Royals Hire Matheny as Their New Manager…and You Shouldn’t Be Happy About That

The inevitable and expected happened on Thursday, as the Kansas City Royals announced that Mike Matheny would be their new manager, taking over the for the retired Ned Yost. This move can be traced all the way back to last November, when the Royals brought him into the organization to be a special advisor to player development.

While this was expected for months, it has also been a very unpopular hire within the Royals fanbase, with many like myself pointing out many of the issues that led to his dismissal in St. Louis. This hire has left many shaking their head and wondering why the Royals braintrust felt giving Matheny a second opportunity at managing was wiser than taking a chance on a younger option like Pedro Grifol or Vance Wilson.

If I am truly being fair here, lets look at some of the positives that pop up on Matheny’s resume. Under his leadership, Matheny guided the Cardinals to the playoffs his first four years at the helm, including a World Series appearance in 2013 and leading baseball in wins in 2015 (when the Royals won the World Series over the Mets). He accumulated a record of 591-474 over his six and a half seasons in St. Louis, which is impressive for someone who had never managed before and was following in the footsteps of the legendary Tony LaRussa.

What eventually led to his dismissal in St. Louis has been well documented and feels like a list of ‘Do-Nots’ for any manager to follow. He showed a preference to veterans, struggled with communication when met with resistance, was not open-minded to advance analytics, showed poor decision-making when it came to tactical decisions, neglected fundamentals and was not open to outside advice. If you really want a window into why so many Royals fans (and analysts within the game) have been against the hire, this is probably a great way to start.

So with all that said, why was Matheny Dayton Moore’s choice? For one, he is an old school leader who follows in line with Moore on how the game should be played. Both are firm believers in a style that focuses on putting the ball in play, bunting runners over into scoring position and a love of the sacrifice fly. In some ways Matheny is an extension of Ned Yost, at least when it comes to the tactical side of a managers job. As a baseball fan, this part isn’t the worst thing in the world, as the ball being put in play more has proven to be a more exciting product to watch and one that was very successful for the 2014-2015 Royals teams.

The issue lies in the problems that arose in St. Louis near the end of his run. The Royals are in a rebuild (whether Moore acknowledges it or not) and with that comes a higher focus on young talent. Matheny showed a tendency to lean toward his veterans while the younger players would ride some pine if met with any struggles. At this point of development, the younger players in Kansas City will need the playing time and a long stint on the bench won’t really do them any good. Yost was great working with the youngsters, even going back to his time in Milwaukee. This was one aspect of Ned’s managerial style that he was praised for and one that Matheny would be smart to adopt.

Maybe this will change for Matheny since he is in a different situation than the one he was anointed in St. Louis. Matheny was thrown into the pressure cooker when he was hired by the Cardinals, as he was replacing a legend in Tony LaRussa and left with a roster that was playoff-ready. There was no rebuild going on during his stint in St. Louis and the expectancy to win was much higher than it is going to be in Kansas City the next two years. We should know pretty early whether or not Matheny has changed in this regard and it will be interesting how he handles a different side of the game, one that can expect more lows than highs.

Another issue that has to be addressed would be his communication skills. Matheny was known as someone who would shut down for long periods of time and sometimes even ignore certain players. This can’t happen in Kansas City and is a big part of my concern with him taking over this job. He will be working with younger players who need feedback on what they are doing correctly and incorrectly and having a manager that isn’t there to teach them is a major problem. During the press conference on Thursday, Matheny talked a lot about “growing” and acknowledging his “blind spots” and for this to work, this can’t be just talk.

So is it just talk? Obviously at this point there is no way to tell but Moore saw enough that he felt the change was real. Matheny did take an analytics course to grow his knowledge and even hired a consultant to help him deal with the media. At the very least, these are signs that Matheny wanted an opportunity to manage again and was willing to take the steps necessary to make it happen. He was very stubborn during his first managerial job when it came to not only the use of analytics but also taking any other comments, opinions or suggestions as a form of growth. Matheny would be wise to soak in everything that is tossed his away and at the very least consider the advice that is sent his way. If he is serious at growing, he needs to be an open-minded manager.

With this said, the biggest reason I don’t feel Matheny is the right hire for Kansas City is because to me he isn’t the best choice. To me, the best choice has been in the Royals dugout for years now and his name is Pedro Grifol. Grifol has been with the big league club since 2013, when he was brought in as a special assignment coach when George Brett was hired as interim hitting coach. Grifol has also served as the quality control coach, catching coach and hitting coach during his tenure in Kansas City. While he was with the Mariners organization, Grifol was a manager, scout, coordinator of instruction and Director of Minor League Operations. You could probably name it, and Grifol has done it.

So why do I feel he is the best choice? Not only does his wealth of knowledge in all aspects of the organization help, but he is also bilingual, has the respect and admiration of the current players and has watched many of the players move up through the organization as well as watching the current crop that is still down in the minors. Grifol has shown an ability to learn and grow and is someone thought highly of not only within the Royals organization, but other organizations as well. Currently he is on the short list of candidates to become the new San Francisco Giants manager and has been considered for managerial jobs in the past in both Detroit and Baltimore. Grifol would have walked into the Royals managerial job with a leg up on everyone else while having all the tools that organizations look for in their field generals.

So with that said, why the choice of Matheny over Grifol? Managerial experience is almost certainly one of reasons, but there is another reason that isn’t talked about as much but one I addressed just last weekend. Dayton Moore is a deeply religious man and so is Mike Matheny. We have seen over the last few years Moore get more and more aggressive with this beliefs being pushed out in public, most publicly with his battle against pornography. As Royals fans, we have known about Moore’s faith for years and for the most part it has never been a big issue. Craig Brown at Royals Review talked extensively about this the other day (which I highly recommend you click that link) and I felt better after reading it because I wasn’t alone in believing that Moore hired Matheny in part because of his religious beliefs.

I know some will disagree with this, but much like Matheny talked about his “blind spots” when it came to managing, I firmly believe Moore’s “blind spot” is his faith. Part of that faith is believing in second chances and in my opinion that is what is going on here. Moore sees Matheny as a good Christian man and wants to reward him for that by giving him another managing job. By no means am I saying Matheny shouldn’t be given a second chance at some point. Far from it. At some point I do believe he should be given that second chance, as long as he has shown that he has learned what failed him during his first managerial job.

But he is just 15 months removed from that firing, which feels too soon. Add in a candidate in Grifol that feels like the superior choice and you start wondering “why Matheny?”. It seems very apparent where the dots are connected here and why Matheny was Dayton’s choice. Personally, I have no issue with anyone and their religion. As comedian Katt Williams would say “You do you, Boo-Boo”. But when it comes to baseball and hiring coaches or signing players, I care nothing about religion. I want the best person for the job, the person who will give the team the best opportunity to win. Unless they are just an absolutely deplorable human, it doesn’t matter to me whether you praise Jesus, Buddha, Allah or any other deity. I want the best person for the job and Matheny is not that person for the Royals.

Moore has made his decision and I will call it now: this move will be the beginning of the end for Dayton. Over the last couple years, he has made some questionable moves and we’ve seen his decision making become more and more questionable. It used to just be free agent signings or trades but now it has started to seep over into whether his personal belief system is on a higher plain than winning. Need more proof? Look no more than his defending of Luke Heimlich. Moore’s want to give people a second chance almost gave the organization a giant stain that would have been hard to recover from. It is obvious what his mission is at this point and on a daily basis I question more and more whether or not that goal is winning. The hiring of Matheny could very well be his eventual downfall, especially with new ownership getting ready to move in.

So it is very obvious that Matheny being hired by Kansas City was not well received at my house. The hope for those of us who dislike the move is that he proves us wrong and he has truly changed his ways. For the longterm health of this organization, I hope that his hiring won’t push back the progress that has been made these last few years. The good news is this: when Ned Yost was brought in, many like myself looked down on the hire and eventually Yost proved us wrong. Now it’s Matheny’s turn. For our sanity, I need to be wrong.

Musings and Opinions About October and Baseball

(Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports)

With the MLB postseason in the stretch run, I thought I would run through a few topics that are hitting the baseball news cycle this month and put a bit of a personal slant on it. With that being said, let’s start with our Kansas City Royals.

The Wrong Choice?

If you are a Royals fan, you are probably well aware that former St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny is the frontrunner to take over for Ned Yost in the dugout. You are also probably aware that Royals fans have been very adamant about their dislike of Matheny and the feeling that he would be a horrible choice to take the helm in KC. In fact, if you thought Yost caught a lot of flak, it’s nothing compared to Matheny and he hasn’t even been hired yet.

If you are unaware of why many of us within the fanbase are not fond of Matheny, it basically comes down to his dealings with the players near the end of his run in St. Louis. Matheny wasn’t even talking to outfielder Dexter Fowler and it even sounds like he allowed bullying to go on in the bullpen. Go ahead and read this to get a better idea of what was going on while he was with the Cardinals and there is also this from a few Cardinals fans. To say there is some skepticism about Mike and his handling of the clubhouse would be an understatement.

While I have concerns with all of this (and worry how this could effect a young team like the Royals), there is another issue that I have with the idea of WHY exactly Royals GM Dayton Moore would hire a man with this much baggage. It has to do with Matheny’s faith and how Moore seems to want to surround himself with people who are very religious and wear it like a badge of honor on their sleeves.

