Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

runelvys

RHP ∙ 2002—03, 2005—06

Runelvys Hernandez, signed out of the Dominican Republic in 1997, is an extremely rare species: a pre-Dayton Moore, Latin American signing that found any success at all with the Royals. (It’s basically just him and Hipolito Pichardo.) Things went so wrong in the second part of his short career that it can be hard to remember the fleeting good times he had before things went off the rails.

He made his MLB debut in July of 2002 when the Royals were facing a pitching crunch thanks to a doubleheader, and he held his own. Manager Tony Peña was sufficiently impressed to grant Hernandez another start in another doubleheader soon after, and Hernandez built on his first start with a three run, nine K, seven inning performance. With the pitching crunch over, Hernandez went back down to Class AA Wichita, but was soon called back. He was in the rotation for good for all of August and September that year, and did not lack for confidence. Rocking the third person, he told reporters, “They gave me the opportunity to show them who Runelvys Hernandez is. I know I can pitch to these hitters. I know I can challenge them. Each time I go out there, I feel better and better.”[i]

By the end of the summer he had 12 big league starts under his belt, and most of them were solid. He was set to be an important piece of the 2003 rotation, and ended up starting Opening Day that year after winning Peña’s coin flip—literally—against Jeremy Affeldt. Hernandez ripped off six shutout innings in the opener against the White Sox, after which Frank Thomas said, “We were all shocked he threw four pitches for strikes. He did whatever he wanted, and we started chasing.” [ii] It was the start of a blazing month for both Hernandez and the team. In his first six starts, he went between 6—7 innings, and his runs allowed were 0, 1, 0, 3, 1, and 2. He was a big factor in the club’s shockingly good start.

Unfortunately, the beginning was the end for Hernandez as an excellent starter. The first sign of problems cropped up with a skipped start in May due to a sore elbow that initially was thought to be nothing serious.  But that turned into getting shut down for two months before returning for seven starts in July and August that were so uneven he was to be sent down to Class AA. That prompted him to finally admit he had been pitching in pain ever since his second start of the year, and it was soon determined that he required Tommy John surgery. That cost him the entire 2004 season. “I didn’t think I had to tell anybody. I wanted to show my teammates that I was there to help the team,” he said.[iii]

He did everything right to come back for the beginning of 2005, and his arm allowed him to throw a nearly full season. But the zip on his fastball never fully returned. He was effective on occasion, but overall it was not a successful year. He missed some time with a strained back and a 10 game suspension after beaning Carlos Guillen in the helmet. Hernandez maintained that he was not throwing at Guillen, but it was the fourth hit batter of the day and resulted in a brawl (with the infamous Kyle Farnsworth body slam of Affeldt) and multiple suspensions and fines.

Hernandez showed up to 2006 spring training embarrassingly overweight, and ended up on the disabled list due to “lack of stamina” before the season began. After some conditioning in Omaha, he returned for his season debut in late April. His teammates were not necessarily thrilled to see him.[iv] His performance for the rest of the season did not make them any happier. He mixed in one last high point when he pitched his only career shutout, but more representative of his 2006 was the game when he tied the club record with nine walks, or the time he came to blows with John Buck, his own catcher, in the middle of a game. He was shipped to Omaha for a while, and got the call back only when the team was out of choices. Hernandez’s tumultuous tenure with KC came to end after the ’06 season when he was cut (to make room on the roster for rule five pick Joakim Soria).

[i] Falkoff, Robert. “Hernandez Pitching Like Big Leaguer.” http://kansascity.royals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20020801&content_id=94229&vkey=news_kc&fext=.jsp&c_id=kc (August 1, 2002).

[ii] AP. “Don’t flip out—Royals win.” http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2003/apr/01/dont_flip_out/ (April 1, 2003).

[iii] Kaegel, Dick. “Hernandez Building Up Strength.” http://kansascity.royals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20050222&content_id=948145&vkey=spt2005news&fext=.jsp&c_id=kc (June 22, 2005).

[iv] McCollough, J. Brady. “A Weighty Presence.” http://www.coveringsports.com/runelvys.htm (April 26, 2006).

So the other day, I went on the radio in Topeka. I channeled my inner Rex Hudler:

“At this point, it’s about maximizing the peaks and minimizing the valleys.”

Or something like that.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time (or probably followed the Royals at all) you know what I’m talking about. This team, over the last season and a half, has been streaky to the extreme. The offense is the worst in the world for two-plus months, then has a stretch where they are so hot, they move to the middle of the pack in several key offensive hitting statistics. Then, instead of leveling off, they swing wildly back the other direction where they look like they haven’t picked up a bat in their lives.

So damn frustrating.

