Royals Authority

Long Live The Process
Aaron Crow has been a very useful pitcher for the Royals in 2011. True, he blew the game last night against the White Sox by allowing three runs in 1.2 innings and topped it off by balking in the wining run, besides that he’s been the definition of lights-out. He’s been fantastic in the setup role and even owned the closer role for a minute while Joakim Soria was demoted. His season hasn’t gone unnoticed as he was named to the 2011 All-Star team. It’s a great honor for a really good pitcher. It’s also completely asinine.
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I’m not knocking Aaron Crow. He’s done a marvelous job in the role he’s been given, however that role is a small one. He’s only pitched 41.1 innings, which is less than Felipe Paulino who the Royals acquired at the end of May. He’s appeared in 34 games, which is only 6 more than the rarely used Mitch Maier. Nobody is even considering those two as representatives for the Royals in Arizona and rightfully so. Yet if you look at their fWAR they have as good or better cases than Crow to be the team’s representative.
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fWAR
Felipe Paulino 1.2
Mitch Maier 0.4
Aaron Crow 0.4
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The All-Star roster is not created in a vacuum and is rarely representative of the best players of the season up to that point. Often, players are rewarded for popularity, longevity or merely by being a decent player on a terrible team. If the roster were created by selecting the best players at each position in the American League and relief pitchers were considered, then Aaron Crow would be a no-doubter. Unfortunately, that’s not even close to how the rosters are picked.
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First, there is a fan vote to decide the 9 starting position players. The primary goal of this vote is to market the All-Star game. Get people to care about who makes the team, let them tell you who they want to see and develop a series of sign-posts to remind people that the game is coming up and to keep them voting. Since the game is an exhibition game I have no problem with this process. The biggest problem is that MLB has allowed Fox and ESPN to dictate which teams get the most coverage in exchange for money. The networks obviously choose large-market teams and so their players are over-represented in any kind of fan vote. It’s not the fans who are to blame, it’s the short-sighted decision-makers at MLB who have allowed their brands to be manipulated by other parties.
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Next, the players, coaches and managers vote for 8 pitchers (five starters and three relievers) and 8 position players. In theory, allowing the people who actually play the game to vote on their peers is a nice inclusion. You’d think that the players would have a pretty good idea who deserves a spot in the All-Star game, but that doesn’t exactly seem to be the case. These players are extremely busy people and often are working when the rest of the teams are playing baseball, since, you know, they are baseball players too. So again, their primary source for learning about players they don’t see regularly is through major media outlets like ESPN. Their approach is typically more nuanced, but again relies primarily on legacy and popularity. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it’s just the way it is.
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Then the manager of the All-Star team selects 8 players to fill out his roster. This is part politics, part marketing and part trying to actually win the game. At this point, the manager in conjunction with the Commissioner’s office has to make sure that every team is represented and fill needs on the team. It’s the first time in the process that anyone truly considers which player from each team is most deserving of a spot in the game. Meanwhile, the roster as it’s already constructed has 8 pitchers and 17 position players. With the possibility of extra-innings and the brief appearances of pitchers, it’s no surprise that the managers select a lot pitchers. When a team like the Royals needs to get a player on the roster and they have a very good reliever, then it’s an easy decision for the manager.
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Finally, there is one roster spot left and again the fans get to vote from a small selection of players deemed worthy of inclusion but who weren’t selected in the first three methods of roster creation. It’s actually the first time in the entire process where players are put to a vote who most deserve to be included on the All-Star team for their performance this season. But again, the fans vote on the winner and it boils down to a popularity contest.
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An almost non-existent part of this process is looking at which players have out-performed their peers and should represent their teams at the game. It seems to be at best a tertiary criteria for selection. So given the way the system works now, Aaron Crow was the obvious selection. However, he’s far from the most valuable player on the team. That distinction belongs to Alex Gordon, who has been the best left-fielder in the American League.
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Among left fielders in the American League, Alex Gordon is 1st in fWAR, 2nd in wOBA, 1st in OBP, 2nd in SLG. He’s been an excellent defender, an excellent hitter and he’s been doing it for the entire season. He’s been mercifully placed into the Final Vote where he will almost undoubtedly lose to a player from a better team in a larger market. Meanwhile, his teammate who hasn’t come any where near being as productive as he has (nor jerked around near as much), will be representing the Royals at the All-Star game.
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The worst part of this whole debacle is the fact that for the 4th year in the last 6 there will almost assuredly be no Royals in the box score of the All-Star game. In the modern “it counts now because we can’t have a tie for some reason in an exhibition game” All-Star game, pitchers are left on the bench in case of exta-innings. Barring some extraordinary scenario or a mandate from the Commissioner’s office to ensure every team’s representative makes it into the game, Crow will languish on the bench. That will leave the thousands of Royals fans feeling a bit empty after the game.
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As fans of one of the worst franchises in sports, we have few moments of pride in our team. The chance to see one of our own on the same field with the superstars is one of them. Watching Soria enter the game and saying “Hey, that’s our guy! Show ’em what you got!” is a moment of true pride for Royals fans. Watching one of our own take the plate is a fuzzy memory that last took place in the 2004 when Ken Harvey went 0-for-1. The last time we got to stand up in our living rooms and cheer for a Royal getting a hit in the All-Star game was in 1989 when Bo Jackson won the game’s MVP award.
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I’m a huge fan of Aaron Crow. I’m proud of him for making the All-Star game and I sincerely hope he gets in the game and succeeds. I also hope that somehow Alex Gordon will win the Final Vote and earn his rightful spot amongst the games best players. Regardless, he’s a victim of being a part of a woeful franchise and a terrible selection process. A process, much like baseball itself that is stacked against the Kansas City Royals.
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It may seem trivial to care which Royal dons the All-Star jersey in Arizona next week, but it’s our team’s one moment to shine in the national spotlight. It’s the one moment where dad’s can nudge their kid and show him that there is a good reason to be a Royals fan. It’s a moment that will likely not come this year and a moment which will mean a bit less as the most deserving player is watching from his home in Kansas City and possibly pondering if he’d have been there if he was on a different team. It’s those thoughts that can combine to form a decision to walk when free agency presents itself. It’s those decisions which perpetuate a downward spiral for a franchise that hasn’t been relevant since the last time a Royal got a hit in the All-Star game 22 years ago.


