2020, I bid you adieu

Credit: Kansas City Royals

It appears we are finally at a point where we can officially put 2020 to bed. For most, this has been a difficult year that has taken away our vision of what normal is and shaped it into a mystery that we might not get the answer to for awhile longer. It was no different in baseball, as we got a shortened season, extended playoffs, empty stadiums, a National League DH, and extra innings that began with a runner on base. It’s easy to see why some fans were aloof about the season and I would be lying if I said it wasn’t rough for me to watch games when so much else was going on in the world. In some ways, baseball wasn’t the escape it normally is.

That being said, we still got baseball and as a Kansas City Royals fan there were a number of glints of hope that made me glad at least some baseball was played. While 60 games is the true definition of “small sample size”, we at least got a slight taste of what we could be seeing in 2021.

Credit: Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For instance, Salvador Perez returned from Tommy John surgery this season and turned in the best offensive season of his career (if you count 37 games as a season). Salvy returned and claimed the American League Comeback Player of the Year award and a third Silver Slugger Award, while posting career highs in OPS+, batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, ISO and BABIP. His Barrel % sat at 13.9% while putting up a Hard Hit rate of 47%. If you saw Perez play this year, it seemed like whenever he hit the ball, he hit it hard.

But while it was great to see Salvy rake, there are still a number of questions with him headed into 2021. Can he repeat this season offensively or at least be close? Will his body hold up for a full season? And can he continue to work his magic with all the young arms moving up through the Royals farm system? There are a number of questions with Salvy as he enters his age 31 season and the answers to those questions might determine whether or not Kansas City decides to extend his contract past 2021.

Credit: Charlie Riedel | AP

Speaking of the Royals young arms, 2020 was just a glimpse of all the talent they have down in the minors. While Brady Singer, Kris Bubic and Tyler Zuber all proved their worth this year, there are a number of pitchers who might just get their shot in the new season. Former 2018 draft picks Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar are the names mentioned the most, with Kowar making it to AA in 2019 while Lynch might just be the most talked about arm in the system.

It’s hard at this point to really gauge just where they are in their development, as no minor league games were played this past season and we basically just have to go off of what scouts and front office personnel have been saying about the intrasquad games that were played in 2020. Going off of those assessments, Lynch is one of the top lefthanded pitching prospects in the game (some say behind only San Diego’s Mackenzie Gore) while Kowar has always been described as being more polished. Add in names like Daniel Tillo, Scott Blewett, Austin Cox, Asa Lacy and Zach Haake amongst others and you have the possibility of Kansas City having one of the youngest pitching staffs in baseball by the end of 2021.

Credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip

With the team performing better than most expected this year (hey, 26-34 is close enough to .500 that you could have almost seen the Royals get there), Dayton Moore put his money where his mouth went this offseason. At the end of the year, Moore proclaimed he saw the team contending in 2021. No joke:

“We expect to win next year,” Moore said during a video conference call with reporters. “What does that look like? Is it going to be enough wins to make the playoffs? We’ll find out. Our mindset is going to be to win every single pitch, every inning, win every game. That’s the only way that we’re ever going to win another championship, you’ve got to expect to win at all aspects.”

At the time it was hard not to roll my eyes a bit. As a longtime Royals fan, we have heard all of this before. Sure, I totally think Dayton means it whenever he says things that feel like over the top, cliché sports quotes. In fact, I pretty much expect this from GMDM most of the time. No harm, no foul. But then he went out and started adding pieces.

and more…

and more…

and more…

Hell, the team even signed an old friend that I haven’t thought of in years…

So by the end of all of this, Moore had added the superior defender he had coveted for center field, an innings eating veteran for the rotation, a power hitting first baseman for the middle of the order and the veteran closer who still has a few tricks up his sleeve for the bullpen. The Royals have been one of the few active teams this winter (hello, Mets) and they might not be done just yet:

I also wouldn’t be surprised if Moore signed more pitchers as well. Considering how 2020 went, a number of pitchers are going to be on limited innings/pitch counts this year, which means teams are going to be using a number of extra pitchers just to get through the year (if you have wondered about the Ervin Santana signing, this is probably why). So when Moore said he saw them as contenders, he really meant he saw them as contenders.

This also brings up the point that I still hear for whatever reason, which is the ownership being cheap. Let me clarify here that it is blatantly obvious that isn’t happening. John Sherman has owned this team just a smidge over a year and I think it is safe to say he has yet to really reap the rewards that come from owning a Major League Baseball team. If there was one owner who could complain and say he hasn’t made any money this past year and actually have a legit argument, it would probably be Sherman. But rather than complain, he has made the right move every step of the way. He took care of the minor leaguers, he took care of the front office staff and the way the organization has treated everyone during the pandemic has caused the team to profit when it comes to scouts, personnel and players. So to say Sherman won’t spend money after what we have seen for the last eight months…well, you aren’t really paying attention if you believe that.

Credit: John Sleezer/Getty Images

So while 2020 overall was a bit of a schizophrenic mess, the Royals come away from the last year with something we haven’t seen in awhile: hope. We don’t know yet if there will be extra playoff spots for Kansas City to go after, or what we will see in extra inning games, but we at least can relish in the fact that there is some real effort within this organization to bring the team back to October baseball. After a year in which we would all like to forget, a little bit of hope goes a long way.

Small Sample Size: My 2020 Year End Awards

If we are being honest, I’m not even sure where to start. 2020 has been such a messed up year and baseball isn’t excused from all the craziness. Whether it’s the shortened season, the expanded playoffs, or the universal DH, baseball looked way different than what we are used to this past calendar year.

With that said, some things were normal. There was still a World Series winner. There was also lots of bickering between the new & old school evaluations of the game. But where we are concerned today, awards were still voted on by the BBWAA and by a group I am part of, the IBWAA.

Now, the IBWAA has new ownership & has created a new atmosphere for baseball writers on the web, but voting felt at first like normal. That is if you count evaluating 60 games “normal”.

That was the strange part: trying to pick winners in the smallest of sample sizes. While there were some obvious choices, others felt a little more vague. While I normally enjoy going through & picking my winners, this year felt more like a chore than ever before. Parameters were moved & choices all the way around were chosen on a smaller scale.

But I did pick winners and it is time now to unveil them. Before I do, you can always go back & check out my previous IBWAA voting record: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015. With that out of the way, let’s start handing out awards.

American League Rookie of the Year: Kyle Lewis, Seattle   

If there was an obvious choice for an award this year, Kyle Lewis for AL Rookie of the Year might be it. Lewis went out and made a name for himself in the shortened campaign, leading rookies in fWAR (tied with Ke-Bryan Hayes of Pittsburgh), home runs (tied with Luis Robert of Chicago), runs, OBP and total bases.

He also showed some defensive prowess and could be the start of a fun, young outfield in Seattle. While Luis Robert, Cristian Javier and Brady Singer all had great rookie campaigns, it felt obvious that Lewis was head and shoulders above the rest in the American League this season.

My Top 3: 1. Lewis 2. Robert 3. Singer

IBWAA Winner: Kyle Lewis

BBWAA Winner: Kyle Lewis

AP Photo/Morry Gash

National League Rookie of the Year: Devin Williams, Milwaukee

While the American League winner felt simple, the National League was a bit tougher to pick. So many worthy candidates littered the Senior Circuit and with the 60 game season, it was a bit harder to weed out one single candidate.

But once you saw Devin Williams’ numbers, it was hard to argue with: 1.4 fWAR, 0.33 ERA, 53% K rate, 0.63 WHIP and 0.86 FIP. Williams allowed one earned run over 27 innings, which included a stretch of 24 2/3 scoreless innings, while allowing just eight hits all season. His changeup was a deal breaker in 2020 and led to a lot of love from Pitching Ninja himself:

So while a number of rookies had good seasons in the NL this past season, none were as dominant as Devin Williams. In fact one would think this is just the beginning for this 26 year old reliever.

My Top 3: 1. Williams 2. Ke’Bryan Hayes 3. Alec Bohm

IBWAA Winner: Jake Cronenworth

BBWAA Winner: Devin Williams

Credit: USATSI

American League Manager of the Year: Kevin Cash, Tampa Bay

Even before Cash led the Rays to the World Series, it was apparent that he would be the frontrunner for the AL Manager of the Year. Cash ran a squad that won the American League East for the first time since 1990 and squirmed through an injured list that felt insurmountable. Add in the fact they play in one of the strongest divisions in the game, and it felt like a great time to bestow Cash with this honor.

