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Bleeding Royal Blue

Inside the mind of a Kansas City Royals fan

Month

March 2014

2014 Predictions: The Lazy Version

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Alright, I had planned on writing a long, drawn out prediction on the upcoming 2014 season(which goes into full force tomorrow). But alas, time got away from me. There was work to be had, sleep to be slept, and new Muppet movies to watch. So instead of a long-winded version of ‘War and Peace’, instead you get a quick summary, with a few notes. Actually, this should be way easier to read and also easier to go back on later this year and mock me for my awful picks. So without further ado, here are my 2014 baseball predictions that will be scoffed at come June.

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American League East

1. Boston Red Sox

2. Tampa Bay Rays

3. New York Yankees

4. Baltimore Orioles

5. Toronto Blue Jays

Kansas City Royals Photo Day

 

American League Central

1. Detroit Tigers

2. Kansas City Royals

3. Cleveland Indians

4. Minnesota Twins

5. Chicago White Sox

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American League West

1. Los Angeles Angels

2. Oakland A’s

3. Texas Rangers

4. Seattle Mariners

5. Houston Astros

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Wild Card Winners 

Tampa Bay and Oakland

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American League Championship Series

Boston over Los Angeles

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American League Award Winners

MVP: Mike Trout(FINALLY!)

Cy Young: David Price

Rookie of the Year: Yordano Ventura

Comeback Player of the Year: Grady Sizemore

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National League East

1. Washington Nationals

2. Atlanta Braves

3. Miami Marlins

4. New York Mets

5. Philadelphia Phillies

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National League Central

1. St. Louis Cardinals

2. Pittsburgh Pirates

3. Milwaukee Brewers

4. Cincinnati Reds

5. Chicago Cubs

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National League West

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

2. San Francisco Giants

3. San Diego Padres

4. Arizona Diamondbacks

5. Colorado Rockies

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Wild Card Winners 

Pittsburgh and San Francisco

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National League Championship Series

Washington over St. Louis

 

National League Award Winners

MVP: Bryce Harper

Cy Young: Adam Wainwright

Rookie of the Year: Gregory Polanco

Comeback Player of the Year: Ryan Braun

 

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World Series

Washington over Boston in seven games

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals

 

So there you go. If this was an accurate science, everyone wouldn’t look so foolish by October. I think no matter what happens this season, it will be another fun season. Youth is dominating the game nowadays and I don’t think that is going to change anytime soon. All we can do at this point is strap in and enjoy the ride. Baseball is back, folks. That within itself makes this the best time of the year. Play ball!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “New” Mike Moustakas?

2014 Spring Training_9274

Everyone knows during Spring Training is when hopes are the highest. You hope that one major prospect is ready to take the next step and make themselves part of the big league roster. You hope that veteran that seemed washed up has one more year of productivity in him. You hope this is the year Alyssa Milano finally notices you and doesn’t think you are “that creepy guy who gives me compliments”. Restraining orders aside, this spring is the time where most Kansas City Royals fans(and employees) hope that Mike Moustakas is for real and ready to be the player he looked to be in the first half of the 2012 season. This spring Moose has looked the part…but is he for real?

Mike Moustakas, Miguel Montero

It’s hard to judge simply by Spring Training stats, no matter how good they are. How good you say? Take a look for yourself.

Year   Tm Age GS  G PA AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB OppQual
2014   KC     25 20 57 45 12 21  6  0  4  17  1  0 10  6 .467 .561 .867 1.428 39   0   1  0  1   0     8.8

The most interesting is seeing how close this year’s Spring Training stats are to last year’s. Most don’t remember but Moose had a good spring last year and started off the regular season hitting well before his swing headed south. But there are a few things that are different with Moustakas this year from last. Manager Ned Yost has talked about how last spring Moose was hacking more and now has more of a game plan when he steps up to the dish. But there have been some very noticeable changes from last year.

