“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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
So what is Soria doing differently from April? He has drastically increased the use of his off-speed pitches:
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:
Hitters are swinging at more of his breaking balls thrown and is also seeing their batting average go down on breaking balls as well:
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.
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.
It’s a tough time to be a Minnesota Twins fan. After an unexpected second place finish in the American League Central in 2015(and competing for a playoff spot into the last week of the season), the belief was that the Twins would take another step forward in 2016. Minnesota was expected to grow from last year’s success, especially with the addition of some top-level prospects being around all year(Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton) and the addition of Korean slugger Byung Ho Park, so it appeared that second year manager Paul Molitor had a contender on his hands. I definitely had bought in, as I expected the Twins to garnish a playoff spot this year, with my belief being that they had a great mix of veterans, youngsters and a great leader in Molitor. Instead this year has felt like a horror show, as they are 14.5 games out of first in the Central, 13 games below .500. But this isn’t a brow beating on this year’s Twins team as much as it’s a look back at my fondness for a team that was a big part of my childhood.
Now, I am a devoted Kansas City Royals fan and have been since I was 7 years old; that will never change. But in 1987 I couldn’t help but root for a fun Minnesota Twins team that would go on and win the World Series that year. What really started my ‘Minnesota Love’ was Kirby Puckett. Puckett was everything great about baseball; a cherubic center fielder who could hit, run and play defense and had elevated himself to be one of the great players in the game. I loved watching Puckett run around the outfield, then step to the plate and rack up hit after hit. He fit in perfectly in the 1980’s, an era of contact hitters like Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs and Don Mattingly. Puckett also seemed to have a child-like grin on his face at all times, leaving the impression that he was having as much fun playing the game as we did watching him. Puckett was a perennial All-Star, a guy who averaged 192 hits a season throughout his 12 year career, multiple time Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner and was voted in the top ten of the American League MVP ballots 7 of his 12 major league seasons. I know some have questioned whether or not he should have been a Hall of Famer, but in my eyes there was never a question. Puckett was one of the best throughout his career and one can only imagine what his final numbers would have been had glaucoma not taken his sight. There were some less than flattering moments for Puckett post-career but Puckett the ballplayer was a joy to watch play.
Once you looked at the rest of the roster, there was a nice group of players who were easy to root for. Kent Hrbek was the lovable, goofy first baseman with power. Dan Gladden, current Twins radio broadcaster, played like his hair was on fire and was the spark plug at the top of the lineup. Frank Viola was the left-handed ace who had elevated himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball. Bert Blyleven was nearing the end of his career but still fun to watch. I also can’t forget Juan Berenguer, a guy who did not fit the normal physique of a major league ballplayer but was a pivotal part of the Minnesota bullpen. Even the 1991 World Series team was easy to root for, with Puckett, Hrbek, Gladden and pitchers like Scott Erickson and Kevin Tapani holding down the rotation and Rick Aguilera closing out of the pen. The Twins had players who were fun to watch and it always appeared as if Tom Kelly led teams played more as a team and weren’t as focused on individual numbers. As the Royals have shown these last few years, if you play as a team there is a good chance that winning is part of the formula.
Speaking of Kansas City, there is a deep connection between those late 1980’s/early 1990’s Twins team and the Royals. Many of the Twins who helped Minnesota win those two World Series’ would eventually spend time in Kansas City. Gary Gaetti, the Twins third baseman for both championship teams, would eventually move onto the Royals and would even hit 35 home runs for Kansas City in 1995. Greg Gagne was a pivotal part of those Minnesota teams and he would go on to play three seasons in Kansas City at shortstop; his offense wasn’t anything to write home about, but his defense got him 4.8 dWAR during that period. Chuck Knoblauch would play his last major league season for the Royals, producing a -0.7 bWAR in just 80 games. Chili Davis would end up in Kansas City in 1997, hitting 30 home runs and posting 2.4 bWAR. As if that wasn’t enough, Berenguer pitched for the Royals earlier in his career, while backup catcher Sal Butera’s son, Drew, would later play for the Twins and is the current backup receiver in Kansas City. So in a roundabout way, I got to see a few of the bigger pieces of those championship Twins team’s contribute in a Royals uniform.
But it wasn’t just the players or the style of baseball they played that made me intrigued by the Twins. As a kid, I was enamored with the Metrodome, warts and all. Here was this domed stadium that had character and didn’t have the feel of cookie cutter stadiums like Three Rivers or Veterans Stadium. Minnesota had the “baggie” out in right field(which is now a handbag), and a roof that looked spectacular but was easy for fielders to lose a pop fly in. The crowd always seemed raucous and during the playoffs the fans would wave their “Homer Hanky” to get the team going. There seemed to be a whole atmosphere to that stadium that I wanted to be a part of and that lured me into wanting this team to succeed. Sure, I had heard stories about the stadium being broken down, cold, drab and being nothing but a big slab of concrete, but that didn’t seem to matter to me much. It just seemed like a fun place to watch a baseball game from. I still get goosebumps when I think back to Game 163 of the 2009 season, when the Twins and Tigers battled it out in the dome for the Central Division title. Here was a stadium that being replaced the next season but it was going to get one more thrilling, iconic moment before it was gone. The Metrodome might not have had the beauty of Kauffman Stadium(yes, biased), the legend of a Wrigley Field or the visual classicism of a Camden Yards, but it had its own nuances that would grow on you. I never got to attend a game at the Metrodome, which saddens me, but I was able to be at Target Field a few years back. While I liked Target Field and think it is a solid replacement for the Metrodome, I have a feeling it won’t match up when it comes to the character of that old dome.
You would think that with the Twins being in the same division as my Royals I would loathe them and wish for them to just go away, but I don’t. I have very fond memories of the Twins and most years wish them the best. Well, I always hope they don’t do as good as Kansas City, but otherwise I want them to have success. It blows my mind sometimes when I think back and remember there was a period where baseball considered contracting the Twins. This is an organization with rich history and the idea of a baseball team not being up in Minnesota is unfathomable. When I go back and think about baseball highlights in my life that I will play over and over in my head, there are a number of Twins highlights that will live on forever. Puckett’s catch, Larkin’s single, Morris’s pitching and Casilla’s single; all are memories etched in my head forever. For that, I thank Minnesota. Thank you for making my childhood brighter and my adulthood memorable. I still kinda love ya.
We are just a few weeks into the season and the Royals are standing atop of a very tight American League Central, as most assumed they would. It’s hard to get too worked up about much of anything this early(especially since number-wise everything is a small sample size), but there have been a few patterns that have shown a light on the performance of a few Kansas City players. I figured today we would take a glance at these few items while also taking into consideration where the team is at early in the season. What do the people say, onward and upward? Sure, let’s do that.
Let’s start with last year’s MVP candidate, Lorenzo Cain. Cain was able to become an offensive force for Kansas City in 2015, but so far has struggled offensively in 2016. Some have pointed to his uptick in strikeout totals, like Hunter Samuels did for Baseball Prospectus Kansas City. As of Friday, Cain’s strikeout % is sitting at 28.6%, a major increase from last year’s 16.2%. While the K’s have been alarming, I have been pleasantly impressed with the patience Cain has shown at the dish. Over his career, the highest walk % Lorenzo has ever produced was 7.5% in 2013. Like most of the Royals, Cain just doesn’t walk much. But so far this season, he has upped his walk % to 14.3%, as he has walked 9 times in the first couple weeks of the 2016 season. Cain walked a grand total of 37 times last year, so he is already 1/4 of the way to that total. I have enjoyed seeing him be more patient at the plate and I think that also explains his strikeout numbers this year. If he is being more patient(and he is; Cain has increased his pitches seen per plate appearance this year, 4.27 to last year’s 3.79) than it seems just as logical that he is batting with two strikes on him more often. When that happens, you are bound to strikeout a bit more, as you are battling deeper into the count. It will be interesting to see what direction these numbers go throughout the rest of the year and they will be worth the time to occasionally check up on. I like that Cain is working the count more in his at bats, but you also have to realize when that happens there is a high chance that the strikeouts will increase as well. Hopefully Cain can learn to be patient while also knowing when to be more aggressive, as he has been known to do in the past.
