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Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Alex Gordon

Alex Gordon’s on-base percentage is .383, best on the Royals. He hits sixth in the batting order.

Alcides Escobar’s wildly fluctuating on-base percentage currently sits at .322.  He hits lead-off.

Last season, the number one spot in the batting order came to the plate 85 times more than the number six spot in the order.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?  Frankly, most of us are thinking the same thing.  Some, however, are more bothered by it than others.

To be honest, when I first actually looked at the situation, 85 plate appearances seemed like a LOT.  It is, roughly, twenty games worth of at-bats and, with the possible exception of the new Mike Moustakas, there is no one else on the roster I would rather see get that many extra chances than Alex Gordon.  That said, what does 85 extra plate appearances really mean?

Using this season’s on-base percentages, Gordon would get on-base 33 times in those 85 plate appearances.  Escobar would be expected to reach 27 times.  The Royals are currently plating about 37% of the runners they put on-base.  In theory, Gordon would score two, maybe three, more runs during those 85 extra plate appearances than Escobar.  TWO RUNS.

Now, there are plenty out there who really love to dig deep into the statistical analysis.  I don’t have the patience.  I would expect that getting on base at the top of the order, with Moustakas et.al. coming up behind you probably leads to scoring a greater percentage of the time than the lower part of the order.  That said, we only have six additional baserunners to play with here, so do we add a run and say Gordon would score three more runs than Escobar?  I would, if only because I think Gordon should be batting at the top of the order.

We can also make the case that Escobar, a career .301 on-base guy, will not keep up his ‘lofty’ .322 OBP.  We could make a similar case for Gordon, who is clipping along 35 points above his career on-base percentage.  You can slide the scale however you wish and add a baserunner for every 10% difference between the two players.  Is the difference four runs, even five?  Is that a difference maker?

You can make an argument that in baseball, especially in the Royals’ world of get a lead early and hand it to the bullpen, that you should not turn down even just a handful of runs.  Is even five runs enough to make a change to a team currently in first place?  While we like to be snide about the mental aspect of the game and the supposed fragility of players’ minds, let’s not kid ourselves into thinking something that is not statistically quantifiable does not exist.   Baseball give a player a lot of time to sit around and think and worry and get all worked up over, say, batting lead-off all year and suddenly coming to the park and seeing your name down at seventh.   It might be silly, but I think you are kidding yourself if it is not a factor a manager would need to consider.

Another consideration is that you can make a very viable case that those 85 extra plate appearances would all be packed into the last two innings of a baseball game.  An extra plate appearance in the ninth inning of a 7-1 game doesn’t mean much, but they carry a lot of weight in a 2-2 game with Wade Davis and Greg Holland in the bullpen.

All in, what is the difference between batting Alex Gordon first instead of sixth?  Is it one win?   The standard theory is that 10 extra runs equates to an extra win, so we are stretching the stats considerably to even get to one win (not to mention we are closing in on the halfway point of the season already).

In the end, it makes sense for Alex Gordon to be leading off for the Kansas City Royals.  I’m just not sure it makes sense to make the change or has the impact that is seems like such a move should.

Alex Gordon struck out four times on Wednesday night. It was one of, if not the worst, games of the season for the Royals and (obviously) for Alex.  These things happen.  You know, baseball and such.

Not only do these things happen, they happen more often than you might think.  Four strikeouts or more in a single game?  It has happened 109 times to a Royals’ batter and actually three times prior to Wednesday to Alex Gordon.

Bob Hamelin, Greg Gagne and Bo Jackson all hold the distinction of striking out FIVE times in one game.  I remember listening on the radio to the game when Jackson managed (?) the feat against the Yankees on April 18, 1987.

Gordon is the first Royal to strikeout four times this season, but Lorenzo Cain did so twice in 2014 and was joined in this unlucky club by Omar Infante and Eric Hosmer.  Cain also struck out four times in a game in 2013, while Hosmer did so in 2012.  Also getting the quad sombrero in 2012 were Billy Butler, Jarrod Dyson and Mike Moustakas twice.  To be fair to Mike, however, one of those four strikeout games came when he managed seven plate appearances, so not really a sombrero if I am reading the unwritten rules of baseball correctly.

Somewhat interestingly, Gordon’s other three occurrences all came in 2011, which was arguably the best offensive season of his career.  In all three of those games, Gordon actually batted five times and got hits in two of those contests.  Old friend, Jeff Francoeur struck out four times twice in 2011, in the span of just two weeks.  Frankly, I’m surprised it didn’t happen more often.

Going back beyond 2011, you run into a string of Royals who will neither surprise you, nor stir up longing for the past:  Guillen, Pena, Brown, Sanders, Guiel, Gotay, Berroa, Harvey.. you get the picture. Of course, it happens to the best, too.  Mike Sweeney did it, so did Carlos Beltran and Jermaine Dye.  Michael Tucker managed to do it two times in each stint with the Royals.

Bo Jackson, struck out four times in a game FIFTEEN times, fourteen times more than Joe Zbed ever did.   Pitcher Dick Drago struck out four times in a game four times, both a testament to bad hitting, but good pitching I suppose.   Hal McRae did it (twice), Willie Wilson and Amos Otis did it once.  Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew wore the hat once in his one season with Kansas City.  You know a Hall of Fame member who didn’t strike out four times in a game?  George Brett. Not once, not ever.