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Above is a GIF of last year’s stance. He’s always had a bit of an open stance, but not a prominent one. Also notice the amount of movement in his swing. We’ll come back to that later. Now, here is a shot of his stance this spring:

pinetarpress.com
pinetarpress.com

It’s not as easy to tell, but the stance is quite a bit more open. It’s open enough that it is noticeable when you watch him bat. I have to believe with the more prominent open stance, Moustakas is able to see the ball a bit better, especially against lefties. That is one of the other changes this spring. Moose has been hitting lefties a lot better than he normally does. Last season was maybe his toughest against lefthanded pitchers:

Split             G  GS  PA  AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS  TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
vs RHP              128 396 365 37 89 22  0 10  32  2  2 23 60 .244 .295 .386 .682 141  11   5  0  3   1   1  .265   109    90
vs LHP               66 118 107  5 21  4  0  2  10  0  2  9 23 .196 .256 .290 .546  31   2   0  1  1   0   0  .229    69    55

Moustakas’ struggles against lefties is why the team acquired Danny Valencia in the offseason. It must have been the kick in the pants he needed, as he has looked more than comfortable against all lefties, even the occasional LOOGY. Moose being able to hit lefthanded pitchers helps go a long way toward him being more productive in 2014.

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Earlier I mentioned the amount of movement in Moose’s “old” swing. It’s always seemed a bit long, loopy and not as compact as it should be. This spring, his swing has been the other change that makes me feel better about him going into the season. From the few games I have watched, his swing looked more compact with a lot less movement. I mentioned this to David Lesky of pinetarpress.com a few weeks ago and he agreed:

Lesky spent some time in Surprise, Arizona this spring, so he got to see Moustakas up close and personal. To me, the biggest thing I’ve seen that gives me hope that this isn’t just a spring thing is the swing. It’s just a matter at this point of being consistent with his swing and not falling back into old habits.

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There are a lot of factors that will determine whether or not the Royals have a successful 2014 or not, and the production(or lack of) from Mike Moustakas is a major one. So far this spring it is obvious that Moustakas put in a lot of time this winter to work on his swing, as evident by his time spent in the Venezuelan Winter League with hitting coach Pedro Grifol. If Moose can be consistent and continue to hit even close to how he has this spring, than it will go a long way to cementing his spot on the roster for not only this year but for the future. He might never be a .300 hitter, but a solid .270 with quality run production should make him a middle of the order guy for Kansas City. Soon enough, we will know if the “New” Mike Moustakas is real or just a figment of the thin Arizona air.

 

The Duffy Debate

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When Spring Training started last month, Danny Duffy looked to have a good shot of making the Kansas City Royals rotation. Early on it seemed as if Duffy had an inside shot at being the team’s fifth starter. Then Yordano Ventura came in and embarassed batters as if they had bullied him as a kid(except for Eric Sogard). So with Ventura locking up a rotation spot, that now leaves Duffy on the outside looking in. Originally it looked as if Duffy would go to AAA Omaha to start the year, but word trickled out this week that the team was seriously thinking of putting Duffy in the bullpen. Now it appears as if Duffy will in fact be in the pen, as the Royals feel nothing will get accomplished for him in Omaha. With that said, is this the best thing for Danny Duffy, the pitcher?

Detroit Tigers v Kansas City Royals

When the idea was first floated around, I will admit to being highly intrigued. Duffy has electric stuff, including a mid-90’s fastball with a change, sinker and curveball. Duffy’s biggest challenge since he made it to the “bigs” is pitch efficiency. For every batter he would strike out, there is a batter who either walked or was at least able to work the count full. In most starts, Duffy would reach his pitch limit by the 5th inning, with even a few coming earlier than that. So the idea of a guy with his stuff being able to just go out there and blow people away seems like an interesting idea. The only problem is the Royals bullpen already has more arms than roster spots. There’s also that pesky issue of the lack of young starters developed by the Royals over the years…

