Closing Time

kc1
Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Last Monday, the Kansas City Royals dealt their closer Kelvin Herrera (and biggest trade chip) to Washington for three prospects. While the trade has come with mixed reviews so far, the one conundrum it left the Royals with was who would be the team’s successor to Herrera as closer?

The question was posed not too long after the trade to Royals manager Ned Yost and he gave the answer most of us would have expected:

“All of them,” Royals manager Ned Yost replied when asked who will get a chance to close out games. “Opportunity exists down there. We’ll have to see who takes advantage of it.”

This isn’t a shock and considering the state of the Royals bullpen (last in the American League in fWAR, the highest ERA & FIP, lowest strike out rate and third highest walk rate all among relievers), it makes sense to keep it an open race. The problem in my eyes is that Ned is holding on to a formula that might not be the best for Kansas City in this situation:

“I’ll look at different guys, but I would prefer one guy to emerge, take advantage of the opportunity,” Yost said. “But it’s wide-open right now.”

Yes, Yost at the end of the day wants one reliever and one only to end up with the job. But to be honest, that feels like an antiquated solution to their problem.

kc5
Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

In Ned’s eyes, there are four main challengers for the role: Brandon Maurer, Wily Peralta, Kevin McCarthy and Justin Grimm. Maurer is the only one out of the group with experience closing out games while the rest have combined for five career saves; for this conversation I’ll avoid the save stat, for the fact that it doesn’t really matter in the bigger picture.

So far in 2018, McCarthy and Peralta have put up good numbers out of the pen, albeit Peralta’s have been in limited action so far. I’ve been a proponent of McCarthy for a while, as just a few weeks ago I wrote about how the Royals should be giving him a bigger role in the bullpen. When McCarthy was asked about moving to the closer’s role, he said he’s “not really thinking about that at all, really. I think anyone in the ‘pen can get it done.”

Peralta has seen a slight uptick in his velocity since moving to the bullpen last year in Milwaukee and has looked good for Kansas City since being recalled to the majors on June 17th. Peralta’s strike out rate has been well above 20% so far this year (24.8% in AAA, 29.4% in the big leagues), which is a significant improvement over the 16.8% he has averaged over his career.

The walk rate is a concern (23.5%), especially considering it was also pretty high during his time in Omaha (13.4%) earlier this year. Hopefully that is just a symptom of a small sample size, but it could also be a trend that began for him in 2017. Either way, it will take more innings before we get a real feel for what the Royals actually have in Peralta.

kc6
Credit: Carlos Osorio/AP

That being said, I tend to think we have a pretty good idea of what they have with both Maurer and Grimm. Grimm has seen his strike out rate fall and his walk rate increase, which is a recipe for disaster. He is also allowing more fly balls and less ground balls, another bad sign for success. The hard hit rate is about on par with last year, which already had a decent increase from the previous seasons.

Nothing for Maurer has worked this year: strike outs are down, walks are up and hitters are hitting the ball hard against him 50% of the time (his previous high was 39.1% back in 2016). If anyone should be immediately eliminated from the discussion for closer, it’s Maurer. You might be thinking ‘But he was a closer before, so shouldn’t he be a front-runner for the role?’, right? Hold that thought:

This was from last year, the day after the trade that sent Maurer and Ryan Buchter to the Royals from San Diego. Every time I see Ned bring Maurer into a high-leverage situation, this is what I think of. It is obvious from not only this scout, but also from what we have seen, that Maurer is better suited for a less pressure-filled situation in the pen. But because he has experience in the role, Yost wants to use him. This is part of why the whole idea of ‘one lone closer’ for this team isn’t really the best idea.

kc7
Credit: John Sleezer

Ned is a big fan of roles. He likes to have his relievers set up to know what they will be doing and when they will be doing it. That is fine when you have a bullpen like Kansas City had back in 2015; unfortunately, those days are long gone.

This is a team who needs to keep an open mind about how they are using their relievers. While none of the names mentioned (outside of Maurer, of course) have experience closing, that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of doing the job. I’m pretty sure the Royals didn’t view Wade Davis as the absolute dominating beast he would become when they acquired him from Tampa Bay, even despite the success he had as a reliever with the Rays in 2012. But he had success, so the team continued to give him more opportunities.

Opportunities are what this current group need, most notably the younger arms that are inhabiting the pen. Roles can be a mental plus to some guys, but they can also backfire on you. Remember this great quote from 2014?:

“Because I had confidence in Aaron Crow,” Yost said. “That’s why. Aaron Crow’s inning is the sixth inning. Kelvin’s is the seventh.”

Ned was so rigid back then that he insisted on using Aaron Crow as his sixth inning guy, even if the match-up wasn’t optimal for Crow. This insistence on keeping routine was a pivotal turning point in the Royals season and led to Yost using the best match-up in a situation rather than who has what inning. Ned loosened the ‘old manager mentality’ of how to use relievers and this change helped lead the team to an epic run in the playoffs just a few weeks later.

kc8
Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

This Royals squad isn’t going to go on the kind of run they had in 2014, but it would appear to help their situation if they just continued to use the ‘closer-by-committee’ currently in place. Whoever he uses in the 9th inning should be determined by what the better match-up is for that situation.

Let’s say two or three left-handed batters are batting in the final frame? Sounds like a job for Tim Hill, who lefties are hitting .219/.265/.250 against. You need a ground ball? Give the ball to McCarthy, who has a 62.6% ground ball rate. Just need a big strike out? Someone like Peralta or even Jason Adam would fit the bill.

kc9
Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The point is that while it is great if you have that one guy you can count on to fill the closer’s role, not every team has a Wade Davis or a Kelvin Herrera. Sometimes you have to work with what you have and right now the Royals are in that situation.

Maybe a guy out of this group will step up and prove to be fit for the role. It could even be someone we haven’t even seen yet, like Richard Lovelady who is currently down in AAA. Hey, it is definitely possible and wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen for the Royals.

But it could also take a while to find that one guy. So until then, it would be great to see Ned take a page from the playbook he used in late 2014-2015 and use the percentages to his advantage. I’m not counting on this happening, but it feels like the better road to take than that same, beaten, old path that managers have been taking for years.

Advertisements

Putting Out the Fire: Royals Take Out Tigers

eDETROIT, MI - MAY 08:  Alex Gordon #4 of the Kansas City Royals waits on deck during the fifth inning while playing the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on May 8, 2015 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Over the last couple seasons, whenever the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers get together to slug it out, it feels like a big time event. It’s not just because the two teams have been the driving force in the American League Central. No, it’s also because these two teams feel much more evenly matched as more and more time goes by. Plus, lets be honest here; whenever you play a team 18-20 times a year, you know more about their flaws than sometimes even your own. So yes, we are just a few weeks into May, but having the Royals and Tigers lock up felt like a big event this weekend, one that brought forth 3 really good games in Motown.

kc2

Series MVP: Alex Gordon

As has become the norm in May, Alex Gordon has started heating up the last few weeks. Gordon is a notorious slow starter and add in the offseason wrist surgery and he was bound to get a slow beginning to his 2015 season. Luckily for the Royals, he has started hitting and he came up big for the Royals in the rubber game on Sunday night. But he also came away with a big single in Friday night’s game:

This would tie the game for Kansas City in the 7th inning and it would stay that way until the bottom of the 9th. The Royals would unfortunately lose that game but not because of Gordon, who had a stellar night on Friday, going 3 for 4. In fact Gordon was 4 for 9 in this series, driving in 2 runs and scoring the winning run on Sunday night in extra innings. In fact, Gordon got on base that inning thanks to a hit by pitch, his 2nd in the series. He also received 2 free passes in this series from Tigers pitchers and was basically on base more than he was not. This series raised both his On Base Percentage and his slugging over 20 points, which is a big boost. It was tough to pick an MVP for this series, since as a group the offense had a good one and numerous players were considered, but Gordon felt like he was a notch above everyone else while in Detroit and was a vital cog in the team’s run scoring efforts.

kc3

Pitching Performance of the Series: Jeremy Guthrie

This was about a welcome surprise as anything else this season. It’s been chronicled many times(seriously, just go back and read about every series wrap-up, where I mention how ineffective Guthrie has been this year) so it was nice to see Guthrie go out and shutdown the Tigers on Saturday afternoon. He threw 7.1 innings of 8 hit, 2 run ball, only allowing 1 walk and 3 strikeouts. Yes folks, that was Guthrie’s first quality start of the season and a lot of it was the ability to keep the Detroit batters off-balance. Guthrie compiled 19 fly balls and 8 ground balls, which is about the norm for him, although compared to his last outing against Detroit he had more fly balls than line drives by a healthy margin. Guthrie is never going to blow anyone away, but if he can perform something close to this on a fairly regular basis, he will have earned his spot in the rotation and help the Royals in a time when the starting pitching has been struggling.

kc4

Mother Nature and the Royals Bullpen 

Sunday night the Royals were put into a peculiar situation. Kansas City was tied with the Tigers going into the bottom of the 9th inning and they had already announced that Luke Hochevar was coming into the game for the Royals. Instead the tarps came out and the game was halted do to the storm that was passing through. The delay went for almost 90 minutes and left Kansas City with a decision to make; let Hochevar still pitch or bring in anothe reliever. Hochevar had just been activated this past week, as it would have been his third game back after being out for the last year due to Tommy John Surgery. He had pitched the day before against the Tigers, but had thrown only 3 pitches, thus negating any worry about using him 2 days in a row. The Royals erred on the side of caution, instead bringing Jason Frasor in once the delay had been lifted. More than anything the team doesn’t want to take the chance of re-injuring Hochevar, so for the time being they will be extremely cautious with him. It was a smart choice, but it also left Kansas City with one less reliever. Because he was announced as coming into the game before the rain delay was announced, it was official and left the Royals with one less reliever once the game resumed.

Considering how much the bullpen has been used as of late, this was not a scenario the Royals really wanted to be stuck with. Luckily, Kansas City would score a run in the top of the 10th and brought Greg Holland in the bottom of the inning to close it out. That brings up another point…

kc5

Notes, notes and more notes from a stellar May matchup:

  • If you have a weak heart, Sunday night’s game might not have been for you. The bases were loaded by Detroit in both the bottom of the 9th and 10th and were unable to score any runs. Jason Frasor and Greg Holland wiggled out of these jams and came out spotless. It wasn’t fun to watch though. One wonders if the weather played a part in it, as Frasor walked 2 and Holland 3. Their pace wasn’t very good either. Those last couple innings were the epitome of ugly baseball and after bringing it up I think I will now purge it from my memory.
  • Omar Infante tried to make a ridiculous behind the back flip to first base on a ground ball in the 3rd inning Sunday and cost the Royals a run. I’ve watched it over and over and still can’t figure out what he was thinking.

Look, Chris Young is tall…but he isn’t that tall!

  • Speaking of Young, another great outing for him against Detroit. 6 innings, 3 hits, and 1 unearned run while walking none and striking out 3. For now he has Jason Vargas’ spot in the rotation while he is on the disabled list, but there has to be some talk of giving Young a more permanent spot if the rest of the rotation doesn’t start shaping up.
  • Mike Moustakas missed the series, as he was put on the bereavement list. I have not heard what it was for(I have been asked multiple times this past weekend) but I do know his mother has been sick the last few years. Hope everything goes well with whatever the issue was. Moustakas should be back on Monday.
  • The Royals did make a flurry of roster moves before Friday’s game:

  • Drew Butera made his Royals debut on Saturday, starting in the place of Salvador Perez. In fact, Butera(son of former big leaguer Sal Butera)played the entire game, which means a complete day off for Perez. Why am I making a big deal of this? Because even if the backup catcher starts a game in Salvy’s place, it is almost inevitable that he ends up in the game before it is all said and done.

I personally like Butera; good game caller, and works well with the pitching staff. His only downfall is he can’t hit worth a lick.

  • I know there was some uproar in Friday’s night game because Yohan Pino was brought in to pitch the 9th instead of Greg Holland. I more than anyone hate the idea that manager’s have where you can’t bring in your closer unless it is a save situation. I believe more in you bring in your best pitcher when the situation is more dire. But I also realize most managers think this way and that isn’t going to change anytime soon, so a pass here for Ned Yost. I also didn’t have issue with it since Pino to that point had not allowed a run in over 10 innings of work and Holland had just come off the disabled list earlier in the week. It wasn’t like Yost had brought in a reliever that had been stinking the place up as of late(see: 2014 Crow, Aaron). It was a move that just didn’t pan out, as Detroit would get on base and score the winning run off Pino.
  • Alex Gordon might have been my MVP of the series, but another good series for Eric Hosmer. Hosmer was 4 for 14 with 2 RBI’s. The biggest thing is he continues to hit the ball to the opposite field, a sign that he is locked in and seeing the ball good.
  • It was also a good series for the returning Alcides Escobar. He went 4 for 15, including his first ever leadoff home run on Saturday to start the Royals rally against notorious “Royals Killer” Anibal Sanchez.
  • Kelvin Herrera started serving his suspension during this series and should be back this week against the Rangers.
  • Speaking of suspensions, Yordano Ventura returned from his on Friday, and continued to underwhelm. Ventura went 6 innings, giving up 8 hits and 4 runs with 3 walks and 4 strikeouts. Between Ventura and Danny Duffy, James Shields presence is surely being missed by these youngsters.

kc7

Tweets of Royalty

 

kc6

So now the Royals lead the American League Central by 1.5 games over the Tigers, with the Royals headed to Arlington to take on the Rangers. Four against Texas this week and then 3 at home against the New York Yankees this weekend should make for an interesting week. More than anything, the Royals need the rotation to stabilize this week, and Danny Duffy is the first up for that task on Monday. If the pitching doesn’t work, I suggest touching Adrian Beltre’s head; it seems to distract him. A positive week should go a long way toward extending their lead in the central; a bad week might push them behind Detroit. Think positive and we will be discussing the first place Royals for another week.

