Are the Royals Finally Committing to a Floating DH?

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For the last three years, the Kansas City Royals have teased us with using a floating Designated Hitter in their lineup rather than having one player entrenched into the role on a daily basis. It was originally bandied about back when Billy Butler became a free agent after the 2014 season…and then the team signed Kendrys Morales. It was brought up again last winter…and then the Royals brought Brandon Moss on board to fill the role of full-time DH.

It feels like the Royals are thinking about the idea but just don’t want to commit to it. It’s the equivalent of dipping your toes into the water at the pool without just diving in. While the team has flirted with the idea before running back to what they know, it finally appears this is the season they commit to using the DH for a whole gaggle of players…and it couldn’t make more sense than it does right now.

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When Spring Training started last month, the DH wasn’t designated for just one player but it appeared the RF/DH combo of Jorge Bonifacio and Jorge Soler would see most of the at bats there. The team had committed to letting their young players play and getting Bonifacio, Soler and Cheslor Cuthbert at bats seemed to be their main goal. Then they signed Lucas Duda. Then Jon Jay. Finally, they brought back Mike Moustakas. At this point it was hard picturing those younger guys getting the 400 to 500 at bats that management wanted them to rack up.

But then Bonifacio was suspended 80 games for testing positive for a performance enhancing substance. That appeared to open up at bats for the likes of Cuthbert and Soler and made the idea of a floating DH even more enticing. With Bonifacio’s suspension, the Royals are now in a situation where they can use the DH as their own little testing ground.

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Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Cuthbert appears to be the one who would benefit the most from this, as his at bats seemed to go up in smoke once Moustakas was signed. Now, he could slide into the DH role while also occasionally filling in at first base ( Duda’s splits career-wise against righties are .249/.356/.486 while against lefties they are .218/.289/.370) and third base. Michael Saunders also could see some time at DH, as he would add another left-hander to the lineup and give someone a day off.

Speaking of days off, the best reasoning for going to a revolving door at DH would be to give some of the regulars time off and let them rest their legs. No one would benefit more from this than Salvador Perez, who has worn down physically these last few years from all the wear and tear behind the dish. Giving Salvy a few days a month where he doesn’t have to squat a gajillion times but can still keep his bat in the lineup feels like a win-win situation. It would also benefit some of the veterans in the Royals lineup like Alex Gordon, Lucas Duda, Jon Jay or Mike Moustakas. The season is a long one and when you give some of your older players a break during the long, hot days of summer it can only benefit your team.

Royals outfielder Jorge Bonifacio suspended 80 games for steroid use
Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

It also can make it easier when Bonifacio returns from his 80-day suspension. His return would probably (unless there is an injury) push Soler to float around a bit more. As Bonifacio would be working himself into mid-season form, this would also give him the occasional rest, letting him get at bats while resting his legs. Bonifacio won’t be able to just slide back into an every day role, but this would allow him to still get playing time while not pushing him too hard on his return.

This is without even mentioning the possibility of any players being recalled from the minors. What if the Royals decided to add Hunter Dozier or Adalberto Mondesi to the mix, or even someone like Bubba Starling or Ryan O’Hearn? While none of these are guarantees, leaving the DH spot open also leaves open different scenarios that could play out as the season progresses. Not locking just one player into the role allows the team to be creative while also getting a chance to see what they truly have on the roster.

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Credit: Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times

In fact, that flexibility is exactly why more and more teams have ventured away from employing a full-time DH. In 2017, only ten batters had enough plate appearances as the designated hitter to quality for the batting title. Of those ten, only five posted a wRC+ of 100 or more (Ryon Healy straddled that league average with exactly 100), with Nelson Cruz, Corey Dickerson and Edwin Encarnacion being the only notable batters to fill this role while also posting 2.5 fWAR or more. Most teams have realized the freedom they are allowed when they tear away from the shackles of one lone DH and treat it as a revolving door.

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So with about two weeks left until Opening Day, it appears the Royals might actually do what they have considered for years. I have long been a proponent of the team employing a floating DH and I’m even more intrigued by it now that it might actually happen. No matter the outcome, if the Royals follow this plan they will benefit from it one way or another. Whether it is a player performing above expectations, or resting some of the regulars, this is a plan that more than anything will allow them to know what they really have with the crop of talent on the roster. It might be scary and it might be the great unknown, but it’s time. It’s time for the Royals to jump into the pool and let the DH be a revolving door.

 

Rock the Vote: My 2017 Year End Awards

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It’s been only a few weeks since the World Series ended and baseball came to a close for 2017. I’d like to say I’ve dealt with it in a fair manner, but I’ve been counting down the days until pitchers and catchers report (89 by my count) since the season ended. Luckily, the Hot Stove season will keep us seamheads occupied, as will this week’s award season. All throughout this week, the BBWAA has been unveiling their winners, as has my brethren in the IBWAA. As a member of the IBWAA, we vote just like the members in the BBWAA while not getting quite the fanfare (although if anyone wants to toot our horn, go for it!). I’ve been a member for a number of years, so you can go back and take a gander at my previous voting record: here is 20142015, and 2016. As always, it is a true honor to have this opportunity to vote and I always vote with the utmost respect. With that being said, here are my picks to win awards in 2017…

