A Change in the Rules?

Credit: Kansas City Star

About a week ago, word leaked out (and the link is to The Athletic, which is a pay site) that Major League Baseball had sent a proposal to the players’ union back in January, which included a number of rule changes to discuss before the 2019 campaign. The player’s counted with their own proposal on some changes as well. Today, lets examine some of the rules that were proposed and I’ll toss in my two cents on any thoughts I have on the subject.

As part of a Jan. 14 proposal to the players’ union on pace of play, baseball suggested a rule requiring pitchers to face a minimum of three batters, sources told The Athletic.

I really have no issue if this rule went into effect. Now, from my understanding is that the “three batter minimum” would not be forced if a pitcher ended an inning or if he would get injured before facing the required three batters (obviously). I like that there was some thought put into this and it wasn’t just a blanket minimum that was enforced.

Now, the reason for it is pretty simple. Over the last few years, as relievers have been used more and more, there have been a plethora of pitching changes that end up hurting the flow of the game. A pitcher will come in, lets say a lefty to face a left-handed batter, and would then be taken out after that at bat was over. Then the manager calls in another reliever and the Ferris wheel of moves begin.

It’s pure strategy and while most of us will agree it is a smart maneuver (as a manager is trying to put together the best match-ups), it also kills the flow of the game. Since pace of play has been such a big issue these last few years, you could see where a rule change like this would have the desired effect that the hierarchy of MLB would prefer.

Personally, I don’t hate the idea. Yes, I hate that the LOOGY would appear to go away (and if you haven’t figured it out, I just like to say LOOGY) but I also believe that strategy would still play into match-ups and this would actually force a manager to think a number of batters ahead, which I’m sure many are already doing.

The interesting part would be taking into account who is on the opposing teams bench and whether or not you believe your foe would pinch hit once you bring a reliever in to face the minimum. By no means is it a perfect solution, but I can see the advantages of enforcing this change in the near future.

Credit: Getty Images

There were a few more changes proposed, including one that shouldn’t surprise anyone:

A universal designated hitter — something the players have sought for more than three decades, according to commissioner Rob Manfred — also was part of the union’s proposal. Under the plan, the National League would adopt the DH for the 2019 season.

Honestly, this is going to happen at some point. Might not be this year, or even next year, but eventually this will happen. The union will never allow the DH to be taken away, as that is one more player making a bigger salary and they are going to move forward, not back. A universal DH would take away the changes involved in interleague games and even during the World Series and All-Star Game as well.

That being said, I’ve always enjoyed that the two leagues have their own set of rules. Do I love watching pitchers hit? Not even a little bit. Do I like the strategy involved with double switches and the moves made when the pitchers spot comes up in the order? Yes I do. My preference is to have the leagues continue to be different, but I understand the thinking behind the move.

At some point, teams are going to want to avoid their pitchers having another opportunity to get hurt. Yes, it doesn’t happen enough to really throw a big fit, but it does happen. Also, pitchers batted .115 last year with an OBP of .144 and a slugging percentage of .149. Taking away the pitcher would add more offense to the game and that is what Rob Manfred is really looking for.

On a side-note, someone on Twitter last week suggested just not having a spot in the order for the DH or a pitcher, leaving a batting order with just eight batters. While I really loved the “out of the box” thinking, there is no way it would happen. Once again, the union would want another player salary in that spot. In other words, the universal DH will be a thing at some point.

There were more changes mentioned as well:

The Associated Press previously reported that baseball also has proposed increasing the minimum time a player spends on the disabled list and amount of time an optioned player spends in the minor leagues from 10 to 15 days.

I have no issue with this. In fact, the disabled list will be referred to moving forward as the injured list. Both of these moves would be good for the game.

In baseball’s view, the limit on reliever usage would become even more necessary with the introduction of a 26-man roster; MLB would want to discourage teams from using the extra roster spot on another bullpen arm.

Another rule change would be making rosters 26 deep instead of 25. I’ve felt for years that move should be made and have honestly wondered how long it was really going to take to enforce it. The one hitch in this idea would be trying to tell teams how to structure their roster. If they want another reliever, let them have it. At the end of the day, you have to let teams decide individually how they want to put together their roster, good or bad.

There is a rule change that has been mentioned that while on the surface I understand, there is an underlying issue that would make it hard for me to support it:

Among the proposals being discussed by Major League Baseball and the players’ union this winter is the formation of a joint committee to study whether to move back the mound to help hitters, at a time when pitchers’ velocity has reached levels never before seen in history.
The committee, if agreed to by both sides, would also look at the potential impact of lowering the mound by as many as six inches.

On the surface, I understand why this move would be made. Baseball has seen a noticeable increase in pitcher’s velocity these last few years and combined with the higher usage of breaking pitches, it has made for less and less balls being put into play. In fact, in 2018 there were more strike outs than hits. While the hitters can take some of the blame for that, a big factor is the elevation in pitcher’s velocity.

My problem with the proposed changes is that it is always the pitcher who is punished, never the hitter. Just go back to 1968, when they lowered the mound to improve offense. The pitchers were so dominate and the offense was so anemic (The White Sox produced 2.86 runs per game. The Dodgers and Mets weren’t much better at 2.90 per game) that they lowered the mound to even the odds.

My big issue if they changed it this time would be the hitters lack of attempt when it comes to adjusting. Most hitters today are swinging for the fences, whether there are zero strikes or two strikes and they are doing it because the system is compensating those who do. The advent of launch angle and exit velocity has proven success for many, as the ball being put in the air helps lead to an increase in power numbers. But it has also lead to more strike outs.

