Kickstart the Offense: Royals Take 2 of 3 from Indians

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Normally, when discussing the strengths of the Kansas City Royals a lot of time is spent on the team’s pitching and defense, especially the last couple of seasons. So a month into 2015 and a lot of space has been spent on…the offense? Yep, the Royals offense(outside of a few blurps) has been a force so far this year while the starting pitching has been a struggle to say the least. After a series in Chicago where the Royals offense looked more like the 2014 version, the Royals bats returned with some thump this week against Cleveland, helping the team take 2 of 3 from the Indians and setting themselves up for a fun series in Kansas City this weekend against the Tigers. So how lethal were the bats in Cleveland? Onward and upward to a deeper discussion about this series.

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Series MVP: Mike Moustakas 

Ladies and gentlemen, this is not the Mike Moustakas we are used to. Moose killed Cleveland pitching this week, going 8 for 14, including a 4 hit game on Monday. It probably helped a bit that the Indians hadn’t gotten the memo that Moustakas can now hit the ball to left field and has been doing it regularly in 2015. Cleveland insisted on putting the shift on Moose early in the game on Monday and it took about 2-3 at bats before they realized that maybe that wasn’t the wisest move. In fact, thanks to Cleveland,  Moose’s batting average went up 40 points and his slugging percentage went up 25 points. Now, Moustakas only drove in 2 runs in the series but he would also score 4, which meant his being on base did turn into some Kansas City runs. As more time is passing and Moustakas continues to hit, one has to seriously wonder if he is for real and if so, is there a player who has so drastically changed his approach from one season to the next? No matter what, this new Moose is one that has earned his spot near the top of the lineup and seems to be locked in at the moment. This is truly the dawning of a new age for the Royals offensively and Moustakas is leading the charge.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Ryan Madson

Since we are now a month into the season, there has to be some concern thrown the way of the Royals starting rotation. Being flat out honest, they are just not getting things done. Luckily for Kansas City, the bullpen is an unmatched dominant force that is already setting records. A big surprise so far is the performance of former big league closer Ryan Madson, who hadn’t pitched in a major game since 2011 before this year and has looked like his old self so far this year:

Even a month into the season, it appears that the Madson signing is another shrewd move by Dayton Moore(it is weird to now say that with sincerity). He kept that up with his 2 games against Cleveland this week. Combined, Madson threw 2.1 innings, giving up 1 hit, and 1 run while walking none and striking out 4. So take out the home run by Roberto Perez on Wednesday and he would have been spotless. I don’t want to downplay Madson’s performance but this column would be completely different if the rotation had performed better in this series, which we will discuss in a moment. But it is nice to know that if something major would happen to HDH, Madson could step in and the Royals wouldn’t lose much performance-wise.

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Concussions Are Not Cool

A scary moment occurred in Wednesday’s game as the Royals Alcides Escobar was hit near the left earflap of his helmet by a 96 mph fastball from Indians pitcher Danny Salazar. Escobar would eventually walk off with help from the Royals trainers but there has been concerns since about Escobar’s health, especially considering a possible concussion. Escobar was placed on the 7 day disabled list, which teams can use in situations like this when there is the possibility of a concussion and recalled infielder Orlando Calixte from Omaha. Hitters getting beaned is about as scary as it gets and often harkens thoughts back to Ray Chapman, an infielder in the early 1900’s who was hit in the head by a pitch in 1920, killing him. So despite the talk that Escobar could have possibly played this weekend, there was enough concern when he took the concussion test to place him on the disabled list. I can’t begin to tell you how freaked out I get when a batter(or even a pitcher) gets hit in the head with the ball. Watch at your own risk:

Hopefully Escobar is able to bounce back and can return once his 7 days are up. You hope it’s not a situation like Justin Morneau, who took a number of years to bounce back from a concussion he received while getting kneed in the head sliding into second base. That is worse case scenario here, but it is something that floats in anyone’s mind when getting hit above the shoulders.

