Owning the Royals

Last week it was announced that longtime Minnesota Twins stalwart Joe Mauer would be retiring after 15 seasons in the big leagues. When it became official, a small smirk spread across my face but not for the reasons you think. 

No, I don’t hate Joe Mauer; in fact it’s quite the opposite. I have immense respect for Mauer and everything he did in baseball. The smirk wasn’t even about Twins fans, as I have no issues with them either. I even feel their pain when it comes to Joe, since this is probably going to be eerily similar to what happens next year involving Alex Gordon.

Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

No, I smirked because when I picture Mauer, I picture him getting another hit off of a Kansas City pitcher. I know it isn’t the truth, but it feels like he got a hit off of the Royals every time he came to the plate against them. So no, he isn’t hitting 1.000 off of Kansas City for his entire career, but it felt like it. 

It felt like it because Mauer owned the Royals. He was that guy who came up to the plate and in my brain I instantly thought ‘he’s going to get a hit right here’; more times than not he did. Lifetime against the Royals, Joe hit .319/.401/.442 with an OPS+ of 104.

Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

But this got me to wondering what other players have owned Royals pitching over the years. I’m sure most of us can rattle off a few player’s names that always appeared to do damage against Kansas City, but will the numbers actually agree with our initial perceptions? 
  

I decided to set a baseline. I went with batters with 180 or more plate appearances against the Royals, since that would show a more consistent level of sustained success. While it might not be everyone’s first choice for determining success, I started with batting average:

Credit: Baseball-Reference.com

Based on our criteria, Dustin Pedroia has the highest batting average against the Royals for batters with 180 plate appearances or more. Out of active players, Mike Trout is 9th, Jacoby Ellsbury is 10th (yes, he is technically still active), Adrian Beltre 19th and Erick Aybar 20th. A few other notables include Michael Brantley, Francisco Lindor and Ian Kinsler.

How about the most hits against Kansas City pitching?

Baseball-Reference.com

While Hall of Famer Rod Carew leads the pack here, it’s interesting to see Victor Martinez right behind, trailing by only 11 hits. It makes more sense when you remember that Martinez played almost his entire career in the American League Central, playing for Cleveland or Detroit for 15 of his 16 seasons. 

Mauer sits in third here, followed by two Paul’s, Molitor and Konerko. When I started down this path, Konerko was one of the names that instantly popped in my head, so no real surprise here.

Credit: Associated Press

  Let’s move on to home runs:

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Alex Rodriguez is a surprising winner in this category, hitting 50 career bombs against Royals pitching. Not surprising is Jim Thome in second with 49 and the dreaded Paul Konerko in third with 45 homers. For active players, Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Santana are tied with 27 long-shots, although one has moved on to the National League and the other has begun the downside of his illustrious career. 

In a bit of a shock, Grady Sizemore hit 25 career home runs off of Kansas City while posting an OPS+ of 131. Maybe it’s just slipping my mind but I don’t remember Sizemore being that much of a thorn in the Royals side.

Credit: Ron Vesely

Time now for the most total bases:

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‘Royal Killer’ Paul Konerko compiled the most total bases against Kansas City at 418. He is followed by Cal Ripken Jr. with 410 and then A-Rod with 378. With Martinez and Mauer retiring, the highest total on this list for an active player is Cabrera with 322, followed then by notorious villain Ian Kinsler with 263.    

That leads us to the highest tOPS+ all-time against the Royals:

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And the winner is….Gerald Laird? Okay, I figured at some point we would run across a name that came out of left field and we just got it. He is followed by a couple other odd names in Chris Singleton and Craig Monroe.

Diving deeper down the list, the highest active player is Dustin Pedroia at 147, and a few more notches down you get Erick Aybar at 145 and Carlos Santana at 144. With tOPS+ being an adjusted stat and not a cumulative one, it makes sense it would be the one with players that wouldn’t just pop into your head. But considering we are basing this off of more than 180 plate appearances, it is still impressive at what Laird, Singleton and Monroe did against the Royals over the years.


Credit: AP Photo/Genevieve Ross

Finally, a look at the total offensive contribution with Runs Created:

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A-Rod had the most Runs Created all-time against Kansas City with 170.9, followed by Jim Thome and Frank Thomas. Mauer is fifth with 145.4 and Konerko right behind him with 144.7. To find an active hitter you have to travel all the way down to 18th on the list, where Miguel Cabrera sits with  118.9.

In fact the next active player that currently resides in the AL Central (and that doesn’t mean current free agents, like Michael Brantley) is Jason Kipnis at 81 with 72.8. It looks like there will have to be a new crop of players to replace the guys like Mauer and Martinez who have been pouncing on Kansas City pitching for years. 


Credit: Brian Davidson/Getty Images 

So what did this experiment teach us? For one, it shows us that we don’t need numbers to know that Mauer, Konerko, Martinez, etc., were abusing the Royals all these years. The eye test didn’t betray us in this regard.  

It has also showed us what the unbalanced schedule has done to skew the numbers on this list. While it’s understandable why MLB has moved away from the balanced schedule, you do wonder if some of these numbers would be different if each team didn’t play the other teams in their division 19 times each year.  

Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The perfect example is the total hits against the Royals. Would Victor Martinez only be 11 hits behind Rod Carew if they had the balanced schedule? Probably not. Could you imagine if Carew, after all those years with the Twins and Angels (who were in the American League West with Kansas City at the time) had played the Royals 19 times a season? It’s all a matter of preference, but the shift in the schedule does make one wonder what might have been.

What it does probably tell us is that the Royals having a lot of bad pitching over the last 20 years probably helped some of these numbers as well. It also tells me I won’t miss watching Joe Mauer spray hits into the outfield against Kansas City. Joe is a true baseball treasure, but he also owned a portion of the Royals, whether David Glass was aware of it or not.

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A Golden Evaluation

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Last week I looked at the Gold Glove Awards and surmised that while in years past the award wasn’t always about defense, the voting was improving and worthy defenders were being honored for their use of the leather. One of the biggest hurdles for me to jump around was how reputation played a big part in how some of the picks were chosen.

At the time I figured I was done discussing this topic for at least another year, but then mere days after I wrote the piece I stumbled across some numbers to back up my claim:

Over a span of 25 years, the winners of a Gold Glove were handed out to one of the top two defenders of their position only 38% of the time. Since Rawlings began working with SABR and SDI (SABR Defensive Index) was created to help evaluate, that number has jumped all the way to 88%! So over the last six years, voters have done 50% better than they did from 1988-2012. That is a massive improvement that speaks volumes of how far defensive metrics have come in such a short span of time. In fact, looking back at previous winners and losers really paints a better picture.

Credit: MLB.com

Before we go any farther, a great job has been done by Chris Dial, who is on the Board of Directors for SABR and his creation of RED (Runs Effectively Defended) helped form SDI. My stumbling across Chris’s twitter account pretty much has led us to this point.