The fact we aren’t seeing hitters adjust their mentality when two strikes are put on them or even trying to punch the ball to the opposite field when a shift has been put on, doesn’t make me want to reward them. It feels like if there is a lowering of the mound or it even being pushed back a bit, baseball is saying that it doesn’t matter what the pitchers do to gain an advantage, we will always reward the hitters.

While I understand the need for more offense and yes, baseball does need that, this just feels like a giant slap to the face of the pitchers. If the hitters were adjusting and still not seeing an increase in offense, that would be one thing. But there is no adjustment and right now there is no incentive for them to do so. Baseball is paying for power and willing to make changes whether they adjust or not. It just doesn’t feel very fair when it comes to the pitchers perspective.

The good news is that MLB and the players’ union are looking at possible improvements to the game to try and make it a more pleasurable experience for everyone. While it appears these changes won’t take place in 2019, the fact there is at the least a discussion should make any baseball fan hopeful for change in the near future. No one ever gets ahead by just staying pat; the name of the game is evolution. If baseball doesn’t evolve, it is going to get left behind.

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The Case for Salvador Perez’s All-Star Nod

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Credit: Getty Images

This past Sunday, Major League Baseball announced the starters and reserves for the upcoming All-Star Game in Washington. In year’s past the fan’s choices for the starters have been a bit questionable while any omissions were fixed when the reserves were announced.

The last few years have seen a big 180 degree turn, as the fans have been almost on point with their selections while the players and coaches have seen some interesting choices made when it comes to roster structure. In that vein, some giant questions were thrown up this past weekend when Salvador Perez was selected to be the Kansas City Royals lone representative next week.

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Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

It’s very obvious that Perez was chosen off of reputation more than anything. Perez is a four-time Gold Glove winner, a recipient of the Silver Slugger Award back in 2016 and will now be an All-Star for the sixth consecutive year. But his numbers are not those of someone deserving of the honor, as he is only hitting .213/.255/.378 this year, with 11 home runs, 34 RBI’s and bWAR of 0.6. These normally aren’t the statistics of someone traveling to appear in the mid-summer classic, especially when someone else on the Royals roster is probably a bit more deserving.

Whit Merrifield has been putting together another banner year for Kansas City, hitting .303/.369/.427 with 2.7 bWAR, an OPS+ of 120 and 6th in the American League in stolen bases. Whit is not only leading the team in WAR, but is third in the league among second basemen and sixth in all of baseball at the position. Even better, Merrifield is doing all this while rotating around the field, as he has played at four different positions this year (including DH).

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Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

So what was apparent to all of us was that Merrifield really deserved the honor rather than Perez. But when it comes to structuring the rosters for each league, it doesn’t always come down to just who has the better numbers as much as how many players are viable options at each position. This was very apparent at second base, where Jose Altuve of Houston will be starting while Gleyber Torres of New York will be his backup.

In fact, second base has been pretty stacked in the American League this year, as not only would Whit have been a worthy recipient of a spot, but so would Jed Lowrie of Oakland or Daniel Robertson of Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, catcher has been a position with less productivity and appears to be a harder group to choose from when it comes to reserves on the All-Star squad.

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Credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP

The other factor when looking at the All-Star situation is making sure that every team is represented on the roster. This can make structuring the roster even harder, as teams that are struggling normally don’t have a lot of players to choose from who are having exceptional years. If they did, they probably wouldn’t be a losing team.

You might be wondering how the players decide some of the reserves for the game. Luckily, we have that covered:

MLB players get to vote as well, electing eight position players in each league, plus the designated hitter in the AL. The top vote-getter at each position earns a spot here. In the case that the player vote winner matched the fan vote, the player with the second-highest vote total from the players gets the spot.

Simple enough. To be honest, all this factors into why Salvy was voted in. He is a player who is well-respected within the game, loved by both fellow players and the fans. In fact, that also plays into why he was voted in by the players.

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When you think of the All-Star Game, you think of some of the biggest names in baseball. It is baseball’s chance to trot out their best and brightest and have them battle against each other for a national audience. While the numbers don’t vouch for Salvy’s greatness, within the game he is considered one of the elite at his position, down year or not. The players recognize his past accomplishments and to them he is a name worthy of being on this stage.

You can argue that the down year would disqualify him for selection, but if we are really talking about the best the sport has to offer, Salvador Perez is a recognizable name that carries weight. It’s probably a good thing to remember that this game is officially an exhibition, nothing more and nothing less. The game doesn’t count (I know someone would say it used to, but it really didn’t) and in fact by the middle of August most people have forgotten what even happened in the game.

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Credit: AP Photo/Gregory Bull

That doesn’t take away the enjoyment and fun of seeing players getting to represent their teams and play against the best of their peers. It just means that sometimes while we as fans take these selections super serious, it’s also okay to acknowledge that it is just a fun getaway in the middle of the season. Think of it as a chance to relish in the greatness of the game.

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

So while Whit Merrifield is worthy of a spot on this roster and is easily the Royals best choice, it’s not a bad thing that Salvy was selected. Who knows? Maybe by the time we reach next Monday, Merrifield would have been added to the roster to replace someone who is either hurt or unable to play. In that case, he would be chosen to a spot we always thought he was worthy of. No harm, no foul.

So rather than tear down why Perez is there or why Whit isn’t, let’s enjoy the fact that someone from this Royals team gets to just be a part of the festivities. With the way this season is going, we are better off taking any happy moment we can get.

The 1st Annual Mid-Season Royals Awards

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We are at baseball’s halfway point, as the All-Star break is upon us and everyone is allowed a chance to take a step back, take a deep breath and relax. The Kansas City Royals are in a tie for 3rd place in the American League Central(7 games out)and still very much in a position for a playoff spot. Since we have only 74 games left in this season, let’s take one final look back at the first half of the season and what all the Royals have accomplished. With that, I am proud to announce the 1st Annual Mid-Season Royals Awards here on Bleeding Royal Blue!

