Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

It’s as if 2014 never ended. We are suspended in time, just before the clock strikes midnight on December 31, 2014. In sweeping the Chicago White Sox for their first three wins of the new season, the Royals proved they haven’t lost their touch from last October.

The Royals polished off the Sox in myriad ways. They won the blowout (Monday), the comeback (Wednesday) and the pitching and defense special with the timely hit (Thursday). They say there is more than one way to skin a cat and likewise, there is more than one way to win a ballgame. The Royals provided three days of evidence of that.

On Thursday, it was newcomer Edinson Volquez who provided the quality start. In his Royals debut, Volquez spun eight innings of . He mixed equal parts sinker, change and knuckle-curve to keep the Sox off balance all afternoon. And the spotty command that has plagued him in the past? Didn’t happen on Thursday. Volquez issued a lone walk all day. It came in the seventh just after he hit Adam LaRoche with two outs. Lots of hit batters and LaRoche was the guy Duffy threw behind on Wednesday. Bad blood brewing.

Anyway, on Volquez, all his pitches were working and he was keeping the ball down in the zone. He threw first pitch strikes to 20 of the 29 batters he faced and with his sinker, he collected eight ground ball outs. And on those times he gave up fly balls, Lorenzo Cain had Jackson County covered.

Pitching and defense. Defense and pitching.

My concern about Volquez has been his history of poor command which has plagued him for pretty much his entire career. (Although a certain illustrator for the Kansas City Star will tell you career stats don’t carry as much weight as your last eight to ten days.) Prior to his start, I set his over/under for walks at 4.5. As I mentioned above, he walked one. For a guy who, just two seasons ago was walking over five batters per game, that’s an outright success.

I remain skeptical about the long-term success of Volquez, but after watching Ervin Santana and Jason Vargas come to Kansas City and pitch with a relative amount of success, maybe Dayton Moore and the Royals brain trust have indeed found a magic formula in regards to starting pitching. Hell, he’s done it on defense.

— The Royals have five home runs in three games. It’s inevitable that this will draw comparisons to last year’s power-averse club. So for reference, last year it took the Royals five times longer to hit five home runs. (That’s 15 games for the mathematically challenged.)

It was Salvador Perez who drove the bus to DongTown with a blast to left that plated Kendrys Morales in the sixth that knocked out starter John Danks.

I don’t think you will find a Royals fan (a rational one, anyway) who will claim the Royals are the second coming of the ’27 Yankees, but this qualifies as a notable development. And a good one.

— Paulo Orlando made his major league debut and collected his first hit with a triple in the bottom of the fifth. How can you not root for this guy? Grinding for 10 years in the minors, acquired for the long forgotten Horacio Ramirez in August of 2008, he’s paid his dues. Good for him. I saw on Twitter that Orlando went home to third in under 11 seconds. He will fit right in with this team.

Lorenzo Cain went yard with authority last night to give the Royals a second straight win.  Four home runs in two games?  What the hell is going on here?

While the home runs are a pleasant early surprise, there are pleasantly no surprises when it comes to the bullpen.  Four innings last night, two hits, no runs, no walks and five strikeouts. Jason Frasor did allow an inherited runner to score, but walking into a first and third/no out situation and allowing just the one run to score is really about all you can hope for.  He’s not Wade Davis, after all.

In addition to a big three run homer by Eric Hosmer to erase an early 3-1 deficit and, of course, Cain’s absolute rocket shot in the bottom of the eighth to put the Royals ahead, finally for good, Kansas City drummed out 12 other hits and even sprinkled in a couple of Alex Gordon walks to pretty much litter the bases with baserunners all night.  Neither starting pitcher had a stellar night and the Duffy/Perez combination seemed to outthink themselves on at least a couple of occasions when it came to pitch selection: notably the Flowers home run on a changeup.

The preceding, however, is only criticism I have for Salvador Perez from last night.  All the Royals’ catcher did was rap out two hits, throw out two runners and frame some balls into strikes.  Perez has generally not had a good reputation for framing pitches.  In my mind, there is plenty of background noise when it comes to pitch framing metrics, but the statistical consensus (and, yes, the eye test) indicate that Salvy has not been particularly good in that area of the game.  Last night, I thought he brought several pitches smoothly into Hunter Wendelstedt’s strike zone.

