Search

Bleeding Royal Blue

Inside the mind of a Kansas City Royals fan

Month

November 2016

The Future of Josh Staumont

kc1

There is no greater currency in baseball than prospects. Prospects can make or break your team, whether you are a team rebuilding or a team making a playoff push. When discussing prospects, every team is in need of a young power arm, the ones who throw anywhere from the upper 90’s to triple digits on the radar gun. It’s also easy for a young flamethrower to get more chances than his softer throwing brethren, making it easier for them to climb up the prospect ladder. No pitcher follows this pattern in the Kansas City Royals system more than Josh Staumont.

kc2

Staumont was drafted in the second round of the 2015 draft by Kansas City and the early buzz on him was that he had a lively arm but also had issues with his control. That was very evident that first season, as in 18 games, Staumont was walking 7.2 batters per 9 innings, an absolutely ridiculous amount. But during that span, he also was striking out 13.0 batters per 9 inning, which is also ridiculous but in the good way. Before the 2016 season, Baseball America rated Staumont as the Royals #15 prospect and had some very glowing praise for him:

He tickles triple-digits regularly with a low-effort delivery. Staumont sits 96-98 and has touched 102 mph with a four-seamer. It grades out as an easy top-of-the-scale 80 on the scouting card.

They also praised his curveball, which had graded out as plus-plus when he stays on top of it. But coming into 2016, the concern was that his inability to harness his windup, which led to inconsistency throwing strikes, would continue to hold him back. Luckily, a slight adjustment would speed up his arrival time.

kc3

What the Royals wanted him to work on was speeding up his delivery. By the second half of the 2016 season, he figured his delivery out:

He was keeping his arm in the glove too long, which caused him to have trouble finding a proper release point. The Royals preached a delivery with more tempo.

“It was causing a lot of erratic behavior, especially when it came to the fastball,” Staumont said. “It was just figuring out how my body worked.”
The numbers definitely showed a different Staumont: over his final 10 starts, Staumont posted a 3.17 ERA while striking out 71 and walking 33 in 45  1/3 innings while in AA Northwest Arkansas. Overall he still had a high walk total (7.6 walks per 9 overall, 6.6 in AA) but his ERA, WHIP, and FIP had all gone down. By the end of the season, there was already rumblings that Staumont could be seen in Kansas City the following season, probably out of the bullpen and probably late in the year. Since then, that timetable might have changed.
kc4
The Royals sent Staumont to the Arizona Fall League this offseason and he has been nothing short of impressive. In 7 games, Staumont threw 24 innings, striking out 30 batters while walking 16. On the surface those aren’t blow away numbers, but they are on par with his second half in AA which is a sign of consistency. It’s also been good enough for Baseball America to bump him from 15th to 1st on the Royals prospect chart. They weren’t the only ones impressed  by Staumont, as former pro scout Bernie Pleskoff was really taken with him during the AFL:
The young man I saw throwing an easy, effortless 98 miles per hour with a recently-incorporated over-the-head, windmill delivery knows how to pitch. He is realizing success with his new mechanics. Of course, more time is needed to perfect the changes, but he is smart and patient.
What I found very interesting was his take on Staumont’s delivery, the one that was adjusted earlier in the year:
Staumont repeats his delivery very well. He uses the identical over-the-head, old-school windmill windup to gain consistency on his delivery. The ball comes from the same location and at the same pace and arm speed every pitch.
This is very good to see and shows that the slight hitch in his delivery is gone and he has taken to the instructions of the coaching staff. Staumont has been pitching as a starter, but Pleskoff did wonder what his role would be once he reaches the majors:
As I observed Staumont, I wondered exactly what role the Royals have in mind for the hard-throwing right-hander. If he remains a starter, he may be able to get a way with two very solid above-average pitches in his four-seam fastball and his curveball. It will help that he mixes in the cutter. However, it would really help him navigate a big league batting order if he includes a two-seam fastball to his arsenal. That would give him an entirely different pitch to show hitters. It could provide earlier sink and induce ground balls.
Overall, Pleskoff was very impressed with Josh:
I project Staumont to be an impact pitcher for the Royals once he is settled in with his new mechanics and a greater sense of confidence in his ability. Yes, there may be some hiccups along the way, but he has the arm, the poise and the pitches to dominate. He just needs time now to refine the entire package.
At this point, it might be okay to get excited about what the Royals have with Staumont.
kc5
So the verdict on Staumont? He will be heading to Spring Training in February and should at the least compete for a role on the Royals 2017 pitching staff. I tend to lean toward Staumont starting the year in the minors but I fully expect to see him before the year is done. But…in what role? I really believe his future is in the bullpen, but I can easily see why the Royals would want to see what he can do as a starting pitcher. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start in the pen for Kansas City and eventually shift to the rotation, either late in 2017 or even 2018. No matter the role, it appears as if Staumont’s star is on the rise. During Dayton Moore’s tenure, the Royals have had a hard time producing homegrown arms for the rotation that stick. Time will tell, but the thought of Staumont  on the mound at Kauffman Stadium, blowing away hitters, should get Kansas City fans excited. Write Josh’s name down in pencil for now, but it looks like we will be seeing him sooner rather than later.

