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Bleeding Royal Blue

Inside the mind of a Kansas City Royals fan

Unearthed Solutions For the Royals Offense

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Kansas City Royals

The Kansas City Royals offensive woes have hit levels that no team should ever have to worry about. You’ve heard all the “answers” to their slump: elevate the ball, be more patient, more barrels, etc. But for a slump of this magnitude, I really feel like the Royals need some major out of the box thinking. That’s where I come in, as I LIVE outside the box. So here are some possible solutions to make the Kansas City Royals a fluid hitting machine once more.

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Royals Ice Cream Social

Who doesn’t love ice cream? Everyone loves the cream of ice (#brokenbrilliance), even those of us who are lactose intolerant (we love ice cream but don’t enjoy what it does to us). Find me a person who doesn’t get excited for ice cream and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t like to have fun. A nice get together where the Royals enjoy some frozen goodness seems like a good way to get their mind off their struggles and onto the bottom of the ice cream cone. I can already picture Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain, enjoying their cones, while Salvy takes a few licks of Cain’s ice cream while he isn’t looking. There are some downsides to this. For one, while they will be on the sugar high for a while, at some point they will have to come down. You can only hope that doesn’t happen in the middle of the game. Second, ice cream can pack on the pounds which is bound to slow down even the fastest of Royals on the field. Also, Alex Gordon wouldn’t eat a drop; there is no way he is putting any sugar into his system:

Alex Gordon

Seriously, you don’t look like this by eating sugar. By the way, welcome to the gun show.

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Royals Dance Party

Sometimes you just have to get loose and let the music take over. Some good Royals dancing  could make all their troubles go away as they let their body give in to the smooth stylings of Daryl Hall and John Oates…or whatever the kids are listening to these days. A little electric slide, some Gangnam Style, the funky chicken, even the whip; doesn’t matter what your preference is, as long as you get down and feel the beat. Personally, Brandon Moss seems to be a pop and lock kind of guy. Luckily, Royals fans know how to get down as well:

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It’s obvious Salvy has some rhythm as well:

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The only issue that could arise with a dance party is someone pulling a hammy or even worse, a stage dive that goes awry. Yes, I’m looking at you Eric Hosmer.

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Tea and Crumpets

While this might feel a tad dull and boring, it also can be a nice, relaxing way to spend an afternoon while not dealing with the doldrums on the field. A nice spot of tea with some tasty crumpets? Indeed and splendid. You just hope no one gets in a big hurry and decides to drink their tea before it cools down a bit; with Alcides Escobar’s patience at the plate, I assume he has the same patience when it comes to his tea. No need to burn the roof of your mouth just to get some refreshing tea.

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A Night of Karaoke

Look, there is a reason that most of us don’t have recording contracts: because we can’t sing. Ball players are no different, but sometimes you just have to belt out your favorite tune while other’s eardrums bleed. There will be classic tunes chosen: ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’, ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’, ‘Ice Ice Baby’ and anything else that can be made worse by people thinking they can sing…and dance.

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Worried about the amount of pitches you are swinging at outside the strike zone? No worries when you know all the words to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ but can’t carry a tune to save your life. This would be a good choice for the Royals, although they would probably only sing from the Fetty Wap catalog.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Kansas City Royals

Hitting the ball hard…in a game

I know this sounds crazy, but hear me out on this. Maybe…just maybe…if the hitters started, I don’t know, hitting the ball hard consistently, they would score more runs and win more games. They could do stuff like this:

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or this:

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I’m a big fan of this:

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and I’m not opposed to this:

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Look, call me crazy but I don’t believe the Royals forgot how to do this. All they need is a bit of a refresher course on ‘Making it Happen 101’.

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Look, we can throw out ideas all day for Kansas City’s offense, but the bottom line is the team needs to decide on a solid game plan and stick to it. There is some stressing and pressing going on right now and a good relaxer would probably help a ton. I would mention a night at a ‘Knocker Locker’ but that turned out badly for the ladies back when Bruce Chen was involved. I’ve even considered voodoo, but considering the “rumor” of Ewing Kauffman selling his soul for a world championship and the Royals proceeding to not win another one for 30 years, I think we’ll pass on that. It’s time to wake up the bats, boys; whatever it takes, do it. Much like ‘slump-busting’, just don’t tell anyone how you did it. There is no need to mention where the bodies were buried.

 

Kansas City’s Offensive Offense

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It’s highly doubtful that anyone would have predicted that the Kansas City Royals offense would be as pitiful as it has been 18 games into the 2017 campaign. In fact, the stench wafting from the Kansas City offense has become so heavy that it has raised a whole slew of questions moving forward: Who needs to sit? Who should get sent down? Who should be called up? When will Jorge Soler be ready? When will the first player be traded? It feels like they go through these offensive droughts on a yearly basis because…well, because they do. We all remember July 2016. We remember the new batting coaches the team employed in back to back May’s, including hiring George Brett  to help out. This team has been notorious for its offensive struggles, but the timing this year is worse, as it will be the final year of its main core of the lineup; in fact, if things don’t change, guys like Moose, Hos and LoCain could be dealt before we even get to the trading deadline. So just how bad is it?