Have a look at Brooks’ Baseballs strike zone plots from last night:

April 8 Strikezone vs LHH
April 8 Strikezone vs Rhh

Red squares are called strikes when the Royals are pitching, while red triangles are called strikes for the Sox pitchers.

These plots are from the umpire’s point of view and confirm what I thought I was seeing last night: that Perez and the Kansas City pitchers were getting most of the borderline strike calls.  Particularly those calls on the left edge (Wendelstedt’s left) of the zone and more calls then Flowers and the Chicago pitchers were getting.  One game, one umpire, one night out of 162, but an encouraging sign.

Mostly because the graphs, plots and information at Brooks’ is so fun, we’ll end with one last plot regarding Danny Duffy last night:

Duffy Speed April 8

Danny’s velocity was way up at the start of the game, touching 98 once and lingering at 97 mph, but declined with each inning.  Perhaps, as has been an issue in the past, Duffy was just a little too amped and paid the price as the game went on.  It was not horrible outing, as there were at-bats where Duffy was simply overpowering, but certainly not a performance anyone wants to see on a consistent basis.  Like Perez’ pitch framing, watching Duffy’s early (and late) velocity will be interesting in the coming weeks.

Today, a businessman’s special with Edinson Volquez making his Royal debut.  I’m curious to see what Ned Yost does with the bullpen this early in the season.  Will he pitch Davis and Herrera for the third time in four days or back off that pace?  I would be tempted to avoid using either, simply because it is – not sure if you’ve heard this yet – a long, long season.

It’s just two games, but damn it is nice to win them isn’t it?

After a little damp, but tolerable and overall enjoyable Opening Day, the Royals may or may not play tonight. It has been a while since we had one of ‘those’ Aprils, but it happens.

Should Kansas City take the field tonight, we will get our first look at the 2015 version of Danny Duffy. He is looking to get 200 innings this year.  I’m not greedy, 190 innings will do just fine. In my mind, Duffy is the key to this year’s rotation.  If he can parlay his performance of last year into a full starter’s workload, this rotation can absorb a sub-par year from one of the remaining three starters that fill out the backend.  If Danny struggles to get through five innings – as happened in 2014 – things could become the bad kind of interesting.  Especially with another high pitch count per inning guy in the rotation right behind Duffy in Edinson Volquez.

Some random notes, likely covered by others already, from Monday’s win:

  •  Kendrys Morales had a full day’s worth of quality at-bats.  He looked nothing like the flailing mess of a hitter that he was the past couple of seasons. I am not even sure that was THE Kendrys Morales.  Whoever it is, I like his approach…at least for one day.
  •  There are European soccer players who think Yordano Ventura overreacted to his thumb cramp. I have no doubt it hurt and was a shock, but I am also not sure it should send you to the ground. Thankfully, it turned out to be only a cramp and not an elbow or a shoulder or a knee or a gunshot.
  •  It turned out to be nothing, given the 10-1 result, but the decision by third base coach Mike Jirschele to hold Alex Rios at third in the bottom of the second seemed overly cautious.  Now, next to the manager changing pitchers, what the third base coach does is easily the most second guessed action in baseball and it was just the second inning of the game.  That said, if the Royals are an ‘aggressive’ team on the bases, then act like it.  In this instance, I was sitting up the right field line and had essentially the entire play in front of me.  The throw from the rightfielder Garcia was obviously coming in too high for the first cutoff man and too low to the second cutoff man and Rios was at least 20 feet around third and at full speed.  It was wet, Juan Abreu – no defensive wizard – was going to have to take a low throw or short hop, pivot and make a good throw to the plate, and Omar Infante was the next hitter.  Send him. Send him every time.
  •  Wade Davis:  still filthy good.

While a day or two late, here are my predictions for the year:

I have the Royals at 86 wins.  I think Ventura will be great, Duffy will be good and two of the three other starters will be ‘good enough’.  The bullpen will be dominant, the defense very good and either Hosmer or Cain will be outstanding.  That’s enough, in my mind, for 86 wins, but likely not enough to get in the playoffs.

AL CENTRAL:  Detroit, Kansas City, Cleveland, Chicago, Minnesota

AL EAST: Boston, Baltimore, Toronto, New York, Tampa

AL WEST: Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles, Texas, Houston

NL CENTRAL: St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Milwaukee

NL EAST: Washington, New York, Miami, Atlanta, Philadelphia

NL WEST: San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Colorado, Arizona

 

AL Wild Cards: Baltimore and Toronto

NL Wild Cards: Los Angeles and Cincinnati

World Series: Seattle and San Diego (Can you hear the national media bemoan this ‘boring matchup’?)

