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Bleeding Royal Blue

Inside the mind of a Kansas City Royals fan

Month

February 2017

Time is Tight

Pittsburgh Pirates v New York Mets

It was hard this past week to go anywhere without hearing about MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and his disappointment with the MLB Players Union on shaking up some of the rules to help the pace of play in baseball. It appears that Manfred was hoping for a major change for this upcoming 2017 season:

“Unfortunately, it now appears there really won’t be any meaningful rule change for the 2017 season due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA,” Manfred said.

The one change that appears to be the most likely is eliminating pitchers actually throwing pitches in an intentional walk, instead having the manager signal from the dugout that they want to place the batter on first. It’s been covered ad-nauseam, but essentially this would be a non-issue when it comes to cutting time in a baseball game, especially considering how few intentional walks there are any more. With that being said, I thought we could look at a few possible changes that could help speed up the game and obviously make it more accessible to the leisurely fan, as most of us diehards aren’t majorly bothered by the pace of the game.

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The most immediate solution to speed up the game would be speed up the process of instant replay. There was some talk for a while that baseball would look into setting a hard time limit on managers for making a decision on whether or not they want to go back and look at a play, but in my mind that is not where the major issue lies. The amount of time it took for replays last year did fall (on average it was about 1:36, compared to 1:51 in 2015) but we can all agree that we have sat through some replays that feel like they take hours. I am all for getting the play called correctly, but I also tend to think that if they added another person in their replay booth back in New York, maybe it could speed up even more. I tend to think this wouldn’t drastically improve the pace of play, but it might end the replays that feel like everything has ground to a screeching halt.

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Another rule that could speed things up would be limiting the amount of mound visits in an inning. Obviously this would mean you would have to count any mound visit, whether it be by a catcher, a pitching coach, a manager or just a random player. I actually wouldn’t have an issue with this, as sometimes the visits can drag on (I’m sure an umpire or two would agree with this). That being said, I don’t think they should limit how many pitching changes a team can make per inning. As much as I am not a fan of 20 million pitching changes in an inning, I also don’t think a limit should be imposed on a team. Part of the natural flow of baseball is that you never quite know what moves a manager is going to make from inning to inning. If a manager wants 3 pitchers to each get an individual out in an inning, there shouldn’t be a rule that says he can’t do that. Maybe something where there is a limit on non-pitching change mound visits but none for actual changes? I’m just spitballing here, but the point is to limit the amount of tedious visits to the mound in an inning, which could speed up the game.

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What about some other possibilities that have been thrown out there?

Pitch clocks-Don’t have an issue with this. As long as it’s reasonable I would be game for it.

Banning infield shifts-Stupid. The issue isn’t shifts, it’s batters who aren’t adjusting to the shifts being put into effect when they are batting. Want shifts to go away? Start hitting the ball to the opposite field. I have no idea how this would save time in a baseball game, as the initial reasoning was to produce more offense, which would more than likely mean a longer game…which by my count would mean NOT saving time.  

Having a runner start extra innings on second base-I almost feel like I shouldn’t acknowledge this, but it has been mentioned. I know sometimes extra innings can feel like a drag, but extra innings also add more drama and intensity to the game. I would hate to see this go away just to save a little bit of time. Could you imagine Game 7 of last year’s World Series, starting the 10th inning with a runner on second? Horrible, horrible idea. Let’s hope this one never sees the light of day.

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One final solution to speeding up the game has been the expansion of the strike zone. I actually am totally on board with this, as it has felt like for the longest time that the zone has shrunk. Obviously, the above graph says otherwise, although over the last few years it has appeared as if the strike zone has gone lower, with the low strike getting called more than the high strike. That being said, many have long felt as if the zone is determined by individual umpires, as some have a bigger zone than others. I would tend to think if you expanded the zone (and I do mean expand, not make it more lower than higher) you will get more batters swinging at the dish. While strike outs are currently up around Major League Baseball, I tend to wonder if they would go down if the batters are swinging earlier in the count and not taking as many pitches. Out of all the ideas that have been tossed out there, this one has the best legs and could really give the game more action as well, as more balls would be in play. All of these items are what Manfred is looking for and honestly, I would rather see a fly out or ground out than another strike out. The game could very well see a drastic change if this happened and could really open up a whole other world of possibilities.