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The Royals are currently in a situation where they can’t just discard good arms to the pen. Kansas City has done an awful job developing young starters during Dayton Moore’s tenure(hell, you could go back even farther if you want. Jim Pittsley anyone?). Ventura making the rotation this spring makes him the only starter who came up through the Royals farm system. The last young pitcher to give Royals’ fans hope? Danny Duffy. Before that? Zack Greinke. There are a couple more arms heading to Kansas City soon(Kyle Zimmer and Miguel Almonte chief among them), but they could still be a year or more away. The Royals need someone to step up this year, especially since they can’t let Bruce Chen start all year if they want to contend. With James Shields probably gone after this season, it puts even more pressure on the Royals to develop starting pitching. So one hopes this isn’t a long-term thing and is more of a ‘for now’ thing. In fact, many feel as if the Royals should keep him starting, even if it is down in AAA. Craig Brown of Royals Review among them:

It makes sense. If the Royals use Duffy out of the pen in the first half of the season and then want him to shift to the rotation, it will take awhile before his arm is stretched out to handle the extra workload. Pitching in Omaha would solve that.

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But go back to some of the comments Ned Yost and Dave Eiland made:

“You can have success in Class AAA doing exactly what you’re doing now,” Yost said. “They’re going to swing at pitches out of the zone. If you’re going to have success, he’s going to have to do it up here.”

Added pitching coach Dave Eiland, “He needs to learn how to get big-league hitters out. And the only way he can do that is in the big leagues.”

I really feel this is the real argument here. Duffy has developed as much as he can in the minors. There is very little left for him there to accomplish or learn in AAA. AAA hitters are different than major league hitters, by a wide margin. Duffy’s biggest issue has been a lack of efficiency and being able to finish off batters. Half a season in the bullpen can get him to work on it, on top of not having the pressure of being a starter. There is a lot more thinking when it comes to being a starter. In the bullpen, you only need two above average pitches(or one filthy pitch) and a lot less pacing. Sure, Duffy would have to go back to that at some point, but half a season of not thinking might be the best thing for him. One rival executive even agrees with that line of thinking:

“Some of these guys that are high octane, they’re better off not knowing when they’re going to pitch,” the executive said. “Because they sit around the four days in between just dwelling on it.”

To a degree, even Duffy agrees with this line of thinking:

“I think that my game would play very well out of the bullpen, but that’s just my opinion that I’ve had for my whole career,” said Duffy. “I’ve stated my case for that a few times.”

It sounds like Duffy has been open to a move to the bullpen for awhile now. That might be the best thing for him, at least for now. It sounds like he would be more comfortable coming out of the pen.

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So what is the best thing for Danny Duffy and his future? I think at this point, both arguments make sense, but the case being made for him to get actual major league hitters out seems like the best course of action. If Duffy excels in the role, they can just insert him in the rotation mid-season, even stretching out his relief appearances building up to his return to the rotation. If he fails out of the pen there are bigger issues at hand than just pitch efficiency and over-thinking. For the long term, the Royals need Duffy to be in the rotation. But for now, a major league role(any major league spot) might be just the thing to tap into his true potential. That is the true endgame.

2014 Kansas City Royals: Be Royal…Code for Playoffs?

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Two weeks from today, the Kansas City Royals will take the field and open the 2014 season in Detroit. Optimism runs high for the Royals this year, as they are coming off of their first winning season in a decade. Not only were they not eliminated from the playoffs until the last week of the season, but they are returning a large portion of the team that got them to this point. Now, I wasn’t quite sold on their chances in 2013 and I even admitted my mistake once the season was over. Going into this year, I think this is a team who will post another winning season(the Royals haven’t posted back to back winning seasons since the early 90’s) but playoffs? Let’s go ahead and take a look at this team and what can be expected coming into what very well could be a make or break year.