I almost hate to keep bringing this up, since I have no issue with what anyone believes in or doesn’t believe in. To me, it comes down to whether or not you are qualified to do the job at hand and no matter what team, you should hire the person best suited for the job. If Matheny was coming off a great run in St. Louis and was a good fit for Kansas City, I couldn’t care less what his religious beliefs were. If he was the best choice, he should be the man hired to take over for Ned.

But instead, it feels like Dayton is continuing to hire based more on faith rather than logic. I’m all for giving someone a second chance and the Cardinals job was Matheny’s first managing job. It would be ridiculous to think he didn’t learn anything from it. But the Royals are in a position where they are a young team that needs proper leadership to help them grow and eventually flourish at the big league level, to the point of them possibly contending within a couple of years. Hiring someone like Matheny, who doesn’t appear to work as well with younger talent as well as veterans, would seem to be a weird hire for a team that is in full-blown rebuild mode.

The Royals have two coaches in-house (Pedro Grifol and Vance Wilson) who have had their names tossed around in managing circles and would appear to both be good choices for any team that is considering hiring them. Both have been with the Royals organization for years and have seen many off the current roster make their way through the Kansas City farm system. Both have good relationships with the players and embrace advanced analytics, which every team is now using to help the development of their players.

This feels like a no-brainer, but you have to really worry about a team that thinks Matheny is a good fit to lead the Royals into the next realm of their development. Maybe Grifol has been the choice all along and we’ve all spent a ton of time worrying about nothing. But it doesn’t feel that way and it feels like the beginning of the downfall of Dayton Moore. I hope I’m wrong, because what awaits us if Matheny is hired could be tough to endure when all Moore has to do is make the best choice for the team.

Nationals Devil Magic     

The funnest team to watch this postseason has been the Washington Nationals. Not only are they an underdog (going from the Wild Card game to the World Series), but they are a jovial team that appears to enjoy each other’s company. In fact, it hit me the other day that part of why I like watching this Nationals team as much as I do could be because they remind me of the 2014-2015 Royals teams that had a little bit of luck on their side.

Offensively there appears to be a lot of the Royals formula in their style. This is a team that just finds a way to get on base and numerous times this postseason has managed to compile multiple run innings by “moving the line”. Washington has a bit more power than those Royals teams, but they know how to keep an inning alive and make their baserunners count.

Pitching-wise, their rotation is miles better than Kansas City’s was, but the Royals had an edge when it came to their bullpen. Switching around the roles, the Nationals lean on a dominant rotation while the Royals leaned on their dominant bullpen. There are slight differences (and it makes the late innings a bit more stressful if you are a Washington fan), but you can see enough of a similarity that it’s not hard for a Royals fan to cheer for their brethren in D.C.

If Washington can seal the deal, they would have a giant monkey off their back, much like the Royals did in 2014. The hard part for them was winning a playoff series, which they had never done before. Since then, they have been playing with house money and you can tell how much looser they are on the field…just like when the Royals won the Wild Card game in 2014. Bottom line is while they aren’t carbon copies, they are close enough that it has been easy to get behind the Nationals this October. I can only hope they are able to do what the Royals did in 2015.

Everything’s Coming Up Soto

(Credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The biggest joy I have received from this postseason has been the attention given to Nationals outfielder Juan Soto. Soto, who just turned 21 (I know, you hadn’t heard that yet), has flown under the radar these last two years, especially to the casual baseball fan. But for those of us that follow it more closely, his success is something we pretty much expected. In fact, he probably should have been praised more before even getting to the playoffs.

With all the hoopla for Ronald Acuna, Jr. these last two seasons (and trust me, it’s deserved), Soto is right there with Acuna. I would even go so far as to say they are very similar players, as the numbers will attest. First, Acuna:

Now, Soto:

As you can see, the two have very similar numbers, with Acuna utilizing his speed more and probably the better defender. With that said, it has been nice to see Soto get the attention that Acuna has been receiving since before his recall to the majors. In some ways these two will be linked together till the end of time, much like Harper and Trout or Williams and DiMaggio. I’m not saying these two are on that level, but in the same regard they could be at the level soon.

So enjoy watching Soto in these next few games. It’s a treat that we get to appreciate him on the biggest stage with the biggest spotlight.

The World Series is nearing the end. Award season is just around the corner. And after that? I would like to say Hot Stove season, but the last two winters it has been anything but hot. So enjoy this week. While Major League Baseball has dealt with the de-juicing of the baseballs, the fiasco with the Houston Astros front office, and the news of a possible restructuring of the minor leagues, baseball needs a strong finish to the postseason and hope for an active offseason. The ball is in your court, baseball. Be smart with your next move.

One More For the Road?

Everything comes to an end eventually. If we’ve learned anything during our time on this planet, it’s that change is inevitable and Mother Nature wins all races. You can try to slow things down and make them last longer, but eventually time wins out.

That’s two-fold for athletes. Their time in any sport is limited, some longer than others. If you are lucky, you get to play the sport of your choice for a couple decades and excel at what you do. These are the ones who make Mother Nature wait on them, knowing full well that their time will come in the end.

This is where Alex Gordon sits right now. One week left in the MLB regular season and Gordon has been pondering whether to play another season or hang up the spikes and quit doing the only job he has had as an adult. No decision has been made on his part and it appears none will be made before the season ends. At the age of 35, Gordon will be deciding whether he wants to return another season to help the next generation of Kansas City Royals, or step away to be with his family and look back fondly on his career.

Credit: Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

As a fan, I am very biased when it comes to Alex Gordon. He has been my favorite Royal for a number of years now and in my opinion is the closest thing Kansas City has had to George Brett since his retirement. Just reading this blog over the years would point out that Gordon is “The Man” for the Royals and the measuring stick that the current roster should be emulating. He has been a leader on and off the field over the years and while he isn’t a loud and brazen leader, he is the one that carries the most weight in the Royals clubhouse.

So why Gordon? Sure, there was a period where he was an elite level player and a regular All-Star. From 2011 to 2014, Gordon only had one season under 5 WAR and was “THE” best left fielder in baseball. Gordon has won 6 Gold Gloves since his move to the outfield in 2010 and very well could add a 7th this offseason. Most acknowledge that Gordon and his defense are the biggest part of his legacy and puts him on par with former Royals second baseman Frank White as a model of defensive excellence.

But he has been no slouch on offense either. During his ‘peak’ years (the before mentioned 2011-2014) he had only one average offensive season (2013) while the rest were at least 18% better than league average. He has racked up close to 200 home runs, over 350 doubles and has a career line of .258/.339/.413. While his peak didn’t last as long as some, it is a great addition to his golden glove.

Yes, the last few years have been a struggle for Gordon offensively (whatever you do, don’t go look at his 2017 numbers) but he has bounced back a bit here in 2019 and has posted his highest batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage since 2015. He is still essentially a league average hitter but when you add in his defense and leadership, you have a player worthy of a roster spot in Kansas City.

In fact, his early season surge had Gordon even leaning toward playing in 2020:

“My wife (Jamie) always asks me that and I’m just like, ‘I don’t know,’” Gordon told MLB.com. “There are a lot of things that will come into play when it comes to that decision.

“I give her percentages. At the beginning of the year, I gave her 50-50. Then I moved to 55-45. Now I’m at about 60-40 (on playing again).”

The other factor in play is whether the Royals want him back, since he doesn’t want to play elsewhere:

“I don’t want to play anywhere else,” Gordon said. “Yeah, I want to retire as a Royal. I’ve established my family here with my kids. This is home.”

The Royals will most definitely buyout the option on his contract this winter, but it is conceivable they could bring Gordon back at a lower rate. The Royals front office has showed mutual interest in bringing Alex back, so it is hard to imagine a world where Dayton Moore tells him no. With that said, at this point, it is Alex’s call.

With that said, I find it hard to imagine a world where Alex Gordon isn’t playing baseball for the Royals. My mind tells me it will happen eventually and for someone like me who is a realist, I know it is going to happen soon. But the idea of him not out in left field saddens me and it has been a long time since I have felt that way about a player on the Royals. Gordon is that piece of Kansas City, before they returned to prominence and before back-to-back World Series appearances.

Watching Gordon play over the last 13 years has been a pure treat and he has almost always made me glad to be a fan of the Royals. Before the season started this year, I prepared myself for his possible retirement at the end of the year and went and bought three Gordon shirts. If this was it, I was going to make sure I had his shirts that I could wear for a number of more years. I only own one baseball jersey, and it is a powder blue #4. To me, Gordon embodies what I love about this franchise.

So if this is the end, I’m going to treasure these last few games. If he decides to come back, I’ll probably go through the same cycle next year that I have over the last 7 months. The truth is that a part of those 2014-2015 Royals teams will die once Gordon is gone. He won’t be the last to go, but he will be a large chunk to leave. Players come and go, but there will only be one Alex Gordon in Kansas City.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

Credit: Kansas City Star

I really thought I wasn’t going to write again until September at the earliest.

It was really going to take something big to force me to write.

David Glass selling the Kansas City Royals falls into the ‘big’ category.

Also, being on vacation makes it easier.