There are plenty of obscure names on the list, but I will wager the most obscure would be Scott Northey, whose major league career consisted of 68 plate appearances with the 1969 Royals.  The very first Royal?  Jackie Hernandez on June 6th, 1969.

Baseball is full of bad days and Alex Gordon had one on Wednesday.  How did he do the following game the first three times?

One for two with a home run, two walks and a hit by pitch. Two for four. Two for five with a double.

 

Alex Gordon is off to a 1 for 16 start and that one hit was a seeing eye roller up the middle that was not exactly mashed.  There has been some mock-snarky panic, some actual concern and an occasional casual fan wondering if they shouldn’t play ‘that kid’ Orlando more.  Hey, Paulo Orlando is a great story.  A guy I touted highly as a prospect long ago and then gave up on.  A guy who did something that had never been done in baseball by hitting triples for his first three career hits.  Let’s not get carried away, however.

Quick aside.  With Orlando’s triples this year and Brandon Finnegan’s College World Series to actual World Series in the same season feat last year, Kansas City has had two guys in two years do something that has not been done in baseball ever before. It is hard to find something that has not already been done in this game these days – especially something good.  Just kind of a cool side note.

Anyway, back to Gordon.

In a rather amazing trick, Gordon has a .348 on-base percentage despite having just one hit in five games.  That number is courtesy of three walks (one intentional) and four hit by pitch. Getting on base half the time via the hit by pitch is a hell of a way to make a living and, check the math on this, likely not a sustainable model.  Rickey Henderson posted on-base percentages of .400 and .410 in back to back seasons despite hitting below .250 both years.  In one of those (1997), splitting time between Seattle and Anaheim, Rickey hit just .183 in 144 plate appearances but still got on base at .343 clip.  I am not comparing Gordon to Henderson (Alex does not refer to himself in the third person and seems to be aware of who his teammates are and even knows their names), just another fun set of numbers to go with a quirky early season line from the Royals’ Gold Glove left-fielder.

Early is the key word in the previous sentence.

Seven games into 2014, Gordon was sporting a triple slash of just .231/.276/.308 with no home runs. I believe you will note that 2014 turned out alright for Alex. He started hot in 2013, but in 2012, Gordon began the season 0 for 16, didn’t get over the Mendoza line until April 26th and wound up hitting .294/.368/.455. Even in 2011, Gordon started 2 for 13 before notching 11 hits in his next four games on his way to his best triple slash line of his career and tying for his best WAR season of his career.  The point of this is that a) Gordon has a bit of a slow start history, b) five games is JUST FIVE GAMES and c) a player in Gordon’s physical condition who has put up fWARs of 6.6, 5.5, 3.7 and 6.6 the last four years suddenly does not lose it.

Let’s also keep in mind The Wrist. Is it healthy? I don’t know – Ned has not called me this morning (weird, right?), but as cautious as the Royals were throughout the spring, it is hard to believe Gordon is out there playing in pain. And they were cautious this spring.

Gordon only appeared in 10 Major League spring training games, logging just 35 plate appearances:  basically half of the other regulars.  That is also not the entire story, either.  The wrist surgery had to interfere with Alex’s off-season workouts.  We have all heard tell of Gordon’s dedication to working out and while he certainly did not let himself go, the sore wrist and eventual surgery certainly changed the regimen this off-season.  Let’s not underestimate the impact of a change of routine to a creature of habit.

While I am not privy to how many times Gordon steps in a batting cage during the winter, but I would wager the wrist kept him from doing it as much as in prior years. Even after getting back into physical shape, Gordon was still not cleared for actually swing a bat until spring training games were already underway.

Bottom line of all this: Alex Gordon is more than 30 spring training at-bats behind. I don’t know that it’s a stretch to say the Alex likely doesn’t quite feel like he is ready and may feel a tad behind. The wrist may not be, or at least feel quite as strong as it has before. True or not, it would be human nature to have at least a sprinkling of those thoughts going through Gordon’s head right now. Hell, who knows? None of that may be happening and it all may simply be that Alex Gordon is 30 at-bats behind the rest of baseball.  If that is all there is to this story, then Alex is a couple of games from being right where the Royals need him.

If a 7-0 start means nothing, then a 1-16 start from a hitter means even less.  I’m leaning towards Alex Gordon getting more hits this weekend against Oakland than Billy Butler collects against the Royals.

By the way, 7-0 is kind of fun, isn’t it?

If we’ve learned anything about Ned Yost the last several years, it’s that he enjoys automation.

He doesn’t care for the match-ups. He likes defined roles. A sixth-inning left-hander? If he could, he would.

And so it goes for the lineup. Yost rolled through the end of September and the entire postseason with a single lineup. Just in case you don’t remember:

Escobar – SS
Aoki – RF
Cain – CF
Hosmer – 1B
Butler – DH
Gordon – LF
Perez – C
Infante – 2B
Moustakas – 3B

How could you forget? Based on what happened after Yost decided this was his batting order, that lineup should be legendary.

