So far, this winter has been a dead one if you follow the Kansas City Royals. There are many factors contributing to this. One appears to be the Collective Bargaining agreement between the players and owners, which is currently in discussion. Another factor is the growing patience of GM Dayton Moore, who once was an early ‘Wheeler and Dealer’ in the offseason. Moore has said he wants to wait until the Winter Meetings, which begin on December 4th, before making any major moves with the roster. All that being said, last week there were a couple transactions that piqued the interest of at least a few Royals fans.
The first was the re-signing of backup catcher Drew Butera to a two-year deal. Butera returns to Kansas City making $1.8 million in 2017 and $2.3 million for 2018. It was long believed that Butera would be back in Kansas City as the backup to starting catcher Salvador Perez:
“We made it very clear once the season was over that we wanted to bring back Drew,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “He’s been a valuable performer for us. We works well with our pitching staff and Salvador and our coaches.”
Butera is coming off of a career year offensively, posting new career highs in doubles, home runs, batting average, on-base percentage, OPS, OPS+, bWAR and WPA:
“He has made tremendous strides offensively,” Moore said. “We feel extremely confident with him defensively and feel like he can contribute in a lot of ways.”
In some ways Butera is the perfect catcher for Kansas City as he enters his age 33 season. With Salvador Perez entrenched as the starter, and knowing that manager Ned Yost is not one to rest his regulars too much, Butera won’t be seeing a ton of playing time unless an injury occurs. Butera is known for being an above average defender and a guy who pitchers like to throw to. He is the ultimate team player as well; last season it was discussed how in the past he has been known to do anything the coaching staff needs him to do, whether that be a bullpen catcher or warming up the starting pitcher while Salvy is getting his gear back on. Hell, he even pitched in a few blowouts in 2016 and more than held his own on the mound. Butera has flaws in his game but as long as he isn’t seeing regular playing time he is a solid receiver to play in 4o to 60 games a year. Add in the mutual love between the fans and him and it only makes sense for him to return to the Royals.
On the other end, Tim Collins elected free agency as the team was making room on their 40 man roster. Collins is coming off of consecutive Tommy John surgeries and hasn’t pitched since 2014. When healthy Collins is an above average contributor out of the bullpen, posting an ERA+ of 117 and 9.4 strike outs per 9 innings from 2011 to 2014. In some ways this hurts Kansas City, as it is not every day you run across a lefty reliever with mid-90’s fastball that averaged 60+ innings over the first three seasons of his big league career. On the other hand, there is no assurance that Collins will even be able to return from back to back surgeries and definitely not for the $1.5 million he was expected to make in 2017. I always liked having Collins coming out of the pen late in the game, as he a reliable arm. At this point, we can wish him the best luck and hope he doesn’t get to pitch against Kansas City very much.
Both of these moves, while minor, are a step in figuring the construction of the 2017 Kansas City Royals. So what happens next? No clue. Dayton talks like this could be it, but I find that hard to believe:
“There’ll be some moves that we make and present themselves for us the remainder of the offseason,” Moore said. “But I think what you see now is about what it’s going to be going into spring training.”
If this isn’t Dayton-Speak, then I don’t know what is. Moore is notorious for not tipping his hand during this part of the year and I am not surprised by his sly use of words here. Dayton likes to cloud suspicion on possible moves and I would not expect to find out about anything until a deal is almost done. What I do feel will happen is for the Royals to be more active on the trade market than with free agency. There just isn’t a great crop of free agents out there this year and Kansas City would probably be more successful making a deal or two at this point. What I can promise is that Moore is not done. There is no way that Drew Butera is the biggest move of Kansas City’s offseason.
Once we get past October and wrap up the World Series, it will be full-blown award season for Major League Baseball, as they will reward the players voted on once the regular season wraps up. But here at ‘Bleeding Royal Blue’, I can hand out awards whenever I feel like it. Don’t be surprised if I give out an award on some random day in June next year, folks. It could happen. But for now, I wanted to fully wrap up the Kansas City Royals 2016 season by handing out acknowledgements to the deserving players on the Royals roster this year. Also, I did a mid-season awards back in July and now felt tied to this gimmick…soooo, there’s that as well. So no more procrastination, here are your award winners for your 2016 Kansas City Royals.
MVP and Best Pitcher Award: Danny Duffy
Yes, I fully believe Duffy deserves both of these honors, as he was the main cog for any success the Royals had this year. I’ve spent a lot of time discussing Danny (look here and over here) and all of it was deserved. After years where we saw only glimpses and flashes of true potential in him, 2016 saw Duffy finally put all the pieces together to be a successful starting pitcher. To put it bluntly, Duffy quit thinking and just went out there and pitched.This change in attitude led to some fantastic numbers: 9.4 SO/9, 2.1 BB/9, 188 strike outs, 125 ERA+ and 4.2 bWAR. He held left-handed batters to a line of .183/.219/.229 with an sOPS+ of 22. Many enjoyed pointing to his 7-0 record at home (ah, wins; that is so cute!) but Duffy was a beast on the road in 2016: 76 innings, 11.1 SO/9, 4.95 SO/W ratio, with the opposition hitting only .226/.287/.417 away from Kauffman Stadium. The numbers keep going for Danny, but the most important key to his game was shutting down the opposition when it mattered the most; in other words, the high leverage situations. Duffy posted a 1.37 ERA when the Royals scored 0-2 runs in his starts, with an 11.0 SO/W ratio. Hitters only hit .217/.250/.330 in those high leverage situations and he posted an 8.00 SO/W ratio in those scenarios. In other words, Duffy was big when the Royals needed it the most, coming through in the clutch. That is what an ace does and that is why Danny Duffy wins these two big honors this year for Kansas City.
