Royals Authority

Long Live The Process

Generally, I care almost not at all about who gets picked to play in the All-Star Game and that includes whomever gets the required nod from the Royals.   Over the past couple of years, it was fun to have Joakim Soria on the team as he both deserved it and had the possibility of playing a prominent part in the game’s outcome.

In the end, however, who goes and who doesn’t really is not of great interest to me.   To be honest, I have not watched an All-Star Game start to finish in at least five years if not longer.   Perhaps, if all goes well in a couple of years and the roster contains three or four Royals instead of the mandatory one, my interest in the mid-summer classic will come back.

The Royals’ All-Star selection this year (and there will only be one) is kind of interesting in that the team has a player who probably could make a case to be selected even if the league didn’t require every team to have a representative and that player is one who many were ready to give up on before the season began.   Of course, I am talking about Alex Gordon.

Let’s check out Gordon’s resume to date:

  • 11th in the American League with a WAR of 2.8 (Fangraphs)
  • 19th in batting average, 16th in on-base percentage and 20th in slugging
  • 6th in total hits
  • 18th in runs scored
  • 3rd in doubles
  • 6th in triples
  • 1st in outfield assists and zero errors
  • 9 home runs and 5 steals, just as a bonus

Certainly, those are not MVP numbers, but they reflect an all-around good season.   Are there three outfielders in the American League having clearly better seasons than Alex Gordon?  Yes.   Are there six?  Maybe not.

As Royals’ fans, we may have expected too much out of Gordon when he came up;  so much so, that now that he is posting a .293/.362/.482 line with 36 extra base hits that we still have a tendency to say ‘well, that’s okay, I guess’.    I have done it myself, but it might be wise to remember that Carlos Beltran’s career line as a Kansas City Royal was .287/.352/.483.

Now, Alex Gordon is no Carlos Beltran, but he is a heck of a lot closer to being that kind of player now than he was just three months ago.    By the end of his run in KC, Beltran had added power and was routinely slugging over .500, but that would seem to be something Gordon might be capable of as well.

Nope, Gordon is not Beltran, but he should be an All-Star.

 You can also check out my ramblings on going to a six man rotation over at Sports Radio WHB where we provide exclusive Royals Authority content each week.

Getting swept…

Getting swept at home…

Getting swept at home by a National League team…

Yep, this week has pretty much been one for the dumpster.

If you’re looking for a silver lining in last night’s game, I guess we could find one in the fact that Felipe Paulino somehow pitched into the ninth inning. Kind of surprising, given he’d thrown 108 pitches through eight. To me, that move seems rather Hillman-esque, but I feel we can cut Nervous Ned some slack because this is Paulino we’re talking about. It’s not like the Royals are grinding a $12 million starter to the ground. It’s the little things.

The most notable thing that’s come from this series is the lineup shake-up. For the second consecutive game, Melky Cabrera led off, followed by Eric Hosmer. Funny… You can juggle the lineup all you want, but you still can’t prevent regression to the mean. That’s exactly what’s happening with guys like Jeff Francoeur who has expanded his strike zone to include a four state area. Then, there’s the learning process that’s ongoing with Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. That was evident in the ninth inning on Wednesday, when Hosmer was first pitch swinging with two out and the tying run on base in the ninth.

What it boils down to is unless Bud Selig turns his head to the advances made in genetic cloning, the Royals still have just two hitters in this lineup that can be counted upon to produce: Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. That’s it. The rest of the guys can run hot and extremely cold.

This will change over time. It’s all about The Process. Soon, we can include Hosmer and Moustakis in this group. Throw in a few arms and we may be in business.

For now though, we’re in familiar territory. The Royals are staring the second consecutive month where they’re playing under .400 ball firmly in the face. After averaging 5.1 runs per game the first month of the season, they’re plating just four runs per contest since. That one run makes all the difference in the world, especially with our starting rotation.

Again, it’s not about lineups. It’s not about Bruce Chen. (That was probably the funniest thing I heard all week when Nervous Ned tried to pin the Royals May and June swoon on the absence of Chen due to injury. Hilarious. Maybe if he was Albert Pujols. Stay calm, Ned.) And it’s not about the young players.

Right now, this team just isn’t built to win games.

Unfortunately, this leaves us in an all too familiar position… Worst record in the American League by two games and the third worst record in all of baseball.

Welcome home.

Episode #056 – In which I discuss Ned Yost’s comments regarding Eric Hosmer and break down the options for the Royals All-Star Game representative. Also, special guest Jon Schieszer stops by to discuss comedy, being a Royals fan in L.A., the Dodgers and his upcoming show in Kansas City.





Check out Jon Schieszer live in Kansas City


Music used in this podcast:

Afro Cuban All Stars – Tumba Palo Cocuye

The Aggrolites – 5 Deadly Venoms

Modest Mouse – Dramamine


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Ned Yost revamped the batting order for last night’s game and was rewarded with 11 hits, but only two runs.   A massively changed order is, of course, easy fodder for a column.   However, after Yost inserted Melky Cabrera and his .315 on-base percentage into the leadoff spot and was rewarded with two hits and a walk, what is one to say?