Speaking of a Royals player whose strikeout totals are up, there is Alex Gordon, although I was wanting to talk about something else where “A1” is concerned:
Highest line drive % this year:
Alex Gordon 45.8 !!! Miguel Sano 41.7 Ryan Howard 35.7 Jose Iglesias 35.5 Fishy McFishface 35.3
It has fallen a tad, down to 40% as of the time of me writing this, which is still a very good percentage and shows when he gets a piece of the ball he is getting good wood on it. It seems by the numbers that Gordon has been hitting less fly balls(20%) while staying on pace with his ground ball percentage(40% so far this year, 37.6 last year). If you’ve watched a good portion of Royals games, you are probably shocked by these numbers. It just hasn’t seemed like Alex is stinging the ball so far this year. His hard hit % is down a smidge(26.7%) this year, but his medium hit rate is up(56.7%), so that could explain some of the line drive’s being hit by Gordon so far. The line drives also appear to be helping his BABIP, as it has risen to .379 in the season’s first couple weeks. I tend to think this is a good sign, as Alex is a notorious slow starter and these numbers tend to say that he is seeing the ball well. In fact, I might even go out on a limb and say we could be seeing an Alex Gordon hot streak in the very near future.
So we all knew Ian Kennedy would be this good through his first three starts in Royal blue, right? Um, sure. Go ahead and count me as one of the early skeptics of the Kennedy signing, but so far into 2016 he has proven everyone wrong. In three starts, Kennedy has thrown 20 innings, giving up only 3 runs and an ERA+ of 284. What is interesting is his strikeouts per 9 is on par with 2015 while his walks per 9 is only slightly below last year. You can probably assume part of Kennedy’s early success can be given to having the Royals defense behind him, as he was stuck with San Diego’s awful ‘D’ last year. But it also appears as if pitching coach Dave Eiland made just a slight adjustment to his game plan on the mound this year that seems to have helped Kennedy:
Pitching coach Dave Eiland explains a key focus Kennedy had this spring which led to his successful season debut.https://t.co/hj28U9NJ45
So Eiland(who was also a coach in the Yankees system as Kennedy was coming up through the minors) has wanted Ian to keep the ball down and stay away from missing the ball up in the strike zone. One of Kennedy’s big bugaboo’s over the years has been a tendency to give up the long ball. It would only make sense that if you continue to miss higher up in the strike zone, that there would be a greater chance of giving up some sort of extra base hit. Missing lower in the zone can cost you as well, but the percentages say it would be more likely to get a ground ball or a pop-up in that situation. I had made the comment back when the Royals signed him that I felt we would get some excellent starts from Kennedy as well as some stinkers and for the most part I stand by that. But if Kansas City gets more outings like he has thrown to this point than the bad ones, I don’t think anyone will complain. So far, so good for Kansas City and Ian Kennedy.
…and then there is Joakim Soria. There has been a lot of concern about Soria since Opening Night, when he struggled in his return appearance to Kansas City. Since then, Soria has had some great outings, some good ones and a couple of rough patches. Craig Brown of BP Kansas City recently took a look at some of Soria’s issues and the consensus was that he was having location issues as well as not missing many bats. The funny thing is that while he appears to be struggling, there are a number of factors that point to a little bit of bad luck. For one, batters are not hitting the ball hard on Soria. His hard rate % is only around 20%, which is the lowest of the Royals top four relievers(Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, and Luke Hochevar being in that group). In fact, if you’ve been paying attention, Soria has allowed a number of bloop and dink hits so far into the season which would also explain his BABIP of .375, which is ridiculously high for almost any reliever(to give you an idea, Davis’ is currently at .071!). His velocity has also been on par with past seasons, which is a good sign that any trouble that is occurring is easily fixable. In fact, Dave Eiland might have already found a solution:
Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland called Soria into a room early Wednesday afternoon. Eiland had noticed something the night before and confirmed it by watching slow-motion video after the game, but he waited for emotions to settle to meet with Soria.
In baseball speak, Soria has a “lazy front side.” In normal-people speak, his front arm is drifting off to the first base side, which isn’t generating the guidance or power needed for his throwing arm. It is a problem, affecting both movement and location, but coaches would love for this to be the extent of their pitchers’ problems.
So Kansas City is hoping this slight adjustment could solve most of Soria’s woes. It will still beg the question being asked: Should Kelvin Herrera be throwing in the 8th inning instead of Soria? The answer is ‘probably’ but the Royals have an unique situation here where they have such a surplus of arms that the options are plentiful. It sounds like the team will go with the guy who is pitching the best at the time, which could be Herrera, Soria or even Hochevar. The door isn’t closed on Soria pitching in the late innings, but it does appear that it will matter on who has the hot hand at the time. In other words, what inning he comes in for will all be determined on how Joakim is throwing at the time.
The Royals currently inhabit first place in the American League Central and have the best record in the AL at 11-5, so things are going smashing for the defending World Champions. It’s still early so any issue at this point is purely minute and nothing to get too worked up about. It’s a long season folks and the Royals have only played about 1/10 of their games, so a long path is still ahead. It’s sunny in Kansas City and it appears the road for every other team in the league will have to run through the Royals to get to the big destination, the World Series. I have a feeling Kansas City will welcome the challenge with open arms; just a thought. We lost some royalty this week, but the “Royalty” in Kansas City is still chugging along.
One of the fun things about Spring Training is that anything is possible, and the opportunities are endless. In fact, every spring is spent with fans trying to predict how their favorite team will stack the lineup to start the season. In some ways it is a pointless activity but it’s always interesting to compare how you would position the starting lineup as opposed to the manager in the dugout. With that being said, here is how I would stack the starting nine for the Kansas City Royals to kick off their 2016 campaign.
Batting leadoff would be left fielder Alex Gordon. Years ago Gordon was actually the regular at the top of the order but the Royals have spent the last few years trying to utilize some of his power and put him anywhere from fourth to eighth in the order. My reasoning for having Gordon leadoff is that he is one of the few Royals to put up a good walk rate, has decent speed and has proven success in this role. I really like Gordon’s ability to get on base and feel like it is best suited for this spot in the lineup. I know it is highly unlikely this will happen, but Gordon would be my choice.
Batting in the two hole would be Lorenzo Cain. Last year Cain spent most of the year in the third spot in the order and turned in a career year that netted him a third place finish in the American League MVP vote. Now, it might seem odd to move Cain out of the third spot after the year he had, but I like having the Royals best two players hitting back to back in the order, as it allows Cain use his speed a bit more early in the game and makes it harder for pitchers to pitch around the Royals top of the order. I have no issue with Cain batting third, but I would like to see what he could do batting second.
Hitting third in my Royals batting order would be Eric Hosmer. It’s long been said that you bat your best hitter in the third spot in the order and this could be the year that Hosmer takes that leap and puts up MVP caliber numbers. Hosmer put together a solid 2015 campaign and was an RBI machine in the postseason. If Gordon and Cain got on base consistently, Hosmer would get even more RBI opportunities and give the Royals more runs on the scoreboard. Batting Hosmer third could be a win-win situation.
The “Cleanup Spot” could go to Kendrys Morales, the Royals RBI leader in 2015. The four hole has long been where you plug in your power guy and Morales is that for Kansas City. Even if we see a slight fall in extra base hits, Morales batting cleanup would give Morales even more of a chance to drive in runners than he did last year batting fifth.
In the fifth spot would be Salvador Perez. Salvy isn’t the most patient hitter in baseball, but he did put up career high home run totals in 2015 and could see better pitches hitting behind Morales. Now that Perez is signed long-term in Kansas City, its time to give the man more rest and one has to wonder if his offensive numbers would hit an upward trajectory with more time to rest his weary bones.
Despite coming off of a career season, I would bat Mike Moustakas sixth this season for the Royals. Moustakas looked like a changed man the first few months of the season, as he consistently was hitting the ball to the opposite field, forcing teams to scrap the shifts against him which were prevalent in 2014. The second half of the 2015 season saw him pull the ball at a greater rate, although still occasionally taking the ball the opposite way. So which player is Moose? I would like to say he would be more like the guy we saw in the first half of the season, but we will have to wait and see. If he continues to show that growth this season then he is more than capable of batting back near the top of the order. I would prefer to be convinced first before sliding him back.
The seventh, eighth and ninth spots in the order are pretty interchangeable, but I would go with Omar Infante/Christian Colon batting seventh. Infante will probably win this job and if he does he is good to bat near the bottom of the order while still occasionally driving in some runs from this spot.
Eighth would be Alcides Escobar, the man who Ned Yost will have lead-off this year. None of us can explain why it works, but batting Escobar at the top of the order, a guy who rarely walks and batted .257 last year, seemed to be a sparkplug for this Royals team during the playoffs. Honestly, Escobar just doesn’t get on base enough for my taste, which is why I would bat him near the bottom of the order. We know how this will play out, but Escobar’s bat seems to justify me batting him eighth in the Royals batting order.
