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Browsing Posts tagged Lorenzo Cain

I hesitated to use the term ‘star’ in the headline as everyone has a different set of rules as to what constitutes being a star.  That’s not really the point of this article…or maybe it is.

Last night, Lorenzo Cain scored two of the Royals’ runs, one that tied the game in the bottom of the ninth.  He also drove in another run, the winning run, in the bottom of the tenth. He had three hits against three different pitchers in his last three at-bats.  It marked the fifteenth time this season that Cain has gotten three hits or more in a game.

For the year, Lorenzo ranks eighth overall among all position players in fWAR (6.2).  The names ahead of him on the list? Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, Mike Trout, Joey Votto, Paul Goldschmidt, Yoenis Cespedes and Manny Machado.  Want to focus just on offense?  Cain is 25th in wRC+ and 28th in wOBA.   Don’t like the ‘new fangled stats’ because you cannot figure them on your TI30?  Cain’s triple slash line is .307/.362/.483 with 32 doubles, 16 home runs and 28 stolen bases….all while playing stellar defense at a premium defensive position (he is 11th in defensive runs saved in the game, 9th in UZR, 14th in UZR/150, 2nd in Outs made Outside of Zone….there I go ago, new fangled).

Maybe you do not want to commit to the idea that Cain is a star, you probably need to come to grips with the fact that Lorenzo Cain is the Kansas City Royals’ best player.

Wins have been a struggle in September and last night, the Royals were coming off a total demolition.  They left runners all over the bases, saw Yordano Ventura give up three runs in the fifth and seemed to be headed towards another frustrating loss. Then, however, the ‘good Royals’ started to show up.  They pushed a run across in the seventh, showed excellent plate discipline in the ninth to tie the game and ended it in the 10th (good things happen when Gordon-Zobrist-Cain bat in a row).  All the while, they got four innings of shutout relief from a bullpen that had looked a little too hittable this month. It was a very Royal win…and one it seemed that the team – and certainly the fanbase – desperately needed.

Momentum is a funny thing.  If you bristle at the discussion of chemistry, then you certainly spit fire at talk of momentum. Baseball, in particular, has enough ebbs and flows attributed to momentum to make it seem irrelevant. Momentum in baseball, they like to say, is the next game’s starting pitcher.  The Royals’ starter tonight is Johnny Cueto.

Cueto is coming off his first good start in six outings (after four good starts after acquisition – don’t let revisionist history get you on that one) which, at least publicly, has mostly been attributed to Salvador Perez simply setting a lower target. There are some who simply cannot take what the team says at face value and maybe they should not, but there is not a lot of sinister back story here.

Absolutely there is more to it than simply having Perez lower his glove a few inches. During his last start, Cueto was continually making motions after many pitches and between innings that clearly were related to him keeping his front shoulder closed.  Listen, I think I know a few things about hitting.  I admit I know jack about pitching, but I can tell when a guy is working on a trigger to get his mechanics in line.  Likely that actual mechanical adjustment working in combination with a lower target yielded some positive results.

If I had to hack my way through Johnny’s fabulous mane and get inside his head, I would imagine he was thinking about his front shoulder between pitches and focusing on a lower target during the pitch.  It’s not unlike having a whole bunch of crap in your head on the tee box in golf, but one solitary swing thought once you put the club in motion.   The ‘lower target’ story line isn’t bull, it just is not the entire story.

Momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher.  The Royals need Cueto to stoke the momentum some more.  They need Cueto to be a star on Thursday, just like Lorenzo Cain.

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

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

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

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

Pitching and defense. Defense and pitching.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The new guys got the job done.

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

Two signings to report from Tuesday as the Royals reached deals with Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas. The deals mean both players will avoid an arbitration hearing.

Cain – profiled here – will earn $2.725 million in 2015. As the sides exchanged figures last month, Cain asked for $3.6 million. The Royals countered with $2 million. The settled amount is $75,000 below the midpoint. Also included in his contract is an incentive clause of $25,000 if he reached 505 plate appearances. That means, he will have to avoid his annual trip to the disabled list. If he is named to the All-Star team, that’s worth an additional $50,000.