Seasons change, though, and players move on. Gone from the starting nine from last summer are Nori Aoki and Billy Butler. And their leaving the team has created two rather large holes in the lineup. Of course, they have been replaced by Alex Rios and Kendrys Morales. The issue for Yost is, neither one of his new bats profiles as a number two hitter. This means he will have to do some shuffling and will have to figure out a new optimum lineup.

Alcides Escobar is back at the top of the order. Despite September and October, this is less than ideal. The shortstop has 3,198 plate appearances in his career and has posted a .299 on base percentage. Naturally, the Royals will tell you he performed really well at the leadoff spot. And that is the truth. In the final 15 games, Escobar hit .375/.412/.484. Neat, except he walked three times in 68 plate appearances. That’s a 4.4 percent walk rate. That’s actually right in line with his career walk rate of 4.2 percent. It turns out Escobar’s final two weeks of the regular season was powered by a .411 BABIP.

In the postseason, Escobar continued to Escobar. Meaning, he swung the bat and made a bunch of contact. In 70 plate appearances in October, Escobar walked once. He finished with a .310 on base percentage. The Royals won a bunch of games.

With spring training rolling along, the Royals are primed to give the leadoff spot back to Escobar full-time. If you’re OK with this, that means you’re buying two weeks of games and overlooking a career that spans parts of seven seasons. That essentially means you’re on the side of the Royals. If you think this is a less than optimal idea, that means you are dismissing his torrid close to the season as a simple hot streak. It means you hope the Royals decide on Plan B before Plan A condemns the team to a place in the middle of the American League pack.

I think you can guess where I fall.

If you disagree with me, “Who would you hit leadoff?” is the question you’re asking. Totally fair. Why not Alex Gordon back at leadoff? He’s done it before and he’s done well in that role. According to Baseball Reference, his tOPS+ at the top of the order is 111. (That’s the measure of a player’s OPS+ relative to his own career. In other words, he’s performed better hitting leadoff than, say, hitting fourth, where his tOPS+ is 68.)

I don’t know why the Royals are fighting this so much. Gordon doesn’t fit the leadoff profile, but he’s accumulated more plate appearances batting first than any other spot in the order. That’s a credit to Yost for thinking outside the box. But damn, if he doesn’t want to jump right back in that box. Escobar may look like a leadoff hitter, but he makes far too many outs. It’s not always about the walks when you hit leadoff (although a 12 percent walk rate seems to be the cutoff for successful leadoff hitters) it’s about getting on base. And Escobar’s OBP is powered entirely by the base hit, meaning his success as a hitter is tied to his batting average on balls in play. That’s a dangerous cocktail. The Royals, for all their throwback offensive appeal, still lack a leadoff hitter in the vein of that 1980’s burner. The Willie Wilson type who did everything he could to get on base and then run with abandon. Jarrod Dyson is a burner for sure, but he lacks the offensive acumen. Besides, he’s a fourth outfielder. He’s not in this conversation.

The Royals see Escobar as a steady, durable and dependable player. I agree with that assessment. However, that doesn’t translate to a successful leadoff hitter. They see Gordon as a “run producer.” That’s a throwback term for RBI guy. Which is a horrible way to look at hitters in the lineup.

For this team to get the most out of their offense, they need someone more adept at avoiding outs at the top of the order. That means hitting Gordon leadoff.

It took all of 15 minutes to remember the game was being played in the thin desert air. Back to back to back. Six batters, six runs. Welcome to the Cactus League.

Eric Hosmer, Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios all teed off in the first to give the Royals the cushion for their first victory of the spring.

Cue the “Royals have discovered power!” dispatches.

Far be it for me to tell you how to react, especially when the Royals hit three consecutive home runs, but this isn’t our first rodeo. We know about Surprise and how it makes certain hitters look each spring. And we know about the harsh realities of bringing that offensive mojo to Kansas City, Detroit and Chicago.

Still, I can’t deny that it wasn’t fun to listen to as the barrage was unfolding. Even if it doesn’t count.

— The lineup for the first action of the exhibition season was situated like this:

Alcides Escobar – SS
Jarrod Dyson – LF
Lorenzo Cain – CF
Eric Hosmer – 1B
Kendrys Morales – DH
Alex Rios – RF
Mike Moustakas – 3B
Erik Kratz – C
Christian Colon – 2B

We know Escobar is going to get first crack at leading off when the regular season dawns. He drew a walk in the first to set off the six run rally, which clearly signifies his change in approach to be a better leadoff man. (That’s sarcasm, if you didn’t know. Maybe he changed his approach. Maybe he didn’t. What we do know is he walked in 3.7 percent of his plate appearances last year. A good leadoff man will walk around 12 percent of the time. One PA in Surprise tells us nothing.)

Yost hit Dyson second, but admitted he’s thinking of his options in that spot. In his mind at this moment he’s thinking of Cain, Rios or Alex Gordon. Personally, I’d nominate Gordon. If anything, the acquisition of Rios should push Gordon higher in the lineup, and that’s a good thing. Really, I’d like Gordon to return to the leadoff spot, but it’s difficult to be picky. Just anywhere higher than fifth. Please.

