From the Bleachers: Notes Around Baseball

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Here at Bleeding Royal Blue,  I spend a lot of time discussing my favorite team, the Kansas City Royals. But being a baseball fan in general means from time to time a little discussion around both leagues can do some good. So with that said, let’s kickoff the debut column, From the Bleachers!

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A Tight Race

Before the season started, most analysts picked the Cleveland Indians to runaway with the American League Central, with the Tigers, Royals, Twins and White Sox either floundering or fighting for a Wild Card spot. I even figured Kansas City and (maybe) Detroit would give them some competition. Instead, Minnesota still sits atop the Central (yes, I noticed, Pete!) with the White Sox holding up the rear, only six games behind. You read that correctly, only six games separate the top and bottom of the division. Minnesota should get some major props for their performance so far, as they improved their two main weaknesses from last year, the defense and bullpen, while getting All-Star contributions from Ervin Santana and Miguel Sano. The Indians sit 2.5 games back, Detroit 3.5 back and the Royals at 5.5 back. Will Cleveland eventually perform closer to their 2016 model and decide they’ve had enough of these silly games? Will Detroit decide if they are contenders or needing to rebuild? Will the Royals wake from their slumber and make one final run with their core group that led them to a championship? If we are basing this off of what has happened to this point, I don’t know if any of that will happen. If I had to use one word to describe this division to this point, the word ‘mediocre’ would seem fair; ‘eh’ would work as well. Maybe this pattern will continue over the next four months and my friends up in Minnesota will be super happy. No matter the result, it’s hard not to feel underwhelmed by the Central over the last couple of months.

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The Machine and 600

This past week, Albert Pujols clubbed his 600th career home run, an achievement only nine players have reached in MLB history. The Pujols we have seen the last five seasons pales in comparison to the one who was probably the best player in baseball in his first decade in the league. Despite that, Pujols is still a productive hitter, one who has averaged an OPS+ of 111 during that span. Injuries have taken its toll on him, and it’s easy to forget just how dominate Pujols was in his prime. According to the website Hall of Stats (which I highly recommend when determining a player’s value, especially when the Hall of Fame voting comes around), Pujols has a Hall rating of 211, which ranks him as the 30th best player (statistically) all-time and the 3rd best first baseman. Yes, we are seeing his regression right now, which should be expected in his late 30’s. But there are still some major goals he could reach before he retires, as he still has four years left on his contract after the current season. Pujols is 122 hits away from 3,000 and 140 RBI’s away from 2,000 for his career. Let’s enjoy the last few years of his career, because we are nearing the end of a Hall of Fame career.

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Have a Day, Scooter

On Tuesday, Scooter Gennett of the Cincinnati Reds joined some elite company, hitting four home runs in one game, going 5-5 while driving in 10 runs. This, from a guy who before the season had hit 38 home runs in five big league seasons. Scooter doesn’t fit the profile of a guy who would club four in a game, not like the last guy to do it, Josh Hamilton. In fact, Gennett is only the 17th career player to reach this feat, a list that includes Hall of Famers like Mike Schmidt, Willie Mays and Lou Gehrig. This list also includes the like of Mark Whiten, Bob Horner and the infamous Bobby Lowe, he of 71 career homers. Safe to say Scooter will never have another night like this ever again, so I hope he soaks in all the adulation and enjoys his moment. His name alone will be a fun trivia question to bring up for many years to come.

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Scherzer Meets Kershaw

As the season is unfolding, an interesting occurrence has developed that few probably saw coming: Max Scherzer is making a run at being the best pitcher in baseball. Clayton Kershaw has held that title for close to five years now and while Scherzer has compiled two Cy Young Award’s in that time-span, he still has not performed close enough to even have that conversation. But so far in 2017, Kershaw has put up an ERA+ (which is adjusted to the pitcher’s ballpark) of 185, which leads the league. Scherzer is right on his tail at 181 while leading the league in strike outs, WHIP and hits per 9. On Tuesday, Scherzer was dominate, striking out 14, walking 2 and allowing 1 run (unearned) in his 7 innings of work. In fact, Scherzer has three straight starts of 10+ strike outs, 7+ innings and 1 run or less. It’s going to be interesting to see if Scherzer can keep this up (which I believe he is capable of) and if he can continue to go toe to toe with Kershaw. I love watching Kershaw pitch, but I am always up for some healthy competition between two elite pitchers at the top of their game.