As I mentioned in his profile, Cain will be a massive bargain for the Royals. His glove alone is worth millions. Even if he regresses at the plate, as I believe he will, he will still bring plenty of value. Plenty.

Apparently, the Royals got this deal done at the 11th hour.

Cain was this close to being the first Royal under Dayton Moore to have a hearing. With a difference of just $1.6 million, it’s surprising the deal just got done ahead of the hearing. This also raises an interesting point. Often these hearings are held in secret. We know the general fact that hearings are scheduled over the next couple of weeks. We lack the specifics of who will have a hearing and at what date.

Moustakas will make $2.64 million next season. He had asked for $3.1 million and the Royals answered with an offer of $1.85 million. Midpoint was $2.475. His profile is found here.

This raises another interesting point about the inequity of the arbitration process. Both were eligible for arbitration for the first time. Cain was worth 4.9 fWAR in 2015 and hit .301/.339/.412. For his career, he’s posted a slash line of .279/.326/.392 with a cumulative 10.3 fWAR.

Meanwhile, Moustakas hit .212/.271/.361 en route to a 0.9 fWAR. In his career, he’s hit .236/.290/.379 and has been worth 5.3 fWAR. Most of his value came in 2012 when he finished with a 3.1 fWAR.

Quite the discrepancy of production. It hardly seems fair they are within almost $100,000 of each other. Such is the failing of the arbitration process. Also, these one-year deals won’t preclude the Royals and the players from talking a long-term deal. If there’s interest. Remember a few years ago, Alex Gordon avoided arbitration and a few weeks later the Royals and Gordon reached a deal for a contract extension. Although I couldn’t imagine why they would sign Moustakas to anything beyond this year. And as I mentioned in the Cain profile, I don’t think he’s a good candidate for an extension.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I have always been confused by the love showered upon Moustakas. I wonder if that will start to change now he’s elevated from the ranks of minimum wage earners and is now set to make his first million (actually two-plus million) in a single season. Will there be a perception that he’s overpaid?  Will he start to hear more boos than Moose calls? A little million dollar fallout? Maybe not this year. Maybe next year or the year after when his paycheck figures to increase even more.

With Moustakas and Cain reaching deals, the Royals have four pending hearings: Danny Duffy, Kelvin Herrera, Eric Hosmer and Greg Holland. If I were a betting man, I’d wager the next two down will be Duffy and Herrera. Of course all of that falls by the wayside should Hosmer or Holland have a hearing scheduled in the next day or so. I still think the Royals get everyone under contract without a hearing.

Here is the Royals current payroll estimate. The red numbers are the midpoints between team and player. The players at the bottom are estimated to make close to the major league minimum. Remember from my last payroll post, the names for the players making the minimum may change – I’m not betting Brandon Finnegan will make the Opening Day roster. It also includes Luke Hochevar and Kris Medlin who will likely open the year on the DL.


Not surprising, they are still on target for around a record $112 million payroll.

If you followed the Royals throughout 2014 and at this point Lorenzo Cain isn’t your favorite player, I don’t know what you’re thinking.

(I’ll listen to Alex Gordon arguments, but this is Cain’s profile. So deal with a hyperbole-packed lead.)

While Cain wasn’t able to avoid the disabled list (again), he put his early season groin strain behind him and recovered to have the best season of his career. He finished with a .301/339/.412 slash line, a .330 wOBA and a 111 wRC+. He followed up his regular season with an October to remember as he hit .333/.388/.417 in all postseason series while playing his usual stellar defense. Oh, he was also named the MVP of the American League Championship Series.