— Tim Collins, scheduled for an inning of work, exited with elbow discomfort after facing four batters in the fifth inning. The Royals are attempting to arrange an early Thursday morning MRI to learn more.

The left-hander is a key component to the middle of the Royals bullpen and represents something of a domino. Should Collins be out for any length of time, the Royals will be tempted to use Brandon Finnegan in the major league bullpen. That’s less than ideal. The team knows Finnegan’s value lies in the rotation and the hope has been for him to be shipped to the minors to open the season as a starter.

If Collins is out, the Royals will be searching for a left-handed replacement. Finnegan would definitely be the front-runner on the basis of his September and October performance, but Franklin Morales, Brian Flynn – acquired from Florida in the Aaron Crow trade – and Joe Patterson could be in the mix. Of the three, only Flynn is currently on the 40-man roster. Patterson and Morales would have to have exceptional springs to break north as both are in camp on minor league deals. Let’s face it… If Collins is truly hurt, the spot is Finnegan’s to lose.

When a pitcher leaves the game with what is termed an “elbow issue,” it’s certain to raise alarm bells. We should know more about the injury Thursday. Fingers crossed.

— From the Star, here’s Ned bringing some perspective to the offensive barrage unleashed by his almost A-Team.

— The Royals square off in another match against the Rangers on Thursday afternoon. Flynn gets his first opportunity to impress as he will start. He will be followed by Sean Manaea and Miguel Almonte.

Alex Gordon tested his surgically repaired wrist on Monday and reported no issues. He was cleared to take some “dry” swings as the next step, meaning he will swing the bat but won’t make contact with a baseball. (Or as I termed it, he will be using The Francoeur Method.)

That’s some good news. Gordon was also in the news over the weekend as he told McCullough that he may not be so quick to exercise his player option for the 2016 season.

Perhaps a quick recap is in order.

Gordon’s current contract contains a player option for 2016, valued at $14 million. Late last summer, as the Royals geared up for their charge to the Wild Card, Gordon indicated he was going to exercise that option.

Cooler heads have since prevailed.

As fun as it was to hear Gordon pledge his allegiance to the Royals for another season, I didn’t buy it for one moment. Not that he’s ingenuine. Nothing of the sort. I think he was caught up in the moment of the pennant race and said what he felt – and believed – at the time. The Royals are the only organization he’s ever known; a franchise he grew up rooting for as a kid. Of course he would want to stay.

But to exercise that option would be lunacy.

Gordon isn’t a flashy player, but he’s incredibly solid in all facets of the game. You know this. You also know that what Gordon brings is incredibly valuable. Even if he doesn’t play a “premium” position. In the landscape of today’s game, he’s definitely one of the most valuable players in the league. And he’s been in the conversation for the last four seasons.

Gordon was so close to being a “bust” is now on the precipice of a major payday. He should collect. He owes it to himself to explore avenues to get his maximum value. Is that an extension with the Royals? Or is it through free agency? We will know more in the next several months, but at this moment the only thing we do know is that Gordon is going to get paid a whole lot of money to play baseball for the next several years. Good for him.

The Royals are in an interesting place. It’s something I’ve thought about often as I’ve watched other, larger market teams, overextend in an effort to keep together a successful core. It’s unique for the Royals because in the current economic climate of the game, they have never had what you would consider to be a successful core. Or anything approximating that. Sure, there have been extensions here and there in the Dayton Moore era (Gordon included) that were designed to keep players around during their peak years. Now the Royals are facing the future with the heart of their club and deciding if they should stand by him (and pay him) for what are certain to be his declining years.

The fan in me is optimistic. Hopeful that the Royals will do something to keep Gordon in Kansas City for the remainder of his career. And with that optimism comes the hope that he can keep playing at an elite level and experience a minor decline phase for the next several season. Naturally. The realist in me is fretful that it’s going to cost so much money the prudent thing would be to move on. Let those decline years become someone else’s headache.

Should Gordon get a five year contract in the range of $90 million, he would need to average around 2.6 WAR per season. Perhaps my bias is showing, but that seems doable. Gordon has averaged 5.6 fWAR over the last four years. Last season, Gordon finished with a 6.6 fWAR. That’s an AAV of $18 million per season and well past any deal the Royals and Moore have handed out in the past.

For 2015, Steamer is projecting a 4.4 fWAR and ZiPS is looking at a 4.3 zWAR. That’s quite a tumble for a guy who has topped that mark in three of the last four seasons. Instead, I’ll save that 4.4 fWAR mark and project that forward for the 2016 season which Gordon will play as a 32 year old. With the WAR aging factor provided by The Book Blog, and by figuring a base amount of $6.5 million per win with some inflation factored into the equation, a fair market contract for Gordon would work out to around those five years and in the neighborhood of the estimated $90 million.

It’s a major commitment, with the danger of there being little upside.

As I’ve noted, if the Royals pickup the options on Wade Davis and Alcides Escobar, their 2016 payroll is already around $75 million for a total of 11 players (and buyouts.) Add an extension for Gordon and you are approaching $95 million for 12 players. Consider the Royals are looking at a payroll of $112 million for the entire 25 man roster for 2015 and you see the dilemma of the front office. Which is why if the two parties are to come to an agreement, it probably won’t be something straightforward like $18 million a year. I’m guessing the contract would be heavily backloaded to ease some of the burden of 2016.

