From the Bleachers: A Further Step into the Season

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Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Now that we are in the middle of May, there is a definite feeling of where many teams lie or at least where they will be as the season progresses. Since I haven’t been able to truly dive in with my thoughts (outside of anything Kansas City Royals related), I thought this would be a good time to take a look at some of the big stories of the last few weeks. Let’s start with the mess that is the American League Central…

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Grab it like You Want It

So with about six weeks into the season it has become very apparent that the American League Central isn’t the best division in baseball. Or the league. Or much of anywhere. In fact if it wasn’t for the Indians facing my hapless Royals this weekend I wonder if they would be posting a winning record right now:

AL Central
Credit: MLB.com

That’s right, the Indians are the only team in the division with at least a .500 record. Actually, on Friday night the entire division was under .500. The Royals had beaten Cleveland that night, leaving them at 18-19 at the top of what has become a poor, beaten-down, pathetic division.

More than likely the Indians and probably even the Twins will finish with a winning record when it is all said and done, but right now this is an ugly picture. When the Royals have played very uninspired baseball to this point and they are only sitting 7.5 games out of the lead, that is not a good sign.

But let’s be honest here for a bit; at some point we are going to get a division winner with a losing record. In fact if it wasn’t for the strike back in 1994 we might have gotten it then:

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Credit: baseball-reference.com

That season ended with the Rangers leading while being ten games below .500. Then the strike happened and baseball didn’t come back until the next season. But it does make you wonder about when it will happen and how soon the pundits will flip out. I can already picture the “talking heads” discussing how such a weak team will grace postseason play and “tarnish” the good name of baseball.

The truth probably lies somewhere in-between, where it’s more of a sign of the dangers of allowing more and more teams into the playoffs. It probably won’t happen this year or even the next few years, but at some point a team with a losing record will be playing in the games that matter the most in October…and just imagine if they get hot and punch their ticket to the World Series. Oh my…

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Credit: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

The Dark Knight is His Own Worst Enemy

Earlier this week Matt Harvey was dealt to the Cincinnati Reds for catcher Devin Mesoraco, ending his time in New York. While many will question his arm and whether he will even return to his former self, to me the bigger question is whether or not his ego and pride will allow him to be successful again.

Don’t get me wrong, he pitched very well on Friday: 4 innings, 1 hit, 0 runs, 0 walks and 2 strike outs against the Dodgers, all of which spells a great debut in Cincy. But at the end of the day his performance wasn’t the lone issue clouding him. No, his issues are paramount and solving these problems need to be his choice, not forced onto him.

In my opinion, the Mets had the right idea; send him down to the minors and break his entire game down to rebuild it. But Harvey’s pride and stubbornness got in the way. Maybe getting out of ‘The Big Apple’ will help, but I tend to think we will see him struggle again, soon.

Matt Harvey loves being ‘Matt Harvey, the dominant stud pitcher’ or ‘Matt Harvey, busy man on the town’ more than he loves being just a guy who gets to play baseball for a living. Until he recognizes himself as the biggest problem, there just won’t be a happy ending for the man formerly known as ‘The Dark Knight’.

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Nick Markakis…Hall of Famer?

About a week ago MLB.com scribe and (in my opinion) one of the best baseball writers of this era Joe Posnanski posed an interesting question about Nick Markakis: can he realistically reach 3,000 hits? Before you start laughing and thinking that is impossible you might want to go look at his career numbers…now pick up your jaw. Markakis currently sits at 2,105 hits here in his age 34 season. In other words, he only needs 895 hits to reach one of the biggest milestones for a hitter in baseball lore.

Outside of players not yet eligible for induction into the baseball Hall of Fame, only two players who have reached 3,000 hits haven’t been inducted into the hallowed halls: Pete Rose and Rafael Palmeiro. Rose is not in because of his lifetime ban and Palmeiro is not because of a positive steroid test. That number–3,000–has always meant an automatic place in Cooperstown and speaks of a player’s longevity and consistency. Markakis checks off both of those marks.

But I’m pretty sure you don’t view him as being an all-time great or even a perennial All-Star. On of his list of achievements is a two-time Gold Glover winner and…leading the American League in WAR in 2008. That is it.

But what has helped Markakis get to this point is a lack of injuries and a regular spot in the lineup. Markakis has only had one season under 145 games played in a season (2012) and his lowest hit total in a season (outside of 2012) is 143 in his rookie year. If things keep moving at his current pace, he could hold on for another six seasons or so and reach 3,000 around his age 40 season.

If that happens, do we then consider him a Hall of Famer? I tend to believe we have to, even if he was never talked about as being one of the top ten players in the game. More than anything, I want this to happen just to hear the discussions about his candidacy. There will be those that will look at 3,000 hits as proof he belongs. Others will argue he was never a “Great” player. Either way, I hope he gets close and I am now rooting for Markakis to reach this milestone.

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Welcome Back, Cutch

Earlier this week Andrew McCutchen returned to Pittsburgh for the first time since his trade to San Francisco and it was as great as you probably pictured it being in your head:

Look, I absolutely loved this for about a million reasons. One, it is always great to see a player return to his former stomping ground and be appreciated for all he did. Two, he was a vital part of that franchise’s return to prominence and was the biggest piece of the puzzle when it came to how that team was built.

But it was also great because I have been a fan of Cutch for years. Go ahead and search his name on this blog; you are bound to find me speak nothing but glowing praise his way. McCutchen, much like Bonds before him, was an all-around player who helped push the Pirates farther because of his greatness. He’s not quite the player he used to be at this point of his career, but at one time he was easily one of the top five players in the game.

I’ve also kind of felt like the Pirates are the National League’s version of the Royals. Both teams were once a regular participant in the playoffs, only to fall on hard times for a couple of decades and then return to glory. I obviously loved the Royals climb back to the postseason and appreciated Pittsburgh’s return as well. So I am glad Cutch got the standing ovation and I’m glad to see him still loved. He is truly a great player and a great human who deserves all the cheers he gets and more.

Finally, for my fellow Royals fans, here is what Eric Hosmer was up to this weekend:

While I wasn’t nor ever will be a big Hosmer fan, I’m glad to see him contributing in San Diego. Plays like this are why the Padres acquired him and hopefully that doesn’t go unnoticed.

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That is just a snippet of what is going on around baseball. I didn’t even get to Shohei Ohtani, Bartolo Colon, Mike Trout or even Mookie Betts. No talk of the increase in home runs and strike outs, foul weather or big-market collapses. I’m sure the next couple of weeks will give me more than enough material to discuss and hopefully I will be able to pass along my thoughts. Until then…

 

 

 

More Than Just Thankful For Baseball

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It’s that time of year where most of us look back fondly on what is good in our life and how lucky we really are. The more and more I threw this idea around in my head today, I kept coming back to all the joy baseball gives me. With that in mind, here is what I am thankful for this holiday season, at least where baseball is concerned.

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  • I am thankful that ‘The best Farm System in Baseball’ eventually did pan out for Kansas City, as players like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez all turned out to be All-Stars and quality big leaguers.
  • I am thankful that Lorenzo Cain stepped up his game in 2015, proving there is more to him than just one of the best gloves in baseball.
  • I am thankful that when Mike Trout is inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I can say I remember when he was a rookie and we had no idea that what we were seeing was greatness.
  • I am thankful that the extra round of playoffs in baseball has worked and has made it even more exciting than it was before.
  • I am thankful that Matt Harvey realized an innings limit didn’t matter in the playoffs…and that he was stubborn enough to convince his manager to keep him in for the 9th inning in Game 5 of the World Series.
  • Speaking of the Mets, I am thankful that my favorite team only has to face the Mets young arms in one series next year. They are the real deal.
  • I am thankful that baseball has a crop of young superstars(Trout, McCutchen, Stanton, etc.) that they can be proud of and should be promoting as to why they are great for the game.
  • By the way, I am thankful that a baseball town like Pittsburgh can tout a talent like McCutchen and add him to a legacy of true stars that deserve to be looked at like stars, much like Roberto Clemente before him.
  • I am thankful that we get to see a historic season like Bryce Harper this year…then remember he is only 23!

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  • I am thankful for a baseball world where Bartolo Colon is still a thing…and gives everyone great material on a monthly basis.
  • I am thankful for a sport where you can argue for years about possible Hall of Fame players and still change someone’s mind after a ‘deeper look at the numbers’.
  • I am thankful my son loves the Hot Stove League as much as I do.
  • I am thankful that baseball has gone from a game where ‘experience is king’ to a game where now ‘youth is king’.

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  • I am thankful for Rusty Kuntz’s flowing mane…damn!
  • I am thankful that we now live in a world where phrases like ‘exit velocity’ and ‘efficient route’ are part of the lexicon.
  • I am thankful for bat flips.
  • I am thankful predictions mean nothing in baseball; it’s why you play the games.