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Let’s start with a few numbers to break down how comatose the bats are. The big stat that has been thrown out there is the team’s batting average with runners in scoring position: .153, last in all of baseball. It doesn’t get much better with two outs and runners in scoring position: .102, which earns them last in the American League. Last in runs, last in RBI’s, last in slugging percentage, next to last in on-base percentage,  last in wRC+, and next to last in WAR…and this is for all of baseball, not just the American League. The struggle is real and floats all the way down the lineup; here is the regular lineup (or at least what has been the most used lineup) and their individual wRC+, with league average being 100:

Gordon-35

Moustakas-152

Cain-150

Hosmer-41

Perez-118

Moss-56

Orlando- -13

Mondesi- -8

Escobar-30

Three starting players are above league average and the rest are way below that line. In fact, two players sit in the negative column and both of them (Orlando and Mondesi) were sent to AAA last week. Sure, Cain and Moose are hitting good and getting on-base, but does it matter when no one can drive them in? It doesn’t help that the team has hit into 18 double plays, which amazingly is only the 6th most in the AL. But that 18 hurts more when you factor in how little this team is getting on base in the first place, which means they seem to be killing any rally that gets started. So with the numbers glaring us all in the face, one has to ask the question–what is causing this slump?

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There is no bigger factor than looking at what pitches the Royals are swinging at. So far this year, the batters are swinging at 34.3% of pitches outside the strike zone, leading the AL. Fascinating enough, the team is also swinging at 70.2% of pitches within the strike zone (tops in the AL), which means this team is swinging at almost everything being tossed up there. The sad part is that they are only making contact 75% of the time, which earns them 2nd worst in the American League behind only Tampa Bay. The Royals are swinging and missing at pitches 12.5% of the time, the 2nd highest in the AL as well. This shouldn’t be too surprising to long time fans, since this has long been a  ‘put the ball in play’ team who rarely takes a walk. The problem is a lot of the times they just aren’t putting the ball in play and that is killing their offense in the process. In an interesting side-note, the team actually isn’t last in walks so far in 2017, as they have walked 47 times, which sits them in 13th place in the AL. I bring this up for one very big reason: teams that walk more often can power through slumps easier if they are patient and get on base with a free pass rather than get a hit. Because the Royals aren’t a team that walks, their slumps appear worse since they aren’t utilizing their patience the way they probably should. Remember folks, a walk is as good as a hit, and in many cases it also means you are driving the pitcher’s pitch count up. In my mind, that is a win-win situation.

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The other factor that is hurting the offense is how they are hitting the ball. The Royals have the highest soft hit rate in the AL so far this year (23.8%) while racking up the third lowest hard hit rate (26.6%). Kansas City just isn’t hitting the ball hard and it is showing in the offensive output. The team has put a stronger emphasis on hitting for power this year, but it appears to have backfired, or at least it appears that way in the numbers. The Royals have the 4th highest pull percentage in the league (42%) yet their line drive rate sits at only 20.3%, which is 8th best. The team’s HR/FB ratio sits at 10.7% (10th in the AL) while their fly ball rate sits at only 35.1%. This team hits the ball on the ground way too regularly, as their ground ball to fly ball ratio is the 5th worst in the league (1.27, only .41 behind the Angels, who have the worst). The most alarming stat among these numbers is the infield fly ball rate, which is the second worst in the junior circuit (13.4%). The whole name of the game right now in baseball is elevating the ball, yet there is such a thing as bad elevation. The Royals appear to be doing that and there is no Royals batter who is averaging above 90 mph in exit velocity so far in 2017. It’s very obvious what Kansas City would benefit from; more hits off the barrel of the bat and less swinging on a downward plane. It is easy to say, but not as simple to do.

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So can the offense pull out of this? Of course they can. As we sit here on Monday, the Royals have only played 11% of their games, so there is more than enough time for the offense to turn things around. In fact, in year’s past we have seen Kansas City do just that. The issue is that if things are going to turn around, it needs to happen sooner than later. The worst case scenario is for the bats to stay cold and the team decides they aren’t in a hunt for a playoff spot. If that happens, there is a good chance a few of the impending free agents could be available on the trade market. This is worst case, but very real as well. Do I believe this Royals team is this bad at the plate? No. Are there issues that need to be addressed? Obviously. If the team could swing a little less, be a bit more patient and drive the ball more, good things will eventually happen. The only question becomes ‘how long will that take’? Hopefully we have an answer soon, as in this week. The last thing we want to see is Kansas City continuing to struggle offensively into May.

 

Rules of Etiquette For Youth Baseball

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It’s long been said that baseball is a “Kid’s Game” and there is no better proof than going and watching a little league or high school game. The problem lies in the fact that after taking in one of these games, you might be disgusted by the behavior of some of the adults involved. Back in November I wrote a piece on some of the issues at hand for young kids who play baseball and their parents involvement. After attending my son’s high school game last night, I feel we might need to set down some rules for both parents and coaches to remember when supporting our kids.

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For Parents:

1.) You are there to support your child. There is no need to yell at them if they make a mistake or flub a play. If they did something wrong, the coach will address it.

2.) No matter the level, realize they are still learning to play the game. Rome wasn’t built in a day and your kid won’t be fantastic at any sport the entire time. Allow them to grow and learn the nuances of the game.

3.) Just because you weren’t able to fulfill your dream as an athlete doesn’t mean your goal in life is to turn your child into one. Help them learn, but allow them to direct their level of interest into any sport.

4.) This will kill some of you but…winning isn’t everything. There truly is something to learn from a loss and in all actuality, the whole purpose of youth sports is to teach. If winning occurs as well, that is great. If not, it is just a game…being played by kids.

