Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

RHP ∙ 1992—98


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

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

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

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

[ii] Ibid.

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

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

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

Ventura Strike Zone Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like I said, one of those nights.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

This team is something special.

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 central wrc at break

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

Here is the cream of the crop of twirlers:

15 central pitcher war leaders


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

15 central pitching at break

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

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

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

15 central wpa at the break

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

The All-Star break is stupid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: FanGraphs

That’s a prescription for high blood pressure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the diagnosis of recovery of the Grade 2 groin strain for Alex Gordon. Eight weeks.

When Gordon was carted off the field on Wednesday, I thought about George Brett. My memories are hazy, but I seem to recall him landing on the DL almost once a season when he was in his prime. Going to those games and not having Brett in the lineup felt strange. Something was missing. A void. That’s how it’s going to be with Gordon out for the next eight weeks. It will be different to look at the lineup everyday and not see his name there.

Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando are the fourth and fifth outfielders for a reason. They are the guys who can give you (hopefully) a decent game or two in place of your regulars. Play them everyday, and you risk them being exposed. Just the other day, I advocated they form a platoon to replace the corpse of Alex Rios, last seen rotting on the TOOTBLAN. Now, they will be pressed into duty covering left field.

You don’t replace an Alex Gordon. You hope someone can keep his spot warm while he’s out of the lineup, but you’re not going to replace him. Not from within. Not via a trade. It can’t be done.

Here are the leaders in fWAR since the start of the 2011 season:

Mike Trout – 34.6
Andrew McCutchen – 30.8
Miguel Cabrera – 28.7
Alex Gordon – 25.3

I’ve been making this argument for a couple of years, but Gordon is still criminally underrated in some corners of the game. (Never forget last winter when MLB Network embarked on listing the top players in the game at each position, Gordon was ranked as the fifth best left fielder in the game. Fifth!) Actually, he’s probably criminally underrated in some corners of the city. He is a complete player. Offense. Defense. Base running. And yes, the leadership by example.

This post isn’t meant to be maudlin. On Thursday afternoon, the Royals became the first team in the American League to reach 50 wins. They own the best record in the AL over the Astros by 3.5 games. This is shaping up to be a special summer in Kansas City. I have no idea what’s going to happen. The road ahead did get more difficult with the absence of Gordon, but it’s not insurmountable. The Royals hot start and subsequent solid turn through the rest of the schedule has them in a great place. You never want to lose a player of Gordon’s caliber, but if you do, you want to own the kind of record the Royals currently possess. Teams are trying to catch the Royals. They have a little over two and a half months. Good luck.

We’ve seen what will be known as the usual suspects when it comes to the trade market for replacements. Ben Zobrist was on the Royals radar certainly before the injury. You would assume he’s an option. He’s a Swiss Army Knife of a player where he could rotate between the outfield and second base. He was injured early in the year and has taken some time to find his footing. His .250/.338/.422 slash line is underwhelming when put up against his career line, but he possesses a 114 wRC+. His low batting average is fueled by a career low .253 BABIP. Zobrist takes a walk. He’s grabbing a free pass just over 12 percent of the time this year. That’s key, given this Royals team’s walk rate is historically low and Gordon was the only guy in the lineup who shows enough plate discipline to jog to first on a regular basis.

Justin Upton is another name for the Royals to consider. He’s hitting .259/.338/.434 with a 119 wRC+ for the Padres. He strikes out a ton, but will take a walk and has plenty of power potential even though his ISO has dropped to .175 this year.

A couple other names I’ve seen mentioned include Jay Bruce from Cincinnati or Carlos Gomez in Milwaukee.

Personally, I’d favor Zobrist. I don’t think the price will be insanely high for a two month rental in his case, although you always need to beware dealing with Billy Beane. As I mentioned, he could play anywhere on the field, giving Yost some great options down the stretch if Gordon can get back in the lineup at 100 percent. The Royals were in the market for an outfielder before the injury thanks to the ineptitude of Rios. Now they need two corner outfielders. That’s a massive ask for a team to fill via trade with just a couple of weeks before the deadline. The ideal situation would have them making a deal for an outfielder, then shifting whomever they acquire to right field when Gordon returns.