Butera Returns, Collins’ Let Go

kc1

So far, this winter has been a dead one if you follow the Kansas City Royals. There are many factors contributing to this. One appears to be the Collective Bargaining agreement between the players and owners, which is currently in discussion. Another factor is the growing patience of GM Dayton Moore, who once was an early ‘Wheeler and Dealer’ in the offseason. Moore has said he wants to wait until the Winter Meetings, which begin on December 4th, before making any major moves with the roster. All that being said, last week there were a couple transactions that piqued the interest of at least a few Royals fans.

kc2

The first was the re-signing of backup catcher Drew Butera to a two-year deal. Butera returns to Kansas City making $1.8 million in 2017 and $2.3 million for 2018. It was long believed that Butera would be back in Kansas City as the backup to starting catcher Salvador Perez:

“We made it very clear once the season was over that we wanted to bring back Drew,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “He’s been a valuable performer for us. We works well with our pitching staff and Salvador and our coaches.”

Butera is coming off of a career year offensively, posting new career highs in doubles, home runs, batting average, on-base percentage, OPS, OPS+, bWAR and WPA:

“He has made tremendous strides offensively,” Moore said. “We feel extremely confident with him defensively and feel like he can contribute in a lot of ways.”

In some ways Butera is the perfect catcher for Kansas City as he enters his age 33 season. With Salvador Perez entrenched as the starter, and knowing that manager Ned Yost is not one to rest his regulars too much, Butera won’t be seeing a ton of playing time unless an injury occurs. Butera is known for being an above average defender and a guy who pitchers like to throw to. He is the ultimate team player as well; last season it was discussed how in the past he has been known to do anything the coaching staff needs him to do, whether that be a bullpen catcher or warming up the starting pitcher while Salvy is getting his gear back on. Hell, he even pitched in a few blowouts in 2016 and more than held his own on the mound. Butera has flaws in his game but as long as he isn’t seeing regular playing time he is a solid receiver to play in 4o to 60 games a year. Add in the mutual love between the fans and him and it only makes sense for him to return to the Royals.

kc3

On the other end, Tim Collins elected free agency as the team was making room on their 40 man roster. Collins is coming off of consecutive Tommy John surgeries and hasn’t pitched since 2014. When healthy Collins is an above average contributor out of the bullpen, posting an ERA+ of 117 and 9.4 strike outs per 9 innings from 2011 to 2014. In some ways this hurts Kansas City, as it is not every day you run across a lefty reliever with mid-90’s fastball that  averaged 60+ innings over the first three seasons of his big league career. On the other hand, there is no assurance that Collins will even be able to return from back to back surgeries and definitely not for the $1.5 million he was expected to make in 2017. I always liked having Collins coming out of the pen late in the game, as he a reliable arm. At this point, we can wish him the best luck and hope he doesn’t get to pitch against Kansas City very much.

kc4

Both of these moves, while minor, are a step in figuring the construction of the 2017 Kansas City Royals. So what happens next? No clue. Dayton talks like this could be it, but I find that hard to believe:

“There’ll be some moves that we make and present themselves for us the remainder of the offseason,” Moore said. “But I think what you see now is about what it’s going to be going into spring training.”

If this isn’t Dayton-Speak, then I don’t know what is. Moore is notorious for not tipping his hand during this part of the year and I am not surprised by his sly use of words here. Dayton likes to cloud suspicion on possible moves and I would not expect to find out about anything until a deal is almost done. What I do feel will happen is for the Royals to be more active on the trade market than with free agency. There just isn’t a great crop of free agents out there this year and Kansas City would probably be more successful making a deal or two at this point. What I can promise is that Moore is not done. There is no way that Drew Butera is the biggest move of Kansas City’s offseason.

Winners and Losers: My 2016 Year End Awards

kc1

November is a great month to be a baseball fan; there is the afterglow of the World Series, Hot Stove season gears up and we all get to take a glance back and venture back into just how great this past baseball season has been. This of course means that the award winners are announced by not only the BBWAA, but by a group I am proud to be a member of, the IBWAA. Being a member allows me to vote on the year-end awards and for the third straight year, have done just that. If you want to check out my past ballots, here they are: 2014 and 2015. It is an honor for me to be allowed the opportunity to vote and I take it very seriously. With that said, here are my picks for this past 2016 season.

kc2

American League MVP: Mike Trout

For the second consecutive year, my vote was for the best player in the game, Mike Trout. This actually has been a very heated debate over the last few months, as even back in August I was saying Trout should be given heavy consideration for this award. The sentimental pick is Jose Altuve and the ‘my team made the playoffs’ pick is Mookie Betts. I instead went with the ‘his numbers are ultimately better’ pick in Trout. All Trout did this year was lead the league in runs, walks, on-base percentage, OPS+, bWAR, fWAR, oWAR, runs created, adjusted batting runs, win probability added for an offensive player and RE24. Oh, he also got better this year, in case anyone didn’t notice. Trout walked more, struck out less, stole three times more bases this year than last, and hit for a higher average, while his other stats were on par with last year. The argument against Trout was…well, it was that his team sucked. But that is really not his fault and in fact you can say the Angels might have been way worse if it was not for Trout. His WPA sat at 6.5, which factors in how he helped his team change the outcome of the game. The next closest batter in the American League was Josh Donaldson…who was at 4.3 WPA, over 2 wins less than Trout. At some point, baseball should view Trout for what he is: the game’s best player no matter whether or not his team is losing. Considering the MVP award is an individual award, not a team one, I give the nod to the player who had the best season and that would be Trout…and it’s not really even close.