I have zero faith in any of these.  Although, once again, it should be noted that I was dead on my Royals’ win prediction last year and missed by one game the year before.  Gut and grit over logic and stats, right?

 

 

 

Thumb cramps, pennants, rings and a blowout victory. That about sums up Opening Day, 2015.

The pregame ceremony was pitch perfect. The organization honored nearly everyone associated with the day to day responsibilities of the players which was nice to give them a moment of recognition. We watch these guys play everyday and it’s not often you think about the behind the scenes guys. Another nice touch was bringing players in who were part of September and October and who have been assigned to the minors to open the year.

And of course, old favorite Bruce Chen was back at The K. The Royals last 10-5 guy deserved to walk back onto the field one last time to collect a ring. The one guy I missed at the ceremony: Raul Ibanez. He will get his moment, for sure.

It’s always good to see Royals alumni at the game, but probably my favorite moment of the entire ceremony was when they had a season ticket holder from 1969 raise the American League pennant. Just a brilliant touch to recognize the fans. It’s amazing. After so many years of bumbling around, the Royals are suddenly an organization that gets it. Forgive me if it takes me some time to adjust to this new reality. Either way, it’s really nice.

— Yordano Ventura threw fire – but he didn’t hit triple digits on the radar gun all afternoon – yet he was steady and kept the White Sox off balance all afternoon.

Ventura_040615_Velo

He only whiffed two, but scattered just four hits and a walk. He was around the zone all day, throwing 81 pitches, 56 of them for strikes. The low number of strikeouts isn’t really notable. The Sox swung and missed at 11 of his offerings, so he was missing plenty of bats.

The really scary part was when he hit the ground after delivering a pitch to LaRoche in the top of the seventh. Fortunately, it was diagnosed as a cramp in his thumb. The telltale sign that is could have been a cramp was his delayed reaction to the pain after delivering his pitch. His hand (or thumb) just seized up. A bummer that Ventura left after just 81 pitches. Fortunately, it was just a thumb cramp. I don’t need to tell you, Ventura is absolutely indispensable to this rotation.

According to McCullough, he is ok and will make his next start.

— Not sure what to make of Kendrys Morales and his three walks. This is a guy who has walked 6.8 percent of the time in his career. His plate appearance on Monday were the paragon of patience. He saw 20 pitches in his five PAs.

— This whole Mike Moustakas as a number two hitter seems horribly misguided, but damn if it didn’t work on Monday. Remember how I told you to get Ned Yost to a casino last October. Apparently his hot streak is intact. While I encourage bunting against the shift, I would like to veto the idea of him sacrifice bunting. The moment when he sacrificed in the third inning following an Alcides Escobar double was as predictable as XXXX. I was glad I wasn’t on Twitter because I would have said something negative and then when Escobar scored on the Lorenzo Cain bloop down the right field line, I would have had a ton of, “See, it worked!” responses. I don’t have time for that.

Sac bunt aside, the most impressive moment of Moustakas’s afternoon was his opposite field home run. Entering 2015, exactly two of Moustakas’s 52 home runs have landed to the left side of center field. And those two weren’t exactly opposite field shots. They were just a few feet to the left of center. From Hit Tracker, here are his home run landing points from the last two seasons. 2013 is on the left.

MoosePull

For Moustakas to go that far to left is huge. And something we have never seen. (Bruce Chen called it on the broadcast. I’m not looking to dump Uncle Hud, so maybe a three man booth in the future.)

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m highly skeptical about this latest transformation of the Royals third baseman. We’ve been down this path before. But damn if he doesn’t have me scratching my head. Maybe, just maybe, he has become a different hitter trying to take the ball to all fields. Maybe, just maybe, he’s becoming some kind of better hitter because he’s staying within and going the opposite way instead of trying to yank everything. I don’t know. I need more evidence than one game. But that’s a much more promising start than doing it in Arizona.

— A very bad look from Smardzija to hit Cain on the next pitch after the Moose Oppo Taco. A very bad look.

— The Royals defense looks ready. I mean, is there really anything else to say? Poor Alexi Ramirez hit the ball on the screws a couple of times and had nothing to show for his efforts. And the double play in the fifth was a thing of beauty.