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Let’s start with what was the biggest strength for Kansas City in 2013, the starting pitching. Most of the same faces are back from last year. James Shields will once again anchor the rotation, leading a staff as free agency is beckoning him. Last year I foolishly didn’t believe Shields was a true ace(silly me), but I was proven wrong as ‘Big Game James’ showed he was up for the challenge. Following him will be Jeremy Guthrie, as he put up solid numbers that continue to defy logic. I only say that since Guthrie continues to give up more hits than innings pitched year after year but also puts up respectable numbers. One would think at some point that would catch up with Guthrie, but he’s been doing it for years and other than his dreadful few months in Colorado, he has been able to not let a large portion of those runners score. Following the ‘Jeremy Guthrie Magic Trick’ will be newly acquired Jason Vargas. Vargas will actually start the second game of the year, but that is more about not pitching Vargas and Chen back to back, since they are practically the same pitcher. Vargas’ signing this winter was the most highly debated, especially after the Royals went out and re-signed Bruce Chen as well. By no means am I saying Vargas is a bad pitcher or that the Royals overpaid for him(although signing him for four years is debatable), but it doesn’t make sense to have him and Chen on the same team. Vargas is replacing Ervin Santana, who put together a splendid year in 2013. It’s doubtful Vargas will put up numbers even comparable to Santana, but he will eat innings and (hopefully) keep the Royals in the game. Chen will be the fourth starter, at least for the first half of the season. If the Royals are serious about this contending thing they won’t have Bruce in the rotation come July. Look, I like Chen and he is great for the clubhouse but the formula they used with him last year(rotation only half the year, other half in the bullpen) is really the way to go with him. The fifth spot in the rotation seems to be young flamethrower Yordano ‘Ace’ Ventura, who might make all of us forget about Santana. There are some lofty expectations on him, as comparisons have even gone as far as future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. If Ventura is even close to what we think he could be, the Royals will be in for a fun year. So with all this said, as much as I like the rotation(and that is without even mentioning how we could see either Danny Duffy or Kyle Zimmer replace Chen at mid-season), I have to believe they won’t be as solid as they were last year. I’m not saying that in a negative way as much as saying that they were so good  last year that it seems inconceivable that they would be able to achieve that two years in a row. So expect a slight dip this year with the starters…but not much.

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Another solid bunch is the Royals bullpen. The bullpen was so solid last year that only the Atlanta Braves had a better pen in baseball. Leading the bunch was closer Greg ‘Dirty South’ Holland, who surprised even his biggest fans by shaking off an early season slump to put up some of the best numbers of anyone in Kansas City’s history(yes, even up there with Quisenberry and Montgomery). The pen was so deep last year that a guy like Louis Coleman, who was nasty both in the minors and the majors, was only in the big leagues for a portion of the season. One of the main cogs in the bullpen last year was Luke Hochevar, who will miss the 2014 season to have Tommy John Surgery. No worries, Royals fans, as former starter Wade Davis, who is a much better reliever than starter, will be taking his place this year. Add in Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Kelvin Herrera, and (probably) Donnie Joseph and you have one of the best bullpens in the game. Now, bullpens tend to rollover every few years, so we could be seeing some changes in the near future, but if they can last one more season then the Royals can worry about changes during the offseason.

