Positively Royals

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

Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas

1) Eric Hosmer & Mike Moustakas have started hitting

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

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

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2) Glorious Starting Pitching

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

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3) Defense for Royalty

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

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

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4)#DirtySouth

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

5)The Final Episodes of ‘Breaking Bad’

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

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5)The Royals are Winning! 

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

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

Rubbing the Royals Genie Lamp: Second Half Edition

Minnesota Twins v Kansas City Royals

The second half of the 2013 season will get underway on Friday, so I thought it seemed appropriate to take a look back and see what I’d like to see happen in the back half of this season for the Kansas City Royals. This is sort of a companion piece to an article I wrote before the season about what the Royals needed to do to have a successful season. Well, so far we have a good idea of what kind of team they are at this moment; but what kind of team could they be? Let’s rub up on the lamp and find out if our wishes gets granted for our Kansas City Royals!

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Wish #1-Hosmer and Moustakas contribute

Early on this season, it seemed like a bad sequel to a movie that was bad in the first place. Like Staying Alive to Saturday Night Fever. Or Weekend at Bernie’s II: Electric Bugaloo. Anyway, Hosmer early on seemed to have completely lost any power he had and became a opposite field singles hitter. Moustakas looked like the pop-up king. It was ugly, folks. In fact, it felt like there was no way these were the same two guys who were thought of as the crown jewels of the minor league system just a few years ago. Then the two-headed Kraken known as Maloof and David were sent off to sea and in their place stood Brett and Grifol. Hosmer not only found his swing, but took over the team lead in homers in what seemed like just a few weeks. Moustakas has still struggled a bit, but he has pulled his average over .200 and his swing looks a ton better. But like early in the season, how these two go, so go the Royals. Hosmer has to keep up his pace in the second half, and Moustakas needs to add a bit more thump. If that happens, we are looking at not only a bit better second half, but a positive moving into 2014.

Ervin Santana

Wish #2-Trade Ervin Santana   

Look, we all know Ervin Santana has pitched above and beyond what we all thought he would do this year. In fact, he has been a solid #2 starter below James Shields, as those two have anchored this Royals rotation. But here is the honest truth: Santana is a free agent at the end of the year, and the Royals can’t afford him. Not only can the Royals probably not afford him, but he is going to want a 2-3 year deal. Now, would you feel comfortable signing Santana to a big money, multi-year deal? I wouldn’t. I would be afraid the old Ervin would show back up…and then the Royals would be on the hook for him for  a number of years. So, with the Royals not a contender(and let’s be honest, they really aren’t ready to contend just yet), it only makes sense to trade Santana to a contender. In fact, I think it is safe to say someone will overpay for his services. If that’s the case, the Royals need to pounce and take advantage of it. The Royals are fortunate to have a few extra arms that could be put in the rotation(Mendoza, possibly Duffy) and not majorly feel the blow of losing Ervin. The Royals have a need in right field and second base, so that is what the focus should be on. Word was going around awhile back that the Royals had scouts checking out the Padres, so maybe get someone from them. Maybe Logan Forsythe, since the Padres have no real place for him? Anyway, a deal needs to be made, and a good one at that. Trading Santana should be a no-brainer and would help set the Royals up for 2014, when they have a better chance of contending.

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Wish #3-No More Alcides Escobar batting 2nd

This is hard for me. I really love Alcides Escobar. Love watching him play on defense. I even still think he will find the stroke he had in 2012. No way that stays away forever. But…I don’t know if we are going to see it this year. To be honest, if it doesn’t, then he shouldn’t be batting second in the order. I mean, just look at his stats this season. Yikes. I know the old school believes you need a guy batting second who is fast and can move runners over(ie. bunting), but the truth is you want someone who has a good on-base percentage. Hell, even just an average OBP would be an upgrade over Escobar. I know Neddy likes to have Esky in this slot, but it is the definition of a true rally killer, unlike home runs. Hey, you never know; maybe Alcides will start picking up the pace and give Neddaniel a reason to bat him second. But until that happens, he should be batting at the bottom of the order. It also makes it to where Neddly can’t use his crutch of bunting as much. Blech, I hate bunting. So for now, someone batting second is the best thing for this ball club.