It only feels right that any profile of Cain start with his defense. Sadly, Cain he so much time between center field and right, he was ineligible for the Gold Glove due to the innings played requirement. I understand why the innings requirement is in place (thank you past voters of Rafael Palmiero) but to apply that to an outfielder is disappointing. But the neat thing was Cain won a defensive award anyway when he was named The Fielding Bible award winner for a new “multi-position” category. Kind of a cool idea to award a guy who excels across the field so to speak. Let’s look at how Cain did according to The Fielding Bible’s Run Saved metric. First in center field:


Now in right:


The takeaways from the tables above is that while Cain played two positions, he was a top five defender in both places. Sure, there are other players with fewer innings that hang with Cain, but no one is on both lists. Then, think about Alex Gordon in left. He was worth 27 Runs Saved, which set a record for left fielders. Gordon in left, Dyson and his 14 Runs Saved in just under 700 innings in center, and Cain who would be worth over 30 Runs Saved if he was a full-time right fielder… Damn. That is a defensive outfield for the ages.

Another thing to consider about Cain in right is if you extrapolate his innings to bring his playing time along Jason Hayward, Cain would have 34 Runs Saved. So as impressive as Hayward is topping this leaderboard by about 18 Runs Saved, he would likely be second best if Cain played exclusively in right.

If you’ve read this blog, you know I don’t normally engage in hypotheticals (“If he played a full season… blah, blah, blah.”), but with Cain, I just can’t help myself. It’s fun to imagine the guy as a full time right fielder. Or center fielder for that matter. Whatever. Wherever. I just want Lorenzo Cain on the field as much as possible. Old time Royals fans will remember watching Frank White make amazing plays at second base, turn an unmatched double play, and just generally appear super human with the glove… That’s Lorenzo Cain today. He’s Frank White level on defense.

How about some more defensive illustrations? How about his range in center field.

Source: FanGraphs

Yeah… He covers a lot of ground.

Contrast that with his missed plays.

Source: FanGraphs

The Inside Edge data breaks down the plays Cain made in center this way:

Routine Plays: 99.5% (Rank 14/24)
Likely Plays: 87.5% (11/24)
Even Plays: 83.3% (7/24)

The ranks can be a little misleading because some guys are up on the leaderboard having just a handful of chances even though they played a larger number of innings at the position. Such is the failing of defensive metrics. The point isn’t to gaze in wonder at his ranking. The point is to see that Cain does, in fact, cover a lot of ground. He not only makes the plays he’s supposed to make, often times he gets the difficult out. That’s why he’s a special defensive outfielder.

Offensively, 2014 was the best season of Cain’s career. He has a fine batted ball profile for the type of player he’s become, hitting grounders 51 percent of the time, while clubbing line drives at a rate of 22 percent. He has a little power potential and the ability to leverage his best offensive asset (speed) to steal a few hits or leg some singles into doubles.

Cain sprays his line drives to all fields. His doubles (and limited home run) power comes from the pull side.


There is some cause for concern going forward regarding his offensive game. Cain’s BABIP was a robust .380. His profile as a line drive hitter/speed guy means he’s always going to have a BABIP greater than the league average. A .380 BABIP is insane even for him. After his 2014 season, his career BABIP stands at .345, which has to be a little misleading considering that in the two previous seasons he posted BABIPs of .319 and .309. I know this is a lot of discussion of batting average on balls in play and often times, it’s a crutch to explain a deviation from the norm, but in Cain’s case because of his profile, it’s relevant.

Another trend that should set off an alarm bell or two is his proclivity to swing at nearly everything. Last summer, Cain swung at 50 percent of the pitches he saw. (OK, he didn’t swing at everything. How about half of everything?) Cain isn’t Sal Perez (56 percent swing rate) or Pablo Sandoval (60 percent swing rate) but again, given his profile as a speed guy with line drive potential, it would behoove him to be a bit more selective. He certainly took the Royals offensive mantra of making contact to heart. Cain’s walk rate dipped to a career-low of 4.8 percent. Keep that in mind the next time someone who doesn’t read this blog suggests Cain would be an ideal candidate to bat leadoff.

