Vote For Change: My 2018 Year End Awards

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Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The World Series is in the rear-view mirror and free agency has officially begun. That also means we are engulfed in award season, as the BBWAA has unveiled their winners throughout the last week. Meanwhile, my fellow writers in the IBWAA have also chosen their triumphant few and to the victor go the spoils. For the fifth year, I was able to vote as part of this illustrious group and decide on who was truly worthy. If you want to check out my voting record over the years, you just have a few clicks to adhere to: 201420152016 and 2017. As always, it is a true honor to have this opportunity to vote and I always vote with the utmost respect. With that being said, here are my picks to win awards in 2018:

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American League MVP: Mookie Betts

Every year, I plan to pencil in Mike Trout for this award and most years that is how the vote ends up happening. Even last year, despite missing noticeable time due to an injury (or an upgrade, for those that believe Trout is a cyborg) he was my choice for MVP because of the sheer level of production he was putting up. But this year, Trout’s banner year just wasn’t quite enough to topple the year Mookie Betts had. 

Bett’s numbers speak of a new level for him: .346/.438/.640, 32 home runs, 80 RBI’s, an OPS+ of 186, 10.9 bWAR and 10.4 fWAR. Betts lead the American League in runs, batting average, slugging percentage and WAR all while helping lead the charge for the Red Sox to procure another world championship. 

But it wasn’t just the core numbers that won Betts this award. Mookie posted the highest extra base hit % of his career (13.7%), a great AB/HR ratio (16.3%), all while raising his walk rate to 13.2%, the highest of his career.

But what truly sealed the deal for me was his Win Probability Added, which lead the American League. Betts posted a 6.0 WPA according to Baseball-reference and a 5.77 for Fangraphs. The other candidates, most notably Trout and teammate JD Martinez are far enough away that this is a no-contest for me. Betts not only tore up the rest of the league, but was the most vital cog of the Red Sox’s arsenal.  

With Betts posting another great year offensively and defensively (and the third consecutive above six wins a season) it will be interesting to see if the conversation starts of his place on the hierarchy of baseball’s elite. Trout has held the mantle for years, but if Betts keeps up at this pace, we could have to start inserting him into the conversation of ‘Best Player in Baseball’ sooner rather than later.

My Top 3: 1-Betts, 2-Martinez, 3-Trout

IBWAA Winner: Mookie Betts

BBWAA Winner: Mookie Betts

National League MVP: Christian Yelich

When the season began for the Milwaukee Brewers, their big offseason acquisition was former Kansas City Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain. But the other pick-up turned out to be even more notable, as the team went and acquired Christian Yelich from the Miami Marlins. While Cain had a great season, Yelich performed out of this world and garnered himself an MVP trophy.

Yelich has always had the talent to make himself an elite producer and in 2018 he elevated his game to a new stratosphere. By the time the season had wrapped up, Yelich led the NL in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, total bases and WAR (both bWAR and fWAR) among position players in the league.

What really pushed Yelich over the edge was the second half of the season:

Down the stretch, Yelich was a monster as he hit a robust .370/.508/.804 in the final month of the season, not only cementing this award but also wrapping up a playoff spot for the Brewers.

The biggest change in his game was the elevation of the ball. The funny thing is, Yelich actually saw his fly ball rate go down (23.5%) from last year (25.2%), but he also saw his ground ball rate drop as well (down to 51.8% from last year’s 55.4%). But the increase happened in his line drive rate, which soared to 24.7%, up from 19.4% in 2017. Yelich was making better contact on the ball and it showed in his final numbers.

The cherry on top of the sundae for Yelich is his WPA, which lead in the NL for position players at 6.02. In fact, next on the list is Paul Goldschmidt, who posted a 4.66 WPA. That huge gap (as well as stellar defense) not only helped the Brewers but showed that Christian Yelich is far and away the winner of the National League Most Valuable Player award.

My Top 3: 1-Yelich, 2-Cain, 3-Carpenter

IBWAA Winner: Christian Yelich

BBWAA Winner: Christian Yelich

Credit: 
Brian Blanco/Getty Images

 American League Cy Young Award: Blake Snell

This was easily the hardest vote for me and one that took me awhile to be comfortable with. Snell and Justin Verlander both put up stellar performances in 2018 but only one man can win, and my vote went to Snell despite a few issues that in years past would probably cost him an opportunity to win this award.

Let’s start with the “dark print”, or where Snell lead the league. Snell was first in ERA (1.89), ERA+ (219) and hits per 9 (5.6). There were two more categories that Snell lead in, which I want to focus on a bit deeper. First is RE24 (Run Expectancy, or for pitchers Runs Saved), where Snell lead with 48.4. To give you an idea of just how impressive that number is, the only pitcher better than Snell this past year was Jacob deGrom, who had an absolutely amazing year for the Mets. Also, Snell’s previous high in this category was 1.6…seriously.

The other stat Snell lead in was wins at 21, and I found this a bit amusing. Over the last few years, there has been a progressive movement to “Kill the Win”, with MLB analyst Brian Kenny leading the charge. The reasoning being that there are so many factors involved in a pitcher getting a “W” that doesn’t even involve the pitcher that it feels like an empty statistic. If we are being honest, I never look at a pitcher’s win total anymore. The only time I am even aware of it is if it is mentioned in a broadcast or in an article. The win to me doesn’t factor into how I vote, so I don’t even give it a second thought.

That being said, the other numbers did enough to help his case. But he did receive some stiff competition from Verlander, who lead in strike outs, WHIP, strike out to walk ratio and pitchers WAR. The most notable difference between the two pitchers was innings pitched. Verlander threw an impressive 214 innings over his 34 starts this season, while Snell threw only 180.2 innings over 31 starts.

For some, that would be a deal-breaker. There is a case that can be made that the extra 33 innings thrown by Verlander should count for a bit more and I can see that argument. There aren’t many pitchers that toss 200+ innings in today’s game and having that kind of stallion to ride can be a difference maker.

But for me, the numbers just leaned too far to Snell’s side to get me to throw my vote to Verlander. It was a tough choice and I honestly believe either pitcher is worthy of the award, but at the end of the day I picked Snell, as did both the BBWAA and the IBWAA.

My Top 3: 1-Snell, 2-Verlander, 3-Kluber

IBWAA winner: Blake Snell

BBWAA winner: Blake Snell

National League Cy Young Award: Jacob deGrom

I don’t get to do this very often but…I predicted this at the beginning of the year. Yep, I took a big swing and actually connected for a change. Honestly, this felt like a natural progression for deGrom and it felt like at some point he would put everything all together. That year was 2018.

In fact deGrom absolutely dominated this year and pretty much ran away with this award. deGrom lead the NL in ERA, ERA+, FIP, HR/9, WPA, RE24 and WAR. Dominance isn’t always a given when it comes to pitchers but this year was truly the year of deGrom. 

To give you a deeper view of his dominance, let’s break down a few of the numbers. Batters hit .196/.244/.277 against deGrom, only taking him deep ten times this year. In fact, deGrom only gave up 40 total extra base hits this year over 217 innings. To give you a better view of how big a deal that is, the Anderson twins (Chase and Tyler, and yes, I am aware they aren’t actually twins) both gave up 30 home runs this year, or almost deGrom’s entire extra base total.

Want to go deeper? deGrom gave up 215 total bases. That number is actually pretty close to his 2016 number of 213 total bases. Oh, that was in 69 less innings then he accumulated this year. In other words, deGrom was a machine this year that no one could shut down.

There were even some analysts that felt deGrom was worthy of the NL MVP award this year, and it’s not too far of a reach.  deGrom posted an insane 9.6 bWAR and 8.8 fWAR this year, both fairly large numbers for a starting pitcher. Throw in the 5.85 WPA and you have an argument that determines the value of deGrom is possibly on par with any hitter in the league.

I’ve always viewed the MVP as a hitter’s award, unless there is a pitcher that blows away the rest of the competition. By that, I mean there are players who play every day who are having really, really good seasons but not quite great. If that happens and there is a pitcher who has being insanely dominate, I would vote for the pitcher. In this case, Yelich had an amazing season and because he is out on the field every day, 162 games a year, my vote went to him. 

I know that probably feels like I am slighting pitchers, but I am a firm believer in the mental aspect of the game and the wear and tear it has on position players. To say it is a grind would probably be an understatement. So while deGrom was out of this world this year, so was Yelich. 

Luckily for the Cy Young award, there is no argument. deGrom wins this hands down and can put his season up there with such greats as Gooden, Gibson and Kershaw. Jacob deGrom was the best pitcher in the National League this year, period.

