It Has Been a Crazy Month for the Royals

Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

A month into the 2019 baseball season and one word sums up how it has gone so far for the Kansas City Royals: crazy. Crazy in that if you watch this team on a semi-regular basis, they don’t appear to be a team worthy of sharing baseball’s basement with the Marlins. But as we sit here on the doorstep of May, that is exactly where we are at.

That doesn’t mean there haven’t been positives so far in the campaign. Hunter Dozier is putting up MVP type numbers, as he is hitting .349/.447/.686 with 7 home runs and 17 RBIs, a total that is already creeping up on what he did in 2018.

Alex Gordon has been the phoenix, rising from years of below average production to hit .301/.395/.544 and an OPS+ of 149. Gordon has always been a streaky hitter, but a focus on patience and hitting the ball to the opposite field has made for a banner April so far in 2019.

In fact, both are posting leader board type numbers, especially when it comes to WAR for position players (the Baseball Reference variety) and Adjusted Batting Wins:

Offensively this Royals team is holding their own so far this year, taking up residence in the middle of the pack in most vital offensive categories, showing some offensive punch that many of us didn’t picture once the season began.

Credit: KC Star

Adalberto Mondesi is pretty much doing exactly what we all expected including leading the league in triples, Whit Merrifield has been a steady bat at the top of the lineup (and giving us Royals fans some excitement early this year with his hitting streak) and Jorge Soler is hitting dongs. Essentially, while the Royals offense isn’t perfect (Hello, Chris Owings), it has been a bit more consistent than I was expecting when the season began.

…and then there is the pitching. As much as we’ve been pleasantly surprised with the Royals hitters, there has been equal disappointment with the pitching. Overall, Kansas City is 13th in fWAR for the entire staff. The starters have been slightly better, as they are 9th in FIP, and…well, almost everything else is in the bottom section of the league.

While the relievers numbers aren’t much better (and early in the season showed a unique ability to blow the lead in almost any situation), there has been a noticeable improvement over the last couple of weeks. Over the last 14 days, Royals relievers have the 5th best fWAR, 3rd best FIP, 5th best ERA, 3rd highest LOB%, 2nd highest ground ball rate, and the 2nd lowest hard hit rate.

Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Maybe the most obvious reason for this turnaround is the ability by the Royals coaching staff in defining roles for the relievers. Early in the season, it was obvious that Royals manager Ned Yost was feeling out who was best suited for what role in this pen. With new guys like Brad Boxberger and Jake Diekman and longtime starter Ian Kennedy being moved to a new role, there was a lot of uncertainty with this squad. Now, the team has an idea who can do what and a lot of the early struggles have gone away. This isn’t to say there are no issues, just less than what we were seeing those first couple weeks of the season.

So here are the current standings in the American League Central:

The Royals are way out of the race at this point, 9.5 games back in a division that some consider the weakest in baseball. Maybe the good news is that no one team is running away with the division, so there is a lot of room for upward mobility, especially with five months left in the season.

Credit: AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

This is not to say the Royals can still be contenders. We all know what this team is. We all know the rebuild is in full effect. But is this team better than their performance in their first 29 games? I believe so. Luckily, more and more youngsters are going to get a chance to prove their worth in 2019. We’ve already seen Richard Lovelady and Kelvin Gutierrez. Before we know it, Nicky Lopez will be taking the trip from Omaha to Kansas City. While things look bleak now, if you squint just right in your royal blue colored glasses, it’s not hard to see this team occupying fourth or even third place before the season is done.

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It’s Simple: The Royals are 1-0!

If you are a baseball fan, then you know Opening Day is the closest thing we have to a holiday, outside of maybe Game 1 of the World Series. Game number one is where it all begins, the journey to a long six month season that brings us the highs and lows of this beautiful game.

Coming off of a 104 loss season, it felt imperative that the 2019 squad for the Kansas City Royals needed to kick-off the season with a bit of hope. Luckily, they did that. Adalberto Mondesi hit two triples. Whit Merrifield stole a couple of bases. Frank Schwindel made his major league debut and came up with a big hit (that is listed as an error, but I’m finding it hard not to count it as a hit) to knock in a run. Jorge Soler also came up big, providing some insurance runs as well as proving his good health. The Royals offense showed up, took advantage of some Chicago errors and got 2019 started on the right foot.

That’s right, the Royals won.

But the most impressive performance on Thursday was by Brad Keller, a guy who was a Rule 5 draft pick just one year ago. Keller threw seven shutout innings, giving up two hits and striking out five. Keller put on an “Ace” like performance and hopefully showed he is going to grow upon his stellar rookie season.

Yes, the Royals are undefeated this season.

So while the bullpen was shaky, the rain pushed back the start time almost two hours and the White Sox aren’t exactly one of the elite teams in the league, it was overall a good first game to put into the record book. I know there will be some downs to go along with the ups, but for now I’m just focused on a good foundation to start the year.

Now lets win 161 more.

The 2019 Kansas City Royals: A Rebuild By Any Other Name is Still a Rebuild

Credit: Kansas City Star

When 2018 ended, the Kansas City Royals wrapped up one of the worst seasons in team history. The team coasted to a 104 loss season, allowing almost 200 more runs than they scored and compiling the worst bullpen in baseball.

But something happened those last two months. The team compiled a 25-31 record in August and September and while on the surface it IS still a losing record, compared to the team’s 13-31 record in June and July, the latter months made them look like world beater’s.

So the team was actually riding a high those last two months and they were doing it with a simple philosophy: pitching and speed. For the first time all season, they looked more like the aggressive team we saw during their championship runs in 2014 and 2015 than the team’s that appeared to be scraping by the previous two seasons.

Credit: Kansas City Star

Whatever the reason, that philosophy trickled into the offseason and the Royals you are getting ready to see in 2019 appear to be a team ready to run. Management realized this was a team with very little power and the possibility of competing with other teams stocked with that extra ‘pop’ wasn’t going to get them very far. So instead, they have decided to take a page from Forrest Gump and just run.

The Royals already had the American League stolen base leader (Whit Merrifield) from last year and coupled with rising star Adalberto Mondesi (32 steals in 75 games), it appeared the team had an excellent one-two punch that would keep the opposing defense busy.

But then they signed super-speedy outfielder Billy Hamilton. Then they reunited with baseball’s version of Barry Allen, Terrance Gore. The Royals decided to double-down on speed and make sure that the catchers and pitchers around the league are going to have to stay on their toes when facing Kansas City this season.

Credit: Getty Images

But will this plan of attack work? The biggest roadblock to the Royals offense this season isn’t the lack of power or even the uncertainty of a number of younger players. The biggest fly in the ointment could very well be their ability to get on base, or lackthereof.

While Merrifield or even Ryan O’Hearn showed an ability last year to consistently find their way on base, bu t others did not. Hamilton is the biggest concern, as he posted a .299 OBP in 2018 with a rising strikeout rate. While he did see an uptick in his walk rate last year, he struck out more and saw an increase in his flyball rate. For a guy who’s sole purpose it is to get on base and cause havoc, it would appear less strike outs and putting the ball in the air less would be a healthier way to get the most desired results.

In fact, outside of Whit and Alex Gordon, no other Royals hitter had a walk total above 30. This is a team that needs to be on base as much as possible to score runs, since relying on a longball to help them doesn’t appear to be much of an option. The Royals were near the bottom portion in almost every power category last year for all of baseball and there doesn’t appear to be much help on the way. That being said, there could be some interesting developments to follow this year when it comes to the offense.

Credit: Kansas City Star

O’Hearn saw 170 plate appearances in his rookie year and showed that he could hit major league pitching, posting a solid OBP and an OPS+ of 155. But most of his damage was against righties, so the goal in 2019 is to see what he can do against lefties. The good news is that he produced some solid numbers in the minors against lefties in his career, so there is a chance that last year was an outlier.