5.) and finally…have fun. Let them have fun. The whole purpose is for them to learn while having fun. If your kid isn’t having fun, what is the point?

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Alright, now some rules for the coaches. I didn’t figure I would have to write this section, but after what I saw last night it was very apparent some coaches are out of touch with their role in your child’s development.

1.) A coaches role is to be a teacher. That means not only what you teach them skill-wise on the field, but also their behavior on and off the diamond.

2.) Do not go and argue with the umpire. You are teaching kids and if they see you jawing with the ump, they are going to assume that is acceptable behavior for them. There should be no reason to berate an umpire, tell them they are “wrong” or attempt to explain to them how to do their job. These are kids you are coaching; there is zero reasons to ever get to that point in a game. Set a good example.

3.) If a kid makes a mistake, it is fine to talk to them and explain what they did wrong. In fact, that is a big part of your job. But…Do NOT chastise them in front of everyone. Pull them aside after the inning and discuss it with them (like an adult would do) in the dugout one on one. There is no reason to embarrass them in front of everyone else.

4.) As mentioned with the parents, remember the focus shouldn’t always be on winning. Yes, winning is the big goal, but the bigger goal would be to get these children to a point where they understand the fundamentals of the game and can assess situations out on the field without help. Maybe more important than winning is working with a kid to get them to a point where you can see actual, legitimate progress. Winning should be the added bonus.

5.) Enjoy your time teaching these kids. Many of the lessons you pass along to them will stay with them for a lifetime. You can make a big impact in their lives; make sure it is a positive one.

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While these rules seem like common sense, you would be shocked at how many adults break them on a nightly basis. If you are reading this, you probably love sports and it has probably brought you more positive than negative. Just remember, these are kids still learning to play. They are not perfect, so you should not expect them to succeed in every situation. You and I aren’t perfect, so why would you expect that from your child? Let them go out, play and have fun. If you lead them upon the correct path, great moments and wins will follow.

An Angelic Sweep

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We all knew the Kansas City Royals wouldn’t stay down all season long. It was just a matter of time until the team would rattle off a nice little winning streak to bring them up to .500 ball, and the series against the Los Angeles Angels ended up doing the trick. The funny thing is, it’s not like the Royals offense awoke from their slumber and became the 1927 New York Yankees; in fact, Kansas City only scored 5 runs in this series. But what they did get was some outstanding starting pitching.

Angels Royals Baseball

While most of us expected the starting pitching to be better in 2017, so far it has outperformed even the most optimistic of us Royals fans, and the trio of Danny Duffy, Nate Karns and Ian Kennedy were spectacular this weekend. Duffy threw 7 innings of one run ball on Friday night (Game Score of 71), Karns threw 6 innings and gave up just one run (Game Score of 61) and Kennedy threw the real jewel, 8 innings of shutout baseball (Game Score of 86) on Sunday. The Royals starting pitching lead the American League in ERA (2.31), FIP (3.15), Home Runs per 9 (0.49) and tied for the best WAR (1.6 with Baltimore). Now, none of us expect them to be this stellar for the entirety of the season, but even if they keep things above league average, most of us would consider that a win for this ballclub. But as good as the starting pitching has been, the team won’t be allowed to lean on it all year, as at some point the Royals offense is going to have to produce.

Angels Royals Baseball

If you are a Royals fan, you have seen this song and dance before from the offense. For whatever reason, the Royals offense struggles in the early months of each season, or they at least have for a number of years now. Remember when Kansas City had to replace their hitting coaches two May’s in a row a few years back? This Royals offense is fully capable of being above league average (or at least AT league average) but they are also a streaky bunch. So far in 2017, the Royals are last in on-base percentage and next to last in runs, RBI’s, wRC+ and WAR, with only the woeful Blue Jays worst than them. Probably the most surprising is the slugging percentage, which is also next to last in the American League, despite being 8th in the AL in home runs hit. The Royals are hitting home runs, but very little else. In fact, what a perfect time for ‘Fun with Numbers’:

Mike Moustakas-.683 slugging percentage

Lorenzo Cain-.490 on-base percentage, 21.6% walk rate

Brandon Moss- 3 hits (2 home runs) and 6 walks

Eric Hosmer-62.2% ground ball rate

Moustakas seems to have turned a corner, as a hitter who has figured out what pitches he can drive and which ones to go with. Moose is pulling the ball 46.9% of the time and while the preference is a hitter who can use all parts of the field, so far his pull heavy results are turning up positive. On the other side of the spectrum is Hosmer. It feels like I have beaten that horse to death, so the only thing I will mention is that Craig Brown of Baseball Prospectus Kansas City wrote a great piece on Hos and his struggles, which pretty much sums up how I feel about him, just without all the cursing.

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Once again, the defense was front and center this past weekend. Top of the list is this great grab by Raul Mondesi:

Lorenzo Cain made a great grab on Easter Sunday:

and even Eric Hosmer got into the action:

While the starting pitching has been spectacular, this Royals team is built around their defense and they continue to excel. There has been some speculation on how long the Royals will go with Mondesi at second base, but a big part of why he got the job was because of his defense. As long as he makes big plays to help the pitching, he will get the chance to improve on his hitting.