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Credit-Sports Illustrated

American League MVP: Mike Trout

While most have declared this a two-man race between Jose Altuve and Aaron Judge, I feel the true winner is Mr. Michael Nelson Trout. I’m sure at least one person is reading this, shaking their head at me; that’s fine, as I have zero issue with anyone picking Altuve and I at least understand the voters who picked Judge. But to me, Trout was head and shoulders above the rest this year, despite only playing in 114 games. If you want a real in-depth look at how and why I voted for Trout, go back to August when I wrote about Trout being amazing despite the 40 so games he missed in the first half of the season. I really broke down the how and why of this vote with that article, so let’s just recap some of the main points here. Trout led the league in On-base Percentage, Slugging, OPS, OPS+, and wRC+. This is all impressive considering the time he missed, but what really swayed my vote was Trout leading the AL hitters in Win Probability Added (WPA). Considering WPA is a stat that accumulates as the season wears on and factors in the change in Win Expectancy from one plate appearance to the next. It’s all about the opportunities you get and what you do with them, and Trout did better than anyone else in this category. The interesting aspect of that is those games missed, which should mean he got fewer opportunities, and more than likely he did. What it really tells us is that Trout did the most with those chances, leading the league with a 5.58 WPA. The next closest player? Nelson Cruz at 3.90. Altuve was 4th in the league at 3.74. Think about that for a moment: In 40 fewer games, Trout was a bigger factor in his team’s victories than Altuve, who had a fantastic season…and it isn’t even close! FYI, Judge came in at 17th, with 2.38. We all juggle with what “Most Valuable” means in MVP, and for me it is the guy who is giving his team the best chance to win. Mike Trout did that in his limited time in 2017 and for that he received my vote.

My Top 3: 1-Trout, 2-Jose Altuve, 3-Aaron Judge

IBWAA Winner: Jose Altuve

BBWAA Winner: Jose Altuve

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National League MVP: Joey Votto

Over the years, there appears to be a divide when it comes to a person’s opinion of Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto. If you believe a middle of the order guy should drive in runs and hit for power, you probably are frustrated by Votto’s patience at the dish and focus on just getting on base. If you are of the opinion that it’s all about not getting out and making sure you extend the inning for your team, then you probably love the guy. I am in the latter position and nothing speaks volumes about Votto’s true value than what he did offensively in 2017. If you love the black ink that shows up in the statistic category (which means a player led the league in that category), then Votto should be your man. He led the NL this year in Walks, On-Base Percentage, OPS, OPS+ and wRC+. You can probably also tack on 36 home runs, 100 RBI’s, 323 total bases, a slugging percentage of .578 and 7.5 bWAR. Offensively, Votto was a beast in 2017 and to add the cherry on top of this offensive sundae, he lead the NL hitters in WPA, 4.96 to Giancarlo Stanton’s 4.84. Some will poo-pah that Votto wasn’t on a contending team; I would counter with this being an individual award, so what the other 24 players do should have no factor into the winner of MVP. While Stanton put up monster power numbers and Charlie Blackmon had an amazing season out of the leadoff spot (and easily baseball’s best mullet), the true Most Valuable Player was Joey Votto in my eyes.

My Top 3: 1-Votto, 2-Giancarlo Stanton, 3-Charlie Blackmon

IBWAA Winner: Giancarlo Stanton

BBWAA Winner: Giancarlo Stanton

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American League Cy Young Award: Corey Kluber

The debate the last two months of the season was the two-man race for the AL Cy Young: would it be Corey Kluber or Chris Sale? What once appeared to be Sale’s award to win turned into Kluber’s gain, as he absolutely shoved the last two months of the season. In those last two months, Kluber threw 89 innings and produced an ERA of 1.42 and a WPA of 3.07. Batters only hit .172 against him in that span with a paltry .290 slugging percentage. Those two months were just the nail in the coffin, as Kluber led the league in ERA, Complete Games, Shutouts, ERA+ and WHIP. Sale held his on, as he lead in Innings Pitched and strike outs, but the stats tell the true story. Kluber lead in ERA+, 202 to 157. WHIP was 0.869 to Sale’s 0.970. WPA? 4.9 to Sale’s 3.7. WAR? Kluber 8.0 to Sale’s 6.0. While Sale made three more starts than Kluber, the gap wasn’t so wide that it would diminish Kluber’s accomplishments. At the end of the day, Kluber proved he was worthy of yet another Cy Young Award.

My Top 3: 1-Kluber, 2-Chris Sale, 3-Luis Severino

IBWAA Winner: Corey Kluber

BBWAA Winner: Corey Kluber

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National League Cy Young Award: Max Scherzer

Over the last couple seasons, there hasn’t been much discussion about who the best pitcher in baseball is. Clayton Kershaw was pretty much hands down the best and very few were putting up a fight. But during that span, Max Scherzer followed behind, nipping at Kershaw’s heels. While the debate will continue, the one definite is that Scherzer has just as much of a claim to that title in 2017 as Kershaw and proved himself worthy of this award. Scherzer has the black ink for the year, leading the league in complete games, Strike Outs, WHIP and Hits per 9. Kershaw lead in ERA and ERA+. But while Kluber and Sale’s numbers felt pretty far apart, Scherzer and Kershaw felt neck and neck. Scherzer beat Kershaw in WHIP, 0.902 to 0.949, while Kershaw beat Scherzer in ERA+ by a margin of 180 to 177. So to dig further, Scherzer easily beat him in WAR, 7.3 to 4.6, but WPA was much closer, 4.6 to 4.3. One wonders if Kershaw hadn’t missed those starts in the middle of the season, if this race would have turned out a bit different. Instead, Scherzer proved once again why might be the closest thing to Kershaw’s equal and why these two seem to battle it out for this award every season. But in 2017, Max Scherzer was the better pitcher.