This is a team who hung 22 runs up on the Tigers Cy Young Award winners in the span of two games in the early part of last week. They followed that up by scoring a grand total of 10 runs over their next five games. You sit back and watch this offense struggle in April and May. You tell yourself, this isn’t a world class offense by any means, yet they have to be better than this. Then, they go on the aforementioned tear. You tell yourself, this isn’t the true talent of this offense, but damn are they on fire. Then, they slide right back into the pits.

Ugh.

So how do you want it on this Monday? Glass half full? There are currently seven teams in the American League with a positive run differential. The Royals are one of those teams. Their +14 run differential is fifth best in the AL, in fact. They are ahead of Baltimore and Detroit. We know offense is down across the board. The league average team has touched home plate 321 times so far. The Royals have scored 311 runs. Given their lengthy offensive struggles, this is surprising news. I don’t know if it means anything, but it’s surprising. In a good way.

For those of you who prefer to see the glass completely empty, despite the recent 10 game winning streak, the Royals offense remains one of the worst in the game. Their 89 wRC+ is ahead of only the Mariners. Their .304 wOBA is also ahead of only the Mariners. (Who just came to Kansas City, stole our bread, peanut butter and jelly, made sandwiches in our own kitchen and then proceeded to eat our lunch, almost choking because they were laughing so hard.) Their OPS+ of 89 is worst in the league.

Their .371 slugging percentage and .313 on base percentage is 13th out of 15 teams.

I try to remain positive. The Royals are 2.5 games back in the suddenly tight Central, while they are half a game back in a five team scrum for the Wild Card. No, I don’t think the Royals are better than any of the teams they trail – except maybe Seattle. However, baseball in the Wild Card era is littered with teams that aren’t what you would term world class who have competed in October. Yet watching this team flail away at the plate tests my patience.

Two points before I wrap this up:

First, Ned Yost needs to juggle his damn lineup. He looked like the cat who got the canary in the early part of this month. Vindication! Just leave him alone, he knows what he’s doing! Except I don’t think he does. To continue to hit Eric Hosmer third at this point in managerial malpractice of the highest order. Keeping Alex Gordon fifth is the same crime. I’ve said this a thousand times: Being a major league manager is about putting your players in the best position to win the ballgame. Yost’s current batting order doesn’t come close to accomplishing this.

Also, what was the deal with the Billy Butler pinch running saga on Friday night? The game is tied in the eighth and Butler leads off with a single. It’s usually so damn automatic that Yost uses a pinch runner. Hell, he will pinch run in that situation when the Royals are leading by five runs. Yet he sat on his hands. I’m OK with that initially. But then Butler moves to second on the Gordon single. It was hit up the middle and hard, so not even Jarrod Dyson could have advanced to third. That moment seemed tailor-made for a pinch runner. Yet Yost sat on his hands. Sal Perez lifted a fly to center. Butler tagged. I’ve never seen someone try to run so hard they actually went backward. Butler is out, but the ball hit his foot and bounced away. Talk about catching a break. Then, Yost finally removes Butler for the pinch runner. And the Royals make the final two outs without bringing home the run.

I’m not blaming Yost for losing that game. I’m just pointing out the bizarre management of the team in a tight game in the later innings. It’s Yost being Yost. Something Brewer fans know all about.

Second point, this is Dayton Moore’s team. It’s Year Nine. This is the offense he’s built through draft, trades and a pair of holdovers in Gordon and Butler. And this offense will probably rank 13th or lower in overall production when the dust settles on the 2014 season. Pitching and defense are key, but fail to construct a competent offense and all you’ll do is get to .500. And until they add a couple more Wild Card spots, that isn’t good enough.

Which is too bad. You saw the crowd on Friday. Kansas City is hungry for a winning team. (Or maybe they’re just hungry for dollar hot dogs and fireworks.) Either way, this city and this organization deserve better. Maybe the next GM can deliver.

I fully understand those who get frustrated this time of year with all the trade rumors.  There is no real way to tell when a writer or commentator is just making stuff up (like I do sometimes), has actual inside knowledge or is being fed a line by a front office or agent to drum up interest.  I know of some who just get driven bat blank crazy over it all.

Hell, even when rumors turn out to be true (yes, the Royals once had Mike Sweeney traded for Casey Kotchman and Ervin Santana and yes, they almost picked Chris Sale instead of Christian Colon) there are those who simply refuse to believe it.   That’s fair.   If you are in that pack, don’t read on:  you’ll get frustrated, say something mean and make me sniffle.

First off, if you’re not having fun being a Royals’ fan right now, you need to start.  Even if you don’t believe this team is going to contend all year, have some freaking fun.  Winning baseball is fun and you can have fun, be excited and still be logically realistic.  It’s okay.  Hell, you can even listen to Nickelback if you want on the way to the ballpark tonight.

