Classic Royals: Royals Clinch First Playoff Spot in 29 Years

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Credit: Jerry Lai, USA TODAY Sports

It feels strange to think this was ONLY three years ago, but back on September 27, 2014 the Kansas City Royals clinched their first playoff spot since 1985. We are all well aware of what happened next: the Royals would beat the A’s in the wildest baseball game I have ever seen and would continue to win all the way to the World Series that year. While the wild card game extracted most of the Kansas City demons, this game and the finality of wrapping up a playoff spot made all the naysayers and doubters clamp up. This was where all the pessimism went to die. Looking back, it’s funny how ingrained into my brain the highlights from 2014 and 2015 are. I can rattle off moments in full detail about those two seasons and games that I remember like they were played yesterday. There is a long road ahead for this franchise and I’m sure they will get back to this spot sooner rather than later. But for now, this is a great starting spot for the ride that was soon to follow. It was a ride that none of us expected but one that we all needed.

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Rebuilding a Franchise: A 2017 Wrap-Up

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Credit: MLB.com

It was hard to venture anywhere this past summer and not see or hear questions about the Royals future. It didn’t matter if you were watching baseball, listening to baseball or reading about baseball; everywhere you went there were discussions about whether Kansas City should trade their future free agents or ride the wave out and see what happens. Obviously we now know how this story plays out, as the team was contending throughout the summer and the Royals held on to their Eric Hosmer’s and Lorenzo Cain’s.

But I didn’t. You see, I’ve been playing ‘Out of the Park Baseball’ for about three years now and it is a daily staple of my life. In my humble opinion, it is baseball simulation at its grandest. Every year I purchase the newest model of the game and almost instantly begin a new Royals season. When my 2017 team started off the year in a bumpy manner, I decided to begin the tearing down of my team. If you want to read about the how, who and why of this rebuild click here.

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Credit: Out of the Park Baseball

When I last wrote about my OOTP Royals, it was near the end of June and my team was in the basement, which I was expecting considering I had just gutted my team. They were sitting at 27-49 and my attendance was already sliding. I knew a change this drastic was not going to instantly take and my feeling was it would be rough all the way around.

Recently the 2017 season wrapped up for my team and it came with some mixed results. They finished with a 64-98 record, which means I went 37-49 since my last update. It wasn’t a great second half, but it was a slight improvement. The pitching ended up being my downfall; a combined 5.07 ERA, 189 home runs allowed and only a 4.9 WAR for my entire pitching staff. One of the big aspects of the “New Look” Royals was to go young which was really felt with the pitching.

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Credit: MLB.com

By the end of the year I had Yordano Ventura, Blake Snell, Aaron Sanchez and Kyle Zimmer in my rotation, all 25 years of age or younger. Ventura ended up racking up over 200 innings and a 2.3 WAR. Snell and Sanchez each reached 122 innings for Kansas City and while at times they struggled with their command (both gave up over 50 free passes), they also showed signs of dominance, as evidenced by each of them striking out over 100 batters. The real surprise for me was Zimmer, who I had no idea what to expect from him. Early on he struggled and had a hard time making it to the 5th inning on a regular basis. But as the season wore on, he righted the ship and while the numbers aren’t great (4.73 ERA, 5.29 FIP, 0.3 WAR) they did improve. Maybe the biggest surprise was that for the most part he stayed healthy, making 28 starts for Kansas City and throwing 159 innings.

While the rotation at least showed signs of life, my bullpen killed me. Only one reliever (Wade Davis) posted a WAR above 1.0 and only three were even league average.If I really want to look in the mirror and see where I failed in 2017, the bullpen was a good place to start. Let’s just say the less I say about the pen, the better. The good news is there is only one direction to move for my relievers and that is up.

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Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

This leaves me to my offense and it was the one area of my team that saw an obvious improvement in the second half of the season. Randall Grichuk was a savior after being acquired from St. Louis, as he produced a team high 3.6 WAR, 145 wRC+, 20 home runs and a line of .289/.361/.564. Cody Bellinger also turned out to be a stellar pick-up, posting 2.2 WAR, 127 wRC+ and a slash line of .288/.359/.494.

The lineup stalwarts that I kept on the team were Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas and while both were above replacement level overall (Gordon 1.5 WAR, Moose 1.4), offensively they were just below the league average. Gordon had a wRC+ of 92 while Moose had an 88. Both suffered injuries at separate points in the season and I’m hoping they both make a decent comeback for my 2018 campaign (authors note: I locked Moustakas into a two-year deal in the middle of the season).

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Credit: Kansas City Star

But my two biggest surprises were homegrown, as I recalled Bubba Starling and Ryan O’Hearn to get some big league playing time. Since I was going young and I knew the season would be a losing one, I figured it was the perfect time to get some quality at bats. I knew Bubba would deliver solid defense, but I was a bit surprised about some of the pop in his bat (11 home runs and 23 extra base hits). Starling put up a .217/.319/.376 line in 78 games, with a wRC+ of 93 and 1.0 WAR. It’s obvious his offense still needs some work, but I was actually expecting less.

O’Hearn was my big shocker. I had him splitting time at 1B and DH with Bellinger but through his first 100 at bats he was hitting right around .100 with no home runs. I seriously considered sending him back down to Omaha, but remembered that the whole point of this exercise was to get the younger guys playing time. So I stuck with him and in the end it paid off. O’Hearn led the team with 22 home runs, hit a nice .272/.358/.508 with a wRC+ of 125 and 1.5 WAR in just 83 games. The power definitely played and he went from a consideration for 2018 to a locked in starter.

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Credit: AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth

So what has this rebuild taught me? First, it was very obvious that there is no easy answers for a team dealing with a number of major free agents. I might have been able to put together a .500 season if I had kept everyone, but then I would be facing 2018 without a number of younger talents that ended up being major contributors.