Batting at the bottom of the Royals lineup would be the Jarrod Dyson/Paulo Orlando platoon. I really like batting these two here for two reasons. First, neither will produce much offensively and will see the least amount of at bats in this spot. Second, if they do get on base, their speed could be utilized when the batting order flips back around to the team’s best hitters in Gordon and Cain and you could even see the hit and run used quite a bit. I actually think batting the right field duo here is the perfect spot for them.
So how do I think the line-up will actually shake out? Knowing manager Ned Yost and what he has said so far this spring, the line-up looks to be Escobar, Moustakas, Cain, Hosmer, Morales, Gordon, Perez, Infante/Colon, Dyson/Orlando. It’s not too far off from the batting order we saw in October last year and that seemed to work out okay. How would you stack the Royals? Who knows what would actually be the most productive order for the Royals, but it sure is fun moving it around to see what comes out of it.
One of the great honors of being a member of the IBWAA is that come September we vote on the season awards, just like the BBWAA. Last year I filled out my first ballot and I learned a few things. One, never turn in your ballot until sometime in the final week. I turned mine in about two weeks early and was kicking myself within a week. Yep, one’s mind can change. Second, there is no way not to take this serious. None. I look at stats all year long, and even still I’m not for sure it compared to the number crunching I did the last two years before turning in my winners. With that said, I was very pleased with the end results and feel confident throwing out how I voted for the year-end awards. So without further ado, here are my picks for the 2015 Major League Baseball season awards.
American League MVP: Mike Trout
I know the consensus was this award should go to Toronto’s Josh Donaldson, and I won’t tell you that is the wrong vote. No, Donaldson is just as deserving as Trout and either vote is a solid vote. That being said, I give Trout the edge for a few reasons. Let’s start with the main stats that everyone loves: They tied for homers, Donaldson had about 30 more RBI’s, Donaldson edged Trout in batting average, while Trout had the advantage in On-Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage(in fact Trout led the league in slugging). Now to the meaty stats: Trout over Donaldson in OPS+, 176 to 155. bWAR has Trout over Donaldson, 9.4 to 8.8. fWAR has Trout slightly edging out Donaldson, 9.0 to 8.7. Donaldson does have the edge defensively by quite a large margin, but not enough that I would give the win to him. All that is a compelling argument for Mike Trout, as most of the numbers are in his favor. But here is where the scale is tipped for me…Trout spent part of the year dealing with nagging injuries, as is evident if you look at his numbers month by month. Trout not only came back to raise those numbers, he also practically put the entire Angels team on his shoulders in September, keeping them in the pennant race into the final week. In fact Trout’s line in September looks like video game numbers: .315/.430/.648 with 8 homers and 16 RBI’s. Yes, Josh Donaldson was on a playoff team, but if you take him out of Toronto’s stellar lineup you still have a team that could probably win the American League East. Take Trout out of the Angels lineup and that team is out of the race before September. At the end of the day, Trout was more valuable to his team than Donaldson, thus he is my winner for AL MVP.
My top 3: 1-Trout, 2-Donaldson, 3-Cain
IBWAA Winner: Josh Donaldson
BBWAA Winner: Josh Donaldson
National League MVP: Bryce Harper
Very rarely does a player have a season where he is sooooo dominate that they should be a no doubt MVP, where an unanimous vote seems like the logical way to go. But this year in the National League, Bryce Harper was ‘The Man’ and there really is no debate. Harper, in his age 22 season, led the National League in so many categories that I almost thought he led the league in saves and wins. Harper was the front man in runs, home runs, On-Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, OPS, OPS+ and both fWAR and bWAR. Harper had the type of season we all expected when he was selected by the Nationals as the #1 Draft Pick in 2010. The funny part is he still has room to improve, which is frightening if you are an opposing pitcher. Harper led this Nationals team to the brink of the playoffs this year and outside of the stupidity of Jonathan Papelbon, he would have about as perfect a season as a player can have. The one stat that blows my mind more than any is his OPS+, a staggering 195(remember, 100 is average). His season is the 71st best in baseball history, which seems great but not out of this world stupendous. If you take out all the players in the ‘Dead-Ball Era’, Harper’s season is the 50th best of all-time. I decided to go a step further, going off of seasons since 1950. Taking that into affect, Harper had the 24th best season by a batter in the last 65 years! What this amounts up to is a without a doubt MVP and possibly the beginning of a career we could be discussing in detail within the next 5-8 years.
My Top 3: 1-Harper, 2-Goldschmidt, 3-Votto
IBWAA Winner: Bryce Harper
BBWAA Winner: Bryce Harper
American League Cy Young: David Price
There was a number of awards this year that felt like a tight race and this would be another one, as David Price and Dallas Keuchel both seemed like worthy winners. At the end of the day, I chose Price and the more you digest the numbers you can see why he has started to grow a resume that puts him as one of the top elite starters in baseball. Price only lead the league in ERA(2.45) and pitchers WAR, but it was all the other numbers together that make his case. Price is no lower than 6th in Innings Pitched, Wins, K/9, BB/9, HR/9, Left On Base %, ERA(1st), FIP(2nd in the league), xFIP, and fWAR(1st with 6.4, Keuchel is 3rd with 6.1). Price did all of these while switching teams in July, as he was traded to Toronto and helped them clinch a playoff spot while driving them to the ALCS. I wouldn’t disparage a vote for Keuchel, but at the end of the day it felt like this was Price’s award to win so my vote went to him in a highly contested race.
My Top 3: 1-Price, 2-Keuchel, 3-Sale
IBWAA Winner: Dallas Keuchel
BBWAA Winner: Dallas Keuchel
National League Cy Young: Jake Arrieta
It was a magical season in 2015 for the Chicago Cubs and a big part of that was because of Jake Arrieta. This was another close vote, as Zack Greinke of the Dodgers also put forth a Cy Young caliber season and a vote for him also made sense. I went back and forth on this award more than once, but finally settled on Arrieta for his work down the stretch. Arrieta led the National League in Wins, Games Started, Complete Games, Shutouts, H/9, HR/9, while finishing 2nd in pitchers WAR, Innings pitched, FIP, xFIP and ERA, and 3rd in Left on Base %. What Arrieta did the last couple months of the season really set him apart from both Greinke and Kershaw, as Arrieta made sure whenever he pitched that the Cubs more than had a chance to win that day. From August through the end of the season, Arrieta was 11-0 with an ERA of 0.41(allowing only 4 ER in 88.1 innings), including a no-hitter and 2 shutouts. While the Cubs were fighting for their playoff lives, Arrieta stepped up and made this a season to remember. Greinke and Kershaw both had amazing seasons, but Arrieta was out of this world when it counted the most.
My Top 3: 1-Arrieta, 2-Greinke, 3-Kershaw
IBWAA Winner: Jake Arrieta
BBWAA Winner: Jake Arrieta
American League Rookie of the Year: Francisco Lindor
2015 was a banner year for rookie shortstops in the American League, as both Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor would get called up mid-season and were sparkplugs for their team’s as they tried to lock up a postseason berth. Correa’s team would advance, while Lindor’s Indians came up just short, which I’m sure to some would give Correa the edge. But what on the surface seems like a blow away win for Correa as ROY, I give the nod to Lindor and it isn’t as close as you think. I know a lot of press has been given to Correa’s offense, as they should. Correa reminds me of Alex Rodriguez early in his career, as he combines power and speed and appears to only grow from here. But if you want the whole package, Lindor is your man. While Correa led with the power numbers, Lindor led in batting average(.313 to .279), and On-Base Percentage(.353 to .345), while categories like wOBA and wRC+ were close enough that it could be a scratch. What pushed Lindor over the edge for me was his WAR, and more specifically, dWAR. Lindor led Correa this past season in bWAR(4.6 to 4.1) and fWAR(4.6 to 3.3) but defensively Lindor was a top notch defender while Correa was closer to average. This defensive edge gave Lindor the nod in my eyes as their dWAR wasn’t really close at all(1.7 to 0.6) and Lindor led Correa defensively in 2015, 14.9 to Correa’s -1.6. A vote for Correa isn’t a bad vote, but in my eyes the battle of rookie shortstops in the American League was fronted by Lindor in this rookie campaign.