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.

So we’ve reached the midway point in what was supposed to be a transitional season. A season where the young guys would start to filter in and the Royals would stop finishing in last place. The young guys are here, but last place is still the reality. More than anything, I blame the Cleveland Indians, who are still playing way above their heads.

Normally, I’ll hand out a report card so to speak at the All-Star Break, which has always served as the de facto half way point, even if most of the time teams are on their 90th game of the season.

So while you breathlessly await my grades, I figured it was a good time to throw some second half predictions out there.

The Royals will hold on to Jeff Francoeur and both sides will exercise their mutual option for 2012 at $3 million and tack on another mutual option for 2013.

At the press conference announcing the deal, Dayton Moore will choke back tears as he talks about being in The Frenchman’s house when he signed his first professional contract.

Kyle Davies will finish the season in the Royals rotation.

And will promptly be arrested by Federal agents on the last day of the season on blackmail charges. The charges will be thrown out a month later when no evidence surfaces. “We just assumed he had dirt on Glass or Moore,” an FBI spokesman will tell reporters. “Because, otherwise who would choose to keep running that stiff out there every fifth or six day on their own free will?”

Melky Cabrera will be traded.

For some team’s #25th ranked prospect. The half fanbase will come to a near revolt that GMDM couldn’t pry away a Top 100 prospect stud for the Melk-Man. The other half will flood Facebook with messages of disbelief that GMDM would be insane enough to trade away our leadoff hitter.