Melky Cabrera, after hitting .255/.317/.354 in an unenthused, out of shape campaign for Atlanta in 2010, was not greeted with much anticipation by the Royals’ fan base this off-season.   I think to a lot of followers, Cabrera has been a nice surprise thus far.    He did show up in shape, seems to play hard and has hit better than most of us expected.

That said, Melky is currently sporting a line of .277/.319/.435 for a career high OPS+ of 111.   Still, that really is basically what Melky Cabrera has always been.   Throwing out 2010, he compiled a career line with the Yankees of .269/.331/.385.  If Melky’s power surge (his current slugging percentage is also a career high) continues throughout the season he will certainly enjoy the best year of his career, but nothing dramatically greater than what he did as a 21 year old rookie five years ago.

Now, do not take this as a criticism of the Royals’ centerfielder.   He has, quite frankly, been fine this year, but don’t get carried away.   Cabrera remains basically the same player Allard Baird tried to trade Reggie Sanders for twice only to be derailed by Sanders incredibly poorly timed bouts with hamstringitis.

With a current WAR (per Fangraphs) of 1.7, Cabrera has already tied his career high in that category, so kudos to Dayton Moore for what is a nice, cheap off-season pickup, but again let’s not get carried away.   Melky Cabrera is who he is, with a little more power.   In the field, he is David DeJesus with a better arm and a better reputation.   At the plate, he is a hitter who has not topped a .336 on-base percentage in five years.   He is who he is – just like Jeff Francouer.

Certainly as likeable player as anyone on the roster for the past decade, Francouer started 2011 on a hot streak and endeared himself to almost all of us with some timely hits and great outfield throws.    Still, we wake up this morning to find Jeff hitting .257/.304/.429.   His career line is .267/.309/.425.   Francouer is Francouer, no matter the uniform.

So, the Royals sit here in late June, out of the race once more with two 27 year old outfielders with serious time on their major league resumes who are basically performing exactly as they always have:  maybe even a little better in the case of Cabrera.   What do you do?

Should the Royals keep them both and avoid the Facebook outrage over ‘always trading our best players!?###’, move one or move both?  Is there even a market for Melky and the Frenchman?

Due to their age and reasonable contracts, both have some allure in that you get a player in his supposed physical prime, but with a long history in the majors.   Contenders like to know what they are getting and in both players they have a pretty good idea.   That makes both a somewhat safe option for a successful team looking to fill a void on their mid-season roster.

We can be fairly certain that, with Lorenzo Cain in Omaha, Dayton Moore is certainly listening on Melky Cabrera.   His personal affinity for Jeff Francouer makes it less certain he would deal Frenchy.    Truthfully, I would market Francouer, who brings a clubhouse presence, more certain defense and the ability to tatoo left-handed pitching.    Even though Cabrera is the better player, I have a hunch Francouer might actually bring a better return in a trade.

I could live with an outfield of Gordon-Cain-Cabrera this summer.   Heck, I can live with Gordon-Cain-Francouer, too.  At this point

The Royals possess the worst record in the American League, but they at least seem better than some of Kansas City teams of the near past.   This group fields better, runs better and pretty much hits better than probably any Royals’ team of the past eight or ten years.   Despite being dinged for two losses over the weekend and a less than perfect Joakim Soria, the team’s bullpen is viewed as a strength right now and likely to become even better.   Alas, as we all are well aware, there exists a big, gaping, borderline hideous void on this team called the starting rotation. 

Nine different pitchers have started games for the Royals and they have combined for an American League worst 5.13 ERA, more than a half run worse than the next worst starting rotation (Toronto, by the way).   They have struck out just 214 batters, 52 less than the next lowest total compiled by Baltimore and opposing hitters have hit .290 against KC starters, 14 points higher than against any other team.

As bad as the rotation has been, Royals’ fans have been able to comfort themselves with the thought that help was on its way.  After all, Kansas City began the season in possession of baseball’s best farm system:  an analysis whose foundation was largely based on the talent and number of good, young arms in the system.

Nearing the halfway point of the season, things have not exactly gone as planned when it comes to many of the young starters and left many of us wondering if help is truly on the way.  

Here to Help Now – Danny Duffy

There is an ever growing possibility that Duffy might be sent back to Omaha to make room for the apparently inevitable return of Kyle Davies to his birthright:  a spot in the Royals’ rotation.   While more Davies is hardly a good thing, sending Duffy back to AAA is not the end of the world, either.

Having thrown just 62 regular season innings in 2010, Duffy is likely to run into a major inning’s crunch as the season progresses.   Between Omaha and KC thus far he has already thrown 70 innings and one would think the Royals really cannot feel comfortable pushing the 22 year lefty much beyond 120 innings total in 2011.