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McCutchen Has a Pulse

Over the last two seasons, there has been a lot of discussion about the decline of Andrew McCutchen. Hitters normally start seeing a regression when they reach their early 30’s, but McCutchen didn’t turn 30 until last October and while injuries have been popping up for him the last couple seasons, it was hard to fathom that his decline would hit this badly, this early. Myself, like many other analysts, felt that McCutchen would bounce back this year and produce at a pace closer to his best years than his lackluster 2016. Instead, Cutch stumbled out the gate this year and as late as May 23 saw his batting average sitting at .200. But over the last 10 games, he has looked like the Cutch of old:

If McCutchen has finally found his groove, that is great timing for him and the Pirates. I am a big fan of not only McCutchen the player but also McCutchen the person. Baseball is stronger with him locked in.

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The Elbow and the Damage Done

Finally, another alarming Tommy John  Surgery stat came out this week worth noting:

I’ve spoken many times on this blog about the dreaded Tommy John Surgery and it amazes me that there isn’t more pressure to figure out a more worthwhile solution to this problem. While the new surgery that was done on Seth Maness cut his time out of action down considerably (down to 7 1/2 months), I still feel there should be more research done on a solution, not just a quicker remedy. If you are a believer that a pitcher’s arm has only so many bullets in it, it can’t help that many youngsters are throwing more pitches while their arm is still developing than ever before. If you are of the Nolan Ryan school of thought, you believe pitchers need to throw more, not less. An excerpt from a Ryan interview done in 2014:

 

Ryan said that in September of 1988 with Houston, he began experiencing pain in his elbow and paid a visit to Jobe in Los Angeles, who advised him to shut it down for the last couple of weeks of the season and resume throwing in December.

“There was a partial tear there,” he said. “It still hurt in December, but when I got to spring training, the pain began to dissipate until it was gone. Dr. Jobe said it had scarred over and that helped protect the elbow. I pitched with that tear the rest of my career.”

Ryan had two more 200-inning seasons and led the NL in strikeouts with 301 in ‘89 and 232 in ‘90.

While Tommy John agrees with Ryan, he also feels like I do, that kids today are throwing way too much, especially year round:

“First of all, one of the biggest reasons for all the arm injuries in baseball today is the way young kids are handled by their coaches in grade school and high school, pitching them year-round,” said John by phone from his home in Syracuse. “They’re told if they want to make it, they have to play travel ball — and that results in the over-use of their arms when they’re body is not fully developed. Travel ball has taken over the entire country and parents need to be educated about what this does to these kids’ arms.”

“I absolutely agree with Nolan that more is better,” John said. “Years ago, I’d have gone along with the thinking that there’s only so many bullets in your arm. But we’ve ‘dumbed down’ our thinking today to believing that pitch counts and innings limitations are the way to go to preserve arms. Starting in 1975 with the White Sox, when Johnny Sain was my pitching coach, I would throw six days a week out of seven and it was the best my arm ever felt. For the next 13 years, I never missed a start, except once when I had the flu. Sain believed in throwing between starts and it’s no coincidence that one of his disciples, Leo Mazzone, subscribed to that same philosophy, practicing and throwing every day, as pitching coach for the Braves. The Braves had the best pitching staffs in baseball in the ’90s and all guys like (Greg) Maddux and (Tom) Glavine did was pitch and win and never got hurt.”

So is the answer pitching less in your youth and more once your body has developed? And if that is the answer, how long will it take before travel league or high school coaches actually worry less about winning and more about their kid’s future health? I don’t know if this is completely the solution to the problem, but it doesn’t appear to be a bad place to start.