Best Hitter Award: Kendrys Morales
To be perfectly honest with you, in many ways I wanted to pick no one for this achievement. In my eyes, the offense had no ‘go to guy’ this year and almost the entire lineup struggled at one point or another. But if I was picking one, Morales would be the hitter who posted the best numbers. He would get off to a rough first few months (.193/.262/.330 with 12 total extra base hits in April and May) but would come alive in June. June saw Morales hit .402/.453/.655 with 5 home runs and 18 RBI’s, propping the Royals up on his back. Like every other Royal in July, Morales struggled, but he would post solid numbers in both August and September. By the time it was all said and done, Morales hit .263/.327/.468 with 30 homers, 93 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 108. Good numbers considering where he was early in the season, but still a notch below his 2015 numbers. Morales would also post a 0.9 bWAR and a 10.6 WPA+ (which is the sum of positive events for this batter), both below his 2015 stats. Overall, it was a solid season for Morales and one that would make him the Royals best hitter, the only real candidate for this award.
Honorable Mention: Paulo Orlando
Rookie of the Year: Cheslor Cuthbert
There have been some real questions asked these last few years about Cuthbert and just how much of a prospect he should be. With Mike Moustakas blocking him at third base, it seemed unlikely we would ever really find out. Unfortunately, Moose would go down with a torn ACL; exit Moose, enter Cheslor. Cuthbert stepped in at the hot corner and after some early struggles, he would get comfortable and show everyone what he could actually do. Cuthbert would end up with 510 plate appearances this season, hitting .274/.318/.413 with 12 home runs, 46 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 93. For most of the season, Cuthbert’s numbers were at or above league average, with a slump in the final month dragging some of his numbers down. Cheslor would post a -0.2 bWAR this year, but most of that was due to a slightly below average defense that had him at -0.9 dWAR, with an oWAR of 1.1. The big knock on Cheslor defensively is his range and speed, which are below average and yes, below Moustakas. That being said, he would fill in admirably and at the very least showed Kansas City management that he was worth another look next year when Moose comes back. So what should we expect next year? The bad part is that Cuthbert is out of options and probably wouldn’t go through waivers unclaimed at this point. Kansas City has sent him to the instructional league to learn second base, as the Royals want to see if he can increase his versatility and give the team more options and positions to play him at next year. There is also the chance that he could see time at DH, as Morales is a free agent and who knows if they will sign a permanent replacement this offseason. No matter the situation, Cuthbert elevated his positioning in the organization in 2016 and deserves a big league job at this point in his career.
Honorable Mention: Matt Strahm, Whit Merrifield
Reliever of the Year: Kelvin Herrera
The Royals saw their bullpen come back down to earth in 2016, but the man who stayed the course for Kansas City was Kelvin Herrera. All Herrera did this year was rack up a career low FIP of 2.47, a career low BB/9 of 1.47, career low WHIP of 0.958, with a SO/9 of 10.8, ERA+ of 160 with 2.0 WAR. Herrera started the year as the set-up man, but when closer Wade Davis would end up on the disabled list, Herrera would step in as the closer. He would earn his second consecutive All-Star nod and continued his dominance, thanks to a new look slider he developed late in 2015. The slider gave him even more dominance than he had before, which is shown by his walk rate and WHIP. To give you a better idea: Herrera threw 72 innings this year and allowed only 12 walks.This increased his SO/W ratio to 7.17, the best of his career. Here is the truly scary part: Herrera will be entering his age 27 season. In other words, he is just now in his prime. Be scared, Major League hitters.
Honorable Mention: Wade Davis, Matt Strahm
Comeback Player of the Year: Ian Kennedy
Royals fans weren’t exactly enthused when Kansas City signed Kennedy to a 5-year deal. Kennedy had been a below average pitcher the last five years and one had to wonder if the combination of Kauffman Stadium and pitching coach Dave Eiland could change that. Well, it did and because of that Kennedy is the Comeback Player of the Year. Here are the numbers that got him here: 184 strike outs over 195 innings, 1.221 WHIP, 119 ERA+, 1.6 WPA and 4.1 WAR (his highest since 2011). There were flaws in his game; Kennedy allowed 33 home runs, third most in the American League and he saw both his walk rate and FIP go up. Kennedy’s season wasn’t perfect, but in my eyes he was exactly what I expected; a guy who sometimes looks great, and sometimes looks bad. Kennedy was lucky enough in 2016 to lessen the bad starts while performing at least league average in a large chunk of the others. He did compile 15 quality starts, which was 45% of his starts this year and had an average Game Score of 54.6, a few ticks up on his 2015 campaign. In all honesty, I can live with these numbers from Kennedy if he continues this throughout the span of his contract while staying healthy.
Honorable Mention: Paulo Orlando
Now, onto our consolation awards:
Best Hair: Drew Butera
Best Hair, Classic: Rusty Kuntz
Best Forehead: Edinson Volquez
In Memoriam: Joakim Soria…wait, I’m being told he is STILL on the team. Nevermind.
