Celebrating Royals History

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Credit: @JermaineDye on Twitter

Over the weekend, the Kansas City Royals celebrated a number of their legends in the 50th season of the team’s existence. The New York Yankees were in town and while the series didn’t go as much of us would have liked (the Yankees took two out of three from the Royals) it did give the broadcast team the chance to catch up with some Kansas City greats.

The most interesting return was the trio who once roamed the outfield for the Royals. Jermaine Dye, Johnny Damon and Carlos Beltran are considered part of the best outfield in Royals history and were able to sit down and discuss their time in Kansas City:

 

It was great to see these three back at Kauffman Stadium, especially considering their place in Royals history. They also weren’t the only legends that made their back:

 

Over the last few years, the history of the Kansas City Royals has been pushed back a tad as the team on the field was putting up winning baseball. But now that the team is struggling, it’s a perfect time to remember their history and welcome back some of the greats with open arms. I know for me, losing baseball goes down a bit smoother when you get to hear Bret Saberhagen discuss his time in Kansas City.

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Newsflash: Ian Kennedy is having a really good season

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Coming into this 2018 season, if you would ask Kansas City Royals fans what they would like to see from Ian Kennedy most would answer something along the lines of what he did for Kansas City back in 2016. Kennedy spent most of last year dealing with a right hamstring strain and never got quite back on track after putting together a solid April.

Now Kennedy is healthy and once again putting up strong April numbers. So far in seven starts, Kennedy has thrown 37 innings, producing a 2.92 ERA, 3.47 FIP and 0.8 fWAR (which is halfway to his 2016 total). But when we dive deeper into the numbers, they show he has actually been more than just a solid performer.

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Credit: Associated Press

Let’s start with some of the statistics he can actually control, like walks and strike outs. Kennedy’s strike outs are about on par with what he has done in the past, sitting at 21.7%. Over the last five seasons, his K rate has been in the 20-24.5% range.

His walk rate actually shows some improvement, at 6.8%. If he was able to maintain this rate moving forward, that would put him above average on his walks for the first time since 2015. In fact, most of Kennedy’s better seasons have been when he’s been able to keep his walk rate in the 6-7% range.

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Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

His pitch selection is about the same as in the past, with a few modifications. Kennedy is throwing his fastball, cutter and sinker about the same amount, but so far this year he is throwing the curveball a bit less (13.7%) and throwing his change-up a bit more (12.2%). In fact his usage this season has been very similar to what he did in 2016 but one does wonder how he would do if he would not only throw his change-up more but also throw it a bit slower.

Kennedy put together a career year back in 2011 in Arizona and if you look at his pitch selection back then, he threw the change-up 15.6% of the time. He would continue to throw that pitch more and more the next few years, but his velocity also continued to rise with it, going from averaging 81.8 MPH to 86.4 MPH this year.

I’m not saying him using the pitch more and slowing it down would improve his numbers, but one has to wonder since 2014 is the closest he has come to that mark and even then he was throwing his change-up more than he has the last four seasons.

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Credit: Gail Burton/Associated Press

With that being said, the numbers that really speak to me are his Win Probability numbers. Kennedy currently sits at 0.55 WPA and 6.01 RE24, both numbers that rank him in the top 21 of qualified pitchers in the American League. He is not posting the elite numbers that Justin Verlander or Corey Kluber are putting up, but Jake Junis is the only other Royals pitcher close to these numbers and in fact the two of them are very similar in that regard.

I’m a big proponent of  Win Probability and RE24 and tend to believe if you really want to look at the value a player is bringing to his team you look at these two numbers. So far Kennedy has helped put the Royals in situations to win and his performance has helped the team way more than hurt it.

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Credit: Getty Images

But for all the good he has done, there are some concerns as well:

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credit: baseballsavant.com

The main concerns would be the higher hard hit rate, exit velocity and barrel %. All are noticeably up from the last two years and all are signs of batters getting a good read on his pitches. With that being said, there are some positives sprinkled in here as well.

From the chart it looks like the hitters launch angle against him has gone down, which coincides with his HR/FB rate this year. That rate is down to 9.8%, the lowest it has been since 2014. We all know Kennedy gives up home runs but this year it is at a lower rate. One reason could be the weather so far this year; as temperatures rise it only makes sense that he will give up more bombs.

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Another reason could be what hitters are doing when making contact against Kennedy. His flyball rate currently sits at 36.3%, , which you have to go back to 2015 to find the last time it was below 40%. Also, the contact rate against him has gone up, currently at 83.3%, up from 80.3% in 2017. Hitters are swinging at more of his pitches this year (48.4%) and more importantly, swinging at more pitches outside of the strike zone, as his o-contact rate is at 74%, up from 65% last year and 68% in 2016.

So while Kennedy is allowing more contact, how he is doing it is more interesting. Kennedy is known as a flyball pitcher, but balls hit in the air are down and balls hit on the ground are down as well (33.6%). From the numbers it appears that he has given up more line drives this year, in fact almost doubling his percentage from last year, 16.3 to 30.1%. This would explain the hard hit rate seeing an increase and also why the home run to flyball ratio is down as well.

So is all this sustainable? I still maintain that we will see more home runs hit off of Kennedy as the season progresses. He is what he is and history has shown us that 2014 (where he gave up only 16 home runs all season) feels like an outlier when it comes to dingers hit off of him.