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  • I am thankful that certain ballplayers can make my hair look suave…thanks, John Jaso!
  • I am thankful that I can watch a different baseball game everyday and learn something new, even 30+ years after I first started watching the game.
  • I am thankful that the history of the game is still woven into the fabric of today’s game.
  • I am thankful that my son thinks I would be a better analyst than Harold Reynolds.
  • I am thankful for the Royals defense.
  • I am thankful that I got to watch Brett, Saberhagen, Jackson, Wilson, McRae and White in my youth. Those players made me fall head over heels for baseball.
  • I am thankful that I am not the only person who believes Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.
  • I also am thankful for the push the last couple years for Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez for their deserved spot in Cooperstown.
  • I am thankful I still remember Oddible McDowell,  Razor Shines and Danny Darwin.

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  • I am thankful that Ken Griffey, Jr. still smiles.
  • I am thankful to have witnessed the transformation of Wade Davis from human to cyborg.
  • I am thankful that I have been given the chance over the last 4 years to do things around this sport that I never imagined possible.
  • I am thankful that I waited out all the bad years of Kansas City baseball. It has made these last two years even more joyful than I can ever put in words.
  • I am thankful that I was wrong about Dayton Moore and Ned Yost.
  • I am thankful for all the late comebacks by the Kansas City Royals.
  • I am thankful for Lorenzo Cain’s running.
  • I am thankful for Alex Gordon’s clutch slugging.
  • I am thankful for Eric Hosmer’s daring baserunning skills.
  • I am thankful for a lockdown Kansas City bullpen.
  • I am thankful to call ‘my Royals’ the World Champs. I honesty wondered if I would ever see that again in my lifetime.
  • and I am thankful that the people in my life who I care most about not only support my love of baseball, but they share in the love. They make all of this even better than if I was just enjoying it on my own.
  • Oh…almost forgot. I am thankful for Jonny Gomes mic skills. His speech will never get old.

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Honestly, I could go on and on. I love this game and there are so many little bits of information or plays that remind of the nuances of this game that spark my love. Let’s all be thankful that baseball is still flourishing and despite some of the things we would fix with the game, for the most part it is as good as it was when we first got hooked. Thank you, baseball. Thank you for being you.

The Votes Are In: My 2015 Award Winners

April 13, 2015: Toronto Blue Jays Third base Josh Donaldson (20) [7086] bats during the Tampa Bay Rays 2-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre in Toronto, ON
April 13, 2015
One of the great honors of being a member of the IBWAA is that come September we vote on the season awards, just like the BBWAA. Last year I filled out my first ballot and I learned a few things. One, never turn in your ballot until sometime in the final week. I turned mine in about two weeks early and was kicking myself within a week. Yep, one’s mind can change. Second, there is no way not to take this serious. None. I look at stats all year long, and even still I’m not for sure it compared to the number crunching I did the last two years before turning in my winners. With that said, I was very pleased with the end results and feel confident throwing out how I voted for the year-end awards. So without further ado, here are my picks for the 2015 Major League Baseball season awards.

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American League MVP: Mike Trout

I know the consensus was this award should go to Toronto’s Josh Donaldson, and I won’t tell you that is the wrong vote. No, Donaldson is just as deserving as Trout and either vote is a solid vote. That being said, I give Trout the edge for a few reasons. Let’s start with the main stats that everyone loves: They tied for homers, Donaldson had about 30 more RBI’s, Donaldson edged Trout in batting average, while Trout had the advantage in On-Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage(in fact Trout led the league in slugging). Now to the meaty stats: Trout over Donaldson in OPS+, 176 to 155. bWAR has Trout over Donaldson, 9.4 to 8.8. fWAR has Trout slightly edging out Donaldson, 9.0 to 8.7. Donaldson does have the edge defensively by quite a large margin, but not enough that I would give the win to him. All that is a compelling argument for Mike Trout, as most of the numbers are in his favor. But here is where the scale is tipped for me…Trout spent part of the year dealing with nagging injuries, as is evident if you look at his numbers month by month. Trout not only came back to raise those numbers, he also practically put the entire Angels team on his shoulders in September, keeping them in the pennant race into the final week. In fact Trout’s line in September looks like video game numbers: .315/.430/.648 with 8 homers and 16 RBI’s. Yes, Josh Donaldson was on a playoff team, but if you take him out of Toronto’s stellar lineup you still have a team that could probably win the American League East. Take Trout out of the Angels lineup and that team is out of the race before September. At the end of the day, Trout was more valuable to his team than Donaldson, thus he is my winner for AL MVP.

My top 3: 1-Trout, 2-Donaldson, 3-Cain

IBWAA Winner: Josh Donaldson

BBWAA Winner: Josh Donaldson

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National League MVP: Bryce Harper

Very rarely does a player have a season where he is sooooo dominate that they should be a no doubt MVP, where an unanimous vote seems like the logical way to go. But this year in the National League, Bryce Harper was ‘The Man’ and there really is no debate. Harper, in his age 22 season, led the National League in so many categories that I almost thought he led the league in saves and wins. Harper was the front man in runs, home runs, On-Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, OPS, OPS+ and both fWAR and bWAR. Harper had the type of season we all expected when he was selected by the Nationals as the #1 Draft Pick in 2010. The funny part is he still has room to improve, which is frightening if you are an opposing pitcher. Harper led this Nationals team to the brink of the playoffs this year and outside of the stupidity of Jonathan Papelbon, he would have about as perfect a season as a player can have. The one stat that blows my mind more than any is his OPS+, a staggering 195(remember, 100 is average). His season is the 71st best in baseball history, which seems great but not out of this world stupendous. If you take out all the players in the ‘Dead-Ball Era’, Harper’s season is the 50th best of all-time. I decided to go a step further, going off of seasons since 1950. Taking that into affect, Harper had the 24th best season by a batter in the last 65 years! What this amounts up to is a without a doubt MVP and possibly the beginning of a career we could be discussing in detail within the next 5-8 years.

My Top 3: 1-Harper, 2-Goldschmidt, 3-Votto

IBWAA Winner: Bryce Harper

BBWAA Winner: Bryce Harper

Minnesota Twins v Toronto Blue Jays
(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

American League Cy Young: David Price

There was a number of awards this year that felt like a tight race and this would be another one, as David Price and Dallas Keuchel both seemed like worthy winners. At the end of the day, I chose Price and the more you digest the numbers you can see why he has started to grow a resume that puts him as one of the top elite starters in baseball. Price only lead the league in ERA(2.45) and pitchers WAR, but it was all the other numbers together that make his case. Price is no lower than 6th in Innings Pitched, Wins, K/9, BB/9, HR/9, Left On Base %, ERA(1st), FIP(2nd in the league), xFIP, and fWAR(1st with 6.4, Keuchel is 3rd with 6.1). Price did all of these while switching teams in July, as he was traded to Toronto and helped them clinch a playoff spot while driving them to the ALCS. I wouldn’t disparage a vote for Keuchel, but at the end of the day it felt like this was Price’s award to win so my vote went to him in a highly contested race.

My Top 3: 1-Price, 2-Keuchel, 3-Sale

IBWAA Winner: Dallas Keuchel

BBWAA Winner: Dallas Keuchel

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(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

National League Cy Young: Jake Arrieta

It was a magical season in 2015 for the Chicago Cubs and a big part of that was because of Jake Arrieta. This was another close vote, as Zack Greinke of the Dodgers also put forth a Cy Young caliber season and a vote for him also made sense. I went back and forth on this award more than once, but finally settled on Arrieta for his work down the stretch. Arrieta led the National League in Wins, Games Started, Complete Games, Shutouts, H/9, HR/9, while finishing 2nd in pitchers WAR, Innings pitched, FIP, xFIP and ERA, and 3rd in Left on Base %. What Arrieta did the last couple months of the season really set him apart from both Greinke and Kershaw, as Arrieta made sure whenever he pitched that the Cubs more than had a chance to win that day. From August through the end of the season, Arrieta was 11-0 with an ERA of 0.41(allowing only 4 ER in 88.1 innings), including a no-hitter and 2 shutouts. While the Cubs were fighting for their playoff lives, Arrieta stepped up and made this a season to remember. Greinke and Kershaw both had amazing seasons, but Arrieta was out of this world when it counted the most.