Here’s to more awards next year, hopefully with a brighter spin on everything. Also, if any player wants to buy my vote, I will allow that. Except for Eric Hosmer. He has to earn it…and improve on his 58.9% ground ball rate. Make it happen guys and there will be gold stars for everyone! Thanks again, Kansas City, for another great baseball season. Pencil me in again for next year.
“I’ve had some wins. And been knocked down with defeats. Glimpsed views from the top of the mountain. And walked through the darkest of valleys. But through this entire ride called ‘a life’ – I’ve refused to give up.”~Robin S. Sharma
Everyone knew from the beginning that it wouldn’t be an easy task. Some would even say it was highly unlikely that the Kansas City Royals would repeat as World Series champions, a title they carried all throughout the 2016 campaign. The last team to repeat? That would be the 1998-2000 New York Yankees, a dynasty of a team that even tried to make it four in a row. So when the Royals came into the season, the hope was that they could make it back to the promise land. Instead, they were forced off their perch at the top of the mountain. There was a litany of factors as to why that was, but it wasn’t as if Kansas City had an awful season. In fact, the team wasn’t officially eliminated from postseason play until the last week of the season with four games to go. There were even some positives that came out of the season that will help the foundation of the 2017 Royals team.
What Went Right
First and foremost, Danny Duffy became the team ace that had been hoped of him for years now. Duffy started the year in the bullpen but it wouldn’t be long until he was summoned for starting duty. Duffy would make his first start of the year on May 15 against Atlanta, shutting out the Braves in his three innings of work. Duffy would continue to excel, gradually building up his arm strength while taking the lessons he learned in the pen into his starts. No longer was Duffy a man of inefficiency, racking up high pitch counts in a limited amount of innings. Instead, Duffy would post the lowest walk ratio of his career (2.1) while also increasing his strike out numbers as well (9.4 strikeouts per 9). On August 1st, Duffy would throw the game of his career, holding the Rays hitless through seven before finally giving up a hit, all while striking out 16 batters. Duffy would leave after 8 innings of work, just a mere inning away from throwing the first complete game of his career. He would get that complete game just two starts later, holding the White Sox to 1 run and 7 hits in a 9 inning gem . When it was all said and done, Duffy would post career highs in innings, strike outs, walks, FIP, BB9, SO9, SO/W and will go into the 2017 season as the ace of the Royals rotation.
Cheslor Cuthbert was a welcome plus for the Royals this year, as he ended up with the third base job after Mike Moustakas went down with a season ending injury in May. Cuthbert’s numbers weren’t at Moustakas’ level, but did put himself into a solid position come Spring Training. Cuthbert hit a respectable .274/.318/.413 with an OPS+ of 93 (slightly below league average) and a bWAR of -0.2 (1.1 oWAR, -0.9 dWAR). Cuthbert could be a man without a position in 2017, but the team has sent him to the instructional league to get some work at second base, a chance to build up some versatility. Considering he is out of options and Moustakas will be back next year, Cuthbert could be dealt in the offseason; the good news is that 2016 really elevated his value in many people’s eyes.
We also got our first look at Matt Strahm and he was a pleasant addition to the Kansas City bullpen. Strahm appeared in 21 games this year, posting a 1.23 ERA over 22 innings, 12.3 strike outs per 9 with an ERA+ of 362. Strahm became a reliable arm in the pen but manager Ned Yost was reluctant on using him too much, as he threw only 94 innings in 2015 and had already thrown over 100 innings during his time in AA this year. Strahm could return to the bullpen next year, but the Royals have also shown interest in giving him a shot at a rotation job in 2017.
Paulo Orlando was another surprise this year for Kansas City, as the Brazilian elevated his game in 2016, putting him in a position to compete for a regular spot in 2017. Paulo hit .302/.329/.405 with an OPS+ of 95 and a bWAR of 2.3. Orlando sacrificed some power this year for more of a ‘spray the ball to all fields’ approach and that netted him a solid average but a dip in his slugging numbers. The Royals believe that Orlando is late bloomer and expect him to be in the hunt for the right field job at the ripe age of 31 next year.
Whit Merrifield showed in 2016 that he could hang with the big boys, hitting .283/.323/.392 with an OPS+ of 90 and a bWAR of 1.6. Merrifield saw a lot of time at second base this year and while he proved adequate both offensively and defensively, he is probably better suited as a super utility guy for Kansas City. Merrifield will probably get at least a shot at the second base job in the spring, but there is a greater chance of Whit holding down a utility spot for the team next year.
Finally, a slight nod to Drew Butera, the backup catcher for the Royals. It’s hard being the backup to Salvador Perez, as you see very little playing time. Perez did go down with a few injuries in 2016, so Drew saw some extra time behind the dish and performed admirably when asked. Butera got the most plate appearances he has seen since 2014, hitting .285/.328/.480 with an OPS+ of 112 and a bWAR of 0.4. Those are all career highs for Butera, who has long been known as a defense first guy with very little stick value. Drew will be a free agent this offseason and I can only hope he returns for another year in Kansas City. In a lot of ways, Butera is the perfect backup receiver for what this club needs from that spot.
What Needs Some Work
Let’s start here with the starting rotation. The rotation felt like a talking point for a good chunk of the season, but some of that was positive in a few good stretches. Overall, the Royals starters had the third highest BB/9, the highest HR/9 and FIP, and in the bottom third of the American League in innings pitched, ERA and WAR. Yordano Ventura and Ian Kennedy both had roller coaster years, with equal parts good and bad in 2016. Ventura is still a work in progress and Kennedy gave up the third most home runs in the AL this year. Both will need to work on their consistency, as they will be back next year. There will probably be some change in next year’s rotation, as Edinson Volquez is a free agent while the fifth spot was in constant flux this year. Jason Vargas, Mike Minor and Strahm could all be in-house candidates for next year’s rotation.