My Top 3: 1-deGrom, 2-Scherzer, 3-Freeland

IBWAA Winner: Jacob deGrom

BBWAA Winner: Jacob deGrom

   

Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

American League Rookie of the Year: Shohei Ohtani

This felt like a slam-dunk for me and I was a bit surprised to hear some backlash from Yankees fans, but the best rookie in the American League this year was Shohei Ohtani. Sure, there were some great performances from Gleyber Torres, Brad Keller and Miguel Andujar, but none of them did what Ohtani did.

Let’s start there: Shohei Ohtani did things this year that hadn’t been done in a century. In. A. Century. Over the last 100+ years of baseball no one has achieved the feats that Ohtani did this year:   


Ohtani is also the first player since Ruth in 1919 to throw 50 innings and hit 15 doubles, or to throw 50 innings and draw 25 walks, or to throw 50 innings and drive in (or score) more than 35 runs, or to throw 50 innings and make 200 plate appearances. He’s also the first player since George Sisler in 1915 to throw 50 innings and steal more than eight bases. You get where I’m going with this. Even Ohtani’s abbreviated rookie run was something no one had seen since before the Black Sox scandal, and it happened in a league that’s vastly more talented and specialized than the one Ruth revolutionized.

You get where we are going with this. Ohtani broke down the norms of what is expected of a major league ballplayer. He was a successful pitcher and hitter in 2018 but that isn’t even all of it. He did all of this while playing in a different league than he was used to. He did all of this while playing in a completely different country than he was used to. If that wasn’t enough, he pretty much made it look easy.

.285/.361/.564 batting line. 22 home runs, 61 RBI’s. OPS+ of 152. 126 ERA+. 1.6 WPA. 29% K rate. All while shuffling in between being a hitter and a pitcher. In a new league. In a new country. If he would have just put up average stats and been an average performer it still would have been impressive. But the fact he made it look easy shows what a true talent he is.

So sure, Andujar, Torres and Keller had great seasons. Any other year it is a different conversation and even possibly a battle for the winner. But this is a no-contest. Ohtani is the Rookie of the Year and no one came close to what he did.

My Top 3: 1-Ohtani, 2-Torres, 3-Keller

IBWAA Winner: Shohei Ohtani

BBWAA Winner: Shohei Ohtani

Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

National League Rookie of the Year: Juan Soto

I mentioned earlier that the AL Cy Young was the toughest one to pick a winner, but a close second was this race. Juan Soto and Ronald Acuna were not only two rookies that shined in 2018, but they were pretty close to equals as well.

The two rookies tied for fWAR (3.7), were separated by four homers, 6 RBI’s, and .001 in batting average. Soto had a slightly higher OBP, while Acuna’s slugging was a bit higher. wRC+? Soto 146, Acuna 143. In other words, either player was worthy of being the best of 2018, but only one could win. 

In matters like this, where two competitors are so close that you would have to break a tie, I normally lean toward value. Looking at WPA, Soto had the sizable lead, 3.46 to Acuna’s 1.96. RE24 is a bit closer, but still a runaway for Soto (30.45 to 26.69). Finally, with the Clutch stat on Fangraphs, Soto wins again, 0.22 to -0.12. When it came down to helping their team and making sure they are put in winning situations, Soto came away with a lengthy lead.

So while you can see why I picked Soto, it’s not like Acuna wasn’t deserving. In fact, these two were so good this year that you almost forget all the other great rookies in the National League. Guys like Harrison Bader and Walker Buehler are rarely talked about despite putting up numbers that are very good for a first year player. With a NL class like this, you wonder who will break out and shrug off the ‘Sophomore Slump’ in 2019. If this year was any kind of barometer,  Soto and Acuna will soon be the cream of the crop of not just the NL, but the entire baseball world.

My Top 3: 1-Soto, 2-Acuna, 3-Buehler

IBWAA Winner: Ronald Acuna

BBWAA Winner: Ronald Acuna

    

Credit: AP Photo/Steve Nesius

American League Manager of the Year: Kevin Cash

This was another close race and one that could easily be a three-way tie. Bob Melvin of Oakland led his team of vagabonds and youngsters to a playoff spot despite starting the year with the lowest payroll in the game and 34-36 on June 15.  Alex Cora led the Red Sox to 108 wins (and eventually a world championship) in his rookie year as a manager and was able to turn away the playoff bound New York Yankees.

But what Kevin Cash did with the Tampa Bay Rays is some other level managing job. Cash propelled a team that was supposed to hang out in the basement of the American League East and led them to a 90 win season. Despite the team trading off some of their best players before the trade deadline, they went out and turned themselves into contenders. The funniest part of the whole deal is he did this almost from a survival standpoint.

The Rays lost a couple of their top pitching prospects (Jose De Leon and Brent Honeywell) before the season to injuries. Anthony Banda joined that list a few months into the season. After trading Chris Archer at the trade deadline, they were left with one actual starting pitcher. The lack of starters led Cash to use “The Opener”, where he would have a reliever start the game, pitch an inning or two and then hand the ball off to someone who could go deeper into the game.

This wasn’t done to be cute or try something new out as much as just a lack of starting pitching…and it worked. ‘The Opener’ became a regular part of their rotation and helped bridge the gap for a number of their younger pitchers.

The team focused on good pitching and defense and that helped get them to third place in the East, ten games behind the second place Yankees. Cash pushed the right buttons and his calm demeanor helped keep his team focused through a number of rough patches.

So while Melvin and Cora deserve a ton of praise, Kevin Cash deserves this award. If anything, Cash earned his managerial stripes in 2018 and has come out with a contract extension. It’s too bad he didn’t get some hardware to go with it. 

My Top 3: 1-Cash, 2-Melvin, 3-Cora

IBWAA Winner: Bob Melvin

BBWAA Winner: Bob Melvin

         

Credit: Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

National League Manager of the Year: Brian Snitker

The story of Brian Snitker is one that easily could be made into a ‘feel good’ movie for Disney. Snitker is a guy who has been the loyal soldier, a guy who has been in the Atlanta organization since 1977, when he was a minor league player. He has managed for almost every one of their minor league teams and even spent a stint as the major league team’s third base coach from 2007 to 2013. Snitker has been there and done that when it comes to the Braves organization.

But in May of 2016, Snitker was promoted to manager for the Braves on an interim basis and he would get the job full-time in October of that year. So the path Brian took to this role was a long and lengthy one, but he didn’t really reach his stride until this past season.

What Snitker did in 2018 is something no one, not even the Atlanta front office, expected. He led the Braves to a 90 win season, a National League East title and their first playoff appearance since 2013. This from a team that wasn’t really supposed to contend until 2019.

But it shouldn’t be too surprising it came early. With a nice mix of veterans (Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis) and top-shelf prospects (Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna), the Braves took advantage of the Washington Nationals’ pratfall and dominated the NL East for most of the season. While the talent will get most of the credit, Snitker deserves some heavy praise for the culture he has fostered in Atlanta. Former Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur told a great story of Snitker that goes back years before:


One of Jeff Francoeur’s favorite stories occurred after he homered a few times for Double-A Mississippi and then got drilled in the ribs against Montgomery. Snitker instructed a reliever to retaliate. When the pitcher simply buzzed a batter, Snitker blasted the pitcher in the dugout and told him to get out of his sight.
When one of Mississippi’s pitchers retaliated the next inning, the benches cleared and the umpires halted the game.
“After we got back in the clubhouse, [Snitker] grabbed a beer and told us he had never been more proud of the way we came together as a team that day,” Francoeur said. “If you play for him, you know he’s always going to protect you and have your back.”

Probably one of the best ways to describe Snitker is hard but fair. It appears that his mentality is exactly what this Braves team needed. Craig Counsell and Bud Black did some great things for Milwaukee and Colorado, respectively, but Snitker’s accomplishment this year has earned my vote for NL Manager of the Year.

My Top 3: 1-Snitker, 2-Black, 3-Counsell

IBWAA Winner: Brian Snitker

BBWAA Winner: Brian Snitker

 

Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

American League Reliever of the Year: Blake Treinen

Blake Treinen of Oakland had a year for the ages in 2018. Before this year, Treinen was almost a stereotype for a reliever: Great stuff,  but not consistent enough with his location. Treinen could miss bats, but didn’t miss them as much as he needed them to.

That all changed this past year, as Treinen’s late break on his pitches helped increase his numbers across the board. He bumped up his strike out rate to 31.8% (previous high was 24%) and saw his walk rate take a dip. Hitters also went from hitting .271 against him in 2017 to .157 this year. 