My Top 3: 1-Arrieta, 2-Greinke, 3-Kershaw

IBWAA Winner: Jake Arrieta

BBWAA Winner: Jake Arrieta

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American League Rookie of the Year: Francisco Lindor

2015 was a banner year for rookie shortstops in the American League, as both Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor would get called up mid-season and were sparkplugs for their team’s as they tried to lock up a postseason berth. Correa’s team would advance, while Lindor’s Indians came up just short, which I’m sure to some would give Correa the edge. But what on the surface seems like a blow away win for Correa as ROY, I give the nod to Lindor and it isn’t as close as you think. I know a lot of press has been given to Correa’s offense, as they should. Correa reminds me of Alex Rodriguez early in his career, as he combines power and speed and appears to only grow from here. But if you want the whole package, Lindor is your man. While Correa led with the power numbers, Lindor led in batting average(.313 to .279), and On-Base Percentage(.353 to .345), while categories like wOBA and wRC+ were close enough that it could be a scratch. What pushed Lindor over the edge for me was his WAR, and more specifically, dWAR. Lindor led Correa this past season in bWAR(4.6 to 4.1) and fWAR(4.6 to 3.3) but defensively Lindor was a top notch defender while Correa was closer to average. This defensive edge gave Lindor the nod in my eyes as their dWAR wasn’t really close at all(1.7 to 0.6) and Lindor led Correa defensively in 2015, 14.9 to Correa’s -1.6. A vote for Correa isn’t a bad vote, but in my eyes the battle of rookie shortstops in the American League was fronted by Lindor in this rookie campaign.

My Top 3: 1-Lindor, 2-Correa, 3-Sano

IBWAA Winner: Carlos Correa

BBWAA Winner: Carlos Correa

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National League Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant

It wasn’t just the home runs that won Kris Bryant this award. Okay, the home runs helped, but Bryant, as much as he is known for his power, is also a hitter with a good eye and a knack for learning from his mistakes. So in his rookie campaign it’s no shock that Bryant stood head and shoulders above his peers. Bryant led all NL rookies with 26 homers(tied with Joc Pederson), but also led in On-Base Percentage and fWAR while being second in wRC+. Maybe the most surprising item from Bryant this year was the amount of positions Bryant played, as manager Joe Maddon bounced him around the diamond. His main position was 3B, but he also saw time at 1B, and all three outfield positions. For a guy who had only briefly experimented with the outfield, Bryant held his own and even held up a slightly above average dWAR. There are parts of Bryant’s game that still need work; he did lead the league in strikeouts, with 199. But that can be worked on and more than likely will be in Spring Training. Overall it was a positive rookie season for this young slugger and he looks like he will be one of the cornerstones of this Cubs team for a number of years, as rookies Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber also saw time in Chicago this season. Be scared, National League pitchers. Be very afraid.

My Top 3: 1-Bryant, 2-Duffy, 3-Kang

IBWAA Winner: Kris Bryant

BBWAA Winner: Kris Bryant

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(Pioneer Press: Jean Pieri)

American League Manager of the Year: Paul Molitor

The Manager of the Year awards have gotten some flak this offseason as being an award just about “who’s team improved the most from the previous year”. It’s hard to argue with some of that reasoning, as Ned Yost and John Gibbons are nowhere on this list while their teams were the elite of the American League. I can say I based my ballot off of what manager did the most with the least, which lead me to the Minnesota Twins Paul Molitor. In Molitor’s first season he did what no one(and I do mean no one) thought would happen; over .500 record, contending for a playoff spot into the final week of the season and 2nd place in the American League Central. Credit goes to Jeff Banister of the Rangers for dealing with early season injuriesand guiding his team to the American League West title. Kudos to AJ Hinch of the Astros for bringing this young Houston team to the playoffs and one game away from the ALCS. But I figured both teams would be better this year and had even mentioned Houston being a sleeper pick back in early April:

The ‘surprise’ team of the American League could very well be Houston, as they’ve got a nice mix of veterans and youngsters that could be better sooner rather than later.

But Minnesota? Nope. Look, I have praised the Twins young prospects for the last few years, knowing they are lurking in the background. But the thought was 2016 would be the first year you would see Minnesota start contending again. Instead, Molitor was able to mesh all the young talent they have with veterans like Torii Hunter and Brian Dozier to keep this team in contention all through the season. Oh, and this was also Molitor’s first season managing in the majors. What Banister and Hinch did was great work; what Molitor did was borderline ‘miracle worker’. That is why I chose Paul Molitor for American League Manager of the Year.

My Top 3: 1-Molitor, 2-Banister, 3-Hinch

IBWAA Winner: Jeff Banister

BBWAA Winner: Jeff Banister

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National League Manager of the Year: Terry Collins

People love Joe Maddon and what he did for the Cubs this year, and he deserves the praise he will get for getting Chicago to the playoffs. I love Maddon as much as the next guy, but figured he would turn that Cubs team around. Which is why my pick for NL Manager of the Year is Terry Collins. The hope when the season started was that the Mets would compete with the Nationals during the season and maybe make the playoffs as a wild card. Instead, the Nationals blew a tire down the stretch and the Mets sauntered in to grab the NL East. In July the Mets were contending, but didn’t look like they would be winning the division. The offense was struggling, but the rotation had brought some young arms to help and Matt Harvey looked like the Harvey of old. Yoenis Cespedes was acquired before the trade deadline and the Mets were soon off to the races. Collins did a great job this year managing Harvey(and his agent), and the youngsters while also getting veterans enough playing time to appease them. New York had an interesting mix of players this year and Collins dealt with it like a pro. Credit goes to Maddon and Clint Hurdle on great years for their teams, but it didn’t feel like they had to juggle as much as Collins.

My Top 3: 1-Collins, 2-Maddon, 3-Hurdle

IBWAA Winner: Joe Maddon

BBWAA Winner: Joe Maddon

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American League Reliever of the Year: Wade Davis

Yes, the Yankees duo of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller had great years, as did Zach Britton of Baltimore and Cody Allen of Cleveland. But to me, there is no more dominate reliever in the game right now than Wade Davis. All Davis did this year was put up back to back seasons of 1.00 or below ERA’s while flat out dominating the competition. For relievers in the American League, Davis was 6th in fWAR(2.0), 7th in HR/9(he gave up one this year, to Jose Bautista), led in Left On Base %(92.2), 1st in ERA(0.94), 7th in FIP(2.29), averaged over 10 K/9, and had a ridiculous ERA+ of 444(100 is league average). Davis also closed some games this year, as he had mostly been the setup guy for the Royals in 2014. Greg Holland dealt with some injuries this year, and in September when it was announced Holland was done for the year and would be requiring Tommy John Surgery, Davis slid into the closer role, a role that felt already like it belonged to him. Trust me, you can make the argument for any of the relievers I mentioned above but none of them make a batter feel defeated before he even steps to the plate like Wade Davis.

My Top 3: 1-Davis, 2-Betances, 3-Allen

IBWAA Winner: Andrew Miller

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The Enquirer/Jeff Swinger

National League Reliever of the Year: Aroldis Chapman

Did you read what I wrote above about Wade Davis? The same pretty much goes for Aroldis Chapman of Cincinnati. Chapman is one of those relievers who is practically unhittable and continued his dominance in 2015. Chapman led the ‘Senior Circuit’ for relievers in K/9(an astounding 15.74), ERA(1.63), fWAR(2.5), 4th in LOB%(88.5), 2nd in FIP(1.94), 4th in xFIP(2.49) and an ERA+ of 244. Chapman had some solid competition this year in Trevor Rosenthal of St. Louis and Sergio Romo of San Francisco, but alas neither had the dominance of Chapman. The interesting part is that Cincinnati is a team that probably won’t be contending in the near future and Chapman’s value has never been higher. It’s a possibility that when the 2016 awards are handed out a year from now, Chapman will be with a different team. The possibility of Aroldis Chapman on a contender makes for a interesting scenario come playoff time.

My Top 3: 1-Chapman, 2-Rosenthal, 3-Romo

IBWAA Winner: Mark Melancon

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So those are my picks this year. Go ahead, debate them or even agree and with some of these races the debate could rage on till the end of time. What I can say is that I feel confident with my votes and really felt like I crunched a bunch of numbers to get to these decisions. Be ready though; once award season is over, that means the Hot Stove season starts to pick up. Who knows, we could have a 2016 award winner switching teams this offseason. That is one of the great things about baseball; all it could take is a switch in teams to ignite a player to greatness. Although I have the feeling I will be talking about Mike Trout again next year…and Bryce Harper as well. Yep, baseball is great my friend!

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, What a Feeling: Your 2015 World Champions, the Kansas City Royals!

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The Kansas City Royals have waited 30 years to say they are World Champions. Whenever anyone around Kansas City talks about the Royals, it is inevitable that the 1985 Royals, the only other Kansas City team to win the World Series, are brought up. In some ways I’m sure it felt like big shoes to fill, living up to the legend of a team that made a lot of us(myself included) Royals fans. Now though is another champion for future teams to live up to. In what was possibly the most dramatic 5 game World Series in history, Kansas City can now call themselves ‘World Champs’!