Second, I learned that pitching AND hitting really can determine a hit or miss season. With the improvement I saw on offense, it makes me wonder how the season might have turned out if my bullpen had been even league average. There are two sides to this game and if you skimp on one it won’t matter how good the other side is.

Finally, I learned that patience is a virtue. I normally play every game rather than simulate it (so I can make in-game managerial decisions) and because of that I played some really bad baseball during the season. But after starting my 2018 season, my team is 12-9 in the early going, sitting in first place in the AL Central. I’m not for sure that will hold up all season but it’s already apparent how much improved my team is.

On one final note, if you have never played OOTP Baseball I would highly suggest it. I still feel like I am learning every day that I play it. Also, if you have any questions or even suggestions for me about the game, you can always shoot me a message on twitter @SeanThornton5. Enjoy and I hope this shows that the term “rebuild” isn’t a dirty word.

Ohtani Headed to Disneyland, Stanton to the Bronx

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Credit: The Japan Times

The ‘Hot Stove’ season has felt lukewarm at best since the World Series wrapped up, with a number of reasons at the forefront. Two very big reasons for the lack of action was a number of teams focusing their attention on Japanese star Shohei Ohtani and Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton. With the Winter Meetings looming on the horizon, both players have punched a ticket to their 2018 destination and it appears on the surface that the rich just got richer.

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

Ohtani announced his intentions on Friday to sign with the Los Angeles Angels and while I’m sure a few teams felt slighted (I’m looking at you, Mariners and Cubs), the more I’ve thought about it the more it makes sense for him to play with the Angels. For one, Ohtani instantly moves to the front of the Los Angeles’ rotation, as Garrett Richards is probably better suited to be in the 2nd or 3rd slot of a major league rotation. Second, with the Angels loaded in the outfield (Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Kole Calhoun) it means Ohtani will almost exclusively be used at DH whenever he is in the lineup. The less time he spends out on defense the better, since that opens up more opportunities to get hurt and the Angels need him pitching more than anything.

Third, being teammates with Trout is a plus. With Ohtani playing beside the best player in baseball, it means Shohei won’t always be the focal point of attention and it means occasionally he can fade into the background. It won’t be the majority of the time, but it will allow him some room just to play baseball. Fourth, the Angels aren’t too far off from being a playoff team. The team stayed in the pennant race until the last week of the season this year and adding Upton for a full year, a healthy Trout and now Ohtani, it should improve the team’s chance of seeing October baseball. Baseball is better when their best players are showcased in October and Trout is the best while Ohtani could end being in that category.

With all that being said, it will be interesting to track his adjustment to American baseball. While we have seen guys like Ichiro Suzuki and Hideo Nomo have instant success once coming to America, they also both were in the back half of their 20’s when they made it to the big leagues. Ohtani will be just 23 years of age when he plays on opening day and he would appear to have more eyes on him than Ichiro and Nomo had combined. Also, I still contend that by the end of his contract he won’t still be a two-way player. I totally get the want and need to see if he can do both on a regular basis, but at the end of the day his true value for the Angels is on the mound, not the 3-5 at bats he racks up in a game. I know there is a ton of interest to see if he can be the “Next Babe Ruth”, but I feel there is a greater chance he becomes the “First Shohei Ohtani”…and there is nothing wrong with that.

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Credit: New York Post

The other big news of the weekend was the acquisition by the New York Yankees of Miami slugger Giancarlo Stanton. For weeks there were discussions of Stanton moving on to the Cardinals, or the Giants, or possibly even the Dodgers. But at the end of the day, the Yankees swooped in and took ownership of the massive slugger and his massive contract. Now I know there are a variety of talking points that have already been hit on with this trade, but I wanted to cover a few just for me personally:

  1. While I am no fan of the Yankees, the one thing this organization does most of the time is put their team in a position to reach the playoffs. We can boo-hoo all day about how much money the Yankees can eat, but remember that big contracts do not always equal on-field success. Remember the Padres spending all that money in 2015? What about the Red Sox of 2016? Or even go back to the early 2000’s and the Yankees additions of guys like Kevin Brown and Randy Johnson? While the Yankees have once again gone and done what the Yankees do, they still have to go out there and perform on the field and rack up W’s. Plus, be honest: would you really want your team to take on Stanton’s ridiculous contract?
  2. Also remember that Stanton isn’t the definition of health. Over the last six seasons, Stanton has played 130 games or more just twice. That is not to say he will go and get injured next year, but do remember that he has had a proclivity of  ending up on the disabled list throughout his eight-year career.
  3. I have always been told that baseball is better when the Yankees are good because so many of us despise the ‘Bronx Bombers’. While there is some definite truth to this (I will almost always root against them, with very few deviations), I can also tell you that if they had advanced to the World Series this year my interest in the series would have gone down tremendously. There is a difference between ‘rooting against’ and ‘not giving a damn’ and the line is very thin between those two things.
  4. While I agree with most that the new ownership group in Miami is off to a horrible start (especially in the public relations department), I don’t fault them for trading Stanton. That contract was awful from day one and none of us really believed he would stay in Miami for the duration of the deal. The Marlins did what any other ownership group would do, which is look into ridding themselves of that bloated contract. That being said, they did fumble everything else when it comes to dealing him, as evidenced by the fact he ended up in New York. If he wasn’t going to accept a deal to St. Louis or San Francisco, why waste all that time working out a deal? Maybe they should have talked to Giancarlo, figured out who he was willing to accept a trade to and then talk to those teams? The Marlins look like bumbling idiots for spending weeks on end trying to work something out and at the end of the day they had to work out a deal with the team in the largest market in baseball. It has not been a good start for the Derek Jeter-led group as they begin their tenure in Miami.
  5. Finally, I am already dreading listening to baseball outlets discuss the Stanton-Judge tandem in the Bronx. Look, we get it. The Yankees have two big sluggers in this itty-bitty ballpark. It doesn’t mean we need to hear about it ad nauseam for the next four months. It will be a shock to a number of major media outlets, but most of us couldn’t care less about what the Yankees are up to. The less we hear about them, the better.
Shohei Ohtani
Credit: Associated Press

