the meantime, I’m working with just what we know. Which is 3/30.) Given that Butler has accumulated 9.6 fWAR in eight seasons – an average of 1.2 fWAR a year – it’s going to be close.

Butler has topped only 2 fWAR in a season on two occasions – 2010 and 2012. In between, he hit 1.3 fWAR in 2011. But he was a different hitter then. Butler’s batted ball profile had been extremely consistent over the first six years of his career. He was good for a grounder around 47 percent of the time, a fly ball 34 percent of the time and about 19 percent of his balls put in play were line drives.

That profile has changed over the last two years. Now, Butler hits grounders about 51 percent of the time, fly balls 27 percent of the time and line drives account for 22 percent.

More line drives, that’s good, right? Yes, but not when it comes at the expense of more ground balls. Butler has become a ground ball machine.

And his 2012 season where he hit 29 home runs? Clearly an outlier, built upon a 19.9 percent HR/FB rate that was unsustainable. His second highest HR/FB rate was in 2013 at 11.7 percent.

And we can’t let Butler go without acknowledging his poor baserunning. He advanced from first to third on a base hit just one time all year. That’s pretty difficult to do. According to Bill James, his net baserunning score was a -31, worst in baseball. Remove Butler from the Royals in 2013 and as a team, they are the fourth best baserunning team in the majors. With Butler, they were the tenth best. To say he was an anchor on the base paths is an understatement.

Butler is probably going to play some first base in Oakland. At least more than he would in Kansas City. That will probably boost his value since his defense is nowhere as awful as his detractors would have you believe. In fact, this part of his game has improved a great deal. I’m not going to delve into the defensive metrics here because of a minuscule sample size, so let’s just do the old eye test. His footwork around the bag, a key component for a first baseman, is much stronger. When he first came up, he played first base like a three legged stool missing one leg with the remaining two mismatched lengths. His poor defensive reputation was earned. Credit to Butler that while Ned Yost would rather be an astronaut than play Butler at first, Butler worked on his defense. It showed when he filled in for Eric Hosmer in August. Sure, he made a few blunders. (Most notably the two out, ninth inning error against Cleveland at the end of the month that led to a Royals loss in 10.) Overall, he played a solid, if unspectacular defense. He’s not going to win a Gold Glove, but as overrated as Hosmer is with the glove, Butler is may be just as underrated. The truth usually lies somewhere in between.

The Royals now have a right-handed hole to fill in their lineup. Ideally, they would sign someone like Yasmani Tomas, who hits from the right side and plays right field. That’s going to cost some serious cheddar, but if the Royals were going to pay a guy they viewed as a bat-only player around $8 million, surely they could spring a few extra dollars and get a glove to go along with the deal. But if the asking price hits $100 as rumored, there’s no way the Royals are involved in that.

Barring the signing of Tomas, I don’t see help in the free agent market. The Royals disagree and are apparently targeting Torii Hunter. If the Royals are serious, I wouldn’t give him more than a year at what they were willing to pay Butler. Hunter will turn 39 next year and is obviously in decline both offensively and defensively. Barring a free agent move, Dayton is going to have to work the room at the baseball meetings and find a dance partner for a trade. His two big trades have turned out well for the Royals. Can he pull of a third?

I’m a fan of the Royals and as such, I develop certain attachments to certain players. Damn the detractors, I’ve enjoyed Billy Butler, despite his shortcomings. It’s been a struggle to watch him hit so many balls on the ground the last couple of seasons, but I’ve always rooted for the guy. He loved Kansas City and, for the most part, Kansas City loved him back. I’ll never forget his reception at the 2012 All-Star Game, his curtain call after being removed from Game Two of the World Series for a pinch runner, and the big hits he provided along the way.

I heard the bitching about how your high-paid designated hitter needed to hit better. Sure. I get it. While Butler was probably the fifth-best regular bat in the Royals lineup in 2014, they’re going to miss a regular DH presence. Instead of bitching about a slow Billy Butler grounding into a double play, maybe we’ll meet back here to bitch about Carlos Peguro?

Butler finishes his Royals career with a slash line of .295/.359/.449. He hit 276 doubles. He ranks fourth in franchise history in batting average, is eighth in games played (1,166), is seventh in hits (1,273), and is seventh in total bases (1,938). He hit .262/.327/.333 this October against the A’s, Angels, Orioles and Giants. He will be in the Royals Hall of Fame someday.

As it seems fitting, here is his final double as a Royal:

 

At this price, it’s time for Butler to move to the next phase of his career. Dayton Moore was smart not to get in a bidding war, not that he ever would over Butler. Still, it’s the right move for the Royals to let Butler go for the amount of money he was able to earn on the open market. I wish him luck in Oakland and I congratulate him on his contract.

Some random managerial thoughts while scanning airline manifests for Yasmani Tomas…

McCullough reports the Royals are probably going to give Ned Yost an extension, but it’s on the back burner.