So looking back, there were certain positions that voters actually did a fair job at when it came to picking a correct winner, most specifically catcher and third base. But there were some huge gaps in who won and who should have won at a couple of big positions. First base was a position that really showed a leaning toward reputation:

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While guys like Mark Grace, John Olerud and Rafael Palmeiro (yes, Palmeiro had a number of years he was worthy, dismissing 1999) were rewarded for the most part for their defensive excellence, it also shows how the perception of Don Mattingly, J.T. Snow and Eric Hosmer guided them to gold despite not being one of the top two defenders at their position.

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Shortstop also honored some greats, like Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken while Omar Vizquel apparently won a number of Gold Gloves that he probably shouldn’t have.

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The two most notable miscues on this list are Derek Jeter and Barry Larkin, a current Hall of Famer matched in with a future one. Most have rallied against Jeter’s victories in the past, as it was very obvious his range (or lack thereof) was not of the top shelf variety. The fact these two won eight Gold Gloves while never finishing in the top two of their position speaks volumes of how the voting used to be handled.

There was one more position that I found to have a large gap between the should’s and should not’s, and that was the outfield:

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Just looking at this list about made my jaw drop. While Griffey, Hunter and Walker were always thought of as defensive studs, the fact is they were only in the top two of their positions five times. Even more shocking is that Luis Gonzalez and Sammy Sosa should have won a couple of Gold Gloves rather than the zero they compiled.

This would probably be a good time to point out that none of this is saying that all of these players were bad defensively if they won and didn’t finish in the top two. Mr. Dial actually did a good job of pointing that out:

So you can see where adding something like SDI has drastically changed the defensive landscape and showed who the real elite truly are when it comes to glovework. So with the awards handed out just last week, lets see how the voters did:

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In the American League, outside of pitcher (Dallas Keuchel won despite being 8th in SDI among pitchers) and center field (Jackie Bradley, Jr. won and was 3rd in SDI at the position) the voters got it right. Both Royals that won (Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez) were in the top two at their position, with Salvy only behind Mike Zunino and Alex having the highest SDI among left fielders.

Meanwhile in the National League:

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Credit: SABR.org

Catcher and first base were the two positions voters missed on, as Yadier Molina was 6th in SDI behind the dish and Anthony Rizzo won while finishing 4th. Molina once again points out how reputation wins out over numbers some times and while he is still a good defender at the age of 36, he shouldn’t have even been one of the finalists.

So out of 18 awards, only four of the winners were not in the top two at their respective positions. That means that the voters were 78% correct, which is probably about as good as we should expect when there is a human element involved. It is definitely a big improvement over what we saw for years and Rawlings should be commended for wanting to make this whole process more accurate.

The big thing for me is that the stigma of ‘The winners aren’t being honored for their defense’ is starting to fade away. These awards have been looked at as almost a joke for so long that it’s been hard to do a 180 degree turn and applaud the work done to make the honor mean something.

While defensive metrics are still a work in progress, they are improving every day and painting a different picture than the one we sometimes see with our eyes. So while these awards aren’t quite the Fielding Bible Awards, they are getting a little bit closer every day.

Lifting the Blueprint

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The Milwaukee Brewers have been on quite a tear these last few weeks and it’s been hard not to get caught up in all the fun. They can hit, they can run, they like to flash the leather and they can pitch. For us Royals fans, this team looks oddly familiar.

Sure, there are the familiar faces littering the roster. It’s easy to get wrapped up in watching Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and even Erik Kratz (Erik Kratz!!) have postseason success. Throw in Joakim Soria, Jeremy Jeffress and even Manny Pina and at times it feels more like a Kansas City reunion than an October playoff run.

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But maybe more than all of that is Milwaukee’s focus on their bullpen. The Brewers have had no qualms in October with pulling their starting pitching early and letting the pen take over the game. Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell has figured out how to utilize his relievers and configure them to help achieve the wins needed to parlay that into a trip to the World Series.

Hold on. That sounds really familiar. What other team rode one of the best bullpens in baseball all the way to the World Series? Yes, it would be the Royals. In fact, many within the game believe Kansas City’s use of high power arms in the back-end of the game was a precursor to about every single postseason team that has followed. The latest to steal the Royals formula are the Brewers and so far, so good.

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But that begs an interesting question: If the Royals are the template, has Milwaukee improved on the original? Watching the Brewers roll out Josh Hader and Jeffress and Soria and Corey Knebel has really sparked a question of the two bullpens and just how comparable they really are. So lets figure out which is the better pen…

For this project I had to make a decision on which year would I go off of for the Kansas City. After some studying it appears we are going with the group from 2014, which was slightly better according to fWAR. This would also coincide with the Royals first appearance in the postseason this decade, as it is for Milwaukee.

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Credit: Associated Press

Let’s start with some base numbers to start things off: Milwaukee relievers threw 614 innings this season, compiling an ERA of 3.47, an xFIP of 3.47 while striking out 10.38 batters per 9 innings. Meanwhile, the Royals pen only through 464 innings back in 2014, posting an ERA of 3.30, an xFIP of 3.54, while striking out 8.65 batters per 9. If we are talking WAR, the ‘Brew Crew’ had 7.1 while Kansas City only had 5.1 wins above replacement.

Going by the early numbers, it is already apparent the drastic shift in bullpen usage over the last couple of seasons. Milwaukee relievers threw 150 more innings this season than the Royals did in the 2014 campaign. Even going off of the 2015 Royals pen, the Brewers still tossed 75 more innings than the world championship squad. So in just four short years, there has been a noticeable difference in how pitchers are being used in the regular season, a change that is probably slightly attributed to how the Kansas City relievers were utilized in those two Octobers.

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With that said, the early numbers paint a picture of the Milwaukee pen being slightly better, as they had a slightly better xFIP, slightly higher K’s per 9 and a 2 win bump in WAR. But one can make the argument that the increase in WAR could be due to the massive difference in innings pitched, since WAR is an accumulative stat. The more innings you pitch, the more chances you have to increase your wins above replacement.

The strike outs are also interesting here, since most tend to go more off of K rate rather than per 9. The Brewers strike out rate this year was 27.6% (best in the National League), while the ’14 Royals put up a 23% rate. Considering the increase in strike outs across the league over the last couple seasons and how more batters work on elevating the ball while hitting for more power, it shouldn’t be too surprising to see how these numbers panned out.

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But how do the strike outs compare to the walks allowed? Going off of Walk %, the Brewers had a higher percentage, 9.5% compared to 8.8% by the Royals. When it comes to K-BB%, Milwaukee shines again as they posted a 18.1% while Kansas City had a 14.3%. Once again, part of this could be chalked up to the increase in strike outs. But it does appear on the surface that the Brewers are a pen built on more strike out relievers than the Royals.