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While the Angels aren’t world-beaters, they can be a dangerous offensive team and the Royals held them in check. A couple of notes to think about this week as the Giants return to Kansas City for the first time since the 2014 World Series (yes, Bumgarner is scheduled to pitch on Wednesday; boo accordingly). One, Joakim Soria has been lights out, not allowing a run in 6 innings of work so far in 2017; look for his role to increase moving forward. Two, Buster Posey was activated today and will be in the lineup for the Giants. Three, let’s see how the Royals do with runners in scoring position. So far this year, they are hitting .158 with RISP and .065 with RISP and 2 outs. Kansas City needs to improve on that if they want to stay above .500. With the temperatures picking up, it’s time for the Royals bats to start heating up as well. If not, the ground they made up this week was all for naught.

 

 

Getting Back On Track

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Let’s be honest: Minnesota felt like a mirage. The Kansas City Royals played some of the worst baseball they have played in years during their three game series against the Twins and the general consensus was that the Royals weren’t as bad as they played. They would travel on to Houston to take on a very good Astros team…and would proceed to win 2 of the 3 games at Minute Maid Park. The offense woke up, the starting pitching continued to perform well, the defense was stellar and the bullpen would even improve on ‘The Walk Massacre of Minnesota’. Are we sure that set of games in Minneapolis really happened?

Salvador Perez, Jandel Gustave

Since it is still early in the season, another ‘Fun with Numbers’ is still in order:

Salvador Perez-213 wRC+ through 6 games (4 home runs, all in 4 consecutive games)

Lorenzo Cain-25.9% Walk Rate (7 walks in 6 games)

Danny Duffy-200 ERA+ (In 13 innings over 2 starts)

Matt Strahm-40.50 Walks per 9 (6 walks in 1.1 innings pitched)

Okay, I feel like I am picking on Strahm. I swear I am not; unfortunately the guy is struggling in his limited use this season. The bullpen did improve in this series, although Kansas City still leads the AL in walks allowed (36), 8 more than runner-up Baltimore. The starters have held their own, but the bullpen still lies in the bottom of the league in almost every category, including WAR, FIP and BB/9. There is good news, though; Joakim Soria has been solid in his two outings, Peter Moylan has been a rock and Chris Young has been stellar in his 2.1 innings pitched. Maybe it’s just me, but it has felt like manager Ned Yost is still feeling out his relievers and what role would be best suited for them. I still think Strahm will be one of the main setup guys before the year is out and I could see Soria and Minor also filling that role. The one puzzling move is Yost’s usage of Travis Wood, a lefty who showed major splits in 2016 while with the Cubs. Lefties hit .128/.208/.239 against him last year while righties hit .263/.344/.521. It would appear that Yost should mainly use Wood against lefties, and limit the usage against righties. Instead, he has been using him against righties more and they are clocking him at a .400 pace. Like I said, it appears Yost is trying to feel his new relievers out, but a pattern is already showing when it comes to Mr. Wood.

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Before we move on from the pitchers, I got to say a big kudos to Jason Vargas, who was spectacular in his start on Friday. Vargas threw 6 innings while striking out 6 and allowing a run. Vargas only appeared in 3 major league games last year as he was returning from Tommy John surgery and is entering the final year of his contract. If he can pitch closer to his 2014 performance, the Royals could have a sold rotation spot locked up for this year.

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Maybe the best news was the resurgence of the offense, as the team put up 16 runs in the 3 game series. The most ‘Un-Royal’ stat from the year has been the power surge seen through the first six games:

I love early season numbers and it is always fun to see how big numbers can look HUGE if calculated out to a full 162 game schedule:

Royals GM Dayton Moore said before the season that his objective was to go deep more often in 2017 and so far, so good. In fact, the Royals are slugging:

Mike Moustakas- .739 slugging percentage

Salvador Perez- .792 slugging percentage

Cheslor Cuthbert- .714 slugging percentage

While the Royals power numbers are good this year, they still aren’t great. In fact, they are next to last in slugging (.400) and last in wRC+ (88) and ISO (.139). The offense isn’t totally clicking yet, but this series at least brought some optimism. Also, some things will never change:

Eric Hosmer- 61.9% ground ball rate (already 10th in the American League)

Hey, I’ll quit picking on Eric when he learns to elevate the ball. If he starts doing that, I will be glad to start heaping praise and say I am wrong about him. Until then…

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But if anything stood out this series, it was the defense.  I could describe it to you, but it is easier just to show the proof:

Cain’s was the jewel, but this was pretty great as well:

…and it’s not really a Royals defensive highlight reel without an appearance from Alex Gordon:

That assist was the 75th of Gordon’s career, a great nod to a player who has only been playing the outfield full-time since 2011. One of the biggest head-scratchers for me so far this season is why the Royals pitchers aren’t throwing more strikes when they have this defense behind them. Let the defense shoulder the work; they can handle it.

Raul Mondesi, Alcides Escobar

The Royals are now 2-4 in the ol’ W-L column and are just a winning streak away from a respectable record. The main item that should be preached is ‘improvement’ and as long as they do that, there should be more ‘W’s’ to come. The Royals tend to be a team that is guided by their offense; if the offense is producing, they are normally winning. But if they aren’t…well, if they continue to stay cold, it will be a long summer in Kansas City that could be heated up by a fire sale. This next series against Oakland would be a good time for the bats to wake up and put them back on track. Two series’ are in the book and it has felt like two separate ballclubs. So the question has to be asked–which team is the real Kansas City Royals?