And yet here we are.

Here’s the thing: I wrote a whole big article about Sherman buying the Royals. 1500 words were spilled, easily one of the longest articles I have written in a long time. But then the auto-save feature here shit the bed.

All of it was gone. All but 172 words. I haven’t felt this kind of frustration in quite awhile. It was soul crushing for someone who hadn’t written in two months.

So you won’t get my in-depth look at the move. I just don’t have the energy or time to re-write my thoughts. It was a good article too. It made me feel better about the fact I hardly write anymore. I can still do this, which I was starting to question.

So instead, here is the abbreviated version: I like the move. Sherman seems like a good fit, even if it feels almost too good. Yes, that is probably the worry of a Royals fan from before 2014. Trust me, it never completely goes away.

Back to Sherman. The move feels as good as we could expect. Honestly, I feel better about the new ownership than I would have if Dan Glass took over for his dad. While I’m thankful for the Glass’ keeping the team in Kansas City and making moves to put together a championship team, even this year ‘Good ol’ Dave’ couldn’t bear to eat money in a move that would have helped the future of the organization.

It always felt like Glass was more concerned about his bottom line than the product that was presented on the field. It’s unfortunate, but when I can point to numerous times he wouldn’t eat money in a trade (and I covered all this in the lost article. Zobrist, Cueto, Soria, and even a possible Kennedy trade just a month ago) than there is proof that Glass never believed in the saying ‘to make money in baseball, you have to spend money’. Hopefully that is not lost on the new ownership.

What does this mean for GM Dayton Moore or Manager Ned Yost? There is no way to know for sure, but a new owner might want his own people. Or he might want to stay with the old guard that went to back to back World Series’ and won a world championship. All we know for sure is that once we hit November and the sale officially goes through, it could turn out to be a wild winter. You can’t run from it, changes are comin’.

So that is the short version of what I wrote. Since we are only at 500 words, lets run through a few things since I haven’t written in months. It’s been a long time since I wrote anything on this blog. In fact, it’s been so long that I look like this now:

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Credit: Hollywood Reporter

Okay, maybe I don’t look that old. But it feels like it. Also, that is Gandalf from the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies. I’m not as cool as him. Or talented. I’m quite a bit shorter and not nearly as thin. What was I talking about again?

Oh yeah. I was going to bring up a few other items related to the Royals. Let’s start with Jorge Soler.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is kc4-1.jpg

Soler currently sits at 38 home runs (as of this writing), which ties him with the Royals single season record that Mike Moustakas set back in 2017. So once Soler hits #39, he will be the new Moose. Who was the new Balboni. Who was the new Mayberry. 

The unfortunate part of all of this is that Kansas City is the only team to never have a 40-home run season from one of their hitters. Never. With Soler just two away, that record could go bye-bye as well. It’s amazing to think we are witnessing the greatest individual home run season in team history and it feels like a blip because balls are flying out of parks all across America at an alarming rate. And to think, just a couple seasons ago fans were ready to give up on Soler.

Looks like the Royals won this Wade Davis trade as well.   

Since this whole article is about change, it’s nice to see the team go and finally embrace the young talent and give them an opportunity in what has otherwise been a lost season. It was depressing as hell to see the team trot out the likes of Wily Peralta, Billy Hamilton and Lucas Duda for as long as they did. I get what the front office was thinking but it also felt like a colossal waste of time.

Look, this is a team that needs to know what they have with some of their fringe talent. Guys like Brett Phillips and Bubba Starling just need the opportunity to go out and get some experience at the major league level. Whether they sink or swim is undetermined, but at least give them a fighting chance. Putting out replacement level veterans (at best) to fill holes until some one is “ready” is so 2018. We all predicted what Hamilton would do. Most knew Peralta was going to be a dumpster fire.

If I’m going to watch my team go out and lose 100 games, at least give me the decency of doing it with players that may or may not be a part of the future. Penciling Lucas Duda’s name into the lineup from the beginning should have been a no-go. Instead, we got to see 119 plate appearances from a guy who wasn’t a league average hitter a year ago when he was in Kansas City and was even worse this year.

I know, it sounds like I am dumping on the front office and to some degree I am. They wanted to put up the illusion of contending (or at least flirting with .500), thinking the vets would perform better than expected and then they could turn around and flip them at the trade deadline. Problem was, most of them (if not all) regressed. Homer Bailey was the one true find and his pull from the trade with Oakland wasn’t much. 

The problem was that most of us as fans could tell it wasn’t working by mid-May at the latest. Instead of something being done soon after, we were forced to sit through two more months with these players that were just taking up space. I have no clue whether or not the Royals would have won a bunch more games if they would have sped up this process. For all we know, they would still be sitting with the same record they are at now, looking at another ‘Top 5′ draft pick. The point is that some of us would have preferred seeing the Phillips’ and Starling’s and Lovelady’s more than we have. Let the kids play, as they say.

Whew. Sorry about that. I’ve had months of that built up. Just needed to vent.  

So a month is left in the season. I want to see if these kids will flourish. Last year at this time was a fun time to watch Royals baseball, as they looked like a spry team looking to knock off some Goliath’s. That might not happen this year but a good ending to the season could be just the positive this team needs.

Maybe Bubba will start knocking the baseball around and Jorge Lopez will look like a competent reliever. Maybe Brett Phillips will make us forget about Moose and Richard Lovelady will look like the dominant reliever he was in the minors. Or we can just relish in the fact that we aren’t the Tigers. I’m game for that.

Also, maybe Dish Network and Fox Sports can settle their differences here soon. Sean would like to watch his Royals again before the season is over. Please?    

The 2019 Kansas City Royals: A Rebuild By Any Other Name is Still a Rebuild

Credit: Kansas City Star

When 2018 ended, the Kansas City Royals wrapped up one of the worst seasons in team history. The team coasted to a 104 loss season, allowing almost 200 more runs than they scored and compiling the worst bullpen in baseball.

But something happened those last two months. The team compiled a 25-31 record in August and September and while on the surface it IS still a losing record, compared to the team’s 13-31 record in June and July, the latter months made them look like world beater’s.

So the team was actually riding a high those last two months and they were doing it with a simple philosophy: pitching and speed. For the first time all season, they looked more like the aggressive team we saw during their championship runs in 2014 and 2015 than the team’s that appeared to be scraping by the previous two seasons.

Credit: Kansas City Star

Whatever the reason, that philosophy trickled into the offseason and the Royals you are getting ready to see in 2019 appear to be a team ready to run. Management realized this was a team with very little power and the possibility of competing with other teams stocked with that extra ‘pop’ wasn’t going to get them very far. So instead, they have decided to take a page from Forrest Gump and just run.

The Royals already had the American League stolen base leader (Whit Merrifield) from last year and coupled with rising star Adalberto Mondesi (32 steals in 75 games), it appeared the team had an excellent one-two punch that would keep the opposing defense busy.

But then they signed super-speedy outfielder Billy Hamilton. Then they reunited with baseball’s version of Barry Allen, Terrance Gore. The Royals decided to double-down on speed and make sure that the catchers and pitchers around the league are going to have to stay on their toes when facing Kansas City this season.

Credit: Getty Images

But will this plan of attack work? The biggest roadblock to the Royals offense this season isn’t the lack of power or even the uncertainty of a number of younger players. The biggest fly in the ointment could very well be their ability to get on base, or lackthereof.

While Merrifield or even Ryan O’Hearn showed an ability last year to consistently find their way on base, bu t others did not. Hamilton is the biggest concern, as he posted a .299 OBP in 2018 with a rising strikeout rate. While he did see an uptick in his walk rate last year, he struck out more and saw an increase in his flyball rate. For a guy who’s sole purpose it is to get on base and cause havoc, it would appear less strike outs and putting the ball in the air less would be a healthier way to get the most desired results.

In fact, outside of Whit and Alex Gordon, no other Royals hitter had a walk total above 30. This is a team that needs to be on base as much as possible to score runs, since relying on a longball to help them doesn’t appear to be much of an option. The Royals were near the bottom portion in almost every power category last year for all of baseball and there doesn’t appear to be much help on the way. That being said, there could be some interesting developments to follow this year when it comes to the offense.

Credit: Kansas City Star

O’Hearn saw 170 plate appearances in his rookie year and showed that he could hit major league pitching, posting a solid OBP and an OPS+ of 155. But most of his damage was against righties, so the goal in 2019 is to see what he can do against lefties. The good news is that he produced some solid numbers in the minors against lefties in his career, so there is a chance that last year was an outlier.

Hunter Dozier struggled during most of his rookie campaign, but showed some steady progress as the year wore on. He has looked good this spring and his continued development would be huge for the Royals success this year.

Brett Phillips is starting the year in AAA, but he has a chance to be a regular if he can tone down his strike outs this year. Phillips has some major pop in his bat and combined with his above-average defense, could be a foundation piece for Kansas City if he battle some of his flaws this year.

Most eyes are on Mondesi to see what he does this year. He started seeing regular playing time in July of last year and once that happened he appeared to take off. He hit .276/.306/.498 last year with 14 home runs and an OPS+ of 116. Mondesi’s combination of speed and power illicits a lot of comparisons and if he can continue to hit with authority while showing a bit of patience, he could be an elite player in no time at all.

