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Bleeding Royal Blue

Inside the mind of a Kansas City Royals fan

Month

August 2016

Forever Splendid

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August 30, 2016 would have been Ted Williams’ 98th birthday and though he passed away in July of 2002, Williams’ legacy lives on all these years later. To some like myself, Williams is the greatest hitter of all time in baseball and the numbers back that up: two MVP awards, five time Major League Player of the Year, six batting titles, 14th all time in bWAR(11th for position players), 6th all time in OWAR, 8th best batting average, 2nd best OPS, best career on-base percentage, 2nd best slugging percentage, 4th most walks, 5th best WPA and 6th most runs created. What’s even more compelling is that ‘Teddy Ballgame’ did all of this while missing three years of his prime (his age 24-26 seasons) while serving in the war. Williams is one of the greats in the game and has always been a man who has piqued my interest once I started delving into the history of the game back in my early years. I think one of the main aspects of Williams (at least to me) was he absolutely loved the art of hitting and studied it like he was a scientist or scholar who wanted to breakdown every section of this art. To celebrate his greatness, I thought today we would look at some great factoids, stories and other interesting notes about the ‘Splendid Splinter’, Ted Williams.

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  • Williams had a great memory. In fact, he could recall specific  at bats, sequences, conversations and much more from years before. These stories are still being passed along today:

One time, comedian Billy Crystal met Williams and told him that he had video of Williams striking out against the Yankees’ Bobby Shantz in a specific game 30 years earlier. Williams looked at Crystal and said, “Curveball, low and away. [The catcher] dropped the ball and tagged me, right?” Of course it was, because that was Williams.

Williams was obsessed with hitting, taking batting practice before and after games. Tim Kurkjian once wrote:

“Fear of failure drove Williams. That’s why he never stopped hitting, never stopped striving for perfection.”

He would often tell people that his only goal when he retired was to have people look at him walking down the street and say, “There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.”

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  • Williams was known to be a surly guy, but stories have surfaced over the years about what a good-hearted person he could be. This story in particular makes it hard to dislike the guy. This came from Roger Waynick, owner of Cool Springs Press:

When Roger was in his mid-teens, before he had a drivers license, he went on a trip with his father to Islamorada, Florida to fish for tarpon. The group that included his dad breakfasted one morning and then, for some reason, left Roger behind when they went to the boat.

Ted Williams, a pretty famous tarpon fisherman (one of his major endorsement deals was with Sears for fishing tackle), noticed the young man sitting by himself and asked him what was going on. Roger explained that his dad and his dad’s friends had left him behind. Ted invited him to spend the day with him fishing on his boat.

Waynick has two great memories of the day. One was about the legendary Williams eyesight. (It was claimed that he could read the label on a 45 rpm record while it was spinning on the turntable.) Waynick explained to me that fishing for tarpon is like hunting; you see the target game first and then “cast to it.” As Waynick put it, “he had brilliant eyes and could see the fish long before I could!”

But the other recollection Waynick has nearly 40 years later is about Williams’s strength. “We caught several fish and I was amazed how he could hold his rod almost vertically as these huge fish pulled. For me, I was being pulled around the boat…but not him. He stood still and straight. Splendid.”

  • Not a fan of defensive shifts that litter the game of baseball nowadays? Well, Williams was the first player to ever have such a shift used against him.It was called the “Ted Williams Shift”and was first used by Cleveland Indians manager Lou Boudreau on July 14, 1946 :

In the opening game of a Fenway doubleheader, Williams, in his first season back from World War II military service (and waist-deep in what would be his first MVP campaign), went 4-for-5 with three homers and eight RBI. For the second tilt, Boudreau, with creativity likely borne of desperation, employed the following defensive alignment when Williams ambled to the plate …

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The immediate result? Williams went 1-for-2 with a double and a pair of walks. So that’s … better, at least compared to what he wrought in the first game of the double-header. Note, though, that Williams posted a .750 OBP for the game, and the shift was still deemed a success of sorts. Such were the hitting chops of the Splendid Splinter.

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  • One factoid that I didn’t realize until a few years ago was that Williams was of hispanic descent:

Williams’s Latino pedigree surprises many, but the Splendid Splinter was always private about family. In his 1969 autobiography, My Turn At Bat, Williams acknowledged his heritage as “part Mexican” and recognized the difficulties that might have been his lot. He wrote, “If I had had my mother’s name, there is no doubt I would have run into problems in those days, the prejudices people had in southern California.”

Williams mother’s name was May Venzor and it appears that his mother’s side of the family had a big influence on Ted’s love of the game of baseball:

Sarah Diaz (May’s younger sister) recalled of Ted’s visits to Santa Barbara in the early 1930s, when he was a teenager: “Ted played with my brother Saul. We had a big garden, and they’d get out there and throw the ball to each other. Ted learned a lot. When Ted would come, the first thing they would do is get out there in that field and pitch to each other and bat. My mother was left-handed and, boy, she didn’t miss when she threw rocks at us, to get our attention.”

  • As most know, Williams was the last hitter to hit .400 in a season, .406 back in 1941. Many felt like he should sit out the final game of the season, which was a doubleheader at Shibe Park. Williams’ average was at .39955 and batting average’s are always rounded up to the next decimal. Williams’ could have sat out the game and still accomplished a .400 season. Instead, Williams played both games:

Williams went 6 for 8 in the two games to finish at .406, and no one has since hit .400 or better for a season. No one, in fact, has hit higher than .390, and that was 31 years ago.

Many hitters have tried since then to reach the .400 barrier, only to fall short:

 

Williams had 456 at-bats in 1941. Brett, who hit .390 in 1980, had 449 at-bats that season. In 1994, Gwynn had 419 at-bats in 110 games and washitting .394 on Aug. 11; then the players went on strike and the rest of the season was canceled.