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Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

But if hitters continue to swing at pitches outside the strike zone 33% of the time, he has a chance of keeping up most of his current pace. Combine that with the lower walk total and he should be able to minimize the damage when the home runs finally come.

After 12 years in the league it feels like you can get a pretty clear picture of what to expect from a pitcher like Kennedy. But the ability to adjust can be a vital part to any players progression. It’s been nice to see that so far from a pitcher that is entering the latter half of his career.

 

From the Bleachers: A Further Step into the Season

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Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Now that we are in the middle of May, there is a definite feeling of where many teams lie or at least where they will be as the season progresses. Since I haven’t been able to truly dive in with my thoughts (outside of anything Kansas City Royals related), I thought this would be a good time to take a look at some of the big stories of the last few weeks. Let’s start with the mess that is the American League Central…

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Grab it like You Want It

So with about six weeks into the season it has become very apparent that the American League Central isn’t the best division in baseball. Or the league. Or much of anywhere. In fact if it wasn’t for the Indians facing my hapless Royals this weekend I wonder if they would be posting a winning record right now:

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Credit: MLB.com

That’s right, the Indians are the only team in the division with at least a .500 record. Actually, on Friday night the entire division was under .500. The Royals had beaten Cleveland that night, leaving them at 18-19 at the top of what has become a poor, beaten-down, pathetic division.

More than likely the Indians and probably even the Twins will finish with a winning record when it is all said and done, but right now this is an ugly picture. When the Royals have played very uninspired baseball to this point and they are only sitting 7.5 games out of the lead, that is not a good sign.

But let’s be honest here for a bit; at some point we are going to get a division winner with a losing record. In fact if it wasn’t for the strike back in 1994 we might have gotten it then:

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Credit: baseball-reference.com

That season ended with the Rangers leading while being ten games below .500. Then the strike happened and baseball didn’t come back until the next season. But it does make you wonder about when it will happen and how soon the pundits will flip out. I can already picture the “talking heads” discussing how such a weak team will grace postseason play and “tarnish” the good name of baseball.

The truth probably lies somewhere in-between, where it’s more of a sign of the dangers of allowing more and more teams into the playoffs. It probably won’t happen this year or even the next few years, but at some point a team with a losing record will be playing in the games that matter the most in October…and just imagine if they get hot and punch their ticket to the World Series. Oh my…

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Credit: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

The Dark Knight is His Own Worst Enemy

Earlier this week Matt Harvey was dealt to the Cincinnati Reds for catcher Devin Mesoraco, ending his time in New York. While many will question his arm and whether he will even return to his former self, to me the bigger question is whether or not his ego and pride will allow him to be successful again.

Don’t get me wrong, he pitched very well on Friday: 4 innings, 1 hit, 0 runs, 0 walks and 2 strike outs against the Dodgers, all of which spells a great debut in Cincy. But at the end of the day his performance wasn’t the lone issue clouding him. No, his issues are paramount and solving these problems need to be his choice, not forced onto him.

In my opinion, the Mets had the right idea; send him down to the minors and break his entire game down to rebuild it. But Harvey’s pride and stubbornness got in the way. Maybe getting out of ‘The Big Apple’ will help, but I tend to think we will see him struggle again, soon.

Matt Harvey loves being ‘Matt Harvey, the dominant stud pitcher’ or ‘Matt Harvey, busy man on the town’ more than he loves being just a guy who gets to play baseball for a living. Until he recognizes himself as the biggest problem, there just won’t be a happy ending for the man formerly known as ‘The Dark Knight’.

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Nick Markakis…Hall of Famer?

About a week ago MLB.com scribe and (in my opinion) one of the best baseball writers of this era Joe Posnanski posed an interesting question about Nick Markakis: can he realistically reach 3,000 hits? Before you start laughing and thinking that is impossible you might want to go look at his career numbers…now pick up your jaw. Markakis currently sits at 2,105 hits here in his age 34 season. In other words, he only needs 895 hits to reach one of the biggest milestones for a hitter in baseball lore.

Outside of players not yet eligible for induction into the baseball Hall of Fame, only two players who have reached 3,000 hits haven’t been inducted into the hallowed halls: Pete Rose and Rafael Palmeiro. Rose is not in because of his lifetime ban and Palmeiro is not because of a positive steroid test. That number–3,000–has always meant an automatic place in Cooperstown and speaks of a player’s longevity and consistency. Markakis checks off both of those marks.

But I’m pretty sure you don’t view him as being an all-time great or even a perennial All-Star. On of his list of achievements is a two-time Gold Glover winner and…leading the American League in WAR in 2008. That is it.

But what has helped Markakis get to this point is a lack of injuries and a regular spot in the lineup. Markakis has only had one season under 145 games played in a season (2012) and his lowest hit total in a season (outside of 2012) is 143 in his rookie year. If things keep moving at his current pace, he could hold on for another six seasons or so and reach 3,000 around his age 40 season.

If that happens, do we then consider him a Hall of Famer? I tend to believe we have to, even if he was never talked about as being one of the top ten players in the game. More than anything, I want this to happen just to hear the discussions about his candidacy. There will be those that will look at 3,000 hits as proof he belongs. Others will argue he was never a “Great” player. Either way, I hope he gets close and I am now rooting for Markakis to reach this milestone.