 

C’mon Guys, Quit Picking on Billy

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Let’s take a trip back in time, all the way back to the All-Star break last year. The night of the Home Run Derby at Kauffman Stadium, the fans loudly cheered for one of their own, Billy Butler. Robinson Cano was booed mercifully, and chants of Billy Butler echoed throughout the K because of Cano’s going back on his word about selecting Butler for the derby. The next night at the All-Star Game, Butler received a standing ovation during his introduction, and was wildly cheered every time he stepped up to the dish. For the longest time, Billy Butler has been a fan favorite in Kansas City, in fact he might even be up there as one of the most popular Royals of all time. But for whatever reason, there is a section of the Royals fanbase that has soured on Billy this year, and it is quite troubling. So what has Billy done to deserve this scorn from a number of Royals fans? I think I might just have the answer…

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There could be a number of answers as to why Butler has taken some of the heat from the fans this year. The obvious answer off the top is he is not having the type of year he had in 2012. I had a feeling this would happen, as Billy had his best season last year and put up power numbers that he had never put up before. For years, people have felt like he should hit for more power, and last year they got it. Go ahead, it’s easy to compare the numbers. For a fan who just looks at the base numbers, Butler is under-producing and his numbers appear to be down. But if you take a closer look, a lot of the numbers are actually on par or even better than he has had in the past. His OBP is tied for his career high(heavily helped by his career high in walks. Yes, walks do matter!!), his OPS+ is the third highest of his career, and his total bases isn’t too far off from his career average. Now, with all that being said, this is a down year for Butler, and the numbers show that as well.

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Obviously, with Butler’s power numbers down, his slugging percentage would take a hit. At this point, it would be his lowest since 2008. Butler’s RBI’s are down, but I wonder how much of that is based on a combination of him not seeing the same pitches he saw last year and the batters ahead of him not consistently getting on base. In fact, the hike in Billy’s walks have a direct correlation to him being pitched around. Butler has always had a great eye, and that has never been as evident as it has been this year. The other stat I’m sure the ‘fans with pitchforks’ will use is the one where Billy leads the league in grounding into double plays. This isn’t something new, as fans have always thrown out the fact that Butler grounds into double plays as a major flaw in his game. Sure, it’s not the best stat to lead the league in, but do you know who else is in the top 5? Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. Not a bad list, huh? Since we know Butler isn’t going to become a speedster anytime in the near future, I think at this point we should just accept the fact that Billy will be on this list in the future. You don’t have to like it, but it isn’t going anywhere,

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I hate to even bring up the other thing that Butler catches flak for, but it’s true. The fact that Billy isn’t a lean-mean-home run hitting machine gets thrown around quite a bit over the years. I mean, there is a reason he got the nickname “Country Breakfast”. I’m not for sure why people are so worried about his weight and how that plays into things. I could see it if it affected his hitting, but like we’ve pointed out, it’s not like he is at Francoeur-levels. In fact, history has shown that heftier players seem to do fine. Anyone hear of that Babe Ruth guy? He’s just one of the greatest players in baseball history. Boog Powell was a little hefty, and he was a hell of a slugger. Prince Fielder seems to do fine. Bob Horner was quite the power hitter back in his day. Kirby Puckett? Hall of Famer. So history shows that some extra weight isn’t a detriment. But it does play into all of this.

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Billy Butler’s weight I really feel is where some of the anger comes from. For one, it’s easier to pick on the fat kid. Don’t even act like that doesn’t happen, or you have never done it. Second, there is a belief that a guy his size should hit more home runs, or at least that is what most casual fans would tell you. The problem is that what makes Billy a better all around hitter is that he isn’t a power hitter. Billy’s career high in strikeouts was last year, which goes along with the increase in power. Now, I know in 2013 strikeouts aren’t frowned upon as much as they used to be, but they should be. I would take the guy who is a great hitter and doesn’t strike out much over the guy who hits a lot of home runs and strikes out all the time. I actually heard someone last week say they would rather have an Adam Dunn-type over Butler. Seriously? No way is Dunn or a Dunn-type player better than Billy. Ever. I’ve always felt Butler was more of a gap hitter, which holds up if you look at his doubles numbers over the years. Butler is more a John Kruk than a Boog Powell. Kruk was a great hitter, a career .300 hitter, and was a little overweight. He didn’t hit for much power though, and Billy is in that same category. In some ways, Butler will always catch crap from fans unless he goes out there and hits thirty homers every year. It’s not fair, and not the player he actually is, but it’s a fact of life.