John Olerud was hitting .400 on Aug. 2, 1993, the second latest that anyone has carried a .400 average in a season since Williams. (Brett was hitting .400 on Sept. 19, 1980.) Olerud raved about Williams’s eye for the strike zone and his plate coverage but wondered whether he had benefited from playing when starters usually pitched complete games.

On this issue, Williams always conceded that some changes, like a bullpen full of specialists, might have made hitting harder since the 1940s, but that other changes might have made it easier, like the major league expansion to 30 teams from 16, which probably diluted the overall pitching talent.

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  • One final story that I found incredibly interesting-Ted Williams once pitched in a major league game. It was August 24, 1940 and all things considered didn’t pitch too badly:

Just 21 at the time, Williams was not an ideal person to take the mound. But the Red Sox’s manager, Joe Cronin, found himself in a tight situation during a blowout loss to the Detroit Tigers.

Needing a fresh arm to get some outs, Cronin called on Williams to throw some pitches.

Despite his inexperience, Williams did fine in two innings, allowing just three hits and one run. The Tigers won by 11, but the Red Sox were able to get through the game without any further embarrassment.

Go ahead and use that little fact to try to stump a friend. I’m pretty sure they won’t know that Williams actually pitched in a game early in his career!

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Ted Williams is not only one of the greatest baseball players in history, he is also a man who will be talked about way past any of our lifetimes. Williams was a one of a kind player and many of the stories here will be told for years to come. I love running across new stories I have never heard before about Williams, as I find him to be a fascinating player and person, someone whose reach was far past the game of baseball. Williams lived a full life that many would be proud of, but he also was one who always wanted more. We should want more out of life and never quit wanting to learn and be better. It is a goal that Ted Williams strived for and seemed to succeed at.

 

 

From A Land Down Under

Minnesota Twins vs. Kansas City Royals
(John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS)

On Friday night, the Kansas City Royals bullpen gave up their first run in over 41 innings(41.2 innings to be exact) and unfortunately the man who gave up that run is a veteran who has had a nice season in Kansas City, Peter Moylan (although if you want to pin some of it on catcher Drew Butera, you probably wouldn’t get an argument from me). Moylan, in his age 37 season, has thrown 31 innings for the Royals, striking out 7.76 per 9 innings, posting an ERA of 3.73, a FIP of 3.69 and continuing to induce ground balls at a high rate, 62.2% so far in 2016(61.7% average over his career). Those numbers might not jump out at you, but when you consider what all he has been through in his career, it is a major achievement that he is currently pitching in the big leagues. In fact, Peter Moylan’s story might be one of my favorite baseball stories ever.

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Moylan’s baseball journey began back in 1996, when he was signed as a free agent by the Minnesota Twins. Moylan struggled for a few years in Minnesota’s farm system(Low A Ball) before they released him in 1998. Moylan left baseball, returning to Australia and becoming a pharmaceutical salesman. Yes, you read that correctly. Two back surgeries later, he was back in baseball, coaching in Australia and playing the occasional first base. The team eventually was short on pitching and threw Moylan on the mound. Back in the 90’s, Moylan threw the ball over the top. He decided to try something different:

“We were getting short on pitching and I started messing around with a sidearm delivery out in the outfield one day,” Moylan said. “When I threw sidearm, it didn’t hurt my back. Next thing I know, our pitching coach tells me I’m throwing 94 on the gun.”

Moylan was given the chance to pitch on the Australian team in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. He struck out major leaguers Bobby Abreu, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez and Magglio Ordonez. A pitcher throwing sidearm in the mid-90’s caught many a team’s attention:

“Next thing I know, teams are all over me. Three made really good offers: the Braves, the Red Sox and the Royals,” Moylan said. “I signed with the Braves so I could go to Disney World.”

Moylan made the fast track to the majors and was on Atlanta’s 25 man roster by April 11 of that year. He shuttled back and forth between the majors and AAA in his rookie campaign, throwing 14 innings, striking out 8. 40 per 9 and a FIP of 3.15 in the big leagues. Moylan was 27 years old.

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Moylan became a big part of the Braves bullpen in 2007, and over the next two seasons would post some great numbers: 1.79 ERA, 244 ERA+, 4.02 FIP and a WHIP of 1.066 in 95 innings. Unfortunately, Moylan would land on the disabled list in May of 2008, and would have the first of two dreaded Tommy John surgeries. He would return in 2009 and re-assert himself into Atlanta’s pen, and would put up some good numbers over the next four seasons: 2.88 ERA, 140 ERA+, striking out 7.5 per 9 over 150 innings. Moylan continued to induce ground balls (his lowest ground ball % was 56.3 in 2012) but also dealt with a number of injuries. 2011 alone saw him deal with more back issues and near the end of the year he was back on the DL with a torn rotator cuff in his pitching shoulder. He would sign with the Dodgers before the 2013 season, but didn’t look like his old self; he would only appear in 14 games for Los Angeles and posted a career low ground ball rate of 28.1%. Moylan would become a free agent at the end of the season and would try to latch on with Houston, before they released him near the end of Spring Training 2014. It appeared that another Tommy John surgery was in Moylan’s future and he would have the procedure done in March of that year. At age 35, Moylan’s career seemed to be on the ropes.

Astros Royals Baseball
(AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

The Braves would come knocking again in March of 2015, only this time with a bit of a twist. The team wanted to bring Moylan back into the fold, but as a player/coach in their minor league system. This appeared to be a great opportunity for Moylan to be back in the game without any pressure:

“If I signed with a team, I’m obviously going to try to prove myself immediately,” Moylan said. “I risk getting hurt again. I risk having horrible numbers. Then all of a sudden, they could say, ‘He’s not doing anything, let’s get rid of him’ and my career might be over. This way, I can take my time. The Braves are going to be patient and I’m going to be patient, which is not my strong point. When it’s right, it will be right.”