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Welcome Back, Cutch

Earlier this week Andrew McCutchen returned to Pittsburgh for the first time since his trade to San Francisco and it was as great as you probably pictured it being in your head:

Look, I absolutely loved this for about a million reasons. One, it is always great to see a player return to his former stomping ground and be appreciated for all he did. Two, he was a vital part of that franchise’s return to prominence and was the biggest piece of the puzzle when it came to how that team was built.

But it was also great because I have been a fan of Cutch for years. Go ahead and search his name on this blog; you are bound to find me speak nothing but glowing praise his way. McCutchen, much like Bonds before him, was an all-around player who helped push the Pirates farther because of his greatness. He’s not quite the player he used to be at this point of his career, but at one time he was easily one of the top five players in the game.

I’ve also kind of felt like the Pirates are the National League’s version of the Royals. Both teams were once a regular participant in the playoffs, only to fall on hard times for a couple of decades and then return to glory. I obviously loved the Royals climb back to the postseason and appreciated Pittsburgh’s return as well. So I am glad Cutch got the standing ovation and I’m glad to see him still loved. He is truly a great player and a great human who deserves all the cheers he gets and more.

Finally, for my fellow Royals fans, here is what Eric Hosmer was up to this weekend:

While I wasn’t nor ever will be a big Hosmer fan, I’m glad to see him contributing in San Diego. Plays like this are why the Padres acquired him and hopefully that doesn’t go unnoticed.

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That is just a snippet of what is going on around baseball. I didn’t even get to Shohei Ohtani, Bartolo Colon, Mike Trout or even Mookie Betts. No talk of the increase in home runs and strike outs, foul weather or big-market collapses. I’m sure the next couple of weeks will give me more than enough material to discuss and hopefully I will be able to pass along my thoughts. Until then…

 

 

 

The Resurgence of Alex Gordon

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Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The last two years have been hard for Alex Gordon fans.

It was difficult to understand how a guy who was once one of the most well-rounded players in the game had turned into one of the least productive batters in all of baseball. It wasn’t just the elevated strike outs in 2016 or even the 29.2% hard hit rate last year. It wasn’t even a wRC+ of 62 last year that was tied with teammate Alcides Escobar and only better than Texas’ Rougned Odor for qualified batters in all of baseball.

No, it was just as much Alex fouling off pitches he used to scorch. It was him pulling the ball to the right side when he used to take a pitch to the opposite field. It was him looking lost at the plate and not appearing to have a real plan while he was up there.

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Credit: Patrick Semansky-AP Photo

Call it what you want. Maybe it was him trying to live up to the massive contract he signed after 2015. Maybe he was in his head too much. Maybe it was a slight tweak in his mechanics or a change in approach at the plate.

I myself have long felt the wrist injury he suffered when colliding with Mike Moustakas in 2016 was a big factor in some of the issues he was dealing with. Or maybe it was just the natural regression that occurs to every athlete and had finally took up residence on his physical doorstep.

Whatever the case may be, after two years of sub-par productivity and a litany of injuries in between it really felt like the Alex Gordon of our past was just that: in the past. But a new year brings new promise and since his return from the disabled list he has looked like the Alex of old.

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Credit: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

The numbers so far speak of a revitalized Gordon, as he ended Thursday hitting .303/.352/.439 after going 3 for 4 on the day with his second home run of the year and two runs scored. The most promising stats for Alex have to be his hard hit rate and exit velocity. His hard hit rate is at 38% (his career high is 36.9%) and the exit velocity is at 89.7% according to Baseball Savant, a good 2 to 4% higher from the last two seasons.

It is still very early for Gordon, as he has compiled just 71 plate appearances so far. In other words, it’s a small sample size. But the last two years have seen him not hit the ball very hard whereas now he looks more comfortable at the dish and it might be just a minor change in his mechanics that have done the trick:

Alex Gordon starts with his hands. This, he says, is where the adjustment began, where a mini renaissance was born. His hand path to the baseball is different; a little flatter, he says, in the hitting zone longer. He’s trying to keep his hands back longer. He’s seeking to load quicker. He’s trying to stride straight at the pitcher.

You may not have noticed these tweaks if you watched Gordon over the last week. They are minor in scale, insignificant to the untrained eye. “A lot of little things,” he says. But inside the batting cage at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, as hitting coach Terry Bradshaw looks on, Gordon has sought to find his swing.

He wants to beat the shifts that have haunted him in the last two seasons. He wants to stay back and go the other way. He wants to give himself a chance.

“I feel like my swing is a little bit different than it was at the beginning of the season,” Gordon says.

This swing has led to him hitting the ball to the opposite field at a higher rate this year (26..0%) than any year since 2013. I’ve long felt Alex was a better hitter when hitting to the left side of the diamond while focusing on the gaps in the outfield. At one point he was a guy who could rack up 50 doubles in a full season (51 back in 2012) and make a good living off taking the ball the opposite way.

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Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

So should we expect Gordon to return to past glory? I’m pretty sure the Alex we saw in 2011-2015 is probably in the past; I mean the man is 34 years old and his body has taken a beating over the last three seasons. But this resurgence is probably closer to what most of us expected when he returned to Kansas City in January of 2016. We knew that the aging process would bring regression, but we also figured that the dedication to keeping his body in tip-top shape might slow down the regression a bit.

But if he can keep his approach at the plate consistent and just work on being comfortable, there is reason to believe he can maintain a pace where he is productive again and possibly even above replacement level at the plate.

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Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

There’s still a long way to go and many peaks and valleys along the way. But for those of us that have cheered and placed him up on a higher mantle, it’s hard not to smile real big when thinking about how he is performing right now. It’s nice to see that the Alex we love hasn’t completely left the building.