Also needing some work was the Royals bullpen. The bullpen was a key part of the Royals last two World Series’ teams, but this year they struggled. Luke Hochevar was lost for the season back in August, Wade Davis made a few appearances on the disabled list, and Joakim Soria struggled around a couple of strong stretches in his return to Kansas City. While some ranted and raved about the pen (mostly about Soria), I would like to point out here that we as Royals fans have been spoiled these last few years. The bullpen in year’s past were so insanely good that most seemed to just take it for granted. This was still a good bunch of arms for Kansas City, posting a HR/9 of 0.92(third lowest in the league), 77.3% LOB percentage (also third lowest), 3.45 ERA (yep, still third lowest), and 4.9 fWAR, 5th best in the league. The Royals have already talked about the bullpen being their main focus this offseason, so don’t be surprised to see some changes. Davis, Soria and Herrera will be back while Hochevar is a free agent, although it will be interesting to see if the Royals try to re-sign him. I also think there is a decent chance that Kansas City tries to bring Greg Holland, who spent the year recovering from Tommy John surgery, back into the fold. The pen is still a plus for Kansas City, but it will need some work.
What Went Wrong
Two items of note went horribly wrong for Kansas City in 2016. First, the offense. What was actually a strong point in 2015 (6th in the league in runs scored last year), went sour this year. The Royals offense was last in home runs, ISO, BB% and wRC+, while in the bottom third of the league in runs, RBI’s, OBP%, slugging, and fWAR. Almost the entire lineup could be looked at to blame for this regression; Alex Gordon struggled when he wasn’t hurt, Salvador Perez saw a dip in his offensive numbers while Eric Hosmer had a horrendous second half of the season, hitting in the low .200’s during that span, producing only six doubles in the second half while leading the American League in ground ball percentage. If it wasn’t for Kendrys Morales’ huge spurts of offense (and even Kendrys saw an early season slump derail his numbers)and Hosmer’s first two months of the season, one has to wonder how worse off this Kansas City team might have been. I believe some of the expectation of the Royals returning players is for them to improve on this year’s numbers in 2017, but there will need to be some changes before Spring Training rolls around.
But the biggest blow to the Royals success this season was injuries. After years of the Royals being fairly healthy, they were dealt a bad hand this season. Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez, Luke Hochevar, Jarrod Dyson, Chris Young, Kris Medlen and Wade Davis all spent some time on the disabled list this year at one point or another. Mike Moustakas collided with Gordon in late May, and while Gordon would miss a month, Moustakas would have a torn ACL and would be gone for the rest of the season. Lorenzo Cain, who was the Royals best player in 2015, had multiple stints on the DL and would end up missing about 1/3 of the season. While backups like Cuthbert, Merrifield and Orlando all performed admirably in their absence, they didn’t produce at the same level and it showed in the numbers. For the Royals to be successful in 2017, they are going to have to stay healthy and not have the level of injuries that hit them this season.
The Royals finished 81-81 this season, a clean .500 record. To be honest with you, when you consider the performance of the pitching and the offense, then add in the injuries, I feel like Kansas City ended up about where they should have been. A few years back, I made the comment that all I really wanted from the organization was a contending ball club, a team that was in the hunt for a playoff spot on a regular basis. After years of watching them lose and most of the time in an ugly manner, I just wanted a team that could make the playoffs. We’ve gotten that the last couple seasons and even this year, the Royals weren’t officially eliminated until after game 158. You can expect a large chunk of this same team to return in 2017, as that appears to be the last year the window will be open with the core group of players they have now. It will be an interesting off-season, as the team needs to build up a few areas while also taking a look past 2017 when making any signing or deal. The 2016 season will be remembered as the year Kansas City came down from the euphoric high that we have all been on the last few years. Now it’s time to take a breath, rebuild and prepare for what could be another wild ride next season. I don’t now about you, but I’m ready.
On Friday night, the Kansas City Royals bullpen gave up their first run in over 41 innings(41.2 innings to be exact) and unfortunately the man who gave up that run is a veteran who has had a nice season in Kansas City, Peter Moylan (although if you want to pin some of it on catcher Drew Butera, you probably wouldn’t get an argument from me). Moylan, in his age 37 season, has thrown 31 innings for the Royals, striking out 7.76 per 9 innings, posting an ERA of 3.73, a FIP of 3.69 and continuing to induce ground balls at a high rate, 62.2% so far in 2016(61.7% average over his career). Those numbers might not jump out at you, but when you consider what all he has been through in his career, it is a major achievement that he is currently pitching in the big leagues. In fact, Peter Moylan’s story might be one of my favorite baseball stories ever.
Moylan’s baseball journey began back in 1996, when he was signed as a free agent by the Minnesota Twins. Moylan struggled for a few years in Minnesota’s farm system(Low A Ball) before they released him in 1998. Moylan left baseball, returning to Australia and becoming a pharmaceutical salesman. Yes, you read that correctly. Two back surgeries later, he was back in baseball, coaching in Australia and playing the occasional first base. The team eventually was short on pitching and threw Moylan on the mound. Back in the 90’s, Moylan threw the ball over the top. He decided to try something different:
“We were getting short on pitching and I started messing around with a sidearm delivery out in the outfield one day,” Moylan said. “When I threw sidearm, it didn’t hurt my back. Next thing I know, our pitching coach tells me I’m throwing 94 on the gun.”