Credit: Kansas City Star

Then start the questions. Will Jorge Soler stay healthy? It felt like Soler had turned a corner last year and one wonders what would have been if he hadn’t fouled a ball off his foot in Oakland. For the Royals to show some improvement this year, they need a healthy Soler to steer the middle of the batting order.

Can Chris Owings rebound? Owings is the new ‘Alcides Escobar’ (ie. super utilityman, not player who will never leave) and it would appear he is going to be a semi-regular moving forward. But Owings hit a paltry .206/.272/.302 but he also posted an extremely low BABIP of .265 which could be a sign of bad luck. Owings has never posted an above-average offensive season, so his value at this point might be tied into how he produces on defense.

How about the catchers? With Salvador Perez gone for the year, the catcher’s spot will be helmed by Cam Gallagher and Martin Maldonado. While you shouldn’t expect much from these two on offense, defensively the Royals might actually see an improvement in 2019. I’m not saying either of these two are superior to Perez as much as I’m saying that what they excel at are the areas that Salvy struggles with. It will be interesting to see how these two mesh with the pitching staff.

Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Finally for the offense, Alex Gordon returns to man left field. Gordon hasn’t been the same since his collision with Mike Moustakas back in 2016, but he did show a few signs of offensive glory last year and defensively is an elite defender. This very well could be the end of the road for Gordon, as his contract is up at the end of the season and he has talked about going home and spending more time with his family.

As an Alex Gordon fan, this is going to be a hard season for me and this spring has already left me dreading what is close at hand. Gordon has been the lifeblood of this organization for a long time and it’s going to be strange if this is it. At some point this year, I will discuss a bit more in detail, but for me, Gordon has been the closest thing to George Brett the Royals have had since #5 retired. For those of us that have been around for the last 30+ years, 2019 will be an end of an era.

Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

All this talk about the offense and no mention of the pitching? No worries, as the rotation for Kansas City actually looks like a pretty solid group. Brad Keller looks to front the rotation this arm, as he looks to duplicate a great rookie season. Keller started the year as a Rule 5 pick that the Royals could stow away in the bullpen and by the end of the year he had locked down a starting job and become Kansas City’s most reliable pitcher.

Jake Junis and Jorge Lopez return and both look to improve in 2019. Junis was an innings eater last year but ran into some issues with the longball (32 home runs given up last year) and is hoping to cut that total down to a more livable number.

Lopez was acquired mid-season from Milwaukee and showed signs of being a stud as the season progressed. His most notable achievement last year was the perfect game he took into the 9th inning against the Twins in September. For the Royals to see some success this season, these two need to show some improvement in their game.

The back-end of the rotation looks to be filled by Homer Bailey and Danny Duffy. Bailey is looking to resurrect his career and showed glimpses of a solid starter throughout the spring. The biggest issue for Bailey has always been his consistency and for him to stay employed in Kansas City he is going to have to show some steadiness in his performance.

Duffy is coming back from an injury-riddled 2018 and is hoping to be ready once April rolls around next week. There are a lot of questions of whether Duffy can be an elite starter again or whether he can just stay healthy for a full season, and the Royals are going to give him every opportunity to show he can return to his past stellar glory. There was some talk of moving Duffy to the bullpen, but as of now he is slated for the rotation.

Credit: Kansas City Star

Speaking of, Ian Kennedy appears to be starting the season in the bullpen, a move that the coaches hope can keep him off the injured list. The Royals hope to use him as a guy who can throw a few innings at a time out of the pen while possibly filling in as a starter should an injury arise. There is some belief that Kennedy’s stuff will play better out of the pen, much like former Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar. Kennedy is locked in for another two seasons (counting this one), so Kansas City is going to give him one last chance to show his worth.

When talking about the bullpen, the honest truth is that one has to believe this year’s group can’t be any worse than the pen the Royals assembled in 2018. In fact, when I talked to Max Rieper of Royals Review earlier in the month, that was exactly his sentiments. It’s essentially addition by subtraction and with Maurer, Boyer and Grimm sent off to sea, the pen would appear to be improved from last year.

The Royals have added Brad Boxberger and Jake Diekman to fill the veteran quota of the pen, while also giving them some late inning experience that was sorely lacking for most of last year. Wily Peralta returns to fill a late inning role while Kevin McCarthy and Tim Hill also appear to be returning, and both were solid during their time in Kansas City last year.

That being said, it has sounded like there might not be defined roles in the pen for these relievers, at least early on. Boxberger, Diekman and Peralta will all be called upon to fill not only the late innings, but will be the primary candidates for any high-leverage situation. It will be interesting to see if anyone breaks away from the rest and ends up as the de facto closer in 2019.

Credit: Kansas City Star

But the real story out of the pen this spring has been the emergence of former first round draft pick Kyle Zimmer. Zimmer did not pitch at all in 2018, as Kansas City sent him to Driveline to build up his strength and see if they could help him stay healthy, which has been a longstanding issue with him.

After a solid stint there, Zimmer was signed by Kansas City to a major league contract and thrown onto the 40-man roster. All he did this spring is produce a 0.71 ERA in 12+ innings, striking out 8 and walking 4. His velocity is up a few MPH and appears to finally be ready to make his major league debut. If he continues to excel, he will easily be the best story to come out of Kansas City in what appears to be a year focused on rebuilding.

Yes, the Royals are rebuilding. I’m not declaring anything you don’t already know, but Dayton Moore has refused to use that ‘R’ word over the last 4 or 5 months, always implying that the team is still going to go out there and “compete”. As a veteran Royals fan, let me try my best to interpret “Dayton Speak”, which isn’t always as clear as one might think.

What I believe Moore is trying to relay is that Kansas City isn’t tanking this year, but rather trying to stay a bit competitive while also allowing a number of younger players the time to develop at the big league level. Now what this means they still want fans to come out to the stadium and not feel like this isn’t a team worth paying your hard earned money for. They also have a television contract to think about, and the higher the ratings, the higher the dollars will be once it is signed.

Credit: Nicky Lopez, Twitter

But in layman’s terms, yes, it is a rebuild. While the team has brought in veterans like Lucas Duda, Owings and Bailey to fill roles to start the year, it doesn’t mean those vets are the focus. The focus will be on not only the Lopez’s, Phillips’ and O’Hearn’s, but also guys like Nicky Lopez and Richard Lovelady, who will probably both make their big league debuts this year. It will be about finding out if a minor league vet like Frank Schwindel can take advantage of his opportunity in the big leagues. It will be about seeing who can fill what role and who is worth keeping around once this team starts winning again.

So if I am being fair and unbiased, this is probably a team who is going to win 70-75 games this year, a healthy improvement over last year. At times this team will look like they have turned a corner and other times they will look like a boxer who has fallen back into the ropes. Part of the joy of a rebuild is watching the youngsters learn and grow and a lot of times that includes more struggling than succeeding.

Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

So hopefully you come along for the ride. It’s going to get bumpy from time to time, but 162 games will do that to a person. What I can say with quite a bit of certainty is that no matter what, it’s hard to imagine this version of the Royals being as woeful as they were in 2018. This version will at least give you reasons to stay in your seat. Whether you want to see Mondesi or Merrifield, or Keller or Lovelady, it’s going to be an interesting development. Just call it what it is: it’s a rebuild, Kansas City style.

Taking Whit for Granted

Last Monday, it was made official, as the Kansas City Royals and Whit Merrifield came to an agreement on a 4-year deal worth a guaranteed $16.25 million. The deal is one that benefits both the team and the player, and it would appear keeps Whit in Kansas City for the foreseeable future.

But what this deal will also do is really force us to appreciate what Whit Merrifield has done so far in his major league career. While we have praised him and been in awe of his productivity over these last couple of years, the honest truth is we took him for granted. Yes, we haven’t really admired and valued him the way we should have.

This doesn’t mean we haven’t loved watching him perform on the diamond or been impressed with what he has accomplished. As a fanbase, I feel we have done that and we’ve embraced him as one of us, a true Royal. But there is a line where you can enjoy watching and cheering on a player but not really grasp what your eyes are seeing. There is a point where you are not really appreciating what stands before you.

We all know how impressive it has been that Whit, at the age of 27, made his major league debut, an age that normally doesn’t guarantee success. Since that debut, Whit has posted a 3 WAR season, a 5 WAR season and has accumulated 11 bWAR over his career. Great numbers for a guy who no one saw as more than a bench player, let along a top prospect.

In fact, Merrifield has been compared to former Royal Ben Zobrist when it comes to his versatility and it’s not just his ability to play all over the diamond that feeds the comparison. Zobrist made his major league debut at the age of 25, but didn’t really stick in the big leagues until his age 28 season. That year saw him pile up 8.6 bWAR and an OPS+ of 149. While Whit hasn’t quite up the power numbers that Zobrist did in his prime, there is enough statistical comparisons to see that the two have very similar trajectories.

Both were late bloomers and that pushed us to believe that Whit was an anomaly. After the 2017 campaign, many of us (myself included) felt that the smartest play for the Royals was to trade Merrifield. The belief was that his value was never going to get higher and there was no guarantee that he would be able to duplicate what he did during that season.

