Opportunity Knocks

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(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

This past Sunday, Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon and third baseman Mike Moustakas collided in foul territory chasing after a fly ball. The collision looked nasty for both parties, with it seemingly being worse on Gordon, as he seemed to bang his head on the back of the tarp lined against the stands. Gordon was taken out of the game in the following inning and the news for him dropped on Monday:

The initial diagnosis was that Gordon would miss about 3-4 weeks , which would mean Gordon will probably be back in late June:

Moustakas meanwhile was considered “day to day”(but aren’t we all) by the club with a contusion to his knee. Moose had sat out the entire three game series in Minnesota this week and went in for more tests on Thursday. The news was not positive:

A torn ACL is bad news, as it means Moustakas will be out for the remainder of the 2016 season, a season that saw his power numbers soar. With the Royals losing two All-Stars for a significant amount of time, this means that someone will have to attempt to fill their shoes. It appears for the moment that Cheslor Cuthbert and Brett Eibner will get that opportunity.

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This is not Cuthbert’s first rodeo with the Royals, as he spent a bit of time with Kansas City last year while also working on his second stint so far this year. Last year Cuthbert produced a line of .217/.280/.370 in the big leagues with 1 homer, 8 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 75 in just 19 games. So far this year in 15 games, Cuthbert has a line of .237/.250/.339 1 home run, 3 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 60. Obviously both years have been just a small sample size for Cheslor, but in that time he has shown an ability to get on base and has played slightly above average defense at third base. Cuthbert got off to a hot start down in Omaha this year and while he got off to a quick start his first few games in Kansas City (.286/.310/.464 in his first seven games), he has tapered off just a bit over the last eight games. I don’t believe Cuthbert will produce the kind of power Moustakas was producing early this year, but he does have a little pop in his bat and is more than adequate on defense. Now that Cheslor knows he will probably be seeing regular playing time for the Royals(and I’m sure the occasional Whit Merrifield start sprinkled in there as well), it will be interesting to see if he relaxes a bit and embraces the playing time he will be receiving the rest of this season.

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Credit: Minda Haas Kuhlmann

Then there is Eibner, just recalled earlier today. Eibner has been an intriguing prospect for Kansas City, a former second round draft pick back in 2010. Eibner put together a strong 2015 campaign for the Royals AAA team in Omaha(.303/.364/.514 with 19 homers, 81 RBI’s and 200 total bases) and was looking to do the same early in 2016(.309/.411/.537 with 10 homers, 28 RBI’s and 80 total bases in just 41 games). Now what Eibner brings to the mix is not only a solid bat and solid glove, but also a little bit of speed. Many have felt Eibner should have been given a shot at playing a bit in right field last year in Kansas City and his name was even thrown around a bit this year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get regular playing time on the corners in the outfield while Gordon is out, with some mix of Paulo Orlando and Jarrod Dyson in right,  while Eibner and Merrifield patrol left. You hear a lot about players just wanting a chance to prove themselves and Eibner looks to be getting his now.

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I know many will view Gordon and Moustakas’ injuries as a negative(and trust me, it is) but there is also a positive to them missing time. The positive is that the Royals will now get a chance to view Cuthbert, Eibner and Merrifield on a semi-regular basis and assess just how they help the team moving forward. Obviously how they play will determine how much we see of them this season but if any of them produce on a consistent basis, that might help their spot in the organization in future years. Merrifield’s versatility is a big bonus for this Royals team and probably has the best chance of sticking but both Cuthbert and Eibner could increase their value this year. With Moustakas becoming a free agent after the 2017 season and right field not fully secured, both could work their way into a spot on the team. You hear a lot spoken from teams about “grabbing the brass ring” and “play well to force their hand”, and all three players have a chance to do just that moving forward. They might not be future All-Stars or middle of the lineup producers, but your entire team is not made up of MVP caliber players. Sometimes you just need a steady hand that a manager knows he can rely on.

