L-O-Y-A-L-T-Y

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Credit: KansasCity.com

I’ve always been told loyalty is an honorable trait to have. It speaks of a person’s character and can be a window into how a person will react when times get rough. In fact, the definition says it all:

loyalty
[loi-uh l-tee]

1.the state or quality of being loyal; faithfulness to commitments or obligations.
2.faithful adherence to a sovereign, government, leader, cause, etc.
3.an example or instance of faithfulness, adherence, or the like:a man with fierce loyalties.

Loyalty in sports can be a tricky thing. The definition of the word can fluctuate, whether you are a fan or a player. For years players have been labeled as “sell outs” or “greedy” whenever they decide to look for greener pastures ($$$$) and head to the highest bidder. But loyalty in baseball should probably be defined differently.

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Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

 

I bring this up because a few Royals fans were not pleased with Eric Hosmer’s decision to sign with the San Diego Padres. Yes, these fans are the minority, but they are a vocal bunch. Obviously there is an emotional attachment to this group of players; I knew this was going to be rough when a part of me felt bad that Jeremy Guthrie was gone. It’s inevitable that winning a championship would make it harder when the business of baseball gets in the way of putting together the big league roster. But that word–business–seems to be the hurdle some have a hard time getting over.

Let’s break this down. When a player is allowed to venture out on the free agent market, they can talk with other teams and see if there is a mutual interest there in working together. It only makes sense that a player would want to gauge how much he is worth. It’s really not any different from if another job talks to you about leaving your current employment and offers you perks that your current job has not.

 

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Credit: Michael Sears, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

But baseball has a slight difference: you can’t be a major league player forever. In fact the average length of a major league career is just 5.6 years:

After studying the 5,989 position players who began their careers between 1902 and 1993 and who played 33,272 years of major league baseball, three demographers have come up with an answer: On average, a rookie can expect to play major league baseball for 5.6 years.Their study, which is being published in the August issue of Population Research and Policy Review, also found that one in five position players would play only a single season.

Fewer than half of all rookies remain long enough to play a fifth year. And only about 1 percent of players last 20 seasons or more.

Cognizant that pitchers are more prone to injuries and have volatile careers, the authors, William Witnauer of the State University of New York at Buffalo and Richard Rogers and Jarron Saint Onge of the University of Colorado, excluded them from the study. They also excluded 618 players who made their debut after Sept. 1 and played only that season.The authors found advantages in starting a major league career early. The probability of ending a career after one year is 10 percent for players starting at age 20, but rises to 13 percent for players who start at 21, and 36 percent for players who start at 28.

With the averages not boding well for a long, lengthy career for a large chunk of players reaching the majors, that would mean the wise decision is to make as much money as humanly possible while you can. You never know when an injury or illness could swing around and not only hurt your value but also hurt your chances of continuing your career.So it’s easy to see why most players want to make as much money as possible when they head out on the free agent market. Take Lorenzo Cain for example. Cain has dealt with numerous leg issues over the years and will be entering his age 32 season this year. While he might have been able to take a shorter deal for more money per year, Cain went with a 5-year deal in Milwaukee this winter. It made more sense for Cain to go with a long-term deal rather than a shorter one where he would end up back on the market at an older age. At that point, who knows where Cain’s value would be and if injuries would hurt his chances of procuring a deal similar to what he received this past offseason.

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Credit: Charlie Neibergall / AP

What that means is I will never fault a player for getting as much money as they can out on the market. I also wouldn’t question their loyalty to the organization, since that is a two-way street. Sure, Hosmer and Cain could have possibly returned to Kansas City on lesser deals, but why? A sense of loyalty from what they have done these past seven years? While it might be looked at by some as a noble gesture if they had stayed, logically it would make no sense. The Royals this winter weren’t financially in a position to offer the contracts that the Brewers or Padres offered, let alone whether those deals would make sense for the Royals long-term.The honest truth is that while it is great when players like George Brett or Alex Gordon stay with one team for the duration of their career, you can’t fault a player for wanting to milk as much as they can from the market. This doesn’t mean they are disloyal to the team they left nor does it mean they disliked the team, organization or even the fans with that team; it just means they did what was best for them and their family.

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Credit: K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune

I expect Royals’ fans will give a healthy standing ovation the next time Eric Hosmer or Lorenzo Cain return to Kauffman Stadium and they should. Both players were a big part of the rejuvenation of baseball in Kansas City over these last couple of seasons. But if you boo these players you might want to think about what you would do in that situation. It’s easy to say you would take less money to stay in a comfortable place like Kansas City, but would you still feel that way if your career was winding down or if you had the opportunity at a mega-contract?At the end of the day baseball is a business and as we have seen this offseason, it can sometimes be a cold, heartless, ruthless business to those looking for a job. While on the surface the idea of a player staying in one spot and being loyal sounds great, the reality is a lot murkier than that. Temper expectations, try to look at the situation from someone else’s point of view and enjoy the time you have with your favorite players. Hopefully if you are loyal to your team, they will be loyal to you.

This Dream Is Over

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I still remember where I was for the American League Wild Card game in 2014. I was stuck at work, but also knew that once I got to 8-8:30 or so I would have time to take in the game. When the 4th inning started, the Royals were ahead 3-2 and I went down the hall to knock out some recording (I work at a radio station). When I was done and returned to check up on the game, the Royals were down 7-3 as the A’s had put up a five-spot in the 6th inning. I uttered the words out loud ‘What happened?’ as my hopes and dreams for this game started to drift away. But then…the 8th inning happened, as the Royals stacked up another three runs. Then they tied it in the 9th…and then the 12th inning happened. I was still at work, past midnight, when Christian Colon would come in to score on the Salvador Perez hopper down the third base line and the celebration ensued. My co-worker at the time said it was “the happiest he had ever seen me” as we jumped up and down in excitement. That game was the beginning of this crazy ride that this group of players on the Kansas City Royals would take us on and this weekend it all comes to an end. For many of us, the last four years have been the best of times.

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Most of you know the story, or some semblance of it. Before 2013, the Royals hadn’t had a winning season since 2003 and had only one winning season since the 1995 campaign. The Royals had become the laughingstock of baseball during this time period and for most of that period ownership didn’t appear to be too concerned with putting winning baseball on the field. For those of us around during this time, we often refer to it as ‘The Dark Days’ and try move the topic away from that twenty year stretch. It wasn’t much fun to be a Royals fan and at numerous points I was asked why I still hung around. It was simple: this was my team, the team I had loved since I was a kid. I wasn’t abandoning them and knew they couldn’t be losers forever. There had to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Luckily, we started to see a glint of hope in 2011, as players like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy and Salvador Perez started to make their way to the big leagues. The Royals had acquired Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar a year before in the Greinke trade and Alex Gordon was the homegrown player who finally broke through that year. The building blocks were being pieced together for what would eventually become a championship team.

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There had been such a long stretch without winning baseball in Kansas City that the amount that remembered what that was like was outnumbered by those who didn’t. That wild card game changed not only the direction of the organization but also changed the fanbase and Kansas City as a whole. No longer was this team an organization in dire need of October baseball. Instead, it was a team of players who were becoming household names. The best part of those Royals teams were how easy it was to root for them. Guys like Hosmer, Salvy and Cain almost always had a smile on their face and it had become very apparent that they were having fun out on the field. These were not only a group of players you could get behind, but a group that actually enjoyed each other and pushed each other to succeed. I sometimes wonder if Kansas City embraces this team the way they did if not for how likable they were. It was easy to cheer them on when you saw them having fun out on the field and playing baseball like a bunch of kids. This being a fun group made baseball fun again and the winning pushed everything over the top.