So now that Ohtani and Stanton are off the table, it might finally be time for baseball’s ‘Hot Stove’ to heat up. With the Winter Meetings taking place this week, it’s as good a time as any to see teams start wheeling and dealing. It will be interesting to see how the team that had interest in these two players move forward and how they react to not acquiring their top choice. In one fell swoop, two major pieces came off the board and the real game this offseason kicks into full swing. Los Angeles and New York made their moves; now it’s time for the 28 other teams in baseball to make theirs.

 

 

Classic Royals: Opening Day 1996

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While searching on Youtube for the last no-hitter in Royals history (which was by Bret Saberhagen in August of 1991), I stumbled across this gem. What a great pitching match-up, as Kevin Appier took the hill for the Royals and Mike Mussina for the Orioles. Kansas City would lose 4-2, but if you miss the old days it’s a good chance to watch some Royals legends like Keith Lockhart, Joe Vitiello and Bob Hamelin. For those worried about what the team will look like next year, this might be a decent comparison, as the 1996 Royals finished 75-86 and last in the American League Central.

To give or not give Eric Hosmer a long-term deal, that is the question

MLB: FEB 27 Kansas City Royals Photo Day

Ask any player out on the free agent market this winter what they covet the most and a good majority will say a multi-year contract. Sure, they won’t turn their nose up to the wads of cash thrown their way, but signing a new deal for an extended period is the kind of stability players dream of. The Royals have set their sights on re-signing first baseman Eric Hosmer and it’s hard to fathom that happening without Kansas City committing to a deal that is at least four years in length (and probably more). But history has shown that might not bode well for the Royals.

Kansas City Royals v New York Yankees
Credit: Getty Images

The most infamous long-term contracts in Royals history goes back to 1985 and the “lifetime contracts” . George Brett, Dan Quisenberry and Willie Wilson were the recipients of those deals that appeared at the time to be solid commitments for a perennial contender. But those deals would fall apart quickly, with Quisenberry being released in July of 1988 while Wilson fought off injuries and saw his offensive production wane before leaving after the 1990 season. While in theory these contracts appeared to lock in a chunk of the Kansas City nucleus in the mid 1980’s,  the reality was that the Royals overpaid for players during a period where collusion controlled the free agent market and salaries.

The Royals would close out the 1980’s with one of the worst free agent signings in club history, signing Mark Davis (the 1989 Cy Young award winner) to a four-year, $13 million dollar deal. That deal would go sour almost instantly, as Davis would struggle and lose his closers role to future Royals Hall of Famer Jeff Montgomery. Davis would be dealt to Atlanta in July of 1992 and put up some ugly numbers during his short stint in Kansas City: 167.2 innings, a 5.31 ERA, 5.01 FIP and an ERA+ of 76.

Mike Sweeney
Credit: MLB.com

We all remember Mike Sweeney’s $55 million dollar deal he signed after the 2002 season. Sweeney was the one who decided to stay, while watching Damon, Dye and Beltran be shipped off. Sweeney was coming off his career year in Kansas City, posting the highest bWAR and OPS+ of his career, among other career highs that season. Sweeney’s deal kept him in Kansas City through 2007 but injuries would take their toll on him as early as 2003. While the offensive production was still there for the first couple years of the contract, his time on the field diminished and by 2006 he had essentially become a shell of his former self.

Not every long-term contract handed out by the Royals would miss the mark. One could argue that George Brett’s lifetime contract paid off in spades, as he would continue to be a hitting machine until his age 38 season, well past the normal age of regression for a major league hitter. Zack Greinke’s four-year deal that was signed in 2009 would produce a Cy Young season, but Greinke would be dealt before the contract had run its course. One could even make the argument for David Cone’s three-year deal that he signed with Kansas City before the 1993 season being a success, but for the sake of argument you could also contend that a contract of three years really isn’t “long-term” by definition.

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That leads us to the modern-day Royals, which currently host a number of extended relationships. Ian Kennedy is locked in for another three seasons in Kansas City and has been a mixed bag during his first two seasons as a Royal (one good season, one bad season). Salvador Perez will be entering year two of a five-year extension in 2018 and while Salvy should be entering his prime, there have to be some concerns about the amount of games (and innings) he has caught in his major league career and the wear and tear that goes with it. Danny Duffy will also be in the second year of a five-year extension this upcoming season and has dealt with a wide array of injuries throughout his career as well as a DUI arrest just last summer.

Then there is the Royals contract with the most scorn, that of Alex Gordon. His four-year contract originally appeared on the surface to be a calculated move. Gordon had been a consistent run producer and defensive wizard for the previous five seasons and while he was entering his regression years, the slope appeared lessened by his crazy work ethic and ability to stay healthy. Gordon had appeared in at least 150 games in every season between 2011 and 2014, while his groin strain in 2015 looked to be an outlier. But injuries hindered his 2016 campaign and offensively he hasn’t looked the same for two years now. Situations like Gordon’s are why teams become hesitant to commit to a long-term contract.

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Credit: Kansas City Star

This all leads back to the Eric Hosmer situation and how the Royals should deal with it. On one hand, you have a player entering his age 28 season, coming off of a career best season, in what should be the prime of his career. On the other hand, Hosmer before 2017 was an inconsistent offensive player and has a propensity to hit the ball on the ground at an alarming rate. While the Royals have not had the best of luck when it comes to contracts of more than four years, we are all aware that every situation (and player) is different. Signing any player for 4+ years is a gamble within itself. The question the Royals have to ask is if the risk is bigger or smaller than the reward when rolling the dice on their future.