Hunter Dozier struggled during most of his rookie campaign, but showed some steady progress as the year wore on. He has looked good this spring and his continued development would be huge for the Royals success this year.

Brett Phillips is starting the year in AAA, but he has a chance to be a regular if he can tone down his strike outs this year. Phillips has some major pop in his bat and combined with his above-average defense, could be a foundation piece for Kansas City if he battle some of his flaws this year.

Most eyes are on Mondesi to see what he does this year. He started seeing regular playing time in July of last year and once that happened he appeared to take off. He hit .276/.306/.498 last year with 14 home runs and an OPS+ of 116. Mondesi’s combination of speed and power illicits a lot of comparisons and if he can continue to hit with authority while showing a bit of patience, he could be an elite player in no time at all.

Credit: Kansas City Star

Then start the questions. Will Jorge Soler stay healthy? It felt like Soler had turned a corner last year and one wonders what would have been if he hadn’t fouled a ball off his foot in Oakland. For the Royals to show some improvement this year, they need a healthy Soler to steer the middle of the batting order.

Can Chris Owings rebound? Owings is the new ‘Alcides Escobar’ (ie. super utilityman, not player who will never leave) and it would appear he is going to be a semi-regular moving forward. But Owings hit a paltry .206/.272/.302 but he also posted an extremely low BABIP of .265 which could be a sign of bad luck. Owings has never posted an above-average offensive season, so his value at this point might be tied into how he produces on defense.

How about the catchers? With Salvador Perez gone for the year, the catcher’s spot will be helmed by Cam Gallagher and Martin Maldonado. While you shouldn’t expect much from these two on offense, defensively the Royals might actually see an improvement in 2019. I’m not saying either of these two are superior to Perez as much as I’m saying that what they excel at are the areas that Salvy struggles with. It will be interesting to see how these two mesh with the pitching staff.

Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Finally for the offense, Alex Gordon returns to man left field. Gordon hasn’t been the same since his collision with Mike Moustakas back in 2016, but he did show a few signs of offensive glory last year and defensively is an elite defender. This very well could be the end of the road for Gordon, as his contract is up at the end of the season and he has talked about going home and spending more time with his family.

As an Alex Gordon fan, this is going to be a hard season for me and this spring has already left me dreading what is close at hand. Gordon has been the lifeblood of this organization for a long time and it’s going to be strange if this is it. At some point this year, I will discuss a bit more in detail, but for me, Gordon has been the closest thing to George Brett the Royals have had since #5 retired. For those of us that have been around for the last 30+ years, 2019 will be an end of an era.

Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

All this talk about the offense and no mention of the pitching? No worries, as the rotation for Kansas City actually looks like a pretty solid group. Brad Keller looks to front the rotation this arm, as he looks to duplicate a great rookie season. Keller started the year as a Rule 5 pick that the Royals could stow away in the bullpen and by the end of the year he had locked down a starting job and become Kansas City’s most reliable pitcher.

Jake Junis and Jorge Lopez return and both look to improve in 2019. Junis was an innings eater last year but ran into some issues with the longball (32 home runs given up last year) and is hoping to cut that total down to a more livable number.

Lopez was acquired mid-season from Milwaukee and showed signs of being a stud as the season progressed. His most notable achievement last year was the perfect game he took into the 9th inning against the Twins in September. For the Royals to see some success this season, these two need to show some improvement in their game.

The back-end of the rotation looks to be filled by Homer Bailey and Danny Duffy. Bailey is looking to resurrect his career and showed glimpses of a solid starter throughout the spring. The biggest issue for Bailey has always been his consistency and for him to stay employed in Kansas City he is going to have to show some steadiness in his performance.

Duffy is coming back from an injury-riddled 2018 and is hoping to be ready once April rolls around next week. There are a lot of questions of whether Duffy can be an elite starter again or whether he can just stay healthy for a full season, and the Royals are going to give him every opportunity to show he can return to his past stellar glory. There was some talk of moving Duffy to the bullpen, but as of now he is slated for the rotation.

Credit: Kansas City Star

Speaking of, Ian Kennedy appears to be starting the season in the bullpen, a move that the coaches hope can keep him off the injured list. The Royals hope to use him as a guy who can throw a few innings at a time out of the pen while possibly filling in as a starter should an injury arise. There is some belief that Kennedy’s stuff will play better out of the pen, much like former Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar. Kennedy is locked in for another two seasons (counting this one), so Kansas City is going to give him one last chance to show his worth.

When talking about the bullpen, the honest truth is that one has to believe this year’s group can’t be any worse than the pen the Royals assembled in 2018. In fact, when I talked to Max Rieper of Royals Review earlier in the month, that was exactly his sentiments. It’s essentially addition by subtraction and with Maurer, Boyer and Grimm sent off to sea, the pen would appear to be improved from last year.

The Royals have added Brad Boxberger and Jake Diekman to fill the veteran quota of the pen, while also giving them some late inning experience that was sorely lacking for most of last year. Wily Peralta returns to fill a late inning role while Kevin McCarthy and Tim Hill also appear to be returning, and both were solid during their time in Kansas City last year.

That being said, it has sounded like there might not be defined roles in the pen for these relievers, at least early on. Boxberger, Diekman and Peralta will all be called upon to fill not only the late innings, but will be the primary candidates for any high-leverage situation. It will be interesting to see if anyone breaks away from the rest and ends up as the de facto closer in 2019.

Credit: Kansas City Star

But the real story out of the pen this spring has been the emergence of former first round draft pick Kyle Zimmer. Zimmer did not pitch at all in 2018, as Kansas City sent him to Driveline to build up his strength and see if they could help him stay healthy, which has been a longstanding issue with him.

After a solid stint there, Zimmer was signed by Kansas City to a major league contract and thrown onto the 40-man roster. All he did this spring is produce a 0.71 ERA in 12+ innings, striking out 8 and walking 4. His velocity is up a few MPH and appears to finally be ready to make his major league debut. If he continues to excel, he will easily be the best story to come out of Kansas City in what appears to be a year focused on rebuilding.

Yes, the Royals are rebuilding. I’m not declaring anything you don’t already know, but Dayton Moore has refused to use that ‘R’ word over the last 4 or 5 months, always implying that the team is still going to go out there and “compete”. As a veteran Royals fan, let me try my best to interpret “Dayton Speak”, which isn’t always as clear as one might think.

What I believe Moore is trying to relay is that Kansas City isn’t tanking this year, but rather trying to stay a bit competitive while also allowing a number of younger players the time to develop at the big league level. Now what this means they still want fans to come out to the stadium and not feel like this isn’t a team worth paying your hard earned money for. They also have a television contract to think about, and the higher the ratings, the higher the dollars will be once it is signed.

Credit: Nicky Lopez, Twitter

But in layman’s terms, yes, it is a rebuild. While the team has brought in veterans like Lucas Duda, Owings and Bailey to fill roles to start the year, it doesn’t mean those vets are the focus. The focus will be on not only the Lopez’s, Phillips’ and O’Hearn’s, but also guys like Nicky Lopez and Richard Lovelady, who will probably both make their big league debuts this year. It will be about finding out if a minor league vet like Frank Schwindel can take advantage of his opportunity in the big leagues. It will be about seeing who can fill what role and who is worth keeping around once this team starts winning again.

So if I am being fair and unbiased, this is probably a team who is going to win 70-75 games this year, a healthy improvement over last year. At times this team will look like they have turned a corner and other times they will look like a boxer who has fallen back into the ropes. Part of the joy of a rebuild is watching the youngsters learn and grow and a lot of times that includes more struggling than succeeding.

Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

So hopefully you come along for the ride. It’s going to get bumpy from time to time, but 162 games will do that to a person. What I can say with quite a bit of certainty is that no matter what, it’s hard to imagine this version of the Royals being as woeful as they were in 2018. This version will at least give you reasons to stay in your seat. Whether you want to see Mondesi or Merrifield, or Keller or Lovelady, it’s going to be an interesting development. Just call it what it is: it’s a rebuild, Kansas City style.

A Few Thoughts on the Royals Catching Situation

I’ve been a bit short on time recently, but I did want to pass along a few thoughts on the recent injury to Salvador Perez and the effects that will be felt by the Kansas City Royals.

For Salvy, it is a frustrating blow that could see big ramifications on his career. Not only will he be missing a full year to the injury, but there are no guarantees that Perez will return next year “as good as new”. In fact, when it comes to catchers who have the ill-fated Tommy John Surgery, the history is bleak to say the least. For a guy who is most valuable behind the dish, this might be one of the worst injuries that could occur to him.

How will the aftermath of this injury effect the Royals? Obviously the loss will hurt, especially when you add Perez’s value on both offense and defense. Cam Gallagher was scheduled to be the backup to Salvy before the injury and now will carry a bigger weight as he shares the position.

Gallagher brings above-average defense to the table, especially when it comes to pitch framing. Gallagher has caught a number of the pitchers within the Royals system over the years and has a good rapport with many of them.

Offensively, he will probably be below league-average with the bat. He’s never been known for his offensive prowess throughout his minor league career although he did see a bit of an uptick his last few years in Omaha. As far as I’m concerned, the Royals should only be concerned with what he does on defense this year and anything he adds with the bat should be considered extra.

The Royals have also gone out and acquired veteran backstop Martin Maldonado to share time with Gallagher this year. Maldonado is a former Gold Glove winner and is a good fit for Kansas City, a veteran who can work with the younger pitching staff. The Royals have a number of up and coming pitchers in their system and fitting a veteran defender with them makes the most sense for their development.

The signing of Maldonado also gives extra time to Meibrys Viloria, the other catcher on the 40-man roster. Viloria had a cup of coffee in the bigs last September, appearing in 10 games while hitting .259/.286/.333. More time in the minors for Viloria is a good thing, since before his recall last year he hadn’t played above high A ball (Wilmington) all year. Viloria is entering his age 22 season and while he could see time in Kansas City later in the season, a bit more seasoning during a rebuilding year isn’t the worst thing in the world for a prospect like him.

Credit: Kansas City Star

So while the injury to Perez will hurt, there are a few silver linings to it. If anything, the time away will save Salvy some wear and tear on his knees and he will hopefully be rested and ready to go next spring. Honestly, the Royals weren’t planning on contending this year, so giving extra playing time to a Gallagner or Viloria should only be considered a plus and an opportunity to find out what they have when it comes to catching depth.

The biggest loss is the positivity that Salvy brings to the clubhouse. Not having his childlike attitude around during a long, 162 game season means the Royals are losing a great influence on their youngsters for the better part of a season. Hopefully they can find a way to keep him around as much as possible while he rehabs the injury. God knows we as fans will miss seeing his grin while attending games at The K this year.

Something To Believe In

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It has to be hard for any major league team to let go of a failed prospect. All the years put into developing a player and hoping beyond hope that someday they will be a productive part of your major league roster. But as we all know, the truth is some players never grasp that brass ring and get the opportunity to prove their worth.

In this regard, the Kansas City Royals are like every team in baseball. We’ve all scoured the prospect lists and prayed that “this year” will be the year longstanding prospects emerge from the cocoon. We’ll search through the numbers to find a silver lining that shows why things will be different this time. In other words, we spend a lot of time detached from reality.

You have to wonder sometimes how often the Royals wore the “rose-colored glasses” while evaluating Bubba Starling and Kyle Zimmer. To be honest, I don’t blame them. Both were 1st round draft picks for Kansas City that to date just haven’t panned out the way everyone had hoped. Both have also battled injuries and inconsistency, a double-whammy of dread that can feel like a never-ending punch to the gut. It also leads to a higher level of hope.

Credit: Kansas City Star

The talent is there. Zimmer has electric stuff that can make hitters shake their head as they walk back to the dugout. Starling has always been a top shelf athlete that has the ability to be a five-tool player. There is a reason the Royals drafted them as high as they did and the Royals belief in their ability is why we are still talking about them today.

But the bigger question to ask is whether we should still be talking about them. If we are being honest here, most teams would have said sayonara to both Starling and Zimmer and moved on. Maybe in an alternate universe, the Royals would have as well. But in the here and now, it’s easy to see why the Royals just won’t quit these two.

Zimmer and Starling were to be part of the next wave of talent to be ready when the Eric Hosmer’s and Lorenzo Cain’s moved on to greener pastures ($$$). The plan was always for a consistent flow of talent to come along in Kansas City and replace the old guard. You’ve heard it termed as “The Process”. But between trades, injuries and prospects just not developing like many had hoped, Kansas City is now in a position where they are treading water.

Credit: Kansas City Star

The idea of contention is still a few years away and that leaves opportunity for players who might not have received it in the past. This is why at this stage of the game, it makes sense for the Royals to keep these two in the fold. If Kansas City looked at themselves as playoff hopefuls, there’s a good chance Zimmer and Starling would have been gone for good. But instead, they have been given a second chance.

Zimmer was cut last year and re-signed to a minor league contract. He spent most of last summer at Driveline Baseball, where he built up strength in his arm. There were no guarantees it would work, but the Royals felt like it was worth a shot. Luckily, it appeared to be a success and back in October there were nothing but positives when it came to Zimmer:

“I’ve been throwing three or four times a week off the mound for about three weeks,” Zimmer said. “I’m having no issues at all. It’s really crazy, because in the past, if I threw one time off the mound, I’d be blown up for days. Now, it’s no soreness at all. No pain. None.”


And his present velocity?


“I’ve been at 93-94 [mph] off the mound and still building,” he said. “I have a lot of time until Spring Training. Just to be comfortable again while throwing is pretty exciting. I’m throwing all my pitches, too.”

Zimmer was rewarded with a major league contract last month and could be just what the Royals are looking for in their bullpen. The Royals took a chance on him and we now get to find out if it will pay off.

Credit: Kansas City Star

It’s possible Starling will take advantage of his second opportunity as well, as he was signed to a minor league deal last month. It’s obvious that the Royals believe enough in these players that they haven’t given up hope yet.

It’s been said before that Dayton Moore sometimes gets too close to his players and that is especially true for those that come up through the Royals farm system. While from a business standpoint it might not always be smart to have that attachment to his players, it also means at times he sticks with someone that just needs another chance. It might not be the way you or I would go about handling a baseball organization, but for Dayton, he is pulling for the person, not always the athlete.

As fans, we tend to cheer for the underdog. We want to believe the impossible can still be done. So while some might have given up on Kyle Zimmer and Bubba Starling, the Royals are giving them their chance to be the underdog and defy the odds. I have no clue if it will be a successful decision, but baseball tends to make believers out of the most skeptical of us. Here’s to Zimmer and Starling making us think with our heart rather than our head.

A Change in the Rules?

Credit: Kansas City Star

About a week ago, word leaked out (and the link is to The Athletic, which is a pay site) that Major League Baseball had sent a proposal to the players’ union back in January, which included a number of rule changes to discuss before the 2019 campaign. The player’s counted with their own proposal on some changes as well. Today, lets examine some of the rules that were proposed and I’ll toss in my two cents on any thoughts I have on the subject.

As part of a Jan. 14 proposal to the players’ union on pace of play, baseball suggested a rule requiring pitchers to face a minimum of three batters, sources told The Athletic.