 

The Royals Just Don’t Walk the Walk

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Even in the middle of a calamity there appears a glint of hope. For the Kansas City Royals 2018 season, that glint would be the performance of Jorge Soler and more to the point, his ability to draw walks. The problem is, the Royals as a whole just aren’t big fans of a patient eye.

I’m not spilling any major secrets when I say that Kansas City has not been a team to embrace the ability to work a count and take a free base. For years this team has almost looked at patience at the plate with a “well, I guess if we have to” type mentality. The Royals championships teams of the last few years were built on making contact with an emphasis on putting the ball in play.

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Credit: Getty Images

Over the course of the Royals 50 year history, they have had only six instances of players with 100+ walk seasons, with John Mayberry’s 122 walks back in 1973 being the ultimate peak. In fact, the numbers don’t get much better when discussing walks and the Royals. 2013 was the last time the team wasn’t last in the league in walks and 2010 was the last time they were able to breach the top ten in the American League.

In fact the highest walk total for a Royals player in the last decade was Billy Butler’s 79 back in 2013, which garnered an 11.8% walk rate. The highest walk rate in club history was Mayberry’s 19.1%, which he compiled back in the before-mentioned 1973 campaign. This leads us to what Soler is doing and why it is so special.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals
Credit: Getty Images

So far Soler has 18 walks in his 24 games, putting him 6th in the American league for his total and 11th in actual walk rate. His rate currently sits at 18.2%, which if he was able to maintain it would give him the second highest walk rate among qualified batters in Royals history, just a smidgen above Darrel Porter’s 17.8% back in 1979.

So what Soler is doing so far is something that Royals’ fans haven’t seen in many moons but is something we should see more often, if I’m being frank. I’ve long been a proponent of the ability to produce a walk and tend to believe there is a direct correlation for teams that take more walks to produce more success.

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Credit: Steve Mitchell

Looking back over the last five years, every year the team that led the league in bases on balls also made an appearance in the playoffs.  2012 was the last year that the team who led all of baseball in walk rate (the Tampa Bay Rays) didn’t make it to the postseason. Before that it was 2006, when the Red Sox led all of baseball but fell short to the Yankees. In most years, the teams that rank near the top of the leader-board in walks are the ones who continue to play into October.

My belief has always been that the value of drawing a walk goes beyond just getting another runner on base. If a batter is taking a number of pitches, that should be driving up the pitcher’s pitch count. The higher that pitch count gets, the earlier a team has to dip into their bullpen. The earlier you get into a team’s bullpen, the more taxed they become. Being a patient hitting team has a very immediate trickle-down effect.

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Credit: AP Photo/Paul Sancya

There is also the whole “extra base-runner” thing which is always a positive. Just go back and look at the first inning of the Royals game on Monday. Whit Merrifield gets a hit, followed by a Soler walk and Mike Moustakas getting hit by a pitch to load the bases. Walks by Salvador Perez and Lucas Duda would follow and by the time the inning was done the Royals had put a three spot on the board.

Now if Kansas City was better at hitting with runners in scoring position that score would have been higher, but that isn’t the point here. The point is that the walks doled out led to extra base-runners which led to more scoring opportunities. More opportunities tend to led to more runs, which is the whole name of the game.

I also believe if the Royals were a bit more patient they might not be such a streaky offensive team. Remember last year’s scoreless streak? That might have been avoided (or at least halted a lot sooner) if the team took more walks. Patience is normally less streaky than hitting and if they had taken more walks the Royals might have been able to muster up a couple of more rallies and been able to squeak out a few more “W’s” during some close games.

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Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not saying that if this team walked more that their success would turn around or that what Soler is doing should be done by every player. I highly doubt we will ever see Alcides Escobar or Salvador Perez rack up walk totals like Joey Votto. But a heavier emphasis on patience, especially starting at the minor league level, could go a long way.

So maybe some of Soler’s teammates should take a cue from him and force the opposing pitchers to throw them strikes. It’s not a glamorous part of the game or even one that will gain you admiration from some in the fan base. But a few more walks could lead to a few more runs and at this point, the Royals need to cross the plate more often if they want to win more games this season.

The Case for Trevor Oaks in the Royals Rotation

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Credit: MLB.com

So far in 2018, Eric Skoglund has held down the 5th starters spot in the Kansas City Royals rotation, albeit with mixed results. In his three starts this season, Skoglund has given up 14 runs in 14.2 innings while allowing 18 hits and five walks. The positive is that Skoglund has slightly gotten better in each start, with his best outing this past weekend in Detroit.

The negative is that outing still was below expectations: four runs, four hits and two walks in five innings of work. Technically the numbers are improving, but definitely not enough to forego discussing other options for the rotation. There is already talk that Clay Buchholz will more than likely take over for Skoglund this weekend against Chicago and he is as good an option as any that the Royals have right now. But if we are talking options we might as well throw Trevor Oaks’ name out there.

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Credit: Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports

Oaks is in his age 25 season and was the biggest “get” in the Scott Alexander/Joakim Soria trade that went down earlier this winter. Oaks has primarily been a ground-ball pitcher throughout his career and relies on a nice four-seam fastball (with some natural sinking action), a sinker, and a slider with the occasional change-up thrown in there as well. He’s not going to miss many bats, but his ability to induce groundballs would be a welcome change for the Royals rotation.