However, let’s get realistic (for one sentence).  Dayton Moore can say all he wants, but if he really believes this team is set to make a playoff run ‘as-is’ then he’s not doing his job.  Can this exact Royals’ team win the Central or, at least, get into the Wild Card game?  Maybe.  I don’t see it winning a seven game series in the playoffs.   That said, I don’t think this version of the Royals is terribly far away from being a team that could win a real playoff series.

Back to happy fantasy land….

Last week I proposed trading from Scott Van Slyke and Ben Zobrist.  I still like the idea of Zobrist as you can slot him into at least four positions.  That said, MLBTrade Rumors (rumors!  rumors!) has a report that the Rangers might be a seller if they continue to be wracked by injuries.  Alex Rios is a name that popped up – when hasn’t Alex Rios popped up at trade time? – and he has some warts.

Rios (33 years old) has been caught stealing eight times this year and grounded into FIFTEEN double plays.  He has been known to be pout or maybe even quit, but it is hard to believe he would do so playing everyday on a contender.   Rios, however, has a .319/.350/.462 line with 26 extra base hits.   He is expensive ($12.5 million this year with a $13.5 million team option for 2015) which is probably as much a blessing as a curse when it comes to working out a trade for him.

You want to dream a little?  What about trading for Rios to play right and Joakim Soria:  turning a very good bullpen into a silly great bullpen.  With the organization correctly concerned about how many innings Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy throw this year, how’d you like to line up Soria, Davis and Holland (with Kelvin Herrera in reserve) and limit both Ventura and Duffy to six innings or less per start for the next couple of months?

Pure, ridiculous speculation, but the thought intrigues me.   Now, what of the cost?

Again, Rios is due a bunch of money next year if the Rangers want to keep him.  If Texas determines they are out of it, what would there level of interest be in a 34 year old rightfielder with some issues and a closer who will be 31 years old next year and due $7 million (another team option)?  The Rangers are not dumb and they will demand value in return, but they also might not need ‘major league ready value’.

If the Royals could do a deal that did not involve anyone on the current major league roster, would you be onboard?  How in love with Kyle Zimmer (who has not thrown a pitch this year) or Raul Mondesi (who is A ball) or really anyone in the system?  My untouchable is Hunter Dozier.  After that, I am not sure I have a player that is not part of the discussion.

I know, I know – let’s enjoy the fun.  The FIRST PLACE Royals are going to play in front of  a full house tonight.  That is the focus.  I guy can do a little dreaming while he watches though, right?

 

The Royals lost a pitching duel this afternoon, just a day after winning a pitching duel.  Those two games were preceeded by nine games in which Kansas City basically bashed their way through opposing teams.  Baseball’s fun when you score seven runs or more in seven of nine games.  It’s easy, even, when you are on a roll like that.

Now, my friends, is when the real games begin.

Three runs scored in two games is going to make the hands grip the bat a little tighter.  Maybe that guy hitting behind me isn’t going to drive in the baserunner if I don’t.  Maybe I can’t give up three runs and win.  Maybe…

The Royals lost a game and are still in first place, that’s cool.  They will return home for a nine game homestand that will likely see the biggest crowds since opening day.  THIS is why we watch baseball.   While a ton of past Royals’ roster may not have realized, THIS is why you play baseball, too.

Friday night will be a test as the Royals face Hisashi Iwakuma, who I think might be the most underrated good pitcher in the game right now.   No Royal has faced him more than seven times:  you can decide if that is good or bad.  On Saturday, they face Chris Young, who no Royals has faced more than six times.  Young, you’ll remember, had his best start of the year in early May against Kansas City.   The series will conclude with the Mariners sending Roenis Elias to the hill.  The Royals roughed Elias up for five runs in five innings in May and since then he has been touched for four runs in more in four of seven starts.  Beware, however, as in those seven starts, Elias also has a complete game shutout and another outing in which he allowed just three hits and a run over seven innings.

You want to be a division winner?  You take two of three from the Mariners in your home ballpark.

A couple of other notes:

  • Last week, I suggested that Ben Zobrist should be a potential trade target for the Royals.  This week, national media rumors suggest that the Royals are indeed looking at Zobrist.  Not sure why Dayton Moore hasn’t called me, but then he never calls.
  • Hunter Dozier was promoted to AA this week.  He plays third base (pushing Cheslor Cuthbert to first in the Naturals’ lineup).  Makes you wonder what might happen next spring if Mike Moustakas and the Mendoza line remain close friends all season.
  • Soren Petro on WHB has been beating the ‘trade for David Price’ drum lately.  At first, I paid little attention, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t make some sense.  The market for an impact bat acquisition seems a little thin, so perhaps making the starting rotation that much better might be an option to adding a bat that may or may not make this team better in 2014.  The price for Price (chuckle) might be too extreme, but the Royals would be getting him for this season and next.  Here’s what I know, if you could trade prospects for David Price, Kansas City would absolutely be better THIS year.  I’ve pretty much become a THIS year kind of guy.