That is backed up simply by looking at how many of the relievers on these two teams had a strike out rate over league average. League average in 2018 is 22.3% and Milwaukee had seven relievers with a rate higher than that. In 2014, the league average was 20.4%, and the Royals had only three relievers over that threshold. If we are talking the highest strike out rate, Josh Hader had 46.7% this year while Wade Davis had 39.1%. In fact, Hader and Corey Knebel both had a higher rate of punching out batters than Wade Davis did back in 2014.

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So the numbers appear to skew a bit closer to Milwaukee’s side at this point, but we are not quite done breaking down the numbers. When it comes to WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Innings Pitched), the two teams are almost identical, as Milwaukee has a 1.25 and Kansas City pulled in a 1.24. This means the two teams were almost uniform in how many base runners they were allowing per innings pitched, which would essentially phase out the innings difference.

They were also similar when it came to Batting Average on Balls in Play, as the Royals posted a .293 batting average, while Milwaukee’s was .297. While a part of me wondered if the Brewers relievers were throwing slightly harder (based off the higher use of power arms in bullpens now compared to then and Milwaukee’s higher strike out rate), the truth is that the two teams had an almost identical average fastball velocity. Back in 2014, the Royals relievers averaged 93.5 mph while the Brewers this year averaged 93.9 mph.

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Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

In fact even if you tossed in fastball usage, the Royals relievers actually threw their fastball more on average than Milwaukee. The Royals relievers back in 2014 threw a fastball 63.2% of the time while the Brewers only threw it 61.8% this year.

I wondered if maybe Milwaukee was throwing more breaking balls than Kansas City did, but once again it was pretty close. The Royals used a slider 18.5% of the time and a curveball 7%. On the other side of the coin, Milwaukee used a slider 17.2% this year and a curve 10% of the time. While each team used a different breaking ball more often, the numbers are close enough to where they could probably meet in the middle.

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If we really want to break things down, you start factoring win probability into the equation. In a very unsurprising development, these two teams were once again are ‘neck and neck’ in WPA; the Royals posted 8.09 win probability in ’14 while the Brewers had 8.06. In a bit of a shock though, the two teams RE24 showed a big gap. Milwaukee posted an impressive 59.96 RE24 this year while the Royals had 31.10. Since run expectancy is another accumulative statistic, I do wonder here if the extra innings compiled by the Brewers relievers played a factor in the almost 29 point difference. If so, you wonder how closer the two teams would be if they had thrown the same number of innings.

There was one final factor I wanted to venture into and that was the defensive aspect of this conversation. It was very well known that the 2014 Royals squad had a great defense and there was no way the pitching didn’t benefit from that defense. With that said, this Milwaukee team has also put up a solid defensive campaign, with Cain and Moustakas obviously being the two comparable links.

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If we are going by defensive runs saved, it is no contest: the Brewers had 112 DRS while the Royals put up only 34. But there is also Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF), which measures a player’s defensive value relative to league average. If we are comparing each team’s DEF, the Royals win easily over Milwaukee, 65.5 compared to 29.9. I’m always a bit hesitant when using defensive metrics but the one thing you can take from these numbers is that both bullpens benefited from the glovework done out on the field while they were in the game.

So which pen is better? It appears to be a very close race and I almost feel skeptical in picking a winner. But if I absolutely had to, I would probably say Milwaukee’s is slightly better, with a few more weapons at their disposal. The one thing we can agree on is that we wouldn’t even be having this discussion if not for how Dayton Moore built his teams to weigh so heavily on the shoulders of the relievers. That template has become a staple all around baseball and not just by the Brewers.

It will also be curious to see where Milwaukee ends up. The Royals bullpen got them all the way to Game 7 of the World Series in 2014, and then a world championship the following year. Will the Brewers ride their pen to the World Series or will the high usage of their relievers be their downfall? It is a question we will know the answer to soon enough.

Gone But Not Forgotten

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Credit: Associated Press

When the 2017 Kansas City Royals wrapped up their season this past October, we all knew it was the end of an era. It was not only the end of the line for a number of players who had been a large part of the Royals return to postseason play for the first time in decades, but it also meant the end of contending baseball in Kansas City, at least for a while.

It’s not always easy to say goodbye. Max Rieper talked the other day about how much we end up caring about these players, not only for their on the field work but who they are as people. It’s why players from the past, like Bret Saberhagen or Bo Jackson, are still cheered when making rare appearances at Kauffman Stadium.

It’s also why we still check up on former Royals to see how they doing after they leave Kansas City. Good or bad, we want to know what they are up to and in most cases hoping they have found success outside of their former home. Except for Neifi Perez. He was the worst.

So with that, let’s take a peek into what some former Royals are doing in their first year away from Kansas City.

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Credit: Associated Press

Lorenzo Cain has been absolutely amazing in his return to Milwaukee, as he is hitting a robust .293/.393/.427 with a wRC+ of 125. Cain is third in the National League in fWAR at 3.6 and has the most defensive runs saved for a center fielder with 14. Maybe the most impressive improvement in Cain’s game this year has been plate discipline, as he is posting a 13.4% walk rate, which would easily topple his career high of 8.4% from last year. Cain’s increase shouldn’t be too surprising, considering the Royals have put a heavy emphasis on putting the ball in play these last few years and less focus on working the count.

Overall, Cain has been worth the money Milwaukee spent on him this past offseason and he looks to be in the running for National League MVP as the Brewers attempt to play October baseball. Milwaukee currently sits in 2nd place in the NL Central, 2.5 games behind the Cubs while holding down the first wild card spot in the league.

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Jason Vargas on the other hand has been a disappointment for the New York Mets. Vargas has started in nine games for the Mets, posting an ERA of 8.60 over 37.2 innings with a FIP of 6.60. Vargas’ walk and strike out rates have stayed consistent but teams are hitting a hot .337 off of him with a .367 BABIP. Vargas has also seen his hard hit rate increase, jumping to 37.4% from last year’s 32.7%.

Vargas has spent considerable time on the disabled list this year and recently has been rehabbing in the minors. The news could get even worse for Vargas when he is activated, as the team could ease him back into action by making him a long reliever rather than a return to the rotation. Considering this is his age 35 season, we might be seeing the last leg’s of Vargas’ career.

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Melky Cabrera has had a “roller coaster” type season so far in 2018, as he didn’t sign a contract until late April, when the Indians signed him to a minor league deal. Cleveland would punch his ticket back to the majors a few weeks later, as he was recalled on May 20th.

Melky would be less than impressive during his stint for the Tribe, as he would hit .207/.242/.293 over 66 plate appearances with 11 RBI’s, a wRC+ of 38 and -0.5 fWAR. Cabrera would elect free agency about a month into his stay in Cleveland rather than accept an outright assignment back to the minors.

But the ride wasn’t over yet. A few weeks later, the Indians would re-sign Melky on July 5th, and assigning him to Triple-A Columbus. Cabrera has at least been productive for Columbus this year, hitting .324/.333/.423 with a wRC+ of 111. With Lonnie Chisenhall out of action, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Cabrera back in Cleveland before the summer is over.

