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Bleeding Royal Blue

Inside the mind of a Kansas City Royals fan

Month

October 2016

Fall Surprises: 2016 Playoff Notes

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Here we are again, on the verge of another World Series. As much as I love Spring and the beginning of the baseball season, October is still the best time to be a fan of the sport. Like most ‘seamheads’, I have been spending the last few weeks enjoying postseason baseball and all the intrigue and drama that surrounds it. Since I’ve been fairly silent this month (mostly due to other responsibilities), I thought I would pass along some of my thoughts from the playoffs so far, as we get ready for one long-standing streak to fall once the Fall Classic is over, as either the Chicago Cubs or Cleveland Indians eviscerate a drought that has been going on before even some of our parents were born. So what’s been on my mind this October? All of what is to follow and more…

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays

  • Weeks later and I still have a hard time figuring out how Buck Showalter went the entire American League Wild Card game without bringing in stud closer Zach Britton. Look, I get that most managers like to wait (especially on the road) till the very end of the game to bring in their closer, but when the playoffs are involved, you don’t chance it the way Buck did. There has been a movement for managers to use their closers in a different manner than most are accustomed to; not waiting for a save situation and using your best pitcher in the most high leverage situation possible. Showalter, who I consider to be one of the best managers in the game and one who isn’t shackled to conventional thinking, seemed to fall back into a frame of mind that is actually fairly normal in today’s game and it might have cost his team the chance to advance to the ALDS. The hope is that Showalter’s mistake (and yes, it was a mistake) might shine a light on reliever usage and force managers to use their closers in better situations than just the 9th inning.

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  • On the other end of that spectrum is Terry Francona’s use of Andrew Miller this postseason. Miller, the ALCS MVP, has been used as early as the 5th inning during the playoffs, many times for multiple innings. It might be considered unorthodox by some, but it has done nothing but garner success for Francona and the Indians. One has to wonder if teams will be on the lookout for relievers like Miller, someone with electrifying stuff and the ability to be used for more than just one inning at a time. While the argument could be made that you can’t use your bullpen during the regular season the way most teams do in October (and there is at least some truth to that), it doesn’t mean that you won’t see more managers trash the old, antiquated system and start using some relievers the way Miller is used. While Showalter was the example of what not to do with your closer, Francona is the example that managers around the game should be trying to copy when 2017 rolls around.

USP MLB: ALDS-TORONTO BLUE JAYS AT TEXAS RANGERS S BBA USA TX

  • The Texas Rangers collapse in pitching took me by surprise this month. I figured with the front two of Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish and a bullpen that had been racking up a 35 inning plus scoreless streak, this team could be a dangerous one in the playoffs. Instead, Rangers pitching gave up 22 runs in three games and the team from Arlington limped out of the playoffs. While some of the credit should go to Toronto’s offense, the Rangers pitching should get more of the credit for the Blue Jay’s sweep than anything else. One would have to think that Texas will spend the offseason fortifying the rotation and making sure it is stronger headed into the next season.

APTOPIX ALCS Indians Blue Jays Baseball

  • Speaking of the Blue Jays, their exit from the playoffs couldn’t have come in a more appropriate manner. For a baseball fan outside Toronto, this is a hard team to like. While they are not short on talent, over the last few years we have seen the Blue Jays main hitters continuously whine and complain about one thing or another. Front and center has been Jose Bautista, a man who will never be confused with a golden gloves boxer. Bautista claimed that Toronto were victims of “circumstances” in this series and that was why their offense had gone south. Edwin Encarnacion also had to be escorted away from the home plate umpire one game, with Toronto just hopeful he wouldn’t be ejected. While there were a few pitches called strikes against the Blue Jays that might have been balls, that is a fairly common aspect of today’s game and not really something worth blaming their four games to one loss in the ALCS. In fact, Cleveland only scored 12 runs in the five games, with Toronto posting 8 runs. All the way around, it was a low scoring series. The real “circumstances” that Bautista talked about was Cleveland’s pitching  and their dominance against Toronto’s bats. Kluber, Merritt, and Tomlin all silenced the Blue Jays and when you tack on their lockdown bullpen, it was easy to see why Cleveland is headed to the World Series. A big part of Toronto’s issues lie in their leadership and their tendency to make excuses rather than owning up to their own struggles. The Blue Jays temperament just isn’t one of a championship team, and it showed in the ALCS.