The Rays had one of the best pitching staffs in the game and was able to use that to hold off the Yankees and Blue Jays in their division. He guided the team through the new playoff format, as the team held off the Yankees and the Astros. Even in the World Series, the Rays held their own and a big part of that was Cash’s managing skills. 

I know some will still question taking Blake Snell out in Game 6 of the World Series, but one move doesn’t tarnish all the other work Cash did this past season. While that argument will rage on, there is no need to question the validity of Cash’s work in this organization.

My Top 3: 1. Cash 2. Bob Melvin 3. Sandy Alomar, Jr.

IBWAA Winner: Kevin Cash

BBWAA Winner: Kevin Cash

National League Manager of the Year: Brian Snitker, Atlanta

I’m going to come right out and take some responsibility: I completely forgot about Don Mattingly when I was working on my votes. I don’t know if I was breezing through everything, or just wasn’t paying close attention, but Mattingly didn’t even cross my mind during this process. 

Now, if I had thought of him, he definitely would have been in my top three and possibly even my winner. He did a great job with a young Marlins club and deserves all the accolades he has been receiving this season. I remembered him about three days after I voted and instantly kicked myself for it. My bad.

This is not to say Brian Snitker isn’t worthy. Snitker led the Braves to their third straight National League East Division title, in a division that is loaded with talent. The Braves got all the way to the NLCS before being ousted by the eventual champs, the Dodgers.

While Atlanta was an early favorite in the East, they did hit a few bumps in the road that Snitker had to guide them through. A good chunk of the season their rotation was being pieced together with any healthy arms they could find and they dealt with a number of injuries during the campaign, including star infielder Ozzie Albies. It wasn’t a smooth ride for the Braves and Snitker was able to steer the way.

So once again, sorry Donnie. I take the blame. Luckily, you still have some hardware to soothe over any hard feelings. Congrats on a job well done.

My Top 3: 1. Snitker 2. Ross 3. Tingler   

IBWAA Winner: Don Mattingly

BBWAA Winner: Don Mattingly

Credit: Getty Images

American League Cy Young Award: Shane Bieber, Cleveland

I should have known on Opening Day that Shane Bieber would be the runaway winner of the AL Cy Young Award. Back on July 24th, Bieber kicked off the 2020 season against my Kansas City Royals and proceeded to dominate. Bieber pitched six scoreless innings, striking out 14 Royals, giving up four hits while walking one. It was a performance that truly set the tone for the rest of Bieber’s award winning season.

Over 12 games, Bieber would lead the American League in ERA, strike outs, ERA+, FIP, Hits per 9 & strike outs per 9. Yes, it was only 12 games and only covered 77 1/3 innings, but it felt like Bieber punched the gas the entire time and never let off. It would have been interesting to see how it would have unfolded if he had an entire season under his belt. Would he have been able to keep this pace up? Would he have ran into a large rough patch? Or would he be a model of consistency and continue to rack up career high numbers?

Unfortunately, we won’t know for sure but might get a window into his development in 2021. This is definitely a season of growth and maturity and it does feel like Bieber has officially put himself into the discussion of top pitchers in the game today. The question will be how much of his dominance will we see next season? While on one hand I can’t wait to find out; on the other, as a Royals fan and having Cleveland in the same division, it would be nice if Kansas City missed him a lot whenever facing the Indians next year. Otherwise, they might be chalking up those games to Cleveland before the game even starts.

My Top 3: 1. Bieber 2. Hyun Jin Ryu 3. Liam Hendriks

IBWAA Winner: Shane Bieber

BBWAA Winner: Shane Bieber

Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

National League Cy Young Award: Trevor Bauer, Cincinnati

There might be no better timing in baseball than a player having a career year right as he is heading toward free agency. This normally means a big contract with a lot of zeros and a lot of years on it. If history holds true, that is what Trevor Bauer did in 2020, claiming his first Cy Young Award.

Bauer was a beast in 2020, leading the NL in ERA, complete games, shutouts, ERA+, WHIP and Hits per 9. In just 73 innings, Bauer posted 2.7 bWAR and set career highs in LOB%, K% and held the lowest BB% and Hard Hit % of his career. In his age 29 season, Bauer showed that he is a top pitcher in this game.

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how his run in free agency goes. Trevor has always talked about sticking to signing one year deals, so he can control his situation. Here is Bauer to explain his reasoning more:

“I want to be able to be happy playing the game that I love. So I want to end up in situations that make me happy and make me fulfilled. That can be situations like the Reds have, where there’s just a really great group of people that just make me fulfilled as a person,” said Bauer.

“That can be situations like jumping into a team that’s going to go on a playoff run and hopefully win a World Series. That can be a team that would let me pitch every 4th day or treats me with respect in a way that no other team has. Or whatever the case is – there’s certain things that are more important to me than money. And I want to be able to control where I play and when and the situations I’m in so that as I change too, and things become more important to me, or less important to me as I evolve that I can tailor fit my situation to reflect that.”

“I want to be on a contender every year because I love competing at the highest level and the highest level is the World Series,” he said. “So I want to have a chance to go to the World Series every single year. And the way baseball is currently structured, there’s not many teams that go into spring training trying to win the World Series that year.”

So does Bauer stay true to his word and sign a one year deal this offseason? Or does he go against that, realizing he can strike while the iron is hot and receive a long-term deal from a team? This will definitely be an interesting story to follow during the offseason.

My Top 3: 1. Bauer 2. Jacob deGrom 3. Yu Darvish

IBWAA Winner: Trevor Bauer

BBWAA Winner: Trevor Bauer

Credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images

American League MVP: Jose Ramirez, Cleveland

While names like Jose Abreu and Tim Anderson flooded the early discussion for AL MVP, Jose Ramirez sneaked up over the last month or so and made his argument to be at the top of the food chain in the AL.

In fact, from August 24 on, Ramirez lit up pitchers to a tune of .342/.430/.757 with 12 home runs, 28 RBIs, 22 extra base hits and a WPA of 1.579. It felt very obvious that Ramirez helped lead the charge for Cleveland as they made their case to reach the playoffs. 

While he only lead the league in runs scored, he did put up a total line of .292/.386/.607 with an OPS+ of 163 and 133 total bases, just 98 less than 2019 in 71 less games. His 3.4 fWAR lead the American League, with teammate Shane Bieber close behind at 3.2. Ramirez was also 2nd in wOBA at .415, behind only DJ LeMahieau.

While players like Abreu, Anderson or LeMahieau are all worthy of this honor, to me Ramirez felt like the true winner and someone who felt very valuable when it comes to his team’s success.

My Top 3: 1. Ramirez 2. Bieber 3. Abreu

IBWAA Winner: Jose Abreu

BBWAA Winner: Jose Abreu

National League MVP: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta

If there was a player this season that really defined the battle between baseball and COVID-19, it would be Freddie Freeman of the Braves. Freeman actually tested positive for coronavirus back at the beginning of Summer Camp and at one point even had a 104. 5 degree fever. It only feels appropriate that he would be the NL MVP in this shortened season.

Freeman pushed himself to an elite level this year, leading the league in runs, doubles, WPA and fWAR. If that wasn’t enough, he put up a slash line of .341/.462/.640 with 13 home runs, 53 RBIs, and an OPS+ of 186. It’s easy to see why he appeared to be the cream of the NL, but he was able to add more.

Freeman also led the league in line drive % (31.1), 8th in hard hit rate (42.9%), 7th lowest K % (14.1), 5th best walk % (17.2), 2nd in OPS (1.102), 6th in ISO, 7th in BABIP and 2nd in wOBA. While not always in the top five, it’s impressive that Freeman was able to finish in the top 10 of a variety of offensive statistics that shows off his all around game.

While there are very good arguments for both Fernando Tatis, Jr, Mookie Betts and Juan Soto, no one has the numbers all across the board the way Freeman does. Adding in his battle with COVID and the ability to lead his team deep into the playoffs, it only makes sense to name Freddie Freeman National League MVP.

My Top 3: 1. Freeman 2. Tatis, Jr 3. Betts

IBWAA Winner: Freddie Freeman

BBWAA Winner: Freddie Freeman

Credit: USA Today

So while the winners for these awards were worthy of being honored, I can honestly say I hope we never have to make judgements based off of a 60 game season. I’ve been voting for these awards for a number of years now and this felt like the hardest year to truly make a decision on who performed better in a shorter period of time.