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Scott Alexander has also had an up and down year during his inaugural year in Los Angeles. Alexander struggled in the first month of the season, posting a 6.35 ERA while batters were hitting .286/.412/.381 off of him over 11.1 innings. Alexander would even get sent down to the minors for a short spell to right the ship.

Luckily for him, he would turn things around in May. Since May 9, Alexander has a 2.25 ERA and has held hitters to a line of .214/.285/.304 while keeping the ball on the ground. In fact, throughout the month of June he only allowed one fly ball the entire month. One!

Alexander has essentially returned to form and is now a vital part of the Dodgers bullpen. He was even used as an “opener” for Los Angeles, as they attempted to thwart the Rockies use of a bunch of lefties at the top of the order. It doesn’t matter what role he is inserted in, as it appears Dodgers fans are starting to see the pitcher who might have been the most valuable arm for the Royals in 2017.

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Speaking of valuable, Joakim Soria has been just that for the White Sox this year. Soria has a 2.75 ERA, 149 ERA+ and a 2.20 FIP so far in 2018. He has already almost reached his fWAR total from last year (1.2 to 1.7) in 20 less innings and has seen a major increase in his soft hit rate, bumping up this year to 29.6% from 18.4% in 2017. Soria will probably be dealt before the July trade deadline and should help the White Sox pick up a nice return for him.

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Mike Minor’s return to starting has been a mixed bag. Minor signed with the Rangers this past winter and has started all 18 of his appearances so far this year. While the expectation was that some of his numbers would see a decline this year due to his change in roles, it hasn’t completely been a bad move.

Minor has seen his strike out rate fall and his hard hit rate increase, but his walk rate has actually gone down. In fact if you compare his numbers this year against his time as a starter with Atlanta, he is either on par with what he was doing back then or slightly better.

But at the end of the day, it appears Minor has more value as a reliever, as evidenced by his WPA of -0.42, compared to last year’s 1.97 in Kansas City. Minor wanted to be a reliever and got his wish, but one has to wonder where he would be if he had stayed in the bullpen.

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Credit: Thearon W. Henderson, Getty Images

There have been some other former Royals who have had interesting seasons. Trevor Cahill has performed admirably for Oakland this year, as he has an ERA of 3.10 while increasing his strike outs and lowering his walks. Unfortunately, he has only started nine games due to injury, tossing 52.1 innings.

Ryan Buchter also missed some time due to injury but returned to the A’s in late June and since then has lowered his ERA to below 2.00 while lowering his walks and seeing an uptick in K’s.

Sam Gaviglio has become a regular part of the Blue Jays rotation but is still performing slightly below league average. Luke Farrell has become a valuable arm out of the Cubs bullpen and Matt Strahm has become what many of us feared he could be when he was traded to San Diego last summer.

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But the name that most are interested in is Eric Hosmer and what he has done for the Padres this year. This has not been a magical year for the “Man Called Hos”, as he is hitting a lowly .249/.317/.397 with a -0.1 fWAR.

In fact, Hosmer is on pace for the second worst offensive season of his career, behind only his miserable 2012. His walks are down, strike outs are up and his wRC+ is at 95. Hosmer has gotten away from hitting the ball to the opposite field, as he is only hitting the ball to left field 27.3%. The only two seasons he has hit oppo less is 2014 and 2012, his two worst seasons in the big leagues.

But the number that really speaks of Hosmer’s struggles is the same one we have been talking about for years, his groundball rate. He currently is hitting the ball on the ground 61.9%, the highest of his career. For all the talk these last few years that Hosmer would leave Kansas City and start hitting the ball in the air, it appears things have actually tilted the opposite direction.

The funny part is that Hosmer has known for years he should be hitting the ball in the air more, yet his fly ball rate has been declining these last few years. Here is a quote from 2017 where Hosmer admits he should be taking to the air more:

“You look at the averages and all that, it’s definitely better with the ball in the air,” he said. “Most guys, especially power hitters, are trying to hit the ball in the air. Our stadium is playing a little different, it’s bigger out there, but still, somebody in my spot in the lineup, and type of hitter I am, I should definitely be trying to hit the ball in the air.”

So this notion that he would change his style as soon as he left Kansas City and Kauffman Stadium always felt like wishful thinking. A change could still happen, but right now Hosmer looks to be stuck in one of his infamous cold spells that last for weeks on end. The good news for him is that he will still get paid $20 million this year and has lots of time left on his contract to figure things out…or at least the Padres hope he figures it out.

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So after seeing all the talent that Kansas City lost this past winter, it’s easy to see how the Royals are on pace for the worst season in team history. The combination of losing some key pieces while their substitutions are performing either at or below replacement level is a good way to post a .284 winning percentage.

So while there is little joy in Mudville (Kansas City), feel safe in knowing that a number of former Royals are excelling in their new homes. It’s not hard to still cheer for the Cain’s and Soria’s of the world and there is a bit of solace in seeing them performing so well, even if it isn’t in royal blue. There is absolutely nothing wrong with cheering on our old friends from afar. Except for Neifi Perez. He is still the worst.

Celebrating Jose Fernandez

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The entire baseball community has been mourning the sudden death of Miami Marlins All-Star pitcher Jose Fernandez since the news of his passing on Sunday morning. I, like many others, was in a bit of a haze on Sunday, as it was hard to grasp that such a talent with his whole life in front of him was now gone. I’ve tossed around writing about Fernandez the last couple days, but in some ways felt I wouldn’t be able to do him justice nor say anything that hasn’t already been said by many others. Instead, I finally decided on doing something else to honor him; show you his greatness rather than talk about it. Actions speak louder than words, and with that in mind, here are some favorite Jose Fernandez moments to remember him by.

First, there is his first major league home run. Yes, it’s weird I started off with a batting highlight for a great pitcher,  but the joy he showed in this personified him to a ‘T’. Also, baseball’s unwritten rules are still stupid. There was zero reason for anyone to get mad at him for watching his first ever home run.

Speaking of firsts, here is Fernandez’s major league debut. At the beginning, glance at his minor league numbers. Twenty Seven total minor league games?? Crazy. It was known very early on that this kid was going to be special and he was.

Instincts. This is Fernandez at 21. I’m not so sure many veteran pitchers would have that kind of “game awareness”. A great play on defense.

Seriously, this speaks for itself. Folks, baseball is a kid’s game and no one understood that more than Jose Fernandez.

For the unaware, Fernandez was a very good pitcher. This highlight from back in July was not only a career-high in strikeouts, but also his 500th career strike out. When healthy, Fernandez was easily one of the best pitchers in the game and a treat to watch.

Cuba vs. Cuba. Fernandez vs. Puig. That smile. Fernandez just loved playing baseball and you could tell.