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There are so many stories to tell here, and all deserve your time and praise, but let’s start with the beginning of the season. This was a team that felt like they had unfinished business, left with the bad taste in their mouth from being beat by the Giants the year before in the World Series. This was a team that was on a mission to finish what they fell just short of in 2014. Not only is it a difficult path to make back to back World Series in this day and age, but they were doing it without some big components from the year before. Billy Butler was gone. James Shields-gone. Nori Aoki jumped ship to the world champs. In their place was Kendrys Morales, Edinson Volquez and Alex Rios, two of which were coming off of disappointing seasons. In fact, guys like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer were also coming off of less than stellar campaigns, which is why the PECOTA projections had Kansas City at 72 wins. In fact, I was a bit skeptical of their chances, expecting them to be in the hunt while falling just short. It wasn’t that I didn’t want my team to ‘Take the Crown’; I just wasn’t for sure that a majority of the lineup was going to improve on their 2014 numbers. Luckily, I was wrong.

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What happened during the regular season would seem like a fairy tale written up by a Royals fan before the season began, while bordering on fan fiction(somehow Salvador Perez and his perfume would fit in here). The team got off to a hot start, took control of the American League Central and held it for 3/4 of the season. In fact, if it wasn’t for the surging Minnesota Twins stepping up near the beginning of the summer, the Royals might have lead the division all season long. There was so many highlights to the regular season, like Mike Moustakas’ offensive turnaround, as he learned to hit to the opposite field, forcing opposing teams to quit putting the shift on him and play him straight up. There was the monster comeback season by Morales, toppling 100 RBI’s while adding power to the middle of the order. There was another phenomenal season by Wade Davis and Volquez turned out to be a solid replacement for Shields. Lorenzo Cain really blossomed this year, putting together a MVP caliber season after dealing with injuries almost every year before. The team almost single-handedly took over the All-Star Game, with 4 Kansas City starters in the game and 8 total players representing the Royals. Hell, we Royals fans almost voted Omar Infante into the game, and most of us agree he was awful this year! Then in July, the Royals front office stepped up, acquiring Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist to further elevate their chances of capturing a world championship. Zobrist was a huge acquisition, as he filled in for left fielder Alex Gordon while he was out with a groin strain, then slid over to second base, taking over for the black hole of offense known as Infante. Cueto had very mixed results, sometimes looking like the ace he was in Cincinnati, other times looking like a back of the rotation arm who had to be perfect to succeed. Either way, Royals management did their part by giving the team the pieces to win, leaving it all up to the players to take it home. In fact, the Royals steamrolled through the competition most of this year, putting up the best record in the American League and garnering them home field advantage throughout the playoffs. This team was on a mission from day one and accomplished the first part of it; making the playoffs. Now it was time to do the hard part: advance to the World Series.

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In the American League Division Series, the Royals would play the Houston Astros, a young team that gave Kansas City trouble during the regular season. This series pretty much dictated the Royals fate and what we should have expected from this Royals team. Royals would lose Game 1, but then would mount one of their famous comebacks late in Game 2 to pull out a victory. Game 3 went to Houston, as Dallas Keuchel shutdown the Royals offense, and at this point it was ‘do or die’ for Kansas City. In Game 4, Houston took a four run lead into the Top of the 8th, which seemed like a death kneel for this Royals team. The Royals ‘kept the line moving’ in this inning, with a bit of help from Carlos Correa, and would not only storm back, but would end up taking the lead, taking the game and forcing a Game 5.

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Game 4 of the ALDS might be the greatest summary of what this Kansas City Royals team did this entire postseason. When their backs were against the wall, they didn’t give up. The picked and picked, battling  pitchers while finding a way to get on base and keep a rally going. The word ‘relentless’ has been used at great lengths these past few weeks, but I also think you can use the word ‘stubborn’. This Royals team just would not quit, which was night and day from what we saw just a few years earlier. Once you get in the playoffs you are playing nothing but great teams, and the Royals frustrated every last one of them. The philosophy of ‘putting the ball in play, forcing the defense to make the play’ really has worked for this team, and I’m not for sure it can be duplicated. You would think Game 4 of the ALDS was a standalone game, one that was the outlier of the group, but it isn’t. The Royals entire postseason was some variation of that Monday afternoon in Houston, where even myself doubted this team would come back and win. Game 5 was almost a non-contest, once Johnny Cueto got past the Luis Valbuena home run. It was smooth sailing after that blast for Cueto, as the Royals punched their ticket to the ALCS.

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Before we move on to the ALCS, I want to point out something here. I have long criticized Ned Yost and his managing style. Before last September, he seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. There was concern that the same mistakes he made in Milwaukee would be repeated in Kansas City, costing the Royals any semblance of glory. But sometimes people surprise you and change their ways, and Yost did just that. Starting in late September 2014, Yost started listening more to his coaching staff and venture outside of the box some more. It was very slight at first(letting Kelvin Herrera pitch more than an inning at a time), but by the playoffs he made almost every logical move a manager could make. That continued this year and to be honest, a lot of it was just letting the players go out and play. Trust them. The players stepped up this year and deserve a lot of the credit, but Yost’s more laid back managing style was a welcome plus. I’m still not a big Yost fan, but I will give the man credit when I feel he deserves it. Quite a bit of the Royals success this year can be tied into Yost relaxing his style and allowing himself to not be confined to an old way of thinking that had held him back in the past.

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 28: Alcides Escobar #2 of the Kansas City Royals and Alex Rios #15 of the Kansas City Royals celebrate with Kendrys Morales #25 of the Kansas City Royals after scoring runs in the fifth inning against the New York Mets in Game Two of the 2015 World Series at Kauffman Stadium on October 28, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

This would lead to the ALCS, the match-up that almost everyone wanted, Royals vs. Blue Jays. These two teams had some issues this past August and despite the fact that no one expected any extra fireworks this series(I mean, it is the postseason; no one wants to lose time in October over something stupid), some of the bad feelings were still lingering. Game 1 went to Kansas City, thanks to another solid postseason start from Edinson Volquez and some timely hitting. Game 2 was the perfect definition of #RoyalsDevil Magic, as Kansas City looked lost for 6 innings against David Price, to the point Price had retired 18 straight batters before heading to the 7th inning. Then it happened; Zobrist hit a fly ball to right field that fell in between Ryan Goins and Jose Bautista in what looked like a miscommunication. What followed was the Royals doing what they do, or what they call ‘keep the line moving’. By the end of the inning the Royals had taken the lead and put a seed of doubt into the Blue Jays’ minds on their ability to stop this Kansas City team. Game 3 went to Toronto, as the two teams ventured north of the border, which was  followed by a Royals offensive slaughter of the Blue Jays in Game 4. The Royals could have clinched the series with a win in Toronto for Game 5, but Marco Estrada shut down Kansas City, which meant the series would return to Kauffman Stadium, with the Royals only needing one win to head to the World Series.

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I think when we really dissect this postseason for the Royals, what we will find is a number of games that will go down in Kansas City history as some of the most memorable games in team history. Obviously Game 4 of the ALDS ranks high on the list, but the argument can also be made for a couple of the World Series games and for Game 2 of the ALCS. But without a doubt, Game 6 of the ALCS will be on that list, as it turned into another classic nail-biter that left Royals fans on the edge of their seats. The Royals would take the lead early on thanks to a Ben Zobrist and Mike Moustakas hitting solo home runs, and would hold the lead until the Top of the 8th. Jose Bautista would club his second home run of the game, a 2 run shot, that would tie the game at 3 and had sucked a lot of air out of the ballpark. There would be a slight rain delay before starting the bottom of the inning(could it have been building to the drama that was to happen?) but it didn’t slow down the Royals. Lorenzo Cain led off the inning with a walk, then Eric Hosmer would stride to the plate, yet another clutch situation for him in a postseason filled with clutch hits for the Gold Glove first baseman. Hosmer would line a single down the right field line, which meant no matter what Cain was getting to third. But the Royals scouts had noticed earlier in the series that Bautista would always throw the ball into second base with runners on first, while third base coach Mike Jirschele had also noticed it was normally done in a lackadaisical manner. The Blue Jays were not prepared for Cain to be racing home on the play, as Troy Tulowitzki was caught a bit off-guard when after receiving the ball from Bautista, he turned around to notice Cain was headed home. Cain was in safely, giving the Royals the lead and giving Kansas City another memorable moment this postseason.

Cain’s play was even more impressive when you realize he was tracked at nearly 21 mph by Statcast on his trip around the bases. The almost unstoppable Wade Davis would come in to pitch the top of the 9th, and despite the allowing the tying and go-ahead runs to get on base to start the inning, Davis would shut down the Blue Jays, getting probabley future AL MVP Josh Donaldson to ground out to end the game and give Kansas City back to back World Series appearances for the first time in team history.

The Royals were now only four wins away from a World Championship, their first in 30 years.