While some might say they feel like a regular baseball season is too long, what it allows you to do is truly analyze what each player truly accomplishes over a stretch of 162 games. Doing that in slightly over a third of that number makes it hard to truly trust a lot of decisions that are made.

That being said, let’s hope for a couple things. First, that we get a full season of baseball in 2021. Second, that everyone stays safe and healthy and don’t have their career’s sidetracked by this deadly virus. And finally, that we see more positive than negative for baseball over the next calendar year. Baseball saw a lot of bumps in the road this past year and it might get even bumpier leading up to the players and owners discussing a new CBA. Here’s to more good than selfish decisions being made to help further the game. I’ll get off my soapbox now and get ready for Spring Training.  

Thank You, Alex

We all knew this was coming.

Maybe you weren’t for sure it would be at the end of this season, but it was on the horizon. The truth was that most of us were well aware that we were seeing the tail end of Alex Gordon’s career.

So when the news arrived on Thursday, it wasn’t a complete shock. I was out of town when I found out and it didn’t really hit me at first. Sure, it sounded right and made sense, but my brain wasn’t really processing everything.

It would be later that day I realized there would be no more sliding catches in left. No throwing out runners at home. No long drive into the fountains.

Fourteen years is a long time to play baseball. It’s an eternity if you spend it playing for one team. Some days it feels like just yesterday that the young man from Nebraska made his debut at third base, wearing number seven. Other days it feels like he has been in Kansas City forever and we can’t remember a time he wasn’t in Royal blue.

Credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images

But it all wraps up this weekend. A relationship that started in 2005 is ending (for now; a betting man would expect Gordon to be kept in the organization in some capacity that will be announced in the near future) and it’s hard not feel like an era in Royals history is wrapping up as well. Gordon was that connection between era’s; he was drafted before Dayton Moore became Kansas City GM and was also part of the foundation that brought playoff baseball back to Kansas City.

Even Gordon’s career is a story of both frustration and joy. Early in his career he was the struggling youngster, a kid who was supposed to take the mantle of being “The Next George Brett”. In 2010 he was sent to the minors to learn a new position (left field) and by the end of 2011 had worked himself into one of the best all-around players in the game. Gordon’s story was always one of hard work and persistence, a story that lines up with Moore’s attempt to build the Royals back into an elite franchise.

He was here when the team was a bunch of nobody’s plodding along, making an attempt to appear as close as possible to being a major league baseball team. He was also here when the team returned to prominence, even providing some of the biggest moments in Royals history. If someone was writing the complete story of the Kansas City Royals, it would be impossible to do without a large section devoted to Alex Gordon.

Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The all-time Royals numbers prove it. Fourth in bWAR and home runs. Fifth in total bases and extra base hits. Sixth in games played, plate appearances, hits and runs batted in. Alex was a three-time All-Star, a seven time Gold Glove award winner and a Platinum Glove winner. He is considered one of the greatest defensive left fielders of all-time and might even be the greatest.

Just like George Brett was the leader during his era, the Royals teams of the 2010’s followed by Gordon’s example. His work ethic is legendary at this point and while he wasn’t always the most vocal teammate, he was one who spoke volumes by the amount of work he put into his job. There is a reason that so many former Royals honored Alex this past week and spoke of what he meant as a teammate to them. It really makes one wonder ‘What If?’ after the 2015 season if he hadn’t re-signed with the Royals.

While many have decried the signing five years later, I still insist it was vital for Gordon to return to Kansas City. It spoke volumes that Gordon didn’t want to play anywhere else and even the thought of playing with another team bothered him. It told other players that in the right situation, the team was willing to pay and reward loyalty. But more than anything, what Gordon meant to this team and his leadership would have led to more players questioning whether they wanted to stay in Kansas City. Instead, most all talk about their time with the team as being a positive and I would tend to believe Alex being around was a big part of that.

clutchpoints.com

For me as a fan, Alex meant hope. As mentioned, Gordon began his career during one of the lowest points in team history. The Royals had one winning season between 1995-2012 and it was a long 29 years between playoff appearances. From day one, Gordon was a sign of the future and hope that the team could get back to the promise land. I’ve always hated the moniker of “Next George Brett” that has been stuck on many a Royals prospect and it was no different for Gordon. Alex Gordon needed to find who he was and not worry about what he was expected to be.

I always loved his work ethic. When he was asked to learn left field, rather than question it, Gordon put his head down and tried his best to make it work. Commitment. Work ethic. Those words really describe what Alex Gordon was all about. How could you not root for that guy? He was going to try everything possible to be a successful baseball player and eventually he got there.

Maybe that is why I gravitated to Gordon. I was always taught that if you work hard and keep your head down, success will come your way. Honestly, it’s a very midwestern type of mentality and Gordon was always one of us. Grew up a Royals fan. Loved watching them while growing up in Nebraska. Gordon wanted to see this team succeed as all of us did, because he was invested. We were invested.

My favorite player growing up was George Brett and he will forever be #1. But #2 is Alex Gordon and it isn’t close. The dives. The arm. A gapper hit into the outfield for extra bases. Diving into the stands to make a catch. Climbing a wall to get an out. He was always in the best position to make a play and never half-assed it on the basepaths. His uniform was always dirty by the end of the game and you never had a doubt that he had just given 110% out on the field. Maybe Alex got closer to being George than we thought; that sure sounds a lot like the attributes of #5 that we all adored.

Credit: Jason Hanna/Kansas City Royals

So when the curtain falls on Sunday, one of the greatest in Royals history will leave the field for the last time as a major league ballplayer. There won’t be any fans to cheer him off and in some ways I’m sure Gordon is fine with that. He has always been humble and not one to preen for the attention.

Which is going to make the next step awkward for him. He will easily be a member of the Royals Hall of Fame. He will get his number retired, the fourth in Royals history (unless Ned gets his retired before). He will also get a statue out behind the outfield, probably of him pointing his finger in the air as he rounds first base after hitting a home run in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series. I promise you all these things will happen and Alex Gordon deserves all of them. We were lucky to watch him all these years and I am so glad to see he played for my team and only my team.

Some day, maybe next year, us fans will be welcomed back into The K and the Royals will honor Alex Gordon. Everyone will stand and cheer, tears will flow and smiles will be littered across the stadium. While it won’t happen on Sunday, it will happen eventually. A chapter in Kansas City Royals baseball is ending and I couldn’t be happier that I got to witness the entire ride. Thank you, Alex. Thank you for just being you.

A Season in Doubt

Credit: Kansas City Star

Up until Monday, things had been going fairly smooth for major league teams as they had opened up Spring Training 2.0 (or Summer Camp. Let’s be honest here: Summer Camp brings a grin to my face) and started getting ready for the 2020 campaign. In fact, there has been some great nuggets of info coming out for the Royals.

For instance, Josh Staumont is regularly hitting over 100 MPH on the radar. Sure, that’s not a big shock but it’s good to see the time up didn’t make it to where he would have to rev back up again.

Seuly Matias put on a power display the other day that made all his injury woes and slumps look like old news:

But there was also some troubling news from Royals camp over the 4th of July weekend:

Salvy appears to be asymptomatic. In case you are wondering, here is some of the criteria Perez would have to meet to get back into camp:

So while the news on Salvy wasn’t great or awful, the news filtering out on Monday for other major league camps was sobering:

and…

So teams are having issues getting their results back, which makes it hard to feel safe moving forward with any kind of team activity. In fact, we should probably point out that without accurate and timely testing, the idea of getting through a 60 game season feels like wishful thinking. It appears Nationals GM Mike Rizzo agrees with that sentiment:

At this point it is only fair to point out that I have been skeptical of having any sort of MLB season go off without any problems. Considering how as a country we have given up on dealing with this virus and have decided to play a dangerous game of chicken, it has felt like baseball (or any other sport for that matter) would be hard to pull off without seeing a start and stop at some point.

Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

In some ways, the idea of fitting in any semblance of a major league season has seemed foolhardy at best and irresponsible at worst. I as much as anyone misses baseball, but when Covid-19 cases are rising across our country over the last few weeks, it feels weird to think that any sport thinking “THIS” is the time to get going seems selfish. In fact it has been annoying to see baseball fans clamor for guys to ‘shut up and go play’ for the simple task of amusing us. If you can not see the dangers at hand for many of these players and how it could be an unsafe environment, then you aren’t really paying attention.