I feel like I am underselling it when I say he was a great pitcher. He was a great athlete. This, also from July, was Fernandez pinch-hitting in extra innings with a big pinch hit double. In some ways it made perfect sense that Fernandez was playing in the National League, where he could pitch and hit.

Seriously, Fernandez made Barry Bonds smile. That within itself should show how special Jose was. For me, a longtime Bonds fan, this is great to see. Barry and Jose, enjoying the game and having fun.

That reaction. I almost wish I was a Marlins fan. I celebrated after the Royals won the World Series last year…but not like that. Just fantastic.

This was Fernandez’s final start, a week ago against the Nationals. Fernandez threw 8 scoreless innings, striking out 12. In other words, he was making a push to be named the National League Cy Young award winner.

Vin Scully has a way with words. It only made sense to have him talk about Fernandez and relay a great story in the process.

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There is a big hole that is now missing in Major League Baseball. Fernandez was not just a once in a lifetime player that the game could use as a spokesman for as to why baseball is so great; Jose was a once in a lifetime person. Fernandez joins a list of players taken too soon from us, guys like Roberto Clemente, Thurman Munson and Darryl Kile. The only difference is that those players were all veterans who had made their footprint in baseball for years; Fernandez was just getting started. As much as Jose will be missed, there will come a time that a new player will come along with great talent and unbelievable joy. There will be a player who just oozes happiness to be part of this grand game. When that happens, I hope it makes us all think about Fernandez. We will all miss watching him perform on the diamond, but I think I will miss that contagious smile more. Rest in Power, Jose.

The Ballad of Billy Butler

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Less than surprising news came forth on Sunday: The Oakland A’s released DH/1B Billy Butler. This was not a shock, since Butler has struggled in his two years in Oakland and there was no way he was returning to the A’s in 2017. Butler’s numbers in Oakland were pedestrian at best:  .258/.325/.394, OPS+ of 99, -0.8 bWAR with 19 homers and 96 RBI’s in 843 trips to the plate with Oakland. At the time of the signing the belief was that it seemed like a weird pairing, as Butler’s fly ball numbers had been on the decline while his ground ball ratio continued to rise. Much like Kauffman Stadium, this seemed to be a bad fit in Oakland’s large ballpark. But Oakland showed the money, so Butler jumped(which I have no issue with). Now that Butler is free to sign where he wants, the question has been ‘What is next for Billy?’ and there seems to be a variety of ways to answer that question.

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Let’s start with question of his regression. The numbers on Butler speak of a player who has been on the decline since his age 28 season in Kansas City back in 2014, where most of his power numbers took a dip; extra base hits, ISO, slugging percentage and wRC+ all were down from his career year in 2012 and even his 2013 season. I mentioned the rise in ground balls which started back in 2013, and it is still very high for a guy like Butler, who has no speed and is better suited to spray the ball to the outfield or hit the ball in the air. In reality, his ground ball ratio this year is actually the lowest of his career(42.3%) but that is also with the least amount of plate appearances as well. There has also been in increase this year in his line drives (29.1%) and his hard hit percentage is back up to previous levels (up to 33.3% compared to 30.4% last year). I want to think that this increase is a sign of Butler coming back to his glory year levels, but I also realize we are dealing with a smaller sample size and he has had irregular playing time so far in 2016.

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Butler also has to repair his clubhouse reputation, which took a big blow after his scuffle with teammate Danny Valencia last month. The most interesting aspect of the fight was while Valencia has always been known as a malcontent…

…Butler wasn’t always loved in Kansas City. Maybe the hardest criticism came from former Royals captain and Royals Hall of Famer Mike Sweeney:

It got worse:

“Billy is a great-hearted guy. He’s like a 31-year-old kid that can hit, that wakes up and says I’m going to go out and get two hits today. Sadly, whether we win or lose, it wasn’t at the top of the list for Billy, as far as my experiences with him. But he’s a great-hearted guy, he’s just not a team guy. I felt the same with Danny.”

The general consensus from former teammates and reporters has been that Billy cared more about his numbers than how the team did and could be very annoying in the clubhouse. I’ve never heard anyone say he was a bad guy, but it does sound like his act was harder to take when he was struggling. This does coincide with his behavior at times in Kansas City. For one, he was never a big fan of being a full-time DH and he still complained about it his last season there in 2014. He also was still taking issue with his lack of playing time, which he commented on earlier this season:

“I’ve never been in this position before. I’ve played every day of my life from when I was 7 years old, so this is something new. I don’t even know how to exactly prepare for what I’m supposed to do because I’ve never had to do it, so I just try to treat it like I’ve treated everything else, like I’m a starter. I know I can do it in this game. There’s not a lack of confidence in my abilities.”

Butler never really seemed to grasp why he had become a part-time player and that seemed to affect his performance on the field. The bottom line is that Butler has been in a free-fall for a few years now, which has dictated his playing time. For him to continue in the big leagues, that attitude has to change.

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So what does Butler’s future look like? By no means does this release mean the end of his career, especially since Butler will be in his age 31 season in 2017. There is still value in Billy and his bat, but a few things have to change. For one, he needs to just be happy to have a major league job. You want a player who is confident and believes he can be a starter, but Butler is at a point in his career where he has to earn a job moving forward. Butler needs to go into Spring Training with the mentality that he will take whatever he can get, even if he feels like he deserves to start. He also needs to grasp that being a positive force in the clubhouse will get him farther and prolong his career. No team wants a bench player who is also a bad seed; that is a good way to find yourself on the unemployment line. In a few words, Butler needs to reinvent himself and I honestly believe the best place for him to be next year is in the National League. In the NL, he will see more pinch-hitting opportunities while getting the occasional start at first base. He would also possibly start at DH in interleague games and can put forth a mindset of approaching the game from a different angle. It’s hard to tell whether or not he would do this, but there is still value in Billy Butler; he just needs to work on being better, both as a hitter and a teammate. He is at a crossroads of his career where his decision this offseason might be the biggest of his life. He needs to decide how important playing professional baseball is to him. I’m still rooting for him to succeed, but he is going to have to be better or his career could be close to wrapping up.

 

 

Sinking the Jolly Roger: Royals Make Pirates Walk the Plank

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I am not the biggest fan of interleague play. I get why it is interesting but after close to twenty years, it just feels played out to me. I’m sure for some it still has its appeal, just not for me. All that being said, I was excited for this three game series. The Royals would be going up against one of the best teams in the National League, a team that I’ve often referred to as ‘The National League Royals’. There are many similarities between the two teams, so it was almost a guarantee this series would be a fun one. Luckily for us, it was not only an exciting three games but it also went to the Royals as they won it, two games to one. Time now to see just how everything went down in these three games that were all sold out at ‘The K’.