I really have no issue if this rule went into effect. Now, from my understanding is that the “three batter minimum” would not be forced if a pitcher ended an inning or if he would get injured before facing the required three batters (obviously). I like that there was some thought put into this and it wasn’t just a blanket minimum that was enforced.

Now, the reason for it is pretty simple. Over the last few years, as relievers have been used more and more, there have been a plethora of pitching changes that end up hurting the flow of the game. A pitcher will come in, lets say a lefty to face a left-handed batter, and would then be taken out after that at bat was over. Then the manager calls in another reliever and the Ferris wheel of moves begin.

It’s pure strategy and while most of us will agree it is a smart maneuver (as a manager is trying to put together the best match-ups), it also kills the flow of the game. Since pace of play has been such a big issue these last few years, you could see where a rule change like this would have the desired effect that the hierarchy of MLB would prefer.

Personally, I don’t hate the idea. Yes, I hate that the LOOGY would appear to go away (and if you haven’t figured it out, I just like to say LOOGY) but I also believe that strategy would still play into match-ups and this would actually force a manager to think a number of batters ahead, which I’m sure many are already doing.

The interesting part would be taking into account who is on the opposing teams bench and whether or not you believe your foe would pinch hit once you bring a reliever in to face the minimum. By no means is it a perfect solution, but I can see the advantages of enforcing this change in the near future.

Credit: Getty Images

There were a few more changes proposed, including one that shouldn’t surprise anyone:

A universal designated hitter — something the players have sought for more than three decades, according to commissioner Rob Manfred — also was part of the union’s proposal. Under the plan, the National League would adopt the DH for the 2019 season.

Honestly, this is going to happen at some point. Might not be this year, or even next year, but eventually this will happen. The union will never allow the DH to be taken away, as that is one more player making a bigger salary and they are going to move forward, not back. A universal DH would take away the changes involved in interleague games and even during the World Series and All-Star Game as well.

That being said, I’ve always enjoyed that the two leagues have their own set of rules. Do I love watching pitchers hit? Not even a little bit. Do I like the strategy involved with double switches and the moves made when the pitchers spot comes up in the order? Yes I do. My preference is to have the leagues continue to be different, but I understand the thinking behind the move.

At some point, teams are going to want to avoid their pitchers having another opportunity to get hurt. Yes, it doesn’t happen enough to really throw a big fit, but it does happen. Also, pitchers batted .115 last year with an OBP of .144 and a slugging percentage of .149. Taking away the pitcher would add more offense to the game and that is what Rob Manfred is really looking for.

On a side-note, someone on Twitter last week suggested just not having a spot in the order for the DH or a pitcher, leaving a batting order with just eight batters. While I really loved the “out of the box” thinking, there is no way it would happen. Once again, the union would want another player salary in that spot. In other words, the universal DH will be a thing at some point.

There were more changes mentioned as well:

The Associated Press previously reported that baseball also has proposed increasing the minimum time a player spends on the disabled list and amount of time an optioned player spends in the minor leagues from 10 to 15 days.

I have no issue with this. In fact, the disabled list will be referred to moving forward as the injured list. Both of these moves would be good for the game.

In baseball’s view, the limit on reliever usage would become even more necessary with the introduction of a 26-man roster; MLB would want to discourage teams from using the extra roster spot on another bullpen arm.

Another rule change would be making rosters 26 deep instead of 25. I’ve felt for years that move should be made and have honestly wondered how long it was really going to take to enforce it. The one hitch in this idea would be trying to tell teams how to structure their roster. If they want another reliever, let them have it. At the end of the day, you have to let teams decide individually how they want to put together their roster, good or bad.

There is a rule change that has been mentioned that while on the surface I understand, there is an underlying issue that would make it hard for me to support it:

Among the proposals being discussed by Major League Baseball and the players’ union this winter is the formation of a joint committee to study whether to move back the mound to help hitters, at a time when pitchers’ velocity has reached levels never before seen in history.
The committee, if agreed to by both sides, would also look at the potential impact of lowering the mound by as many as six inches.

On the surface, I understand why this move would be made. Baseball has seen a noticeable increase in pitcher’s velocity these last few years and combined with the higher usage of breaking pitches, it has made for less and less balls being put into play. In fact, in 2018 there were more strike outs than hits. While the hitters can take some of the blame for that, a big factor is the elevation in pitcher’s velocity.

My problem with the proposed changes is that it is always the pitcher who is punished, never the hitter. Just go back to 1968, when they lowered the mound to improve offense. The pitchers were so dominate and the offense was so anemic (The White Sox produced 2.86 runs per game. The Dodgers and Mets weren’t much better at 2.90 per game) that they lowered the mound to even the odds.

My big issue if they changed it this time would be the hitters lack of attempt when it comes to adjusting. Most hitters today are swinging for the fences, whether there are zero strikes or two strikes and they are doing it because the system is compensating those who do. The advent of launch angle and exit velocity has proven success for many, as the ball being put in the air helps lead to an increase in power numbers. But it has also lead to more strike outs.

The fact we aren’t seeing hitters adjust their mentality when two strikes are put on them or even trying to punch the ball to the opposite field when a shift has been put on, doesn’t make me want to reward them. It feels like if there is a lowering of the mound or it even being pushed back a bit, baseball is saying that it doesn’t matter what the pitchers do to gain an advantage, we will always reward the hitters.

While I understand the need for more offense and yes, baseball does need that, this just feels like a giant slap to the face of the pitchers. If the hitters were adjusting and still not seeing an increase in offense, that would be one thing. But there is no adjustment and right now there is no incentive for them to do so. Baseball is paying for power and willing to make changes whether they adjust or not. It just doesn’t feel very fair when it comes to the pitchers perspective.

The good news is that MLB and the players’ union are looking at possible improvements to the game to try and make it a more pleasurable experience for everyone. While it appears these changes won’t take place in 2019, the fact there is at the least a discussion should make any baseball fan hopeful for change in the near future. No one ever gets ahead by just staying pat; the name of the game is evolution. If baseball doesn’t evolve, it is going to get left behind.

Taking Whit for Granted

Last Monday, it was made official, as the Kansas City Royals and Whit Merrifield came to an agreement on a 4-year deal worth a guaranteed $16.25 million. The deal is one that benefits both the team and the player, and it would appear keeps Whit in Kansas City for the foreseeable future.

But what this deal will also do is really force us to appreciate what Whit Merrifield has done so far in his major league career. While we have praised him and been in awe of his productivity over these last couple of years, the honest truth is we took him for granted. Yes, we haven’t really admired and valued him the way we should have.

This doesn’t mean we haven’t loved watching him perform on the diamond or been impressed with what he has accomplished. As a fanbase, I feel we have done that and we’ve embraced him as one of us, a true Royal. But there is a line where you can enjoy watching and cheering on a player but not really grasp what your eyes are seeing. There is a point where you are not really appreciating what stands before you.

We all know how impressive it has been that Whit, at the age of 27, made his major league debut, an age that normally doesn’t guarantee success. Since that debut, Whit has posted a 3 WAR season, a 5 WAR season and has accumulated 11 bWAR over his career. Great numbers for a guy who no one saw as more than a bench player, let along a top prospect.

In fact, Merrifield has been compared to former Royal Ben Zobrist when it comes to his versatility and it’s not just his ability to play all over the diamond that feeds the comparison. Zobrist made his major league debut at the age of 25, but didn’t really stick in the big leagues until his age 28 season. That year saw him pile up 8.6 bWAR and an OPS+ of 149. While Whit hasn’t quite up the power numbers that Zobrist did in his prime, there is enough statistical comparisons to see that the two have very similar trajectories.

Both were late bloomers and that pushed us to believe that Whit was an anomaly. After the 2017 campaign, many of us (myself included) felt that the smartest play for the Royals was to trade Merrifield. The belief was that his value was never going to get higher and there was no guarantee that he would be able to duplicate what he did during that season.