The fact it was the Braves made it even better for him:

“The Braves have always been kind of like that ex-girlfriend that you always think about,” Moylan said. “I’d always check the Braves’ results and hope that they were doing well. But I can do it for real now and not have to hide it.”

Moylan would put up good numbers in the Braves Triple A affiliate, Gwinnett, posting a 3.14 ERA in 28 innings,  but the best part was that his velocity appeared to be back:

“We’re all pulling for him to get another shot,” pitching coach Marty Reed said. “He’s done everything you could ask of him here. The encouraging thing for me is the last month or so I’ve seen his velocity jump up a little bit. At the beginning of the year he was mostly 88, 89 (mph), sitting right in that area, and he’d pop a 90, 91 here and there on a good night. All of a sudden you go ‘Wow,’ you look at a 91. Now he’s sitting 90, 91 and he’s popping a 93 here and there.”

The hard work paid off and Moylan was back in Atlanta by August. Moylan would only throw 10 innings for the Braves last year, but he had his ground ball rate back up to 69% and in that short span was able to accumulate 0.2 fWAR.

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The Royals would sign Moylan to a minor league contract in January of 2016 with an invite to Spring Training. Thanks to former teammate and current Royals Kris Medlen, Moylan was interested in coming to Kansas City:

“A lot of it had to do with reports from Sir Kris Medlen, in regards to the training staff and how they take care of their guys — the strength guys,” the 37-year-old Moylan says. “Another part of it, for me, was I had a history with (Royals general manager) Dayton Moore. He signed me in Atlanta, and when it came time to make my decision, my agent had spoken to everyone from all the interested clubs, and Dayton was the one who was not just saying, ‘We’ll give you a job,’ but ‘We’d really like you to come here.’ It was nice to feel wanted again. I know it’s an uphill battle to make this ‘pen, let’s be honest, but to feel like you’re going to get a chance to come in and prove you can offer something, was huge for me.”

Moylan struggled to find his release point this spring and wasn’t near a big league job yet, so after opting out of his contract, he re-signed with Kansas City and went to Triple A Omaha. Moylan get the call back to the majors on May 12 and really felt like he had found his groove during that first month of the season:

“I found a comfortable release point for those last few outings of spring,” said Moylan. “I knew that I could go into the season and still do the same sort of thing. And I managed to have a bit of success down there. Next thing you know, I’m here.”

 Moylan started out as an option out of the pen if the game was out of reach or if the Royals needed to go to the pen early. After the injuries to Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar in July, Moylan became a bigger part of the bullpen. Since July 31st, Moylan has appeared in 12 games, posting an ERA of 1.35, allowing only one run in 6.2 innings. Moylan has been one of manager Ned Yost’s first calls in pressure situations and has averted many a tight situation over the last month. At 37, Moylan appears to have found a new home in Kansas City.

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Moylan becomes a free agent after the season and will have quite a few options on the market if he decides to leave Kansas City. He might be in his late 30’s, but Moylan is not a pitcher who relies on velocity as much as deception, guile and pitch placement. It’s hard to imagine much of anything stopping him, as he has bounced back from a litany of injuries and keeps coming back. Moylan will never be a star player and won’t get the type of adulation that the top players in the game receive. They can have all the attention in the world; what they won’t have is one of the best damn baseball stories you will ever hear about. Moylan has just that to set his hat on.

 

 

Race For The Prize

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Over the last couple months, there has been quite a flurry of discussion about Houston’s Jose Altuve and him being the front-runner for the American League MVP award with the magnificent season he is having. Boston’s Mookie Betts has also moved himself into the conversation, posting amazing numbers in his age 23 season. Both players have been producing at an elite level this year and it could be a battle down to the wire for the MVP award. Only issue is that there should be a third member in this discussion, someone who has been here before and has also posted stellar numbers this year. His name shouldn’t be a shock; it’s Mike Trout.

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The numbers for all three are worthy of the American League’s biggest prize. Altuve is hitting .363/.425/.575 with 20 home runs, 83 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 173. Altuve is leading the league in batting average, hits and OPS+. Betts numbers are a bit lower, but comparable: .313/.353/.555 with 28 home runs, 89 RBI’s and an OPS+of 133. Betts leads the league in at bats, runs and total bases. Trout’s numbers? .309/.427/.543 with 23 home runs, 77 RBI’s and OPS+ of 167. Trout is leading the league in walks and on base percentage. Just perusing these numbers it would appear Altuve probably has the best overall statistics, but a case could be made for both Betts and Trout. In fact, Trout’s numbers, while slightly below Altuve’s, match up quite well with Jose’s so far this year. It would only make sense for us to take a deeper look at the numbers to see just how close Trout, Betts and Altuve really compare.

USP MLB: BOSTON RED SOX AT NEW YORK METS S BBA BBN USA NY
(Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY)

No conversation is fully complete without a deeper, sabermetric slant to it. Looking at fWAR, Trout has a very slight edge over Altuve, 6.9 to 6.8. Betts is fourth in the American League with 5.9, with Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson sitting in third place at 6.4. Trout has the highest walk % and strike out % of the three, while Betts has the higher ISO(isolated power). Looking at their hard hit rate, Trout is second in the league with 41.2%, Betts at 35.2% and Altuve is sitting at 34.4%. Not a big surprise, considering Altuve is leading the league in singles(119) and those are normally of the softer hit variety. I decided to delve a bit deeper, since I wanted to see just what type of category each of these hitters fit into. Altuve had the highest O-Contact %(percentage of pitches a batter makes contact with when swinging outside the strike zone) with 78.3%, 5th best in the league. Trout was at 71.1% and Betts clocked in at 69.2%. When it comes to Z-Contact %(percentage of pitches a batter makes contact with when swinging inside the strike zone), Betts is 2nd in the league with 95.3%, Altuve at 91.4% and Trout at 85.9%. To me, this made total sense; Altuve has long been known as a hitter who likes to swing at pitches outside the strike zone and is infamous for dunking a single to the opposite field by slapping a pitch outside the strike zone away from defenders. Betts has the highest contact rate of the three (86.9%) and is actually fifth in the league when it comes to making contact. His numbers tell me that once he sees a pitch within the strike zone, he is swinging and making contact. He also has the lowest walk % of the three, walking only 6% of the time. It also made sense that Trout would be making the least amount of contact, as he has the highest strike out rate of the three, plus the highest walk rate. That tells me he is the most patient of the three and that can lead to both walks and strike outs. These numbers all tell an interesting story, but there is one more stat that needs special attention.