Ned Yost will allow Sean O’Sullivan to surrender 21 runs in three innings to the Detroit Tigers in a September start.

“I thought he was a pitch or two of getting out of it,” Yost will tell the reporters.

Someone will refer to Billy Butler as a “baseclogger.”

That someone will be Ned Yost following a game where Butler reaches base five times but his teammates fail to drive him home.

Jason Kendall will make his return at the end of August and will start each of the final 35 games.

After the team celebrates his return with cake and ice cream in the clubhouse, Yost tells a reporter the team has missed Kendall’s leadership. “What’s our record without him? You think O’Sullivan would have been so crummy in that May start against Texas with Kendall behind the plate? Brayan Pena has a nice smile, but he can’t catch for crap.”

We will not see Johnny Giovatella this season.

Because that would undermine the team’s eventual campaign for “Chris Getz! Gold Glove Second Baseman.”

Luke Hochevar finishes with a 5.50 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP.

Then demands $8 million in arbitration this winter because he was the team’s Opening Day starter.

Wilson Betemit and Mitch Maier will go missing for five days.

Nobody associated with the Royals will notice.

Alcides Escobar will have another hot streak with the bat that will last a couple of weeks and will continue to make outstanding defensive plays. He won’t win the Gold Glove.

And every time The Shortstop Jesus makes a sterling defensive play, four out of five Royals fans will say, “Damn, Betancourt wouldn’t have come close to that one.” The other one fan will complain about his lack of bat.

Mike Moustakas will drive in a run on a hit that is not a home run.

Really. It’s going to happen.

Alex Gordon will parlay his All-Star selection into a strong second half and finish the season with the best all around year of his career.

Yep… That’s going to happen, too.

The Royals will finish in fourth place.

Because I’m an optimist at heart.

Well, here we are at the exact halfway point of 2011 and our Kansas City Royals have just been swept by the San Diego Padres.   That is the same San Diego team that, despite three wins in a row, still sports a record in the lowest quarter of major league baseball.   The sweep leaves Kansas City with the worst record in the American League and the second worst record in all of baseball behind the Houston Astros.

We are entering prime trade rumor time (I’m not sure exactly how many times I logged onto MLBTradeRumors yesterday, but it was more than enough) and you can bet that more columns will follow speculating on possible trades and potential moves.   For today, however, this Royals squad has worn me out.    I don’t want to discuss Melky Cabrera or Chris Getz or, heaven forbid, Kyle Davies.    Aaron Crow to the rotation?  Joakim Soria on the block?  Not today.

Instead, let’s take a look past 2011 and, for the most part, past 2012.   While it may not necessarily be an ‘everything’s coming up roses’ sort of list, it is at least something other than the 2011 Kansas City Royals.

July 2nd is the start of the international signing period and the Royals appear to be in the lead on landing outfielder Elier Hernandez.   A five tool 16 year old (if such a person can actually exist in the real world), Hernandez could be the best signee in the history of the Royals.    He will almost certainly get the most money. 

The Royals are also in on infielder Adelberto Mondesi, Raul’s son.   He won’t turn 16 until July 27th and will have to wait for that day before signing.   Dawel Lugo is another infielder who the Royals have interest in, but are not the leaders to sign.   According to Baseball America, Lugo is a better prospect than Mondesi, but less likely to stick at shortstop.   Thanks to PineTarPress for the likely signeed, by the way.

You didn’t really expect to hear any Bubba Starling news yet, did you?  Having drafted near the top of the order for basically a decade, Royals’ fans now the drill:  nobody talks much until about August 14th when it comes to getting top level picks signed.  It doesn’t make much sense for Starling to turn down millions now to play college football with the hope that you might make millions later (not to mention that Starling is not a prototypical NFL QB type), so I think a deal will get made roughly 8 minutes before the signing deadline.

At that point, you wonder where or even if, the Royals will try to get Starling into game action in 2011.   They might well opt to wait until fall instructional games and it could be that we will have to wait until the rookie leagues start up in June 2012 before we actually see Bubba play real professional baseball.     It is possible that Starling is such an athletic freak that he could move quickly through the system, but I would hold off on buying Starling jerseys until at least March of 2014.