— My player profile on Alex Rios described him as an enigma with an injured thumb. Basically, we don’t know what we are going to get. A 3-4 day with a pair of singles and a home run to go along with a steal is a pretty good start. As those guys who pay attention to day one stats will tell you, Rios has already matched a quarter of his home run production from 2014.

The new guys got the job done.

— Quality starting pitching, a lockdown bullpen, a couple of steals, stellar defense and a sacrifice bunt. Royals baseball is back.

The Royals last played a meaningful baseball game on October 29, 2014. It’s been a shorter than usual offseason, but still… Winters are long. And harsh.

Nevermind all that. Baseball is back today. The Royals open their defense of the American League pennant at 3:10 against Central Division rival Chicago White Sox. Yes, baseball is back.

Happy Opening Day.

(Brief side note – This is the 10th year of Royals Authority. Clark started blogging back in February of 2005. I picked up the virtual pen a month later. We joined forces around June or July and have been going ever since. Ten years of blogging together. Damn, that’s a lot of time spent writing about this team. I do know I won’t check my bank balance to see how profitable this venture has been.)

The Royals set their 25-man roster by adding Franklin Morales as expected, and, in a bit of an upset, Ryan Madson. I thought the Royals felt Madson needed more time before he could be subjected to the rigors of the regular season, but it looks like he was going to get a major league offer from another team, which forced Dayton Moore’s hand. They had a “gentlemen’s agreement” in place allowing Madson to leave for a major league job if he wasn’t going to make the Royals. Rumor was, there was at least one team interested, so Madson gets the job over Brian Flynn who has options left and will travel to Omaha to open the year.

It’s become a bit of a tradition (at least in my mind it’s a tradition) that I ask readers to make their predictions in this space. I do that for posterity. Think the team is going to go nuts and win 95? Post it here. Feeling pessimistic and think a 90 loss season is in the cards? That’s what the comment section is for, so use it.

Here are my picks:

I think the Royals will win 83 games. A solid season, but ultimately they will fall short of October. I think the Central will be tight once again. It’s difficult to find a favorite here. All teams have their strengths. (Except for the Twins.) All teams have their weaknesses. (Especially the Twins.) There are arguments to be had for the Royals, Indians, Tigers and White Sox for making a run and outlasting their rivals.

Here is my order of finish:

AL Central
Detroit
Cleveland
Kansas City
Chicago
Minnesota

AL East
Toronto
Boston
Baltimore
Tampa
New York

AL West
Seattle
Los Angeles
Texas
Oakland
Houston

NL Central
Pittsburgh
Milwaukee
St Louis
Chicago
Cincinnati

NL East
Washington
New York
Miami
Philadelphia
Atlanta

NL West
Los Angeles
San Diego
San Francisco
Colorado
Arizona

Wild Cards
Boston
Los Angeles

New York
San Diego

World Series

Toronto and San Diego

These are unscientific, yet binding. So binding. And hopefully not boring. I’ve seen too many Washington picks for the World Series. One thing we know, at least one Wild Card team will probably make a deep run. Why not San Diego this year?

Bookmark this and feel free to throw it in my face at a later date. And if you’re so bold, leave a prediction or two in the comments. I’m specifically interested in your guess at the Royals win total and where they will finish in the Central. Although if you want to predict the entire league, I’m good with that.

Play ball.

Happy Opening Day

Defending American League champs.

I was attempting to write my 2015 season predictions, but continue to struggle with how I believe the 2015 season will play out.  Hey, internal struggles are tough to overcome when you have six to ten voices in your head at any one time.  Plus, I find myself burdened by the fact that I pegged EXACTLY the number of wins by the Royals in 2014 and missed by ONE (1) win in 2013. That’s a lot of pressure.

Anyway, ground down by a Spring Training that was as mundane as any in recent memory (perhaps that is the byproduct of a successful prior season?) and not too fired up to even go into the renewed idea of carrying eight relievers to avoid the apparent catastrophe that losing Ryan Madson might be or, for that matter, whether the final roster spot goes to Orlando, Sierra or Merrifield (or Madson), I thought I would offer nothing to society today.