Greg Holland

Wish #4-Listen to offers on James Shields and Greg Holland

So if we are playing with the thought that Kansas City is out of playoff contention, then that also means they are in selling and not buying mode. Now, I will preface this with the contention that I am not saying the Royals should go out of their way to trade Holland and Shields. I like both guys and would love for them to stay in Royal blue. No, what I am saying is the Royals should listen to any offers on these two. If you have followed baseball for any amount of time, you are probably aware that the trade deadline at the end of July can get pretty crazy. In fact, teams that think they only need one more piece are notorious for going nuts and making a trade that profits them in the moment but hurts them over the long haul. THAT is the team the Royals should listen to. If a team(any team) is willing to offer a ridiculous package for Shields or Holland the Royals should not only listen, but be hella-serious. For Shields, if a package like what the Royals sent the Rays for him falls in their lap, I would jump. Likewise, if Holland can get you better pieces for next year, it should be done. Shields is only around for one more year, and closers anymore are a dime a dozen to find, so there are reasons to entertain offers. Look, if no one bites, then there is no need to trade them. But if some crazy GM offers Dayton Moore something that will improve the team next year, he should take it. I would like to see these two part of the Royals future, but there shouldn’t be an untouchable label on either one of them.

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Wish #5-#FreeGio

I’ll admit, the Royals fooled me. Oh yeah, in the back of my head I had my doubts, but I thought it would be different this time. I wanted it to be different this time. But the truth is that the Royals just aren’t that into Johnny Giavotella. Sure, they talk a good game. Dayton Moore proclaimed him the starting second baseman when he was recalled from AAA last month. For the first week it appeared that maybe they really meant it this time. Then Neddy started to give him extra days off. Then he gave him back to back days off. Whoa, slow the train down there! That was a giant sign that the Royals don’t understand that just because you say you are doing something doesn’t mean that you are really doing it. You also have to back it up. Now, word gets out that the Royals picked Pedro Ciriaco off waivers from the Padres this week and the team has to make a corresponding move by Friday. I hate to be the pessimist, but it sure looks like Johnny will be headed back to Omaha. If that happens, so goes another “not really a chance, but we are going to count that as we gave him another chance” chance at winning the second base job. I openly admit Gio hasn’t just out and out taken the job. That part does lie on him. But outside of late 2011, when have the Royals really given him a true, real chance at the job? Maybe Spring Training? Whatever it is, you just get the vibe that the Royals are trying him more from the lack of not having a real second baseman than actually hoping to develop and nurture him in that spot. I don’t know if it’s Dayton that doesn’t like him, or Neddly. Hell, it sure appears that Neddly doesn’t like him at all, and we all know that cartoonist Lee Judge loathes him for taking away his boy-toy Getzie. So since the Royals don’t want to give Giavotella a real shot at the job, they should just do the guy and the fanbase a favor and let him go. Trade him to someone who will at least give him a shot. But don’t keep making him use the shuttle bus back and forth between Kansas City and Omaha and not even let him prove his worth over a lengthy amount of time. Because that would be called giving someone a real chance…which I’m not sure the Royals understand.

Ned Yost, Dayton Moore

Wish #6-Fire Ned Yost/Dayton Moore

Trust me, I hate to sound like a broken record…but…well, I’ll still be calling for this until it happens. In fact it wasn’t that long ago I was writing how the best thing for this team was if they lost so these two jokers would get the ol’ heave-ho. Ask yourself this simple question: can you envision a Kansas City playoff game with these two in charge? I can’t. 100% can’t with Yosty. Probably about 85% with Dayton. This franchise deserves better. Kansas City deserves better. Hell, we fans definitely deserve better. So let’s make this happen guys…tank the second half and we can say sayonara to the “two man losing band”. Otherwise…well, you know. We’ve been through this for 18 years.