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Most Valuable Player

Eric Hosmer-.299/.355/.476, 13 HR, 49 RBI, 116 OPS+, 1.5 bWAR

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Kansas City Royals
(Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY)

Best Pitcher

Danny Duffy-81.2 IP, 3.09 ERA, 145 ERA+, 3.43 FIP, 1.065 WHIP, 5.53 SO/W

MLB: JUN 13 Indians at Royals
(Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire)

Rookie of the Year

Whit Merrifield-.290/.315/.409, 46 games, 18 extra base hits, 89 OPS+, 1.2 bWAR

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals
(Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY)

Comeback Player of the Year

Ian Kennedy-99.2 IP, 3.97 ERA, 113 ERA+, 1.194 WHIP, 3.12 SO/W, 1.4 WAR

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Best Impersonation of a Batting Practice Pitcher

Chris Young

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Best Salvy Splash

Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas

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Best Surprise Splash

Drew Butera on Salvador Perez

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals
(Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY)

Best Rookie Splash

Cheslor Cuthbert

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Worst Splash

Drew Butera

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Best Catch

Lorenzo Cain

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Best Catch, Take 2

Alcides Escobar

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Best Walk-Off

May 28th-8-7 Win over the White Sox

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Best Walk-Off, Take 2

May 15-4-2 Win over Atlanta

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Best Hair, Player

Brett Eibner

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Best Hair, Coach

Rusty Kuntz

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Best Hair Flip

Drew Butera

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Best Forehead

Edinson Volquez

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Best Impersonation of a Punching Bag

Yordano Ventura

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In Memoriam

Omar Infante

MLB: New York Mets at Kansas City Royals
(Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY)

It’s been a good first half. Here’s to even more memories in the second half of the season…and a return trip to October!

 

 

 

In Due Time:A First Half Look At The Royals

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When contemplating on just one word to describe the Kansas City Royals first half of the 2016 season, a number of words flooded my brain: struggle, streaky, battle, fluky and frustration all seemed fitting. But the one word that seems to fit more than any other is ‘adversity’, a word that has fit like a glove since before the season even started. Whether it has been the struggles of the starting rotation or the streaky offense, the Royals have not had the smooth sailing they were witness to for a large chunk of the 2015 season. Probably the biggest roadblock in front of them this season has been the litany of injuries that have occurred.

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The walking wounded actually began back in Spring Training, as Jarrod Dyson, who was in line to see a big increase in playing time in right field, came down with a strained oblique. In May, starters Kris Medlen and Chris Young would both venture to the disabled list, after struggling through their previous few starts. Late in May, Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas would collide chasing a foul ball  in Chicago and the news was grim; Gordon would miss a month with a wrist injury while Moustakas would have a torn ACL and was expected to miss the rest of the season. A week after that collision, catcher Salvador Perez would incur a quad contusion after third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert would run into Salvy while chasing a pop fly. Luckily, Perez would sit out for a week but not have to make an appearance on the disabled list. The injury bug would return in June, with outfielder Brett Eibner(after only being recalled a few days earlier) going on the DL on June 1st with a left ankle sprain, returning after two weeks. Lorenzo Cain would make his first DL appearance in two years, pulling up lame and grabbing his hamstring after running out a ground ball just a few weeks ago. To cap it all off, closer Wade Davis, a man who some of us believe is actually a machine, would deal with a forearm strain and land on the DL with Cain just this past week. If you are taking notes at home, that is four Royals All-Stars that have seen time on the DL so far this season and that is just through 88 games. One of the biggest strengths for Kansas City the last two years was their health, as they were able to make two big playoff runs while dealing with very limited injuries to their main nucleus. The pendulum always swings back around and it appears the Royals dance with lady luck has ended on the injury front.

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Speaking of turbulence, the Royals starting pitching has been more than just rocky so far in 2016. Kansas City starting pitching is next to last in innings pitched, 3rd highest in walks per 9, 1st in home runs per 9, 4th highest ERA, highest FIP, and lowest WAR in the American League. The only area where the starting pitching is moderately succeeding is strikeouts per 9, which is the 3rd highest in the league. With these numbers it is easy to see why the Royals have struggled and are currently looking for upgrades on the trade market. Chris Young, who was a vital part of the Royals playoff run last year, has allowed the most home runs in the American League(26 in only 56 innings pitched) and has been banished to the bullpen. Ian Kennedy has been about what was expected from him; at times he has looked phenomenal and has shut down other teams, while others he has been a victim of the long-ball, allowing the second most home runs in the AL( 21). Yordano Ventura has not looked like the ace that he could be capable of, as he has struggled(including inciting a melee in Baltimore) and others he has put together some very quality starts(like just this past Friday). Edinson Volquez hasn’t been as consistent as he was in 2015, yo-yoing from start to start. The one shining light has been the re-emergence of Danny Duffy, who has looked like a pitcher who has figured something out. Duffy started the year in the  bullpen but was moved to the rotation in May and has been splendid ever since. He has thrown 81 innings to this point, striking out over 10 batters per 9, walking less than 2 per 9 and stranding runners at an 83% clip. Duffy’s numbers just jump out on the page: highest K-BB% in a Royals uniform, highest soft hit % of his career, and the fastest average fastball velocity of his career. If the Royals can get some more consistency from Volquez and Ventura, while picking up a cheap arm in a trade, they might be able to stabilize the rotation and improve on numbers that shouldn’t be hard to improve upon.

