Dirty South Is No Longer Dirty

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Go back to October of last year. The Royals are one out away from wrapping up the ALCS and making their first trip to the World Series since 1985. The Royals have their closer on the hill to finish Baltimore, a job that Greg Holland has done countless times over the previous three seasons. I can’t get the image out of my head, as Mike Moustakas throws the ball over to first baseman Eric Hosmer and the celebration has begun for Kansas City, including Holland and catcher Salvador Perez embracing in-between the mound and home plate. It was simple back then; Holland comes in and closes the door on another Royals win. Despite the fact that it has been less than a year since that happened, it seems miles away from where Holland is at right now. In fact, the question is being asked: Can the Royals afford to keep Holland as their closer as the playoffs loom?

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It all started during Spring Training. Scouts talked about how the Royals bullpen arms looked a bit haggard after playing deep into October and more specifically that Greg Holland looked tired. There was some concern back then, but it appeared to be nothing to concern ourselves about once the season started. Early on Holland seemed fine, although his velocity was down a hair. Instead of consistently hitting 96 mph, Holland was only cranking it up to 93 mph with the occasional 94-96 sprinkled in. Then on April 18th, he was placed on the disabled list for a ‘right pectoral strain’. Holland would sit out until May 6, which saw his activation and return to the team.

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Despite the fact that Holland was back and swore he was healthy, something didn’t feel right. The numbers showed it as well. Throughout May, Holland was only striking out 7 per 9 while averaging over 8 walks per 9 innings. He was still stranding runners at a proficient rate(over 80% of the time) but it did appear that location was an issue, as was a dip in velocity. In May, this wasn’t a major issue. Holland had missed most of the first month of the season so it was understood it might take a bit to get his legs underneath him. That’s fine, as the Royals were winning and Wade Davis and the rest of the bullpen could pull some of the extra weight.

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June, July and August saw his strikeouts go back up to a normal rate and walks would go down to about 4 per 9 innings. Holland has always been a bit of a tightrope walker, so in some ways these months it was par for the course. The only difference was the velocity. What was once a consistent 96 mph for Holland had now become a 93 and sometimes closer to 91. His other pitches seemed to be on par velocity-wise, although his curveball has seen a dip as well. What has always been great about Holland was the fastball was a way to set up the slider, which is normally his “go to” pitch. Problem is that with his fastball velocity now diminishing, it makes the disparity between the two pitches a little bit less. It also appeared during these months that Holland wasn’t comfortable on the mound, as his wind-up and arm slot didn’t seem consistent. My worries from earlier in the year started coming back in August, as it had been awhile since Holland had looked right and I still wasn’t convinced he wasn’t hurt.

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Let’s go back to August 13th. The Royals are playing the Angels and are holding the lead as Holland comes in to lock down the game. Twenty nine pitches later and the lead is gone, as Holland had given up 4 runs on 3 hits and 2 walks. It was the first game Holland had pitched in four days and the next day Royals manager Ned Yost talked about how Holland was a pitcher who needed more regular work and the team would try to use him more regularly. A couple of interesting points came out of this. First, here is a comment from pitching coach Dave Eiland about the concerns with Holland:

“Everything hasn’t really fallen into place the way he’s wanted to,” Eiland said. “But he’s fine. I have absolutely zero concerns about him. I mean, there’s things I address with him all the time, just like the other 12 guys I have, that we’ve got to stay on top of. There were some things I saw last night, but I’m not going to publicly say what they are.”

But it wasn’t just the issues that we will not speak of. No, there was also this from Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star about what rival scouts had seen in Holland during this period:

A survey of rival evaluators revealed a diagnosis that is both simple but troubling. With his fastball velocity reduced, Holland can no longer overpower batters at the plate. He has also struggled to throw strikes with his breaking ball, a reality that is common knowledge among his opponents. So he has become more prone to walks, while hitters can square up his fastball.