It gets weirder and weirder every day in the Royals Universe.

Nine in a row.

First place in the Central. In mid-June. Over the Detroit juggernaut.

My head is spinning.

Before we go any further, let’s check the latest offensive numbers from this nine game stretch.

DBD_617

They are all hitting. And the home runs. I can’t get over the fact this group, so punchless in the early going, has clubbed 12 out of the park in the last nine games. In the first two months, Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas hit six home runs combined. This month, they’ve already combined for seven. As I pointed out the other day, this is what a hot streak looks like.

The homers last night were glorious. Especially the Alex Gordon bomb. More on that in a moment.

According to ESPN, the Royals most productive June as far as winning percentage came way back in 1972 when they won 18 of 27, which is a .667 winning percentage. So far in this June, the team has captured 12 of 15. Ummm, that’s .800. That’s pretty good.

Another thing the Royals accomplished last night which should certainly be noted: They knocked the Tigers from the top of their AL Central perch for the first time since July 3. Yep. The Tigers held first place in the AL Central all season and for half (let’s face it, the really important half) of 2013. While I maintain my previous position that I don’t get giddy over being in first place on June 18, I have to admit, it’s kind of fun to see this:

Standings_618

Damn. I mean, look at the run differential. Only five teams are in the green and the Royals are one of them. After drubbing Detroit the last two nights, they’ve shifted to red. Even more impressive, this once anemic offense is now pretty damn robust. Again, it’s the peaks and valleys I discussed the other day. Everything levels out in the end. Except most teams don’t seem to experience the extreme highs and lows we see in Kansas City. The Royals have scored 301 runs. Or three runs fewer than the Tigers. Wow.

I guess all it took was a reassignment of a hitting coach.

I don’t know if the Royals can win their 10th in a row this afternoon. I do know if the winning streak ends today, it went out with an exclamation point of a seventh inning on Tuesday.

FG_WE_617

The Gordon home run following the Butler walk was a thing of beauty. I mean, most homers are, but this one was especially a bomb. Officially, it went 414 feet. Maybe that’s not so impressive, but it was hit to a part of Comerica where I haven’t seen many home runs land. And I thought it was cool. Doesn’t really matter. It was like a dagger in the heart of the Tigers. When Moustakas hit a hanging change over the fence in right, it felt like the Royals were again in control. To hang three more runs was gravy. It felt good.

Nine games. Winning. Yes.

There are a bunch of games left. In fact, there are 93. Far too many to start selling internal organs so you can afford playoff tickets. But maybe you should prepare for life with a single kidney.

This could be a fun summer.

Do you remember, back in the early days of the season, when the typical Royals fan lament went something like this:

“If only they could get the bats going.”

May I present to you, the last week of Royals baseball.

Damn.

After sweeping the Indians at home and the White Sox on the road, the Royals own a seven game winning streak and are winners of eight of their last 10 and 12 of their last 20. There’s hot, and then there’s Royals Hot.

Baseball is a game of peaks and valleys. They say once you think you have the game figured out, it will humble you just as fast. The Royals, it seems, are the masters of the peaks and valleys. We saw the exact same thing last year when the team bottomed out at the All-Star Break, prompting this writer to call for the dismissal of Dayton Moore. Part of the reason for the call of Moore’s firing at the time was his apparent detachment from reality when he stated his 2013 Royals were capable of a stretch where they could win 15 out of 20. Laughable, I wrote, pointing out that very few Royals teams in the past had actually accomplished such a run of successful baseball. Then what happened? Ummmm… they won 15 out of their next 20. (Baseball is humbling? Damn. Try blogging.) Anyway, it’s about the peaks and valleys. Peaks and valleys.

This year, it’s looking like a carbon copy of 2013. Straight down to the reassignment of a hitting coach. Except now the Royals have found (or are close to) the peak at a much earlier date. At least one month earlier in 2014 they finally figured out where the switch for the afterburners is located and they hit the damn thing.

From Baseball Musing’s Day by Day Database, here’s how the offense has looked this month:

DBD_67

And how the offense looked last week.

DBD_66

Funny game, baseball. At the end of May I insisted that it was bad business to set your lineup based on streaks (both hot and cold) and advocated Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain move to the top third of the order. Well, one out of two isn’t bad. Gordon is his typical awesome self. Mr. Everything for this club. Cain, however, has had a bit of a rough go this month. Break it down to look exclusively at this winning streak and who are the two of the worst offensive performers? Yep. Gordon and Cain.

But take a moment to revisit those numbers from the last week. Eric Hosmer is hitting like Hosmer post-May 2013. Sal Perez is a destroyer of baseballs. Billy Butler is an on base machine. Mike Moustakas is FIXED! And good grief, Alcides Escobar. Look at those numbers. And that’s after an 0-3 day at the plate. Somehow, he drew a walk and saw a grand total of nine pitches in four plate appearances. But those numbers. This offense is now running on best-case scenario. These guys are just killing it. Early and often. It’s been a helluva week.