A Kansas City Miracle

kc1

If you are a Kansas City Royals fan you have probably uttered the question ‘is this really happening?’ more times than you can remember this past month. There were high hopes coming into the 2014 season, and even dreams of their first playoff appearance in 29 years floated in most fans mind, even if there were still concerns about this team. I freely admit I was a bit skeptical about their chances and whether a team with a wildly inconsistent offense and a tendency to focus on more old school offensive methods could stack up enough wins to lock up a playoff spot. Little did we know that the Royals would far exceed any of our expectations and cement themselves into our minds and hearts for years to come.

kc2

Early on it appeared the Royals were very Jekkyl and Hyde, as at times they looked like an elite team that could contend throughout the summer months and possibly even topple the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central. Other times they looked like the worst parts of the previous season Royals, struggling to score runs and being held back by a stagnant offense. Nori Aoki looked like regression had begun to sink in, Mike Moustakas looked like he had left his swing in Arizona, and Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer were both hitting well below expectations. May saw Pedro Grifol transitioned from hitting coach to catching coach(yes, that still seems to be a made up position) while 3rd base coach Dale Sveum would take over the hitting coach duties. At this point the pitching and the defense were keeping this team in games, but the offense just wasn’t carrying their weight.

kc3

June was another story though, as the Royals would go on a 10 game winning streak, even toppling Detroit and taking over the lead in the American League Central. Everything was falling Kansas City’s way, with hits dropping in when needed, hard hit balls being hit by opponents right at Kansas City defenders and even passed balls bouncing right back to Royals catcher Salvador Perez. Everything seemed to be on course and was the first sign that this wasn’t the Royals of old. Yes, they were a streaky bunch, but did enough things right during their lull’s that they weren’t going to fade away late in the season.

kc4

Maybe the highlight to this point of the season was the development of two young starting pitchers, Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura. Duffy had dealt with a number of setbacks over the years, to the point that some wondered if he would ever really put things together. After a short stint in the bullpen, the rest of baseball took notice in June when Duffy would keep Baltimore in check, pitching perfect baseball for the first 20 batters of the game, pitching into the 8th inning while only allowing 2 hits. Outside of a rough September, Duffy was probably the Royals best starter throughout the summer and made the case to be the team’s #1 starter in 2015. Early on Ventura showed the rest of baseball why there was a buzz around him with a fastball that could reach triple digits and a curve and change that was constantly improving. There was some concern in late May as Ventura would leave a start early due to elbow discomfort but the injury ended up being minor and Yordano would only miss one start. The concern did cause Ventura to pitch a bit smarter, choosing to “throw fire” a bit less and let the Royals top notch defense take care of things for him. Yordano would have his ups and downs during his rookie campaign, but there was more good than bad and it was easy to see why the organization is excited about having him around for years to come.

kc5

August saw another hot streak for the Royals, one that would push the Royals back up to the top of the Central Division. This time Kansas City would rattle off 8 straight wins, some would say partially because of South Korean super-fan Sung Woo Lee making his first ever trip to Kansas City. Lee would be in attendance for the Royals climbing back on top and seemed to re-energize the fanbase, watching one of their own get to experience this team in person for the first time. Alex Gordon stepped up big for Kansas City in August, pulling off a line of .292/.356/.585. As Gordon goes so goes the Royals as the entire team seemed to be picked up by A1’s hot streak. Even when the rest of the team struggled during the month, Gordon picked them up. Eric Hosmer would get hurt during this time which forced designated hitter Billy Butler to 1B where he has long wanted to return(Butler played the position before Hosmer made his way to the big leagues in 2011). The move seemed to energize Butler’s bat and his fielding was nothing to sneeze at. August was also the month that it finally hit some of us; this team had a real shot of making the playoffs. Not only making the postseason but to possibly even win the division. There was still concerns with this team, but they had put themselves into a position to make a serious run and it was close enough to get excited and take this run very seriously.

kc6

September rolled around and for all the excitement that August brought us, this month would make us question whether the Royals playoff drought would actually come to an end. The Boston series in particular sticks out as a series of one team making a push(Kansas City) and one team just playing to finish out the year(Boston). The Royals did not look their best during that weekend, with the Sunday game loss hurting the most, as Aaron Crow would give up a grand slam to Daniel Nava in the 6th inning and propel the Red Sox to a victory. Manager Ned Yost would make comments after the game to question the Royals and what could thwart them from reaching the postseason. If the Red Sox series felt like a left down, the Tigers series felt like a kick to the groin. Kansas City still had a chance of winning the division when the Tigers came to town on September 19th but a frustrating series dashed most of those hopes and questioned whether or not this team could hold up against a team like the Tigers. With a week left in the season, it seemed as if the Royals only hope was either for the Wild Card or for Obi Wan Kenobi…

kc7

…but then something happened. The Tigers lost on both Friday and Saturday against the Twins by a large margin, depleting Detroit’s bullpen. Kansas City would continue to win against the White Sox, locking up a playoff spot on that Friday night in Chicago and putting themselves in a position to tie Detroit on the final day of the season. If the Tigers lost and the Royals won, there would be a tie for the American League Central and game 163 would have to be played to determine the winner of the division. Unfortunately Detroit took away that opportunity for Kansas City by beating the Twins on Sunday, making them the Central champs and the Royals as the first Wild Card, as they would be at ‘The K’ to take on the A’s in a winner takes all game that would soon go down in history as an all-time great.

kc8

This game turned out to be a major turning point for this young team as it seemed to give them the confidence they needed and show that yes Virginia, the Royals really are major contenders. This game had a little bit of everything: stolen bases, home runs, injured catchers, questionable bullpen decisions, numerous comebacks, outfielder collisions, and a liner down the third base line that will go down in infamy. More than anything the Royals showed a tendency to defy logic. Back in August I had said that I was just going to enjoy the ride the Royals seemed to be making for a postseason appearance. I had waited 29 years to see ‘my team’ be on baseball’s big stage and felt it would be wrong if I didn’t enjoy it even if I didn’t always agree with Kansas City’s management. The Royals clinching a Wild Card spot meant the world to me; winning that game at home was icing on the cake.

kc9

So when the Royals started play in the American League Divisional Series I didn’t have lofty expectations. Sure, I wanted the Royals to win and advance in the playoffs but in some ways it just felt like an extra bonus and was enjoying it as such. What I didn’t expect was how much better they looked in this series against the Angels, the team with the best record in the American League in 2014. The Royals took the first two games in Anaheim, thanks to not the small ball they had prided themselves on but the long ball as both Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas came up with big blasts in Games 1 and 2. Game 3 was another story, as the series would move to Kauffman Stadium. I was fortunate enough to be in attendance at this game and the Royals showed they were for real, piling up runs early and helping them to an 8-3 victory to finish up the sweep of the Angels and advance them to the American League Championship Series. This team was playing their best baseball of the year and it came at just the right time. Seeing them in this position and seeing 40,000+ of my fellow Royals fans brought a tear to my eye and made me appreciate what was happening. I could pinch myself to make sure this was happening but I knew the truth; the Royals were winning and doing it when it mattered the most.

kc10

So now it was on to the American League Championship Series against the Baltimore Orioles. There was a little more concern with this series as Baltimore had many of the same strengths as Kansas City and could also trump them when it came to power. The Royals would win games 1 and 2 in Baltimore in dramatic fashion thanks to late inning heroics and the stellar defense and pitching the team had been touting all year round. Game 3 returned to Kansas City and would be another tight affair, with a solid outing by Jeremy Guthrie and Mike Moustakas doing his best impression of George Brett at third base, catching a ball and falling into one of the dugout suites. This would lead to game 4 and the Royals would score 2 in the bottom of the first and would never look back. The Royals had swept the Orioles and were headed to the World Series! What was amazing about this series was Kansas City’s offense went M.I.A. late in the series but it didn’t matter; they got enough offense while the pitching and defense continued to do their job. The Royals were 8-0 so far in this postseason and it almost seemed like they would never lose, even if we all knew they would eventually. I spent most of this year feeling like this didn’t have the feel of a playoff team but even I knew that if they got there(IF) they were a team made for the playoffs. So far they had shown it, and were now only 4 wins away from a World Championship.

kc11

The Royals were set now and ready to play the San Francisco Giants to be called champion. Honestly, none of us saw this coming. Just the fact they got to this point meant the world to us Royals fans, nevermind the shot at being World Champions. The Royals would battle in this series and even went ahead 2 games to 1 after Game 3 but the Royals just couldn’t solve the Madison Bumgarner rubik cube. It went all the way to Game 7 where they would lose by the thinnest of margins, 3-2. I felt so much pride that night but also sadness because of the loss. I had started to believe during the ALCS and really felt like the Royals were going to get themselves a new trophy to put in the Royals Hall of Fame. Instead they came up just short, as Alex Gordon was literally just 90 feet away as Salvador Perez popped up to end the game. I shut off the television and went to do something else; I couldn’t watch the Giants celebrate. As sports often do to you, the loss was breaking my heart. After 29 years I wanted to win it all. You can’t fault any of us for wanting this magical ride to end with the highest of honors. It just wasn’t meant to be.