MLB: NLDS-Los Angeles Dodgers at Washington Nationals

  • Has there been a more disappointing team in the postseason the last few years than the Washington Nationals? The sky seemed the limit a few years back with their blend of youngsters and veterans and two of the most intriguing players in the game (Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg). Instead, since 2012 the Nationals have lost in the NLDS three times. What very well could have been a dynasty has left this organization with more questions than answers. If you are Washington’s braintrust, what should you think? If you saw a team with Harper, Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner and Tanner Roark, you would have to think at the least they would have made the NLCS at least once. Instead, this team now has to regroup and wonder what the missing piece is. Last year, the belief was getting rid of Matt Williams and hiring Dusty Baker would fill that needed puzzle piece. Is it the manager? Does the team need another bat? Another stud starter? Or do they need a clubhouse veteran to be this team’s glue? It will be an interesting offseason in Washington and one that might define this team’s immediate and long-term future.

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  • There is no better story in the playoffs this year than the Chicago Cubs. You’ve all heard the numbers on the years of futility; their last world championship was 1908, last trip to the World Series was in 1945. Last month I mentioned I was rooting for the Cubs but even if I didn’t have the emotional connection from my youth, I would probably still want to see the Cubbies rack up their first world title of the century. It’s not just the years of bad luck and bad teams, not just the old lovable stadium or long history of the franchise in general. It is a change in the culture in Chicago, brought forth by both Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon. Maddon might be one of the great motivating managers of the last 30 years, if for no reason than how loose he keeps that clubhouse. Add in the mix of exciting youngsters and grizzled veterans and you have a recipe for not only a championship but also possibly a dynasty. I found it ironic that Chicago bounced the Dodgers from the playoffs, since the Cubs should probably thank Los Angeles for putting them in this position in the first place. If not for LA prying Andrew Friedman from the Rays, the Cubs would not have been able to get Maddon to manage this team. Maddon had a clause in his contract that allowed him to “look elsewhere for employment” if Friedman left the organization, which he took advantage of when Andrew left Tampa for Los Angeles. The Cubs swooped in, procured the services of Maddon and as they say, “the rest is history”. There are many a reason to root for Cleveland as well (The Revenge of Willie Mays Hayes?), but more than anything, this Cubs team just feels like a team of destiny. I know there will be Chicago fans who will be waiting for the other shoe to drop but…but what if there is no other shoe?

MLB: SEP 19 Pirates at Dodgers

  • Finally, one has to feel for Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw, easily the best pitcher in baseball, was the victim of Chicago’s clinching win on Saturday night in Game 6 of the NLCS and because of it the narrative will be pushed again that Kershaw is not a “big game” pitcher. The funny thing is while Kershaw has had a couple of clunkers over the years (I’m looking at you, Game 1 of the 2014 NLDS), he hasn’t been nearly as bad as some would have you believe. In his 14 playoff starts, Kershaw has 8 quality starts while he has five starts of giving up 5 runs or more. Just looking at the last two years, Kershaw has thrown 38 playoff innings, compiling a 3.79 ERA while striking out 48 and allowing a .218 batting average over that span. Sure, he isn’t Madison Bumgarner or Curt Schilling in the postseason, but he isn’t worthless in the playoffs either. Even with that being said, this year in particular should not be a determining factor on how Kershaw performs in October. He would return from a back injury that kept him out for over two months on September 9th and would allow 4 earned runs the rest of the year. So obviously Kershaw was putting up Kershaw numbers, but was he 100% healthy? I didn’t feel like he was at all this October and apparently I wasn’t alone:

That comment was from Saturday after the Dodgers loss to the Cubs to wrap up the NLCS. This also tells me that even 80-85% of Kershaw is probably better than most pitchers alive today. So the narrative for him will live on in some minds, but it probably shouldn’t. Clayton Kershaw is still the same pitcher in October that he is the other months of the year; he’s just not perfect like some would expect from him.