Here’s the great thing about this peak I just spent 500 words extolling: It’s coming against teams in the AL Central.

When the Royals opened this stretch of baseball, I said it was a pivotal moment of the 2014 season. At that moment, the Royals had won a grand total of six intra-division games. No other team in baseball had fewer than 10 wins against intra-division opponents. In other words, the Royals had become experts at laying down in their own division. That’s no way to win a wild card spot, never mind the division itself. Having dug such a hole in the Central, it was imperative the Royals stop the bleeding and get better. Immediately. And nine games against Central opponents presented the first opportunity. So here we are, five games in and the Royals have won all five.

Have I mentioned baseball is a funny game?

Now, attention turns to Detroit and the Tigers. It’s far too early in the season for me to get caught up in the standings. I could care less who is in first place on June 16. It doesn’t matter. Positioning matters. If teams harbor October expectations, they need to hang close. You can’t pull a Tampa Bay and drop 13 games out of the division and 10 games out of the wild card because that’s ground you just can’t make up over the course of three and a half months. We’ve said it over and over – and experienced it last year – but if you fall so far behind and allow multiple teams to move ahead of you and a playoff spot – it’s difficult to climb over those teams to get to the top.

At some point, hot streak will end. (I’m not trying to rain on your Plaza Parade. It’s a streak. If you are unfamiliar with the term, look it up somewhere.) At some point the Royals will probably play a stretch of baseball where they go 10-10. Maybe a little worse. The important thing to remember is positioning. The Royals are in a good position right now. If they stumble a bit, they may remain on the outside of a playoff spot, but if they can maintain their positioning, they can be OK.

And that’s exactly what I think this team can do. They can keep themselves in position. No way was the offense as bad as we saw back in April and May. Sadly, it’s not this good either. The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in-between. And that’s OK. Because with the pitching and defense, that gives this team a pretty good chance.

This isn’t a team built on the premise they can dominate. (No sane Royals fan can believe that. Not after what we saw in April and May.) But this is a team that can compete and this team can cause some problems. There’s a ton of mediocrity in the American League this summer. So many teams have opportunity. So few will capitalize.

Here’s hoping the Royals continue to capitalize.

Why not?

James Shields will be a free agent, Billy Butler will be expensive as will Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer and Greg Holland and especially Wade Davis.  Kansas City is getting a career year out of Jason Vargas and a rookie of the year campaign out of Yordano Ventura.   Danny Duffy is, at least part of the time, getting people out and Lorenzo Cain is hitting and healthy (for now, knock wood!).   The Royals are not really a young team anymore.

So, go for it.

Kansas City won 86 games last season, but dug themselves such a hole in May that it did not really matter.   They danced with the idea of contention, but never really contended.  Playing catch-up is for suckers – or really good veteran teams that have won before.  This is not a sit back and see what happens year:  this is the year that Dayton Moore has been telling us to be patient for since the five year plan became a seven year plan and then an eight to ten year process.

So, go for it and do so immediately.

There is a reason most trades happen closer to the July 31st deadline.   Sellers often don’t know they are sellers until late July and, even if they do realize it sooner, want to wait for the best and final offer before pulling the trigger.  Buyers may or may not know they need help (or be willing to admit they need help, because Eric Hosmer is surely going to hit 12 home runs in July right?).  It takes two willing partners to execute a trade, not just one guy in boxers sitting in his Mom’s basement.

That said, if you want to make a trade to improve your team, doesn’t it make sense to do so in June and get four months of production from said player than to wait until July 31st and get just two months?  In a race where the margin for the post-season might be one game would it not be worth a bit of an overpay to get the trade done now?

Ahh, what trade?  What magic bullet have you discovered within the tortured thoughts of your twisted mind, Mr. Fosler?  Well…nothing great.

Listen, unless Eric Hosmer hits, Gordon continues to hit, Infante gets better and Escobar and Cain continue to play well, no trade is going to put this team over the top.  If Vargas regresses substantially, Duffy loses whatever it is he has found and Ventura starts looking more rookie than rookie of the year, nothing will get the Royals to the playoffs.  I can make up all sorts of trades for Giancarlo Stanton or Matt Kemp, but they are not going to happen.   Trade speculation is mostly fantasy, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to add in some measure of realism.

So, with that in mind, my first move is a very, very, very, very modest one.

Nick Evans was designated for assignment by the Arizona Diamondbacks yesterday.  If you don’t know who Nick Evans is, you are like most everyone else.  He is 28 years old, hits right-handed, plays all the corner spots (or has been reported to have stood in all four corner positions at various times in his career) and has 11 major league plate appearances since 2011.  Oh yeah, he was DFA’d by a team that is already out of it.