According to data collected by Brooks Baseball, Cain has a poor eye on identifying fastballs in the zone. In 2014, he swung at 66 percent of fastballs in the strike zone and 34 percent of fastballs outside the zone, which is a below league average ratio. The good news, his fastball discipline has actually improved over the last couple of seasons. While he shows below average discipline on the fastball, he can still rip the heck out of the heater. Last year, he hit .352 and slugged .520 on four-seamers. On two-seam fastballs, he hit .379 and slugged .448. It probably won’t surprise you he saw fewer fastballs last summer than at any time in his career.


I suspect the black line will continue to decline while Cain will start seeing more breaking stuff to keep him off balance. Last year he hit just .243 with a .341 slugging percentage against breaking balls.

Now, let’s talk about an unpleasant subject: Injuries. From Baseball Prospectus here is Cain’s injury history going back to his minor league days. A trip to the DL is denoted by an asterisk.

4/9/09 – Hamstring strain. Missed 11 games.
4/24/09 – Knee strain. Missed 88 games.
4/26/10 – Groin strain. Missed 17 games.
4/7/11 – Groin strain. Missed 7 games.
4/11/12 – Groin strain. Missed 88 games.*
4/27/12 – Severe hip flexor strain. (Occurred during rehab for above injury.)
9/14/12 – Hamstring strain. Missed 19 games.
7/28/13 – Groin strain. Missed 3 games.
8/9/13 – Oblique strain. Missed 26 games.*
4/17/14 – Groin strain. Missed 17 games.*

Quite the injury past. A couple things stand out. First, let’s just get the guy through April, is that too much to ask? Second, all of these aside from the oblique injury in 2013 are leg issues. And third, he has yet to play a full major league season without spending time on the disabled list. In what should have been three full seasons with the Royals, Cain has missed 153 games due to injury. In other words, in three seasons, Cain has been healthy enough to play two.

Cain is eligible for arbitration for the first time and has asked for a $3.6 million contract. In the current market, his defense alone is probably worth $15 million. That’s not crazy. The Royals countered with $2 million, which is their prerogative. MLB Trade Rumors estimated Cain would make $2.3 million. The guess here is they will settle just above the halfway point. Figure Cain will earn $2.65 million next summer.

He is an exceptional defender at a premium position. The bat showed life last year. He also was relatively healthy for the first time in his career. Is Cain a candidate for a contract extension? I’m skeptical. He turns 29 next April and the Royals control his rights for the next three seasons. That means he won’t hit the free agent market until his age 32 season. While his offense was improved in 2014, he doesn’t have a track record of success with the bat at this level that would warrant a meaningful extension. Plus, I’m doubtful he can repeat his offensive output next year. Or in the next three.

Having said that, I could see the Royals, in an attempt to control costs over the next three years, try to sign Cain to a long-term deal to lock in his arbitration years. Of course, if they were going to do that, they would have to tack on at least a year of free agency at what could be a premium (for them) cost. It sounds good, but as much as I love watching Cain play, I think the Royals should at least see how this season goes before they commit big money long term. Sure, if he’s successful the cost will go up and may move the Royals out of their comfort zone. But that injury history scares the hell out of me. Yes, the frequency is a concern, but his legs have too often been what’s failed him. For a guy who relies on his speed in the outfield, that’s a massive concern.

Cain is an exciting, yet offensively flawed, player. His 2014 season was a delight to watch. I’m skeptical that he can keep his offensive performance at the level he found last year, but his defense and speed will keep me coming back for more.

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.


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:


And how the offense looked last week.


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.

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 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.


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.


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.

Last Friday, I went around the infield and looked at how the Royals offensive production at each position compared to league average. Today, it’s time for the outfield (and DH) to get the similar treatment.