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A statistic that has been making a lot of noise is WPA, or Win Probability Added. The case has been made the last few weeks for Zach Britton of Baltimore, one of the best relievers in the game, to win the Cy Young Award and much of the case hinges on his league leading WPA of 4.29. To get a better idea of what this means, here is the definition given on Fangraphs:

Win Probability Added (WPA) captures the change in Win Expectancy from one plate appearance to the next and credits or debits the player based on how much their action increased their team’s odds of winning. Most sabermetric statistics are context neutral — they do not consider the situation of a particular event or how some plays are more crucial to a win than others.  

Alright, so how you feel about this stat depends on how much weight you want to put into a single play, from inning to inning. I lean toward it having stock, but there are so many variables to it and is purely a context driven statistic that it wouldn’t ever be my “end all, be all”. That being said, it does determine importance, so it does help in this argument on the importance of each player in their team’s success. No shock to me, Trout is tops in the American League at 5.03. The Angels have struggled throughout 2016 and any success they do have in many ways can be attributed to the “Best Player in the Game”. Altuve is 5th in the league, with a WPA of 2.91, while Betts is 14th with 2.24. Hey, all three are in the top 15 of the league, so it is quite easy to see their value. But Trout thumps the competition in this category, 2.12 higher than the runner-up Altuve.

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(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

So after this, who is your front-runner for AL MVP? Altuve is going to be the popular vote at this point and the numbers show someone who is worthy. Like everyone else, I love watching him play and as a short guy myself, I can’t help but root for him. That being said, I think there is an argument for Mike Trout, and in fact I might lean a bit more toward him. Just because he is playing on a losing team doesn’t mean he is unworthy of being the league’s MVP. In some ways, one has to wonder just where the Angels would be without Trout. There is over a month before votes have to be turned in, and as I learned a couple years ago, making a pick weeks in advance is a silly mistake. This race could go right down to the wire and very well could be a pier six brawl for the MVP trophy. Much like in 2012 when both Trout and Miguel Cabrera were worthy winners, this year looks to be much the same. There might not be a wrong choice, but more than likely there will be a better choice. Right now, it looks to be Mike Trout.

 

Quality and Quantity

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Baltimore Orioles
(Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY)

Quality pitching might be the greatest necessity throughout the game of baseball. You could ask 100 baseball executives, scouts or analysts, and I’m sure almost all of them would point to quality starting pitching as a constant need for every team. Point blank, you can never have enough pitching. The Kansas City Royals can be counted as one of those teams, as evident by the way their starting rotation has performed this year. It has been so vital for Kansas City that I wrote about it here and here…and here. If there ever was a season where the Royals fate would be determined by their rotation, this would be the year. In fact, you could almost say that as their starters go, so go the Royals. When they struggle, the Royals struggle. When they are glorious, the team strives. Kansas City is currently riding a hot streak and while you will hear names like Gordon, Hosmer and Orlando linked to this streak, the biggest reason for their success can be attributed to the improvement of the starting pitching.

Kansas City Royals vs St. Louis Cardinals
(UPI/Bill Greenblatt)

Lets start by discussing the Royals pitchers and the quality start. For those that don’t know, a quality start is considered any start where the pitcher goes at least 6 innings while allowing 3 runs or less. It’s shouldn’t be a hard standard to meet, but occasionally it is an issue and has been for Kansas City this year. Obviously leading the way is Danny Duffy and his amazing season. Duffy has reeled off six straight quality starts and has 12 overall in his 18 starts this year. Ian Kennedy has spun four straight quality starts and Yordano Ventura has three straight. Even Dillon Gee got into the act on Thursday night, spinning his best start of the season and only his second quality start of the year. The starters seem to be working deeper into the game as of late, allowing the bullpen to not log as many innings as they have been and giving them a chance to be a bit sharper. This is big, because if the Royals pitching holds the other team’s offense, there is a good chance that the bullpen will also hold them in check. The Kansas City offense has a tendency to erupt late in the game, and the starting pitching as of late has given them the opportunity to do just that.

Ian Kennedy
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

During the month of July, the Royals scuffled and while the offense sputtered, the starting pitching wasn’t much better. For most of the year, the rotation has been near the bottom of most categories in the American League, but that has changed. The Kansas City starters have climbed up from last in innings pitched to 11th, next to last in starters WAR and FIP, and 10th in ERA. The starters have still given up the most home runs in the league and the 3rd highest walk percentage, but you can see some definite progression in the numbers. Teams are only batting .255 against Kansas City’s starters, 4th best in the league and they have the third best LOB(Left on Base) percentage of 74.7%. Their strike out numbers have risen as well, as they have the third best K rate in the league at 20.7%. There are still some flaws with the starters, as expected, but when you see the team has the second best Clutch statistic in the league(Kansas City is at 3.26 this year, with 2.00 considered an excellent number) it makes it appear as if the rotation is moving in the correct direction.