But baseball owners want to make at least some money this season. Players want to play, but is it worth it? We have already seen many stars opt out for this season, guys like David Price, Ryan ZimmermanIan Desmond, and most recently Nick Markakis. Notice something similar in these players? Yes, they are all veterans:

It only makes sense that players who are in a good financial situation would weigh the risk and rewards of this season and decide sitting it out isn’t the worst thing in the world. In that same regard, it is easy to see how younger players who want to earn a big league job or at the least make an impression on the people in power in their organization would rate the reward a bit higher. In some ways, they don’t have the same options that a major league veteran would have.

Credit: Kyle Rivas/UPI

So what will it take before baseball shuts this all down? I tend to believe it will take more than it should if we are being honest. It might take a major outbreak, where the players testing positive reach double digits. It might take testing results interfering in actual games getting played. Or it might even take someone, whether it be a player, coach, umpire or even clubhouse attendant getting deathly ill to pull the plug. More than anything, it feels like it will take too long to make a decision that should be easy to make.

I guess that is my biggest concern: is it worth it to even attempt a season? If Covid cases across the country were slanting down and real effort was being put into keeping everyone safe, then having a season wouldn’t feel like a stretch. But I can’t sit here and confidently say things are being taken care of as they should when it comes to the health of everyone this could affect. Instead, it feels like a business opening too soon and causing unnecessary risk for the sake of $$$.

There is something to be said here about our need of entertainment during this global pandemic. Just like how players have to weigh the risk and reward to do this, I wish more fans would think about whether having baseball is really necessary for their entertainment. As a culture, many latch onto sports to fill some sort of need for competition, to give them a connection to people. That being said, there is a point where that need goes overboard and reality becomes an afterthought.

The reality is this virus is dangerous. The reality is that baseball is entertainment. As much as we all love the game, for me 60 games isn’t worth endangering lives and causing health issues for not only players, but also their families. I don’t think MLB is going to be able to pull off this season and I definitely don’t think we are going to see 60 games. The reality is that baseball comes in way behind containing the virus at this point. It’s too bad people in higher positions within the game don’t see that at the moment.

 

The Greatest Center Fielder in Royals History

For a franchise that has been around now for 50 years, you would expect some big names to fall under the radar when talking franchise best’s at certain positions. The Kansas City Royals are no different and while positions like third base or second base are no-brainers when it comes to the best in Royals history, other positions aren’t quite as easy.

For instance first base feels like a dogfight between Mike Sweeney and John Mayberry. At shortstop, arguments can be made for both Freddie Patek and Alcides Escobar. Even left field could get interesting, although Alex Gordon numbers tend to topple someone like Johnny Damon pretty easily.

But initially I thought center field would be a nice little battle, as the Royals have had some great players manning the middle the of the outfield in their history. It would be easy to see how someone could imagine a tug-of-war going on for the best at that position between Amos Otis, Willie Wilson and Carlos Beltran. Unfortunately, there is a blow away winner and he quite possibly might be the most underrated player in team history.

In fact, when I started this post I fully expected a nice back and forth between these three players before one of them would decidedly pull away and be considered the best center fielder. Instead, it didn’t take long looking at the numbers to see that Amos Otis is not only the best at this position, but that the other two aren’t really keeping it a close competition.

The other interesting part to this is that I’ve long felt Otis was vastly underrated when it comes to talking Royals legends. Royals fans spend a lot of time praising the usuals like Brett, White and Saberhagen but sometimes we forget what guys like Leonard, Cowens and Otis did during their time in Royal blue. In fact what I say next might even be the most shocking thing I mention today: Amos Otis might be the second best Kansas City Royal of all-time.

Before we get to that, let’s look at just how great his career was. Otis is second in Kansas City history in bWAR for position player, offensive WAR, runs scored, total bases, walks, stolen bases, runs created, times on base, sac flies, RE24 and WPA. Otis is also third in games played, plate appearances, hits, triples, home runs, RBIs, adjusted batting runs, adjusted batting wins, and first in Power-Speed #. In other words, he not only did a great job with accumulative stats, but also the ones that mattered in the most important situations.

I really thought Willie Wilson was going to make this a closer race, even while knowing that his power numbers weren’t going to even come close to the level that Otis had. While Wilson’s WAR numbers were right behind Amos (and defensively, Wilson had the higher total while Otis didn’t even crack the top ten), most of the other ones lagged behind a bit. It does say a lot about Willie, as he sits just under Otis in all-time Royals hits and runs scored, and even tops Otis in triples, stolen bases, and singles.

But stats like extra base hits and total bases I expected to be quite a bit closer and even runs created was a big gap between the two outfielders. It does appear that when Wilson’s numbers started declining in the mid 80’s, it was a lot more drastic than Otis’ gradual decline. While both men are mainstays when it comes to many of the Royals all-time offensive statistics, there is a noticeable gap between the both of them.

Credit: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

When it comes to Carlos Beltran, his short stay in Kansas City ends up hurting his chances of taking top center field honors. In fact Beltran’s power numbers easily top Otis (he is top five all-time in slugging and OPS), but he also left the Royals in his prime and played in an era that was a bit more offensive driven. I do think that if the Royals had been able to lockdown Beltran rather than trade him ( and maybe that was possible if Kansas City ownership had made him more of a priority) this conversation could be a lot different. Instead, we are stuck with ‘coulda, shoulda’ type discussion that leans heavily toward ‘what could have been’.

Which leads us back to Otis. It seems clear that he was the second biggest offensive force in team history and the argument for being the second best player is close as well. According to Baseball-Reference WAR, Otis sits at 44.8 while pitchers Kevin Appier and Bret Saberhagen are at 47.1 and 40.7 respectively. If you wanted to say Appier or Sabes are right behind George Brett, I’m not sure I would put up much of an argument.WAR isn’t the be-all, end-all, but it does give you some weight on their overall value. To be fair, a stat like WPA holds quite a bit of weight with me and Otis and Appier are pretty close there too, 27.5 to 25.4.

So if we say Otis is the second greatest statistical Kansas City Royal of all-time, then it raises a number of questions on why he isn’t mentioned more often. I have to believe that his strained relationship with the media was a big part of it, as back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, the media could make you or break you. It probably also hurt him that he played on a team with flashier players like Brett or Hal McRae. Whatever the reason, even within Royals circles, Amos Otis isn’t talked about as much as he should be.

Credit: Royals.com

As a younger fan, I just hardly ever knew much about Amos. Maybe it was because he left the Royals after the 1983 season and I started following baseball in 1984, but over the years Otis isn’t put on the same pedestal that other former Royals are. In fact most of us talk more about Bo Jackson (and justifiably we talk about this once in a lifetime athlete) than we do a guy who should be at least considered for the team’s Mount Rushmore. Amos Otis was very close to being a five-tool player (his power numbers were a bit lacking) and finished 3rd in the MVP voting in 1973 and 4th in 1978. For some reason, Otis has fallen into a background character rather than one pushing his way near the front of the line.

Credit: Focus on Sport/Getty Images

There is also a story that shows the person that Amos Otis really was:

On September 12, 1977, with Kansas City cruising to its second straight American League West crown, a game in Royals Stadium was postponed because of a drenching storm. As 16 inches of rain swamped the city and flooded many areas, eventually resulting in 25 deaths, Otis came across eight wet, frightened boys. He piled them into his Lincoln Continental, fed them, and lodged them for the evening. One of the youngsters to whose aid Otis came, Richard Brown, eventually became a Missouri state legislator and in 2017 sponsored a proclamation commemorating the flood and honoring Otis as a Good Samaritan and humanitarian. “I was doing what any other dad would have done,” Otis said

So while many us talk about George and Frank, Quiz and Bo, Sabes and Splitt, I hope moving forward that the name ‘Otis’ will get floated out there as well. The Royals have great, rich history and it feels like a shame that one of the biggest names doesn’t even get brought up as much as he should. Amos Otis is the greatest Royals center fielder in team history, case closed. Let’s hope we start talking about it more, Royals fans.