In the meantime, let’s take a moment to bask in the glory of Dyson’s last two days. Starting with some insane hitting and base running:

Some amazing defense:

And some more amazing defense:




The Royals have collectively stepped up in the wake of losing their leader. This team… I’ve never seen a baseball team thrive on emotion as much as the Royals. From last September and October, through their fast start in 2015, they’re an amazing group. It’s cliche, but it’s not difficult to imagine this team somehow getting stronger from this situation. Well, not technically stronger because I just spent 800 words on how you can’t replace Gordon, but you know what I mean. Just look at those videos again. In two games, Dyson has picked this team up with a pair of sterling defensive plays and an inside the park home run. If Yost gets his rotations correct, it’s not outside of the realm of possibility the team can survive this. It’s just I would feel a little more comfortable if they would hit the trade market to try to find a replacement.

This team is entering the break on a high note. They need to have all the weapons they can at their disposal to continue putting distance between themselves and the rest of the league.

Sometime today, we will likely have a better idea of the extent of Alex Gordon’s groin injury.  While Royals’ Nation breathed a sigh of relief when learning during last night’s game that Gordon had not suffered a knee injury, nothing about how the All-Star outfielder went down suggests this injury is minor.  It’s a shame.

It is a shame, because seeing any player get hurt for any team is not something to rejoice in.  Sure, Miguel Cabrera’s injury cripples the division rival Tigers, but I like watching Cabrera hit (not so much when playing Kansas City, but you get the point).  When Bryce Harper suffered a similar injury to that of Gordon, there was no joy in his situation.  Injuries to superstars or almost stars get our attention, but injuries to the guy just trying to hang onto the last spot on the roster are just as bad.  Baseball is full of injuries and that is just how sports works, doesn’t mean it is not a shame.

It is a shame for the Kansas City Royals, having their best season since I had hair, to lose arguably their best player. On the best defensive team in baseball, Alex Gordon is the best defender. If you put any stock in awards, Gordon was awarded the Platinum Glove last winter signifying his status as the best defender, period, in the league.  He has, by a large margin, the best on-base percentage on the team (9th best in all of baseball).  This is not a player this team, or any team, simply replaces and moves on.

It is, more than anything, a shame for Alex Gordon.  Here is a guy who was right on the edge of playing his way out of baseball in 2010. A game that had always been easy for him had become incredibly difficult.  He hit .232 in 2009 and just .215 in 2010.  The next George Brett had been sent to the minors and changed positions.  He had slugged under .400 in both those years. Alex Gordon quite frankly rebuilt himself as a ballplayer (with no small amount of help from Kevin Seitzer) in the winter of 2010-11 and emerged as a left-fielder who could hit, get on-base and defend like no other.

A lot of guys remake themselves and work incredibly hard doing so, but that does not diminish what Alex Gordon did and continues to do.  It’s a shame.


In fact, his career is not derailed either, just delayed. There are real tragedies in the world and Alex Gordon having an injury that keeps him from playing baseball for a period of time is not a tragedy (it’s a shame – get it?).  At 10:15, we will know just how long the Royals expect to be without their Gold Glove outfielder.  You know, the ALL-STAR.

If, by a stroke of good fortune, Gordon’s time lost is a week or two, then you play Jarrod Dyson and hope that he (or Orlando) can hold their own against left-handed pitching. Any longer than a couple of weeks, and I think the Royals have a real problem.  While I like Dyson against right-handers, he’s shown nothing against lefties and freaking Alex Rios is slogging around over in right.  If you have read my last couple of columns you know I am all-in to get another bat…and that was before Gordon got hurt.

Anyone have Justin Upton’s number?

With Tuesday’s spectacular doubleheader sweep, the Royals have reached the halfway point of the season. They stand atop the AL Central with 48 wins. They have four All-Star starters and two reserves with the possibility of adding a third. The offense has had it’s ups and downs. The rotation has been overhauled and revamped with a cast of irregulars. The defense and the bullpen have both been rock steady. Hell, they’ve been better. They’ve been spectacular.

The team shot out of the gate with a seven game winning streak to open the year. It was as if October never ended.

As it stands at the middle of the season, the Royals stand an excellent chance of returning. The Royals have their second best mark in franchise history after 81 games. The 1980 team had 48 wins at this point. And you know the ’80 team was kind of special. This has been a stellar summer in KC. Let’s take a quick look back at some of the key contributors from the first half.

Most valuable Royal
Lorenzo Cain

Cain was the breakout star of October, winning the ALCS MVP award for playing complete baseball. He’s the entire package. We watch him everyday, yet I feel he’s properly rated in Kansas City. He’s developed into a solid bat to hit in the upper half of the order. His defense is among the best in baseball. And his base running is superior. Now, if he can only keep those hamstrings from barking.

According to the Fielding Bible, Cain has saved nine runs in center. That’s third best in the AL behind Kevin Kiermeier and Mookie Betts. That’s all well and good, but all I know is Cain covers acreage upon acreage in the outfield.