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Series MVP: Eric Hosmer  

I believe it is safe now to say that Eric Hosmer has hit a hot streak. Hosmer might be one of the streakiest players on this Royals team(Alex Gordon is also pretty streaky) and it is always nice when the pendulum swings around to the hot side of the streak. Hosmer went 6 for 10 in these three games, with 1 double, 1 triple, 1 home run and 2 RBI’s. Oh, he also walked once and had a BAbip of .740! His average has jumped back over .300 for the first time since June 19th, and has raised his slugging percentage almost 20 points in the second half of the season. The best part of this is that Hosmer is driving the ball and doing so in critical situations. Right now, Hosmer’s wRC+(weighted runs created, which is league and park adjusted) is 126; the highest it has ever been since his recall to the majors is 120 back in 2013. If Hosmer can keep this up for the next few weeks(and I would say longer, but hey, remember, he is streaky!), he could help push this Royals team higher up on the food chain at an important time of the season, as the Royals will be playing Houston, Cleveland, Toronto and Detroit over the next few weeks. As if this wasn’t enough, Hos also hit an absolute bomb on Wednesday night, just a massive shot to right field:

That home run was also important for its significance:

I don’t think I will ever tell you that how Hosmer goes, so go the Royals. What I can tell you is that this offense is better when Hosmer becomes a force in the middle of this lineup. Right now, he is front and center when it comes to Royals producing for this team.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez

What was the best signing for Dayton Moore this past offseason? I won’t fault anyone who says Kendrys Morales and at some point we might all say Kris Medlen(more on him in a bit), but as of right now I would have to say Volquez has been the best. Looks like I am not the only one:

‘Easy Eddie’ put forth another solid effort on Wednesday, pitching into the 8th inning, going 7. 2 innings, giving up 8 hits and 1 run while walking 1 and striking out 8. Volquez figured out early that Pittsburgh was having a hard time hitting his slider and he took advantage of that factor. It’s scary to think how bad this rotation’s numbers would be if you threw out Volquez’s stats. He has been vital for this team, saving the bullpen with an effort that garnered him a 66 game score, one of his better scores of the year. Volquez still has his days where he struggles with his control, but the majority of the time he is on his game and would have to be a lock for a starting spot when/if the Royals reach the playoffs. I might not always agree with Dayton’s offensive signings, but pitching-wise he has been a pitching prophet these last two years.

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There is so much more information to digest about this series. Let’s wander over to the news and notes sections of these three games against Pittsburgh:

  • Kris Medlen was activated by the Royals on Monday:

Medlen was almost immediately thrown into action later that night, as he would relieve Yordano Ventura. Medlen went 3.1 innings, giving up 4 hits and 4 runs(including a home run) while walking none and striking out 4. Just looking at the line you wouldn’t be too impressed. But the bigger story is Medlen was able to return from a second Tommy John surgery with good velocity and his home run to Travis Ishikawa continued the struggle he had this year during his rehab starts when facing lefties. I thought for the most part Medlen looked good and was consistently throwing strikes. As of now Medlen will be the long man in the pen, but there is always a chance we will see him in the rotation in due time. Luckily, Medlen is just happy to be on the team:

  • Speaking of Ventura, he continued his inconsistency this season on Monday with one of his worst outings of the year. Ventura went only 4 innings, giving up 10 hits and 6 runs while walking 1 and striking out 7. The biggest issue is that hitters are now sitting on Ventura’s fastball and practically ignoring his off-speed pitches, which is leading to hitters teeing off against him. This also explains some of his numbers:

Even Ventura realized how awful his outing was:

The Royals would send Yordano down to AAA when they activated Jason Vargas before Tuesday’s game. But Ventura didn’t even get out of town…

  • Vargas started Tuesday’s game(which I was in attendance for) and left in the 2nd inning, walking toward the dugout almost instantly after throwing a pitch to Pittsburgh’s Brent Morel. It was pretty obvious that something was majorly wrong after seeing his reaction from the pitch and Kansas City’s worst thoughts were validated on Wednesday:

There is a good chance that Vargas will not only miss the rest of this season, but also all of next season. If he does miss the 2016 season, there is one silver lining to this whole mess:

This also pushes up the need for another starting pitcher for the Royals, with names like Cueto, Gallardo and Price being bandied around. My guess is we see a lower level starter than that, more on the level of a Mike Leake or Aaron Harang. The one definite is that the Royals will need more pitching and need it soon.

  • The one positive of Vargas’ injury is that it gave Joe Blanton a chance to shine on Tuesday night. Blanton came in after Vargas left and threw like a man who knew he could be a roster casualty at any moment. Blanton went 3.2 innings, giving up 2 hits and no runs while while walking none and striking out 5. Not only did Blanton strike out 5, but he struck out the first 4 batters he faced! I think at this point in the season we can’t expect Blanton to throw like this every outing, but he has value and showed it on Tuesday. I think if he can moderate his lows a bit more he has a spot on this team and could stick around through the rest of the season.
  • Alex Rios continues to hit! Rios went 4 for 11 in this series with 2 extra base hits and a big hit on Tuesday night that helped the Royals rally and win. I don’t think Rios will ever blow us away, but a guy who is hitting .339 for July with an .388 OBP works for me. At this point, little victories are just that, victories. He also did this on Monday:

  •   Jarrod Dyson came up big twice in this series. First, there was the 2 run single in the 8th inning on Tuesday that helped Kansas City get on the board and eventually win. Then there was his huge bunt in the 7th inning on Wednesday to score Omar Infante:

I am not the biggest fan of the bunt, but when done correctly I am all for it and think it can be a huge weapon. Dyson bunting is a huge weapon within itself and it was done to perfection on Wednesday. One thing that manager Ned Yost has done this season compared to early last year is his ability to put a player in a situation that plays to his strength and letting him help the ballclub with this positive aspect of their game. Both situations were almost tailor made for Dyson and shows that a player just needs to be put in a situation where he can succeed.

  • One of the funnest parts of a Royals victory is the post-game celebration:

Don’t worry; Salvy always gets his man!

  • Finally, I have to say what a great crop of players Pittsburgh has. We got to see Gerrit Cole pitch a great game, Andrew McCutchen showed why he is one of the top players in the game and Starling Marte threw Eric Hosmer out at second base as Hos was trying to stretch a single into a double. I know it is still a ways away, but a Pirates/Royals World Series would be a lot of fun and would be great for these two organizations that have seen so much bad baseball over the last 20+ seasons.

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Tweets of Royalty 

Kansas City Royals' Salvador Perez (13) dunks Mike Moustakas (8) after their baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates Wednesday, July 22, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. The Royals won 5-1. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Another series down, another series won by the boys in blue. Ever since late September it has felt like we are watching a dream sequence of this Royals team and I am going to wake up and find out it was all a dream. That is how good they have played and how night and day it is to a lot of last year. The Royals now have a funky next couple of days. First, they will play a make-up game on Thursday against the Cardinals, then Houston rides into Kansas City for three games at Kauffman Stadium. Houston has acquired Scott Kazmir from Oakland and the Royals have had some problems against him this year, so I’m sure not looking forward to seeing him and Dallas Keuchel throw against Kansas City. Hopefully the Royals can show Houston the same hospitality that the Astros showed the Royals earlier this year in Houston. Now is not the time to pump the brakes on the train; let’s keep the win train rolling right through the weekend!