My Top 3: 1-Trout, 2-Mookie Better, 3-Jose Altuve

IBWAA Winner: Mike Trout

BBWAA Winner: Mike Trout

kc3

National League MVP: Kris Bryant

In this space just last year, Kris Bryant was the easy choice for NL Rookie of the Year. Just one year later, he is my choice for NL MVP in just his second season in the big leagues. Bryant led the league in bWAR, fWAR, oWAR, and runs scored while finishing second in WPA/LI and third in five other categories. While finishing second in home runs and third in runs created is very nice, there was two very big numbers that swayed me to Bryant. For one, Bryant was third in RE24, which factors in runs added in a resulting play by either a batter or baserunner. Considering he was also fourth in both adjusted batting runs and adjusted batting wins, this would tell me that Bryant contributed greatly from both his bat and his baserunning. The other big factor for me was Bryant’s defense, or more precisely the factor of his value all over the field. While Bryant posted a dWAR this year of 0.8, what makes it even more impressive is just how many positions he would play and not hurt his defensive stats. Kris would start games at 3B, 1B, LF, RF in 2016, and would also make appearances for an inning at both CF and SS for a game. So here is a guy who would play all over the diamond this year, producing MVP offensive numbers and above average defensive numbers. While Daniel Murphy, Freddie Freeman and Corey Seager were all worthy candidates, only one player was an all-around choice for this award, and his name is Kris Bryant.

My Top 3: 1-Bryant, 2-Corey Seager, 3-Freddie Freeman

IBWAA Winner: Kris Bryant

BBWAA Winner: Kris Bryant

kc4

American League Cy Young Award: Chris Sale

This was easily the hardest category to make a decision on and I can honestly say I’m still not 100% comfortable with my pick. To me, there were positives and negatives to almost all of the candidates for this award and after digesting the numbers I felt like Chris Sale was the most deserving pitcher for this award. That being said, no one pitcher stood out of the bunch and that is why you are seeing such discourse when it comes to this award. Let’s start with my choice, Sale. He was tied for first in fWAR, first in complete games, 2nd in strike outs, 3rd in FIP, innings pitched, K/BB ratio, and WHIP and fourth in hits per 9 innings and walks per 9, all while facing the second most batters in the league. This is why this was such a hard pick: Corey Kluber and Justin Verlander also led in a number of categories and were on par with Sale’s performance this year. So what about Rick Porcello? He had a good year, but I had a hard time going with a guy who got the best run support in baseball (6.61) and much of his case was dictated on his win total. Zach Britton? I considered him for the award, but I had a few issues with his case (which we will go into later in this article) and even felt that Andrew Miller had a better season than he did. So I went with Sale, although if you told me that Kluber or Verlander were more deserving, I probably wouldn’t put up much of a fight. This was the year where no clear winner was defined.

My Top 3: 1-Sale, 2- Corey Kluber, 3-Justin Verlander

IBWAA Winner: Corey Kluber

BBWAA Winner: Rick Porcello

Clayton Kershaw

National League Cy Young Award: Clayton Kershaw

Remember how I wrote above how I had considered Zach Britton for the AL Cy Young? A lot of the Britton argument was based on ignoring his innings pitched and focus on how tremendous his numbers were in 2016. So if we are considering Britton,  then shouldn’t we have to look at Clayton Kershaw as a worthy candidate in the National League? I believe so and I will take it a step further by saying that Kershaw’s season was so spectacular that even with only 149 innings tossed, he was my pick for NL Cy Young. Follow me on this one, if you will: despite Kershaw’s low innings total, he was still 2nd in bWAR and first in fWAR, stats that are normally driven up as the season progresses. Read that again; in 33 less innings than Noah Syndergaard of the Mets (the fWAR runner-up), Kershaw accumulated more WAR than any other pitcher in the National League. If he had been qualified, Kershaw would have led the NL in ERA, WHIP, hits per 9, walks per 9, strikeouts to bases on balls ratio, ERA+,  and FIP…and if he had stayed on par with what he had done to that point it wouldn’t have even been close! Kershaw did lead the league in shutouts, WPA/LI, REW, and adjusted pitching wins, 3rd in complete games and win probability added and 2nd in adjusted pitching runs and RE24. All in just 149 innings.To put it another way, Kershaw was on course for an absolutely record-breaking season if it were not for being sidelined for a couple of months over the summer. To me, it was worth enough to win him the Cy Young. This wasn’t a knock on Kyle Hendricks, Max Scherzer, Syndergaard or Jon Lester. It was more that Kershaw was absolutely dominating when healthy…and it wasn’t even close. We really saw an absolutely amazing season from a probable future Hall of Famer in Clayton Kershaw.

My Top 3: 1-Kershaw, 2-Noah Syndergaard, 3-Jose Fernandez

IBWAA Winner: Max Scherzer

BBWAA Winner: Max Scherzer

MLB: MAY 21 Rays at Tigers

American League Rookie of the Year: Michael Fulmer

There was a small debate late in the season for this award, as Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez made a late push, but in the end this was Michael Fulmer’s prize to win. Fulmer compiled a great rookie season in Detroit, racking up 159 innings over 26 starts, a 135 ERA+, 3.76 FIP, and a WHIP of 1.119. Fulmer also put together a 33.1 inning scoreless streak early in the season, that was put to bed on June 18 in Kansas City. Fulmer was a great addition to the Detroit rotation but late in the year he did receive some competition from Sanchez, who was able to piece together a 3.0 bWAR season in just 53 games. Fulmer was still able to beat him out with 4.9 bWAR and for the honor of being the best rookie in the American League. All this from a pitcher acquired the year before from the Mets for Yoenis Cespedes, a deal that could be paying off in Detroit for a long time.