Seattle Mariners v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

So is there a real problem with baseball and the pace of play? To a degree, of course. It’s not every game and it’s not just one move or action that does it, but yes, there is a slight pace of play issue with baseball. It’s nothing that most of us would gripe about, but us “Seamheads” aren’t the only people watching baseball games. I feel as if Major League Baseball and the MLBPA should always be looking for new ways to improve the game and make it as viable as humanly possible. That being said, I also don’t think you should just go and change rules for the sake of changing rules. If a rule need a minor tweak or an adjustment, I believe that is exactly what should be done. The other aspect of this is that baseball is a free-flowing game that has no time limits and can range on the amount of time it can take to finish up. I would hate to see part of that go away just to knock a few minutes off of a few games. Should the players union be more open to changes? Yes. Should Rob Manfred slow himself down and not just assume that major changes need to happen? Of course. The game of baseball is a truly great thing and if you are immensely in love with it you accept it, warts and all. Not one answer will solve all the problems and not all problems need immediate attention. I would much rather see baseball address the issues but not make changes until they have a solid solution that most parties can all agree on. Baseball is definitely not broken, but a few minor touch-ups could make it even better than it is now.

 

Why the Royals Should Let Hosmer Go

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Everyone who isn’t living underneath a rock knows that 2017 is a make or break year for the Kansas City Royals, as a large chunk of their world championship nucleus will become free agents at the end of the season. As of right now, Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas could all be wearing different uniforms at this point next year. The common thought has been that the Royals won’t be able to keep everyone and more than likely 3/4 of these players won’t be re-signed. The belief has also been that Eric Hosmer would be the hardest to bring back, as he and his agent, Scott Boras, would be asking for the moon and more, which for the Royals would be almost impossible. But it now appears as if Hosmer is numero uno on their list, as the two sides are already discussing an extension  while no discussions have begun for either Cain or Moustakas. It appears that Kansas City wants to keep Hosmer a Royal, but honestly, they shouldn’t.

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Let’s start with the positives when it comes to Hosmer. Hosmer is a 3-time Gold Glove winner, All-Star MVP and has driven in 29 runs in the playoffs, most of them big hits to help the Royals as they ascended to back-to-back World Series appearances. Hosmer has posted a career line of .277/.335/.428 in his six-year career, which is respectable but very average. Hosmer saw an uptick in his home run totals in 2016, but his overall slugging took  a bit of a hit. The biggest thing when it comes to Hosmer is the fact that he is entering his age 27 season, as many believe he has yet to reach his peak and more than likely whomever signs him this winter will end up with his best years, conceivably.

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If you noticed, a lot of the positives associated with him center around what he ‘could’ do. It feels a bit weird to me to think a player entering his 7th big league season is still being waited on to reach his potential, or that the numbers tell a different story than what most people feel about Hosmer off of the ‘eye test’. If you listen to the national media, they have some heavy love for Hosmer and in some ways I see it. Here is a guy who is young and charming, has had success on the national stage in both the playoffs and All-Star Game and is a fun interview. For many, this is the Hosmer they know and for many it is why they believe him to be the focal point of Kansas City’s offense. But the truth lies somewhere else and to many of us who follow this team religiously, it is a big reason why we believe the Royals should not even entertain negotiations.

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2016 is probably the perfect example of what kind of player Eric Hosmer can really be. I wrote in great detail about his struggles last summer and will revisit the two sides of a season that could (should) have been a career year for him. First, lets look at the splits of his year, as it is the best personification of 2016. In the first half, Hosmer looked like the MVP caliber player we’ve all thought he could be, racking up a line of .299/.355/.476 with 13 home runs, 49 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 118. Hosmer, without a doubt, earned that starting first base spot in the All-Star Game and even just an average second half would have put him at career best numbers. But his second half could have taken place in a horror movie, as he put up scary bad numbers: .225/.296/.380 with 12 home runs and 55 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 78. It was very obvious that Hosmer was trying to pull the ball much more in the second half and while his home run and RBI totals are on par with the first half, his other numbers took a giant dip. When trying to figure out why his slugging numbers declined, it is easy to see that while his dinger total was up, his doubles took a bit of a dive, as he hit only 6 doubles the entire second half of the season. To be honest, Hosmer’s season started to decline in June, as his numbers that month were down from the first two months of the season: .257/.350/.366 with 2 home runs, 13 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 91.