The Royals have relied on fly-ball pitchers over the last 4-5 years and back when the team was making regular trips to the postseason it made sense. The team was employing an outfield of plus defenders like Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson, so the thinking was as long as the pitcher could keep the ball in the ballpark, their outfielders would run it down.

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Credit: Brian Davidson/Getty Images

But since then the focus in baseball has been on getting the ball in the air and more importantly, home runs. When even middle infielders are focusing on elevating the ball, it only makes sense to try and swing the pendulum to the other side and work on keeping the ball on the ground. The Royals still have a good infield defense and it would seem Oaks could be one to take advantage of that.

To give you an idea of how often Oaks keeps the ball on the ground, let’s do a comparison to some of the top ground-ball pitchers in baseball today. Over the last two seasons, Oaks has been in the range of 64-50% of groundballs, which would rank him in the top 20 if he would be able to make that transition to the big leagues. Lance McCullers, Jr. of Houston has the highest rate so far this season at 63.6% while the highest eligible Kansas City pitcher is Jason Hammel at 43.9%.

Oaks did have some issues with his sinker when he returned from injury last year but former big-league pitcher Justin Masterson, who has also heavily relied on the sinker over his career, was able to pass on some words of wisdom:

“I was struggling to find consistent movement. In years past, it’s always just kind of been a natural pitch for me, so I hadn’t really thought much about it or really tweaked around the grips too much. So while I was going through that period of struggle, he was able to show me things. It was like, ‘Hey, why don’t you try this?’

“A lot of it was just little tweaks here and there, from stuff he had learned over the course of his career throwing the sinker. And he was also kind of calming me down. He’d say, ‘Hey, don’t freak out if it’s not your best stuff that day.’

“I think that’s why I still had a decent year. While I didn’t have my best sinker, I was still able to go out there and compete. I had the confidence to be like, ‘I can get these guys out, even without my best sinker, and then once that pitch comes back for me, I can really take off.”

So while Oaks’ sinker is a big part of his repertoire, he seemed to make an adjustment last year which is always a big part of the maturation process. While Oaks only had a 50.8% ground-ball rate in AAA last year, the lessons he learned seemed to help him grow as a pitcher.

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Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It’s still early into 2018, but Oaks has pretty much kept pace with what he did in AAA for the Dodgers last year. Groundballs, flyballs and line drives are all pretty much on par with 2017 while the strike out rate has been a tad lower (11.8% compared to 21.1.%) and the walk rate is a bit higher (6.5% to 5.3%). This is only over 23.1 innings in Omaha, so it’s a small sample size, but more than anything there does appear to be a hint of consistency.

I’m not against Buchholz getting his chance before Oaks and I even understand why it is happening. Buchholz cost the Royals practically nothing and if he can show a glint of his former All-Star caliber talent then it only makes sense for Kansas City to see what they have in him.

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Credit: MLB.com

While it won’t hurt Oaks to stay in the minors a bit longer, it’s just a matter of time until he is in the Kansas City rotation. He has thrown 170 innings in AAA over the last couple seasons while proving he can hang at that level.

The next couple seasons are all about opportunities for Kansas City and seeing what they have. If Buchholz turns out to be a find then that can only be a positive for the team moving forward. But if we are talking long-term, that is where Oaks comes into the discussion. Last year Jake Junis was given the chance to prove his worth. 2018 should be Trevor Oaks’ turn to shine for the Royals.

Go Hard

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals
Credit: USA Today Sports Images

It’s been very obvious early this season that a big part of the Kansas City Royals struggles have been on the offensive side of the game. Most of the numbers speak to that fact: the Royals are last in the AL in home runs, runs, RBI’s, ISO, slugging percentage, and WAR. To use the word ‘anemic’ when speaking of the Royals hitting would be appropriate and speak volumes to a portion of the team’s poor start.

But while the team had only two players with a home run going into Tuesday’s doubleheader (Mike Moustakas and Lucas Duda have now been joined by Abraham Almonte and Alcides Escobar), there is one part of their game that should be looked at as a glimmer of hope over the coming months. In fact, it’s a statistic you would never think the team would be doing so well in:

That’s right, the Royals have the second highest hard-hit rate right now in the American League going into play on Tuesday. Wouldn’t have guessed that, would you? So how is the team doing it and why has the team struggled so hard to score runs in the early going?

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Credit: Associated Press

When I first saw this number it made me want to go look up the team’s batting average on balls in play. While they aren’t at the bottom of the league in BABIP, they are 11th, at .284. This would explain a bit of bad luck for Kansas City and explains the big disparity between the amount of balls that are hit hard and the low amount of runs scored.

Next, I wanted to see how often the team was hitting the ball on the ground compared to in the air or even line drives. The Royals still have a fairly high ground ball rate, 40.6%, which leaves them at 11th in the AL. But the team is also in the top five in both line drives (21.8%) and fly balls (37.6%), which is a good sign.

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Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

We’ve seen a number of shifts on the Royals this year and I personally have seen a number of pulled balls scorched off the bat right to a defender in the early part of the season (with Soler’s blast to third base on Opening Day instantly flashing in my mind). But the Royals have actually been hitting the ball to the opposite field at a nice 26.8% clip so far this year, good enough for 6th in the league. They also aren’t pulling the ball as much, just 39.5%, which is 13th in the AL.