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So the stage was set for the Royals returning to the World Series, this time to face the New York Mets. It was interesting to notice the narrative thrown out by the media during this series, as it focused on New York, making their first World Series appearance since 2000, trying to bring the trophy back to the ‘Empire State’. Should it have been the narrative? Probably not, as it should have been the Royals trying to do what they couldn’t do last year and win their first Championship since 1985. But because New York is considered the center of the sports world(or even just the center of most things in this country, whether you are talking about entertainment or sports), the focus was bound to be on the Mets. I wasn’t overly bothered by it, because once again it made the Royals the underdog, a role that this team cherishes. This series would get off to a hot start, as I think it safe to say Game 1 will go down as a World Series classic. There are so many little tidbits from this game that I loved, and maybe it was because it was my first ever World Series game to be in attendance for, but here is just a snippet of what all happened in this game:

  • The game started out with the news leaking on Twitter about Edinson Volquez’s father had passed away earlier in the day, unbeknownst to Eddie. The crowd, in support, chanted “Eddie” numerous times throughout the contest.
  • Alcides Escobar would hit the first inside the park home run in World Series history since George “Mule” Haas of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1929. Escobar’s hit was on the first pitch of the bottom of the 1st inning.
  • The Mets would take a 4-3 lead in the Top of the 8th thanks to an Eric Hosmer error, allowing Juan Lagares to score from second. It was an odd sight, since the Royals had been almost spotless defensively during the playoffs this year before that, and since Hosmer is normally so sure-handed.
  • The Royals would tie the game back up in the bottom of the 9th with an Alex Gordon homer off of Jeurys Familia, the Mets closer. This was a monster of a shot that Statcast had at 438 ft, off of a 97 mph sinker:
  • Chris Young, who was scheduled to start in Game 4 of the series, would come in and throw 3 shutout innings, stifling the Mets. This might have been the biggest pitching outing of the series, outside of Johnny Cueto’s Game 2 start.
  • The game was won in the bottom of the 14th by Kansas City. I was live tweeting the game for work, and might have foreshadowed the win as I sent this out in the middle of the 14th:

Bottom of the 14th would start with Escobar reaching on an error by David Wright(which I had wanted to tweet out ‘costly error?’ but since I was on the work account I figured I shouldn’t), followed by a Zobrist single and a Cain intentional walk. This led to the bases loaded with no outs and Hosmer at the plate, hoping to redeem himself for his error back in the 8th. Hosmer would lift a fairly deep fly ball to right field, scoring Escobar and giving the Royals a Game 1 victory. This game was the third World Series game to go 14 innings and undoubtedly will go down as a classic. In a lot of ways, this game set the tone for the rest of the series.

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Game 2 would see Johnny Cueto put up the best game score for a Royals pitcher in a playoff game in history, as the Royals would go up 2-0 in the series with a 7-1 victory. The two teams would travel to New York for three games, and the Mets would take Game 3, 9-3 as Royals starter Yordano Ventura saw a loss in velocity and the Royals never seemed to find their footing in this game. Game 4 would be another close one that the Royals took, 5-3 and gave Kansas City a 3-1 lead in the series, needing only one more win to be world champions. This would lead to yet another classic Royals comeback in Game 5.

Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer celebrates with his teammates after scoring during the ninth inning of Game 5 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the New York Mets Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

For 8 innings in Game 5, it looked as if the Royals number might be up, as Matt Harvey was dominating Kansas City, looking as sharp as I have seen him all season(in what starts I have seen him in). Harvey would come out for the Top of 9th, which seemed fine since he had been handcuffing the Royals all night long. He would allow a leadoff walk to Cain, who would then steal second base. Eric Hosmer, who to this point had been hitting about .111 in the series, came up big again with a double off the left field wall, scoring Cain and cutting the Mets lead to 2-1. Familia would come in for New York and he would get Moustakas to ground out, moving Hosmer to third. So with one out and the Royals down by one, Salvador Perez would hit a slow chopper to David Wright at third. Wright would glance back at Hosmer, who was just a little bit of the way down the line at third, then toss to first. Hosmer, in what would be equal parts genius and stupid, took off for home once Wright slinged it over, causing Lucas Duda to hurry a throw home. The throw would be wide of catcher Travis D’arnaud, as Hosmer slid into home safely.

Now, I know the broadcasters said it was good baserunning by Hosmer, but like I said, it was just as much a lucky play. Probably nine times out of ten, that throw is accurate and Hosmer would have been out by a mile. Royals scouts had told the team to run on Duda and D’arnaud as much as possible, and it seemed Kansas City picked an opportune time to take advantage of that knowledge. But as most everything this postseason, the play went the Royals way and the game was now knotted up at two. It would stay this way until the 12th inning, as Jarrod Dyson was on third and Christian Colon, former #1 Draft Pick for the Royals, making his lone postseason at bat and he would deliver big:

The Royals would tack on four more runs and then would hand the ball over to the best relief pitcher in baseball the last two years, Wade Davis:

For the first time since 1985, the Kansas City Royals are World Champions! For everything that the city of Kansas City, the organization and even us fans have endured, this was the sweetest victory that one could imagine. Demons were purged, losses have faded and now here they stand, the best team in baseball in 2015.

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When the 2015 season started, 30 teams all wanted one thing, to call themselves the World Champions. Only one team gets that distinction, and this year it is the Kansas City Royals. For years this team has heard about the ghosts of Royals past: George Brett, Willie Wilson, Dane Iorg, Jim Sundberg, Bret Saberhagen, Darryl Motley and so many more. Those ghosts will no longer haunt this team, as they have accomplished their only goal this season: win the World Series. It has been a crazy ride all season long, one that could make this team the greatest Royals team of all-time(they have competition with those late 70’s teams that faced the Yankees in the playoffs) and will hopefully not leave ghosts of their own for future generations. What this team did was the equivalent of slaying the dragon, or blowing up the Death Star. What this team did was put the focus back on an organization that for years was one to duplicate throughout the 70’s and 80’s. Celebrate this victory, Kansas City. Your Royals are the World Champions!

Dirty South Is No Longer Dirty

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Go back to October of last year. The Royals are one out away from wrapping up the ALCS and making their first trip to the World Series since 1985. The Royals have their closer on the hill to finish Baltimore, a job that Greg Holland has done countless times over the previous three seasons. I can’t get the image out of my head, as Mike Moustakas throws the ball over to first baseman Eric Hosmer and the celebration has begun for Kansas City, including Holland and catcher Salvador Perez embracing in-between the mound and home plate. It was simple back then; Holland comes in and closes the door on another Royals win. Despite the fact that it has been less than a year since that happened, it seems miles away from where Holland is at right now. In fact, the question is being asked: Can the Royals afford to keep Holland as their closer as the playoffs loom?

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It all started during Spring Training. Scouts talked about how the Royals bullpen arms looked a bit haggard after playing deep into October and more specifically that Greg Holland looked tired. There was some concern back then, but it appeared to be nothing to concern ourselves about once the season started. Early on Holland seemed fine, although his velocity was down a hair. Instead of consistently hitting 96 mph, Holland was only cranking it up to 93 mph with the occasional 94-96 sprinkled in. Then on April 18th, he was placed on the disabled list for a ‘right pectoral strain’. Holland would sit out until May 6, which saw his activation and return to the team.

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Despite the fact that Holland was back and swore he was healthy, something didn’t feel right. The numbers showed it as well. Throughout May, Holland was only striking out 7 per 9 while averaging over 8 walks per 9 innings. He was still stranding runners at a proficient rate(over 80% of the time) but it did appear that location was an issue, as was a dip in velocity. In May, this wasn’t a major issue. Holland had missed most of the first month of the season so it was understood it might take a bit to get his legs underneath him. That’s fine, as the Royals were winning and Wade Davis and the rest of the bullpen could pull some of the extra weight.

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June, July and August saw his strikeouts go back up to a normal rate and walks would go down to about 4 per 9 innings. Holland has always been a bit of a tightrope walker, so in some ways these months it was par for the course. The only difference was the velocity. What was once a consistent 96 mph for Holland had now become a 93 and sometimes closer to 91. His other pitches seemed to be on par velocity-wise, although his curveball has seen a dip as well. What has always been great about Holland was the fastball was a way to set up the slider, which is normally his “go to” pitch. Problem is that with his fastball velocity now diminishing, it makes the disparity between the two pitches a little bit less. It also appeared during these months that Holland wasn’t comfortable on the mound, as his wind-up and arm slot didn’t seem consistent. My worries from earlier in the year started coming back in August, as it had been awhile since Holland had looked right and I still wasn’t convinced he wasn’t hurt.