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When I looked at his struggles last summer, I noticed a change in his approach at the plate, preparing for the pitch. Hosmer went from a toe tap that seemed to steady his body and cause less movement to a high, exaggerated leg kick that caused much more movement as the pitch was delivered. While the leg kick would sometimes help him deliver more power, it also seemed to throw his body out of balance from time to time. The concern with that was a lack of consistency, which has become a staple of Hosmer’s major league career. In looking back last year at his slumps, it became more and more evident that Hosmer is very inconsistent when it comes to his production. In fact, when looking back through his career, almost every year saw him run into a long cold stretch at some point in each season where he produced very little offense. Now, all players go through slumps and it is rare to find a player who can be consistent throughout an entire season. But Hosmer doesn’t just slump; he looks lost for 4-6 weeks at a time. The biggest concern is his ability to adjust, which he never seemed to do in the second half of 2016. Pitchers started throwing him more breaking balls starting in May:

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It is very obvious that pitchers adjusted to Hosmer and threw less and less fastballs to him while giving him a steady diet of breaking and off-speed pitches through the rest of the year. If the Royals locked Hosmer up to a long-term deal, I would worry that these struggles would continue and it is hard to justify him being in the middle of the Kansas City order when he stumbles into another lull.

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The other concern with Hosmer is his inability to elevate the ball. In 2016, Hosmer led all qualified batters in baseball with a 58.9% groundball rate. In fact, throughout his 6 year career, his lowest rate has been 49.7% in his rookie season. In comparison, Mike Trout’s highest groundball rate is 44% in his rookie season. Now, no one expects Hosmer to be Trout (seriously, there is only one Mike Trout) but it proves the point I am trying to make: for Hosmer to be considered an elite player, he needs to hit the ball in the air more and less on the ground. Hosmer saw a major decrease in his line drive rate last year (23.6% to 16.5%) and a philosophy of more line drives and less ground balls would be a recipe of success for him. Sadly, I don’t know if that is possible, since he has averaged a 53% groundball rate through the first six years. For him to see a change, it is going to have to be a complete mental change-up to what he has been doing up to this point.

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So how serious is Kansas City about getting Hosmer locked up? It appears to be serious:

“We as an organization have a strong desire to extend Eric,” Moore said. “We’re confident in his desire to be here in Kansas City. As with him and all our players, we’ll work as hard as we can to execute a deal.”

The issue could very well be length of contract, as it appears as if Hosmer is asking for a ten-year deal:

Hosmer isn’t nearly as accomplished offensively as either of those players was, but the Royals anticipate that he will seek a 10-year deal, knowing that a number of high-revenue clubs — including the Red Sox, Mets and Phillies — could seek a first baseman next off-season.

I don’t know about you, but a ten-year deal just feels like the recipe for disaster. I firmly believe no player is worth that long of a deal and definitely not Eric Hosmer.

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Years ago, the Royals locked up another first baseman, Mike Sweeney, to what would eventually be a five-year deal that seemed a positive for the team at the time. Sweeney was a year older than Hosmer (he will be entering his age 28 season in 2018) at the time, and by the end of that deal, injuries had turned Sweeney into a shell of his former self. Go look at the Joe Mauer deal, or Prince Fielder, or any other long-term deal for a first baseman; outside of maybe a Joey Votto, most have not panned out. While Hosmer shows the ability to possibly be a major offensive contributor, there is a feeling that what we have seen these last few years is what we would end up with. When adding up the length of the deal as well as the money that would be involved (and there is no way his deal wouldn’t be a pricey one for Kansas City), it would make more sense for the Royals to spend their money elsewhere. Hosmer reminds me of that shiny novelty item you find while you have some spare coin in your pocket. Sure, it looks nice and shiny and you can already imagine what all you could do with it…but…after awhile you wonder why you wasted your money on something you won’t ever use again. So you end up trying to sell it on ebay and hope you can at least salvage 1/3 of what you initially paid for it. While some Royals fans would love to see Hos locked up long-term, I tend to think the deal would be a regret within just a few short years. Call me crazy, but the Royals could do better than keeping Hosmer in the fold. I’ll go a step further-I feel he is overrated. If Kansas City is serious about locking up anyone who could be gone after this season, all they have to do is look across the diamond. There is a third baseman who feels like a perfect fit for this team and has shown improvement over the years. That would be my choice, but I’m not the GM. By the end of Spring Training we should have our answer, as Hosmer has said he will negotiate until the season starts and if nothing happens by then he will take his chances in free agency. I tend to think no news before Opening Day is good news; Hosmer is not the savior Kansas City needs.