Moylan was given the chance to pitch on the Australian team in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. He struck out major leaguers Bobby Abreu, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez and Magglio Ordonez. A pitcher throwing sidearm in the mid-90’s caught many a team’s attention:
“Next thing I know, teams are all over me. Three made really good offers: the Braves, the Red Sox and the Royals,” Moylan said. “I signed with the Braves so I could go to Disney World.”
Moylan made the fast track to the majors and was on Atlanta’s 25 man roster by April 11 of that year. He shuttled back and forth between the majors and AAA in his rookie campaign, throwing 14 innings, striking out 8. 40 per 9 and a FIP of 3.15 in the big leagues. Moylan was 27 years old.
Moylan became a big part of the Braves bullpen in 2007, and over the next two seasons would post some great numbers: 1.79 ERA, 244 ERA+, 4.02 FIP and a WHIP of 1.066 in 95 innings. Unfortunately, Moylan would land on the disabled list in May of 2008, and would have the first of two dreaded Tommy John surgeries. He would return in 2009 and re-assert himself into Atlanta’s pen, and would put up some good numbers over the next four seasons: 2.88 ERA, 140 ERA+, striking out 7.5 per 9 over 150 innings. Moylan continued to induce ground balls (his lowest ground ball % was 56.3 in 2012) but also dealt with a number of injuries. 2011 alone saw him deal with more back issues and near the end of the year he was back on the DL with a torn rotator cuff in his pitching shoulder. He would sign with the Dodgers before the 2013 season, but didn’t look like his old self; he would only appear in 14 games for Los Angeles and posted a career low ground ball rate of 28.1%. Moylan would become a free agent at the end of the season and would try to latch on with Houston, before they released him near the end of Spring Training 2014. It appeared that another Tommy John surgery was in Moylan’s future and he would have the procedure done in March of that year. At age 35, Moylan’s career seemed to be on the ropes.
The Braves would come knocking again in March of 2015, only this time with a bit of a twist. The team wanted to bring Moylan back into the fold, but as a player/coach in their minor league system. This appeared to be a great opportunity for Moylan to be back in the game without any pressure:
“If I signed with a team, I’m obviously going to try to prove myself immediately,” Moylan said. “I risk getting hurt again. I risk having horrible numbers. Then all of a sudden, they could say, ‘He’s not doing anything, let’s get rid of him’ and my career might be over. This way, I can take my time. The Braves are going to be patient and I’m going to be patient, which is not my strong point. When it’s right, it will be right.”
The fact it was the Braves made it even better for him:
“The Braves have always been kind of like that ex-girlfriend that you always think about,” Moylan said. “I’d always check the Braves’ results and hope that they were doing well. But I can do it for real now and not have to hide it.”
Moylan would put up good numbers in the Braves Triple A affiliate, Gwinnett, posting a 3.14 ERA in 28 innings, but the best part was that his velocity appeared to be back:
“We’re all pulling for him to get another shot,” pitching coach Marty Reed said. “He’s done everything you could ask of him here. The encouraging thing for me is the last month or so I’ve seen his velocity jump up a little bit. At the beginning of the year he was mostly 88, 89 (mph), sitting right in that area, and he’d pop a 90, 91 here and there on a good night. All of a sudden you go ‘Wow,’ you look at a 91. Now he’s sitting 90, 91 and he’s popping a 93 here and there.”
The hard work paid off and Moylan was back in Atlanta by August. Moylan would only throw 10 innings for the Braves last year, but he had his ground ball rate back up to 69% and in that short span was able to accumulate 0.2 fWAR.
The Royals would sign Moylan to a minor league contract in January of 2016 with an invite to Spring Training. Thanks to former teammate and current Royals Kris Medlen, Moylan was interested in coming to Kansas City:
“A lot of it had to do with reports from Sir Kris Medlen, in regards to the training staff and how they take care of their guys — the strength guys,” the 37-year-old Moylan says. “Another part of it, for me, was I had a history with (Royals general manager) Dayton Moore. He signed me in Atlanta, and when it came time to make my decision, my agent had spoken to everyone from all the interested clubs, and Dayton was the one who was not just saying, ‘We’ll give you a job,’ but ‘We’d really like you to come here.’ It was nice to feel wanted again. I know it’s an uphill battle to make this ‘pen, let’s be honest, but to feel like you’re going to get a chance to come in and prove you can offer something, was huge for me.”
Moylan struggled to find his release point this spring and wasn’t near a big league job yet, so after opting out of his contract, he re-signed with Kansas City and went to Triple A Omaha. Moylan get the call back to the majors on May 12 and really felt like he had found his groove during that first month of the season:
“I found a comfortable release point for those last few outings of spring,” said Moylan. “I knew that I could go into the season and still do the same sort of thing. And I managed to have a bit of success down there. Next thing you know, I’m here.”
Moylan started out as an option out of the pen if the game was out of reach or if the Royals needed to go to the pen early. After the injuries to Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar in July, Moylan became a bigger part of the bullpen. Since July 31st, Moylan has appeared in 12 games, posting an ERA of 1.35, allowing only one run in 6.2 innings. Moylan has been one of manager Ned Yost’s first calls in pressure situations and has averted many a tight situation over the last month. At 37, Moylan appears to have found a new home in Kansas City.