Treinen posted an ERA of 0. 78 and a FIP of 1.82. An interesting look into his numbers show a guy who’s luck appeared to switch around in 2018. In 2017, batters posted a BABIP of .344 against him. Luck was not on his side. But in 2018, his BABIP was .230, .114 points lower. Whatever he changed this year made a huge difference in his results.

What’s interesting is there is a huge difference when it comes to pitch usage this past season. Treinen did use his slider a bit less (21% compared to 25.5% in 2017) but  his cutter was used 11.8%, up from 0.5%. His velocity also saw a slight uptick this year, but nothing that will blow the doors off. More than anything it appears he used his cutter slightly more and the extra movement made it harder to put the ball in play. 

Whatever he did, it appears to have elevated him to the top of the relief game in the American League. His dominance not only helped lift Oakland to a playoff spot, but also my nod for American League Reliever of the Year.

My Top 3: 1-Treinen, 2-Diaz, 3-Leclerc

IBWAA Winner: Edwin Diaz

BBWAA Winner: Edwin Diaz

National League Reliever of the Year: Josh Hader

There was no reliever in the NL this last year that dominated quite like Josh Hader. Hader steamrolled through the league in his second season and left a litany of whiffs in his path. My comparison has been ‘Mitch Williams with control’ and in 2018 he proved to be a force to be reckoned with. 

Let’s begin with the numbers:  2.43 ERA, 2.23 FIP, 2.7 fWAR over 81 innings. Hader struck out batters at a 46.7% clip while posting a K-BB% of 36.9%. The best part is that he did this basically using two pitches: a fastball and a slider.

What Hader did was basically tell the hitter “here it is, now hit it” and most of the time the batter failed. Hader did allow nine homers this year, which equates to allowing one every nine innings. Hitters did make contact on Hader at almost a 70% clip when he put the ball in the strike zone. But this one blemish wasn’t enough to take away from his great year.

With Jeremy Jeffress still in the fold, it will be interesting to see if he continues to close or if Hader will get more opportunities in 2019. Hader did save 12 games and blow 5 (if you keep track of that stuff) and that number could see an increase in the next season. What Hader has done is put the rest of baseball on alert that he is one of the best relievers in all of the game, no matter what inning he is throwing in.

My Top 3: 1-Hader, 2-Jeffress, 3-Erlin

IBWAA Winner: Josh Hader

BBWAA Winner: Josh Hader

 

Credit: Jim Young-USA TODAY Sports

So there you have it, another season officially wraps up as we reward those that reached the highest of achievements. It is a great honor that I get to vote every year like this and I can only hope I do a respectable part to show the value of an organization like the IBWAA. This is a game we all love and while we might squabble here and there on numbers, it really comes down to what you value. I can only hope 2019 brings us just as many highly contested winners. Here’s to baseball being back sooner rather than later.

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Did Yordano Ventura’s Tragic Death Slow Down the Royals Rebuild?

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Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

(Writers Note: The intention of this article is to see the effect that Yordano Ventura’s death had on the Kansas City Royals organization and the building of the roster. In no way, shape or form, is it trying to trivialize his passing. Hopefully you, the reader, see that he was a vital part of the Royals future and a beloved player within the Kansas City fanbase. This is purely a ‘What If’ article.)  

January 22, 2017 is a date that will always be a painful reminder of how fragile life can be, as that was the day that former Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura passed away. Ventura’s death was only four months after the passing of Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez and the similarities between the two pitchers was remarkable.

But maybe the biggest similarity was the effect both deaths had on their respective organizations. Both left a giant hole in not only their rotations but also the locker rooms. The loss of each not only forced their organizations to take a second look at their future, but also to reassess what path they were already on for 2017.

We’ve seen what it did for the Marlins. Miami finished 77-85 last year and they spent the winter dismantling their roster, as key players like Giancarlo Stanton and Christin Yelich were sent to greener pastures. The Marlins threw up the white flag and decided to begin what feels like the umpteenth million rebuild during their 25 year history.

Rangers Royals Baseball
Credit: Associated Press

But despite being told that Kansas City is in a “rebuild”, it sure doesn’t feel like it at times. The Royals have a very veteran heavy roster and while that could (should) very well change by August, as of now it feels like they are straddling a fence. Because of that I have to wonder: did Yordano Ventura’s passing slow down the Kansas City rebuild?

Before we head down this path I feel the need to clarify a couple of things. First, I won’t dabble in any possible deals the team could have made or should have made. Instead we will look at the pitching moves made since his passing and determine whether or not they would have still taken place.

Second, there is no way to determine how the Royals would have done with Ventura still on the team so that won’t be discussed as well. The honesty of this is that there is no surefire way to know how things would have developed with Yo'(unless you know something about time travel I don’t. If that’s the case, quit holding out on us!) so this is just an estimated guess based off of how the front office has acted over the last couple of years.

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Credit: AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

Let’s start with the three moves made not that long after Ventura’s death last year. Brandon Moss was signed on February 1st, Jason Hammel on February 5th, and Travis Wood on February 13. It’s hard to tell if Moss’ signing was directly connected to Ventura, especially since the team had been looking for another bat throughout the winter. More than likely the Moss signing would have still happened, even without Ventura’s loss.

Hammel and Wood totally felt like a reaction to losing Yordano. The Royals rotation at that point looked set with Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Ventura, newly acquired Nate Karns and Jason Vargas. The team even had Chris Young, Matt Strahm and Jake Junis as backup options for the rotation, so there wasn’t any real need for Hammel or Wood at that time.

One could make the argument that the Royals might have had interest in Wood as a reliever, which is very possible considering that had been his role for the majority of the previous two seasons. But if not, then Kansas City would have never signed them and we could take their contracts off the books, not only for 2017 but 2018 as well.

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Credit: Associated Press

Let’s move to the winter and the Royals deal with the White Sox and Dodgers. In that trade, Scott Alexander would go to Los Angeles while Soria would eventually end up in Chicago. One has to wonder if Kansas City would have been compelled to deal either reliever if the team had never signed Hammel or Wood.

The crux of this trade was moving Soria’s contract, which might not have been as important without those signings. If that is the case, then the trade might have never happened and Alexander and Soria would have stayed in Kansas City.

We could easily see a scenario where Soria would have still been shopped, but even if that is the case I doubt they would have felt moving him was important enough to lose the club control that Alexander would have (which runs through the 2022 season). This would mean the Royals would have kept two big cogs in their bullpen and we might have not seen the likes of Tim Hill, Brad Keller and Burch Smith when the season began (which would have meant some tough decisions, considering Keller and Smith were Rule 5 draft picks).

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Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Then at the end of January, the Royals traded Moss and Ryan Buchter to Oakland for pitchers Jesse Hahn and Heath Fillmyer. This is a trade that feels like it would have happened no matter what. Moss had an awful season in 2017 (.207/.279/.428, -1.0 bWAR) and trading him would probably allow the Royals to move a portion of his salary commitment.

The interesting part of this becomes whether or not Buchter would have actually been a Royal. We all remember the ill-fated trade with San Diego but that trade happened for two reasons. One, the Royals needed pitching. Two, the Royals were still in the hunt for a playoff spot, 1.5 games out in the AL Central while holding down the second Wild Card.

I could see the Royals needing pitching, even with Yordano still in the picture. It’s very possible the deal could have gone down, but that is also trying to determine where Kansas City would have been in the standings. This is probably a good place to mention that Ventura finished 2016 with an ERA+ of 97 and a bWAR of 1.6. While some felt he was going to turn the corner in 2017, there was no guarantee that would happen.

So with that in mind, we’ll go with the San Diego trade still going down. Almost every team can use more pitching and it’s easy to see the Royals in a situation where they would need more arms. In other words, this is a deal that just reeks of fate.

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Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

So with all these moves out-of-the-way, we can start assessing whether or not the rebuild was slowed down by the passing of Ventura. With what we saw in 2017, it was very apparent the Royals were going to stick with the core group (Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain, etc.) and give them every opportunity to clinch a playoff spot. So any idea that they would be dealt was probably slim and none from the very beginning.

It’s probably also safe to say that if Kansas City had somehow found their way to the playoffs last year with Ventura, that would be one more reason to not completely tear the whole thing down and start over. The Royals would have still had a nice nucleus together (Perez, Whit, Duffy, Ventura, etc.) and with the way the free agent market collapsed this winter it’s possible Dayton might have been even more aggressive than he was.

It also appears Moore has never been down with a real “rebuild”. Back in March Dayton had this to say about how competitive the team would be this season:

“I believe that we can put a strong, competitive team on the field each and every night and also develop in the minor leagues,” he said. “I believe we can build our farm system back to the level it was in 2010 and 2011, and maybe even do it better and still win games at the major-league level.