World Series Giants Royals Baseball

But I’ve had almost a week now to get back to normal and I started to ask myself ‘what am I going to remember about this 2014 Royals team?’. I’m going to remember how good the pitching and defense was all season. I’m going to remember the excitement of finally getting to the playoffs after all these years. I’m going to remember how great this team played when they needed to, in October. More than anything I will remember how the team was energized by the Royals fanbase. This team fed off of us, the fans and they embraced it when they didn’t have to. They never gave up just as we never gave up, no matter how many times this team was down in the playoffs. I am going to remember how I felt watching this all unfold and how it reminded me that as much as I love numbers and how they can tell a big part of the book, they don’t always tell the whole story. More than anything I believed. I think I had forgotten how to somewhere along the way, but I believed this team could win the whole damn thing. They almost did. So thank you, Kansas City. Thanks for being you. You reminded me just why I bleed Royal blue. Now let’s win it in 2015!

 

A Team Tailored for the Playoffs

kc1

As the Kansas City Royals inch closer and closer to their first postseason berth since  1985, it becomes harder and harder to not play out scenario’s in your head. What if they win a Wild Card spot? What will the starting rotation look like? Who do you leave off the playoff roster? These might all seem like minor details, but for us Royals fans it is foreign territory. Hey, we’ve spent close to 30 years just asking for a game that really matters; these questions seem to matter more to us than they should. With all that said there are a few things that not only make me feel confident that we could not only be witnessing a number of playoff games but that this team could be a great fit for what is headed their way.

kc2

Obviously the preference for most of us is for Kansas City to win the American League Central, as the Royals would avoid the one game playoff that is the wild card. Winning a wild card is still playoffs, but there is always the possibility that the Royals have an off night and that would leave them one and done. Also, unless the Royals finish above or tied with Oakland in the Wild Card race they will be playing that game on the road. The thought of only getting one playoff game and not getting October baseball at ‘The K’ saddens me in ways you don’t even know. Like watching the end of Toy Story 3. I’m not alone on that, right? Anyway, there has been lots of discussion on whether the Royals playing in one game would be satisfying enough, and I can easily see why one game would not be enough. Either way, playoffs are playoffs, whether you play 1 game or 21. Bottom line is that the Royals need to reach the Division Series for any of the following points to even matter.

kc3

There are normally three key things stressed for a team to go deep into the playoffs: pitching, defense and timely hitting. The good thing is the Royals are good for at least two of those, with the third coming and going. Let’s start with the pitching. This has been one of the bigger factors in the Royals success this year and without it we probably aren’t even talking playoffs right now. It will be interesting to see if the Royals will go with a 3 or a 4 man rotation to start out. I would imagine the top three goes James Shields, Danny Duffy, and Jeremy Guthrie. I would like to think Yordano Ventura would be the third rather than Guthrie, but my gut tells me they won’t want to push him real hard, as he has already pitched the most innings in one season of his career(179.0 as we speak). You also have to wonder where Jason Vargas is in this conversation, as he has had a really good season but in his last 7 starts he has a 5.89 ERA/1.66 WHIP and Kansas City has lost 6 of his those starts. Since I can’t see either Guthrie or Vargas being a part of the bullpen(unless they are a long reliever, and sweet baby Jesus, let’s hope we don’t need one of those) they will probably either start or not be on the playoff roster. This will lead to some interesting dilemmas for Royals management, as they will want to get the most out of their rotation without killing Ventura’s arm or using a starter who is regressing(I’m staring at you, Vargas!).

kc4

But it’s not just the starters that will guide this team in October. The Royals bullpen has been a major force over the last few years and this year has added an element of dominance to the late innings. With Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland you are seeing a back portion of the pen who will slow down the best of offenses. Three guys with upper 90’s heat, nasty off-speed pitches and the ability to make a Royals game be over if they are leading after 6 innings. Add in the likes of Jason Frasor, Brandon Finnegan(who was drafted by Kansas City this summer) and just for the hell of it Francisley Bueno and Louis Coleman and you have the making of a playoff caliber pen. It will be interesting to see if Aaron Crow makes this squad, as obviously manager Ned Yost still thinks fondly of him, despite his disappointing season where inherited runners abound and velocity decreases. Add in the possibility of Ventura being in the bullpen and you could make the case that Kansas City will make opposing teams want to strike early or pay for it when HDH enter the game.

Kansas City Royals v Cleveland Indians

Defense is also a major plus for Kansas City and something that will help them in their hunt for gold. This has been about a solid of a unit as the Royals have had in a very long time, although there have been a few hiccups these last few weeks. For the Royals to play deep into October they need the ‘D’ to step up and return to their earlier levels of excellence. It shouldn’t be hard to muster, but this team has also showed the penchant to let pressure affect their play on the field.

kc6

The timely hitting is the only thing that could be a worry. The Royals are hitting at a .270 with runners in scoring position, which is in the top 5 in baseball this season. It does drop to .214 with 2 outs in the inning, which lowers them to the middle of the pack in both leagues. They are also doing well when they get past the 7th inning, hitting at a .252 clip which is good enough for 6th in all of baseball. So this is a team that can hit and hit in the clutch if needed. But if you are a Royals fan you know how streaky they can be as well. One minute this team looks like an offensive juggernaut, the next you wonder if even Kent Murphy or Domingo Ayala(Google them; go ahead) could hit better than Kansas City’s hitters. They also aren’t a team that takes a lot of pitchers, so it is rare when you see them work a count and attempt to wear a pitcher down. Surprisingly they don’t strike out much either, although this means a lot of ground balls that don’t get past the infield. There is also a reliance on bunting when they start to struggle, which can be both good and bad. Letting a speedy player bunt early in the game for a hit? Fine by me, although I would prefer they hit. Sacrifice in the first 6 innings? Awful and something the Royals are notorious for doing. More than anything this team needs to hit in the clutch and attempt to be moderately consistent to reach the next level. I hope this can happen, but if there is anything I worry about it is this very issue that has hampering the team for the last couple seasons. Bottom line, this is a team of hackers who have both good and bad nights.

kc7

Oh, there is one more positive that will be amplified in October; speed. The Royals are almost a team that harkens back to the 80’s, one built on speed, defense and pitching. The Royals like to flaunt this speed whenever possible, especially with both Jarrod Dyson and Terrance Gore on the bench for late inning heroics. This is a team that needs to use that speed to their advantage when they get to the postseason, if for no reason than that it is a plus for the team. This is a team full of speedy guys(Dyson, Gore, Cain, Aoki) and guys who are good base runners(Gordon, Escobar). If the offense is struggling? Use your speed by stealing bases and utilize the hit and run. The Royals aren’t a team that can bunch up a few hits and then expect a big three run bomb, so causing some damage on the basepaths would seem to be a solid game plan. I’m not saying do this all the time, and obviously I think they need to be smart about when they do take advantage of the speed, but there are times that this team strands runners on base, runners that could be in motion. Making opposing pitchers and defenses feel uneasy should be a regular part of Kansas City’s offense this October and one that could gain them a slight advantage.