Credit: John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS via Getty Images

So what did he do? He just came out and hit .304/.367/.438 while leading the league in hits and stolen bases. He racked up 5.5 bWAR and proved himself to be one of the top second basemen in the game, despite the fact that the Royals were still moving him around the field like a chess piece. Whit defied the odds and continued to improve his production.

Even after what he did in 2018, many felt the smart move to was to trade him this winter. As someone who used to be in that camp, it’s easy to see the logic. Here is a player who is entering his age 30 season, coming off of a 5 win season, playing for a team that doesn’t appear to be contending for postseason play for at least a couple more years. Using the rebuilding playbook, it would make sense to see what you could get for Merrifield and make a deal for younger players who could help the team in their contending window.

Makes sense, right? To me, this is where we have been taking him for granted. We’ve been so focused on Whit’s fall from grace and how he will be nearing his mid-30’s by the time the Royals are contending that we haven’t focused on how he can help this club get there in the first place.

Credit: Getty Images

While a young team can strive based on talent alone, there is always a piece of the puzzle that could and should be filled by the veterans that lead them there. Go ask the 2014 Royals about Raul Ibanez and what he meant. Go ask the 2015 team about Jonny Gomes. Keeping Merrifield around to be an influence on the players moving up through their system can only be looked at as a positive for Kansas City.

Just look at his story. The guy was left off the Royals 40-man roster a few years back, available for any team to take in the Rule 5 Draft. Luckily, he wasn’t taken, worked himself back to reach the big leagues, was left off the Opening Day roster in 2017, returned to Kansas City and has turned himself into an All-Star caliber player. If you are a young player who has struggled or is struggling, Whit is motivation that anything is possible if you set your mind to it.

That hard work, the work ethic, will find a way to rub off on the players we will see over these next couple of years. It’s easy to see Merrifield taking a more prominent leadership role moving forward and possibly even replacing Alex Gordon as a shining example of the hard work put into honing your craft.

Even if Whit drops off a bit these next few years (and that is possible as he gets closer to reaching his regression years), it doesn’t appear as if he is just going to drop off the board entirely. Even a 2-3 WAR season is more than adequate for a guy looking to build up a team that is rebuilding. Whit’s value at this point goes beyond the numbers on the field as he looks to be a cornerstone for the Royals moving forward.

So we now know that Whit is not going anywhere and we can really start focusing on all that makes him great. We can focus on the speed, the skill, the unselfishness and even the leadership. Rather than focus on what the Royals can get for him, we can turn our attention to how he can make the team better.

Dayton Moore is a big believer in loyalty and when he has that devotion he pays it back in spades. Whit has been loyal to the organization and on Monday he was shown that loyalty back. While we sometimes scoff at the manner in which Moore handles matters on the field, there is something to be said for focusing on players with high character.

But that character has to be met with productivity to truly work. Hopefully Whit will reward the organization’s loyalty with the same output we have seen these last two seasons. It’s time to start paying attention to what Merrifield really means to this team. It’s hard to bet against the guy who has defied all the odds up to this point.

My 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot

Credit: BaseballHall.org

There is no greater honor in any sport than getting a plaque in the baseball Hall of Fame. I’m sure someone who believes the NFL or NBA is a greater honor will debate me on this, but there is never the sort of debate toward their hall’s as there is in baseball. That debate has grown into a fervor among baseball fans, writers and even players, as every one seems to have an opinion on this topic. 

What has made it even more intense is what we should do with players who were “suspected” of enhancement thanks to steroids and other performance enhancement drugs, and whether or not they deserve a spot in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown or left on the outside looking in. In some ways, the people who vote on this honor are the judge, jury and executioner, as testing was not done during this period so for many of the players of that era there is no definite of what they did or did not do. 

As a member of the IBWAA, this will be my fifth year of voting for ‘the Hall’ and as I have said in years past, I have no issue voting for anyone suspected for PED use, since I feel those players played within the parameters of the rules allowed at that time. I’ve long considered the Hall of Fame a museum of the game, not a church, and because of this I vote based on performance alone. 

Now, there are a few differences between us in the IBWAA & our brethren in the BBWAA, one of which is the players we have already inducted. Last year we inducted Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman and Barry Bonds, and in years past we had already voted in Edgar Martinez, so he will not show up on our ballot this year. Also, we are allowed to vote for up to 15 players, where the BBWAA can only vote for 10. 

Before we get to my actual votes, you can read my previous votes: Here is 2014201520162017  and 2018. Also, follow Ryan Thibodaux on Twitter. That way you can follow how the voting is going before the big announcement on January 22nd. Without further ado, here are my votes for the 2018 Hall of Fame ballot.

Roy Halladay

Halladay might very well be the last of his kind, a pitcher who finishes what he started. Halladay came along during a period where the big shift into using relievers more often hadn’t quite hit yet, but was getting closer and closer every day. Halladay was that guy who you handed the ball to and that day the bullpen was probably getting a bit of a reprieve.

But it wasn’t just his stamina that made him great, in fact that is just a small portion of the picture. “Doc” was an ace in every sense of the world, as he threw his fastball with a bit of sink to it, sprinkled in with one of the hardest cutters in the game and topped off with a curveball and the occasional changeup that was closer to a split-finger fastball. Halladay’s game was all about location and movement.

What the numbers tell us about Halladay is that he is right up there with the greats of the game. He is 42nd all-time in WAR for pitchers, 71st in strike outs, 25th in strike out to walk ratio, 40th in ERA+, 28th in pitching runs, 20th in RE24, and 15th in WPA. He posted eight years with 5 WAR or better and four of those years were above 7 bWAR. While his early years saw a lot of ups and downs, the later one showed a pitcher who developed himself into one of the best of his era.

This also showed in the awards and “black ink” he compiled throughout his career. Halladay won a Cy Young Award in both leagues, was selected to 8 All-Star teams, threw a perfect game back in 2010 against the Marlins and later that year threw the first postseason no-hitter since Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Roy led his league in wins twice, complete games seven times, innings pitched four times, and ERA+, FIP and WHIP all one time apiece.

While Halladay has the numbers, the achievements and the iconic moments, the real story of his greatness is that of a baseball player who was an even better human being. After his death from a plane crash in late 2017, former teammate Cole Hamels spoke fondly of him at a life celebration in Florida:

Roy showed everyone what to do. He was not boastful. He was the most humble human being I’ve ever met. The type of talent and integrity he had in the game of baseball.
“And on the outside? He was a loving father, a loving husband. And that right there really exemplifies more than the game of baseball. 

So while some believed it might take awhile for Halladay to get voted in to Cooperstown, he now looks like a lock for induction this upcoming summer. With close to half of the ballots known, “Doc” is sitting at well above 90% of the votes and will take his rightful place in the baseball Hall of Fame this summer.

While it will be a special moment for his family, it has to be a somewhat bittersweet that he won’t be there himself to accept the plaque. Halladay overcame his early career struggles and turned himself into one of the best pitchers of all-time. His is a story that should be told till the end of time, and hopefully this honor will cement that legacy that earned him a spot in the conversation in the first place.

Credit: Lisa Blumenfeld

Todd Helton

There is going to be a big debate of whether or not former Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton deserves enshrinement into the Hall of Fame and while some will question his numbers due to Coors Field, I do not. In my eyes, Helton was a well above-average hitter for a very long time, a plus defender and worthy of being a Hall of Famer.

But lets start with those numbers to really get a feel for what he accomplished over his 17 year career. Helton had a lifetime .316/.414/.539 line with 369 home runs, 1406 RBI’s and 61.2 bWAR. He ranks 67th all-time in batting average, 27th in on-base percentage, 36th in slugging percentage, 19th in OPS, 96th in runs scored, 97 in career hits, 62nd in total bases, 19th in doubles, 80th in home runs, 77th in RBI’s, 32nd in runs created, 40th in extra base hits and 34th in career WPA. I’ve always been a firm believer that if you are a great player you have to achieve numbers that litter the Top 100 of all-time and Helton does that.

But the elephant in the room that hurts Helton is the “Coors Field Effect”. Unfortunately, the splits tell us that Helton did benefit from playing at one of the better offensive ballparks in baseball, as he hit .345/.411/.607 at home and .287/.386/.469 on the road. There is a big enough disparity there that will cause some to shy away from voting for Helton, essentially saying he wouldn’t have his numbers if it weren’t for playing at Coors.

While he did perform better at home, the only real drastic difference in his home/road splits is home runs: he hit 227 at home and 142 on the road. Most of his other numbers are at least moderately comparable on the road, or at least enough that we shouldn’t discredit him for the work he did in his home ballpark.

The number that really should sway you to Helton’s side is his career OPS+, which is adjusted to a league average. Essentially, that number normalizes itself to factor in elements like ballparks and trends in different leagues. So even with that factored in, Helton has a career OPS+ of 133, which is 33% better than the league average. So when you take out the “Coors Field Effect”, Helton is still performing well above the normal hitter in baseball.

The numbers continue to speak of an elite hitter. Helton is ranked 18th all-time at first base at the Hall of Stats and his hitting stats are comparable to some all-time greats. His offensive similarity scores are right up there with Jeff Bagwell (HOFer), Miguel Cabrera (future HOFer), and Edgar Martinez (soon to be HOFer). Add in his elite defense and you have a guy who should be getting a plaque in Cooperstown at some point.