“You can’t just turn it on and turn it off. If you want a winning culture, you’ve got to do everything in your power each day to win.”

It just doesn’t feel like the front office has ever been behind a full rebuild with this club. In fact, it has sounded like they would be content with piecing together the roster as needed, letting the younger talent filter in when they were ready and letting them get comfortable at their own pace.

Image result for kansas city royals june 2017

So with all that in mind, my guess is that Yordano Ventura’s untimely passing didn’t slow down a Kansas City rebuild. As much as moves made after his passing felt like a knee-jerk reaction to his death, the team had already committed to being “all in” for 2017 and even taking on less payroll wouldn’t have deterred that frame of mind.

Unless…the Royals decided to deal Yordano. While in some circles that might sound crazy, it might not be as far-fetched as you think. In fact, in the winter before the 2017 campaign, the Houston Astros were rumored to have shown interest in Ventura:

Royals starters Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura are two of the pitchers on the Astros’ list of rotation targets, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reports.  The two K.C. arms join several other previously-known names (i.e. Jose QuintanaChris ArcherJake Odorizzi and other Tampa Bay’s starters) as potential trade fits for a Houston team looking to upgrade its starting pitching.

Now, showing interest isn’t the same thing as on the trading block. But if you are any team, you should probably be willing to listen to any offers on any player, just in case a team is willing to go way overboard just to acquire a player. While Ventura could have been under club control until 2021(with the help of club options), that might have been a selling point for Kansas City:

Their willingness to least listen to other clubs’ offers could be due to doubts about his personality, or it could just be due diligence, as Ventura’s years of control could net K.C. a nice return in a trade.

If a team was willing to offer a nice package of talent for Yordano, Moore would have to at least listen. One would think if a deal actually went down and the Royals were able to acquire young talent, it’s possible the rebuild could have sped up a bit.

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Credit: Royals.com

In fact, that might have been one of the few scenarios where guys like Hosmer and Cain would be dealt before the trade deadline. While it feels like a long shot, it could have very well happened considering in the last year the Astros have picked up both Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole to improve their starting rotation.

While I highly doubt Kansas City would have dealt Ventura, it does show how one or two moves can sway a team in different directions. Ventura very well could have gone from a building block for the team to an asset to fill multiple holes on the roster.

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So while his death probably didn’t slow down the Royals rebuild, it definitely changed the fabric of the team and the organization. Ventura is that hole that hasn’t been filled and it could be generations before they have another pitcher with his potential.

While it would be nice to say losing one player was the cause for the lack of youth on this Royals roster, the answer is far deeper than that. Trades, injuries, bad judgment and bad luck all play a part in why the Royals aren’t rebuilding more than they are right now.

Maybe in a different dimension or a different universe (Earth 2 or even Earth 81) this is all different and the Royals are still a potent contender in the American League. But in this reality, they are a team trying to build themselves back up without many pieces. While Yordano’s death was tragic, it is not the cause of their current situation. It’s just not that simple.

Newsflash: Ian Kennedy is having a really good season

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Coming into this 2018 season, if you would ask Kansas City Royals fans what they would like to see from Ian Kennedy most would answer something along the lines of what he did for Kansas City back in 2016. Kennedy spent most of last year dealing with a right hamstring strain and never got quite back on track after putting together a solid April.

Now Kennedy is healthy and once again putting up strong April numbers. So far in seven starts, Kennedy has thrown 37 innings, producing a 2.92 ERA, 3.47 FIP and 0.8 fWAR (which is halfway to his 2016 total). But when we dive deeper into the numbers, they show he has actually been more than just a solid performer.

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Credit: Associated Press

Let’s start with some of the statistics he can actually control, like walks and strike outs. Kennedy’s strike outs are about on par with what he has done in the past, sitting at 21.7%. Over the last five seasons, his K rate has been in the 20-24.5% range.

His walk rate actually shows some improvement, at 6.8%. If he was able to maintain this rate moving forward, that would put him above average on his walks for the first time since 2015. In fact, most of Kennedy’s better seasons have been when he’s been able to keep his walk rate in the 6-7% range.

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Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

His pitch selection is about the same as in the past, with a few modifications. Kennedy is throwing his fastball, cutter and sinker about the same amount, but so far this year he is throwing the curveball a bit less (13.7%) and throwing his change-up a bit more (12.2%). In fact his usage this season has been very similar to what he did in 2016 but one does wonder how he would do if he would not only throw his change-up more but also throw it a bit slower.

Kennedy put together a career year back in 2011 in Arizona and if you look at his pitch selection back then, he threw the change-up 15.6% of the time. He would continue to throw that pitch more and more the next few years, but his velocity also continued to rise with it, going from averaging 81.8 MPH to 86.4 MPH this year.

I’m not saying him using the pitch more and slowing it down would improve his numbers, but one has to wonder since 2014 is the closest he has come to that mark and even then he was throwing his change-up more than he has the last four seasons.

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Credit: Gail Burton/Associated Press

With that being said, the numbers that really speak to me are his Win Probability numbers. Kennedy currently sits at 0.55 WPA and 6.01 RE24, both numbers that rank him in the top 21 of qualified pitchers in the American League. He is not posting the elite numbers that Justin Verlander or Corey Kluber are putting up, but Jake Junis is the only other Royals pitcher close to these numbers and in fact the two of them are very similar in that regard.

I’m a big proponent of  Win Probability and RE24 and tend to believe if you really want to look at the value a player is bringing to his team you look at these two numbers. So far Kennedy has helped put the Royals in situations to win and his performance has helped the team way more than hurt it.

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Credit: Getty Images

But for all the good he has done, there are some concerns as well:

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credit: baseballsavant.com

The main concerns would be the higher hard hit rate, exit velocity and barrel %. All are noticeably up from the last two years and all are signs of batters getting a good read on his pitches. With that being said, there are some positives sprinkled in here as well.

From the chart it looks like the hitters launch angle against him has gone down, which coincides with his HR/FB rate this year. That rate is down to 9.8%, the lowest it has been since 2014. We all know Kennedy gives up home runs but this year it is at a lower rate. One reason could be the weather so far this year; as temperatures rise it only makes sense that he will give up more bombs.

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Another reason could be what hitters are doing when making contact against Kennedy. His flyball rate currently sits at 36.3%, , which you have to go back to 2015 to find the last time it was below 40%. Also, the contact rate against him has gone up, currently at 83.3%, up from 80.3% in 2017. Hitters are swinging at more of his pitches this year (48.4%) and more importantly, swinging at more pitches outside of the strike zone, as his o-contact rate is at 74%, up from 65% last year and 68% in 2016.

So while Kennedy is allowing more contact, how he is doing it is more interesting. Kennedy is known as a flyball pitcher, but balls hit in the air are down and balls hit on the ground are down as well (33.6%). From the numbers it appears that he has given up more line drives this year, in fact almost doubling his percentage from last year, 16.3 to 30.1%. This would explain the hard hit rate seeing an increase and also why the home run to flyball ratio is down as well.

So is all this sustainable? I still maintain that we will see more home runs hit off of Kennedy as the season progresses. He is what he is and history has shown us that 2014 (where he gave up only 16 home runs all season) feels like an outlier when it comes to dingers hit off of him.

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Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

But if hitters continue to swing at pitches outside the strike zone 33% of the time, he has a chance of keeping up most of his current pace. Combine that with the lower walk total and he should be able to minimize the damage when the home runs finally come.

After 12 years in the league it feels like you can get a pretty clear picture of what to expect from a pitcher like Kennedy. But the ability to adjust can be a vital part to any players progression. It’s been nice to see that so far from a pitcher that is entering the latter half of his career.

 

Safe Trails, Doc

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The baseball world was shocked on Tuesday by the death of former Toronto and Philadelphia pitcher Roy “Doc” Halladay in a plane crash off the Florida coast. Halladay was only 40 years old and he is expected to be a first ballot Hall of Famer when he is eligible for induction in 2019. The numbers don’t lie about Halladay’s greatness: two-time Cy Young award winner, 41st best WAR all-time for pitchers, 69th all-time in strike outs, 24th best K/BB ratio, 40th best ERA+, and 14th best WPA. He was a durable ace in a time period where starters didn’t finish what they started; Halladay led the league in complete games seven times and threw over 200 innings in a season eight times. Halladay’s closest comparisons are Zack Greinke, Dwight Gooden and Justin Verlander, three pitchers who have all been Cy Young winners and had long, productive careers. But while the numbers speak of greatness, the baseball world’s response to his passing speaks of how great he was as a human being, not just what he did on a baseball diamond:

I could keep going with the tweets and the numbers, but you get the point. Roy Halladay was everything that was great about baseball. He’s a guy that was easy to root for and one your kids should be looking up to. Rather than writing a column looking back at the greatness of Halladay (and trust me when I say that article will happen when he is going into the Hall of Fame), I thought we could watch some of his greatness on the mound:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s amazing how watching a couple of videos can remind someone of just how great Halladay truly was. I hope younger players not only study how he pitched, but also the work ethic that went with it. Roy Halladay was an elite pitcher that didn’t just blow batters away. Location and control were his friends and helped him be more than just another good pitcher. I can only hope baseball receives more ‘Doc’ Halladay’s in their future; he was everything that is great about this game we love. Thanks, Doc. You will be missed.