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…and that is what makes this weekend so sad. We have reached the end of the line with this group, as a number of them are approaching free agency this offseason. Hosmer, Cain and Moustakas are the biggest names in this group, but guys like Escobar and Jason Vargas are all on this list. There is always a chance one or two return to Kansas City, but the percentages say it is more likely the majority leave. We’ve all known this for years and each of us in our own way have dealt with it accordingly. That being said, it doesn’t make it any easier and is why as much as there is celebration in the air this weekend, it is with a bittersweet twinge. The bottom line is that we have seen this core group grow together, learn together and win together. The idea of a Mike Moustakas NOT wearing Royal blue or another fanbase chanting ‘MOOOOOOOOSE’ feels wrong. In some ways we have claimed ownership of these players and the idea of them moving along is hard to really wrap one’s head around. But this is baseball and the economics of the game make it to where a small market team has a difficult time keeping all their players once they reach the free agency market. The attachment to these players have been evident for a while; even when a guy like Jeremy Guthrie left after the 2015 season there was a bit of sadness despite his performance during that season. We as fans get used to watching and cheering for these guys on a daily basis season after season; when you attach the amount of memories this group has given us during this run, that attachment grows even more. This is why Sunday is going to be a difficult time for most Royals fans.

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The honest truth is that even if Kansas City is able to retain a couple of these players, 2018 is going to be a difficult season. The farm system is one of the worst in the game and there is not much help on the horizon in the high minors. We’ve all coped with this in different ways and while I consider myself a fairly realistic person, there is still a part of me that wishes the Royals could bring everyone back. As a fan of this team for over 30 years, I am going to miss the joy and exuberance of this era in Royals baseball. That being said, a part of me is excited at the idea of what the next group of Kansas City players will be like that returns the team to postseason glory. This run has been one which has given all of us so many memories, some that have eclipsed the ones I stored in my mind from when I was a kid. For that, I will forever be grateful of what these guys did. Thank you, Hos, Moose and LoCain; may your future be as bright as your past and present have been…and may you hold Kansas City in your hearts the way you have done for us. Sincerely, every Kansas City Royals fan.

You Wanted The Royals To Sign Someone…

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It’s been a slow winter for the Kansas City Royals so far. Outside of the acquisition of Jorge Soler, the possible next biggest news for Kansas City might be the team re-signing backup catcher Drew Butera. Yep, that is how slow it has been. In fact, you’ve probably heard many a Royals fan utter the phrase “Just sign someone, anyone…”. Well…you got your wish, as Kansas City signed four players to minor league deals on Christmas Eve. On that list is pitcher Bobby Parnell, infielder Brooks Conrad, outfielder Ruben Sosa and…former Royal Jonathan Sanchez. Yes, the same Sanchez who was acquired for Melky Cabrera at one point. The same Sanchez who was absolutely atrocious during his short stint in Kansas City. We will get back to him in just a moment. But first, lets look at all of these signings and what to expect from them.

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Let’s start with Parnell, who is the biggest name on this list. Parnell used to be a solid contributor out of the bullpen for the Mets, including a four year run from 2010 to 2013 where he produced an average 140 ERA+ during that span. Injuries curtailed Parnell’s run after that, appearing in just one game in 2014 (due to Tommy John surgery) before returning to the Mets for 30 games in the 2015 season. That year was nothing to write home about, as Parnell posted an ERA+ of 61, a FIP of 4.18 and an ERA of 6.38. Parnell signed a minor league deal with Detroit last year but threw most of the year in AAA, putting up very pedestrian numbers. He did appear in six games for the Tigers, throwing 5 innings, striking out 4 while walking 5 in that short span and would eventually be let go by Detroit. The one positive in 2016 for Parnell was that the velocity on his fastball did increase, picking up to 94 mph on average, one mph faster than he racked up in 2015 and closer to the upper 90’s fastball seen by him before the surgery. I actually think Parnell could be a valuable asset in the Royals bullpen, as he could be in the vein of a Ryan Madson, who had been out of baseball for a couple of years before signing with Kansas City before the 2015 season. This is a quality signing by Dayton Moore in my eyes.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Chicago Cubs

Conrad is a veteran journeyman who has floated around baseball for about 15 years now and played in the Independent League in 2016. Conrad last saw action in the minor leagues back in 2015, posting a line of .190/.280/.319 in 83 games. Conrad has basically been used as a utility infielder throughout his career, seeing most of his time at third base. He has played parts of 6 seasons in the major leagues, putting up a line of .200/.271/.389 over 515 plate appearances. It’s pretty obvious that Conrad’s signing was a depth move, as he can fill a number of roles if the Royals end up placing him in either AA or AAA. In fact, I would dare to say there is a chance he was signed for the sole purpose of working with many of the younger players in the farm system and might even be a future coach in the Kansas City system. This might be a signing that was being eyed more for a future role in the organization than anything else, so I wouldn’t really expect to see him in Kansas City at anytime in 2017.

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Sosa is an outfielder who has spent most of his career in the Astros and Angels organizations. Sosa hasn’t had a horrible minor league career, posting a career line of .282./.366/.391 over six seasons. Sosa is a speedy outfielder who seems to take a good amount of walks, but also strikes out quite often (319 strike outs in 419 games). What probably caught the Royals eye is his work in the Mexican League in 2016. Over 70 games, Sosa hit .371/.458/.517 with 22 stolen bases. Sosa probably is a backup outfielder at best if he would reach the big leagues, used mainly as a defensive replacement and pinch runner would be my guess. Sosa would be a long-shot to get to Kansas City and has been assigned to the Kansas City AA affiliate, Northwest Arkansas.

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Finally, we have reached the main event, former Royal Jonathan Sanchez. I’m sure many a Royals fan cringed when they heard Moore had signed Sanchez to a minor league deal, as he is not fondly remembered by Royals fans. Lets not mince words-Sanchez was awful during his short span in Kansas City. In just 12 games (and yes, it feels like he pitched more than that for Kansas City), Sanchez 0.82 Strike out to walk ratio, an ERA+ of 54 (100 is league average) 6.45 FIP and a -1.3 bWAR. Before you ask, yes, Sanchez was as bad as the numbers indicate. The worst part of his run in Kansas City was that it just seemed like he didn’t want to be with the team, so he was dealt to Colorado in July of 2012 for Jeremy Guthrie. Incidentally, my first post on this blog was spent talking about that deal, a deal that was definitely one of Dayton Moore’s best. All this being said…it doesn’t really bother me that the Royals have brought Sanchez back into the fold. The honest truth is that the likelihood that he makes it to the big league club is slim and none. Sanchez hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2013, where he pitched in 5 games for Pittsburgh, throwing only 13 innings, allowing 18 runs and 7 home runs in that short amount of time. He was in the Reds camp last year for Spring Training, but was released at the end of camp. It is very simple math with this signing: if he is awful, the team will release him in Spring Training and that will be that. If he does good, then he can actually contribute to the Royals in 2017, something he didn’t do the first time around. Kansas City doesn’t lose anything by bringing him in, other than a small amount of time.