Hall of Shame

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I received my IBWAA Hall of Fame ballot in my inbox yesterday. I look forward to it every year, as it is an honor to be able to vote for players I feel are worthy of baseball’s highest honor. It also gives me the opportunity to really dive into the numbers, or as my wife calls it “fall down the statistic rabbit hole”. You will see that article in about a months time, where I breakdown my votes and why I voted the way I did. Since I occasionally get asked this, in the IBWAA we do things a bit differently than the boys and girls over at the BBWAA. We have a number of guys who have been voted in (Vlad Guerrero, Edgar Martinez) that the BBWAA still has on their ballot. We are also able to vote for 15 players instead of the 10 the BBWAA are left with. Finally, we don’t have a former player like Joe Morgan send us a letter, trying to sway our vote with arrogant confidence and ignorant hubris…and for that I am grateful.

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Credit: Kansas City Star

If you aren’t aware(or maybe in a cave), Joe Morgan sent out a letter a few weeks back, hoping to veer the writers of the BBWAA away from voting for players linked to steroid use. If you want to read the entire letter, here it is:

Now, I’m not going to get into a huge debate over the Hall of Fame or steroid use in baseball; I have done that so much over the years that I’m just bored with it and it just seems to agitate me. I will tell you that if you want my opinion on the Hall, read this; I wrote this a few years back and it pretty much encompasses my feelings on “cheaters” in the Hall. So I’m not going to get into a big debate about steroid use and Cooperstown. But…I do have a few comments about what Joe said and just who Joe is speaking for.

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Credit: MLB.com

First, let’s start with Joe’s comment about those linked to steroid use:

We hope the day never comes when known steroid users are voted into the Hall of Fame. They
cheated. Steroid users don’t belong here.

I hate to tell Joe, but I’m pretty positive there is someone (or likely more than one) in the Hall who used steroids. Oh yeah…Mickey Mantle took steroids. So right there, you have a player in those “hallowed halls” that falls below Morgan’s standard for Cooperstown. Pretty sure you won’t catch ol’ Joe looking to pull “The Mick” and his plaque.

Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League
Baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in. Those
are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right.

Look, there is a some validity to the Mitchell Report but lets not act like it is a 100% guilty verdict. That is just someone wanting to believe guilt without the proof.

Now, I recognize there are players identified as users on the Mitchell Report who deny they were
users. That’s why this is a tricky issue. Not everything is black and white – there are shades of gray
here. It’s why your job as a voter is and has always been a difficult and important job. I have faith in
your judgment and know that ultimately, this is your call.

Wait, so Joe knows the Mitchell Report is probably not 100% accurate, yet earlier wants voters to use that report as a template? Come on Joe…

But it still occurs to me that anyone who took body-altering chemicals in a deliberate effort to cheat
the game we love, not to mention they cheated current and former players, and fans too, doesn’t
belong in the Hall of Fame. By cheating, they put up huge numbers, and they made great players
who didn’t cheat look smaller by comparison, taking away from their achievements and consideration for the Hall of Fame. That’s not right.

Body-altering chemicals? You mean like performance enhancers? So players who used amphetamines, right? Because, if we are being honest, amphetamines are enhancing a players performance…and Greenies were used in baseball up until they started testing for amphetamines back in 2006. Greenies were prevalent in the game for years and were widely used during Morgan’s playing days. In fact, players like Hank Aaron & Willie Mays have both been linked to amphetamines over the years…and no one is asking those two to leave Cooperstown (nor should they).

It’s gotten to the point where Hall of Famers are saying that if steroid users get in, they’ll no longer
come to Cooperstown for Induction Ceremonies or other events. Some feel they can’t share a stage
with players who did steroids. The cheating that tainted an era now risks tainting the Hall of Fame
too. The Hall of Fame means too much to us to ever see that happen. If steroid users get in, it will
divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear.

Does this include Gaylord Perry? Is he appalled by the cheating?

I care about how good a player was or what kind of numbers he put up; but if a player did steroids,
his integrity is suspect; he lacks sportsmanship; his character is flawed; and, whatever contribution
he made to his team is now dwarfed by his selfishness.

So when do we point out the selfishness of baseball for allowing steroids to be used all those years? The owners? The GM’s? Bud Selig? I’m sure their selfishness won’t allow them to return all the money they received from fans flooding the ballparks during this period. You can put some of the blame on the players, Joe, but there is enough blame to go all the way around.

Steroid users knew they were taking a drug that physically improved how they played. Taking
steroids is a decision. It’s the deliberate act of using chemistry to change how hard you hit and throw by changing what your body is made of.

See “Greenies” from earlier.

I and other Hall of Famers played hard all our lives to achieve what we did. I love this game and am
proud of it. I hope the Hall of Fame’s standards won’t be lowered with the passage of time.
For over eighty years, the Hall of Fame has been a place to look up to, where the hallowed halls
honor those who played the game hard and right. I hope it will always remain that way.

Honestly, baseball has never been a pure game and never will. If I’m being completely honest, when I first read this letter, it felt sanctimonious and hypocritical. Reading it again doesn’t make me change my mind. In fact, it just further cements my initial thoughts of the ignorance in Joe’s words…and how Joe is being used as a puppet.