My Top 3: 1-Scherzer, 2-Stephen Strasburg, 3-Zack Greinke

IBWAA Winner: Max Scherzer

BBWAA Winner: Max Scherzer

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American League Rookie of the Year: Aaron Judge

This award felt like a ‘Gimme’, as Judge was a dominant force for a large chunk of his rookie campaign. It was hard to read an article or watch a video without mention of Judge and his accomplishments this season and for the most part they were very deserved. Judge led the league in Runs, Home Runs, Walks and Strike outs. Judge’s 52 home runs (a new single season record for a rookie, breaking Mark McGwire’s 49 HR’s back in 1987) and 114 RBI’s spoke of a force in the middle of the Yankees batting order, while the walks showed the ability to show patience at the plate. Judge was different from many rookies, as this year was his age 25 season, which would explain a maturity not seen by many a rookie. While his contact rate was a bit low (65.1%, with league average being 80%) and the strike outs were high, Judge is no different than most of the power hitters that fill up major league rosters in 2017. To me, the most telling stat of Judge’s worth is OPS+, which sits at 171, second in the AL behind Trout. Since OPS+ is a statistic that adjusts to league and park effects, it means that despite playing in a very hitter friendly park in Yankee Stadium, Judge still raked like an elite hitter. That to me speaks more of his skills than a home run total, to be honest. While the sky is the limit for Judge, I worry about all the attention that the media bestows on him. I’m not a big fan of all the hype that the baseball media granted to him this year, but I get it. Judge had one of the best rookie seasons in baseball history and New York has been starving for a young power bat for years now. Judge more than deserves the honor of AL Rookie of the year but…what will his sequel look like? It’s not going to be easy for him to match what he did throughout this magical first year.

My Top 3: 1-Judge, 2-Matt Chapman, 3-Andrew Benintendi

IBWAA Winner: Aaron Judge

BBWAA: Aaron Judge

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

National League Rookie of the Year: Cody Bellinger

If anything has been proven over the years, it is that the Los Angeles Dodgers might just have a ‘Rookie Tree’ near Chavez Ravine where they pluck healthy, fresh new talent from on a consistent basis. That tree continued to produce in 2017, as young first baseman Cody Bellinger came away with the NL Rookie of the Year award, the 18th Dodger to win that award. Bellinger now sits beside such notables like Seager, Valenzuela, Karros, Nomo, Sax, Mondesi, Newcombe, Sutcliffe, Howard, Piazza and the man who now has his name on the award, Jackie Robinson. Bellinger debuted on April 25th this year and from almost day one he punished baseballs. Cody hit 39 home runs (a new National League single season record for a rookie), 26 doubles and posted an OPS+ of 142. Bellinger lead the National League Champions in homers, RBI and slugging percentage while putting together a 4.2 bWAR season in his rookie campaign. Maybe the most impressive stat for him this season was a 4.3 WPA, good enough for 5th in the NL, ahead of MVP hopeful Charlie Blackmon and teammate Justin Turner. Bellinger had been a highly touted prospect for a few years now and he showed this year that there was a reason for the hype. Like Judge, Bellinger will now have to follow-up a splendid first season with the hope for even bigger numbers. Bellinger won’t turn 23 years old until next July but is already showing the patience and maturity of a 10 year veteran. It’s a lot of expectations for such a young player, but so far so good for Cody Bellinger.

My Top 3: 1-Bellinger, 2-Paul DeJong, 3-Austin Barnes

IBWAA Winner: Cody Bellinger

BBWAA Winner: Cody Bellinger

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

American League Reliever of the Year: Craig Kimbrel

When digesting the numbers for American League relievers in 2017, it became very apparent that there was no dominant force like in year’s past. No Zach Britton, no Andrew Miller, no Wade Davis. But while digging in the depths, it did appear that Craig Kimbrel of the Red Sox had put together a stellar season that had flown under the radar. Kimbrel threw 69 innings, striking out 126 batters while posting an ERA+ of 319, three times above the league average. His strike out rate (49.6%) was the highest it had been since 2012 while his walk rate (5.5%) was the lowest of his career. His WPA was also huge, posting a 4.5 Win Probability while his Run Expectancy (RE24), which calculates the runs he saved, was the highest of his career at 28.0. Kimbrel also had a 1.43 ERA, which is great but fairly normal for a reliever of his caliber, but I was interested to see how the runs he did give up (which were 11 over those 69 innings) were scattered about. In August he gave up the most runs in one month (4), while May was his best effort, giving up none. Over the last two months of the season, Kimbrel pitched 25.1 innings, giving up five runs while striking out 46….and that wasn’t even his best two month stretch! While Andrew Miller and Chad Green both had great seasons this year, Kimbrel showed why he has been an elite closer since 2011. For anyone calling for his demise in 2016, Kimbrel showed this year why his career isn’t dead yet.

My Top 3: 1-Kimbrel, 2-Andrew Miller, 3-Chad Green

IBWAA Winner: Craig Kimbrel

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Credit: USA Today

National League Reliever of the Year: Kenley Jansen

While the American League relievers felt like a closer race, in the National League on closer stood out over all the rest and his name is Kenley Jansen of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Jansen was dominant in 2017: 68.1 innings, 1.32 ERA, 318 ERA+ with 109 strike outs. Jansen even posted a 2.9 bWAR this year, the highest of his career. But a couple other stats just blew me away for Jansen this year. Jansen allowed seven walks all year-long. Yes, 7…that is it. Which leads to another stat that blows my mind, which is his Strike out to Walk ratio: 15.57. Seriously, that number is just ridiculous. Finally, the most impressive statistic for Jansen in 2017 was his league leading WPA, 5.7. Not only did that number lead the NL, it lead all of baseball, even better than Mike Trout’s 5.58 in the AL. If there was ever any doubt that Los Angeles made the right move to re-sign Jansen last offseason, his spectacular 2017 warranted almost every dollar he earned. Those numbers speak as a dominant reason why Kenley Jansen is the NL Reliever of the Year.