So how much are they making contact? Looks like they are sitting at 77.1% which is actually a bit lower than I would have expected, considering this is a team that makes a lot of contact. That also means that they are swinging at a number of pitches both inside and outside of the zone: 85.7% inside of the strike zone, 62.3% outside of the zone. They are also swinging at a lot of first pitch strikes, as they sit in 5th in the American League at 60.1%. None of this should shock anyone who has watched this team over the last four years and is just a continuation of their mantra of putting the ball in play.

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Credit: Associated Press

They’ve also continued their issues with runners in scoring position. The Royals are hitting .215/.321/.290 with RISP and that last number (slugging percentage) is the real death-blow. Sometimes it is just as much about when you are hitting the ball hard as how often you are pummeling it. This could definitely be a big factor into how this team is hitting the ball so hard yet have very few runs to account for.

The biggest takeaway from filtering through the numbers is that the Royals hitters are doing a number of things right and if the team can get a little bit of good luck, some warmer weather and maybe even games played on consecutive days, we could start seeing the offense improve. New hitting coach Terry Bradshaw is obviously doing some good with the hitters and it’s just a matter of time before they start climbing out of this funk.

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Credit: Getty Images

This will never be a lineup that will strike fear in the hearts of pitchers but it can be a successful one. Getting Salvador Perez back will help, as will the uptick in temperatures. This team might never be one that takes a lot of walks or goes deep into the count, but if they hit the ball hard consistently while continuing to lift, the numbers will rise. Patience might be a virtue, but it can also be the key to unlocking Kansas City’s success.

 

The Most Mediocre Players in Royals History

Royals catcher Brent Mayne.
Credit: Barry Taylor Photography

As the Kansas City Royals enter the 50th year of their existence, it’s commonplace to take a deeper look into the franchise’s history and the gold and glory that comes with it. It’s easy to look at all the accomplishments and the positives that come with it. But it also can lead you down a dark tunnel, one that many refuse to even glance at.

When I saw this tweet, my brain started churning:

Now, this is obviously a bracket for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but it tossed a question into my brain: who is the most mediocre player in Royals history? Has anyone really delved into that? Or has anyone even been brave enough to jaunt down that rabbit hole?

Closeup Of George Brett

We could do a list of the best Royals of all-time, but we can answer that without even looking up any stats: George Brett is the greatest hitter and Kevin Appier is the best pitcher. See, simple enough?

Astros v Royals X
Credit: Getty Images

We could even do a worst of all-time, but we all know that is Neifi Perez. Hey, the numbers might not back this up but I find it hard to believe that much of anyone will argue with Neifi being the choice. Sure, Dee Brown has less fWAR (-4.1 to Neifi’s -3.2) but Neifi was like that family member that just shows up on your doorstep and invites themselves to stay for a month. Then they just crash on your couch, watching reruns of ‘Family Guy’ the entire time. Sorry about the tangent but you get the point. When the only Royals player Sung Woo Lee has ever disliked is you, you are officially the worst. So Neifi, you officially get that honor. Congrats, I guess.

But what about mediocre? That doesn’t mean you are good or bad. It means you are…just there. Ordinary, average, middle of the road, run of the mill, pedestrian and probably forgettable. There have been a number of forgettable names that have put on a Royals jersey over the years, but it takes a special kind to be mediocre.

So when I decided to take this challenge, I needed to decide on my criteria. Initially I thought of making a bracket, if for no reason then so I could toss in a Jeff Reboulet here or a Dave Wickersham there (I’m not joking when I say that is not a made up name. Totally real).

Instead I decided to go with players who have a career 0.0 fWAR during their entire tenure in Kansas City. Nothing says ‘mediocre’ like a middle of the road number like 0.0. I thought about using wRC+ for batters and ERA+ for pitchers, but that wouldn’t deliver the true scope of mediocrity that I am looking for.

Since there was a decent amount of players who actually achieved this wearing the royal blue, I then went ahead and broke it down according to those batters with the most plate appearances and pitchers with the most innings while accomplishing 0.0 WAR. So let’s start first with the pitchers:

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#3- Don Hood

Hood comes in third place for this ‘race of the mediocre’ as he pitched 114.1 innings as a Royal, with a respectable 2.99 ERA, 4.31 FIP, 3.78 K’s per 9, 2.83 BB’s per 9 in 57 games for Kansas City. Honestly, the only reason I even remember Hood is because I have his baseball card. He pitched for the Royals during his last two big league seasons, 1982 and 1983, while primarily pitching out of the pen.

Not only was Hood’s ERA pretty good, but he also posted an ERA+ of 137. So he actually was a decent contributor for the team but alas had a 0.0 fWAR, which left him on this list.  Just for posterity’s sake, he did put up 1.2 bWAR, so Baseball Reference does rate him a bit higher.

Hood might actually be a decent representation of forgettable, as I would bet it would be hard to conjure up many Kansas City fans who remember Hood’s time with the team.

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Credit: Stephen Dunn

#2- Blake Wood

Wood is a more recent contributor to the ‘House of Mediocre’, as he pitched for the Royals during the 2010-2011 campaigns, his first two seasons in the majors. Wood compiled an ERA of 4.30, 4.15 FIP, 7.01 K’s per 9 and an ERA+ of 97 over 119.1 innings.

Amazingly, Wood appeared in 106 games during that two year span and while Fangraphs has his WAR at 0.0, Baseball Reference once again has it a tad higher, at 0.9. Maybe the funniest part about this entire test is that Wood continues to be pretty pedestrian, putting up a career ERA+ of 95 (slightly below average) and an fWAR & bWAR of 1.0 over seven seasons. It’s easy to see now that Wood is a great fit as a mediocre former Royal.