My Top 3: 1-Lindor, 2-Correa, 3-Sano
IBWAA Winner: Carlos Correa
BBWAA Winner: Carlos Correa
National League Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant
It wasn’t just the home runs that won Kris Bryant this award. Okay, the home runs helped, but Bryant, as much as he is known for his power, is also a hitter with a good eye and a knack for learning from his mistakes. So in his rookie campaign it’s no shock that Bryant stood head and shoulders above his peers. Bryant led all NL rookies with 26 homers(tied with Joc Pederson), but also led in On-Base Percentage and fWAR while being second in wRC+. Maybe the most surprising item from Bryant this year was the amount of positions Bryant played, as manager Joe Maddon bounced him around the diamond. His main position was 3B, but he also saw time at 1B, and all three outfield positions. For a guy who had only briefly experimented with the outfield, Bryant held his own and even held up a slightly above average dWAR. There are parts of Bryant’s game that still need work; he did lead the league in strikeouts, with 199. But that can be worked on and more than likely will be in Spring Training. Overall it was a positive rookie season for this young slugger and he looks like he will be one of the cornerstones of this Cubs team for a number of years, as rookies Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber also saw time in Chicago this season. Be scared, National League pitchers. Be very afraid.
My Top 3: 1-Bryant, 2-Duffy, 3-Kang
IBWAA Winner: Kris Bryant
BBWAA Winner: Kris Bryant
American League Manager of the Year: Paul Molitor
The Manager of the Year awards have gotten some flak this offseason as being an award just about “who’s team improved the most from the previous year”. It’s hard to argue with some of that reasoning, as Ned Yost and John Gibbons are nowhere on this list while their teams were the elite of the American League. I can say I based my ballot off of what manager did the most with the least, which lead me to the Minnesota Twins Paul Molitor. In Molitor’s first season he did what no one(and I do mean no one) thought would happen; over .500 record, contending for a playoff spot into the final week of the season and 2nd place in the American League Central. Credit goes to Jeff Banister of the Rangers for dealing with early season injuriesand guiding his team to the American League West title. Kudos to AJ Hinch of the Astros for bringing this young Houston team to the playoffs and one game away from the ALCS. But I figured both teams would be better this year and had even mentioned Houston being a sleeper pick back in early April:
The ‘surprise’ team of the American League could very well be Houston, as they’ve got a nice mix of veterans and youngsters that could be better sooner rather than later.
But Minnesota? Nope. Look, I have praised the Twins young prospects for the last few years, knowing they are lurking in the background. But the thought was 2016 would be the first year you would see Minnesota start contending again. Instead, Molitor was able to mesh all the young talent they have with veterans like Torii Hunter and Brian Dozier to keep this team in contention all through the season. Oh, and this was also Molitor’s first season managing in the majors. What Banister and Hinch did was great work; what Molitor did was borderline ‘miracle worker’. That is why I chose Paul Molitor for American League Manager of the Year.
My Top 3: 1-Molitor, 2-Banister, 3-Hinch
IBWAA Winner: Jeff Banister
BBWAA Winner: Jeff Banister
National League Manager of the Year: Terry Collins
People love Joe Maddon and what he did for the Cubs this year, and he deserves the praise he will get for getting Chicago to the playoffs. I love Maddon as much as the next guy, but figured he would turn that Cubs team around. Which is why my pick for NL Manager of the Year is Terry Collins. The hope when the season started was that the Mets would compete with the Nationals during the season and maybe make the playoffs as a wild card. Instead, the Nationals blew a tire down the stretch and the Mets sauntered in to grab the NL East. In July the Mets were contending, but didn’t look like they would be winning the division. The offense was struggling, but the rotation had brought some young arms to help and Matt Harvey looked like the Harvey of old. Yoenis Cespedes was acquired before the trade deadline and the Mets were soon off to the races. Collins did a great job this year managing Harvey(and his agent), and the youngsters while also getting veterans enough playing time to appease them. New York had an interesting mix of players this year and Collins dealt with it like a pro. Credit goes to Maddon and Clint Hurdle on great years for their teams, but it didn’t feel like they had to juggle as much as Collins.
My Top 3: 1-Collins, 2-Maddon, 3-Hurdle
IBWAA Winner: Joe Maddon
BBWAA Winner: Joe Maddon
American League Reliever of the Year: Wade Davis
Yes, the Yankees duo of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller had great years, as did Zach Britton of Baltimore and Cody Allen of Cleveland. But to me, there is no more dominate reliever in the game right now than Wade Davis. All Davis did this year was put up back to back seasons of 1.00 or below ERA’s while flat out dominating the competition. For relievers in the American League, Davis was 6th in fWAR(2.0), 7th in HR/9(he gave up one this year, to Jose Bautista), led in Left On Base %(92.2), 1st in ERA(0.94), 7th in FIP(2.29), averaged over 10 K/9, and had a ridiculous ERA+ of 444(100 is league average). Davis also closed some games this year, as he had mostly been the setup guy for the Royals in 2014. Greg Holland dealt with some injuries this year, and in September when it was announced Holland was done for the year and would be requiring Tommy John Surgery, Davis slid into the closer role, a role that felt already like it belonged to him. Trust me, you can make the argument for any of the relievers I mentioned above but none of them make a batter feel defeated before he even steps to the plate like Wade Davis.
My Top 3: 1-Davis, 2-Betances, 3-Allen
IBWAA Winner: Andrew Miller
National League Reliever of the Year: Aroldis Chapman
Did you read what I wrote above about Wade Davis? The same pretty much goes for Aroldis Chapman of Cincinnati. Chapman is one of those relievers who is practically unhittable and continued his dominance in 2015. Chapman led the ‘Senior Circuit’ for relievers in K/9(an astounding 15.74), ERA(1.63), fWAR(2.5), 4th in LOB%(88.5), 2nd in FIP(1.94), 4th in xFIP(2.49) and an ERA+ of 244. Chapman had some solid competition this year in Trevor Rosenthal of St. Louis and Sergio Romo of San Francisco, but alas neither had the dominance of Chapman. The interesting part is that Cincinnati is a team that probably won’t be contending in the near future and Chapman’s value has never been higher. It’s a possibility that when the 2016 awards are handed out a year from now, Chapman will be with a different team. The possibility of Aroldis Chapman on a contender makes for a interesting scenario come playoff time.
My Top 3: 1-Chapman, 2-Rosenthal, 3-Romo
IBWAA Winner: Mark Melancon
So those are my picks this year. Go ahead, debate them or even agree and with some of these races the debate could rage on till the end of time. What I can say is that I feel confident with my votes and really felt like I crunched a bunch of numbers to get to these decisions. Be ready though; once award season is over, that means the Hot Stove season starts to pick up. Who knows, we could have a 2016 award winner switching teams this offseason. That is one of the great things about baseball; all it could take is a switch in teams to ignite a player to greatness. Although I have the feeling I will be talking about Mike Trout again next year…and Bryce Harper as well. Yep, baseball is great my friend!
It feels like weeks since I have done a review of a Kansas City Royals series and in some ways it has. Life sure has a way of getting in the way of fun, although there is little joy in Mudville right now. That’s right, the Kansas City Royals are on a downward projectory with only a few weeks left in this regular season and the villagers are freaking out. Well, some of them are. I am not. In fact, I say lets get this losing cycle out of the way. The Royals struggled a bit this past weekend in Baltimore, a series that saw the Orioles take two of three from Kansas City. There was some good, some bad and even the downright ugly. Let’s meander over and see what all this series meant for the Royals of Kansas City.
Series MVP: Mike Moustakas
On the surface, it wasn’t a blow away series for ‘The Man We Call Moose’. But it’s hard not to give this achievement for one lone game when it is one of the best in franchise history. On Saturday, Moustakas went 3 for 5, hitting 2 home runs and driving in 9, which is a new Royals record:
Here is the 2nd home run, the one that pushed him to 9 RBI’s in the game:
Overall, Moustakas went 4 for 14 in this series, with a total of 11 RBI’s. Over the last month we have gone from Moustakas going back to his pull-happy days of 2014 before reverting back to the Moose we saw earlier this season, that opposite field hitter we call ‘Oppo-Moose’. It has been a crazy season for Moustakas, one that was more of a struggle than any of us knew. Word got out this weekend about his mother passing away last month, as she had been battling cancer over the last couple of years. It has been something Moustakas has been dealing with for awhile now and I’m sure it weighed heavy over the last month. Hopefully Moose can finish the year strong and possibly even reach a plateau, like that 20 home run mark, since he is only two away.
(Most Talked About)Pitching Performance of the Series: Johnny Cueto
The most talked about topic with the Royals nowadays is the performance of Johnny Cueto and why he is struggling so much. It’s pretty obvious that Cueto has hit a bump in the road, which wasn’t helped by his start on Sunday night. Cueto went 6.1 innings, giving up 11 hits and 8 runs(7 earned) while walking 1 and striking out 3. It gets worse when you go back to August 21st, which is five starts ago and when this stretch of confusion sat in for Cueto. In those five starts, Cueto has thrown 26.1 innings, giving up 48 hits and 30 runs(28 earned) while walking 5 and striking out 20. That leaves Cueto with an ERA of 9.57 and opposing hitters have a BAbip of .417. It’s even worse when looking at hitters slash line against him: .390/.411/.675. So what is going on? Oh, there are theories and so far no one theory is the sole answer. The Royals felt like he was tipping his pitches for awhile, or that he wasn’t getting as much movement on his pitches as he normally does:
Dave Eiland believes Johnny Cueto has been tipping his off-speed stuff. Hope is Cueto corrects that tonight.