My Top 3: 1-Jansen, 2-Archie Bradley, 3-Pat Neshek

IBWAA Winner: Kenley Jansen

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American League Manager of the Year: Paul Molitor

While managers like Terry Francona and Joe Girardi guided their respective teams to the postseason this year, one man stood head and shoulders as the true manager of the year in the American League, and his name is Paul Molitor of the Minnesota Twins. The Twins came into the year trying to bounce back from a 100 loss season in 2016 and they more than bounced back. Despite having a pieced together rotation and an occasional spotty bullpen, Molitor was able to lead Minnesota to an 85 win season and a Wild Card spot in the AL. No one expected the Twins to reach .500, yet along wrap up a playoff spot but that is exactly what happened in the ‘Twin Cities’ this year. The team really took off in August, as the offense went on a tear and pushed the team to the upper section of the American League Central. Molitor was able to work around some of the team’s flaws and gave youngsters like Byron Buxton and Jorge Polanco the playing time they needed to be comfortable in the big leagues. Two of the team’s big issues the year before was the defense and the pen, which both improved in 2017 with his use of mixing and matching. Sometimes he doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but Molitor was able to lay out some strategies this year that appeared to pay off:

“He’s extremely baseball smart,” Twins catcher Chris Gimenez told reporters. “He’s in the Hall of Fame for a reason. Yeah, he was a great player, but you have to think the game to do what he did on the field. I see it constantly. He’s very much ahead of the game. Sometimes it hasn’t worked out necessarily the way you draw it up, but I think for the most part I’d take him any day of the week.”

I know some don’t feel that the Manager of the Year award should just go to a team that outperforms expectations, but I think that is exactly why someone like Molitor deserves this award. Once the Twins started to excel, teams began to pay more attention to them and it caused Minnesota to revert the course they had been on. The team you saw in April wasn’t the same team there in September and it was for the better. While Francona lead his Indians to an AL Central title, he did so with pretty much the same roster he took to the World Series the year before. Molitor’s roster was revamped and a large chunk of the credit of their turnaround should be given to Molitor. He did what few expected and that is why he is my choice for Manager of the Year.

My Top 3: 1-Molitor, 2-Terry Francona, 3-Joe Girardi

IBWAA Winner: Terry Francona

BBWAA Winner: Paul Molitor

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Credit: Getty Images

National League Manager of the Year: Torey Lovullo

Does anyone remember the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2016? The best way to describe them is by just saying they were a mess. They only won 69 games last year and the team didn’t appear to have a set direction they were going in, other than down. GM Mike Hazen decided to restructure the roster, inserted Lovullo into his first big league managing spot and the team flourished. While all the attention was on the Dodgers, Lovullo kept Arizona just slightly off their pace while holding their ground on the Wild Card spot throughout the year. There was more attention paid to pitching strategy, defense and run prevention while he melded with his players:

Lovullo’s ability to incorporate analytics with his locker-room skills made him an instant success. He built a solid foundation in his first year and seems to have the Diamondbacks on track to compete for division titles and the World Series for the foreseeable future.

The Diamondbacks now look like a consistent contender in the NL West and with their young talent they shouldn’t have to make many major moves in the future. Lovullo changed the atmosphere in the desert and for that he is the best manager this year in the National League.

My Top 3: 1-Lovullo, 2-Bud Black, 3-Craig Counsell

IBWAA Winner: Torey Lovullo

BBWAA Winner: Torey Lovullo

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So there you have it, another season officially wraps up as we reward those that reached the highest of achievements. I did find it amusing that back in April when I made my season predictions  I guessed only one of these correctly (Bellinger as NL ROTY, which felt like a slam dunk). It goes to show how hard it is to really guess what will happen during the duration of a 162 game season. It is a great honor that I get to vote every year like this and I can only hope I do a respectable part to show the value of an organization like the IBWAA. This is a game we all love and while we might squabble here and there on numbers, it really comes down to what you value. I can only hope 2018 brings us just as many highly contested winners. Here’s to baseball being back sooner rather than later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Battle For the AL MVP & How Mike Trout is Trying to Crash the Party

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

When baseball reached the All-Star break, the American League MVP race felt like a two-man battle. Jose Altuve of Houston was once again a top contender while the Yankees Aaron Judge was making baseball writers and analysts go ga-ga as he invoked memories of Ruth and Mantle. The normal leader in MVP conversations, Mike Trout, was sitting on the sideline, finishing up a rehab assignment and hoping to get back on the field after missing close to 40 games. While Trout was the front-runner before his injury, there appeared to be no way he could catch Altuve and Judge in any of the statistics that mattered. But then Trout came back, picking up where he left off, and something happened…Trout slowly climbed up the fWAR leaderboard. Day by day, game by game, Mike Trout was catching up to the two leaders. Just like last year, what appeared to be a two-man race turned into a three-man battle to the end. While it would appear Trout missing those 40 games would deter his case, it’s actually enhancing the argument that he is the 2017 American League MVP.

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Let’s start with the WAR argument, which I referenced above. As of this writing, Altuve sits atop the American League leaderboard, with 6.5 fWAR. Trout follows with 6.2 and Judge sits in third place with 5.7. Just as an aside, this is just speaking for the hitters in the league; Chris Sale leads everyone with 7.5 WAR and Corey Kluber is at 6.0. Both Sale and Kluber can be calculated into your MVP discussion (and trust me, Sale is in that convo), but at least for me, I don’t value pitchers in MVP talk UNLESS they have been so dominant and crucial to their team’s success (and since I know it will be asked, the next closest Red Sox to Sale’s WAR number is Mookie Betts at 3.8). So Altuve and Trout are 1-2 in hitter’s WAR, but that gap was much larger at the All-Star break. At the break, Aaron Judge led the AL with 5.4 fWAR, followed by Altuve at 4.1 and Trout was down in 6th place with 3.4 fWAR. So in this second half of the season, Altuve has accumulated 2.4 WAR, Judge 0.3 and Trout 2.8. Now, the gap between Altuve and Trout wasn’t that big at the break, but Judge’s lead above both was quite a bit more. So while Trout’s push in this second half has been impressive, Altuve’s has been equally impressive in that short amount of time. What has been the most important aspect of this gain is not just how Trout has shortened the gap between the two candidates; the most impressive part of this whole debate is that WAR is a stat that accumulates over time, so the more you play the higher your number should go. Obviously not every player sees that (Alcides Escobar has played every game this year for Kansas City and his fWAR sits at a sickly -0.3 right now) but if you are an elite player, your Wins Above Replacement will rise the more you play. The fact that Trout has almost reached Altuve in over 150 less plate appearances, says a lot about how good Trout’s season has been.

