The other day Matthew LaMar wrote about Hunter Dozier and the unwillingness of the Kansas City Royals to give him an opportunity when a spot has become available on the roster. Matthew wrote up a number of reasons why the team might have passed him over and some of them might carry some weight, especially among those in the Royals front office or even their scouting department.
But Dozier is not the first prospect in the Kansas City farm system to be passed over despite not having anyone of actual value holding them back. In fact, over the years the team has found a way to not see what they have with their younger talent. There for a long time, the Royals were infamous for bypassing younger players for older ones with more big league experience.
Justin Huber was one of the first names to pop in my mind when I thought of players not given a chance to perform. Huber was a highly touted prospect in the New York Mets system when they traded him to the Royals before the 2004 trade deadline for…Jose Bautista. Huber was initially a catcher, but after the trade he tore cartilage in his left knee and underwent surgery that would end his career behind the dish. The Royals would move him to first base and eventually shift him to the outfield later in his career.
Huber consistently was slugging in the .450-.475 range for most of his minor league years in New York and during his first season in the Kansas City organization hit .326/.417/.560 over 527 plate appearances. He would get a slight audition with the major league club that year, playing in 25 games while hitting just .218/.271/.256 over 85 plate appearances.
He would end up back in Omaha to start 2006 but would end up only getting 11 plate appearances that year. I specifically remember the team recalling him in May of that year for a series against Minnesota and he would only get one at bat, a pinch-hitting appearance on May 3rd.
At the time the Royals had Doug Mientkiewicz at first base and while he was a good hitter with a great glove, he also was in his age 32 season and was a one year solution at first. In layman’s terms, no one of major value was blocking Huber from getting playing time. Alas it was not to be, as Huber would play eight more games for the Royals in 2007 before being traded to San Diego in March of 2008.
Speaking of first baseman, Kila Ka’aihue is another player who the Royals dragged their feet on. Ka’aihue put up a monster year in 2008, hitting .314/.456/.628 with 37 home runs and 100 RBI’s while splitting time in AA and AAA. The Royals gave him 24 plate appearances that September and he looked to at least be an option in 2009.
Instead, Ka’aihue would spend the entire 2009 season in Omaha, hitting .252/.392/.433 with 17 home runs and 57 RBI’s. Meanwhile, the Royals had a 1B/DH combo of Billy Butler and…Mike Jacobs. Jacobs was awful during his only season in Kansas City, hitting .228/.297/.401 with an OPS+ of 84. He would be released by Kansas City in December of that year.
Ka’aihue would get a bit of a chance in May of the following year, as he was recalled to Kansas City but would still see the majority of his playing time in Omaha. He finished the 2010 season on a bit of a hot streak with 8 home runs and 25 RBI’s.
But we knew what would happen next. Eric Hosmer was on the horizon and with Billy Butler firmly entrenched at DH, that left Ka’aihue without a spot. He would end his Kansas City career with only 326 plate appearances in a four-year span, hitting .216/.309/.375.
Finally, there is the tale of Johnny Giavotella. Giavotella moved quickly through the Kansas City farm system and by the end of 2011 had posted wRC+ seasons of 123, 108, 139 and 118 and was easily the best second base prospect in the organization.
Giavotella was recalled in August of 2011 and two days after would hit his first major league home run off of Max Scherzer. Gio would spend the last two months in Kansas City, hitting .247/.273/.376 with a wRC+ of 72. He would spend 2012 bouncing back and forth between AAA and the majors, compiling 189 plate appearances and a wRC+ of 55.
At the time, “Mistake Free” Chris Getz was the Royals second baseman and while he was decent on defense, he was below average with the bat. The Royals liked Getz’s glove and Giavotella’s defense obviously hurt him in the Royals’ eyes. The fact he hadn’t hit during his short trials probably didn’t help matters either.
By the end of 2014 he was designated for assignment and would end his Royals career getting 465 plate appearances (over four years), hitting .238/.277/.334 and an OPS+ of 67. It always felt like Johnny was never given a prolonged look at the position to truly see what he was capable of and the question was always what would happen if he was just told to go out there and play on a day-to-day basis.
That is the issue with all of these players and what appears could happen to Dozier. None of the names I mentioned above were ever really truly given a chance to get comfortable and play on a consistent basis in Kansas City. The chances they were given were sporadic at best and it was frustrating to watch replacement level veterans filling spots on a number of Royals teams that, to be honest, just weren’t going anywhere.
That is the point of this whole thing. I’m not saying that Ka’aihue, Giavotella or Huber (or even someone like Jose Martinez years later) would have been top shelf offensive stars and would plant themselves in the Royals lineups for years and years. For all we know they would have produced exactly like they did in their short time with the team.
But they should have been given the chance to see what they could do, especially since no one was blocking them. We saw Hosmer and Mike Moustakas struggle for years to reach a level of success in the big leagues and the organization allowed them that time to figure it out on a yearly basis.
The players mentioned weren’t afforded that same chance and because of that we are forever left with questions with what could have been. The Royals have an opportunity over the next couple of years to give a number of players the chance to prove their worth and the time to let them fail and pick themselves back up. Sure, not every prospect is going to succeed and a number of them won’t be keepers. But you never know unless you give them the opportunity.
Not allowing someone like Dozier or even someone like Ryan O’Hearn an opportunity after all the time that has been invested in them feels like a loss of resources. At least find out what these guys can and can’t do; if the Royals want to cut bait after that then they are perfectly within their rights. But don’t leave questions left unanswered.
2017 was supposed to be a comeback year for Alex Gordon, a year where he could prove all his skeptics wrong and show that last year was an outlier for him. Gordon struggled throughout 2016 and while some attributed it to the hand injury that occurred last May, others felt like his regression had begun. Players in their early to mid 30’s normally see a drop off in their production and it appeared that might just be the case for Alex. But this offseason, Gordon worked out like a fiend, hoping to be the phoenix rising from the ashes. Instead, this year has been one of the most frustrating seasons of his career, as he is hitting .152/.264/.192 through 35 games has yet to hit a home run and only 5 extra base hits (all doubles) to his credit. Last year I looked at some of his issues: little did I know we would have to do the same thing this year. So lets once again ask the question-what is wrong with Alex Gordon?
One of the big issues last year with Gordon was an increase in his strike outs and him swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone. So far in 2017, Gordon’s K rate has slid back down to normal levels (20.8% compared to last year’s 29.2%) while his O-Swing % (which is the percentage of pitches swung at outside the strike zone) has fallen to 24.8%, down from 27. 4%. The interesting part is that Alex is making more contact on pitches both inside and outside the zone (53 O-Contact %, 88.1 Z-Contact %), which also means his contact rate has increased as well (78.3%, up from 71.9% in 2016). With his strike outs down, this makes sense and is actually back on par with the previous five seasons before 2016. So a big part of his problem last year has been addressed and fixed; if that is the case, what has negatively changed since last year?
Digging a bit deeper, it doesn’t take long to point at a few problem areas for Alex. One, his soft hit rate is up this year, sitting at 20% (16.1% in 2016) while his hard hit rate is down (28.4%, compared to 36.9% last year). If you have watched the Royals at all this year, it won’t shock you in the least. Line drive and fly ball rates are down (19.1 and 27.7%, respectively), while his ground ball rate is up (53.2%, a big increase from last year’s 37.9%). Once again, not shocking if you have watched him at the dish this year. What did surprise me a bit was that his pull rate was down; I was certain that he had been pulling the ball much more this year in year’s past. Instead, it is down to 41.1% while his opposite field rate is also down to 16.8%. This means he has been hitting the ball more up the middle (up 10% to 42.1%), which is normally a good thing. Unfortunately, quite a bit more shifts have been put on Gordon this year and a number of line drives that he has hit up the middle have been hit directly to a fielder, normally the shortstop who has shifted over to behind the second base bag. It is a bit surprising to see that he has hit the ball to the opposite field less, especially since he is a better hitter when hitting it to left-left center field. One would think if he got a few more hits to the opposite field, it might cause him to get out of this funk and compile a few hits to help his cause.
Next, we take a look at the variety of pitches that he has seen since 2016. Now, it is still early in the season, but far enough into it that we can see a pattern forming. First, here is the percentage of pitches seen:
Next, the swing percentage of pitches thrown at him during that span:
From the numbers, it is evident that Alex is swinging at more hard and off-speed pitches and less at breaking balls. What is different this year, has been that while he has been more patient with breaking balls, he also has a greater chance to swing and miss at those pitches (39% whiff/swing with breaking balls). In fact, his whiffs per swing on breaking balls has picked up tremendously since 2015:
While these numbers explain part of the story, there is another piece to the puzzle. When Gordon faces left-handed pitchers, he is seeing a breaking ball (most specifically sliders) a vast majority of the time. Against lefties, Gordon sees a slider 21% of the time in all counts, 25% when the batter is ahead and 26% with two strikes. Lefties have been throwing more sliders and curves to Alex and they have been a difficult pitch for him to handle.
There is also the issue of Gordon and fastballs, which has raised some eyebrows the last two seasons. Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star wrote about this issue earlier today:
From 2011 to 2015, Gordon was the sixth-best hitter in the American League against fastballs, compiling 92.4 runs above average, according to data from FanGraphs. To look at the players who were better is to see a list of the best hitters from the era: Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, Nelson Cruz, Jose Bautista and David Ortiz.
But then came 2016, and Gordon’s numbers against fastballs plummeted. He compiled just 1.1 runs above average against the pitch. This year, he’s been the 24th-worst hitter in the American League against fastballs, compiling -2.3 runs above average. He entered Tuesday batting .190 against four-seam fastballs and .167 against two-seamers, according to MLB Statcast data. For comparison, the league-average batting average against four-seam and two-seam fastballs was .271, according to Baseball Savant.
So the question has to be asked: is Gordon starting to regress and is having difficulty catching up with the fastball?