There is a lot of talk about Melky Cabrera, Lorenzo Cain and even David Lough when it comes to the future of centerfield in Kansas City.   As mentioned above, Starling enters into the conversation at some point down the road, but let’s not forget about 2010 draftee Brett Eibner.   After injuring his hand two games into his professional debut this April, Eiber is back in action with Kane County.   While the slash line of .206/.265/.460 may not scream future major leaguer, he does have FIVE home runs in 17 games.   Already 22 years old, Eibner could move quickly once he shakes off the rust.

Cheslor Cuthbert is probably the most recognized international signee currently in the system and he has done nothing to disappoint.  As an 18 year old in A ball, the third baseman is hitting .309/.369/.473 with 4 home runs, 11 walks and just 17 strikeouts.    While Kane County is years removed from Kansas City, Cuthbert could spend a full season at each succeeding minor league level and still make his debut in the majors at just age 22.   It is very possible that Cuthbert could move quicker than that and arrive in Kansas City just in time to push Mike Moustakas to designated hitter as Billy Butler’s contract expires.

If Felipe Paulino can keep gobbling those innings, then he will certainly have value in this six man rotation.

Speaking of the six man rotation, I’m all for it. In fact, I enthusiastically endorse the idea.

The Royals currently have the worst rotation in the AL. They are not only in last place in the Central, but they have the worst record in the league. Say it with me: Transition year. (Unfortunately, the way the pitching is going in the minors, next year may be a transition year as well. That’s for another time.) When your starting rotation consists of Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen, Jeff Francis, Paulino, Kyle Davies and Danny Duffy a six man rotation makes all the sense in the world. That’s three inconsistent starters who more frequently are ineffective, one starter who is currently average, the worst starting pitcher ever and one guy with upside.

Basically, when you run six guys out there, you’re protecting the guy with upside. (As I hoped you guessed, that pitcher is Duffy.)

What’s happening is the Royals are limiting Duffy’s innings by adding that extra starter to the rotation – but not by much. If you go a full season with a six man rotation as opposed to a five man, you’re starters will make (on average) five fewer starts. Since we’re officially at the halfway point, this would work out to two and a half fewer starts over the rest of the season. It’s not a huge difference, but every little bit helps when you’re trying to bring along a young arm.

So it’s not like the Royals are taking a start away from Koufax or Drysdale. This is Hochevar and Francis. A six man rotation is fine. I hope they stick with it for the rest of the season.

Back to Paulino. For the second consecutive game, he’s pitched through trouble and gone deep into the game. He threw 117 pitches to go eight innings last week and on Tuesday he tossed 118 pitches in seven. This isn’t a new pattern of usage for him. At one point last season, he topped 100 pitches in 10 consecutive starts. Too bad he never got the chance for 11 as he landed on the DL with shoulder inflammation and then was converted to relief.

We’ll see how he bounces back from a pair of deep starts, but since he’s a stopgap member of this team, I’m fine with getting all the mileage out of him we can. If he can give us seven or eight innings a start and keep the team in games, that’s perfect. Ned Yost needs to figure ways to save those arms in the pen. Maybe Paulino is part of the answer for the rest of the season.

— Another lineup shuffle last night as Yost slotted The Shortstop Jesus to bat second for the first time this season. Yes, lately Yost has been tinkering with the lineup like a Hillman-esque mad manager, but for the most part, Yost has played it safe this season. Through 80 games, he’s filled out just 49 different batting orders. By comparison, in 2009, SABR Trey (kind of miss that guy) had 141 unique lineups in 162 games.
Don’t forget, this team still lacks a true leadoff hitter and a number two hitter. Really, I’d like Yost to move Gordon back to the top spot and drop Cabrera back down.