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Credit: The Sporting News

So how is Trout doing with some of the other statistics? Obviously Trout can’t win it on WAR alone, and luckily the numbers prove he won’t. Trout leads the league in weighted Runs Created Plus, weighted On Base Average, On Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, walk percentage, Win Probability Added, Walk to Strikeout ratio, On-Base Plus Slugging, 2nd in Isolated Power, and 10th in stolen bases. The most impressive out of all these numbers to me is Trout’s Win Probability Added number. Trout is at 5.74; the next closest batter is Nelson Cruz at 3.67. I mentioned earlier how WAR is a stat that accumulates and so does WPA. For Trout to have an over two point lead in a stat that adds up over time is amazing. No other player in the American League has had a larger effect on his teams outcome than Trout AND IT ISN’T EVEN CLOSE! When I think of the term ‘Most Valuable Player’, I think of someone who is so valuable that you can’t even imagine what that team would look like without that player on the field. Trout missed 40 games (40 games!!) and has had a larger effect on his team than any other player in all of baseball. If that doesn’t speak of value, I can’t imagine what else does.

Brett George 2400.81 NBL

Now, there is one slight issue, which is that Trout is not quite a qualified batter, as he is sitting at 325 at bats for the season and 412 plate appearances. Trout would need to reach 502 plate appearances to be a qualified batter and with 24 games left Trout would have to average 3.75 plate appearances per game, which is doable. So while Trout has a good chance of reaching the bar he needs to get to, there would still be a few writers who might not vote for him because of time missed. Luckily, there are a few precedents that show it can and has been done before. First, go back to 1962 when Mickey Mantle missed 25 games in May and June of that year. Mantle would justbarely squeak in enough plate appearances (502) to qualify for the batting title and win MVP. Mantle also lead in many of the same categories that Trout leads in right now and would garnish a Gold Glove award. George Brett in 1980 missed 25 games with an ankle injury and racked up 515 plate appearances. George flirted with .400 for most of the year and would also lead the league in most of the same categories as Trout. Finally, Barry Bonds missed 32 games in 2003, racked up 550 plate appearances, 10.2 WAR and would win his 6th MVP award. In all three of these cases, a player missed a significant amount of time to injury yet had such potent offensive seasons that the voters could not dismiss their contributions to their team. To me, that reads just like Trout this year and shows that if the numbers are there, it should be an easy vote come the end of the season.

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

So while Mike Trout hasn’t passed Jose Altuve just yet, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where it doesn’t happen before the end of the season. You almost feel sorry for guys like Altuve, Judge, Manny Machado and others; they are playing at the same time as one of the greatest players of not only this time period, but easily one of the best of the last 30-40 years. Mike Trout appears to be on a completely different level and this year the numbers say he is doing it in a slightly shorter amount of time. While a vote for Altuve wouldn’t be a bad vote, it would be ignoring not only what Trout is achieving but also what he is doing to help lead an Angels team to contention. It might feel redundant to say Trout should be MVP each year, but it would also be foolish to vote against him just for the sake of change. Last year in August, I said Trout should be in the conversation for MVP and I was scoffed at. I was told Altuve had it in the bag. Trout ended up winning the award. This year I make a different proclamation: Mike Trout should be MVP again. This time, it might be wise to just admit the arguments against him aren’t as strong as the arguments for. All hail Mike Trout.

What Is Wrong With Alex Gordon, Take Two

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2017 was supposed to be a comeback year for Alex Gordon, a year where he could prove all his skeptics wrong and show that last year was an outlier for him. Gordon struggled throughout 2016 and while some attributed it to the hand injury that occurred last May, others felt like his regression had begun. Players in their early to mid 30’s normally see a drop off in their production and it appeared that might just be the case for Alex. But this offseason, Gordon worked out like a fiend, hoping to be the phoenix rising from the ashes. Instead, this year has been one of the most frustrating seasons of his career, as he is hitting .152/.264/.192 through 35 games has yet to hit a home run and only 5 extra base hits (all doubles) to his credit. Last year I looked at some of his issues: little did I know we would have to do the same thing this year. So lets once again ask the question-what is wrong with Alex Gordon?

Alex Gordon

One of the big issues last year with Gordon was an increase in his strike outs and him swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone. So far in 2017, Gordon’s K rate has slid back down to normal levels (20.8% compared to last year’s 29.2%) while his O-Swing % (which is the percentage of pitches swung at outside the strike zone) has fallen to 24.8%, down from 27. 4%. The interesting part is that Alex is making more contact on pitches both inside and outside the zone (53 O-Contact %, 88.1 Z-Contact %), which also means his contact rate has increased as well (78.3%, up from 71.9% in 2016). With his strike outs down, this makes sense and is actually back on par with the previous five seasons before 2016. So a big part of his problem last year has been addressed and fixed; if that is the case, what has negatively changed since last year?