My First Week of Real Baseball Predictions:

  • Alcides Escobar will attempt to bunt in his first at-bat of the season.
  • We will wake up on the morning of April 13th and Yordano Ventura will lead the American League in strikeouts.
  • Someone will mention Famous Daves or Dickey’s and Twitter will explode with righteous indignation.
  • Alex Gordon AND Eric Hosmer will each homer twice in the first week of the season.
  • Greg Holland will blow a save.  (He always blows a save in the first week…always.  It means nothing, but we will wonder if it means SOMETHING).
  • There will be mention of a liking of some national beer and Twitter will explode in defense of Boulevard Beer.
  • Omar Infante will sit out at least one game in the first week as a ‘precaution’.
  • Craig will wonder why I didn’t get him tickets to Opening Day and I will respond “Get back to work, Craig.”
  • Alcides Escobar will attempt to bunt for a hit, again….and bunt as a sacrifice at least twice.
  • Edinson Volquez will not make it out of the fifth inning in his first start.
  • The Royals will have a winning record on the morning of April 13th. NOTE: The most disappointing season in my recollection (2004) started with a 4-2 record.
  • Hang on to this one, kids:  Salvador Perez will NOT start one of the first six games!
  • A guy who looks a lot like me will be seen playing craps at Harrah’s.
  • Kendrys Morales will have at least two at-bats that make us think Salvador Perez has better plate discipline than we thought.
  • Wade Davis will not allow a run.  Not. One. Run.
  • Kendrys Morales will hit a home run and someone on Twitter will tweet ‘I still miss Billy’.
  • A guy who looks a lot like me will be seen slinking to the ATM to get more cash….again…at Harrah’s.
  • Lorenzo Cain will have exactly as many hits as strikeouts during the first week. It might be a big number or it might be a small number and, no, I don’t know where this prediction is coming from.
  • Yordano Ventura will hit 100 mph in the first inning on Opening Day.

Whether you like it or not, I will follow up sometime before first pitch on April 6th, with actual predictions.  I want to be optimistic, but there is a ton of logic that is pulling me in the other direction.  Opening Day, beer in hand, wife at my side, surrounded by 40,000 other Royals’ fans, you can bet I’ll be optimistic…if only for a day.

Forbes came out with their annual valuations of major league baseball teams and your Kansas City Royals rank 28 out of 30 in overall value.

Poor David Glass.

But, wait! There’s more! It turns out that while the Royals rank near the bottom of the valuation list the overall value of the franchise is $700 million. That is a whopping 43 percent gain over last year when the team was $501 million.

Read those numbers again. Because they are mind-blowing.

Apparently, owning a major league baseball team is quite the money-making venture. I’ve been tracking these numbers from Forbes for some time. While they should not be considered gospel since major league baseball refuses to open their books, by looking at the big picture you can certainly grasp trends. For example, here’s the estimated overall franchise value going back to 2006.

Total Value 2015

That’s pretty incredible. Value grew steadily for about seven years before skyrocketing in 2013. In 2012, the Royals were valued at $354 million. They have doubled in value in three years.

This increase isn’t unique to the Royals. All of major league baseball is rolling in the dough. The Royals 43 percent increase from last year was only ranked them 21st among the 30 teams. The Washington Nationals gained 83 percent from the previous year. The hated San Francisco Giants doubled in value from last year. I’m fairly certain these numbers and this trend put to bed the trope that “baseball is dying.” It’s not. Not even close.

While team’s values are ballooning across the game, it wouldn’t be farfetched to think part of the increase on the Royals part was fueled by their October run. That was certainly reflected in their revenues.

Revenues

They have been on the uptick for years, but last October really put money in the coffers at The K. Tickets, merchandise, parking and concessions for eight extra home games certainly help. Especially at special October prices.

The increase in revenues led to near-record profits.

Operating Income

Quite the turnaround from the 2013 season when the Royals lost money according to Forbes. The profit has always been a little uncertain, again thanks to baseball owners refusing to open their books. The Royals maintain they do their best to break even each season. Forbes, the 2013 season aside, disagrees. Although it’s certainly not a stretch to assume their operating income wouldn’t have been so elevated without postseason baseball.

Going forward, we know the Royals will raise payroll to record levels. (Around $113 million, which will be the topic of another post around Opening Day.) They will also certainly experience a postseason hangover of sorts where merchandise and ticket sales will remain strong at least for the first half of the season, no matter how the season goes. The Royals are playing in one of the smallest market in the majors and that postseason financial bounce was certainly received with open arms.