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Now onto the starting lineup. To be flatly honest, this Royals lineup might be the most solid one they have had in years. Before last year, I really felt like the Royals hadn’t done enough to fix their 2012 lack of offense. Honestly, I was proven right. If the offense hadn’t been so streaky one wonders if the Royals would have actually made the playoffs. But this year, things are different. Just taking a glance and there are no major holes in the lineup, no Getz’s or Francoeur’s dragging it down. There are a few question marks, guys coming off of down years in 2013. Mike Moustakas might be the most talked about Royal in this conversation, as he pretty much stunk up the joint last year. It didn’t matter if he was facing lefties or righties, starters or relievers, Orioles or Indians, he just didn’t look good at the plate. Moose tucked his ego aside, went and played in the Venezuelan Winter League while working on his swing. Royals hitting coach Pedro Grifol managed the team Moose was on, so he was able to work with him on a personal basis. What we have seen this spring is more of an open stance from Moustakas, less movement in his swing and a better ability at hitting lefthanders. If Moose can bounce back, that leaves one less worry with this offense. Alcides Escobar was another concern, as he went from having a great offensive 2012 to a downright dismal 2013. It didn’t matter if you hit him at the top of the lineup or the bottom(although he should have had no business at the top of the lineup, where he batted a whopping 49% of the time), Esky was one of the worst hitters in baseball last year. Granted, we all know he is in there for his defense, but a little bit of offense would have been nice. Most Royals fans(and I assume a good portion of the Royals braintrust) would agree that even if Escobar hits in the .260-.270 range, his defense would make up for the rest. The Royals have him signed to a very team-friendly contract, but if doesn’t produce this year then they might have to start looking elsewhere, or at least until Adalberto Mondesi Jr. makes it to the big leagues.

MLB: Spring Training-Kansas City Royals at Milwaukee Brewers

Elsewhere in the lineup, Eric Hosmer is expected to hit much like he did in the second half of the season, as is Salvador Perez. Two guys who’s numbers were down last year was Billy Butler and Alex Gordon and both are being counted on to improve on last year. I know many soured on Butler, as he didn’t put up the power numbers he had the year before, but he was still one of the better hitters on the team. Gordon is being moved down to fifth in the order and will be asked to drive in more runs this year. In the past he has struggled when lowered in the order, so it will be interesting to see how he does. The two new additions to the Royals lineup are right fielder Nori Aoki and second baseman Omar Infante, who are expected to bat first and second respectively. Aoki should get on base at the top of the order, even if he doesn’t walk as much as expected out of that spot in the order. Infante might be better suited to sixth in the order but should be fine second, as he can do about anything asked of him from that spot. Both should be improvements over the players they are replacing and should give the lineup a different look. Lorenzo Cain will be the center fielder and at this point I believe most just want him to stay healthy. Royals management expects continued improvement from the youngsters, which very well could happen. We could also see some struggles as well. Either way though, this offense looks way better than it did last year and one can only hope it produces more to help out the pitching.

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The bench though is where there are a few concerns. Since the Royals plan on carrying 12 pitchers when they break camp, that leaves them with only four spots for their bench. One will be the backup catcher, which at this point appears to be Brett Hayes. It also appears as if both Justin Maxwell and Jarrod Dyson will be with the team to backup in the outfield. That leaves one spot, and most of the spring it appeared the Royals would be daring and not keep a backup infielder and instead keep 3B/1B Danny Valencia. Valencia has use, as he scorches lefthanders, but it would appear a backup infielder might be of more value. That seems even more apparent as both Escobar and Infante have battled injuries this spring. The Royals swear they can fill Valencia in at second and move Infante over at SS, but Danny has never played second and it doesn’t appear smart to start that now. The Royals options as backup infielder aren’t very promising, but they could suffice if absolutely needed. Pedro Ciriaco would seem to have the first shot, as he has hit well this spring and is out of options. Jason Donald has also had a good spring but is out of options. There is also former first round draft pick Christian Colon, who can man second or shorstop, but is pretty much just a glove-man at this point. The Royals don’t have great options(and let Emilio Bonifacio, their best option, go before Spring Training), but they knew this all offseason. It would seem insane to go into the season without a backup infielder, and I hope they come to their senses. If not, we could see Valencia at second base and possibly even Moustakas sliding over to shortstop. That’s just scary and nonsensical, folks.