 

 

 

All Hail King George

Credit: Royals.com

On Friday, the greatest Kansas City Royal in history celebrated his 67th birthday. Yes, Hall of Famer George Howard Brett was honored by many this week, including MLB Network who aired a couple of interviews, a Royals feature and even a couple of classic games in George’s career. George was a “layup” for the Hall and is considered the 5th best third baseman in baseball history according to the Hall of Stats.

George was also my favorite player growing up and a big reason why I love baseball. Nothing beats watching Brett hustle on every play, diving or sliding for everything he earned. Watching George play was like watching a sprinter use every last ounce of strength to get themselves to the finish line; he had no idea how to half-ass anything. Looking back, it is easy to see how a whole generation of Royals fans look to Brett as the definition of what it means to be a Kansas City Royal.

All that being said, I realized today I have never really written an in-depth piece on George. Considering this blog has been around since 2012, it’s weird that I haven’t written thousands of words on what made him a great ballplayer. Maybe it’s because he is George Brett and we all know how great he was. Maybe it’s because I would drone on and on about the numbers that encapsulate his career and place in the fabric of the game. Or maybe I just don’t feel like I can do him justice.

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So instead, I decided to veer in another direction. Today, I want to take a look at some of the greatest George Brett stories out there. While the numbers will speak of what a great ballplayer he was, the stories will define who the man truly was. Look, I am fully aware that Brett is no saint and some of us have heard (or even experienced) the horror stories involved when meeting a cranky George. He is human and I’m hoping we can take a look back at some of those great human elements that helped make him a one of a kind baseball great.

Credit: Getty Images

Let’s start with a great story told by a man who worked at a Cleveland strip club. While I’m sure you are already thinking something seedy is going on,  instead it is more of a look at his generosity:

“Here comes George Brett in the club—I recognized him right away—and I showed him to a chair and got him a complimentary drink. I ran the tables. And if I said somebody got a drink, they got a drink.”

In the Hustler bathroom, Door George is half-seated on the sinks with his head cocked in what the uninitiated might mistake for a parody of ‘fond recollection.’  Chris Brown’s “Don’t Wake Me Up” is blasting overhead and an upbeat announcer is imploring us to keep it going for a dancer of unseen endurance and felinity.

“This was ’87, and the Kansas City Royals were in town,” George goes on. “This was the year after Buckner let that ball go through his legs in the World Series. And, well, I didn’t recognize Buckner, but I recognized Brett. And somebody was giving Buckner a hard time on account of that ball going through his legs.

“And I took care of them, moved them to a more private table and got them drinks. And Brett, he appreciated it. He asks me ‘Can you come to the ballgame tomorrow night?’ And I say, sure.

“Next day, here comes a limousine and an envelope with $100 and two tickets to the game with a note thanking me for looking out for them.” George raises an index finger, the story’s not over.

“From that day on—I never saw him again in my life—but every time the Royals were in town, sure enough, I got an envelope with $100 and two tickets, up ’til the day he retired. That George Brett, now there was a classy guy.”

 

Many wondered why George came back to be a hitting coach for the Royals in 2013. Brett had spent years in the Kansas City organization after his retirement and never did any coaching outside of helping out a bit during Spring Training. But a story from a few years back in Arizona probably points out that the love of the game (and organization) is the biggest reason he helped out the team seven years ago:

Brett is smiling as he talks, shaking his head as he replays the moment in his mind. From the outside, especially recently, it’s easy to wonder if Goose Gossage and Oscar Robertson speak for all former stars when they go off on back-in-my-day rants.

But here is Brett, one of the greatest players of all-time, the man who so openly labels the 2015 Royals better than his own 1985 World Series champions, moved to goose bumps by a play in the first inning of a Cactus League game that most who watched have probably already forgotten.

This is part of what Brett loves about this time of year. He tried to be the team’s hitting coach a few years back and burned out after a few months. He figured that would happen. The hours are brutal, the travel is one of the main reasons he retired as a player, and he grew frustrated that his passion for hitting did not translate into a message he felt was helping.

But here, now, this is baseball in its simplest form. No planes. Little media. Just days full of ball, of seeing someone new, or something new, like a leadoff hitter turning a sharp liner to center into a double.

“I (freaking) love that,” he says. “It reminded me of Hal McRae, in the first game of the World Series in Kansas City against the Phillies.”

 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention George the competitor. But of what made Brett so great was his ability to tap into a part of him that would not give up, no matter the circumstances. Even an injury wouldn’t slow down George, as told here by ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian:

 

 

 

If you have heard any stories from his bachelor days, you know that Brett enjoyed the night life during his prime and was quite the ladies man. That being said, his teammates had to know that if they went out with George, there was a chance they were going to be left at the bar as he might head out on a date. This was the exact predicament that Clint Hurdle and Jamie Quirk found themselves in during one of these “trips”:

“One night, the three bachelors went partying in Kansas, all in the same car– unusual, Hurdle says, because, “You don’t wanta depend on one of those guys for a ride” — and Brett found a date and went off with her. Hurdle and Quirk got back to the house at four in the morning, drunk, and discovered they had no key to the front door. And Brett was not at home, either. “We said, the hell with it,” Hurdle laughs. “I put my shoes up on the doorstep and slept on the lawn. A neighbor lady came out at about six thirty in the morning and asked if we wanted to come in the house.” Hurdle snorts. “There was dew all over us.”

Did such antics constitute a public nuisance? Did the neighbors complain? Hurdle shakes his head. “Everybody loved George.”

 

Brett was a big star by 1985 when the Royals made it into the playoffs. Around that same time, Chris Berman was being told by ESPN management to cut out his famous nicknames he had for players. Once George got wind of this, he was not happy . Here is the story told by Berman:

 

“I remember, I was very good friends with players my age, and one of the biggest fans of the nicknames was George Brett, Hall of Famer, great guy, great player. And they were going to the postseason. And I called him to wish him luck with a week to go or whatever it was, ‘Good luck, I’ll be rooting for you, I don’t know if I’ll get to the World Series or whatever it was, I don’t cover that, oh, by the way, I can’t do the nicknames any more.’ And he exploded over the phone. I said ‘Well, don’t worry about it,’ you know, whatever.”

“And I was not there at Game 1 (of the American League Championship Series), Kansas City played Toronto, and I guess all the news media gathered around him at the workout the day before, because he’s George Brett, right? And George Grande went up to him, one of the great people in our early anchors, one of our baseball guys, the baseball guy along with Lou Palmer then, and he said ‘George, can I get you?’ And [Brett] said ‘Wait a minute, hold on.’ And he unloads, not at George Grande personally, but ‘What is your management doing?! I’m not going to watch ESPN any more, they’ve told my guy he can’t do nicknames!’”

Among those in the circle was [USA Today sports media columnist] Rudy Martzke, who hadn’t been aware because it was not announced, right? Not ‘He’s not doing them anymore,’ because that would be stupid. But that got written up about eight places the next day, and I’m told that, in the 80s now, that the mail that came when people heard about it, was unprecedented at that time. I’m not saying that meant my stuff was great or this, but the people cared that much that they showered ESPN with letters in 1985. And next season, they were back and he [presumably the producer] was gone.”

So whether you love or hate the nicknames that Berman was doing, you have Brett to thank for them sticking around.

Most of you are fully aware of George’s infamous “Pine Tar Incident”. In fact I even did a “live tweeting” version of the full game right here on this blog a few years back. You would think a Hall of Famer wouldn’t want a moment where he goes loony to be the main moment people think of when your name is mentioned. But for Brett, it could be worse, as he explains:

 

“After the World Series in 1980, every city I went to, I was ‘The Hemorrhoids Guy,’ ” he said. “And you get these people sitting near the on-deck circle, and they have their pops. The first two or three at-bats, they don’t say anything. And then they get a few pops in them and they start making hemorrhoids jokes.

“Well, I heard every hemorrhoid joke in the world –- my best response is, ‘My troubles are all behind me.’ … From October of 1980 to July 24, 1983, that’s what I heard. And from that July 24 to 2013, now I’m the pine tar guy. So it’s really the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Thank you, Billy Martin. I went from having an embarrassing thing that people remembered me for to something positive.

“Pretty much every time I play golf, they always want to check my clubs for pine tar. If I’m playing with strangers or in a pro-am or some type of celebrity tournament, the gallery at every hole brings it up. It’s kind of funny the first couple of holes, but after a while it gets old. And of course, that’s what I’m known for. It could be worse.”