Left Field
League Average – .243/.320/.412
Royals – .230/.324/.364, sOPS+ 85

Alex Gordon’s numbers look very much like the ’09-’10 version of Alex Gordon. That’s the version we thought we’d left behind. At least, we had hoped that version had been left behind after the Royals penned him to a contract extension just ahead of the season opener.

If you’re into arbitrary end points, Gordon did have a fine stretch of 19 games where he hit .321/.398/.487 from April 25 to May 16. That was when we collectively exhaled. Great. Except in the 11 games since then, he’s hit .146/.255/.220.

Although Gordon won’t admit it, I wonder if he’s been unsettled by Yosty’s Revolving Lineup Card. Gordon opened the year as the leadoff hitter (where he had most of his success last year), but when he was slow out of the gate, he was dropped to second, then third, then cleanup and even spent a few games in the sixth spot. In the last three games, he’s returned to the leadoff spot and has picked up four hits in 13 plate appearances. There’s still time for him to salvage his season, but it’s been much more of a grind.

Center Field
League Average – .268/.333/.432
Royals – .236/.312/.322, sOPS+ 70

Aside from the DH spot, the most productive position in the American League so far this year has been center field. And it’s where the Royals have struggled to get any production at all. Jerrod Dyson has seen the most appearances in center, with Mitch Maier with the second most. Lorenzo Cain and Jason Bourgeois have also seen time at the position.

Dyson’s production has been solid as far as reaching base. With a .252/.328/.331 line, he’s proven himself adept at working the count and drawing the base on balls. He still doesn’t hit enough to justify the leadoff spot in the lineup, but like I said… He’s pretty close to league average when it comes to OBP. That makes him a decent fourth outfielder to have on your roster. Look out, Mitch.

Still, this feels like a lost season for Cain. He was supposed to get most of the reps in center, but the injury bug bit him hard. Cain is in extended spring training rehabbing from a torn hip flexor. He’s probably a good three to four weeks away from returning. At which time, the Royals will have a decision to make: Will they hand him back his everyday job in center, or will they write off this season and rotate him with Dyson and/or Maier? Maier is buried so far on Yosty’s bench, he could be the odd man out.

Oh… At this point, I’m supposed to ask, “Got Melk?”

Right Field
League Average – .258/.326/.434
Royals – .276/.320/.443, sOPS+ 96

We know from watching the Royals several certainties: Ned Yost will call for myriad sac bunts in situations where they won’t help his team. The Royals will give the opposition at least one free out per game. And Jeff Francoeur will hit fifth.

Like most of the Royals, The Frenchman got off to a slow start, but picked up the pace of late. In May, he’s hit .327/.371/.582. Most impressive have been his seven walks this month. Currently, he’s walking in 6.2 percent of his plate appearances, which is the highest rate of his career. I think it has something to do with the Mayans. Or a Kardashian. And with five home runs this month, he’s knocking one out of the yard about every 36 at bats, which is very close to his career mark of 32 AB/HR. And this for a guy who didn’t hit his first bomb until May 13 and didn’t hit his second until May 21.

Nice road trip.

Designated Hitter
League Average – .259/.333/.450
Royals – .290/.345/.505, sOPS+ 118

The Royals have utilized two designated hitters all year: Billy Butler and… Johnny Giavotella. Ummm, OK.

We all know about Country Breakfast. And long time readers will know about my affection for the man. Dude can rake. And he’s the only thing – the only thing – that you can count on in the Royals lineup. He will show up every year, drill line drives to the gaps and put up a line around .300/.370/.470.

Except this year, he’s hit a few more home runs.

The party line from the Royals is Butler is finally hitting for more loft. Sounds great, except he’s not. His fly ball percentage is 32.2 percent which is the lowest of his career. The lowest. Yet, the ball is flying out of the part and he’s become the number one threat to wipe Steve Balboni from the Royals record book. How? Maybe it’s because he’s stronger. It doesn’t look like he’s changed his approach as the Royals would like you to believe. He’s swinging at pitches at roughly the same rate. It’s just that the fly balls have a little more charge in them this year.