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While the starting pitching has been a major trouble area, the offense has been very bi-polar. Much like the last few years, the Kansas City offense is a very streaky bunch. As a team they are next to last in runs, last in RBI’s, home runs, walk %, isolated power, and 12th in wRC+. Most other offensive categories the Royals are around the middle of the pack, but the Royals also get their runs in a different manner than most other American League teams. Eric Hosmer has turned in a season worthy of his All-Star starting nod, hitting .299/.355/.476 with 13 home runs and 49 RBI’s. Salvador Perez has seen an increase in power this season and has turned into a serious threat in the middle of the lineup(writers note: he even hit a home run right after I typed this). Paulo Orlando has been a pleasant surprise this year, hitting .324/.347/.417, sacrificing some of the power we saw from him last year for a better on base percentage. Lorenzo Cain struggled in April, but came on like wildfire in May and was putting up good numbers before his injury this month. Kendrys Morales struggled through the first two months of the season, but looked like a completely different hitter in June, a month where he put up video game numbers. Even Mike Moustakas was putting up great power numbers before his injury in May. But the real surprise of the offense has been the call-ups Kansas City has been using to fill the holes for injured players.

MLB: Houston Astros at Kansas City Royals
(Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY)

The great thing about this Royals team is not only the depth that they have compared to years past, but the amount of production we have seen from players that were not expected to contribute. Whit Merrifield has been a life-changer for Kansas City, posting a line of .291/.313/.407 with 1.4 bWar in just 46 games. Whit was originally supposed to fill the super utility role for Kansas City, but instead ended up taking the second base job from the now released Omar Infante. Cheslor Cuthbert, who saw some time in Kansas City last year, was recalled to take over at third base for Moustakas and struggled a bit the first few weeks of seeing regular playing time. Since May 27(right around the Moose injury), Cuthbert is hitting .293/.331/.471 with 7 home runs, 22 RBI’s and a BAbip of .343. Defensively, he is not quite the glovesman that Moustakas is, but he has proved to be more than capable, with an UZR of 6.2 and making 83% of plays that are considered unlikely(which are considered normally to be made 10-40% of the time). The man who has seen the least amount of time out of this group is Brett Eibner, as he has only played in 18 games. Eibner has been productive in that span, hitting .269/.333/.500 with a BAbip of .343 and a wRC+ of 116. Eibner has 8 extra base hits in his 18 games and is a bat that can supply the power the Royals heavily covet. All three players have stepped in when the Royals have needed them to and have produced in many a tight situation. It wasn’t expected for these three to be heavy contributors, but so far in 2016 they have probably helped this team stay in the pennant race.

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While this Royals team isn’t gliding into a postseason berth like they did last year, they are still very much in contention, even being 7 games out in the American League Central but only 4 1/2 games out of a wild card spot. The hope is that the Royals can stabilize the rotation while hitting a bit more consistently, which should increase their chances of a playoff spot. Injuries have hurt Kansas City so far this year but they haven’t crippled them and that has allowed them to stay in the race. We have seen over the last couple seasons that this is a team that strives on adversity. If that stays true to form, then we should be seeing a stellar second half from our ‘Boys in Blue’.

 

Wader, Disabled List Please

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Over the last couple years there has been one aspect of the Kansas City Royals success that has made me nervous. That one thing was how the team dealt with very few major injuries, as for the most part the key parts of the roster were kept healthy and on the field. 2016 has felt a bit like the back payment for that good luck is being paid up. In May, All-Stars Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas collided in foul territory chasing a foul ball, leaving Alex out for about a month and losing Moose for the rest of the season. Just last week Lorenzo Cain was bitten by the injury bug, going down to a hamstring injury that will leave him out until the Royals return from the All-Star break. Even catcher Salvador Perez missed a week of action due to injury, but luckily avoided the disabled list. It appears the Royals All-Stars are falling off one by one and that was added to today when closer Wade Davis, he of the bionic arm, was placed on the 15-day DL with a forearm strain.

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The first thing to pop in most people’s heads when mentioning a forearm injury is a ligament injury in the elbow, which Royals management is saying is not the case with Davis:

The strain, Yost said, was located on the top of the forearm, and not a flexor-pronator strain, the ailment commonly associated with ligament damage in the elbow. Yost said the injury was similar to one that forced starter Chris Young to the disabled list earlier this season.

Alright, well that doesn’t sound bad at all. In fact, it appears as if the Royals are trying to nip the strain in the bud before it gets any worse. Davis had first felt the strain last week in St. Louis, and he also had a similar injury last September. Last year he was shut down for about a week and was all good to go for the playoffs. Sounds like Kansas City is hoping for more of the same this year.
MLB: Kansas City Royals at Houston Astros

(Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY)

With the injury to Davis, I was curious to see if his velocity had seen a decrease recently and if so, if  it was noticeable. This first chart shows his velocity on his pitches all year and there really isn’t a noticeable change:

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There is a very slight decrease in Davis’ cutter, but outside of that everything has been moving in an upward direction, even just slightly. There was also a slight change when it comes to whether Wade was facing a right-handed or left-handed batter:

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The decrease to righties was very slight, about 1 MPH difference, so nothing major to worry about. There was a slight difference from outing to outing, which is almost to be expected with an injury like this:

Wade had said he felt tightness during his June 30th outing against St. Louis, which would be the 94.7 MPH velocity you see above. The Royals seem like they are concerned but we aren’t seeing the big drop in velocity like we saw last year in Greg Holland, where he was down in the high to mid 80 MPH range, so there isn’t a reason to get too worried yet. The real test will be on whether Davis feels better in a week or if the tightness is still there. Most likely he will play catch for now and the team will get feedback from him on how he is feeling. In other words, it literally is a feeling out process for Wade and the Royals.