 

Calm Down, It’s just an All-Star Game

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If you follow baseball in any manner, then I am sure you have heard the anger, the scorn, and the horrow spewed out by baseball fans who feel the voting for this years All-Star Game in Cincinnati is “making the game look bad” and “is not fair” to all the players who really deserve to go. You see, at this point there are eight(yep, 8!!) Kansas City Royals that would be starting in this year’s ‘Mid-Summer Classic’ and if you ask most fans they would tell you that is a travesty. That is, except for us Royals fans. We love it. We love that we are eerily close to starting our entire starting nine this year despite the fact that two of those players(Omar Infante and Alex Rios) have no business being in the Great American Ball Park on July 14th unless they have bought a ticket. But once again, we love it. Everyone else seems mad about this but they really shouldn’t be and I’m about to tell you why…

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Let’s start with the most obvious reason: this is an exhibition game. Seriously folks, this is a game played in the middle of the season that does not count in the standings and is purely just a chance to watch all the best players in the American League take on all the best players in the National League. Before interleague play it was one of the few chances to see players from your favorite team play against players you never see because they are in the other league. So if you were a Royals fan you never got to see guys like Tony Gwynn, or Dwight Gooden(in his early years) because they were National Leaguers. Nowadays though, it is no big deal to see guys from the other league, as there is a good chance you already played them during the season. Just look at last year’s World Series; the Royals and Giants played each other in August, so it was two teams who had faced off just a few months earlier. This game is purely for fun and players just aren’t going 100% for the most part, as they don’t want to get hurt in a pointless exhibition. But what about home field advantage going to the winner of the game?

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Before 2003, home field advantage in the World Series switched off every year. Odd years was the American League, even years were the National League’s. But after the 2002 All-Star Game ended in a tie, Major League Baseball decided to switch things up. You see, before then, the All-Star game really didn’t matter; sure, it was great for your first couple times you appeared in it or if you were playing in your home park. But otherwise, it was a game that was getting in the way of a couple days off and it was played as such. Back then, most managers tried to get as many of the players into the game so they would get an All-Star appearance in. Now, MLB tries to play it as “the game matters”. Problem is, the players still would mostly prefer four days off. Sure, you won’t hear them publicly say they don’t want to play in the “game that matters”. Hell, they’ll even say in public that the game is important and might give their team home field advantage in the World Series. But go look back year by year; players continually sit out the game. Sure, there are starting pitchers that can’t play because they started the weekend before the game. Some have legitimate injuries and need the extra days of rest. But a lot of them just don’t care because they understand it’s an exhibition. Sure, the guys like to be there, cheer on their team or watch the Home Run Derby; it is still an honor and they appreciate it as such. But many players take it for what it is: a game for the fans that doesn’t count in the big picture. Home field advantage is great, but if you get that far into the season, you should be able to win anywhere, road or home.

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There is also the argument that you should want the most deserving players to start in this game, the players who have had the best seasons up to this point. I get this argument and for years I fell in line with that. You don’t have to look far to see a perfect example of a player getting voted in that shouldn’t have: Derek Jeter in 2014. I know someone just threw their keyboard across the room right now by me saying that(probably a Yankees fan) but the fact is Derek wasn’t the best shorstop statistically in 2014. In fact, if we are going by just their play on the field, Jeter wouldn’t have even belonged on the All-Star roster. But Jeter was in his final season in the big leagues and it was a way of honoring him. Fine, I get that and even accepted it last year. But don’t fool yourself; this proves once again it is more about the exhibition than the home field advantage. For years, Hall of Fame caliber players have appeared in the All-Star Game for one last hurrah. I am perfectly fine with this, as I understand the game is just for fun. But if you are going to be okay with a player like that being honored and appearing in the mid-summer classic, you have to also acknowledge that whomever starts the game really doesn’t matter either.

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The other part of this silliness is the fact that most players who start the All-Star game normally only last the first 3 innings. That’s right, all this uproar about the Royals players starting and most of them will only play the first few innings. Yep, sure worth all that anger that is consuming you, huh? Maybe this would be a bigger problem if the starters played all 9 innings but they very rarely do. So you prefer Jose Altuve to Infante at second base? Well, more than likely Altuve will be in late in the game when it might matter more and it will completely negate the argument of having him start. In games like this it almost matters more on who finishes the game rather than who starts it.

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As a Royals fan I think I shoud clarify something here. I agree with most of you in saying Infante doesn’t deserve to start in this game and is purely getting in because of the Royals rabid fanbase. Look at it this way, non-Royals fans. Before 2014, our team really didn’t matter much for close to 20 years. We have seen some absolutely putrid baseball in that span and for quite awhile we were the laughingstock of the sport. But now we matter and it has re-energized the fans. Sure, I wore my Royals appearal all the time in this span; I am a die-hard. I will be here till the end and I have no problems with that. But some fans needed a little poke. That poke was winning. The Royals are a good baseball team now and have given the fans a reason to support them and be proud. The voting has been so skewed toward the Royals because this is a hungry fanbase. We’ve been starving for years for good baseball and now that we are getting it, it is causing everyone to step up and vote. Hey, we are even doing it legitimately ! Trust me, even I thought there was some sneakiness going on, but outside of a few instances of writers getting suspicious e-mails , it appears voting is truly on the up and up. Winning causes fans to be more involved, and Royals fans had 30 years of no playoff baseball; just imagine how most of us feel,  like this might not happen again for a very, very long time. So as fans, we are taking advantage of the team’s success.

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The one other thing to remember here is that outside of Infante, the other 7 possible starters are legitimate candidates for the All-Star Game this season. Sure, a few of them might not be having the best season at their position, but they are all putting up numbers worthy of an All-Star selection. Look at someone like Mike Moustakas, who has turned his career around this season and is having a career year. Sure, Josh Donaldson is raking this year and is probably having the better year, but Moose is still an All-Star in my mind. Go ahead, go down the list-Cain, Gordon, Escobar, Hosmer, Morales and Perez; all worthy of being at the game in July. This would be a different case if they were having bad seasons, but they aren’t. Starting or not, these guys all should probably be All-Stars-except for Infante. Even we don’t really want him on our team. But we want our guys at the All-Star game and unfortunately, he is a Royal.