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Opportunity is a beautiful thing, as it can spread surprise and unlock production in an unlikely way. Losing Gordon for a month and Moose for the rest of the year are big blows to a team that is hoping to contend again this year, but it’s not always the end of the world. The Royals have been a lucky team these last few years as they have not had to deal with very many major injuries to their key players. The true mettle of a team can be measured by how they react to adversity and things are as adverse as they have been in Kansas City in awhile. Eibner, Merrifield and Cuthbert have an opportunity before them that most did not expect when the season began. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if any of them step up and lock themselves into a regular spot on the roster. To be continued…

 

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Tapped Potential

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Back in May of 2011, Eric Hosmer made his major league debut for the Kansas City Royals with expectations soaring through the roof. The world was his oyster and the belief was that Hosmer had the potential to be a future middle of the order run producer and possibly even future MVP candidate. Unfortunately, life and baseball don’t normally follow a movie script. Hosmer would struggle mightily in 2012 and would be up and down offensively from 2013 to 2015. Defensively he would accumulate a few Gold Gloves at first base and would be a big part of two Royals World Series teams. He had built up a nice career but maybe not the one everyone was hoping for. Luckily, sometimes it just takes a bit of time for a baseball player to figure things out, which is what has happened for Eric Hosmer in 2016.

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To this point in the new campaign, Hosmer has looked like the offensive force most of us expected upon his arrival. This year he is batting .311/.367/.522 with 8 home runs, 21 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 140 (or a wRC+of 145 if you prefer that). He has already racked up 1.1 bWAR and has become a complete player. The lone knock on Hos had been a lack of power, or more to the point that he seemed to prefer an opposite field approach to driving a ball for power. Now, I am a proponent of hitting the ball to all fields, which Hosmer is still doing(30% of his hits to left, 30 to center and 38.9 to right) but there is also a time for driving the ball, especially with good pitch recognition. Hosmer has so far racked up 17 extra base hits out of his 50 hits, or 34% of the time. His ground ball percentage is up(58 from 52 last year) but his fly ball percentage is up as well(26 to 24). Add in an ISO of .211(up from .162 last year) and you have the making of a guy more fitted to hit in the middle of the order. So what do the numbers tell us?

MLB: World Series-Kansas City Royals at New York Mets
(Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY)

What it tells me is that Hosmer’s main approach (which has always been to hit according to the situation) hasn’t drastically changed, but his ability to lift the ball has improved. Hosmer’s hard hit percentage this year is up, 35 from last year’s 32.9 and his HR/FB percentage is way up, 23 to 15. Obviously there is a smaller sample size at this point in the season compared to 2015 but even a slight dip should keep his numbers above what he did last year. What is most impressive is the increase in Hosmer’s exit velocity this year. Not only has his exit velocity gone up but it has progressively gone up:

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Hosmer has an average exit velocity this year of 93.5 mph, compared to 90.4 mph in 2015. Many of his home runs have not been ‘barely shots’, as he has had some massive bombs this year like last week against Boston. It shows that Hosmer has been taking advantage of pitchers mistakes, something he wasn’t doing earlier in his career. The fact that he is but 26 years old really makes one wonder what he will be able to do when he actually enters the prime of his career.

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There is no way to tell whether or not Hosmer will be able to keep up this pace, especially since over his career he has been an extremely streaky hitter. Just looking at 2015, by month Hosmer had slugging percentage’s of .488, .520, .322, .577, .434, and .410. There is an over.250 percent difference between his best and worst month. For as steady and consistent as he has been this year, Hosmer has a history of going from the top of the mountain to the depths of the basement. The hope this year is that Hosmer has started figuring things out and won’t fall to the inconsistentcy of his earlier years. It’s just two months(yes, small sample size; take a drink) but so far this year he has slugged .506 and .542. Time will tell but his numbers are definitely potruding in the correct direction.

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The Royals count on Eric Hosmer for a number of items-clubhouse leadership, popular hairstyles, steady, Gold Glove award winning defense(even if the defensive metrics don’t always agree) and a run producing bat in the middle of their batting order. Over the years he hasn’t always lived up to that last one but this year he has been the rock in the middle of a questionable Royals offense. Hosmer will be a free agent after the 2017 season and he looks primed to cash in when the time comes. There is no way to tell if that means a longer stay in Kansas City or elsewhere, but he has picked an excellent time to improve on his value. He has taken that power potential and made it a reality, a consistency long-needed in Kansas City. Earlier in the year I thought Steve Balboni might have his single season home run mark(36) threatened by Mike Moustakas; now I’m wondering if maybe ‘Bye Bye’ Balboni should worry about both Moose and Hos. For Royals fans, this is a good problem to have.