Royalty’s Notebook: February Royals Thoughts

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Spring Training is so close that we can practically smell the freshly cut grass and see the perfectly drawn baselines. It’s that time of year when the phrase ‘Pitchers and catchers report’ is music to any baseball fans ears. Over the last few weeks, I have had a number of thoughts littering my head and figured rather than writing four separate articles, I would shoot out a few short notes on some Kansas City Royals related activities that have been going on. What better way to start than with the pitcher we call ‘Duffman’…

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There are so many reasons to love Danny Duffy right now. Duffy showed himself to be a true front of the rotation starter last year and was rewarded with a nice new contract, which means he will be around for at least the next five years. There is his return to twitter where he is trying to do some good. Speaking of Duffy the good samaritan, if you weren’t already ‘Team Duffy’, than him meeting and talking to fans at Kauffman Stadium after Yordano Ventura’s death should have swayed you. But the story that made me really proud to know that Duffy is on ‘my team’ is the one where he bought a Yordano bobblehead. This story must be read, so click here. In short, a Royals fan in the Kansas City area sold his Ventura bobblehead on ebay and right before he mailed it off, he saw it was addressed to Duffy. He canceled the payment and sent Duffy a message, telling him he wasn’t going to charge him for the bobble. Duffy told the guy he was trying to buy up as much Yordano merchandise as possible and then mail it to his mom at the end of the season. When I first read that, a legit huge smile broke out on my face. I have long rooted for Duffy to succeed, if anything because the guy has shown again and again that he is an awesome human being. The fact that he was accumulating as much Yo’ memorabilia as possible because it would help her “remember the good times” was just phenomenal. Talk about being proud that he is in Kansas City; I have never seen an athlete who is so open about his feelings AND in such a positive way, to boot (Yes, that was slightly directed at Zack Greinke). We might love our Salvy, our A1 and our Moose, but dammit if I’m not a Duffy fan for life because of what he represents as a player and a person.

Royals Preview Spring Baseball

Speaking of Ventura, there has been a call amongst many Royals fans for the team to retire his number 30 this season. I understand that for most of us there is an emotional attachment to the group of players who guided this team to their first championship in 30 years. I was just as broken up about Ventura’s passing as most other Royals fans and I figure the home opener on April 10th will probably cause a few lumps in throats. That being said, it feels like the push to retire his number is an emotional thought and not a logical one. Over the team’s 47 year history, they have retired three former Royals: George Brett (5), Frank White (20) and Dick Howser (10). That’s it. In my eyes there have been a few worthy numbers that could have been retired by Kansas City over the years, but I do like that they aren’t just retiring numbers left and right. To me, if you are going to go that route, it better be a player who really marked their spot in franchise history. While Ventura had a number of big moments in his short career, he did only have three full seasons under his belt, and was just slightly above league average overall during that time. I have heard a number of great ideas in honoring Ventura this year, like leaving the ball on the mound opening day and letting manager Ned Yost make a “pitching change”, or naming a baseball academy down in the Dominican Republic after him. Those are just two great examples of honoring his passing and I wouldn’t even have a big issue with putting him in the Royals Hall of Fame in the future, even if it would feel like it was being done because he passed away while still with the team. But retiring his number feels like an emotional reaction to his death and I just don’t agree with it. I’m sure the Royals will honor his time in Kansas City this year and they should; but lets not overreact. Honoring Ventura is fine, but retiring his number is unnecessary and to be brutally honest, not really earned.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals

With the Royals signing of Jason Hammel this week, Kansas City has marked off almost every need that they were searching for this winter…that is, except for another bullpen arm. The thought has been that the Royals would possibly sign one more reliever and with Spring Training looming in just a few days, there could be a last-minute signing, especially if they bring Luke Hochevar back into the fold. Hochevar is coming off of Thoracic Outlet Surgery but it’s been thought all along that as long as he is healthy, the team would look to bring him back to Kansas City. If not Hochevar, there are a few options still available on the market. Guys like Travis Wood, Jonathan Niese and former Royals Joe Blanton and Jorge De La Rosa are still available. The Royals also checked in on Seth Maness last week, the former Cardinals reliever who bypassed Tommy John Surgery and elected an experimental surgery that would have him back on the field in 7 months. While I tend to think Hoch will be back fairly soon, Kansas City has many choices and with a group of young arms also in the running ( Josh Staumont, Kevin McCarthy and Eric Skoglund among them) there will be some definite competition in the bullpen this spring for the Royals.