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

Don’t get me wrong; I totally think Joe Morgan believes the words he wrote in this letter. But I also believe that what he wrote was allowed to be sent because the people on the board for the Hall of Fame and those involved agree with this sentiment. I also feel this is a direct reaction to seeing Barry Bonds’ and Roger Clemens’ vote total moving upward these last couple years. The honest truth is that testing for performance enhancing drugs was not being done when these players were putting up those “tainted numbers” that Joe mentioned. Maybe it’s just me, but since baseball wasn’t testing and those involved seemed okay with it continuing (that was until congress stepped in to put a halt to it), it feels self-righteous to then turn around and punish the players and no one else (including the true villain in this, Bud Selig). Luckily, the letter appears to have angered many a writer in the BBWAA and it makes one wonder if Bonds’ and Clemens’ total will continue to rise. As a member of the IBWAA, we don’t have to worry about any of this mess. I don’t expect a letter from Howard Cole telling us about “hallowed grounds” and “flawed character”. I thank Howard for that, as he appears to “get it”. I’m still going to enjoy the Cooperstown inductions next summer, as I love watching some of the best players in the history of the game get to celebrate their career in the best way possible. The real taint on the Hall of Fame is those involved who try to move the chess pieces to their liking by ignoring a section of history. History is exactly what it is, a part of the past. If you don’t ignore it, you aren’t likely to repeat it again. Now, it appears it’s time for me to go turn in my IBWAA ballot…

 

 

 

A Very Royal Review

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Credit: Associated Press

What a wild and crazy ride the last five years have been. When I started writing this blog back in the summer of 2012, I had zero aspirations other than writing about baseball and more specifically “My Team”, the Kansas City Royals. This was purely a way for me to branch out with my writing and discuss something I am insanely passionate about. Little did I know that all these years later my hard work would pay off, at least in terms of making a bit of side cash writing about baseball. If you had not yet heard, starting this week I will be writing about the Royals on SB Nation’s Royals page, Royals Review. I’m looking forward to this new endeavor and I’m hoping to branch out even more than before with my writing. So while I will be writing a few times a week over at Royals Review, that doesn’t mean Bleeding Royal Blue is going away. In fact, the hope is I will be able to bring more content to this blog. My articles I write for SB Nation will eventually show up here (after about a week’s time) and I’m hoping to post some extra, fresh content here as well. So I’m not going away, I’m just going to expand my reach. At the end of the day, I love writing about baseball and will continue to (hopefully) post news and tidbits that you, the reader, will enjoy. My world just got a bit bigger and I can’t thank you guys enough. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of some great things…

 

Baseball Thank You’s

League Championship Series - New York Yankees v Houston Astros - Game Two

Thanksgiving is a great time to spend time with family and friends, eat lots of carbs and be thankful for everything in your life. Yes, we should be more thankful on a daily basis, but with the pace of life speeding up more and more, we sometimes forget to stop and smell the roses (so to speak). We probably don’t say it enough, but I am thankful every day that baseball appears to be on an upswing and is still such a large part of my life. I’m not for sure what the ratio would be, but the amount of joy that this great game gives me would appear to be greater than what I am able to give back to it. So for today, let me be thankful for all the glory that is this kid’s game that we adore…

Mike Trout

I am thankful for Mike Trout. Literally everything about him. Trout is that every day working man who goes out there and helps his team almost every game. Defense, hitting, hitting for power, running the bases; Trout brings it to every aspect of his game. We are seeing the best player in modern-day baseball and possibly one of the greatest of all-time when it is all said and done. I am thankful we get to see such a great player in my lifetime.

Almost the same can be said for Clayton Kershaw, only on the pitching side of the game. I’ve seen Maddux, Johnson and Pedro in my time, but Kershaw could be the best of the bunch. I am thankful for his precision, dedication and work ethic that makes Kershaw as great as he is.

I am thankful for the current playoff system. I was initially against the second wild card in the playoffs, but it has added a new, exciting element to the postseason and I feel it is for the better. The last four October’s have been spectacular and it has shown a steady uptick for baseball viewing among the general public.

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Credit: Chicago Tribune

I am thankful for the mass group of players that I love watching all throughout the baseball season.

Ben Zobrist’s versatility and patience.

Andrew McCutchen’s five tools.

Giancarlo Stanton’s unbridled power.

Yasiel Puig’s child-like enthusiasm.

Bryce Harper’s hustle and ‘Hair on Fire’ approach on the field.

Wade Davis’ ‘Vein’s of Ice’.

Jose Altuve’s ability to hit the ball “where they ain’t”.

Baseball not only has a great group of guys that encompass the immense talent in the game, but a group that are positive role models for the game and makes rooting for them even easier.

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I’m also thankful for all the retired players whose accomplishments I’m still in awe of today.

Ted Williams’ love and dedication to hitting.

Willie Mays’ grace.

Bob Gibson’s fire.

Yogi Berra’s understated play on the field…oh, and his sayings.

Tony Gwynn’s knowledge of the strike zone.

Greg Maddux’s precise location.

Edgar Martinez’s understated study of hitting.

Tim Raines’ speed and ability to put himself in a position to score.

Jackie Robinson’s patience, maturity and determination to prove his worth.

Hank Aaron’s power, quiet leadership and calm demeanor.

I could go on and on with some of the greats of the game, but more than anything I am thankful they were able to pave the way for the talent that would follow them.

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Credit: NPR

More than anything, I am thankful for my favorite team of the last 30+ years, the team I fell in love with as a child and the team that always reminds me why I love baseball, the Kansas City Royals.

Thank you George Brett, for the hustle and inability to give up that helped me love this game.

Thank you Bo Jackson, for doing the impossible on a baseball diamond.

Thank you Dan Quisenberry, for your unique delivery, late inning shutdowns and your sense of humor.

Thank you Bret Saberhagen, for being one of the best of your generation.

Thank you Mike Sweeney, for your loyalty.

Thank you Alex Gordon, for quiet leadership and ability to become a Gold Glover at a new position. Oh, and that home run in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series.

Thank you Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain. Without you, 2014 and 2015 do not happen.