It makes sense, as his fastball makes his off-speed pitches more important. But when he isn’t able to get them over for strikes, then Holland has to either fall back on the fastball or keep trying his breaking ball. It is a lose-lose situation.
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The consistent work, which is what the Royals had claimed was the biggest issue with Holland this year, was not held up like we were told. Holland would pitch about every 2-3 days during August, but near the end of the month Holland had what Yost referred to as a “cranky arm” and had four days between appearances, August 22 to August 27. On the 27th, Holland came into the game in the 9th inning, with the Royals up 5-1. Holland gave up 2 runs in his inning of work and it was what many have said; velocity was down on the fastball and he couldn’t locate the breaking ball. Luckily he was able to get out of the jam and preserve the win for the Royals. The ‘consistent work’ theory does have legs to it as Holland would come in the next night against Tampa Bay and throw up a bunch of goose eggs. In fact, if you look throughout August, if Holland pitched back to back days, or within a day of his last outing he seemed sharper and his pitches had more break. He even had a few outings during this month where the fastball was back up around 95-96 mph. It didn’t stay, but it was there for awhile. When there were longer stretches between outings, Holland not only had lower velocity on the fastball, but his breaking ball couldn’t find the strike zone.
Aug 14, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals catcher Drew Butera (9) talks to relief pitcher Greg Holland (56) in the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Kauffman Stadium. Kansas City won the game 4-1. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
(John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports)

So far in September, Holland has been a ghost. His first game this month wasn’t until September 8th, nine days between appearances. He didn’t give up a hit or a walk, but the velocity was back down again. He would look a little bit better the next night against the Twins, as he would toss another inning in a loss. The Royals have decided within the last month to only bring Holland in whenever the game is close or he has  a save situation, which seems like a recipe for disaster. If consistent work helps him be sharper and gives his pitches more bite, you get him in every few days. Doing this saves you from an outing like Tuesday night in Cleveland. Holland came in to preserve a 2-0 lead against the Indians, Holland’s first appearance in five days. Early on it was obvious he did not have his stellar stuff. In fact, Holland didn’t even have that 91-93 mph fastball he has been using most of this year:

It was as bad as you would think. Luckily, Holland got out of the jam:

Late last week, Mike Petriello of MLB.com looked at Holland’s velocity AND spin rate. Take a look for yourself:

Okay, you might be asking “what does spin rate cover and how does that affect a pitcher’s pitches”? Good question! Here’s Petriello from a piece on Holland:

We know that high spin for a fastball correlates with swinging strikes, so that spin rate decline is just as alarming as the velo drop. As you’d expect, the decline we’re seeing has led to fewer missed bats. Through Aug. 14, which is the last peak on those graphs, Holland’s strikeout percentage was 27.3. Since then, it’s down to 20.0 percent.

It also has been noticed that Holland isn’t using that fastball as much as before, instead trying to rely on his slider:

Through Aug. 14: 48.5 percent fastballs, 44.9 percent sliders
Since Aug. 15: 38.2 percent fastballs, 57.3 percent sliders

The problem is, his slider has now seen a velocity drop as well, down to 83.18 mph in September(it was in the 85 mph range for most of this year). So even if the 87 mph fastball isn’t the norm going forward, it does appear that Holland is dealing with more than just a “cranky arm”. My theory that he has been hurt most of this year just took a giant leap forward this week.

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So where do the Royals go from here? It’s obvious that Holland isn’t as reliable as in years past, but I’m not 100% sure you take him out of the closer’s role. I know that sounds crazy, so hear me out. Wade Davis is the Royals best reliever. I think we can all agree on that. If you are like me, you believe that being “the closer” is just a name for the guy who wraps up the game. I am of the belief that you want your best reliever to pitch in the highest leverage situation, whether that be in the 7th, 8th or 9th inning. With that said, in those situations I want Davis on the mound, not Holland. If that means the 9th inning, so be it. Unfortunately, most managers don’t think that way and we can count Yost among that group. But the coaching staff is aware of Holland’s troubles and it seems they are at least monitoring the situation going forward:

“If it gets to be an issue, we’ll evaluate it,” Yost said. “It hasn’t become an issue yet. People want to get nervous because he’s throwing 90 or 91 mph. That’s fine. But right now, it really hasn’t become an issue. If it does, we’ll evaluate it.”

That seems like the team is willing to play with fire, at least until postseason. Come October we could have a different story:

“We’re not going to jeopardize anything once the playoffs starts,” Yost said. “We’re going to make sure (Holland is) 100-percent ready to nail it down. And when you talk to him, he’s like ‘I got this.’”