Winners and Losers: My 2016 Year End Awards

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November is a great month to be a baseball fan; there is the afterglow of the World Series, Hot Stove season gears up and we all get to take a glance back and venture back into just how great this past baseball season has been. This of course means that the award winners are announced by not only the BBWAA, but by a group I am proud to be a member of, the IBWAA. Being a member allows me to vote on the year-end awards and for the third straight year, have done just that. If you want to check out my past ballots, here they are: 2014 and 2015. It is an honor for me to be allowed the opportunity to vote and I take it very seriously. With that said, here are my picks for this past 2016 season.

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American League MVP: Mike Trout

For the second consecutive year, my vote was for the best player in the game, Mike Trout. This actually has been a very heated debate over the last few months, as even back in August I was saying Trout should be given heavy consideration for this award. The sentimental pick is Jose Altuve and the ‘my team made the playoffs’ pick is Mookie Betts. I instead went with the ‘his numbers are ultimately better’ pick in Trout. All Trout did this year was lead the league in runs, walks, on-base percentage, OPS+, bWAR, fWAR, oWAR, runs created, adjusted batting runs, win probability added for an offensive player and RE24. Oh, he also got better this year, in case anyone didn’t notice. Trout walked more, struck out less, stole three times more bases this year than last, and hit for a higher average, while his other stats were on par with last year. The argument against Trout was…well, it was that his team sucked. But that is really not his fault and in fact you can say the Angels might have been way worse if it was not for Trout. His WPA sat at 6.5, which factors in how he helped his team change the outcome of the game. The next closest batter in the American League was Josh Donaldson…who was at 4.3 WPA, over 2 wins less than Trout. At some point, baseball should view Trout for what he is: the game’s best player no matter whether or not his team is losing. Considering the MVP award is an individual award, not a team one, I give the nod to the player who had the best season and that would be Trout…and it’s not really even close.

My Top 3: 1-Trout, 2-Mookie Better, 3-Jose Altuve

IBWAA Winner: Mike Trout

BBWAA Winner: Mike Trout

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National League MVP: Kris Bryant

In this space just last year, Kris Bryant was the easy choice for NL Rookie of the Year. Just one year later, he is my choice for NL MVP in just his second season in the big leagues. Bryant led the league in bWAR, fWAR, oWAR, and runs scored while finishing second in WPA/LI and third in five other categories. While finishing second in home runs and third in runs created is very nice, there was two very big numbers that swayed me to Bryant. For one, Bryant was third in RE24, which factors in runs added in a resulting play by either a batter or baserunner. Considering he was also fourth in both adjusted batting runs and adjusted batting wins, this would tell me that Bryant contributed greatly from both his bat and his baserunning. The other big factor for me was Bryant’s defense, or more precisely the factor of his value all over the field. While Bryant posted a dWAR this year of 0.8, what makes it even more impressive is just how many positions he would play and not hurt his defensive stats. Kris would start games at 3B, 1B, LF, RF in 2016, and would also make appearances for an inning at both CF and SS for a game. So here is a guy who would play all over the diamond this year, producing MVP offensive numbers and above average defensive numbers. While Daniel Murphy, Freddie Freeman and Corey Seager were all worthy candidates, only one player was an all-around choice for this award, and his name is Kris Bryant.

My Top 3: 1-Bryant, 2-Corey Seager, 3-Freddie Freeman

IBWAA Winner: Kris Bryant

BBWAA Winner: Kris Bryant

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American League Cy Young Award: Chris Sale

This was easily the hardest category to make a decision on and I can honestly say I’m still not 100% comfortable with my pick. To me, there were positives and negatives to almost all of the candidates for this award and after digesting the numbers I felt like Chris Sale was the most deserving pitcher for this award. That being said, no one pitcher stood out of the bunch and that is why you are seeing such discourse when it comes to this award. Let’s start with my choice, Sale. He was tied for first in fWAR, first in complete games, 2nd in strike outs, 3rd in FIP, innings pitched, K/BB ratio, and WHIP and fourth in hits per 9 innings and walks per 9, all while facing the second most batters in the league. This is why this was such a hard pick: Corey Kluber and Justin Verlander also led in a number of categories and were on par with Sale’s performance this year. So what about Rick Porcello? He had a good year, but I had a hard time going with a guy who got the best run support in baseball (6.61) and much of his case was dictated on his win total. Zach Britton? I considered him for the award, but I had a few issues with his case (which we will go into later in this article) and even felt that Andrew Miller had a better season than he did. So I went with Sale, although if you told me that Kluber or Verlander were more deserving, I probably wouldn’t put up much of a fight. This was the year where no clear winner was defined.

My Top 3: 1-Sale, 2- Corey Kluber, 3-Justin Verlander

IBWAA Winner: Corey Kluber

BBWAA Winner: Rick Porcello

Clayton Kershaw

National League Cy Young Award: Clayton Kershaw

Remember how I wrote above how I had considered Zach Britton for the AL Cy Young? A lot of the Britton argument was based on ignoring his innings pitched and focus on how tremendous his numbers were in 2016. So if we are considering Britton,  then shouldn’t we have to look at Clayton Kershaw as a worthy candidate in the National League? I believe so and I will take it a step further by saying that Kershaw’s season was so spectacular that even with only 149 innings tossed, he was my pick for NL Cy Young. Follow me on this one, if you will: despite Kershaw’s low innings total, he was still 2nd in bWAR and first in fWAR, stats that are normally driven up as the season progresses. Read that again; in 33 less innings than Noah Syndergaard of the Mets (the fWAR runner-up), Kershaw accumulated more WAR than any other pitcher in the National League. If he had been qualified, Kershaw would have led the NL in ERA, WHIP, hits per 9, walks per 9, strikeouts to bases on balls ratio, ERA+,  and FIP…and if he had stayed on par with what he had done to that point it wouldn’t have even been close! Kershaw did lead the league in shutouts, WPA/LI, REW, and adjusted pitching wins, 3rd in complete games and win probability added and 2nd in adjusted pitching runs and RE24. All in just 149 innings.To put it another way, Kershaw was on course for an absolutely record-breaking season if it were not for being sidelined for a couple of months over the summer. To me, it was worth enough to win him the Cy Young. This wasn’t a knock on Kyle Hendricks, Max Scherzer, Syndergaard or Jon Lester. It was more that Kershaw was absolutely dominating when healthy…and it wasn’t even close. We really saw an absolutely amazing season from a probable future Hall of Famer in Clayton Kershaw.

My Top 3: 1-Kershaw, 2-Noah Syndergaard, 3-Jose Fernandez

IBWAA Winner: Max Scherzer

BBWAA Winner: Max Scherzer

MLB: MAY 21 Rays at Tigers

American League Rookie of the Year: Michael Fulmer

There was a small debate late in the season for this award, as Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez made a late push, but in the end this was Michael Fulmer’s prize to win. Fulmer compiled a great rookie season in Detroit, racking up 159 innings over 26 starts, a 135 ERA+, 3.76 FIP, and a WHIP of 1.119. Fulmer also put together a 33.1 inning scoreless streak early in the season, that was put to bed on June 18 in Kansas City. Fulmer was a great addition to the Detroit rotation but late in the year he did receive some competition from Sanchez, who was able to piece together a 3.0 bWAR season in just 53 games. Fulmer was still able to beat him out with 4.9 bWAR and for the honor of being the best rookie in the American League. All this from a pitcher acquired the year before from the Mets for Yoenis Cespedes, a deal that could be paying off in Detroit for a long time.