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Now onto other notes from a series where the Royals offense felt like Stella:

  • I mentioned earlier that the Royals rotation has been less than efficient. Honestly, the numbers don’t lie:

7 out of 21 is not a good number(1/3 of the team’s starts) and pales in comparison to what we have seen these last couple of seasons. The biggest detriments to the rotation has been Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas, who both started in Cleveland. Both did get through 5 innings, with Vargas giving up 2 earned runs and Guthrie giving up 4. Guthrie is still walking way too many batters and it does appear as if his tendency of allowing baserunners has finally caught up to him. Add in Yordano Ventura’s Wednesday start, where he dealt with control issues and when he did throw strikes they were hit hard, and you have some extra innings being thrown by the Royals bullpen. It helps that Kansas City has a phenomenal bullpen, but it would be nice for their starters to pitch deeper into games and throw more efficient. It’s still early but if it continues too much longer it will probably need addressed.

  • Kendrys Morales more and more looks like 2012-2013 Morales rather than last years debacle and it has really benefited the middle of that Kansas City order. He drove in 5 runs this series, is still hitting over .300 and slugging close to .500. It’s nice to see former Royal Billy Butler excel in Oakland so far, but it is also nice that to this point, the Morales signing has been a plus. Hopefully it keeps up and I can eat my words from when he was signed by Kansas City.
  • During this series Edinson Volquez dropped his appeal of his 5 game suspension and Yordano Ventura dropped his appeal on Thursday, which leaves Volquez back on the mound Saturday and Ventura on May 8th.
  • Alex Gordon is on a hot streak and hit a monster blast on Tuesday. How long you ask? According to Statcast, Gordon’s home run measured 468 ft., the longest of his career.
  • And another strong series for Eric Hosmer, who might not be hitting for as much power as we’d like, but he has been solid most of this year. Hosmer went 5 for 13 against the Indians, hitting his 2nd home run of the year, driving in 3 and raising his slugging percentage 45 points. His approach at the plate is much improved and one can only hope he keeps things consistent throughout the upcoming summer months.

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Tweets of Royalty

 

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So another series win for the Royals as they welcome Detroit into town for 4 big games at ‘The K’. Yes, it is only the beginning of May, but this is as big as it gets this early in the season. I think Kansas City would like to see some quality starts from the rotation and the offense to continue to excel. It will be interesting to see how these two teams matchup, as it doesn’t even feel like the same two teams from last September(which in some ways is true). The run through the Central division continues next week as Cleveland makes their first trip to Kansas City on Tuesday. It might be May, but honestly, the way this team is playing it feels more like October. Honestly folks, can we really ask for much more? It is good to be a Kansas City Royals fan.

 

 

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Saving Salvy’s Knees

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As most Kansas City Royals fans will tell you, catcher Salvador Perez is a special player. He isn’t just special because of his great throwing ability, or solid bat. He is a leader to the pitching staff and I have yet to hear one pitcher say they disliked throwing to him. In fact, almost every pitcher to a ‘T’ has said they love throwing to Salvy. Perez is loved by his entire team and helps loosen up the mood in Kansas City’s dugout. So when people throw names like Bench and Molina around when comparing Perez to someone, it isn’t just rose colored glasses or fan lust. But there is one thing that concerns me about our possible perennial All-Star, and it has nothing to do with anything Salvy himself does. No, what concerns me is how Perez never seems to get a full day off behind the dish. Even in games where George Kottaras starts in his place, before that game is over with, Perez is back behind the plate. This concerns me to no end.

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Before we start, I’ve heard the arguments, and I get where some people are coming from. Perez is only 23. His only major injury was last year’s meniscus tear in his knee, which held him out for the first couple months of the season. You could probably also throw in there the concussion Perez encountered just a few weeks ago(and I do consider concussions very serious). Overall, Salvy has encountered very little wear and tear on him and is young enough to where it will probably be awhile before he shows the affects of crouching behind the plate for a 162 game season. But the point isn’t that he should be fine for the immediate future. No, what concerns me is where it puts him in about 5-6 years.

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There is a thinking in baseball that catchers shouldn’t be tall and lanky. In fact, only 11 catchers over 6’4 in MLB history have ever accumulated 2,000 career at bats. The most high profile on this list is Minnesota’s Joe Mauer, who is a two-time batting champ and an exceptional hitter. Perez is only 6’3, but in my eyes that is close enough. The general thinking is that tall catchers don’t last because they encounter more injuries, especially in their knees, than smaller, squattier(I know, not a word. Consider this me making a new word) players who wear the tools of ignorance. Mauer is the perfect case of that, as his injuries over the years have made it to where the Twins have started playing him at first base. Minnesota knows that at some point, they will probably have to move Mauer to another position to keep his bat in the lineup. He wouldn’t be the first. Carlton Fisk had a stint in the outfield late in his career, even though it didn’t really stick. Johnny Bench was moved around, playing some third base, first base and even the outfield. These are elite catchers in the pantheon of the game, the best of the best and they were forced to move away from being a full time catcher. So history shows where Perez’s future could lie.