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The honest truth is that moves like these are necessary for any major league ballclub. Most minor league deals are done for one very big reason: depth. A team never knows how the season will unfold and the more depth you have stored away in the minor leagues, the more likely you will stumble across someone who can contribute to the major league team. It’s a total win/win situation, as most of these signings are done very cheaply and don’t cost the team anything. Over the years the Royals have succeeded on a few of these signings, especially with a few guys who were coming off of injuries and were able to be a part of the big league roster. Ryan Madson is the most prolific, as he pitched good enough in 2015 to earn himself a lot of money from Oakland that following winter. So while these signings aren’t going to blow anyone away, you never know what might actually pan out. So I’m not going to get worked up about Sanchez being in Royals camp this spring; the honest truth is the Royals gave up nothing for him and he either pitches good or he is gone. This time around, Sanchez needs the Royals more than they need him.

Wanna Be Starting Something

MLB: ALCS-Toronto Blue Jays at Kansas City Royals
(Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY)

Back in May, I discussed how the starting pitching had become a major issue for the Kansas City Royals. Luckily, not too long after that the starters stabilized and even with Chris Young and Kris Medlen on the disabled list, the Royals starters improved upon what at the time was a woeful performance. No one was going to confuse their starting staff with the Atlanta Braves rotations of the 1990’s or the Baltimore Orioles starters in the 1970’s, but there was some notable improvement, especially once Danny Duffy returned to the rotation. But the glaring weakness of this Royals team is still the starting five and I’m not so sure help is on the way.

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On Friday night, the normally steady Edinson Volquez had one of the worst starts of not only his career, but in baseball history. Volquez only threw one complete inning, allowing 8 hits, 3 walks and 11 earned runs. This earned him the honor of worst game score in Royals history, -18, which toppled the old record of -11, held by Jeremy Guthrie from last year and Zack Greinke in 2005. Chris Young followed that the next night by pitching 2.1 innings, and allowing 7 runs. Luckily, the Royals got some solid bullpen work both days from Dillon Gee, Brian Flynn, Peter Moylan and Chien-Ming Wang(oh, and Drew Butera). This is after Ian Kennedy only worked 4 innings on Tuesday and while Yordano Ventura is serving his 8 game suspension. The Royals starters are struggling and it’s easy when looking at the numbers to see why.

Indians Royals Baseball
 (AP Photo/David Dermer)

The Royals starters are 13th in the American League in innings pitched, the second highest in walks per 9 and 4th highest in home runs per 9. The only thing saving them from being last in the league is the fact they are stranding the most runners on base(a league leading 76.8%) and the Angels and Twins starters have actually performed worst this year. Back in May, both Medlen and Ventura were averaging 7 walks per 9 innings; Medlen is currently out on rehab assignment and Ventura has lowered his rate to 4 walks per 9. Chris Young and Ian Kennedy are 1 and 3 respectively in home runs allowed in the American League, with Jered Weaver of the Angels sandwiched between the two Royals. If the Royals are going to stay in the pennant race come September, this has to improve. But how?

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Unfortunately, there isn’t much help on the horizon. Medlen is close to being back, but if he pitches the way he was earlier in the season I’m not for sure that is an improvement. Mike Minor was once thought of as an option, but he was shut down from his rehab assignment a few weeks ago for shoulder fatigue and hasn’t been heard of since. Same for two top Royals prospects, Kyle Zimmer and Miguel Almonte. Almonte did return to action on June 9th, but the longest start he has had since then was only 4 innings. Alec Mills was recently recalled to AAA Omaha, but I doubt he is ready yet for a rotation spot. So there are really no answers within the organization. What about outside the organization?

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Unfortunately, the Royals don’t have much to deal, especially after last year’s Cueto and Zobrist trades that took a large chunk of their pitching depth.It’s conceivable that the Royals could go out and make a trade, although it wouldn’t be for much. More than likely it would have to be a middle to back end of the rotation type starter and someone that Kansas City could get fairly cheap. Someone like a Rich Hill of Oakland would probably be within their price range and would be a nice fit in the middle of this rotation.

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If the Royals are going to contend they are going to have to improve from within. Young and Kennedy would do good to keep the ball down low, pitch on the corners and avoid the middle of the plate. Yordano needs to keep his cool and use his fastball to set-up his off-speed stuff. All the Kansas City pitchers would be wise to lower their walk total and let the Royals defense do their job. More than anything, they need to limit the amount of base runners that are on the base paths; the current amount is just a recipe for disaster. This all seems like basic stuff that I’m sure they are trying to do anyway, but at this point whatever they are trying to do is not working.

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So the main solution to the Royals problem is a bit more consistency from their starters. In reality, all they really need to do is go 5 to 6 innings, allowing 3 runs or less(which is essentially a quality start) and then hand the game over to the bullpen. All of the Royals starters are capable of doing this and while it is unrealistic to expect this out of them every start, it is realistic to expect it the majority of the time. It appears rather funny to sit here and tell them to ‘just pitch better’ but essentially that is what will have to happen. There is no hero coming, riding in on a white horse. For the most part, the rotation they have now will decide whether or not this Kansas City team is playing again come October. This is the hand they dealt themselves,  and more than likely it is the hand that will decide their fate.

Leaving San Diego: Royals Ink Kennedy to 5 Year Deal

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Sometimes things are so inevitable that they will happen no matter the circumstances. For the last week plus we have heard about the Kansas City Royals interest in free agent righty Ian Kennedy and on Saturday morning they pulled the trigger on a 5 year, $70 million dollar deal.

The deal does have an opt out after year two(appears to be a player option) which would be after the 2017 season, where the Royals would already have Wade Davis, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar possibly eligible for free agency. This obviously means the Royals are taking advantage of the two year window in front of them and adding another arm to the rotation was at the top of the list for General Manager Dayton Moore. There are a number of immediate questions about Kennedy(as well as some positives), but first let’s give you an idea of just who Ian Kennedy really is.

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Ian Kennedy is going into his 31 year old season as a former big time prospect in the New York Yankees organization who has toiled in the majors since 2007. His best season to date is the 2011 campaign, where he went 21-4 for the Diamondbacks, striking out 8.03 batters per 9, a 2.88 ERA, an ERA+ of 137 and 4.8 WAR. Unfortunately, that 2011 season seems to be the outlier of Kennedy’s career, as he has been a fairly mediocre starter throughout his time in the big leagues, including three straight seasons of being a below average pitcher from 2013-2015. That being said, there are plusses and minuses to the signing.

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Let’s start with the giant pink elephant in the room: home runs. Last year, Kennedy gave up 31 home runs, 19 in his home field of Petco Park. Yes, the Petco park that is considered a major pitchers park. For whatever reason, balls flew out of that place at a higher rate last year, and Kennedy and former Padres teammate James Shields paid the price for the increase. In fact, Kennedy allowed home runs on 17% of his fly balls in 2015, only toppled by Shields and Kyle Kendrick, with a difference of only less than half of one percentage point. Yes, it appeared that balls flew out of Petco last year, but giving up that many home runs is still a blemish on the stat board and has to be taken into consideration. It appears that the Royals scouts and front office believe that playing in Kauffman Stadium, which has a low home run rate, plus adding in the Royals stellar defense in the outfield will help Kennedy with some of those fly balls. It’s possible…but as this chart shows, maybe not as much as we would hope:

What the graph shows is that if you took those 31 home runs and moved them to Kauffman, 3/4 of them would still leave the park. Add in that Kennedy won’t be starting all of his games in Kansas City, and…well, you can see why there is some worry.