Not that it gets any easier. Again, assuming the club picks up options on Davis and Escobar and also Sal Perez, the team has already committed $42 million to just five players (including buyouts) in 2017. The other two? Omar Infante and Jason Vargas. Oops. See how all these moves matter?

Gordon wants to stay in Kansas City. The Royals would love to have him remain a Royal. The question is, can they find a way that is fiscally acceptable to both parties?

One thing we do know is this isn’t a Billy Butler scenario. While Butler wanted to remain in Kansas City, the feeling wasn’t mutual. The only reason he played out his contract was because the Royals couldn’t trade him for a return they felt was acceptable. The Royals are aware of the value Gordon brings, so they will make an attempt to keep him around. It will be up to David Glass and the Royals brain trust to fashion a creative contract to keep Gordon forever Royal.

Kansas City shook off the winter doldrums to embrace their AL Champion Royals as the annual FanFest descended upon downtown. With pitchers and catchers due to report in two weeks, there was plenty of news.

— Ned Yost developed an interactive baseball app.

What? I would have bet the house I would type “Royals re-sign James Shields” before I ever wrote anything about Yost and an “interactive baseball app.”

I downloaded the app and gave it a spin. My impressions are less than favorable at this point. It’s too easy to accidentally sign yourself out. The point, as far as I can tell, is you pick a defensive position and the game gives you a situation. Your goal is to throw to the proper base. At least, that’s what I think is happening. There aren’t any instructions.

At the end of the drill, you get a screen that gives you a score based on “accuracy,” “average response,” and “correct percentage.” I have no idea what accuracy is all about. You’re tapping a screen in the general area where you are making the throw. Then the correct percentage thing is confounding. I was dinged for a wrong answer because with a runner on second and one out, as a first baseman I was supposed to throw to… second?

Good thing this app is free. I’d hate to think anyone would pay money for this.

— The season hasn’t even started and we already have a new Twitter hashtag: #TGM.

That stands for “Total Gordon Move,” which is what happens when Alex Gordon slams into the wall (or the ground) and slowly gets up. With the ball in his glove.

And that’s why they have FanFest.

— Speaking of Gordon, he’s recovering well from wrist surgery. He missed two weeks of workouts (which is probably the equivalent to a year of workouts for us mortals) and says he’s been lifting weights and pretty much doing his normal winter prep ever since.

Gordon played most of the second half with the injury, which happened while sliding. He had a scorching hot August, but wore down in September, had a good ALDS and ALCS, but stumbled in the World Series. Injuries (and surgeries) to the wrist are worrying. It’s to his right wrist which means it’s his lower hand when he swings the bat. Hopefully, this won’t be something that saps his strength or slows down his snap.

The cast comes off at the start of next week.

— I enjoyed this Tweet:

Sometimes players aren’t the best judge of things. No matter how close they reside to the dirt. I’ll just leave this here:

Sal Perez 1st half – .283/.329/.437 with a .337 wOBA and 117 wRC+
Sal Perez 2nd half – .229/.236/.360 with a .259 wOBA and 61 wRC+

Ned Yost abused the hell out of Perez. Fact. Those numbers don’t lie. Although it should be noted that his 1st half numbers look good due to a June where he hit everything. (.347/.383/.535 with a .403 wOBA and 162 wRC+) His April and May weren’t special, but they weren’t as bad as any month in the second half. His grip-and-rip approach caught up to him, but I would submit his workload crushed his numbers even more in the second half. It will be very interesting to see how Perez bounces back.

Perez wants to play everyday. Yost wants his best players on the field. I get that. But at some point, common sense should prevail.

Yost floated the idea of tying Erik Kratz to a pitcher as a personal catcher. That would force Yost to give Perez a day off at least once a week. Whatever works.

— Brandon Finnegan figures to be one of 10 starting pitchers the Royals will use in spring training. The problem for Finnegan is all five spots in the regular season are already taken. So even if he has some sort of lights out spring – and remember it will be his first spring training – it’s pretty much going to take an injury to one of the starting five to have the Royals take him north in the rotation.

What will likely happen is at some point, the Royals will have to make a decision. Do they send him to the minors to start, or do they keep him in Kansas City in the bullpen. (This is assuming he has a productive spring.) It sounds as if there’s a vocal camp within the organization that Finnegan should return to his normal role as a starter. Whew. It would be a colossal mistake to keep him on the big league team as a reliever. Finnegan is a starter. That’s his future. We hope. As such, he should be given every opportunity to hone his craft in the minors with an eye on a spot in the rotation in 2016. Realize last season was the perfect way for the Royals to handle their first round draft pick. He had accumulated some mileage on his arm, pitching his team to the College World Series. The Royals needed (and could add once the rosters expanded) some bullpen depth. He acquitted himself enough in September, the Royals gave him a spot on their postseason rosters. Everyone’s happy.

Just because it was a success in the short-term, doesn’t mean the Royals should use him as a reliever in the long-term. He can provide much more value to the team in the rotation.