My Top 3: 1-Fulmer, 2-Gary Sanchez, 3-Tyler Naquin

IBWAA Winner: Michael Fulmer

BBWAA Winner: Michael Fulmer

MLB: OCT 09 NLDS - Game 1 - Mets at Dodgers

National League Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager

This was another slam dunk pick and one that many (like myself) predicted before the season began. Seager blew away the rookie competition this year and even forced himself into the NL MVP race this year. Seager led all National League rookies in fWAR, bWAR, RBI’s, runs, and was second in home runs and wRC+. Overall, he was 5th in bWAR and runs scored, 2nd in oWAR, 1oth in slugging percentage and runs created, 4th in total bases, 7th in doubles,  and 8th in RE24. The Dodgers struggled quite a bit offensively in 2016, but Seager was solid the entire year, never posting an on-base percentage below .311 in any month. Seager’s rookie season was almost record-breaking as well, as he had the 6th best rookie campaign according to fWAR this year, sitting at 7.5, and has the second best rookie season in the modern era (1988-today). So while Trea Turner, Trevor Story and Jon Gray had good to great first seasons, none were quite as good as the Dodgers starting shortstop.

My Top 3: 1-Seager, 2-Jon Gray, 3-Trea Turner

IBWAA Winner: Corey Seager

BBWAA Winner: Corey Seager

MLB: OCT 11 ALDS - Game 3 - Blue Jays at Rangers

American League Manager of the Year: Jeff Banister

Banister was last year’s pick in both the IBWAA and the BBWAA, and I had him a close second to Minnesota’s Paul Molitor. But this year, my pick went to Banister. The Texas Rangers dealt with a number of issues this past year,most notably when it came to injuries. The team lost portions of their rotation throughout the year, whether it was Yu Darvish, Derek Holland or Colby Lewis. Shin-Soo Choo was in and out of the lineup most of the year and Josh Hamilton never even got going. Throw in the ineffectiveness and injuries for Carlos Gomez and the career-ending neck injury to Prince Fielder and you have a team that could have been a mess. Instead, Banister led his team to the best record in the American League and found a number of working parts to fill any holes he had. While Terry Francona and Buck Showalter were both excellent choices, to me Jeff Banister overcame a ton of obstacles and did the best managing job in the American League this year.

My Top 3: 1-Banister, 2-Terry Francona, 3-Buck Showalter

IBWAA Winner: Terry Francona

BBWAA Winner: Terry Francona

kc9

National League Manager of the Year: Dave Roberts

Managing in the big leagues isn’t always an easy job. For a first-time manager, it can be twice as daunting. So while Dave Roberts walked into a solid roster when he inherited the Dodgers as manager, he also had his work cut out for him. Not only was he going to have to juggle a roster that was littered with veterans, but he also fell into a rotation that be dealt a number of injuries and the whole Yasiel Puig situation. There was also an offense that lingered in the middle of the pack in most offensive categories in 2016 but did manage to accumulate the 3rd highest fWAR in the NL. Oh, he also had to deal with losing the best pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, for about two months of the season. Throw in those struggles of a first year manager that we mentioned earlier and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Los Angeles didn’t even capture a playoff spot. Instead, Roberts steered his team to a division title and took them all the way to Game 6 of the NLCS before being ousted. To me, that wins you NL Manager of the Year.

My Top 3: 1-Roberts, 2-Dusty Baker, 3-Joe Maddon

IBWAA Winner: Joe Maddon

BBWAA Winner: Dave Roberts

kc10

American League Reliever of the Year: Andrew Miller

Someone right now just said “He misspelled Zach Britton”. No, I didn’t. I know this will shock some, but despite Britton’s fantastic 2016, I viewed Andrew Miller’s season in a much brighter light. Let’s go ahead and break down some numbers to get a better view of where I am coming from. First, I won’t squabble over innings pitched. Miller only threw 7 more innings than Britton this year, which means very little. Miller led Britton in K/9 (14.89 to 9.94), BB/9 (1.09 to 2.42), LOB% (95.7 to 89.7), HR/FB ratio (20 to 7.1), FIP (1.68 to 1.94), xFIP (1.18 to 2.09) and possibly most importantly, fWAR (2.9 to 2.5). Yes, Britton had a better HR/9 ratio (0.13 to 0.97) and a much lower ERA (0.54 to 1.45) but to me that wasn’t enough to say Britton was better. Yes, despite Britton’s insane WPA (6.14 to Miller’s 4.79), it still felt to me that Miller was the better reliever this year. One final number tipped me to Miller’s side over Britton. In Britton’s 69 appearances, he pitched only 6 games of more than 1 inning and 11 games where he pitched less than 1 inning. In Miller’s 70 games, he threw 11 games of more than 1 inning and 8 games of less than 1 inning. It’s not a giant gap, but it does show Miller was used in longer stretches in the game than Britton, and it might have been even more if he had been pitching in Cleveland all year. For all the talk about Britton this year, there should have been a lot more talk about Andrew Miller’s 2016. For me, the choice is easy. Miller was the best reliever in the American League this past year.

My top 3: 1-Miller, 2-Zach Britton, 3-Dellin Betances

IBWAA Winner: Zach Britton

AP METS CUBS BASEBALL S BBN USA IL

National League Reliever of the Year: Jeurys Familia

This was another tough battle and while I thought Kenley Jansen had a great year, I felt like Familia’s was just slightly better. Jansen did beat Familia in a number of categories: K/9, BB/9, ERA, FIP, ERA+ and fWAR. All solid categories and I don’t discount any of them. Familia did pitch in about 7 more games, while throwing about 9 more innings. Familia also had a better HR/9 rate and it wasn’t even very close (0.12 to 0.52). Where I liked Familia a bit more was WPA, Win Probability Added. Familia had a WPA of 1.82 to Jansen’s 1.77 while his WPA+ was much higher than Jansen’s, 11.54 to 7.32. These numbers tell me that Familia seemed to pitch in more high leverage situations, which is a bit more valuable. The Clutch stat also leans a bit toward Familia, 0.27 to 0.95. So in the end I voted for Familia, although a vote for Jansen isn’t a bad one either. If I was being 100% honest, looking at everything right now, I might have changed my vote for Jansen if I could do it again. Either way, both had great seasons with Familia getting the very slight edge in this battle.