Evans, however, has always hit for power in the minors, generally gets on-base at a good clip and would certainly seem to be the kind of guy that a team with a third baseman that can’t hit, a rightfielder that falls down a lot, a 28 year old DH who suddenly looks old and a first baseman with three home runs might want to stash at AAA just in case.  He’s pretty much Matt Fields, but I’d rather have two of them than one of them.

My second move is partially stolen from Jeff Zimmerman from back when both of us were over at Royals Review.  This spring, Jeff proposed a Johnny Giavotella for Scott Van Slyke trade.  I liked it at the time, even though Van Slyke and Justin Maxwell seemed redundant.   Since then, Dee Gordon has played well for the Dodgers, so their zest for a AAAA second baseman is probably gone (if it even existed).  However, Jamey Wright is in their bullpen and the shell of what used to be Chris Perez.  The Royals have a bunch of relievers, the fourth best of which is Aaron Crow.

Aaron Crow for Scott Van Slyke.   Maybe an overpay, maybe not.  Van Slyke is already 27 and, while decent in a part-time role this year, did not light the world on fire during his previous two stints in the majors.  He has, however, torched minor league pitching for the past three seasons.    Of course, it is important to note that the bulk of the Dodgers’ minor league affiliates play in hitter friendly environments and you need to keep that in mind when you note Van Slyke’s career AAA of line of .330/.425/.584.  All things considered, Van Slyke is better than Justin Maxwell and likely better (at least right now) than Nori Aoki.   I might try him every day in rightfield, but would be equally as happy platooning him with Jarrod Dyson.

Finally, I look to our old trading partners in Florida, the Tampa Bay Rays.  Ben Zobrist is making $7 million this season for what is currently the worst team in the league.  The Rays hold a team option on the 33 year old for $7.5 million in 2015.  While Zobrist is not a high average guy, he gets on-base and has shown power.   Once a full-time shortstop, Zobrist has spent much more time at second and in rightfield (although he has even played a few innings at short this season).

There are warning signs associated with Zobrist.  He slugged just .402 last season and is scuffling along with a .246/.325/.367 triple slash this year.  Over his career, Zobrist has established a .262/.352/.431 line and, in his five previous seasons, has posted an fWAR of 8.5, 3.7, 6.3, 5.8, 5.4.   Even this year, with a low line drive percentage pushing down his BABIP, Zobrist is likely to be at least three wins above replacement.

To me, it seems that Zobrist is a reasonable gamble to be better the rest of 2014 than he has been thus far.  He’s not getting younger and likely never going to be as good as he was even a couple of years ago, but how would a .350 on-base percentage with at least some power look in this Royals’ lineup.

Where you ask, does Ben fit?  Everywhere, my friends, everywhere.

You can play him in right – especially if you don’t acquire Scott Van Slyke – and at second.   Sure, the Royals are paying Omar Infante a tidy sum of money, but not so much that you absolutely have to play him every day (and he has not been the picture of health as it is).  You can give Zobrist time at DH if Billy Butler (who has been swinging better as of late) scuffles.  If you want to be bold, you can put Zobrist and his 13 career games at third (minors and majors combined).  While it would be a defensive downgrade from Moustakas, I like the chances of a player with Zobrist’s skill set to not embarrass himself at third.  I mean, Ben Zobrist at third seems more plausible than Danny Valencia at second.

Essentially, the Royals are hoping a lot of guys in their lineup start to hit and stay healthy, but it is impossible to truly determine which of the current group will actually do so.  The acquisition of Zobrist would give Ned Yost the flexibility (which is something of a scary thought) to plug a number of spots, depending on who’s hot and who’s not.

To acquire Zobrist, we have to start with the assumption that the Rays have reconciled themselves to being out of the race this season.  We also have to assume/hope that Tampa does not want to pay a 34 year old who may be in decline $7.5 million in 2015.   It’s a gamble:  Zobrist could be on his way to done.  Of course, he could be Raul Ibanez, too.

What would it take?

Bill Hall was once traded from Casey Kotchman,  Scott Brosius was dealt for Kenny Rogers and Dave Hollins for Tomas Perez.  In their current situation, I doubt the Rays are looking for any veteran talent and, if the Royals are in ‘go for it’ mode, they won’t be dealing any, either.

I bet you Kyle Zimmer gets it done, but even me and my ever growing distaste for coveting prospects cannot make that leap. Would you go so far to trade John Lamb, Miquel Almonte and Jorge Bonafacio?  Would the Rays hang up the phone on that offer?  Here is where trade scenarios get hard, because we really don’t know.  Keeping in mind that the Royals would have to overpay some to make a trade happen now instead of a month from now, it seems to me that the deal mentioned above would be enough and quite possibly too much.