Thank you Salvador Perez, for your infectious smile and childlike love of the game.

Thank you Denny Matthews and Fred White. You were the voices of my childhood and will always be my favorite baseball announcers. The pictures you drew with your words made listening to a Royals game on the radio an absolute joy.

Thank you Kauffman Stadium, for being so beautiful.

Thank you, 1985.

Thank you, 2015.

Thank you, Kansas City.

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More than anything, thank you baseball. Thank you for loving me back. There will never be another like you. I could go on all day with the things I love about baseball, but more than anything, I love it all. I am thankful that baseball has been a major part of my life since the age of 7. I look forward to the many years ahead we have together. I will always be thankful for you. You’re the best, baseball.

 

 

 

 

Rock the Vote: My 2017 Year End Awards

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It’s been only a few weeks since the World Series ended and baseball came to a close for 2017. I’d like to say I’ve dealt with it in a fair manner, but I’ve been counting down the days until pitchers and catchers report (89 by my count) since the season ended. Luckily, the Hot Stove season will keep us seamheads occupied, as will this week’s award season. All throughout this week, the BBWAA has been unveiling their winners, as has my brethren in the IBWAA. As a member of the IBWAA, we vote just like the members in the BBWAA while not getting quite the fanfare (although if anyone wants to toot our horn, go for it!). I’ve been a member for a number of years, so you can go back and take a gander at my previous voting record: here is 20142015, and 2016. As always, it is a true honor to have this opportunity to vote and I always vote with the utmost respect. With that being said, here are my picks to win awards in 2017…

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Credit-Sports Illustrated

American League MVP: Mike Trout

While most have declared this a two-man race between Jose Altuve and Aaron Judge, I feel the true winner is Mr. Michael Nelson Trout. I’m sure at least one person is reading this, shaking their head at me; that’s fine, as I have zero issue with anyone picking Altuve and I at least understand the voters who picked Judge. But to me, Trout was head and shoulders above the rest this year, despite only playing in 114 games. If you want a real in-depth look at how and why I voted for Trout, go back to August when I wrote about Trout being amazing despite the 40 so games he missed in the first half of the season. I really broke down the how and why of this vote with that article, so let’s just recap some of the main points here. Trout led the league in On-base Percentage, Slugging, OPS, OPS+, and wRC+. This is all impressive considering the time he missed, but what really swayed my vote was Trout leading the AL hitters in Win Probability Added (WPA). Considering WPA is a stat that accumulates as the season wears on and factors in the change in Win Expectancy from one plate appearance to the next. It’s all about the opportunities you get and what you do with them, and Trout did better than anyone else in this category. The interesting aspect of that is those games missed, which should mean he got fewer opportunities, and more than likely he did. What it really tells us is that Trout did the most with those chances, leading the league with a 5.58 WPA. The next closest player? Nelson Cruz at 3.90. Altuve was 4th in the league at 3.74. Think about that for a moment: In 40 fewer games, Trout was a bigger factor in his team’s victories than Altuve, who had a fantastic season…and it isn’t even close! FYI, Judge came in at 17th, with 2.38. We all juggle with what “Most Valuable” means in MVP, and for me it is the guy who is giving his team the best chance to win. Mike Trout did that in his limited time in 2017 and for that he received my vote.

My Top 3: 1-Trout, 2-Jose Altuve, 3-Aaron Judge

IBWAA Winner: Jose Altuve

BBWAA Winner: Jose Altuve

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National League MVP: Joey Votto

Over the years, there appears to be a divide when it comes to a person’s opinion of Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto. If you believe a middle of the order guy should drive in runs and hit for power, you probably are frustrated by Votto’s patience at the dish and focus on just getting on base. If you are of the opinion that it’s all about not getting out and making sure you extend the inning for your team, then you probably love the guy. I am in the latter position and nothing speaks volumes about Votto’s true value than what he did offensively in 2017. If you love the black ink that shows up in the statistic category (which means a player led the league in that category), then Votto should be your man. He led the NL this year in Walks, On-Base Percentage, OPS, OPS+ and wRC+. You can probably also tack on 36 home runs, 100 RBI’s, 323 total bases, a slugging percentage of .578 and 7.5 bWAR. Offensively, Votto was a beast in 2017 and to add the cherry on top of this offensive sundae, he lead the NL hitters in WPA, 4.96 to Giancarlo Stanton’s 4.84. Some will poo-pah that Votto wasn’t on a contending team; I would counter with this being an individual award, so what the other 24 players do should have no factor into the winner of MVP. While Stanton put up monster power numbers and Charlie Blackmon had an amazing season out of the leadoff spot (and easily baseball’s best mullet), the true Most Valuable Player was Joey Votto in my eyes.

My Top 3: 1-Votto, 2-Giancarlo Stanton, 3-Charlie Blackmon

IBWAA Winner: Giancarlo Stanton

BBWAA Winner: Giancarlo Stanton

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American League Cy Young Award: Corey Kluber

The debate the last two months of the season was the two-man race for the AL Cy Young: would it be Corey Kluber or Chris Sale? What once appeared to be Sale’s award to win turned into Kluber’s gain, as he absolutely shoved the last two months of the season. In those last two months, Kluber threw 89 innings and produced an ERA of 1.42 and a WPA of 3.07. Batters only hit .172 against him in that span with a paltry .290 slugging percentage. Those two months were just the nail in the coffin, as Kluber led the league in ERA, Complete Games, Shutouts, ERA+ and WHIP. Sale held his on, as he lead in Innings Pitched and strike outs, but the stats tell the true story. Kluber lead in ERA+, 202 to 157. WHIP was 0.869 to Sale’s 0.970. WPA? 4.9 to Sale’s 3.7. WAR? Kluber 8.0 to Sale’s 6.0. While Sale made three more starts than Kluber, the gap wasn’t so wide that it would diminish Kluber’s accomplishments. At the end of the day, Kluber proved he was worthy of yet another Cy Young Award.