Walking to Houston

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That stat looms over the Kansas City Royals as the biggest factor to their 0-3 start to the 2017 campaign. Twenty three is the number of walks they have given up already this season, leading the American League by 5 over Houston’s 18. That’s 8.63 BB/9, which surprisingly isn’t higher than the team’s K/9 rate, which is 9. 38. So the Royals pitchers are walking and striking out batters so far this year, but the numbers are even scarier when you break it down to the team’s starters and relievers. The Royals pen have a BB/9 rate of 12.38; in context the next closest bullpen in the AL is Houston, at 5.06. The pen has the league’s highest FIP, ERA and tied for the worst WAR. Luckily (once again), they have the second highest K/9 rate at 11.25. So the bullpen has been a trouble spot, as Fangraphs predicted. But…I still believe the pen isn’t as bad as believed and unfortunately for me, only time will really prove me right or wrong. What can be proven is that with only 3 games in the books, everything at this point is a small sample size. In fact, these aren’t the only numbers that really stick out this early in the season.

Kansas City Royals v Minnesota Twins

Here are a few more small sample sizes that skew anyone trying to plan out for the entire 162 game schedule:

Mike Moustakas-.769 slugging percentage (2 home runs so far)

Lorenzo Cain-38.5% walk rate (5 walks in 3 games)

Matt Strahm-13.50 HR/9 (1 HR given up over 0.2 innings pitched)

So what is the point of this little exercise? To show that statistics early in the season mean close to nothing. Remember last year about this time when Trevor Story of Colorado went on a home run rampage and was on pace to hit 162 home runs? He ended up with only 27. If you really believed he was going to hit a home run a game, 27 looks like quite the paltry number. The point is that while the numbers can show why the Royals bullpen has been a steaming pile of monkey dung, those numbers won’t hold up over an entire season. Then again, some things never change:

Eric Hosmer-60% Groundball rate (58.9% in 2016, leading all qualified batters)

Stay gold, Ponyboy. We can always count on Hosmer to hit the ball on the ground…

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Now, the bullpen isn’t the only story to take away from the first series up in Minnesota; the offense has done its part to make sure people are talking about them as well. The Royals so far are hitting .174/.255/.283 and those numbers are improved since the offense actually contributed in game 3 of the series, as opposed to the first two games. Last in RBI’s and WAR, next to last in batting average, wRC+ and on-base percentage, and 13th in slugging percentage. The offense we saw in Arizona this spring apparently decided to stay there and hopefully will be catching an adjoining flight to Houston this weekend. This offense has been known to be streaky over the last couple seasons and are continuing that tradition into 2017. While I don’t expect the offense to be in high gear all season, they need to improve. Kansas City’s pitching is just not good enough to maintain an offense that goes silent for super long period’s of time.

Alcides Escobar, Cheslor Cuthbert

So three games in and we have seen a very lackluster effort from the Royals. In some ways, that first series was a horror show for Kansas City:

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No, not that kind of horror movie; more like this kind of horror show:

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The good news is that it can’t get any worse that what we have seen so far this week. With that being said, a bit of kudos go out to the Twins. While the Royals looked awful, Minnesota did about everything right. The two biggest issues they had in 2016 were defense and the bullpen, and both appeared improved in the first series of the year. For Kansas City, they need to improve sooner rather than later, because if they are out of the pennant race when June rolls around, the fire sale could very well begin. The Royals are better than they have showed early on and I have to believe we will see that soon enough. If not, I have put a lot of faith in a group of guys who have done nothing but proven people wrong over the last 3 years. It’s time to prove more people wrong.

My 2017 MLB Predictions

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Ah, yes…Opening Day is upon us as we embark on a new Major League Baseball season. For the majority of teams, this is a time of hope and optimism. For a few, there is more of a glance to the future than the present. As baseball fans, every year we throw out our predictions, hoping by mid-season they aren’t a big colossal mass of hilarity. I don’t take my predictions super-serious, but I’m always hopeful that I am at least within the vicinity of reality. So without further ado, my predictions for the upcoming season.

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American League East

  1. Boston Red Sox
  2. Toronto Blue Jays
  3. Tampa Bay Rays
  4. New York Yankees
  5. Baltimore Orioles

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American League Central

  1. Cleveland Indians
  2. Kansas City Royals
  3. Detroit Tigers
  4. Minnesota Twins
  5. Chicago White Sox

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American League West

  1. Houston Astros
  2. Texas Rangers
  3. Seattle Mariners
  4. Los Angeles Angels
  5. Oakland A’s

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National League East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. New York Mets
  3. Miami Marlins
  4. Philadelphia Phillies
  5. Atlanta Braves

MLB: Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals

National League Central

  1. Chicago Cubs
  2. St. Louis Cardinals
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates
  4. Cincinnati Reds
  5. Milwaukee Brewers

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Milwaukee Brewers

National League West

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. San Francisco Giants
  3. Colorado Rockies
  4. Arizona Diamondbacks
  5. San Diego Padres

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Awards

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American League MVP: Carlos Correa, Houston

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American League Cy Young: Marcus Stroman, Toronto

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American League Rookie of the Year: Andrew Benintendi, Boston

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National League MVP: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona

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National League Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles

Angels Dodgers Spring Baseball

National League Rookie of the Year: Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles

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Playoff Teams 

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American League

Division Winners: Boston, Cleveland, Houston

Wild Cards: Toronto, Kansas City

American League Champions: Toronto

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National League

Division Winners: Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles

Wild Cards: New York, San Francisco

National League Champions: Washington

USP MLB: ALDS-TEXAS RANGERS AT TORONTO BLUE JAYS S BBA CAN ON

Am I super confident about my picks? Nope. Baseball is a funny thing, largely because of the length of the season. There are so many twists and turns that there is no way to truly predict how it will all shake down. What I can say with confidence is that another fun, memorable season is getting ready to start and I can’t wait. The best part about baseball is the storyline that it revolves around. I can’t wait to see how this whole thing unfolds. Last October, we had a great Cleveland/Chicago World Series; what do the baseball God’s have in store for us this year? Truly, only time will tell.