Cough Syrup, Free Passes and Sparkplugs: Random Royals Notes

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I think we can all agree that the Kansas City Royals have hit a rough patch these last few weeks. The Royals have lost 11 out of their last 14 games and have fallen below .500 within the last couple of days. I’m not one to worry this early in the season, but it does appear as if plenty of other Royals fans are doing that for me. With all that being said, the news has not gotten much better this week as the path of ‘getting back on track’ has taken a detour. With that said, here are some random notes on what has been an eventful week for the Royals of Kansas City.

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  • Let’s begin with the most shocking news of the week, the 50 game suspension of Royals top prospect, Raul Mondesi, Jr.:

Now, the good news from this is that rather than receiving the normal 80 game suspension for a first time offender, Mondesi got his reduced due to proving a cough syrup he took had the PED he tested positive for in the ingredients:

The other positive of the reduced sentence is that because he was able to get his suspension reduced, Mondesi will be eligible for postseason play if the Royals want to use him in October:

So all things considered, this could have gone much worse for both the Royals and Mondesi. It appears, going off of the Royals AA affiliate’s, Northwest Arkansas, schedule that Mondesi would most likely be activated sometime in early July. Where the suspension hurts both parties is the development of Mondesi and his eventual ascension to the big leagues. I’ve been of the belief since before the season even started that Mondesi would be the Royals starting second baseman no later than August of this year. Now with this setback, I would say we might not even see him in the majors until September at the earliest, unless the Royals just believe he is ready to go. So there is still a possibility Mondesi will be helping out the big league club before the season is over, but the chances dimmed a bit from this news. There will be people in certain circles that will label him with the scarlet ‘PED’ letters, but I tend to lean toward MLB with this; if they believed his story enough that they reduced his suspension, then that’s where I will stand as well. Hopefully this is just a bump in the road to what will be a highly successful career for this youngster.

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  • An ever-growing area of concern for the Royals the last few weeks is the starting pitching, which has floundered at best during that span. Outside of Ian Kennedy (who has had only one bad start so far this season), the rotation has been inconsistent at best and ‘watching Bartolo Colon squeeze into a pair of speedos’ at worst. Edinson Volquez has had mostly good outings but a few stinkers while Chris Young has given up 13 home runs in just 32 innings(or a home run every 2.4 innings). Maybe the most concerning statistic is the one that Kris Medlen and Yordano Ventura have put up this year. Both starters are averaging over 7 walks per 9, with Medlen at 7.4 and Ventura at 7.3. The Royals starters are averaging 4.52 walks per 9 innings and only 5.2 innings per start. Bottom line, this group just isn’t getting it done and it’s put extra weight on the Royals bullpen. So are there any options? Only a few, to be honest. There is Danny Duffy in the bullpen, and it has always been figured that he would end up starting at some point this year, since Young was never slated to be a starter all year-long. Duffy might have to build up his arm a bit, but he is a good possibility. Dillon Gee is starting for Young on Saturday and has a good shot of staying there unless he completely bombs out. Mike Minor made his first rehab start on Tuesday, but he probably won’t be ready until the beginning of June. Hey, the Royals might have even see if Brian Flynn, a starter throughout his minor league career, can make a few starts to tide them over. So for the most part that leaves Kansas City with less than stellar options. For the most part, the Royals’ starters just need to step up their game and pitch the way they are expected to, as there is no magical solution to the problem on the horizon.

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  • I was posed the question multiple times this past week on whether or not Cheslor Cuthbert can play some second base. My answer was fairly standard: yes, as he had started three games in the minors throughout his career, committing two errors but I’m pretty sure the Royals would prefer a defensive player at second. Royals Review covered the possibility quite a bit recently and as much as I like Cheslor and would like to see him get more at bats, I just don’t see him getting playing time at second base in his future. The other question I was asked was about Royals minor league outfielder Jorge Bonifacio, who is off to a hot start down in AAA Omaha. I like Bonifacio as well, but I get the feeling the Royals aren’t quite sold that he is ready for a big league job. The questions were directed toward me more because the person was thinking that the Royals needed ‘a spark’ to get them going. As much as the offense has struggled scoring runs this year, I’m not sure either Cuthbert or Bonifacio are really the answer. I tend to believe the answer is already on the roster.