White Sox Royals Baseball

Look, there are areas of concern when it comes to this Royals team, like the much maligned offense, a non-threatening bench or Ned Yost’s tactical decisions. All could cost this team in the playoffs. In fact the ideal scenario for the Royals would be for them to get a lead by the 6th inning and then let Yost throw HDH out there for the last 3 innings. The less Yost has to manage, the better. But putting that aside, there are many teams in the American League who have already said they don’t want to play Kansas City in postseason play because of the way they are built. This is a Royals team that is used to playing in low scoring affairs and have shown a penchant to be a team that doesn’t give up late in the contest. So as much as this Royals team isn’t the team you or I would have built and despite logic telling us they shouldn’t have gotten this far with what they have, they are here. Watch out American League playoff teams; the Kansas City Royals are coming no matter how unorthodox or old school their game plan is.             

 

Winning the Arms Race

kc1

With the Royals continuing their winning ways and stretching their lead in the American League Central(2.0 games ahead of the Tigers) there has been some talk of plans for the team come September, preparing themselves for a stretch run to the playoffs. One of the most discussed ideas has been that of calling up some of their top arms in the minors and using them to help in the last month of the season. Think about that for a minute; a team that prides themselves on having one of the best bullpens in baseball is talking about adding more arms. You might be asking yourselves right now ‘why?’ and that is a valid question. But what Kansas City is considering is not a new concept.

kc2

Let’s start with the two main arms that have been mentioned to be part of the Royals pen come September. Brandon Finnegan is the Royals #1 Draft Pick this year but has been progressing through the Royals farm system this summer, currently at Double AA Northwest Arkansas, where he has been pitching out of the pen, working 2 innings at the most in those games. The initial thought when he was drafted from TCU was that his future might be in the bullpen, the thinking that his size would hold him back from being a consistent major league starter. Finnegan has a plus fastball, plus slider and a good changeup to boot. He seems to be in the vein of a Billy Wagner type pitcher, small stature with some high heat. Finnegan even throws across his body like Wagner. The 21 year old isn’t even a year removed from college but has a chance to be pitching in games that matter come September for Kansas City.

kc3

The other prospect that has been discussed for bullpen work this September is Christian Binford. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because I discussed him earlier this season. In fact, out of the current crop of minor league arms in the Royals system, the only other pitcher that has me as excited as Binford is Miguel Almonte. Binford started the year in Wilmington, moved up to Double AA Northwest Arkansas after 14 starts, pitching in 8 games there before being called up to Triple AAA Omaha this past week. Binford isn’t a guy who will light up radar guns, but he has tremendous command of his pitches and a superb walk ratio. Binford has mainly been a starter since the Royals drafted him, and I’m pretty sure he takes the place of Jason Adam, who the Royals had shifted to the pen awhile back before trading him to Minnesota in the Josh Willingham trade. I’m not entirely sure how Kansas City would use him out of the pen(long reliever if needed? Help rest the other relievers?) but he would be different after seeing the smoke thrown by guys like Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. I don’t think this role is really in Binford’s long term future, but for this year he might be just what the Royals need.

kc4

So what about Kyle Zimmer? Most of us are aware of how 2014 has been a wasted season for Zimmer, as he has been battling a lat injury these last few months. Before that the Royals were taking their time with him, as he has dealt with injuries since the Royals drafted him in 2012. At this point, Zimmer has appeared in one game this season for Idaho Falls in the Rookie League. At one time there was some talk that we could see him in September, but that was before the lat injury stripped him of playing time this season. At this point, the best thing is for Kansas City to let him get some innings in the minors the rest of the year and chalk up this year to a lost cause. We will see Zimmer soon enough, just not this year.

kc5

Earlier I mentioned that the concept of using youngsters in your farm system to help out the relief corp in September wasn’t a new idea. Off the top of my head I can think of two times it has helped a team further their chances in the postseason. The first is the Los Angeles Angels using Francisco ‘K-Rod’ Rodriguez to help them gain a World Series title in 2002. Rodriguez only appeared in 5 games that season, but was a key part of their bullpen come October. K-Rod would appear in 11 games for the Angels that fall, giving up only 4 earned runs in 18.2 innings. It had to be hard for teams that year to really get a scouting report on this kid that the Angels had barely used in the season. The other instance I can think of is the St. Louis Cardinals using their young arms these last few years in the playoffs. Trevor Rosenthal, Shelby Miller, and Carlos Martinez all were used off and on during the postseason and were live arms that could go out there and just throw heat in short outings for the Cardinals. More than anything it helped the team in 2011, as the Cardinals were able to come away with a World Series title in Tony LaRussa’s final season. These are both prime examples of teams that used young arms in their farm system to help their bullpen in postseason play and use them to help gain the richest prize of them all.

kc1

So with just over 5 weeks left in the season it appears as if the Royals are making plans to make the team the best they can be if they are headed to October. Adding a couple of young arms to the pen might not seem like the most obvious paths to take for guys like Finnegan and Binford, but it would give them the opportunity to experience a pennant race(and possibly postseason) while getting big league experience. It’s not a guarantee we will see these two youngsters next month but I would bet money we see at the very least one of them, if not both. The Royals bullpen is a juggernaut and has been the last few years, but adding these two could make it even stronger. With all of us hoping for a “Blue October”, I love the out of the box thinking, especially with some of the struggles as of late for Aaron Crow, Francisley Bueno and Bruce Chen. Finnegan and Binford might be future rotation mainstays for Kansas City, but for now their value might be pitching late in the game during the most exciting September Royals fans have seen in three decades.

2014 Kansas City Royals: Be Royal…Code for Playoffs?

kc1

Two weeks from today, the Kansas City Royals will take the field and open the 2014 season in Detroit. Optimism runs high for the Royals this year, as they are coming off of their first winning season in a decade. Not only were they not eliminated from the playoffs until the last week of the season, but they are returning a large portion of the team that got them to this point. Now, I wasn’t quite sold on their chances in 2013 and I even admitted my mistake once the season was over. Going into this year, I think this is a team who will post another winning season(the Royals haven’t posted back to back winning seasons since the early 90’s) but playoffs? Let’s go ahead and take a look at this team and what can be expected coming into what very well could be a make or break year.

kc2

Let’s start with what was the biggest strength for Kansas City in 2013, the starting pitching. Most of the same faces are back from last year. James Shields will once again anchor the rotation, leading a staff as free agency is beckoning him. Last year I foolishly didn’t believe Shields was a true ace(silly me), but I was proven wrong as ‘Big Game James’ showed he was up for the challenge. Following him will be Jeremy Guthrie, as he put up solid numbers that continue to defy logic. I only say that since Guthrie continues to give up more hits than innings pitched year after year but also puts up respectable numbers. One would think at some point that would catch up with Guthrie, but he’s been doing it for years and other than his dreadful few months in Colorado, he has been able to not let a large portion of those runners score. Following the ‘Jeremy Guthrie Magic Trick’ will be newly acquired Jason Vargas. Vargas will actually start the second game of the year, but that is more about not pitching Vargas and Chen back to back, since they are practically the same pitcher. Vargas’ signing this winter was the most highly debated, especially after the Royals went out and re-signed Bruce Chen as well. By no means am I saying Vargas is a bad pitcher or that the Royals overpaid for him(although signing him for four years is debatable), but it doesn’t make sense to have him and Chen on the same team. Vargas is replacing Ervin Santana, who put together a splendid year in 2013. It’s doubtful Vargas will put up numbers even comparable to Santana, but he will eat innings and (hopefully) keep the Royals in the game. Chen will be the fourth starter, at least for the first half of the season. If the Royals are serious about this contending thing they won’t have Bruce in the rotation come July. Look, I like Chen and he is great for the clubhouse but the formula they used with him last year(rotation only half the year, other half in the bullpen) is really the way to go with him. The fifth spot in the rotation seems to be young flamethrower Yordano ‘Ace’ Ventura, who might make all of us forget about Santana. There are some lofty expectations on him, as comparisons have even gone as far as future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. If Ventura is even close to what we think he could be, the Royals will be in for a fun year. So with all this said, as much as I like the rotation(and that is without even mentioning how we could see either Danny Duffy or Kyle Zimmer replace Chen at mid-season), I have to believe they won’t be as solid as they were last year. I’m not saying that in a negative way as much as saying that they were so good  last year that it seems inconceivable that they would be able to achieve that two years in a row. So expect a slight dip this year with the starters…but not much.