My Top 3: 1-Kluber, 2-Chris Sale, 3-Luis Severino

IBWAA Winner: Corey Kluber

BBWAA Winner: Corey Kluber

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National League Cy Young Award: Max Scherzer

Over the last couple seasons, there hasn’t been much discussion about who the best pitcher in baseball is. Clayton Kershaw was pretty much hands down the best and very few were putting up a fight. But during that span, Max Scherzer followed behind, nipping at Kershaw’s heels. While the debate will continue, the one definite is that Scherzer has just as much of a claim to that title in 2017 as Kershaw and proved himself worthy of this award. Scherzer has the black ink for the year, leading the league in complete games, Strike Outs, WHIP and Hits per 9. Kershaw lead in ERA and ERA+. But while Kluber and Sale’s numbers felt pretty far apart, Scherzer and Kershaw felt neck and neck. Scherzer beat Kershaw in WHIP, 0.902 to 0.949, while Kershaw beat Scherzer in ERA+ by a margin of 180 to 177. So to dig further, Scherzer easily beat him in WAR, 7.3 to 4.6, but WPA was much closer, 4.6 to 4.3. One wonders if Kershaw hadn’t missed those starts in the middle of the season, if this race would have turned out a bit different. Instead, Scherzer proved once again why might be the closest thing to Kershaw’s equal and why these two seem to battle it out for this award every season. But in 2017, Max Scherzer was the better pitcher.

My Top 3: 1-Scherzer, 2-Stephen Strasburg, 3-Zack Greinke

IBWAA Winner: Max Scherzer

BBWAA Winner: Max Scherzer

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American League Rookie of the Year: Aaron Judge

This award felt like a ‘Gimme’, as Judge was a dominant force for a large chunk of his rookie campaign. It was hard to read an article or watch a video without mention of Judge and his accomplishments this season and for the most part they were very deserved. Judge led the league in Runs, Home Runs, Walks and Strike outs. Judge’s 52 home runs (a new single season record for a rookie, breaking Mark McGwire’s 49 HR’s back in 1987) and 114 RBI’s spoke of a force in the middle of the Yankees batting order, while the walks showed the ability to show patience at the plate. Judge was different from many rookies, as this year was his age 25 season, which would explain a maturity not seen by many a rookie. While his contact rate was a bit low (65.1%, with league average being 80%) and the strike outs were high, Judge is no different than most of the power hitters that fill up major league rosters in 2017. To me, the most telling stat of Judge’s worth is OPS+, which sits at 171, second in the AL behind Trout. Since OPS+ is a statistic that adjusts to league and park effects, it means that despite playing in a very hitter friendly park in Yankee Stadium, Judge still raked like an elite hitter. That to me speaks more of his skills than a home run total, to be honest. While the sky is the limit for Judge, I worry about all the attention that the media bestows on him. I’m not a big fan of all the hype that the baseball media granted to him this year, but I get it. Judge had one of the best rookie seasons in baseball history and New York has been starving for a young power bat for years now. Judge more than deserves the honor of AL Rookie of the year but…what will his sequel look like? It’s not going to be easy for him to match what he did throughout this magical first year.

My Top 3: 1-Judge, 2-Matt Chapman, 3-Andrew Benintendi

IBWAA Winner: Aaron Judge

BBWAA: Aaron Judge

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

National League Rookie of the Year: Cody Bellinger

If anything has been proven over the years, it is that the Los Angeles Dodgers might just have a ‘Rookie Tree’ near Chavez Ravine where they pluck healthy, fresh new talent from on a consistent basis. That tree continued to produce in 2017, as young first baseman Cody Bellinger came away with the NL Rookie of the Year award, the 18th Dodger to win that award. Bellinger now sits beside such notables like Seager, Valenzuela, Karros, Nomo, Sax, Mondesi, Newcombe, Sutcliffe, Howard, Piazza and the man who now has his name on the award, Jackie Robinson. Bellinger debuted on April 25th this year and from almost day one he punished baseballs. Cody hit 39 home runs (a new National League single season record for a rookie), 26 doubles and posted an OPS+ of 142. Bellinger lead the National League Champions in homers, RBI and slugging percentage while putting together a 4.2 bWAR season in his rookie campaign. Maybe the most impressive stat for him this season was a 4.3 WPA, good enough for 5th in the NL, ahead of MVP hopeful Charlie Blackmon and teammate Justin Turner. Bellinger had been a highly touted prospect for a few years now and he showed this year that there was a reason for the hype. Like Judge, Bellinger will now have to follow-up a splendid first season with the hope for even bigger numbers. Bellinger won’t turn 23 years old until next July but is already showing the patience and maturity of a 10 year veteran. It’s a lot of expectations for such a young player, but so far so good for Cody Bellinger.

My Top 3: 1-Bellinger, 2-Paul DeJong, 3-Austin Barnes

IBWAA Winner: Cody Bellinger

BBWAA Winner: Cody Bellinger

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

American League Reliever of the Year: Craig Kimbrel

When digesting the numbers for American League relievers in 2017, it became very apparent that there was no dominant force like in year’s past. No Zach Britton, no Andrew Miller, no Wade Davis. But while digging in the depths, it did appear that Craig Kimbrel of the Red Sox had put together a stellar season that had flown under the radar. Kimbrel threw 69 innings, striking out 126 batters while posting an ERA+ of 319, three times above the league average. His strike out rate (49.6%) was the highest it had been since 2012 while his walk rate (5.5%) was the lowest of his career. His WPA was also huge, posting a 4.5 Win Probability while his Run Expectancy (RE24), which calculates the runs he saved, was the highest of his career at 28.0. Kimbrel also had a 1.43 ERA, which is great but fairly normal for a reliever of his caliber, but I was interested to see how the runs he did give up (which were 11 over those 69 innings) were scattered about. In August he gave up the most runs in one month (4), while May was his best effort, giving up none. Over the last two months of the season, Kimbrel pitched 25.1 innings, giving up five runs while striking out 46….and that wasn’t even his best two month stretch! While Andrew Miller and Chad Green both had great seasons this year, Kimbrel showed why he has been an elite closer since 2011. For anyone calling for his demise in 2016, Kimbrel showed this year why his career isn’t dead yet.