The numbers seem to attest that very well could be a possibility and has to be concerning for Kansas City management. If this is the case and we are seeing the decline of Gordon, one has to wonder how he will react to it. Alex has always come across as a very competitive player, someone who will put in the time necessary to improve his game. If he is slowing down and his reactionary time is fading as well, he might have to change his game plan up, looking for more off-speed pitches while only focusing on the fastball when necessary. Good hitters over time have dealt with this same issue and have found a way to cheat a little while not seeing their numbers completely dropping off the board. This very well might be the course of action Alex has to take moving forward. Gordon still has the capability of being a productive player, but the days of 20 home runs a season might very well be in the rear-view mirror. Gordon is still a plus defender and is still vital to the Kansas City clubhouse and with his contract is probably not movable. Luckily, it is still only about six weeks into the season, time enough to turn things around and salvage this season. Over the last few weeks we have seen Eric Hosmer and Brandon Moss among others awaken and start hitting. Is it now Alex’s turn? We all hope so. This is not the way most Royals fans envisioned Gordon’s last few years in Kansas City evolving. Hopefully the ‘Prodigal Son’ can bounce back and prove his worth. I don’t know about you, but I still believe.
Here we are again, on the verge of another World Series. As much as I love Spring and the beginning of the baseball season, October is still the best time to be a fan of the sport. Like most ‘seamheads’, I have been spending the last few weeks enjoying postseason baseball and all the intrigue and drama that surrounds it. Since I’ve been fairly silent this month (mostly due to other responsibilities), I thought I would pass along some of my thoughts from the playoffs so far, as we get ready for one long-standing streak to fall once the Fall Classic is over, as either the Chicago Cubs or Cleveland Indians eviscerate a drought that has been going on before even some of our parents were born. So what’s been on my mind this October? All of what is to follow and more…
Weeks later and I still have a hard time figuring out how Buck Showalter went the entire American League Wild Card game without bringing in stud closer Zach Britton. Look, I get that most managers like to wait (especially on the road) till the very end of the game to bring in their closer, but when the playoffs are involved, you don’t chance it the way Buck did. There has been a movement for managers to use their closers in a different manner than most are accustomed to; not waiting for a save situation and using your best pitcher in the most high leverage situation possible. Showalter, who I consider to be one of the best managers in the game and one who isn’t shackled to conventional thinking, seemed to fall back into a frame of mind that is actually fairly normal in today’s game and it might have cost his team the chance to advance to the ALDS. The hope is that Showalter’s mistake (and yes, it was a mistake) might shine a light on reliever usage and force managers to use their closers in better situations than just the 9th inning.
On the other end of that spectrum is Terry Francona’s use of Andrew Miller this postseason. Miller, the ALCS MVP, has been used as early as the 5th inning during the playoffs, many times for multiple innings. It might be considered unorthodox by some, but it has done nothing but garner success for Francona and the Indians. One has to wonder if teams will be on the lookout for relievers like Miller, someone with electrifying stuff and the ability to be used for more than just one inning at a time. While the argument could be made that you can’t use your bullpen during the regular season the way most teams do in October (and there is at least some truth to that), it doesn’t mean that you won’t see more managers trash the old, antiquated system and start using some relievers the way Miller is used. While Showalter was the example of what not to do with your closer, Francona is the example that managers around the game should be trying to copy when 2017 rolls around.
The Texas Rangers collapse in pitching took me by surprise this month. I figured with the front two of Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish and a bullpen that had been racking up a 35 inning plus scoreless streak, this team could be a dangerous one in the playoffs. Instead, Rangers pitching gave up 22 runs in three games and the team from Arlington limped out of the playoffs. While some of the credit should go to Toronto’s offense, the Rangers pitching should get more of the credit for the Blue Jay’s sweep than anything else. One would have to think that Texas will spend the offseason fortifying the rotation and making sure it is stronger headed into the next season.
Speaking of the Blue Jays, their exit from the playoffs couldn’t have come in a more appropriate manner. For a baseball fan outside Toronto, this is a hard team to like. While they are not short on talent, over the last few years we have seen the Blue Jays main hitters continuously whine and complain about one thing or another. Front and center has been Jose Bautista, a man who will never be confused with a golden gloves boxer. Bautista claimed that Toronto were victims of “circumstances” in this series and that was why their offense had gone south. Edwin Encarnacion also had to be escorted away from the home plate umpire one game, with Toronto just hopeful he wouldn’t be ejected. While there were a few pitches called strikes against the Blue Jays that might have been balls, that is a fairly common aspect of today’s game and not really something worth blaming their four games to one loss in the ALCS. In fact, Cleveland only scored 12 runs in the five games, with Toronto posting 8 runs. All the way around, it was a low scoring series. The real “circumstances” that Bautista talked about was Cleveland’s pitching and their dominance against Toronto’s bats. Kluber, Merritt, and Tomlin all silenced the Blue Jays and when you tack on their lockdown bullpen, it was easy to see why Cleveland is headed to the World Series. A big part of Toronto’s issues lie in their leadership and their tendency to make excuses rather than owning up to their own struggles. The Blue Jays temperament just isn’t one of a championship team, and it showed in the ALCS.
Has there been a more disappointing team in the postseason the last few years than the Washington Nationals? The sky seemed the limit a few years back with their blend of youngsters and veterans and two of the most intriguing players in the game (Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg). Instead, since 2012 the Nationals have lost in the NLDS three times. What very well could have been a dynasty has left this organization with more questions than answers. If you are Washington’s braintrust, what should you think? If you saw a team with Harper, Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner and Tanner Roark, you would have to think at the least they would have made the NLCS at least once. Instead, this team now has to regroup and wonder what the missing piece is. Last year, the belief was getting rid of Matt Williams and hiring Dusty Baker would fill that needed puzzle piece. Is it the manager? Does the team need another bat? Another stud starter? Or do they need a clubhouse veteran to be this team’s glue? It will be an interesting offseason in Washington and one that might define this team’s immediate and long-term future.
There is no better story in the playoffs this year than the Chicago Cubs. You’ve all heard the numbers on the years of futility; their last world championship was 1908, last trip to the World Series was in 1945. Last month I mentioned I was rooting for the Cubs but even if I didn’t have the emotional connection from my youth, I would probably still want to see the Cubbies rack up their first world title of the century. It’s not just the years of bad luck and bad teams, not just the old lovable stadium or long history of the franchise in general. It is a change in the culture in Chicago, brought forth by both Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon. Maddon might be one of the great motivating managers of the last 30 years, if for no reason than how loose he keeps that clubhouse. Add in the mix of exciting youngsters and grizzled veterans and you have a recipe for not only a championship but also possibly a dynasty. I found it ironic that Chicago bounced the Dodgers from the playoffs, since the Cubs should probably thank Los Angeles for putting them in this position in the first place. If not for LA prying Andrew Friedman from the Rays, the Cubs would not have been able to get Maddon to manage this team. Maddon had a clause in his contract that allowed him to “look elsewhere for employment” if Friedman left the organization, which he took advantage of when Andrew left Tampa for Los Angeles. The Cubs swooped in, procured the services of Maddon and as they say, “the rest is history”. There are many a reason to root for Cleveland as well (The Revenge of Willie Mays Hayes?), but more than anything, this Cubs team just feels like a team of destiny. I know there will be Chicago fans who will be waiting for the other shoe to drop but…but what if there is no other shoe?
Finally, one has to feel for Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw, easily the best pitcher in baseball, was the victim of Chicago’s clinching win on Saturday night in Game 6 of the NLCS and because of it the narrative will be pushed again that Kershaw is not a “big game” pitcher. The funny thing is while Kershaw has had a couple of clunkers over the years (I’m looking at you, Game 1 of the 2014 NLDS), he hasn’t been nearly as bad as some would have you believe. In his 14 playoff starts, Kershaw has 8 quality starts while he has five starts of giving up 5 runs or more. Just looking at the last two years, Kershaw has thrown 38 playoff innings, compiling a 3.79 ERA while striking out 48 and allowing a .218 batting average over that span. Sure, he isn’t Madison Bumgarner or Curt Schilling in the postseason, but he isn’t worthless in the playoffs either. Even with that being said, this year in particular should not be a determining factor on how Kershaw performs in October. He would return from a back injury that kept him out for over two months on September 9th and would allow 4 earned runs the rest of the year. So obviously Kershaw was putting up Kershaw numbers, but was he 100% healthy? I didn’t feel like he was at all this October and apparently I wasn’t alone:
Andrew Friedman on Clayton Kershaw's back injury: "Most guys would not have come back at all from what he suffered."
That comment was from Saturday after the Dodgers loss to the Cubs to wrap up the NLCS. This also tells me that even 80-85% of Kershaw is probably better than most pitchers alive today. So the narrative for him will live on in some minds, but it probably shouldn’t. Clayton Kershaw is still the same pitcher in October that he is the other months of the year; he’s just not perfect like some would expect from him.
So here we are, just a day away from the World Series. It is also our reminder that at the most, we have only seven games left in this 2016 season before baseball takes a few months off (at least on the field). It has once again been a fun October, even without my Royals in the playoffs. In fact, it has been stress-free without my team to cheer on in the playoffs. No matter the outcome of the World Series, one team will slay a beast of a streak, one that sits at 68 years while the other one sits at 108 years. It should be a fun series, as we should see some stellar pitching and some clutch hitting. I always hope for a seven game series, so we get not only the greatest amount of baseball but also some high drama. We should get both and yes, I do believe this series could go all seven. So my prediction? The Cubs in seven. Sure, they won’t be able to clinch at Wrigley Field, but a win is a win. I look forward to the next week of action and what will ensue. No matter what, we the fans are the true winners. Thank you, baseball.
