The Royals weren’t boring in 2021

Royals score nine runs vs. Twins in one of the biggest first innings in  franchise history - CBSSports.com
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Going into the 2021 baseball season, there was a lot of buzz around the Kansas City Royals. In fact, there was even discussion that Kansas City could make a run at one of the Wild Card spots in the American League. The combination of exciting offseason signings and the possibility of growth within their slew of young pitchers could cause one to squint and see a world where the Royals were contending in September.

Instead what happened was a season that was borderline schizophrenic. The team got off to a great start in April, followed by a May and June that we should just purge from our collective brains. After that, the Royals settled into a team that hovered around the .500 mark. The last three months of the season were ones that elicited excitement at times, while other times it felt like a team that needed to tear it all down and start over. You can say a lot of things about the 2021 Kansas City Royals, but boring isn’t an option.

Kansas City's Salvador Perez is in the 2021 Home Run Derby
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It will be hard to look back at this past season and not fondly recall the greatness that was Salvador Perez. In 2020, we saw Salvy take a major step forward in his production but some of us (okay, definitely me) was leery that he would be able to sustain the kind of output he compiled in those 37 games. Instead, what we saw this season was possibly what a full season of 2020 would have looked like for Salvy: 48 HRs, 121 RBIs, an OPS+ of 126, 337 total bases and 5.3 bWAR.

But what stood out to me were the numbers that showed why Perez has become an elite hitter. His average exit velocity this year was 93 MPH, with 74 barrels, 16.3% barrel rate and a 55.9% hard hit rate. All of these numbers were the best in his career and even compared with 2020 there is a noticeable bump. Salvy has figured out where to look and what pitches are going to give him the best option for success. It can’t be said enough, but the work Perez has put in with special assignment hitting coordinator Mike Tosar these last few years has paid off handsomely.

The interesting part to Salvy’s season isn’t the fact that he took over the record for most home runs in a season for a primary catcher or that he tied Jorge Soler for the Royals single season record for home runs or even that he tied for the American League lead in 2021 for homers. No, the most interesting part to his season is his standing in the history of the game and where it is now compared to just a year ago. He has not only turned himself into a legit power threat, but the way he is looked at for history discussions has changed.

For beginners, his status in Kansas City lore is even bigger now than it used to be. Sure, Salvy was already an icon and the guy who many come to the ballpark to see. But now he is in the same category as George Brett and Alex Gordon when it comes to guys who defined an era for the Royals. As long as he remains in Kansas City and doesn’t completely lose his production, Perez is on pace to not only be a future Royals Hall of Famer, but also get his number retired and probably even a statue. These are all things that are rarely done in KC and yet both Gordon and now Perez will be able to add their name to this scarce list.

Speaking of the Hall of Fame, this season sprung actual real discussions on whether or not Perez could be a future Hall of Famer. My initial knee-jerk reaction was a quick ‘NO’, because while Salvy has been one of the leagues top catchers for awhile now, the numbers he compiled before 2020 were more “average” than “HOF worthy”. The last two seasons though have elevated those numbers and this year alone added a little more thought into the discussion.

Salvy currently sits at 39th in JAWS (Jaffe Wins Above Replacement Score) all-time for catchers and according to the Hall of Stats, he sits 60th all-time. From that along, it feels like a big climb to get Perez in that discussion. But if he continues to produce like he has has the last two seasons and can do that for the next 4-5 years, that discussion becomes a bit more real. He is only 31 years old and while the day he moves away from catcher is getting closer, the position is one that is highly underrepresented in the hall.

It’s the longest of long shots, but there is a scenario where Salvy makes a push and serious hall of fame discussions start happening. The fact we are even having this discussion alone should tell you what kind of season he put together in 2021. But Salvy’s monster year isn’t the only one that we should remember when looking back at 2021…

Nicky Lopez's former coach (and infield guru) dissects the shortstop's Gold  Glove-caliber plays – The Athletic
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As spring training was wrapping up this year, Nicky Lopez was on the outside looking in. He had struggled all throughout spring and despite his immaculate defense, he was being sent down to the minors to work on his offense. Before the 2020 season, Lopez had tried to bulk up a bit and focus on adding some pop to his numbers but in doing so was veering away from what worked for him in the minors. Gone was the patient hitter who sprayed the ball all over the field and in it’s place was a hitter who was barely even walking.

Luckily, fate swept in and after an injury to Adalberto Mondesi right before Opening Day, Lopez was recalled and would start the year as the Royals starting shortstop. While April and May weren’t blockbuster months for Lopez, we did start to see the hitter we originally expected, as he was taking more pitches, drawing more walks and in April was even close to a league average hitter. Then June happened and what started as Nicky filling a need for the Royals turned into him taking ownership of the position.

In June, Lopez hit .333/.413/.348 with an sOPS+ of 113…and from there he never looked back. Nicky became not only a guy who was consistently getting on base, he was also a go-to guy when it came to clutch situations. If the Royals needed a big hit or needed a rally started, Lopez was your guy. It got to a point to where when the Royals needed something to happen, you knew that Nicky was going to be the spark the team needed. In fact, by the end of the year Lopez had compiled a 1.26 WPA (Win Probability Added) and .87 Clutch (a number factored on how you do in high leverage situations).

Add in his sparkling defense at shortstop and it is guaranteed that Lopez will be a starter for Kansas City in 2022. The only question becomes which position, as the team has an abundance of infielders and it appears uncertain who is going to be playing where next year. The good news for Nicky is he should feel secure that he will be in the starting lineup and not on the outside looking in like he was in March. Amazing how a few months can change things.

The Hunter Dozier contract shows why the Royals are different - Royals  Review
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But once you got past the two feel good stories of the year, the Royals slide into a team that performed either right around average or well below average. When it comes to the offense, Kansas City fit into either the middle of the pack in most offensive categories or closer to the bottom. The offense not only saw a number of starters struggle for long periods of time, but they also followed a pattern that we have seen far too often over the years. As you can probably expect, the Royals offensively were not a team that walked very often and also did not produce a ton of home runs. Per usual, this was a recipe for disaster as the team struggled to score runs at times and did not have the depth to make up for underperforming starters.

Hunter Dozier was the most glaring hole in the lineup, as he struggled to hit .216/.285/.394 with an OPS+ of 81 and -2.6 bWAR. Dozier dealt with some injuries early in the season which affected his swing and despite a solid second half, his numbers are tough to look at. In fact in the first half of the season, the struggles of Dozier and Jorge Soler sank the team, as they were two middle of the order bats that were supposed to help lead the way. Instead, they led the team to the bottom of the standings.

It didn’t stop there. Carlos Santana’s offense disappeared in the second half. While Michael A. Taylor was a gold glove contributor on defense, his offense was pretty much non-existent. Whit Merrifield saw a dip in his numbers this year, the possible start of his regression. Andrew Benintendi struggled to stay healthy. All in all, only five players performed above league average in the second half and one of them was backup catcher Cam Gallagher and his 67 plate appearances. While many considered the Royals offense to be a plus going into the season, the truth was ranking them in the middle of the pack would have been generous.

Will Bobby Witt Jr. break camp with the Royals? Putting the situation in  context – The Athletic
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Could help be on the way? Possibly. If you followed the Royals this year you were probably very well aware that there was a trifecta of monster seasons down in the minors that has given us all a glint of hope. Bobby Witt Jr, Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez absolutely tore it up this past season and put a lot of questions out there to ponder in 2022. Does Witt Jr start the year in the big leagues and at what position? When do we see Pratto and Melendez? Does the team trade Santana this offseason to start making room for Pratto at first base? Is Salvy’s transition to DH getting closer due to Melendez? Will someone be traded to shore up another position or get pitching help?