Boston Red Sox v Kansas City Royals-Game Two

The Hammel signing also meant that room would have to be made for him on the Royals 40 man roster, and Alec Mills was the unfortunate person to be sent packing. Mills was dealt to the Cubs for outfielder Donnie Deewees. Mills was a solid arm for Kansas City’s system but at best was probably someone who would have success out of the bullpen rather than in the rotation. Deewees is an interesting acquisition, as he is a speedy outfielder type that Dayton Moore continually covets. The scouts evaluation of Deewees seems to be on par with current Royals outfielder Billy Burns:

ESPN’s Keith Law recently rated Dewees 15th among Cubs farmhands, noting that he’s a 70-grade runner that can handle center field from a range standpoint but has a 20-grade arm that limits him to left field. Longenhagen ranked him 19th among Cubs prospects offering a similar take (albeit a 30-grade arm instead of 20), writing that without the power to profile as a left field regular, his best scenario is a Ben Revere type. B-Pro’s Steve Givarz was a bit more optimistic about his glovework but still pegs him as more of a fourth outfielder than a potential starter.

Deewees is still only 23 years old and more than likely will start the year in Kansas City’s High A Ball team in Wilmington. This could be a trade to monitor over the next couple years and see how Deewees has (or has not) developed. When all else fails, Moore will always lean towards speed.

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Finally, Kansas City went out and signed Brayan Pena to a minor league deal this past week. Pena is a former Royal who played for Kansas City from 2009-2012 and spent most of his time as a backup catcher. Pena is a serviceable receiver who has a bit of pop in his bat and is well liked in the clubhouse. The honesty is that this is a depth signing and much like Tony Cruz last year, Pena will most likely be spending his time in Omaha this year unless something goes wrong for Salvador Perez or Drew Butera. It’s good to see Brayan back in blue, but I wouldn’t expect to see much of him once the season starts.

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In just a few days pitchers and catcher will be reporting to Spring Training and we can actually start digesting some news on our ‘Boys in Blue’ and start getting a feel for what the major league roster will look like come April. I can say with all honesty that I feel better about the feel of this roster now than I did even a few weeks ago. For all intent and purposes, the Royals are looking to gain back what they lost last year, which would be the top of the Central Division. Next week, step one begins on a long road to their (hopeful) final destination, October baseball.As always, hope springs eternal.

Royals Add Rotation Arm, Sign Hammel

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Ever since the untimely death of Yordano Ventura, the general feeling was that the Kansas City Royals were going to have to go out and acquire another starting pitcher. Names like Doug Fister and Travis Wood, but the name that was mentioned multiple times was Jason Hammel, the best available arm still on the free agent market. Royals GM Dayton Moore can be a sneaky dealer, and while most were zoned in on the Super Bowl, Moore made his move:

The Royals got their man in Hammel, locking him up for two years, $16 million dollars with a mutual option (of course Dayton gave him a mutual option!!) for a third year. As of this writing the breakdown of the financials have not been released (I would tend to think the annual salary will be higher in 2018 than this year) but even without that knowledge the Royals seemed to have locked down a solid mid-rotation starter at a fairly cheap rate.

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So what kind of production should Kansas City expect from his signing? Hammel pitched for the Cubs in 2016, racking up 166 innings with a 3.83 ERA, 4.48 FIP and an ERA+ of 105. Hammel raised his ground ball rate last year, posting at 42%, his highest percentage since 2012 in Baltimore. He’s not a big strike out guy, but he did put up a 13.2% strike out to walk ratio, and both his strike out and walk rates in 2016 were about league average. He does throw his slider quite a bit, in fact he threw it 35% last year, the 4th highest percentage of sliders for qualified pitchers. Hammel did improve his left on base percentage last year bumping up to 76% while his batting average on balls in play also took a step downward. A very positive sign for Hammel in 2016, especially where it concerns not only Kansas City but pitching at Kauffman Stadium, was how hard the ball was hit off of him. His line drive saw a dip this past year while his ground ball rate saw an increase. Hammel really didn’t see a major shift in hard hit rate or soft hit rate and his exit velocity is interesting:

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While Hammel was up and down when it comes to exit velocity, this is actually fairly accurate throughout his career. His velocity also didn’t see a big change in 2016:

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The chart above has Hammel’s velocity for both 2015 and 2016. What was very noticeable, especially with his changeup and slider, was the consistency in 2016 compared to 2015. It really seemed that Hammel was able to not vary much month to month, which is a positive considering some of the rumors that were floated out there this winter.