No pitcher will tell you different(well, maybe Matt Harvey) but it does appear as if the Royals are trying to be loyal to Holland while also acknowledging a move might have to be made. Relievers on average have a short shelf life and closers seem to only stay in that role for a couple years at a time, on average. I am still of the belief that Greg Holland is hurt and while the Royals have tried coaxing him and his arm all throughout this season to get him to the playoffs, at this rate Holland might just be another arm down in the pen come October. Some of us Royals fans have referred to Holland over the years as “Dirty South” due to the filthiness of his pitches and the way they drop out of the strike zone. As of right now, there is nothing filthy or dirty about Holland’s pitching repertoire and that doesn’t seem to be changing. If that is case, I’m not for sure I want to see Holland pitching in October and I hate the thought of that.

 

 

Hochevar Re-signs with Royals; Is a Trade Looming?

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Earlier this week the Royals re-signed Luke Hochevar to a two year deal with a mutual option for a third. Hochevar missed all of 2014, as he went through the dreaded(and now normal) Tommy John surgery but looks to be on track to be ready to start 2015. Hochevar is planning to start throwing off a mound later this month to get ready for the next season and appears to be headed back to the bullpen where he garnered success back in 2013. That might not be 100% guaranteed, as Hochevar has bonuses in his contract that can earn him $500K worth of incentives for non-closing relief work, $500K of incentives for closing work and up to $2MM for starting. Yes, bonuses for Hochevar starting, where he was less than average over his career and made me stamp him onto my list of most hated Royals. But that was before 2013 and before he showed value out of the bullpen. Once the Hochevar signing became official, a thought kept popping into my head; is this a move done so the Royals can trade either Greg Holland or Wade Davis?

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The Royals went into this offseason needing two major things-a new right fielder and another starting pitcher. The market for free agent outfielders has diminished heavily this winter and leaves the team in a position where a trade seems like a better option for the team. The Royals aren’t going to majorly tear apart the defending American League Champions and only have a few players that could be traded and net them some value without ripping the fabric of the team apart. The biggest position of depth is the bullpen, with the “cyborgs” of Holland, Davis and Kelvin Herrera leading the team throughout the playoffs and showing baseball what a dominant pen can do for a team in the postseason. With that said, it would appear that closer Greg Holland has the most value and is also the most expensive. He is currently making $4.675MM and that number looks to rise this winter in arbitration. MLBTradeRumors.com predicts Holland could see a raise of another $4.62MM, which would push his salary close to $10MM for 2015. I love “Dirty South” as much as the next Royals fan but I also realize that relievers are the easiest position to replace and closers normally have a small shelf life. It just seems to make sense to trade Holland now while he is at his highest value and net the biggest return you can from a trade. The Royals were burned from staying loyal to a closer in the very recent past, as Kansas City stuck with Joakim Soria, who missed the 2012 season due to his second Tommy John surgery. Soria would leave after that season, signing with the Rangers and leaving the Royals without anything in return. So it makes sense to see just what could be had by dealing Holland this winter.

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So if the Hochevar signing was made so the team could trade Holland for an outfielder, how would that reshape the bullpen? It would appear if that happened Wade Davis would move up from setup man to closer. Davis had a ridiculous 2014 season, one that made him one of the best relievers in baseball. His season was so ridiculous that Davis didn’t give up but 5 extra base hits the whole season, none in the first half of the season and gave up NO home runs. Not even one. To say Davis could probably easily slide into the closers role sure seems like an understatement and almost seems like the smart thing to do if Holland is traded. Herrera could slide into the setup role while Hochevar and possibly Jason Frasor could fill in during the 6th and 7th innings. There is no way to tell if this group would put up the same numbers that “HDH” put up in 2014, but the belief is it wouldn’t be too far off.