See? All of those questions and none of us are 100% for sure which direction everything will fall. The Royals obviously need a charge of offense next year and these prospects could provide that. But as we know with prospects, success in the minors doesn’t always transfer to the big leagues. Which is a smooth transition into the team’s pitching situation…

Royals vs. A's prediction: Kansas City is the play
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When the season started, I had told someone that how the Royals did in 2021 would be determined on the development of the young arms in their farm system. We’ve heard all about the pitchers that Kansas City accumulated in the 2018 draft for three years now and in 2021 we got to see a large chunk of them on the big stage. The problem was that like many young pitchers, it wasn’t all wine and roses. In fact, one could see it was a truly bumpy road we traveled down.

The big four of Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar all showed signs of future success in 2021, with some showing more than others. Singer and Bubic had pitched for the Royals in 2020 and while one would think they made advances this past season, it instead feels like they are in essentially the same spot. Lynch struggled in his first stint in Kansas City this year and while he proved to be dominating on occasions during his return, he also wasn’t the model of consistency.

Then there is Kowar, who was probably in the lead when it came to riding the struggle bus. Kowar had a horrible debut in the bigs, and if we are really being fair, it never drastically got better. Sure, there were outings were he would string together a couple innings of solid work but that would be after a disastrous inning that would put the Royals in a hole.

The thing is, Kowar’s struggles are a good sign of why people are calling for pitching coach Cal Eldred’s head. You would think as a major league coach and a former big leaguer pitcher, you would be able to work with a guy who was stressed out about being with the big club and would get that part of his game sorted out after the first start. But his entire first run, Kowar looked lost and seemed to not handle the pressure of the majors.

It really felt like Eldred had no answers for Jackson and it felt like a giant red flag that maybe he isn’t the right guy to lead a group of young pitchers who are a big part of the Royals future. I’m normally not one who would call for a coaches head, but the Eldred situation is one to heavily monitor this winter and if nothing happens you really wonder just how far the organization is willing to go with their young pitchers showing very little consistency.

But while some of the Royals younger pitchers struggled, there was a few that showed marked improvement. Carlos Hernandez showed his value as improved the amount of base runners allowed (1.284 WHIP) while also allowing less hard contact, as the hard hit rate and barrel rate both dropped this year against him compared to last. His control saw some improvement, even with the higher walk rate (11.5%) but the strike outs went up and by the end of the year had proven to be one of the Royals more reliable starters.

Add in the positive results from Danny Duffy (when he was healthy) and Mike Minor’s up and down season and you have a rotation that at times looked great and others made you question why Dayton didn’t sign like 20 pitchers in the offseason. Look, the bottom line here is that there was a heavy burden put on the shoulders (or arms) of the ‘Class of 2018’ and there just wasn’t a consistent level of improvement out of them. I’m sure there are multiple takes on why that was and who to point the finger at, but there are so many factors (especially when you consider what a mess 2020 was) that none feel like the sure and logical answer to the struggles they dealt with.

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Which leads us to the bullpen and how you view them this past season probably is determined on how you felt about the rotation. If you believe the lack of innings from the rotation really taxed the bullpen, then you probably were willing to let some of their stats slide. If you felt the bullpen should be judged purely off performance, you might not have felt as good. For me, considering the extra innings the starters tossed on them and the brutal months of May and June that saw the pen implode, it’s almost amazing to me that most of their rankings within the American League this year were in the middle of the pack. This wasn’t an amazing group of arms but there were some bright spots and some big positives to close out the year.

The big positives were mostly Scott Barlow but there were some big contributions from Josh Staumont, Jake Brentz, Domingo Tapia and Richard Lovelady. Toss in a healthy Ronald Bolanos and see if Dylan Coleman can replicate what he did in the minors this year and you have the beginnings of a solid pen in 2022. Add in the loss of veterans Greg Holland and Wade Davis and the pen very well could be a strength come the new year.

This is not to say they didn’t have periods of success, but it was painfully obvious both were past their prime and shouldn’t be relied on for key innings. The one veteran arm that out performed expectations was Ervin Santana. It was obvious in the offseason that Erv was signed to eat innings in blowouts and be the occasional spot starter. In other words, he was just another warm body to fill a hole. Instead, he saved the team in a number of games that could have gotten out of control and while he wasn’t at his peak, he did become one of the most reliable arms in the bullpen. I know his numbers on the surface don’t scream ‘major performer’ but when you consider where the Royals would have been without him, the results would have probably been even bleaker.

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The other area that saw marked improvement in 2021 was the team’s defense, especially if you glanced up the middle. Adding Michael A. Taylor in center field brought stability to the team and with 19 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) he showed the real reason he was brought in to man the giant outfield of Kauffman. The Royals also saw an improvement in the middle infield, as Nicky Lopez at shortstop and Whit Merrifield at second base made a lethal defensive 1-2 punch that helped the pitching on an almost nightly basis.

There were some issues on defense, though. Before he was traded, Jorge Soler saw more time in the field than he ever should, as he has racked up -12 DRS this year between both KC and Atlanta. We mentioned Dozier’s offensive woes earlier, but he also struggled on defense, as he compiled -9 DRS in right field and -12 DRS at third base. In fact the only position he was average at was 1B and it really makes one wonder just where the Royals should play him 2022 without becoming a liability.

In fact, in general the Royals are going to have to decide what is the best offensive/defensive balance they can put out on the field next year as they have a slew of players and nine lineup slots. It’s hard to imagine taking Lopez or Merrifield out of the middle infield, but you also have Witt, Jr and Adalberto Mondesi to consider. Throw in Taylor’s lackluster bat and the logjam that is piling up at the first base/Designated Hitter positions and you can only hope Kansas City finds a mix that combines solid defense and extra offense.

This leads to the issue of Salvador Perez and what to do with him in the lineup. I know some might be wondering ‘What?’ and I get that, but the truth is the matter is that Salvy will be entering his age 32 season in 2022 and his defense has been on the decline for a couple of years now. Yes, he still calls a good game and has a great arm, but his framing has always been bad and the older he gets and the more abuse he takes behind the plate, you have to wonder when seeing more at bats at DH becomes a reality.

With MJ Melendez on the rise and the Royals needing Perez’s bat more than ever, it only makes sense to continue the gradual shift to him being a full-time hitter. I love Salvy as much as the next person but it’s all about how best he can help the team moving forward and where they can get the most value for him. If it’s my call, once Melendez is recalled and starts seeing playing time, I make sure he sees more action at catcher than Perez. It isn’t going to sit well with a lot of the fanbase, but if you want the Royals to win this appears to be the direction they are headed.

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So in a lot of ways, that sums up the Kansas City Royals in 2021. Some things went well, others not so much. The Royals finished the year 74-88 and while that was eight wins off of my projected total (I was feeling optimistic that day), considering how bad the team looked in May and June it feels like a solid win total. It’s obvious the Royals need to figure out their game plan for next year and a lot of that is ‘who fits in and where’.

What can be said is that this year we did see a hint of a really good Royals team whenever everything fell into place. When they get solid pitching and the bats knock in a few runs, this can be a team that looks good and in the American League Central that could even mean contending. But that also means consistency and that is where Kansas City stumbled and fell this year.

So while it’s great that the front office wants this to be a ‘pitching and defense’ squad, that doesn’t mean you can just ignore the offense. Bumping up the offense is a must this winter and whether that means dedicating themselves to Witt Jr, Pratto and Melendez in 2022 or trading some pieces to pick up another bat or two…or even a combination of both. At the end of the day, this team needs consistency and depth, two things that were sorely lacking in 2021.

So another season is officially in the books. I’m already in a 2022 mode and ready to see what is done to improve this team. This year definitely had their ups and downs and after ‘Year 4’ of the rebuild (yes Dayton, it is a rebuild. Even if you don’t want to call it that.) it’s time to see a winning Royals team again. No more clichés, no more trusting, no more BS. This team was far from boring this past season and now it’s time to see them win. It’s time for another winning era at Kauffman Stadium. Let’s see if the front office feels the same way.