By the way, since the end of that epic road trip for Escobar, he’s hitting .148/.233/.222 over his last eight games. It happens just that quickly…

— I’m loving the outfield assists. And I’m loving the fact that opposing teams are ignoring what is one of the truths about the 2011 Royals: This team can play some outfield defense. However, it’s frustrating when – an inning after The Frenchman picks up another outfield assist by gunning down a runner at the plate – Gordon airmails a throw to third allowing a run to score. What made the play even worse was the fact the throw didn’t need to be made. The runner, Cameron Maybin, hit second and faked going to third. Gordon had the ball and was moving toward the infield and had the play in front of him. Even if Maybin had taken off for the next base, Gordon would have had plenty of time to make the throw to third. No need to hurry in that situation, which is what happened.

— In the eighth inning of Tuesday’s game, Chris Getz swiped second and then, for good measure, also stole third. Both plays were close and both featured head first slides where he almost came off the bag, but he was safe on both. This gave the Royals a golden opportunity to cut the Padres lead to one, but Melky Cabrera failed to put the ball in play, striking out on a slider down and in and Alcides Escobar hit a harmless fly to right to end the inning.

At the time, I tweeted that Getz’s steals were “worthless.” Some thought I was knocking Getz. Not at all. He thought he could steal on the Padres in that situation and he was clearly correct in that assumption. What made the steals “worthless” was the fact Cabrera and Escobar couldn’t cash in on his aggressiveness. The Melk-Man has been decent in a situation where there’s a runner on third with less than two down. He’s brought home that runner half the time. The only bad thing about the Getz steals was it he couldn’t have stolen both bases on one pitch. Being on third with two strikes on Cabrera wasn’t ideal.

— Just for fun, here’s a list of how the team has done with a runner on third base and less than two outs. The percentage represents how frequently that particular batter has brought home the run with a minimum of 10 plate appearances:

Mike Aviles – 69%
Brayan Pena – 64%
Chris Getz – 60%
Jeff Francoeur – 56%
Wilson Betemit – 53%
Alex Gordon – 53%
Eric Hosmer – 53%
Melky Cabrera – 50%
Matt Treanor – 50%
Alcides Escobar – 48%
Billy Butler – 38%

League average is 52%. As a team, the Royals are at 50%.

Uh-oh. I probably just gave Butler Haters some more ammo.

A couple of weeks ago, we announced a contest to win a set of 1985 World Series DVDs. I was pretty vague, but asked for some kind of story. I was inundated with Royals stories. A sampling of some of the themes: 1985 World Series, dads, wives, fans from outside of the KC Metro and two stories of people hitting their heads. I had a blast reading all of the entries and I was disappointed that I didn’t have more prizes to give away. However I did find three winners and their stories are below for your pleasure.

Remember, these are not Royals Authority contributors but rather fellow readers. We have a great set of commenters on this site, but Craig, Clark and I put our writing out there for people to comment positively and negatively on. So be kind in the comments, if you don’t have something nice to say, keep it to yourself this time. Next Tuesday you can feel free to rip into me when I post another article.

 

Enjoy!

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There is a holiday that is much more sacred to me than the one America uses to buy ties for the people they disappoint.  On this day each spring there is a solstice inside my soul that summons forth the summer.  That highest of holy days is none other than Royals Opening Day.

As a nerdy non-athlete who made excel spreadsheets containing the batting averages of others, I had very little time to devout to actually playing baseball.  Even watching baseball was rare because cable was for rich people and we were off brand cereal folk.  I was a preteen anachronism, a kid growing up in the early nineties thinking that Baseball was only to be listened to.  My secret lullaby each night was Denny Mathews and Fred White (along with producer/engineer Don Free), but beyond my imagination I hardly ever saw the game.