My Top 3: 1-Jeurys Familia, 2-Kenley Jansen, 3-Tyler Thornburg

IBWAA Winner: Kenley Jansen

kc12

So there you go, my votes for this 2016 season. I’m sure some of you will disagree, but that is part of the fun of these picks. It is a great honor that I get to vote every year like this and I can only hope I do a respectable part to show the value of an organization like the IBWAA. This is a game we all love and while we might squabble here and there on numbers, it really comes down to what you value. I can only hope 2017 brings us just as many highly contested winners. Here’s to baseball being back sooner rather than later.

 

 

Royals Retro: Bret Saberhagen

kc1

Back in the spring, I got to thinking about the history of the Kansas City Royals and how it was embedded into the fabric of my fandom as much as anything else. In the past I have done pieces on Hal McRae and have taken a look back at the history of the team, both at shortstop and a ‘Where are They Now’ piece as well. But I really wanted to dive into the past a bit more here on the blog and knew that during the season wouldn’t exactly be an opportune time to do that. Instead, I decided to wait until the off-season to get started with a monthly segment that will be called ‘Royals Retro’. Once a month, I’ll take a look back at the career of a past Royal who deserves to have a light shined on their career. I honestly couldn’t think of a better candidate to start off with than possibly the greatest pitcher in Royals history, Bret Saberhagen.

MLB Photos Archive

Saberhagen wasn’t a glorified first round draft pick by the Royals as I assume many would think he was. Instead, Bret was drafted by Kansas City in the 19th round of the 1982 draft, a high school pitcher out of Reseda, California. Saberhagen would sign late in July of that year, but wouldn’t make his professional debut until the 1983 season. In fact, 1983 would be Saberhagen’s only year in the minors, starting 27 games, posting an ERA of 2.55 over 187 innings, averaging 6.3 strike outs per 9, 2.3 walks per 9 and a WHIP of 1.134. Saberhagen took the fast track to the major leagues, as he would make his debut in Kansas City just one year later in 1984, splitting time between the rotation and bullpen for the Royals. He would throw 157 innings over 38 games (18 games started), posting an ERA+ of 115, striking out 4.2 batters per 9, and a FIP of 3.64. As probably expected, Saberhagen put up slightly better numbers in his 20 appearances out of the bullpen, posting an ERA of 2.32 over 54 innings, while averaging 4.1 strike outs per 9. One aspect of his game that was evident even early on in his career was how Sabs was good about trusting his defense and making pitches for the batter to put in play. Spanning his career, Bret’s ball in play percentage was on average anywhere from mid 70% to upper 70%; during his rookie year, it sat at 79%. Saberhagen would also make his first postseason start, throwing 8 innings while only allowing 3 runs, 2 earned. Nothing overtly stands out in his 1984 numbers that showed how he would break out the following year, but it was at least obvious that the Royals had a keeper.

Kansas City Royals

Saberhagen would enter his age 21 season and it wouldn’t take long for him to become the Royals ace. By the end of the season, he would lead the American League in FIP, WHIP, walks per 9 and strike out to walk ratio. He would also rack up an ERA+ of 143, an ERA of 2.87 and would win his first Cy Young award while coming in tenth in the AL MVP voting…basically on two pitches:

“The year Bret won 20, he relied mostly on two pitches: his fastball and his changeup, which he throws extremely well,” said Kansas City pitching coach Gary Blaylock. “Even though he also threw a curveball and a hard slider, he never really had control of either of them. Too often they were just waste pitches.

The icing on the cake was during the Royals playoff run that October. During the World Series in 1985, Saberhagen would make two starts, throwing two complete games, including a complete game shutout in Game 7 to help Kansas City take their first championship. Bret would end up MVP of the World Series, while his wife would give birth to the couple’s first child, Drew William, on the night of Game 6. All in all, it felt like the beginning of a very prosperous career for the young righthander.

kc4

But Saberhagen would fall back in 1986, as a nasty combination of struggles and injuries limited him to 25 starts and 30 appearances overall. Injuries were the biggest issue, as Bret dealt with shoulder, elbow and foot problems and contributed to a 4.15 ERA, a 102 ERA+ and just 2.0 bWAR, a year after racking up an impressive 7.3 bWAR. Many wondered  back in ’86 if success had spoiled Sabs, but Saberhagen was just as unsure as anyone else:

“Everybody’s trying to come up with a solution or theory of what I could have done to change things,” Saberhagen said before the Kansas City Royals met the Angels Tuesday night in Anaheim Stadium. “When you’re not going as well as you should be, everybody shines the light at you and asks why.”

1986 would also be the beginning of weird odd year/even year pattern where it concerned his success. It appeared over time that Bret excelled in odd years, while struggling during even years. This odd phenomenon would continue throughout his Kansas City career.

Kansas City Royals

1987 saw Saberhagen restore his old glory, throwing an impressive 257 innings over his 33 starts, compiling 15 complete games, a WHIP of 1.163, an ERA+ of 136 and 8.0 bWAR. Bret would also earn his first All-Star nomination and a WPA+ of 19.1. A big part of his success that year was the added use of a curveball, a new addition to his pitching repertoire:

“That’s why we decided to take the hard slider away from him in spring training and have him work on perfecting his curveball, which actually fits his mechanics a lot better,” Blaylock continued. “Now he can consistently get hitters out with his curveball, where before it was just there. I won’t say that’s the chief reason for Bret’s fast start this season, but that’s part of it.”