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 15:  Kansas City Royals Fans hold up giant heads of Alex Gordon #4 and Salvador Perez #13 of the Kansas City Royals in the stands during Game Four of the American League Championship Series against the Baltimore Orioles at Kauffman Stadium on October 15, 2014 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

So all you non-Royals fans, calm down. This is a one year anomaly that even we acknowledge will probably never happen again. Let us have this moment. I was fortunate to be at the 2012 All-Star Game in Kansas City and as much as I talk about it being an exhibition, it is still a fun exhibition and a game that I am glad I can say I was in attendance. I highly recommend everyone who is not a Royals fan to go online and put your votes in; this is a fun exercise and one in which you can celebrate your team’s best players. How does the old adage go? “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”. So join us and let’s see just how competitive the voting can get. Instead of getting angry about the results it might be better to just join in and try to topple this monster we have created. Trust me, the rules for the balloting is the same for you guys as it is for us; we are just taking advantage of it more. Let this be fun instead of sounding like old men telling kids to get off their lawn. The whole point of this is purely fun. Also, if the voting doesn’t change before it is all said and done, I think we should make Mike Trout an honorary Royal and give him his on Kansas City uniform. Just a thought. I have to go now; I have important things on my schedule:

Remember #VoteRoyals(and #VoteNori) and vote often at http://www.royals.com and http://www.mlb.com . Let the good times roll.

 

 

 

Royals Take Over Wrigley: Royals Split Series with Cubs

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Wrigley Field is a very special ballpark. It’s one of the last standing parks where stadiums were built to have their own personality and give their team a bit of a home field advantage. Since the Chicago Cubs are in the National League, the Kansas City Royals only visit Wrigley once every 6 years. This year, a number of Royals fans made the trek to the ‘Windy City’ to take in their Royals playing the Cubs and to visit their iconic ballpark. The Royals were also looking to bounce back from a rough series in New York and were looking to gain some ground in the American League Central. One of those items were kind of accomplished, one was not. Onto a look back at a special 2 game set.

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Series MVP: Alex Gordon

If there is one thing you can say about Alex Gordon, it is that he is a streaky hitter. The last few weeks Gordon has occasionally added production, but nothing consistent to make him really stand out. That changed in this series, as Gordon would go 4 for 8, including a 3 hit game on Sunday(with a walk). Gordon seemed to be in on all the action this weekend, starting with his home run on Friday, and then knocking in the first run of the game on Sunday in the 7th inning:

It normally goes without saying as well that Gordon contributed defensively, throwing out Dexter Fowler at home(thanks to a nice play from Salvador Perez) in the bottom of the 11th inning on Sunday. It appears as if Alex might be hitting a hot streak right now, and if that is so it’s not the worst idea in the world to move him up in the order. Alcides Escobar has been struggling a bit at the top of the order and Gordon has a history of performing well in the leadoff spot. With the Royals runs per game dipping in May, it might not be a horrible idea to shake things up.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Yordano Ventura

A large chunk of the success on this season hinders on the performance of young starters Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura. Duffy currently is inhabiting the disabled list, while Ventura seems to have found his groove. Ventura had his second best game score of the season on Sunday against Chicago, going 7 innings giving up 4 hits and 1 run while walking 1 and striking out 6. Ventura did all that in less than ideal weather conditions and if not for his lone walk in the 7th inning, one wonders if he would have left the game without giving up a run. One also wonders how Chris Coghlan was able to hit Ventura, since no one else on the Cubs had a clue. The best part of the game for Ventura is that he has gone 7 innings in 4 straight starts while keeping his walk total down. Starts like these make it easier to see why he is the ace of this staff and why baseball in general is so high on this young flamethrower.

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I’m Going for a Walk… 

Walks can kill a pitcher. I mean, they are called ‘free passes’ for a reason. This was none more evident than on Sunday, as walks given up by Royals pitchers in both the 7th and 11th innings would come back and bite them in the arse. In the 7th, Ventura would walk Cubs catcher Miguel Montero, and following a wild pitch and single to center by Coghlan, the Cubs would spoil Ace’s shutout, tying the game up at 1. With the score still tied in the 11th inning, Royals reliever Ryan Madson would walk the only two batters he faced, Dexter Fowler and Kris Bryant, which would lead to his exit and Jason Frasor to come in. Frasor would intentionally walk Starlin Castro after Fowler would be thrown out at home plate, but then David Ross would get the game winning hit falling in between Gordon and Escobar in left field(which was almost caught over the shoulder by Escobar).

The 2 walks by Madson killed the Royals and goes to show you just can’t allow the other team to have extra base runners on the base paths. The Royals are normally applauded for their defense and stingy bullpen. The pen loses that credit when the walks start flowing. It also goes to show why some of us(myself included) put such a heavy emphasis on having the offense take bases on balls.

Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar can't make the catch on a single by Chicago Cubs' David Ross during the 11th inning of a baseball game, Sunday, May 31, 2015, in Chicago. The Cubs won 2-1. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Now, lets proceed to look at some news and notes from this shortened series:

  • Alex Rios was activated from the disabled list on Saturday and would return to the lineup on Sunday:

Rios has been out since the third series of the season in Minnesota. Rios was hitting well before getting hit on the hand, so hopefully he can return to that form on his return.

  • Rios being activated meant that someone had to be sent down and Paulo Orlando unfortunately drew that card. Orlando had been playing good, despite him slumping at the plate a bit as of late(.174 over the last 2 weeks):

Personally, I would prefer one less reliever on the roster and have the extra outfielder. In fact, Orlando has been much more valuable to manager Ned Yost this year than Jarrod Dyson has. I have a feeling we will see Orlando again soon, possibly even within the next month.

  • Mother Nature won again on Saturday, as the contest between the 2 teams was rained out. I don’t know what it is, but it appears the last 3 times the Royals were scheduled for a nationally broadcasted game, they have been hit hard by the rain bug. The Royals will travel back to Chicago and make up the missed game on September 28.
  • Danny Duffy threw a couple of bullpen sessions this weekend:

Nothing major to report, other than the stiffness in his shoulder was still there. I tend to think he will make a couple of rehab starts in Omaha before he returns to the main roster. Also, the beard is gone. A city mourns.

  •  Alex Gordon chalked up another achievement on Sunday:

I’ve said it a million times, but if Gordon walks after this season that will be a giant hole to fill within this team. I would love for the team to work out an extension sooner rather than later.

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Tweets of Royalty 

 

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Unfortunately, the loss on Sunday pushed the Royals back to 2nd place in the American League Central, half a game behind Minnesota. Yep, the Twins are in first. Baseball truly is a crazy sport and it goes to show that anything can happen, no matter how many different ways you crunch the numbers(and that is coming from a stat guy!). The Royals will take Monday off (Sal Rest) and will return to action against Cleveland in Kansas City. This home stretch with Cleveland and Texas coming into town is big and the Royals need to go at least 4-2 during this stretch. The offense seems to be slumping and one wonders if maybe a shuffle of the lineup would do the ballclub some good. Jeremy Guthrie goes for Kansas City on Tuesday(looking to avenge his awful start on Memorial Day) and the Royals will go up against Corey Kluber on Wednesday. I think we can officially say this team is in the midst of a slump, which is fine considering it’s really the first one they’ve had this year. Let’s just not make it a sustained slump, okay guys?

 

 

 

 

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