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Kansas City Royals

Digging a bit deeper, it doesn’t take long to point at a few problem areas for Alex. One, his soft hit rate is up this year, sitting at 20% (16.1% in 2016) while his hard hit rate is down (28.4%, compared to 36.9% last year). If you have watched the Royals at all this year, it won’t shock you in the least. Line drive and fly ball rates are down (19.1 and 27.7%, respectively), while his ground ball rate is up (53.2%, a big increase from last year’s 37.9%). Once again, not shocking if you have watched him at the dish this year. What did surprise me a bit was that his pull rate was down; I was certain that he had been pulling the ball much more this year in year’s past. Instead, it is down to 41.1% while his opposite field rate is also down to 16.8%. This means he has been hitting the ball more up the middle (up 10% to 42.1%), which is normally a good thing. Unfortunately, quite a bit more shifts have been put on Gordon this year and a number of line drives that he has hit up the middle have been hit directly to a fielder, normally the shortstop who has shifted over to behind the second base bag. It is a bit surprising to see that he has hit the ball to the opposite field less, especially since he is a better hitter when hitting it to left-left center field. One would think if he got a few more hits to the opposite field, it might cause him to get out of this funk and compile a few hits to help his cause.

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Next, we take a look at the variety of pitches that he has seen since 2016. Now, it is still early in the season, but far enough into it that we can see a pattern forming. First, here is the percentage of pitches seen:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (1)

Next, the swing percentage of pitches thrown at him during that span:

Brooksbaseball-Chart

From the numbers, it is evident that Alex is swinging at more hard and off-speed pitches and less at breaking balls. What is different this year, has been that while he has been more patient with breaking balls, he also has a greater chance to swing and miss at those pitches (39% whiff/swing with breaking balls). In fact, his whiffs per swing on breaking balls has picked up tremendously since 2015:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (2)

While these numbers explain part of the story, there is another piece to the puzzle. When Gordon faces left-handed pitchers, he is seeing a breaking ball (most specifically sliders) a vast majority of the time. Against lefties, Gordon sees a slider 21% of the time in all counts, 25% when the batter is ahead and 26% with two strikes. Lefties have been throwing more sliders and curves to Alex and they have been a difficult pitch for him to handle.

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There is also the issue of Gordon and fastballs, which has raised some eyebrows the last two seasons. Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star wrote about this issue earlier today:

From 2011 to 2015, Gordon was the sixth-best hitter in the American League against fastballs, compiling 92.4 runs above average, according to data from FanGraphs. To look at the players who were better is to see a list of the best hitters from the era: Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, Nelson Cruz, Jose Bautista and David Ortiz.

But then came 2016, and Gordon’s numbers against fastballs plummeted. He compiled just 1.1 runs above average against the pitch. This year, he’s been the 24th-worst hitter in the American League against fastballs, compiling -2.3 runs above average. He entered Tuesday batting .190 against four-seam fastballs and .167 against two-seamers, according to MLB Statcast data. For comparison, the league-average batting average against four-seam and two-seam fastballs was .271, according to Baseball Savant.

So the question has to be asked: is Gordon starting to regress and is having difficulty catching up with the fastball?

Alex Gordon

The numbers seem to attest that very well could be a possibility and has to be concerning for Kansas City management. If this is the case and we are seeing the decline of Gordon, one has to wonder how he will react to it. Alex has always come across as a very competitive player, someone who will put in the time necessary to improve his game. If he is slowing down and his reactionary time is fading as well, he might have to change his game plan up, looking for more off-speed pitches while only focusing on the fastball when necessary. Good hitters over time have dealt with this same issue and have found a way to cheat a little while not seeing their numbers completely dropping off the board. This very well might be the course of action Alex has to take moving forward. Gordon still has the capability of being a productive player, but the days of 20 home runs a season might very well be in the rear-view mirror. Gordon is still a plus defender and is still vital to the Kansas City clubhouse and with his contract is probably not movable. Luckily, it is still only about six weeks into the season, time enough to turn things around and salvage this season. Over the last few weeks we have seen Eric Hosmer and Brandon Moss among others awaken and start hitting. Is it now Alex’s turn? We all hope so. This is not the way most Royals fans envisioned Gordon’s last few years in Kansas City evolving. Hopefully the ‘Prodigal Son’ can bounce back and prove his worth. I don’t know about you, but I still believe.

 

 

Royals at the Winter Meetings: Dayton Rides Space Mountain

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Baseball’s Winter Meetings were taking place this week, and it seemed as good a time as any for the Kansas City Royals to go in and stock up on some needs the team has going into the 2014 campaign. The team was still in need of a second baseman, a power bat and possibly one more starter(cause let’s be honest–you can never have enough starting pitchers!). Instead…well, there was a lot of talking, but not any actual action on the Royals part. Since there were at least some hot rumors about the Royals, let’s dive into those rumors.

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Carlos Beltran Possibly Returning Home

Before the 2013 season had even ended, many a Royals fan would get giddy when the thought of Beltran reuniting possibly with the team that he began his major league career with. Then when word got out that the Royals were actually pursuing Beltran…well, safe to say Royals fans lost their minds(literally)! I even got caught up in the excitement, as the thought of adding a power bat to the lineup seemed rather enticing. But it didn’t take long to start seeing the cracks in this plan. For one, if Kansas City signed Beltran, there was a good chance Billy Butler was getting traded. Say what you will, but outside of last season’s off-year, Butler has been about as consistent for the Royals as you can ask of a player. Two, with the Royals already needing a big bat, adding Beltran then trading Butler would have meant they still needed another bat. Third, Beltran turns 37 in April and already has gotten to where he can’t play in the field on a regular basis. Fourth, most talk was that he was asking for a three year deal, which means he would be close to 40 by the end of the deal and more than likely a regular DH. And fifth, at that point the Royals would need money both to re-sign James Shields and/or Alex Gordon, and there was a good chance that money would be tied up on a player whose best days were in the mirror. So at the end of the day, it might have been a good thing Beltran decided to hop to the Bronx and take some Steinbrenner money. Sure, the idea of Beltran propelling the Royals to the playoffs would have been a great story, and he would have been a God in Kansas City. But the idea is more enticing than the actual reality.