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So one last time, I want you to look at Billy’s numbers this year. I fully acknowledge that he isn’t putting up quite the numbers he had last year, but there is a good chance 2012 will end up being his career year. If you go up and down the Royals roster, I’m sure we can all find flaws in all of these guys. None of them are perfect. But there are certain flaws you can live with, and others that end up costing a player his job. Billy has done nothing but hit over his seven year career, and his .295 average this year is just one telltale sign that he hasn’t having as bad a season as some think. Of all the players on this team, I’m pretty sure Butler should be one of the last ones we should be tearing down. The guy wants to end his career in Kansas City, although you wonder why with how some fans have been acting. At the end of the day, Billy Butler is not the problem with the Royals. Maybe he should be appreciated and lauded for being one of their best players instead of treated like he is Jeff Francoeur. Maybe some Royals fans should remember why they were cheering him like crazy just a little over a year ago.

Great Scott! What If…Wil Myers was Never Traded

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On Tuesday, Wil Myers made his major league debut for the Tampa Bay Rays, going 0-4 in the first game while collecting his first major league hit in the second game of their doubleheader with the Boston Red Sox. All eyes were on Myers, not just by Rays fans but Kansas City Royals fans as well. You see, there is a large portion of Royals fans who were not in favor of the trade that sent Myers to Tampa for James Shields. There are some that hope Myers flops so the Royals don’t look so bad for trading him. There are even some who hope he tears up the league to show that the Royals were wrong in trading him away. I’m in the camp of wanting him to have as much success as possible, as he was still developed by the Royals. But all the hype over Das Wunderkind made me think–what if the Royals hadn’t traded Myers? What if he had stayed a Royal? So let’s jump into the Delorean…

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…stop Dayton Moore from trading Myers…

MLB: Kansas City Royals-Press Conference

…but still be able to acquire James Shields(hey, it’s my article; in my realm Dayton is a modern day Don Draper with the other GM’s–just not in a sexual way)…

MLB: Kansas City Royals-Press Conference

…and then realize you have both James Shields AND Wil Myers on the same team…GREAT SCOTT!

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December 9th-Royals GM Dayton Moore makes a blockbuster trade, dealing one of his top hitting prospects, Jorge Bonifacio, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard to the Tampa Bay Rays for James Shields, Wade Davis and a player to be named later. The Rays had been pushing to acquire Royals top prospect Wil Myers, but Moore held tight and wouldn’t budge on trading him, saying he was “practically untouchable”.

April 1st-The Kansas City Royals kick off the 2013 season in Chicago…without Wil Myers. Myers, despite having a solid spring, was left off the roster for two separate reasons. One, the Royals want to make sure they don’t start Myers’ arbitration years too early, so they will have to wait until at least June to keep his Super 2 status. Two, the Royals still have Jeff Francoeur(yes, even in my bizarro realm, the Royals still believe in Frenchy) and want to see if he has something left in the tank. So Myers starts out the year in AAA Omaha.

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June 12-After tearing up AAA pitching for a .321/.563/.935 line, the Royals call up their outfield savior to join them for their series in Tampa Bay. The Royals hope playing on the road will put less pressure on him in his debut and gear the fans up for when the team returns to Kansas City the following week. Myers will take over for Jeff Francoeur in right field, as Frenchy has put up some very sad numbers(.214/.257/.592) for the Royals and had lost playing time to David Lough because of it.

June 13-Myers is in the lineup for Kansas City, batting 7th and playing right field. Myers goes 0-3 in his debut with a walk, as the Royals beat Tampa.

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June 14-Myers collects his first major league hit, a single to center.