For the first time in 3 years I have no idea of who to root for when the Major League Baseball playoff’s start in a few weeks. As a Kansas City Royals fan, this is the first year since 2013 that our “Boys in Blue” haven’t been a part of the postseason and during that span I appear to have forgotten how to pick a team to cheer for come October. Since I need to figure out the team I am pulling for, I figured I would break down each team that will probably end up in postseason play and see which one I should be cheering for. Yes, this seems like a perfect scientific approach to this issue…said no one ever. I have no idea where this will lead me, folks; I guess we are going to find out together.
Boston Red Sox
Boston is an interesting start to this experiment. For one, I really appreciate the fact that a big part of this team’s core was built from within, as up and comers like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are homegrown talent. It’s hard to dislike second baseman Dustin Pedroia and I can appreciate this team’s offensive approach. But the team’s pitching could be an issue, although the starters have held their own this year for the most part. The bullpen doesn’t seem as strong and we all know how important the pen is during the postseason. But more than anything, I am tired of the David Ortiz narrative that has been spewed this season. I am officially sick of the adulation and instantly shut my ears down once he is being discussed. With the expectation being that the Ortiz talk will only intensify as the team progresses, I can’t condone cheering for this team. I won’t put myself through that kind of mental hell. So Boston probably won’t be my team.
Chance of Cheering: 25%
The Indians have some big positives going on. For one, the starting pitching has been a force all year for them, although they are now down a Danny Salazar and a Carlos Carrasco, which might not bode well for them(sounds like more Trevor Bauer to me). I have always felt Terry Francona is one of the better managers in the game and knew it was a matter of time till he got this team on the same page. In some ways, this team reminds of those late 90’s Indians teams that were a young bunch of players blossoming at the same time. But…they are in the Royals division and despite the fact I don’t hate them like I hate the White Sox, I just can’t, in good conscious, root for a team in the same division as “my team”. There’s also that whole bad luck thing with Cleveland over the years. So the Indians are a no-go, no matter how many positives there are on this team. I. Just. Can’t.
Chance of Cheering: 15%
The Rangers are the best team in the American League and it is easy to see how they have gotten here. For one, they have an electric offense, built around Adrian Beltre and Ian Desmond and have a great bunch of complimentary players. Hey, they get votes from me just for having Roughned Odor on their roster; anyone who punches Jose Bautista in the face is a friend in my eyes. They have also gotten a good season out of Cole Hamels, but the pitching is a bit worrisome. Starters are in the bottom fifth of the league while their relievers are in the bottom third, with neither posting the greatest of numbers. But I kind of like this team, and they have never won a World Series before, which makes them a bit more intriguing. I’m not completely ready to buy in, but my interest is piqued with Texas.
Chance of Cheering: 55%
Toronto Blue Jays
No. Just no. Look, I have no issue with Blue Jays fans. I love Canada. But…all I can think of is Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista complaining about pitchers throwing inside, while wearing enough body armor that they could be considered part of King Arthur’s ‘Knights of the Round Table’. Or Bautista throwing Ryan Goins under the bus in last year’s playoffs. Or really anything Bautista says. Look, I’m sure there are reasons to root for this team. I just don’t see any of them and instead might be rooting against them. Sorry, Toronto.
Chance of Cheering: 0%
Alright, now we have the first team that I feel like I can really get behind. I’m not the biggest fan of teams known for their propensity for slugging the ball, but watching a player of Manny Machado’s caliber can change a man’s mind. Add in the likes of Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo and you have an offense that could rival Boston’s if given the chance. Baltimore’s starting pitching isn’t going to blow anyone away, but their bullpen is a different story. The pen is lead by Zach Britton, who has had a phenomenal season and could get a number of first place votes for the American League Cy Young award. Not many expected the Orioles to be where they are today, and for that I could easily see myself cheering for them.
Chance of Cheering: 75%
Washington is another team I can see myself rooting for. I like their young core of players like Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon and enjoy watching guys like Stephen Strasburg (who hopefully will be healthy soon) and Max Scherzer in their element. This Nationals team seems like a perfect fit to make a deep run in the playoffs this year and should be a serious World Series contender. Will Daniel Murphy put on a playoff tear like he did last year for New York? Will Scherzer dominate like he does in the regular season? Will Jayson Werth cuss in a postgame interview again? The Nationals could be a fun team to follow this October and would be a good choice to cheer on.
Chance of Cheering: 80%
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are an interesting team, as they are a weird hybrid of talent and dysfunction, and I’m not just talking about Yasiel Puig. Is this the year the Dodgers get over the hump and return to the World Series? Is this the year Clayton Kershaw dominates in the postseason? Hey, it could happen to worse teams. I would love to see Kershaw strap the rest of the team on his back as he leads them to the ‘Fall Classic’. This is a very talented team but definitely one that has their flaws. I could see me rooting for them, but a few other teams would have to fall to the waste-side for that to happen.
Chance of Cheering: 50%
San Francisco Giants
We’ve all made the joke; The Giants have won the World Series the last 3 even years, so of course they will be accepting the trophy again this year, right? Hey, I might be inclined to tell you this team is different and could have some big obstacles in front of them if/when they reach October. But the other part of me knows that this is a team that has ‘been there and done that’ and should never be counted out. They still have Buster Posey. They still have Madison Bumgarner. They still have future HOF manager Bruce Bochy. So yeah, the odds might be stacked against this team, but they seem to like it that way. Sound familiar, Royals fans? Add in the quirkiness of Hunter Pence and Johnny Cueto and I can’t say I won’t root for them. They just don’t feel like my first choice, that is all.
Chance of Cheering: 65%
New York Mets
Yep, these guys are back. In many a way, they feel a lot like last year’s team; great pitching, weaker hitting. I am not opposed to watching the Mets young fireballers throw shade in the postseason, in fact that seems like it would be fun. I would LOVE to see Bartolo Colon hit a walk-off home run to win Game 7 of the World Series, because “Big Sexy” is capable of anything. There really isn’t much with this team that I dislike, but there really isn’t a ton that compels me either. In other words, the Mets probably aren’t my ‘October Team’. Plus, I still hold it against Mr. Met for almost knocking me over at Kauffman Stadium at the All-Star Game in 2012. But that is another story for another time…
Chance of Cheering: 55%
St. Louis Cardinals
As a self-respecting Kansas City Royals fan, I can in no way, shape or form, root for the Cardinals. It is against everything I stand for and everything I believe in. Plus, every ounce of my body hates them. Sorry, this ain’t happening!
Chance of Cheering: -1000%
…and we have our winner! Sure, a few of you would assume I am cheering for the Cubs since they are the odds on favorites to win the World Series. Nope, that’s not it. Hey, could it be wanting the team who hasn’t won the whole thing in over 100 years to finally come out on top? Nope, try again. It’s not even because one of my favorite players (Ben Zobrist) plays on this team, or my fondness for Joe Maddon. All these reasons, while solid, aren’t the real reason that I will be rooting for the Cubs this October. No, the real reason is simpler than all of that. As a kid, I loved baseball. By the age of ten, I was fully engulfed in baseball fever. It became the obsession it still is today. Back in those days, we didn’t always get to watch my favorite team, the Royals, as they only aired them maybe once or twice a week, at best. But what team was on almost every single afternoon, and especially when I came home from school? The Chicago Cubs. The Cubs were shown on WGN on a daily basis and in my thirst for baseball I would sit and watch an insane amount of games…or at least watch them until I decided to go outside and actually play baseball! So because of this, I still have a deep affinity for the Cubbies. They are a part of my youth, and I will always hold them in a higher regard than a lot of teams because of it. Yes, I want the curse to be broken and I want all those Cubs fans to have some of the joy that us Royals fans got to wrap ourselves around these last few seasons. They have earned it. Because of this, I’m rooting for the Cubs to break through and get their third world championship. You can think it’s me jumping on a bandwagon, but it’s me acknowledging that this franchise was a big part of my love of baseball over the years. I’m just looking to give some of that back.
Chance of Cheering: 100%
So there you go; I guess I should have seen where this was going but it was still a fun little experiment. It will be weird this October to not see the Royals in the playoffs, but it will be a lot less stressful. Here’s to hoping your team is one of the teams I mentioned and that they have a deep run in the postseason. It’s a month of excitement, great performances and unbelievable results. It is the best reason to love baseball…and it is almost upon us!
As a “stat-geek”, I am always on the lookout for a new statistic in baseball that will give me a deeper look at the game that we all love. In 2015, MLB Advanced Media made a hitter’s exit velocity available for the first time on a regular basis and ever since I have been mesmerized. In case you are not in the know, exit velocity is very simple; it’s essentially the speed of the ball after it makes contact with the bat, or a radar gun for the batter. You might be asking yourself just why something like exit velocity can help teams gain an advantage over their opponent…and that would be a valid question. So why is this fancy new statistic such a hit? Well, there are many reasons for it’s success.
The most obvious reason is the fact that you can measure which batters are hitting the ball the hardest. If you are consistently nailing the ball with a high exit velocity, then the likelihood is that you are stacking up hits at an efficient rate. Looking at the top average exit velocities in 2015 and you obviously will find some of the biggest home run hitters in the game. There is no shock that Giancarlo Stanton led this category last year, averaging 99.1 mph launch speed on balls hit; Stanton might be the most prolific home run hitter in the game right now. But looking at the Top 15 and you see a who’s who of sluggers; Miguel Cabrera, Miguel Sano, David Ortiz, Jose Bautista, Kyle Schwarber and Mike Trout are just a few of the names littered near the top. These are not only big home run hitters, but also some of the most elite hitters in the game, period. The easy answer is that if you have a high exit velocity, then there is a good chance you are going to be near the top of the leaderboard for extra base hits. There are still other factors in play(like actually hitting the ball. See Peguero, Carlos) but exit velocity will show you who is hitting the ball the hardest on your team.