My Top 3: 1-Kimbrel, 2-Andrew Miller, 3-Chad Green

IBWAA Winner: Craig Kimbrel

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Credit: USA Today

National League Reliever of the Year: Kenley Jansen

While the American League relievers felt like a closer race, in the National League on closer stood out over all the rest and his name is Kenley Jansen of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Jansen was dominant in 2017: 68.1 innings, 1.32 ERA, 318 ERA+ with 109 strike outs. Jansen even posted a 2.9 bWAR this year, the highest of his career. But a couple other stats just blew me away for Jansen this year. Jansen allowed seven walks all year-long. Yes, 7…that is it. Which leads to another stat that blows my mind, which is his Strike out to Walk ratio: 15.57. Seriously, that number is just ridiculous. Finally, the most impressive statistic for Jansen in 2017 was his league leading WPA, 5.7. Not only did that number lead the NL, it lead all of baseball, even better than Mike Trout’s 5.58 in the AL. If there was ever any doubt that Los Angeles made the right move to re-sign Jansen last offseason, his spectacular 2017 warranted almost every dollar he earned. Those numbers speak as a dominant reason why Kenley Jansen is the NL Reliever of the Year.

My Top 3: 1-Jansen, 2-Archie Bradley, 3-Pat Neshek

IBWAA Winner: Kenley Jansen

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American League Manager of the Year: Paul Molitor

While managers like Terry Francona and Joe Girardi guided their respective teams to the postseason this year, one man stood head and shoulders as the true manager of the year in the American League, and his name is Paul Molitor of the Minnesota Twins. The Twins came into the year trying to bounce back from a 100 loss season in 2016 and they more than bounced back. Despite having a pieced together rotation and an occasional spotty bullpen, Molitor was able to lead Minnesota to an 85 win season and a Wild Card spot in the AL. No one expected the Twins to reach .500, yet along wrap up a playoff spot but that is exactly what happened in the ‘Twin Cities’ this year. The team really took off in August, as the offense went on a tear and pushed the team to the upper section of the American League Central. Molitor was able to work around some of the team’s flaws and gave youngsters like Byron Buxton and Jorge Polanco the playing time they needed to be comfortable in the big leagues. Two of the team’s big issues the year before was the defense and the pen, which both improved in 2017 with his use of mixing and matching. Sometimes he doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but Molitor was able to lay out some strategies this year that appeared to pay off:

“He’s extremely baseball smart,” Twins catcher Chris Gimenez told reporters. “He’s in the Hall of Fame for a reason. Yeah, he was a great player, but you have to think the game to do what he did on the field. I see it constantly. He’s very much ahead of the game. Sometimes it hasn’t worked out necessarily the way you draw it up, but I think for the most part I’d take him any day of the week.”

I know some don’t feel that the Manager of the Year award should just go to a team that outperforms expectations, but I think that is exactly why someone like Molitor deserves this award. Once the Twins started to excel, teams began to pay more attention to them and it caused Minnesota to revert the course they had been on. The team you saw in April wasn’t the same team there in September and it was for the better. While Francona lead his Indians to an AL Central title, he did so with pretty much the same roster he took to the World Series the year before. Molitor’s roster was revamped and a large chunk of the credit of their turnaround should be given to Molitor. He did what few expected and that is why he is my choice for Manager of the Year.

My Top 3: 1-Molitor, 2-Terry Francona, 3-Joe Girardi

IBWAA Winner: Terry Francona

BBWAA Winner: Paul Molitor

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Credit: Getty Images

National League Manager of the Year: Torey Lovullo

Does anyone remember the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2016? The best way to describe them is by just saying they were a mess. They only won 69 games last year and the team didn’t appear to have a set direction they were going in, other than down. GM Mike Hazen decided to restructure the roster, inserted Lovullo into his first big league managing spot and the team flourished. While all the attention was on the Dodgers, Lovullo kept Arizona just slightly off their pace while holding their ground on the Wild Card spot throughout the year. There was more attention paid to pitching strategy, defense and run prevention while he melded with his players:

Lovullo’s ability to incorporate analytics with his locker-room skills made him an instant success. He built a solid foundation in his first year and seems to have the Diamondbacks on track to compete for division titles and the World Series for the foreseeable future.

The Diamondbacks now look like a consistent contender in the NL West and with their young talent they shouldn’t have to make many major moves in the future. Lovullo changed the atmosphere in the desert and for that he is the best manager this year in the National League.

My Top 3: 1-Lovullo, 2-Bud Black, 3-Craig Counsell

IBWAA Winner: Torey Lovullo

BBWAA Winner: Torey Lovullo

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So there you have it, another season officially wraps up as we reward those that reached the highest of achievements. I did find it amusing that back in April when I made my season predictions  I guessed only one of these correctly (Bellinger as NL ROTY, which felt like a slam dunk). It goes to show how hard it is to really guess what will happen during the duration of a 162 game season. It is a great honor that I get to vote every year like this and I can only hope I do a respectable part to show the value of an organization like the IBWAA. This is a game we all love and while we might squabble here and there on numbers, it really comes down to what you value. I can only hope 2018 brings us just as many highly contested winners. Here’s to baseball being back sooner rather than later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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