Comebacks are truly the best

KC Royals postponed in Cleveland as Sal Perez heals | The Kansas City Star
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“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

2020 was rough all the way around. Nothing was normal and nothing really made you feel good. For me, even baseball didn’t make me feel good. The one thing I had loved since I was a kid wasn’t really bringing me the joy it normally did. Sure, I watched games and rooted for my Kansas City Royals, but it wasn’t the same. In all honestly, I really felt like they shouldn’t have been playing, so it was hard to get behind something that I perceived was wrong.

But a new year brought a new outlook and I dove in head-first. In fact the focal point of spring and summer has been baseball. Sure, I’ve been watching my Royals (even if MLB apparently hates the idea of us watching our favorite team), but I’ve also watched about every other team as well. Actually, it’s been a lot of west coast baseball, since I’ve long enjoyed the Angels and the Padres are a fun, young, up and coming team. It also helps that I work nights and get home in time to catch the latter half of games being played out west.

I’ve tuned in when Jacob deGrom is pitching. I flip it over if Max Scherzer is taking the mound. I even partake in games where no-hitters are being spun, because who doesn’t love a little bit of history? To say my love of baseball has been rekindled would be an understatement. Thank goodness my wife enjoys the sport as well, otherwise there would probably be many an argument at our house about all the baseball we are visually digesting.

We even went to our first live game in a year and a half and luckily saw a Kansas City walk-off. I didn’t tear up at the stadium like my wife thought I would, but I did have a giant grin on my face the entire time. I missed just being around the game so it felt comforting to be able to have a bit of normalcy.

But most of my viewing this year has been the Royals and while I’ve had to find different ways to view the games, I’ve made it happen. But if we are being honest, there are days that I wish my favorite team was a contender with consistent hitting and starting pitching that could go deep into the game. Unfortunately, I am a Royals fan and these things are not happening on a regular basis right now.

To be blunt, they were shutout by Matt Harvey this past weekend. In 2021. No one should be shutout by Matt Harvey in 2021 (sorry Matt, just saying). This is a team that is next to last in fWAR, runs and walk %, 13th in wRC+ and slugging, and last in home runs and ISO. Jorge Soler is having an epically bad year (how does -1.5 fWAR sound to you?) and Hunter Dozier has bumped his fWAR up to -0.3, which for most of us Royals fans sounds like a giant improvement if you’ve watched Dozier play this year.

KC Royals' schedule, pitching probables, analysis vs. Tigers | The Kansas  City Star
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I’m sure it sounds like I am picking on those two guys, but since they were supposed to be “middle of the batting order threats” this year and instead have been an albatross around the neck of the offense, you can understand why I point at those two directly. Add in Adalberto Mondesi’s injuries and a lack of depth in the minors and you could understand why the offense has been punchless (or stagnant. or futile. or barren. or just unproductive).

But we can’t lay all the blame on the hitting. Because if you have taken in a Royals game this year, you are probably aware that the starting pitching has been just as much to blame for Kansas City’s ineptitude. Brad Keller was a godsend in 2020, but this year has the highest ERA for a qualified pitcher. Oh, Mike Minor isn’t too far behind with the 3rd highest ERA. Danny Duffy can’t stay off the IL. Brady Singer struggles to get past the 3rd inning. Meanwhile, youngsters like Kris Bubic, Carlos Hernandez, Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar have not been able to maintain any sense of consistency to warrant a regular turn in the rotation.

As a team, the starters have the second fewest innings pitched in the league, the second highest ERA, the second lowest LOB%, the third most runs allowed and the second highest amount of walks allowed. The starters also have the second lowest Win Probability, which is a stat that is solely supposed to be about how much you are helping your team win.

The starters struggles have led to putting more stress on the bullpen, which has forced them to have their own set of issues. While the Royals pen has the lowest fWAR so far, they do have the third highest LOB% (73.7%)…but that is about it. Walks have killed the Royals relievers this year, as they lead the league in walk % and they also have the second highest HR per 9.

Despite looking at all these awful numbers, I still kind of give the pen a pass, because they are being asked to carry so much of the weight of this team. They have the fourth highest innings pitched for a bullpen in the AL this year and there for awhile this past month, the bullpen was throwing more innings than the starters. This is a recipe for disaster and every time the starters have consistently failed, the cracks in the bullpen start to show more and more.

KC Royals 2B Nicky Lopez: big MLB baseball strides in 2021 | The Kansas  City Star
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Look, I hate that my first post in months is mostly negative. I love this team too much not to mention what I am enjoying about them in this 2021 campaign. First and foremost is Nicky Lopez. This guy originally was slated to start the year in the minors, but was recalled right before the season opener as Mondesi went on the injured list. Lopez slides into shortstop, a position he hasn’t played regularly in years and while he has been solid on defense, the bat has finally started to show up. Look, the guy still has a wRC+ below the league average of 100 (92 to be exact), but he has hit .270/.355/.332 and become one of the most reliable hitters in the Royals lineup when they need a big hit.

Lopez has lowered his strike out rate and increased his walk rate, which means the numbers are moving in the right direction. Lopez is never going to be a power hitter or even one who racks up a ton of extra base hits. But what he does do is get on base, make regular contact and play above average defense. Add in his ability to get timely hits and you have a player I can get behind to be a mainstay in the Kansas City lineup.

I’ve also enjoyed the additions of Carlos Santana and Andrew Benintendi to the lineup. Both have been in the plus category for this team and hopefully both are still around for next season. In fact I wouldn’t be opposed to an extension for Benny if GMDM could make it happen. He’s young enough and could be a steady bat when the Royals are finally able to contend.

MLB Kansas Royals Salvador Pérez contract extension - Archyde

But the real reason to watch this Kansas City team is catcher Salvador Perez. Last year Salvy had a monster year in just 30 games, as we saw an increase in his power numbers and offensively looked like an elite hitter. If I’m being honest, I really questioned whether or not this change was going to be permanent, as we have spent years watching him struggle with pitches outside the strike zone. But here is the crazy part: Salvy is swinging at a higher % of pitches outside the zone than ever before this year. But he is also swinging at more pitches inside the zone and doing more damage with those pitches.

Just look at Perez’s numbers when it comes to hard hit rate and barrels:

The numbers flat out speak of how Salvy is hitting the ball harder than at any point in his career and it is turning into career best numbers. I still wish the walk rate was higher and his ‘K’ rate was lower, but at this point I get that Salvy is what he is. If that means we get a hitter who consistently hits the ball hard and is a driving force in the middle of the lineup, then I will take it.

Adalberto Mondesi: Prop Bets Vs. Yankees For Jun. 22, 2021

So what can a fan hope for in the second half of this season? I almost don’t even know where to start but getting Mondesi back would be nice. Mondesi has only put up 38 plate appearances but already has 0.7 fWAR in that short amount of time. It really is a glaring window into just how much it has hurt the Royals this year to not have Mondi in the lineup and on defense. In fact Mondesi’s return would actually improve Kansas City’s defense as well, as Lopez could shift to second base (his best position) and Whit Merrifield can go back to RF. No matter what, having Mondesi healthy would be a giant step in the right direction for this club.

Maybe the biggest improvement the team could ask for would be the starters stepping up and stringing together regular quality starts. Getting Keller or Bubic to be consistent would really help the Royals and if anything it would take pressure off of the bullpen. Having either Lynch or Kowar show that they are ready for the big leagues would also help and if anything add some depth to the rotation. Right now (especially with Duffy and Singer on the IL) the team has maybe (maybe?) four starters, with one of them (Hernandez) mainly used as a reliever this year. The fact that the Royals don’t have a fifth starter is concerning and one can only hope someone steps up and is able to fill that role. If not, the last two months could be even rougher for this Royals squad.

Royals snap 11-game skid with win over White Sox | Reuters

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This season was supposed to be a season where we saw enough improvement in Kansas City to picture the Royals as contenders in the near future. Instead, it feels like very little has gone right and it almost feels like a big step back. One has to question why the younger players (especially pitchers) are seeing great improvement in the minors but not really seeing any once they reach the big leagues. There has been a lot of talk of what pitching coach Cal Eldred is doing (or not doing) once these players are reaching Kansas City. One really has to question his job security when so much of the Royals success ties into these pitchers and their development.