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So here we are, just a day away from the World Series. It is also our reminder that at the most, we have only seven games left in this 2016 season before baseball takes a few months off (at least on the field). It has once again been a fun October, even without my Royals in the playoffs. In fact, it has been stress-free without my team to cheer on in the playoffs. No matter the outcome of the World Series, one team will slay a beast of a streak, one that sits at 68 years while the other one sits at 108 years. It should be a fun series, as we should see some stellar pitching and some clutch hitting. I always hope for a seven game series, so we get not only the greatest amount of baseball but also some high drama. We should get both and yes, I do believe this series could go all seven. So my prediction? The Cubs in seven. Sure, they won’t be able to clinch at Wrigley Field, but a win is a win. I look forward to the next week of action and what will ensue. No matter what, we the fans are the true winners. Thank you, baseball.

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Shaking Up The Royals Roster

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A few weeks have passed since the Kansas City Royals wrapped up their 2016 campaign and we’ve all had time to really digest what went wrong with this year’s team. That also means we’ve had sometime to ponder what the Royals front office should do this offseason to move forward and take advantage of the last year with Kansas City’s home-grown core that garnered them a world championship. Once the season wrapped, General Manager Dayton Moore talked to the media and one of main talking points was how the Royals could see a regression with the payroll moving into the 2017 season. This really shouldn’t be a shock to anyone who has followed this team during Moore’s tenure, as he has a tendency to temper expectations and not show his hand. Moore also discussed how the team worked with most of the world championship team intact, hoping to catch lightning in the bottle a second time. That didn’t work, obviously, but it also appears as if Moore might want to shake things up this winter, which I tend to agree with. That might mean one or two of the main core of players being traded this offseason, which I am also in agreement of. So who would I move? Well, I’m glad you asked as I have put a lot of thought into this and think I have a strategy that could put the Royals in a better position financially while also keeping the team a contender in 2017. Tread lightly, folks; I’m about to shake up the Royals roster.

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Let’s start with a move you that already has been hinted at, trading closer Wade Davis. In fact, trade interest has already started to trickle out for one of the premier bullpen arms in baseball. No teams have been linked with Davis yet, but one would have to believe that some of the teams that showed interest before the trade deadline (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, etc.) will probably still be interested this winter. So far during the playoffs this October, we have seen the importance of having a stellar, lock-down pen and Davis would be a great addition to about any pen in baseball. So would the Royals get a package on par with what the Yankees got for either Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller? Probably something close to that, although it might be a tad less considering some of the issues Davis had during this past season. Davis saw his strike out rate and average velocity fall just a tick this year while his walk rate was the highest it has ever been during his time in the bullpen. Davis did miss about five weeks with a strained forearm, which will no doubt be a concern for any team wanting to acquire him this winter. Now, I’m sure someone, somewhere is wondering why the Royals would part with one of the best relievers in the game. For one, Davis will be making $10 million this upcoming season once the Royals pick up his option, which will be a formality. Freeing up that much money will give Kansas City some flexibility and the ability to use that money on multiple players. Second, no matter what anyone tells you, the Royals still had one of the top five bullpens in the American League this past season and Kelvin Herrera showed the team this year that he is more than capable of taking over the closer’s role. Third, there has to be some concern that Davis is starting to regress, especially seeing the struggles that occurred this past season. That doesn’t mean he will be terrible this upcoming season if he is regressing, but Moore has had issues in the past dealing his All-Star closers at their peak value. Moore held on to both Joakim Soria (version 1.0) and Greg Holland longer than he should have and both ended up on the operating table. Davis not only has great value right now, but the team would be able to ditch some payroll while procuring some young talent that could be mainstays in Kansas City past the 2017 season. Moore wanted to focus on rebuilding his pen this winter, and honestly, finding a young power arm on the cheap really isn’t that hard. To make that happen, move number one this offseason should be to deal Wade Davis.

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The next deal I would make would be trading shortstop Alcides Escobar. Escobar is coming off of a frustrating offensive season, putting up a line of .261/.292/.350 with an OPS+ of 70 and 0.3 bWAR. Escobar will be entering his age 30 season and defensively is still a plus defender, which should give him some value out on the market. Any team that would be acquiring Escobar would be picking him up for his defense and whatever offense he can contribute, although his best year at the plate was 2012, where he hit .293/.331/.390 with an OPS+ of 96, the highest of his career. If the Royals can find a trade partner for Esky, the team would be able to shed the $6.5 million he will earn this upcoming season (as long as the Royals pick up the option, which is expected) while hopefully acquiring a younger player. Shortstop will be taken care of in his absence, as Raul Mondesi, Jr. could slide over from second base, take over shortstop while freeing up the Royals to look for a second baseman this winter. Defensively, Mondesi might actually be an improvement at the position. Offensively, Mondesi still has some work to do (as evident by his OPS+ of 36) but it wasn’t like Escobar was producing a ton of offense. If you are in the camp of believing that Mondesi will continue to improve, you can imagine him possibly producing close to the numbers that Escobar put up in 2016. The likelihood of Moore dealing Esky is probably slim, but I am in the camp of dealing him and upgrading second base in 2017.