That was debunked Sunday, as his pitches had good life and there were no noticeable tipping going on. Injured? He says no and has been saying no for weeks. Lost command of his fastball and hung some off-speed pitches? Early on, yes, but not really recently. He has been leaving more pitches up in the strike zone than normal, as normally he would keep the ball down more. There is also this; Rob Neyer recently wrote a piece on Cueto and I found this very telling:
One odd thing about Cueto’s pitching in recent weeks: the range of speeds on his fastball seems to have gotten significantly smaller. Prior to his last seven starts, his fastballs in a game typically ranged from 87 to 96 miles an hour. In his last seven starts, though? Cueto hasn’t thrown a single fastball slower than 91. His two-seam fastball and his change-up are his second and third pitches, and those also have shown less variance lately. Which might suggest that he’s a little too amped up, and is simply overthrowing.
So there is that as well. Funny thing, his strikeout to walk ratio with the Royals is better than when he was with Cincinnati, in fact better than at any other time in his career over a full season. More than anything it appears he has hit a slump where he is leaving the ball up and losing confidence. That has made some of us ask some very poignant questions:
Honest question: At what point does Yordano Ventura start Game 1 of the ALDS, not Cueto? #Royals#ForeverRoyal
Some Royals fans have suggested he be left off the playoff roster. That isn’t happening. He still has about 4 starts left this season and after that will determine his fate. At worse he comes out of the pen, or becomes the fourth starter. It would be insane to keep Cueto off the playoff roster considering his status in the league over the last five years. I know I have my concerns, but I’m also not majorly worried…yet. It does appear that a wise sage doesn’t agree with my estimate:
Denny Matthews says he wouldnt give the ball to Johnny Cueto in the playoffs as of now. "You go with whoever is giving you the best outings"
It sure seemed as if Moustakas and Cueto were the only talking points in this series, but they weren’t. A visit to ‘Charm City’ brought some news and notes for these Royals:
I mentioned that Moustakas had his one monster game, but Lorenzo Cain put together a good series for the Royals. Cain was 4 for 13, with 2 home runs and 3 RBI’s, with both homers coming on Friday night. Cain is continuing his push in the American League MVP race, one in which he will probably come up short but should end up in the top five. In fact, Cain is hitting .310/.362/.643 so far in September and looks to continue that into October as the Royals push for their first championship since 1985.
Royals manager Ned Yost has started using a more logical batting order as of late, moving high OBP hitters like Alex Gordon and Ben Zobrist batting 1-2 while Alcides Escobar has slid back down to 9th in the order:
The new top of the Royals' lineup will be really difficult for opposing teams to deal with–Gordon, Zobrist both good OBP, + work the count.
I’ve been highly critical of Yost over the years, but since last October it’s almost like he has become a wizard and figured out that logical managing is easier than he thought. I love this move and have zero complaints about it. Good job by Neddy. There. I said it.
If there is a major concern I have with this club, it is the bullpen. One issue is the lingering physical issues Wade Davis continues to battle:
Wade Davis says he should be good to go tomorrow. Just tightness in his biceps area. "Big muscle stuff. I should be fine." #Royals
But there’s more! Looking at the bullpen’s numbers over the last month and they are posting a -0.1 WAR and a 4.71 FIP, both ugly numbers. Strikeout and walk rates aren’t too bad but the ERA is around 3.79 in that span, very human for this stellar pen. It gets worse. Over the last two weeks, they are the worst bullpen in the American League, posting a -0.5 WAR, a 5.91 FIP and an ERA of 6.00. Their strikeout rate in this period is the middle of the pack, but the walk rate is the second highest in the league and their HR/9 is only ahead of the Red Sox. This is alarming since this group has been one of the hallmarks of this team the last few years and what was once a guarantee now seems like a question mark. Hopefully the bullpen ship can be righted before October, otherwise more rocky waters could be on the way.
Finally, don’t look now but someone has woken up Alex Rios! Rios was 5 for 10 in this series, with 2 doubles, a home run and 3 RBI’s against Baltimore. In fact, since returning from his bout with the chickenpox, Rios has a line of .353/.368/.647 and looks to be positioning himself for a spot on the playoff roster. There have been many discussions about whether or not Rios will be on it, considering you have Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando as better defensive options and Jonny Gomes as a major bench contributor, but if I was asked right now I would say he is on it. He might never have the power he had even three years ago, but if he can hit like he has over the last week than he has a valuable spot on the roster.
Tweets of Royalty
I still find it weird that the #Royals are the top team in the league in September and @BretSabes hasn't tossed a single pitch for them.
Only twenty games remain in this 2015 regular season for the Royals as their ‘Magic Number’ sits at 11. I think we can all agree this isn’t how we pictured things wrapping up in September, but Kansas City now has some work to do as time does start to run out. The Royals travel to Cleveland for four games this week, a great chance for this team to get back on track and knock off a few wins so some of the panicky Royals fans can calm down and enjoy the next month. Look at it this way; they can either slump now or slump once the playoffs begin. I will take now. It seemed elementary just a month ago but now it might take a little bit of work. If the Royals are going to clinch soon, they are going to have to do it within the division. Honestly, that’s how this should go down. Step 1, get back to basics. Simple as that.
In the old days, you would play all the teams in your designated league the same amount of times. It didn’t matter whether you were a Central division team or an East team, you play each other the same amount of times as the teams within your own division. That was changed a few years ago and teams now play the teams within your division the majority of the time. That means a team like the Kansas City Royals only play the teams in the “other” division twice per year(one at home, one on the road). So this series with the Tampa Bay Rays wrapped up the two teams time together this year, as the Royals won the previous series at Kauffman Stadium. That series saw the Royals sweep Tampa Bay; this one saw the Royals take two of three. This put the Royals at 80 wins with 32 games remaining and leads to a number of varying topics coming out of this series at ‘The Trop’.
Series MVP: Lorenzo Cain
This section felt like it could be a toss-up, with both Kendrys Morales and Mike Moustakas getting heavy consideration. But the more consistent hitter in this series was Lorenzo Cain, who went 3 for 9 with 2 runs, 2 RBI’s, 4 walks and 2 stolen bases. Cain did what he has done for most of this year, which is basically a little bit of everything. I decided to take a deeper look into just how good Cain has been and I have had a hard time finding something that Cain has done worse this year than last. Walk percentage? Up. Strikeout percentage? Down. Slugging and On Base percentage are both up as is his wRC+ and WAR. He is hitting the ball harder and hitting the ball more consistently to all fields than ever before in his career. Literally the only thing that is down from last year is Cain’s BAbip, which is at .357 from last year’s .380. But the argument there can even be made that this is due almost entirely to his increased home run numbers. There has been a lot of discussion about what the Royals will do once Alex Gordon is activated and just how the lineup will shake out. I’m pretty sure that no matter the changes in the batting order, Cain will remain in the third spot, his home for this entire 2015 campaign. It’s even conceivable at this point that Cain will end up in the top five of the voting for the American League MVP race, as he should:
It has been a marquee season for a player who at one time we just worried he wouldn’t be able to stay healthy, let along put up numbers that would put him into consideration for the highest honor in the league.
Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez
When the season wraps up, I am going to go back and check just how many times Volquez got this honor, since it seems to happen quite frequently. Volquez spun another good game on Friday night, going 6.2 innings, giving up 6 hits and 2 runs(1 earned) while walking 2 and striking out 5. It was another quality start for ‘Easy Eddie’ and gave him a game score of 59. At this point Volquez is probably in line to be the #2 or #3 starter in the rotation in the playoffs and has earned that right this year. I’ve asked the question before ‘which Dayton Moore signing has been more important this offseason, Kendrys Morales or Volquez?’ and as great of an impact as Morales has had on the Royals lineup(and it has been a big impact), I tend to lean toward Volquez. Earlier in the season(before the Johnny Cueto trade), Volquez was the only consistent starter in the rotation as Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy and Jeremy Guthrie all struggled. Volquez has been the stopper for this rotation, a guy who holds the other team in check and allows his team to win, thwarting off any threats or long losing streaks. Without Volquez being a steady force in the rotation, I’m not sure the Royals sit here right before September with the biggest division lead in the league. Without Volquez, this very well could be a much tighter race that what lingers in front of them.
