Owning the Royals

Last week it was announced that longtime Minnesota Twins stalwart Joe Mauer would be retiring after 15 seasons in the big leagues. When it became official, a small smirk spread across my face but not for the reasons you think. 

No, I don’t hate Joe Mauer; in fact it’s quite the opposite. I have immense respect for Mauer and everything he did in baseball. The smirk wasn’t even about Twins fans, as I have no issues with them either. I even feel their pain when it comes to Joe, since this is probably going to be eerily similar to what happens next year involving Alex Gordon.

Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

No, I smirked because when I picture Mauer, I picture him getting another hit off of a Kansas City pitcher. I know it isn’t the truth, but it feels like he got a hit off of the Royals every time he came to the plate against them. So no, he isn’t hitting 1.000 off of Kansas City for his entire career, but it felt like it. 

It felt like it because Mauer owned the Royals. He was that guy who came up to the plate and in my brain I instantly thought ‘he’s going to get a hit right here’; more times than not he did. Lifetime against the Royals, Joe hit .319/.401/.442 with an OPS+ of 104.

Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

But this got me to wondering what other players have owned Royals pitching over the years. I’m sure most of us can rattle off a few player’s names that always appeared to do damage against Kansas City, but will the numbers actually agree with our initial perceptions? 
  

I decided to set a baseline. I went with batters with 180 or more plate appearances against the Royals, since that would show a more consistent level of sustained success. While it might not be everyone’s first choice for determining success, I started with batting average:

Credit: Baseball-Reference.com

Based on our criteria, Dustin Pedroia has the highest batting average against the Royals for batters with 180 plate appearances or more. Out of active players, Mike Trout is 9th, Jacoby Ellsbury is 10th (yes, he is technically still active), Adrian Beltre 19th and Erick Aybar 20th. A few other notables include Michael Brantley, Francisco Lindor and Ian Kinsler.

How about the most hits against Kansas City pitching?

Baseball-Reference.com

While Hall of Famer Rod Carew leads the pack here, it’s interesting to see Victor Martinez right behind, trailing by only 11 hits. It makes more sense when you remember that Martinez played almost his entire career in the American League Central, playing for Cleveland or Detroit for 15 of his 16 seasons. 

Mauer sits in third here, followed by two Paul’s, Molitor and Konerko. When I started down this path, Konerko was one of the names that instantly popped in my head, so no real surprise here.

Credit: Associated Press

  Let’s move on to home runs:

Baseball-Reference.com

Alex Rodriguez is a surprising winner in this category, hitting 50 career bombs against Royals pitching. Not surprising is Jim Thome in second with 49 and the dreaded Paul Konerko in third with 45 homers. For active players, Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Santana are tied with 27 long-shots, although one has moved on to the National League and the other has begun the downside of his illustrious career. 

In a bit of a shock, Grady Sizemore hit 25 career home runs off of Kansas City while posting an OPS+ of 131. Maybe it’s just slipping my mind but I don’t remember Sizemore being that much of a thorn in the Royals side.

Credit: Ron Vesely

Time now for the most total bases:

Baseball-Reference.com

‘Royal Killer’ Paul Konerko compiled the most total bases against Kansas City at 418. He is followed by Cal Ripken Jr. with 410 and then A-Rod with 378. With Martinez and Mauer retiring, the highest total on this list for an active player is Cabrera with 322, followed then by notorious villain Ian Kinsler with 263.    

That leads us to the highest tOPS+ all-time against the Royals:

Baseball-Reference.com

And the winner is….Gerald Laird? Okay, I figured at some point we would run across a name that came out of left field and we just got it. He is followed by a couple other odd names in Chris Singleton and Craig Monroe.

Diving deeper down the list, the highest active player is Dustin Pedroia at 147, and a few more notches down you get Erick Aybar at 145 and Carlos Santana at 144. With tOPS+ being an adjusted stat and not a cumulative one, it makes sense it would be the one with players that wouldn’t just pop into your head. But considering we are basing this off of more than 180 plate appearances, it is still impressive at what Laird, Singleton and Monroe did against the Royals over the years.


Credit: AP Photo/Genevieve Ross

Finally, a look at the total offensive contribution with Runs Created:

Baseball-Reference.com

A-Rod had the most Runs Created all-time against Kansas City with 170.9, followed by Jim Thome and Frank Thomas. Mauer is fifth with 145.4 and Konerko right behind him with 144.7. To find an active hitter you have to travel all the way down to 18th on the list, where Miguel Cabrera sits with  118.9.

In fact the next active player that currently resides in the AL Central (and that doesn’t mean current free agents, like Michael Brantley) is Jason Kipnis at 81 with 72.8. It looks like there will have to be a new crop of players to replace the guys like Mauer and Martinez who have been pouncing on Kansas City pitching for years. 


Credit: Brian Davidson/Getty Images 

So what did this experiment teach us? For one, it shows us that we don’t need numbers to know that Mauer, Konerko, Martinez, etc., were abusing the Royals all these years. The eye test didn’t betray us in this regard.  

It has also showed us what the unbalanced schedule has done to skew the numbers on this list. While it’s understandable why MLB has moved away from the balanced schedule, you do wonder if some of these numbers would be different if each team didn’t play the other teams in their division 19 times each year.  

Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The perfect example is the total hits against the Royals. Would Victor Martinez only be 11 hits behind Rod Carew if they had the balanced schedule? Probably not. Could you imagine if Carew, after all those years with the Twins and Angels (who were in the American League West with Kansas City at the time) had played the Royals 19 times a season? It’s all a matter of preference, but the shift in the schedule does make one wonder what might have been.

What it does probably tell us is that the Royals having a lot of bad pitching over the last 20 years probably helped some of these numbers as well. It also tells me I won’t miss watching Joe Mauer spray hits into the outfield against Kansas City. Joe is a true baseball treasure, but he also owned a portion of the Royals, whether David Glass was aware of it or not.

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Second City Showdown: Royals Win Series from White Sox

Kansas City Royals' Lorenzo Cain, right, celebrates with teammate Eric Hosmer after hitting a solo home run during the 13th inning of a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox, Saturday, July 18, 2015, in Chicago. The Royals won 7-6. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

With the All-Star break in the rear-view mirror, it was time for the first place Kansas City Royals to return to action on the field. The Royals were the best team in the first half of the season, and it begged the question: would Kansas City continue their winning ways, or would they stumble in the second half? If the opening series was any indication, we should all be preparing to buy tickets for games being played in October. Hey, who’s buying the confetti for the parade? Let’s go ahead and look at the first series of the second half between the Royals and the Chicago White Sox, a series that saw Kansas City win, 3 games to 1.

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Series MVP: Lorenzo Cain

I would like to thank Lorenzo Cain for making this an easy pick that took no thought on my part. There was no bigger offensive force for the Royals in these four games than Mr. Cain. Lorenzo went 7 for 17 in this series, with 2 home runs, 3 RBI’s, 4 total extra base hits, 2 walks and the game winning hit in Saturday’s 13 inning affair:

There has been a lot of talk of late that Cain should be in the conversation for MVP this season and it is hard to argue with that, especially when you look at his numbers:

As much as he is worthy of the talk, it is not what he is focused on at the moment:

Within the last month Cain has raised his average 20 points, his slugging percentage 57 points and overall has elevated his game this year, as I noted on Friday:

He also did this at the All-Star game this past week:

Last year’s playoffs were Cain’s coming out party. 2015 so far has been Cain letting everyone know he is a force to be reckoned with. He is for real, folks, and still has room to grow. There is still a ceiling for Cain to reach. Think about that for a minute.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Danny Duffy

To this point in the season we have all been waiting for Danny Duffy to ‘step up’. The question has been ‘who is the real Danny Duffy?’ and ‘was last year a fluke?’. Well, it looks like last year’s version of Duffy showed up on Sunday, as he pitched his best game of the year when the Royals needed him the most. Duffy went 8+ innings(he pitched to one batter in the 9th inning), giving up 6 hits and 1 run while while walking 1 and striking out 4. In fact, the best part of Duffy’s performance was his ability to get ahead in the count and let his defense take care of the outs. Duffy produced 16 ground balls and 8 fly balls, helping produce a season best game score of 69. In fact, Duffy had a number of firsts in this game, including the first time he has ever pitched into the 8th inning. I think you can even make the case that it was the best start of his career, rivaling his start last year against Baltimore:

It’s been obvious that the Royals need the rotation to perform better for them to be a force in the playoffs(if they reach them). Having Danny Duffy perform like he has since his return from the disabled list(31 innings in 5 starts, 2.27 ERA and an opponents batting average of .259) would help the Royals in a huge way and make it to where they won’t need to go out and acquire another arm for the stretch drive.

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They Call Him ‘Shortstop Jesus’

A big part of the Royals success these last two seasons has been the stellar defense that Kansas City puts on the field on a daily basis. A big part of that improvement was when the Royals traded Zack Greinke to Milwaukee and got back two top notch defensemen in Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar. I have been a Escobar supporter pretty much since day one and this series was no different, as Escobar showed why he is one of the top defensive shortstops in baseball:

 

 

 

I really hope this is the year Escobar wins a Gold Glove, but I know there is some healthy competition in the likes of JJ Hardy and Erick Aybar. The national recognition can only help his case at this point.

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 17:  Alcides Escobar #2 of the Kansas City Royals yells for throw to second base as Adam Eaton #1 of the Chicago White Sox is safe during the seventh inning on July 17, 2015 at U.S. Cellular Field  in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

There was more that went on in this series. Let’s take a look at some news and notes from a busy three days in Chicago:

  • It was great to see all the Royal love earlier in the week for the All-Star game. Watching Escobar get a hit, Wade Davis pitch a scoreless frame and Lorenzo Cain make his case for game MVP really gave me the warm and fuzzies. I wasn’t even bothered by Mike Moustakas striking out against Aroldis Chapman. Hey, he fouled off a 102 MPH pitch; that almost feels like a moral victory. Hey, it was even great to see Rusty Kuntz get a little bit of camera time. Let’s hope moving forward that the All-Star game is a regular thing for the Royal blue.
  • To start off the second half, the Royals are the Las Vegas favorites to win the World Series:

I can’t even fathom the last time this Kansas City team was the favorite to win it all. They still have to go out and win the games, but right now it is looking good that we could be seeing another ‘Blue October’.

  • John Lamb was called up on Friday to be the 26th man in the doubleheader:

Considering where Lamb was just a year ago, this is a great thing to see. Lamb has had a good year down in AAA and with the way the Royals rotation has been performing as of late, it wouldn’t be a horrible idea to give him a start or two. I’m not saying Lamb is the answer, but he couldn’t be worse than some of the others Kansas City has been trotting out to the mound as of late.

  • There has been a lot of talk of late about what the Royals should do before the trade deadline, and even more talk about big names like Johnny Cueto and David Price. I like both guys, but for two months I’m not for sure they are worth what the organization would be giving up. I would prefer Kansas City go after a lower level starter, like Mike Leake of Cincinnati and also go after another outfielder to make up for the loss of Alex Gordon(and Alex Rios’ sub-par play). Cameron Maybin of Atlanta and Gerardo Parra of Milwaukee are both good fits for the Royals, as they are great defensive outfielders that aren’t horrible hitters. I would really love to get Ben Zobrist, but that seems like a bit of a long shot for this club. What is definite is that it doesn’t always take a true no. 1 starter to get you through the playoffs:

  • Since it has become a regular thing now, Mike Moustakas is just two hits away from reaching his 2014 total for hits. Moose currently sits at 95 and he accumulated 97 hits all of last year. There are a number of good candidates for Comeback Player of the Year (I see you, Albert) but to me Moustakas has improved the most from last year. Look where he was at a year ago and where he is now, and it is literally like night and day.
  • I’ve given Alex Rios a lot of grief this year(and most of it deserved) but he did put together a good series to kick off the second half. For these four games, Rios hit .385/.500/.692 with a home run, a double and 3 walks. With Gordon out, the Royals really need to get some production from Rios and this weekend was a nice re-start for him to show he deserves to have his name written into the lineup every day.

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 17:  Greg Holland #56 of the Kansas City Royals (L) is congratulated by Drew Butera #9 after a win over the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on July 17, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Royals defeated the White Sox 4-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Tweets of Royalty

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Another series win for the Royals means they extend their lead in the American League Central as the Pittsburgh Pirates come to town to play three. I’m looking forward to this series, as I am a fan of a number of Pittsburgh players(McCutchen, Marte) and have long considered Pittsburgh to be a lot like the Royals in the way they play. It also is a big week for the Royals, as they play three teams who have a good shot at making the playoffs(Pittsburgh, St. Louis for one game, then Houston). It should be a fun time at ‘The K’ this week and I will be in attendance at one of the games this week. If the offense can keep rolling, we could be seeing a fun weekend in Kansas City. All in all, this series against Chicago kicked off the second half the right way and hopefully this Royals train keeps on rolling.