For instance, let’s look at the Royals exit velocity leaders last year. Top of the list is Kendrys Morales at 92.9 mph on average; Morales just put together a great comeback season last year while winning a Silver Slugger award. He also put up 22 home runs, 41 doubles and drove in over 100 runs, so one would assume his exit velocity numbers were higher than what they were in 2014. Same for Royals minor leaguer Jose Martinez, who had one of the highest exit velocities in the minors last year and put together a career year for Omaha. What is really fun is going and looking at Kansas City’s playoff exit velocities. Granted this is a smaller sample size, but three Royals had an average exit velocity above 94 mph(Lorenzo Cain, Morales and Salvador Perez) with Morales having the highest average launch speed during the postseason. Exit velocity won’t give you instant success, but in a shortened period like the postseason it sure would indicate a higher chance of success, especially if you have multiple players near the top of the rankings.
But there are a couple more reasons to keep your eye on a hitter’s exit velocity. For one, it could be a window into a possible injury. A hitter would tend to put up a fairly consistent exit velocity, as it is five times more the batter’s doing than the pitcher. If a batter has shown a major dip in his exit velocity and shown that over a regular period of time, then there is a possibility that player could be injured. There is no way to 100% quantify this, but if a player is averaging an exit velocity in the mid 90’s, then averages an exit velocity in the lower 90’s/upper 80’s in a short amount of time, there is a good chance that player is hurt. Exit velocity could actually help teams determine if a player should play through the injury or take up some DL time.
Another interesting pattern to watch would be a player’s regression. Most know that as a player gets older his abilities will start to regress and a statistic like exit velocity would(and should) show a declining pattern. The difference between an injury and regression is that an injury would show a more sudden decline while regression would be over a longer period of time. Look at it this way; a batter isn’t going to wake up one day and all of a sudden lose a ton of bat speed and show a weaker hand eye coordination.Both of those skills will slowly erode over a long stretch of time, so you would have to look at a number of years of exit velocity to get a true feel for a regression. Since Statcast is still in a somewhat early infancy, this is probably still a few years away from being something an organization would use. I could easily see teams using it to determine keeping or trading a player or even using exit velocity to determine whether or not to sign a free agent. This is the beauty of a stat like exit velocity; we are still learning from it and how to use it to evaluate players and their abilities.
In a baseball world where power is still a highly coveted commodity, exit velocity could be the holy grail to determine who to stack into the middle of a batting order. The fun part for those of us that love stats is how the possibilities are endless. With the information that is currently available, it is possible to break down a hitter’s exit velocity into pitches, into whatever the count is at the time of the hit(3-2, 0-1, 2-2, etc.) or even against individual pitchers. Statcast has opened up a whole new door into baseball statistics and we should all welcome them in. Exit velocity is just another way to look at a game that is constantly evolving using the technology available today. I still want my peanuts and cracker jacks, but go ahead and throw in a side of velocity and launch angle.
Baseball, like any other sport, is a constantly evolving game, one that is a reminder of one’s youth while also parading the youth of today. It is also a game that’s history holds more weight than any other sport, a history that seeps into almost every baseball conversation as the players of today look to stamp their name in the annals of history with the likes of baseball immortals. There is always a former player who will comment on the changes in the game, mostly just fondly remembering the game and how it was in their day. But sometimes a legend steps over the proverbial line in the sand, taking aim at not only the game but individual players who they feel don’t hold up to the standards of yesteday. Goose Gossage went on a tirade on Thursday that will forever change how he is viewed by everyone in and out of baseball, and not in a positive way.
Let’s start with the interview in question. You can check it out here in all of it’s glory. If you aren’t a fan of salty language you might want to bypass on clicking on the link. Gossage’s main beef was with Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista and more accurately his bat flip in Game 5 of the ALDS:
“Bautista is a f—ing disgrace to the game,” Gossage told ESPN. “He’s embarrassing to all the Latin players, whoever played before him. Throwing his bat and acting like a fool, like all those guys in Toronto. [Yoenis] Cespedes, same thing.”
If you have read this blog before you will know I am not the biggest Bautista fan in the world. Great player, a needed cog in the middle of that Toronto order, but not a great leader for the younger Blue Jays’ players. But to say he is a disgrace to the game is a bit much. All this because of a bat flip? There is an argument to be made that pitchers are allowed to pump a fist here and there and celebrate after getting a big strikeout. The batter’s equivalent is the bat flip, and none were bigger than at that point in the ALDS. I’m sure that Gossage, as a former pitcher, is of the thinking that a batter should never get to celebrate any big play, no matter the circumstance. It’s even worse when you factor in that he is ’embarrassing to all latin players, whoever played before him’. I’m not going to point a finger and say ‘racist’, but it would have been just as easy to say ‘all players who came before him’. Singling out the latin players wasn’t a smart move on Gossage’s part. Luckily, Bautista took the high road on Goose’s comments:
“He’s a great ambassador for the game,” Bautista told ESPN after being informed of Gossage’s comments. “I don’t agree with him. I’m disappointed that he made those comments, but I’m not going to get into it with him. I would never say anything about him, no matter what he said about me. I have too much good stuff to worry about his comments. Today is my first game [of the spring], getting ready for a new season; hopefully, we will whoop some more ass.”
Kudos to Joey Bats for not taking a shot back. Although, it didn’t stop him from getting a bit cheeky:
Bautista 1, Gossage 0. It does appear as if Gossage speaks for a number of old school players who would prefer players not show excitement or to be exuberant whenever they accomplish something big during a game. This is something that needs to change.
For the longest time baseball has been so tied to tradition that the fun aspect of the sport is sometimes thrown in the corner and not allowed to be a part of the game. This has caused generations of kids to decide to go play other sports, sports that allow more personality from their players and allow them more freedom. Bryce Harper of the Nationals, the reigning NL MVP, has taken baseball to task for just that, claiming baseball is “a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself. You can’t do what people in other sports do. I’m not saying baseball is, you know, boring or anything like that, but it’s the excitement of the young guys who are coming into the game now who have flair.” Harper continued: “If a guy pumps his fist at me on the mound, I’m going to go: ‘Yeah, you got me. Good for you. Hopefully I get you next time.’ That’s what makes the game fun.” In a sport where salaries are larger than anywhere else, it is sad to see young fans gravitate to other sports, when sometimes all it would take is a little leniency in some of the rules. This is especially true for the unwritten rules of baseball, which are mostly nonsensical, out of date and interpreted in different manners from different players. Sometimes it is good to remember that this is a kid’s game, played by adults who get to make a healthy living off of it. Harper is right and old school players like Gossage should want more kids to love baseball the way they do, which means allowing looser rules on celebrations and discarding the majority of baseball’s unwritten rules.
Sorry for the detour; back to Gossage. Goose would go on to complain about the sabermetric community and their affect on baseball:
“It is a joke,” Gossage said. “The game is becoming a freaking joke because of the nerds who are running it. I’ll tell you what has happened, these guys played rotisserie baseball at Harvard or wherever the f— they went, and they thought they figured the f—ing game out. They don’t know s—. A bunch of f—ing nerds running the game. You can’t slide into second base. You can’t take out the f—ing catcher because [Buster] Posey was in the wrong position and they are going to change all the rules. You can’t pitch inside anymore. I’d like to knock some of these f—ers on their ass and see how they would do against pitchers in the old days.”
My first instinct when reading this was to laugh. Yes, that is how serious I took these comments. As someone who loves stats, loves advanced metrics and believes they have just as much of a place on the game as a solid hit and run, I find it comical that Gossage feels he needs to blame “nerds” for ruining the game. Maybe it’s just me, but what advanced metrics gives you is a deeper look at the game, especially when it comes to the true value of a player. What is even more laughable about his comment is that if sabermetrics had been around when he was playing, he would probably be a guy the SABR community would applaud. If you look deeper at his words, it sounds more and more like Goose wished baseball was played more like a game called “Beanball”, where if anyone steps out of line or does something that the opposing player doesn’t like, then you must hurt him. I guess Gossage just wishes the game was more violent. Maybe he would be appeased with gladiator fights in the Roman Colosseum. Honestly, it really shows ignorance on his part to act like more players getting injured and unable to play is the better direction for baseball to go. To say Gossage is out of touch would be an understatement.
The most discerning part of Gossage’s comments are the fact they come across as bitter. Bitter because of change. Bitter because he doesn’t understand how the game has evolved. Bitter that he isn’t at the forefront of anything anymore. I am as big a proponent of “old school” as there is. I think players should know the history of the game and understand how the game was played before them. If a former player wants to give advice to the current crop of youngsters, I feel like they should listen and take note of the life lessons they are being taught. I honestly believe there is a place in the game for former players and they can help enhance the development process of many a young player in the game of baseball. But there is no place in the game for the ignorance spewed by Rich Gossage. The only thing to learn from what Gossage spit out is what not to do. There is a place for Gossage in this game(especially as a Hall of Famer), but not if this behavior is what he brings to the table. Unfortunately, there is a chance this will be what he is remembered for. Or this:
One of the great honors of being a member of the IBWAA is that come September we vote on the season awards, just like the BBWAA. Last year I filled out my first ballot and I learned a few things. One, never turn in your ballot until sometime in the final week. I turned mine in about two weeks early and was kicking myself within a week. Yep, one’s mind can change. Second, there is no way not to take this serious. None. I look at stats all year long, and even still I’m not for sure it compared to the number crunching I did the last two years before turning in my winners. With that said, I was very pleased with the end results and feel confident throwing out how I voted for the year-end awards. So without further ado, here are my picks for the 2015 Major League Baseball season awards.