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I would also trade Jarrod Dyson. Now, this might seem a bit odd, in the sense that Dyson is still fairly cheap ($3.45 million in 2016) and is an important contributor not only on the field but in the clubhouse. Dyson is a major role player for Kansas City and in fact lead the team in fWAR in 2016, at 3.1 with Danny Duffy a close second at 2.8. So why would I trade Dyson? Because they already have a similar player who is younger and cheaper. His name would be Billy Burns, who the Royals acquired from Oakland back in July for Brett Eibner. Burns has comparable speed and offensively appears to be on par with Dyson, if you count his 2016 campaign as an off year. Burns won’t be a free agent until after the 2020 season and earned $513K in his second year in the big leagues. Dyson, meanwhile, will become a free agent after the 2017 season and is pretty close to peak value right now. I really figured he would be traded away back in July, but nothing came to fruition, as the Royals held pat at the deadline. The Royals wouldn’t be freeing up a ton of cash by trading away Dyson, so a trade would be more about what they could get back. I would imagine a good B level prospect could be had in a deal, which would strengthen the depth in the organization. If I had my say, Dyson would become an ex-Royal this winter.

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So would I deal anyone else? More than likely not, but I also believe the Royals should listen for any player, as there is always the chance a team might overpay for a key piece they want to add to their roster. Take for instance three impending free agents after the 2017 season: Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer. On first glance it would seem crazy to deal any of these three, as the offense struggled in 2016 and need as many quality bats as possible. But you could make a legitimate argument for any of the three, especially if the haul garners them some big name, major league talent. You could argue that Cain is injury prone, and the likelihood that he would get a long-term contract from the Royals while entering his age 31 season would seem a long-shot. While I believe that Kansas City really missed Moustakas’ bat this season, you could also argue that the Royals have two younger players (Cheslor Cuthbert and Hunter Dozier) who are third baseman that could take over the position at a much cheaper price. While the Royals probably don’t have a first baseman in their system that will be ready for the big leagues by the start of the 2017 season, Hosmer is enticing trade bait in my mind for a couple of reasons. For one, he is still really young (2017 will be his age 27 season) and most teams would be more likely to take a chance on a player his age than one in his 30’s. Two, the national media seems to love this guy, no matter how much they try to hide the truth, which is that he regressed in 2016, into a league average hitter. If the Royals can get a “King’s Ransom” for Hosmer, I think they should take it. To me, he is not the player some consider him and while he might have flashes of greatness, he also has valleys of huge proportions. More than anything, he seems to struggle with change. Take last year; after his red hot start, pitchers changed the way they pitched to Hosmer, throwing less fastballs and giving him a nice diet of off-speed stuff. This started before the All-Star game and from June through the rest of the year we saw a player who produced a below league average OPS+. Ian Kennedy could also be a candidate for a trade this offseason, as the Royals would like to get out from underneath the five year deal they gave him last winter. The Royals though will probably need his innings and stability in the rotation and for the moment that might hold more value to the team than any trade they would be able to swing.

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Kauffman Stadium

One of the big reasons this Royals team has been so popular with the fanbase over the last few years has been the ability to give them an emotional connection. This can also be a problem, as it will be that much harder when the front office starts dismantling the core of this team. Baseball is a business and as much as you or I would like to see these players be in Kansas City forever, that just isn’t realistic. The Royals have an opportunity this winter to shake things up, be creative and restructure the roster to make it both a contender next year and build a new core of players to carry the team past 2017. Will that happen? I have my doubts, but if I am being unbiased I know it needs to happen. What the front office needs to ask itself over the next few months is not only what will help the team contend next season, but what is best for the team in the long-term. The best thing for this Royals team is to let the heart fall to the side and let logic take over. Logic says it is time to shake up the team and deal some of their popular players. It will be shunned by some, but it’s the logical thing to do.