No matter where Duffy gets his work, he has gotten a taste of major league action.   While you might wonder if, given what we have seen out of Danny thus far, actually qualifies as ‘help’, you might be interested to see what a few other pitchers did in their first seven major league starts:

DUFFY 34 39 19 22 29 5.03
SABATHIA 37.1 34 16 15 21 3.86
LATOS 37.1 34 20 16 29 4.82
HAMELS 37.2 37 23 20 35 5.50
HAREN 38 42 17 13 27 4.03
KERSHAW 33 33 16 22 29 4.36

At minimum, Duffy has gotten 34 innings closer to hopefully translating his minor league numbers into major league success.   The stuff is undeniable – it seems like Duffy gets two strikes on virtually everyone (one in five hitters have fallen behind him 0-2) – but has yet to translate that into consistent success.  

I think he will, probably sooner rather than later, and will likely take a spot firmly in the middle of the starting rotation, maybe even as a number two starter, for good to start the 2012 season.   Given the experience gained already and surely to be gained in some measure with additional major league starts this year (be it now or August), Duffy should be ready to pitch contending baseball.

With a Little Hope in Late 2011 – Mike Montgomery

Prior to the start of this season, the debate was not whether Mike Montgomery was going to make it, but whether he would be an ace or the team’s number two starter behind John Lamb.   Fast forward a few months and Lamb is having Tommy John surgery while Montgomery has allowed 51 runs in 78 innings, uncorked 10 wild pitches, hit 4 batters and walked 46 more.   In his last 51 innings, Mike has been tagged for 43 runs and 8 homers.

Certainly those numbers are discouraging, particularly since they seem to be getting worse not better.   However, after being completely lit on fire two nights ago, Greg Schaum tweeted that Montgomery was ‘working on some things’ and would be back to form in a couple of starts.   That is not an exact quote as I’m simply too lazy to scroll back and look, but it captures the essence of Schaum’s tweet and I have no reason to doubt that it has a factual foundation.   Truth is, I am going to put a  lot of stock in Schaum’s 140 characters simply because I don’t want to think about a 2012 rotation that doesn’t include Montgomery very early on.

Not lost in the Montgomery equation is the fact that the new ballpark in Omaha would seem to be shaping up as a hitter’s park and the league itself is a hitter’s league.   Time will tell when it comes to Werner Park, but simply by where it sits (I live 50 miles from Omaha) any Nebraskan will tell you the ball is going to jump out of there most nights of the summer.

All that said, even if Montgomery rights the ship, he will also run into an innings crunch having pitched just 93 frames in 2010.   Already at 78.2 for this season, one would logically assume that Mike probably does not have much more than another 70 or 80 innings left before it becomes less than prudent to have him log any more time on the mound.    That is just enough time to get things going in AAA and get Montgomery’s own seven or eight ‘first’ major league starts out of the way and make him a member of the 2012 rotation from day one.

Not shown on the Duffy chart above are guys like Jered Weaver, Justin Verlander, Cliff Lee and Zack Greinke who all hit the major leagues and were effective and often dominant from start number one.   The Royals could use something like that out of Mike Montgomery.   Frankly, the Royals have endured enough bad karma to have exactly that happen.

The Void That Is 2012

Okay, we have been optimistic with Duffy and Montgomery by projecting both to be legitimate major league starters by the end of 2011; here comes a dose of pessimism.

2012 was supposed to be the year that John Lamb would burst on the scene and challenge to be the ace of the Royals’ rotation.   Down with Tommy John surgery, that will not happen next year and likely we won’t be looking for Lamb until sometime in 2013.    He may still become the ace of the staff, it just won’t be next year or the year after that.

With Lamb down, the Northwest Arkansas rotation is led by Chris Dwyer (5.76 ERA), Will Smith (4.71 ERA, 94 hits in 71 innings) and Edgar Osuna (6.88 ERA).  Welcome to the world of pitching prospects, where a Top 100 prospect like Dwyer puts up Kyle Daveish numbers.

The upside on Dwyer is that he still is allowing less than one hit per inning and is still striking out close to a batter per frame as well.   His walk rate is up, like seemingly every other prospect in the organization, and Chris has buried 9 wild pitches in 66 innings of work.    Over his last two starts (11.1 innings), Dwyer has struck out 12 and allowed just one run.

Will Smith’s strikeout rate has dropped as he moves to higher levels in the minors while his hit rate has increased.   That doesn’t bode well for anyone.  Osuna, last year’s Rule 5 pick, had a nice 2010 campaign in AA and an atrocious time in AAA.   This year, Edgar has recreated his dismal AAA performance, only at the AA level.