This all began to change my last year of middle school when my Grandpa called with an offer to play hooky and go to Opening Day at Royals Stadium.  The smells were so much better than my bedroom.  We were among the first to arrive and the sun was shining off of the absurdly orange seats.  The perfectly green grass and strangely pleasant baseball-dirt brown were so much more real than on RBI Baseball.  I was soaking it all in.  As the capacity crowd began to arrive I realized that this was a special day.  After the game I swore to myself, in front of the ghost of George Brett and all the other Royal Gods, that I would never miss an Opening Day again.

The next year I started high school and met a few other nerds who liked to talk, and not to play, “the sports”.  My new best friend was a confident stat geek.  We traded baseball cards, box scores, and the lunch money that we gambled on Monday Night Football.  After starting together an impressive, $5 a bracket, March Madness pool I shared with him my solemn Opening Day vow.  Being equally poor and without transportation we felt doomed to being in school on this future Federal Holiday. (Yes Banks should close for Baseball.  My fearless nerd friend was too resourceful to let me break my promise to George, so we skipped school and took the Metro.  We sat in GA as far down to the front as we could, right behind a man who we would later refer to lovingly as Oxygen Tank Man.  It was as perfect a day as any there ever was.

It now was our bond together.  Each year it became easier to convince our parents to let us go.  My mother joined the Rotary Club and we began selling papers in the morning with her to earn an Opening Day ticket in the afternoon.  This worked perfectly for the next few years and became a part of the ritual.  Rain or shine we would stand on the corner selling newspapers to help send under privileged kids to summer camp.  We served with impure hearts knowing that the privilege of a free ticket was far better than any crappy camp.  Before we knew it we had witnessed six straight years together.

2003 found us far from home.  College had taken my friend and I both to Chicago but we knew we had to find a way back to KC for our tradition to live on.  It was not enough to wait and see them at US Cellular (read sell-out) Field.  That was where we had witnessed a Royal stabbing the year before, not a place fit for Royal worship.  To miss out on Opening Day would be like abstaining from Christmas.  We had no choice but to exploit the still cheap post 9-11 airfares on Southwest and keep the streak alive.

Married and returned to the city of our youth, our annual hajj at over a decade, we were desperate to find a ticket in 2009.  A renovated Kauffman had the city buzzing and no one selling for a reasonable price on Craigslist.  We decided to show up early and try and buy from scalpers.  Being a natural overachiever I suggested we get there at 7:00 A.M. to make sure we were the first to get ripped off, and to make a day of it.  We parked at the hotel across the street, as is our custom and walked down the grass. Moving through the construction vehicles we saw the most beautiful stadium in baseball made even more spectacular.  The News trucks were out in full force covering the wasting of Jackson County tax dollars and the Right Field gate stood wide open.  We looked at each other coyly and decided to walk in and take a look around.  His casual confidence was contrasted by my non nonchalance and I thought we’d be kicked out it no time.  I pulled him into a new Family restroom and tried to convince him to hide with me until first pitch.  He wanted to take a lap, see all the new amenities, and then find a un-toilet-filled place to secret ourselves.  So he led the way and I followed.  It turns out that if you walk around like you are supposed to be there no one will stop you.  Soon we saw that other fans had been invited to help clean and shine the new blue seats for the big day.  They all had spray bottles but other than that we were indistinguishable.  After about an hour our honesty got the best of us and we decided to go looking for an upstanding scalper.  In the end, we got in.

For the last 14 of my 28 years on this earth I have made the pilgrimage to watch Royalty play the game I never could.  It has kept my best friend and I connected despite all odds.  Royals Opening Day may not have a section in the greeting card aisle but it will always be the highlight of my year.  That is until the year the Royals play to a victory on Baseball’s Closing Day.  2013?

– Billy

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My most memorable Royals memory is short but sweet.

I was 9 years old in October of 1985, just barely old enough to retain the memory and appreciation for what the Royals had done during the regular season and playoffs against Toronto. For Game 6 of the World Series against the Cardinals, a large group of my family had met to watch the game at my Aunt’s house in Kansas City, KS.