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Finally, Ned Yost will be coming back for another season as manager of the Royals. You all know my thoughts on Neddy, and at this point I’m not even going to give you links to my columns ranting about Yost(which also seem to be some sort of weird therapy sessions). My feelings haven’t changed about him. I don’t think he is the guy to get Kansas City to the promise land. He did a good job last year of not letting the guys get too down after their craptacular May, which I give him kudos for. He has learned at this point to just let them play. But we all know he likes to tinker, and that hasn’t changed. Expect some bunting, expect some questionable lineups, and most definitely he will keep a starter in longer than he should. But until the Royals decide he isn’t the guy, it doesn’t matter what I think. Ned is the devil you know at this point.

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So with just two weeks remaining until the games count,  the Royals almost have their roster set and ready to go. I’ve bounced around a lot of ideas as to what I think will happen this season and where I see them come October and a lot of other issues will factor in during the season(injuries could play a major part, as the Royals lack a lot of depth, especially in the lineup). Last year, I picked them for right around .500, or just a tad below. This year, I believe at the very least this is a winning ball club. Playoffs? I’m not quite there yet. I definitely don’t see them toppling Detroit in the Central and am not totally sure they can get past Cleveland. But if the youngsters continue to develop and Ventura is as good as advertised, this could be a really fun season. In some ways this season is ‘Playoffs or Bust’, as the window for this team is closing. Shields is a free agent at the end of the year, and Butler and Gordon both can be free agents after 2015. There is more young talent on the way, but it’s anyone’s guess just when we will see them. I personally see this team winning 83-87 games, just barely missing out on the postseason. A lot of things went right for them last year and the percentages say that doesn’t happen two years in a row. I do think this team will be fun to watch, even if they win 83. Dayton Moore has finally put together a winning team, one that he pretty much developed. July might be a true test of how much he(or David Glass, as he would have to open the pocketbook) wants it. If the Royals are in it, they have to go for it. This team can contend, but might be still one or two players away from the playoffs. Once again Kansas City, it’s time to prove me wrong. Make me eat my words. I would gladly do it if it means I am watching the Royals play in October. Maybe by then I will understand what ‘Be Royal’ means.

P.S.-I’m pretty sure we will hear this song this year at the K. I just hope they realize the lyrics don’t really make sense for a winning team. Just saying.

Luke Hochevar Meets Tommy John

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Tommy John has struck again. This time the famed surgery has claimed Kansas City Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar, as he will miss the entire 2014 season. It’s amazing to think this way, but this is actually a blow to the Royals, as Hochevar was an important part of the teams success in 2013 and looked to continue that this year. It seems weird to say that, since Hochevar for years was an unreliable starter who put up some of the worst numbers in baseball history. The Royals were contemplating giving Hoch another run in the rotation this year as the fifth starter, but obviously those plans have now changed. So where are the Royals at now without Luke Hochevar?

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For one, the fifth starters job is now down to two. Brad Penny was released earlier this week and Wade Davis has been officially moved to the bullpen. That leaves the competition to young flamethrower Yordano Ventura and Twitter’s favorite son Danny Duffy. In my eyes this is the best thing for the future of this team, as Penny seemed like a long-shot and Davis failed miserably last year at the back of the Royals rotation. As much as I love Ventura(and think in the long run he will be a top of the rotation starter), it might be best to start out the year with Duffy at the back end of the rotation. This saves some of Ventura’s service time(June seems like a good guess as to when he would join Kansas City, barring an injury) and allows Duffy some time to prove he can be the pitcher that many feel he is capable of being. So far in his young career, Duffy has been hit with a mixture of injuries and lack of control.  But at times Duffy has looked electric with a fastball that can reach the high 90’s and a curveball that is close to being a 12-to-6 downer with varying speeds. His change up is also above average, so Duffy has all the makings to be a number 2 or 3 starter…if he can learn some control. The biggest obstacle he has faced so far(outside of injuries) is a lack of control that makes it hard for him to go much past 5 innings in any of his starts. If Duffy can learn to be more efficient and avoid the injury bug, it’s conceivable that both him and Ventura could be in the Royals rotation by the end of the year.