Cain leads the Royals in runs, steals, batting average, slugging percentage, wOBA and wRC+. He’s the complete package for the Royals, a deserving All-Star and the most valuable Royal for the first half of the season.

Least valuable Royal
Alex Rios

Signed as a free agent to a one-year, $11 million deal, Rios has rewarded the Royals with a -0.5 fWAR. He’s been miserable in every aspect of the game. His offense is putrid. He owns a .044 ISO which is almost half of what Omar Infante has. He’s walking 1.4 percent of the time, which is also the worst on the team. That’s nearly subterranean. His defense isn’t horrible, but he seems to get late breaks on liners and hard hit balls, which causes him to play singles into doubles and doubles into triples. His defensive spray chart illustrates his average glove. He reaches only the plays he should make.


On the bases, he doubled his TOOTBLAN total on the year by running into two outs in the first game of the doubleheader on Tuesday. Including a bizarre tag up at second where he made the third out of the inning at third base. It was a tour de force of not giving a shit.

It’s time for the Royals to release Rios.

The message the Royals would send by releasing Rios and eating the remainder of his contract would be overwhelmingly positive. Rios and his performance are reminiscent of the “just happy to be in the major leagues” Royals teams of the mid-2000s. He’s a festering sore on the “return to the World Series” Royals team of 2015. A Paulo Orlando and Jarrod Dyson platoon isn’t an ideal situation either, but at least you can’t question the effort you’d receive from the pair. Besides, together I’d wager the duo would outperform Rios in every aspect of the game.

Best scrap heap pick-up
Ryan Madson

Madson last pitched in the majors in 2011. When he arrived in spring training as a non-roster invite, I figured he was just another guy the Royals brought in for a look, but he would be gone in due time. Haha… glad I was wrong.

All he’s done is become the honorary fourth member of HDH. He’s holding opponents to a .188 batting average with a 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio. He’s featuring more cut fastballs than previously and the results are there. His ground ball rate is a career-high 54 percent.

Most valuable pitcher
Wade Davis

Or as I like to call him, The Wade Davis Experience. I mean, what else can you say about the guy? He’s a relief pitching beast.

On Tuesday, Davis pitched a scoreless inning. Again. That lowered his ERA by 0.01. Seriously. He’s so damn good a clean frame lowers his ERA from 0.25 to 0.24. It’s not like he’s pitching in junk time, either. He’s made 20 high-leverage appearances, most on the team. Of his 37 appearances, 34 have come with the Royals in the lead or with the game tied.

We’re watching a professional athlete at the extreme top of his game. Every Wade Davis Experience is truly special. Enjoy it.

Best game
Royals 11
Cleveland 5
April 28

It’s so tempting to go with the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader, but I’ll go with this game from the end of April. The Royals took the lead in the top of the sixth, only to fall behind by two runs in the bottom of the frame. The Indians had a win expectancy of 82%. Big hits by Escobar, Moustakas and a bomb by Morales erased the deficit and then some. It was a game that had everything. You’re mileage may vary (and I’ve probably overlooked something obvious) but this one has stuck in my mind. Feel free to leave your favorite game of the year in the comments.

Honorable mention to this most recent run of wins, featuring three walkoffs (including the epic Orlando grand slam.)

It’s been a wild first-half ride. The Royals are playing better than I could have imagined. Here’s to a strong showing in the second half.

Surprisingly, the sun actually came up this morning despite the travesty of four position players from the team with the best record in the American League being voted All-Star starters. (And, yes, in answer to several tweets yesterday, Alex Gordon IS that much better defensively than J.D. Martinez).   Perhaps just as shocking, the moon did not fall from the sky last night even though not one, but two – TWO I TELL YA! – relievers from the best bullpen in the game the past TWO years were chosen to compete in an exhibition game next week.  An exhibition game, by the way, that currently would seem to be of more importance to the team that is the odds on favorite to represent the American League in the World Series.  You know, the team with six All-Stars.

Enough, however, has been said about this.  The fan voting is always a matter of much consternation (exactly how many All-Star starts did Derek Jeter get well after he was no longer the best shortstop in the game?).  Truth is, the players are not any better at it or the sportswriters or the managers.  Why, you ask?  Because differentiating between the second best outfielder and the eighth is really, really hard.  Sure, Mike Trout is the best in the AL and Miguel Cabrera is stupid good, but after that it gets murky. If you want to tell me Adam Jones is the second best outfielder, I might believe you, but I can come up with just as many reasons that it is Lorenzo Cain.  Comparing and contrasting J.D. Martinez, Brett Gardner and Alex Gordon could take up the rest of the month.  Picking any of them (Jose Bautista gets an obvious mention, too) is not a travesty, nor is it stupid, but screaming about it is a good way to get noticed.  Right, Christopher Russo?