If one is realistically looking for minor league help in 2012, your best bet is Dwyer, but more likely later in the season than early on.    Even that, that is taking an incredibly optimistic and likely unrealistic approach that three of the Royals’ top four pitching prospects actually come through


Projecting the Unprojectable

The Wilmington rotation has some exciting names, led by Jake Odorizzi and followed by Noel Arguelles, Tim Melville, Tyler Sample, Elisaul Pimentel, Justin Marks and Michael Mariot.   That said, when was the last time that Wilmington didn’t have a good rotation (remember Rowdy Hardy, Dan Cortes, Julio Pimental and Blake Johnson?) and how often have we seen great High-A seasons fade against poor AA and AAA careers?   As said by many before, counting on prospects is a gamble:  counting on pitching prospects is heartbreaking.

Odorizzi, part of the Greinke haul, is the guy who could jump to Northwest Arkansas this summer and get himself into a mid-2012 major league conversation.   He has struck on 93 batter ins 65 innings this year, after fanning 135 in 120 innings the year before.   Despite a BABIP against of a .363, Odorizzi has held opponets to an overall .233 batting average on his way to a 2.17 ERA and 1.161 WHIP.   This is the guy who looks and feels like the next big thing.

Of course, we said that about Lamb and Montgomery and Duffy and others.    So, take those seven pitchers I named at the top of this section and, realistically, project one to be good and another to be serviceable.    Maybe that’s more pessimistic than realistic, I’m not sure, but it seems to me that the Royals would consider themselves blessed to have Montgomery, Duffy and Odorizzi occupying three of the top four spots in their rotation by early 2013.

If Melville, who many in the organization believe is close to ‘putting it all together’ after a season and one-half of less than resplendent outcomes, does just that and is poised to join the party at some point in 2013 (or Arguelles, who we still don’t know much about or Jason Adam, currently in Kane County, or Yordano Ventura or Yambati or someone else – you get the point here), then Kansas Citians should be ecstatic.

Of Course, THAT’S 2013 and Beyond

Given that most young pitchers have a period of adjustments and struggles at the beginning of their major league careers, what the above tells us is that a homegrown rotation can a ‘contending rotation’ no sooner than early 2013 and more likely late 2013.   Do you wait that long?

Even the most optimistic and aggressive projections for Duffy and Montgomery probably does not have them being true numbers one or two type starters in 2012.    Sure, there are worse things than a rotation of Hochevar, Francis or Chen, Duffy, Montgomery and someone else (Mazarro, O’Sullivan..don’t you dare say Kyle Davies!) next April, but it certainly would not be a strength of the team at that point.

Should Dayton Moore make a big move between now and next season to get an established arm into his rotation?   Do the Royals package prospects to acquire a legitimate number two or three starter who they think could become a number one?   Or do you wait, endure an up and down 2012, and hope that by 2013 the top of the rotation is Montgomery, Duffy and Odorizzi with John Lamb soon to come back and Jason Adam or Tim Melville in the wings?

That is a tough decision and a gamble no matter which way Dayton Moore decides to go.   Of all the decisions Dayton Moore has made and will make, this one will likely define his tenure as Royals GM.


When Thomas Gray wrote “where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise” in his poem Ode On A Distant Prospect of Eton College, he was ruminating on how blissful his years were prior to becoming wise. In my life as a Royals fan, I’ve been blissfully ignorant of the true joy of watching an elite defensive shortstop. I wasn’t completely ignorant, I knew that Angel Berroa, Tony Pena Jr. and Yuniesky Betancourt weren’t great defenders, but I didn’t really know, not until I got to see Alcides Escobar. It may be folly to be wise, but it sure is a hell of a lot of fun. Especially when for the moment, Alcides Escobar is the best player on the planet.

When we talk about players who were the best in the game, we’re talking about in a certain period of time. Maybe it’s a decade, a season or the dead-ball era. I know that it’s an absurdly short period of time in baseball terms, but for the past two weeks, the best player on the planet has been Alcides Escobar.

I have a statistical interest in baseball, so I’m fully aware of sample sizes. But the results are the results. Whether they come from luck or an anomaly only matters in the context of future prediction. It’d clearly be folly to predict Escobar will continue hitting this well, but that’s not the point. Exactly how well has Escobar hit in the past 14 days? His triple-slash line in super-duper sized font for emphasis:



Those are absurd numbers, the kind that only exist in short time-frames. But still, this is Alcides Freaking Escobar we’re talking about. His slash line after the first game of this time period was .207/.241/.240. So after 60 games of being absolutely woeful at the plate, Escobar goes all bizzaro-Escobar and starts getting hits in about half of his at-bats. In fact, lets watch a video of one of those hits just to prove that it actually happened:

That video is illustrative, because Alcides Escobar hasn’t been just collecting singles–seven of his 22 hits over this span have been for extra-bases.

But even with all of that, it’s not enough by itself to make him the best player on the planet for the past two weeks. Prince Fielder and Paul Konerko have both hit 7 homeruns and Adrian Gonzalez has taken walks and hit for power. Those three players are the only ones in baseball with a higher wOBA than Alcides Escobar. However there are two things that they don’t do which he does: steal bases and play defense. The stolen base thing is minor and nearly negligible, but Escobar has 6 of them over this span and has been caught just once.