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Now, I feel like I can’t paint the ‘Ian Kennedy picture’ without mentioning some of the positives. For one, his K/9 rate the last has been above 8 for three straight seasons and has been sitting at a steady 9.3 for the last two. The guy has noticed an uptick in his velocity and it has shown in his strikeout numbers. But the increase in velocity has also accounted for a high hard-hit rate, which normally means a low soft-hit rate. In fact, Kennedy has not a hard-hit % below 30% since…you guessed it, that great 2011 season. In other words, when batters do make contact off of Kennedy, they are getting good wood on the ball. That makes it harder to keep the scoring down and also hurts the chances of a pitcher pitching deeper into the game. Last year, Kennedy averaged 5.6 innings per start, but over his career he has been a workhouse. Since 2010, the lowest amount of innings Kennedy has accumulated is 168 in 2015, while in that span he has had three seasons over 200 innings(and one at 194). So Kennedy will give you innings, which has long been a goal of Moore when he acquires starting pitchers.

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Also, his walk rate went down this past year, down to 2.78 after hovering in the 3’s for the previous two years. So you have a guy who has increased his strikeout rate while lowering his walk rate, which is a plus for any starter in the majors. Kennedy also seemed to improve his statistics in June of last year, possibly due to a shift on the pitching rubber:

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The picture on the left is from his last start, the one on the right is from his first start in June. As you can tell, he went from throwing on the 3rd base side of the rubber to the 1st base side. There was a noticeable improvement, as his home runs dipped down and his OPS allowed improved by almost 200 points. I’m sure all of this will be digested by Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland, who within himself is a big part of this puzzle. You see, Kennedy is not a stranger to Eiland:

Eiland was the pitching coach for the Yankees when Kennedy made it to the big leagues so Eiland is familiar with him not only from then but back when he had success during his days as a prospect in the New York system. One has to think a big part of Kansas City feeling so confident in giving him this big contract was having Eiland in their back pocket to guide him back to success. Eiland has shown over the years to have a knack of turning questionable pitchers into solid starters by just tweaking the most subtle of things. All you have to look at is Jeremy Guthrie time in Kansas City(before 2015) and most recently Edinson Volquez. If anyone can turn Kennedy around, it would be Eiland.

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There is one more positive to the this signing, and that would be durability. Kennedy has been lucky so far in his career and hasn’t had a major arm injury. In fact, Kennedy spent a little bit of time on the disable list last year, but it was for a hamstring strain. Kennedy has been healthy enough to make at least 30 starts in all 6 of his seasons as a regular. Add in the innings totals and at the very least you have a starter that you can count on to take the mound once every five games. Anymore, that is a major victory within itself in this game.

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So where do I stand? This is an odd signing in that I am not totally for sure how I feel. I like that the Royals seem to have signed a durable starter who can log some innings for the team before turning it over to the pen. There were times this past season where the starters went four or five innings and were done for the day. I’m not a big fan of a five year deal, but there is the opt out clause after year two, so hopefully Kennedy takes that and the Royals don’t get stuck with the last three years of the contract. For me it’s not even about Kennedy as much as I don’t like giving any pitcher a long-term deal, not with how easy it is to get arm injuries in this day and age. Over his career Kennedy has been about a league average pitcher and I have a feeling that is what Kansas City will get from him this year. I think there will be times he looks really good on the hill, and I think there will be times those hard hit fly balls will leave the playing field. Steamer projections are predicting Kennedy to make 31 starts, logging 182 innings with an ERA of 3.90, an FIP of 4.02 and 2.2 WAR. Honestly, I would take that and would even applaud that kind of season. The best part of the signing is that the Royals showed a willingness to spend money and give them as good a chance as any to keep a contending baseball team on the field. The last few years, Dayton Moore has shown an ability to make questionable acquisitions and have them turn to gold(paging Morales, Kendrys). At this point, if Dayton likes this move than I am on board. I just hope the ride isn’t too bumpy.

It’s Not Easy Being On the Royals Playoff Roster

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It’s that time of year, where the leaves turn colors, the hoodies are dragged out of the closet and, if you are lucky, your favorite baseball team can start thinking about the playoffs. This also means that as a fan you can start piecing together how you think your team’s playoff roster will look. As a Kansas City Royals fan, we never knew this was a ‘thing’, since up until last year we never had to worry about the Royals playing October baseball. But with Kansas City’s magic number currently sitting at ‘3’, it is pretty safe to say they will be playing past October 4th and hopefully deeper into the postseason. With that said, I was asked over the weekend what I thought the Royals playoff roster would look like. So here is my guess, although to be honest it looked a bit different than on Friday.

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Catchers(2): Salvador Perez, Drew Butera

Infielders(5): Eric Hosmer, Ben Zobrist, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Christian Colon

Obviously, this was fairly easy, since you have the four starting infielders and a backup. Originally I felt like Omar Infante would get picked over Colon, despite the fact that Colon is more versatile whereas Infante is solely a second baseman. Then Omar came up with an oblique injury on Friday, which could sideline him for close to a month if not longer. As most also know, Zobrist can also play the outfield so he could almost be counted as an infielder and an outfielder if necessary.

Outfielders(5): Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Alex Rios, Jarrod Dyson, Jonny Gomes

There was some debate just a week ago that Rios could be on the outside looking in for a roster spot due to his poor performance most of this year. Then he went out last week, continuing his hot hitting since his return from the chickenpox(which is not a minor league team in the Frontier League) and pretty much sewed up a spot for the playoffs. In my mind this pushed Paulo Orlando off the team, as I think the Royals will want Jonny Gomes’ bat for pinch hitting late in the game or against a tough lefthander. I had an argument with someone over Gomes being on the team, as I am of the belief that he was acquired for the sole purpose of being used in the playoffs while this other person who will not be named believes he won’t because the Royals aren’t using him much. I guess we will see, but in the playoffs I can’t see the reasoning behind six outfielders, or having Orlando on the team for solely defensive purposes. But, there might be a spot for him otherwise, which I will get to later.

DH(1): Kendrys Morales

Starting Pitchers(4): Johnny Cueto, Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, Kris Medlen

This seems pretty self-explanatory, especially once Danny Duffy was sent to the bullpen. I still laugh when thinking about some of the Royals fans believing that Cueto might not be on this roster if he continued to under-perform. The wild card in this group is Yordano Ventura; if he pitches like he has over the last 4-6 weeks then he will be a solid number two. If he reverts back to his form from earlier this year there could be an issue. I also think Medlen could be a major player, which seems a bit inconceivable considering where he was at when the season started(starting the climb back from Tommy John Surgery). This isn’t the most solid group but if they can go 5-6 innings every game in the playoffs, hopefully the bullpen can do the rest.