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Knowing all of this now, I bring the question back up: why is Ned Yost insisting on putting Perez into  every single game behind the plate? I get that Perez is better defensively than backup George Kottaras. Kottaras is known to call a good game, but arm wise it’s not even close. Same for blocking pitches in the dirt. Like I said, Perez is just a really special ballplayer in that regard. I firmly believe that a lot of the reasoning Yost has for bringing Perez in late in the games he doesn’t start is for his defense and to hold a lead. Trust me, I get the thinking. But is it really worth it? Kottaras is probably one of the best backup catchers in the game, as he has the uncanny talent of basically being a ‘I’m either going to collect a walk here or hit a home run’ kind of player. His OPS this year is ridiculous for a guy hitting below .200. Really the only reason to take Kottaras out of the game is to have a better arm behind the plate. Like I said, I get the reasoning, but I don’t agree with it.

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The perfect example of why I don’t agree with it happened a few weeks ago in a game against the New York Mets. Perez was brought in late in the game as a defensive replacement, and proceeded to catch a foul ball off his mask, causing a concussion. Now, I am fully aware that this could have happened at anytime, or any game. It’s part of the danger of being a major league catcher. But once again, Kottaras could have still been in the game, as there was really no reason to bring Perez in. If I had a choice, I would rather lose Kottaras for a few games than Perez. What if the concussion had held him out longer than the seven games used for concussions in baseball? Just look at someone like Justin Morneau, and how long it took him to come back from his concussion. It would seem that the more a player is in the game, the higher percentage of him getting hurt goes up. That is obvious. Perez so far this year has appeared in 95 games, 87 that he has started. He also missed time earlier in the year, as his grandmother had passed away. Perez was gone for nine games during his leave. Add in the seven he was on the concussion DL, and that is 16 games Perez was not available. The Royals have played 118 games so far this year, so he has missed a total of 23 games. So there are games that he didn’t come in as a defensive replacement, but not very many.

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What befuddles my mind more than anything is that his manager, Ned Yost, was a former big league catcher. It is very well known within baseball that a catcher needs more days off during the season than a regular position player. A catcher squats a ridiculous amount of times in a game and the up and down movement wears a player down after awhile. So it would make sense that if your manager was a former catcher, they will take care of you and give you the extra time off you need. But Yost doesn’t seem to follow this philosophy. Perez isn’t the first catcher that he has attempted to run into the ground. Anyone remember Jason Kendall in 2010? Kendall played so much that year that I forgot backup catcher Brayan Pena was even on the roster. He had to be collecting dust and cobwebs as he watched Kendall play day after day. If it wasn’t for an injury late in the year that ended Kendall’s career, who knows just how many games Pena would have actually gotten into. For a guy who spent his career behind the plate, it sure seems like he’d rather run his catchers into the ground and say ‘to hell with the future’. For a team of youngsters, that just makes no sense to me whatsoever. To me, Yost should know when is a good time to rest his pitch caller and when not to.

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It seems weird that I am preaching the case for resting a 23 year old catcher who is in only his third big league season, but I am. The Royals have Perez locked in for possibly the next six years, so this is an investment they should be taking care of. It’s a proven fact that tall catchers just don’t hold up as well to the rigors of catching duty on a daily basis the way a shorter catcher does. Just look at guys like Ivan Rodriguez and Yogi Berra as the cases for the short catcher. Hopefully Yost wises up within the next month and gives Perez some extra days off. The Royals could fall out of playoff contention sometime in September and if that happens, it would be as good a time to give more starts to Kottaras or even a Brett Hayes if he is back on the roster at that point. Unfortunately, you have to baby your catcher a bit more than say, your outfielders. If that means giving a guy like Salvador Perez an extra day off from time to time, you do it. Trust me, in six years you’ll be glad it was done. There is a famous line from the Neil Young song ‘Hey Hey, My My’: “It’s better to burn out than to fade away”. In the case of Perez, I hope we don’t find out whether that is actually true.

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