The Royals will continue to talk budgets and financial constraints relative to market size. That’s to be expected and that’s wholly acceptable. The profits may find extremes from one year to the next, but they will likely set out to hover around the $5-10 million mark when those budgets are set. I remain skeptical their goal is to break even, as they so often say, but as long as they continue to inject money into a competitive payroll, I have no issue with their words.

Opening Day is now less than one week away and with little roster intrigue surrounding the Royals our attention is turned towards the soon to be ‘real’ baseball games. Unless you are still busy monitoring what music everyone else likes, what clothing they choose to wear or what television shows and entertainment they choose to watch.  If that’s the case, I apologize in advance for wearing shorts to baseball practice tonight while listening to Charlie XCX and discussing Mountain Monsters with my assistant coach.

Anyway, the Royals’ fandom (and I imagine most teams’ fans) often fall into two very different camps about this time of year.  The first is the ‘everyone will be better’ camp where no projection is good enough and every other team has weaknesses but the Royals’ weaknesses will be erased by, you guessed it, everyone getting better.  I’ve been there.  It’s a happy place where one can believe that Mark Teahen and Ruben Gotay are just the guys to lead the Royals out of the darkness or that Angel Berroa will actually parlay a hot spring into a great regular season…or Mike Moustakas will.

The second camp is the ‘no one will be better, all the moves were crap’ group. In this circle, most projections are optimistic, any player who had a bad season will get even worse and most of those who had good seasons were lucky and, gasp!, are now a year older. It is kind of a grumpy and surly place, where one has a lot to write about and you can feel pretty smug when Mike Jacobs really cannot hit anything round and Juan Gonzalez disappears into The Plaza in May and is never seen again.

Seldom (ever?) does everyone on a team get better (or luckier) and rarely does everyone on a team get worse.  Now, a team can come close to both and, just off the top of my head, a team is more likely to have the majority of their roster implode than explode.  That said, I thought I might take a stab at the position players and pitchers most likely to make the happy camp pleased and also the ones most likely to make the gloomy guys feel smart.

THE HERO

Eric Hosmer has been pegged to be the next great Royal since, well, since we kind of gave up on Alex Gordon being the next great Royal (which he kind of has become, by the way). While ZiPS projects him to be good (.345 wOBA, 2.6 fWAR, .293/.346/.443 – basically Alex Gordon without the great defensive component in WAR), it doesn’t indicate Hosmer taking that next step. He has alternated two good years with two not very good years and punctuated the last with a very good post-season which, as Craig wrote some time back, was aided by a generous diet of fastballs from the Royals’ post-season opponents.

All that said, Hosmer is still young and has been through as many hitting coaches as major league seasons. While we like to scoff at scouts and ‘their feel’, there is something to the opinion of guys who do nothing but watch baseball players for a living. Like Gordon, the general feeling is that Hosmer almost has to be better than this or, at least among all the youngish players on the roster, he is at least the one that has the best chance to be really good.

That said, Eric’s walk rate has declined each of the last three seasons while his strikeout rate has increased and with those declines came a decrease in power. It is not a great trend line, but dammit my gut says Hosmer is better than all that. Truthfully, I think the ZiPS projection is probably about right, but if one guy is going to break out above the projections and be the hero, I think it will be Hosmer.  If it happens, it could lead to a fun – or at least interesting – summer and fall.

THE GOAT

I really like Alcides Escobar.  I also sense that the ZiPS projection of .270/.301/.356 is painfully close to optimistic. Given what Escobar can do in the field and, when he actually gets on, what he does running the bases, Alcides does not need to be a monster at the plate to be valuable. That said, the Royals’ shortstop is just one season removed from a painful 2013 where he posted a .259 on-base percentage.  Even Mike Moustakas thinks that is a bad season.

Although Escobar has posted a line drive percentage of 23% or greater in each of the past three years, his BABIP has fluctuated from .344 to .264 to .326.  With his BABIP, so goes Escobar’s on-base percentage. This is the guy who is going to be getting the most plate appearances on the team for at least the first few weeks of the season and likely beyond.

Hey, there are always corners to be turned and things to be figured out, but we are now 3,200 major league plate appearances in and Escobar has a career .299 on-base percentage. Do you feel lucky? Do ya?!!!