It also appeared that any distractions he had in ’86 were in the rear-view mirror:

Saberhagen reportedly is also a lot more disciplined on days when he is scheduled to work than he was last year, when on at least one occasion he came to the park early, not to work on some of his problems, but to film a car commercial. This year he definitely seems more organized, more able to block out distractions, and more willing to challenge the hitters with a fastball that has been clocked as high as 96 m.p.h.

The one downside to 1987 was a shoulder injury in the second half of the season that affected his performance on the field, as only 4 of those 15 complete games were in the second half. Saberhagen would also allow more hits, runs and home runs in the second half, all in 42 less innings than he had in the first half.

kc6

The pattern would continue in 1988, as Bret struggled, allowing the most hits in the American League and giving up the most runs in his career. Saberhagen would post an ERA+ of 106, a FIP of 3.08 (which actually wasn’t that bad) and a bWAR of 3.8. The good news was that he stayed healthy and that health would remain as he ventured into 1989. ’89 would be his career year when it came to numbers, as he would lead the American League in wins, W-L%, ERA, complete games, innings pitched, ERA+, WHIP, FIP and strike out to walk ratio. His bWAR that year was the highest of his career, 9.7, as he would earn his second Cy Young award, while earning his first Gold Glove and finishing 8th in the AL MVP voting. From July 26th on, Saberhagen would compile four shutouts and only once in a game over that period would a team score more than two runs on him. In many ways, 1989 was the year that Saberhagen went from being a really good pitcher who won the Cy Young award at one point to one of the best pitchers in the game and an elite ace. Most Royals fans will discuss his 1985 campaign when talking about his greatness, but 1989 was easily his best year.

kc7

1990 was the expected off-year for Saberhagen, as he would appear in just 20 games while throwing 135 innings. The one positive for him was his second All-Star game appearance, one in which he would pick up the win for the American League. Bret would pitch in one game during the second half before being shelved, as he would have successful arthroscopic surgery on his elbow in July. At this point, he was 26 and the litany of injury issues were starting to pile up.

kc8

1991 would be Bret’s final year in Kansas City and as patterns go, it was another solid season. Saberhagen would throw 196 innings in 1991, with seven complete games, an ERA+ of 135, a WHIP of 1.070 and a bWAR of 5.1. The crowning moment for him that season was his first career no-hitter, as he blanked the Chicago White Sox, 7-0. All these years later and it is the last no-hitter thrown in Royals history. Bret really didn’t think about getting it until about the 7th inning:

“The funny thing is that once we got to the seventh inning — and I’d been at that point a few times before in my career (with a no-hitter) and I’d never been able to finish it off — I started to think about getting that darn thing,” Saberhagen recalled. “So at that point, I told myself I was going to go at every batter like he was the last batter of the game.

The toughest out might very well have been the final out:

“It was a breaking ball to Frank, and he hit the ball to Terry Shumpert at second base,” Saberhagen recalled almost 23 years later. “Terry got it and fired to first and that was it. Such a cool feeling.”

How ironic, 25 years later, that this would be just a few months before Saberhagen’s time in Kansas City would wrap up. It seems fitting that possibly the greatest pitcher in Royals history would throw a no-no in his final year as a Royal.

kc9

On December 11, 1991, the Royals shockingly traded Saberhagen to the New York Mets (with Bill Pecota) for Kevin McReynolds, Gregg Jefferies and Keith Miller. Bret was entering his age 28 season, and while there were some concerns about injuries, this was a way to fill three holes in the Kansas City offense:

“Any time an organization gives up a player of Bret Saberhagen’s caliber, it’s a hard thing to do. But we had to take a risk and do some things that you don’t always want to do. But we feel we’re a better ball club because of it. We were able to fill three holes. The Mets probably were the only club in baseball talent-rich enough to do something like this.”

What is interesting to see all these years later is the reactions, such as this one from former Mets GM Al Harazin on whether or not New York felt like they overpaid for Saberhagen:

“I think we gave up an awful lot of talent, but we got one of the best pitchers in baseball. I’ll leave it to others to decide if we overpaid.”

It was a shocking move, even for Bret as he wasn’t expected to leave Kansas City:

“When you win a couple of Cy Young’s you start thinking maybe you’re a fixture and one of the main reasons they’ve accomplished what they have in the past.”

The move was equally as shocking for Royals fans. I remember being crushed as a 15 year old Royals fan to learn one of my favorite players was no longer a Royal. At the time I wasn’t as privy to the business side of baseball; all I knew was a player I had gotten attached to was now going to pitch in New York. So how did the trade work out? Not great for the Royals. Saberhagen would accumulate 11.7 bWAR during his time in New York, including a third place finish in the National League Cy Young voting in 1994. Miller would play parts of four seasons with Kansas City, raking in 1.4 total bWAR in that span. McReynolds put together 1.9 bWAR in his two seasons in Kansas City (and never endeared himself to Royals fans), while Jefferies had a 2.2 bWAR in his lone season in Kansas City. Jefferies at one point was considered a future star, but was a slightly above average player whom the Royals would trade the following winter for Felix Jose. Jose was an even bigger bust, posting a -0.2 bWAR during his time in Kansas City. It’s hard to say one move could lead to the downfall of one organization, but the Saberhagen trade didn’t accomplish what Royals management was hoping it would and instead began a downfall that would fall even farther in upcoming seasons.