Detroit Tigers vs Kansas City Royals
Credit: Barry Taylor Photography

#1- Jorge De La Rosa

The most mediocre Royals pitcher of all-time is someone who has been around forever and I’m sure a few of you don’t even remember his time in Kansas City. De La Rosa spent a part of the 2006 season in Kansas City after being acquired from Milwaukee (for Tony Graffanino) and would also spend 2007 in a Royals uniform. Over 178.2 innings, he would compile a 5.64 ERA, 5.57 FIP, 5.94 K’s per 9, and an ERA+ of 82.

Like the other two, his Baseball Reference WAR skews a bit higher (0.2) and it does feel important to remember that De La Rosa spent his first full season in the big leagues with the Royals in 2007. Since then, he has gone on to pitch 11 more seasons in the majors (15 overall) and is currently pitching for the Diamondbacks.

Maybe the best part of this project is seeing how these players have turned out and De La Rosa has continued down a path of mediocrity. De La Rosa’s career ERA+ is 99 and has accumulated 14.6 fWAR over 14 seasons, or a shade over 1.0 wins above replacement per season. De La Rosa proves that while being average could appear bad to some, it can also lead to stability in Major League Baseball.

Alright, so there are the mediocre pitchers, so now we shift over to the hitters.

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#3- Butch Davis

I’m just going to be honest: I don’t remember Butch Davis. Davis was an outfielder that played in Kansas City from 1983 to 1984. In those two years, Davis made it to the plate 258 times, posting a line of .248/.285/.370  with 4 home runs and 30 RBI’s.

The weird part is that Davis actually had a really solid rookie year in 1983, as he hit .344/.359/.508 with a wRC+ of 135 over 130 plate appearances. Davis would plummet in ’84 though, hitting just .147/.211/.224 in 128 plate appearances.

Combined, this led to a wRC+ of 79, a fWAR of 0.0 and a bWAR of 0.2. Pretty average numbers for a player who ends up as the third most mediocre hitter in Royals history.

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#2- Rudy Law

I do remember Rudy Law, as he was signed by Kansas City after the 1985 season to play in the outfield. In fact, Law was actually a pretty good player for the White Sox during the 1982 and 1983 seasons, almost even posting a 3 win season in ’83.

Law would appear in 86 games for the Royals in 1986, with 341 plate appearances. He would hit .261/.327/.388 with one home run and 36 RBI’s. He would also post a wRC+ of 95 (pretty average), which was actually on par with his 1983 season.

The biggest difference for Law appeared to be on defense in Kansas City, as his dWAR fell to -0.9 after being around average the previous few seasons. This led to the 0.0 fWAR and a 0.5 bWAR. While I do remember Rudy’s time in Kansas City, it’s easy to see how you could forget his short stay there as well.

Royals catcher Brent Mayne.
Credit: Barry Taylor Photography

#1- Brent Mayne

All of this middle of the road talent has led us to this, the guy who not only is the #1 most mediocre position player in Royals history, but the overall #1…and it isn’t even close. It only makes sense that the most run of the mill Royals player would be a guy that the team drafted in the 1st round back in 1989.

Brent Mayne would pull multiple tours of duty for Kansas City (1990-1995 and 2001-2003) and just looking at the numbers show how pedestrian he really was. Mayne would hit .244/.305/.322 with 20 home runs and 205 RBI’s in a Royals uniform. The honest truth was that Mayne was more wildly known for his defense than his offense, which also explains the career wRC+ of 74 and a 63 for his tenure in Kansas City.

So why does Mayne stack above everyone else? Most of the other players on this list had very brief careers as a Royal whereas Mayne would play nine seasons for our boys in blue. He would rack up 2200 plate appearances over 664 career games for Kansas City and no player on this list can even come close to those numbers while also posting pure mediocrity.

In those nine seasons, Mayne would have only four seasons with a fWAR above 0.0 and in 2002 he actually finished the season at 0.0! You’ve probably also noticed that throughout this experiment most of the players would put up a better WAR according to Baseball Reference than Fangraphs.

So in an ironic twist, it appears that Mayne’s fWAR (0.0) is actually higher than it is on Baseball Reference (-1.2). This obviously is because of how each site factors their wins above replacement, but it does show how Mayne’s value can shift according to what you are looking for.

If you watched the Royals during what I like to refer to as ‘The Lean Years”, you probably saw Brent Mayne play and you are probably completely agreeing with him ending up at the top of this list. The funny part is that while I am poking a bit of fun toward a list of mediocrity, Mayne is more proof that being average can actually be a strength. Mayne ended up with a 15 year career, got to appear in the playoffs in 2004 and racked up over $13 million dollars in his career. All in all, that speaks of a very blessed career for Mr. Mayne.

Mayne homers in the eighth inning.
Barry Taylor Photography

So there you go, the most mediocre players in Royals history. Now it’s your turn: who do you think should be the most mediocre? Who was your favorite mediocre player? Would you go by a different point of reference to determine an average player? Maybe break it down to decades? Let us know who you feel is an all-time mediocre Royal.

Lost Opportunities

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Kansas City Royals

The other day Matthew LaMar wrote about Hunter Dozier and the unwillingness of the Kansas City Royals to give him an opportunity when a spot has become available on the roster. Matthew wrote up a number of reasons why the team might have passed him over and some of them might carry some weight, especially among those in the Royals front office or even their scouting department.