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Hochevar’s injury also forced Wade Davis to the Royals bullpen, which is also a major plus for Kansas City. Manager Ned Yost felt that with Hoch out, the Royals needed more of a veteran presence in the pen. Insert Davis, a pitcher who over his career has been a questionable starter(at best) and a solid reliever. Davis was a starter in 2010-2011 for Tampa Bay and last year for Kansas City. 2012 was spent out of the pen. Compare:

Wade Davis Statistics and History – Baseball-Reference.com: Standard Pitching

His numbers in relief are very solid, especially his strike out rate(jumping to 11.1 in 2012) and his ERA+(a full 63 points higher than his best season in the rotation). Davis could easily slide into Hochevar’s 2013 role and put up very similar numbers, while also elevating his value(as the Royals hold his option for the 2015 season). The Royals really wanted Davis to be a starter when he was acquired, but it appears he is better suited for the pen, especially if the team is serious about contending.

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The last way in which Hochevar’s injury affects the Royals is that it opens up another spot in the bullpen. Right now six pitchers seem a lock for the pen: Greg Holland, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera, Davis and Louis Coleman. That leaves a spot for either a lefty(Franciscley Bueno, Donnie Joseph), a long reliever(Everett Teaford, P.J. Walters) or the pitcher that loses out in the fifth starter spot. With the Royals talking about Davis being a 2 inning reliever, that lessens the need for a long reliever. Kansas City GM Dayton Moore would prefer that the loser of the starters spot go to AAA Omaha,  as the club wants insurance in case a starter suffers an injury. That would leave a battle between lefties Bueno and Joseph. Bueno is coming off of a rough outing yesterday against Milwaukee, one in which he looked very hittable while Joseph has yet to give up a run this spring. Joseph meanwhile is younger and is more of a strikeout pitcher(he has a career 12.3 SO/9 in the minors) although his walk rate is high as well(4.5 BB/9 in the minors). The Royals have used Bueno over the past couple seasons and seem to like his ability to get lefties out. Either could make the team and there is a good chance both will see time with Kansas City at some point this season.

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I’ve never been a big fan of Luke Hochevar but he was a major part of the Royals bullpen last year and seemed to have breathed life into a flailing career. It’s unfortunate that as he seemed to have turned a corner(thanks for that, Ned) he is now out for 2014 and his career is now in question going forward. Hoch’s injury has given us an even better view of what the Royals Opening Day roster is going to look like. As valuable as Hochevar has become, he seemed overpriced(he is scheduled to make $5.21 million this year) for someone coming out of the bullpen. Moore has said they would like to bring Hochevar back in the future, but at this point it is possible we have seen the last of Luke in a Royals uniform. The Royals were lucky and weren’t really hit with any major injuries last year. Hopefully this is the last of them for this year.

Driving It Home

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The debate has already begun as Major League Baseball has instituted a new rule to help cut down on home plate collisions and help prevent major injuries. This has already been about as hotly debated as any of the other changes baseball has added to the game over the past few years(replay, extra wild card, etc.). One of the main things discussed has been how MLB didn’t go far enough with the rule, or enough to protect the baserunner in these situations. Let’s dissect the rule.

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Now, what really brought us to this point was the Buster Posey incident a few years back. If you haven’t seen the play, here it is:

I’m not going to get into how Posey didn’t get himself set up well, which I feel like made this play even worse than it should have been. Scott Cousins of the Marlins caught a lot of flak for plowing into Posey here, and you can look at this one of two ways. One, Posey was blocking the plate, making it hard for Cousins to go around him. Or two, that Cousins could have slid around him, taking the possibility of an injury out of the equation. Watching the footage a number of times again, I can see both arguments. Look, if the catcher is blocking the plate, it takes away one of the options for the runner. I don’t think Cousins ran into Posey to hurt him; that was just instinct to get to home plate and score. Now, Cousins could have possibly went around him and attempted to slide. Posey had set up in front of the dish to where Cousins had some room to get around him. But part of this issue is instinct.