THE HERO

Most projections expect Danny Duffy to be an effective pitcher, just not one that is going to pitch a full season worth of innings. That is understandable, given the 149.2 Danny pitched last year doubled his major league total from the three previous seasons. Although he was still plagued by high pitch counts last year, Duffy was awfully good most times he took the mound.  He exhibited his best control since his years in the low minors and allowed just 113 hits in those 149 innings.

I see Yordano Ventura being every bit the pitcher he was last year, but one does not have to squint all that hard to see Duffy parlaying his 2014 effectiveness into 190 innings of ‘fun to watch’ in 2015. While there are not tremendous similarities between the two, it is kind of fun to draw a parallel to Mark Gubicza.  In 1985, a young Gubicza went unused in the World Series after spending the season in the starting rotation as the team was concerned about his mentality in a big game (sound familiar?).   He came back to be good in 1986, better in 1987 and great in 1988.

Perhaps Danny Duffy can do something similar, maybe even skip the ‘good’ and go directly to ‘better’ in 2015. I like his odds and, let’s face it, the Royals really, really need him to be that guy.

THE GOAT

Is there anyone, anywhere, optimistic about Edinson Volquez? Probably, but not here or there. This is not even an original theory and I am not going to spend much time discussing it.

I see Volquez struggling to find the strike zone, laboring through five innings, taxing the bullpen and hoping that the Royals’ outfield really can run down every flyball hit. Quite frankly, I am not sure the Royals might have been bettered served by simply using Chris Young as the fifth starter to hold the line until Zimmer, Finnegan, Lamb or someone was ready to step in.  They might not have spent the $10 million they paid for Volquez this year, but they sure could use it next year.

In the end, there is nothing scientific here, just some discussion and guessing. That is pretty much what the last week of Spring Training is for.

 

 

Alex Rios has a thumb injury.

<Insert “thumbs down” emoji here.>

This is a problem. An issue. The Royals, you see, signed Rios to a one-year deal to replace Nori Aoki in right field and to provide some “pop” to a lineup that is very much without “pop.” The signing represented a gamble of sorts for the Royals since Rios slugged .398 last summer and finished with a .118 ISO, his lowest Isolated Power mark since his rookie campaign in 2004. The culprit behind this poor production… The thumb.

This is pretty good, so follow along: The theory is, after Rios suffered a slight right ankle sprain immediately following the All-Star Break, he changed the mechanics of his swing. Because he couldn’t rotate his back foot properly, he allowed pitches to get too far inside on his hands, which caused a thumb contusion. (Hey, don’t kill the messenger. That’s not my theory. It belongs to Rios.) With the entire Ranger team seemingly on the DL last year, Rios played through the pain. The Rangers loved the example he set for young players. The back of his baseball card carries the scar of trying to play through that pain.

Rios in the first half of 2014:
.305/.333/.405 with 4 HR and a 109 wRC+.

Rios in the second half of 2014:
.246/.281/.281 with 0 HR and a 41 wRC+.

The first half was nice enough, but was nowhere near strong enough to withstand the horrid second half Rios put up with his bum thumb.

And now, from McCullough, comes this:

Alex Rios does not expect the occasional discomfort in his right thumb to disappear for good. He played with this condition for the second half of 2014. He has grown used to the pain he experiences on mis-hit balls and ill-timed swings. He described protecting his thumb as a “matter of management from now on” as he begins his first season as a Royal.

Yeah. That’s not good. Especially given his modus operandi from last season of doing everything he could to play through the pain. If the thumb was truly the reason for his second half struggles, this does not bode well for the forthcoming season.

Rios returned to the lineup on Sunday and walked and hit a fly ball to center. In those two plate appearances, he swung the bat twice. We will see how he rebounds on Monday. And Tuesday. And for the rest of the week leading to Opening Day.

For his part, Rios is optimistic about the coming season. (Warning, the link in the previous sentence takes you to a typical spring training puff-piece where we learn that Rios is smiling more this March.) The thumb isn’t going to bother him and he’s going to rebound.

<Insert thumbs up emoji here.>

Rios has had a decent spring. Through Sunday he posted a .333 batting average and clubbed three home runs to go along with three doubles. Easy math says that’s just one less home run than he hit in all of 2014. So maybe it won’t be a rerun of the offensive horror show of last year in Texas. Maybe he has learned how to cope with the pain and maybe it doesn’t affect his power. Maybe the smiles do matter. Dunno. That feels like a rather sunny assessment from a guy who doesn’t want to use injury as an excuse for a decline in production.