 

But the ultimate story is one you have probably heard and probably numerous times. If we are being honest, this story never gets old:

 

 

 

I don’t know whether I love this story more because here is a baseball Hall of Famer relating the time he crapped his pants, or because he just goes up to guys in Spring Training and is almost giddy telling them about his “accident”. No one is going to tell George to NOT tell that story, even if they don’t want to hear it.

Also…”Who’s the pitchers in this game?”

Credit: USA Today

So happy birthday, George. If anything, this was a reminder that while I still would have loved ‘George, the ballplayer’ no matter what, the fact that he is a charming and fun guy points out why he will always be my favorite. Brett is royalty, not only in Kansas City but in baseball. Nothing will ever change that…no matter how many times he eats bad seafood.

He’s Back

Credit: Getty Images

If you spent the winter fretting over whether Royals outfielder Alex Gordon was going to come back to Kansas City or retire, this past week’s news that Gordon was returning on a one-year, $4 million dollar deal should have been a relief. Gordon has been with the organization since he was drafted by Kansas City back in 2005 and has been in the big leagues (outside of a few trips to the minors) since 2007. Gordon is the link between the past and the future, a man who has been around longer than even GM Dayton Moore. When you think of the Royals over the last dozen years, you probably think of Gordon.

Gordon is everything that is good about this organization. Whether it’s the charity work, the countless hours spent on honing his game, the learning curve of leaving third base behind to roam the outfield while at a career crossroad, the defense in left field, the home runs in the postseason and even the struggles over the last four seasons, Alex Gordon has been a constant and the closest thing they have had to George Brett since he retired in 1993.

With all that said, not everyone is happy that Gordon is coming back. Some will argue that a man who is entering his age 36 season will just hold back a younger player who could receive valuable playing time this season if Gordo had stayed home. Some will point out that his best offensive season since 2016 was last year, and even then he could only muster an OPS+ of 96, which is just a smidge under league average. Some will say it is time to move on and let the past stay in the past, as a new era of Kansas City Royals baseball is getting ready to begin.

Photo Credit by Rob Tringali/MLB via Getty Images

But I’m not one of those people. I actually think the best thing for the Royals this season is for Gordon to be in tow. To me, having Gordon back gives this organization some stability as they maneuver into uncharted waters with a new owner and a new manager. To me, the script for the Royals this season just wouldn’t feel right without Alex out in left field.

So today, let’s weigh the positives and negatives of this signing. There are easily a nice dose of both and I will even admit that I see some of what the naysayers are saying when they view this as a poor signing. So let’s take off the “fan” hat for just a moment and put on our “subjective” hat and dissect the return of Alex Gordon.

First let’s look at Alex’s offense. As I said earlier, he did post what I will generously list as a league average season offensively in 2019. With that being said, he did improve his strike out rate, he saw a slight increase in his power numbers (including ISO) and improved his on base stats. But it doesn’t change the fact that at 36 years old, Gordon is a league average hitter at best and history has shown us that most players are likely to regress moving forward rather than improve. He will get on base at a decent clip, provide some power off and on, but his days of being an offensive force are essentially over.

Is Gordon blocking a younger player from getting quality playing time? This is a bit harder to really estimate, but there are two younger players (Brett Phillips and Bubba Starling) who an argument could be made would receive playing time if Gordon had not re-signed.

At this point, it’s not really known if Starling would receive the extra playing time no matter what. Bubba got a chance to show what he could do the last few months of 2019, and while defensively he might be the Royals best in the outfield, offensively he struggled. Over 197 plate appearances, Starling put up an OPS+ of 50 (league average is 100) and posted a negative WAR from both Baseball Reference and Fangraphs. Add in that he has only had two minor league seasons where he was an above average hitter, and it just appears that Starling is better suited to being a 4th outfielder or defensive replacement.

When it comes to Brett Phillips, there is at the least an argument that he should receive more playing time. Phillips struggled again in the big leagues in 2019 (.138/.247/.262, 35 OPS+), but showed some progress in AAA. From June 1 to August 13, Phillips hit .277/.404/.613 over 238 plate appearances and while he still struck out a decent amount (52 times over 58 games), he also walked 40 times and combined for 28 extra base hits.

The changes didn’t really transfer over during his time in the big leagues last year, but he did enough to at least get an audition at some point in 2020. Gordon being back in the picture might hinder that a bit, but you can say the same thing when the Royals acquired Maikel Franco and moved Hunter Dozier to right field. If the Royals were confident in Phillips, Franco wouldn’t have been signed. Gordon coming back appears to have been expected all along, so his return doesn’t appear to be the one blocking Phillips from playing time.

Credit: Royals.com

Gordon’s defense is still a plus for the team, as shown by him winning another Gold Glove award this offseason. He isn’t quite the defender he was in his prime, but he is still considered among the elite at his position. He might be a step or two slower, but he makes up for it with positioning and knowing how the ball moves as it makes its way to left field.

More than anything, it feels that Gordon is at a point in his tenure in Kansas City where he decides his own fate. You can’t blame the front office for wanting Gordon to stay in the fold, as his leadership and work ethic alone gives him value to the organization. There might not be any better stories than the ones told by younger players who want to prove themselves by showing up early in spring training and proving to management their dedication to making the team…only to find Alex Gordon is already there and has been working out for awhile. Gordon is the bar to climb towards in the organization and is the model when it comes to putting your all into being a part of the Royals.

So after 13 years, Gordon should be the one to decide whether he comes or goes. He doesn’t strike me as a player who will stay past his welcome and the Royals don’t appear to be a club that would allow that to happen. Considering that Kansas City will want to keep him in the organization whenever his playing career is over, allowing him to go out on his terms seems like the smart and respectful thing to do for the guy who has only wanted to play for one team.

Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

So while we are looking at the twilight of his career, it makes more sense to keep Gordon around than to not. We shouldn’t expect him to be any more than he has been these last few years and there is a good chance we don’t even see him take the field for more than 150 games in 2020. But considering all the reasons to let him go, keeping Gordon around feels like the right thing to do for this Royals team.

While some fans (like myself) love the numbers involved in baseball and even make suggestions based on those numbers, sometimes keeping a player around has very little to do with the statistics. Sometimes the right thing is to bring back a player who has been the core for this Royals team for the last ten years. Gordon has all the attributes that we love in our baseball players and has earned that respect.

If anything, the Houston Astros have proven over the last four months that structuring an organization based purely off of winning and losing allows for behavior that can be detrimental for any team. For as much grief as we give Dayton Moore, one of the characteristics that he should be applauded for is creating a family atmosphere within the Royals organization. Alex Gordon is the one of the wise father’s of this club and instead of looking at the possible negatives, I’m choosing to look at the positives as he makes his final turn around third base. Gordo has earned it.

Royals Hire Matheny as Their New Manager…and You Shouldn’t Be Happy About That

The inevitable and expected happened on Thursday, as the Kansas City Royals announced that Mike Matheny would be their new manager, taking over the for the retired Ned Yost. This move can be traced all the way back to last November, when the Royals brought him into the organization to be a special advisor to player development.

While this was expected for months, it has also been a very unpopular hire within the Royals fanbase, with many like myself pointing out many of the issues that led to his dismissal in St. Louis. This hire has left many shaking their head and wondering why the Royals braintrust felt giving Matheny a second opportunity at managing was wiser than taking a chance on a younger option like Pedro Grifol or Vance Wilson.

If I am truly being fair here, lets look at some of the positives that pop up on Matheny’s resume. Under his leadership, Matheny guided the Cardinals to the playoffs his first four years at the helm, including a World Series appearance in 2013 and leading baseball in wins in 2015 (when the Royals won the World Series over the Mets). He accumulated a record of 591-474 over his six and a half seasons in St. Louis, which is impressive for someone who had never managed before and was following in the footsteps of the legendary Tony LaRussa.

What eventually led to his dismissal in St. Louis has been well documented and feels like a list of ‘Do-Nots’ for any manager to follow. He showed a preference to veterans, struggled with communication when met with resistance, was not open-minded to advance analytics, showed poor decision-making when it came to tactical decisions, neglected fundamentals and was not open to outside advice. If you really want a window into why so many Royals fans (and analysts within the game) have been against the hire, this is probably a great way to start.