It’s a nice development.

And as I Tweeted a few weeks ago, if you don’t like Billy Butler, I don’t have a lot of time for you. Sorry. I think he’s a great hitter. And the kind of guy you need on your team.

Country Breakfast is awesome.

A few thoughts as we get set to open another season at The K on Positive Friday. Hope the weather holds!

— Six games into the season, and I’m a little torn on how the bullpen has performed. Yeah, the Broxton meltdown was spectacular and that eighth inning on Opening Day was rough, but there have been some stellar individual performances. Aaron Crow has pitched two of the best innings I’ve seen a reliever throw in recent memory. Tiny Tim Collins has conquered his command problems for the time being. And Kelvin Herrera’s change-up gives me nightmares and I haven’t swung a bat in years.

Collectively, they posted a SO/BB ratio of slightly better than 4:1, which is fantastic. Their 12.1 SO/9 is the fourth best in baseball and trails only the Yankees in the American League. On the other hand, they have collectively inherited 12 runners and allowed five to score. And Broxton kind of has occasional control issues.

Overall, though, we have to be pleased, right? The bullpen had been advertised as a strength of this team and even though there have been a couple of speed bumps on the way, there’s nothing I’ve seen in the first week that would lead me to believe otherwise.

Speaking of the bullpen, has anyone seen Everett Teaford? Seriously, every reliever has been in three games – except Herrera who’s appeared twice. And Teaford hasn’t set foot out of the bullpen. Yosty has a full compliment of relievers, yet refuses to use a guy who figures to be an asset.

Maybe he forgot Teaford pitched in KC last year and figured him for a Rule 5 guy he’s obligated to bury. If anyone can figure out the logic behind Nervous Ned’s Bullpen Management Scheme, I’m listening… Because I’d really like to know.

— Country Breakfast has five extra base hits in his first six games. Stud.

— I had hoped removing him from the rain-soaked Bacon Tuesday game in Oakland was merely a precaution. Sadly, Lorenzo Cain’s groin strain was serious enough to land him on the 15 day disabled list.

It will be interesting to see how Yosty plays this. While I would love to see Our Mitch get the bulk of the playing time over the next couple of weeks, I get the feeling we will be acquainted with Jason Bourgeois. And we will also have the thrill of watching Jerrod Dyson pinch run for Billy Butler.

Actually, it sounds like Dyson is in the mix for some regular playing time. Yosty apparently likes the idea of Our Mitch coming off the bench. OK. And he’s thinking the right-handed hitting Bourgeois will get the starts against the lefties. That’s a solid idea. Check out Bourgeois’ career splits:

Vs. LHP – .326/.366/.411
Vs. RHP – .205/.253/.251

That’s so extreme we should probably consider checking Yost into Trey Hillman’s Unicycle Camp For Slow Learners if he ever decides to start Bourgeois against a right-handed pitcher.

So if Maier is on the bench and Bourgeois is the guys against southpaws, does this mean Dyson will get the starts against right-handers? Looks that way. He’s off to a decent start in Omaha, batting .364/.400/.485 in 37 plate appearances. He has 12 hit with three going for extra bases (two doubles and a triple.) And this is most important… He has six steals and has yet to be caught. If Ned Yost were a Playmate he would list “stolen bases” and “sac bunts” as turn-ons. (Sorry for the imagery.)

— The offense is in a bit of a slumber. Our leadoff hitter isn’t getting on base and has already been “rested” in an attempt to help get right. The team has been giving away outs on the bases as often as Lindsay Lohan has her probation revoked.

Here’s the real issue with all those outs on the bases. Currently, the Royals are scoring only 11 percent of their base runners. League average is roughly 14 percent. What the Royals are doing isn’t aggressive… It’s reckless. And it’s damaging their chances to win games.

The obvious news is things are going to balance out. The starting pitching can’t keep up this outstanding stretch and there’s no way the hitters will stay this cold. There will be more baserunners and (hopefully) fewer outs on the bases, which means more runs. Which the Royals will need to offset the starting pitching when it stumbles.