The defense is a whole other story. Again, lets role some tape:



and because I can’t get enough of these, one more:

This is far from an exhaustive display of amazing plays he’s put together.  I can (and someday will) go on at length on the breadth of spectacular plays he’s made. In going back to the previous three players who have hit as well or better than Escobar in the past two weeks, it’s not going out on a limb to say that they don’t have those plays in their repertoire.

This offensive output is going to end, but it does provide a glimmer of what Acides Escobar may be. I was adamant in saying that he would eventually become a better hitter. Whether or not he does improve or goes back to his TPJ impression, he is the best player on the planet…for now.

Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.



That crashing sound you heard was the Royals dropping two of three to the Cardinals over the weekend. It wasn’t the losses that caused the ruckus. It was the result: The Royals now have sole possession of last place in the AL Central and own the worst record in the league.

Welcome home.

You know, we’ve been down this road so many times… And the Royals weren’t expected to compete this year anyway… Blah, blah, blah.

Sunday’s game was one of the more interesting contests of the season, for the sheer volume of crazy. Let’s start with Danny Duffy who somehow managed to put up this wonderful line before leaving the game with a leg cramp:

3.2 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 9 SO

Read that again. Duffy recorded 11 outs, nine of them on strikeouts. Uh… Wow?

He threw 90 pitches and 56 of those were strikes. What was insanely incredible about his strikes were how they broke down:

17 – Swing and miss
16 – Fouls
15 – Looking
8 – In play

That just doesn’t happen where a pitcher has more swings and misses than any other kinds of strikes. Searching for an adjective for a performance like this… Dominant comes to mind. Except it really wasn’t.

Because of the eight balls the Cardinals put in play, only two of them were converted into outs. Yep… The Cards posted a .750 BABIP against Duffy on Sunday. The same game where he was routinely making hitters look overmatched at times… things would get mixed up. Topsy-turvy.

The crazy thing was, if the cramps hadn’t felled Duffy in the fourth, I wonder if he would have been able to go back for the fifth. He didn’t finish an inning in under 20 pitches. In every start, he’s thrown between 94 and 104 pitches. Basically, he would have needed a 10 pitch fifth inning to finish right around 100 pitches, and we know he’s pretty much incapable of that kind of economy of pitches.

Just one of the weirder starting pitching performances… Ever. According to Baseball Reference, only Jim Beatte in 1982 and David Cone in 1990 have started a game and struck out nine batters in less than four innings. Duffy makes three.

As the game progressed, things got even more interesting. I just don’t understand why the Cardinals were throwing at Alex Gordon. Oh, wait… I do understand. Their manager is a egomaniacal headhunter of the highest order. Come on… We assume, this was in retaliation of the Louis Coleman throwing high and tight to Albert Pujols. They say the son resembles the father… In this case, poor little Albert sure emulates his whiny little manager. Offering a staredown after an inside pitch? Does Albert want an Oscar, because that was quite the dramatic performance. Come on… Like it’s illegal to throw up and in on a guy who sits over the plate.

(Is it just me, or had Pujols really taken on LaRussa-like qualities in that he just whines about everything. And it’s non-stop. Really Albert, you’re great. We know that. It can be fun watching you hit. But you’re veering toward A-Rod territory where you just need to shut up and play.)

If the pitches to Gordon (there were two – one behind his back before he was actually plunked) were in fact retaliation, that was the ultimate punk move by the Cardinals. Why? First of all, Pujols wasn’t even hit. He wasn’t hit! Second, Pujols got whatever he was seeking when he hit a home run on the next pitch. Besides, he sure took his time and admired his work. (My rough estimate has his home run trot – plus the bat flip styling – at 24 seconds. That makes it one of the longer home run trots this weekend.) If Pujols was perturbed by the inside pitch, that’s revenge.

There was also speculation the Gordon HBP was retaliation for Matt Holliday getting hit on Friday. Seriously? That makes even less sense. But with LaRussa, nothing is out of the realm of possibility. Ordinarily, if it was just one pitch that hit Gordon, I’d write it off as nothing. But two… Where there’s smoke and a manager with an ego that can’t fit under that arch, there’s fire. Also, there is some question as to whether the Gordon HBP was in fact a hit ordered from management since Tallet isn’t exactly a control pitcher – he owns a 7.15 ERA. That’s LaRussa’s M.O. on something like this – send an expendable pitcher to the mound so he gets the ejection and/or suspension. Stay classy, Tony.