Relievers(8): Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Ryan Madson, Franklin Morales, Danny Duffy, Luke Hochevar, Chris Young, Greg Holland

Speaking of, the bullpen is still a strong suit for this Kansas City team but not quite the monster it was last year. Greg Holland has fallen from grace and it was announced earlier today that Wade Davis is the closer going forward while Holland’s role on the team is to be determined. It also came to light that Holland has been dealing with an elbow issue since the All-Star break and isn’t reliable enough to close games for Kansas City. I’m not shocked to learn Holland was hurt, as I have suspected it most of this year, but this puts a giant question mark into the playoff roster. Can Holland be relied on to perform in any close game, even if that means coming in as early as the 6th inning? Or is he past the point of being trusted in such a situation and be completely left off the roster? I really don’t have an answer to this, but I also know manager Ned Yost is a loyal person and might keep Holland around for that reason only. The other options would be to leave him off while adding Paulo Orlando to the team, trusting that a 7-man bullpen is good enough in the ALDS, or you add young pitcher Miguel Almonte to the pen. Almonte has been a mixed bag so far in September and probably isn’t ready for the big stage, but he does have electric stuff and if used in the proper situation could be a viable option. IF Holland is left off the roster, Orlando very well could be the one given the nod.

July 03, 2015: Kansas City Royals Manager Ned Yost relieves Kansas City Royals' starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie (11) in the seventh inning during a Major League Baseball  game between the Minnesota Twins and the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. The Royals won in ten innings, 3-2.

The other roster question for the bullpen is whether to go with Chris Young or Jeremy Guthrie as the long reliever. I know there some Royals fan snickering right now for even mentioning Guthrie, but hear me out. Over the weekend I felt like it could be Guthrie, since he was given the starting nod once Duffy was shuffled to the pen and because Chris Young hasn’t been used much over the last couple months. In fact, in August Young didn’t throw more than an inning in any outing, and only appeared in five games during the entire month. Young does have a 2 and a 3 inning outing so far in September, but I would imagine his arm isn’t stretched out like it normally would be. Plus, I couldn’t imagine Young, an extreme fly ball pitcher, to see any action in Toronto, New York, or even Arlington or Houston’s ballparks. Those ballparks are pretty much all hitter’s parks, or in other words a nightmare for a guy who gives up lots of fly balls. So the only action Young would see would probably be at Kauffman Stadium and that cuts down how often you could use him. But then Guthrie looked atrocious on Tuesday night against Seattle and pretty much assured that he would be left off of any and all playoff rosters. Great guy, but Guthrie has had an awful season that isn’t getting better. So Young gets the nod over Guthrie, but hopefully there won’t be much of a need for him come October.

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So there you go, my guess as to what the Royals first round playoff roster will look like. Like I said, there could be a few slight changes to this and with a week and a half left in the season there is the possibility someone else could get hurt or there could be a need for a bit more depth in an area I hadn’t thought of. At the end of the day it is great to even be able to have this conversation, no matter how much bickering goes on about which player stays or goes. With September being a rough month, I think I speak for lots of Royals fans by saying “let’s just start the playoffs already”. Trust me, it will be here soon enough, as we get to engulf ourselves in another ‘Blue October’.

Ray of Sunshine: Royals Beat Tampa Bay

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In the old days, you would play all the teams in your designated league the same amount of times. It didn’t matter whether you were a Central division team or an East team, you play each other the same amount of times as the teams within your own division. That was changed a few years ago and teams now play the teams within your division the majority of the time. That means a team like the Kansas City Royals only play the teams in the “other” division twice per year(one at home, one on the road). So this series with the Tampa Bay Rays wrapped up the two teams time together this year, as the Royals won the previous series at Kauffman Stadium. That series saw the Royals sweep Tampa Bay; this one saw the Royals take two of three. This put the Royals at 80 wins with 32 games remaining and leads to a number of varying topics coming out of this series at ‘The Trop’.

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Series MVP: Lorenzo Cain  

This section felt like it could be a toss-up, with both Kendrys Morales and Mike Moustakas getting heavy consideration. But the more consistent hitter in this series was Lorenzo Cain, who went 3 for 9 with 2 runs, 2 RBI’s, 4 walks and 2 stolen bases. Cain did what he has done for most of this year, which is basically a little bit of everything. I decided to take a deeper look into just how good Cain has been and I have had a hard time finding something that Cain has done worse this year than last. Walk percentage? Up. Strikeout percentage? Down. Slugging and On Base percentage are both up as is his wRC+ and WAR. He is hitting the ball harder and hitting the ball more consistently to all fields than ever before in his career. Literally the only thing that is down from last year is Cain’s BAbip, which is at .357 from last year’s .380. But the argument there can even be made that this is due almost entirely to his increased home run numbers. There has been a lot of discussion about what the Royals will do once Alex Gordon is activated and just how the lineup will shake out. I’m pretty sure that no matter the changes in the batting order, Cain will remain in the third spot, his home for this entire 2015 campaign. It’s even conceivable at this point that Cain will end up in the top five of the voting for the American League MVP race, as he should:

It has been a marquee season for a player who at one time we just worried he wouldn’t be able to stay healthy, let along put up numbers that would put him into consideration for the highest honor in the league.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez

When the season wraps up, I am going to go back and check just how many times Volquez got this honor, since it seems to happen quite frequently. Volquez spun another good game on Friday night, going 6.2 innings, giving up 6 hits and 2 runs(1 earned) while walking 2 and striking out 5. It was another quality start for ‘Easy Eddie’ and gave him a game score of 59. At this point Volquez is probably in line to be the #2 or #3 starter in the rotation in the playoffs and has earned that right this year. I’ve asked the question before ‘which Dayton Moore signing has been more important this offseason, Kendrys Morales or Volquez?’ and as great of an impact as Morales has had on the Royals lineup(and it has been a big impact), I tend to lean toward Volquez. Earlier in the season(before the Johnny Cueto trade), Volquez was the only consistent starter in the rotation as Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy and Jeremy Guthrie all struggled. Volquez has been the stopper for this rotation, a guy who holds the other team in check and allows his team to win, thwarting off any threats or long losing streaks. Without Volquez being a steady force in the rotation, I’m not sure the Royals sit here right before September with the biggest division lead in the league. Without Volquez, this very well could be a much tighter race that what lingers in front of them.

Tampa Bay Rays catcher Rene Rivera, second from right, tags out batter Kansas City Royals' Kendrys Morales (25) after tagging out Royals' Ben Zobrist, right, to complete a double play during the eighth inning of a baseball game Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015, in St. Petersburg, Fla. The Rays won 3-2. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
                      (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

TOOTBLAN or Foul Ball?