— Eric Hosmer felt third base coach Mike Jirschele made the right call in holding Gordon at third in Game Seven. I’m probably the lone Royals fan who feels this way, but I enjoy that we’re still talking about this. It would have been much worse if the team had lost 11-0. Much worse. For the record, I don’t think there’s any way you could have sent him. Still, that’s a moment I’ll never forget. It stinks that the team came up 90 feet short, but I had a blast.

— Luke Hochevar is throwing pitches off the mound – around 30 at a time – as he continues his recovery from Tommy John surgery.

Whichever admitted it was difficult watching his teammates in October. I can’t even imagine what that would be like. To play next to those guys through five years of mediocrity and bad baseball, only to miss the action when the team finally reaches the pinnacle? Oof. It sounds like Hochevar embraced his October role as cheerleader. Good for him.

He didn’t say he had other offers, but he did say he wanted badly to remain a Royal. Hopefully, he can slot into the bullpen to give Yost yet another weapon he can lean on next season.

Denny Matthews signed a four-year contract extension to continue as the radio voice of the Royals. By the end of this deal, he will have been with the team for 50 seasons. Hell of an accomplishment.

I’m glad he’s going to be around. I enjoy his regular season broadcasts. Postseason? Not so much.

I’m not going to get into the criticisms from October here because we’ve heard them a thousand times. If there was one thing I wish Denny would change about his regular season work it would be having someone he could interact with and talk baseball during the broadcasts. He’s a great storyteller, but with The Steves alongside, he just doesn’t seem interested enough to bother. Maybe at some point in the next four years they will find a competent partner for him.

— Apparently, winning brings out the fans. Last year’s FanFest sold 11,000 tickets. This year? 20,000. No word if Royals officials were surprised.

These Royals. Man.

Offensively impotent for eight innings. Then a Alcides Escobar single and an Alex Gordon home run. Everyone goes home happy.

Just wow. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game like that from the Royals. With the stakes so high. That’s what makes these games Must-See TV. Anything can happen. And in this season, there’s a better than average chance it probably will.

Let’s rewind ourselves.

Let’s start with the oft-discussed lineup.

I added the “getting there…” at the end because I felt (and feel) this is probably the most optimal lineup we will see from Ned Yost. He’s always going to hit a middle infielder second because dammit, that’s where a middle infielder has to hit. Just like the speed guys goes number one. But what I liked about this lineup was the Gordon/Butler/Perez/Willingham middle. Sure, stacking three right-handed batters may not be ideal for the later innings, but these guys need to be in the middle of the lineup. Obviously, you could drop Perez, but with this offense, who do you put in his place? Anyway, this is probably my favorite Yost lineup of the year. The game started and there was not much offense. In fact, our man Danny Duffy was doing some good pitching things.

That would be Denny Matthews on the radio, speaking in the third inning. Of course, the Duff Man didn’t throw a no-hitter, but he was sharp. Throwing fastball, curve and change, he went 6.2 innings, gave up four hits, two walks and struck out four. Duffy’s trouble came in the seventh when he allowed a leadoff double to Brian Dozier and a single to Joe Mauer. I don’t think Duffy was tired at that point – he was still throwing 94 mph – but he didn’t locate as well in those plate appearances as he did earlier in the game, leaving both pitches up in the zone.

Yost pulled Duffy after 95 pitches and two outs in the seventh. It was the right call. Bring in Kelvin Herrera to face the right-handed batter. Let Herrera throw his 100 mph smoke. Then, I liked Yost sticking with Herrera in the eighth before going to Wade Davis in the ninth. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This was the first attendance tweet I saw. It quickly devolved into the Kansas City media calling out Royals fans.

Stop. And really, don’t ever. For starters, you get to go to games for free. As part of your job. How dare you call out fans for not showing up on a late August Tuesday night game against the Twins. Would I have liked to seen more? Sure. But I understand. Tickets are expensive. School is back in session. Fall activities are in full swing. And while the Royals are in the thick of a pennant race, can you blame the fans for being a little hesitant to embrace this team? We haven’t really been in this situation recently. We come by our skepticism naturally, built up over the last 29 years. If we want to take our time to get fully on board, who are you to try to speed up our process. I’m guessing the Labor Day weekend games will be packed. And the remaining home stands will be equally boisterous if the Royals can maintain their position.

I’m sure there are studies out there, but it seems to be the true attendance bump comes the year following the initial success. That’s when you grow your season ticket base and when you become the “it” thing to do. String together three or four successful seasons and you have 40,000-plus on a regular basis. (Well, not in Kansas City. Maybe 35,000 after the renovations. But you know what I mean.) If you want a comparable look, turn to Pittsburg last year. They were drawing in the low 20s on September weekdays while they were in the hunt for the wild card. That is what happens when you get into a pennant chase after 20 years of losing seasons. Fans are slow to come around. But if you give them a reason, they will.

Plus, these games aren’t inexpensive. It blows my mind how much it costs to take a family of four to a baseball game. I’m not even talking about those Cost of Fan Index things the business mags do at the beginning of the year. I’m just talking about spending on four tickets, parking and some random snacks. With 162 games, you have to pick your spots. Do you want to go on a Tuesday night against the Twins? Or are you going to try to hit a weekend with a promotional giveaway? Where’s the best value?