TOOTBLAN or Foul Ball?
Sure, the Royals won this series. But most of what has been discussed has been a pivotal play in Sunday’s game that Kansas City lost. The Royals are down in the Top of the 8th inning, 3-2, with runners on 1st and 3rd and 1 out. Morales hits a little chopper down the first base line and then…
On first instinct I felt that was a TOOTBLAN(Thrown Out On The Basepaths Like A Nincompoop) on Morales’ part and one of the worst plays I have seen this year. But the more I watch the play I tend to think even though it is bad, there were a number of issues that should be pointed out. First off, the ball appeared to be foul once James Loney grabbed it. In fact I am assuming that is why Morales didn’t run. There was also no definite call from the home plate umpire, who had the best view of that ball. The first base ump called the ball fair, which I believe is what the home plate ump went off of. I should probably point out here that the play is non-reviewable, which is a bigger conundrum for Kansas City. Saying all that, some blame falls on Morales. He had to have seen the first base umpire call the ball fair, which meant he should have run. Even if he didn’t see it, you should assume it is fair unless otherwise called. I get he thought it was foul and in the postgame manager Ned Yost said “we don’t run out foul balls”. That is fine, except in a scenario like that you run and ask questions later. That major flaw is on Morales as he should have ran no matter what. It looks really bad when a rally is snuffed out while you are just standing at home plate, an easy out for the catcher to make. This might not be a TOOTBLAN at the end of the day, but it is still bad fundamental baseball, which is a shock since the Royals don’t make many fundamental errors. This probably cost the Royals at least a chance of tying up the game and maybe even costing them a victory. Hopefully it is remembered and next time the batter runs to first, foul or not.
It was an exciting three games at Tropicana Field and much more went on than just what is above this line. For more on the Royals and Rays series, read on:
The Rays played a tribute video to former Ray and current Royal Ben Zobrist before Friday night’s game. It was a great gesture to a guy who played many years in Tampa and had become just as synonomous to the team as Evan Longoria. The Rays even acknowledged his greatness with some sabermetric love:
As part of their video tribute to Ben Zobrist, the Rays noted that he led MLB in WAR from 2009 to 2012.
There is also his ability to hit a home run in the catwalk at ‘The Trop’:
You always hear how each stadium has their own set of quirky rules. Wrigley Field has the ivy, Houston has Tal’s Hill(for now), and Tropicana has those catwalks. Luckily the call went Kansas City’s way and Morales came away with a homer. Folks, that stadium is ugly. Let’s hope they get a new one before MLB decides to ship them up to Montreal.
The Royals bullpen as of late feels like the walking wounded. Wade Davis had back issues, Greg Holland has been dealing with a cranky elbow(I have to feel that has been going on most of this season) and now Ryan Madson has a dead arm:
Ryan Madson is dealing with a wicked case of dead arm. He hasn't pitched since Aug. 22, and his right arm is still sore to the touch.
This was to be expected. Madson hadn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2011 and has thrown 51 innings so far this year. Hopefully a little rest will help keep him healthy and available for the playoffs. Now if only the Royals could find a cure for Jeremy Guthrie’s “Longball-itis”.
Speaking of Guthrie, he held a little bit of a friendly competition with the Tampa Bay ballboy this weekend:
I often feel like Major League Baseball isn’t always the best at promoting their players and why they are so great. Guthrie might be relegated to long reliever status and might not appear in very many games going forward, but he still managed to have fun and put a smile on that kid’s face. THIS is the stuff you promote about your game. THIS is just one of many examples about what is so great about this game and it’s players.
Yet another good series for Mike Moustakas this weekend, as he compiled another accomplishment to his long list of new career hights this season:
.@Mooose_8 has 10 extra-base hits in his last 9 games. He also has hit 5th 2-double game of 2015 after 6 in career entering season.
A lot of praise this season will go to Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer, but Mike Moustakas has put together a season he should be proud of. Lets hope he finishes strong and shows that early season surge was not a fluke.
Danny Duffy had some good and some bad in his outing this past Sunday. On the positive, Duffy figured out early that the umpire was calling the low strike and took advantage of it, striking out six in his 5 innings of work. Craig Brown of Royals Authority went into greater detail about Duffy’s outing, and like him I still cringe at Duffy’s pitch count. Duffy threw 99 pitches in those 5 innings when the Royals probably would have preferred he go 6 or 7 innings. The difference in this start was not balls thrown by Duffy but the foul balls. Duffy had 22 pitches fouled off in this game and overall this season batters have fouled off 19% of pitches he throws. I think we all would like to see a more efficient Danny Duffy, but for that to happen he has to limit his pitch count to go deeper into the game. Because of this there is a good chance he could be pitching out of the bullpen come October rather than as a starter. At this point, it would appear Kris Medlen could be taking Duffy’s spot in the rotation come playoff time.
Finally, it appears the Platinum Glove Award winner will be returning this week:
It is "reasonable" to expect Alex Gordon will be recalled next week, Ned Yost says. I bet you see him in KC on Tuesday.
The big question now is where will Gordon bat in the lineup upon his return? The 6th spot where he was hitting earlier in the year is now inhabited by Mike Moustakas, who has been hitting lights out as of late. Honestly, the best idea is to bat him leadoff, sending Alcides Escobar down in the lineup, especially considering his hitting throughout August:
Worst hitters in August (wRC+) J. Bruce (-6) K. Wong (26) J. Segura (29) T. Saladino (31) A. Rodriguez (34) A. Escobar (39) J. Lowrie (42)
Batting Gordon and Zobrist at the top of the lineup makes the most sense, since those are your two best OBP hitters. If the Royals really want to maximize their offense, placing Gordon near the top of the lineup would be the wisest move. I guess we will find out Tuesday what Ned Yost has in mind when it comes to lineup construction going forward.
The beginning of that journey begins on Tuesday, as the Tigers stroll into town for three games at ‘The K’, followed by three against the White Sox. Tuesday night’s game could be fun, as Johnny Cueto faces off against Justin Verlander, who will be making his first start since he almost no-hit the Angels. Tuesday should also be fun, as it looks to be the return of Alex Gordon. The Royals are in the driver’s seat as the playoffs loom and it is the pole position we have all yearned to be in this spot for the last 30 years. Buckle up, kiddos; we are getting ready to go on a fantastic ride.
The 2014 Major League Baseball season has come to an end, which also means that all ballots have been turned in to decide the winners in the awards to be announced this week. I was fortunate to turn in my first ballot as a member of the IBWAA, the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, this year and realized a few things. One, this isn’t as easy as one thinks it is. I spent a lot of time thinking about who I really felt should win these awards and who truly should be honored. I also realized that it is MY vote, and though I am positive some will disagree with it, it is just one man’s opinion. I also should stress this: I turned in my ballot about two weeks before the end of the season. In hindsight, I probably should have waited, but that is a lesson learned and will prepare better for 2015. So without any further ado, here are my winners for the 2014 season…
American League MVP: Alex Gordon, Kansas City
We can probably all agree that Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels had the best numbers for a player in the American League this year. I don’t argue that, nor am I trying to take that away from him. But my vote was based more on who was more valuable to his team this year in the league, and in my opinion that man is Alex Gordon. Not too long ago I made Gordon’s case for MVP, as I felt he shouldn’t be overlooked when it came time for the voting. I know I am a bit biased, if for no other reason than the fact that I watch the large majority of Royals games during the season. The thing about Gordon is his numbers don’t tell the whole story; he is the leader of this Royals team in so many facets of the game. Obviously his defense is of another caliber, as most know. His WAR numbers get a nice bump from his defensive metrics, as he finished the year 7th in the AL in bWAR with 6.6 and 5th in fWAR with 6.1. You could also add in the 27 defensive runs he saved this year on defense, 1st in the league with Josh Donaldson far behind in 2nd place with 20 DRS. Gordon is also an excellent base runner, and was most valuable when the Royals needed him to be. Gordon basically carried the team on his back in August, a month where the Royals made one of their biggest pushes for a playoff spot. Gordon had a slash line of .292/.356/.585 with 9 home runs and 16 RBI’s. Alex was what the Royals needed when they needed it this year to help propel them to the playoffs. This Royals team doesn’t go on the run they went on in the playoffs if not for Gordon being a leader during the regular season. In fact, without him this Royals team doesn’t even get to October. For that, my most valuable player vote goes to Alex Gordon.