kc10

The Mets would deal Bret to Colorado during the 1995 season and would finish out the year with the Rockies, including pitching in a Colorado playoff game that fall. He would sit out the 1996 season due to injury, but would return to baseball the following year, joining the Boston Red Sox. Saberhagen would pitch part of four seasons in Boston, and while at times he would show a glint of his past success, at this point of his career he was a nice middle of the rotation starter. He did become the Sporting News Comeback Player of the Year in 1998 and would also win the Tony Conigliaro Award. He would miss the 2000 season and while he tried a comeback in 2001, he would only pitch in three games and retire at the end of the season.The latter part of his career was littered with injuries and stunted what at one time was considered a possible Hall of Fame career.

kc11

So two questions have gnawed at me over the years: one, ‘is Bret the greatest Royals pitcher in history?’ and two, ‘how close did he actually get to becoming a Hall of Famer?’. Let’s start with the first question, his place in Royals history. In all-time career bWAR, Saberhagen is just behind Kevin Appier, 47.3 to 40.8. He is fourth in ERA (behind three relievers), sixth in wins, fourth in win-loss%, 1st in WHIP, 2nd in walks per 9, 6th in innings pitched and fourth in strikeouts. At this point, it is pretty close between him and Appier, so I’m going to venture to the advanced side of things. Saberhagen is 5th in team adjusted ERA+ (second behind Appier for starters), first in team FIP and third in WPA. With all these numbers at hand, I would say in a very close race that Kevin Appier might just slightly edge out Bret for being the greatest Royals starting pitcher of all time. That also tells you how super underrated Appier really was.

kc12

So how about the Hall of Fame? Going off the great website Hall of Stats, Saberhagen is in, as they gave him a Hall Rating of 122, as they take the top 217 players (the amount of players currently in the Hall of Fame) based just off of their career statistics and nothing else. Their formula?:

The Hall of Stats uses a formula called Hall Rating to rank every player in baseball history. Hall Rating combines the value of a player’s peak and longevity into a single number that represents the quality of that player’s Hall of Fame case. It’s not perfect, but there’s a lot to be said for rating all players in history according to the same objective criteria.

Now this factors in both longevity and peak of career, which has become more and more important over the years. Saberhagen’s case is 62% peak and 38% longevity and by their Hall Ratings he is 152nd all-time, 134th among eligible players and 45th among pitchers. Saberhagen will be eligible for the upcoming Today’s Game Era Committee, but the likelihood of him getting voted in is probably pretty slim. What this does tell us though is that his battle with injuries late in his career probably hurt his case and has made many voters ignore his numbers during his peak. The good news is that Saberhagen is already in the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame, which is a great honor in Kansas City and was also voted one of the ‘Franchise Four’ for the Royals back in 2015.

MLB: World Series-San Francisco Giants at Kansas City Royals

For a number of years, it felt like the Royals had forgotten about Saberhagen and his place in the team’s history. There were a few public acknowledgements, but that was about it. It always bothered me, considering his place in franchise history. Luckily, over the last few years while the Royals have made their epic playoff runs, Saberhagen has continuously been seen at Kauffman Stadium. After all these years, it is still great to see ‘The Kid’ at the stadium, even for just a moment. I’m sure a kid from California never imagined while he was growing up that he would become such a large part of the fabric of a team in the midwest, but he has. When you talk about great Royals pitchers, names like Splittorff, Leonard, Busby, Appier and Greinke are often mentioned. But for me, the conversation started and ended with Saberhagen…and it always will.

 

 

 

For The Love Of The Game

kc3

Normally in this space I discuss professional baseball, breaking down the game in about any form or fashion. Without a doubt I am a ‘seamhead’, as everything about the game encompasses my life for the entire twelve months of the year. As much as I love baseball, I have a firm grasp of the bigger picture, which is that at the end of the day it is still “just a game”. With that being said, I have become increasingly disappointed with many of my fellow adults who can’t separate the level of importance for sports, most notably when it comes to our children playing these sports.

kc4

Traveling youth baseball squads have become all the rage in youth sports and it can start as young as 9 years old. Traveling squads have become year round for many areas and have taken a bite out of local community baseball leagues. Some of these teams can play up to 120 games a year, which is more than most minor league teams play. There are many facets of this that bother me, none more than the cost for these leagues. So if you want your kid in a traveling league, what will it cost you? From the Washington Post in 2014:

Travel ball, by contrast, is not cheap — participation fees average about $2,000 per player per year. And teams may invite players from anywhere in the region. Since tournaments and games are usually in other towns, players and their parents must spend many hours commuting.

The cost is a bigger issue than just what appears on the surface. One of the issues that plagues Major League Baseball is the lack of African-Americans playing baseball today. In 2016, only 8% of the opening-day rosters were of African American descent, which is miniscule in comparison with the mid-1970’s, when 27% of major league players were African American. Traveling squads can be an issue for many inner city youths, as can be attested by former National League MVP Andrew McCutchen. Back in 2015, McCutchen talked about how his parents could not afford for him to be on a traveling team when he was a kid, which would lessen his chances of a scout seeing him perform. McCutchen talked about how the money just adds up after awhile:

But all the scraping and saving in the world wasn’t going to be enough for my family to send me an hour north to Lakeland every weekend to play against the best competition. That’s the challenge for families today. It’s not about the $100 bat. It’s about the $100-a-night motel room and the $30 gas money and the $300 tournament fee. There’s a huge financing gap to get a child to that next level where they might be seen.