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So who will fill the closer role from Davis while he is away? For the time being, it appears to be a match-up role:

If I had to guess, Kelvin Herrera will get first shot, since he has been a dominating force for most of this year. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Joakim Soria get a save opportunity during his absence, as Yost likes his past success as a closer. I know some fans have soured on Soria, but he has been more than solid for the most part this season. Hell, I could even see Luke Hochevar getting an opportunity to close out the game if he looks like a good option. The good news for the Royals is that the team is loaded in the pen with solid arms, as it might be the deepest part of the team.

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If there was a word to describe this 2016 season for the Royals, it would be ‘adversity’. This team has been dealt one crushing injury blow after another and yet are still a contender in the American League. Luckily, it sounds like everyone involved feels good about Davis’ chances of being back in the fold by next weekend:

For the most part this looks to be just a minor bump in the road that Kansas City is just being cautious about. I would worry more if there was a major decrease in velocity, or this was a ligament instead of a muscle. Instead, we are looking at a nice little dose of ‘R & R’ for the cyborg before he returns to give hitters fits of hopelessness. This is just one more struggle for this team to overcome if they want to return to October baseball….and if there was one team to handle adversity, well…

Selection Tuesday: Which Royals Are All-Star Worthy

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On Tuesday, Major League Baseball will announce the All-Star team rosters and it appears that the litany of Kansas City Royals players on the roster will not be as hefty as they were in 2015. With that being said, manager Ned Yost will once again be at the helm of the American League All-Star team and will have a say in some of the participants of the team. There will be Royal blue in San Diego on July 12, but how much? Let’s go ahead and look at my predictions for the Royals and who will be joining Yost at Petco Park next week.

All-Star Locks

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Salvador Perez

Salvy, a fan favorite not only in Kansas City but all around Major League Baseball, was leading the AL catcher position last we checked so the likelihood of him going is about 99.999999%. Normally Perez gets to the All-Star game on his charming positivity and his stellar defense behind the dish. But this year you can add a lethal bat to the mix; .281/.315/.490, 12 home runs, 37 RBI’s, 110 wRC+ and 2.1 WAR. I remember back in 2012 when former Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa was being interviewed the day before the All-Star game and was asked about Perez, who was in his first full major league season. LaRussa had compared Sal to Cardinals elite receiver Yadier Molina, which at the time was the highest of compliments. At this stage, it feels like Salvy has overtaken Molina and is the standard-bearer for catchers, at least in the American League. This won’t be a shock and will be well deserved when Perez starts next week in San Diego.

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Eric Hosmer

Hosmer has been battling the first base position out with the Tigers Miguel Cabrera for the starting nod and deservedly so. Hosmer has produced like a star so far in 2016, hitting .303/.361/.490 with 13 home runs, 49 RBI’s, 127 wRC+ and a 0.4 WAR(with his defensive metrics dragging this number down). Hosmer has looked the part this year of offensive force rather than just potential,  and at this point is probably more worthy of starting the game than Cabrera. Hosmer is a lock either way to be on the roster, it’s just a matter of whether he is voted in or heads to San Diego as a reserve.

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Wade Davis

I’m sure there will be someone out there, somewhere, who will say Wade doesn’t deserve to go to San Diego next week because he “isn’t quite as dominant” as he has been the last two years. That is pretty much the equivalent of Mike Trout’s numbers falling a smidge but still being an MVP candidate. Davis has thrown 29 innings so far this year, and while his numbers don’t pop out at you like in the past(K rate is down, walk rate is up) he is still producing. Wade has an ERA of 1.23, FIP of 2.69, and is still stranding 87% of his runners on base. He is easily one of the top five relievers in the game and deserves to be an All-Star. No way Ned doesn’t make that happen, if he isn’t voted there by the players. Wade will be an All-Star, period.

All-Star Probables

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Lorenzo Cain

This will be a complicated pick, but one that should happen. Cain is currently on the disabled list, which means he would be unable to play in the All-Star game, but he can always be picked as a reserve and then have someone else take his spot; not like that has never happened before in All-Star’s past. Cain is hitting .290/.336/.416 with 8 home runs, 39 RBI’s, 1.9 WAR with 9 defensive runs saved. Sure, Cain is not tearing it up offensively the way he did in 2015(April was not kind to Lorenzo), but he is still considered one of the elite center fielders in the game and that’s what this game is for: the best of the best. It will interesting to see if Cain gets a spot, as it would be another honor that he could use when negotiating a new contract with Kansas City after the 2017 season. I feel he is worthy, but he might end up being a borderline selection by the players and coaches.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals
(Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY)

Kelvin Herrera

To me this is an easy pick but Herrera could be cast aside for another Royals reliever this year(more on that in just a bit). Herrera has put up dominating numbers this: 11.41 strikeouts per 9, 1.63 walks per 9, 87% left on base percentage, 1.40 ERA, 2.01 FIP and 1.3 WAR, all over 38 innings of work. Herrera added a slider to his repertoire late in 2015 and it has made him even more unhittable than he was before. The Royals aren’t the defending World Champions without Herrera and he has continued to be the bridge to Wade Davis this year to help lock down the late innings for the Royals. Herrera is an All-Star; now we will see if he actually gets the honor or is passed over for a bullpen brother.

All-Star Longshots

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Luke Hochevar

Yep, bet you probably didn’t see this coming. Above, I mentioned Herrera could get passed over for another Royals reliever and of course I was talking about Hochevar. Hoch, a man who I once despised, has been one of the most reliable Royals relievers this year and the numbers back that up: 10.16 strikeouts per 9, 2.03 walks per 9, 79% left on base percentage, 2.90 ERA and 0.4 WAR over 31 innings. Sure, these aren’t eye-popping numbers like Davis or Herrera, but they are more than solid and worthy of the adulation. Now, if Hoch gets picked it will be by manager Ned Yost, who will want to reward Luke for his hard work out of the pen and the fact he doesn’t get a lot of the recognition that his bullpen mates get. Yost has asked Hochevar to perform in a lot of high-leverage situations this year and for the most part he has been highly effective in that role. If he is rewarded with the honor, it will show just how loyal a man like Yost is and a nice nod for a guy who turned his career around after being a failure in the rotation.