Sure, the Royals won this series. But most of what has been discussed has been a pivotal play in Sunday’s game that Kansas City lost. The Royals are down in the Top of the 8th inning, 3-2, with runners on 1st and 3rd and 1 out. Morales hits a little chopper down the first base line and then…

On first instinct I felt that was a TOOTBLAN(Thrown Out On The Basepaths Like A Nincompoop) on Morales’ part and one of the worst plays I have seen this year. But the more I watch the play I tend to think even though it is bad, there were a number of issues that should be pointed out. First off, the ball appeared to be foul once James Loney grabbed it. In fact I am assuming that is why Morales didn’t run. There was also no definite call from the home plate umpire, who had the best view of that ball. The first base ump called the ball fair, which I believe is what the home plate ump went off of. I should probably point out here that the play is non-reviewable, which is a bigger conundrum for Kansas City. Saying all that, some blame falls on Morales. He had to have seen the first base umpire call the ball fair, which meant he should have run. Even if he didn’t see it, you should assume it is fair unless otherwise called. I get he thought it was foul and in the postgame manager Ned Yost said “we don’t run out foul balls”. That is fine, except in a scenario like that you run and ask questions later. That major flaw is on Morales as he should have ran no matter what. It looks really bad when a rally is snuffed out while you are just standing at home plate, an easy out for the catcher to make. This might not be a TOOTBLAN at the end of the day, but it is still bad fundamental baseball, which is a shock since the Royals don’t make many fundamental errors. This probably cost the Royals at least a chance of tying up the game and maybe even costing them a victory. Hopefully it is remembered and next time the batter runs to first, foul or not.

Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas hits a RBI-double off Tampa Bay Rays starter Jake Odorizzi during the fourth inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)
                (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

It was an exciting three games at Tropicana Field and much more went on than just what is above this line. For more on the Royals and Rays series, read on:

  • The Rays played a tribute video to former Ray and current Royal Ben Zobrist before Friday night’s game. It was a great gesture to a guy who played many years in Tampa and had become just as synonomous to the team as Evan Longoria. The Rays even acknowledged his greatness with some sabermetric love:

It also appears as if Zobrist will be taking over for Omar Infante once Alex Gordon is activated from the disabled list:

One can only hope that Kansas City has made a great impression on Zobrist and makes his decision this offseason a little bit easier. It would help though if Zobrist doesn’t make any enemies:

Don’t cross the Kuntz!

  • A lot of pub has gone Kendrys Morales way as of late due to his ability to drive in runs with 2 outs in an inning:

There is also his ability to hit a home run in the catwalk at ‘The Trop’:

You always hear how each stadium has their own set of quirky rules. Wrigley Field has the ivy, Houston has Tal’s Hill(for now), and Tropicana has those catwalks. Luckily the call went Kansas City’s way and Morales came away with a homer. Folks, that stadium is ugly. Let’s hope they get a new one before MLB decides to ship them up to Montreal.

  • The Royals bullpen as of late feels like the walking wounded. Wade Davis had back issues, Greg Holland has been dealing with a cranky elbow(I have to feel that has been going on most of this season) and now Ryan Madson has a dead arm:

This was to be expected. Madson hadn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2011 and has thrown 51 innings so far this year. Hopefully a little rest will help keep him healthy and available for the playoffs. Now if only the Royals could find a cure for Jeremy Guthrie’s “Longball-itis”.

  • Speaking of Guthrie, he held a little bit of a friendly competition with the Tampa Bay ballboy this weekend:

I often feel like Major League Baseball isn’t always the best at promoting their players and why they are so great. Guthrie might be relegated to long reliever status and might not appear in very many games going forward, but he still managed to have fun and put a smile on that kid’s face. THIS is the stuff you promote about your game. THIS is just one of many examples about what is so great about this game and it’s players.

  • Yet another good series for Mike Moustakas this weekend, as he compiled another accomplishment to his long list of new career hights this season:

Moose has also shown that he can be a tough out when he needs to be:

A lot of praise this season will go to Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer, but Mike Moustakas has put together a season he should be proud of. Lets hope he finishes strong and shows that early season surge was not a fluke.

  • Danny Duffy had some good and some bad in his outing this past Sunday. On the positive, Duffy figured out early that the umpire was calling the low strike and took advantage of it, striking out six in his 5 innings of work. Craig Brown of Royals Authority went into greater detail about Duffy’s outing, and like him I still cringe at Duffy’s pitch count. Duffy threw 99 pitches in those 5 innings when the Royals probably would have preferred he go 6 or 7 innings. The difference in this start was not balls thrown by Duffy but the foul balls. Duffy had 22 pitches fouled off in this game and overall this season batters have fouled off 19% of pitches he throws. I think we all would like to see a more efficient Danny Duffy, but for that to happen he has to limit his pitch count to go deeper into the game. Because of this there is a good chance he could be pitching out of the bullpen come October rather than as a starter. At this point, it would appear Kris Medlen could be taking Duffy’s spot in the rotation come playoff time.
  • Finally, it appears the Platinum Glove Award winner will be returning this week:

Gordon looks like he didn’t miss a beat while playing in AAA Omaha:

The big question now is where will Gordon bat in the lineup upon his return? The 6th spot where he was hitting earlier in the year is now inhabited by Mike Moustakas, who has been hitting lights out as of late. Honestly, the best idea is to bat him leadoff, sending Alcides Escobar down in the lineup, especially considering his hitting throughout August:

Batting Gordon and Zobrist at the top of the lineup makes the most sense, since those are your two best OBP hitters. If the Royals really want to maximize their offense, placing Gordon near the top of the lineup would be the wisest move. I guess we will find out Tuesday what Ned Yost has in mind when it comes to lineup construction going forward.

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Tweets of Royalty

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We now venture into the final month of the regular season and the Royals still have a few items to check off their ‘Want List’:

The beginning of that journey begins on Tuesday, as the Tigers stroll into town for three games at ‘The K’, followed by three against the White Sox. Tuesday night’s game could be fun, as Johnny Cueto faces off against Justin Verlander, who will be making his first start since he almost no-hit the Angels. Tuesday should also be fun, as it looks to be the return of Alex Gordon. The Royals are in the driver’s seat as the playoffs loom and it is the pole position we have all yearned to be in this spot for the last 30 years. Buckle up, kiddos; we are getting ready to go on a fantastic ride.

 

 

Wicked Mediocre: Royals, Red Sox Split Series

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Going into this series in ‘Beantown’ we all knew what loomed in front of the Kansas City Royals. The Royals had gone 7-10 against Boston the last three seasons, including 1-2 against the Red Sox earlier this year at Kauffman Stadium. Logic would tell you that with Boston holding down the American League East cellar(and it’s not even close) and Kansas City dominating the American League Central, well, it seemed like everything would come up blue this series. But that is why they play the games, right? The Royals were able to get out of town splitting the series 2-2 which after Friday seemed like a minor miracle. But this series wasn’t all tea parties and marathons. Nope, we also got some big league baseball in. Trust me, read on.

Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas follows through on a two-run double against the Boston Red Sox during the ninth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston Sunday, Aug. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Series MVP: Mike Moustakas

If I was going purely off of batting average(and no one should do that), I might have picked Alex Rios for this honor. No, really. But after Sunday’s game, there was only one player who deserves this. Moustakas was 5 for 12 this series with 2 doubles, 2 home runs, 5 RBI’s, a walk and 4 runs scored. But the bigger story from this series was how impactful he was to the Royals victories on both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, Moustakas would sharply single to left in the 6th inning after a Kendrys Morales walk to keep the rally going. Salvador Perez would then line a 3-run homer to the right field bullpen to take a 5-0 lead. Moustakas has become pull-happy again the last couple months and it was a nice sign to see him take the ball the other way, which was the main reason for his success in the first few months of the season. Then on Sunday, he would hit an ‘Oppo Taco’ in the 6th inning over the Green Monster, another pitch taken the opposite way. If you are wondering why all of a sudden he has returned to this new-old approach, it is all thanks to hitting coach Dale Sveum. Sveum has been working with Moose as of late to start hitting the ball the opposite way, as Moustakas had been trying to add some power to his game that was missing those first few months. The best thing would be for Moose to meld these two things, which is kind of what Lorenzo Cain has done this year with better pitch recognition. But this is a new road that Moustakas is venturing down, so it could take some time to mix both into his game. That being said, his at bat in the 9th inning on Sunday was the crown jewel of his work this series. The bases were loaded in the 9th with the score tied and Moustakas at the plate:

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The at bat would go 9 pitches, as Moustakas would foul off numerous pitches before getting the one he could drive, which turned into a 2-run double into right center that would end up being the game winner.