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Let’s go back to August 13th. The Royals are playing the Angels and are holding the lead as Holland comes in to lock down the game. Twenty nine pitches later and the lead is gone, as Holland had given up 4 runs on 3 hits and 2 walks. It was the first game Holland had pitched in four days and the next day Royals manager Ned Yost talked about how Holland was a pitcher who needed more regular work and the team would try to use him more regularly. A couple of interesting points came out of this. First, here is a comment from pitching coach Dave Eiland about the concerns with Holland:

“Everything hasn’t really fallen into place the way he’s wanted to,” Eiland said. “But he’s fine. I have absolutely zero concerns about him. I mean, there’s things I address with him all the time, just like the other 12 guys I have, that we’ve got to stay on top of. There were some things I saw last night, but I’m not going to publicly say what they are.”

But it wasn’t just the issues that we will not speak of. No, there was also this from Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star about what rival scouts had seen in Holland during this period:

A survey of rival evaluators revealed a diagnosis that is both simple but troubling. With his fastball velocity reduced, Holland can no longer overpower batters at the plate. He has also struggled to throw strikes with his breaking ball, a reality that is common knowledge among his opponents. So he has become more prone to walks, while hitters can square up his fastball.

It makes sense, as his fastball makes his off-speed pitches more important. But when he isn’t able to get them over for strikes, then Holland has to either fall back on the fastball or keep trying his breaking ball. It is a lose-lose situation.
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The consistent work, which is what the Royals had claimed was the biggest issue with Holland this year, was not held up like we were told. Holland would pitch about every 2-3 days during August, but near the end of the month Holland had what Yost referred to as a “cranky arm” and had four days between appearances, August 22 to August 27. On the 27th, Holland came into the game in the 9th inning, with the Royals up 5-1. Holland gave up 2 runs in his inning of work and it was what many have said; velocity was down on the fastball and he couldn’t locate the breaking ball. Luckily he was able to get out of the jam and preserve the win for the Royals. The ‘consistent work’ theory does have legs to it as Holland would come in the next night against Tampa Bay and throw up a bunch of goose eggs. In fact, if you look throughout August, if Holland pitched back to back days, or within a day of his last outing he seemed sharper and his pitches had more break. He even had a few outings during this month where the fastball was back up around 95-96 mph. It didn’t stay, but it was there for awhile. When there were longer stretches between outings, Holland not only had lower velocity on the fastball, but his breaking ball couldn’t find the strike zone.
Aug 14, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals catcher Drew Butera (9) talks to relief pitcher Greg Holland (56) in the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Kauffman Stadium. Kansas City won the game 4-1. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
(John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports)

So far in September, Holland has been a ghost. His first game this month wasn’t until September 8th, nine days between appearances. He didn’t give up a hit or a walk, but the velocity was back down again. He would look a little bit better the next night against the Twins, as he would toss another inning in a loss. The Royals have decided within the last month to only bring Holland in whenever the game is close or he has  a save situation, which seems like a recipe for disaster. If consistent work helps him be sharper and gives his pitches more bite, you get him in every few days. Doing this saves you from an outing like Tuesday night in Cleveland. Holland came in to preserve a 2-0 lead against the Indians, Holland’s first appearance in five days. Early on it was obvious he did not have his stellar stuff. In fact, Holland didn’t even have that 91-93 mph fastball he has been using most of this year:

It was as bad as you would think. Luckily, Holland got out of the jam:

Late last week, Mike Petriello of MLB.com looked at Holland’s velocity AND spin rate. Take a look for yourself:

Okay, you might be asking “what does spin rate cover and how does that affect a pitcher’s pitches”? Good question! Here’s Petriello from a piece on Holland:

We know that high spin for a fastball correlates with swinging strikes, so that spin rate decline is just as alarming as the velo drop. As you’d expect, the decline we’re seeing has led to fewer missed bats. Through Aug. 14, which is the last peak on those graphs, Holland’s strikeout percentage was 27.3. Since then, it’s down to 20.0 percent.

It also has been noticed that Holland isn’t using that fastball as much as before, instead trying to rely on his slider:

Through Aug. 14: 48.5 percent fastballs, 44.9 percent sliders
Since Aug. 15: 38.2 percent fastballs, 57.3 percent sliders

The problem is, his slider has now seen a velocity drop as well, down to 83.18 mph in September(it was in the 85 mph range for most of this year). So even if the 87 mph fastball isn’t the norm going forward, it does appear that Holland is dealing with more than just a “cranky arm”. My theory that he has been hurt most of this year just took a giant leap forward this week.

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So where do the Royals go from here? It’s obvious that Holland isn’t as reliable as in years past, but I’m not 100% sure you take him out of the closer’s role. I know that sounds crazy, so hear me out. Wade Davis is the Royals best reliever. I think we can all agree on that. If you are like me, you believe that being “the closer” is just a name for the guy who wraps up the game. I am of the belief that you want your best reliever to pitch in the highest leverage situation, whether that be in the 7th, 8th or 9th inning. With that said, in those situations I want Davis on the mound, not Holland. If that means the 9th inning, so be it. Unfortunately, most managers don’t think that way and we can count Yost among that group. But the coaching staff is aware of Holland’s troubles and it seems they are at least monitoring the situation going forward:

“If it gets to be an issue, we’ll evaluate it,” Yost said. “It hasn’t become an issue yet. People want to get nervous because he’s throwing 90 or 91 mph. That’s fine. But right now, it really hasn’t become an issue. If it does, we’ll evaluate it.”

That seems like the team is willing to play with fire, at least until postseason. Come October we could have a different story:

“We’re not going to jeopardize anything once the playoffs starts,” Yost said. “We’re going to make sure (Holland is) 100-percent ready to nail it down. And when you talk to him, he’s like ‘I got this.’”

No pitcher will tell you different(well, maybe Matt Harvey) but it does appear as if the Royals are trying to be loyal to Holland while also acknowledging a move might have to be made. Relievers on average have a short shelf life and closers seem to only stay in that role for a couple years at a time, on average. I am still of the belief that Greg Holland is hurt and while the Royals have tried coaxing him and his arm all throughout this season to get him to the playoffs, at this rate Holland might just be another arm down in the pen come October. Some of us Royals fans have referred to Holland over the years as “Dirty South” due to the filthiness of his pitches and the way they drop out of the strike zone. As of right now, there is nothing filthy or dirty about Holland’s pitching repertoire and that doesn’t seem to be changing. If that is case, I’m not for sure I want to see Holland pitching in October and I hate the thought of that.

 

 

The Dark Knight and His Competitive Spirit

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There have been a lot of good times recently for the New York Mets, as they took over the lead in the National League East a few weeks ago as they try to make their first postseason appearance since 2006. They have a gaggle of young arms that any team in baseball would drool over if they had in their possession. They even acquired Yoenis Cespedes to help in their playoff run, hoping his impact bat and shotgun arm can help lead them to the ‘Promised Land’. But not so fast; Matt Harvey isn’t sure he can pitch much more this year.

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This all began earlier this week when Harvey’s agent, Scott Boras, claimed that Harvey had a pitch limit this year that the Mets didn’t agree with. In fact Boras claimed it was the doctors who were imposing that limit:

 “This is not a club’s decision. This is a doctor’s decision,” Boras said. “Any club that chooses to defy a surgeon’s wishes is putting the player in peril.”

Obviously, Mets GM Sandy Alderson disagrees:

Alderson’s position seems to be that he intends to keep pitching Harvey, except for one more missed start, and that they would watch him closely and take it on a “case-by-case basis” should the Mets get deep into October. Alderson said it has been his understanding that they mostly need to avoid “fatigue” or a loss of “rhythm” (that means he can’t be expected to pick up and pitch after a lengthy layoff).

The Mets have been very cautious with Harvey so far this year, his first back from Tommy John Surgery, even going so far as using a six man rotation for a portion of the season(despite Harvey’s insistence it was “robbing him of innings). What is most interesting is that Boras says it’s the doctors who have laid down this innings limit:

In fact, it seems like no one can agree on what, if any limit, should be imposed on a pitcher returning from this invasive surgery:

Okay. So we know what the Mets think, and we know what Boras thinks. What about Harvey? In an article by Jon Heyman on Friday, he wrote this about Harvey:

“Both men do agree on one thing, and that is that Harvey badly wants to pitch. Alderson suggests this is all about Boras trying to limit the innings. But Boras said he has nothing to do with the number.”

So Matt wants to pitch, even using the word ‘badly’. Ummm, about that…

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Word got out on Saturday that Harvey agreed with the innings limit Boras was discussing earlier in the week:

Wow. Just wow. Here is a full comment that Harvey made:

“I’m the type of person, I never want to put the ball down. Obviously I hired Scott, my agent, and went with Dr. Andrews as my surgeon because I trusted them to keep my career going and keep me healthy. As far as being out there, being with my teammates and playing, I’m never going to want to stop. As far as the surgeon and my agent having my back and kind of looking out for the best of my career, they’re obviously speaking their mind about that.  Like I said, I hired Dr. Andrews to do my surgery. I hired Scott for a reason, and that’s to prolong my career and put me in the best possible position. Moving forward with that, I have one start in mind, and that’s Tuesday.”