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Omar Infante Might Stay in the American League Central

Word has been going around all week that the Royals are making a run at former Tigers second baseman Omar Infante. This has been an interesting story to follow for a few reasons. It appears that once again, the Royals are going up against the Yankees in pursuit of a free agent, as they are looking to replace Robinson Cano. The sticking point seems to be that Infante wants at least three years, with some reports even saying he wants four years. I don’t know about you, but that seems like a lot for a guy who will soon be 32 and isn’t an elite performer at his position. Now, with that being said, I like Infante. He’s a contact hitter who gets on base consistently and plays solid defense. He would be the kind of player you want up at the plate when you just need a single. So if the Royals got him for 1 or 2 years at $8 million a year, I would probably be okay with that. 3 or 4 years? Ummm….and that is where the issue lies. It’s very apparent the Royals need an upgrade at second base, but if it’s 3 to 4 years or nothing, I could live with Emilio Bonifacio roaming second. Time will only tell if Infante ends up in Royal blue, but I tend to think whether or not a signing like this would look good matters on the years, not the dollars. Like Beltran, you don’t really want to put that many years into a guy who is on the regression portion of his career.

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Rumors Abound

It just wouldn’t be the Winter Meetings without a bunch of rumors making the round. Here is just a taste of some of those rumors that have floated around this week:

Royals in on Mark Trumbo

Rangers once interested in Billy Butler, who could still be traded if they sign Nelson Cruz

Rockies still interested in Royals bullpen arms

Royals interested in Jason Hammel

Royals have shown interest in Johan Santana

Royals look into retiring Chris Getz’s jersey

Okay, I made that last one up. But you see the variety of rumors that have popped up just over the last few days. I actually think the idea of signing someone like Johan Santana to a low end,  incentive laden contract isn’t a bad idea. Because of them being a small market team, Kansas City has to be creative at times and look into guys coming off of injuries who might still have some life left in their arms. I also thought it wouldn’t have been a bad idea to go after Bartolo Colon, but he’s headed to New York to ruin the Mets’ post-game spreads and bathrooms(not exactly in that order). On the other end of the spectrum, the idea of Trumbo or Cruz signing just worries me. I know the Royals need power, but they don’t need guys who aren’t good defensively, strike out a lot, and don’t get on base enough(Trumbo). For now, these are all just rumors. But it does make you wonder what isn’t even leaked out if this is the stuff that actually gets out to the public. And sometimes what does leak out scares you a bit. Like this…

MLB: JUN 21 Diamondbacks at Royals

Royals Might Already Have an Extra Bat  

Word also got out this week that if Kansas City doesn’t do anything to beef up their lineup, they are okay with that. Why you ask? Because they feel the addition of Alex Gordon to the middle of the lineup will be like adding another bat. {Sigh}. Look, I love Alex Gordon. Next to maybe Alcides Escobar, he is probably my next favorite Royal. He is as good as advertised. I just wonder if he will produce as good in the middle of the lineup. Every time they have tried to move A1 to that part of the order, he hasn’t been awful, but he hasn’t batted as well as he does at the top of the order. Doesn’t mean I don’t think he can be the bat they want him to be, it just means history has shown he just doesn’t seem as comfortable batting 3 thru 6 as he does batting leadoff. I would actually be more intrigued at putting him second in the order behind soon to be leadoff hitter Nori Aoki. That way Gordon is still near the top of the order while still having your top hitters at the beginning of your lineup, which is what you should do anyway, right? I still think it would be smart for Kansas City to acquire another bat for the middle of the order, but if not it could be interesting to see how Gordon does batting (probably) fifth. Hopefully I am wrong and he flourishes. Looks like either way we are probably going to find out.

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Dayton & Ned say stuff; I Shake My Head   

Finally, it wouldn’t be a proper off-season without Dayton Moore and Neddy Yost making a bunch of comments that make me shake my head. There’s this. And this. Now, I didn’t get too worked up over either interview, as I’ve learned to take anything these two say with a grain of salt. Sure, a lot of what they say they mean, which scares me. But part of it is just normal interview, PR stuff that really doesn’t mean anything. I’ve also learned that if they are talking, I’m probably going to disagree with what they say, so it’s best to let it go in one ear and out the other. This will probably be the way it is as long as the two of them are employed by Kansas City. At the end of the day, it’s all just words until actions back up what they are saying. Since that doesn’t always come to fruition, it’s easier to not get too worked up over what is said. I just hope the two of them got to go on Space Mountain(WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!) during their time in Florida. That and I hope they are used to the roller coasters, because I’m not getting a real positive vibe off of their moves this off-season. It is only December; by February we could be having a completely different conversation. Strike that–I hope we are having a different conversation. Make it happen, Dayton. All I want is smart moves that are in the best interest of this ball club. Do that and I won’t complain–too much.

Royals Offseason Needs: Right Field

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Most people who follow the Kansas City Royals know that there are three major needs this off-season for Kansas City to be a contender in 2014: a starting pitcher to replace Ervin Santana(which is pretty much a probable), a second baseman and a right fielder. Today I’ll take a look at possible candidates for right field. It’s safe to say that a right fielder with some pop would be nice, and might be the way Kansas City goes. But for the sake of this article, let’s take a look at some major candidates for the Royals to either sign or trade for.

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Carlos Beltran

Carlos Beltran is probably not only the best candidate for Kansas City, but the sentimental choice as well. Now, we should preface the rest of this with the point that Beltran is probably a long shot to sign with the Royals this off-season. But he would be a great choice and who wouldn’t want the greatest playoff hitter in baseball history on their team come September? Many a Royals fan was crushed when Beltran was traded to Houston, especially since he was such a great talent. Kansas City would welcome him back with open arms and his bat would be great to have in the middle of the Royals lineup, which tends to lean very light when it comes to power. There would be issues, though. For one, Beltran will be turning 37 within the first month of the 2014 baseball season, so he is not a spring chicken. Defensively, he is not the outfielder he used to be. Sure, you can give him the occasional start at DH, but then you are sitting Billy Butler(or Eric Hosmer if Billy is moved to first). Sure, you can replace Beltran late in games and let David Lough or whoever else is the backup outfielder get some time in the field, but then you are taking his bat out of the game. I still think Beltran would be the best choice, but I also think that is highly unlikely. It would be neat to have him sign with Kansas City, hoping to be the guy who returns to his old stomping grounds and take them to the playoffs for the first time since 1985. Yes, he would be a certifiable God in Kansas City if that happened. But it is probably a giant ‘IF’.