At seventeen games under .500, it really feels like the only direction to go for this team is up. It’s so frustrating to see the struggles this team has when so much talent is involved. If you are an old enough fan, you remember the bad Royals teams of the early 2000’s. The difference between this team and the Royals of years ago is that there is a high level of talent on this squad. No Chip Ambres or Blake Stein’s are on this team. I think as fans, many of us have a lot of questions for the failures of this year and we aren’t seeing anyone take the fall. At some point, there has to be some accountability for this team.

All I know at this point is that this team should be better than what we have seen up to this point. Luckily, we have two months to rectify the wrongs of this season. Also, Bobby Witt, Jr. has a chance of being recalled in September. So there is still fun to be had for this baseball season. Even for us Royals fans.

2020, I bid you adieu

Credit: Kansas City Royals

It appears we are finally at a point where we can officially put 2020 to bed. For most, this has been a difficult year that has taken away our vision of what normal is and shaped it into a mystery that we might not get the answer to for awhile longer. It was no different in baseball, as we got a shortened season, extended playoffs, empty stadiums, a National League DH, and extra innings that began with a runner on base. It’s easy to see why some fans were aloof about the season and I would be lying if I said it wasn’t rough for me to watch games when so much else was going on in the world. In some ways, baseball wasn’t the escape it normally is.

That being said, we still got baseball and as a Kansas City Royals fan there were a number of glints of hope that made me glad at least some baseball was played. While 60 games is the true definition of “small sample size”, we at least got a slight taste of what we could be seeing in 2021.

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For instance, Salvador Perez returned from Tommy John surgery this season and turned in the best offensive season of his career (if you count 37 games as a season). Salvy returned and claimed the American League Comeback Player of the Year award and a third Silver Slugger Award, while posting career highs in OPS+, batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, ISO and BABIP. His Barrel % sat at 13.9% while putting up a Hard Hit rate of 47%. If you saw Perez play this year, it seemed like whenever he hit the ball, he hit it hard.

But while it was great to see Salvy rake, there are still a number of questions with him headed into 2021. Can he repeat this season offensively or at least be close? Will his body hold up for a full season? And can he continue to work his magic with all the young arms moving up through the Royals farm system? There are a number of questions with Salvy as he enters his age 31 season and the answers to those questions might determine whether or not Kansas City decides to extend his contract past 2021.

Credit: Charlie Riedel | AP

Speaking of the Royals young arms, 2020 was just a glimpse of all the talent they have down in the minors. While Brady Singer, Kris Bubic and Tyler Zuber all proved their worth this year, there are a number of pitchers who might just get their shot in the new season. Former 2018 draft picks Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar are the names mentioned the most, with Kowar making it to AA in 2019 while Lynch might just be the most talked about arm in the system.

It’s hard at this point to really gauge just where they are in their development, as no minor league games were played this past season and we basically just have to go off of what scouts and front office personnel have been saying about the intrasquad games that were played in 2020. Going off of those assessments, Lynch is one of the top lefthanded pitching prospects in the game (some say behind only San Diego’s Mackenzie Gore) while Kowar has always been described as being more polished. Add in names like Daniel Tillo, Scott Blewett, Austin Cox, Asa Lacy and Zach Haake amongst others and you have the possibility of Kansas City having one of the youngest pitching staffs in baseball by the end of 2021.

Credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip

With the team performing better than most expected this year (hey, 26-34 is close enough to .500 that you could have almost seen the Royals get there), Dayton Moore put his money where his mouth went this offseason. At the end of the year, Moore proclaimed he saw the team contending in 2021. No joke:

“We expect to win next year,” Moore said during a video conference call with reporters. “What does that look like? Is it going to be enough wins to make the playoffs? We’ll find out. Our mindset is going to be to win every single pitch, every inning, win every game. That’s the only way that we’re ever going to win another championship, you’ve got to expect to win at all aspects.”

At the time it was hard not to roll my eyes a bit. As a longtime Royals fan, we have heard all of this before. Sure, I totally think Dayton means it whenever he says things that feel like over the top, cliché sports quotes. In fact, I pretty much expect this from GMDM most of the time. No harm, no foul. But then he went out and started adding pieces.

and more…

and more…

and more…

Hell, the team even signed an old friend that I haven’t thought of in years…

So by the end of all of this, Moore had added the superior defender he had coveted for center field, an innings eating veteran for the rotation, a power hitting first baseman for the middle of the order and the veteran closer who still has a few tricks up his sleeve for the bullpen. The Royals have been one of the few active teams this winter (hello, Mets) and they might not be done just yet:

I also wouldn’t be surprised if Moore signed more pitchers as well. Considering how 2020 went, a number of pitchers are going to be on limited innings/pitch counts this year, which means teams are going to be using a number of extra pitchers just to get through the year (if you have wondered about the Ervin Santana signing, this is probably why). So when Moore said he saw them as contenders, he really meant he saw them as contenders.

This also brings up the point that I still hear for whatever reason, which is the ownership being cheap. Let me clarify here that it is blatantly obvious that isn’t happening. John Sherman has owned this team just a smidge over a year and I think it is safe to say he has yet to really reap the rewards that come from owning a Major League Baseball team. If there was one owner who could complain and say he hasn’t made any money this past year and actually have a legit argument, it would probably be Sherman. But rather than complain, he has made the right move every step of the way. He took care of the minor leaguers, he took care of the front office staff and the way the organization has treated everyone during the pandemic has caused the team to profit when it comes to scouts, personnel and players. So to say Sherman won’t spend money after what we have seen for the last eight months…well, you aren’t really paying attention if you believe that.

Credit: John Sleezer/Getty Images

So while 2020 overall was a bit of a schizophrenic mess, the Royals come away from the last year with something we haven’t seen in awhile: hope. We don’t know yet if there will be extra playoff spots for Kansas City to go after, or what we will see in extra inning games, but we at least can relish in the fact that there is some real effort within this organization to bring the team back to October baseball. After a year in which we would all like to forget, a little bit of hope goes a long way.

A Season in Doubt

Credit: Kansas City Star

Up until Monday, things had been going fairly smooth for major league teams as they had opened up Spring Training 2.0 (or Summer Camp. Let’s be honest here: Summer Camp brings a grin to my face) and started getting ready for the 2020 campaign. In fact, there has been some great nuggets of info coming out for the Royals.

For instance, Josh Staumont is regularly hitting over 100 MPH on the radar. Sure, that’s not a big shock but it’s good to see the time up didn’t make it to where he would have to rev back up again.

Seuly Matias put on a power display the other day that made all his injury woes and slumps look like old news:

But there was also some troubling news from Royals camp over the 4th of July weekend:

Salvy appears to be asymptomatic. In case you are wondering, here is some of the criteria Perez would have to meet to get back into camp:

So while the news on Salvy wasn’t great or awful, the news filtering out on Monday for other major league camps was sobering:

and…

So teams are having issues getting their results back, which makes it hard to feel safe moving forward with any kind of team activity. In fact, we should probably point out that without accurate and timely testing, the idea of getting through a 60 game season feels like wishful thinking. It appears Nationals GM Mike Rizzo agrees with that sentiment:

At this point it is only fair to point out that I have been skeptical of having any sort of MLB season go off without any problems. Considering how as a country we have given up on dealing with this virus and have decided to play a dangerous game of chicken, it has felt like baseball (or any other sport for that matter) would be hard to pull off without seeing a start and stop at some point.

Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

In some ways, the idea of fitting in any semblance of a major league season has seemed foolhardy at best and irresponsible at worst. I as much as anyone misses baseball, but when Covid-19 cases are rising across our country over the last few weeks, it feels weird to think that any sport thinking “THIS” is the time to get going seems selfish. In fact it has been annoying to see baseball fans clamor for guys to ‘shut up and go play’ for the simple task of amusing us. If you can not see the dangers at hand for many of these players and how it could be an unsafe environment, then you aren’t really paying attention.

But baseball owners want to make at least some money this season. Players want to play, but is it worth it? We have already seen many stars opt out for this season, guys like David Price, Ryan ZimmermanIan Desmond, and most recently Nick Markakis. Notice something similar in these players? Yes, they are all veterans:

It only makes sense that players who are in a good financial situation would weigh the risk and rewards of this season and decide sitting it out isn’t the worst thing in the world. In that same regard, it is easy to see how younger players who want to earn a big league job or at the least make an impression on the people in power in their organization would rate the reward a bit higher. In some ways, they don’t have the same options that a major league veteran would have.

Credit: Kyle Rivas/UPI

So what will it take before baseball shuts this all down? I tend to believe it will take more than it should if we are being honest. It might take a major outbreak, where the players testing positive reach double digits. It might take testing results interfering in actual games getting played. Or it might even take someone, whether it be a player, coach, umpire or even clubhouse attendant getting deathly ill to pull the plug. More than anything, it feels like it will take too long to make a decision that should be easy to make.

I guess that is my biggest concern: is it worth it to even attempt a season? If Covid cases across the country were slanting down and real effort was being put into keeping everyone safe, then having a season wouldn’t feel like a stretch. But I can’t sit here and confidently say things are being taken care of as they should when it comes to the health of everyone this could affect. Instead, it feels like a business opening too soon and causing unnecessary risk for the sake of $$$.

There is something to be said here about our need of entertainment during this global pandemic. Just like how players have to weigh the risk and reward to do this, I wish more fans would think about whether having baseball is really necessary for their entertainment. As a culture, many latch onto sports to fill some sort of need for competition, to give them a connection to people. That being said, there is a point where that need goes overboard and reality becomes an afterthought.

The reality is this virus is dangerous. The reality is that baseball is entertainment. As much as we all love the game, for me 60 games isn’t worth endangering lives and causing health issues for not only players, but also their families. I don’t think MLB is going to be able to pull off this season and I definitely don’t think we are going to see 60 games. The reality is that baseball comes in way behind containing the virus at this point. It’s too bad people in higher positions within the game don’t see that at the moment.

 

The Greatest Center Fielder in Royals History

For a franchise that has been around now for 50 years, you would expect some big names to fall under the radar when talking franchise best’s at certain positions. The Kansas City Royals are no different and while positions like third base or second base are no-brainers when it comes to the best in Royals history, other positions aren’t quite as easy.

For instance first base feels like a dogfight between Mike Sweeney and John Mayberry. At shortstop, arguments can be made for both Freddie Patek and Alcides Escobar. Even left field could get interesting, although Alex Gordon numbers tend to topple someone like Johnny Damon pretty easily.

But initially I thought center field would be a nice little battle, as the Royals have had some great players manning the middle the of the outfield in their history. It would be easy to see how someone could imagine a tug-of-war going on for the best at that position between Amos Otis, Willie Wilson and Carlos Beltran. Unfortunately, there is a blow away winner and he quite possibly might be the most underrated player in team history.

In fact, when I started this post I fully expected a nice back and forth between these three players before one of them would decidedly pull away and be considered the best center fielder. Instead, it didn’t take long looking at the numbers to see that Amos Otis is not only the best at this position, but that the other two aren’t really keeping it a close competition.

The other interesting part to this is that I’ve long felt Otis was vastly underrated when it comes to talking Royals legends. Royals fans spend a lot of time praising the usuals like Brett, White and Saberhagen but sometimes we forget what guys like Leonard, Cowens and Otis did during their time in Royal blue. In fact what I say next might even be the most shocking thing I mention today: Amos Otis might be the second best Kansas City Royal of all-time.

Before we get to that, let’s look at just how great his career was. Otis is second in Kansas City history in bWAR for position player, offensive WAR, runs scored, total bases, walks, stolen bases, runs created, times on base, sac flies, RE24 and WPA. Otis is also third in games played, plate appearances, hits, triples, home runs, RBIs, adjusted batting runs, adjusted batting wins, and first in Power-Speed #. In other words, he not only did a great job with accumulative stats, but also the ones that mattered in the most important situations.

I really thought Willie Wilson was going to make this a closer race, even while knowing that his power numbers weren’t going to even come close to the level that Otis had. While Wilson’s WAR numbers were right behind Amos (and defensively, Wilson had the higher total while Otis didn’t even crack the top ten), most of the other ones lagged behind a bit. It does say a lot about Willie, as he sits just under Otis in all-time Royals hits and runs scored, and even tops Otis in triples, stolen bases, and singles.

But stats like extra base hits and total bases I expected to be quite a bit closer and even runs created was a big gap between the two outfielders. It does appear that when Wilson’s numbers started declining in the mid 80’s, it was a lot more drastic than Otis’ gradual decline. While both men are mainstays when it comes to many of the Royals all-time offensive statistics, there is a noticeable gap between the both of them.

Credit: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

When it comes to Carlos Beltran, his short stay in Kansas City ends up hurting his chances of taking top center field honors. In fact Beltran’s power numbers easily top Otis (he is top five all-time in slugging and OPS), but he also left the Royals in his prime and played in an era that was a bit more offensive driven. I do think that if the Royals had been able to lockdown Beltran rather than trade him ( and maybe that was possible if Kansas City ownership had made him more of a priority) this conversation could be a lot different. Instead, we are stuck with ‘coulda, shoulda’ type discussion that leans heavily toward ‘what could have been’.

Which leads us back to Otis. It seems clear that he was the second biggest offensive force in team history and the argument for being the second best player is close as well. According to Baseball-Reference WAR, Otis sits at 44.8 while pitchers Kevin Appier and Bret Saberhagen are at 47.1 and 40.7 respectively. If you wanted to say Appier or Sabes are right behind George Brett, I’m not sure I would put up much of an argument.WAR isn’t the be-all, end-all, but it does give you some weight on their overall value. To be fair, a stat like WPA holds quite a bit of weight with me and Otis and Appier are pretty close there too, 27.5 to 25.4.

So if we say Otis is the second greatest statistical Kansas City Royal of all-time, then it raises a number of questions on why he isn’t mentioned more often. I have to believe that his strained relationship with the media was a big part of it, as back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, the media could make you or break you. It probably also hurt him that he played on a team with flashier players like Brett or Hal McRae. Whatever the reason, even within Royals circles, Amos Otis isn’t talked about as much as he should be.

Credit: Royals.com

As a younger fan, I just hardly ever knew much about Amos. Maybe it was because he left the Royals after the 1983 season and I started following baseball in 1984, but over the years Otis isn’t put on the same pedestal that other former Royals are. In fact most of us talk more about Bo Jackson (and justifiably we talk about this once in a lifetime athlete) than we do a guy who should be at least considered for the team’s Mount Rushmore. Amos Otis was very close to being a five-tool player (his power numbers were a bit lacking) and finished 3rd in the MVP voting in 1973 and 4th in 1978. For some reason, Otis has fallen into a background character rather than one pushing his way near the front of the line.

Credit: Focus on Sport/Getty Images

There is also a story that shows the person that Amos Otis really was:

On September 12, 1977, with Kansas City cruising to its second straight American League West crown, a game in Royals Stadium was postponed because of a drenching storm. As 16 inches of rain swamped the city and flooded many areas, eventually resulting in 25 deaths, Otis came across eight wet, frightened boys. He piled them into his Lincoln Continental, fed them, and lodged them for the evening. One of the youngsters to whose aid Otis came, Richard Brown, eventually became a Missouri state legislator and in 2017 sponsored a proclamation commemorating the flood and honoring Otis as a Good Samaritan and humanitarian. “I was doing what any other dad would have done,” Otis said

So while many us talk about George and Frank, Quiz and Bo, Sabes and Splitt, I hope moving forward that the name ‘Otis’ will get floated out there as well. The Royals have great, rich history and it feels like a shame that one of the biggest names doesn’t even get brought up as much as he should. Amos Otis is the greatest Royals center fielder in team history, case closed. Let’s hope we start talking about it more, Royals fans.