The 1st Annual 2016 Kansas City Royals Postseason Awards

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Once we get past October and wrap up the World Series, it will be full-blown award season for Major League Baseball, as they will reward the players voted on once the regular season wraps up. But here at ‘Bleeding Royal Blue’, I can hand out awards whenever I feel like it. Don’t be surprised if I give out an award on some random day in June next year, folks. It could happen. But for now, I wanted to fully wrap up the Kansas City Royals 2016 season by handing out acknowledgements to the deserving players on the Royals roster this year. Also, I did a mid-season awards back in July and now felt tied to this gimmick…soooo, there’s that as well. So no more procrastination, here are your award winners for your 2016 Kansas City Royals.

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MVP and Best Pitcher Award: Danny Duffy

Yes, I fully believe Duffy deserves both of these honors, as he was the main cog for any success the Royals had this year. I’ve spent a lot of time discussing Danny (look here and over here) and all of it was deserved. After years where we saw only glimpses and flashes of true potential in him, 2016 saw Duffy finally put all the pieces together to be a successful starting pitcher. To put it bluntly, Duffy quit thinking and just went out there and pitched.This change in attitude led to some fantastic numbers: 9.4 SO/9, 2.1 BB/9, 188 strike outs, 125 ERA+ and 4.2 bWAR. He held left-handed batters to a line of .183/.219/.229 with an sOPS+ of 22. Many enjoyed pointing to his 7-0 record at home (ah, wins; that is so cute!) but Duffy was a beast on the road in 2016: 76 innings, 11.1 SO/9, 4.95 SO/W ratio, with the opposition hitting only .226/.287/.417 away from Kauffman Stadium. The numbers keep going for Danny, but the most important key to his game was shutting down the opposition when it mattered the most; in other words, the high leverage situations. Duffy posted a 1.37 ERA when the Royals scored 0-2 runs in his starts, with an 11.0 SO/W ratio. Hitters only hit .217/.250/.330 in those high leverage situations and he posted an 8.00 SO/W ratio in those scenarios. In other words, Duffy was big when the Royals needed it the most, coming through in the clutch. That is what an ace does and that is why Danny Duffy wins these two big honors this year for Kansas City.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Kansas City Royals
(Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY)

Best Hitter Award: Kendrys Morales

To be perfectly honest with you, in many ways I wanted to pick no one for this achievement. In my eyes, the offense had no ‘go to guy’ this year and almost the entire lineup struggled at one point or another. But if I was picking one, Morales would be the hitter who posted the best numbers. He would get off to a rough first few months (.193/.262/.330 with 12 total extra base hits in April and May) but would come alive in June. June saw Morales hit .402/.453/.655 with 5 home runs and 18 RBI’s, propping the Royals up on his back. Like every other Royal in July, Morales struggled, but he would post solid numbers in both August and September. By the time it was all said and done, Morales hit .263/.327/.468 with 30 homers, 93 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 108. Good numbers considering where he was early in the season, but still a notch below his 2015 numbers. Morales would also post a 0.9 bWAR and a 10.6 WPA+ (which is the sum of positive events for this batter), both below his 2015 stats. Overall, it was a solid season for Morales and one that would make him the Royals best hitter, the only real candidate for this award.

Honorable Mention: Paulo Orlando

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Rookie of the Year: Cheslor Cuthbert

There have been some real questions asked these last few years about Cuthbert and just how much of a prospect he should be. With Mike Moustakas blocking him at third base, it seemed unlikely we would ever really find out. Unfortunately, Moose would go down with a torn ACL; exit Moose, enter Cheslor. Cuthbert stepped in at the hot corner and after some early struggles, he would get comfortable and show everyone what he could actually do. Cuthbert would end up with 510 plate appearances this season, hitting .274/.318/.413 with 12 home runs, 46 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 93. For most of the season, Cuthbert’s numbers were at or above league average, with a slump in the final month dragging some of his numbers down. Cheslor would post a -0.2 bWAR this year, but most of that was due to a slightly below average defense that had him at -0.9 dWAR, with an oWAR of 1.1. The big knock on Cheslor defensively is his range and speed, which are below average and yes, below Moustakas. That being said, he would fill in admirably and at the very least showed Kansas City management that he was worth another look next year when Moose comes back. So what should we expect next year? The bad part is that Cuthbert is out of options and probably wouldn’t go through waivers unclaimed at this point. Kansas City has sent him to the instructional league to learn second base, as the Royals want to see if he can increase his versatility and give the team more options and positions to play him at next year. There is also the chance that he could see time at DH, as Morales is a free agent and who knows if they will sign a permanent replacement this offseason. No matter the situation, Cuthbert elevated his positioning in the organization in 2016 and deserves a big league job at this point in his career.