American League MVP: Mike Trout
I know the consensus was this award should go to Toronto’s Josh Donaldson, and I won’t tell you that is the wrong vote. No, Donaldson is just as deserving as Trout and either vote is a solid vote. That being said, I give Trout the edge for a few reasons. Let’s start with the main stats that everyone loves: They tied for homers, Donaldson had about 30 more RBI’s, Donaldson edged Trout in batting average, while Trout had the advantage in On-Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage(in fact Trout led the league in slugging). Now to the meaty stats: Trout over Donaldson in OPS+, 176 to 155. bWAR has Trout over Donaldson, 9.4 to 8.8. fWAR has Trout slightly edging out Donaldson, 9.0 to 8.7. Donaldson does have the edge defensively by quite a large margin, but not enough that I would give the win to him. All that is a compelling argument for Mike Trout, as most of the numbers are in his favor. But here is where the scale is tipped for me…Trout spent part of the year dealing with nagging injuries, as is evident if you look at his numbers month by month. Trout not only came back to raise those numbers, he also practically put the entire Angels team on his shoulders in September, keeping them in the pennant race into the final week. In fact Trout’s line in September looks like video game numbers: .315/.430/.648 with 8 homers and 16 RBI’s. Yes, Josh Donaldson was on a playoff team, but if you take him out of Toronto’s stellar lineup you still have a team that could probably win the American League East. Take Trout out of the Angels lineup and that team is out of the race before September. At the end of the day, Trout was more valuable to his team than Donaldson, thus he is my winner for AL MVP.
My top 3: 1-Trout, 2-Donaldson, 3-Cain
IBWAA Winner: Josh Donaldson
BBWAA Winner: Josh Donaldson
National League MVP: Bryce Harper
Very rarely does a player have a season where he is sooooo dominate that they should be a no doubt MVP, where an unanimous vote seems like the logical way to go. But this year in the National League, Bryce Harper was ‘The Man’ and there really is no debate. Harper, in his age 22 season, led the National League in so many categories that I almost thought he led the league in saves and wins. Harper was the front man in runs, home runs, On-Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, OPS, OPS+ and both fWAR and bWAR. Harper had the type of season we all expected when he was selected by the Nationals as the #1 Draft Pick in 2010. The funny part is he still has room to improve, which is frightening if you are an opposing pitcher. Harper led this Nationals team to the brink of the playoffs this year and outside of the stupidity of Jonathan Papelbon, he would have about as perfect a season as a player can have. The one stat that blows my mind more than any is his OPS+, a staggering 195(remember, 100 is average). His season is the 71st best in baseball history, which seems great but not out of this world stupendous. If you take out all the players in the ‘Dead-Ball Era’, Harper’s season is the 50th best of all-time. I decided to go a step further, going off of seasons since 1950. Taking that into affect, Harper had the 24th best season by a batter in the last 65 years! What this amounts up to is a without a doubt MVP and possibly the beginning of a career we could be discussing in detail within the next 5-8 years.
My Top 3: 1-Harper, 2-Goldschmidt, 3-Votto
IBWAA Winner: Bryce Harper
BBWAA Winner: Bryce Harper
American League Cy Young: David Price
There was a number of awards this year that felt like a tight race and this would be another one, as David Price and Dallas Keuchel both seemed like worthy winners. At the end of the day, I chose Price and the more you digest the numbers you can see why he has started to grow a resume that puts him as one of the top elite starters in baseball. Price only lead the league in ERA(2.45) and pitchers WAR, but it was all the other numbers together that make his case. Price is no lower than 6th in Innings Pitched, Wins, K/9, BB/9, HR/9, Left On Base %, ERA(1st), FIP(2nd in the league), xFIP, and fWAR(1st with 6.4, Keuchel is 3rd with 6.1). Price did all of these while switching teams in July, as he was traded to Toronto and helped them clinch a playoff spot while driving them to the ALCS. I wouldn’t disparage a vote for Keuchel, but at the end of the day it felt like this was Price’s award to win so my vote went to him in a highly contested race.
My Top 3: 1-Price, 2-Keuchel, 3-Sale
IBWAA Winner: Dallas Keuchel
BBWAA Winner: Dallas Keuchel
National League Cy Young: Jake Arrieta
It was a magical season in 2015 for the Chicago Cubs and a big part of that was because of Jake Arrieta. This was another close vote, as Zack Greinke of the Dodgers also put forth a Cy Young caliber season and a vote for him also made sense. I went back and forth on this award more than once, but finally settled on Arrieta for his work down the stretch. Arrieta led the National League in Wins, Games Started, Complete Games, Shutouts, H/9, HR/9, while finishing 2nd in pitchers WAR, Innings pitched, FIP, xFIP and ERA, and 3rd in Left on Base %. What Arrieta did the last couple months of the season really set him apart from both Greinke and Kershaw, as Arrieta made sure whenever he pitched that the Cubs more than had a chance to win that day. From August through the end of the season, Arrieta was 11-0 with an ERA of 0.41(allowing only 4 ER in 88.1 innings), including a no-hitter and 2 shutouts. While the Cubs were fighting for their playoff lives, Arrieta stepped up and made this a season to remember. Greinke and Kershaw both had amazing seasons, but Arrieta was out of this world when it counted the most.
My Top 3: 1-Arrieta, 2-Greinke, 3-Kershaw
IBWAA Winner: Jake Arrieta
BBWAA Winner: Jake Arrieta
American League Rookie of the Year: Francisco Lindor
2015 was a banner year for rookie shortstops in the American League, as both Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor would get called up mid-season and were sparkplugs for their team’s as they tried to lock up a postseason berth. Correa’s team would advance, while Lindor’s Indians came up just short, which I’m sure to some would give Correa the edge. But what on the surface seems like a blow away win for Correa as ROY, I give the nod to Lindor and it isn’t as close as you think. I know a lot of press has been given to Correa’s offense, as they should. Correa reminds me of Alex Rodriguez early in his career, as he combines power and speed and appears to only grow from here. But if you want the whole package, Lindor is your man. While Correa led with the power numbers, Lindor led in batting average(.313 to .279), and On-Base Percentage(.353 to .345), while categories like wOBA and wRC+ were close enough that it could be a scratch. What pushed Lindor over the edge for me was his WAR, and more specifically, dWAR. Lindor led Correa this past season in bWAR(4.6 to 4.1) and fWAR(4.6 to 3.3) but defensively Lindor was a top notch defender while Correa was closer to average. This defensive edge gave Lindor the nod in my eyes as their dWAR wasn’t really close at all(1.7 to 0.6) and Lindor led Correa defensively in 2015, 14.9 to Correa’s -1.6. A vote for Correa isn’t a bad vote, but in my eyes the battle of rookie shortstops in the American League was fronted by Lindor in this rookie campaign.
My Top 3: 1-Lindor, 2-Correa, 3-Sano
IBWAA Winner: Carlos Correa
BBWAA Winner: Carlos Correa
National League Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant
It wasn’t just the home runs that won Kris Bryant this award. Okay, the home runs helped, but Bryant, as much as he is known for his power, is also a hitter with a good eye and a knack for learning from his mistakes. So in his rookie campaign it’s no shock that Bryant stood head and shoulders above his peers. Bryant led all NL rookies with 26 homers(tied with Joc Pederson), but also led in On-Base Percentage and fWAR while being second in wRC+. Maybe the most surprising item from Bryant this year was the amount of positions Bryant played, as manager Joe Maddon bounced him around the diamond. His main position was 3B, but he also saw time at 1B, and all three outfield positions. For a guy who had only briefly experimented with the outfield, Bryant held his own and even held up a slightly above average dWAR. There are parts of Bryant’s game that still need work; he did lead the league in strikeouts, with 199. But that can be worked on and more than likely will be in Spring Training. Overall it was a positive rookie season for this young slugger and he looks like he will be one of the cornerstones of this Cubs team for a number of years, as rookies Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber also saw time in Chicago this season. Be scared, National League pitchers. Be very afraid.
My Top 3: 1-Bryant, 2-Duffy, 3-Kang
IBWAA Winner: Kris Bryant
BBWAA Winner: Kris Bryant
American League Manager of the Year: Paul Molitor
The Manager of the Year awards have gotten some flak this offseason as being an award just about “who’s team improved the most from the previous year”. It’s hard to argue with some of that reasoning, as Ned Yost and John Gibbons are nowhere on this list while their teams were the elite of the American League. I can say I based my ballot off of what manager did the most with the least, which lead me to the Minnesota Twins Paul Molitor. In Molitor’s first season he did what no one(and I do mean no one) thought would happen; over .500 record, contending for a playoff spot into the final week of the season and 2nd place in the American League Central. Credit goes to Jeff Banister of the Rangers for dealing with early season injuriesand guiding his team to the American League West title. Kudos to AJ Hinch of the Astros for bringing this young Houston team to the playoffs and one game away from the ALCS. But I figured both teams would be better this year and had even mentioned Houston being a sleeper pick back in early April:
The ‘surprise’ team of the American League could very well be Houston, as they’ve got a nice mix of veterans and youngsters that could be better sooner rather than later.
But Minnesota? Nope. Look, I have praised the Twins young prospects for the last few years, knowing they are lurking in the background. But the thought was 2016 would be the first year you would see Minnesota start contending again. Instead, Molitor was able to mesh all the young talent they have with veterans like Torii Hunter and Brian Dozier to keep this team in contention all through the season. Oh, and this was also Molitor’s first season managing in the majors. What Banister and Hinch did was great work; what Molitor did was borderline ‘miracle worker’. That is why I chose Paul Molitor for American League Manager of the Year.
My Top 3: 1-Molitor, 2-Banister, 3-Hinch
IBWAA Winner: Jeff Banister
BBWAA Winner: Jeff Banister
National League Manager of the Year: Terry Collins
People love Joe Maddon and what he did for the Cubs this year, and he deserves the praise he will get for getting Chicago to the playoffs. I love Maddon as much as the next guy, but figured he would turn that Cubs team around. Which is why my pick for NL Manager of the Year is Terry Collins. The hope when the season started was that the Mets would compete with the Nationals during the season and maybe make the playoffs as a wild card. Instead, the Nationals blew a tire down the stretch and the Mets sauntered in to grab the NL East. In July the Mets were contending, but didn’t look like they would be winning the division. The offense was struggling, but the rotation had brought some young arms to help and Matt Harvey looked like the Harvey of old. Yoenis Cespedes was acquired before the trade deadline and the Mets were soon off to the races. Collins did a great job this year managing Harvey(and his agent), and the youngsters while also getting veterans enough playing time to appease them. New York had an interesting mix of players this year and Collins dealt with it like a pro. Credit goes to Maddon and Clint Hurdle on great years for their teams, but it didn’t feel like they had to juggle as much as Collins.