So with all that said, why was Matheny Dayton Moore’s choice? For one, he is an old school leader who follows in line with Moore on how the game should be played. Both are firm believers in a style that focuses on putting the ball in play, bunting runners over into scoring position and a love of the sacrifice fly. In some ways Matheny is an extension of Ned Yost, at least when it comes to the tactical side of a managers job. As a baseball fan, this part isn’t the worst thing in the world, as the ball being put in play more has proven to be a more exciting product to watch and one that was very successful for the 2014-2015 Royals teams.

The issue lies in the problems that arose in St. Louis near the end of his run. The Royals are in a rebuild (whether Moore acknowledges it or not) and with that comes a higher focus on young talent. Matheny showed a tendency to lean toward his veterans while the younger players would ride some pine if met with any struggles. At this point of development, the younger players in Kansas City will need the playing time and a long stint on the bench won’t really do them any good. Yost was great working with the youngsters, even going back to his time in Milwaukee. This was one aspect of Ned’s managerial style that he was praised for and one that Matheny would be smart to adopt.

Maybe this will change for Matheny since he is in a different situation than the one he was anointed in St. Louis. Matheny was thrown into the pressure cooker when he was hired by the Cardinals, as he was replacing a legend in Tony LaRussa and left with a roster that was playoff-ready. There was no rebuild going on during his stint in St. Louis and the expectancy to win was much higher than it is going to be in Kansas City the next two years. We should know pretty early whether or not Matheny has changed in this regard and it will be interesting how he handles a different side of the game, one that can expect more lows than highs.

Another issue that has to be addressed would be his communication skills. Matheny was known as someone who would shut down for long periods of time and sometimes even ignore certain players. This can’t happen in Kansas City and is a big part of my concern with him taking over this job. He will be working with younger players who need feedback on what they are doing correctly and incorrectly and having a manager that isn’t there to teach them is a major problem. During the press conference on Thursday, Matheny talked a lot about “growing” and acknowledging his “blind spots” and for this to work, this can’t be just talk.

So is it just talk? Obviously at this point there is no way to tell but Moore saw enough that he felt the change was real. Matheny did take an analytics course to grow his knowledge and even hired a consultant to help him deal with the media. At the very least, these are signs that Matheny wanted an opportunity to manage again and was willing to take the steps necessary to make it happen. He was very stubborn during his first managerial job when it came to not only the use of analytics but also taking any other comments, opinions or suggestions as a form of growth. Matheny would be wise to soak in everything that is tossed his away and at the very least consider the advice that is sent his way. If he is serious at growing, he needs to be an open-minded manager.

With this said, the biggest reason I don’t feel Matheny is the right hire for Kansas City is because to me he isn’t the best choice. To me, the best choice has been in the Royals dugout for years now and his name is Pedro Grifol. Grifol has been with the big league club since 2013, when he was brought in as a special assignment coach when George Brett was hired as interim hitting coach. Grifol has also served as the quality control coach, catching coach and hitting coach during his tenure in Kansas City. While he was with the Mariners organization, Grifol was a manager, scout, coordinator of instruction and Director of Minor League Operations. You could probably name it, and Grifol has done it.

So why do I feel he is the best choice? Not only does his wealth of knowledge in all aspects of the organization help, but he is also bilingual, has the respect and admiration of the current players and has watched many of the players move up through the organization as well as watching the current crop that is still down in the minors. Grifol has shown an ability to learn and grow and is someone thought highly of not only within the Royals organization, but other organizations as well. Currently he is on the short list of candidates to become the new San Francisco Giants manager and has been considered for managerial jobs in the past in both Detroit and Baltimore. Grifol would have walked into the Royals managerial job with a leg up on everyone else while having all the tools that organizations look for in their field generals.

So with that said, why the choice of Matheny over Grifol? Managerial experience is almost certainly one of reasons, but there is another reason that isn’t talked about as much but one I addressed just last weekend. Dayton Moore is a deeply religious man and so is Mike Matheny. We have seen over the last few years Moore get more and more aggressive with this beliefs being pushed out in public, most publicly with his battle against pornography. As Royals fans, we have known about Moore’s faith for years and for the most part it has never been a big issue. Craig Brown at Royals Review talked extensively about this the other day (which I highly recommend you click that link) and I felt better after reading it because I wasn’t alone in believing that Moore hired Matheny in part because of his religious beliefs.

I know some will disagree with this, but much like Matheny talked about his “blind spots” when it came to managing, I firmly believe Moore’s “blind spot” is his faith. Part of that faith is believing in second chances and in my opinion that is what is going on here. Moore sees Matheny as a good Christian man and wants to reward him for that by giving him another managing job. By no means am I saying Matheny shouldn’t be given a second chance at some point. Far from it. At some point I do believe he should be given that second chance, as long as he has shown that he has learned what failed him during his first managerial job.

But he is just 15 months removed from that firing, which feels too soon. Add in a candidate in Grifol that feels like the superior choice and you start wondering “why Matheny?”. It seems very apparent where the dots are connected here and why Matheny was Dayton’s choice. Personally, I have no issue with anyone and their religion. As comedian Katt Williams would say “You do you, Boo-Boo”. But when it comes to baseball and hiring coaches or signing players, I care nothing about religion. I want the best person for the job, the person who will give the team the best opportunity to win. Unless they are just an absolutely deplorable human, it doesn’t matter to me whether you praise Jesus, Buddha, Allah or any other deity. I want the best person for the job and Matheny is not that person for the Royals.

Moore has made his decision and I will call it now: this move will be the beginning of the end for Dayton. Over the last couple years, he has made some questionable moves and we’ve seen his decision making become more and more questionable. It used to just be free agent signings or trades but now it has started to seep over into whether his personal belief system is on a higher plain than winning. Need more proof? Look no more than his defending of Luke Heimlich. Moore’s want to give people a second chance almost gave the organization a giant stain that would have been hard to recover from. It is obvious what his mission is at this point and on a daily basis I question more and more whether or not that goal is winning. The hiring of Matheny could very well be his eventual downfall, especially with new ownership getting ready to move in.

So it is very obvious that Matheny being hired by Kansas City was not well received at my house. The hope for those of us who dislike the move is that he proves us wrong and he has truly changed his ways. For the longterm health of this organization, I hope that his hiring won’t push back the progress that has been made these last few years. The good news is this: when Ned Yost was brought in, many like myself looked down on the hire and eventually Yost proved us wrong. Now it’s Matheny’s turn. For our sanity, I need to be wrong.

Musings and Opinions About October and Baseball

(Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports)

With the MLB postseason in the stretch run, I thought I would run through a few topics that are hitting the baseball news cycle this month and put a bit of a personal slant on it. With that being said, let’s start with our Kansas City Royals.

The Wrong Choice?

If you are a Royals fan, you are probably well aware that former St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny is the frontrunner to take over for Ned Yost in the dugout. You are also probably aware that Royals fans have been very adamant about their dislike of Matheny and the feeling that he would be a horrible choice to take the helm in KC. In fact, if you thought Yost caught a lot of flak, it’s nothing compared to Matheny and he hasn’t even been hired yet.

If you are unaware of why many of us within the fanbase are not fond of Matheny, it basically comes down to his dealings with the players near the end of his run in St. Louis. Matheny wasn’t even talking to outfielder Dexter Fowler and it even sounds like he allowed bullying to go on in the bullpen. Go ahead and read this to get a better idea of what was going on while he was with the Cardinals and there is also this from a few Cardinals fans. To say there is some skepticism about Mike and his handling of the clubhouse would be an understatement.

While I have concerns with all of this (and worry how this could effect a young team like the Royals), there is another issue that I have with the idea of WHY exactly Royals GM Dayton Moore would hire a man with this much baggage. It has to do with Matheny’s faith and how Moore seems to want to surround himself with people who are very religious and wear it like a badge of honor on their sleeves.

I almost hate to keep bringing this up, since I have no issue with what anyone believes in or doesn’t believe in. To me, it comes down to whether or not you are qualified to do the job at hand and no matter what team, you should hire the person best suited for the job. If Matheny was coming off a great run in St. Louis and was a good fit for Kansas City, I couldn’t care less what his religious beliefs were. If he was the best choice, he should be the man hired to take over for Ned.