My Top 3: 1-Fulmer, 2-Gary Sanchez, 3-Tyler Naquin

IBWAA Winner: Michael Fulmer

BBWAA Winner: Michael Fulmer

MLB: OCT 09 NLDS - Game 1 - Mets at Dodgers

National League Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager

This was another slam dunk pick and one that many (like myself) predicted before the season began. Seager blew away the rookie competition this year and even forced himself into the NL MVP race this year. Seager led all National League rookies in fWAR, bWAR, RBI’s, runs, and was second in home runs and wRC+. Overall, he was 5th in bWAR and runs scored, 2nd in oWAR, 1oth in slugging percentage and runs created, 4th in total bases, 7th in doubles,  and 8th in RE24. The Dodgers struggled quite a bit offensively in 2016, but Seager was solid the entire year, never posting an on-base percentage below .311 in any month. Seager’s rookie season was almost record-breaking as well, as he had the 6th best rookie campaign according to fWAR this year, sitting at 7.5, and has the second best rookie season in the modern era (1988-today). So while Trea Turner, Trevor Story and Jon Gray had good to great first seasons, none were quite as good as the Dodgers starting shortstop.

My Top 3: 1-Seager, 2-Jon Gray, 3-Trea Turner

IBWAA Winner: Corey Seager

BBWAA Winner: Corey Seager

MLB: OCT 11 ALDS - Game 3 - Blue Jays at Rangers

American League Manager of the Year: Jeff Banister

Banister was last year’s pick in both the IBWAA and the BBWAA, and I had him a close second to Minnesota’s Paul Molitor. But this year, my pick went to Banister. The Texas Rangers dealt with a number of issues this past year,most notably when it came to injuries. The team lost portions of their rotation throughout the year, whether it was Yu Darvish, Derek Holland or Colby Lewis. Shin-Soo Choo was in and out of the lineup most of the year and Josh Hamilton never even got going. Throw in the ineffectiveness and injuries for Carlos Gomez and the career-ending neck injury to Prince Fielder and you have a team that could have been a mess. Instead, Banister led his team to the best record in the American League and found a number of working parts to fill any holes he had. While Terry Francona and Buck Showalter were both excellent choices, to me Jeff Banister overcame a ton of obstacles and did the best managing job in the American League this year.

My Top 3: 1-Banister, 2-Terry Francona, 3-Buck Showalter

IBWAA Winner: Terry Francona

BBWAA Winner: Terry Francona

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National League Manager of the Year: Dave Roberts

Managing in the big leagues isn’t always an easy job. For a first-time manager, it can be twice as daunting. So while Dave Roberts walked into a solid roster when he inherited the Dodgers as manager, he also had his work cut out for him. Not only was he going to have to juggle a roster that was littered with veterans, but he also fell into a rotation that be dealt a number of injuries and the whole Yasiel Puig situation. There was also an offense that lingered in the middle of the pack in most offensive categories in 2016 but did manage to accumulate the 3rd highest fWAR in the NL. Oh, he also had to deal with losing the best pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, for about two months of the season. Throw in those struggles of a first year manager that we mentioned earlier and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Los Angeles didn’t even capture a playoff spot. Instead, Roberts steered his team to a division title and took them all the way to Game 6 of the NLCS before being ousted. To me, that wins you NL Manager of the Year.

My Top 3: 1-Roberts, 2-Dusty Baker, 3-Joe Maddon

IBWAA Winner: Joe Maddon

BBWAA Winner: Dave Roberts

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American League Reliever of the Year: Andrew Miller

Someone right now just said “He misspelled Zach Britton”. No, I didn’t. I know this will shock some, but despite Britton’s fantastic 2016, I viewed Andrew Miller’s season in a much brighter light. Let’s go ahead and break down some numbers to get a better view of where I am coming from. First, I won’t squabble over innings pitched. Miller only threw 7 more innings than Britton this year, which means very little. Miller led Britton in K/9 (14.89 to 9.94), BB/9 (1.09 to 2.42), LOB% (95.7 to 89.7), HR/FB ratio (20 to 7.1), FIP (1.68 to 1.94), xFIP (1.18 to 2.09) and possibly most importantly, fWAR (2.9 to 2.5). Yes, Britton had a better HR/9 ratio (0.13 to 0.97) and a much lower ERA (0.54 to 1.45) but to me that wasn’t enough to say Britton was better. Yes, despite Britton’s insane WPA (6.14 to Miller’s 4.79), it still felt to me that Miller was the better reliever this year. One final number tipped me to Miller’s side over Britton. In Britton’s 69 appearances, he pitched only 6 games of more than 1 inning and 11 games where he pitched less than 1 inning. In Miller’s 70 games, he threw 11 games of more than 1 inning and 8 games of less than 1 inning. It’s not a giant gap, but it does show Miller was used in longer stretches in the game than Britton, and it might have been even more if he had been pitching in Cleveland all year. For all the talk about Britton this year, there should have been a lot more talk about Andrew Miller’s 2016. For me, the choice is easy. Miller was the best reliever in the American League this past year.

My top 3: 1-Miller, 2-Zach Britton, 3-Dellin Betances

IBWAA Winner: Zach Britton

AP METS CUBS BASEBALL S BBN USA IL

National League Reliever of the Year: Jeurys Familia

This was another tough battle and while I thought Kenley Jansen had a great year, I felt like Familia’s was just slightly better. Jansen did beat Familia in a number of categories: K/9, BB/9, ERA, FIP, ERA+ and fWAR. All solid categories and I don’t discount any of them. Familia did pitch in about 7 more games, while throwing about 9 more innings. Familia also had a better HR/9 rate and it wasn’t even very close (0.12 to 0.52). Where I liked Familia a bit more was WPA, Win Probability Added. Familia had a WPA of 1.82 to Jansen’s 1.77 while his WPA+ was much higher than Jansen’s, 11.54 to 7.32. These numbers tell me that Familia seemed to pitch in more high leverage situations, which is a bit more valuable. The Clutch stat also leans a bit toward Familia, 0.27 to 0.95. So in the end I voted for Familia, although a vote for Jansen isn’t a bad one either. If I was being 100% honest, looking at everything right now, I might have changed my vote for Jansen if I could do it again. Either way, both had great seasons with Familia getting the very slight edge in this battle.

My Top 3: 1-Jeurys Familia, 2-Kenley Jansen, 3-Tyler Thornburg

IBWAA Winner: Kenley Jansen

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So there you go, my votes for this 2016 season. I’m sure some of you will disagree, but that is part of the fun of these picks. It is a great honor that I get to vote every year like this and I can only hope I do a respectable part to show the value of an organization like the IBWAA. This is a game we all love and while we might squabble here and there on numbers, it really comes down to what you value. I can only hope 2017 brings us just as many highly contested winners. Here’s to baseball being back sooner rather than later.

 

 

Motown Mowdown: Royals Win Series Over Tigers

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Sure, there are series’ that are ho-hum and feel like just another day at the office. Then there are ones that are more important, or at least important to the mind. As we speak the Detroit Tigers are in last place in the American League Central, a once strong powerhouse now turned into a tamed kitty. Over the last five years we have seen the Tigers spank the Royals on such a regular basis that most of us got used to the routine. But the last two years have been a different story, as Kansas City has held their own and even taken a number of important games from the Tigers. So to say it felt good this week to see the Royals take two of three from Detroit would be an understatement. To see Kansas City pound the ‘Boys from Motown’ well, that felt great. Two blowouts of a division rival is enough to put the biggest smile on any fans face. So how did we get here? All it took was some solid all around baseball to get to your answer.

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Series MVP: Kendrys Morales   

There was some tough competition for this honor, as Lorenzo Cain and Ben Zobrist both put up some hefty numbers in these last three games. But Kendrys Morales was an offensive juggernaut against Detroit, going 8 for 14 with 2 home runs, 8 RBI’s, a BAbip of .600 and raised his OPS over 20 points. The first of his two home runs was hit on Tuesday night, in the Royals one loss in this series:

Morales would get another deep blast on Wednesday night, driving in 3 runs that night.

He came just a few feet short of a third home run in this series on Thursday, but had to settle for a double and 4 RBI’s. Morales is currently sitting at 98 RBI’s with four weeks left in the season but I can almost guarantee he won’t reach the all-time leader for RBI’s by a Royals designated hitter. Hal McRae owns that honor, driving in 133 runs back in 1982. Morales has shown this year that he still has some gas left in the tank(I will fess up to being one that thought he had begun his regression) and has been a vital cog in the middle of this Royals batting order. Morales has been hot as of late(.327/.417/.635 over these last two weeks) and hopefully he can continue this hot streak all the way into October.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Yordano Ventura  

Most concerns about Yordano Ventura were alleviated with his start on Wednesday night, a start that showcased just how dominate he can be. Ventura went 7 innings, giving up 5 hits and 1 run while walking 1 and striking out 11. That is two consecutive starts that ‘Ace’ has struck out 11, a feat only duplicated by a few other Royals:

In fact Ventura has looked more like the pitcher we envisioned he would be this year over his last five starts, stringing together some numbers that can put a smile on even the most pessimistic fan’s face:

In some ways he just made the Tigers hitters look silly:

The most impressive part of his outing was how Ventura was able to mix his curveball and change-up in with his electric fastball. In fact, Ventura used his fastball only 57% of the time, while his curve was used 25% and the change-up 16%. Going back to the end of July and Ventura was using his fastball more(62%) while only using his curve sparingly(14%), even throwing in a few cutter’s. When Yordano has a good feel for his off-speed pitches he can set batters up with his fastball and then get them by throwing something off-speed. He has been able to do that a lot more this past month and if this is the Ventura we see the rest of the season, he easily locks down a spot in the postseason rotation.