McCutchen was lucky, as an AAU coach saw him play and when he found out that Andrew’s family could not afford the squad, Jimmy Rutland paid for him to be on the team:

My dad told him that it was just too expensive, and coach Rutland basically took me in as if I was another one of his sons. He helped pay for my jerseys and living expenses. My parents took care of what they could, which was basically just money for food.

This is just one issue hitting low-income families, who can’t afford for their child to play on these teams. But it is just one issue that is on the table.

Photo by Jon L. Hendricks

Another issue at hand is the effect this has on these players bodies. If you want to point at a big factor in the abundance of arm injuries in baseball these days, look at how kids are treated when it comes to pitch counts. Jeff Passan wrote a great piece for Yahoo Sports back in June (a piece I am going to recommend you read; just click on that link) about how a high school Junior was allowed to throw 157 pitches in a game for them back in the spring. Let me put this another way: a youth whose body is still developing was allowed to throw more pitches in a game than even a major league pitcher does:

Because Colby Pechin isn’t unique, and overuse in all forms – high single-game pitch counts, throwing multiple times the same day, too many pitches clustered among multiple days, playing competitively year round – pervades the youth-baseball landscape. This is the worst time of the year for it, with high school teams trying to stay alive and universities aiming for the College World Series. Previously the headquarters of arm abuse, professional baseball is today far and away the safest place for a pitcher.

If you aren’t alarmed yet, read on:

A 2015 paper in “The American Journal of Orthopaedics” found 56.8 percent of Tommy John surgeries between 2007 and 2011 were on 15- to 19-year-olds, and doctors say that number is bound to rise in coming years.

Now think about this: would you want your child to play on a year-round team if that high risk of Tommy John Surgery could be looming in their future?

One of the most resonant messages of the silly season came from an Illinois man named Thomas Blamey. In a Facebook post that has been shared more than 70,000 times, Blamey wrote what amounted to a public apology to his 17-year-old son Matt: “After I stopped being Matt’s coach at age 14, I allowed coaches to over use him. I take the blame. I knew his pitch counts like my own SSN. And because I didn’t want to embarrass him or have his coaches think I’m a crazy dad, I let him throw until the coach decided to pull him. And often times that was after the game ended. Here is what can happen.”

All this for what? The likelihood your child is going to play even college ball is slim, let alone playing professionally. So why are parents so gung-ho on having their kids be a part of a traveling team? Unfortunately, there is a selfish response to this question.

kc6

Now before we go into the factors that might be at play, I want to stress that I believe most parents believe they are being supportive of their kids and truly just want them to exceed past the level they accomplished. Unfortunately, many times it does not play out that way. Just in the short span I have attended games in which my son is involved, I have seen a number of different parents at these games. The ones that concern me are the super-competitive ones. They normally played sports themselves and probably have pushed their kid into playing as well. Hey, nothing wrong with that as long as you let them go out and play. But certain parents don’t stop there, as they are the ones constantly pushing their child, never being satisfied with how they perform. I’ve often referred to them as the ‘Al Bundy’s’ of the parenting world. Most were star athletes in high school and never accomplished more than that, athletically and in life. These parents are some of the worst because they are past the point of realizing it is just a game, and believe they know better than any coach or official that is in their child’s presence. There is also the parent that loves the social aspect of their kid playing at a higher level of athletics. This gives them a chance to be in a social group or club, all while acting like they are special because their child is on this team. Like the parents before, they focus on themselves quite a bit in these situations and less on the child’s level of interest in the sport or why they are playing. In many ways, parents are the biggest problem with youth athletics in this modern age. I for one can say I have seen my fair share of improper behavior by parents and am disgusted every time I see it.Once again, there needs to be some perspective here, most notably that your kid will more than likely never play baseball or any other sport past high school.

kc7

Not all parents are this way but it is always the bad seeds that you remember when it is all said and done. I have loved the fact that my son has wanted to participate in athletics over the years but we’ve started seeing a shift in how much he wants to play. He’s entered high school and played football this past season, mainly on the junior varsity squad. He initially wanted to quit early in the season, but we talked him into staying in, mainly because we wanted him to hold up his commitment. When he was talking about quitting, one of the phrases he uttered to me was “…they just take it way too serious. I want to play, but I want to just go out and have fun.” It is very obvious that he enjoys the social aspect of sports but you probably won’t find him putting in extra work for it. He is just not competitive in that manner and we haven’t pushed him to be. You wonder how some of the kids who are pushed would feel if their parents sat down with them and discussed what they really wanted to do.

kc8

By no means am I saying kids shouldn’t be competitive or want to push themselves harder to win. I believe being involved in sports has had a positive effect on my son and I’m glad he has at least gone out and attempted to see what he can do. But I also feel like there needs to be more regulations and maybe a lesser focus on traveling squads. When you really sit down and think about it, if you have your kid participating in a traveling team, they have a certain set number of hours they have to set aside each week for practice and/or games. Add in school and you factor in time spent at school, school activities and homework. If your kid is also in high school, throw in a social life and possibly even dating. Then…remember how you were as a teenager. Those teenage years are some of the hardest years of your life, as everything is changing and changing on a constant basis. So you want to toss in the pressure of being on a traveling team and everything that involves? I know I couldn’t have handled that as a kid and it feels like a lot to throw at these still developing humans. Keep your kids in sports and encourage them to work their hardest. Teach them the wrongs and rights and playing these games that are a fun getaway from reality. But also teach them that it is just a game and just a small piece of a much bigger picture. I always tell my son I have just two rules when he plays: try your hardest and have fun. Asking anything more of them just feels like you are trying to accomplish something for your own cause.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