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  • Speaking of that answer, this leads me to a positive note about the offense. Over the last week, a few members of Kansas City’s starting lineup have started producing and getting on base quite regularly. Lorenzo Cain, who had struggled mightily to begin the season, has produced a line of .339/.339/.518 over the last couple of weeks with 3 home runs(all in one game against the Yankees on Tuesday), 7 RBI’s and a BABIP of . 421. Alex Gordon, a notoriously slow starter, has put up a line of .300/.400/.433 with 1 home run, 2 RBI’s and a BABIP of .421 since May 1st. Finally, Alcides Escobar has a line of .368/.400/.421 since May 1st with 3 RBI’s and a BABIP of .412. So the bats are starting to wake up and if Kansas City can get some solid starting pitching, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of belief if they went on a big winning streak. As much as the offense still has some questions(when will Kendrys Morales wake up?), it does appear as if a few players have started climbing out of their early season funk.

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So this season hasn’t played out the way most of us figured it would but it isn’t a lost cause either. It’s not the like the ‘World Champs’ have forgotten how to win, they just need to tweak their performance for better results. The good news is that Atlanta is headed to ‘The K’ this weekend and we all know how dreadful they have played so far this season. The bad news is that after that, Kansas City has Boston and then the White Sox to play in back to back series. If the Royals don’t want to fall farther off the beaten path, they are going to have to step it up and get locked in. If not, there might be a bigger discussion coming up about what needs to happen to turn things around. Before anyone asks, no, they don’t need to change the hitting coach. All that really needs to happen is for the Royals to stay focus and remember what made them the hunted and start being the hunter again.

The Royals and .500 Baseball

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Mother’s Day, 2016. The Kansas City Royals wrap up their series in Cleveland against the Indians, losing the rubber game and losing their fourth straight series in a row. The Royals now sit at 15-15 as they head to New York to take on the Yankees. To say there is concern for Royals fans would be an understatement; a few weeks into the new season and Kansas City does not look like the defending World Champions. But should you be concerned? Nope. Or should I say, “at least not yet”.

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I say not yet because just going by the numbers, this Royals team is not too far off from where they were last year within the American League. Let’s look at offense first, since there has been a lot of concern with the Royals producing with the bats as of late. The Royals right now are on par with where they were last year with numbers you would expect; top of the league in steals, near the top in BABIP, near the bottom in walks and pretty much all power statistics, which is fairly normal for the Royals the last few years. Even their strikeout percentage is the 5th lowest in the American League, which I’m sure is surprising to some. There has been a lot of talk so far this year on how guys like Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain have struck out more than normal, but the numbers say as a team they are about where they normally are. Where things differentiate is runs and RBI’s. Last year, the Royals drove in a healthy amount of runs and were in the upper portion of the league at year’s end. This year they are dead last and a lot of that can be pointed toward their inability to score runners in scoring position. The Royals have the third highest rate in the American League (3.55) of stranding runners in scoring position, with only Boston and Houston stranding more this year. To go along with this, Kansas City is just not creating runs, as evident by their being tied for last in wRC+ with 87. So offensively, this team is just not creating runs and being clutch, which are two main cogs of the Royals offense during these last two seasons.

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So what about the pitching? For the most part the Royals are putting up about the same numbers here as well. Going down the line, the stats match up with 2015; HR/9, BABIP, LOB% and GB% are all fairly close to what the Royals finished at last year. One area that has seen a slight bump is the walks per 9, which have jumped up from 3.03 last year to 3. 98 so far in 2016. It’s very believable at this stage in the season to see where a few extra base runners could cause a few more runs for the Royals, even despite the percentage of runners being stranded by the pitching staff on level with last year. The Royals hard hit percentage is also up a tad(29.4 last year, 32.1 so far in 2016) which is mildly concerning, but something the pitching staff can flip around, partially by improving their pitch location. Just taking a glance at the numbers, it shows that Kansas City’s pitchers have a few areas they can improve on, but nothing that can’t be adjusted for a quick fix.

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So just basing how the season has progressed by the numbers, Kansas City isn’t too far away from climbing their way back to the top of the American League Central. It’s easy to see a scenario where the hitters starting hitting better in tight situations and the pitchers start toning down the walks and not allowing as many pitches in the middle of the plate(and a little more good luck). The White Sox have a six game lead right now over the Royals, which is very attainable. Just as the Royals won’t play this way all season, the White Sox won’t dominate all season. Strap in folks; we are one hot streak away from the Royals blowing past .500 baseball.

 

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