Helton can also add in some black ink (his 2000 season was an absolutely monster season), 5 straight All-Star nods, 3 Gold Glove awards and 4 Silver Sluggers at a very touted position. This all spells ‘Hall of Famer’ to me.

The good news is that while he won’t get the support I would like this year, he is polling at around 20% right now which should help him stay on the ballot for future years. Add in a number of players getting voted in this year and a few falling off, and you have a recipe for some to give him a deeper look in future years. Hopefully by the time it is all said and done, Todd Helton will receive the honor he deserves in the very near future.

Credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Andruw Jones

If there is a name on this ballot that made me go back and forth on, it was Jones. 2018 was the first year he appeared on the ballot and while I took a long, hard look at his candidacy, in the end I passed. This year, I decided to take a deeper look and see if I should reconsider and on further review, Jones appears to be a prime candidate for election.

The strongest part of Jones’ game was his defense. He posted ten straight years of winning the Gold Glove Award and racked up 24.5 defensive WAR throughout his 17-year career. Elite defenders within the game should always get a second look, no matter how much we fawn over their offensive.

So while Andruw’s defense is without a doubt ‘Hall-worthy’, his work with the bat wasn’t that bad either. Career-wise, Jones hit .254/.337/.486 with 434 home runs, 1289 RBI’s and 62.8 bWAR. While these are very, very solid numbers, you can see where someone would be skeptical. But if you are like me, you appreciate a player’s 7-year peak.

Jones put up over six years of an OPS+ higher than 120 and ten years where he hit 20 home runs or more. 2005 was a stellar season for him, as he hit 51 homers, knocked in 128 runs and put up an OPS+ of 136. While that was the top of the mountain for Jones, in his prime he consistently produced well above-average offensively and was a force in the middle of the Atlanta offense.

When you add in his defense is where the numbers start really popping. Jones had six seasons where he had 5 win seasons (5 WAR or more) and eight 4 win seasons. When it comes to peaks, Jones was one of the elite players in the game and in fact he is 105th all-time in WAR for position players and 21st in defensive WAR.

Jones also has an impressive number of career totals that help his cause. He is 47th all-time in home runs, 88th in extra base hits and 66th in AB per HR. I normally prefer a Hall of Famer to have more numbers in the Top 100, but Jones’ superior defense brings his case right to the borderline.

So it comes down to how you feel about a player’s peak. If you are like me, you feel the peak is one of the biggest factors in a player’s candidacy and even if you fall off the board hard late in your career(like Jones did), the peak makes up for the regression.

If not, someone like Jones falls just short of the parameters for Cooperstown. This is why the case for him is a difficult one, since you are looking at a player who was a great, great player for a good chunk of his career. But once he started the fall, he fell hard and fast.

So while I wavered on Jones last year, this year it felt like the peak was so good and the defense was so elite that he was worthy of my vote. I can understand anyone who feels otherwise, as it really comes down to what you value on a player’s contributions to the game. To me, the fact Jones was the best defender at his position for close to ten years and a great run producer for around seven years for enough for me. For others, Jones’ case will fall just a bit short.

Roy Oswalt

Just like Andruw Jones, Roy Oswalt is the case for inducting him based off of his peak years. During his prime, Oswalt was one of the best pitchers of his era. Unfortunately, his is a career that hit a wall due to injuries.

Let’s start with the basics: Oswalt threw 2245.1 innings in his big league career, striking out 1852 batters and a career ERA of 3.36. On the surface, those are good numbers, but maybe not instant ‘Hall-worthy’ stats. Not even the 50 bWAR, 127 career ERA+ and 20 career complete games push him in the definite category of Hall of Famer.

But the peak is definitely a great one. During his first seven years in the league, Oswalt threw 1413 innings, posting a 3.07 ERA and striking out 1170 batters. Throw in an ERA+ of 143 and a FIP of 3.23 and you start making the argument for Oswalt being an elite pitcher.

Oswalt can even toss in some black ink for his case. He led the league in wins back in 2004, WHIP in 2010 and strike out to walk ratio in 2006. He also posted five 4 win seasons (and almost a sixth in 2004 when he had 3.4 bWAR), which helps his case as one of the best pitchers of his era.

But the overall numbers aren’t too bad when you really start to digest them. Oswalt is 105th in WAR for pitchers, 99th in strike outs per 9, 105th in strike outs, 26th in strike out to walk ratio, 50th in ERA+, 43rd in RE24 and 59th in WPA. It’s very obviously Oswalt wasn’t a compiler and it really makes you wonder what would have happened if he had been able to stay healthy more often late in his career.

In fact, Oswalt might be the ultimate borderline pitcher. His similarity score is on par with other pitchers right on the line: Bret Saberhagen, Jered Weaver and Cliff Lee. The Hall of Stats has him ranked 79th all-time among pitchers and that feels pretty accurate to me.

So if you feel Roy Oswalt is just short of being a Hall of Famer, I can see that. He is right on that line where you have to decide what a player’s true value is. To me, Oswalt is just over that line but I don’t know if he will see a second ballot to continue the discussion. Oswalt is currently polling at 1.1% on the BBWAA ballot with 45% made public at the moment. It’s too bad, because at the very least he deserves to stick around so there can be more discussions about his candidacy.

Manny Ramirez

Many voters have said the difference to them between Bonds or Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro or Ramirez is that the latter tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and was justly suspended. In fact, last year when I started filling out my ballot, I paused on Ramirez and had to really stop and think of which direction I wanted to go. Like I have said, my voting is performance based but an actual suspension (and for Manny it was multiple suspensions) muddies the water a bit.

After much contemplation, I went ahead and voted for Manny since he had put up Hall of Fame numbers before the suspensions. While Ramirez wasn’t a stellar defender (and that is evidenced by his career bWAR of 69.2), offensively he was a juggernaut. Manny posted a career line of .312/.411/.585 with 555 career home runs, and an OPS+ of 154. I firmly believe he could hit blindfolded and still produce league average numbers, as he was that good of a hitter.

Manny also contributed during the playoffs, where he hit .285/.394/.544 with 29 home runs and 78 RBI’s over 111 postseason games, all fairly on pace to his regular season averages. The awards are all there for him as he was a 12 time All-Star, 2 time Hank Aaron award winner, 2002 AL batting title, 2004 World Series MVP, and 9 time Silver Slugger award winner. If that isn’t impressive enough, the numbers are quite gaudy: 32nd all-time in oWAR, 32nd in On-Base Percentage, 8th in Slugging Percentage, 8th in OPS, 29th in total bases, 31st in doubles, 15th in home runs, 18th in RBI’s, 28th in OPS+, 21st in runs created, 17th in Adjusted Batting Runs, 20th in Adjusted Batting Wins, 16th in extra base hits, 11th in RE24,  and 23rd in Win Probability Added. Those are Hall of Fame numbers and most of that accumulated before he tested positive for anything.

Would I hold it against anyone for not voting for him because of the suspensions? Nope. I get it.But for me, Ramirez has long been a Hall of Famer; the only thing those suspensions did was tarnish the perception of him, which is unfortunate. Instead of people remembering Manny for his child-like antics or immense hitting, he will be branded a cheater. He has no one else to blame for that, but I still felt like he had earned my vote, scarlet letter and all.

Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Mariano Rivera

If there was a no-doubt, absolute lock on this ballot, it’s Mariano Rivera. There is no discussion, no trepidation or even a second thought: Rivera is the greatest closer in baseball history. The only reason to not vote for him would be if you are trying to save other players from falling off the ballot. That is how definite Rivera is.

Literally everything about his career backs this up. Thirteen All-Star nods, a World Series MVP, an ALCS MVP, and an astounding 0.70 postseason ERA just tell part of the story. He is 77th all-time in bWAR for pitchers, 3rd in WHIP, 8th in hits per 9, first in saves, 10th in strike out to walk ratio, first in ERA+, 18th in RE24, 5th in WPA and 4th in games played.

Rivera compiled 56.2 bWAR over his career, including 10 seasons of 3 WAR or more. The average Hall of Fame reliever has 38.1 bWAR over his career, a number that Rivera absolutely blows away. He simply was the best at what he did.

For him, it’s the numbers but also the moments. The playoff appearances, the World Series moments and the high-leverage situations that went along with it. Rivera was the guy you wanted on the mound if you need to protect a lead in a big game.

Rivera is currently polling at 100% on the known BBWAA ballots and is a lock to be in Cooperstown this upcoming summer. There has been a number of debates on whether or not he should or will get all of the votes, but to me that doesn’t matter. Whether he gets 99 or 100%, either way there is no doubt of his final destination. Mariano Rivera is a Hall of Famer and that is the end of the discussion.

Credit: Associated Press

Scott Rolen

If there is a player I voted for that I feel others will look past on first glance when they absolutely shouldn’t, it’s Scott Rolen. I mentioned last year how under-represented the position of third base is and voting for Rolen would go a long way toward making up some much-needed ground.

While the defensive metrics still feel a bit like a work in progress, there is no denying that he was an elite defender. Rolen sits 6th all-time in total zone runs as a third baseman, 32nd for range factor/9 innings for a third baseman and is second in defensive runs saved as a third sacker since 2002. Rolen was 48th all-time in defensive WAR, an eight-time Gold Glove winner and outside of maybe Adrian Beltre, was considered the elite defender at the position during his day.