BREAKING NEWS: George Brett New Royals Interim Hitting Coach, Maloof and David Reassigned

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Well, my ‘no writing about the Royals’ lasted a whole two days. If you read my last article(in which I vented my spleen) you know a big part of my discontent with the Royals was them not making any changes while the team was sucking like a 40 year old hooker. Well, they’ve made a change but hopefully it’s not the last. It was announced earlier today that Royals hitting coaches Jack Maloof and Andre David were being reassigned to the minor leagues and George Brett and Pedro Grifol as the new interim hitting coaches. To say there are a number of interesting tidbits from this move might be an understatement. Let’s start with the one that most Royals fans are excited about: #5 is will be back in the dugout.

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There is no bigger name in Kansas City Royals baseball history than George Brett. There is Brett, then a long ways till you get to runner up Frank White, who is probably the second most popular Royal ever. Brett is one of the few players who stayed with one team his entire career and even stayed with that team after his retirement. George is Kansas City Royals baseball. It’s interesting to see him leave the front office and take a position on the field though. Brett has helped out in Spring Training for the Royals for years, but it always seemed like he enjoyed not having to adhere to the daily rigors of being a major league coach. Being Vice President gave Brett the chance to remain in the organization while not having to deal with the day-to-day pains. George could go the park, talk to some fans, be Mr. Royal and then be done. He could golf all day and then just sit back and enjoy the game that night. He literally had the best of both worlds. So it’s more than curious to see Brett now go out on the road with Kansas City and be with the team every day. One would have to think this isn’t a long term thing, which is probably why the ‘interim’ label was thrown on there. My first thought was ‘he is going to do this until he misses being out on the golf course’. I very well could be right on that, but for now he is going to try and help the Royals fix their hitting woes. Maybe start having Jeff Francoeur hit off a tee. Sorry, couldn’t resist. One thing he can understand is struggling at the major league level early in his career.

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Brett won the Royals third base job in 1974, but struggled early and often. The team sent him to the minors for awhile(much like the team has done in recent years with Alex Gordon and Billy Butler) but when he was brought back George started to work with Royals hitting coach Charley Lau. Lau reconstructed Brett’s swing and turned him from a struggling prospect to one of the best hitters in the game. I have to believe some of that wisdom that Lau pounded into his brain has kept all these years later and can be passed down to the guys like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. If anything, Brett knows how to hit in Kauffman Stadium. After the gibberish Jack Maloof sputtered out yesterday, I can just imagine what those hitting coaches were telling the Royals hitters. George won’t sugar coat anything and will tell a hitter if he is doing something fundamentally wrong. I can already imagine the conversation he might have with Francoeur. I honestly believe the best thing about having Brett as the hitting coach is that he will preach hitting the gaps, which is what the Royals hitters should be doing. Three-fourths of the Royals hitters are more gap hitters than power hitters, so asking them to hit more home runs is ridiculous. But asking them to hit for extra bases or hit with authority is not. One can only hope that having a legend in the dugout can reach some of these guys and turn things around. But this isn’t the sole reason Brett is coming in.

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I have no way of actually confirming this, but my gut tells me the Royals put Brett in there as a PR move. If so, it makes sense. Kansas City fans love George. After all this time, he is still our favorite. Probably always will be. I can’t ever see a way where we turn on Brett. So putting him in this slot assures we never complain about it. It also takes the heat off of Neddy Yost and Dayton Moore, as Royals fan have been asking for their heads for weeks now. The Royals fanbase has been utterly pissed the last three weeks and have wanted a change to happen with this team instead of continuing to let the season spiral down the drain. Putting Brett in there shifts the focus and appeases the fans–for now. Most of us are smart enough to see this for what it is, but are still happy to see George. But he won’t be handling this job alone.

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I’ll be honest, I don’t know a whole lot about Pedro Grifol. I can tell you he was in the Seattle Mariners organization for 13 years and worked both as a manager and within the Seattle farm system in a number of roles. It does seem like the hitting coaches job will eventually go to Grifol, and from the little I have read it seems like a good call. In fact, you can read some of Grifol’s thinking here.  It sounds like Grifol has a good idea of what he wants from his hitters and what he would want to work on. Working with younger players has been his forte, so working in Kansas City will be perfect. There is a good chance at first he will be the one to preach whatever philosophy Brett wants to incorporate. All in all, I expect Grifol to work closely with George before eventually gaining the reigns of the position.

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Maybe one of the more puzzling moves in all of this is the re-assigning of Maloof and David. Both seemed like competent guys. Hell, Tony Gwynn had given Maloof his seal of approval. But it was obvious whatever they were teaching wasn’t working. I’m even surprised he was hired in the first place, as Maloof was NEVER  a power hitter throughout his playing career. In fact, he was more of a singles hitter who walked a lot–just like Kevin Seitzer. To top it off, that interview Maloof did was maybe one of the most confusing things I’ve ever read. If that was actually what Maloof believes, that the Royals shouldn’t even try to hit homeruns at the K, then he deserves to be fired. Just mind boggingly stupid comments. If it was Maloof going out there and trying to deflect the heat off of Yost, then mission accomplished. If it was Maloof wanting to jump off of a sinking ship, then he is a genius. No matter what, I’m not for sure I still want this guy in the Royals organization. Let’s hope he doesn’t preach his beliefs to the Royals minor leaguers, if those are in fact his beliefs. Sure seems like a firing here would have been a lot less messy.

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So will this move help the Royals? At this point, any change is good. I mean seriously: can it get any worse than it has been the last three weeks? The main thing is for the Royals hitters to listen and work on Brett and Grifol’s teachings. There is no guarantee this move will work, and in a lot of ways this is just a tiny band aid over a giant gash in the chest of this franchise. The real move that should be made is firing Moore and Yost and revamping the whole system. But for now, there is at least an effort being made. For us old time fans, seeing George once again in Royal Blue with the #5 across his back will be a great sight. Trust me, a loud ovation will be had at the first game back at the K next week. But there is a larger problem here that no legend can fix. More needs to be coming. Firing everyone and starting over seems to be the best idea for the future of this franchise. This is just step one.

What Is Working For the Royals…and What Isn’t

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32 games. ONLY 32 games. It’s hard for some Kansas City Royals fans to remember that we are only 32 games into the 2013 season, so there is no reason to freak out over a tough week. There is still a lot(and I mean A LOT) of baseball left to play, and the team is still over .500 at 18-14. With a rocky last week, let’s look at what has worked for the Royals early on this season…and what isn’t working.

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The Starting Pitching is Working

  • This past off-season, Royals GM Dayton Moore’s main objective was to beef up the starting rotation. Last year was a rough one for the Royals starters, to the point that the offense was working behind to an alarming degree due to the starters giving up a batch of runs early in the game. Dayton needed pitching and knew if he didn’t this off-season, he would be on the unemployment line. Ervin Santana, James Shields and Wade Davis were acquired in trades and Moore re-signed Jeremy Guthrie to a three year deal. There were questions about Santana, Guthrie and Davis, with Shields being the one guy most Royals fans could agree was a solid acquisition. It’s been obvious that Shields has pitched like the ace the Royals wanted him to be. If that wasn’t enough, most of the question marks have looked solid. Guthrie has continued his great pitching since Kansas City picked him up  stole him from the Rockies, and Santana has been phenomenal. Both have done the two things that the Royals want from them: throw a lot of innings and keep the team in the ballgame. Santana has looked like the guy who threw a no-hitter at one point and was one of the better up and coming pitchers in the game. Davis has been the one question mark, as he has had trouble shifting back to the rotation after being in the bullpen in 2012 for Tampa Bay. Wade has had some great starts(Atlanta), but some awful ones as well(last night against New York, for one). It’s too soon to give up on Davis, but so far the move back to starting isn’t working. The Royals have him signed for a couple more years, so he will be given every chance in the world to work his way out of this. That worry aside, the pitching is doing their job and it is safe to say is actually the reason the team is above .500. Dayton Moore had set a goal of 1000 innings for this ball club in 2013, and at this rate they have a very good shot of reaching that goal. It is only 32 games in, but so far Dayton’s acquisitions have done their job–and then some.

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The Defense Flashing Some Leather

  • Last season was puzzling for the Royals defense. We all knew the team had some great defenders. Alex Gordon had won a Gold Glove. Salvador Perez was touted as a plus defender. Mike Moustakas had improved his defense to the point that none of us thought we would ever see. Add in Alcides Escobar(there is a reason he is known as shortstop Jesus), Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain, and you have 3/4 of your lineup flashing some serious leather. Only the numbers didn’t show that. Whether it be an off year, or infield shifts, the numbers just didn’t shine a positive light on Kansas City. You can check it in all it’s glory here. But so far in 2013, the defense has been more than solid. Sure, there have been a few bumpy games. But let’s be honest; those games will happen from time to time. They also have Jeff Francoeur in right field, and he has a good arm and….well, he has a good arm. Chris Getz is average at second base, which I know a few will argue, but the stats show he is nothing more than that. Despite this, the team needs to continue to have the solid defense they have had so far. There is no reason to think it won’t, as most of these players have been good defensive players since they were taking bus trips in the minor leagues. The defense DOES have to hold up if the Royals want to contend this year. If I had to put my money on something staying consistent for this team, it would be the defense.

Now, a look into what is NOT working…

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This Year’s Offense Looks like Last Year’s Offense  

  • To be honest, I’m not surprised. In fact, I expected it to happen. The Royals struggled in 2012, and came back with the exact same lineup, expecting the younger players to take a step forward. That has not happened so far. Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar, two disciples of former Royals hitting coach Kevin Seitzer(or the guy who fell on the sword in the off-season), have been the two most consistent hitters on this team. Lorenzo Cain, finally healthy, has been superb so far and Billy Butler, despite his average, has made it his plan to get on base as much as possible, by any means necessary. Then you see a drastic drop off. Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer have not looked their best. Salvador Perez is a free swinger, which seems to have finally caught up with him. Then there is Francoeur and Getz. The two weak links of the team haven’t been good. Francoeur did okay for awhile, but is now back to 2012 depths. Getz has been even worse, despite hell freezing over and him hitting his first home run since he has been in Kansas City. The biggest problem I see with the offense is the amount of hackers on the team. Once you get past the top of the order, you run into some major free swingers. Patience is a virtue the Royals need to learn and learn quick. It does seem as if Moustakas is starting to come out of his funk. Hosmer has been getting hits, but has somehow lost the power he showed in 2011(and the last two Spring’s). No amount of lineup shuffles can fix this problem. What the team needs is a solid hitting philosophy and follow it. Kevin Seitzer couldn’t get through to them, and so far it doesn’t seem as if the tag team of Maloof and David are either. The pitching can only hold this team up so long; the offense needs to back up the starters and produce. Period.

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Manager Follies

  • For anyone who has talked Royals with me for even just a bit, they know of my dislike of one Neddaniel (Frank) Yost. I have been calling for his firing for over a year now. He is the anchor around the Royals neck. In fact, I felt dirty writing something positive about him just last week. Unfortunately, Neddy has shown his true colors this week. Taking Shields out of Monday’s game. Usage of Luke Hochevar. Constant shuffling of the lineup. Keeping Wade Davis in longer than he should. That’s just this week. Yost imploded when he was managing Milwaukee in 2008. When he was asked why his team was struggling during a pennant chase, Yost told management he “didn’t know”. Does that make you confident if Kansas City is in the hunt come September? It doesn’t me. Yost’s biggest challenge is to be consistent on a daily basis. He let Jeremy Guthrie stay in to close out Saturday’s win, but then pulled James Shields after 8 innings on Monday. What is the difference between the two situations? In all honesty, nothing. Yet he commented that Shields did his part and Greg Holland’s role is the 9th inning. Not consistent. After 30 games, Yost felt the need to shuffle a struggling lineup. It’s only 30 games–shuffling it just seemed like a panic move. This is the THIRD regular incarnation of a Royals lineup since the season started. The THIRD!! There is no consistency in his decisions and in his actions. Early in the season, Yost was doing a good job by not doing anything. He was just letting his players go out and play ball. Now there is a slight bump in the road and he feels the need to flip everything upside down. This is a young team that needs consistency. Instead, they have a leader who is in constant change. This isn’t going away, folks. Dayton likes Yost. A lot. But if this team is serious, Neddy needs to go. It isn’t working.

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It would seem to be 32 games in that the Kansas City Royals have played more good baseball than bad. Being 18-14 speaks to that truth. Now they just need to continue that and improve the areas that aren’t working. It is a long season in a weak division, which gives us all hope. But there is no room if you want to contend. This team deserves to get the most bang for their buck. Otherwise there will be more disappointing talk than positive come September.

Moose’s Struggles

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This time of year you often hear about how we are only a few weeks in, it’s early, and everything is a small sample size. All that is true, which is why longtime fans never get too worked up throughout the first month of the season, as we’ve seen this all before. Teams play above their expectations, guys you never thought would be stars all of a sudden break out, and player’s struggle. It’s almost a longstanding tradition for someone to have a cold start to the season before righting the ship. Seventeen games in, and Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas is mired in a major slump, and having witnessed the same thing just one year ago with first baseman Eric Hosmer, fans are already asking: “How long does Moose have before the Royals have to send him to AAA?”

Mike Moustakas

During the first half of the 2012 season, it looked as if Mike Moustakas was having his breakout season. Not only was he hitting the ball with authority, but his defense had improved to the point that his name could be mentioned in the Gold Glove conversation and not be  laughed at. All signs pointed to him improving faster than golden boy Hosmer. Then in late July, Moustakas sprained his right knee in Seattle and the season went downhill from there. After batting .268 in the first half, Moose batted a paltry .211 in the second half of the season with his slugging percentage dropping from .490 to .325. Most everyone put the blame on the knee issues and figured if he got healthy during the offseason, we would see more of the Moose we saw in the first half of last year in 2013. But so far, that has been the farthest thing from the truth.

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Now remember, before we delve into this, we are about three weeks into the season and there is more than enough time to turn things around. By no means is this a declaration of the sky falling and the world caving in. But there are some worries. Moustakas has gotten off to a rotten start so far and his numbers show it. Through the fifteen games he has appeared in, Moustakas is hitting a putrid .158 with an even uglier slugging percentage of .193. He has walked five times, which is a tiny consolation, but he was intended to work in the middle of the order for the Royals and he has done nothing so far to deserve to stay there. So far he only has 2 extra base hits and one lonely RBI to account for, but there are other numbers that don’t completely explain what is going on. His average facing lefties and righties are very similar, and his road and away numbers aren’t so far apart that you can really gauge something from it. So what numbers do help explain some of the problems?

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The numbers that really stand out to me are his batting average in certain counts. In counts that favor Moose(whether that means first pitch or counts with more balls than strikes), he seems to be making better contact. But when you venture into the counts in the pitchers favor, Moose’s numbers’ plummet. Take a look here. This shouldn’t be completely surprising, as it makes sense that if you are down in the count, it is in the pitchers’ favor. But if you are ever going to be a successful major league hitter, you have to do better in those situations. So far, it seems to be making matters worse for Mr. Moustakas.

Kansas City Royals v Chicago White Sox

Is there anything else that stands out? If you are like me, and have watched the majority of the Royals games so far, you have probably noticed the high rate of popups that Moose has hit. This probably means that he is getting under the ball and his timing is off just a hair. It would also explain a lot of the other problems, as he is just not hitting the ball with any authority. If you remember the beginning part of last year, Hosmer was lining out a lot and hitting the ball right at the defenders. Call it bad luck, or good shifts, but he was at least getting a good read on the ball. Moose doesn’t look like he is doing that so far, and in fact looks lost a lot of the time. That is not a good sign, and could make for more problems in the coming weeks. With the Royals offense still sputtering, they need Moose to find a groove and start hitting the ball with a little bit of oomph. Instead I’ve started counting the pop ups and wondering if I should yell ‘Too High’.

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So what are the Royals to do? For now and the immediate future, the best thing is for Mike to continue to work with hitting coaches Jack Maloof and Andre David and hopefully get these issues straightened out. But so far the Royals are getting great outings from the starting pitching, and there is only so long they can tolerate someone(anyone?) hitting below .200. The question then gets asked ‘how long does Kansas City stick with him before sending him to the minors?’ I think the team will give him a long leash, as there doesn’t seem to be one solid answer for the team in the minors and Moose is still playing good defense. If it does happen, we will probably see someone like Anthony Seratelli or Brandon Wood called up, or possibly even Irving Falu. Whoever would get chosen would probably split time with Miguel Tejada and Elliott Johnson, unless one lone player stood out from the bunch. Unfortunately, none of those players do, so none are really a long term answer if Moose can’t find his swing. The depth just isn’t there for the Royals. But as of right now, I think he has another 3-4 weeks before that conversation is had. But at that point, something will probably have to happen. If it does, it isn’t the end of the world for Moustakas. Some kid named Brett got sent down to the minors early in his career, and eventually he came back and held third base in Kansas City for a very, very long time. He wasn’t too shabby of a ballplayer either. So by no means would this mean the end of the world for Mike. But something has to give, and probably soon. If not, he will be correcting his swing in the minors.

 

It’s Not All About the Pitching, Dummies!

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There were a lot of things that went wrong last year for the Kansas City Royals, but if you listen to the media you would think that all this team needed was a few top notch starters and things would be good to go. There is not a sane Royals fan out there who couldn’t see that the team needed pitching. BADLY. But something else was a big concern last year, but doesn’t get the press that the pitching has. In fact, it was a concern despite it being considered one of the team’s strengths going into 2012. Just as big of a problem for the Royals last year was the team’s hitting, or at least the lack of runs being scored. Nothing has changed with the lineup going into 2013, but yet we are to believe all is fixed. Shouldn’t we be worried about this as well?

Mike Moustakas, Kevin Seitzer

Now, I take back my earlier comment. There is one change for the Royals when it comes to the offense. Kansas City’s hitting coach last year, Kevin Seitzer, was jettisoned at the end of the season and ended up being the fall guy for the club’s lofty goals not being reached. We can debate for days whether or not Seitzer deserved to be fired, but the one thing that can’t be debated is that the offense, while being quite able to get on base, was not so successful on getting them to cross home plate. The stats prove that this team, when they want, can rake. The Royals finished 2012 4th in the American League in Batting Average, and 3rd in hits. They also show that this team wasn’t the best at taking a walk last year, as they were  9th in OBP, and 8th in OPS and total bases. What about runs? Glad you asked. The Royals were 12th in both runs scored and RBI’s in the American League. WOW!! That is a rather large discrepancy between the amount of hits this ballclub had in 2012 and the actual amount of those runners that scored. So exit Seitzer, enter the two-headed dragon of Jack Maloof and Andre David. The two of them will be working with the Royals hitters this year, and are hoping to improve on these shoddy numbers. But more on them in just a bit.

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So how do the Royals expect to see improvement on the offense when they will be sporting the same lineup as last year? The big part of the bump is expected to come from bounce back seasons from youngsters Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. It’s been written about a lot, so we don’t need to go into it much here. Both Hos and Moose had less than stellar 2012’s, and you it seems inconceivable that they would continue that downward slide again in 2013. But can we guarantee that these two will be back to normal expectations? There is a good chance of this happening, as both are perceived as natural hitters. So far, Hosmer has looked good this spring(yes, I know. It is only Spring Training. Remember he tore up the Cactus League last year as well.) , and the prevalent thought is that a lot of Moustakas’ problems last year were injury related, as he played most of the second half of the season with a knee issue. If both take a step forward this year, this could easily bump up the team’s offense and help relieve some of worrying there is about the team’s hitting.