But Dozier is not the first prospect in the Kansas City farm system to be passed over despite not having anyone of actual value holding them back. In fact, over the years the team has found a way to not see what they have with their younger talent. There for a long time, the Royals were infamous for bypassing younger players for older ones with more big league experience.

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Justin Huber was one of the first names to pop in my mind when I thought of players not given a chance to perform. Huber was a highly touted prospect in the New York Mets system when they traded him to the Royals before the 2004 trade deadline for…Jose Bautista. Huber was initially a catcher, but after the trade he tore cartilage in his left knee and underwent surgery that would end his career behind the dish. The Royals would move him to first base and eventually shift him to the outfield later in his career.

Huber consistently was slugging in the .450-.475 range for most of his minor league years in New York and during his first season in the Kansas City organization hit .326/.417/.560 over 527 plate appearances. He would get a slight audition with the major league club that year, playing in 25 games while hitting just .218/.271/.256  over 85 plate appearances.

He would end up back in Omaha to start 2006 but would end up only getting 11 plate appearances that year. I specifically remember the team recalling him in May of that year for a series against Minnesota and he would only get one at bat, a pinch-hitting appearance on May 3rd.

At the time the Royals had Doug Mientkiewicz at first base and while he was a good hitter with a great glove, he also was in his age 32 season and was a one year solution at first. In layman’s terms, no one of major value was blocking Huber from getting playing time. Alas it was not to be, as Huber would play eight more games for the Royals in 2007 before being traded to San Diego in March of 2008.

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Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Speaking of first baseman, Kila Ka’aihue is another player who the Royals dragged their feet on. Ka’aihue put up a monster year in 2008, hitting .314/.456/.628 with 37 home runs and 100 RBI’s while splitting time in AA and AAA. The Royals gave him 24 plate appearances that September and he looked to at least be an option in 2009.

Instead, Ka’aihue would spend the entire 2009 season in Omaha, hitting .252/.392/.433 with 17 home runs and 57 RBI’s. Meanwhile, the Royals had a 1B/DH combo of Billy Butler and…Mike Jacobs. Jacobs was awful during his only season in Kansas City, hitting .228/.297/.401 with an OPS+ of 84. He would be released by Kansas City in December of that year.

Ka’aihue would get a bit of a chance in May of the following year, as he was recalled to Kansas City but would still see the majority of his playing time in Omaha. He finished the 2010 season on a bit of a hot streak with 8 home runs and 25 RBI’s.

But we knew what would happen next. Eric Hosmer was on the horizon and with Billy Butler firmly entrenched at DH, that left Ka’aihue without a spot. He would end his Kansas City career with only 326 plate appearances in a four-year span, hitting .216/.309/.375.

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Finally, there is the tale of Johnny Giavotella. Giavotella moved quickly through the Kansas City farm system and by the end of 2011 had posted wRC+ seasons of 123, 108, 139 and 118 and was easily the best second base prospect in the organization.

Giavotella was recalled in August of 2011 and two days after would hit his first major league home run off of Max Scherzer. Gio would spend the last two months in Kansas City, hitting .247/.273/.376 with a wRC+ of 72. He would spend 2012 bouncing back and forth between AAA and the majors, compiling 189 plate appearances and a wRC+ of 55.

At the time, “Mistake Free” Chris Getz was the Royals second baseman and while he was decent on defense, he was below average with the bat. The Royals liked Getz’s glove and Giavotella’s defense obviously hurt him in the Royals’ eyes. The fact he hadn’t hit during his short trials probably didn’t help matters either.

By the end of 2014 he was designated for assignment and would end his Royals career getting 465 plate appearances (over four years), hitting .238/.277/.334 and an OPS+ of 67. It always felt like Johnny was never given a prolonged look at the position to truly see what he was capable of and the question was always what would happen if he was just told to go out there and play on a day-to-day basis.

That is the issue with all of these players and what appears could happen to Dozier. None of the names I mentioned above were ever really truly given a chance to get comfortable and play on a consistent basis in Kansas City. The chances they were given were sporadic at best and it was frustrating to watch replacement level veterans filling spots on a number of Royals teams that, to be honest, just weren’t going anywhere.

That is the point of this whole thing. I’m not saying that Ka’aihue, Giavotella or Huber (or even someone like Jose Martinez years later) would have been top shelf offensive stars and would plant themselves in the Royals lineups for years and years. For all we know they would have produced exactly like they did in their short time with the team.

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Credit: MLB.com

But they should have been given the chance to see what they could do, especially since no one was blocking them. We saw Hosmer and Mike Moustakas struggle for years to reach a level of success in the big leagues and the organization allowed them that time to figure it out on a yearly basis.

The players mentioned weren’t afforded that same chance and because of that we are forever left with questions with what could have been. The Royals have an opportunity over the next couple of years to give a number of players the chance to prove their worth and the time to let them fail and pick themselves back up. Sure, not every prospect is going to succeed and a number of them won’t be keepers. But you never know unless you give them the opportunity.

Not allowing someone like Dozier or even someone like Ryan O’Hearn an opportunity after all the time that has been invested in them feels like a loss of resources. At least find out what these guys can and can’t do; if the Royals want to cut bait after that then they are perfectly within their rights. But don’t leave questions left unanswered.

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