National League MVP & Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
What else can be said about Clayton Kershaw’s season that hasn’t already been said? Kershaw had a season for the ages, one that was so good that the comparison’s toward all-time great Sandy Koufax don’t really feel far-fetched anymore. Kershaw lead the league in Wins(if you like that sort of thing), Win-Loss Percentage, ERA, Complete Games, ERA+, FIP, WHIP, Strikeouts per 9 inn., Strikeout to Walk Ratio and was an All-Star as well. Oh, and he threw his first career no-hitter, a game so dominant that only one other pitcher(Kerry Wood) has thrown a better game, and that was just a piddly 20-strikeout game. All this while missing the entire month of April(after throwing the season opener in Australia)! Kershaw was so dominate this season that I also felt like he was the MVP of the National League, which some folks in baseball(hello, Tommy Lasorda) feel a pitcher shouldn’t win the award for Most Valuable Player. But when a pitcher has a season like this (and no other major candidate really sticks out) it throws that pitcher into the MVP conversation. I had seriously considered both Andrew McCutchen of Pittsburgh and Giancarlo Stanton of Miami for the award, but alas I felt Kershaw was more valuable to the Dodgers success than either of those two were for their teams. Kershaw winning MVP isn’t like Willie Hernandez winning American League MVP back in 1984; Kershaw is not only an elite pitcher at the moment but if he continues on the path he is going he could be an all-time great. So as preposterous as some believe a pitcher winning MVP is, just remember it in the proper context; Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball and it isn’t even close.
American League Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Seattle
Out of all the votes I had to place, this was easily the toughest decision to make. It came down to Hernandez and Corey Kluber of Cleveland and honestly, a pick either way didn’t feel like a bad one. As someone who watches close to every Royals game during the season I had seen Kluber several times and saw just how dominant he was for the Indians this year and in some ways that almost swayed my vote. Obviously in a close vote you compare numbers and once again, they were pretty damn even. David Schoenfield goes into great detail about just how close this race was and why really neither pitcher was a bad choice. My only hope is no one voted for Kluber just based off of win totals; that would just seem silly. I think the biggest argument for Hernandez(at least in my eyes) was his streak of 16 starts of at least 7 innings giving up 2 runs or less which he held this year until August 17th. The previous mark was set all the way back in 1971 by Tom Seaver as he set the mark of 13 starts. In this day in age, where most starters have a rough time going more than 6 innings a start and where teams employ lockdown bullpens as part of their strategy, the fact a starting pitcher could accomplish this feat is borderline amazing. The fact that Hernandez was able to accomplish this really swayed my vote and was enough to warrant his second Cy Young award. The real point of this is that if I would have gone with Kluber it wouldn’t have been a bad choice either; there was no bad choices. Just two pitchers who had excellent seasons and both deserved consideration for this award.
American League Rookie of the Year: Jose Abreu, Chicago
This was about as easy a choice as possible. From almost day one Abreu showed he was the real deal, which is never a certainty with any talent from Cuba. But Abreu made sure it was known early he was as advertised, hitting 29 home runs, a slash line of .292/.342/.630 and an sOPS+ of 169 in the first half of the season. His power numbers went down in the second half, hitting only 7 home runs while producing a slugging percentage of .513 and raising his batting average and sOPS+. I’m sure the longer season wore on Abreu, but all in all he put in a rookie season that should be praised for years to come. It’s a bit unfortunate that Abreu ran away with this award, as the American League put together a nice crop of rookies in 2014, from New York Yankees Masahiro Tanaka and Dellin Bettances to Kansas City’s flame-throwing hurler Yordano Ventura. All had really solid opening campaigns but none matched Abreu who should be a solid bat in Chicago’s batting order for years to come.
National League Rookie of the Year: Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati
This race was much closer than it’s AL counterpart, as it came down to New York Mets pitcher Jacob DeGrom and Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton. Honestly, an argument for either rookie is valid and a part of me almost voted for DeGrom. But I liked all the different area’s of the game that Hamilton helped the Reds this year. Everyone knows of Hamilton’s speed, he of the 56 steals this year. But he also produced 200 total bases only grounded into 1 double play this year and 39 extra bases. There was a small downside to his year; Hamilton struck out a ridiculous amount for a top of the order guy, 117 times, and was caught stealing 23 times. Both of these facets will need to be improved upon in 2015 for him elevate his game. Defensively Hamilton was more than solid; 14 defensive runs saved in 2014, 10 assists and an 1.8 dWAR. Overall a more than solid rookie campaign for Billy Hamilton(and likewise for DeGrom) and for the Reds sake(especially if they want to contend in 2015) hopefully he can grow on it.
American League Manager of the Year: Bob Melvin, Oakland
I mentioned earlier that I should have waited and locked in my votes during the last week of the season and this selection is a big reason why. Do I think Bob Melvin did a fabulous job managing the A’s in 2014? Of course. This was a team that was one of the elite in baseball for a large chunk of the season, a team of no superstars, compiled together and platooned–yet they still reached the playoffs. But just barely and Oakland’s second half collapse almost cost them that postseason spot, one they didn’t clinch until the last weekend and left them in Kansas City for the one game “battle to the death” Wild Card game. For that reason I feel like I should have waited to vote, as Buck Showalter deserved high praise for this honor and very well might have been my vote. Hell, throw Mike Scioscia’s hat into this argument as well, as the Angels came from behind to not only win the American League West but put together the best record in the league. Lesson learned by me, but I still think Melvin should get a ton of credit. No way does Oakland even sniff the playoffs if an average manager is in charge of this team. Melvin maneuvered and coddled this roster and got top notch performance out of his team. Something has to be said for being able to get the most out of the talent you have, especially when your talent doesn’t always match up with the best teams in baseball.
National League Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh
The easy thing is to say Hurdle deserved this honor more in 2013. That year he guided Pittsburgh to their first playoff spot in over 20 years and helped the Pirates slay some demons. But for all the love Hurdle got in 2013, he deserves even more for his managerial work in 2014. Hurdle helped the Pirates reach the playoffs again this past season and did it without their ace from 2013(A.J. Burnett), their closer fizzled out and was eventually traded(Jason Grilli), they lost their star(Andrew McCutchen) for a few weeks and lost their future ace(Gerrit Cole) multiple times to the disabled list. Despite all of this the Pirates made back to back appearances into the postseason and although that only lasted one game(thanks to Brandon Crawford and Madison Bumgarner) it just showed the great job Hurdle did as manager this season. Honorable mention should go out to both Matt Williams of Washington and Mike Redmond of Miami. Both did a great job with their team this past year and that was not lost on me. It just felt like Hurdle accomplished the insurmountable and continued to show that he has been one of the best Pittsburgh acquisitions the last few years.
So there you go, my picks for the 2014 IBWAA end of season awards. This was a great learning experience and makes me even more pumped for my next ballot, the upcoming Hall of Fame vote. Voting seems like an easy chore from the outside looking in, yet there is a decent amount of pressure if you take them seriously. I have a feeling that the next vote will go a bit smoother. The great thing about the voting process is that they inspire endless debate. One man’s vote is another man’s worst nightmare…that was mainly meant for anyone who voted Ned Yost ‘Manager of the Year’. So you might not agree with my vote’s, just know that can go both ways. It is all just a matter of opinion at the end of the day.
With the Kansas City Royals poised to garner their first playoff spot in 29 years, it seems only appropriate that one man would lead the charge and carry this team on his back. It happened in 1985, as George Brett had one of his best offensive seasons, leading the charge to the franchise’s first World Series title. So it seems only right that Alex Gordon would carry this team on his back. Over the last month it has appeared that Gordon has almost singlehandedly thrust this team into the top position in the American League Central. But he has also slid his way into the American League MVP conversation.
Now, I should go ahead and preface this with the fact that if I was a betting man I would bet that Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels will end up with the MVP trophy and I have no issue with that; Trout has had a fabulous season and is probably the best player in baseball right now(outside of maybe Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers). But Alex Gordon should be getting some votes and there are a number of reasons why there should be heavy consideration for his candidacy. Let’s start with the defining of “Most Valuable”. This can be taken a number of different ways and no one opinion of its meaning is more right than another. It is very subjective and means different things to different people. I tend to think it’s the most valuable player to his team, where if you took him out of that team’s lineup they would not be in the position they are currently in. This would also imply that the winner should be on a team that is going to the playoffs. For the most part I agree with that, but there are exceptions; the Marlins aren’t even sniffing October baseball but I do believe Giancarlo Stanton should be at the least considered for NL MVP this year. With that said, it is pretty obvious this Royals team wouldn’t be even thinking about the playoffs this year were it not for Alex Gordon. When the Royals offense has gone stagnant these past few weeks, Gordon has been the one consistent bat in the lineup that has produced. Gordon has not only produced, he has produced in high-leverage situations. This year, Gordon has a slash line of .330/.441/.580 in those situations. If you are a believer in clutch(and even if you aren’t, there is something to be said for timely hits) then Alex Gordon has been as clutch for this team as any player has this year in the big leagues. Just take last Tuesday night against the Twins for instance:
Before that game winning shot, the Royals had produced only 4 hits and one walk. The Royals have a very topsy turvy offense, one that can be electric when it wants to but also has many flaws. They are notorious for not taking many pitches(hence not many free passes) and sometimes seem like they swing at every pitch thrown their way. This leads to a very inconsistent offense but Alex Gordon has been the one consistent batter this team has seen for the majority of the last few months.