Credit: John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS via Getty Images

So what did he do? He just came out and hit .304/.367/.438 while leading the league in hits and stolen bases. He racked up 5.5 bWAR and proved himself to be one of the top second basemen in the game, despite the fact that the Royals were still moving him around the field like a chess piece. Whit defied the odds and continued to improve his production.

Even after what he did in 2018, many felt the smart move to was to trade him this winter. As someone who used to be in that camp, it’s easy to see the logic. Here is a player who is entering his age 30 season, coming off of a 5 win season, playing for a team that doesn’t appear to be contending for postseason play for at least a couple more years. Using the rebuilding playbook, it would make sense to see what you could get for Merrifield and make a deal for younger players who could help the team in their contending window.

Makes sense, right? To me, this is where we have been taking him for granted. We’ve been so focused on Whit’s fall from grace and how he will be nearing his mid-30’s by the time the Royals are contending that we haven’t focused on how he can help this club get there in the first place.

Credit: Getty Images

While a young team can strive based on talent alone, there is always a piece of the puzzle that could and should be filled by the veterans that lead them there. Go ask the 2014 Royals about Raul Ibanez and what he meant. Go ask the 2015 team about Jonny Gomes. Keeping Merrifield around to be an influence on the players moving up through their system can only be looked at as a positive for Kansas City.

Just look at his story. The guy was left off the Royals 40-man roster a few years back, available for any team to take in the Rule 5 Draft. Luckily, he wasn’t taken, worked himself back to reach the big leagues, was left off the Opening Day roster in 2017, returned to Kansas City and has turned himself into an All-Star caliber player. If you are a young player who has struggled or is struggling, Whit is motivation that anything is possible if you set your mind to it.

That hard work, the work ethic, will find a way to rub off on the players we will see over these next couple of years. It’s easy to see Merrifield taking a more prominent leadership role moving forward and possibly even replacing Alex Gordon as a shining example of the hard work put into honing your craft.

Even if Whit drops off a bit these next few years (and that is possible as he gets closer to reaching his regression years), it doesn’t appear as if he is just going to drop off the board entirely. Even a 2-3 WAR season is more than adequate for a guy looking to build up a team that is rebuilding. Whit’s value at this point goes beyond the numbers on the field as he looks to be a cornerstone for the Royals moving forward.

So we now know that Whit is not going anywhere and we can really start focusing on all that makes him great. We can focus on the speed, the skill, the unselfishness and even the leadership. Rather than focus on what the Royals can get for him, we can turn our attention to how he can make the team better.

Dayton Moore is a big believer in loyalty and when he has that devotion he pays it back in spades. Whit has been loyal to the organization and on Monday he was shown that loyalty back. While we sometimes scoff at the manner in which Moore handles matters on the field, there is something to be said for focusing on players with high character.

But that character has to be met with productivity to truly work. Hopefully Whit will reward the organization’s loyalty with the same output we have seen these last two seasons. It’s time to start paying attention to what Merrifield really means to this team. It’s hard to bet against the guy who has defied all the odds up to this point.

My 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot

Credit: BaseballHall.org

There is no greater honor in any sport than getting a plaque in the baseball Hall of Fame. I’m sure someone who believes the NFL or NBA is a greater honor will debate me on this, but there is never the sort of debate toward their hall’s as there is in baseball. That debate has grown into a fervor among baseball fans, writers and even players, as every one seems to have an opinion on this topic. 

What has made it even more intense is what we should do with players who were “suspected” of enhancement thanks to steroids and other performance enhancement drugs, and whether or not they deserve a spot in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown or left on the outside looking in. In some ways, the people who vote on this honor are the judge, jury and executioner, as testing was not done during this period so for many of the players of that era there is no definite of what they did or did not do. 

As a member of the IBWAA, this will be my fifth year of voting for ‘the Hall’ and as I have said in years past, I have no issue voting for anyone suspected for PED use, since I feel those players played within the parameters of the rules allowed at that time. I’ve long considered the Hall of Fame a museum of the game, not a church, and because of this I vote based on performance alone. 

Now, there are a few differences between us in the IBWAA & our brethren in the BBWAA, one of which is the players we have already inducted. Last year we inducted Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman and Barry Bonds, and in years past we had already voted in Edgar Martinez, so he will not show up on our ballot this year. Also, we are allowed to vote for up to 15 players, where the BBWAA can only vote for 10. 

Before we get to my actual votes, you can read my previous votes: Here is 2014201520162017  and 2018. Also, follow Ryan Thibodaux on Twitter. That way you can follow how the voting is going before the big announcement on January 22nd. Without further ado, here are my votes for the 2018 Hall of Fame ballot.

Roy Halladay

Halladay might very well be the last of his kind, a pitcher who finishes what he started. Halladay came along during a period where the big shift into using relievers more often hadn’t quite hit yet, but was getting closer and closer every day. Halladay was that guy who you handed the ball to and that day the bullpen was probably getting a bit of a reprieve.

But it wasn’t just his stamina that made him great, in fact that is just a small portion of the picture. “Doc” was an ace in every sense of the world, as he threw his fastball with a bit of sink to it, sprinkled in with one of the hardest cutters in the game and topped off with a curveball and the occasional changeup that was closer to a split-finger fastball. Halladay’s game was all about location and movement.

What the numbers tell us about Halladay is that he is right up there with the greats of the game. He is 42nd all-time in WAR for pitchers, 71st in strike outs, 25th in strike out to walk ratio, 40th in ERA+, 28th in pitching runs, 20th in RE24, and 15th in WPA. He posted eight years with 5 WAR or better and four of those years were above 7 bWAR. While his early years saw a lot of ups and downs, the later one showed a pitcher who developed himself into one of the best of his era.

This also showed in the awards and “black ink” he compiled throughout his career. Halladay won a Cy Young Award in both leagues, was selected to 8 All-Star teams, threw a perfect game back in 2010 against the Marlins and later that year threw the first postseason no-hitter since Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Roy led his league in wins twice, complete games seven times, innings pitched four times, and ERA+, FIP and WHIP all one time apiece.

While Halladay has the numbers, the achievements and the iconic moments, the real story of his greatness is that of a baseball player who was an even better human being. After his death from a plane crash in late 2017, former teammate Cole Hamels spoke fondly of him at a life celebration in Florida:

Roy showed everyone what to do. He was not boastful. He was the most humble human being I’ve ever met. The type of talent and integrity he had in the game of baseball.
“And on the outside? He was a loving father, a loving husband. And that right there really exemplifies more than the game of baseball. 

So while some believed it might take awhile for Halladay to get voted in to Cooperstown, he now looks like a lock for induction this upcoming summer. With close to half of the ballots known, “Doc” is sitting at well above 90% of the votes and will take his rightful place in the baseball Hall of Fame this summer.

While it will be a special moment for his family, it has to be a somewhat bittersweet that he won’t be there himself to accept the plaque. Halladay overcame his early career struggles and turned himself into one of the best pitchers of all-time. His is a story that should be told till the end of time, and hopefully this honor will cement that legacy that earned him a spot in the conversation in the first place.

Credit: Lisa Blumenfeld

Todd Helton

There is going to be a big debate of whether or not former Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton deserves enshrinement into the Hall of Fame and while some will question his numbers due to Coors Field, I do not. In my eyes, Helton was a well above-average hitter for a very long time, a plus defender and worthy of being a Hall of Famer.

But lets start with those numbers to really get a feel for what he accomplished over his 17 year career. Helton had a lifetime .316/.414/.539 line with 369 home runs, 1406 RBI’s and 61.2 bWAR. He ranks 67th all-time in batting average, 27th in on-base percentage, 36th in slugging percentage, 19th in OPS, 96th in runs scored, 97 in career hits, 62nd in total bases, 19th in doubles, 80th in home runs, 77th in RBI’s, 32nd in runs created, 40th in extra base hits and 34th in career WPA. I’ve always been a firm believer that if you are a great player you have to achieve numbers that litter the Top 100 of all-time and Helton does that.

But the elephant in the room that hurts Helton is the “Coors Field Effect”. Unfortunately, the splits tell us that Helton did benefit from playing at one of the better offensive ballparks in baseball, as he hit .345/.411/.607 at home and .287/.386/.469 on the road. There is a big enough disparity there that will cause some to shy away from voting for Helton, essentially saying he wouldn’t have his numbers if it weren’t for playing at Coors.

While he did perform better at home, the only real drastic difference in his home/road splits is home runs: he hit 227 at home and 142 on the road. Most of his other numbers are at least moderately comparable on the road, or at least enough that we shouldn’t discredit him for the work he did in his home ballpark.

The number that really should sway you to Helton’s side is his career OPS+, which is adjusted to a league average. Essentially, that number normalizes itself to factor in elements like ballparks and trends in different leagues. So even with that factored in, Helton has a career OPS+ of 133, which is 33% better than the league average. So when you take out the “Coors Field Effect”, Helton is still performing well above the normal hitter in baseball.

The numbers continue to speak of an elite hitter. Helton is ranked 18th all-time at first base at the Hall of Stats and his hitting stats are comparable to some all-time greats. His offensive similarity scores are right up there with Jeff Bagwell (HOFer), Miguel Cabrera (future HOFer), and Edgar Martinez (soon to be HOFer). Add in his elite defense and you have a guy who should be getting a plaque in Cooperstown at some point.

Helton can also add in some black ink (his 2000 season was an absolutely monster season), 5 straight All-Star nods, 3 Gold Glove awards and 4 Silver Sluggers at a very touted position. This all spells ‘Hall of Famer’ to me.

The good news is that while he won’t get the support I would like this year, he is polling at around 20% right now which should help him stay on the ballot for future years. Add in a number of players getting voted in this year and a few falling off, and you have a recipe for some to give him a deeper look in future years. Hopefully by the time it is all said and done, Todd Helton will receive the honor he deserves in the very near future.

Credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Andruw Jones

If there is a name on this ballot that made me go back and forth on, it was Jones. 2018 was the first year he appeared on the ballot and while I took a long, hard look at his candidacy, in the end I passed. This year, I decided to take a deeper look and see if I should reconsider and on further review, Jones appears to be a prime candidate for election.

The strongest part of Jones’ game was his defense. He posted ten straight years of winning the Gold Glove Award and racked up 24.5 defensive WAR throughout his 17-year career. Elite defenders within the game should always get a second look, no matter how much we fawn over their offensive.

So while Andruw’s defense is without a doubt ‘Hall-worthy’, his work with the bat wasn’t that bad either. Career-wise, Jones hit .254/.337/.486 with 434 home runs, 1289 RBI’s and 62.8 bWAR. While these are very, very solid numbers, you can see where someone would be skeptical. But if you are like me, you appreciate a player’s 7-year peak.

Jones put up over six years of an OPS+ higher than 120 and ten years where he hit 20 home runs or more. 2005 was a stellar season for him, as he hit 51 homers, knocked in 128 runs and put up an OPS+ of 136. While that was the top of the mountain for Jones, in his prime he consistently produced well above-average offensively and was a force in the middle of the Atlanta offense.

When you add in his defense is where the numbers start really popping. Jones had six seasons where he had 5 win seasons (5 WAR or more) and eight 4 win seasons. When it comes to peaks, Jones was one of the elite players in the game and in fact he is 105th all-time in WAR for position players and 21st in defensive WAR.

Jones also has an impressive number of career totals that help his cause. He is 47th all-time in home runs, 88th in extra base hits and 66th in AB per HR. I normally prefer a Hall of Famer to have more numbers in the Top 100, but Jones’ superior defense brings his case right to the borderline.

So it comes down to how you feel about a player’s peak. If you are like me, you feel the peak is one of the biggest factors in a player’s candidacy and even if you fall off the board hard late in your career(like Jones did), the peak makes up for the regression.

If not, someone like Jones falls just short of the parameters for Cooperstown. This is why the case for him is a difficult one, since you are looking at a player who was a great, great player for a good chunk of his career. But once he started the fall, he fell hard and fast.

So while I wavered on Jones last year, this year it felt like the peak was so good and the defense was so elite that he was worthy of my vote. I can understand anyone who feels otherwise, as it really comes down to what you value on a player’s contributions to the game. To me, the fact Jones was the best defender at his position for close to ten years and a great run producer for around seven years for enough for me. For others, Jones’ case will fall just a bit short.

Roy Oswalt

Just like Andruw Jones, Roy Oswalt is the case for inducting him based off of his peak years. During his prime, Oswalt was one of the best pitchers of his era. Unfortunately, his is a career that hit a wall due to injuries.

Let’s start with the basics: Oswalt threw 2245.1 innings in his big league career, striking out 1852 batters and a career ERA of 3.36. On the surface, those are good numbers, but maybe not instant ‘Hall-worthy’ stats. Not even the 50 bWAR, 127 career ERA+ and 20 career complete games push him in the definite category of Hall of Famer.

But the peak is definitely a great one. During his first seven years in the league, Oswalt threw 1413 innings, posting a 3.07 ERA and striking out 1170 batters. Throw in an ERA+ of 143 and a FIP of 3.23 and you start making the argument for Oswalt being an elite pitcher.

Oswalt can even toss in some black ink for his case. He led the league in wins back in 2004, WHIP in 2010 and strike out to walk ratio in 2006. He also posted five 4 win seasons (and almost a sixth in 2004 when he had 3.4 bWAR), which helps his case as one of the best pitchers of his era.

But the overall numbers aren’t too bad when you really start to digest them. Oswalt is 105th in WAR for pitchers, 99th in strike outs per 9, 105th in strike outs, 26th in strike out to walk ratio, 50th in ERA+, 43rd in RE24 and 59th in WPA. It’s very obviously Oswalt wasn’t a compiler and it really makes you wonder what would have happened if he had been able to stay healthy more often late in his career.

In fact, Oswalt might be the ultimate borderline pitcher. His similarity score is on par with other pitchers right on the line: Bret Saberhagen, Jered Weaver and Cliff Lee. The Hall of Stats has him ranked 79th all-time among pitchers and that feels pretty accurate to me.

So if you feel Roy Oswalt is just short of being a Hall of Famer, I can see that. He is right on that line where you have to decide what a player’s true value is. To me, Oswalt is just over that line but I don’t know if he will see a second ballot to continue the discussion. Oswalt is currently polling at 1.1% on the BBWAA ballot with 45% made public at the moment. It’s too bad, because at the very least he deserves to stick around so there can be more discussions about his candidacy.

Manny Ramirez

Many voters have said the difference to them between Bonds or Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro or Ramirez is that the latter tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and was justly suspended. In fact, last year when I started filling out my ballot, I paused on Ramirez and had to really stop and think of which direction I wanted to go. Like I have said, my voting is performance based but an actual suspension (and for Manny it was multiple suspensions) muddies the water a bit.

After much contemplation, I went ahead and voted for Manny since he had put up Hall of Fame numbers before the suspensions. While Ramirez wasn’t a stellar defender (and that is evidenced by his career bWAR of 69.2), offensively he was a juggernaut. Manny posted a career line of .312/.411/.585 with 555 career home runs, and an OPS+ of 154. I firmly believe he could hit blindfolded and still produce league average numbers, as he was that good of a hitter.

Manny also contributed during the playoffs, where he hit .285/.394/.544 with 29 home runs and 78 RBI’s over 111 postseason games, all fairly on pace to his regular season averages. The awards are all there for him as he was a 12 time All-Star, 2 time Hank Aaron award winner, 2002 AL batting title, 2004 World Series MVP, and 9 time Silver Slugger award winner. If that isn’t impressive enough, the numbers are quite gaudy: 32nd all-time in oWAR, 32nd in On-Base Percentage, 8th in Slugging Percentage, 8th in OPS, 29th in total bases, 31st in doubles, 15th in home runs, 18th in RBI’s, 28th in OPS+, 21st in runs created, 17th in Adjusted Batting Runs, 20th in Adjusted Batting Wins, 16th in extra base hits, 11th in RE24,  and 23rd in Win Probability Added. Those are Hall of Fame numbers and most of that accumulated before he tested positive for anything.

Would I hold it against anyone for not voting for him because of the suspensions? Nope. I get it.But for me, Ramirez has long been a Hall of Famer; the only thing those suspensions did was tarnish the perception of him, which is unfortunate. Instead of people remembering Manny for his child-like antics or immense hitting, he will be branded a cheater. He has no one else to blame for that, but I still felt like he had earned my vote, scarlet letter and all.

Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Mariano Rivera

If there was a no-doubt, absolute lock on this ballot, it’s Mariano Rivera. There is no discussion, no trepidation or even a second thought: Rivera is the greatest closer in baseball history. The only reason to not vote for him would be if you are trying to save other players from falling off the ballot. That is how definite Rivera is.

Literally everything about his career backs this up. Thirteen All-Star nods, a World Series MVP, an ALCS MVP, and an astounding 0.70 postseason ERA just tell part of the story. He is 77th all-time in bWAR for pitchers, 3rd in WHIP, 8th in hits per 9, first in saves, 10th in strike out to walk ratio, first in ERA+, 18th in RE24, 5th in WPA and 4th in games played.

Rivera compiled 56.2 bWAR over his career, including 10 seasons of 3 WAR or more. The average Hall of Fame reliever has 38.1 bWAR over his career, a number that Rivera absolutely blows away. He simply was the best at what he did.

For him, it’s the numbers but also the moments. The playoff appearances, the World Series moments and the high-leverage situations that went along with it. Rivera was the guy you wanted on the mound if you need to protect a lead in a big game.

Rivera is currently polling at 100% on the known BBWAA ballots and is a lock to be in Cooperstown this upcoming summer. There has been a number of debates on whether or not he should or will get all of the votes, but to me that doesn’t matter. Whether he gets 99 or 100%, either way there is no doubt of his final destination. Mariano Rivera is a Hall of Famer and that is the end of the discussion.

Credit: Associated Press

Scott Rolen

If there is a player I voted for that I feel others will look past on first glance when they absolutely shouldn’t, it’s Scott Rolen. I mentioned last year how under-represented the position of third base is and voting for Rolen would go a long way toward making up some much-needed ground.

While the defensive metrics still feel a bit like a work in progress, there is no denying that he was an elite defender. Rolen sits 6th all-time in total zone runs as a third baseman, 32nd for range factor/9 innings for a third baseman and is second in defensive runs saved as a third sacker since 2002. Rolen was 48th all-time in defensive WAR, an eight-time Gold Glove winner and outside of maybe Adrian Beltre, was considered the elite defender at the position during his day.

Now, defense alone doesn’t get you in the hall, otherwise someone like Mark Belanger would have a nice little plaque. Luckily for Rolen, his offense was stellar as well. The stats don’t speak as a world beater as much as a consistent performer throughout his 17 year career; 99th all-time in WAR (67th for position players), 51st in career doubles, 74th in extra base hits and 104th in Win Probability Added. Like I said, not breaking any records but I doubt many would expect these kind of footprints stepping into the statistical records of baseball history.

But to truly honor Rolen’s greatness, all you have to do is view his place in third basemen all-time. Rolen sits 10th for third basemen all-time in WAR, 14th in WAR7, and 10th in JAWS. If you believe in those numbers as much as I do, you consider Rolen one of the greatest third baseman in history…but there is more. When considering the other players at his position, he is 6th in doubles, 15th in home runs, 14th in RBI’s, 14th in slugging percentage, and 11th in OPS.

To top it all off, the Hall of Stats has him listed as a 142 Hall Rating, 85th all-time overall and 8th among third baseman. In other words, he was great and totally deserves this honor. I really wish Rolen was getting more support this year, since I really feel like he is the third base equivalent of Alan Trammell. Great numbers, especially the more you dive into them but overshadowed by his peers who played at the same time. At some point he will get his acknowledgement, it’s just a matter of how long that takes to happen.

Curt Schilling

There might not be a bigger lightning rod on the Hall of Fame ballot than Schilling, who has caught quite a bit of scorn for his behavior on social media within the last couple of years. While I might not agree with his politics, I do realize it has nothing to do with his candidacy in the Hall and justly had no qualms in voting for him yet again this year.

Schilling’s numbers speak of a top-notch starter: 26th all-time in pitchers bWAR, 15th in strikeouts, 3rd best strikeout to walk ratio, 18th best Win Probability Added and 46th best ERA+. Those are just his regular season numbers; toss in the postseason and you have a surefire Hall of Famer.

Schilling has rubbed many a writer the wrong way (and by no means do I feel sorry for Curt; he would probably be better off learning when to keep quiet and because of that his vote totals have not been where they should be these last few years. I might not like Schilling the person, but the baseball player was one hell of a pitcher out on the diamond. For that, he has my vote.

Credit: Ron Antonelli via Getty Images

Gary Sheffield

Over the last few years I have gone back and forth on Gary Sheffield and his candidacy for the Hall of Fame. Maybe it was because he bounced around from team to team, or the fact that he bounced between the infield and the outfield throughout his career. Either way, it was easy to leave Sheff out of the conversation and feel like he was on the cusp of greatness.

But when I finally broke down the numbers, it really felt like his case has been one of the most overlooked when it comes to the hall. Sheffield played right field more than any other position, so I first stacked his numbers against the others at that position. Sheffield is 19th in WAR for right fielders, just below Shoeless Joe Jackson and Dave Winfield. He ranks a bit lower on his peak, as he sits 24th in WAR7, above Hall of Famers Winfield, Chuck Klein, Willie Keeler, and Enos Slaughter. He is also at 24th in JAWS while 7th in home runs, 8th in RBI’s, 12th in OPS and 15th in OPS+.

Now, right fielders are well represented in the hall (24 to be exact) so Sheffield holds his own in the position, even if he is slightly below the elite level. But as I mentioned earlier, I’m a big proponent of where players stack up all-time and that is where Sheffield shines. He is 35th in offensive WAR (obviously his defense dragged him down a bit in the WAR category), 88th in on-base percentage, 76th in slugging percentage, 58th in OPS, 69th in hits, 34th in total bases, 26th in home runs, 28th in RBI’s, 21st in walks, 78th in OPS+, 26th in runs created, 39th in extra base hits, 25th in RE24, and 16th in Win Probability Added. I’m sure the fact he played 22 seasons helped him compile a decent amount of those numbers, but he also was able to stay healthy and be a consistent run producer for almost the entirety of his career.

Sheffield had six seasons with an OPS+ of 150 or more and was above league average for all but two years of his career (one was his rookie year and the other was his age 39 season). So what has hurt Sheffield’s case? I’m sure a few people would mention that his name was in the Mitchell Report and had been linked to PED’s in the past. Like I mentioned, that doesn’t affect my voting. But the other concern was his defense. It didn’t really matter whether he was at shortstop, third base or the outfield, he just wasn’t a great fielder.

In the past I’ve not voted for Jeff Kent because of his defense and I didn’t vote for Omar Vizquel this year because of his lack of offense. So what was the difference with Sheff? His offense was so good that it crossed out any issues I had with his defense. I’m also a “Big Hall” guy and feel like Sheffield was one of the great hitters of his era. I can understand if someone leaves him off (he is a fringe guy in this regard), but for me he was far enough above the line to be considered one of the greats.

Billy Wagner

Wagner was a seven time All-Star, twice was in the top ten of the NL Cy Young award and took home the 1999 NL Rolaids Relief Award. While he sits in 6th place all-time in saves, that doesn’t mean as much to me as his 86% conversion rate, which is close to Trevor Hoffman’s 88.8%.

What does interest me is some of the deeper numbers when compared to fellow relievers. Wagner is 5th all-time for relievers in ERA+, 14th for relievers in bWAR (in fact, just under Hoffman), 4th in strikeouts for a reliever, 86th in Adjusted Pitching Runs, 93rd in Adjusted Pitching Wins, 55th in RE24, and 36th in Win Probability Added. All this was done in less than 1,000 innings, which for some is a hindrance rather than a positive.

I get that relievers today aren’t used in the same scenarios as their forefathers, and because of that their innings totals will seem meek in comparison. But that is also what the role calls for nowadays and there is something to be said for compiling numbers like this in a much shorter amount of time. For Wagner, it was more about the efficiency than the longevity; Wagner came in, shut down the opposing team and was done.

In some ways, Wagner and Hoffman are linked in that they both pitched about the same amount of time, in the same period and were equally efficient. Both were top of the food chain for their position and in my eyes, both should be in Cooperstown.

Credit: MLB.com

Larry Walker

This was the third year I voted for Walker and my take on him seemed to be a bit different from a lot of folks. For many, the fact that Walker played a large chunk of his home games in Coors Field (Walker was a Rockie from 1995 to 2004) seemed to deter voters from placing a vote for him; I had no issue with that, since I knew he hit on the road almost as well as he did at home.

No, my issue with him was injuries, as he had 7 seasons of less than 130 games, 12 of less than 140. Walker’s issue wasn’t the ‘Rocky Mountain High’s’ as much as the ability to stay on the field and play. The numbers speak volumes: .313/.400/.565 career slash line, 141 career OPS+, 5 time All-Star, 1997 NL MVP, 3 batting titles, and 7 time Gold Glove winner.

So what changed for me when it comes to Walker? His place in history. According to JAWS, Walker is the 10th best right fielder of all-time. All-Time! Just seeing who he is better than sounds like a who’s-who of right fielders: Shoeless Joe Jackson, Tony Gwynn, Ichiro Suzuki, Dwight Evans, Dave Winfield, Vladimir Guerrero, Willie Keeler, Paul Waner and Enos Slaughter, just to name a few.

Walker is 86th all-time in bWAR, 56th in bWAR for position players, 55th in on base percentage, 12th in slugging percentage, 14th in OPS, 31st in power-speed #, 38th in RE24, and 36th in Win Probability Added. Those numbers are just a sliver of what he could do; there are 7 other categories where Walker is in the Top 100 of all-time.

What makes me curious is the voting for Walker during the first seven years on the ballot; He peaked in 2012 at 22% and last year bumped up a bit to 34.1% and so far is polling at 67% this year. One has to wonder if the voters viewpoint of him would change if he hadn’t played so many games in Colorado. It took me awhile to recognize it, but Walker deserves to be with the other elite right fielders in Cooperstown.

So there you go, my 11 picks to be inducted into the IBWAA Hall of Fame. It feels more and more like the ballots are starting to weed themselves out and there is more room for voters to work with. As of this writing, four players are above the 75% required for the BBWAA’s election and when you add Harold Baines and Lee Smith’s election from the Today’s Game Committee, it should make for a busy summer in Cooperstown. But don’t worry; while the voting will commence on Tuesday, the debate will rage on.

V is For Versatility

Credit: Getty Images

It’s sometimes rough to find a positive for a team coming off of a 104 loss season. You don’t lose that many games without there being some major issues going on with your team. In that regard, the Kansas City Royals are like every other team in their situation.

That being said, by the end of the year you could see some bright lights and the idea of a better squad in 2019 wasn’t far-fetched. While most will point to Adalberto Mondesi’s upward trajectory or Brad Keller’s amazing rookie campaign as positives for this Kansas City team moving forward, a less likely nod will be sent to the team’s versatility.

The Royals will be headed into this upcoming season with a litany of positional opportunities and players who can shift around to multiple areas on the diamond. The most obvious player to fit this description is Whit Merrifield, who is easily the Royals best player.

Whit put together a 5 Win season in 2018 but the most jaw-dropping aspect of his success is the ability to float around the field on any given day and fill in wherever needed. While he saw the most action at second base last year (starting 107 games), he also put time in at center field (27 starts), right field (7 starts), first base (5 starts) and left field (1 start).

Whit gave manager Ned Yost options throughout the year and not only was he a great team player by allowing Ned to play him wherever he needed him, he was able to continue to produce at a high level, no matter the position. This is why when we discuss Whit’s value this offseason, it’s reasonable to see where it could be considered “invaluable”.

But it’s not just Merrifield who can play about anywhere. Recently acquired Chris Owings was almost as adaptable as Whit this past season for Arizona, as he played in right field (33 starts), center field (10 starts), third base (9 starts), second base (8 starts) and left field (3 starts). That’s not including shortstop, where he didn’t play in 2018 but made 51 starts there in 2017.

Credit: Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

While Owings didn’t put up the offensive numbers of Merrifield last year, he did show an ability to play wherever he was needed, which is vital for almost any team. Owings is penciled in to be a backup in 2019, but if he can rediscover his bat (which is possible, as a .265 BABIP last year could be a sign of bad luck) there could be some solid playing time for him in the future.

But while Merrifield and Owings would fit the mold of “Super Utility Players”, a number of other Royals could get considerable playing time at multiple positions. Hunter Dozier can play both corner infield and outfield spots. Mondesi can play at both middle infield positions and the Royals have teased playing him in the outfield. While Ryan O’Hearn is almost primarily a first baseman, he could play the corner outfield spots in a pinch.

This isn’t even mentioning someone like Nicky Lopez, who we very well could see up in Kansas City by mid-summer. Lopez has played both middle infield spots throughout his minor league career and some in the Royals organization believe he could make a fairly easy transition to third base if needed. If so, that would add another infielder who could see considerable time in multiple slots this next season.

With all this versatility, it’s easy to see why the team designated Rosell Herrera for assignment to make room on the roster for Terrance Gore. While Herrera has shown an ability to be solid defensively both in the infield and outfield, his bat has shown very little punch these past few years (wRC+ of 63 last year) and the belief by Royals management has to be that they believe Owings will provide more offense than Herrera.

While normally Herrera would probably be able to fit on the Kansas City roster with his versatility, right now there is so much flexibility that even keeping him around for depth is unnecessary for the Royals.

That word “depth” is the key factor to the value of having players who can play at multiple positions. No team gets deep into the season without a healthy dose of depth and while the Royals more than likely won’t be a contender in 2019 (although in the American League Central, all bets are off), they will need that depth to get them through all the peaks and valleys of the upcoming campaign.

The Los Angeles Dodgers of 2018 are the perfect example of what flexibility can get you. They had at least 3-4 regular players who saw considerable time at multiple positions and it gave their manager Dave Roberts a great opportunity to shuffle around players and use a few platoons to help strengthen their lineup.

That is what versatility will get you. That is why Whit Merrifield has become a highly touted commodity. And that is why it will be a good thing to give Yost options to shuffle his lineup this upcoming season. It might not bring them a winning season, but it will probably help them stay away from 100 losses in 2019.

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