Would this make the Royals better?  Yes.  Would it make them good enough? Maybe.  Is it worth the risk of trying?  I think so.

 

In an aerial dogfight, the furball is the very middle of the battle.  It is also just about the last place you want to be if you are a fighter pilot.  Get in, get out and get clear is how you successfully survive aerial warfare, no matter the era.

The Royals, thanks to a nifty four game winning streak, are in the furball.  Four American League Central teams, including Kansas City, have 33 wins and the Twins are right there with 31 victories.  Eight teams in the American League are within three games of the .500 mark and constitute the current battle for the final wild card spot.

That’s a furball.

Given how the team struggled through May, it is actually nice to be part of the mess right now.   However, a team or two or three will eventually put together a big winning streak or simply start playing better than .500 ball and leave the furball behind.

For the Royals, they need to hope that no team separates themselves from the pack too soon.  You see, our boys in blue have a little bit of a journey in front of them starting with three games at Chicago and followed by four more in Detroit.

You can all do the math:  seven games against A.L. Central opponents, one of whom (Tigers) has lost 8 of their last 10 games and all on the road.   Four wins?  I think we would all take that right now and move on.

After those seven, the Royals get a nine game homestand, but the adversaries are Seattle, the Dodgers and the Angels.  Five wins?  Have to get that many or this team reverts to pretender status.  More?  That’s a tall order.

Kansas City could arise on the morning of June 30th, coming off a 9-7 run through the above and certainly be in the thick of it.  At 42-39 and having played even with half the teams in the furball with them, Kansas City could be poised to go on a hot streak, separate from the pack and be a real contender.

What would Dayton Moore do then?

Will he sit back with his ‘smartest man in the room’ smirk and assume all is well?  The process has worked, his team is in contention, you just watch:  we don’t need to do anything.  Or, for once, will Moore worry less about justifying his past moves and more about results right now?

What if Mike Moustakas (one good game does not a recovery make) is still hitting .160?   What if Billy Butler is still shuffling along as a DH with a .320 slugging percentage?  The Royals could win 9 of the next 16 based solely on their pitching, Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar, but they won’t make the playoffs doing that.

My prediction is that Moustakas will still be struggling, but Billy Butler won’t.  I have no real feel for what Eric Hosmer will be doing or Aoki or Infante or Cain….   Truthfully, if the Royals get to 42-39 and Dayton Moore thinks all is well and just ‘has to get value for value’ in any trade, then he should be ripped without reserve by media, fans and his boss.

This team might be a contender, but it is not a playoff team.  It is closer to the latter than in any year since 1994, but I am pretty sure professional sports is not played to ‘get close’.

Make this team better, Mr. Moore.  The sooner the better.

What would I do?  Well, you’ll have to tune in tomorrow…..

 

I have been out of the country, out of the loop, off the grid – whatever – I have not been paying attention lately.   Sure, you can keep up with the world from almost everywhere, but I was on a beach with a drink in my hand and while I would catch the score most evenings that was about all.  You want my attention when on vacation Mr. Moore?  Get a team ten games over .500.

Back in the real world, mostly, I find that very little has changed:

The Royals Are a .500 Baseball Team

6-4 in their last ten games, 9 -11 in their last twenty, 15-15 in their last thirty.  After years of just wishing Kansas City could at least be respectable, I now remember that respectability is boring.  Contention, my friends, THAT’s fun.   Really, do you see this team suddenly surging forward?   I feel as though the anticipated hot streaks from Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler might well be accompanied by a simultaneous regression from the starting rotation: particularly from Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie.

 

Hey Genius, the Royals are only 3.5 games behind the Tigers

Indeed they are, thanks to Detroit deciding not to run away with the division and winning just six of their last twenty.  Thank you, Tigers, but no thanks to the Indians, who went hog wild in my absence (who’s job was it to watch the Indians?!!!) and streaked into second place.

While we wait for Hosmer and Butler to heat up, don’t you imagine that Cleveland is expecting the same from the likes of Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana?   Do you imagine Detroit assumes Justin Verlander likely won’t end the season with an ERA north of four?  Hell, Minnesota signed Kendrys Morales while I was gone!   I had no real desire to see Morales in Kansas City, but they at least did something.

Oh yeah, I forgot, the Royals fixed Mike Moustakas via 34 Omaha plate appearances.

 

The Wild Card

Is a mess.   Depending on how you define contention, HOUSTON is in contention for a Wild Card spot.  It’s nice there are two spots and it is nice that the Royals are just three games out, but how optimistic are you about chasing down the Angels, the Mariners, the Orioles, the Indians, and holding off the rest of league as well?

 

The Lineup

Craig wrote about this yesterday and it begs the question:  Do you construct your lineup to follow the hot streak or to project for the perceived talent level going forward?