Jeff Francoeur

Another big change the Royals need this year is some improvement from Right Fielder Jeff Francoeur. Francoeur was bad in 2012. Nope, that’s not the word I am looking for. He sucked. Big time. Francoeur might very well have been the worst player in baseball last year, as he hit a paltry .235, with a .287 OBP and (you might want to sit down on this one) a WAR of -2.7! That from a guy who hit in the 5th slot for much of the season. Francoeur thinks he has figured out part of what led to his hellaciously sucky 2012, and so far this spring he has been hitting at a solid clip. Once again, it is only Spring Training. But for the Royals to be better this year, they need a better year from Frenchy. If we get the same Francoeur we got last year, that Wil Myers trade will look worse and worse by the day. Royals management has faith in ‘The Man they call Frenchy’; I wish I could say the same. Although, at this point a .250 season would be an improvement.

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So what else are the Royals counting on to be different offensively in 2012? Well, to be healthy is also on the list. Last year this team lost two regular starters for a chunk of the season, as catcher Salvador Perez didn’t even play in a game until July 2nd, while center fielder Lorenzo Cain got injured in the second series of the season against Oakland, and ended up only playing in 61 games in 2012. The Royals need both healthy if they hope this season will be better for the team offensively.

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I don’t know what the team is thinking at Second Base. Last year, it seemed to be a revolving door of Getz-Betancourt-Giavotella-Falu-Abreu, and none really staked their claim. Johnny Giavotella has to show the team that he can hit in the majors, or the job belongs to Chris Getz. Getz hit a homerun this spring(OMG!), so I don’t know if the team thinks he has some pop in his bat now or what. With Getz, I just don’t think the team can expect much from him offensively. Giavotella is a mystery, as he reached the majors due to his bat, yet has not shown that same offensive prowess in the big leagues. Hopefully the Royals can get some offense from the position this year. If not, it will make you wonder why they didn’t go out and try to get someone this past offseason.

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So the Royals are counting on a lot of things that didn’t work in 2012 to go right in 2013. But if that wasn’t enough, manager Ned Yost has stressed since Seitzer’s firing that he wants his team to swing for the fences more this year. Now, this team should probably hit more homeruns. The Royals tied for last in this category in the American League with Minnesota in 2012. If anyone has a decent memory, Minnesota plays in a rather large ballpark, even bigger than Kauffman Stadium. The Twins were also way worse than the Royals last year, so it seems a bit odd that a team who was 3rd in hits would have that low of a homerun total. So yes, there is room for improvement. But this team doesn’t strike me as one with homerun hitters. Sure, Billy Butler lead the team with 29 bombs last year, but Billy still strikes me as more of a gap hitter. Same for Alex Gordon and Hosmer. Moustakas to me seems like the only one well suited to be a power hitter. Not that the other guys won’t hit their share, they’re just hitters more suited to be guys who are good hitters rather than try to swing for the fences. This also brings up another point. Why bring in two hitting coaches who were never power hitters back in their day, (and in fact were pretty close to the same kind of hitter Kevin Seitzer was), yet ask them to have the hitters focus on the long ball? It would seem to be a bit of a conflict of interest, as Yost has even said he would rather they strike out then fly out during a plate appearance. Would any hitting coach ever stress to his players that he would rather they strike out then hit the ball? I don’t think so. This just seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Nothing says ‘Rally Killer’ like telling your players to swing for the fences in a crucial situation.

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So here we are, just three weeks away from Opening Day, and the Royals so far this spring have tore it up offensively. I can see where people will get excited, thinking this is a sign of what we’ll see once the season starts. But it is not guaranteed, and last year can attest to that. This team could be one of the best offensive clubs in baseball, but at this point I feel even more conflicted on whether we will see that team or the one we saw last year. Having better pitching will help, but it won’t mean as much if the hitters can’t score some runs. There is an old adage that says ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results’. Let’s hope it’s not ‘playing the same lineup from last year and expecting different results’.

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