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It could just as easily be Wade Davis who gets traded, as there has been interest for both him and Holland. But the smarter play at this point is trading Holland, if for no other reason than to give the Royals more payroll flexibility. It’s no big secret that Kansas City doesn’t have one of the higher payrolls in the sport, but it is one that has steadily increased year by year and looks to reach the $100MM threshold for the upcoming 2015 season. A lot of this money is already earmarked for players already with the team and according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN, the team really only has enough money for one of their needs, not both:

With that said, it appears a deal where they can shed some hefty payroll AND acquire one of their needs would be the wise choice to do.  Kansas City has already picked up the $7MM option on Davis, and with Holland estimated to be making around $9.3MM it would appear Holland would give them more flexibility. Either option would help the team, but with the salary that would be freed up and with Holland appearing to bring the Royals more value, it would be wise at this point to trade Holland, not Davis.

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The hard part of this whole thing is the fact that a trade even has to happen at all. What Herrera, Davis and Holland accomplished this year was magical and more than likely won’t be duplicated any time soon. It would be great to keep this trio together for the forseeable future but baseball’s landscape makes it hard to do that when you are a small market team. At some point the money is just too much and it becomes apparent that the money could be used in other, more needed areas. The Royals are at that point and with Hochevar and Frasor back in the fold it appears the team has more than enough depth to weather the storm. If Kansas City is wanting to stay as a contender in 2015 they are going to need at least one more solid bat and another starting pitcher, and that can’t be accomplished at the team’s current payroll structure. That means someone has to go, and it looks like one of the team’s elite relievers will have to be dangled for a bat. It’s not the fun part about baseball, but it is a necessary part. The only question going forward is whether Dayton Moore will pull the trigger or not. It’s not the popular move to make, but it does appear to be the intelligent one.

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

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

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

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

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

MLB: Spring Training-Kansas City Royals at Milwaukee Brewers

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

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

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

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

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

The 2013 Kansas City Royals: Like Mike Ness said, “I Was Wrong”

My mother once told me I was both stubborn and bull-headed. I remember asking her how I could be both, and she said that there was a difference. The difference was if you were bull-headed, you would purposely do things just to spite others. Or not admit you made a mistake. Well, I can freely say that some things have changed since my childhood(some), and I can say like that Social Distortion song, I was wrong about this Kansas City Royals season. I initially thought this was a 78-80 win team and thought there were problems within the team that were being ignored. Okay, I wasn’t completely wrong. So let’s do a fun exercise today, folks. I will go through my predictions for the Royals before the season, and we’ll find out what I guessed correctly and what I was badly incorrect about. Nothing like pointing out all your mistakes…although to be fair, baseball can do that to you!

What I was right about: 

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals

1) The starting rotation was better

I know, this isn’t really going out on a limb. The 2012 Royals rotation was awful. Putrid. Atrocious. Deplorable. Offensive. Pretty much any negative synonym you can think of would describe how bad they were. Improving the rotation was Dayton Moore’s main goal last winter and improve it he did. James Shields came in and was the ace the Royals needed every fifth day. Jeremy Guthrie was above what most predicted for a large portion of the season, but the real surprise was Ervin Santana. We will cover him in things I got wrong, although I wasn’t alone when it comes to “Magic”. I was also right that Wade Davis would struggle, and it took most of the season before he was sent to the bullpen. But don’t fret, children; put money on Davis starting next year in the rotation. Or as I now call him, Hiram Davies III. The rotation being better made a lot of the Royals flaws less noticeable. It just goes to show that once again, if you have pitching and defense they can mask a team’s ills.

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2)The bullpen was an elite bullpen   

This, once again, wasn’t a shock. The year before the pen had been fabulous and had pitched waaaaaay more innings than they should have. This year they got some relief of their own from the rotation, but it almost didn’t matter who came in; this unit was the best in baseball. They were led by All-Star closer Greg Holland, who has an argument for being the best closer in baseball this year–not for him breaking the team’s saves record(maybe the most worthless stat in the sport) but for striking out 103 batters in 67 innings thrown. Insane. After a rough first week #DirtySouth held things down and rolled successfully most of the year. After Holland, it was literally a who’s who of solid relievers; Hochevar, Collins, Coleman, Smith, Crow, and Davis(once he was shipped out there). Really the only one who slumped was Kelvin Herrera, and it’s not like he is a lost cause. Bullpens normally don’t have a long shelf life, so next year they could implode, but at least for 2013 they can say they were the best.