Moylan becomes a free agent after the season and will have quite a few options on the market if he decides to leave Kansas City. He might be in his late 30’s, but Moylan is not a pitcher who relies on velocity as much as deception, guile and pitch placement. It’s hard to imagine much of anything stopping him, as he has bounced back from a litany of injuries and keeps coming back. Moylan will never be a star player and won’t get the type of adulation that the top players in the game receive. They can have all the attention in the world; what they won’t have is one of the best damn baseball stories you will ever hear about. Moylan has just that to set his hat on.
We are at baseball’s halfway point, as the All-Star break is upon us and everyone is allowed a chance to take a step back, take a deep breath and relax. The Kansas City Royals are in a tie for 3rd place in the American League Central(7 games out)and still very much in a position for a playoff spot. Since we have only 74 games left in this season, let’s take one final look back at the first half of the season and what all the Royals have accomplished. With that, I am proud to announce the 1st Annual Mid-Season Royals Awards here on Bleeding Royal Blue!
Most Valuable Player
Eric Hosmer-.299/.355/.476, 13 HR, 49 RBI, 116 OPS+, 1.5 bWAR
Back in May, I discussed how the starting pitching had become a major issue for the Kansas City Royals. Luckily, not too long after that the starters stabilized and even with Chris Young and Kris Medlen on the disabled list, the Royals starters improved upon what at the time was a woeful performance. No one was going to confuse their starting staff with the Atlanta Braves rotations of the 1990’s or the Baltimore Orioles starters in the 1970’s, but there was some notable improvement, especially once Danny Duffy returned to the rotation. But the glaring weakness of this Royals team is still the starting five and I’m not so sure help is on the way.
On Friday night, the normally steady Edinson Volquez had one of the worst starts of not only his career, but in baseball history. Volquez only threw one complete inning, allowing 8 hits, 3 walks and 11 earned runs. This earned him the honor of worst game score in Royals history, -18, which toppled the old record of -11, held by Jeremy Guthrie from last year and Zack Greinke in 2005. Chris Young followed that the next night by pitching 2.1 innings, and allowing 7 runs. Luckily, the Royals got some solid bullpen work both days from Dillon Gee, Brian Flynn, Peter Moylan and Chien-Ming Wang(oh, and Drew Butera). This is after Ian Kennedy only worked 4 innings on Tuesday and while Yordano Ventura is serving his 8 game suspension. The Royals starters are struggling and it’s easy when looking at the numbers to see why.
The Royals starters are 13th in the American League in innings pitched, the second highest in walks per 9 and 4th highest in home runs per 9. The only thing saving them from being last in the league is the fact they are stranding the most runners on base(a league leading 76.8%) and the Angels and Twins starters have actually performed worst this year. Back in May, both Medlen and Ventura were averaging 7 walks per 9 innings; Medlen is currently out on rehab assignment and Ventura has lowered his rate to 4 walks per 9. Chris Young and Ian Kennedy are 1 and 3 respectively in home runs allowed in the American League, with Jered Weaver of the Angels sandwiched between the two Royals. If the Royals are going to stay in the pennant race come September, this has to improve. But how?
Unfortunately, there isn’t much help on the horizon. Medlen is close to being back, but if he pitches the way he was earlier in the season I’m not for sure that is an improvement. Mike Minor was once thought of as an option, but he was shut down from his rehab assignment a few weeks ago for shoulder fatigue and hasn’t been heard of since. Same for two top Royals prospects, Kyle Zimmer and Miguel Almonte. Almonte did return to action on June 9th, but the longest start he has had since then was only 4 innings. Alec Mills was recently recalled to AAA Omaha, but I doubt he is ready yet for a rotation spot. So there are really no answers within the organization. What about outside the organization?
Unfortunately, the Royals don’t have much to deal, especially after last year’s Cueto and Zobrist trades that took a large chunk of their pitching depth.It’s conceivable that the Royals could go out and make a trade, although it wouldn’t be for much. More than likely it would have to be a middle to back end of the rotation type starter and someone that Kansas City could get fairly cheap. Someone like a Rich Hill of Oakland would probably be within their price range and would be a nice fit in the middle of this rotation.
If the Royals are going to contend they are going to have to improve from within. Young and Kennedy would do good to keep the ball down low, pitch on the corners and avoid the middle of the plate. Yordano needs to keep his cool and use his fastball to set-up his off-speed stuff. All the Kansas City pitchers would be wise to lower their walk total and let the Royals defense do their job. More than anything, they need to limit the amount of base runners that are on the base paths; the current amount is just a recipe for disaster. This all seems like basic stuff that I’m sure they are trying to do anyway, but at this point whatever they are trying to do is not working.
So the main solution to the Royals problem is a bit more consistency from their starters. In reality, all they really need to do is go 5 to 6 innings, allowing 3 runs or less(which is essentially a quality start) and then hand the game over to the bullpen. All of the Royals starters are capable of doing this and while it is unrealistic to expect this out of them every start, it is realistic to expect it the majority of the time. It appears rather funny to sit here and tell them to ‘just pitch better’ but essentially that is what will have to happen. There is no hero coming, riding in on a white horse. For the most part, the rotation they have now will decide whether or not this Kansas City team is playing again come October. This is the hand they dealt themselves, and more than likely it is the hand that will decide their fate.