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For years baserunners have been told that if the catcher is blocking the plate, lower your shoulder and barrel in. You can’t blame a runner for this; he is going in there with no extra equipment on while the guy he is set to run into has a full set of body armor on. I am all for cutting back on injuries and especially for curbing someone from getting a concussion. But with the way the rule is set up now, you are asking for more injuries. Bruce Jenkins takes a good look at this, discussing how players seem to be more open to injuries than before. Many of these guys don’t think about it before they head to home plate; they don’t think, they react. What do you think will happen now? There is a good chance many players will start thinking about it, and force them to either injure themselves or the catcher(or both). Do we want this to happen? Of course not, but putting the rule into play right before Spring Training leaves very little room to really practice for this situation. But let’s stay that teams work on the play religiously this spring and everyone feels like they are set and ready in case they are thrown into that situation. If you are the runner, this doesn’t seem like this new rule will benefit you.

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It’s mentioned in the Jenkins article I posted in the last paragraph, but this new rule seems to leave the runner in a vulnerable position. Here is a quick rundown of the rule:

• A runner may not run out of a direct line to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher, or any player, covering the plate. If he does, the umpire can call him out even if the player taking the throw loses possession of the ball.

• The catcher may not block the pathway of a runner attempting to score unless he has possession of the ball. If the catcher blocks the runner before he has the ball, the umpire may call the runner safe.

• All calls will be based on the umpire’s judgment. The umpire will consider such factors as whether the runner made an effort to touch the plate and whether he lowered his shoulder or used his hands, elbows or arms when approaching the catcher.

• Runners are not required to slide, and catchers in possession of the ball are allowed to block the plate. However, runners who do slide and catchers who provide the runner with a lane will never be found in violation of the rule.

• The expanded instant replay rules, which also go into effect this season, will be available to review potential violations of Rule 7.13.

The part that has many worried is how the catcher can still block the plate while the runner isn’t allowed to lower his shoulder. Former big leaguer Eric Byrnes has been very adamant about how this makes things worse for the runner and feels like no change to the rule would have been better than what they did:

Byrnes’ argument holds even more weight with this statement:

“You’re coming in at full speed, all of a sudden the catcher has the ball, and I can’t lower my shoulder or push off?” said the retired Eric Byrnes. “What do you want me to do, torpedo in with my head and get paralyzed? You’re leaving the runners in no-man’s land. We’re worse off than we were before.”

So leaving the rule open to allowing the catcher to still block the plate while not wanting the runner to defend himself seems like a recipe for disaster. It is very apparent that if they were smart, most teams would go to the swipe tag at home plate. The Giants have already taken that route, putting that into play once Posey returned to action. This is probably where it is headed anyway, so why not go ahead and enforce it, rather than use the new rule as an “experiment”? This doesn’t seem like a play you want to “dip your toes into the water” to test the temperature.

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Above you see maybe the most famous home plate collision in baseball history. In the 1970 All-Star game, Ray Fosse blocked home plate while Pete Rose barreled into him. Fosse was injured by this collision, an injury which wouldn’t be noticed until the following year and was forced to heal incorrectly. Fosse would continue to play throughout the 70’s but was never the player he was before ‘Charlie Hustle’ ran him over.  Fosse is proof of what home plate collisions can do to your career. The point of the new rule is to protect players from injuries, but it brings up more questions than answers. There is a feeling that the rule was kind of thrown together and a rule focused on catchers not blocking the plate would seem to be the direction they will eventually go. They already do that in the college game, so for most players drafted from this point forward it wouldn’t be a drastic change. The main thing that needs to happen is for a rule to be instituted that protects both catcher and baserunner. Concussions are a serious matter and baseball is moving in the right direction to remedy the problem. The sooner they eliminate the catcher blocking the plate, the better. It’s the best thing for the game.

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