Okay. So Harvey sounds very political here, almost like he doesn’t want to anger anyone involved. But it also sounds like someone got to him, like his agent. Let’s all be honest here; Scott Boras is known to put his wants and needs in front of his clients. Oh sure, he will tell you he is trying to do what is best for his client by putting them in a situation where that player can get above market value dollar wise. But who does that also benefit? Scott Boras. This feels like Boras convinced Harvey that the safer thing to do is stop now, for his future and his career. He might have even convinced him that Dr. Andrews had him on a pitch limit. But it doesn’t sound like this decision was made solely by Matt Harvey and Matt Harvey alone. So there is another question; is Harvey hurt?

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Harvey seems like a competitive guy and would want to be a part of the Mets playoff run if he could be. So this response makes one think he might just be hurt:

I’m not so sure we would even be debating this topic but Harvey has always struck me as a guy who was competitive to no end. But his comments on Saturday didn’t seem like someone who wanted to garner some postseason experience: Harvey was asked if he was hurt and replied “No. Not at all.” At this point we have to assume that he is telling the truth and his reconstructed elbow feels fine. Hey, if he is hurt then I have no issue with Harvey saying so and wanting to not push it. But if he isn’t then it seems odd that such a top level player would rather not take part in the playoffs, the whole reason most players even play the game.  If all this is so, it is easy to ask: how long will Matt Harvey still be a New York Met?

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It’s obvious the relationship between Harvey and the Mets is damaged. The Mets have been playing all season like Harvey could be a part of the team if October came calling. Now, not so much. Bob Klapisch wrote about this scarred relationship between the Mets and their star player. It’s apparent to everyone that Harvey seems out for himself:

“It tells you plenty about what comes first for Harvey: he wants to win, but not without prolonging his career. Harvey is not about finishing off this mini-miracle season in Flushing, but about his next stop, his next contract and perhaps his next team.”

Klapisch also goes on to mention that Mets management has never been too overly fond of Harvey:

“He could easily be traded. Look, Mets’ ownership has never been particularly fond of Harvey; they’ve never loved him the way they do David Wright, the ultimate company man. Harvey has always given off the vibe of an independent contractor. Fierce, but in it for himself.”

So with the Mets loaded in young arms like Jacob DeGrom and Noah Syndergaard, it is logical to think Harvey could be traded for a solid bat for the middle of their order. You hate to get rid of a top level arm like Harvey has, but one wonders if the damage to this relationship is severed so far it can’t be undone.

New York Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey, left, speaks with manager Terry Collins in the dugout after he left the baseball game with the Miami Marlins in the eighth inning in Miami, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. The Mets won 8-6. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
                        (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)

One more topic that should be brought up to this argument; innings pitched might not be the proper barometer to measure how far Harvey should go this season. In fact, it would appear the better argument is pitches thrown.

Boras was comparing Harvey to other pitchers who returned from Tommy John Surgery and the differences between problems they have and the innings pitched by each pitcher. So instead of innings, what would total pitches look like?

You can even say that he hasn’t even gotten yet to his total thrown from 2013:

Look, going by pitches gives you a better idea of how much stress has been put on the arm and especially if you break it down farther by taking into accounts pitches per inning. The innings limit is nice, but if you really want to make sure Harvey stays healthy, wouldn’t this be a better way to keep track of his arm?

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So where do the Mets go from here? I have to believe there is still an outside chance Harvey pitches in October, maybe as a reliever, but pitches nonetheless. But what this issue has brought to the forefront is that Matt Harvey isn’t the team player he had been potraying himself to be. Instead, he is focused on contracts and what his total earnings will be at the end of the day. It also shows you the weight that an agent can have on a player. There are certain teams that Scott Boras is on good terms with and tends to do a lot of business with…and then there are the Mets. I can’t imagine Harvey will feel much love from much of anyone anytime soon, as he has put himself on an island by himself:

What I can promise you at this point is that this won’t be forgotten anytime soon by Mets executives or fans. I guess both can take solace in the fact they still have Bartolo Colon:

Sure seems a long ways from this:

Trust me Matt, Mets fans will remember what you look like now. Oh, they will remember.

 

2015 Predictions: The Search for More Glory

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Last year I waited until the last minute to post my predictions for the 2014 season and ended up guessing 8 of the 10 playoff teams correctly. It was total luck but it also meant I didn’t sit around and hem and haw about what I thought would happen. I went with my gut and it was pretty darn close. So this year will be another short version for predictions. If anything, it will be fun in 6 months to come back here and see how far off I was. Without further ado, here are my 2015 predictions.

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American League East

1. Baltimore Orioles

2. Boston Red Sox

3. Tampa Bay Rays

4. New York Yankees

5. Toronto Blue Jays

If there was a division I would feel comfortable just flipping a coin to guess who would win, this would be it. No team stands out more than another and all have their flaws coming into this season. Baltimore had more subtraction than addition this winter, Boston has pitching questions, Tampa’s offense is meager to say the least, New York is old and Toronto has been bit by the injury bug. If in 6 months we come back here and the standings are completely flipped I wouldn’t be shocked. What was once a powerhouse division in the American League might now be the weakest.

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American League Central

1. Cleveland Indians

2. Detroit Tigers

3. Kansas City Royals

4. Chicago White Sox

5. Minnesota Twins

This is always the hardest division for me to pick, as I am heavily biased being a Kansas City Royals fan. That being said I didn’t pick them last year to make the playoffs(oops!) and believe they will fall just short this year. I have a full preview up here if you are interested. This division got a lot better this offseason and I look for it to be a race with 4 teams being in contention for a large chunk of the season. Even Minnesota could be a pain to deal with, although I don’t see them holding up for the entire season. I’m giving Cleveland the nod here, as they were right there near the end of last year and have improved their team going into this season. No matter what, expect a dogfight here in the Central.

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American League West

1. Seattle Mariners

2. Oakland A’s

3. Los Angeles Angels

4. Houston Astros

5. Texas Rangers

Speaking of good divisions, you could throw the AL West in as one of the better divisions in baseball. Seattle wasn’t eliminated from the playoff picture until the final weekend of the season and have added offense to their stellar pitching and solid defense. None of us have an idea what Oakland did this past offseason but I am not about to count them out and the Angels should be in the chase as well. The ‘surprise’ team of the American League could very well be Houston, as they’ve got a nice mix of veterans and youngsters that could be better sooner rather than later. All in all this looks like a division that could go down to the wire, unlike last year when Los Angeles ran away with the division.

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Wild Card Winners

Oakland and Detroit

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American League Championship Series

Cleveland over Baltimore

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American League Award Winners

MVP: Robinson Cano

Cy Young: Sonny Gray

Rookie of the Year: Carlos Rodon

Comeback Player of the Year: Shin-Soo Choo

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National League East

1. Washington Nationals

2. Miami Marlins

3. New York Mets

4. Atlanta Braves

5. Philadelphia Phillies

After acquiring Max Scherzer, it appears the Nationals have strengthened their rotation and made them almost a lock to win this division. I will say I am highly intrigued to see how Miami does this year, as they have a great group of young talent and are looking to get Jose Fernandez back at some point this year as well. The Mets look as if they could contend as well, especially if Matt Harvey is as good as he has looked this spring. At this point, the Braves and Phillies will round out the bottom of the East, and have a chance of having very forgettable seasons, unfortunately.

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National League Central

1. Pittsburgh Pirates

2. St. Louis Cardinals

3. Chicago Cubs

4. Cincinnati Reds

5. Milwaukee Brewers

This might finally be the year Pittsburgh wins the division and doesn’t have to endure another Wild Card game. The amount of young talent on this team makes it really hard not too root for them.  The Cardinals are still a force and the Cubs should be in contention this year, although I would expect 2016 to be the year Chicago management is eyeing as a better chance to be in the playoff hunt. Neither the Reds nor the Brewers are bad teams, but they aren’t at the level of the other 3 teams in the division. Like the American League Central, their National League counterparts should have another division fight on their hands here.

San Diego Padres Photo Day

National League West

1. San Diego Padres

2. Los Angeles Dodgers

3. Arizona Diamondbacks

4. San Francisco Giants

5. Colorado Rockies

This could be the year for the Padres, as they added some offense to their already good pitching. San Diego’s outfield defense could be questionable, although they also have more than enough defense on the bench to make up for it late in games. The Dodgers will be right there with the Padres, although I’m not for sure what they will get from new shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Arizona, Colorado and San Francisco all look to be on the outside looking in, although I like the D-Backs younger talent and think they could be a bigger pain than many think.