My Top 3: 1-Collins, 2-Maddon, 3-Hurdle
IBWAA Winner: Joe Maddon
BBWAA Winner: Joe Maddon
American League Reliever of the Year: Wade Davis
Yes, the Yankees duo of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller had great years, as did Zach Britton of Baltimore and Cody Allen of Cleveland. But to me, there is no more dominate reliever in the game right now than Wade Davis. All Davis did this year was put up back to back seasons of 1.00 or below ERA’s while flat out dominating the competition. For relievers in the American League, Davis was 6th in fWAR(2.0), 7th in HR/9(he gave up one this year, to Jose Bautista), led in Left On Base %(92.2), 1st in ERA(0.94), 7th in FIP(2.29), averaged over 10 K/9, and had a ridiculous ERA+ of 444(100 is league average). Davis also closed some games this year, as he had mostly been the setup guy for the Royals in 2014. Greg Holland dealt with some injuries this year, and in September when it was announced Holland was done for the year and would be requiring Tommy John Surgery, Davis slid into the closer role, a role that felt already like it belonged to him. Trust me, you can make the argument for any of the relievers I mentioned above but none of them make a batter feel defeated before he even steps to the plate like Wade Davis.
My Top 3: 1-Davis, 2-Betances, 3-Allen
IBWAA Winner: Andrew Miller
National League Reliever of the Year: Aroldis Chapman
Did you read what I wrote above about Wade Davis? The same pretty much goes for Aroldis Chapman of Cincinnati. Chapman is one of those relievers who is practically unhittable and continued his dominance in 2015. Chapman led the ‘Senior Circuit’ for relievers in K/9(an astounding 15.74), ERA(1.63), fWAR(2.5), 4th in LOB%(88.5), 2nd in FIP(1.94), 4th in xFIP(2.49) and an ERA+ of 244. Chapman had some solid competition this year in Trevor Rosenthal of St. Louis and Sergio Romo of San Francisco, but alas neither had the dominance of Chapman. The interesting part is that Cincinnati is a team that probably won’t be contending in the near future and Chapman’s value has never been higher. It’s a possibility that when the 2016 awards are handed out a year from now, Chapman will be with a different team. The possibility of Aroldis Chapman on a contender makes for a interesting scenario come playoff time.
My Top 3: 1-Chapman, 2-Rosenthal, 3-Romo
IBWAA Winner: Mark Melancon
So those are my picks this year. Go ahead, debate them or even agree and with some of these races the debate could rage on till the end of time. What I can say is that I feel confident with my votes and really felt like I crunched a bunch of numbers to get to these decisions. Be ready though; once award season is over, that means the Hot Stove season starts to pick up. Who knows, we could have a 2016 award winner switching teams this offseason. That is one of the great things about baseball; all it could take is a switch in teams to ignite a player to greatness. Although I have the feeling I will be talking about Mike Trout again next year…and Bryce Harper as well. Yep, baseball is great my friend!
The Kansas City Royals have waited 30 years to say they are World Champions. Whenever anyone around Kansas City talks about the Royals, it is inevitable that the 1985 Royals, the only other Kansas City team to win the World Series, are brought up. In some ways I’m sure it felt like big shoes to fill, living up to the legend of a team that made a lot of us(myself included) Royals fans. Now though is another champion for future teams to live up to. In what was possibly the most dramatic 5 game World Series in history, Kansas City can now call themselves ‘World Champs’!
There are so many stories to tell here, and all deserve your time and praise, but let’s start with the beginning of the season. This was a team that felt like they had unfinished business, left with the bad taste in their mouth from being beat by the Giants the year before in the World Series. This was a team that was on a mission to finish what they fell just short of in 2014. Not only is it a difficult path to make back to back World Series in this day and age, but they were doing it without some big components from the year before. Billy Butler was gone. James Shields-gone. Nori Aoki jumped ship to the world champs. In their place was Kendrys Morales, Edinson Volquez and Alex Rios, two of which were coming off of disappointing seasons. In fact, guys like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer were also coming off of less than stellar campaigns, which is why the PECOTA projections had Kansas City at 72 wins. In fact, I was a bit skeptical of their chances, expecting them to be in the hunt while falling just short. It wasn’t that I didn’t want my team to ‘Take the Crown’; I just wasn’t for sure that a majority of the lineup was going to improve on their 2014 numbers. Luckily, I was wrong.
What happened during the regular season would seem like a fairy tale written up by a Royals fan before the season began, while bordering on fan fiction(somehow Salvador Perez and his perfume would fit in here). The team got off to a hot start, took control of the American League Central and held it for 3/4 of the season. In fact, if it wasn’t for the surging Minnesota Twins stepping up near the beginning of the summer, the Royals might have lead the division all season long. There was so many highlights to the regular season, like Mike Moustakas’ offensive turnaround, as he learned to hit to the opposite field, forcing opposing teams to quit putting the shift on him and play him straight up. There was the monster comeback season by Morales, toppling 100 RBI’s while adding power to the middle of the order. There was another phenomenal season by Wade Davis and Volquez turned out to be a solid replacement for Shields. Lorenzo Cain really blossomed this year, putting together a MVP caliber season after dealing with injuries almost every year before. The team almost single-handedly took over the All-Star Game, with 4 Kansas City starters in the game and 8 total players representing the Royals. Hell, we Royals fans almost voted Omar Infante into the game, and most of us agree he was awful this year! Then in July, the Royals front office stepped up, acquiring Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist to further elevate their chances of capturing a world championship. Zobrist was a huge acquisition, as he filled in for left fielder Alex Gordon while he was out with a groin strain, then slid over to second base, taking over for the black hole of offense known as Infante. Cueto had very mixed results, sometimes looking like the ace he was in Cincinnati, other times looking like a back of the rotation arm who had to be perfect to succeed. Either way, Royals management did their part by giving the team the pieces to win, leaving it all up to the players to take it home. In fact, the Royals steamrolled through the competition most of this year, putting up the best record in the American League and garnering them home field advantage throughout the playoffs. This team was on a mission from day one and accomplished the first part of it; making the playoffs. Now it was time to do the hard part: advance to the World Series.
In the American League Division Series, the Royals would play the Houston Astros, a young team that gave Kansas City trouble during the regular season. This series pretty much dictated the Royals fate and what we should have expected from this Royals team. Royals would lose Game 1, but then would mount one of their famous comebacks late in Game 2 to pull out a victory. Game 3 went to Houston, as Dallas Keuchel shutdown the Royals offense, and at this point it was ‘do or die’ for Kansas City. In Game 4, Houston took a four run lead into the Top of the 8th, which seemed like a death kneel for this Royals team. The Royals ‘kept the line moving’ in this inning, with a bit of help from Carlos Correa, and would not only storm back, but would end up taking the lead, taking the game and forcing a Game 5.
Game 4 of the ALDS might be the greatest summary of what this Kansas City Royals team did this entire postseason. When their backs were against the wall, they didn’t give up. The picked and picked, battling pitchers while finding a way to get on base and keep a rally going. The word ‘relentless’ has been used at great lengths these past few weeks, but I also think you can use the word ‘stubborn’. This Royals team just would not quit, which was night and day from what we saw just a few years earlier. Once you get in the playoffs you are playing nothing but great teams, and the Royals frustrated every last one of them. The philosophy of ‘putting the ball in play, forcing the defense to make the play’ really has worked for this team, and I’m not for sure it can be duplicated. You would think Game 4 of the ALDS was a standalone game, one that was the outlier of the group, but it isn’t. The Royals entire postseason was some variation of that Monday afternoon in Houston, where even myself doubted this team would come back and win. Game 5 was almost a non-contest, once Johnny Cueto got past the Luis Valbuena home run. It was smooth sailing after that blast for Cueto, as the Royals punched their ticket to the ALCS.
Before we move on to the ALCS, I want to point out something here. I have long criticized Ned Yost and his managing style. Before last September, he seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. There was concern that the same mistakes he made in Milwaukee would be repeated in Kansas City, costing the Royals any semblance of glory. But sometimes people surprise you and change their ways, and Yost did just that. Starting in late September 2014, Yost started listening more to his coaching staff and venture outside of the box some more. It was very slight at first(letting Kelvin Herrera pitch more than an inning at a time), but by the playoffs he made almost every logical move a manager could make. That continued this year and to be honest, a lot of it was just letting the players go out and play. Trust them. The players stepped up this year and deserve a lot of the credit, but Yost’s more laid back managing style was a welcome plus. I’m still not a big Yost fan, but I will give the man credit when I feel he deserves it. Quite a bit of the Royals success this year can be tied into Yost relaxing his style and allowing himself to not be confined to an old way of thinking that had held him back in the past.
This would lead to the ALCS, the match-up that almost everyone wanted, Royals vs. Blue Jays. These two teams had some issues this past August and despite the fact that no one expected any extra fireworks this series(I mean, it is the postseason; no one wants to lose time in October over something stupid), some of the bad feelings were still lingering. Game 1 went to Kansas City, thanks to another solid postseason start from Edinson Volquez and some timely hitting. Game 2 was the perfect definition of #RoyalsDevil Magic, as Kansas City looked lost for 6 innings against David Price, to the point Price had retired 18 straight batters before heading to the 7th inning. Then it happened; Zobrist hit a fly ball to right field that fell in between Ryan Goins and Jose Bautista in what looked like a miscommunication. What followed was the Royals doing what they do, or what they call ‘keep the line moving’. By the end of the inning the Royals had taken the lead and put a seed of doubt into the Blue Jays’ minds on their ability to stop this Kansas City team. Game 3 went to Toronto, as the two teams ventured north of the border, which was followed by a Royals offensive slaughter of the Blue Jays in Game 4. The Royals could have clinched the series with a win in Toronto for Game 5, but Marco Estrada shut down Kansas City, which meant the series would return to Kauffman Stadium, with the Royals only needing one win to head to the World Series.