Honorable Mention: Matt Strahm, Whit Merrifield

MLB: OCT 22 World Series - Giants at Royals - Game 2
[Photo via Newscom]
Reliever of the Year: Kelvin Herrera

The Royals saw their bullpen come back down to earth in 2016, but the man who stayed the course for Kansas City was Kelvin Herrera. All Herrera did this year was rack up a career low FIP of 2.47, a career low BB/9 of 1.47, career low WHIP of 0.958, with a SO/9 of 10.8,  ERA+ of 160 with 2.0 WAR. Herrera started the year as the set-up man, but when closer Wade Davis would end up on the disabled list, Herrera would step in as the closer. He would earn his second consecutive All-Star nod and continued his dominance, thanks to a new look slider he developed late in 2015. The slider gave him even more dominance than he had before, which is shown by his walk rate and WHIP. To give you a better idea: Herrera threw 72 innings this year and allowed only 12 walks.This increased his SO/W ratio to 7.17, the best of his career. Here is the truly scary part: Herrera will be entering his age 27 season. In other words, he is just now in his prime. Be scared, Major League hitters.

Honorable Mention: Wade Davis, Matt Strahm

MLB: Kansas City Royals-Workouts
(Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY)

Comeback Player of the Year: Ian Kennedy

Royals fans weren’t exactly enthused when Kansas City signed Kennedy to a 5-year deal. Kennedy had been a below average pitcher the last five years and one had to wonder if the combination of Kauffman Stadium and pitching coach Dave Eiland could change that. Well, it did and because of that Kennedy is the Comeback Player of  the Year. Here are the numbers that got him here: 184 strike outs over 195 innings, 1.221 WHIP, 119 ERA+, 1.6 WPA and 4.1 WAR (his highest since 2011). There were flaws in his game; Kennedy allowed 33 home runs, third most in the American League and he saw both his walk rate and FIP go up. Kennedy’s season wasn’t perfect, but in my eyes he was exactly what I expected; a guy who sometimes looks great, and sometimes looks bad. Kennedy was lucky enough in 2016 to lessen the bad starts while performing at least league average in a large chunk of the others. He did compile 15 quality starts, which was 45% of his starts this year and had an average Game Score of 54.6, a few ticks up on his 2015 campaign. In all honesty, I can live with these numbers from Kennedy if he continues this throughout the span of his contract while staying healthy.

Honorable Mention: Paulo Orlando

Now, onto our consolation awards:

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Best Hair: Drew Butera

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Best Hair, Classic: Rusty Kuntz

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Best Forehead: Edinson Volquez

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In Memoriam: Joakim Soria…wait, I’m being told he is STILL on the team. Nevermind.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Kansas City Royals
 (Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY)

Here’s to more awards next year, hopefully with a brighter spin on everything. Also, if any player wants to buy my vote, I will allow that. Except for Eric Hosmer. He has to earn it…and improve on his 58.9% ground ball rate. Make it happen guys and there will be gold stars for everyone! Thanks again, Kansas City, for another great baseball season. Pencil me in again for next year.

 

 

Euphoria Lingers:What 2016 Meant For the Kansas City Royals

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“I’ve had some wins. And been knocked down with defeats. Glimpsed views from the top of the mountain. And walked through the darkest of valleys. But through this entire ride called ‘a life’ – I’ve refused to give up.”~Robin S. Sharma

Everyone knew from the beginning that it wouldn’t be an easy task. Some would even say it was highly unlikely that the Kansas City Royals would repeat as World Series champions, a title they carried all throughout the 2016 campaign. The last team to repeat? That would be the 1998-2000 New York Yankees, a dynasty of a team that even tried to make it four in a row. So when the Royals came into the season, the hope was that they could make it back to the promise land. Instead, they were forced off their perch at the top of the mountain. There was a litany of factors as to why that was, but it wasn’t as if Kansas City had an awful season. In fact, the team wasn’t officially eliminated from postseason play until the last week of the season with four games to go. There were even some positives that came out of the season that will help the foundation of the 2017 Royals team.