It was a fabulous at bat and one that only a couple of Royals(Gordon, Zobrist) would probably have been capable of having. Moose would get 3 hits in this game, driving in 4 and continuing his improvement from his woeful 2014 season. It would turn out to be a great series for the ‘Man Called Moose’, both offensively and defensively.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Yordano Ventura

Since the early parts of this season we have wondered ‘which Yordano Ventura are we getting this start?’. Are we getting the one who could dominate hitters last year with his mix of triple digit heat and off-speed magic? Or the Ventura that leaves the ball out over the middle of the plate? Or the one who can’t find the strike zone? In a lot of his starts this year we’ve gotten some hybrid of all of these things. On Saturday though we got an efficient and quality style start from Yordano. Ventura went 6 innings, giving up 6 hits and 1 run while walking 1 and striking out 6. It was another quality start for ‘Ace'(his third in a row) and helped push him to a game score of 61.

The best part of the start was his improvement the last few starts to get himself out of jams with very little if any runners crossing the plate. It also appears as if Ventura is getting more confidence with his off-speed pitches, which is a must for him. Sure, he can dial up the 100 MPH heater and try to blow it past hitters. But a big league hitter can time a fastball and will sit on it, as they have been this year. But if he has confidence in his change-up and curve, that makes one more weapon in his arsenal and make the batter less comfortable in the batters box. He still isn’t quite back to old form, but like Ned said after the game:

“Looks to me like he’s starting to get his swagger back. He’s executing his pitches and getting his confidence back.”

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The Strike Zone(And Bad Defense) And the Damage Done

Thursday night was not a good game for the boys in blue. Early on it was evident that the strike zone from the last series might have creeped over into Boston:

Now, part of this wasn’t on Danny Duffy. Obviously the umpire had a smaller strike zone than normal and was causing some problems for Duffy. But he was also favoring the low strike and Duffy didn’t adjust. After sitting through Wednesday’s abomination, I wasn’t in the mood for another long, drawn out ‘Ump Show’:

It didn’t help any that the Royals defense was not on point like they normally are. Paulo Orlando misplayed a few balls in left field and overall the Royals just didn’t look like themselves. By the time it was all said and done, Duffy was able to go 5 innings(which I didn’t imagine would happen early on in the game), giving up 7 hits, all 4 Boston runs while walking 2 and striking out 3. It felt like a step back for Duffy, who had been trending upwards over his last few starts. It was bad enough that for about an inning and a half Denny Matthews and Ryan Lefebvre discussed Toronto, Kansas, a small town about half an hour from where I grew up. Trust me when I say that Toronto is not worth an inning and a half of discussion. Just trust me on this one.

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Time now for the Good, the Bad and the Ugly from the four game set in Boston:

  • One of the big reasons that Boston is in last place and why Kansas City is in first in their division is defense. The Royals are the best defensive team in the league. Boston is not:

I remember before the season started MLB Network claimed Hanley Ramirez was the best left fielder in baseball. Offensively we all knew he could be a force. But you have to factor defense in there and he has looked even worse than Manny Ramirez did out there. Offense is good but a great defense is good for the long haul.

  • It was announced when we would finally see Kris Medlen start a game for the Royals:

Jeremy Guthrie has been moved to the pen, as Medlen will take his spot in the rotation. This has to be a move to see if Medlen can contribute as a starter in postseason play. I think it’s a good move, since Medlen has pitched good in relief and he has shown he can be a top shelf starter in the past. Hopefully all goes well and we are talking about Kris starting a game in October.

  • Omar Infante went 0 for 31 before getting a hit on Sunday:

Infante would try for an inside the park home run in the top of the 9th of that game, but would get thrown out at home thanks to a nice throw from left fielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. It was not a pretty slide at home. Mud will stop a man.

  • Speaking of Omar, him and Alex Rios finally found out how long their leash would extend:

Rios would contribute by getting back to back multiple hit games while Infante would contribute with 2 hits on Sunday. Yost seemed to have lit a fire under their butts; let’s hope they continue to play above what they have done up to this point in 2015.

  • I mentioned earlier that Salvador Perez hit a big home run in Saturday night’s game at Fenway. It was not only a crucial blow to the Red Sox, but also a milestone for Perez:

Personally, I loved the fact the ball was jacked to right field, which means Salvy went oppo. Like Moustakas, Perez has become very pull-happy, although this goes back a couple of years now. It would be nice to see Perez start using the opposite field a bit more, since it would help his declining offensive numbers over the last few years. Even a little bit would make a big difference.

  • Finally, Johnny Cueto easily had his worst start in a Royals uniform on Friday night and his worst start of 2015. Cueto went 6 innings, giving up 13 hits and 7 runs(6 earned) while walking none and striking out 3. This lead to a game score of only 23(his previous worse game score was 35 back in May against Atlanta) in a game that Boston dominated. The bottom line is that starts like this happen; as long as they aren’t the norm there is nothing to worry about. But what everyone wanted to talk about when it came to Cueto this weekend was a radio interview where he said he would be interested in signing with Boston in the offseason because he wants to play with a “championship caliber team”. First, I don’t worry too much about players who will be free agents discussing possible destinations. It is a part of the game at this point and most players are fairly used to it. Hardly any player stays with one team for the duration of their career in this day and age. Second, Cueto is still new to the Royals so he isn’t heavily ingrained into the fabric of the Royals team chemistry. Third and finally, yes it was dumb of him to say Boston was a championship team, forgetting that Boston is in last place and Kansas City is in first. Yes, ignoring what the Royals have done this year is dumb. But we all knew when he was traded to the Royals he wouldn’t return to Kansas City next year. This is just him keeping his options open. Nothing to see here. Move on.

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Tweets of Royalty

Kansas City Royals' Salvador Perez (13) celebrates his three-run home run with a fan during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Boston, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
                    (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

So the magic number now sits at 27 with with 39 games remaining this season. It seems like almost a guarantee that the Royals will wrap up the division and do that fairly soon. Kansas City has no time to rest, as the Baltimore Orioles are headed to town for a four game rematch of last year’s ALCS. We all remember what happened the last time Baltimore was at ‘The K’:

Sorry, just wanted to watch it again. I’m sure the Orioles remember this very clearly and will looking to gain back a pound a flesh in the form of a few victories. The Orioles are currently fighting for a wild card spot in the American League, as they are about a game a half out of the spot and about six games back in the American League East. It should be a fun series with lots of defensive action, as the Orioles are near the top of the defensive leader-board with Kansas City and Tampa Bay. I don’t normally predict anything before the series, but I will go ahead and do it here: Royals will take 3 out of 4 from the Orioles. If I am wrong I’m sure I will hear about it…and be forced to watch hours of Jonah Hill movies, which would be my own personal hell.