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Whit Merrifield

Okay, okay, I know; Whit has played in only 40 games for Kansas City and more than likely has no business even being in this discussion. But…those 40 games have been stellar with steady production from a guy who is supposed to just be an afterthought after the season started. Instead, Merrifield has posted a line of .308/.328/.426 with 26 runs scored, 15 RBI’s, a .385 BAbip, 100 wRC+ and 1.3 WAR…all in 40 games! Merrifield is 8th in WAR for second baseman in the American League and while Robinson Cano, Jose Altuve and Ian Kinsler are all worthy of roster spots this year, the story of Whitley Merrifield would make a great story. It’s not going to happen and for the most part, it shouldn’t. But it’s hard not to root for this guy and everything he has accomplished in about six weeks. To see him gaining an All-Star nod would be about as warm and fuzzy as one can imagine. Think of watching ‘Toy Story’ while cuddling with a bunch of puppies and you will be close…not quite, but close. So Merrifield isn’t going to San Diego, but I felt like I should at least mention him. Rock on, Whitley.

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The Royals aren’t going to send as many players to San Diego as they did last year in Cincinnati(no bus needed this year. Sorry, Rex) but I would expect a healthy dose of Kansas City blue at the festivities next week. For years Royals fans would hem and haw about who actually deserved to get Kansas City’s lone spot at the game, and there were even years were no one was really worthy(hello, Mark Redman!). The Royals will have enough players going this year to where you should probably pay attention to the game to see if any of the players end up playing pivotal roles. Just don’t take the game too seriously; it is an exhibition game after all. An exhibition game where Salvy could throw a runner out, Hosmer could hit a home run and Wade could record the final out. Sure, there is a good chance none of that happens, but you never quite know.

 

 

Welcome To The Jungle

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“Some things will never change. Some things will always be the same.” ~Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again.

It’s hard sometimes to visit the past. As much as we want to look at the past through rose-colored glasses, most times the truth is that there was just as much bad as good. Go ahead, look back at an old relationship and really dissect what worked and what didn’t. There is a reason you parted ways. This holds true in baseball as well; if a player leaves a team, there is normally a reason. For the most part, Joakim Soria was a positive when it came to his first go-around with the Kansas City Royals. Multiple time All-Star, reliable closer, and even racked some American League Cy Young  and MVP votes back in 2010. Sure, there was the rough patch he had in 2010 when  he was using a cutter way too often(and saw him get hit hard because he hadn’t mastered the pitch), but those five years of glory endeared him to the Royals fanbase. Unfortunately, Soria was part of the losing years in Kansas City, the years that aren’t always looked back on fondly. It wasn’t his fault, but it’s hard not to associate him with that era of losing.

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So when the Royals signed Soria to a 3 year deal this past offseason, it was mostly met with cheers and adulation. Soria had put up some good numbers last year during his stint in Pittsburgh and was only entering his age 32 season. But there were reasons to be concerned; I for one wasn’t fond of the length of the deal nor the amount of dollars spent. I wasn’t Anti-Soria, but my feeling was that solid relief pitching could not only be found on the cheap, but younger relief pitching wouldn’t be that hard to find. Instead, the Royals latched themselves to Soria for three years with the hope that he still had some of that old glory left in his arm. In some ways Soria hadn’t changed much; his average velocity is still on par with years past and he still uses his four seam fastball to set up a nasty change-up that is a real worm killer. Soria was known to throw the change-up to generate more swings and misses, as it is slightly firmer than the usual change and has more natural sink to it. The feeling was that Soria could help set-up for closer Wade Davis while also using his past closing experience to help in case of emergency.

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The first month of the 2016 season wasn’t a warm welcome back to the fold for Soria. Call it nerves, call it bad pitch location or just bad luck, but in his first outing back he would only throw 2/3 of an inning, allowing 3 hits, 3 runs and 2 walks. In fact, just chalk up April as a bad month; 12 games, 11 innings pitched while giving up 8 runs and posting an ERA of 5.73. Many a Royals fan was already wanting him to be pushed back to less intensive work, a few even wanting him to only pitch during blow outs or in mop up duty. But the truth was that Soria just wasn’t pitching as bad as it appeared; his line-drive rate was down and his hard hit rate also leaned downward. This told me that hitters were just not hitting the ball very hard off of him. This was even more evident when looking at his BAbip, which stood at .355. Luckily, things would turn around starting in May.

Cheslor Cuthbert, Joakim Soria
(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

May would lead to more prosperity for Soria; 12 games, 13 innings thrown only allowing 2 runs and posting an ERA of 1.35 while his BAbip lowered to .222. In fact, since May Soria has been one of the most reliable Royals relievers. Over his last 22 appearances, Soria has given up only 5 runs over 24 innings, putting up an ERA of 1.88 while almost striking out a batter per inning(striking out 21 over those 24 innings). So what has changed?

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For one, it appears his velocity has gone up. There is a slight decrease in the speed of his change-up, but to me that is actually a good thing, as it puts more distance between his fastball and his off-speed stuff. This is a good sign.