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3) The offense struggled 

During Spring Training, I felt like a kid in a car, yelling while the windows are rolled up. No one would hear me as I kept saying that the offense struggled in 2012 and the Royals did nothing to remedy it. By May, I was not only correct, I was ridiculously right–and I hated it. The offense struggled so much that even players that you thought would be fine had their issues. Billy Butler caught a lot of scorn this year, as his numbers were down from the year before. But by the end of the season, he was the team leader in RBI’s and outside of some of the power numbers, he had a close to normal season for Billy. Alex F. Gordon played Gold Glove defense, and was a team leader that they needed. But Alex struggled off and on all year and he just didn’t have the typical Gordon season. Alcides Escobar fell way off of his 2012 numbers. Likewise for Mike Moustakas. Right field and second base were black holes until David Lough and Emilio Bonifacio started getting regular playing time. The only real shining light was the return to glory of Eric Hosmer, but even that took bringing in a Hall of Famer to fix his swing. Hosmer went from purely a singles hitter in May to looking like the rookie who was going to be an MVP some day. All in just a few short weeks. The good news for Kansas City is hopefully Dayton will target a right fielder in the offseason with some pop…and the only direction to go for most of these guys is up next year. Let’s hope.

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4) Bringing back Getz and Francoeur was pointless 

Most anyone with a pulse was smart enough to realize another season of Frenchy and Getzie would lead to failure. Most anyone isn’t Dayton Moore and Ned Yost. I’ll be honest when I say a lot of my predictions were based on these two still being around. Luckily, Moore didn’t completely want to tank the season so Getz was sent down to Omaha in June, while Francoeur was cut just a few weeks later. Neither had even close to an average season, let alone a passable one. Getz would get recalled before the start of the second half of the season, but he didn’t see as much playing time and by September was riding the pine except for the occasional start or pinch running assignment. Francoeur was picked up by the Giants, but that didn’t last long. Just thinking of what the season could have been if the Royals had just cut ties with these two might have garnered them a few more wins…and maybe the chance of a wild card spot. I can only hope ‘the coaches son’ will be gone next year, so I don’t have to mention how Moore and Yost hold onto guys who no longer carry any value.

Ned Yost

5) Ned Yost will screw something up when it counts

Nothing new here. Been calling it for close to two years now. He does not deal well with pressure. Or allows his starter to stay in despite him getting very lucky. Oh, and keep him in for a chance at a ‘W’. Bunting in the early innings. Weird choices late in a pennant race game. More bunting. I’m to the point that I am tired of talking about it. Let’s move on.

Okay, now onto what I got wrong:

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1) The Royals finish above .500

This should probably count for like 3-4 things I got right. But…I’ve never been so happy to be wrong about something! Nothing really compares to playing meaningful games in September. Nothing made me happier than to see a packed house at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals didn’t seem to me like an above .500 team most of the year, if for nothing else than the fact that this was the streakiest of streaky teams that I have ever seen. It would have been nice for our sanity if the Royals had been a bit more consistent this year. At the end of the day, I was way wrong about this and fully admit it. But I’m glad I was wrong. As a diehard Royals fan, I just want to see my team compete and win. They did that this year, even if it might have been at the cost of another year of Dayton Moore and Ned Yost, or mortgaging the future thanks to the Wil Myers trade. Step 2 is now to actually reach the playoffs. That window is closing, so it’s time to jump through.

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2) Ervin Santana was ‘Magic’

There was no way I thought Santana would be as good as he was for the Royals this past season. Honestly, I’d like to know who actually DID think he would be this good. Santana was coming off of what was quite possibly his worst season in the majors, a season that saw him lead the league in home runs allowed despite the fact he spent 2012 pitching in one of the bigger ballparks in the big leagues(the Angels’ Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Geez, even their stadium has a giant name!). In what will go down as one of Dayton Moore’s better trades, Santana was a legitimate number two starter in the Royals rotation. His numbers do not lie. I was of the thinking that he would spend most of the year injured…yep, shows you what I know. Santana is a free agent this winter, and odds are the Royals aren’t going to be able to afford his lofty cost(both years and dollars). Santana was the most unexpected surprise Kansas City had this year, and a surprise most of us didn’t see coming. It’s too bad ‘Magic’ probably won’t be back in Royal blue, since he would be a welcome return, even if he would end up being overpaid for too many years.