I think when we really dissect this postseason for the Royals, what we will find is a number of games that will go down in Kansas City history as some of the most memorable games in team history. Obviously Game 4 of the ALDS ranks high on the list, but the argument can also be made for a couple of the World Series games and for Game 2 of the ALCS. But without a doubt, Game 6 of the ALCS will be on that list, as it turned into another classic nail-biter that left Royals fans on the edge of their seats. The Royals would take the lead early on thanks to a Ben Zobrist and Mike Moustakas hitting solo home runs, and would hold the lead until the Top of the 8th. Jose Bautista would club his second home run of the game, a 2 run shot, that would tie the game at 3 and had sucked a lot of air out of the ballpark. There would be a slight rain delay before starting the bottom of the inning(could it have been building to the drama that was to happen?) but it didn’t slow down the Royals. Lorenzo Cain led off the inning with a walk, then Eric Hosmer would stride to the plate, yet another clutch situation for him in a postseason filled with clutch hits for the Gold Glove first baseman. Hosmer would line a single down the right field line, which meant no matter what Cain was getting to third. But the Royals scouts had noticed earlier in the series that Bautista would always throw the ball into second base with runners on first, while third base coach Mike Jirschele had also noticed it was normally done in a lackadaisical manner. The Blue Jays were not prepared for Cain to be racing home on the play, as Troy Tulowitzki was caught a bit off-guard when after receiving the ball from Bautista, he turned around to notice Cain was headed home. Cain was in safely, giving the Royals the lead and giving Kansas City another memorable moment this postseason.
Cain’s play was even more impressive when you realize he was tracked at nearly 21 mph by Statcast on his trip around the bases. The almost unstoppable Wade Davis would come in to pitch the top of the 9th, and despite the allowing the tying and go-ahead runs to get on base to start the inning, Davis would shut down the Blue Jays, getting probabley future AL MVP Josh Donaldson to ground out to end the game and give Kansas City back to back World Series appearances for the first time in team history.
The Royals were now only four wins away from a World Championship, their first in 30 years.
So the stage was set for the Royals returning to the World Series, this time to face the New York Mets. It was interesting to notice the narrative thrown out by the media during this series, as it focused on New York, making their first World Series appearance since 2000, trying to bring the trophy back to the ‘Empire State’. Should it have been the narrative? Probably not, as it should have been the Royals trying to do what they couldn’t do last year and win their first Championship since 1985. But because New York is considered the center of the sports world(or even just the center of most things in this country, whether you are talking about entertainment or sports), the focus was bound to be on the Mets. I wasn’t overly bothered by it, because once again it made the Royals the underdog, a role that this team cherishes. This series would get off to a hot start, as I think it safe to say Game 1 will go down as a World Series classic. There are so many little tidbits from this game that I loved, and maybe it was because it was my first ever World Series game to be in attendance for, but here is just a snippet of what all happened in this game:
The game started out with the news leaking on Twitter about Edinson Volquez’s father had passed away earlier in the day, unbeknownst to Eddie. The crowd, in support, chanted “Eddie” numerous times throughout the contest.
Alcides Escobar would hit the first inside the park home run in World Series history since George “Mule” Haas of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1929. Escobar’s hit was on the first pitch of the bottom of the 1st inning.
The Mets would take a 4-3 lead in the Top of the 8th thanks to an Eric Hosmer error, allowing Juan Lagares to score from second. It was an odd sight, since the Royals had been almost spotless defensively during the playoffs this year before that, and since Hosmer is normally so sure-handed.
The Royals would tie the game back up in the bottom of the 9th with an Alex Gordon homer off of Jeurys Familia, the Mets closer. This was a monster of a shot that Statcast had at 438 ft, off of a 97 mph sinker:
Chris Young, who was scheduled to start in Game 4 of the series, would come in and throw 3 shutout innings, stifling the Mets. This might have been the biggest pitching outing of the series, outside of Johnny Cueto’s Game 2 start.
The game was won in the bottom of the 14th by Kansas City. I was live tweeting the game for work, and might have foreshadowed the win as I sent this out in the middle of the 14th:
Bottom of the 14th would start with Escobar reaching on an error by David Wright(which I had wanted to tweet out ‘costly error?’ but since I was on the work account I figured I shouldn’t), followed by a Zobrist single and a Cain intentional walk. This led to the bases loaded with no outs and Hosmer at the plate, hoping to redeem himself for his error back in the 8th. Hosmer would lift a fairly deep fly ball to right field, scoring Escobar and giving the Royals a Game 1 victory. This game was the third World Series game to go 14 innings and undoubtedly will go down as a classic. In a lot of ways, this game set the tone for the rest of the series.
Game 2 would see Johnny Cueto put up the best game score for a Royals pitcher in a playoff game in history, as the Royals would go up 2-0 in the series with a 7-1 victory. The two teams would travel to New York for three games, and the Mets would take Game 3, 9-3 as Royals starter Yordano Ventura saw a loss in velocity and the Royals never seemed to find their footing in this game. Game 4 would be another close one that the Royals took, 5-3 and gave Kansas City a 3-1 lead in the series, needing only one more win to be world champions. This would lead to yet another classic Royals comeback in Game 5.
For 8 innings in Game 5, it looked as if the Royals number might be up, as Matt Harvey was dominating Kansas City, looking as sharp as I have seen him all season(in what starts I have seen him in). Harvey would come out for the Top of 9th, which seemed fine since he had been handcuffing the Royals all night long. He would allow a leadoff walk to Cain, who would then steal second base. Eric Hosmer, who to this point had been hitting about .111 in the series, came up big again with a double off the left field wall, scoring Cain and cutting the Mets lead to 2-1. Familia would come in for New York and he would get Moustakas to ground out, moving Hosmer to third. So with one out and the Royals down by one, Salvador Perez would hit a slow chopper to David Wright at third. Wright would glance back at Hosmer, who was just a little bit of the way down the line at third, then toss to first. Hosmer, in what would be equal parts genius and stupid, took off for home once Wright slinged it over, causing Lucas Duda to hurry a throw home. The throw would be wide of catcher Travis D’arnaud, as Hosmer slid into home safely.
Now, I know the broadcasters said it was good baserunning by Hosmer, but like I said, it was just as much a lucky play. Probably nine times out of ten, that throw is accurate and Hosmer would have been out by a mile. Royals scouts had told the team to run on Duda and D’arnaud as much as possible, and it seemed Kansas City picked an opportune time to take advantage of that knowledge. But as most everything this postseason, the play went the Royals way and the game was now knotted up at two. It would stay this way until the 12th inning, as Jarrod Dyson was on third and Christian Colon, former #1 Draft Pick for the Royals, making his lone postseason at bat and he would deliver big:
The Royals would tack on four more runs and then would hand the ball over to the best relief pitcher in baseball the last two years, Wade Davis:
For the first time since 1985, the Kansas City Royals are World Champions! For everything that the city of Kansas City, the organization and even us fans have endured, this was the sweetest victory that one could imagine. Demons were purged, losses have faded and now here they stand, the best team in baseball in 2015.
When the 2015 season started, 30 teams all wanted one thing, to call themselves the World Champions. Only one team gets that distinction, and this year it is the Kansas City Royals. For years this team has heard about the ghosts of Royals past: George Brett, Willie Wilson, Dane Iorg, Jim Sundberg, Bret Saberhagen, Darryl Motley and so many more. Those ghosts will no longer haunt this team, as they have accomplished their only goal this season: win the World Series. It has been a crazy ride all season long, one that could make this team the greatest Royals team of all-time(they have competition with those late 70’s teams that faced the Yankees in the playoffs) and will hopefully not leave ghosts of their own for future generations. What this team did was the equivalent of slaying the dragon, or blowing up the Death Star. What this team did was put the focus back on an organization that for years was one to duplicate throughout the 70’s and 80’s. Celebrate this victory, Kansas City. Your Royals are the World Champions!
I know, I know; the Kansas City Royals have been knee deep in the postseason and I’ve been M.I.A. from my little corner of the web. Sorry, my bad. Last year I decided that if Kansas City got to the playoffs I was going to enjoy it and not analyze how the games were transpiring. I decided to do the same this year, as us Royals fans enjoy this tidal wave of success that most are not used to. Since we last talked, the Royals have played three games, winning them all, including the ‘do or die’ Game 5 of the ALDS against Houston. Now the Royals are up 2 games to 1 against Toronto in the ALCS as the teams get ready to play north of the border. Since I have the time, let’s look at what has been going on the last week in the land of the ‘Comeback Kids’.
Let’s start with a few notes from Game 5 of the ALDS:
What a game Johnny Cueto threw last Wednesday?! I know there were a pocket of fans that felt like the Royals had messed up by acquiring Cueto, which I didn’t agree with even if this outing hadn’t happened. The Cueto trade signified that the Royals front office was going for a championship; they had done their part, acquiring Cueto and Zobrist, now it was up to the players to take it home. But if that wasn’t enough for you, his start in Game 5 showed why the Royals picked him up in the first place. All he did was go 8 innings, allowing 2 hits and 2 runs while walking none and striking out 8. This put him in some nice company:
Johnny Cueto: joins Cliff Lee, Josh Beckett & Roger Clemens as AL SP w/ 8 IP, 0 BB and 8+ K in postseason game in Wild Card era.
I don’t know if we are going to see another start like that from Cueto this postseason, but if we do it will probably mean a ‘W’ for the Royals. Cueto was acquired to be the ace; looks like he found the right time to throw like one.