kc3

Another solid bunch is the Royals bullpen. The bullpen was so solid last year that only the Atlanta Braves had a better pen in baseball. Leading the bunch was closer Greg ‘Dirty South’ Holland, who surprised even his biggest fans by shaking off an early season slump to put up some of the best numbers of anyone in Kansas City’s history(yes, even up there with Quisenberry and Montgomery). The pen was so deep last year that a guy like Louis Coleman, who was nasty both in the minors and the majors, was only in the big leagues for a portion of the season. One of the main cogs in the bullpen last year was Luke Hochevar, who will miss the 2014 season to have Tommy John Surgery. No worries, Royals fans, as former starter Wade Davis, who is a much better reliever than starter, will be taking his place this year. Add in Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Kelvin Herrera, and (probably) Donnie Joseph and you have one of the best bullpens in the game. Now, bullpens tend to rollover every few years, so we could be seeing some changes in the near future, but if they can last one more season then the Royals can worry about changes during the offseason.

kc4

Now onto the starting lineup. To be flatly honest, this Royals lineup might be the most solid one they have had in years. Before last year, I really felt like the Royals hadn’t done enough to fix their 2012 lack of offense. Honestly, I was proven right. If the offense hadn’t been so streaky one wonders if the Royals would have actually made the playoffs. But this year, things are different. Just taking a glance and there are no major holes in the lineup, no Getz’s or Francoeur’s dragging it down. There are a few question marks, guys coming off of down years in 2013. Mike Moustakas might be the most talked about Royal in this conversation, as he pretty much stunk up the joint last year. It didn’t matter if he was facing lefties or righties, starters or relievers, Orioles or Indians, he just didn’t look good at the plate. Moose tucked his ego aside, went and played in the Venezuelan Winter League while working on his swing. Royals hitting coach Pedro Grifol managed the team Moose was on, so he was able to work with him on a personal basis. What we have seen this spring is more of an open stance from Moustakas, less movement in his swing and a better ability at hitting lefthanders. If Moose can bounce back, that leaves one less worry with this offense. Alcides Escobar was another concern, as he went from having a great offensive 2012 to a downright dismal 2013. It didn’t matter if you hit him at the top of the lineup or the bottom(although he should have had no business at the top of the lineup, where he batted a whopping 49% of the time), Esky was one of the worst hitters in baseball last year. Granted, we all know he is in there for his defense, but a little bit of offense would have been nice. Most Royals fans(and I assume a good portion of the Royals braintrust) would agree that even if Escobar hits in the .260-.270 range, his defense would make up for the rest. The Royals have him signed to a very team-friendly contract, but if doesn’t produce this year then they might have to start looking elsewhere, or at least until Adalberto Mondesi Jr. makes it to the big leagues.

MLB: Spring Training-Kansas City Royals at Milwaukee Brewers

Elsewhere in the lineup, Eric Hosmer is expected to hit much like he did in the second half of the season, as is Salvador Perez. Two guys who’s numbers were down last year was Billy Butler and Alex Gordon and both are being counted on to improve on last year. I know many soured on Butler, as he didn’t put up the power numbers he had the year before, but he was still one of the better hitters on the team. Gordon is being moved down to fifth in the order and will be asked to drive in more runs this year. In the past he has struggled when lowered in the order, so it will be interesting to see how he does. The two new additions to the Royals lineup are right fielder Nori Aoki and second baseman Omar Infante, who are expected to bat first and second respectively. Aoki should get on base at the top of the order, even if he doesn’t walk as much as expected out of that spot in the order. Infante might be better suited to sixth in the order but should be fine second, as he can do about anything asked of him from that spot. Both should be improvements over the players they are replacing and should give the lineup a different look. Lorenzo Cain will be the center fielder and at this point I believe most just want him to stay healthy. Royals management expects continued improvement from the youngsters, which very well could happen. We could also see some struggles as well. Either way though, this offense looks way better than it did last year and one can only hope it produces more to help out the pitching.

kc6

The bench though is where there are a few concerns. Since the Royals plan on carrying 12 pitchers when they break camp, that leaves them with only four spots for their bench. One will be the backup catcher, which at this point appears to be Brett Hayes. It also appears as if both Justin Maxwell and Jarrod Dyson will be with the team to backup in the outfield. That leaves one spot, and most of the spring it appeared the Royals would be daring and not keep a backup infielder and instead keep 3B/1B Danny Valencia. Valencia has use, as he scorches lefthanders, but it would appear a backup infielder might be of more value. That seems even more apparent as both Escobar and Infante have battled injuries this spring. The Royals swear they can fill Valencia in at second and move Infante over at SS, but Danny has never played second and it doesn’t appear smart to start that now. The Royals options as backup infielder aren’t very promising, but they could suffice if absolutely needed. Pedro Ciriaco would seem to have the first shot, as he has hit well this spring and is out of options. Jason Donald has also had a good spring but is out of options. There is also former first round draft pick Christian Colon, who can man second or shorstop, but is pretty much just a glove-man at this point. The Royals don’t have great options(and let Emilio Bonifacio, their best option, go before Spring Training), but they knew this all offseason. It would seem insane to go into the season without a backup infielder, and I hope they come to their senses. If not, we could see Valencia at second base and possibly even Moustakas sliding over to shortstop. That’s just scary and nonsensical, folks.

kc7

Finally, Ned Yost will be coming back for another season as manager of the Royals. You all know my thoughts on Neddy, and at this point I’m not even going to give you links to my columns ranting about Yost(which also seem to be some sort of weird therapy sessions). My feelings haven’t changed about him. I don’t think he is the guy to get Kansas City to the promise land. He did a good job last year of not letting the guys get too down after their craptacular May, which I give him kudos for. He has learned at this point to just let them play. But we all know he likes to tinker, and that hasn’t changed. Expect some bunting, expect some questionable lineups, and most definitely he will keep a starter in longer than he should. But until the Royals decide he isn’t the guy, it doesn’t matter what I think. Ned is the devil you know at this point.

kc8

So with just two weeks remaining until the games count,  the Royals almost have their roster set and ready to go. I’ve bounced around a lot of ideas as to what I think will happen this season and where I see them come October and a lot of other issues will factor in during the season(injuries could play a major part, as the Royals lack a lot of depth, especially in the lineup). Last year, I picked them for right around .500, or just a tad below. This year, I believe at the very least this is a winning ball club. Playoffs? I’m not quite there yet. I definitely don’t see them toppling Detroit in the Central and am not totally sure they can get past Cleveland. But if the youngsters continue to develop and Ventura is as good as advertised, this could be a really fun season. In some ways this season is ‘Playoffs or Bust’, as the window for this team is closing. Shields is a free agent at the end of the year, and Butler and Gordon both can be free agents after 2015. There is more young talent on the way, but it’s anyone’s guess just when we will see them. I personally see this team winning 83-87 games, just barely missing out on the postseason. A lot of things went right for them last year and the percentages say that doesn’t happen two years in a row. I do think this team will be fun to watch, even if they win 83. Dayton Moore has finally put together a winning team, one that he pretty much developed. July might be a true test of how much he(or David Glass, as he would have to open the pocketbook) wants it. If the Royals are in it, they have to go for it. This team can contend, but might be still one or two players away from the playoffs. Once again Kansas City, it’s time to prove me wrong. Make me eat my words. I would gladly do it if it means I am watching the Royals play in October. Maybe by then I will understand what ‘Be Royal’ means.