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One of the reasons Hammel was still available this late in the winter was because of a feeling that he was hurt late in the 2016 season:

If you looked at the exit velocity chart above, Hammel appeared to not pitch after the middle of September and he wasn’t on any of the Cubs postseason rosters. The Cubs also declined his club option for 2017 after the season, which was fairly reasonable at $12 million. All this led to many teams assuming that he was hurt and probably hurt his chances out on the market this winter. Normally, pitchers who are injured show a decrease in velocity, which is normally an indicator that he is injured. If you look at the velocity charts above, they are pretty steady. That shows me that any injury concerns can probably be put to bed, unless a major decrease shows up when games start in Spring Training.

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Financially, Hammel’s signing appears to be a steal for the Royals. Even if his contract calls for a split of $8 million a year (and once again, I’m expecting us to find out it is lower than that for year one of the deal), that puts Kansas City’s payroll just a bit higher than what Owner David Glass was wanting, but not too far off. Considering Hammel has averaged 161 innings a season over the last 8 years, this is a great deal and once again shows what a fantastic job Dayton Moore has done this winter while working under financial restrictions. In fact, Hammel’s deal looks fantastic in comparison with former Royal Edinson Volquez’s contract he got from Miami:

Steamer projections are expecting Hammel to produce 1.3 WAR this year, while 2.0 for Volquez. But if you go more off of last year, Hammel produced 1.4 WAR while Volquez compiled 1.5. The two pitchers are fairly similar with Hammel about a year older in age. If you asked me which pitcher I would want going into 2017, I would take Hammel. Hammel produced a lower walks per 9 and hits per 9 than Volquez, and over their respective careers, Hammel has shown more consistency. In many ways, Hammel is a perfect replacement for Volquez, even if it feels like he is in Kansas City now because of what happened to Yordano Ventura.

USP MLB: CHICAGO CUBS AT MILWAUKEE BREWERS S BBN USA WI

With pitchers and catchers reporting in about a week, it’s good to see that the Royals are now set and ready to go all across the diamond. Hammel is the final piece of the rotation puzzle and should be a steadying veteran force in the middle of what is looking more and more like a good group of starting pitchers. The Royals should expect consistency more than anything else from Hammel this year and that is a strength that some take more lightly than they should. It’s unfortunate the circumstances that brought Hammel to Kansas City (and I do feel the Royals don’t sign him if Ventura is still with the team) but he is now ready to wear Royal blue and represent Kansas City. It’s another good acquisition from the Royals front office and they should be applauded for their work this winter. One thing I ask of Royals fans this year: don’t bring up the Wild Card game to Hammel. I’m sure he will hear enough about it when he shows up to Arizona this spring. I can already hear Salvy joking with him about his game winning hit…trust me, Hammel will take it much better coming from Perez. I mean, who could hate Salvy?

Royals Lineup Projection

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One of the funnest parts of the offseason in baseball is breaking down the projections that are littered throughout the winter. The three main projection systems are PECOTA, Steamer, and ZiPS and they all attempt to predict and break down how the upcoming season will turn out. Of course, as with any algorithm, there will be predictions that are way off, which is why the games are played. But this is a fun look at how the upcoming season could go and see whether or not the projections predict a player will improve, regress or stand pat. With that said, I thought it might be interesting to break down the Kansas City Royals projected lineup and see what the Steamer projections have in store for Kansas City offensively in 2017.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals

Salvador Perez-Catcher

What I found most interesting about Salvy’s projected numbers for this year wasn’t the fact that they expected his numbers to pick up a notch but that they project he will play in less games! I don’t know if that happens, especially if they use the designated hitter as a rotating spot, but I like the idea of Perez getting some much-needed extra rest. Steamer has Salvy hitting .264/.298/.444 with 20 home runs, 67 RBI’s and 2.8 WAR. All but the home runs would be an improvement over 2016 and even that was only off by two. I tend to think all of this is possible, especially if Ned gives him that extra rest. It’s been very apparent over the last couple of seasons that by August, Salvy seems to be tiring and the grind of catching as many innings as he has the last few years catches up to him. I would like to see Perez get some extra at bats at DH and rest his legs, which I think would mean an increase in his offense. For the most part, I believe these projections are doable.