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The interesting part is that the Royals have not relied as heavily on their starters the last few years and it has seen them make back to back World Series appearances. The team was actually last in the American League last year in innings pitched, 4th highest ERA and FIP, 2nd lowest starters WAR and the highest walk rate in the league(7.6%). When digesting the 2016 numbers compared to last year, it appears the only big glaring difference would be the home runs allowed by the starters. Last year they allowed 107 home runs for the entire year, 6th lowest in the league. This year they have allowed 121 homers, 14 more in 232 less innings. The long ball has hurt the team this year and can be attributed as the big difference in the rotation this year. Luckily, they have only allowed 13 home runs over the last two weeks in 85 innings, which gives them a HR/9 ratio of 1.38. That is quite a bit better than the 1.60 ratio they have for the entire season. This team is never going to be quite like the Atlanta Braves rotations of the 1990’s but there is notable improvement over the last few weeks and some of the same competitiveness seen by Atlanta back in the day.

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With just forty games remaining in this 2016 season, the Royals are sitting at 62-60, 9 games out of the American League Central lead and 5.5 games out of the Wild Card. This latest hot streak has soared them back into the race and the starting pitching should get a lot of the praise for that. If this team wants to play in the postseason for the third consecutive year, they need the rotation to keep doing what they have been doing these last couple weeks. What was considered a lost cause just a few weeks ago now seems a distinct possibility for the team that has ‘been there, done that’. If the rest of the rotation follows Danny Duffy’s lead, there will be a fun comeback story to dwell on when October rolls around.

The Hosmer Enigma

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The first half of the 2016 season was glorious for Eric Hosmer. Hosmer was the steady force of the Kansas City Royals offense, putting up a line of .299/.355/.476 with 13 home runs, 49 RBI’s and an sOPS+ of 124. He was more than deserving for his start in the MLB All-Star game and it really seemed as if he had finally reached his true potential. Even I, who had wavered on Hosmer throughout the years, was finally believing that we were seeing the true Hos and he was past his yearly “summer swoon”. What is the “summer swoon” you ask? Every year, Hosmer would go through a stretch where he would look lost at the plate, his mechanics would be all out of whack and his numbers would start to take a nosedive. If you only follow the Royals on a national level(and by that I mean only follow the team in October) you have no clue about this, because the national media never discusses this. But it’s a real thing, and it has been rearing it’s head over the last six weeks.

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We all remember Hosmer’s home run in the All-Star game, a shot that seemed like a precursor to the second half of the season. Only problem was that Eric didn’t get the notice. So far in the second half of the season, Hosmer is hitting .203/.261/.333 with 4 home runs, 20 RBI’s and an sOPS+ of 63. Those numbers might even be generous, since he has hit home runs in back to back games this week, which would raise his slugging and production totals. He has struck out 26 times in just 32 games in the second half, 36% of his first half total of 72. He has been doing it to himself, as he has the highest ground ball percentage in baseball:

61% for a guy who is supposed to be a middle of the order bat, someone who should be providing the team with a higher average of extra base hits. In comparison, Mike Trout has a ground ball rate of 39%, Mookie Betts 42%, and Jose Altuve 41.9%. Now I know I used three of the best hitters in the American League, but I wanted to prove a point. Those numbers should be the ones that Hosmer strives for, especially if he wants to be considered a top shelf player. The lowest percentage of ground balls that he has had in his career is 49.7%, and that was all the way back in his rookie season, 2011. Over the last few years this rate has hovered in the lower 50’s until the big increase this season.

Eric Hosmer
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

During this latest swoon, Hosmer’s exit velocity has taken a dip as well:

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As the chart shows, Hosmer’s highest peak was right around the All-Star break and since has struggled to climb back up to his peak levels. This past week has seen a big spike(I’m sure the two homers have helped) and there does seem to be a four-week increase, which is a positive sign. One of the big issues that Hosmer has incurred this year is dealing with the inside pitch. Hosmer has seen an increase of off-speed pitches over the last month or so and justly is swinging at a higher percentage of those pitches:

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The interesting part is that he has still posting the second highest hard hit % of his career, but also the second highest soft hit % as well. To me, this reads as someone who is either going for all or nothing at the plate.

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What is most interesting with Hosmer is how streaky a hitter he has been over the years. Since 2012 he has had a stretch each season where he struggles; that within itself isn’t too shocking, since most players have stretches of inconsistency. Hosmer’s though are periods of just looking lost at the plate. September 2015: .239/.328/.410. June 2014: .195/.240/.292. March/April 2013: .250/.337/.306. Sept/Oct 2012: .179/.264/.295. Even in his rookie season of 2011, he posted a rough June line of .253/.312/.293. Early in his career these stretches could be chalked up to growing pains; for a younger player it is fairly common, as they deal with major league pitching. The concerning part is that this seems to be consistent each season. During those stretches, it appears that his mechanics are out of whack and there is no consistency with his swing. One subject that has been noted by the Royals broadcast as of late has been what Hosmer does with his legs as he gets ready for the pitch to arrive. Part of the time he is using a toe tap:

The toe tap seems to steady him quite a bit and honestly, he has seen the most success this past month with the toe tap. But other times he likes to employ a leg kick:

The leg kick sometimes works, but it also becomes a timing mechanism and doesn’t appear to be as consistent. Who knows what hitting coach Dale Sveum has told him, but it would seem that the toe tap helps with his timing and is more consistent.

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What makes this of greater importance is the fact that Hosmer will be a free agent after the 2017 season and is hoping to garner a huge contract. How huge you ask? Jon Heyman discussed that last month and came away with an interesting answer:

Hosmer’s camp isn’t tipping their hand, but Royals brass, which stepped up with a $70-milllion deal for free agent pitcher Ian Kennedy and $72 million for another core star Alex Gordon, seems to have an idea Hosmer could be seeking $20-million plus per year on a 10-year deal.