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What Went Right  

First and foremost, Danny Duffy became the team ace that had been hoped of him for years now. Duffy started the year in the bullpen but it wouldn’t be long until he was summoned for starting duty. Duffy would make his first start of the year on May 15 against Atlanta, shutting out the Braves in his three innings of work. Duffy would continue to excel, gradually building up his arm strength while taking the lessons he learned in the pen into his starts. No longer was Duffy a man of inefficiency, racking up high pitch counts in a limited amount of innings. Instead, Duffy would post the lowest walk ratio of his career (2.1) while also increasing his strike out numbers as well (9.4 strikeouts per 9). On August 1st, Duffy would throw the game of his career, holding the Rays hitless through seven before finally giving up a hit, all while striking out 16 batters. Duffy would leave after 8 innings of work, just a mere inning away from throwing the first complete game of his career. He would get that complete game just two starts later, holding the White Sox to 1 run and 7 hits in a 9 inning gem . When it was all said and done, Duffy would post career highs in innings, strike outs, walks, FIP, BB9, SO9, SO/W and will go into the 2017 season as the ace of the Royals rotation.

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Cheslor Cuthbert was a welcome plus for the Royals this year, as he ended up with the third base job after Mike Moustakas went down with a season ending injury in May. Cuthbert’s numbers weren’t at Moustakas’ level, but did put himself into a solid position come Spring Training. Cuthbert hit a respectable .274/.318/.413 with an OPS+ of 93 (slightly below league average) and a bWAR of -0.2 (1.1 oWAR, -0.9 dWAR). Cuthbert could be a man without a position in 2017, but the team has sent him to the instructional league to get some work at second base, a chance to build up some versatility. Considering he is out of options and Moustakas will be back next year, Cuthbert could be dealt in the offseason; the good news is that 2016 really elevated his value in many people’s eyes.

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We also got our first look at Matt Strahm and he was a pleasant addition to the Kansas City bullpen. Strahm appeared in 21 games this year, posting a 1.23 ERA over 22 innings, 12.3 strike outs per 9 with an ERA+ of 362. Strahm became a reliable arm in the pen but manager Ned Yost was reluctant on using him too much, as he threw only 94 innings in 2015 and had already thrown over 100 innings during his time in AA this year. Strahm could return to the bullpen next year, but the Royals have also shown interest in giving him a shot at a rotation job in 2017.

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Paulo Orlando was another surprise this year for Kansas City, as the Brazilian elevated his game in 2016, putting him in a position to compete for a regular spot in 2017. Paulo hit .302/.329/.405 with an OPS+ of 95 and a bWAR of 2.3. Orlando sacrificed some power this year for more of a ‘spray the ball to all fields’ approach and that netted him a solid average but a dip in his slugging numbers. The Royals believe that Orlando is late bloomer and expect him to be in the hunt for the right field job at the ripe age of 31 next year.

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Whit Merrifield showed in 2016 that he could hang with the big boys, hitting .283/.323/.392 with an OPS+ of 90 and a bWAR of 1.6. Merrifield saw a lot of time at second base this year and while he proved adequate both offensively and defensively, he is probably better suited as a super utility guy for Kansas City. Merrifield will probably get at least a shot at the second base job in the spring, but there is a greater chance of Whit holding down a utility spot for the team next year.

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Finally, a slight nod to Drew Butera, the backup catcher for the Royals. It’s hard being the backup to Salvador Perez, as you see very little playing time. Perez did go down with a few injuries in 2016, so Drew saw some extra time behind the dish and performed admirably when asked. Butera got the most plate appearances he has seen since 2014, hitting .285/.328/.480 with an OPS+ of 112 and a bWAR of 0.4. Those are all career highs for Butera, who has long been known as a defense first guy with very little stick value. Drew will be a free agent this offseason and I can only hope he returns for another year in Kansas City. In a lot of ways, Butera is the perfect backup receiver for what this club needs from that spot.

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What Needs Some Work

Let’s start here with the starting rotation. The rotation felt like a talking point for a good chunk of the season, but some of that was positive in a few good stretches. Overall, the Royals starters had the third highest BB/9, the highest HR/9 and FIP, and in the bottom third of the American League in innings pitched, ERA and WAR. Yordano Ventura and Ian Kennedy both had roller coaster years, with equal parts good and bad in 2016. Ventura is still a work in progress and Kennedy gave up the third most home runs in the AL this year. Both will need to work on their consistency, as they will be back next year. There will probably be some change in next year’s rotation, as Edinson Volquez is a free agent while the fifth spot was in constant flux this year. Jason Vargas, Mike Minor and Strahm could all be in-house candidates for next year’s rotation.