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Eric Hosmer-1st Base

Anyone who has followed this blog knows that I soured on Hosmer this past season and it was to the point where I don’t know if I will ever expect him to perform even remotely consistent in the big leagues. The good news is that Steamer thinks Eric will improve on last year, projecting a line of .278/.345/.455 with 22 home runs and 84 RBI’s and a 1.7 WAR. Outside of the home runs and RBI’s, everything else would be an improvement on a season that was the tale of two different seasons for Hos. To me, the biggest tell on whether or not he improves offensively this year is if he is able to decrease his ground ball rate, which was a ridiculous 58.9% in 2016. If he does that and lowers his strike out rate, I think we could see a better Hos in 2017. There has never been a better time for him to have a career year than the season right before he enters the free agent market, so there should be some motivation to not be the guy who produced a well below average OPS+ (78) in the second half of 2016.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Kansas City Royals

Raul Mondesi-2nd Base

My hunch is that Mondesi will be the Kansas City second bagger to start 2017 unless he really struggles this spring. The good news is that there is almost no way he could be worse offensively than he was during his first stint with the Royals last year. Steamer agrees with me on this, as they are projecting him to hit .231/.272/.360 with 8 home runs and 36 RBI’s, a WAR of 0.0 and a wRC+ of 64. Yes, none of those numbers are great, but all would be an improvement on his numbers in 47 major league games in 2016. I tend to look at Mondesi like this: right now, his defense is ready while his bat still needs some major work. But he has slowly improved his offense ever year in the minors, with his power numbers improving by quite a bit in his short spans in both AA and AAA in 2016. The question the Royals have to ask is if A.) His defense is good enough to let him learn at the big league level? or B.) Do they have a better option at second base? The honest answer is that as much as I like Whit Merrifield, I think he is better suited to be a super utility guy in the big leagues and I also believe Mondesi is going to learn more in the majors then spending time in the minors. This could be an interesting development to follow and I’m highly intrigued to see if Mondesi raises some eyebrows this spring in Arizona.

MLB: ALCS-Toronto Blue Jays at Kansas City Royals

Alcides Escobar-Shortstop

Escobar’s offense in 2016 was nothing to write home about; in fact, it’s probably best left to just not mention it happened. It was evident throughout the season that he had no business hitting leadoff and was not pulling his weight for a guy getting close to 700 plate appearances. Luckily, Steamer is expecting bigger things from Esky this year, with a projected line of .264/.299/.352 with a WAR of 1.0 and wRC+ of 72. Okay, the numbers are only slightly better but even if we just see a slightly better strike out rate or walk rate, I’ll take it. At this point, Escobar is who he is, which is someone who rarely walks, strikes out too often and his faith lies in the BABIP Gods. As much as I have always enjoyed his defense, we are even starting to see a slight regression there, so it might be good that he will be a free agent after the season wraps up.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals

Mike Moustakas-3rd Base

Man, the Steamer really loves Mike Moustakas! Moose missed most of the 2016 campaign but in the 27 games he appeared in it was obvious that his power numbers were drastically improved and it appeared he was headed for a break-out season. Instead, a collision with left fielder Alex Gordon did in his knee and he was shelved. Right now though, the Steamer has Moose hitting .267/.329/.468 over 129 games with 23 home runs, 73 RBI’s, a wRC+ of 111 and a WAR of 3.1. Now, a large chunk of that projection is from his 2015 season, but I feel like these estimates are light. Yes, I think Moustakas is going to have a big year and I wouldn’t be surprised if he surpasses the 30 home run barrier if he can stay healthy. Moustakas has shown a tendency to improve throughout his career and in what could be his final year in Kansas City, I tend to believe he wants to show the power we have all expected him to display. While most of these projections have felt close to what I was thinking, this is one that I think will be much higher when it is all said and done.

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Alex Gordon-Left Field

Most players have that one season where they would prefer it would magically disappear and never be spoken of again. For Alex Gordon, 2016 was one of those seasons. Gordon struggled through the year, ending up with a line of .220/.312/.380 in 128 games. In late May, Gordon collided with Mike Moustakas and would proceed to miss the following month. It really just felt like Gordon was off most of the year, and chalk it up to whatever you want (I personally felt he wasn’t 100% most of the year) but it was a year to forget. So what is being predicted for this year? Steamer has Gordon at .248/.335/.404 with 15 home runs, 61 RBI’s and a wRC+ of 98. Call me an optimist, but I feel Gordon will be a bit better than that this year, as he looks to bounce back. Gordon probably won’t see the highs he racked up back in 2011-2012, but if he stays healthy a .260/.350/.430 season is reachable. Yes, Gordon is probably seeing the beginning of his regression, but I just don’t see it being as sharp a fall as he had last year. Expect Alex to improve on  a forgettable 2016 this year and help improve the Royals offense.