Salvador Perez holds many roles for the Kansas City Royals; clubhouse leader, Lorenzo Cain’s BFF, backup broadcaster, leader of the pitching staff and middle of the order power threat. In 2015, Perez would hit 21 home runs, a new high for a Kansas City catcher. Despite this career high, Salvy’s other numbers weren’t as impressive. Walk rate was the lowest of his career. Strike out rate was the highest it had ever been. Hard hit rate was the lowest it had been since his rookie campaign. Line drive rate was one of the lowest of his career. Most importantly, his wRC+(which weighs runs per plate appearance while being park and league adjusted) was the lowest of his career, at 87(league average is 100). It really appeared as if Perez’s numbers were already starting to skew downwards, which was not good for a player coming into his age 26 season. Most Royals fans are well aware of Salvy’s lack of patience at the plate and most don’t expect him to walk much, but would prefer he became a bit more selective at the plate. All this information makes it even more impressive when discussing what Perez has done so far in 2016.
Over the last month Perez has been the hottest hitting Royal, putting up a line of .411/.436/.689 with 6 home runs, 14 RBI’s and an OPS of 1.125. Perez, a notorious free-swinger, is still swinging at a lot of pitches(in fact he is pretty much on par with his totals for the last two seasons), but there is a slight change in his approach. Last year, Perez was making contact with pitches outside the strike zone about 73% of the time; so far this year he is at 62%. Meanwhile, pitches inside the strike zone he is actually making a bit more contact, up to 91.4% from 90.7%. This tells me that he is laying off the pitches outside the strike zone a bit more this year while focusing more of his attention on pitches within the meat of the plate. The funny part to all of this is that Salvy’s strikeout rate is up by quite a bit(22%, up from 14% last year) while his contact rate is also down, to 78% from last year’s 83%. You would think that a guy who is making less contact would not see his numbers go up, but they have. In fact, Salvy has been a beast in the power department so far this year.
The power numbers are where Perez is really stepping up his game. His hard hit rate is significantly up this year, 36% from last year’s 24%, and his fly ball rate has also soared, 48.8% from 37.4%. Of course because of this, Perez has a higher home run to fly ball ratio(14.3%) and a lower ground ball rate(26.7% from last year’s 41.9%). To me this all screams of someone driving the ball much more and realizing he can do more damage on pitches closer to the middle of the plate. This is even more evident when looking at Salvy’s exit velocity:
As you can tell, outside of a brief dip the week of April 24th, Perez has been not only above league average, but even close to averaging 100MPH on hit balls for a few weeks. Now, while his approach with pitches outside the zone has changed, he is still a very pull-heavy hitter, as he is pulling the ball the most he has since 2014. Slugging, On Base Plus Slugging, Isolated Power and Weighted on Base Average have all gone way up so far in 2016. Hell, Salvy’s BAbip over the last month is a ridiculous .508! These numbers speak of a player on track for a career year.
Speaking of career highs, at his current rate, Perez is on track to have career highs in doubles, home runs, RBI’s, batting average, on base percentage, slugging and with a little luck, possibly even WAR. He also already has 11 walks this year, only 6 behind last year’s total. His career high for free passes is 24, which I’m not quite ready to say he could topple, although if he keeps hitting like this he will surely see his intentional walks go up. I know there was an increased effort this year for Perez to be more patient at the plate. To me, being more patient at the plate doesn’t always mean more walks as much as waiting for a good pitch to hit and drive. I’ve long felt that Royals hitting coach Dale Sveum has been teaching these guys to look for a pitch to drive and because of that we have seen higher power numbers from Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. I’m starting to think the same philosophy is being soaked up from Salvy and it is paying off in spades.
So do I believe he will be able to keep this up all season? Perez is a very streaky hitter and I would assume at some point we are going to start seeing a lull in his numbers. That being said, I think even with that he can still keep himself with numbers higher than what he accumulated last year. Is he going to hit .300 all year? Probably not, but the power numbers could be here to stay. The bigger concern for Kansas City is to keep Perez rested and make sure they are not over-working him behind the plate. The Royals have a solid backup receiver in Drew Butera and with Kendrys Morales slumping much of this season, it seems like a solid idea to give Salvy’s knees a rest and start him at DH occasionally. More than anything, Kansas City needs Salvy to stay healthy the rest of the year for them to stay in contention in the American League Central. Perez has long been regarded as one of the top defensive catchers in the game and rightfully so; but now, outside of a Jonathan Lucroy or Buster Posey, he is making the case as one of the best all-around catchers, period. Perez is as special as they get and I really hope Kansas City fans are savoring what they have with him. If he keeps this up, the hardware won’t be stopping anytime soon.
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.
With only two weeks until Opening Day, we are getting closer and closer to finding out just who will be the final survivors for the Kansas City Royals opening 25, since a few spots are still open. The Royals will probably start the season with four bench players and to this point a couple players seem fairly close to locks. One spot is the backup to catcher Salvador Perez and my money is on Drew Butera beating out Tony Cruz for that spot. Another spot is probably Christian Colon’s to have, as he would be the backup infielder assuming Omar Infante starts the year as the primary second baseman. That would leave two spots and there is a good chance Reymond Fuentes will win one of them, as he has had an excellent spring so far, hitting .375 with two home runs, 6 RBI’s and an OPS of 1.191. This would leave one open bench spot to divide between Clint Barmes, Travis Snider and Whit Merrifield.