Now, defense alone doesn’t get you in the hall, otherwise someone like Mark Belanger would have a nice little plaque. Luckily for Rolen, his offense was stellar as well. The stats don’t speak as a world beater as much as a consistent performer throughout his 17 year career; 99th all-time in WAR (67th for position players), 51st in career doubles, 74th in extra base hits and 104th in Win Probability Added. Like I said, not breaking any records but I doubt many would expect these kind of footprints stepping into the statistical records of baseball history.

But to truly honor Rolen’s greatness, all you have to do is view his place in third basemen all-time. Rolen sits 10th for third basemen all-time in WAR, 14th in WAR7, and 10th in JAWS. If you believe in those numbers as much as I do, you consider Rolen one of the greatest third baseman in history…but there is more. When considering the other players at his position, he is 6th in doubles, 15th in home runs, 14th in RBI’s, 14th in slugging percentage, and 11th in OPS.

To top it all off, the Hall of Stats has him listed as a 142 Hall Rating, 85th all-time overall and 8th among third baseman. In other words, he was great and totally deserves this honor. I really wish Rolen was getting more support this year, since I really feel like he is the third base equivalent of Alan Trammell. Great numbers, especially the more you dive into them but overshadowed by his peers who played at the same time. At some point he will get his acknowledgement, it’s just a matter of how long that takes to happen.

Curt Schilling

There might not be a bigger lightning rod on the Hall of Fame ballot than Schilling, who has caught quite a bit of scorn for his behavior on social media within the last couple of years. While I might not agree with his politics, I do realize it has nothing to do with his candidacy in the Hall and justly had no qualms in voting for him yet again this year.

Schilling’s numbers speak of a top-notch starter: 26th all-time in pitchers bWAR, 15th in strikeouts, 3rd best strikeout to walk ratio, 18th best Win Probability Added and 46th best ERA+. Those are just his regular season numbers; toss in the postseason and you have a surefire Hall of Famer.

Schilling has rubbed many a writer the wrong way (and by no means do I feel sorry for Curt; he would probably be better off learning when to keep quiet and because of that his vote totals have not been where they should be these last few years. I might not like Schilling the person, but the baseball player was one hell of a pitcher out on the diamond. For that, he has my vote.

Credit: Ron Antonelli via Getty Images

Gary Sheffield

Over the last few years I have gone back and forth on Gary Sheffield and his candidacy for the Hall of Fame. Maybe it was because he bounced around from team to team, or the fact that he bounced between the infield and the outfield throughout his career. Either way, it was easy to leave Sheff out of the conversation and feel like he was on the cusp of greatness.

But when I finally broke down the numbers, it really felt like his case has been one of the most overlooked when it comes to the hall. Sheffield played right field more than any other position, so I first stacked his numbers against the others at that position. Sheffield is 19th in WAR for right fielders, just below Shoeless Joe Jackson and Dave Winfield. He ranks a bit lower on his peak, as he sits 24th in WAR7, above Hall of Famers Winfield, Chuck Klein, Willie Keeler, and Enos Slaughter. He is also at 24th in JAWS while 7th in home runs, 8th in RBI’s, 12th in OPS and 15th in OPS+.

Now, right fielders are well represented in the hall (24 to be exact) so Sheffield holds his own in the position, even if he is slightly below the elite level. But as I mentioned earlier, I’m a big proponent of where players stack up all-time and that is where Sheffield shines. He is 35th in offensive WAR (obviously his defense dragged him down a bit in the WAR category), 88th in on-base percentage, 76th in slugging percentage, 58th in OPS, 69th in hits, 34th in total bases, 26th in home runs, 28th in RBI’s, 21st in walks, 78th in OPS+, 26th in runs created, 39th in extra base hits, 25th in RE24, and 16th in Win Probability Added. I’m sure the fact he played 22 seasons helped him compile a decent amount of those numbers, but he also was able to stay healthy and be a consistent run producer for almost the entirety of his career.

Sheffield had six seasons with an OPS+ of 150 or more and was above league average for all but two years of his career (one was his rookie year and the other was his age 39 season). So what has hurt Sheffield’s case? I’m sure a few people would mention that his name was in the Mitchell Report and had been linked to PED’s in the past. Like I mentioned, that doesn’t affect my voting. But the other concern was his defense. It didn’t really matter whether he was at shortstop, third base or the outfield, he just wasn’t a great fielder.

In the past I’ve not voted for Jeff Kent because of his defense and I didn’t vote for Omar Vizquel this year because of his lack of offense. So what was the difference with Sheff? His offense was so good that it crossed out any issues I had with his defense. I’m also a “Big Hall” guy and feel like Sheffield was one of the great hitters of his era. I can understand if someone leaves him off (he is a fringe guy in this regard), but for me he was far enough above the line to be considered one of the greats.

Billy Wagner

Wagner was a seven time All-Star, twice was in the top ten of the NL Cy Young award and took home the 1999 NL Rolaids Relief Award. While he sits in 6th place all-time in saves, that doesn’t mean as much to me as his 86% conversion rate, which is close to Trevor Hoffman’s 88.8%.

What does interest me is some of the deeper numbers when compared to fellow relievers. Wagner is 5th all-time for relievers in ERA+, 14th for relievers in bWAR (in fact, just under Hoffman), 4th in strikeouts for a reliever, 86th in Adjusted Pitching Runs, 93rd in Adjusted Pitching Wins, 55th in RE24, and 36th in Win Probability Added. All this was done in less than 1,000 innings, which for some is a hindrance rather than a positive.

I get that relievers today aren’t used in the same scenarios as their forefathers, and because of that their innings totals will seem meek in comparison. But that is also what the role calls for nowadays and there is something to be said for compiling numbers like this in a much shorter amount of time. For Wagner, it was more about the efficiency than the longevity; Wagner came in, shut down the opposing team and was done.

In some ways, Wagner and Hoffman are linked in that they both pitched about the same amount of time, in the same period and were equally efficient. Both were top of the food chain for their position and in my eyes, both should be in Cooperstown.

Credit: MLB.com

Larry Walker

This was the third year I voted for Walker and my take on him seemed to be a bit different from a lot of folks. For many, the fact that Walker played a large chunk of his home games in Coors Field (Walker was a Rockie from 1995 to 2004) seemed to deter voters from placing a vote for him; I had no issue with that, since I knew he hit on the road almost as well as he did at home.

No, my issue with him was injuries, as he had 7 seasons of less than 130 games, 12 of less than 140. Walker’s issue wasn’t the ‘Rocky Mountain High’s’ as much as the ability to stay on the field and play. The numbers speak volumes: .313/.400/.565 career slash line, 141 career OPS+, 5 time All-Star, 1997 NL MVP, 3 batting titles, and 7 time Gold Glove winner.

So what changed for me when it comes to Walker? His place in history. According to JAWS, Walker is the 10th best right fielder of all-time. All-Time! Just seeing who he is better than sounds like a who’s-who of right fielders: Shoeless Joe Jackson, Tony Gwynn, Ichiro Suzuki, Dwight Evans, Dave Winfield, Vladimir Guerrero, Willie Keeler, Paul Waner and Enos Slaughter, just to name a few.

Walker is 86th all-time in bWAR, 56th in bWAR for position players, 55th in on base percentage, 12th in slugging percentage, 14th in OPS, 31st in power-speed #, 38th in RE24, and 36th in Win Probability Added. Those numbers are just a sliver of what he could do; there are 7 other categories where Walker is in the Top 100 of all-time.

What makes me curious is the voting for Walker during the first seven years on the ballot; He peaked in 2012 at 22% and last year bumped up a bit to 34.1% and so far is polling at 67% this year. One has to wonder if the voters viewpoint of him would change if he hadn’t played so many games in Colorado. It took me awhile to recognize it, but Walker deserves to be with the other elite right fielders in Cooperstown.

So there you go, my 11 picks to be inducted into the IBWAA Hall of Fame. It feels more and more like the ballots are starting to weed themselves out and there is more room for voters to work with. As of this writing, four players are above the 75% required for the BBWAA’s election and when you add Harold Baines and Lee Smith’s election from the Today’s Game Committee, it should make for a busy summer in Cooperstown. But don’t worry; while the voting will commence on Tuesday, the debate will rage on.

Starling’s Journey Not Done Yet

Credit: Rob Tringali/Getty Images

It all seemed poetic at the time. When Bubba Starling was drafted by the Kansas City Royals as the 5th pick overall in the 2011 MLB Draft, it felt like a story that writers dream about covering. Here was Starling, a graduate of Gardner Edgerton High School in Gardner, Kansas, just outside of Kansas City. Hometown boy drafted by the team he grew up cheering for, right? It was a narrative we all dream of.

The problem is that sometimes life doesn’t play out the way a novel or a script might. Sometimes reality is a bit of a bitter pill, a splash of cold water on the dreamer’s expectations. The hope was that Starling would roam the spacious outfield at Kauffman Stadium, running down fly balls to the adulation of his family and friends. Reality hasn’t been nearly as glossy.