Anyway, that is one paragraph too many on the subject out of me.  Let’s focus up, people.

Despite the best record in AL and a comfortable 4.5 game lead over the Twins and despite the Tigers having to spend the next six weeks without Miguel Cabrera and WITH Justin Verlander pitching, the Royals should/need to get better.  The common consensus it they must bolster the rotation. I ran into a fair amount of debate last week when I offered that the real priority was making the offense better.

The starting rotation is awful I was told and they are.  Well, maybe not awful – awful is Scott Elarton, Mark Redmond and Bobby Keppel – but the rotation is below average to be sure.  Royals starting pitching is 13th in the American League in earned run average with a 4.40 mark and 12th in FIP at 4.17.   They are dead last in innings pitched and even if the starters pitched four straight complete games while everyone else waited (Kansas City is way behind the rest of the league in games played right now), the starters would still be last in innings pitched.  That is not optimal.

Despite the rotational struggles, the Royals overall are 3rd (THIRD) in the American League in team earned run average with a 3.52 mark.   That lofty ranking is due to the lights out bullpen that is currently averaging 3 1/3 innings per contest.  That is a lot of innings, but do you feel the bullpen is tired?  Very crudely,  Wade Davis is on a pace to pitch in 72 games, Herrera 70, Madson and Morales 68 games and all of those games basically averaging out to one inning per appearance.  That is a big workload, but not a crazy-big-give out in September workload.  Add to the mix and improving Luke Hochevar and Brandon Finnegan with Greg Holland at the back end and that is a seven deep group of monsters.

On top of the depth and the talent, Royals’ manager Ned Yost has been quite good in handling his pen this year.  He loves to give his guys roles, but Ned has been willing to shuffle when he thinks guys need a rest.  We have seen Wade Davis close not just when Holland was hurt, but when Greg had pitched a couple of days in a row.  We have seen Ryan Madson pitch the seventh to give Herrera a day off and Herrera the eighth.

We are beginning to see the Hochevar that got us excited at the end of 2013 and Finnegan – while we can debate what this is doing to his development – is eating innings when the team needs it.  One can make a case that the worst pitcher in the pen is a 29 year old lefty with 267 major league appearances.  This is exactly the type of bullpen a team needs when its rotation is sub-par and Yost, thus far, appears to be the kind of manager you need to use that pen correctly.

Internally, the Royals will welcome back Yordano Ventura on Thursday.  He has been a hot mess this year, but he was also an outstanding pitcher in 2014 and it is not like his stuff has evaporated. Also due back soon is Jason Vargas and, with a little luck, we will see Kris Medlen sometime this month.  I might even throw John Lamb into the mix as possible in-house options if push comes to shove.  Will they make the Kansas City rotation dominant?  Not even close, but they have a realistic chance to make it better.

Offensively, the Royals are eight in runs scored per game, but that very average mark has an anchor on it.  After averaging 5.4 runs per game in April, the Royals are averaging 3.75 runs per game since (those numbers are from memory, so if it is 5.3 and 3.8 don’t get all bunched up – the point remains the same).  That is NOT ENOUGH RUNS.  They have scored two runs or less 27 times.  Johnny Cueto has allowed two runs or more in 11 of his 15 starts this season.

Using wRC+, Alex Rios is the fourth worst in the league among players with 100 or more plate appearances.  Omar Infante is seventh worst.  Using wOBA, Rios and Infante are fifth and eighth worst.  WAR?  Using fWAR from Fangraphs, Rios is 147th out of 169 players with 100 or more plate appearance, while Infante is 135th.  On-base percentage?  Infante is 5th worst, Rios is 8th.  For godssake, Alex Rios has the fourth most putrid SLUGGING percentage in the league and he plays rightfield!

The Royals’  in-house options to bolster those spots are playing Jarrod Dyson against right-handers (not a bad idea, by the way) or playing Paulo Orlando.  The could opt for Christian Colon, who currently is in Omaha while Dusty Coleman takes up space in Kansas City.  Cheslor Cuthbert is up for a bit, but if he is your offensive savior…..

If you believe, as I do, that the Royals have enough prospect power (and money, by the way) to make one big move, then I really don’t see how you would not first look to make a splash with an addition to the lineup.   I have a lot more faith that Ventura, Vargas and Medlen will make the rotation better than in Alex Rios and Omar Infante becoming passable offensive contributors.

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