 

 

 

All Hail King George

Credit: Royals.com

On Friday, the greatest Kansas City Royal in history celebrated his 67th birthday. Yes, Hall of Famer George Howard Brett was honored by many this week, including MLB Network who aired a couple of interviews, a Royals feature and even a couple of classic games in George’s career. George was a “layup” for the Hall and is considered the 5th best third baseman in baseball history according to the Hall of Stats.

George was also my favorite player growing up and a big reason why I love baseball. Nothing beats watching Brett hustle on every play, diving or sliding for everything he earned. Watching George play was like watching a sprinter use every last ounce of strength to get themselves to the finish line; he had no idea how to half-ass anything. Looking back, it is easy to see how a whole generation of Royals fans look to Brett as the definition of what it means to be a Kansas City Royal.

All that being said, I realized today I have never really written an in-depth piece on George. Considering this blog has been around since 2012, it’s weird that I haven’t written thousands of words on what made him a great ballplayer. Maybe it’s because he is George Brett and we all know how great he was. Maybe it’s because I would drone on and on about the numbers that encapsulate his career and place in the fabric of the game. Or maybe I just don’t feel like I can do him justice.

Credit: Ron Vesely/Getty Images

So instead, I decided to veer in another direction. Today, I want to take a look at some of the greatest George Brett stories out there. While the numbers will speak of what a great ballplayer he was, the stories will define who the man truly was. Look, I am fully aware that Brett is no saint and some of us have heard (or even experienced) the horror stories involved when meeting a cranky George. He is human and I’m hoping we can take a look back at some of those great human elements that helped make him a one of a kind baseball great.

Credit: Getty Images

Let’s start with a great story told by a man who worked at a Cleveland strip club. While I’m sure you are already thinking something seedy is going on,  instead it is more of a look at his generosity:

“Here comes George Brett in the club—I recognized him right away—and I showed him to a chair and got him a complimentary drink. I ran the tables. And if I said somebody got a drink, they got a drink.”

In the Hustler bathroom, Door George is half-seated on the sinks with his head cocked in what the uninitiated might mistake for a parody of ‘fond recollection.’  Chris Brown’s “Don’t Wake Me Up” is blasting overhead and an upbeat announcer is imploring us to keep it going for a dancer of unseen endurance and felinity.

“This was ’87, and the Kansas City Royals were in town,” George goes on. “This was the year after Buckner let that ball go through his legs in the World Series. And, well, I didn’t recognize Buckner, but I recognized Brett. And somebody was giving Buckner a hard time on account of that ball going through his legs.

“And I took care of them, moved them to a more private table and got them drinks. And Brett, he appreciated it. He asks me ‘Can you come to the ballgame tomorrow night?’ And I say, sure.

“Next day, here comes a limousine and an envelope with $100 and two tickets to the game with a note thanking me for looking out for them.” George raises an index finger, the story’s not over.

“From that day on—I never saw him again in my life—but every time the Royals were in town, sure enough, I got an envelope with $100 and two tickets, up ’til the day he retired. That George Brett, now there was a classy guy.”

 

Many wondered why George came back to be a hitting coach for the Royals in 2013. Brett had spent years in the Kansas City organization after his retirement and never did any coaching outside of helping out a bit during Spring Training. But a story from a few years back in Arizona probably points out that the love of the game (and organization) is the biggest reason he helped out the team seven years ago:

Brett is smiling as he talks, shaking his head as he replays the moment in his mind. From the outside, especially recently, it’s easy to wonder if Goose Gossage and Oscar Robertson speak for all former stars when they go off on back-in-my-day rants.

But here is Brett, one of the greatest players of all-time, the man who so openly labels the 2015 Royals better than his own 1985 World Series champions, moved to goose bumps by a play in the first inning of a Cactus League game that most who watched have probably already forgotten.

This is part of what Brett loves about this time of year. He tried to be the team’s hitting coach a few years back and burned out after a few months. He figured that would happen. The hours are brutal, the travel is one of the main reasons he retired as a player, and he grew frustrated that his passion for hitting did not translate into a message he felt was helping.

But here, now, this is baseball in its simplest form. No planes. Little media. Just days full of ball, of seeing someone new, or something new, like a leadoff hitter turning a sharp liner to center into a double.

“I (freaking) love that,” he says. “It reminded me of Hal McRae, in the first game of the World Series in Kansas City against the Phillies.”

 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention George the competitor. But of what made Brett so great was his ability to tap into a part of him that would not give up, no matter the circumstances. Even an injury wouldn’t slow down George, as told here by ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian:

 

 

 

If you have heard any stories from his bachelor days, you know that Brett enjoyed the night life during his prime and was quite the ladies man. That being said, his teammates had to know that if they went out with George, there was a chance they were going to be left at the bar as he might head out on a date. This was the exact predicament that Clint Hurdle and Jamie Quirk found themselves in during one of these “trips”:

“One night, the three bachelors went partying in Kansas, all in the same car– unusual, Hurdle says, because, “You don’t wanta depend on one of those guys for a ride” — and Brett found a date and went off with her. Hurdle and Quirk got back to the house at four in the morning, drunk, and discovered they had no key to the front door. And Brett was not at home, either. “We said, the hell with it,” Hurdle laughs. “I put my shoes up on the doorstep and slept on the lawn. A neighbor lady came out at about six thirty in the morning and asked if we wanted to come in the house.” Hurdle snorts. “There was dew all over us.”

Did such antics constitute a public nuisance? Did the neighbors complain? Hurdle shakes his head. “Everybody loved George.”

 

Brett was a big star by 1985 when the Royals made it into the playoffs. Around that same time, Chris Berman was being told by ESPN management to cut out his famous nicknames he had for players. Once George got wind of this, he was not happy . Here is the story told by Berman:

 

“I remember, I was very good friends with players my age, and one of the biggest fans of the nicknames was George Brett, Hall of Famer, great guy, great player. And they were going to the postseason. And I called him to wish him luck with a week to go or whatever it was, ‘Good luck, I’ll be rooting for you, I don’t know if I’ll get to the World Series or whatever it was, I don’t cover that, oh, by the way, I can’t do the nicknames any more.’ And he exploded over the phone. I said ‘Well, don’t worry about it,’ you know, whatever.”

“And I was not there at Game 1 (of the American League Championship Series), Kansas City played Toronto, and I guess all the news media gathered around him at the workout the day before, because he’s George Brett, right? And George Grande went up to him, one of the great people in our early anchors, one of our baseball guys, the baseball guy along with Lou Palmer then, and he said ‘George, can I get you?’ And [Brett] said ‘Wait a minute, hold on.’ And he unloads, not at George Grande personally, but ‘What is your management doing?! I’m not going to watch ESPN any more, they’ve told my guy he can’t do nicknames!’”

Among those in the circle was [USA Today sports media columnist] Rudy Martzke, who hadn’t been aware because it was not announced, right? Not ‘He’s not doing them anymore,’ because that would be stupid. But that got written up about eight places the next day, and I’m told that, in the 80s now, that the mail that came when people heard about it, was unprecedented at that time. I’m not saying that meant my stuff was great or this, but the people cared that much that they showered ESPN with letters in 1985. And next season, they were back and he [presumably the producer] was gone.”

So whether you love or hate the nicknames that Berman was doing, you have Brett to thank for them sticking around.