Perhaps the least surprising story of November. The only reason it’s not number one with a bullet is because of that silly back-burner. Come on. We are all adults here, right? Yost is signed only through next season. One month ago his team was a game from the nirvana of a Plaza Parade. This has the inevitability of snow in a Kansas City winter. Just do it, for crying out loud.

Since my Bill James Handbook arrived last week, I thought it would be an opportune time to look at some Ned Facts. Since he’s going to be the Royals manager until the next millennium. Or something like that.

Last year, Yost used 51 pinch hitters, the fewest in the majors.

The most frequently used pinch hitter? Come on down, Raul Ibanez. The old man got 10 pinch hit plate appearances. He walked once and hit a double. That’s it. Oof. That’s a .111/.200/.222 pinch hit line. Insert snark about “professional at bats” here. Meanwhile, the second most frequent pinch hitter for Yost was Billy Butler. Butler came up eight times, had one walk, was hit by a pitch and collected four hits – including a home run – in six official at bats.

Notable was the fact Yost used 14 of his pinch hitters in the 10 games the Royals played in National League parks.

Pinch hitting is difficult. It’s not surprising someone line Butler, used as a designated hitter for most of the season, can come into a game directly off the bench to do some damage. Collectively, the Royals pinch hitters produced a slash line of .209/.320/.395 in those 51 plate appearances.

Yost called for 63 pinch runners, the most in the majors. 

Again, we knew this. Or, if we didn’t know this, we had a pretty good idea. When you have a Jarrod Dyson as a fourth outfielder – and in September, a Terrance Gore – pinch running will happen. Royals pinch runners stole 15 bases and were caught just three times. That’s an 83 percent success rate. That’s pretty good.

American League average was 36 pinch runners. Yost was well above average.

Yost made 46 defensive substitutions. The fourth most in the AL.

Think about it. Yost inserts Dyson as a pinch runner and keeps him in the game as a defensive replacement. That counts as Dyson entering as a pinch runner. I really liked that Yost seemed to figure this out as the season came to it’s conclusion. Being able to bring Dyson in as a pinch runner is capitalizing on the two things he does well – run and play defense. I feel like Yost didn’t get enough credit for this.

Let’s talk managerial tactics for a moment.

The Royals attempted 189 steals under Yost, the most in the majors. 

I say “under Yost” because anyone who watches the games and listens to Yost’s post-game comments knows he gives certain guys green lights. With reason. So it’s safe to say Yost himself didn’t call for each one of the 189 stolen base attempts. I don’t think it matters. As the boss, he’s the guy who fostered the environment that encouraged the speedy guys to run when they sensed opportunity.

Get ready for the next one…

The Royals attempted 45 sacrifice bunts. League average was 40 sacrifice bunt attempts. 

Seriously. It only felt like the Royals attempted 45 bunts the final two weeks of September.

It’s amazing, right? The Royals tried to sacrifice once every four games, which was right around league average. And we collectively reacted as if he was throwing a basket of kittens in the river. “My God, man… Are you insane?” Turns out he wasn’t any more or less insane than any other American League manager.

According to Baseball Reference, the Royals were successful on their sac bunt attempts roughly 60 percent of the time, which was a little worse than league average. But still close.

I wish I had a breakdown of sacrifice bunt attempts by inning. I remain steadfast in my belief a sacrifice bunt in the first inning is criminal. Same for bunting a runner to third with no one out. I will listen to your logic for a bunt in the eighth or ninth inning. I will likely reject it, but I will listen. As it goes for Yost, the numbers don’t lie. Most major league managers aren’t different from their peers. Individuality has a place, but for managers, that place is the unemployment office. Easier to follow the lead than blaze your own trail. Bunts are going to happen. Maybe 45 is on the high side. Maybe you see that as giving away a game and three-quarters worth of outs. Eh. It’s a long season.

But the next time Alcides Escobar drops down a first inning bunt, look for me on Twitter. I’ll be the guy leading the meltdown.

Yost called for  just three pitchouts, the fewest in the American League.

I’m glad someone keeps track of this.

Yost ordered just 14 intentional walks, the fewest in the majors.

OK, as frustrating as the bunt can be, how about this nifty stat? The fewest intentional walks? Nice. As much as I abhor the bunt, I hold the intentional walk in equal disdain. Just two years ago Yost ordered 44 intentional walks which was the most in the AL. What changed? If I had a guess it would be a veteran starting rotation and a lock down bullpen with the ability to throw some heat to generate a strikeout. Neither James Shields or Jeremy Guthrie gave an intentional walk. Same for Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Jason Vargas led the staff with four. No one else had more than a pair.

Only three times after an intentional walk did it “bomb,” which means a double play did not result and multiple runs were scored after the intentional walk was issued.

What does all of this mean?

Maybe Yost isn’t the idiot made out by most – including the author of the post you’re currently reading. It’s often said, and I believe this to be true, that a manager’s mistakes are remembered and amplified multiple times more than his successes. Call for a steal and it works, it’s a credit to a speedster like Dyson. Call for a steal and the runner is thrown out, it’s the manager’s fault for running on a particular pitcher, or catcher, or pitch count. Whatever. You get the picture.