As Game 6 progressed, the tension in the room became palpable. One of my uncles became more and more visibly upset as the game wore on, as
he was just sure the 1985 season would end in the same disappointment as the ’84, ’80, ’78, ’77, and ’76 seasons. By the time the Cardinals
were up 1-0 late in the game, most of us were resigned to another lost postseason and were emotionally bracing for the loss. When the 9th
inning rolled around, however, our spirits were quickly lifted when we realized we were given a break with Orta’s infield “single”. As the inning progressed, we realized we were observing something special – too many good things were suddenly happening. When Iorg came up with the bases loaded we knew we were about to win. As he blooped the second pitch into right field we were screaming, anticipating the throw home. When Sundberg executed that perfect headfirst slide and scored, all of the tension in the room was suddenly released. My uncle, who less than an hour earlier was in a state of lament, leapt three feet off of the ground in a state of pure joy. 

Unfortunately, the rec room we were watching the game in had only two feet of clearance.

The room went instantly quiet as we turned to see what produced the loud CRACK on the ceiling we had all just heard. We discovered my uncle down on his knees furiously rubbing the newly formed knot on his head. Thankfully, he was okay, and when he regained the ability to speak declared that, “…we just won the World Series! No way they win Game 7!” Apparently the head injury he sustained had just
granted him psychic powers as we soon learned he was correct.

We still give him a hard time about that game to this day.

– Daniel
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It was the summer of 1999.  We had “old GA” seats at the K.  A mad storm was brewing right around game-time, but no delay had been announced, so everyone was still seated.  Once the PA released the rain delay information, everyone scurried for cover, with my family ending up on the edge of a large mob of fans in the walkway, just barely under the left field pier.  My father left to use the restroom (my brother and I were nearly adults at this time) and soon after he left it began to savagely pour down rain.  My brother and I started to get soaked by the sideways rain, so we had to make a rash decision:  run for it.  We ran for the bathroom.  With a little luck we ended up on the edge of a large mob of fans again, but this time on the dry side of Mother Nature.  Dad was nowhere to be found; but, we were dry, so we stayed put.

This group of fans had realized that the guy manning the beer cart across the way had ran for cover himself, leaving the immaculate beer cart: a)full of beer and b)vacant as Tropicana field.  One by one, a fan would run 50 feet to the beer cart, grab a cup, fill it up, and race back to the arid restroom.  It was like watching those cup stacking competitions, except with an element of actual excitement.  When each fan would make it to the cart, we would all cheer loudly as they filled their beer.  The cart sat next to a fence, hidden from the concession attendants.  After about 20 people raided the cart, the cups were gone and the soaked raiders continued.  Without cups, they would arrive at the unattended cart, open mouth, let the golden hops flow down their throats for several seconds, and then race back to dry freedom.  There was a feeling that this game of beer tag was of more significance than whether the real game would be played or not.  It was rather “Pine Tar Game”-esque.

As the commotion got louder and louder, the Royals ushers that were in the building behind the fence began to understand what was happening.  When a fleet-footed beer raider would race to the cart, like George Brett from the dugout on that fateful day in 1983, an usher would emerge from the building into the throws of the squall, rush to the fence, and try to scare the thief off, with absolutely no success.  This was obscenely humorous.

After the rain absconded, we departed the dingy restroom and went about our ways.  An attendant was once again restored at the helm of a now empty beer cart.  My brother and I were wet, not thoroughly soaked, but highly amused.  We went on a search for our father and found him completely dry, underneath the awning of a concession stand, happily sipping on a brew.  This was one of the last memories I have of our father as a stout, bearded, happy, and healthy man, before the lymphoma took hold, and I am damn proud of it.  The game was played, we dried out, Carlos Febles jacked a homerun into our section, and I think we won, but those pre-game images ring so true in my mind that they bleed through the actual outcome of the ball game, and deservedly so.
– Shane
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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.

 

[audio:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs056.mp3|titles=BBS Royals Podcast #056]

 


 

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:

  IP HITS RUNS BB SO ERA
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.

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