Game 5 also saw a couple of clutch hits for the two Alex’s, Gordon and Rios. Gordon has struggled since his return from injury last month while Rios has struggled most of this season. Both have had moments where they contributed this postseason and Gordon has had a number of crucial extra base hits over the last few games, including his big double in Saturday’s win over the Jays. In fact, he even celebrated after the hit, a rarity for him:
Having Gordon and Rios batting 8-9 in the order makes it even harder on opposing pitchers if they start getting hot. It also means if one guy fails, another can pick them up. That seems to be an ongoing strategy by the Royals throughout this 2015 season.
Speaking of hitting strategies, I’ve noticed over the last couple games that Kansas City is adjusting their approach at the plate late in the game. Early on they seem to be swinging early and often. But once the late innings hit, they seem to take more pitches. Even while down 0-2 or 1-2, their confidence level seems to be sky high and will be more patient than normal, taking pitches that seem to be too close to take. Trust me, I love the approach and the results, and it has helped lead to some big rallies for the team. It seems odd, but as long as it’s working I say keep doing what they are doing.
Edinson Volquez was great on Friday in Game 1 of the ALCS but he did seem to follow a pattern from his previous start against Houston. Volquez looked nasty for the first 5 innings, keeping the ball down, using a combination of his sinker and fastball, while mixing in a change-up from time to time. He had late movement on his pitches and was locating the ball on both corners, although not as much inside as most suspected. Come the 6th, Volquez changed it up (I’m assuming since it was the Jays third time through the order) and started relying heavily on his fastball. Volquez would allow a couple of baserunners but finished off Troy Tulowitzki with a strikeout to end the inning. Volquez would throw over 30 pitches in that inning and I was shocked manager Ned Yost didn’t go to the pen, especially after the walk by Jose Bautista. I’m all for having confidence in your pitcher, but this didn’t seem like the time to let Volquez work through it. Luckily it turned out gold, as no runners scored and Volquez came out unscathed. I don’t recommend doing that again, but Ned Yost has almost been flawless with his decision making since the playoffs last year. It’s hard to argue with it when it works.
Can anyone explain how clutch this team is? Sure, part of it is the combo of putting the ball in play a lot while hardly ever striking out(which kind of goes hand in hand). But if I was to point to one main difference between the 2014 Royals team and this team, it would be the offense and their ability to produce when it is needed most. We can all agree that last year’s playoffs(and possibly more specifically the Wild Card game) gave the younger players on this Royals team the confidence they were lacking. But it has been a welcome surprise to see how much they have elevated their plate appearances this October. Exhibit A is obviously Game 4 of the ALDS in Houston, but you can probably add Game 2 of the ALCS this year to the list. David Price had shut this team down for 6 innings(only allowing one hit, a leadoff single by Alcides Escobar), retiring 18 batters in a row before Ben Zobrist lead-off the bottom of the 7th with a single that dropped between Ryan Goins and Jose Bautista. This led to a 5 run inning for Kansas City and eventually a win. This team does not sweat it if they are down late in the game. I’ve started making the joke that the game doesn’t even begin until the 7th inning, which is only mildly tongue in cheek. The reality is that the Royals are not a team to sleep on late in the game; if anything opposing teams need to tighten the belt when it comes down to the bullpens. Otherwise, you could be looking up at another Royals comeback.
Finally, let’s hop back to that Zobrist single that dropped between Bautista and Goins. After the game, reporters asked Bautista about the play and who exactly was to blame. Let’s just say that it sure appeared as if someone covered their behind:
Jose Bautista not accepting any responsibility in the 7th inning miscommunication bloop hit with Goins. pic.twitter.com/pGc5p5r8jR
To say I was shocked when I saw that would be an understatement. I’ve never thought of Bautista as a bad apple in the clubhouse but this sure has changed my mind. As a veteran, Bautista should not only be there for the younger players but also cover for them even if he feels they are at fault. Bautista didn’t even need to take blame for what happened; all he had to do was talk about how loud the crowd was(and as someone that was in the stadium, it was LOUD) and how he could see how someone could think they heard someone call him off. No matter what, you protect the younger player and don’t allow him to take all the blame. Instead, Bautista threw Goins under the bus. Bautista felt like he didn’t throw Goins under, so I reached out to a former big leaguer to see where he fell on this whole situation:
Nope. It shows that YOU understand the game in a selfless, mature way, unlike the aforementioned "veteran". https://t.co/Rhwo8P1vu5
To me, even if Bautista didn’t mean to let the blame fall on Goins, he did just that by flat denying he had any part in the dropped ball. He can feel like it was Goins fault, and it’s very possible it is. But Goins needs to know Bautista has his back; instead, you have to think there is a lack of trust between the two. But hey, Bautista bought him some new swag, so you know, everything is cool.
The Royals dropped Game 3 in Toronto, so Kansas City still leads 2 games to 1 as we get set for Game 4 this afternoon. Chris Young will be throwing for the Royals against knuckleballer R. A. Dickey for Toronto. Logic would say that Young, an extreme flyball pitcher in an extreme hitter’s park would be a recipe for disaster. But the postseason is made for logic to fall to the wayside, so why should we start using logic now? Enjoy the ride, folks. The Royals are in the playoffs and that is really all that matters. All they need is another 6 wins…
2015 has not been the season that either the Kansas City Royals or Alex Rios were counting on when Rios signed a 1 year, $11 mill dollar contract on December 19th of last year. The Royals might not have expected 2012 Alex Rios(where he hit .304./.334/.516 with 25 home runs, 91 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 126) but was hoping for a bit more production than the Texas Rangers got from Rios in 2014(4 homers and 54 RBI’s with a 97 OPS+). Instead, Rios was hit by a pitch the first week of the season and hadn’t rebounded from it since. That is until Rios came down with a case of the chickenpox(yes, that is still a thing) and has been lighting the ball up since his return on September 8th. In fact, Rios has probably gone from a man just on the outside looking in for a spot on the ALDS roster to the very probable starting right fielder when that game gets underway on October 8th.
As late as one week ago it appeared that Rios wasn’t going to be on the Royals Division Series roster, as he had been struggling all year and the team had the likes of Paulo Orlando and Jarrod Dyson, both better defensively than Rios, and Jonny Gomes, a solid bat off the bench that kills lefties. Royals manager Ned Yost was continuing to play Rios every day, for a couple of reasons. For one, he had just gotten back from his bout with the ‘pox’ a week earlier and deserved at least a chance to get back into a rhythm. The second reason is in that same vein, as the team was hoping Rios would hit a hot streak and take off, earning himself a spot on the roster, as the Royals would love to go with the hot hand(funny choice of words there) headed into October. There is also that bit about the Royals paying him a decent amount of money; we can act like that isn’t a reason but I would be shocked if it wasn’t. Now, to say Rios has been hot in the last two weeks might just be an understatement.
Since Rios’ return on September 8th, he has a line of .366/.386/.610 for an OPS of 996 and a BAbip of .394. The part of this that illicited a ‘Wow’ out of me was his slugging, a robust .610 in that span. Over the last few years, Rios lack of power has been a major concern since throughout his career he has shown he can accumulate a decent amount of extra base hits which is what the Royals were hoping for when he was signed. Problem is that Rios has dealt with hand and wrist issues over the last few years which seem to have sapped his power. Rios dealt with an ankle and thumb injury last year with the Rangers, then seemed to be battling a re-occurrence of that thumb inury in Spring Training earlier this year. Then there was the fractured hand he received thanks to a wild rookie on the Minnesota Twins that halted his good start to the season during the second week of April. Hands and wrists are very important to batters, as that is where a lot of the power a hitter shows comes from. Rios can probably blame the regression of his career on these injuries, as they seemed to have sapped most of his power he showed even as recent as 2012.
But you wouldn’t know that his power numbers have dipped these last couple seasons if you have watched him in September. Like I said, his slugging this month is .610, as he has 4 doubles, 2 homers and 5 RBI’s. Throw in a couple walks, a stolen base and 8 runs and you are looking at a man who might have realized his chance of getting to the playoffs might be slipping through his own fingers. What is really great about these numbers is how far they have jumped in just a few short weeks. Rios’ slugging percentage is up 30 points while his OPS is up over 40 points. Even his on-base percentage is up 10 points while he has doubled his home run total, all this in just a few weeks. Breaking it down even farther, just within the last week Rios is hitting .375/.400/.583 with 3 of those extra base hits during that span. I have to believe that Rios has leapfrogged Orlando for a spot on the Royals playoff roster, a spot that would break a streak you don’t want to be a part of in baseball.
If Rios makes the Royals Division Series roster, he will have broken a streak that no player wants to be a part of; he has played the most games of anyone active in baseball right now without playing in a playoff game. Rios’ streak of 1679 games over 12 seasons is the most in baseball at the moment, with the next man also looking to break his streak this season, 1392 games by Jose Bautista of Toronto. If Rios plays in just one playoff game he will fall off this list, as the next two players look to disappear off this list as well(Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion). Chase Headley follows them 1109 games, but that could fall as well with the Yankees possibly making the Wild Card game. If that happens, Adam Lind of Milwaukee would become the active player without a playoff appearance with over 1100 games by that point. As much as there are some great names on this all-time list(Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and George Sisler just to name a few), as a player you want no part of this. That is yet another incentive for Rios to keep up his hot hitting.
There is no guarantee that Rios will 100% be on the playoff roster, but with only two weeks remaining in the season it looks like a good bet that he will be and start in right field for game 1 of the ALDS. The Royals really haven’t gotten what they expected from Rios this season(and I wouldn’t expect him back in 2016) but he has gotten hot at the right time. There are a lot of choices for the motivation, whether it be being left off the roster, wanting to break his streak of avoiding October baseball or even the threat of shingles, but what can be said is the Royals need Rios to hit like he has lately to help them next month. Many players have come out of nowhere to become October darlings, guys like Mark Lemke. I wouldn’t have any problem with Rios’ name being added to that list, even if it means negating what the previous five months have shown us about his production. At this point, it appears Alex Rios is awake and making pitchers pay for it. Let’s hope this Rios sticks around for another month.