As I said above, I can live with an “average” number of bunts. I really (really!) like the lack of intentional walks. And I thought the way he managed his personnel down the stretch was extremely solid.

In the next month or so, Yost will get his extension and it will be deserved. A reward for an exceptional 2014 season and a promise for future days in Kansas City where he can continue to use what he has learned over an 11 year managerial career to his advantage.

RHP ∙ 2012—present

Between the 2011 and 2012 seasons, the Royals swapped outfielder Melky Cabrera, coming off a bounce-back year, for pitcher Jonathan Sanchez in the hopes that Sanchez would have a bounce-back year of his own. Instead, Sanchez was an absolute mess for the Royals. That bad situation ended better than anyone had reason to hope when in late July the Colorado Rockies agreed to take Sanchez in exchange for another pitcher who was struggling at the time, Jeremy Guthrie. Just moving on from Sanchez was a plus, but getting an actual useful player in return was a coup for GM Dayton Moore. Guthrie won’t ever set the league on fire, but he had some value for Baltimore for five consecutive seasons before 2012. Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland saw some things he thought he could tweak with Guthrie in the hopes of getting him back to that level or maybe even better. There was no reason not to take a flier. Guthrie said at the time, “…as I looked at what was in my future and I look at the Royals, I see a perfect fit there…I really hope to come in there and be a large part of good things that we can do here in the near future.”[i] Also, “I like the powder blue tops…I’m excited about that.”[ii]

Eiland wanted to just observe Guthrie for a couple of starts before tinkering, and those two games went just as badly as things had been going in Colorado. Then Eiland got to work. Guthrie’s next start was OK, and then things really clicked on August 8 in Chicago. Guthrie rolled through eight scoreless innings without allowing a walk, and then did not yield an earned run in either of his next two starts either. On August 19 he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. The team won 10 of his last 11 starts that year. So what changed? “He’s made a couple of little tweaks in his mechanics that helps him load a little bit more, hide the ball a little bit more. Nothing major, just very subtle tweaks. He’s just comfortable, I think,” Ned Yost said.[iii]

Eiland adjusted Guthrie’s shoulder tuck, changed his foot on the rubber, moved his hands down, worked on his balance. “All that was designed to get him down in the zone and add a little deception,” Eiland said. “He bought into it right away and worked on it hard, and continues to work on it to this day every day. Now he’s down in the zone and when he misses, he misses down. Pitching from thigh to belt-high like he used to, when he missed he missed up. Now when he’s from thigh down, his misses are down. And he gained some confidence. And once a guy with that pitchability gains some confidence, this is what happens.”[iv]

Guthrie was a free agent after 2012, but after his two sterling months in KC, both sides wanted to keep him in the fold. A big three-year deal with a team option for a fourth was signed soon after the season. Two years later, Guthrie has filled an unglamorous but valuable role as an innings eater with average run prevention. Homers remain an issue, but Guthrie has kept walks in check and let his elite defense do their thing. 2013 was highlighted by his first and second career shutouts. He also set a team record with 18 straight starts without earning a loss (dating to the end of 2012).

His 2014 regular season featured fewer highs, but a continuation of that steady presence that is more often than not enough to get the team a win. The Royals are a surprising 48-31 in Guthrie starts from 2012—14. The highlight that year of course was the playoff run. Guthrie, at age 35, made his playoff debut in the third game of the ALCS in a start against Baltimore. He delivered with five innings and one run allowed. He took the mound again in game three of the World Series, and came through with another performance just good enough for the team to win. His turn came again in game seven, and he started with a perfect first inning. Things went haywire in the second as he loaded the bases before recording an out, but limited the damage to two runs in the frame. He seemed to have righted the ship with a perfect third, but got into another jam in the fourth with runners on the corners and one out before being lifted. “When I walked back into the clubhouse after game seven having lost the game 3-2 and feeling responsible personally because I gave up the three runs, I walked in with my head held high,” he said. “I expected to be a little more sad than I was, but I think there was really nothing more that I could have done.” And to the fans, “We had a blast doing it with you and had a blast doing it for you and hope to do it again very, very soon.”[v]

[i] Vinnie Duber, “Royals acquire Guthrie from Rockies for Sanchez,” http://kansascity.royals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20120720&content_id=35241892&vkey=news_kc&c_id=kc, July 20, 2012.

[ii] “Guthrie excited to be part of Royals’ rotation,” http://m.royals.mlb.com/news/article/35319822/, July 21, 2012.

[iii] “Guthrie looking to make winning fit with KC,” http://m.royals.mlb.com/news/article/36758860/, August 15, 2012.

[iv] Dick Kaegel, “Guthrie enjoys marked turnaround under Eiland,” http://m.royals.mlb.com/news/article/46674802/, May 5, 2013.

[v] Roxie Hammill, “Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie shares his faith at church homecoming in Platte City,” http://www.kansascity.com/news/local/community/816/article3558841.html, November 4, 2014.

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