P.S.-I’m pretty sure we will hear this song this year at the K. I just hope they realize the lyrics don’t really make sense for a winning team. Just saying.

Luke Hochevar Meets Tommy John

kc1

Tommy John has struck again. This time the famed surgery has claimed Kansas City Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar, as he will miss the entire 2014 season. It’s amazing to think this way, but this is actually a blow to the Royals, as Hochevar was an important part of the teams success in 2013 and looked to continue that this year. It seems weird to say that, since Hochevar for years was an unreliable starter who put up some of the worst numbers in baseball history. The Royals were contemplating giving Hoch another run in the rotation this year as the fifth starter, but obviously those plans have now changed. So where are the Royals at now without Luke Hochevar?

kc1

For one, the fifth starters job is now down to two. Brad Penny was released earlier this week and Wade Davis has been officially moved to the bullpen. That leaves the competition to young flamethrower Yordano Ventura and Twitter’s favorite son Danny Duffy. In my eyes this is the best thing for the future of this team, as Penny seemed like a long-shot and Davis failed miserably last year at the back of the Royals rotation. As much as I love Ventura(and think in the long run he will be a top of the rotation starter), it might be best to start out the year with Duffy at the back end of the rotation. This saves some of Ventura’s service time(June seems like a good guess as to when he would join Kansas City, barring an injury) and allows Duffy some time to prove he can be the pitcher that many feel he is capable of being. So far in his young career, Duffy has been hit with a mixture of injuries and lack of control.  But at times Duffy has looked electric with a fastball that can reach the high 90’s and a curveball that is close to being a 12-to-6 downer with varying speeds. His change up is also above average, so Duffy has all the makings to be a number 2 or 3 starter…if he can learn some control. The biggest obstacle he has faced so far(outside of injuries) is a lack of control that makes it hard for him to go much past 5 innings in any of his starts. If Duffy can learn to be more efficient and avoid the injury bug, it’s conceivable that both him and Ventura could be in the Royals rotation by the end of the year.

kc2

Hochevar’s injury also forced Wade Davis to the Royals bullpen, which is also a major plus for Kansas City. Manager Ned Yost felt that with Hoch out, the Royals needed more of a veteran presence in the pen. Insert Davis, a pitcher who over his career has been a questionable starter(at best) and a solid reliever. Davis was a starter in 2010-2011 for Tampa Bay and last year for Kansas City. 2012 was spent out of the pen. Compare:

Wade Davis Statistics and History – Baseball-Reference.com: Standard Pitching

His numbers in relief are very solid, especially his strike out rate(jumping to 11.1 in 2012) and his ERA+(a full 63 points higher than his best season in the rotation). Davis could easily slide into Hochevar’s 2013 role and put up very similar numbers, while also elevating his value(as the Royals hold his option for the 2015 season). The Royals really wanted Davis to be a starter when he was acquired, but it appears he is better suited for the pen, especially if the team is serious about contending.

kc3

The last way in which Hochevar’s injury affects the Royals is that it opens up another spot in the bullpen. Right now six pitchers seem a lock for the pen: Greg Holland, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera, Davis and Louis Coleman. That leaves a spot for either a lefty(Franciscley Bueno, Donnie Joseph), a long reliever(Everett Teaford, P.J. Walters) or the pitcher that loses out in the fifth starter spot. With the Royals talking about Davis being a 2 inning reliever, that lessens the need for a long reliever. Kansas City GM Dayton Moore would prefer that the loser of the starters spot go to AAA Omaha,  as the club wants insurance in case a starter suffers an injury. That would leave a battle between lefties Bueno and Joseph. Bueno is coming off of a rough outing yesterday against Milwaukee, one in which he looked very hittable while Joseph has yet to give up a run this spring. Joseph meanwhile is younger and is more of a strikeout pitcher(he has a career 12.3 SO/9 in the minors) although his walk rate is high as well(4.5 BB/9 in the minors). The Royals have used Bueno over the past couple seasons and seem to like his ability to get lefties out. Either could make the team and there is a good chance both will see time with Kansas City at some point this season.

kc4

I’ve never been a big fan of Luke Hochevar but he was a major part of the Royals bullpen last year and seemed to have breathed life into a flailing career. It’s unfortunate that as he seemed to have turned a corner(thanks for that, Ned) he is now out for 2014 and his career is now in question going forward. Hoch’s injury has given us an even better view of what the Royals Opening Day roster is going to look like. As valuable as Hochevar has become, he seemed overpriced(he is scheduled to make $5.21 million this year) for someone coming out of the bullpen. Moore has said they would like to bring Hochevar back in the future, but at this point it is possible we have seen the last of Luke in a Royals uniform. The Royals were lucky and weren’t really hit with any major injuries last year. Hopefully this is the last of them for this year.

It Is Still a Kid’s Game

Levi1

Let’s be honest for a moment: as adults, we take sports too seriously. I know I am just as guilty as anyone else. You have seen my rants about Ned Yost, right? Because we take something like baseball seriously we sometimes forget that it is a kid’s game being played by adults. We forget that most of us fell in love with baseball as kids. But we do have reminders every now and then that take us back to when we were kids and just loved the game blindly. That reminder came to me this week as my son got to meet his favorite baseball player, Billy Butler.

Picture 019

I feel like I need to tell the back story of how this came to be. For the first time in quite awhile, the Royals Caravan planned on making a stop this year in Emporia. I found out about it and planned on getting my son’s baseball cards signed, since the event was going to be held while he was in school. Honestly, I hadn’t thought the whole thing out yet. One of my close friends, Scott,  called me later that day, asking if I had heard who all was going to be here for the signing. While discussing it, he made a great point-as a kid I would have done anything to meet my favorite player, George Brett, and get an autograph. It would have meant the world to me and I would recall that memory still to this day. Why not give Levi that memory? Scott was dead on. I made sure it was okay to take him out of school that day, and once that was cleared we were good to go. Except for one thing…

Picture 020

 

I love surprises. Plus, I knew if I told him what we were going to do, he would be worthless at school that entire morning. So instead, we told him he had a dentist appointment that day, which would be why I was taking him out of school. So instead of him bouncing off the walls leading up to that day, I got to hear him complain about going to the dentist. It was great! Everything was set and I went to pick him up at school. Once we got into town, I turned on a street that leads to Bruff’s Sports Bar & Grill, which was holding the event. I handed him his Royals hat and told him to put it on. My girlfriend handed him his baseball cards and told him he was going to need those. Levi still looked completely puzzled, until I told him he didn’t have a dentist appointment. The light bulb went off, and he know knew what we were doing. That moment was priceless.