It seems hard to fathom that a player with the only accolades on his resume being Gold Glove winner and one All-Star game appearance could get a $200 million dollar contract. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t imagine a world where a player who has only 10.0 bWAR and a slightly above average OPS+ of 107 over six years would get a king’s ransom. But there is also this little nugget-Scott Boras is his agent. So of course, there is a Boras spin on Hosmer:

“The premium associated with 27-year-olds are very different than metrics associated with 32-year-olds, especially when it’s a widely known Gold Glove franchise-type player who also has the ability to perform at extremely high levels in big situations and on big stages. You’d have everything you’d want in a free agent Eric Hosmer.”

I’m not saying Hosmer doesn’t deserve a big contract, but it also feels like there should be a disclaimer note on him before a team decides to purchase him.

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It appears Hosmer might be coming out of his funk this week, as he has been 4 for 17 with 2 home runs and 5 RBI’s, including a go-ahead homer on Wednesday night. The Royals are riding a hot streak of late and look to be gearing up for another run at a playoff spot, as they are 8-2 over their last ten, 6.5 games out of a wild card spot. If that is to occur, they need Eric to perform at the level he has the last couple October’s. Hosmer has had sporadic success over the years and every time he rides a hot streak it makes us wonder if he is finally living up to potential. If not, he is still a very good ballplayer who has earned a starting spot on a big league club. But if he really wants to cash in next offseason, he is going to have to show that consistency that teams cherish. Rather than taking two steps forward then taking two steps back, it’s time for Eric Hosmer to take two steps forward and don’t look back.

Five Is The Magic Number

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The defending World Series champion Kansas City Royals have had a very trying 2016, with a litany of injuries, slumps and starting pitching woes. While the rotation has seemed to stabilize as of late, the team still struggles to put up good numbers from their number five starter each week. Chris Young isn’t the answer. Dillon Gee isn’t the answer. Brian Flynn probably isn’t the answer either, or like the other two pitchers mentioned, has racked up better numbers out of the bullpen than out of the rotation. So who would that leave Kansas City to be their fifth starter? There seems to be a lack of depth in some regards for the spot, but if they really want to be creative there might some solutions to this season-long problem.

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One fairly obvious choice would be to shuffle rookie reliever Matt Strahm into the rotation. Strahm has been a starter in the minor leagues but the Royals have been using him out of the pen since his recall. Strahm has shown electric stuff out of the bullpen, combining his 91-95 mph fastball with a slider and a change-up. He also occasionally throws a slurve, which is normally in the 77-81 mph range. Strahm’s numbers this year in the majors have been impressive; 1.80 ERA, 19.8 K/9 and a bWAR of 0.2. Obviously, if he was put back into the rotation his fastball would probably go down a notch or two, but it still can be an effective pitch with his deceptive delivery. Strahm will eventually be in the Royals rotation, so he really wouldn’t be a bad choice to get a test run under his belt this year.

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Credit: Minda Haas Kuhlmann

Then there is prospect Jake Junis. Junis started the year in AA, where he put up some impressive numbers, a 3.35 ERA with 18.5 K/BB% and a FIP of 3.32 over 119 innings. Junis was recalled to AAA Omaha within the past week and threw 7 innings of 1 run ball, striking out 7 while walking none. Junis was rated as the 10th best prospect for Kansas City this year and in his age 23 season and has seen an increase in his velocity (92-94 mph, topping out at 96 mph) with a consistent curve and a change-up with good sink. The Royals could be concerned about elevating Junis too fast this season, which is understood. But with September around the corner, a couple of starts at the big league level would be a good way to get his feet wet while helping the Royals get solid innings from the fifth starters spot.

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Now we get to the really creative options for the rotation. First, lets start with Mike Minor. Minor is currently on his second rehab stint in the minors for Kansas City, after the first one was shut down for “shoulder fatigue”. While Minor’s ERA has looked better, I’m sure Royals management would be concerned with most of his other numbers during this stint; he has 44 strike outs over 38.1 innings, although the 20 walks in that span would be a bit concerning. There was hope earlier in the season that Minor would be able to contribute at some point and September could be his best shot of helping the Royals out. Minor’s numbers aren’t eye-popping in the minors, but he does have big league experience and could be an upgrade over the options the Royals have thrown out there so far this year.

Kris Medlen
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Don’t like any of those ideas? Well, here are a couple of less likely options that we probably won’t see, but are at least worth mentioning. Kris Medlen has been on the disabled list since May but was scheduled to begin a rehab assignment on Tuesday. Medlen struggled in his 6 big league games this year, posting an ERA of 7.77, with 6.7 K/9, 7.4 BB/9(yes, his walk total was higher than his strike out total), and an ERA+ of 57. Even if we see Medlen this year, I would imagine it would only be a few starts, as his rehab stint will probably cover almost the entire 30 day period.

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Also out on rehab assignment is Jason Vargas, who had Tommy John surgery last year. Vargas will begin his assignment at AA and will probably see some work at AAA as well. Vargas’ situation is interesting, since there was some concern that if Vargas started for the Royals this year that they would lose the $6 million insurance coverage of his contract, but it appears it would be maxed out by then anyway. Even so, I’m not so sure we see Vargas this year. It would be about 13 months after his surgery if he pitched next month for Kansas City and I’m not really for sure what Vargas or the Royals would really gain by having him throw in the big leagues this year. In my mind, let him do the rehab assignment and then shut him down until Spring Training. That being said, the Royals could think differently and we could see the Rodney Ruxin look-a-like throwing off a big league mound in September.

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So there are some outside of the box options for the back-end of the Royals rotation. At this point in the season, all Kansas City really needs from their number five is 5-6 innings of 3 runs or less and most of us would be appeased with that. With the Royals still of the belief that they can claim a playoff spot, this spot in the rotation becomes even more vital. If the Royals are close to a wild card spot and the number five spot struggles, it could be the difference between playoffs or no playoffs. With the Royals winning the last three series’ and playing like a contending team, now might be the time to take a chance and see what a Strahm, Junis or Minor can do. It could make all the difference in the world.

