Another One Bites the Dust

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Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

We are not even ten games into the Kansas City Royals season and already the injury bug has befallen the team. Jesse Hahn was the first to end up on the disabled list, followed by Adalberto Mondesi, Bubba Starling, and Nate Karns. Salvador Perez ended up down for the count on Opening Day eve, and you can now add left fielder Alex Gordon to the list.

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Credit: Associated Press

Gordon went on the 10-day DL on Tuesday with a left hip labral tear. This isn’t the first time that Gordon has dealt with hip issues, as he had surgery on his right hip labrum back in 2009. There was also the groin injury back in 2015 that caused him to miss two months out of the season. The good news is that the current injury shouldn’t keep him sidelined for long:

Gordon has been like many in the Kansas City offense, as he has gotten off to a slow start in his seven games played. Gordon is hitting .174/.208/.217 so far with a blank slate on both home runs and RBI’s but there is a slight positive so far. Gordon has seen an increase in his hard hit rate, as it is currently sitting at 41.2%, compared to the 29.2% he posted last year. Now, this is the smallest of sample sizes, but there have already been a number of balls hit by Gordon that were right at someone, many times in a shift.

While the injury doesn’t appear to be a severe one, it does make you question whether or not age is just catching up to him. Gordon is in his age 34 season and it has felt like he has been hit with one injury after another these last few seasons, one possible explanation to the regression that we have been witnessed to. As more and more time goes on, it has felt like the Alex Gordon we love started fading in July of 2015 and by the time his contract ends he’ll be just a shell of his former self. I hope that isn’t the case, but age and injuries can be a lethal tandem for a player trying to return to past glory.

Image result for salvador perez 2018

The other major injury was the one suffered by Salvador Perez right before the season kicked off. Perez suffered a MCL tear from the oddest of odd reasons: slipping while carrying his luggage. The good news is that while initially Perez was slated to return in 4-6 weeks, that timetable might have been pushed up:

Part of Salvy’s rehabilitation is…well, interesting:

The Royals have been getting by with Drew Butera and Cam Gallagher behind the dish, but neither provide the kind of offense that Perez racks up on a yearly basis. With the offense in a bit of a funk, the news of Perez’s return should be a boost to a team needing a kick in the pants.

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Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The reality is that the current Royals roster is just not equipped with the proper depth needed to sustain injuries to veterans like Gordon and Perez. In year’s past the team has had players ready to step up in for a ‘break glass in case of emergency’ situation. Gordon’s injury would have been the perfect time for Bubba Starling to get some major league playing time, but alas he is on the disabled list as well. Instead, the Royals are forced to give playing time to guys like Paulo Orlando and Abraham Almonte and hope the DL stays are kept to a minimum. If not, the season could drag on even worse than first expected. The ship isn’t out-and-out sinking, but it is starting to take on some water.

 

Is Jake Junis For Real?

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Over the last two months of the 2017 season, there was no starting pitcher more reliable for the Kansas City Royals than Jake Junis. Junis was able to rebound from a lackluster first few months of the season (5.50 ERA, giving up 41 hits over 36 innings and a slugging percentage against of .521) to becoming the “Go To” guy when the Royals need to end a losing streak:

So with that in mind, the question needs to be posed: Can Jake Junis continue the trend he is on and if he does, where does that put his status in the Kansas City rotation?

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals

I mentioned Junis’ last two months of last season and in a lot of ways the numbers just speak for themselves: 62.1 innings pitched, 50 strike outs, only nine walks and an ERA of 3.61. To stretch that a bit further, he went from allowing a slugging percentage of .521 those first four months of the season to a .392 percentage in August and September. So what changed during his sabbatical to the minors in July?

The most noticeable difference sits with his pitch usage. Junis went from using his four seamer and slider the most to making the sinker a lethal part of his repertoire:

Brooksbaseball-Chart

Junis went from using his sinker 7% of the time in June to 20% in August. He also saw a drastic drop in his batting average against the sinker in August, as he went from hitters batting .500 against the pitch to a paltry .136:

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Obviously, that also meant the slugging percentage against the sinker took a nosedive:

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This also appeared to help his slider, which saw a higher percentage of whiffs per swing:

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This might just be a hunch on my part, but it appeared that Junis changed the line of sight for the hitter and focused more on the vertical location than the horizontal:

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Essentially Junis gave the batter another weapon in his arsenal to worry about and the sinker also helped induce more ground balls, which is always better than allowing the batter to put the ball in the air. It was a smart move by Junis that garnered positive results.

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Credit: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire

Those positive results crept into Spring Training, as Junis struck out 20 batters in 14 innings while walking only one batter. He has even continued that into the beginning of the regular season, as he was able to pitch seven strong innings against Detroit on Tuesday, giving up no runs while allowing three hits and one walk.

Junis’ ability to mix up his pitches has become a focal point of his arsenal and if he continues to do so he should be able to maintain his recent success. While his slider will get most of the glory and is the pitch with the most movement, it isn’t quite as lethal without a nice array of other pitches to set it up.

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Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

He appears to have figured that out and has turned himself into a legit big league starter. The Royals at this point need as many quality starts as possible and Junis’ consistency could go a long way toward solidifying a good rotation.

So if the question is whether or not Junis is for real, in my eyes it appears he is. Maybe the question to ask now is whether he should be in the front half of the rotation rather than the back half. His development over the last year has shown a proclivity to survive and strive. So what do you think-is Junis a keeper or is the jury still out?

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