Of course, this whole thing takes on an added dimension when Wilson Betemit runs into Pujols’ wrist on a play at first in between Pujols’ home run and the Gordon HBP, knocking him from the game. It should be noted that while The Best Fans In Baseball think Betemit did something wrong, there is absolutely no way he was at fault. He was clearly running down the baseline, well within his rights. Pujols just handled the throw in the worst possible way. Although by the time this is over, I’m sure Cards fan will somehow place Betemit on the grassy knoll in Dallas. Jeez…

One final note on this… the unwritten rule is if you seek retaliation, you look to the comparable player on the other team. You hit my catcher? I got your catcher. You hit my best hitter? I’ll do the same to your best hitter. So if the Cardinals are seeking retribution for coming up and in on Pujols, they have to go after Alcides Escobar. You think I’m kidding? Whatever that kid is eating, I’ll take two.

— The Shortstop Jesus was hitting .500/.524/.675 in the 11 games prior to Sunday and picked up two more, including the game tying home run in the ninth. That was his first home run of the season, naturally.

Don’t look now, but he’s pushing his offensive line to respectability. He’s also become a guy I welcome at the plate with the game on the line. It’s a great run, the key will be for him to keep it going in some respect.

— Is Jeff Francoeur the new Alcides Escobar? I mean, good glove, no hit? Lost in the mania of the walkoff, The Frenchman made just a helluva play in the ninth to gun Descalso down at second base. Do yourself a favor, and find this play on MLBs website (the lack of embeddable video and the overall poor quality of their video page on their website prevents me from linking, but you can track this down) and watch it. Francoeur busts it to the line, grabs the ball with his bare hand, pivots and fires a strike to Escobar waiting at second for the first out of the inning.

Good thing The Frenchman has his glove, because he’s hitting .175/.210/.211 over his last 14 games. We knew his start was too good to be true… And it was. On Sunday, he came to the plate four times and saw a total of 10 pitches.

Old habits… Kind of like the Royals and last place.

Rough game Thursday… 16 strikeouts and Jeff Francoeur batting third. Good thing it wasn’t on TV. So, let’s talk about something else. How about some stats?

In play percentage (IP%) is a useful stat in that it tells us how often a hitter is testing the defense. It’s not a measure of quality of at bats, simply it just is very straight forward… How often does a particular hitter make contact and keep the ball in the park. League average is 70%. Your Royal leaders:

Escobar – 82%
Getz – 78%
Aviles – 77%
Cabrera – 77%
Francoeur – 73%
Butler – 72%
Hosmer – 72%
Gordon 68%
Betemit – 66%
Treanor – 59%

Seven of the 10 Royals who have qualified for the batting title are above league average. Not surprising how the list shakes out as the power (relatively speaking) is toward the bottom since home runs are not counted as being in play. On the flip side, Escobar and Getz at the top isn’t a surprise, either. In fact, Escobar is tied for third in the AL for the highest in play rate.

IP% doesn’t mean a ton, but it is a good situational stat to know for the instances where you can’t have a strikeout and absolutely have to have the ball in play to advance (or score) a runner.

Speaking of scoring runners, here are the Royals and their percentage of base runners brought home (BRS%). This isn’t a stat about RBI, this is simply a percentage where runners scored is divided by total runners on base. League average is 14%.

Aviles – 21%
Cabrera – 20%
Gordon – 18%
Betemit – 16%
Francoeur – 16%
Butler – 15%
Hosmer – 14%
Getz – 13%
Treanor – 11%
Escobar – 9%

The Royals are scoring roughly 4.5 runs per game. It’s not difficult to see why. Their team base runners scored percent is 15%, only behind the Yankees in the American League. For as much crap as Aviles got, he was the most efficient at bringing base runners around. Even Butler – the subject of continued scorn for not being “productive” enough – is above league average. For the record, Mike Moustakas has yet to drive in anyone but himself. He’s 0-15 with runners on base.

To break down BRS% even further, Billy Butler has come to the plate 289 times this year. The average hitter who has come to the plate the same number of times, has had 175 runners on base. Butler has batted with only 166 runners on. The average major leaguer with 289 plate appearances has 30 RBI. Butler has 31. So even though Butler has come to bat with fewer runners on than we would expect, he has given us more RBI. That’s production.

By the way, an example of how statistics can domino… The reason Butler has come up with less than the number of average base runners is because Francoeur and Cabrera and to a lesser extend Hosmer, have been bringing more runners home. More production in the top half of the lineup, means fewer chances for Butler to drive home runs.

Here is a table designed to show how many base runners and RBI each player has, along with the average number of base runners and RBI given how many plate appearances that batter has. They are presented in what has become the normal batting order for the Royals.

The table just confirms what we’ve seen all year. The top six spots have been providing all the production. The lower third of the batting order has been an abyss. One thing that surprised me was how much higher than league average Escobar was when it comes to base runners when he’s at the plate. Credit to Coach Treanor I guess, who is walking 15% of the time. Getz’s numbers are a bit skewed because he’s spent time at the leadoff spot. I imagine if he’s spent all year hitting behind Treanor, his base runner number would be above average as well.

A couple of programming notes…

— On the sidebar, you’ll notice Nick was sent three DVD sets from A&E Home Entertainment celebrating the Royals 1985 World Series and we’re giving those away. I picked up the set last winter (you may recall some random Tweets I tossed out in the middle of January) and I can attest to the awesomeness of the DVDs. Included is the full broadcast of all seven games, along with some extras like the clubhouse celebration and features on George Brett and Bret Saberhagen.