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Lorenzo Cain-Center Field

Coming off of a career year in 2015, Cain looked to grow on that last year and guide the Royals back to the playoffs. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always follow a nice, cozy script and Cain would spend a large chunk of 2016 on the disabled list. Cain went from appearing in a career high amount of games in 2015 (140 games) to barely over 100 (103 to be exact) in 2016. This also meant a decline in his MVP caliber numbers from the previous year and a line of .287/.339/.408 and a wRC+ of only 98. Luckily, Steamer is projecting a similar year for Cain in 2017, as they foresee a .283/.338/.417 line and a wRC+ of 100 in 130 games. I must be the middle man here; I think Cain’s numbers could very well be higher, as he will be working for a contract, but it will all be determined on his health. If he can stay on the field, I think he will produce. If he doesn’t expect a season on par to last year. I don’t think we will ever see the numbers from Cain again that we saw two years ago, but something in that vicinity would greatly improve Kansas City’s offense.

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Jorge Soler-Right Field

If you haven’t noticed it yet, there is a trend with the Royals lineup coming into this year. Almost every hitter is coming off of a sub-par 2016 and looking to redeem themselves this year. Count new acquisition Soler in that category, as he struggled for Chicago this past year. Soler hit .238/.333/.436 with 12 home runs, 37 RBI’s and a wRC+ of 106. Soler was slightly above league average, but only appeared in 86 games due to injuries in 2016. The Royals are counting on Soler to be a regular cog in the middle of their order this year…but Steamer doesn’t trust his injury history. Right now, they have predicted he will hit .257/.333/.436, 14 home runs, 48 RBI’s and a wRC+ of 104 in just slightly over 100 games. The Royals training staff has done a good job these last few years keeping the team on the field (with last year being the exception) and I tend to feel like this will be the first full year Soler spends in the big leagues. Number-wise, Soler is what he is: a high strikeout, power hitting slugger. Soler did see an uptick in his walk percentage last year and with a full year on his plate, I think he could put up solid slugging and on base percentage numbers. Soler’s probably never going to hit for a high average, but if the other stats are there, it won’t matter. The Royals need him to slug and that is just what should see him accomplish this year.

MLB: NLDS-Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals

Brandon Moss-Designated Hitter

Now, I know Royals GM Dayton Moore said the other day that Moss won’t be the “primary” DH this year, but I have a feeling when it is all said and done Moss will be the recipient of the most AB’s in that spot. Moss had a very productive 2016 and Kansas City is hoping that the same power he showed last year transfers over to Kauffman Stadium this year. A solid 2016 out Moss at .225/.300/.484 with 28 home runs, 66 RBI’s and a wRC+ of 105. Steamer has Moss sitting this year at .237/.319/.453 with only 17 home runs and 44 RBI’s and a wRC+ of 103. Now, if you are asking yourself why those numbers are lower, it is because Steamer has projected that Moss will only appear in 89 games this year, which right now feels like an extremely low number. I tend to project Moss will play in the 120-130 game zone which will see his production go slightly up. I think we could see Moss’ on base numbers increase this year (mostly from more walks) and his power numbers see a slight drop, although with Kauffman in play I could see Moss racking up more doubles than homers. In this regard, I tend to think Steamer is fairly close on the averages and a bit low on the accumulated numbers. Look for Moss to perform fairly similar this year, if not a tad bit better.

Opening Day 5-6-15

So with the projections out there, it’s easy to see that most of them are based off of past production, which isn’t always a good thing for this Royals team. Luckily, the games are played for a reason and coming off of a poor offensive season in 2014, many of the Royals batters improved on their numbers in 2015. There is no reason to think that can’t happen again, at least with a number of their starters this year coming off of injuries. One final projection I want to throw out there are the ZiPS projections which are done by Dan Szymborski and are one of the more sought after projections during baseball’s offseason. Going off of fWAR, ZiPS projects the Royals this way (projections obviously made before Ventura’s death and Moss’ signing):

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The good news is that ZiPS has improvement from Gordon, Cain and Moose. The bad news is that there is little if any improvement expected from Hosmer, Soler, Escobar and Mondesi. Once again, these are just projections and while some will be fairly close, some of these will end up being way off. I always like to say that projections like this are a good starting point and once the season begins we will get a better feel for how this team will operate in 2017. More than anything, this Royals team needs improvement from their offense in 2017; if they don’t, we might as well kiss October baseball goodbye. No pressure, offense-just be better.

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