The Hosmer Enigma

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The first half of the 2016 season was glorious for Eric Hosmer. Hosmer was the steady force of the Kansas City Royals offense, putting up a line of .299/.355/.476 with 13 home runs, 49 RBI’s and an sOPS+ of 124. He was more than deserving for his start in the MLB All-Star game and it really seemed as if he had finally reached his true potential. Even I, who had wavered on Hosmer throughout the years, was finally believing that we were seeing the true Hos and he was past his yearly “summer swoon”. What is the “summer swoon” you ask? Every year, Hosmer would go through a stretch where he would look lost at the plate, his mechanics would be all out of whack and his numbers would start to take a nosedive. If you only follow the Royals on a national level(and by that I mean only follow the team in October) you have no clue about this, because the national media never discusses this. But it’s a real thing, and it has been rearing it’s head over the last six weeks.

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We all remember Hosmer’s home run in the All-Star game, a shot that seemed like a precursor to the second half of the season. Only problem was that Eric didn’t get the notice. So far in the second half of the season, Hosmer is hitting .203/.261/.333 with 4 home runs, 20 RBI’s and an sOPS+ of 63. Those numbers might even be generous, since he has hit home runs in back to back games this week, which would raise his slugging and production totals. He has struck out 26 times in just 32 games in the second half, 36% of his first half total of 72. He has been doing it to himself, as he has the highest ground ball percentage in baseball:

61% for a guy who is supposed to be a middle of the order bat, someone who should be providing the team with a higher average of extra base hits. In comparison, Mike Trout has a ground ball rate of 39%, Mookie Betts 42%, and Jose Altuve 41.9%. Now I know I used three of the best hitters in the American League, but I wanted to prove a point. Those numbers should be the ones that Hosmer strives for, especially if he wants to be considered a top shelf player. The lowest percentage of ground balls that he has had in his career is 49.7%, and that was all the way back in his rookie season, 2011. Over the last few years this rate has hovered in the lower 50’s until the big increase this season.

Eric Hosmer
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

During this latest swoon, Hosmer’s exit velocity has taken a dip as well:

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As the chart shows, Hosmer’s highest peak was right around the All-Star break and since has struggled to climb back up to his peak levels. This past week has seen a big spike(I’m sure the two homers have helped) and there does seem to be a four-week increase, which is a positive sign. One of the big issues that Hosmer has incurred this year is dealing with the inside pitch. Hosmer has seen an increase of off-speed pitches over the last month or so and justly is swinging at a higher percentage of those pitches:

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The interesting part is that he has still posting the second highest hard hit % of his career, but also the second highest soft hit % as well. To me, this reads as someone who is either going for all or nothing at the plate.

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What is most interesting with Hosmer is how streaky a hitter he has been over the years. Since 2012 he has had a stretch each season where he struggles; that within itself isn’t too shocking, since most players have stretches of inconsistency. Hosmer’s though are periods of just looking lost at the plate. September 2015: .239/.328/.410. June 2014: .195/.240/.292. March/April 2013: .250/.337/.306. Sept/Oct 2012: .179/.264/.295. Even in his rookie season of 2011, he posted a rough June line of .253/.312/.293. Early in his career these stretches could be chalked up to growing pains; for a younger player it is fairly common, as they deal with major league pitching. The concerning part is that this seems to be consistent each season. During those stretches, it appears that his mechanics are out of whack and there is no consistency with his swing. One subject that has been noted by the Royals broadcast as of late has been what Hosmer does with his legs as he gets ready for the pitch to arrive. Part of the time he is using a toe tap:

The toe tap seems to steady him quite a bit and honestly, he has seen the most success this past month with the toe tap. But other times he likes to employ a leg kick:

The leg kick sometimes works, but it also becomes a timing mechanism and doesn’t appear to be as consistent. Who knows what hitting coach Dale Sveum has told him, but it would seem that the toe tap helps with his timing and is more consistent.

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What makes this of greater importance is the fact that Hosmer will be a free agent after the 2017 season and is hoping to garner a huge contract. How huge you ask? Jon Heyman discussed that last month and came away with an interesting answer:

Hosmer’s camp isn’t tipping their hand, but Royals brass, which stepped up with a $70-milllion deal for free agent pitcher Ian Kennedy and $72 million for another core star Alex Gordon, seems to have an idea Hosmer could be seeking $20-million plus per year on a 10-year deal.

It seems hard to fathom that a player with the only accolades on his resume being Gold Glove winner and one All-Star game appearance could get a $200 million dollar contract. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t imagine a world where a player who has only 10.0 bWAR and a slightly above average OPS+ of 107 over six years would get a king’s ransom. But there is also this little nugget-Scott Boras is his agent. So of course, there is a Boras spin on Hosmer:

“The premium associated with 27-year-olds are very different than metrics associated with 32-year-olds, especially when it’s a widely known Gold Glove franchise-type player who also has the ability to perform at extremely high levels in big situations and on big stages. You’d have everything you’d want in a free agent Eric Hosmer.”

I’m not saying Hosmer doesn’t deserve a big contract, but it also feels like there should be a disclaimer note on him before a team decides to purchase him.

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It appears Hosmer might be coming out of his funk this week, as he has been 4 for 17 with 2 home runs and 5 RBI’s, including a go-ahead homer on Wednesday night. The Royals are riding a hot streak of late and look to be gearing up for another run at a playoff spot, as they are 8-2 over their last ten, 6.5 games out of a wild card spot. If that is to occur, they need Eric to perform at the level he has the last couple October’s. Hosmer has had sporadic success over the years and every time he rides a hot streak it makes us wonder if he is finally living up to potential. If not, he is still a very good ballplayer who has earned a starting spot on a big league club. But if he really wants to cash in next offseason, he is going to have to show that consistency that teams cherish. Rather than taking two steps forward then taking two steps back, it’s time for Eric Hosmer to take two steps forward and don’t look back.

Minnesota Love

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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.

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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.

New York Yankees v Minnesota Twins
(Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Tapped Potential

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Back in May of 2011, Eric Hosmer made his major league debut for the Kansas City Royals with expectations soaring through the roof. The world was his oyster and the belief was that Hosmer had the potential to be a future middle of the order run producer and possibly even future MVP candidate. Unfortunately, life and baseball don’t normally follow a movie script. Hosmer would struggle mightily in 2012 and would be up and down offensively from 2013 to 2015. Defensively he would accumulate a few Gold Gloves at first base and would be a big part of two Royals World Series teams. He had built up a nice career but maybe not the one everyone was hoping for. Luckily, sometimes it just takes a bit of time for a baseball player to figure things out, which is what has happened for Eric Hosmer in 2016.

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To this point in the new campaign, Hosmer has looked like the offensive force most of us expected upon his arrival. This year he is batting .311/.367/.522 with 8 home runs, 21 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 140 (or a wRC+of 145 if you prefer that). He has already racked up 1.1 bWAR and has become a complete player. The lone knock on Hos had been a lack of power, or more to the point that he seemed to prefer an opposite field approach to driving a ball for power. Now, I am a proponent of hitting the ball to all fields, which Hosmer is still doing(30% of his hits to left, 30 to center and 38.9 to right) but there is also a time for driving the ball, especially with good pitch recognition. Hosmer has so far racked up 17 extra base hits out of his 50 hits, or 34% of the time. His ground ball percentage is up(58 from 52 last year) but his fly ball percentage is up as well(26 to 24). Add in an ISO of .211(up from .162 last year) and you have the making of a guy more fitted to hit in the middle of the order. So what do the numbers tell us?

MLB: World Series-Kansas City Royals at New York Mets
(Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY)

What it tells me is that Hosmer’s main approach (which has always been to hit according to the situation) hasn’t drastically changed, but his ability to lift the ball has improved. Hosmer’s hard hit percentage this year is up, 35 from last year’s 32.9 and his HR/FB percentage is way up, 23 to 15. Obviously there is a smaller sample size at this point in the season compared to 2015 but even a slight dip should keep his numbers above what he did last year. What is most impressive is the increase in Hosmer’s exit velocity this year. Not only has his exit velocity gone up but it has progressively gone up:

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Hosmer has an average exit velocity this year of 93.5 mph, compared to 90.4 mph in 2015. Many of his home runs have not been ‘barely shots’, as he has had some massive bombs this year like last week against Boston. It shows that Hosmer has been taking advantage of pitchers mistakes, something he wasn’t doing earlier in his career. The fact that he is but 26 years old really makes one wonder what he will be able to do when he actually enters the prime of his career.

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There is no way to tell whether or not Hosmer will be able to keep up this pace, especially since over his career he has been an extremely streaky hitter. Just looking at 2015, by month Hosmer had slugging percentage’s of .488, .520, .322, .577, .434, and .410. There is an over.250 percent difference between his best and worst month. For as steady and consistent as he has been this year, Hosmer has a history of going from the top of the mountain to the depths of the basement. The hope this year is that Hosmer has started figuring things out and won’t fall to the inconsistentcy of his earlier years. It’s just two months(yes, small sample size; take a drink) but so far this year he has slugged .506 and .542. Time will tell but his numbers are definitely potruding in the correct direction.

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The Royals count on Eric Hosmer for a number of items-clubhouse leadership, popular hairstyles, steady, Gold Glove award winning defense(even if the defensive metrics don’t always agree) and a run producing bat in the middle of their batting order. Over the years he hasn’t always lived up to that last one but this year he has been the rock in the middle of a questionable Royals offense. Hosmer will be a free agent after the 2017 season and he looks primed to cash in when the time comes. There is no way to tell if that means a longer stay in Kansas City or elsewhere, but he has picked an excellent time to improve on his value. He has taken that power potential and made it a reality, a consistency long-needed in Kansas City. Earlier in the year I thought Steve Balboni might have his single season home run mark(36) threatened by Mike Moustakas; now I’m wondering if maybe ‘Bye Bye’ Balboni should worry about both Moose and Hos. For Royals fans, this is a good problem to have.

The 2016 Kansas City Royals: Top of the Mountain

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Last year in my Kansas City Royals preview I asked this question after they came one game away from winning the World Series: “So now what?”. We got our answer, which was the Royals returning to the Series and winning the whole damn thing in just five games. The Royals last year had one goal on their mind and they were going to do everything in their power to reach that goal of being world champions. This Royals team didn’t listen to critics, analysts or even numbers when it came to reaching the top of the mountain. Now that the Royals have reached the pinnacle of the sport, the question now becomes ‘Can they repeat?’…and the answer might surprise you.

New York Mets v Kansas City Royals
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

I’m going to break down the Royals into segments, starting here with the starting rotation. In 2015, the rotation put up decent numbers but wasn’t the most reliable group of moundsmen in baseball. As a team, the Royals were 22nd in starters WAR, 24th in IP, 15th in LOB%, 9th in ERA, and 10th in FIP. The rotation was fronted by Edinson Volquez, who duplicated his WAR from 2014 in Pittsburgh and was the most reliable starter manager Ned Yost had. In fact, looking at his numbers, Volquez was very close to replicating his bounce back 2014 season and that is meant in the most positive of ways. Yordano Ventura was initially looked at as the ‘Ace’ last year but efficiency and maturity became an issue. Ventura still put up decent numbers(8.6 K/9, 3.57 FIP and 102 ERA+ over 163 innings) but there is hope that he can put up stellar numbers in this, his third big league season. New acquisition Ian Kennedy was acquired for one reason-eat innings. Kennedy had another poor season last year in San Diego(4.51 FIP, 85 ERA+) but he did strike out 9.3 batters per 9 innings and there is hope that with Kansas City’s defense and above average outfield defense his numbers will improve this year. Chris Young is returning for his second season in Kansas City and was a strong veteran presence in the Royals rotation last year. Young was exactly what the Royals needed, posting a a WHIP of 1.086, and an ERA+ of 135 over 123 innings. Young split time last year between the rotation and bullpen and will look to do the same this year. Rounding out the starting five is Kris Medlen, who returned last year at midseason from Tommy John Surgery. Medlen only threw 58 innings last year, but more is expected from him this year with hope he will return to something resembling his 2012-2013 form. Medlen was acquired more for this year than last, so what he truly can do post surgery is likely to be seen this year. The Royals have some depth this year in case of injury and struggles, with Mike Minor being a possibility after June. They also have Danny Duffy and Dillon Gee stowed away in the bullpen for now(and more than likely they will break the glass for emergency at some point this year), with a few guys in the minors a possibility as well. Kyle Zimmer’s name has been long rumored as contributing this year, and time will tell if he is physically and mentally ready for the big time. A guy like Miguel Almonte is also an outside shot, but there is probably a greater chance he sees time out of the bullpen this year.

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Speaking of the bullpen, the Royals are returning a large part of the core of a pen that has been a force in baseball for a number of years. Last year the Royals were 5th in baseball in relievers WAR, 17th in K/9, 1st in LOB%, 2nd in ERA, and 10th in FIP. Wad Davis returns for his third year in the bullpen for Kansas City, following two of the greatest seasons a relievers has ever tallied. Over the last two seasons, Davis has accumulated 139 innings, striking out 187 batters while posting an ERA of 0.97, an FIP of 172, and an ERA+ of 418(league average is 100). The one thing that will be different is that this will be his first full year as the Royals closer which means there will be a new bridge to Wade in the 8th inning. That bridge looks to be former Royals closer Joakim Soria, returning to Kansas City after stints in Texas, Detroit and Pittsburgh. Last year Soria racked up the most appearances of his career while posting his lowest ERA and highest ERA+ since 2010. Kelvin Herrera will also return to help setup and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Luke Hochevar used as well in that position. Gee and Duffy will be the longmen out of the pen, with both occasionally starting while Chien-Ming Wang resurrected his career this spring and will also be used out of the bullpen. The great thing about the Royals is that there are more arms ready to go in the minors, as guys like Scott Alexander, Brian Duensing, Matt Strahm, Alec Mills and Brian Flynn could all see action this year. Even starters like Almonte and Zimmer could be used in relief at some point. This is the deepest part of the Royals team and is so good that it makes the Royals starters only have to go 5-6 innings a start if necessary to hand it over to the biggest strength the Royals have.

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One thing that has to be mentioned here is that the Royals pitching numbers(both starters and relievers) wouldn’t be so good if not for the Royals incredible defense. Last year the Royals had the highest defensive rating in baseball, the 2nd most defensive runs saved,  and the highest UZR. If you want to know the real reason the Royals have excelled these last two years, it’s because of the bullpen and the defense. The Royals currently employ three returning Gold Glove winners from 2015(Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez) while also having Alex Gordon patrolling left(a four time Gold Glove winner) and Lorenzo Cain in center, two of the best defensive players at their positions. Throw in above average defenders all around the diamond(Mike Moustakas at third, Omar Infante at second) and a right field platoon of above average outfielders(Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando) and you have a team with above average defense at every position. This team was specifically built this way and has given the Royals an unfair advantage for a number of years. I would expect more of the same from the Royals ‘D’ in 2016.

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That leaves us with the offense, which took a big leap forward in 2015. Kansas City is returning 8 of the 9 starters in their lineup this year so they are hoping for similar output as they saw last year from a number of players who elevated their game. Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Kendrys Morales and Lorenzo Cain all improved on their 2014 offensive seasons which helped the Royals offense be a bit more potent last year. The team ranked 5th in offensive WAR, 5th in stolen bases, 7th in runs scored, 1st in lowest strikeout %, 11th in BABIP, 11th in OBP, and 10th in wRC+. The Royals are infamously known as a team that doesn’t walk or hit many home runs, which shows up in the totals; they had the worst walk % in baseball, 24th in home runs but 11th in sluggening percentage. Kansas City is smart to play to their strengths offensively, which they did to a ‘t’ last year  but there are a few areas they can improve on. Alcides Escobar struggled for a good portion of 2015, but could see a jump in his age 29 season, as he has shown a pattern of improving on offense in even years. Last year, both Omar Infante and Alex Rios ended the year with negative Wins Above Replacement, and the Royals are hoping to improve at both positions this year. Infante is back, and for almost the first time as a Royal, is healthy. Infante won’t walk much and probably won’t produce like he did for Detroit in 2013, but an improvement would help his cause and not make the Royals search for a second baseman come July. Rios is gone, and in his place is the platoon of Dyson and Orlando, who both had positive offensive WAR in 2015. I’m not so sure the Royals will replicate their offensive numbers of a year ago(and I could see a scenario where Moustakas and Morales specifically take a slight slide down)but overall this should be a team who produces enough offensively to help the starting pitching while also putting extra pressure on opposing teams late in the game, which has become their specialty. It’s a cliche saying, but for the Royals it really is all about the little things.

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Kansas City’s coaching staff returns for another season and that includes the skipper, Ned Yost. Over the years I have been less than enamored with Yost and in some ways that hasn’t changed. What has changed is that since late in the 2014 season, Yost has learned to trust his players and just allow them to go out and play ball. In a lot of ways this has lead to the Royals success and I give major props to Ned for staying out of his own way and only making major in-play decisions when necessary. He’s also put more stock in what his coaches pass along to him, which tends to lean toward a team with more on-field success. Yost will never be my favorite, but these ballplayers have embraced him and as long as they have his trust, his voice will be heard. Hard to argue with the direction he has steered this Royals team in the last two years, so I am hoping for more of the same this year.

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So what is on tap for the Royals this year, or at least in my estimation? I lean toward another successful year, one in which the chance of postseason play is a very high possibility. It’s hard in today’s baseball landscape to win back to back World Series’, but I don’t doubt this team, not in the least. This is a team that has had the percentages and odds against them for two seasons now and they keep coming out on top. I figure nothing much changes this year, in that regard. You can bet against the Royals and say the numbers are against them; I won’t be the one betting against Kansas City. No, I think more success is just around the corner, as the Royals plan their next big comeback. Kansas City, Kansas City here they come…again!

   

Locking Up the Leader: Royals, Perez Agree on Extension

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For most baseball fans, certain players stick out. They aren’t hard to find, as they stand out as having a certain ‘it’ about them and it’s fairly obvious to point out when it is right in front of your eyes. Having ‘it’ basically means a player moves like he was born to play this game, whether it be running the bases, throwing a ball or vaporizing a pitch into the upper reaches of the bleachers. Then there are those players that have the look and feel of a leader, just by how they carry themselves. It was pretty obvious from day one that Salvador Perez was one of those leaders, a catcher who was the field general in every sense of the word. Early on in his career Royals management felt the same and locked him into a very team-friendly deal that gave Salvy a commitment and made it to where all he had to worry about was his play on the diamond. It was soon evident that this deal was below market value and the deal was almost a ‘steal’ for Kansas City. The rumblings this winter were that Perez and the Royals were trying to restructure a new deal that would compensate Perez while also extending the contract further into the future. The deal was finally struck on Wednesday, as Salvy looks to now be a Royal through the 2021 season.

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The new, restructured deal for Perez will start in 2017 and will keep him in Royal blue through his age 31 season:

Perez will be making a very team-friendly $2M this year, $3M in ’17, $7.5M in ’18, $10M in ’19; $13M in ’20-21. Curious about any options, since we all know Dayton Moore loves him some mutual options?

Add in a $6M bonus and the Royals showed Perez how much he is appreciated by the organization and restructured a contract that technically they didn’t have to do. This deal is a message to the nucleus of the Royals that will be eligible for free agency after the 2017 season: if you work with us and stay loyal, we will stay loyal to you. The deal makes sense for the team, as Salvy is a fan favorite, the on-field leader, gold glover and possibly even leader of the pitching staff. Perez’s true value is in his defense, as he is considered one of the top catchers in the game, a perennial All-Star who is not only an agile defender, but knows his pitching staff in and out. Add in the pop in his bat(a career high in home runs in 2015) and you have the makings of a future Royals Hall of Famer, a player who will probably receive a statue and his number retired once his career is over. If you meet a Royals fan that doesn’t love Salvy, then that person isn’t really a Royals fan. But the question has to be asked, a question I even hate mentioning because of the high status of Perez with Kansas City: Will Perez still be playing catcher by the end of this contract?

Division Series - Kansas City Royals v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - Game Two
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

This is an honest question that needs to be asked, because Perez’s workload over the last few seasons has been, well, ridiculous. In fact, Perez has caught more innings than any other catcher in baseball over the last three seasons:

As the tweet above from Craig says, this does not even include postseason totals, or the innings Perez caught at the end of the 2014 season when he was part of an all-star team that did a tour of Japan. That is a lot of innings for any catcher, yet alone one who has had a knee surgery. Perez is easily one of the most durable catchers in baseball and that has shown by looking at the game totals for him since 2013, where he played the fewest games at 138. The bad thing is that I have been saying for years that the Royals need to give Salvy a lot more rest than they give him. I talked about it as far back as 2013 and my opinion hasn’t changed since then. Now that the Royals have made a long-term investment in Perez, they need to treat him as such. That means Perez should get a break once a week and I mean a real break, where he doesn’t come into the game once the Royals get into the later innings. Over the years we have seen many a catcher break down from their overuse behind the dish and that has also limited their productivity. In fact, we probably have already seen the beginning of this decline.

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Back in 2011, everyone was surprised at how well Perez hit during his first stint in the big leagues, posting a line of .331/.361/.473 while putting up an OPS+ of 128. The thought at the time was that maybe Perez would be a better hitter than first thought. Since then he has been on a gradual decline, putting up an OPS+ the last two years of 91 and 89. His home run total reached a new high in 2015, but almost every other offensive stat saw a dip. It is very well known throughout baseball that Perez swings at almost everything, as Salvy was one of the leaders in swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone and had the lowest walk rate in the league. Is there a correlation between the amount of games played and the decline in his offensive stats? There is no way to 100% know for sure if there is, but one has to think so. Perez will probably never be a league leader in walks, but one wonders if he is able to get regular rest if that means some of his numbers will see an upward trajectory.

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The other note of interest with Perez’s offense concerns him being able to stay healthy. If he isn’t able to stay healthy, the Royals at some point will have to consider moving Perez to a different position, especially if they feel that crouching behind the plate on a regular basis is hurting his health. So if Salvy moves to another position, is he going to produce enough offense to warrant not only the money he is being paid but also the playing time he will receive? This is an easy answer right now, since what he brings to the table as a catcher outweighs the lack of productivity with his bat. But once he is unable to wear the shin guards, it is highly questionable that his bat will produce enough to warrant a place in the starting lineup. It’s not fun to broach this subject, but it is something Kansas City management has to take into consideration and probably did before they signed him to this new contract. In some ways, yes, he will have earned that spot just because of what he has done the last few years for the Royals. But if his offense continues to decline at the current rate, he could be hurting the team more than helping.

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Overall, this is about as positive a signing as the Royals could have, one that could benefit the team for years to come in many facets of the team. If anything, Royals management has shown a commitment to their players in a way that many organizations have ceased doing for years now. What this contract does is put Perez in the forefront of Kansas City’s plans past 2017 and into the next decade. To show this isn’t just about the money, Perez has shown himself to be a classy guy as well:

It’s kind of hard not to root for this guy. He is the real deal and probably will go down as one of the top five Royals of all-time. Yes, that is a lofty prediction but one that Perez is more than capable of upholding. More than anything, the message from this signing is that loyalty is rewarded with loyalty.

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.

 

 

 

Show Me Win: Royals Defeat State Rival Cardinals

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A couple times a year, the venom comes out in me. It’s a very specific time and it happens for a very specific reason. It happens because the Kansas City Royals play their state rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals. Look, I respect the Cardinals organization and think they do a top notch job with their scouting and development throughout their minor league system. It’s obvious by the way the team churns out player after player that they know what they are doing. No, my distaste for this team is purely on their fanbase. You know, the ones that one time about 20 years ago were appointed “the best fans in baseball” by The Sporting News, a company based in St. Louis. The thing is, even though many of the fans there are fine, great humans and very respectful(Hi Ryan!), there have many I have met that are far from it. Every fanbase has them(I know some Royals fans that I wish I didn’t know), but there seems to be more of a sense of entitlement from St. Louis fans. So it brightens my day a little bit more when the Royals beat the Cardinals. Yes, I get a bit more joy from it then I should. Luckily, we saw 2 wins from Kansas City in this series, even if one of them was a rain shortened affair. So how did it come about? Just read on…

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Series MVP: Kendrys Morales

I will admit it; I didn’t like the Royals signing Morales. I felt his 2014 was the beginning of his regression, not the fact that he had missed Spring Training and didn’t play until June. Sure, we are only 2 months into the season but so far Morales has made me look like a big dummy. All he has done so far in 2015 is lead the league in RBI’s, be near the top in doubles, put up an OPS+ of 135 and a WAR of 1.1(which is all offense at this point since he hasn’t played in the field yet). This series he started out with a bang, as he would club a 3 run homer in the 1st inning:

Morales would follow that up in the 3rd inning with another blast to right field:

So if you are keeping count at home, that is 5 runs for Morales, 0 for the Cardinals. Yep, that was all the offense the Royals would need that night, as they would go on to shutout the team with the best record in the National League. Morales would end up 4 for 9 against the Cardinals over the weekend, scoring 3 runs while raising his slugging percentage by 45 points. I’ve recently thought about who in this lineup would be missed the most if they ended up M.I.A. and if it isn’t Mike Moustakas(who the Royals did miss in the Texas series) then it would be Morales. Hopefully he keeps it up and he can continue making the case for American League comeback player of the year, which is seems like he is on track for.

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Pitching Performance of Series: Chris Young

When Young signed with the Royals in March, it seemed like the rotation was already set and Young would be the odd man out. The team explained early on that Young would be on the Opening Day roster, even if that meant he started the year as a long reliever. I was personally fine with this, as every team needs extra pitching at some point in the season and Young was coming off being named the ‘Comeback Player of the Year’ for Seattle. Young got his first start of the year on May 1 and since then he has probably been the Royals best starter. On Friday, Young continued his high level of performance with another stellar outing against the Cardinals. Young got 6 innings of work in, giving up 6 hits, and no runs while walking 2 and striking out 2. His ERA lowered to 0.78…and 0.40 in his 4 starts!

In my eyes Young deserves to stay in the rotation until he proves otherwise. With Danny Duffy scuffling and Jason Vargas on the disabled list, it is an easy answer; Young stays put. But I have a feeling at some point a harder decision will need to be made…and if Young is still worthy, he should still be holding onto a spot in the rotation.

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#ShortstopJesus

If you watch Alcides Escobar every day, from time to time you utter the phrase “I can’t believe he just did that”. It’s almost been a crime that Escobar has barely warranted attention to being nominated for a Gold Glove award(which he was last year), let along the fact that he still hasn’t won one. On Friday night Escobar showed why many of us refer to him as “Shortstop Jesus”:

Just amazing! Maybe it’s because the Royals had Yuniesky Betancourt for years at shortstop, but I feel like we should be thankful every day that we get to watch the golden defense of Escobar. Funny thing is, that wasn’t the only great play he would make in this series:

 

I talk very glowingly of Alex Gordon in left field, but I am almost as impressed with Escobar on a daily basis at shortstop. The Royals are lucky to have him locked in for awhile and to be a steady force in the infield. His offense might not always be perfect, but I have zero complaints about the defense. He is purely of another world.

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Now onto a few notes from this I-70 Series:

  • Danny Duffy was originally scheduled to start on Sunday but was pushed back due to shoulder stiffness:

I’m playing a bit of ‘Devil’s Advocate’ here but I would almost bet money he doesn’t start on Tuesday. My gut tells me Vargas will come back and Duffy will take his spot on the DL. I’m not saying Duffy isn’t injured, but it would give the Royals a reason to send him down to AAA(on a rehab assignment) while also not using any of his options. It isn’t the worse idea, with the way Duffy has been pitching as of late.

  • Rain shortened Saturday’s game, as the Royals ended up with a 6 inning win by the score of 3-2, thanks in large part to a 2 run Alex Gordon home run. I know some Cardinal fans felt jipped, but I ask this question: who were the Cardinals going to score off of-Herrera, Davis, or Holland? I will wait for your answer…
  • After Friday’s night game, the Royals had the best record in baseball:

I don’t know about anyone else, but this was about as good a feeling as a baseball fan can get. To go from laughingstock of the sport to best record in baseball in just a few short years? Yep, it feels pretty darn good!

May 22, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals second basemen Omar Infante (14) attempts a throw to first over St. Louis Cardinals base runner Peter Bourjos (8) during the seventh inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Tweets of Royalty

 

Kansas City Royals' Alex Gordon, right, celebrates with Kendrys Morales after Gordon hit a two-run home run during the second inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

A small part of me(fairly small) really badly wanted a sweep, but there will be no complaints from me with a series win over the Cardinals. If anything it is some good mojo headed into New York to take on the Yankees for 3 this week. This road trip should be fun, as there is the games in New York and then 3 in Chicago against the Cubs. Hopefully the starting pitching can continue their streak of good starts and the offense can look past Sunday’s game against St. Louis. We are almost in June and talking best record in baseball; it’s hard not to feel like someone should pinch me. A 4-2 road trip is optimal but 3-3 would probably keep Kansas City’s lead in the Central. So for another week, the eyes of baseball are on the Royals. As much as it is weird, it is nice as well. A guy could get used to this kind of attention!

 

 

 

Short But Sweep: Royals Vanquish Reds

May 19, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Cincinnati Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco (39) steps back from a close pitch in the eighth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals won 3-0.  Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

This week began interleague play for the Kansas City Royals, as they would welcome the Cincinnati Reds into town for a short 2 game series at ‘The K’. I’m not the biggest fan of interleague games(I like having the two leagues only meet up at the All-Star Game and the World Series) but at the same time it is always interesting to see teams come into town that we probably only see maybe once every three years. So would the Royals welcome their competitors from the National League nicely…or would Kansas City show them why they are in first place in the American League Central? I think it would be safe to say the Reds received the latter.

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Series MVP: Mike Moustakas

To say Mike Moustakas enjoyed feasting on Cincinnati pitching would probably be an understatement. Moose was only 6 for 8 this series, including back to back 3 hit games. Toss in 2 doubles, 2 RBI’s and a slugging percentage of 1.000 and you have a nice way to kick off interleague play. Just consider where we were at last year at this time: Moustakas was getting sent down to AAA as he was struggling mightily and there was nothing about his swing and his approach that was good. One year later we are talking about consecutive 3 hit games and the numbers are jumping off the page at just how good he has been:

It’s hard at this point not to get excited about what Moustakas is doing at the plate and in the field(where he is in 7th place in defensive WAR with .86). Through 37 games he is over half way to his hits and runs total, has a slash line of .342/.396/.503 and an OPS+ of 147. In fact the only numbers that seem down from last year is that he has been caught stealing twice this year after not getting caught at all in 2014…and since he is not a base stealer those numbers mean absolutely nothing. The 2015 version of Mike Moustakas(Moose 2.0?) is an all around complete hitter that has solidified the number 2 spot in the order and continually has been getting on base. It’s amazing how something as simple as learning to hit the ball to the opposite field would open up his game and make him an offensive force. Now we are only nearing the end of May, so there is still a number of months left in the season, but he has already surpassed my expectations of Moustakas being a ‘.250 hitter at best’. Another few weeks of this play and he will most definitely have punched his ticket to head to Cincinnati in July for the All Star Game.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Yordano Ventura

Yordano Ventura came into this year with a ton of hype and the mantle of being the Royals ace of the rotation. Unfortunately he has gone through some growing pains this year(trademark: Thicke, Alan) and outside of a few starts where he left early due to cramps he has mainly underperformed. Luckily, the Ventura we saw quite a bit of last year showed up on Tuesday night and threw a gem of a game. Ventura went 7 innings, allowing 4 hits and no runs while walking none and striking out 6. He threw 61% of strikes and for the most part let his infield do most of the dirty work, as he induced 14 ground balls. The best part was seeing no walks and Ventura didn’t nibble around the strike zone as much as he has his last few starts. This seemed like the guy we saw in Game 6 of the World Series and someone who could lead this pitching staff. I’m sure we will see a few more bad starts from Yordano before the year is up, but if he can limit the damage and pitch more like he has this week, it will help solidify the rotation and leave one less worry for the team on the mound.

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The Catch

I am a self professed disciple of Alex Gordon. I believe him to be one of the greatest defensive players that anyone my age has ever seen. There is a reason he has won 4 Gold Glove Awards, 3 Fielding Bible Awards, one Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award in MLB and last year won the American League Platinum Glove Award. As someone who heavily values defense, I almost feel like the offense Gordon adds each year is almost extra to what he contributes with his glove, arm and mind(trust me, his mind is a big part of why he is so good). We already got one phenomenal catch this year from him in Chicago. On Wednesday night, he added another one to the highlight reel:

And now in motion:

Not only was that an amazing catch, but it also goes to show the lengths Gordon will go to just to get an out. The funny part is that ‘the catch’ was appreciated last night on many levels:

The only bad thing to the greatness of ‘A1’ is that if he doesn’t pick up the option on his contract after the season then he could venture off to some other team this offseason. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in a world where Alex Gordon isn’t a Kansas City Royal. Just the thought along makes me queasy. I am not ready to have him take his skills elsewhere.

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It wasn’t just the brooms that were brought out in force. Time to look at some other news of note for this series:

  • Tack up 3 solid starts in a row for Jeremy Guthrie, all much needed. On Wednesday, Guthrie threw 6 innings giving up 5 hits, and no runs while walking 2 and striking out 3. Guthrie ran into some trouble early on in the 1st inning but after that seemed to calm down and held Cincy scoreless. These last 3 starts has lowered his ERA by almost 2 runs as he has allowed 4 earned runs in 18.1 innings. After his awful start to the season he has righted the ship and seems to be pitching more to his career performanace. With others in the rotation struggling, the Royals need Guthrie to at least be a solid turn once every 5 days.
  • There has been some discussion about Alcides Escobar maybe not being the right fit at the top of the lineup. Actually, Craig Brown of http://www.royalsauthority.com had a column last week talking about how Escobar doesn’t take enough pitches and hardly walks, which neither is a good approach at the dish if you are the leadoff hitter. I agree with Brown for the majority of this argument and his reasoning is solid. The issue is that the Royals really don’t have a typical leadoff hitter, other than possibly Alex Gordon, and you can see the argument for keeping him in the middle of the lineup. With that said, the Royals are winning with this lineup despite Escobar’s .331 OBP, which is almost purely from hits as he has only 5 walks on the season. I get where Craig is coming from on this, but I can’t imagine a change will happen anytime soon.
  • After Tuesday’s shutout of the Reds, the Royals had accomplished something that hadn’t been done by a Royals team in a very long time:

Unfortunately, they weren’t able to make it 3 shutouts in a row, as Ryan Madson gave up a run on Wednesday night. Still an impressive feat, nonetheless.

  • Closer Greg Holland was not available on Tuesday night:

It is always nice to have a healthy Holland. The thing is, without him available, they still have guys like Madson, Luke Hochevar and Jason Frasor who can do some of the heavy lifting, and Wade Davis is as good as any closer in the big leagues today(and goes to show you how out of date it is the way managers use their best pitchers in the bullpen nowadays). To have these other options has to be frightening to other teams and will be even more important later in the season.

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Tweets of Royalty 

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So with the Reds out of the way, this leads to a major matchup for the Memorial Day Weekend. It’s the best record in the American League against the best record in the National League, as the Cardinals come to Kauffman Stadium to take on the Royals. For years Cardinals fans come in swarms to Kansas City and the crowd ends up looking like a sea of read. Well, I have a feeling that won’t happen this time, as it should be a sea of blue this weekend. It also means this dormant rivalry, that really hasn’t meant anything for years now actually has some more punch behind it. I would love a series win for the Royals, sending the Cardinals back to St. Louis with their tail in between their legs. If anything it would quiet the ‘best fans in baseball'(and most of us are really tired of hearing Cardinals’  fans flapping their gums) without even having to bring up 1985. The more I think about it, a sweep at ‘the K’ would be beautiful. Hey, it’s lofty expectations but just imagine that warm and fuzzy feeling we would get from that, Royals fans? Yep, it would feel good. Very good.

Hello, Goodbye

San Francisco Giants v Kansas City Royals

On Monday the Kansas City Royals extended a qualifying offer to ace James Shields, a $15.3 million offer that assures the team will receive a compensation pick for Shields if he signs with another team before June 8th. Shields can accept the offer, but he has to by November 10th. The odds say he will not accept it, as Shields will be looking for a multi-year deal at possibly a higher rate this winter and there are many teams(Red Sox, Cubs, Angels, Yankees, etc.) who will be enticed by James’ ability to be a workhorse for any team he has been with. It appears Kansas City will make a run at Shields, as evidenced by a report back in October that the team would offer him a 5 year, $80 million deal. But would this be the best thing for the Royals? Not in my eyes.

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This is not an indictment on Shields or his performance. ‘Big Games James’ did what the Royals wanted him to do; stabilize the rotation, bring leadership to the clubhouse and get Kansas City to the playoffs. Check, Check, and Check. Shields has driven the rest of his rotation mates to reach the 1,000 innings plateau the last two years and even though they didn’t reach that goal, they came close both years. He was a great influence on both Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura, helping them keep their focus and teach them how to be aggressive on the mound but not ‘too aggressive’. As much as I cringe when people bring up ‘character guys’, Shields is one and has shown this team of young players how to win and how to handle pressure situations. I scoffed at most of this when the trade from the Rays happened, but he has done all of these things and more to get this team to the playoffs for the first time since 1985. So there is value in Shields beyond just numbers and these are things that might not even be replaced if(when) he signs elsewhere.

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But is he worth the 5/80 number thrown out there, or even more than that? To me this isn’t even about the numbers as much as the years. James Shields will turn 33 in December and has logged a lot of innings on that arm. A-LOT. In fact, he has accumulated over 1900 innings during the regular season and another 59 in the postseason. He has been fairly lucky injury wise, but it is normally only a matter of time until issues start showing up. If Shields was brought back for 5 years, that means he would be 38(almost 39) by the end of that deal. Can you see him holding up that late in the deal? I can’t. In fact we are already seeing a bit of regression. Over the last few years he has been using his changeup less and less, and even this postseason was mentioned as being more of a “cutter and fastball” pitcher. This isn’t always a bad thing(some think Shields’ changeup has been overrated) but when he doesn’t have a feel for his changeup, he has trouble, as evidenced in Game 1 of the World Series. Shields is a competitor and seems like the type of pitcher who would adjust as time takes away the zip on his fastball and the dip in his changeup. But it’s more probable that Shields will continue to regress and not be even close to the pitcher he is today by the end of a 5 year deal.

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That brings me to a bigger concern, that being the sentimental aspect of this whole scenario. Look, we all loved the run the Royals went on in October. For many it brought out the little kid in us and reminded every one that even though baseball can take you down deep in the depths, it can also lift you to heights you would never imagine possible. But now that the season has ended it’s time to come back down to earth and look at this team from a realistic viewpoint. That means no bringing players back just because they were a part of the “American League Champion Kansas City Royals” and instead looking at the situation on whether that player(s) is a good fit for the team in not only 2015 but beyond. Does 5 years of James Shields really look good for this team? I love the guy as much as the next Royals fan but I also realize that regression is on his doorstep and it probably won’t be pretty. The sentimental factor especially comes into play with Billy Butler, who has been a part of this organization(easy for me to say) since he was drafted by Kansas City in 2004. Butler’s option for 2015 was declined by Kansas City, as his salary would have risen from $8 million a year to $12 million. But there are other factors that the team shouldn’t bring back “Country Breakfast”.

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Maybe the biggest reason for the team to not bring back Butler is the fact that the team has discussed making the DH a rotating position for two years now and it would seem foolish now to change course just because the team could lose a longtime staple of their lineup. I’ve long been a supporter of Butler but unfortunately 2014 was a major downturn for him when it comes to production. Just going off of the stats Butler looks like a guy who has begun his regression at a younger age than most players do and his power especially has slid to a meek 41 total extra bases this past season. Back in 2009 Butler had 51 doubles alone not even counting the 21 home runs he hit that year…and 1 triple. Can’t leave out the triple! Yes, Butler could bounce back and put up numbers comparable to his 2009 and 2010 where his OPS+ was 125 and 134 respectively. Numbers like 2012? Probably not. That was a career year if there ever was one. But he could bounce back.

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But the numbers factor alone shouldn’t decide whether Billy comes back or not. With the team wanting to rotate the DH, that will leave Butler with less at bats and less games to show his worth. He also loves playing out in the field, and the Royals just aren’t good at resting Eric Hosmer(he of the Gold Glove defense) and letting Butler get some reps at the first base. So Butler could come back(and it has been discussed within the organization)but it would be on a lesser salary and less playing time. That doesn’t bode well for a player who needs to pile up better numbers so he can get another big contract before he trots out to that  corn field in the sky(Wait, that makes it sound like Butler will die when he is done playing baseball. Not what I meant. My bad). Baseball players have a fairly short amount of time to make as much money as humanly possible. Butler, soon to be 29, is running out of time. Coming back to the Royals, no matter how much he loves this team and the town, just seems like the equivalent of spinning one’s tires. Personally I would love for Butler to retire a Royal, but I get why he needs to leave, and now makes the most sense. Even if it crushes my son, a huge Billy Butler fan.

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The hardest thing about baseball is that it is a business, and no matter how much joy it can give you, it’s always lingering around to remind you that nothing lasts forever(even cold November rain). Dayton Moore has some tough decisions to make this offseason, especially when it comes to two key elements of a team that ventured to the World Series. James Shields and Billy Butler are two players I have enjoyed watching excel at their craft. But with the Royals being a small market team, they have to be especially intelligent when it comes to structuring a roster that can return them to the playoffs in 2015. With that in mind, it seems like it would be wise to let Shields and Butler go. It might not be what the heart wants, but the brain should be the one making the decisions this winter for Kansas City.

 

Alex Gordon, MVP Candidate

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With the Kansas City Royals poised to garner their first playoff spot in 29 years, it seems only appropriate that one man would lead the charge and carry this team on his back. It happened in 1985, as George Brett had one of his best offensive seasons, leading the charge to the franchise’s first World Series title. So it seems only right that Alex Gordon would carry this team on his back. Over the last month it has appeared that Gordon has almost singlehandedly thrust this team into the top position in the American League Central. But he has also slid his way into the American League MVP conversation.

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Now, I should go ahead and preface this with the fact that if I was a betting man I would bet that Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels will end up with the MVP trophy and I have no issue with that; Trout has had a fabulous season and is probably the best player in baseball right now(outside of maybe Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers). But Alex Gordon should be getting some votes and there are a number of reasons why there should be heavy consideration for his candidacy. Let’s start with the defining of “Most Valuable”. This can be taken a number of different ways and no one opinion of its meaning is more right than another. It is very subjective and means different things to different people. I tend to think it’s the most valuable player to his team, where if you took him out of that team’s lineup they would not be in the position they are currently in. This would also imply that the winner should be on a team that is going to the playoffs. For the most part I agree with that, but there are exceptions; the Marlins aren’t even sniffing October baseball but I do believe Giancarlo Stanton should be at the least considered for NL MVP this year. With that said, it is pretty obvious this Royals team wouldn’t be even thinking about the playoffs this year were it not for Alex Gordon. When the Royals offense has gone stagnant these past few weeks, Gordon has been the one consistent bat in the lineup that has produced. Gordon has not only produced, he has produced in high-leverage situations. This year, Gordon has a slash line of .330/.441/.580 in those situations. If you are a believer in clutch(and even if you aren’t, there is something to be said for timely hits) then Alex Gordon has been as clutch for this team as any player has this year in the big leagues. Just take last Tuesday night against the Twins for instance:

Before that game winning shot, the Royals had produced only 4 hits and one walk. The Royals have a very topsy turvy offense, one that can be electric when it wants to but also has many flaws. They are notorious for not taking many pitches(hence not many free passes) and sometimes seem like they swing at every pitch thrown their way. This leads to a very inconsistent offense but Alex Gordon has been the one consistent batter this team has seen for the majority of the last few months.

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Speaking of offense, Gordon’s numbers aren’t going to just jump out at you if that is what you are taking into account for MVP. He currently sits at .279/.355/.459. His OPS is at .814(which is pretty good but not great) and an OPS+ of 124(league average is 100). Since I know some enjoy the classic numbers, he has 19 home runs this with only 65 driven in, which neither are numbers that will make you swoon. The numbers show a very good offensive player who despite his team’s lack of offense is still able to put up solid numbers. He is leading the team in most categories this year and has really been big for the Royals in the last month. If you are someone who likes a player who performs down the stretch, Gordon sits at .298/.373/.615 over the last month with over half of his home runs hit in that span. It’s obvious that Alex has elevated his game when the team needs him to,but this hasn’t painted the whole picture.

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It’s hard having a conversation about Alex Gordon and his true value to this Kansas City team without mentioning his defense. It is safe to say that Gordon is probably the best left fielder in the American League and maybe in all of baseball, especially on the defensive side. He is a three time Gold Glove winner(the last 3 years) and it is safe to say he will win his 4th this year for defensive excellence. Alex Gordon is about as smooth in the field as humanly possible and this from a guy who started his pro career at third base. Going off of his numbers, he is having the best dWAR year of his career, sitting at 2.1. Since 2011 he has a combined dWAR of 6.5 and has 82 defensive runs saved in that time, 22 just this year. Gordon is on another level defensively and has gotten to the point where runners don’t dare run on his arm, as he has thrown out 61 runners over the last four years, but only 7 this year. It tooks almost four years, but runners have finally figured out not to run on Alex. All these numbers are great, but I feel unless you watch him play everyday(and I am normally either watching or listening to the broadcast most nights) you don’t really truly understand just how great he is defensively. We are getting to see a defensive master in Kansas City, one that might rival Frank White and his 8 Gold Gloves at second base, including 6 in a row. Gordon’s defense adds to his value to this Royals ballclub and makes it to where he is near the top of the WAR leaderboard of the American League.

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Ah yes, the WAR argument. There is a division when it comes to the true value of the WAR stat, which is understandable with the uncertainty of accuracy when it comes to defensive metrics. But there is also no other stat that truly encompasses the true value of a player the way WAR does(factoring in offense, defense and baserunning into its equation). It’s pretty simple to see that it is a stat that truly likes complete players. In the American League, Josh Donaldson of Oakland leads with a bWAR of 6.9, 0.3 ahead of Mike Trout. He is followed by Felix Hernandez in third, Adrian Beltre in fourth and…Alex Gordon in 5th with a 5.9 bWAR. Even to be mentioned in the same company of the other 4 players shows just how valuable Alex Gordon is to this Royals team. Gordon also sits 2nd in fWAR at 6.2 behind only Mike Trout. You don’t have to believe that WAR is the end all be all to factor in the true value of a player, but you do need to recognize that it helps someone understand the greater value of that player to his team. Gordon is on a level with true superstars and shows that his “value” is great enough to be considered “Most Valuable”.

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Numbers don’t tell the whole story when it comes to Alex Gordon but they do show that his value stretches across the entire board not only for the Royals but for the entire American League. Without Gordon, the Royals aren’t preparing to play in the postseason for the first time since Ronald Reagan was in office. I know where my vote is going to land. Voters, I’m not saying that you have to vote Alex Gordon for American League MVP. What I am saying is that it would be a mistake if he doesn’t end up in the top five, because I think it is safe to say that he is one of the five best players in the league this year. There is nothing wrong with voting for Mike Trout, as he has had another stellar season for the Angels. But Alex Gordon is closer than you think and deserves your consideration. It’s a good thing for you to stop and pause to think about it; Alex Gordon has earned that extra thought.

 

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