 

 

 

The Hunt For Blue October: Royals Sweep Reds

Cincinnati Reds' Jason Bourgeois (30) dives safely back to first base as Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer (35) applies the tag on a pick-off attempt during the third inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
(AP Photo/Gary Landers)

The Kansas City Royals traveled to Cincinnati this week for a short two game series that could be a short but sweet set. Instead, you got some ugly baseball, a 13 inning affair on Tuesday, a rain delay and on Wednesday the umpire made it to where the game could have been referred to as “Honey, I Shrunk the Strike Zone”. The Royals came away with a two game sweep but these two games felt like the two longest games played the entire season, even though they weren’t. Time to meander into this series and look at the good, the bad and the ugly.

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Series MVP: Ben Zobrist

If you are a Royals fan and aren’t gushing about Ben Zobrist, what are you waiting for? Zobrist dominated this series, going 6 for 11 with 2 doubles, a home run and 3 RBI’s. The fun part was that it wasn’t just how often Zobrist got on base, but when he would get his big hit. First was his big home run against Aroldis Chapman in the 9th on Tuesday to tie the game:

Once again, this was off of Aroldis Chapman!

Zobrist’s day was not done yet as he would extend the Royals lead with a single in the 13th inning:

Yes, even Ben Zobrist can get an infield hit. Ben would follow that up with a four hit game on Wednesday to help pace the Royals to another ‘W’ and the series sweep:

Since coming over to the Royals from Oakland, Zobrist is hitting .379/.468/.636 with 5 doubles, 4 home runs, 13 RBI’s and 12 walks. I was a big fan of Zobrist’s ability to get on base and his versatility on the diamond before he became a Royal. Now that he is in Kansas City, that admiration has grown:

Zobrist seems to have a lock on the second spot in the lineup and with Alex Gordon about a week and a half away from returning to the main roster we could start seeing Zobrist getting some more playing time at second base. There has been a lot of talk about how big acquiring Johnny Cueto has been for the Royals, but getting Zobrist has added another dimension to this team’s lineup and opened up the possibilities for this team come October.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez    

It almost is getting redundant mentioning ‘Edinson Volquez throws another quality start’. You almost wonder where the Royals would be if Dayton Moore hadn’t taken a flyer on Volquez this offseason and brought him into the fold. On Tuesday, Volquez started against his former team, throwing 6 innings, giving up 4 hits and 1 run while walking 3 and striking out 7. Volquez got himself into a few jams but was able to wiggle his way out of them, including a little help from Mike Moustakas to wrap up the 6th inning:

It’s a pretty good estimate to say Volquez will be the #2 starter going into the playoffs this year(unless Yordano Ventura starts rattling off some gems) and he has definitely earned it. You always have to worry a tad about bases on balls with Volquez, but when he just throws and allows the Royals stellar defense to do the rest, he is as good as gold.

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Nothin’ Worse Than Some Ugly Baseball

If you tuned in to Wednesday night’s game, you probably realized pretty early on that it was going to be a long night. Not just because of the close to two hour rain delay, but because both teams were working with a tiny strike zone. All you have to do is point to Chris Conroy’s minuscule strike zone to see why we saw such an ugly brand of baseball that night. Sprinkle in a couple of mediocre pitchers(Keyvius Sampson for Cincy, Jeremy Guthrie for Kansas City) and you have a recipe for a game that I felt would never end:

By the end of the 3rd inning Sampson was close to 80 pitches while Guthrie had surrendered multiple home runs. Now to be fair, Conroy was consistent with his strike zone, as it was tight for both pitchers, as noted by manager Ned Yost:

“Just struggling with his command, wrestling with his command all night long,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of Guthrie. “The zone seemed really tight, but they were calling pretty much balls for both guys.”

Yes, lots of balls. There were 9 total walks in this game, a game that last 3 hours and 38 minutes but felt like 13 hours and 38 minutes. It didn’t help any I was stuck listening to Steve Physioc call the play by play for the duration of this game; that’s enough to drive any person crazy! This got me to thinking. You hear people who don’t like baseball mention that it takes too long and that the game can be very boring. Most of us scoff when we hear that; we love baseball and love that it works at its own pace. We also love the little things that someone who only occasionally watches doesn’t notice or realize why this move is made for this reason. We love the intricacies. But even I hated what was going on Wednesday night. I mentally was done with this game in the 5th inning, and folks, that just doesn’t happen very often. This was ugly baseball that no one should have to appreciate. I don’t normally rag on the umpires(for the most part I think they do a good job) but umpires with tiny strike zones befuddle me. It makes no sense. Major League Baseball wants to pick up the pace of the game, which is fine. But maybe they should look at umps like Conroy, who make a game drag on by making a pitcher work with a strike zone the size of a moist towelette.  Bigger is better, at least when it comes to the strike zone.

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It was only two games, but there was more to digest. Let’s divvy up some news and notes from the ‘Queen City’:

  • If you are making plans for October and want to know when the Royals will be playing in the World Series(hey, we are allowed to be a bit brazen) here ya go:

If there is a Game 7, it would be on November 4th. I don’t know about you, but baseball should be done before November 1st. MLB needs to fix this for next year. I’m afraid we are getting closer and closer to a World Series game being played close to Thanksgiving.

  • In the 9th inning on Tuesday it looked like the Royals had taken the lead thanks to some nifty moves by Lorenzo Cain:

Alas, after review Cain was called out and the game would continue. I only wish I had half of Cain’s move. I would have killed it at pickle:

  • I’m not much for individual wins; much like saves I think it is an overstated stat. That being said, both Kris Medlen and Luke Hochevar got their first wins in the big leagues since 2013 in this series:

Both pitchers sat out 2014 with Tommy John Surgery and both made their returns this year. The ‘W’ is more about them being able to persevere and make it back successfully than an indication of their greatness. Kudos to both, as they have been pluses for this Royals team this year.

  • Finally, word got out this week that left fielder Alex Gordon would be going on rehab assignment starting Sunday. Gordon will be there for about a week before hopefully returning to the Royals lineup. You’re on notice, Omar Infante.

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Tweets of Royalty 

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The Royals now venture to Boston for four games with the magic number of 29. The Twins are long in the rear-view mirror so the Royals are playing more at this point to secure home field advantage through the playoffs. As we get closer to October, there are some questions that Royals manager Ned Yost will have to answer. How long of a leash does Alex Rios and Omar Infante get? Where all will Ben Zobrist play once Alex Gordon returns? How long does Jeremy Guthrie keep his spot in the rotation? Will Kris Medlen get a start before the season is done? And what will those Duke boys do now to get out of this sticky situation? Okay, maybe not that last one. The rest are legit and could be answered sooner rather than later. The Royals have nothing but American League East opponents this next week and a half, which the Royals have had issues with these teams so far this year. A good showing is strong support in case they have to face any of them come playoff time. Right now is all about keeping the course while also keeping an eye on October. It is a great spot to be in with just over a month left in this 2015 season.

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