After seven years of wandering in the Kansas City farm system, Starling was non-tendered a contract at the end of November. The belief at the time was that Starling would re-sign with the Royals, this time to a minor league deal. As expected, Starling returned to the organization earlier this week:

So while reality has been less than ideal, the dream for Starling is still technically alive. But as he gets ready for his age 26 season, we have to wonder if the big leagues is still in the cards for Bubba.

Credit: Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports

Most of us are aware of the issues Starling has dealt with, as injuries and offensive struggles have derailed his arrival to Kansas City. Over seven minor league seasons, he has hit a combined .236/.312/.386 over close to 2500 plate appearances. Starling looked to be finally breaking through over the summer of 2017, as he hit .290/.327/.435 from the beginning of May through July 9th. But then an oblique injury sidelined him until August 11; a week later, the oblique knocked him out for the rest of the season.

With Lorenzo Cain gone, center field seemed attainable for Bubba in 2018 if he could get back on track. Unfortunately, the oblique injury lingered, and was then followed by a dislocated left index finger. When it was all said and done, Starling made only 66 plate appearances last year, hitting .296/.415/.611, playing in the rookie league and AAA.   

So now that he is banished from the 40-man roster and on a minor league deal, is there still some upside in Bubba? The truth is that while things might look bleak, the release might have been just what he needed. Expectations have never been lower and I’m sure some will even forget he is still around.

But…if he stays healthy and continues to hit like he did in 2017, we could see Starling in the big leagues. His glove has been major league ready for years and is the true selling point of his talent. Just ask our friends over at Royals Farm Report: 


 The great thing about him too is that, he doesn’t need to hit .300 to be a productive MLB center fielder. Bubba is so good defensively that all he he’d need to do is be an AVERAGE hitter and his defense will actually give him some decent value in the big leagues.

If Bubba can even produce at a level close to his 2015 season in AA (where he produced a wRC+ of 105 in 367 plate appearances) then he would be worthy of a big league spot.

You might be asking yourself “but isn’t the Royals outfield crowded right now?” and the answer to that is ‘yes’. With Alex Gordon in left field, Jorge Bonifacio and Jorge Soler in right, and Billy Hamilton, Brian Goodwin and Brett Phillips in center field, that is six possible outfielders at a loaded position (think clowns piling into a small car). Throw in Whit Merrifield, Chris Owings, Ryan O’Hearn and Hunter Dozier as players who have played out there before, and you have very little room for Starling. Which is why the issue would need to be pressed.

The deck is stacked against him. While there are players who have blossomed after their age 26 seasons (Hi, Whit), every day makes it less and less likely to happen. An argument could even be made that maybe he would be better served to go to a different organization, one without the pressure of being a 1st round draft pick and a hometown kid.

So there is a scenario where Bubba makes it to the big leagues. If he stays healthy, hits just a little bit and the Royals need help in the outfield, he could get the call. That’s a lot of blocks to fall into place, but it could happen.

Look, the expectations of being a top five draft pick are always lofty and on average those expectations are rarely met. In some ways, Starling was doomed from the moment Kansas City drafted him all those years ago. The pressure of living up to the hype is something I do not wish onto anyone, let alone a kid from the Royals backyard.   

Credit: Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo

So let the dreamers still dream, because as long as he has a contract there is a chance. We can even hope that the stars align and he reaches a few goals that were tossed his way seven years ago. Maybe if the Royals hadn’t felt like they “missed” on Albert Pujols they wouldn’t have felt inclined to draft Bubba.

Maybe that’s the point. Maybe the Royals drafted out of fear. Or maybe he fit what they look for in a baseball player: athletic, toolsy and fast, with good defense. In many ways, Bubba Starling is the blueprint of what the Royals want their players to be. The bad news is that this story has been a disappointment to this point. But the good news is that there is still time for a few more chapters to be written as well.  

Sprucing Up the Museum

Credit: BaseballHall.org

On Sunday night, it was announced that the Today’s Game Era ballot had been voted on and they would be inducting Lee Smith and Harold Baines into the Baseball Hall of Fame this upcoming summer in Cooperstown, New York.

The 16-member committee for this ballot consisted of Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Pat Gillick, Tony La Russa, Greg Maddux, Joe Morgan, John Schuerholz, Ozzie Smith and Joe Torre; major-league executives Al Avila, Paul Beeston, Andy MacPhail and Jerry Reinsdorf; and veteran media members/historians Steve Hirdt, Tim Kurkjian and Claire Smith. 

Smith getting inducted was no surprise, as he had reached as high as 50.6% on the BBWAA ballot and was a borderline candidate for years, mattering on where you stood on the induction of relievers into the hall. But Baines was another story.

Credit: MLB.com

Baines never received more than 6.1% of support on the BBWAA ballot and is probably the definition of a player with a good career that hung around long enough to compile some good numbers. Good, but not great. 

So how did Baines get in? Well, it probably helped that he had a former teammate (Alomar), a former manager (LaRussa) and a former owner (Reinsdorf) on his side. Also, Baines was always known as a good guy and a good teammate. For those within the game, that carries quite a bit of weight.

But for many of us, being a “great guy” doesn’t always qualify you for being a Hall of Famer. Cooperstown is the best of the best, and the numbers say that Baines isn’t one of the elite. But what if the hall honored those players who might not have been “the best of the best”, but were good for the game? What if there was a separate wing for those that were admired and loved outside of their accomplishments on the field? What if they included the true “characters” of the game? Maybe an award for the “nice guys” of the game?

Credit: Associated Press / Chris Cummins

This subject was actually broached to me last year by a friend and it was amusing because I had thought of the idea years ago. What initially sparked adding a separate wing for me was Buck O’Neil. Lets be honest: Kansas City loved Buck. He was not only a symbol of Kansas City baseball, for his ties to the Monarchs and his attendance at Royals games, but he was the benchmark of what is great about baseball in general.

Buck was friendly, cordial, and loved talking baseball with anyone  who wanted to. For him it wasn’t as much about giving back to the game as sharing something he loved with others. Who doesn’t remember Buck’s appearance in the Ken Burn’s documentary “Baseball”?:

In fact, despite not being inducted at Cooperstown, Buck did give a speech at the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony back in 2006 to honor the pioneers in the Negro Leagues:

Buck O’Neil might not have been one of the greatest players in history, but he was the definition of what was great about the game. It was unfortunate that while O’Neil helped honor the greats involved with the Negro Leagues, he himself had been overlooked for induction despite all he did for baseball.

Buck would pass away in late 2006 and in 2008 the Baseball Hall of Fame would honor his legacy with the creation of the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award. A statue was dedicated to the museum and every three years a new winner is announced. This is a great honor and one worthy of a man of O’Neil’s stature and character.

Now the Hall of Fame has done its due diligence when it comes to honoring those that are just as big a part of the game as the players. The Veterans Committe, which has lineage all the way back to 1939, would put together a subcommittee to consider candidates that not only involved players, but managers, umpires and executives as well. 

The hall has also handed out the Ford C. Frick award annually to honor a broadcaster for their contributions to the game. So there is no stone left unturned, starting in 1962 they would also honor a baseball writer annually, also known as the J.G. Taylor Spink award.   

But it would be nice if the hall could go a step further. The Baseball Hall of Fame is a museum and it would be fitting to include some of the more charitable and “class acts” that made the game better.

There would have to be a few guidelines to follow for this to happen. For one, the inductees for this achievement should be in a separate wing from the elite players who get inducted. There would have to be a definite difference between the two so fans are aware of this separate honor.

Credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame

Also, to show this is a different award it would probably be smart not to give them the same plaques as the greats of the game. Maybe instead of a plaque, present videos on each player and why they are worthy of this honor. Since this would be a different wing, it should have a different feel to it.

So who exactly should be honored for this award? The criteria would obviously be quite a bit different, as statistics wouldn’t matter as much as the footprint you leave on the game. In my vision of this honor, it would be about everything that is great for baseball. The eligible should be those that are great ambassadors, those that were genuine big-hearted and charitable that didn’t cause any issues and even the players who made the game more fun.

In my eyes, this honor would be about players like Andrew McCutchen, who has spent years giving back with his charitable work and when he was in Pittsburgh, giving back to the community. It would also be for someone like former Royals first baseman Mike Sweeney, who has put together baseball camps for kids and has always been one of the great guys in the game. 

Credit: Sports Illustrated

It would also include some of the players who made the game so much fun to watch. Take Bartolo Colon for example. Colon has played into his mid-40’s and has a child-like demeanor when he is out on the field that makes it easy to cheer for. The same could be said about former Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark Fidrych. “The Bird” had a short career with a number of highs and lows, but was one of the most entertaining players in baseball history.

These players make the game better and while they won’t go down as one of the “all-time greats” in baseball history, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be honored. Some of the greats weren’t good human beings, like Ty Cobb and former Boston Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey, who both have been elected to baseball’s hallowed halls. Since this is a museum, you sometimes have to take the bad with the good, which is why it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to include more of the benevolent people involved within the game.

From every story or conversation that has been thrown out this week, Harold Baines appears to be one of the great guys that helped build a solid foundation for baseball. Maybe if a separate wing is put into the hall for guys like him, there won’t be a need to slide someone in where they might not fit. This way we could talk about why they deserve an honor instead of why they don’t.  

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