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It also looks as if left-handed hitters have hard a harder time hitting him, as the release speed has changed by a decent amount from the beginning of the season.Right-handed hitters speed has gone up, but not by very much. This is also shown in the percentage of pitches:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (2)

So what is Soria doing differently from April? He has drastically increased the use of his off-speed pitches:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (3)

If you notice, the percentage of hard stuff has been drastically reduced by Soria, while both his breaking balls and off-speed pitches have seen an increase since April. This change in philosophy can also be seen in the pitches that batters are swinging at:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (4)

Hitters are swinging at more of his breaking balls thrown and is also seeing their batting average go down on breaking balls as well:

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It goes to show how a slight change in philosophy can change everything. Batters are hitting better against Soria’s hard stuff, but they aren’t seeing those pitches nearly as much as early in the season. As has always been the case for him, he is using his fastball to set up his off-speed stuff, and because of that the results are looking more and more like they did back in his heyday.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Houston Astros
(Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY)

I’m not sure who to give credit to for the change in Soria’s pitch usage(my gut thinking is it was probably pitching coach Dave Eiland) but whomever it was should get a raise. Normally players at Soria’s age start to see a regression; less foot or bat speed, or a decrease in velocity for pitchers. Thankfully for Soria, he seems to have skirted the enivitable…for now.  There is no way to tell if we will be able to say the same by the end of his contract, but for now he is a main cog in the Kansas City bullpen. Players come and go for your favorite baseball team and a select few hold a special spot in your memory. Normally, if a player returns it is at the tail end of his career and he is but a shell of his former self. Thankfully, we are still seeing top shelf Joakim Soria. Sometimes you can go home again.

Happy Trails, Omar

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Sometimes things just don’t work out. That’s a good way to describe the Kansas City Royals parting ways with second baseman Omar Infante on Wednesday. This wasn’t a shocking move in the fact that it happened; the timing was the only thing that caught most off-guard. Infante had been relegated to third-string second baseman thanks to the hot start that Whit Merrifield has gotten off to and the fact that Omar had struggled on both offense AND defense this year. The Royals still owe Infante another $17.75 million, which includes a buyout of his 2018 option and the fact that Kansas City was willing to eat the rest of his contract shows you the albatross that Infante had become to the Kansas City roster. But at the end of the day, this was the best choice for everyone involved.

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Not everything was all downtrodden when it comes to the Royals signing of Infante. The Royals signed Infante before the 2014 season to a 4 year, $30.25 million deal with a team option for 2018 and at the time it felt like a good signing. The Royals had struggled at second base for years and before Infante, Kansas City was saddled with my favorite punching bag, Chris Getz. Infante was coming off of a solid 2013 campaign in Detroit, where he put up a line of .318/.345/.450 with an OPS+ of 115 and a bWAR of 2.5. Sure, he was entering his age 32 season with the feeling of regression lurking in the shadows, but all he really had to do was give the Royals an upgrade at offense and solid defense and they would be happy. Unfortunately, the momentum started to shift from almost the very beginning.

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In Infante’s six game in a Royals uniform, he took a fastball to the jaw courtesy of Heath Bell. To say he hasn’t been the same since would be an understatement:

 

For Infante’s almost 2.5 years in Kansas City, he hit .238/.269/.328 with an OPS+ of 62 and a bWAR of -0.2. Infante did put up above average defensive numbers for the first two years of his deal but even that took a dip this year, falling below replacement level. For the longest time, Infante’s litany of injuries (jaw, shoulder, elbow) were blamed for his struggles, but that seemed to be rectified this past offseason, as Infante had surgery in November to remove bone chips from his right elbow. The belief was now that Omar was healthy, we would see the guy who had performed so well in 2013. Instead, he struggled even more this year, most notably on defense. The move to his right to backhand a grounder was a normal task in the past; this year he struggled on a consistent basis making that move. It appeared his range had continued to decline and there was very little zip on the ball whenever he would make the throw to first. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I saw Omar throw the ball over the top; every throw I saw from him this year was sidearm. The injuries had seemed to take a toll on his body and the guy who was once a solid defensive second baseman had now become a liability on the field. Infante would bumble a ball in Cleveland a few weeks ago and that would be the last time he would start a game in a Kansas City uniform. Infante was regulated to the bench moving forward, as utility man Merrifield would see the majority of starts moving forward. Christian Colon would be recalled last week and even he was getting multiple starts at second base instead of Infante. It was obvious the end was near.

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There were a couple Omar highlights that I will probably remember for awhile. There was the home run in Game 2 of the 2014 World Series:

 

Oh Hunter Strickland, you insidious gas can! There was also Infante’s walk-off against the Angels in June 2014(a game I was actually in attendance for):

 

But there is one highlight that will be hard to ever forget. Last year in Cleveland, Infante and Alcides Escobar pulled off a highlight reel play that still is fun to watch today:

 

Yep, that was in the 9th inning of a one run game. That’s as big time as it gets! Sure, there aren’t a ton of Omar highlights during his time in Kansas City, but these won’t fade from my memory anytime soon.

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So what should be the game plan for the Royals at second base moving forward? At the current moment, Whit Merrifield seems to be acclimating himself to major league baseball quite well, so I would assume he would continue to see the majority of playing time there. Christian Colon will also figure into their plans, getting a few starts a week at the position:

There has been an interesting rumor floating around over the last couple days:

Now, I’m not 100% sold this will happen. For one, Reyes hasn’t played much second base in his career, just a few games back in 2004. That would be a minor hurdle. The bigger hurdle to jump would be the character issue. Reyes is coming off of a domestic abuse issue and will probably be highly scrutinized for the immediate future. Royals GM Dayton Moore has made it a priority to bring in players who are great clubhouse guys, players who will fit in with the family environment in Kansas City. Moore has occasionally veered off the path(Jose Guillen immediately comes to mind, even Alex Rios wasn’t considered a high character guy) but this just feels like too much media coverage just to fill a slight hole. The plus to it would be that Merrifield could go back to being the utility guy that is probably better suited for him and Reyes would be a major offensive upgrade over Infante. The Royals also wouldn’t have to pay him much, as the Rockies are on the hook for the remainder of Reye’s 2016 salary. But my gut tells me this won’t happen; if I’m wrong there could be a whole batch of issues for us to discuss then. For now, the Royals will just go with Merrifield and Colon and see if someone becomes available that could strengthen the team down the stretch drive.