 

The 2017 Kansas City Royals: In It To Win It

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2016 was anything but a glorious season for the Kansas City Royals. Coming off of their first World Championship since 1985, the Royals spent most of last year trying to catch their footing and keep hopes afloat as long as possible. Injuries piled up, fatigue set in but more than anything, the fire the Royals showed in 2015 was few and far between. It wasn’t a huge surprise; one of the biggest obstacles for teams who reach the top of the mountain is to stay on top. Instead, the Royals fell and while there were positives for this team, there was mostly disappointment. So the question has been asked headed into 2017: how does Kansas City return to past glory? While the predictions and pundits aren’t glowing of the Royals chances, that is even more reason to bet on the ‘Boys in Blue’ to return to the playoffs.

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Let’s start with the story of the winter, which was the unfortunate passing of Yordano Ventura. His untimely death left a giant question mark in a pitching rotation that already had a few questions. The Royals, instead of trying to ‘replace’ Ventura, went out and stocked up. First it was Jason Hammel. Then they went and signed Travis Wood. The rotation went from one with more questions than answers, to one of the deepest groups in recent Kansas City history.

Starting Rotation

  1. Danny Duffy
  2. Ian Kennedy
  3. Jason Hammel
  4. Jason Vargas
  5. Nate Karns

Duffy will front this group and hopefully show that his career-turning 2016 was not a fluke. My money is on Duffy excelling as he grows into the ‘ace’ role. Kennedy, while not your normal number two starter, actually put up solid numbers last year and looks to continue that this year (this spring he has yet to allow a run over 17 innings). Kennedy will have his rough outings and will give up some homers, but he consistently racks up innings and at times looks amazing. Hammel strung together a good 2016 with the Chicago Cubs, with the only real concern being the fatigue that hit him near the end of the season. Hammel is another innings eater who will probably benefit from the Royals defense. Vargas returned in September last year from Tommy John Surgery and looks to pick up where he left off in 2015. Vargas will more than likely be what he was before the surgery, as he is in the last year of his 4 year deal. Karns won the 5th starters spot this spring, striking out 30 over 23 innings thrown. The back-end of the rotation is interesting, since I tend to believe it could very well be different by the time the Royals reach the All-Star break. Wood and Chris Young are both candidates to fill in while they are being stowed away in the bullpen for now. I also wouldn’t be shocked if Kansas City looks for a trade as they get close to the trade deadline and that could shake up the rotation even more. While this might not be the most dominating group in Royals history, it is a solid group that should eat a lot of innings.

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While Fangraphs does NOT think fondly of the Royals bullpen (they have them ranked 28th in MLB), I lean the other way, thinking while it may not be as dominant as years past, they are a solid group that will do more good than bad.

Bullpen 

Kelvin Herrera-Closer

Joakim Soria-Setup

Matt Strahm-Setup

Mike Minor

Travis Wood

Chris Young

Peter Moylan

Herrera takes over the closers role from the departed Wade Davis and should slide nicely into that role. Soria was a walking nightmare last season and Kansas City is hoping he bounces back and at the least, improves on his 2016 numbers. Soria did have an excellent strike out rate last year, but that still doesn’t explain this:

“The roles haven’t been defined,” Yost said. “If we were going to do it tomorrow, we’d probably use [Soria] in the eighth inning, depending on what the matchups are.”

High-leverage situations were a killer for Soria last year and I tend to think he should be kept away from those this year, or at least until he gets his feet underneath him. To me, Strahm will end up in this role eventually and has shown the ability to stop rallies. Those two might not be the only relievers in the setup role:

Minor battled throughout most of 2016 to stay healthy but has looked good so far this spring. Wood is an interesting choice, but he did prove valuable in Chicago’s pen last year. Moylan was a solid bullpen arm last year for Kansas City and while Young struggled, he is still a great choice for the long reliever/spot starter role. The intriguing part of the Royals pen are the ‘What Ifs’ that could contribute later in the year. Josh Staumont is a rising star in the Royals organization and has electric stuff. If healthy (stop me if you’ve heard this before), Kyle Zimmer could also factor into the pen late in the year and don’t count out someone like Eric Skoglund, a lefty who could be a great LOOGY down the stretch. While on the surface this wouldn’t appear to be a deadly pen, it could be a completely different story by July or August.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Kansas City Royals

So what about the offense? It appears manager Ned Yost has already figured out his lineup for Opening Day:

I’ve long been less than satisfied with Yost’s lineup structure, but I totally approve of this lineup. It is very interesting to see how the Royals and Yost came to this starting nine:

Royals manager Ned Yost likes to point out that the club’s batting order is an organizational decision, with input drawn from coaches, front office staff and members of the club’s analytics department.

Yes, I smiled to see the team used their analytics department to help structure it. There is also a bit of logic thrown in there as well:

“It gives us a nice left-right-left balance,” Yost said.