Speaking of offense, Gordon’s numbers aren’t going to just jump out at you if that is what you are taking into account for MVP. He currently sits at .279/.355/.459. His OPS is at .814(which is pretty good but not great) and an OPS+ of 124(league average is 100). Since I know some enjoy the classic numbers, he has 19 home runs this with only 65 driven in, which neither are numbers that will make you swoon. The numbers show a very good offensive player who despite his team’s lack of offense is still able to put up solid numbers. He is leading the team in most categories this year and has really been big for the Royals in the last month. If you are someone who likes a player who performs down the stretch, Gordon sits at .298/.373/.615 over the last month with over half of his home runs hit in that span. It’s obvious that Alex has elevated his game when the team needs him to,but this hasn’t painted the whole picture.
It’s hard having a conversation about Alex Gordon and his true value to this Kansas City team without mentioning his defense. It is safe to say that Gordon is probably the best left fielder in the American League and maybe in all of baseball, especially on the defensive side. He is a three time Gold Glove winner(the last 3 years) and it is safe to say he will win his 4th this year for defensive excellence. Alex Gordon is about as smooth in the field as humanly possible and this from a guy who started his pro career at third base. Going off of his numbers, he is having the best dWAR year of his career, sitting at 2.1. Since 2011 he has a combined dWAR of 6.5 and has 82 defensive runs saved in that time, 22 just this year. Gordon is on another level defensively and has gotten to the point where runners don’t dare run on his arm, as he has thrown out 61 runners over the last four years, but only 7 this year. It tooks almost four years, but runners have finally figured out not to run on Alex. All these numbers are great, but I feel unless you watch him play everyday(and I am normally either watching or listening to the broadcast most nights) you don’t really truly understand just how great he is defensively. We are getting to see a defensive master in Kansas City, one that might rival Frank White and his 8 Gold Gloves at second base, including 6 in a row. Gordon’s defense adds to his value to this Royals ballclub and makes it to where he is near the top of the WAR leaderboard of the American League.
Ah yes, the WAR argument. There is a division when it comes to the true value of the WAR stat, which is understandable with the uncertainty of accuracy when it comes to defensive metrics. But there is also no other stat that truly encompasses the true value of a player the way WAR does(factoring in offense, defense and baserunning into its equation). It’s pretty simple to see that it is a stat that truly likes complete players. In the American League, Josh Donaldson of Oakland leads with a bWAR of 6.9, 0.3 ahead of Mike Trout. He is followed by Felix Hernandez in third, Adrian Beltre in fourth and…Alex Gordon in 5th with a 5.9 bWAR. Even to be mentioned in the same company of the other 4 players shows just how valuable Alex Gordon is to this Royals team. Gordon also sits 2nd in fWAR at 6.2 behind only Mike Trout. You don’t have to believe that WAR is the end all be all to factor in the true value of a player, but you do need to recognize that it helps someone understand the greater value of that player to his team. Gordon is on a level with true superstars and shows that his “value” is great enough to be considered “Most Valuable”.
Numbers don’t tell the whole story when it comes to Alex Gordon but they do show that his value stretches across the entire board not only for the Royals but for the entire American League. Without Gordon, the Royals aren’t preparing to play in the postseason for the first time since Ronald Reagan was in office. I know where my vote is going to land. Voters, I’m not saying that you have to vote Alex Gordon for American League MVP. What I am saying is that it would be a mistake if he doesn’t end up in the top five, because I think it is safe to say that he is one of the five best players in the league this year. There is nothing wrong with voting for Mike Trout, as he has had another stellar season for the Angels. But Alex Gordon is closer than you think and deserves your consideration. It’s a good thing for you to stop and pause to think about it; Alex Gordon has earned that extra thought.
With the baseball season officially over, a lot of baseball fans are left with a giant hole in our lives. But don’t fret, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Headed our way soon will be the Hot Stove season, where teams wheel and deal to improve their teams odds in 2013. Until then, some notes to tide you over on Halloween.
I hope no one blinked during the World Series; if you did, you missed it. Four games is all it took for the San Francisco Giants to make quick work of the Detroit Tigers. Coming off two thrilling comebacks in both the LDS and LCS, the Giants roared into the Fall Classic and finished off their miracle season. It’s really pretty simple how they did it. They out-pitched the Tigers, out-hit them, and just flat out out-played them. I don’t know if the layoff hurt the Tigers, or if the Giants were just the better team. Actually, I think it’s the latter. As a Royals fan, I watched the Royals play the Tigers close to twenty times this past season, and I was never overly impressed with Detroit. Sure, they have Verlander and Cabrera, and Doug Fister(you just got Fisted!) had a good second half for Detroit out of the rotation. But their defense was awful all year, and the offense was really streaky. Sure, Detroit had a good season. But at the end of the day, the Tigers didn’t really grasp the AL Central till late in the season, they were pushed hard in the Oakland series and faced a struggling Yankees team in the ALCS. I probably could have named three other National League teams that could have beat the Tigers. I’m not trying to disparage Detroit, just saying that they never seemed like a World Series team to me. Big congratulations go out to the Giants and great to see a bunch of players who are confident and quirky. Bruce Bochy has taken this team of weirdos and molded them into a championship team. If I was GM Brian Sabean, I don’t change the nucleus of this team. This is a team that could be back in this spot next year.
Last night the Gold Glove awards were announced, and Kansas City Royals star Left Fielder Alex Gordon came away with his second consecutive award for defensive excellence. To be honest, I couldn’t care less about this award. Sure, I totally think Gordon deserved to win. But anymore, this award is not voted for defense as much as for offensive AND defensive excellence. Sure, voters can say it isn’t, but offense is taken into consideration way more than they should. Look at someone like Brendan Ryan of the Mariners. Ryan barely hits over .200 most years, but keeps his job because of his sparkling defense. Yes, his defense is that good. The truth is Ryan will never win this award because he just doesn’t hit enough. I just wish MLB would just be honest and admit this award is not for just defense alone. Hit good and play solid defense and you too could win a Gold Glove.
Soon the other awards throughout Major League Baseball will be announced, including American League MVP. Yes, that debate will heat up again. Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers ended up being the first Triple Crown winner in baseball since 1967 while Angels Center Fielder Mike Trout put up ridiculous numbers for a rookie. This debate has mostly split two sides of baseball, the old guard and the new guard. If you are someone who loves stats of all kind, including defensive, then Trout is your probably your man. If you look at getting your team to the playoffs and making baseball history, Cabrera is your guy. I’m still split, as I do understand what Cabrera has done this year and how special that is. But I also think Trout is about as special as they get, and his numbers stand out even more when you consider he was in AAA for the first month of the year. Defensively, Trout stomps Miggy, and Trout’s WAR is 3.8 higher than Cabrera’s. Yes, it is a lot of numbers to digest and it’s hard to argue with either choice. But if I had to put my money on it, Cabrera comes out the winner. But a part of me really believes the award should belong to Trout. Either way, we the fans win.
Finally, it is a bad kept secret that the Kansas City Royals are looking to upgrade their starting rotation this offseason, even if Dayton Moore seems to not be(or not able to) bumping up the payroll. If the Royals are looking to veer outside the box when looking, Brandon McCarthy might be an interesting option. McCarthy had a good season with Oakland in 2012, even if injuries limited him to only 18 starts. His ERA was 3.24 with a WAR of 2.0 and a strikeout to walk ratio of almost 3 to 1. His last two seasons in Oakland have been his best in the majors and he won’t be turning 30 until July. The price for Brandon might not be as high as well, since he is coming off of a major head injury(and last I checked, brain surgery was considered major). McCarthy was hit in the head from a line drive late in the season and had progressed enough from the surgery that Oakland was ready to activate him if they had advanced to the ALCS. He’s also had shoulder issues over the years, but McCarthy might be a risk worth taking. Maybe a smaller contract loaded with incentives? Sounds like the kind of deal Dayton Moore would love. If Moore is serious about getting creative this offseason, then McCarthy might be a good option. He can’t be any worse than some of the options we have now(paging Hochevar, Luke).