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No matter how much flak we have given Omar these last couple seasons, I still don’t consider this a bad signing. Sure, I didn’t love that it was a four year deal, but unfortunately that is what a small market team like the Royals has to do since they can’t offer a player more money. No one saw Infante’s regression being so steep, so fast. The good news is we are in the middle of June, with three and a half months left in the season. This could have been so much worse if Infante was still holding up a roster spot into August, taking up space while rarely being used. Infante seemed like a nice enough guy, but it just didn’t work out between him and the Royals. The Royals can now move forward and Omar can see if he is able to latch on to a new team for the rest of the season. That being said, there is one more thing you can do; Vote Omar. Yes, the All-Star balloting is still going on and Infante is listed at second base. Go ahead and go to Royals.com and #VoteOmar. I know, he doesn’t deserve it, but it will burn the chaps of all the people who take All-Star voting seriously. You at least owe us this, Omar. Happy trails.

One Thing Does Not Lead To Another

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(Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

The big story around baseball on Friday was that Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon had been suspended for 80 games because he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Gordon had tested positive during Spring Training and had been appealing the suspension until he decided to drop the appeal on Thursday. There are a number of items of note to take from this suspension, whether it be the fact that Gordon doesn’t fit the stereotype of a PED user(although if you have been paying attention, when a pitcher like Jason Grimsley is in the Mitchell Report you know that stereotype isn’t always true), the question of why someone who just signed a new guaranteed deal would do anything to endanger that, to why some people are questioning the validity of the testing done by MLB when it obviously seems to be working. All those topics are interesting(as are the five Jayson Stark threw out there today) and well worth a discussion, but it’s not the direction I am going today. Instead, I want to focus on the narrative some so-called “journalists” are tossing out there. I was at work this morning and while listening to the radio, caught the NBC Sports Update, a small two minute look at sports news. They mentioned the Gordon suspension and then at the end of it said “…by the way, Gordon’s hitting coach is Barry Bonds.” Obviously, this rubbed me the wrong way, as it had absolutely nothing to do with Gordon’s situation other than to imply something about Bonds. What is even worse is that I have seen three different articles throwing the same insinuation out there. What has happened to journalism?

MLB: MAY 26 Marlins at Pirates
May 26 2015: PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

By no means am I sticking up for Barry Bonds here; I think most of us agree Barry probably did something he shouldn’t have, even if part of the problem was that baseball wasn’t testing anyone during that period. No, the whole issue is that this has nothing to do with Bonds, AT ALL. The implications by these “news outlets” is that Barry Bonds, a former suspected PED user, helped point Dee Gordon in the direction to use PED’s. That is just ludicrous and shoddy journalism at best. What has been taught over the years to journalists is to get your facts straight and lay out all the information that you have. That doesn’t mean point to a narrative that will give you more link clicks or put up misleading headlines to grab people’s attention and then have nothing of any actual substance. The fact that Bonds is Gordon’s hitting coach this year is merely a coincidence and means absolutely nothing to whether or not Gordon took something he shouldn’t. So the narrative pushed is that Barry told him “Hey man, you should take PED’s; they will make you a bigger star and pile up your numbers!”, which just seems crazy if you think about it. Even crazier is the fact these news outlets are throwing that narrative out there, completely killing any credibility they once had.

USP MLB: WASHINGTON NATIONALS AT MIAMI MARLINS S BBN USA FL
(Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY)

Even if you read the ESPN article I linked above, they mention Bonds. No facts to back up the possibility of Bonds getting in Gordon’s ear, not other Marlin’s getting suspended, nothing. This is where journalism is in 2016. So if any San Diego Padres player gets caught using PED’s, does that fall at bench coach Mark McGwire’s feet? If any New York Yankee tests positive, should we all point the finger at Alex Rodriguez? Just writing that made me shake my head because it is beyond ignorant to assume such a thing. This is what happens when writers are lazy and don’t have any actual facts but want to drive up the hits on their story. Just because one (suspected) PED user was in the same vicinity as someone who tested positive for these performance-enhancing substances doesn’t mean there is a direct correlation; it means that even with modern day testing and harsher penalties, these players still want to get an edge any way possible, legally or illegally.

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The most ironic part of this poor excuse for journalism is that this is a big story even if Bonds’ name is never mentioned. Mentioning that last year’s batting title winner and National League All-Star tested positive for PED’s and would be suspended for half the season is a big story without dusting off the cobwebs and taking shots at Barry. This story is about Gordon and how even in the modern era of baseball, players still feel the need to endanger their spot in the game for the possibility of “getting one up” on the competition. The story can even be how MLB’s drug testing is working, catching up to seven players already this season. Instead, many writers take the easy way out and decide to use “shock journalism” to create their own narrative. The funny thing is, I wonder what Bonds would say if a player asked him today if it was worth it for him to take an illegal substance to gain an advantage? He very well might say it wasn’t worth it since he has been shunned by the baseball Hall of Fame and in a lot of circles he isn’t viewed as the true “Home Run King” of baseball. Right there is why you don’t mention Bonds name in any Gordon story about his suspension. If you don’t know how Bonds feels about the subject at this point in time, there is no way to assume he has discussed anything other than hitting with Dee Gordon. That is what a real journalist would call a fact; maybe outlets like NBC and ESPN should look into that more often.

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