I have loooooooong been a proponent of Alex Gordon in the leadoff spot, as it only makes sense to put the guy with the best on-base percentage at the top. Gordon is coming off of his worst season since moving to the outfield and is hoping to bounce back this year. He also added some more muscle to his frame this winter and if spring is any indication, it has paid off (.351/.448/.509 with 8 walks and 5 extra base hits). Moustakas in the two-hole is a great choice, as he has some of the team’s most professional plate appearances while also adding extra base power to the top of the lineup. Cain and Hosmer at 3 and 4 respectively makes sense, although I would like to see Hosmer elevate the ball more this year and hit the ball much less on the ground (he lead all of baseball last year with a 58.9% ground ball rate). Salvy and Moss at 5 and 6 gives the team some thump in the heart of the order and hopefully they are able to drive in the guys who get on base ahead of them. Moss especially adds a nice power bat to the middle of the Royals order and I am excited to see him do his thing. Paulo Orlando will start the year in RF and will hold down that spot until Jorge Soler comes back from the disabled list. The lineup could shuffle a bit after Soler’s return, but I could also just see him slide into the same spot as Orlando, since that would keep up that L-R-L-R order that Yost likes. After years of attempting to keep Alcides Escobar in the leadoff spot, Yost finally has sent Esky down to the bottom of the order, where he is better suited. Rounding out the lineup is second baseman Raul Mondesi, a surprise winner of the job this spring. Mondesi struggled offensively during his short stint in Kansas City last year and the team is hoping that his bat will improve while adding much-needed speed and great defense to the roster. The offense is going to be different this year, as the team looks to provide more power and focus less on speed and a clustering of hits. Kansas City finished last again in 2016 in home runs in the American League and the additions of Moss and Soler should add more thump to the lineup and hopefully more extra base hits. This team has seven players capable of hitting 20+ home runs, which will be a big change of pace for the Royals(as will the strike outs that come with it). It’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out as the season gets underway.

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I’ve been touting the team’s depth for a few months now and as much as this will be the immediate lineup, there will be more shuffling this year than in year’s past:

Bench

Cheslor Cuthbert

Drew Butera

Christian Colon or Whit Merrifield

Terrance Gore

Cuthbert will get plenty of playing time shuffling between third base, DH and possibly even 2B. Butera is the perfect backup catcher for this squad, providing above average defense and is coming off the best offensive season of his 7 year career. I would expect Gore to only be with the team during Soler’s time on the disabled list, but when he is on the roster he provides a late inning speed threat on the basepaths. The final roster spot battle has come down to Colon or Merrifield, and it looks like we won’t find out the result until Sunday:

Colon is out of options and would appear to have the inside track, but there have been some rumblings about a trade going down to procure a spot (not only a spot for backup infielder but also to open a 40 man spot for Moylan). I don’t know who of those two would get traded, although Merrifield’s versatility might be a heavier intrigue for some teams. Also remember, Peter O’Brien is stashed away in AAA and his big bat was all the rage this spring. O’Brien has massive power and if someone in the lineup would happen to go down with an injury, O’Brien would be an interesting name to insert into the lineup. He has his flaws, but if the Royals mainly used him against lefties he could be a big bonus to a bench that has never had much pop. Either way, the Royals don’t employ a large bench but then again Yost has never been big on using his bench players on a regular basis.

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You won’t ever hear me talk much about intangibles here, mostly because at the end of the day they are hard to quantify. You can break down numbers and get a good idea of the performance of a player, but stuff like clubhouse chemistry and leadership are like a mystical potion that just floats around in the air. What I am saying is that those intangibles exist but it is hard to really figure out how much they affect the play that goes down on the field. That being said, there is no way to follow this team and NOT recognize the intangibles. Bottom line is this group is very tight-knit and loves being around each other. That is a huge plus and why some players are excited now about coming to Kansas City. There is also some big motivators this year. For one, the core group of this team (Cain, Hosmer, Moustakas and Escobar) are all free agents after the season and more than likely the majority (if not all of them) will be gone. This is their final chance for another deep playoff run together. Also, there is some motivation with the death of Yordano Ventura. The loss of Ventura hit the Royals hard and he was looked at like their little brother. If you don’t think there is motivation there to win one in his honor, then you aren’t looking in the right places. Finally, there is a bit of a chip on the Royals shoulders this year since Cleveland took their spot, or at least what they considered to be their spot. If you remember back in 2015, a big rallying cry for this team was them feeling like they came thisclose to winning the World Series only to come up short. They played the entire 2015 season like they were there to prove everyone wrong and I have gotten that same vibe from them this spring. These are all big factors into the makeup of this team and why they will more than likely be fighting for a playoff spot into the fall.

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So what should we expect from the 2017 Kansas City Royals? While the predictions and projections once again aren’t kind to the Royals,  I see this from a different slant. What the projections miss some of the time is the value of defense and it’s counter-effect on the pitching. In that regard, Kansas City is still a top-notch defensive team. The other factor is that a number of the Royals hitters struggled last year (Gordon, Hosmer, etc.) or missed a good chunk of the season (Moustakas, Cain). In my estimation, as long as those guys stay healthy they will produce better than they did in 2016 and even if there are injuries, I feel the Royals are better prepared to handle them. Add in power bats like Soler and Moss and factor in a deep starting rotation, and I tend to believe they will be battling the Indians for American League Central dominance all season long. Unless things go horribly sideways (and the percentages tend to lean toward that being doubtful), the Royals are prepared for one final long playoff run. They might not claim the division, but there are two wild card spot for the taking and I have to believe this Royals team has a good shot to claim a playoff berth. One of the greatest joys of my life has been watching these Royals teams of the last few years play meaningful baseball for the first time in decades. While that contender door could be closing after 2017, I have to believe there is one more final run in this squad. Batten down the hatches, Royals fans; I have a feeling this 2017 season is going to be one for the ages.