 

 

RIP Rally Mantis (2016-2016)

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MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Kansas City Royals
(Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY)

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In Paulo We Trust

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When the season started, it was expected that Paulo Orlando would be splitting time in right field with Jarrod Dyson, with Dyson probably seeing the bulk of the playing time. In 2015, Orlando proved that he was a worthy backup outfielder, posting a line of .249/.269/.444 in 251 plate appearances with a wRC+ of 89 and 1.0 fWAR. Orlando supplied above average defense with a bat that wasn’t spectacular but could place a timely hit from time to time with a bit of pop. Orlando had toiled in the minors for 9 seasons before 2015 and in some ways it was easy to see why. He had put together a couple of above average offensive seasons in the minors, but nothing that would really grab a scout looking for a gem in the minors. The Royals liked Orlando’s defense and speed, two pillars of Kansas City’s success these last few years. As much as most of us liked Paulo, we also figured with his past track record that he was a solid backup at best, whose flaws would be more glaring the more playing time he would receive. Instead, Paulo followed a sparse April(30 plate appearances in 9 games) with a spectacular May where he hit .429/.456/.603 and hasn’t looked back. So is Paulo for real?

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My first instinct with Orlando’s hot hitting was that as much as it appeared as if he had improved offensively, that at some point he would regress. The highest he has hit average wise at any level was .305, which he did in 2010 for the Royals AA team. Orlando has only two above average offensive seasons throughout his minor league career(2010 and 2014) and one of those seasons was just barely above league average(101 wRC+ in 2014 for Omaha, the Royals AAA team). In June, he still put up solid numbers, but they slipped a bit, down to .292/.323/.371 in 26 more plate appearances. Paulo went from platooning with Dyson to seeing the majority of the time in right field and in all honesty he had earned it. Orlando would follow that with a bigger dip in July, hitting .273/.291/.351 , which were still respectable numbers but it did appear as if he was finally coming down to earth. But early into August he is hitting .500/.519/.692 with a sOPS+ of 227. So what is he doing differently in 2016 to see such a big increase in production?

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It appears the biggest part of his success is coming from watching video. Back in June, Orlando discussed his use of video to scout out the opposing pitchers and would use what he learned when it came time take batting practice that day:

“It can slow down the game and help you a lot. Before every game, before I go practice, I watch. If a pitcher throws a lot of breaking balls, you go to BP and try to work on that.”

It’s also been obvious that playing every day has also helped his approach at the plate:

“When you play more games, you have your timing every day. Some guys throw hard — 95 to 97 mph — some guys throw 90 to 92. So when you play every day, you have more confidence in yourself.”

At the plate Paulo has improved his hitting, but a number of his stats point to him being in some ways the same player he was in 2015. His strike out percentage is about the same as last year (20.1% to 21.1%) while his walk percentage is still almost non-existent(2.0% to 2.3% last year). Orlando has continued to put the ball in play at a high rate(77.9 % this year, 79.1% in 2015) but his placement of where he is hitting the ball is a bit different this year. Last year, Paulo was pulling the ball at a 36% clip, while this year he is hitting the ball to center field 39.7% of the time. In fact, he is even hitting the ball to right field more this year (30.6%) than he is to left (29.7%). It’s obvious that his approach at the plate this year has been more focused on putting the ball in play and going with the pitch than trying to pull the ball and use his power. The power, is the one part of his game that has been sacrificed so far in 2016.
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One of the positives for Orlando last year was the fact that he showed some power from the right side of the plate, something the Royals didn’t have a plethora of in 2015. Last year Orlando slugged at a .432 clip with 27 extra base hits and an ISO of .195. So far in 2016(and as of  August 11 he has played in exactly the same amount of games as last year, with 60 more plate appearances), Paulo is slugging at a .432 rate with 22 extra base hits and an ISO of .105. It’s obvious with his approach this year he has sacrificed some of his power this year for an increase in his on-base percentage(which is up by .082 this year). This also means his hard hit rate is down(26.5%,  down from 31.4% in 2015), but his soft hit rate is down as well(17.6% from 19.9% last year). How you feel about this is determined on whether or not  you believe the Royals would be better off with someone with more power or someone getting on base. To me, as much as Kansas City needs a bit more power in their lineup, even more in need is someone who can get on base consistently. Orlando is doing just that so this could probably be filed under the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it’ category.
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In what has become a very frustrating season for Kansas City, Orlando’s production has been a bright light and while some of us(myself included) have been thinking he will start to regress, time is proving us wrong. Within the last week Orlando has been moved to the leadoff spot for the Royals, a spot that has been lacking this year. Kansas City’s leadoff batters are hitting .243/.277/.314, all either in last or next to last in the American League this year. The Royals also have just 23 extra base hits from leadoff this year, the lowest in the league. I’m not sold that Orlando is the answer at the top(he does have only 12 career walks during his two years in the major leagues), but it was also obvious that mainstay Alcides Escobar wasn’t the answer either. The Royals have no immediate answer at the top of the order, which is why manager Ned Yost is giving it a try:
“(We’re) just giving him a shot,” Yost said in the dugout before Tuesday’s game. “We’ve been thinking about it for a while. Paulo’s been swinging the bat good.”
In two games, he is 2 for 11 at the top, not exactly proving Yost right but it is the smallest of small sample sizes. At this point, it is worth a try to see if he can still get on base at a good clip. No matter whether at the top or farther down the lineup, Paulo Orlando has earned his playing time this year. Like Lorenzo Cain, he didn’t start playing baseball until his teenage years in Brazil, so his development is not quite the same as the normal player. Orlando has proven himself a quick learner and could be seeing more improvement before a regression sets in. Not bad for a guy who didn’t even make his major league debut until the age of 29.