June 16-Myers gets his first major league RBI, knocking in Lorenzo Cain with a double in the gap of right center. The ball gets thrown back to the dugout and his teammates decide to use a separate ball dipped in chewing tobacco spit and tell Myers that is his RBI ball. Only later does he learn that the real ball is fine, safe and sound. Jeff Francoeur is behind the prank.

Kansas City Royals Non-Roster Invitees

June 21-Wil makes his debut at the K, to a thunderous applause. Despite him only hitting .244 at this point, the fans go nuts as Myers gets his first multi-hit game in the big leagues, driving in two on a double off the wall. The Royals are 5-3 since Myers was called up from Omaha.

June 25-Myers goes hitless, dropping his average to .252. But he does get to meet Braves broadcaster and former Atlanta star Dale Murphy…

kc9…wait. Murphy looks a lot like…

kc10…wow. If Murph wasn’t such a stand-up guy, I would think that he has a love child. I mean, both started their careers as catchers. Both moved to the outfield. The similarities are uncanny. Note to self: question former Brave Bob Horner and find out if Murph was a hit with the ladies.

Anyway, Myers makes an outstanding catch in the outfield in this game, a catch that Francoeur would still be running to try and get to. Speaking of Frenchy, he has fallen so far down the food chain that the only action he sees this week is in the condiment race. He races mustard, ketchup and relish,as he dresses up as Captain Nut-Tap. Frenchy wins, nut-tapping everyone. All other condiments aren’t able to finish the race, curled up in a ball in foul grounds.

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July 3-After waiting almost three weeks, Myers hits his first home run, a deep shot into the fountains in left center field at the K. Myers average is slowly creeping up, as he is hitting .260 at this point.

July 9-Myers makes his first trip to New York as the Royals take on the Yankees, and he proceeds to have his first two home run game of his short career. The Royals gain a victory on this night, pushing them into second place in the American League Central, just 5.5 games behind Detroit.

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July 24-Myers is asked by Royals manager Ned Yost to bunt over Mike Moustakas. Myers does as he is told, even though he doesn’t understand why he can’t just swing away. Myers should get used to bunting…

August 12-The Royals start a series against Miami, and Myers and Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton put on a power show. Myers hits one to dead center that is registered as 445 feet, while Stanton almost bounces a ball of the Royals Hall of Fame in left. Myers now has 8 home runs on the season, which is third on the team and only 6 behind leader Billy Butler.

August 23-Myers starts his first game in the cleanup spot, as Billy Butler takes a day off(no word if it is BBQ related). Myers goes 2-3, drives in 3 runs as the Royals defeat the Nationals. Kansas City is still trailing Detroit in the Central, but have moved to only 3 games out.

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September 4-Myers gets his first golden sombrero in the big leagues, striking out four times against Seattle ace Felix Hernandez. Francoeur scoffs in the dugout, claiming he could get a ‘titanium sombrero’, or striking out six times in one game.

September 13-Myers takes over the team’s home run lead with 15 home runs on the season. With 15 games remaining in the season, Myers is hoping to reach 20 before all is said and done.

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September 21-Myers goes 3-3 and ups his average to a high of .268. Wil has spent most of the season between .250 and .265.

September 29-Myers wraps up his rookie campaign hitting . 262/.355/.742, hitting 17 home runs, driving in 53 while taking 27 walks. Myers would finish 4th in the Rookie of the Year voting. Not a monstrous season some people were expecting, but a nice beginning to what looks like a promising career. The Royals have a cornerstone of their team for the foreseeable future, as he helps them finish in second place, with 84 wins and missing the wild card by a mere five games. The future looks bright for this young man.

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So that is kind of what I would have expected if Myers had stayed a Royal. It’s probably a bit on the positive side, but I think he is a special talent that will eventually be a big star in the majors. Sure, he has his flaws(the strikeouts will be an issue), but nothing that can’t be worked on. The Royals mortgaged the future to contend in the now, and if you watch this team for any amount of time, you realize that this team is not a contender. If Dayton Moore had been patient, we would have had Wil Myers for at least six years and the window to win would have been a lot larger. Instead, Moore traded away the top prospect in baseball. So like this article, it’s all just a dream at this point.

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