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So in all fairness, I wasn’t really too far off. Sure, I thought this was an under .500 bunch, but that was with the thought that Getz and Francoeur would see the majority amount of time most of the year and with the offense never really figuring it out. Instead, Kansas City wised up, and Getzie and Frenchy were either exiled to AAA or sent packing when they didn’t produce. History showed that Dayton Moore didn’t have an endless leash on these guys, and their replacements, for the most part, improved on their positions. The bats were still streaky, but had enough glimpses of what everyone THOUGHT  they could do and got great starting pitching to keep them in way more games than in years past. I am willing to be wrong more often if it means the Royals win and keep themselves in a pennant race. I probably had more fun in September than I have had in a long time as a Royals fan. Hopefully they will continue to prove me wrong in 2014 and we can have a discussion about how I never thought they would reach the playoffs. I’m willing to look the buffoon if it means playoffs. A little bit more optimism wouldn’t hurt me, even if the realist in me finds it hard sometimes. I just have to remember the little kid growing up that loved his Kansas City Royals. He is still around; he always makes an appearance every time I walk into Kauffman Stadium.

Positively Royals

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Less than thirty games remain in this 2013 season, and the Kansas City Royals are on pace for their first winning season since 2003. For most organizations, that isn’t considered a big deal, but in Kansas City it’s big. Coming into the season there was a lot of hope with equal parts criticism(myself included), and at some points in the year the Royals have looked like a playoff team. It seems highly doubtful that will happen this year, but 2014 seems reasonable for a playoff push. Whichever way you look at it, there has been improvement with the Royals, and as fans we can walk away with some positives from the 2013 season. With that in mind, here are five positives that the Royals will bring into next year and hopefully help set the foundation for a contender. See, I CAN be positive!

Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas

1) Eric Hosmer & Mike Moustakas have started hitting

If the first two months of 2013 were what we should have expected from Hosmer and Moustakas, then it looked as if the two linchpins of this Royals team were going to be a bust. Moustakas got off to an awful start that saw his average dip into the .170’s while Hosmer showed no power and had become an opposite field singles hitter. Hosmer’s 2012 had already put a seed of doubt into many a Royals fan’s mind, so when he AND Moustakas struggled early on, we all felt that disgusting feeling in the pit of our stomach’s. But then the Royals fired hitting coaches Jack Maloof and Andre David(why does that feel like it was three seasons ago??), brought in some guy named George Brett and Pedro Grifol, and they immediately started to work with the Dynamic Duo. This dynamic duo:

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Hard to imagine these guys not being taken seriously, right? The work with Hosmer showed immediately, as he started hitting not only to right field, but to right field with power! Moustakas has gone from a .215 hitter in the first half of the season to a .299 hitter in the second half. I’m a little bit weary to say they are both fixed(although I feel a LOT safer saying that about Hosmer), but it sure appears as if whatever was ailing them earlier this year is now gone. You hate to pin success on a team on one or two players, but as these two go, so go the Royals. The offense at times has really lagged for Kansas City this year, and there are still concerns that this is a very streaky Royals team, but if Hos and Moose can be more consistent then we should also expect more consistency from the entire offense. If anything, it has been nice to see these two climb out of their early season slumps and show the promise they once had when they first arrived in the majors. But for the Royals to jump into that next level, they need them to do this on a consistent basis.

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2) Glorious Starting Pitching