 

 

 

Alcides Escobar: All-Star?

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It’s amazing what a year can do. Last year at this time we were wondering what had happened to Alcides Escobar’s offense. Was the Royals shortstop just pressing? Was the loss of Kevin Seitzer hurting him? Or was 2012 a fluke? It was apparent ‘Shortstop Jesus‘ had to change something about his hitting approach before reporting to Arizona for spring training. Sure, Escobar is dynamic on defense and that alone would almost assure his spot in the lineup. But if Esky continued to lack offensively, it would only be a matter of time until the Royals started looking for different options. Luckily, he promised a more patient approach at the plate this spring and so far he has delivered. 2012 was a career year for him offensively, but so far he is challenging that this year. But is he hitting good enough to earn him an All-Star spot? Let’s take a look.

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Let’s start with what at this point is a pretty well known fact; Derek Jeter will be at the All-Star game and will probably start. Yes, his numbers won’t justify it, but sometimes it isn’t about the numbers(I know, it’s weird to hear me say that). So Jeter will take up one slot for shortstops, which will probably leave two open slots. I have found four candidates for those two slots who are having good enough seasons to warrant consideration: Escobar, Alexei Ramirez of the White Sox, Erick Aybar of the Angels and Xander Bogaerts of the Red Sox. All four players are having outstanding offensive and defensive seasons and seem to be the elite of the American League this year. In all honesty, none are bad candidates for the midsummer classic, but like always, not all will go.

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So I went to the ‘RoyalTron 2000′(or I just looked up stats from Fangraphs, Baseball Reference and ESPN) and took a look at the American League shortstops and where they rank statistically. I figured to go with more basic stats for the most part(Runs, Hits, Batting Average, On-base percentage, OPS, WAR, and Runs Created), otherwise I figured I would be swimming in stats and not find my way out of that rabbit hole. The first thing that was almost immediately pointed out was that Alexei Ramirez should be a lock for a spot. Ramirez is currently sitting at either first or second in all of those categories except for runs(in which he is in third) and most have him sitting in first. So Ramirez should be a lock for an All-Star spot.

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This will leave one spot open for Escobar, Aybar and Bogaerts to fight over. Bogaerts placements are the most interesting, as half of the stats have him in fifth or seventh place, including seventh place in WAR. But he also ranks first in both OBP and OPS and second in RC. Those seem to point out his offensive potential that Boston sees in him and are great numbers for a guy in his rookie season. Also, those stats are probably the most important out of all of the ones I picked(other than WAR) and hold a bit more weight than the others. So despite his lower rankings in hits, runs and batting average, it is showing that Bogaerts is getting on base at a good clip and hitting for some power as well.

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So what are Aybar and Escobar bringing to the table? Aybar is ranking in second or third place 5 of the 7 categories, placing second in WAR and third in OPS and RC. His defense has definitely helped bump up his WAR number, despite being fifth in OBP. Escobar meanwhile is ranking second or third in 4 out of the 7 categories, including third in WAR and OBP. I would say at this point Escobar and Aybar are pretty even, although the defensive metrics seem to favor Aybar a bit more than Alcides, which would explain a higher WAR on his part.

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So between the three, who should get the final spot? It’s a tough choice, one in which you can make arguments for all three players. Fangraphs broke it down even farther, picking their team based on WAR(outside of Jeter, who they acknowledge as well will be there) and pick Aybar and Bogaerts. I’m a bit surprised that Ramirez was slighted by them, since he has the best WAR of all the shortstops in the American League. The argument for Bogaerts is based on his offensive production, which is notable and Aybar gets some help from his glove. It would appear that in spite of his improved numbers across the board(and you can glimpse those pearly numbers for yourself right here)that Escobar will be the one on the outside looking in, as either Aybar or Bogaerts will claim that final spot at shortstop.

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The positive to take from all of this is that there is a serious discussion and argument for Alcides to make the American League All-Star roster. His batting this season has improved enough that his defense isn’t the only thing mentioned when his name is brought up, even by rival executives. As a fan, I couldn’t be happier. Escobar has been a personal favorite of mine since his acquisition and I was personally rooting for him this past off-season. With Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez and Greg Holland the probable picks for the Royals All-Star’s again this year, it appears Esky will be on the outside looking in. Don’t worry though; we will always have these fantastic plays to remind us how good of a shortstop Escobar really is.

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