Most of you are fully aware of George’s infamous “Pine Tar Incident”. In fact I even did a “live tweeting” version of the full game right here on this blog a few years back. You would think a Hall of Famer wouldn’t want a moment where he goes loony to be the main moment people think of when your name is mentioned. But for Brett, it could be worse, as he explains:

 

“After the World Series in 1980, every city I went to, I was ‘The Hemorrhoids Guy,’ ” he said. “And you get these people sitting near the on-deck circle, and they have their pops. The first two or three at-bats, they don’t say anything. And then they get a few pops in them and they start making hemorrhoids jokes.

“Well, I heard every hemorrhoid joke in the world –- my best response is, ‘My troubles are all behind me.’ … From October of 1980 to July 24, 1983, that’s what I heard. And from that July 24 to 2013, now I’m the pine tar guy. So it’s really the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Thank you, Billy Martin. I went from having an embarrassing thing that people remembered me for to something positive.

“Pretty much every time I play golf, they always want to check my clubs for pine tar. If I’m playing with strangers or in a pro-am or some type of celebrity tournament, the gallery at every hole brings it up. It’s kind of funny the first couple of holes, but after a while it gets old. And of course, that’s what I’m known for. It could be worse.”

 

But the ultimate story is one you have probably heard and probably numerous times. If we are being honest, this story never gets old:

 

 

 

I don’t know whether I love this story more because here is a baseball Hall of Famer relating the time he crapped his pants, or because he just goes up to guys in Spring Training and is almost giddy telling them about his “accident”. No one is going to tell George to NOT tell that story, even if they don’t want to hear it.

Also…”Who’s the pitchers in this game?”

Credit: USA Today

So happy birthday, George. If anything, this was a reminder that while I still would have loved ‘George, the ballplayer’ no matter what, the fact that he is a charming and fun guy points out why he will always be my favorite. Brett is royalty, not only in Kansas City but in baseball. Nothing will ever change that…no matter how many times he eats bad seafood.

Rebuilding a Franchise: A Look Back at 2018

Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

With the Kansas City Royals a healthy 24.5 games out of first place in the American League Central, it’s easy to see why a Royals fan would wander off occasionally and immerse themselves into a fantasy world. Mine is the crazy world of Out of the Park Baseball, which is a baseball strategy game that I can personally tell you is very addictive.

In fact, I have talked about my addiction to this game on this very blog before. On the 2017 version of OOTP (they release a new edition every year right before Opening Day) I have been rebuilding the Royals, as I traded a number of their stars a few years back before they hit free agency and began building back up sooner than the real life Royals.

Since I personally play every single game in a season and don’t simulate the games, this takes me a bit longer than most people. I also have bought the game every year since 2014, so that means I shuffle back and forth between all the different teams I have started in each version of the game. This is why it’s been over a year since my last update and why it takes so long to finish a season.

Credit: Peter G. Aiken

But I did finally finish the 2018 season and figured it was as good a time as any to update everyone on how the rebuild is going. If you want to go back and read how this got started and the progress I have made, here is my update in 2017 and the original update in 2016. This will give you an idea of why I tore the team down and who I acquired to build them back up.

So as I headed into the 2018 season, I went out and made a number of deals to continue to make the team younger and more profitable in the future. My big acquisition was picking up Alex Bregman from the Astros for Kyle Zimmer (who was coming off a successful 2017), Boo Vazquez and Aaron Altherr. The initial plan was to play Bregman at shortstop and have him be a force at the top of the order. I had also acquired Jedd Gyorko from Pittsburgh and added a few (cheap) arms for my bullpen. The mentality I took into the season was to continue to let the young players play and not focusing on wins and losses as much as development.

Unfortunately, the idea for Bregman went south in a hurry. Eight games into the season, Bregman gets injured and missed the rest of the season. In those eight games, he had hit .406/.500/.688 with 0.6 WAR, a great start that was derailed way too soon. Originally I was going to have Elvis Andrus take his spot but a line of .175/.236/.247 in 26 games and a negative WAR forced me to adjust my initial idea, as everyone from Gyorko to Ramon Torres saw time at short, with Adalberto Mondesi eventually holding down the position the last few months.

That wasn’t the only bump in the road. The young pitchers I had acquired the year before (Aaron Sanchez, Blake Snell and Lucas Giolito) all struggled mightily and all spent time down in the minors at one point or another. In fact, the pitching overall was a sore spot for this team, as even “sure things” like Wade Davis and Mike Minor saw their numbers balloon. Out of the 32 pitchers I used this past season, only two put together a 1 WAR season or better (Homer Bailey and Matt Moore). Sanchez and Snell did finish with positive WAR seasons, but Giolito ended up in the bullpen down in AAA and is still a work in progress.

The real major bump to overcome was the loss of Ryan O’Hearn in August. O’Hearn had been my team’s best hitter, hitting a robust .316/.434/.522 with 14 home runs and 69 RBIs over 89 games. His numbers were an improvement on what he compiled the previous season and had shifted from him being a power hitter who occasionally walked to a good all around hitter. His injury on August 1st was a major blow to the middle of the lineup and one that was never fully replaced during the team’s last two months.

There were a few more disappointments throughout the season. Salvador Perez saw a dip in his production, leading to Tony Cruz putting up career highs across the board and an increase in playing time. Cruz played himself into a nice trade piece and was dealt to Atlanta on July 31 for reliever Yimi Garcia.

Cody Bellinger also rode the struggle bus, hitting .256/.377/.378 with 8 home runs and 53 RBIs. The lack of power was interesting and while he still compiled 1.1 WAR over 120 games, being a league average hitter was not what was expected when he was acquired from Los Angeles.

Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

But while there were issues with a number of the younger players, there were just as many positives. Mike Moustakas slugged 27 home runs and posted a nice 3.7 WAR season. O’Hearn was a beast before his injury in August. Whit Merrifield had a wRC+ of 116 and put up 2.1 WAR. Adalberto Mondesi showed he belonged over the last couple months, and was able to post 0.9 WAR in just 66 games. Mitch Haniger was Rookie of the Month in April but ended up with a league average season offensively.

There was also a number of players that were acquired during the season you ended up being solid acquisitions. Bradley Zimmer led the charge, getting 1.0 WAR in just 24 games in Kansas City while fellow outfielder Christian Yelich also accumulated 1.0 WAR while mainly finding a way to get on base with very little power.

On the pitching side, Bailey was able to compile 185 innings and Matt Moore was a solid pick-up earlier in the season. Late in the season, Miguel Almonte and Luke Jackson became fixtures in the rotation and showed why they could be counted on for more innings in 2019.

Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

So with all that said, my first full year of a rebuild in Kansas City saw them finish 74-88 for 5th place in the AL Central. All things considered, I will take that as a success. The fact I was able to avert 90 losses and do that while dealing with an awful pitching staff gives me hope for my 2019 season.

Obviously the big focus will be on improving the pitching. The pitchers allowed 999 runs in my season and there is no way that should happen again. If my pitching can improve while getting O’Hearn and Bregman back for full seasons, there is no reason they can’t finish above .500 in Year 2 of the rebuild. It might be a bit of a lofty goal, but one that I feel is attainable.

Hopefully I can finish this season faster than the last. When I do, I will try to update right here on Bleeding Royal Blue. Also, if you haven’t checked out OOTP Baseball, do it. Just expect your time to disappear when you start falling down the rabbit hole.

A Rebuild Isn’t Always Fun

19-40

We pretty much knew this wasn’t going to be a winning season for the Kansas City Royals this year. In fact, we knew there would be more losing than winning. But what we have seen so far in 2019 has been even worse in some regards…and even better.

Wait…does that make any sense at all? It does if you’ve been watching this team.

The offense early on was a pleasant surprise. Adalberto Mondesi leads the American League in triples and stolen bases. Hunter Dozier has posted an OPS+ of 160 with a .589 slugging percentage. Alex Gordon has risen like a phoenix, putting up an OPS+ of 126 while slashing .277/.365/.485.

It also appears as if Royals fans will have a storyline to follow as the season progresses, as Jorge Soler has 15 home runs through 59 games and could make a run at the Royals all-time season high of 38, which Mike Moustakas set just two seasons ago.