We all knew going into this season that the Royals starting pitching was going to be better than 2012. That seemed pretty obvious, as it couldn’t have been much worse than it had been. Actually, after 2012 it almost would have been an improvement to trot out the cotton candy vendor, the ticket lady, Ned Yost’s Grandma, and the ghost of Hiram Davies(he is dead, correct?). So the shock this season wasn’t that the rotation was improved, it was just how much it was improved. The Royals went from having one of the worst rotations in baseball(that could barely get through 5 innings each start) to one that was clearly one of the best in the sport. James Shields immediately took the reigns of leader of the staff, and has shown that on the mound this year, despite his record(Kill the Win? Indeed). Jeremy Guthrie had a wonderful first half, and while he has come back down to earth here in the second half, he has still been a very serviceable starter. The big surprise has been Ervin Santana, who few of us thought was even going to be an average pitcher. Santana has exceeded expectations, lowering his home run rate and allowing his wonderful infield defense to take care of things for him. It’s possible the Santana trade could be Dayton Moore’s best trade to date, and one that could continue to benefit Kansas City. Santana is a free agent at the end of the season, and his value has skyrocketed this season, even for the team he seems to love now. The Royals might be able to re-sign him, but if they do it will be at a hefty price. Throw in the occasional Wade Davis start(or my new name for him, Hiram Davies III), a splendid second half by Bruce Chen(throwing a steady diet of slop, courtesy of Chuck Samples), and the return of Danny Duffy and you have a rotation fighting with Texas over the best ERA in the American League. Hopefully the team can keep most of this group intact and grow on it come 2014.

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3) Defense for Royalty

Most Royals fans acknowledge that the team’s defense has long been a strong point for this team, even if the numbers didn’t always point that out. But this year, with a healthy Lorenzo Cain, an improved Hosmer, and the usual great ‘D’ by Perez, Escobar, Gordon and Moose, this team has been excellent defensively. Remember, numbers don’t lie:
2013 American League Defensive Summary

The biggest factor there is the ‘Defensive Runs Saved Above Avg.’. It’s obvious having such a good defense has made other facets of the Royals game(ahem, the pitching) even better than originally thought. I personally believe that Cain has been a big part of this, as when he went down with his most recent injury the team seemed to shuffle. Having his glove, and the ground he covers, on the field every day has been a major boom for Kansas City and has helped those defensive numbers a lot. For the Royals to continue their success in 2014, they need the defense to continue to put up these kind of numbers.

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4)#DirtySouth

The last couple years, Greg Holland has been one of the Royals top relievers. His 2011 season was phenomenal, as he proved he deserved a shot at closing for the team once Joakim Soria left for greener pastures. It took the team trading away veteran Jonathan Broxton, but finally Holland was given closing duties late last year, and he stepped up again. Slide back to the first month of this season: Holland struggles and crazy Royals fans with pitchforks want Kelvin Herrera to take over the closers job after Holland’s early struggles. Before Thursday’s game against Seattle, Holland had given up only four runs since April. Four. Sure, Mariano Rivera is still the best. Aroldis Chapman consistently lights up the radar gun with triple digits, and Craig Kimbrel might be having the best season of a closer this year. But make no doubt about it, ‘Dirty South’ is right up there with him. Just look at his K/9 ratio: 13.8. 89 strikeouts, 14 walks this season. Insane. Holland is having a season that the only other Royals closers can even compare to are two guys named Quisenberry and Montgomery. Holland more than earned his All-Star nod this year, and the sad part is trading Holland might actually be the smart thing for Kansas City to do this year. But if he isn’t dealt, we can deal with having one of the best closers in the game.

5)The Final Episodes of ‘Breaking Bad’

Whoops. My bad. I was just really excited after that shootout Sunday night. Whoops again. Spoilers.

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5)The Royals are Winning! 

It’s September 9th as I write this, and the Royals are still in the Wild Card discussion in the American League. I know, I didn’t expect that. But it’s nice, real nice to see the Royals go out there and compete every night and feel like they can win the game. We’ve all watched some real lousy baseball over the years(and some in spurts this year) but to see a team in playoff contention this late in the season is splendid. Wonderful. It makes me happy and puts a smile on my face. This is all we’ve wanted, guys. We just want to win and know we can be in the same discussion as the other teams making October plans. Early on this year I didn’t see them playing good enough to be in the conversation, but it’s happening. Soak it up, Royals fans. We could definitely get used to this!

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Hopefully  in a year from now, this list is twice as long. Hopefully we are still talking playoffs, and hopefully it is Division title talk. This team has grown as a group since the early parts of the year and have really earned the spot they are at right now. It’s so much nicer talking about positive baseball than all the bad things that can develop during a season. Hopefully in a year, we can retire the term ‘Yosted’ and ‘Royalling’…because winning makes all those things go away.

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