But instead, it feels like Dayton is continuing to hire based more on faith rather than logic. I’m all for giving someone a second chance and the Cardinals job was Matheny’s first managing job. It would be ridiculous to think he didn’t learn anything from it. But the Royals are in a position where they are a young team that needs proper leadership to help them grow and eventually flourish at the big league level, to the point of them possibly contending within a couple of years. Hiring someone like Matheny, who doesn’t appear to work as well with younger talent as well as veterans, would seem to be a weird hire for a team that is in full-blown rebuild mode.

The Royals have two coaches in-house (Pedro Grifol and Vance Wilson) who have had their names tossed around in managing circles and would appear to both be good choices for any team that is considering hiring them. Both have been with the Royals organization for years and have seen many off the current roster make their way through the Kansas City farm system. Both have good relationships with the players and embrace advanced analytics, which every team is now using to help the development of their players.

This feels like a no-brainer, but you have to really worry about a team that thinks Matheny is a good fit to lead the Royals into the next realm of their development. Maybe Grifol has been the choice all along and we’ve all spent a ton of time worrying about nothing. But it doesn’t feel that way and it feels like the beginning of the downfall of Dayton Moore. I hope I’m wrong, because what awaits us if Matheny is hired could be tough to endure when all Moore has to do is make the best choice for the team.

Nationals Devil Magic     

The funnest team to watch this postseason has been the Washington Nationals. Not only are they an underdog (going from the Wild Card game to the World Series), but they are a jovial team that appears to enjoy each other’s company. In fact, it hit me the other day that part of why I like watching this Nationals team as much as I do could be because they remind me of the 2014-2015 Royals teams that had a little bit of luck on their side.

Offensively there appears to be a lot of the Royals formula in their style. This is a team that just finds a way to get on base and numerous times this postseason has managed to compile multiple run innings by “moving the line”. Washington has a bit more power than those Royals teams, but they know how to keep an inning alive and make their baserunners count.

Pitching-wise, their rotation is miles better than Kansas City’s was, but the Royals had an edge when it came to their bullpen. Switching around the roles, the Nationals lean on a dominant rotation while the Royals leaned on their dominant bullpen. There are slight differences (and it makes the late innings a bit more stressful if you are a Washington fan), but you can see enough of a similarity that it’s not hard for a Royals fan to cheer for their brethren in D.C.

If Washington can seal the deal, they would have a giant monkey off their back, much like the Royals did in 2014. The hard part for them was winning a playoff series, which they had never done before. Since then, they have been playing with house money and you can tell how much looser they are on the field…just like when the Royals won the Wild Card game in 2014. Bottom line is while they aren’t carbon copies, they are close enough that it has been easy to get behind the Nationals this October. I can only hope they are able to do what the Royals did in 2015.

Everything’s Coming Up Soto

(Credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The biggest joy I have received from this postseason has been the attention given to Nationals outfielder Juan Soto. Soto, who just turned 21 (I know, you hadn’t heard that yet), has flown under the radar these last two years, especially to the casual baseball fan. But for those of us that follow it more closely, his success is something we pretty much expected. In fact, he probably should have been praised more before even getting to the playoffs.

With all the hoopla for Ronald Acuna, Jr. these last two seasons (and trust me, it’s deserved), Soto is right there with Acuna. I would even go so far as to say they are very similar players, as the numbers will attest. First, Acuna:

Now, Soto:

As you can see, the two have very similar numbers, with Acuna utilizing his speed more and probably the better defender. With that said, it has been nice to see Soto get the attention that Acuna has been receiving since before his recall to the majors. In some ways these two will be linked together till the end of time, much like Harper and Trout or Williams and DiMaggio. I’m not saying these two are on that level, but in the same regard they could be at the level soon.

So enjoy watching Soto in these next few games. It’s a treat that we get to appreciate him on the biggest stage with the biggest spotlight.

The World Series is nearing the end. Award season is just around the corner. And after that? I would like to say Hot Stove season, but the last two winters it has been anything but hot. So enjoy this week. While Major League Baseball has dealt with the de-juicing of the baseballs, the fiasco with the Houston Astros front office, and the news of a possible restructuring of the minor leagues, baseball needs a strong finish to the postseason and hope for an active offseason. The ball is in your court, baseball. Be smart with your next move.

One More For the Road?

Everything comes to an end eventually. If we’ve learned anything during our time on this planet, it’s that change is inevitable and Mother Nature wins all races. You can try to slow things down and make them last longer, but eventually time wins out.

That’s two-fold for athletes. Their time in any sport is limited, some longer than others. If you are lucky, you get to play the sport of your choice for a couple decades and excel at what you do. These are the ones who make Mother Nature wait on them, knowing full well that their time will come in the end.

This is where Alex Gordon sits right now. One week left in the MLB regular season and Gordon has been pondering whether to play another season or hang up the spikes and quit doing the only job he has had as an adult. No decision has been made on his part and it appears none will be made before the season ends. At the age of 35, Gordon will be deciding whether he wants to return another season to help the next generation of Kansas City Royals, or step away to be with his family and look back fondly on his career.

Credit: Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

As a fan, I am very biased when it comes to Alex Gordon. He has been my favorite Royal for a number of years now and in my opinion is the closest thing Kansas City has had to George Brett since his retirement. Just reading this blog over the years would point out that Gordon is “The Man” for the Royals and the measuring stick that the current roster should be emulating. He has been a leader on and off the field over the years and while he isn’t a loud and brazen leader, he is the one that carries the most weight in the Royals clubhouse.

So why Gordon? Sure, there was a period where he was an elite level player and a regular All-Star. From 2011 to 2014, Gordon only had one season under 5 WAR and was “THE” best left fielder in baseball. Gordon has won 6 Gold Gloves since his move to the outfield in 2010 and very well could add a 7th this offseason. Most acknowledge that Gordon and his defense are the biggest part of his legacy and puts him on par with former Royals second baseman Frank White as a model of defensive excellence.

But he has been no slouch on offense either. During his ‘peak’ years (the before mentioned 2011-2014) he had only one average offensive season (2013) while the rest were at least 18% better than league average. He has racked up close to 200 home runs, over 350 doubles and has a career line of .258/.339/.413. While his peak didn’t last as long as some, it is a great addition to his golden glove.

Yes, the last few years have been a struggle for Gordon offensively (whatever you do, don’t go look at his 2017 numbers) but he has bounced back a bit here in 2019 and has posted his highest batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage since 2015. He is still essentially a league average hitter but when you add in his defense and leadership, you have a player worthy of a roster spot in Kansas City.

In fact, his early season surge had Gordon even leaning toward playing in 2020:

“My wife (Jamie) always asks me that and I’m just like, ‘I don’t know,’” Gordon told MLB.com. “There are a lot of things that will come into play when it comes to that decision.

“I give her percentages. At the beginning of the year, I gave her 50-50. Then I moved to 55-45. Now I’m at about 60-40 (on playing again).”

The other factor in play is whether the Royals want him back, since he doesn’t want to play elsewhere:

“I don’t want to play anywhere else,” Gordon said. “Yeah, I want to retire as a Royal. I’ve established my family here with my kids. This is home.”

The Royals will most definitely buyout the option on his contract this winter, but it is conceivable they could bring Gordon back at a lower rate. The Royals front office has showed mutual interest in bringing Alex back, so it is hard to imagine a world where Dayton Moore tells him no. With that said, at this point, it is Alex’s call.

With that said, I find it hard to imagine a world where Alex Gordon isn’t playing baseball for the Royals. My mind tells me it will happen eventually and for someone like me who is a realist, I know it is going to happen soon. But the idea of him not out in left field saddens me and it has been a long time since I have felt that way about a player on the Royals. Gordon is that piece of Kansas City, before they returned to prominence and before back-to-back World Series appearances.

Watching Gordon play over the last 13 years has been a pure treat and he has almost always made me glad to be a fan of the Royals. Before the season started this year, I prepared myself for his possible retirement at the end of the year and went and bought three Gordon shirts. If this was it, I was going to make sure I had his shirts that I could wear for a number of more years. I only own one baseball jersey, and it is a powder blue #4. To me, Gordon embodies what I love about this franchise.

So if this is the end, I’m going to treasure these last few games. If he decides to come back, I’ll probably go through the same cycle next year that I have over the last 7 months. The truth is that a part of those 2014-2015 Royals teams will die once Gordon is gone. He won’t be the last to go, but he will be a large chunk to leave. Players come and go, but there will only be one Alex Gordon in Kansas City.

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