Merrifield is the most interesting name of the group this spring, as he has bounced around the Royals minor league system since he was drafted in 2010, and is probably past the point of being referred to as a prospect. But what he has done is gain twenty pounds this offseason as he tried to gain bulk on his frame and give himself a greater opportunity to make the Royals roster. The 27 year old began his college career playing the outfield but over the years has learned to play all four infield positions as well, which he did in 2015 for the Royals AAA team in Omaha( A year ago, he played 57 games at second base, 35 in left field, 15 at third base and 14 at first base). This versatility is what gives him an edge and could punch his ticket for a roster spot to start the year.
It also doesn’t hurt that he has had a good spring, hitting .389 with an RBI and an OPS of 1.151. The Royals are known to keep a small bench so they can stash more arms in the bullpen, so a player like Merrifield would be invaluable, as he could fill in almost anywhere on the diamond other than behind the dish. He appears to be the kind of player manager Ned Yost loves, a scrapper who does the little things like moving runners over, bunting and stealing a base or two. It’s not a lock that Merrifield will win a roster spot this spring, but it has to be intriguing to Kansas City management to have a player like Merrifield stowed away for future use.
Super utility players have become all the rage in baseball the last few years and the Royals have employed a few of the bigger name ones over the years. There was Ben Zobrist last year, Emilio Bonifacio in 2013 and before that Willie Bloomquist was plopped into that role in 2009 and 2010. Merrifield might not get the notoriety that those players have, but the Royals don’t need him to have his name up in lights. They just need him to fill whatever role is needed for that day and time. Those seven meals a day he threw down this past winter might give him the major league job he has coveted for years now…and the Royals could be better because of it.
We are creeping into the second week of December and very little has occurred with the Kansas City Royals transactions page since they wrapped up the World Series. It’s a bit odd at this point in the offseason to see Dayton Moore so quiet after all those years of moves being made within the first week of the end of the season. All has been quiet until the other day, when the Royals made a few notable moves to add to the ledger.
Let’s start with closer Greg Holland being non-tendered a contract. This wasn’t a shocking move, as it had been discussed almost immediately after everyone found out Holland would be having Tommy John surgery and would be missing the 2016 campaign. The good news is that this move was purely financial, as the Royals didn’t want to be on the hook for close to $10 million next year for a pitcher who would be sitting on the sideline. This also means the Royals are open to re-signing Holland to a new deal, possibly a two year deal that would be low for this upcoming season while much larger salary for year two of the deal, probably with a bunch of incentives. I would say the chance of Kansas City and Holland coming to agreement on a new deal is pretty good, as both parties want to stay together and understand why this business decision was made. I would expect Holland back in the fold fairly soon and hopefully will make his Royals return in 2017.
The other move made by Kansas City was acquiring backup catcher Tony Cruz from St. Louis. On first glance this seemed like a move designed to make him the new backup to Salvador Perez while pushing Drew Butera(yes, I almost just wrote ‘Sal’ instead of ‘Drew’; his father would be proud) out the non-tendered door. But then the Royals offered Drew a contract, leaving the Royals with two options to play in about 30 games next year(if that). So it would appear from the outside that these two catchers will be battling in Spring Training to see who heads North with the team, and who ventures to Omaha(possibly; last year’s AAA catcher, Francisco Pena, was claimed by Baltimore). So who would be the better option?
Offensively this might be a bit of a push. Butera last year had a line of .196/.252/.252 with an OPS+ of 40 while Cruz had a line of .204/.235/.310 with an OPS+ of 47. Over their careers, Butera has an OPS+ of 41 while Cruz’s is 58. Cruz looks to be the better hitter, even if by just the smallest of margin’s. It does appear Cruz has more pop in his bat(.310 to .266 career slugging percentage) while Butera seems to be the more patient hitter(Cruz has averaged a tad over 6 walks a year over his career, Butera almost 8 per year). Offensively, neither one of these guys are going to earn their job with their work with the bat, so let’s check the glove work.
Looking at dWAR, Butera has quite the advantage over Cruz, 2.3 to -0.4. It seems as if Butera is the better defender, which was my initial thought before I started breaking down the stats. I was actually surprised though; Butera only has about 45 more career games than Cruz, despite Butera being 3 years older than Cruz. It also appears as if their offense drags them down, as both have negative career WAR; -1.7 to -2.8, Butera over Cruz. Now I can say I haven’t seen as much of Cruz’s work, but I’ve long enjoyed Butera’s work behind the plate, where he is known for his defense and good game calling skills. I’m not 100% for sure where Royals management head is on the backup catcher situation, but I know manager Ned Yost(a former catcher) prefers his backup to be solid defensively. It would appear if that was the case again this spring, you will see Butera backing up Perez. I wouldn’t mind keeping Cruz down in AAA if he is open to that, and once again, I’m not entirely for sure what the Royals braintrust is thinking. If I had to make a guess, this move was purely for depth, which is never a bad move for any team.
So nothing major has occurred yet for the Royal roster, but the Winter Meetings are this week, so something is bound to happen. There is already talk that Kansas City is close to a deal with Chris Young and word crept out today that they have interest in lefty Scott Kazmir. So more than likely, expect something to happen this week in Nashville. This news also brightened my day today:
#Royals have not given up on re-signing Alex Gordon. Still waiting for OF market to fully define.