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Also needing some work was the Royals bullpen. The bullpen was a key part of the Royals last two World Series’ teams, but this year they struggled. Luke Hochevar was lost for the season back in August, Wade Davis made a few appearances on the disabled list, and Joakim Soria struggled around a couple of strong stretches in his return to Kansas City. While some ranted and raved about the pen (mostly about Soria), I would like to point out here that we as Royals fans have been spoiled these last few years. The bullpen in year’s past were so insanely good that most seemed to just take it for granted. This was still a good bunch of arms for Kansas City, posting a HR/9 of 0.92(third lowest in the league), 77.3% LOB percentage (also third lowest), 3.45 ERA (yep, still third lowest), and 4.9 fWAR, 5th best in the league. The Royals have already talked about the bullpen being their main focus this offseason, so don’t be surprised to see some changes. Davis, Soria and Herrera will be back while Hochevar is a free agent, although it will be interesting to see if the Royals try to re-sign him. I also think there is a decent chance that Kansas City tries to bring Greg Holland, who spent the year recovering from Tommy John surgery, back into the fold. The pen is still a plus for Kansas City, but it will need some work.

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What Went Wrong

Two items of note went horribly wrong for Kansas City in 2016. First, the offense. What was actually a strong point in 2015 (6th in the league in runs scored last year), went sour this year. The Royals offense was last in home runs, ISO, BB% and wRC+, while in the bottom third of the league in runs, RBI’s, OBP%, slugging, and fWAR. Almost the entire lineup could be looked at to blame for this regression; Alex Gordon struggled when he wasn’t hurt, Salvador Perez saw a dip in his offensive numbers while Eric Hosmer had a horrendous second half  of the season, hitting in the low .200’s during that span, producing only six doubles in the second half while leading the American League in ground ball percentage. If it wasn’t for Kendrys Morales’ huge spurts of offense (and even Kendrys saw an early season slump derail his numbers)and Hosmer’s first two months of the season, one has to wonder how worse off this Kansas City team might have been. I believe some of the expectation of the Royals returning players is for them to improve on this year’s numbers in 2017, but there will need to be some changes before Spring Training rolls around.

MLB: ALDS-Kansas City Royals at Houston Astros
(Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY)

But the biggest blow to the Royals success this season was injuries. After years of the Royals being fairly healthy, they were dealt a bad hand this season. Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez, Luke Hochevar, Jarrod Dyson, Chris Young, Kris Medlen and Wade Davis all spent some time on the disabled list this year at one point or another. Mike Moustakas collided with Gordon in late May, and while Gordon would miss a month, Moustakas would have a torn ACL and would be gone for the rest of the season. Lorenzo Cain, who was the Royals best player in 2015, had multiple stints on the DL and would end up missing about 1/3 of the season. While backups like Cuthbert, Merrifield and Orlando all performed admirably in their absence, they didn’t produce at the same level and it showed in the numbers. For the Royals to be successful in 2017, they are going to have to stay healthy and not have the level of injuries that hit them this season.

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The Royals finished 81-81 this season, a clean .500 record. To be honest with you, when you consider the performance of the pitching and the offense, then add in the injuries, I feel like Kansas City ended up about where they should have been. A few years back, I made the comment that all I really wanted from the organization was a contending ball club, a team that was in the hunt for a playoff spot on a regular basis. After years of watching them lose and most of the time in an ugly manner, I just wanted a team that could make the playoffs. We’ve gotten that the last couple seasons and even this year, the Royals weren’t officially eliminated until after game 158. You can expect a large chunk of this same team to return in 2017, as that appears to be the last year the window will be open with the core group of players they have now. It will be an interesting off-season, as the team needs to build up a few areas while also taking a look past 2017 when making any signing or deal. The 2016 season will be remembered as the year Kansas City came down from the euphoric high that we have all been on the last few years. Now it’s time to take a breath, rebuild and prepare for what could be another wild ride next season. I don’t now about you, but I’m ready.

 

 

 

 

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