How do you win one of these? Easy. Just tell us a great baseball story about your relationship with the Royals. That’s a pretty general idea, so it’s up to you and your creativity to run with it. We’ll publish the winners.

Entry deadline is June 21, so get on this. Email your submissions here. Good luck.

— Second item is also on the sidebar, and it’s the Baseball Prospectus meet at the K on Saturday, July 9. There are a ton of great baseball people attending: Kevin Goldstein is BPs prospect guru, Jeff Euston is the brains behind Cot’s Baseball Contracts, Joe Hamrahi is a graduate of Royals scout school and the CFO of BP and Rany Jazayerli. Since I’ve been writing about fantasy baseball there for the last two years, I’m there as well. I’m going for a guilt by association thing here… Stand close to the smart people and everyone will think you’re smart as well.

For $30, you get a ticket to the game against the Tigers in The French Quarter in right field in front of Rivals, a $15 coupon to be used when you sign up or renew your BP subscription, a meet and greet with someone from the Royals (to be determined) and just a chance to hang out with people who love baseball just as much as you do. Space is filling up, so sign up now.

We have seen last night’s Luke Hochevar before.   He is the guy that gives Royals’ fans hope that the former number one overall pick is about to or already has turned the corner into becoming, if not an ace, a solid major league starter.

Despite not striking a batter out, Hochevar induced 13 ground ball outs and exited the game after allowing just single runs in the sixth and seventh innings.   Two runs, two walks, five hits over seven innings:  we will take that most any time out from Hochevar.   In fact, the Royals did get virtually the same performance in Hochevar’s previous start against Toronto, but therein lies the problem.

Hochevar will string together two, three and sometime four solid to good starts only to then fall back to simply not very good.   Take a look at just this season:

  • First two starts:  8 runs in 11.2 innings
  • Next two starts: 4 runs in 14 innings
  • Next two starts: 12 runs in 12 innings
  • Next four starts: 8 runs in 28 innings
  • Next three starts: 17 runs in 18 innings
  • Last two starts:  4 runs in 14 innings

Every starting pitcher, even the aces, have off days and certainly Hochevar, miscast as the Royals’ number one starter, falls under more scrutiny than others, but a good pitcher (even an average major league starter) does not follow four good starts with THREE bad ones.   That is the simple truth and a feat that Hochevar has never managed to avoid in what is now an 84 game career.

That four start streak above (8 runs in 28 innings) marks the longest ‘good’ start streak of Hochevar’s career and then was followed by a horrific three start run.  Yes, I know one of those three starts was six perfect innings sandwiched around an 8 run fourth in Baltimore, but that inning did happen, so it counts.  

Advanced metrics are not much kinder to Luke.   His 2011 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) stands at 4.84, up almost a full run from 2010 and exactly where it was during the 2009 season.   Luke’s xFIP is 4.25, up from 4.09 in 2010 and, you guessed it, almost identical to that of 2009.     Is Luke Hochevar treading water, getting worse or getting better?  

Hochevar is inducing ground balls this season at a higher rate (53.2% career high) and after allowing an almost freakish amount of home runs early in the season, he has not allowed a single dinger over his last five starts (32 innings).   At the same time, however, Luke has struck out just eight batters and currently is averaging less than four strikeouts per nine innings.   That is almost two strikeouts less than his career average.

While the Royals’ infield defense is much improved and Hochevar is generally at his best as a ground ball pitcher, I am not sure you can make a consistent living with a strikeout rate as low as his is this season.   The declining strikeout rate coincides with Hochevar’s injury last June.

Prior to that time, Luke was on a bit of a strikeout binge:  getting 31 strikeouts in the 35 innings leading up to his nearly three month stint on the disabled list.   He came back in September and struck out 14 over 25 innings and the decline then continued as the calendar turned to 2011.

Is this a warning sign or a change in approach?  Is it good or bad?  Who knows?   We are talking about Luke Hochevar here.   He could give up five runs in five innings the next time out or throw a shutout, neither would surprise me.

As I get older, I learn to appreciate a few things that would have been unthinkable in my youth…

Add well pitched ballgames to the list.

That’s why I thought Tuesday night’s game was – for the first six innings – brutal.

Trevor Cahill in particular was just awful. He threw 96 pitches, but just 47 strikes. It was the worst pitching performance I’ve seen (non-Royal category) since any Daisuke Matsuzaka start over the last three seasons. And it wasn’t like Cahill was getting squeezed. He was all over the place… I mean, when he wasn’t throwing the ball 55 feet and bouncing it in the dirt, he was airmailing pitches to the backstop.

Cahill has struggled lately. He’s giving up home runs and walking batters like crazy. In his four starts prior to Tuesday, he had thrown 22 innings, allowed 14 walks, five home runs and 15 strikeouts. Opposing batters have been teeing off, hitting .337/.425/.551 against him during this stretch.