Locking Up Duffman

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On Monday night, Danny Duffy went out and pitched the game of his life against Tampa Bay, an 8 inning, 1 hit(7 innings of no-hit ball), 16 strike out affair that gave Duffy the new team strikeout record for a single game. It gave many a national baseball analyst to finally discuss the great season that Duffy has had this year, a year that has seen a massive amount of growth. While his superb performance made the baseball world take notice, most in Royal Nation have been discussing a bigger issue when it comes to Duffy-should the Royals lock him up long-term, keeping him a Royal for the immediate future?

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Back in April this seemed not quite comical but definitely would give you some funny looks if the idea was thrown out there. Duffy had been relegated to the bullpen to start the year and didn’t become a part of the Royals rotation until almost the middle of May. Since that time he has easily been Kansas City’s best starter; 96 innings, 105 strike outs, 2.98 ERA, 67% strikes thrown and a WPA(Win Probability Added by pitcher) of 1.336. Duffy has been averaging 6 innings a start, but you have to remember that he was on a limited pitch count during those first few starts, as he was transitioning to the rotation. He didn’t actually go 6 innings in a start until his fourth start and has now thrown quality starts in 10 of his 16 starts. One of the knocks on Duffy for years was  that he wasn’t an efficient pitcher; it was a big deal if he was still in the game come the 7th inning. Danny has been working deeper into games and has also put up career high numbers; he has the highest K/9 of his career, lowest BB/9 and lowest FIP of his major league career. A man who once pitched purely on emotion has not only changed his approach, he has also changed the mentality he goes into each and every game:

It’s been pretty gratifying to not be a guy who’s gone five-and-dive, like I did for so long in my career,” Duffy said. “I’m not saying that’s not something that will ever happen again. But I have confidence when I take the ball that I’m going to do everything I can to hand the ball off to the bullpen late in the game.

The change in his mental approach is a big part of his success this year, but that is also a key to why the Royals should extend his contract for the long-term.

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2016 isn’t the first time we have believed that Duffy had things figured out. Back in 2014, it seemed that he was able to unlock his potential, as he had put together what was a career year at that point. It really appeared as if Duffy had turned a corner, although there is a very noticeable difference between his success two years ago and today. What was very apparent back then was that Duffy wasn’t striking people out, as he was averaging 6.81 K’s per 9, the lowest average of his career. Thankfully the Royals superb defense was able to handle Duffy pitching to contact, as hitters were making the most contact against him(84.4%) in his career. That contact rate stayed fairly close in 2015(82.3%) but hitters were also getting a bit luckier off him last year on balls in play(.298 batting average on balls in play against Danny in 2015). Both stats have taken a decline so far this year, as the contact rate against Duffy sits at 72.3%(the lowest of his career) and hitters have a .286 BAbip.  Throw in all the other career highs he is racking up this year and you can see why he is having a turnaround year in 2016.

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So the numbers play the largest part in why the Royals should sign Duffy to a long-term deal, but there are a few more reasons an extension makes sense. For one, Duffy is still only 27 years old, as he won’t turn 28 until December. He hasn’t even reached 30 years old and these late 20’s are when a lot of pitchers learn to really pitch, not just throw. Maybe the biggest reason to lock him up now is the state of the Kansas City Rotation. The starting staff has struggled so far this year and there isn’t much help in the minors. If the Royals want to still be contenders, they are going to need more reliable starting pitching and keeping Duffy is a must. At some point the Royals are going to have to get younger in their rotation and with no arms on the immediate horizon, Duffy could be in that caliber of a Chris Archer or Sonny Gray, younger arms who lead their respective team’s staffs. Unless Kansas City goes out and swings a deal for a young talented starter, they will have to look older with either the lackluster free agent market or a trade. Locking up Duffy might be a cheaper way to go for the Royals rebuilding of the rotation.

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So what kind of deal could the Royals off Duffy? Good question and in some ways it is hard to guess with the way the market is constantly being elevated. Let’s start first with years; I would go with either a 3-4 year deal with at least one option year(come on, you know Dayton can’t sign someone without a mutual option!). If the Royals go 3 years, give Duffy two option years. If you go 4 years, give him a mutual option for the 5th year. So what about money? Once again, I’m just throwing numbers out here, but let’s start with what he is making this year, $4.2 million. As a comparison, Chris Sale of Chicago is the same age as Duffy, although Sale has a better track record. Sale is making $9.2 million this year, which is higher than what Duffy will get, for sure. Let’s say Duffy gets $6 million in 2017, $9.5 in 2018, 12.5 in 2019 and $16.75 in 2020. That would be a 4 year, $44.75 million contract, which I might even be lowballing a bit, considering how the market has seen such a big increase these last few years. Still, the Royals are going to have to keep the contract manageable, and after Ian Kennedy’s contract I wouldn’t be surprised if they are gun-shy to dole out a contract of that magnitude again for a pitcher. Still, that is not a bad contract for a guy who hasn’t really been a top starter before this year.

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Kansas City has a plethora of decisions to make this upcoming offseason, everything from figuring out what they want to do with free agents Edinson Volquez and Kendrys Morales, to rebuilding the starting rotation, there will be some shuffling going on throughout the winter months. While those decisions won’t be easy, procuring Duffy’s services for the immediate future should be a slam dunk. The last thing the Royals want to do is not have Duffy taken care of before he can become a free agent after 2017, especially with all the decisions that have to be made after next year. One of the top priorities for General Manager Dayton Moore this winter should be to make Duffy a Royal for the long-term. It’s going to cost Kansas City some dollars, but I would rather pay now than have him knock off another fantastic season in 2017 and raise his value even more. Signing Danny Duffy should be a must this offseason; it’s time to keep things ‘gnar’ in Kansas City moving forward.

 

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