Mondesi Wins Second Base Job; Soler to the DL?

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The biggest question mark for the Kansas City Royals throughout Spring Training has been ‘who would win the second base job?’, with four players competing for the spot. Christian Colon, Cheslor Cuthbert, Whit Merrifield and Raul Mondesi have all been vying for the job as the second sacker and Monday manager Ned Yost announced who will start the year at the position:

This was a bit of a shock, despite the fact that Mondesi has had a fantastic spring, hitting .375/.388/.625 with 6 extra base hits (3 homers) in 20 games. The shock is in the fact that both Colon and Cuthbert are out of options and most have felt Merrifield would begin the year either as the starter at second or the super utility player. Instead, Colon and Merrifield seem to be fighting over the final bench spot, with the fact that Whit still has options left probably hurting his case. So are the Royals making the best choice by starting Mondesi to start the year?

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It feels like a weird question to ask, but there are some important factors to remember when it comes to Spring Training numbers. For one, especially early on in camp, hitters are facing a variety of minor leaguers, which isn’t always a good barometer of how successful a hitter is. Max Rieper at Royals Review did a great write-up in this regard, charting all the pitchers that Mondesi has gotten hits off of this spring. I had actually wondered the same thing about Mondesi (and Peter O’Brien as well) this spring and now we know. This doesn’t completely discredit his spring (hey, a good spring is a good spring), as hitting has been the main issue with Mondesi throughout his progression in the Royals farm system and it was obvious that whether or not he made the Opening Day roster was going to be largely determined on how he hit this spring. With that being said, while the numbers appear different, the approach feels like more of the same. Mondesi is not a patient hitter and that showed in the numbers as well; only 1 walk this spring and 13 strike outs over 48 at bats. You don’t have to be a math major to realize that isn’t a great ratio and the Royals should at least be mildly concerned that he strikes out as much as he does. While patience is a concern, his athleticism has won Yost over:

Look, I like Mondesi and still feel like it is waaaaaay to early to start giving up on the kid (he is only 21 years old). That being said, he is no Mike Trout. The only way Mondesi could be like Trout is in his dreams, and even there he probably can’t imagine himself as great as Mike Trout. In other words, this is a ridiculous comment…but I think I know what Ned is getting at. It really feels like Yost naming him the winner this early and comments like this are being done to boost up Mondesi’s ego and give him a bit of confidence going into the season. Whether or not he performs as well as Ned imagines is another issue, one that we will find out soon enough. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Raul not play every day at second and shuffle into a few roles, including pinch runner. The Royals lost Jarrod Dyson this offseason and only other player on the Kansas City roster that can rival Mondesi’s speed is Terrance Gore. While Mondesi isn’t going anywhere, I’m not sold that he will remain the every day second baseman all season long.

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Meanwhile, the news on Jorge Soler was not as positive:

It appears there is a good chance that Soler will start the year on the disabled list, mostly as a precaution:

Remember how we mentioned the Royals missing Dyson this year? If Soler does end up disabled, good chance Gore takes his spot on the roster. It’s been an interesting spring for Soler, as he has struggled, hitting .143/.254/.286 with only 3 extra base hits all spring (2 homers). I know there are some down on Soler already, but I feel it important to stress a couple of things here. For one, he has had only one major league season of more than 400 plate appearances and still doesn’t have a full season under his belt. Two, he is moving to a different team and was traded for one of the most dominant relievers over the last 3 years; there is a bit of stress that goes with that and trying to prove ones self. Three, he is also adjusting to a new league on top of all of this. I fully expected him to struggle for the first few months of the season and don’t feel like a knee-jerk reaction really is fair here. Soler has four years to prove his worth and while he will need to do that sooner than year four, I don’t think we will get a good estimation of what he can do until later into the 2018 season. While the injury isn’t great timing, it also might give him an opportunity to slide back into the team early in the season with a little less pressure on him.

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While the makeup of the roster is getting closer to being finalized, it is interesting on how this will shake out. Gore is an interesting add, since he is almost solely on the team as pinch runner which limits his usage. If the final spot goes down to Colon or Merrifield, I have to feel like Whit loses out and possibly only because of option availability. The other factor to remember here is that Yost is not huge on using his bench, so in some ways the structure of said bench isn’t as super important now as it will be come August and September. It also appears as if Peter Moylan is poised to take the final bullpen spot, but that will also mean that the Royals will need to make a corresponding 40 man roster move, as Moylan is currently not on it. I made the comment a few weeks ago that this Royals roster is the deepest it has been in years and it is showing with the roster moves made over the last couple of days.

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Within the next day or two we will know the Opening Day roster, as Yost wants the team to be locked in before they head to Arlington, Texas this weekend for a couple of warm-up games against the Rangers. Earlier in the spring, it was mentioned that the roster always finds a way to work itself out and it is looking like there is a lot of truth in that statement. This team is built for the long haul and is in a good spot to handle a Soler injury or to give a youngster like Mondesi a shot at a starting job. Hope springs eternal and we all hope that the Royals are right about Mondesi and Soler. Luckily, this is a team that can handle a few missteps.

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