I wonder if the Royals knew about this. This is a question I’ll ask again and again, now that the team does all of their advanced scouting by video. What exactly are they watching on these videos? Because if they’re watching the TV broadcast feeds, they’re doing it wrong. I’m sure there are different camera feeds available, but how much of a pain is it to watch an entire game isolated on a starting pitcher to see how he’s standing on the mound, if he’s tipping his pitches, his delivery time to home, etc… And then have to switch to another feed to see how the infielders are positioned, or how the play is made in the outfield. I imagine, if you were doing a thorough scouting job, it would take you six hours to scout a single game by video.

I bring up this scouting issue again, because Royals hitters seemed to take the wrong approach from the beginning.

Take the first inning. Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera and Eric Hosmer saw a grand total of eight pitches. That’s not exactly working the count. Gordon offered at a tough pitch out of the zone, Melky swung at a ball (shocking) and Hosmer offered at a pitch down and away on an 1-0 count that he would have been better off taking.

Not a good start.

The second was, in some ways, worse. That’s because after he walked Jeff Francoeur (which should be a warning sign for anyone watching a ballgame that this particular pitcher doesn’t have it) Billy Butler had an outstanding plate appearance. This was one of the few times of the night Cahill was spotting his pitches. The first three were low and away… off the plate for balls. These were pitches thrown with good intent in that if Butler makes contact with those and puts them in play, he’s grounding into a double play. The Frenchman negates that possibility by stealing second on the third pitch of the Butler at bat. Then, Butler takes two called strikes on pitches low and away, but deemed in the zone by the home plate umpire, Bill Welke. (I’m not sold on the first pitch, but the second one was good.) He fouls one off and then takes ball four.

You now have two hitters who have walked to lead off an inning against a pitcher who has had command problems in the past. You have a young hitter coming up and the lower third of the batting order coming behind him.

You make the call…

If you’re Nervous Ned Yost, you bunt.


Bunting in the second inning with your rookie stud, against a starting pitcher with command issues and with Matt Treanor and Chris Getz immediately following? That’s mismanagement of the highest order.

(At least I’m assuming he ordered the bunt. We don’t know because neither the KC Star story or the story has this info. I Googled, but couldn’t come up with the answer if the bunt was called by Yost or Moustakas freelanced. The fact that neither game summary included the word “bunt” is slightly surprising, considering the Royals sacrificed three times Tuesday.)

Instead of setting up for a potential big inning, you’re playing for one run in the second inning… Frustrating. And guess what? It worked when Coach T grounded out and brought Francoeur home.

The Royals encountered a similar situation in the fourth. Runners on first and second and no outs, but with Chris Getz at the plate. In that situation, I have no problem with asking Getz to sacrifice – which he did. Because letting Getz hit is a little like asking the pitcher to swing the bat. With a 91 percent contact rate and a 51 percent ground ball rate, he would seem to be a double play candidate. (Although a quick check of the numbers shows this isn’t exactly the case. In 34 double play opportunities this year, Getz has grounded into just one double play. Although it helps he’s sacrificed an AL leading 10 times.)

Again, this sacrifice worked as Alcides Escobar put the ball in play and hit a weak chopper to third. Moose, running on contact, was able to score easily.

I fear this sort of stuff is putting the wrong ideas in Yost’s head.

Anyway, Cahill’s struggles are issues for Oakland bloggers to address, but it seems we have our own problems with Danny Duffy. Everyone will make a fuss over his first major league win, but that glosses over the fact that he really labored in the fourth and fifth innings. In his first 39 pitches (innings one through three) he tossed 26 strikes. He wasn’t helped by his defense in the second when Moose made an error at third, but then was bailed out by The Frenchman and his cannon of an arm in right.

(I tweak the Royals for ditching their advance scouting department, but I wonder if other teams have done the same… Uhhhh, you don’t run on the outfield arms. Unless you want to be thrown out. Does anybody playing baseball ever watch baseball?)

Then in the fourth, after the Hideki Matusi home run, it all went to hell for Duffy. Over his final three innings, he needed 65 pitches and threw only 37 strikes. Not to mention, his velocity really dipped as the game progressed.

Was that the effect of adrenaline? His family and girlfriend made the trip from nearby Lompoc, his hometown. Who knows.

Still, it was a good night for the Royals at the plate. The Shortstop Jesus can suddenly hit and picked up three while driving in two runs. He looks like a different hitter at the plate. Hosmer broke an 0-fer with a pair of hits. And Moose got the first two-hit game of his career. The bullpen was solid as well. Greg Holland had a lock-down seventh, but wobbled in the eighth with a couple of bad breaks before Aaron Crow picked him up. Then Soria finished with a challenging, yet successful performance.

What we do know is that Duffy, despite getting that first win, has a ton of work to do. Same for the manager.

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