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Shin Soo Choo

Choo had a great 2013 season, his first in Cincinnati. Choo brings a lot of weapons to the table, mainly his potent bat and the ability to get on base at the top of the order. The Royals are very familiar with Choo after his tenure in Cleveland, on top of the Royals hitting him numerous times over the years, much to the displeasure of  Mr. Choo. Part of me wishes he had taken care of Jonathan Sanchez right then and there. Anyway, Choo will be a free agent here within the next few weeks and will looking to be cashing in. Like, REALLY cashing in! So more than likely, Choo is out of the Royals price range. I know Dayton Moore said that Kansas City was going to stay at the same payroll for 2014, but they said the same thing last winter and went out to spend where they felt they needed to. I personally believe the same for this winter, but even with that said, Choo will be too expensive. Scott Boras gets his clients the most money humanly possible. That just isn’t Kansas City.

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Kyle Blanks/Chris Denorfia

There is a reason I mention both Blanks and Denorfia. Earlier this summer the Royals sent scouts out to check out a number of players on the San Diego Padres. At the time second base and right field where both still major issues(funny how some things don’t change). I’m pretty sure both of these guys were scouted, as was Will Venable, another Padres outfielder. Venable’s value took off not too long after that, so I’m sure he is probably off the market. But I would have to think both Blanks and Denorfia are there for the taking. Blanks had a rough year, as he spent most of the year injured or benched. Blanks has very raw talent, but he also has the main thing the Royals need: power. Denorfia had his best season in the big leagues in 2013, but his numbers just won’t jump out at you. He doesn’t have the power Blanks has but seems to be a bit more consistent. I’m not sure either guy is better than a David Lough/Justin Maxwell platoon, but I could see Moore taking a flyer on either one of these guys. Remember, Moore did the same thing with Maxwell and he turned out to be a good acquisition.

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Giancarlo Stanton 

Stanton is the long shot of all long shots. It will take a HUGE package of players to acquire Stanton in a deal, and I do mean HUGE. But the Royals have the prospects to pull it off. Now, the only problem would be a deal like this would probably kill the farm system and it could take all the top players in your system(Zimmer, Bonifacio, Ventura, Mondesi,etc.). I LOVE Stanton’s power, which is just ridiculous and would solidify the middle of the Royals order. But…if it took all of those prospects to make the deal happen, it’s probably not worth it. I would like the Royals to stay in contention for years to come; not one good year and then have to wait a number of years before winning again. Once again, this would be a very long shot, so don’t expect this one to happen.

Nelson Cruz

Nelson Cruz   

Yes, THAT Nelson Cruz. The one who was suspended from the Biogenesis scandal. But it is also the same Cruz that has played in the postseason and has had success in it. Cruz’s power is very intriguing and is the kind of bat Kansas City needs. But I have my worries with him, and it’s not just the Biogenesis thing. For one, he is a streaky hitter. Sure, when he is hot, he is hot. But when he is cold…it’s like Hoth and he has no Tauntaun to cut open and stay warm inside of. Cruz is also not the greatest defender in the world and, after having Jeff Francoeur out in right the last few years, we all know how that goes. To add to this, I’m not real big on how he has acted in the past. I don’t always put a lot of value in character, but we all know Moore does. Cruz’s value is about as low as it’s been in quite awhile, so there is probably at least a chance he could wind up in Royal blue.

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Corey Hart

Out of all the guys I have mentioned so far, THIS is the one who I think has the best chance of being a Royal in 2014. For one, he is coming off of an injury filled season in 2013, one where he didn’t even play in a single regular season game. This would also mean there is a good chance Hart could be had on the cheap, maybe even a contract with a lot of incentives. Two, Hart played under Royals manager Ned Yost, so Yost already knows what kind of player he would be getting. Hart hits for power, drives in runs and puts up a good batting average. His defense isn’t great, but it’s not awful either. He’s versatile as well, as he could play any of the outfield positions and first base if needed. As long as Hart is healed, I could see him patrolling right field at Kauffman in 2014. The Royals could actually do a lot worse.

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Jacoby Ellsbury/Curtis Granderson   

I know what you are thinking: aren’t these guys center fielders? Yes, yes they are. They are also both free agents this off-season. Yes, my interest would be for them to play center field. So who would play right? Lorenzo Cain. Royals management prefers Cain in right field, where they feel he is better suited. If that is the case, why not acquire a center fielder and shift Cain to right? I would have to assume Ellsbury will take a large chunk of money to be signed, so he would be a long shot. But Granderson? Sure, he isn’t the guy who used to be a perennial All-Star and put up huge power numbers. But he still has power, has a bit of his speed left, and could be had at a realistic price. I don’t know if he would want to play in Kansas City, but the Royals are closer to a playoff spot at this point than the Yankees are. It is at least another option, one the Royals should at least consider.

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No matter which direction Kansas City goes in, it is obvious that they do need an upgrade at the position. I like both David Lough and Justin Maxwell, and a platoon of them isn’t the worst idea in the world, but if the Royals want to reach the playoffs they will need a more potent bat. There are options out there; one can only hope Dayton Moore does his research and makes a move that not only improves the Royals, but is smart for the team as well. If he wants an extension of his own, making a shrewd move here would be in his, and the Royals,  best interest.

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