My former bossman at SB Nation asked “When is it a good time to question the attendance?” I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know to question a fan base that has suffered through 29 years of some pretty lousy baseball is bad form.

As the attendance talk was evolving and as I was getting set to post some snarky comment about the Royals offense, something happened.

That’s it. That’s all I could muster. Alex Gordon gets a belt-high fastball and barely gets it over the wall. Walk off. Royals win.

Gordon_Walkoff

 

I mean, that’s just beautiful. I hit rewind at least 30 times. After I post this, I’ll watch it at least 10 more times before I go to bed.

It’s just another moment in a season that has been amazing.

There are a lot of flaws with this team. We saw them on display tonight when the Royals could only muster three hits off Ricky Nolasco. This offense has the nasty ability to hit the “off” switch a little too frequently for my liking. Before the Gordon home run, they had scored just two runs in their last 26 innings. This is a problem that’s not going away. Walk off home runs tend to obscure the issues I suppose. Some of you will be angry with me for even bringing it up at this point.

I’ve written this before, but I have no idea how this next month is going to play out for the Royals. They’re either going to win the division and go to the playoffs for the first time in almost three decades, or they’re going to flame out and miss everything. I’m not ignoring the flaws. I acknowledge them. But flawed teams win in baseball all the time. With 31 games remaining, the Royals are in a great position.

Whatever happens, I’m going to enjoy the hell out of this.

The Royals lost back to back games for the first time since the end of July. That’s an amazing factoid that only underscores how hot this team has been. They’ve been surface of the sun hot.

Games like Monday underscore the fragility of the offense. If Alex Gordon and Billy Butler aren’t contributing – they were two for eight on the night – the bats aren’t going to get it done. That’s probably not factually accurate, but it’s how is seems things are going. By the way, did you catch this nugget from our fearless leader?

“We’re still capable of playing way better than we are — I mean that,” he said. “We’re doing the things necessary to win, and that’s a great sign. But we really don’t have anyone who is really hot offensively right now. That’s why I say we can be better, and I fully believe we will be even better down the stretch.”

They don’t have anyone who is “really hot offensively right now.” This quote is Exhibit A (or Royals Fan Evidence Number 1,673,874) as to why Dayton Moore isn’t a good general manager. Check these numbers.

Royals_30

Ummm… There seem to be two hitters who have been kind of hot over the last 30 days. I like to call them “The Baird Boys.” Because, you know… They’re holdovers from the previous regime.

I don’t understand why Dayton says some of the things he does. I used to think it was this bizarre paranoia brought on by constant losing. But hey, he says crazy, nonsensical things even when the team is winning.

The other thing about that Flanagan post that left me scratching my head was his insistence the Royals can play better. This team has been playing wonderful baseball (ignore the last couple of games) and at one point they won 24 out of 30. That’s an amazing stretch of baseball. And the GM thinks they can be better? Damn. It’s almost as if he hasn’t checked the standings or he hasn’t taking particular notice of the last month.

While I dispute that the Royals can be better, the table above does give me pause as the Royals march down the road to the AL Central title. Salvador Perez and Omar Infante have been stinking up the lineup. And Ned Yost stubbornly continues to hit them third and second, respectively. Well, that’s not entirely true as he’s shuffled the lineup a bit the last couple of games, dropping Perez to fifth on Monday. But still, the Royals are giving away far too many plate appearances to hitters who aren’t pulling their weight. Mike Moustakas is Mike Moustakas. He’ll run into one every few weeks and park it over the fence, but the guy is an out machine.

One guy who isn’t represented on the table is newcomer Josh Willingham. In 39 plate appearances since joining the Royals, he’s hit .324/.410/.618. Damn. Now, let’s be a little realistic. There’s no way he keeps that production up over an entire season. But there’s 32 games left. I don’t know… The guy seems like he’s swinging a hot bat. If I were the manager, I’d get him into the lineup at every opportunity. They’re not really using him in a platoon. Who knows why Yost didn’t have him in the lineup the last two games. All we know is the Royals lost both, scoring two runs in the process. Put Willingham in the middle of the order and this team is immediately better offensively. At least I like their chances better than with Raul Ibanez in there.

Besides, who knows how much longer Willingham will be an option. Reports are Eric Hosmer is taking “dry swings” meaning he’s doing what I do in my office to relieve the occasional stress – he’s swinging a bat at air. On Friday, he will hit off a tee. Should everything progress, the Royals may send him on a minor league rehab assignment to get a few games under his belt before he joins the pennant race. Remember, when Hosmer left the Royals were just three games over .500, were four back of Detroit in the Central and 3.5 back of Toronto for the second Wild Card. Since then, the Royals are 17-6, the best record in the AL in that span.

The Royals are expecting Hosmer to return sometime after Labor Day. I would imagine he goes straight back to first base and probably the third spot in the lineup. Yost will grumble something about how Hosmer was really beginning to hit just before his injury as justification. A Hosmer return pushes either Butler or Willingham to the bench. But the way Butler has been raking, you absolutely cannot justify sitting him down more than once a week. And at this point in the season, I have much more faith in Willingham than I do Hosmer.