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Wild Card Winners

St. Louis and Los Angeles

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National League Championship Series

Washington over St. Louis

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National League Award Winners

MVP: Giancarlo Stanton

Cy Young: Jordan Zimmermann

Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant

Comeback Player of the Year: Matt Harvey

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World Series

Washington over Cleveland in 7 games

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So just like that I have thrown myself onto the fire and made my predictions for 2015. I’m sure a few of these we will laugh at in a few months, but the fun of this whole thing is to see just how close you can get. There is a reason that the games are played; if everything was predetermined the season wouldn’t be any fun. This whole thing can get weird in a moment; just as I started writing this Craig Kimbrel was traded to the Padres, which makes San Diego even more of a threat and Atlanta an afterthought. Just like that things can change and make the season even more unpredictable. All we know at this point is the next 6 months will be a blast following baseball’s every last move. I know I am always ready for this time of year. Now if we can just declare Opening Day an official holiday…

 

 

 

 

 

Christian Colon, 1st Round Pick

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Christian Colon was the 4th overall pick of the 2010 Major League Baseball Draft by the Kansas City Royals and seemed like a sure bet to be the Royals second baseman of the future at the time. It seemed by this point he would be with the team, as the prevalent thought was he was farther advanced because of him playing in college and not needing the same kind of time a high school player normally gets. But as of today, Colon not only hasn’t set foot in the major leagues, he isn’t even assured that will happen anytime in the near future. So how did Colon go from a ‘sure thing’ to a giant question mark?

Royals 2011 Spring game vs. Diamondbacks

When Colon was drafted, he played shortstop at Cal State Fullerton, but his defense was so good that Royals management and scouts thought he could easily shift over to second base, where the team really had more of a glaring need.  Coming out of college, Colon seemed a sure bet to be in the majors in short time. Here are just a few samplings:

Keith Law at ESPN.com

Fullerton shortstop Christian Colon has been, in the scouting vernacular, “a guy” since he was a high school senior, when he was one of the better players on the summer showcase circuit but went to Fullerton due to signability and concerns about whether a player as slow-footed as he is could play shortstop in pro ball. Since then he’s established himself as a likely first-rounder in 2010 because he has shown he can play the position despite his lack of foot speed – he’s a 30 runner – with good range and great hands to make up for the lack of quickness.

 

At the plate, Colon is usually pretty short to the ball with below-average power and a sound approach, although he occasionally gets into trouble when he lengthens his swing to get coverage on the outer half, at which point he’s more likely to hit the ball in the air instead of spraying the field with line drives.

Aaron Fitt at BaseballAmerica.com (August 24, 2009)

Whenever coaches and scouts talk about Christian Colon, they invariably start and finish with praise for his baseball IQ, instincts, leadership skills and confidence. Colon is just a darn good baseball player, they’ll say, a born winner who simply finds a way to get the job done.

Amidst the kudos for Colon’s intangibles and makeup, it’s easy to overlook his talent, and his production. A second-team All-American as Cal State Fullerton’s sophomore shortstop this spring, Colon ratcheted his game to another level this summer, hitting .362/.459/.617 and leading Team USA in slugging, home runs (five), RBIs (37), runs (31) and stolen bases (24 in 26 attempts). He also drew 11 walks and struck out a team-low six times despite registering a team-high 94 at-bats.

For his impressive offensive production—and, yes, for his valuable leadership—Colon is Baseball America’s Summer Player of the Year.

Scouting Report at BaseballRumorMill.com

Colon is a spray hitter, with ability to make consistent contact and hit to all fields. He doesn’t have much power, though he has shown the ability to hit the gaps on occasion. His pure speed grades out as average or a tick below. Colon makes the most of what speed he does have with good base-running instincts. He has an above-average arm at shortstop. Colon is a very sure-handed and reliable middle infielder. There are other shortstops with better range, but Colon makes all the plays. Colon earns the compliment of being termed a real “baseball player” because of his fine instincts on the field. His bat and lack of projection. Colon is solid in all aspects of the game, but doesn’t have a tool that truly stands out.

Jason A Churchill & Keith Law at ESPN.com

He could be their (Royals) starter in a year and offers above average defense, on-base skills and power, relative to the position. I like the pick, despite it being a slight reach in terms of raw talent.

 

So from all of that, it seemed his lack of foot speed could be made up by great hands, good range and a splendid baseball IQ. This isn’t really praise that baseball experts throw around to just anybody, and the pick seemed to be one to help the very near future for the Royals, when Dayton Moore believed they would be competing(before Moore changed his mind on just how long the ‘Process’ would actually take). He might not have panned out to be an All-Star, but the overall consensus was that he would be a productive major leaguer that would play pretty good defense and be a solid hitter.

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Now, that all sounds okay, especially with the second base carousel we’ve seen in Kansas City the last couple seasons. But here is where part of the problem lied: this was the Royals first round pick at #4. NUMBER 4!! Here is just a sampling of who was picked after Colon in the 2010 draft: Matt Harvey(7th pick), Yasmani Grandal(12th pick), Chris Sale(13th pick) and Christian Yelich(23rd pick). Obviously, out of those four that have reached the majors, Harvey and Sale will make someone wince at would could have been. The existing thought at the time was that the team needed middle infield help and Colon would be a fast rise to the big leagues. I’ve always been a proponent of picking the best player, in spite of if that spot is filled at the big league level, as you can always move the player to a different position or use that player as trade bait. Hell, you could sour on the initial person and end up trading them to make room for the prospect. The point being you shouldn’t draft by need as much as who is the best player available. Colon seemed like a fine draft pick, just maybe not one at #4. Yes, it is made worse by Harvey and Sale having the success they have seen the last few years. But if you go by all the scouts and experts, we should have seen Colon already. Instead, we are not only waiting, but also wondering if we will ever see him at all.

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I should probably rephrase that last sentence. I think we will see him at some point, just maybe not as a starting second baseman for the club. His defense has pretty much stayed the same over the last four years, but his hitting just hasn’t come around. Here is what Baseball America said about Colon in their 2012 draft report:

He’s a skilled hitter who hits behind runners, bunts and executes the hit-and-runs effectively. Defensively, Colon’s range is limited, and his speed and arm are below-average for a shortstop. He does exhibit fluid and quick fielding actions and his playmaking ability is outstanding. His frame offers little room for projection, and offensively he can be streaky. For scouts who focus on what he can do, his tremendous hands and footwork, as well as his bat control, make him a future big league regular, best suited as an offensive second baseman.

Now, you can see that they seem him as a big league regular. But there is one little addition to this that is forgotten. Colon finally had a breakout offensive season in 2012, where he played mostly in AA Northwest Arkansas. The problem is that everyone seems to have great seasons for NW Arkansas. It is in the notorious Texas League, which has always been an offensive league. So yes, he did have a good 2012 that helped elevate his standing. But how much of it is factored on the league he played in?

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I think it plays a factor, but these last few weeks have made things a little more questionable. Colon has gone on a hot streak at AAA Omaha, yet his average sits at .266 with an OBP of .325. Obviously, he had been slumping so badly that even a big burst has only put his stats at average or respectable. Maybe it is adjusting to a new level, which is very possible. It’s also possible that this is just the player he is, which is average. 2013 has been the first season where he has been playing at second base on a full time basis(he played there a bit last year, gearing him up for this year), which could also play a bit into it. None of his numbers really jump out at you, which has to be of major concern for Royals management. To even go a step further, Johnny Giavotella has great minor league numbers yet can’t seem to latch on in the big leagues. The difference? Gio wasn’t a #1 draft pick. Because of that, Colon will be given every chance in the world to succeed, unlike Giavotella’s lack of real chances.

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So if I looked into my crystal ball, what do I see in Colon’s future? I think the Royals are going to give him every chance in the world to win the second base job come Spring Training 2014. I think there is a very good chance he will win the job, if for no other reason than what the other options look to be(Getz, Carroll, Giavotella, etc.). It’s obvious that the Royals have soured on Colon at least a bit, as you would think with the way he is hitting right now he could see a call up to the big club to fix the black hole at second base. Instead, they are content with calling up Irving Falu, acquiring Jamey Carroll, and playing 84 year old Miguel Tejada at the position. I have a feeling when it is all said and done, Colon will have a long major league career, but mainly as a back-up infielder. As much as Dayton Moore has had many a success with his first round picks since he became general manager of the Royals, Colon would be his one misfire. You just don’t spend a first round pick on a backup infielder. I hope I am wrong about this and Colon becomes a mainstay for the Royals for a long, long time. But the odds don’t look good. It just goes to show you that the biggest crap-shoot in sports is the Major League Baseball draft. You can think you have a sure thing when you couldn’t be farther from the truth. Right, Brien Taylor?

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