But for all the good we have seen when it comes to offensive production, the Royals have made sure to fall back to earth these last few weeks. Over the last 30 days, Kansas City is third from last in slugging percentage, next to last in ISO and runs and last in home runs. It appeared early on that this team might produce more punch than expected (and they still might), but the offense has also done what I expected before the season started, which is venturing off onto a bit of a streak.

From the beginning this felt like a team that would be streaky offensively and that is what we are seeing at the moment. This is a team that rarely walks (despite a small uptick this season compared to seasons past) and relies on the top 5 of the lineup, since the bottom half has been M.I.A. for most of this campaign.

The offense going on a bender would be tolerable if the pitching could handle the load…but it can’t. The Royals pitching has the 4th highest ERA in the American League over the last month and the starters threw the least amount of innings in that span.

The biggest culprit? Walks. The starters have the highest walk rate over the last month and the second lowest Left on Base % during that span. Sprinkle in the third highest batting average against and you have a recipe for your starters getting pulled earlier and the bullpen having to do more of the heavy lifting.

Credit: Kansas City Royals

So things look pretty dire, right? Yes…but we knew this. This is what happens in a rebuild. There are always noticeable flaws in teams that are letting young players prove their mettle on the big league level while filling holes with veterans that are on the lower section of the pay scale. It’s not easy to watch and there are even days you skip watching to go do something more entertaining.

I’ve been guilty of that this season. The combination of a busy schedule and an inconsistent baseball team make for sporadic posts on this blog. For every game where the Royals appear to be clicking and you can see a glint of the future, there are two games where they appear dead in the water. You try to take the bad with the good, but some days it’s easier for your sanity to just take a break.

Credit: John Sleezer/Getty Images

But there is hope. The Royals drafted Bobby Witt, Jr. just yesterday and he appears to be a ‘Can’t-Miss’ prospect that will be in Kansas City sooner than later. The team spent the first two days of the draft acquiring college talent, as every pick except for Witt is from the college ranks. It does appear that the organization is trying to speed up the process for their next wave of contention.

We’ve already seen Nicky Lopez and Richard Lovelady in the bigs this year and while Lovelady is back in AAA, it’s just a matter of time until he is a permanent fixture of the bullpen.

Don’t forget the development of all the young arms that were drafted in 2018. Brady Singer was just promoted to AA. Daniel Lynch has pushed himself into one of the Top 100 prospects in the game. Meanwhile, Jackson Kowar, Kris Bubic and Jonathan Bowlan continue to impress on their way through the Royals farm system.

So while the Royals struggle to not be the worst team in the American League, do remember that we were at almost the exact same spot a year ago. Then the team went younger and they were a fun team to watch in August and September of 2018. Don’t be surprised if they do that again this year.

Until then, enjoy Mondesi legging out triples, Gordon playing sparkling defense and Dozier mashing the baseball (when he returns from injury). Oh, and the silver lining of having such a poor record for the second consecutive year means they could once again be in a position to procure a Top 3 pick in the MLB Draft next year. Some of us are playing the long game here.

It Has Been a Crazy Month for the Royals

Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

A month into the 2019 baseball season and one word sums up how it has gone so far for the Kansas City Royals: crazy. Crazy in that if you watch this team on a semi-regular basis, they don’t appear to be a team worthy of sharing baseball’s basement with the Marlins. But as we sit here on the doorstep of May, that is exactly where we are at.

That doesn’t mean there haven’t been positives so far in the campaign. Hunter Dozier is putting up MVP type numbers, as he is hitting .349/.447/.686 with 7 home runs and 17 RBIs, a total that is already creeping up on what he did in 2018.

Alex Gordon has been the phoenix, rising from years of below average production to hit .301/.395/.544 and an OPS+ of 149. Gordon has always been a streaky hitter, but a focus on patience and hitting the ball to the opposite field has made for a banner April so far in 2019.

In fact, both are posting leader board type numbers, especially when it comes to WAR for position players (the Baseball Reference variety) and Adjusted Batting Wins:

Offensively this Royals team is holding their own so far this year, taking up residence in the middle of the pack in most vital offensive categories, showing some offensive punch that many of us didn’t picture once the season began.

Credit: KC Star

Adalberto Mondesi is pretty much doing exactly what we all expected including leading the league in triples, Whit Merrifield has been a steady bat at the top of the lineup (and giving us Royals fans some excitement early this year with his hitting streak) and Jorge Soler is hitting dongs. Essentially, while the Royals offense isn’t perfect (Hello, Chris Owings), it has been a bit more consistent than I was expecting when the season began.

…and then there is the pitching. As much as we’ve been pleasantly surprised with the Royals hitters, there has been equal disappointment with the pitching. Overall, Kansas City is 13th in fWAR for the entire staff. The starters have been slightly better, as they are 9th in FIP, and…well, almost everything else is in the bottom section of the league.

While the relievers numbers aren’t much better (and early in the season showed a unique ability to blow the lead in almost any situation), there has been a noticeable improvement over the last couple of weeks. Over the last 14 days, Royals relievers have the 5th best fWAR, 3rd best FIP, 5th best ERA, 3rd highest LOB%, 2nd highest ground ball rate, and the 2nd lowest hard hit rate.

Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Maybe the most obvious reason for this turnaround is the ability by the Royals coaching staff in defining roles for the relievers. Early in the season, it was obvious that Royals manager Ned Yost was feeling out who was best suited for what role in this pen. With new guys like Brad Boxberger and Jake Diekman and longtime starter Ian Kennedy being moved to a new role, there was a lot of uncertainty with this squad. Now, the team has an idea who can do what and a lot of the early struggles have gone away. This isn’t to say there are no issues, just less than what we were seeing those first couple weeks of the season.

So here are the current standings in the American League Central:

The Royals are way out of the race at this point, 9.5 games back in a division that some consider the weakest in baseball. Maybe the good news is that no one team is running away with the division, so there is a lot of room for upward mobility, especially with five months left in the season.

Credit: AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

This is not to say the Royals can still be contenders. We all know what this team is. We all know the rebuild is in full effect. But is this team better than their performance in their first 29 games? I believe so. Luckily, more and more youngsters are going to get a chance to prove their worth in 2019. We’ve already seen Richard Lovelady and Kelvin Gutierrez. Before we know it, Nicky Lopez will be taking the trip from Omaha to Kansas City. While things look bleak now, if you squint just right in your royal blue colored glasses, it’s not hard to see this team occupying fourth or even third place before the season is done.

It’s Simple: The Royals are 1-0!

If you are a baseball fan, then you know Opening Day is the closest thing we have to a holiday, outside of maybe Game 1 of the World Series. Game number one is where it all begins, the journey to a long six month season that brings us the highs and lows of this beautiful game.

Coming off of a 104 loss season, it felt imperative that the 2019 squad for the Kansas City Royals needed to kick-off the season with a bit of hope. Luckily, they did that. Adalberto Mondesi hit two triples. Whit Merrifield stole a couple of bases. Frank Schwindel made his major league debut and came up with a big hit (that is listed as an error, but I’m finding it hard not to count it as a hit) to knock in a run. Jorge Soler also came up big, providing some insurance runs as well as proving his good health. The Royals offense showed up, took advantage of some Chicago errors and got 2019 started on the right foot.

That’s right, the Royals won.

But the most impressive performance on Thursday was by Brad Keller, a guy who was a Rule 5 draft pick just one year ago. Keller threw seven shutout innings, giving up two hits and striking out five. Keller put on an “Ace” like performance and hopefully showed he is going to grow upon his stellar rookie season.

Yes, the Royals are undefeated this season.

So while the bullpen was shaky, the rain pushed back the start time almost two hours and the White Sox aren’t exactly one of the elite teams in the league, it was overall a good first game to put into the record book. I know there will be some downs to go along with the ups, but for now I’m just focused on a good foundation to start the year.

Now lets win 161 more.

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