In my mind, this is how it ends. An inflexible manager reinserts a subpar hitter into a key spot in the lineup and bounces two hot hitters in and out so they lose their groove. The offense sputters down the stretch and the Royals don’t make October. You can see it, can’t you? Sorry to be a bit pessimistic, but the last 29 years haven’t exactly been the stuff of optimism. I hope I’m wrong, though. I hope Yost figures out how to balance his hitters.

This is the part where I’m supposed to tell you what I would do if I were in the manager’s shoes. And right now, I haven’t a clue. I suppose I would bring Hosmer along slowly, and drop him in the order. I’d make damn sure Butler played at least 30 of the remaining games. And I’d try to get Willingham in 20 to 25. If that makes Hosmer the odd man out, then so be it. This team proved they can win with him on the sidelines. They’ve been so hot for so long they’re bound to cool down a bit, but I think you run the risk of glaciers forming around the lineup should you remove Butler and/or Willingham. And for god’s sake, leave Ibanez on the bench.

As much as I dread what’s going to happen when Hosmer returns, I’m looking forward to the next couple of weeks. This is still shaping up to be one helluva ride.

It all happened so fast.

Let’s rewind ourselves just a bit. The first five and a half innings were blueprint Royals baseball. They led 2-1. Their runs scored on an Alex Gordon bomb and an Erik Kratz sacrifice fly. Danny Duffy was looking good. He got two quick outs to start the bottom of the sixth. Nolan Arenado swung at the first pitch he saw and hit a routine grounder to Christian Colon at third. Colon throws off target and in the dirt, Billy Butler can’t grab it on the bounce, and Arenado is safe. Willin Rosario singles on the next pitch and Duffy walks Corey Dickerson on four pitches.

Then, the dagger. Matt McBride crushes a 95 mph belt-high fastball and sends it just over the fence in left.

Grand slam. Ballgame.

That was it. Seven pitches. An error, a single, a walk, and a home run. Duffy spun 102 pitches on the evening. Yet seven stinking pitches define the game.

Duffy really pitched a good game. He threw 76 fastballs, 14 change-ups and 12 curves. It’s a pitching mix that’s notable because he’s throwing curves about 23 percent of the time and usually throws more curves than changes. I’m guessing it was a Mile High game plan to move away from the curve. It seemed to work for most of the game. Duffy couldn’t put hitters away in the first and the Rockies featured a couple extended plate appearances, but he settled in and managed his pitch count well.

Hey, they can’t win them all. It only feels like it when they get on a serious roll.

A couple of other notes from the game:

— The error in the sixth is on Colon. Entirely. Sure, Butler had the opportunity to grab the throw on the bounce and he didn’t. But that’s a throw that has to be made. Billy has played what I would term “more than acceptable” defense at first. In the past, when I watched him play in the field, the thing that stood out was his footwork. It looked like he had a peg leg. (Insert your own “Hey, that’s why he’s so slow” quote here. Or if you’re creative, something about how he’s a pirate.) Anyway, he could field with slightly below average range and he could catch the ball. He just didn’t look comfortable around the bag. Now though, that’s changed. I’m not going to nominate him for the Eric Hosmer Gold Glove for The Most Amazing Defensive Excellence You’ve Ever Seen At First Base, but I will say that I don’t notice the poor footwork. Which probably means it’s gone.

Billy takes a ton of grief from a segment of the Royals fan base. While his offensive production early in the year certainly deserved criticism, he’s capable of playing an all around game.

Besides, we’ve seen Hosmer fail to come up with a few of those exaggerated scoops of his in the past. It’s not an easy play for a first baseman. Especially on the backhand.

— Salvador Perez was a late scratch which was termed as a “precautionary” measure by the Royals. Ummmm… Who’s worried. Perez, you will recall, left Monday’s game after straining his right knee while running the bases. Ned Yost had him in the lineup on Tuesday. Ho-hum, nothing to see here. Sadly, this is Royals business as usual. I know their training staff gets accolades, but why on earth would you play your catcher, a guy who has already seen action behind the plate in 112 of the Royals 125 games, the day after he left the game with a knee issue? Give him a full day to see how it feels. He could probably use another day off anyway. But the Royals send him back out there and he’s unable to go on Wednesday.

Then late word comes that Perez will have a “precautionary” MRI on his knee tomorrow.

Stay tuned.

— Speaking of Royals doing Royals things, Josh Willingham saw action in right field for the first time since 2009. And he made a couple of catches. He didn’t look comfortable out there, but he made the plays. I understand what Yost was doing by loading his lineup with right-handed hitters against the lefty Jorge de la Rosa and there’s no DH in the National League park.

I’m just relieved it worked out.

— And finally, that set lineup that Yost insists on using is starting to slowly drive me to insanity. Alex Gordon hitting fifth? Omar Infante second? I continue to maintain that if the Royals fail to make the playoffs, we will be able to trace it to the obstinance of Yost as it comes to the lineup. Sure, weird things happen like Infante hitting three doubles in a game, but the fact is he’s been an abysmal offensive performer for most of the season. Move him down. Move your best hitter (and MVP candidate) up in the lineup where he can bat more than three times in a game.

It’s not rocket science, but Yost does everything he can to make it so.

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