— Somehow, Chris Getz has yet to lay down a sac bunt. Probably because he’s too busy jacking the ball with all he newfound “power.”

A few bullet points as we all experience rain-shortened West Coast Madness to open the season…

— First, helluva start by Danny Duffy on Tuesday in Oakland. Late in the game, Greg Schaum tweeted a question, asking if this was his best major league start. Easy answer…

Without a doubt that was Duffy’s major league start of his brief career.

Never before had he allowed fewer than two runs in a start. And his eight strikeouts were just one off his career best.

Also, if you’ve been reading here for any length of time, you know how I like to use Bill James’ Game Score as a measure of a strong start. On Tuesday, Duffy posted a final Game Score of 74. That total was miles better than his previous best of 63, posted last July against the White Sox.

It was an absolute gem from the Duffman.

For posterity’s sake:

6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 8 SO

Yeah, the walk total wasn’t ideal, but the elements were harsh. Obviously, they were harsh for the hitters as well, but each time Duffy walked a batter, he was able to get the outs that were needed. Especially in the fifth when he walked a pair of batters, but closed out the inning with a strikeout of Chad Pennington.

Overall, he threw 103 pitches, 62 of them for strikes. And of those 62, 16 of them were on swings and misses. Including five in a row to open the second inning.

He opened the game throwing heat, reaching 96 mph, before settling into the 93 mph range with his fastball. Here’s his velocity chart from the game…

Just another in a line of strong starts to open the season for the Royals.

— One of the big outs following a Duffy walk came in the second inning when Lorenzo Cain ran at least three miles to track down a Daric Barton flyball. After crashing into the wall, Cain got the ball to the relay man and the Royals doubled off Collin Cowgil to end the inning.

We had heard about Cain’s magnificent range. That was the first time I saw it in action. It was a thing of beauty.

After the catch though, he had to leave the game after experiencing pain in his groin. I’m hopeful the Royals were playing it safe and he’s OK. The elements were nasty last night in Oakland and the field was in horrible condition, so it’s totally understandable that the Royals err on the side of caution and remove him from the game. He was scheduled for a day off this afternoon, so let’s keep our fingers crossed that rest is the solution.

— Alex Gordon went hitless (again) but he hit the ball hard in a couple of plate appearances (again). Yeah, the .000 batting average looks ugly on the in-stadium scoreboard, but he’s fine. He’s getting good hacks for the most part, but has been unlucky. Baseball is a game of averages so we can expect a hot streak lurking just around the corner.

— The Royals made two more outs on the bases last night, pushing their total for the season to nine. That’s three innings worth of outs they’ve given away.

Last night was typical. The first out was a Billy Butler caught stealing. You may be pausing right now, scratching your head. Well, it was on a 3-2 pitch. That’s the only way I can possibly justify what he was doing in that situation. But with the muddy track, for Butler to run was just nuts. No other way to put it.

I wish I knew who decided it was a good idea for Country Breakfast to run. Did he go on his own? Or was it ordered by the dugout?

Naturally it ended with a strikeout/throw out double play.

The other out was the Master Of Grit, Chris Getz getting picked off first with a caught stealing. He was definitely going, left early and the left-handed Jeremy Blevins was able to throw to first to start the out.

The beauty of this out on the bases was Getz sliding head first into the muck at second and getting a mouthful of mud. I wonder when he figured out that he was in trouble trying to slide?

On a night like Tuesday with those field conditions, it baffles me anyone would try to steal a base. Not our aggressive Royals, though.

— Clark and I will be keeping track of outs on the bases by the Royals this year. We’re in the early stages of our system, so we’ll see how everything shakes out. What we’ll be tracking is pickoffs, caught stealings, players doubled off base, making an out when trying to take an extra base or an out trying to advance on a fly ball.

It’s going to be awesome.

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