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Down Goes Detroit! Down Goes Detroit!

The Royals offense is a curious thing. It’s not nearly as bi-polar as in year’s past, but it still has their moments. Then there are games like Wednesday and Thursday, where the Royals bats were so hot that I expected to see smoke rising off of them. Kansas City was able to get Detroit’s starters out of both games early, leaving the Tigers bullpen to try and stop the bleeding. Problem is, the Tigers pen is one of the worst in baseball. The Tigers pen has a -0.3 WAR so far this year(28th in baseball), 2nd highest FIP, 71% LOB percentage(26th in baseball) and an ERA of 4.76, the 2nd highest in baseball and highest in the American League.

So you can see why the Royals eyes got larger and feasted on this atrocity of a bullpen. It should be no surprise why Morales, Cain, Cuthbert, Orlando and Zobrist all contributed with home runs in this series and why the offensive numbers were off the table for these three games. In years past Detroit has been able to get away with a creaky bullpen due to their solid rotation and aggressive hitting. Now that some of those key parts have been traded and the team has had to deal with injuries, that pen becomes a giant bullseye for all teams to target. Knock out the Tigers starters and you have a good chance of picking up a ‘W’.

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Plenty of more goodness coming from this series win for the Royals. Brace yourself; time to spill out some news and notes from this first week of September:

  • Alex Gordon was activated on Tuesday, which was great news for those of us that worried Gordon would be lost for the rest of the season when he went down back in July. Instead, he made a quick recovery and got a heroes ovation in his first at bat back:

He would get a sac fly in that at bat, helping put Kansas City on the board. Gordon is a big part of this Royals team and having his back is nothing but a plus. It appears he will be batting 6th most of the time this month, but don’t be surprised if we see him hitting leadoff come October:

It’s great to have Alex back but if you want to understand the true depth of this team, check this out:

It’s almost like the Royals didn’t miss a beat. It does appear as if Alex will be rested fairly often, as he has been in the lineup about every other day since Tuesday. I am totally on board with this, as we want him as rested as possible before October rolls around. So yes, I am excited Gordon is back. But I’m not the only one:

  • The Royals beefed up their bench on Monday with an acquisition of Jonny Gomes from Atlanta:

Gomes has postseason experience and will mostly see action against left handers, as per his success against them:

He also isn’t too shabby playing at ‘The K’:

If things got bad enough, he could even fill in out of the bullpen:

He also can fight off a pack of wolves:

Good acquisition by Dayton Moore, as Gomes could be a solid bat off the bench in the playoffs. It also appears as if this trade was made because of the uncertainty of Alex Rios’ condition. Speaking of…

  • Word trickled out on Tuesday that Rios and Kelvin Herrera both came down with a case of chickenpox:

It’s a little unclear how this affects the team going forward. It looks like both players will be cleared to return in about another week, but chickenpox is much worse if you get it as an adult:

So it will be interesting to see if there is a period where Rios and Herrera play at not quite full speed. The good news is that it appears no one else on the team came down with the illness. It also appears as if we don’t have to worry about Morales and Gomes:

  • The September call-ups have begun:

There is a good chance we see quite a bit out of these guys, as manager Ned Yost rests his regulars throughout this month. It also appears this could be all we see of players recalled from the minors:

Some of these players have already become a necessity. All saw action in this series and Cuthbert saw starts in the last two games:

It also helps when you blow the other team out of the water for two straight nights. Just saying.

  • Justin Verlander started against the Royals Tuesday and was coming off of his one-hit effort against the Angels last week. But Verlander has a history with Kansas City:

Verlander went 6.2 innings, giving up 7 hits and 4 runs(2 earned) while walking 1 and striking out 4. The Royals didn’t dominate him but you could also say the same about Verlander. Maybe it’s because the two teams play each other so much, but it definitely seems like the Royals are not fooled by Verlander. Verlander might look more like the Verlander of old, but the Royals are not impressed.

  • The Royals celebrated their ‘Franchise Four’, which was selected by the fans before the All-Star game this summer. George Brett, Frank White, Bret Saberhagen and Dan Quisenberry were chosen for this honor and it was great to see three of the honorees on the field this week:

All four men hold a special place in my fandom, as they were all prevalent stars when I began watching baseball in the 1980’s. It was also great to see Frank White out there, as he has been at odds with Royals management over the years and has only been at a few games since his firing a few years ago. I had been asked when this voting was going on who my four would be, and this was who I chose. I think there are legitimate arguments for the likes of Willie Wilson, Kevin Appier and Amos Otis, but I think the fans chose the right four. Hopefully we get to see White return next month to throw out a first pitch before a playoff game. Yes, fingers are crossed.

  • Finally, Johnny Cueto struggled in his start on Tuesday, the third straight start he has had issues. There was lots of concern about Cueto, but I’m not one of them. If he looked like he was compensating on the mound for an injury, or even had a loss of velocity I would have my worries. But it appears his problems are purely location:

Dave Eiland has already worked with Cueto and they think they have fixed an issue with his arm slot. Remember, three starts is a small sample size and while it is a bit concerning, we are talking about one of the best pitchers of the last four years:

Now, if he struggles again this weekend…

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Tweets of Royalty

Kansas City Royals' Lorenzo Cain (6) celebrates with Salvador Perez after Cain hit a solo home run during the third inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

So 29 games remain in this regular season for the boys in blue and the magic number continues to dwindle:

Most of us have been in a playoff frame of mind for awhile now, but Kansas City not only has to lock down the Central, but also home field advantage in the playoffs. Regulars will be rested during this month, but they also need to keep their eyes on the prize. The White Sox are headed into Kauffman Stadium this weekend to take on the Royals and while they haven’t performed up to expectations this year, they have given the Royals fits throughout the year. Kind of like that gnat that lingers and won’t go away, no matter how often you shoo it away. So by no means will this be an easy series. At this point, every win is another game closer to lowering that magic number. There will also be a battle for the 4th starter spot for the playoffs, which at this point looks to be between Kris Medlen and Danny Duffy. Three games up, hopefully at least two go in the win column. Steady wins the race, as has been the case all year for the Kansas City Royals.

Ray of Sunshine: Royals Beat Tampa Bay

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

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Series MVP: Lorenzo Cain  

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

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

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez

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

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

TOOTBLAN or Foul Ball?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t cross the Kuntz!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tweets of Royalty

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

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

 

 

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For: The Vargas Years

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On Thursday, the Kansas City Royals held a press conference for their “Major Announcement”, the signing of left handed pitcher Jason Vargas to a 4-year, $32 million dollar deal. It was well known that the Royals were in the market for a starting pitcher to replace the departed Ervin Santana, who was a solid #2 starter for the team in 2013. Names like Tim Hudson, Josh Johnson and Phil Hughes were all bandied about for Kansas City, but in the end they inked Vargas. This announcement was met with neither joy nor anger by Royals fans…instead, it was met with a very ‘meh’ reaction. So was this a good deal for the Royals? Let’s go ahead and break it down.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Tampa Bay Rays

First is the length of the deal. When I first heard of the signing, this was the part that disturbed me. I am of the belief that very few pitchers are worth a contract over four years. The only ones you should feel confident with are the Clayton Kershaw’s and Justin Verlander’s of the game. If you are not an elite hurler, there should be no reason to give them a long-term contract. Pitcher’s are too fragile and tend to break down at a higher rate than a position player. It is also quite the gamble to do that with a pitcher in his 30’s, normally the age a moundsman starts to regress. So four years for an average pitcher(which I will get into in a bit) just seems like an awful idea. Between Jeremy Guthrie and Vargas, it seems as if Royals GM Dayton Moore feels he needs to add extra years just to get a pitcher to sign in Kansas City. At one point that might hold some truth; but that is not the case in 2013. Coming off of a winning year, the Royals aren’t in the position they were in when they had to sign Gil Meche to a large contract just to get him to listen. Those days are gone. So any talk that they HAD to give Vargas four years is preposterous. Hopefully signing Vargas to that long of a deal doesn’t come back to bite them, which it could. When you sign such a long deal for a guy, that is a commitment you are making to your baseball team despite how the player in question is performing. In this case, the Royals are more likely to stick with him in the rotation longer than they would, let’s say, Bruce Chen, because of their commitment to him. So in the end, the length of this deal is almost an albatross around the Royals neck.