Missing a couple of spring training games isn’t exactly a cause for concern and if you, like Rios, are feeling pretty damn good about the Royals and Rios this season, I certainly wouldn’t say you should thumb your nose at your positive feelings. However, I would say this is something that bears watching in the early going. My guess is it’s something that will be apparent almost immediately. I wonder if the Royals knew this issue was going to continue to bother Rios. My guess would be no, otherwise they wouldn’t have committed that kind of money, even if is just for one year.

I decided to dig a little deeper at Rios’s 2014 season and how it related to his overall recent offensive performance. From Jeff Zimmerman’s Baseball Heat Maps site, here is the average distance of Rios’s fly balls from the last five seasons.

2014 – 266.48
2013 – 268.86
2012 – 284.31
2011 – 263.51
2010 – 283.20

Compare how his fly ball distances above correlates to his overall offensive production:

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2010 29 CHW 147 617 567 89 161 29 3 21 88 34 14 38 93 .284 .334 .457 .791 111
2011 30 CHW 145 570 537 64 122 22 2 13 44 11 6 27 68 .227 .265 .348 .613 63
2012 31 CHW 157 640 605 93 184 37 8 25 91 23 6 26 92 .304 .334 .516 .850 126
2013 32 TOT 156 662 616 83 171 33 4 18 81 42 7 41 108 .278 .324 .432 .756 104
2013 32 CHW 109 465 430 57 119 22 2 12 55 26 6 32 78 .277 .328 .421 .749 102
2013 32 TEX 47 197 186 26 52 11 2 6 26 16 1 9 30 .280 .315 .457 .772 108
2014 33 TEX 131 521 492 54 138 30 8 4 54 17 9 23 93 .280 .311 .398 .709 99
11 Yrs 1586 6518 6034 845 1680 352 61 165 762 244 77 385 1050 .278 .323 .439 .762 102
162 Game Avg. 162 666 616 86 172 36 6 17 78 25 8 39 107 .278 .323 .439 .762 102
TOR (6 yrs) 809 3354 3071 451 875 195 36 81 395 112 33 224 567 .285 .335 .451 .786 105
CHW (5 yrs) 599 2446 2285 314 615 116 15 74 287 99 34 129 360 .269 .310 .430 .740 97
TEX (2 yrs) 178 718 678 80 190 41 10 10 80 33 10 32 123 .280 .312 .414 .726 102
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/29/2015.

Not really surprising. Of the previous five seasons, Rios’s best two were the same seasons he had his best fly ball distances. And what’s interesting is the ankle and thumb injury from the second half didn’t really sap his distance compared to his 2011 and 2013 seasons. It would be nice if the 2014 distance was really out of whack so we could point at his thumb and surmise that is the reason for the poor production. Except based on his recent history, we can’t really do that. Who knows how much the thumb injury caused his power outage? We do know his power production was down before he hurt his thumb. While the injury certainly didn’t help matters, to point to it as the lone reason ignores other signs (and raw numbers) that his power was pulling a disappearing act.

Really, Rios has been so inconsistent over his last five or six seasons, anyone who says with certainty they know what the right fielder will bring to the lineup, they are fooling only themselves. Steamer has Rios at .264/.302/.395 with a 94 wRC+. ZiPS checks in with a line of .281/.313/.419 and a 104 wRC+. PECOTA projects .268/.303/.400. All of those projections are really off of what the Royals would be expecting given the contract they awarded him last winter. But given Rios’s track record of being literally all over the place with his offense, I’m fairly certain he has outperformed projections once or twice in his career.

The Royals are paying Rios $9.5 million for this season and it comes with a $1.5 million buyout on a mutual option for 2016. That’s a hefty price for a guy with a bad thumb who you expect to hit in the middle of your lineup. I won’t go so far as to call Rios a “key to the season” because we’ve all seen strange things happen, and it feels like after what we saw last year this team could potentially absorb an extended absence or a general offensive walkabout. But it’s clear the Royals and Dayton Moore are bouncing on yet another bounce back season from their new right fielder.

Would it surprise me if Rios was better than last year and better than the projections? No, it wouldn’t.

Would it surprise me if Rios fared worse than his horrible 2014 season? No, it wouldn’t.

Basically, I can’t decide if this is worth a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down.”

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