Picture 018

We pulled into Bruff’s and the parking lot was already filling up. We went inside and waited for the Royals to show up and Levi tried being mad at me that I didn’t let him in on what we were actually doing. Sorry son, I can tell you aren’t mad when you are grinning while trying to play angry. Finally the players(and Sluggerrrr. and Steve Physioc, who I have to believe could play a mean Joker. Smile away, Steve!) arrived and we got in line so Levi could get his autographs.

Picture 024

First was Brian McRae, former Royals center fielder. Levi really didn’t know who he was other than Hal’s son, who he only knows from me talking about him.

Picture 025

Next was Aaron Crow, current Royals reliever. Levi was excited to see him, but we all knew who he was there to see…

Picture 026

I wish I could have gotten a better picture. You can’t even imagine how big my son’s smile was. He had told me later that he wanted to tell Billy he was his favorite player, but he got nervous. Trust me, I totally get it. The one thing I think of in this picture is how creepy Physioc looks. I laugh every time I see this. Sure, my first thought is how happy my son was in this moment. But my second thought was “Physioc could play a villain in a superhero movie. Or chase after people with a chainsaw while only wearing sneakers”. One of those two. I almost lost Levi after this, as he seemed to be floating away on cloud nine. He got to meet his favorite player and got his autograph. It’s probably similar to when I was in Cooperstown. I could have died and I would have been a happy man. Levi was more than happy at this moment.

Levi2

This is the grin I saw the rest of the day. He has learned from me, as he was insanely careful with his Billy Butler card and made sure it didn’t touch anything else, even the other baseball cards. At the end of the day, I was able to give him a memory that he will remember when he is old and gray. It was my reminder that really we are all still kids when it comes to the things we love. I’ve often been told that I become a little kid again once I am at the ballpark. That’s probably true, as there is just something about being around baseball that makes me happy. I totally understand how Levi felt this past week.  He can’t trade away this memory. I’m just glad that I could make it happen. He probably has no clue that I was just as happy as him, only for a different reason. It made my day as well. It was also the best dentist appointment ever!

Ramble On: Royals Notes of Interest

kc1

With the Hot Stove season in full tilt, and the Winter Meetings coming up fairly soon, I thought today we would take a look at some items of interest going on with the Kansas City Royals.

kc2

Obviously the main news is the Royals have discussed a trade with the Colorado Rockies and Dexter Fowler has been the main Rockie of interest discussed. Word is that Colorado really likes Wade Davis and might be willing to make a Davis/Fowler trade straight up. Names also mentioned on Kansas City’s side have been Aaron Crow and Tim Collins. Basically, the Royals are willing to part with their surplus of great arms in the pen to fill a hole elsewhere on the diamond. Smart move in that regard and Fowler is about the level of player you would get for a reliever. But would this move be an upgrade? I have been hemming and hawing all day, going back and forth on whether or not this would improve the Royals both offensively and defensively. Fowler has great speed, is only 27, a switch hitter with some power and even takes a walk(the Royals must not know this yet!). Fowler has also been fairly injury prone, has not produced big numbers at Coors Field despite his home/road splits( At Coors: .298/.395/.485 Away: .241/.333/.361 for his career) and for some reason doesn’t have the best defensive metrics. So would he be an upgrade? Probably, but not by much. I tend to think using a platoon of David Lough/Just Maxwell with Jarrod Dyson occasionally filling in for Lorenzo Cain in center field with Cain then sliding over to right to be about the same as if the Royals go out and get Fowler. Fowler is still only 27 years old, so there is a chance he hasn’t reached his peak yet. It would be great for the Royals to be the benefit of that upside, but the possibility of regression is there as well. Either way, I have a feeling we won’t hear anymore on this front until a decision has been made on Carlos Beltran, either way.

George Kottaras

Almost a week ago, the Royals traded backup catcher George Kottaras to the Chicago Cubs for cash. The week before he had been taken off the 40-man roster to make room for newly signed pitcher Jason Vargas. At the time it seemed like an odd move, as Kottaras was a very serviceable backup for catcher Salvador Perez and quite possibly the best pinch hitter the team had on their bench. The running joke was that Kottaras was either going to do one of two things when he was at the plate: take a walk or hit a homer. Kottaras easily was one the most patient hitters for the Royals in 2013 and might have been the most patient I have seen in a long time. So seeing him get cut seemed a little out of place. But there were rumblings that this was a financially inspired move. Even Bob Dutton heard from a Royals official who said this was a money move. So how much money would Kansas City save if Brett Hayes ends up being the Royals backup catcher this year? $500, 000. So this could be about finances–hell, Kottaras was traded for “cash considerations”. But I think one more thing factors in here: Ned Yost is a former catcher who loves his catchers to play great defense. Nothing wrong with that, in fact I am a big proponent of holding on to great defensive catchers. But Kottaras wasn’t chopped liver behind the dish; word was that he called a good game and worked really hard to make sure he was fully prepared for every start. Add in his patience at the plate(with some pop, may I add) and logic would tell you to stick with Kottaras for one more year. Instead he will head to Chicago and the Royals will go with either Hayes, or Francisco Pena. Neither will put fear in opposing pitchers. Though not a big deal, it’s a move that just doesn’t sit well with me.

kc2

Speaking of things that don’t sit well with me, the Royals gave General Manager Dayton Moore a 2-year contract extension on Black Friday. At the time it felt like a move tucked away on the busiest shopping day of the year, a holiday weekend where few would pay much notice. It still feels that way, as I have to believe the Royals realized it wouldn’t be a popular move. I’ve said my peace on GMDM more than once, and in a lot of ways don’t want to just retread the reasons I feel the Royals are held back by having Moore as their GM. If you want to read my thoughts, read this. It pretty much sums up my thoughts. Craig Brown of Royals Review hit the nail on the head, which I pretty much completely agree with. Now, the extension isn’t a big surprise. Once Yost’s contract was extended, it seemed like just a matter of time until Dayton received his extension. Even if you are like me and wish the Glass’ had waited a few months into the season before extending his contract, Sam Mellinger makes some good points as to why the Royals needed to give Dayton the extension. So I get why this was done; I just don’t think it is in the best interest for the future of this ball club. Hopefully I am wrong and the Royals will flourish, contending for the foreseeable future. But there is a better chance the last seven years are a better indicator of what we should expect.

kc3

Finally, it just doesn’t seem right for me to write up some Royals thoughts without mentioning the fact that CHRIS GETZ IS NO LONGER A KANSAS CITY ROYAL!!!!! Anyone who knows me or has read this blog knows I am not a big fan of Mr. Getz. I have felt for awhile that the Royals should part ways with ‘The Man Who Was Mistake Free ‘. I poked fun at him with a fake mailbag column. Actually, come to think of it, Getzie was a pretty good muse for me. He brought out the sarcasm in my writing, sarcasm that doesn’t always show up in print. At the end of the day, Getzie was allowed to be a regular part of this team for way too long, or at least too long for a very average player. As a human being, I wish the best for him in the future…as long as it is far away from Kansas City. As a Royals fan, I am elated he is finally gone. I’m sure some will say I’ll have to find some other player to poke fun at now that ol’ Getzie is gone. I would counter that I am looking forward to not having a player on the field that I don’t feel belongs. I’ll feel even better about this if the Cardinals pick him up. I’m off to party now, to celebrate Happy ‘Chris Getz is No Longer a Royal’ Day–but I have a feeling this isn’t the last word from me on Getzie. There might be one more mailbag in me…until then, let’s celebrate!!!

                     

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