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Now let’s look at the dollars portion of the deal. I actually have no problem with paying Vargas around $8 million a year. The contract actually breaks down to $7 million the first year, $8.5 million for years 2 & 3, then $8 million for the final year. In all honesty, most experts had predicted Vargas would sign for around $10 million a year, so an average of $8 million a year really is not bad. In this regard, the Royals did okay, even if you think Vargas is just a younger Bruce Chen. Which brings us to the next section…

Bruce Chen

If you look at Vargas and his style, it’s hard not to see him as a younger doppelganger of Bruce Chen, or at least his pitching style. Vargas doesn’t break 90 mph on the radar gun, and uses a change of speed as his biggest weapon. Normally with pitchers like Vargas and Chen, you either have to keep the batters off balance, or you are going to get lit up like Snoop Dogg(Lion?) on a tour bus. The last two years Vargas has had pitcher’s parks to call home(Anaheim & Seattle) and yet his home/road splits show two different pitchers:

2013:
Home: 6-2, 3.30 ERA, 79 innings, 60 Ks, 24 walks, .251/.307/.413
Road: 3-6, 4.82 ERA, 71 innings, 49 Ks, 22 walks, .303/.359/.440

2012:
Home: 5-5, 2.74 ERA, 98 innings, 69 Ks, 22 walks, .219/.265/.327
Road: 9-6, 4.78 ERA, 118 2/3 innings, 72 Ks, 33 walks, .266/.315/.495

It’s easy to see that he does fine in a pitcher’s park, but once he is away from there his numbers spike upward…a lot. Kauffman Stadium is more of a neutral park than the last two he has pitched in on a regular basis, and I’m sure the Royals great defense will help him as well. But his number’s at the K over his career don’t exactly ooze confidence from me: Vargas has pitched 20 innings at Kauffman Stadium against the Royals, with two total strikeouts and an ERA of 5.31. These are numbers from a guy who the Royals look to be counting on to be their number 3 starter this year…and maybe more in the future. So go back to that contract: 4 years, $32 million. Bruce Chen probably could have been re-signed for 2 years and around $12 million. That is way less of a commitment and less money for the same kind of pitcher. Plus, Bruce Chen is funnier. Just saying.

Jason Vargas

Now, don’t take this as me disliking Vargas. I think if the Royals were using him as the #4 or 5 starter I would have less of a problem with this. Vargas will eat innings and have games where he will look unhittable. He will be what he is: a solid, inning eating average pitcher. Hey, we all know the Royals need innings as much as anything. The sad thing is the Royals are at a point where they can contend, yet bought like they just want to get by. The window for this Royals team to win is very small, as James Shields will become a free agent after this upcoming weekend. Logic says the Royals should have gone out and gotten a solid #2 starter for the rotation. Was one available? Maybe not on the surface, but a guy like Scott Feldman or Phil Hughes might have more upside than Vargas does. Yes, Hughes would have been a gamble, but that is kind of what this team needs to do now. Instead, the Royals gave a large contract to a league average pitcher. If he is to be believed to be Santana’s replacement, it will be a step down.

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The one way around this is if Danny Duffy or Yordano Ventura step up this year and show the stuff that scouts have been saying about them for years. Duffy seems like a long shot, since he can’t seem to stay healthy or keep his pitch count down. He has the stuff and the talent, he just needs to stay off the DL and throw less pitches. Ventura had both good and bad moments in his September call-up. It’s hard to see his triple digit fastball and not get excited, and there is a very good chance he is as special as we’ve been told he is. But rookies don’t always flourish right out of the gate, so it’s hard to predict just what kind of pitcher he will be in 2014. There is also the outside chance Kyle Zimmer will jump from AA to the majors, but a lot of things would have to go right for that to happen. Either way, much like last year, the Royals are counting on more improvement than regression. It’s a scary gamble to take.

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So I hate the length of this deal, but more than anything I hate what this signing stands for. It probably means the Royals have made their big move of the winter and it was for a pitcher who reminds me of Bruce Chen and looks like Rodney Ruxin. I think Vargas will be a serviceable pitcher and should be a steady arm for Kansas City to count on. But the Royals need more, which puts more pressure on Duffy, Ventura and Zimmer to be more of a savior for this pitching staff. If this pushes Wade Davis out of a rotation spot, the deal looks better. But it’s not the deal I would have made, and it makes you wonder just how in it  Kansas City will be for 2014. The rest of the American League Central looks to be improved for next year, so for the Royals to keep up with the Jones’ they need to improve as well. Sorry, Jason Vargas. You are a step down at this point. Nothing personal. At least you have security. Four years worth, in fact.

FLASHBACK: The Return of Zack

Author’s Note: The Flashback articles on here I originally wrote for the website royalsbaseball.net. That website has now become defunct, so I thought I would move them over here to Bleeding Royal Blue. I’d like to thank Joel Matheny for giving me the opportunity to write for his website, even if it was for just a few months. So enjoy, and go Royals!

zack-greinke-posnanski2012 is a very pivotal year for the Kansas City Royals, especially for those of us that have been following “the process”. This is the year in which we find out whether or not all the time and money that has been put in developing the new crop of Royals will pay off or not. Now, that is not to say Kansas City is playoff bound(although it could be interesting in the lackluster American League Central), but we should know by the end of the season just how close the team is to contending. Predictions have always been that 2012 we would start to see improvement, and be on the brink of contending, with 2013 as the possible arrival date. If all goes as planned, the Royals might be a team just in need of a solid #1 starter, one guy who can dominate every fifth day when he takes the mound. Is that guy Zack Greinke?

imagesNow, I probably just threw out a no-no. How dare I mention Judas! Look, I’m with all of you; if anyone was not happy with Zack’s attitude when he left, it was me. I’m a huge proponent of locker room chemistry and what a solid character guy(like Jeff Franceour) or a cancer(see Guillen, Jose) can do and what it means to a winning team. By the end of his tenure in Kansas City, Greinke had become a cancer in that locker room, a less than solid influence for the younger players to look up to. It showed in his pitching, as he looked uninterested in taking the mound for the Royals. He went from a one of a kind year in 2009, one that very few pitchers ever experience, to a year of mediocrity. As Royals fans, we understand his frustration in the team continuing to lose. Look, I’ve been a fan since 1984, and the last 15 years has taken it’s toll on me. But at the end of the day, I still bleed Royal blue, through and through. Why couldn’t Zack see the future was coming?

Zack+Greinke+Bob+McClure+Minnesota+Twins+v+X4ybjsukAPqlThe part of the whole deal that killed me is the team stuck with him through his issues and let him come back at his own pace. They didn’t rush him, letting him play in the minors with no pressure and learn what he loved about the game in the first place. So to have him then turn around and want to leave when things were tough really left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. After years of awful pitching, the Royals had a guy they could put up there with Leonard, Splittorff, Saberhagen, Cone and Appier.

Just like that, he was gone. Now, most of us will agree that the return for Zack softened the blow. This year we’ll get to see just how good Lorenzo Cain, and Shortstop Jesus has made the trade of Greinke seem like a great move. Soon, we’ll get to see Jake Odorizzi who has been compared to Greinke in alot of circles.  Trading Zack helped make “the process” seem even more plausible.  But what if at the end of this year there is still that one piece of the puzzle to acquire?

Every team that yearns to reach the World Series knows they need a good #1 starter if they have any chance of making it deep into the playoffs. Detroit has one in Justin Verlander, a guy who can go out every fifth day and pretty much guarantee his team a ‘W’. That is what the Royals will eventually need if they are serious. As much as we might hope he is Danny Duffy or Mike Montgomery or even Jake Odorizzi, know of those guys will be in a position to fill that slot to start off 2013. Zack Greinke will be a free agent after this season and when his head is on straight, he is a number one guy.

Zack+Greinke+Toronto+Blue+Jays+v+Kansas+City+Tdqf0koN7dclSo should the Royals go after the guy who spurned them just one year ago? I think it should at least be looked into. Greinke will never survive in a major market like New York or Boston. Philadelphia would eat him for lunch. His best bet is to stay in a smaller market where the scrutiny won’t be so harsh. He is familiar with Kansas City and already knows what to expect from management. He would have to mend some fences, and prove to some people that he isn’t going to bail out at the next sign of trouble, but it could be done. The Royals should at least invest into the thought of whether or not he could help return them to the playoffs. It might be a smarter move than originally expected.

 

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