I’m a bit of a short-term hot streak chaser, particularly when guys you might move down in the lineup are names Infante and/or Aoki.    It gets a bit tricky when a hitter with proven past performance (Billy Butler) or definite upside (Eric Hosmer) start getting moved, but would the world end if the bounty Lorenzo Cain paid to the BABIP Fairy continue to pay off for two weeks AND Hosmer hit four home runs out of the six spot?

Here is an easy one, however.  Alex Gordon is both hot and has a past record of performance:  seems as though getting him an extra at-bat per game might be helpful for the rest of the season.

 

Going Forward

So, they draft happened and with its completion, baseball GM’s traditionally turn their full attention to the trade market.   Just a little heads up, the Dodgers sure seem to have a lot of outfielders….just sayin.

Now, where is that third baseman tree planted?

 

A whole weekend passed without any worthy Nori Aoki gifs. I feel cheated.

At least there’s a 2-1 win against the hated Yankees on Sunday. Six strong from James Shields and three from the shutdown bullpen.  Aaron Crow, Wade Davis and Greg Holland with the honors. I’m sure Ned Yost would have liked to have gotten seven from Shields, but the Yankees worked him for 110 pitches in the six innings. Eight whiffs against two walks. Seven ground outs and just one fly ball out.

Yost likes it when he doesn’t have to think. Automatic situations are good. Eighth inning with a one-run lead? Davis. It works for the bullpen because he has two of the best relievers in the league at his disposal. With the offense it’s a different story. Top of the lineup card? Aoki-Infante-Hosmer. Damn the numbers. Damn the facts.

At this point, it feels like a point of pride for Yost, doesn’t it? Everyone who pays attention to baseball and the Royals know this lineup is the pits. They also know the two best hitters on this team are buried at number five and number seven in the order. How the hell does that make any sense? Yet there’s Nervous Ned, sticking to his guns. The Titantic may be bearing down on that iceberg, but dammit he’s not going to steer around it just because it’s in his way. Come on.

The fact is, Gordon is one of the best hitters on this team, no matter what. A few years ago, it seemed inspired when Yost bumped him to the top of the order. Now the pendulum has swung the other direction with a stubborn Yost refusing to see what is clear to everyone.

Because it’s not kosher to criticize and not offer a solution, here would be my lineup going forward:

Gordon
Aoki
Cain
Perez
Hosmer
Butler
Escobar
Infante
Moustakas

Gordon is the only guy on the team who can work a walk and is the best hitter. He should get the most plate appearances. I know I just mocked the idea of Aoki hitting leadoff and I only push him down one spot, but he has to hit somewhere. His .318 OBP rates fourth among regulars. (Have I mentioned this offense is horrible?) Yeah, he’s striking out more than advertised, but his contact rate is second highest on the team which is useful in that position. Cain is the best hitter not named Gordon, so he hits third. Not ideal, but this lineup is a hot mess. Perez is my power bat, so he’s fourth. That’s two left-handed bats followed by two right-handed bats at the top of the order. Time to change things up a bit. But really that’s the only method to this madness in the lower half. It’s really about minimizing Moustakas and Infante.

My other solution involves cloning Gordon eight times.

Being a manager is about positioning your guys to where you give the team the best chance to succeed. So many times a manager gets fired when players don’t produce. You’ll hear things like, “It wasn’t his fault we weren’t hitting (or fielding, or pitching.)” A manager can fill out an optimal lineup card but will pay when if team doesn’t execute. What happens when a manager knowingly ignores mounting evidence that his lineup defies baseball logic?

It’s amazing Yost is still employed.

— Hey, Eric Hosmer hit a home run on Saturday. A real, actual home run. And it was a bomb, traveling 445 feet according to Hit Tracker. This seems like a decent time to break out Hosmer’s home run plots for the 2014 season.

Hosmer_Eric_2014_scatter

Grim. Seriously. His other home run this year came in San Diego and traveled just 362 feet, barely clearing the wall at Petco.

Compare the above chart to last summer. Last year, Hosmer clubbed 17 home runs, but didn’t hit his second on the season until June 13. This year, he hit his second on June 7! He’s almost a full week ahead of the pace last year! Amazing.

Hosmer_Eric_2013_scatter

When he got hot last summer, his power was from the left-center gap to right-center. Pretty impressive, actually.

So is this the start of another summer streak? I don’t know about that. In 2013, when he went on a tear, the power came later. I mentioned his second home run was hit on June 17. Well, if we subscribe to the theory that George Brett’s arrival helped drag Hosmer out of his doldrums, then we see that from May 29 (Brett’s first day on the job) to June 16, Hosmer hit .308/.345/.365. Sixteen hits in that stretch with only three for extra bases – all doubles. The power arrived later. Eight of his 17 home runs came in a stretch from June 17 to July 4.

%d bloggers like this: