Royals Sign Duda

 

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

Just when you thought the Kansas City Royals winter was over…

On Wednesday they signed Lucas Duda to a one-year, $3.5 million dollar deal with Kansas City. Incentives could push this deal a bit higher, based on plate appearances:

With the signing, Duda will take over the first base position to begin the year and will add a much-needed left-handed bat to the middle of the Royals batting order. Even better, Duda has been surprisingly productive the last few years in both New York and Tampa Bay.

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Credit: The Associated Press

Duda is coming off of a 30-home run season as he split time with the Rays and Mets. Duda hit 30 bombs, drove in 64 runs, posted a slash line of .217/.322/.496 with an OPS+ of 116. Not enough for your liking? Over his career he has put up an OPS+ of 120 (league average is 100), a .457 slugging percentage and has three seasons where he has produced over 200 total bases. Duda is a power hitting first baseman who is entering his age 32 season and should be able to still produce in the friendly confines of Kauffman Stadium.

I’m sure there will be some who question whether or not he can produce at the level of his predecessor, Eric Hosmer. Well….

Duda won’t be as agile as Hosmer on the base paths or even on defense. Speaking of his defense…

In case you didn’t know, Duda was the one who threw the ball into the stands. The Royals are obviously taking a step down defensively with Duda, but considering what he will do with the bat and what they will be paying him, it is still a good deal.

Lucas Duda takes a pitch during #WorldSeries Game 1.

The one issue that has been brought up with his signing is how he will affect the younger players who have been vying for the first base spot in camp, most notably Hunter Dozier (who appeared to be the front-runner this spring). If you are in the camp of the Royals doing a larger rebuild, Duda would be the wrench in that process as he would be taking at bats away from players like Dozier, Ryan O’Hearn and Frank Schwindel. But General Manager Dayton Moore doesn’t see things that way:

It’s obvious to see that the best case scenario is for Duda to play well, boosting his value and making him more tantalizing for teams before the summer trade deadline. The Royals could then ship him off for a piece that could hopefully help the team in the future and someone like Dozier or O’Hearn could then take over the first base position. In fact, it appears that is what Moore is already thinking:

This seems to hint toward Dozier starting the year in the minors and working his way back up to the big league club. In my mind, this isn’t a bad idea and I even pointed out why I believe that the day of the signing:

While I probably view Dozier differently then some (and I will delve into that at a later date), throwing him into the lineup to start the year and replacing an icon while still learning the position feels like a lot of weight to throw on one man’s shoulders. The Duda signing gives the team time to get Dozier better adjusted to these scenario’s while adding a veteran left-handed bat to a lineup that is going to need all the help it can get.

Lucas Duda
Credit: Fox Sports

Taking this all into account, bringing Duda into the fold feels like a win-win situation for the Royals. The Royals get a veteran bat, adding a lefthander for a very righthanded heavy lineup while allowing time for Dozier to adjust to his fairly new position. Throw in that it is only costing Kansas City $3.5 million AND they might be able to deal him later in the summer and you have the makings of a quality Dayton Moore signing. It even looks like any beef Duda had with Rusty Kuntz has gone away:

It’s not ground breaking, but it was a move that pegs in the positive side of the ledger. For those worried about how Moore will operate as the team moves to rebuild, this will hopefully temper some of the paranoia.

Oh…and considering he is a world series hero in many a Royals fan’s eyes, I would expect a ‘Standing O’ come Opening Day. I have a feeling Duda will fit in just fine…

 

 

On The Shoulders of Eric Hosmer

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Credit: Kansas City Royals

The story of the Kansas City Royals after this past 2017 season was murky, but simple enough: Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain would all be free agents and the Royals would be lucky to re-sign one of them, if any at all. What seemed the most apparent was that Hosmer would have the highest chance of leaving, even before he put together a career year in 2017. The belief was that a number of bigger market teams would be bidding for his services (the Yankees and Red Sox have been mentioned the most) and he would go where the money led him. We kept hearing the Royals would be making Hosmer their main priority, but in a lot of ways that just felt like lip service. I know myself personally, it appeared that the Royals would make him an offer or two, the big market teams would blow away Kansas City’s offer and Royals GM Dayton Moore would essentially concede defeat. The team could then say they made an effort, but financially just couldn’t compete with the New York’s and Boston’s of the world. This has been my frame of mind for well over a year now…and then something threw a monkey wrench into that thinking. That something now has me wondering if it is not only possible to bring Hosmer back, but possibly either Moose or LoCain as well.

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Credit: Kansas City Royals

Let me begin by stating I still feel like it is a long shot to bring back Hosmer but the chances do appear to be improving for the Royals. Start by reading this article by Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star. Mellinger paints a picture of how this could go down and while it feels like a ‘Hail Mary’, it isn’t as crazy as you might think. To sum up what he says, the belief is that if the market shakes out a certain way for Hosmer, he could fall back to the Royals, much in the way Alex Gordon did a few years back, as even Moore references:

“I think there’s some other things that we’d like to execute if possible — see what happens with our free agents. Everybody assumes that we are just going to just get blown away in free agency, and we don’t have a chance. They may be right, but I think everybody felt that way about Alex Gordon at the time. That fell back to us. You just never really know.”

If you remember, Gordon appeared all but gone by all of baseball, that was until Jason Heyward signed his contract with the Cubs and Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes’ names were still on the board. Gordon fell a tick or two below those two names and his age and the fact that the Cubs were the biggest suitor for him appeared to lower the type of deal he could get on the market. The one aspect of Alex coming back to Kansas City was that he always wanted to stay with the Royals, which is a bit in question with Hosmer:

The Royals know they cannot offer the biggest contract to Hosmer, so they will likely follow the same plan that eventually landed Gordon two years ago: stay in touch, be patient, trust that they’ll have a chance after other offers come in, and then get as close as possible.

Hosmer signing with the Royals would require a series of breaks their way. Many around the game believe Hosmer could get $150 million or more. They would need to be wrong. Many around the game believe Hosmer wants to play in a bigger market. They would need to be wrong about that, too.

Sure, that is a lot of if’s. A lot. But I do genuinely feel like these guys love Kansas City and the organization. If you saw any of the send-off on the final day of the season you could tell that there was some real, heartfelt emotion going on with this group. Hosmer is super close to Moustakas and Salvador Perez and one does have to wonder how much those friendships play into a player’s decision. I know, money trumps the rest most of the time. I even understand that, considering most players don’t have a super long career in the first place, so they should make their money while they can. But if these guys want to make it work while staying in Kansas City, it could happen. But Hosmer appears to be the pivotal piece and his decision will affect the rest when it comes to re-signing.

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Credit: Kansas City Royals

The decision for Hosmer could be affected by which and how many teams are bidding for his services. The belief all along has been that a number of big market teams would be vying for his attention, but Buster Olney of ESPN points out that there might not be as many teams as first thought:

Hosmer theoretically fits the Red Sox or the Yankees, but each of those big-market teams have worked to get under the luxury-tax threshold. New York believes in Greg Bird’s talent and swing, and the potential savings of Bird over Hosmer is likely to keep the Yankees out of the Hosmer bidding. The Red Sox already have over $130 million committed in 2018 payroll before they pick up the options on closer Craig Kimbrel ($13 million) and Chris Sale ($12.5 million) and before they deal with the pricey arbitration cases of Xander BogaertsJackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts.

The Giants also have very little payroll flexibility, to the degree that they informed Madison Bumgarner last winter they weren’t ready to talk about a contract extension yet because of luxury-tax implications. The San Francisco front office would probably love to have Hosmer, who would help in so many ways — the offensive production and RBI potential, the defense, the leadership. But Brandon Belt is about to reach the backloaded portion of his contract: He’ll make $17.2 million for each of the next four seasons, a staggering debt that the Giants might have to live with.

Olney also mentions that there are a number of bigger market teams who already have younger, cheaper options at first base, like the Dodgers, Phillies and Mets. He would go on to mention the Angels could be interested, but it would matter on whether or not Upton returns to the team and the Cardinals would probably have to unload Matt Carpenter before they could consider signing Hosmer. That leaves…well, that leaves only a few teams in the hunt for the young first baseman, as Olney again points out:

As the saying goes: All it takes is one serious bidder. But it does not appear as if Hosmer will have a high volume of teams in pursuit, and the Royals might turn out to be his most ardent suitors.

If this comes to fruition, it is very plausible Hosmer could fall to the Royals. To add to the discussion, the Yankees Greg Bird had a very positive postseason this month (.244/.426/.512 with 3 home runs, 6 RBI’s and 5 total extra base hits) and it would appear the Yankees are already out of the running, especially considering the luxury-tax threshold. So if this happens, what would the Royals be able to offer money-wise?

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Credit: Kansas City Royals

It’s hard to predict just what the Royals would be offering Hosmer, but I’m going to go ahead and take a guess. Let’s start with his salary for 2017, which sat at $12.25 million. Hosmer will obviously see a bump from there, but how high? I’m assuming here the Royals will want to sign him to a long-term deal, but not the ten-year deal that was floated around this past spring. So let’s go with a 6 year deal with a couple of option years tacked on (Dayton does love his mutual options!). This might be a tad less, but I can’t picture the team being locked into anything over six years guaranteed (but I could be wrong about that). Hosmer’s comparable player would most likely be Freddie Freeman of the Braves (or as I normally call him, “Better Hosmer”); Freeman signed a 8 year, $135 million dollar deal back in 2014. That averages out to $16.875 million a year. I tend to believe Hosmer would get something in that same ballpark, but I’m not quite sold that he would get the $20 million a year that was tossed around for a while. So lets keep him at an average of $18 million a year, which in six years would be a $108 million dollar deal. He could get slightly more than that, but if I know Moore, he would probably make the early years slightly lesser and the last few years would be heavily back-loaded. Like I said, he could get slightly more than this from the Royals, but not much more. So if Kansas City is able to pull this off, the talk is that then the Royals would go after either Moustakas or Cain, which sounds crazy, right?

Royals officials are making it clear that Hosmer is their top offseason priority. If they are able to re-sign him, they will try to shed some payroll and make an aggressive offer to Mike Moustakas or Lorenzo Cain. If Hosmer signs somewhere else, the Royals will move to a contingency plan.

Let’s play devil’s advocate: if Hosmer re-signs and they then go out and sign Moustakas for instance, how would the Royals be able to afford both stars?

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Credit: Kansas City Royals

There is a very simple solution to how the Royals could afford both players: shed payroll. That also means Kansas City would have to eat some money, which they have been reluctant to do:

That could mean moving players like Ian Kennedy, Joakim Soria, Jason Hammel and Brandon Moss. All of those contracts are backloaded, so the Royals would need to eat some money. They haven’t done much of that in the past, but would have to see the opportunity to keep homegrown stars long-term as reason to break protocol.

So you are probably now shaking your head at me, saying ‘but then how do you replace THOSE players?’. Good question. Obviously, the Royals would get something in return for all them, but the quality of players they would get in return would be questionable, as well as if they would be major league ready. The Royals could also go out and deal Cheslor Cuthbert, Hunter Dozier and Ryan O’Hearn (or two of the three), since Hosmer and Moustakas would be taking over the positions they currently play. That could be a way for the team to pick up some younger, affordable arms to add to the organization. Obviously the team would also have to scrounge on the free agent market for a few more players, but Moore has shown a tendency to be creative the last few years if called upon. Kansas City seriously needs to upgrade their pitching next year, and if the team did bring back Hos and Moose, it would appear a bit harder to accomplish that goal. Harder, but still possible. Once again, this is a long shot, but it is interesting to think of all the different scenarios the team could go in if they were able to bring back two members of this core group.

Moose and Hos
Credit: Kansas City Royals

While I still contend this is the least likely scenario to happen, I am all in to bring back Hosmer and Moustakas. Now that might appear to be a bit strange coming from the guy who earlier this wrote that the Royals shouldn’t re-sign Hosmer, but if it means Moustakas stays (which has been my main preference all along) and it forces the front office to be creative, then I am on board. The one thing to remember in situations like this is that many players who sign a long-term deal with a team don’t remain with said team for the duration of the contract. So the prospect of the Royals locking in Hosmer for more than five years might appear to be daunting on the surface, in the big picture it would be likely he is dealt before the contract is up. Maybe I’m holding on to all those ‘fuzzy feelings’ I felt at that last game of the season, or maybe I’m just not ready to move on from these players. But I’m not opposed to this plan by the front office and if they aren’t going to tank the big league club, this is a better scenario than piecing players together for years on end. It wouldn’t be the first time this organization flew by the seat of their pants:

 

If this sounds wishy-washy, like an organization that doesn’t know exactly what it wants to be, it’s actually similar in philosophy to how they made the parade.

When he came to Kansas City, Moore didn’t intend to build a team without home-run power — first thing he wanted to do as GM was move the fences in.

He didn’t intend to build the best bullpen in modern baseball history — strongest belief he had when he arrived was the importance of starting pitching.

But the Royals’ best teams hit very few home runs, and had a line of shutdown relievers, because the front office identified cost-effective workarounds to the traditional ways of winning.

They’ll have to continue to think on their feet, but for now, they wait. Everything depends on Hosmer.

I couldn’t have said it better myself, Sam. Remember this during the winter whenever Hosmer’s name is brought up. He is the key to what we will see on the field next year in Kansas City.

 

My 2017 MLB Predictions

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Ah, yes…Opening Day is upon us as we embark on a new Major League Baseball season. For the majority of teams, this is a time of hope and optimism. For a few, there is more of a glance to the future than the present. As baseball fans, every year we throw out our predictions, hoping by mid-season they aren’t a big colossal mass of hilarity. I don’t take my predictions super-serious, but I’m always hopeful that I am at least within the vicinity of reality. So without further ado, my predictions for the upcoming season.

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American League East

  1. Boston Red Sox
  2. Toronto Blue Jays
  3. Tampa Bay Rays
  4. New York Yankees
  5. Baltimore Orioles

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American League Central

  1. Cleveland Indians
  2. Kansas City Royals
  3. Detroit Tigers
  4. Minnesota Twins
  5. Chicago White Sox

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American League West

  1. Houston Astros
  2. Texas Rangers
  3. Seattle Mariners
  4. Los Angeles Angels
  5. Oakland A’s

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National League East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. New York Mets
  3. Miami Marlins
  4. Philadelphia Phillies
  5. Atlanta Braves

MLB: Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals

National League Central

  1. Chicago Cubs
  2. St. Louis Cardinals
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates
  4. Cincinnati Reds
  5. Milwaukee Brewers

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Milwaukee Brewers

National League West

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. San Francisco Giants
  3. Colorado Rockies
  4. Arizona Diamondbacks
  5. San Diego Padres

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Awards

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American League MVP: Carlos Correa, Houston

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American League Cy Young: Marcus Stroman, Toronto

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American League Rookie of the Year: Andrew Benintendi, Boston

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National League MVP: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona

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National League Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles

Angels Dodgers Spring Baseball

National League Rookie of the Year: Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles

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Playoff Teams 

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American League

Division Winners: Boston, Cleveland, Houston

Wild Cards: Toronto, Kansas City

American League Champions: Toronto

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National League

Division Winners: Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles

Wild Cards: New York, San Francisco

National League Champions: Washington

USP MLB: ALDS-TEXAS RANGERS AT TORONTO BLUE JAYS S BBA CAN ON

Am I super confident about my picks? Nope. Baseball is a funny thing, largely because of the length of the season. There are so many twists and turns that there is no way to truly predict how it will all shake down. What I can say with confidence is that another fun, memorable season is getting ready to start and I can’t wait. The best part about baseball is the storyline that it revolves around. I can’t wait to see how this whole thing unfolds. Last October, we had a great Cleveland/Chicago World Series; what do the baseball God’s have in store for us this year? Truly, only time will tell.

 

Why the Royals Should Let Hosmer Go

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Everyone who isn’t living underneath a rock knows that 2017 is a make or break year for the Kansas City Royals, as a large chunk of their world championship nucleus will become free agents at the end of the season. As of right now, Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas could all be wearing different uniforms at this point next year. The common thought has been that the Royals won’t be able to keep everyone and more than likely 3/4 of these players won’t be re-signed. The belief has also been that Eric Hosmer would be the hardest to bring back, as he and his agent, Scott Boras, would be asking for the moon and more, which for the Royals would be almost impossible. But it now appears as if Hosmer is numero uno on their list, as the two sides are already discussing an extension  while no discussions have begun for either Cain or Moustakas. It appears that Kansas City wants to keep Hosmer a Royal, but honestly, they shouldn’t.

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Let’s start with the positives when it comes to Hosmer. Hosmer is a 3-time Gold Glove winner, All-Star MVP and has driven in 29 runs in the playoffs, most of them big hits to help the Royals as they ascended to back-to-back World Series appearances. Hosmer has posted a career line of .277/.335/.428 in his six-year career, which is respectable but very average. Hosmer saw an uptick in his home run totals in 2016, but his overall slugging took  a bit of a hit. The biggest thing when it comes to Hosmer is the fact that he is entering his age 27 season, as many believe he has yet to reach his peak and more than likely whomever signs him this winter will end up with his best years, conceivably.

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If you noticed, a lot of the positives associated with him center around what he ‘could’ do. It feels a bit weird to me to think a player entering his 7th big league season is still being waited on to reach his potential, or that the numbers tell a different story than what most people feel about Hosmer off of the ‘eye test’. If you listen to the national media, they have some heavy love for Hosmer and in some ways I see it. Here is a guy who is young and charming, has had success on the national stage in both the playoffs and All-Star Game and is a fun interview. For many, this is the Hosmer they know and for many it is why they believe him to be the focal point of Kansas City’s offense. But the truth lies somewhere else and to many of us who follow this team religiously, it is a big reason why we believe the Royals should not even entertain negotiations.

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2016 is probably the perfect example of what kind of player Eric Hosmer can really be. I wrote in great detail about his struggles last summer and will revisit the two sides of a season that could (should) have been a career year for him. First, lets look at the splits of his year, as it is the best personification of 2016. In the first half, Hosmer looked like the MVP caliber player we’ve all thought he could be, racking up a line of .299/.355/.476 with 13 home runs, 49 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 118. Hosmer, without a doubt, earned that starting first base spot in the All-Star Game and even just an average second half would have put him at career best numbers. But his second half could have taken place in a horror movie, as he put up scary bad numbers: .225/.296/.380 with 12 home runs and 55 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 78. It was very obvious that Hosmer was trying to pull the ball much more in the second half and while his home run and RBI totals are on par with the first half, his other numbers took a giant dip. When trying to figure out why his slugging numbers declined, it is easy to see that while his dinger total was up, his doubles took a bit of a dive, as he hit only 6 doubles the entire second half of the season. To be honest, Hosmer’s season started to decline in June, as his numbers that month were down from the first two months of the season: .257/.350/.366 with 2 home runs, 13 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 91.

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When I looked at his struggles last summer, I noticed a change in his approach at the plate, preparing for the pitch. Hosmer went from a toe tap that seemed to steady his body and cause less movement to a high, exaggerated leg kick that caused much more movement as the pitch was delivered. While the leg kick would sometimes help him deliver more power, it also seemed to throw his body out of balance from time to time. The concern with that was a lack of consistency, which has become a staple of Hosmer’s major league career. In looking back last year at his slumps, it became more and more evident that Hosmer is very inconsistent when it comes to his production. In fact, when looking back through his career, almost every year saw him run into a long cold stretch at some point in each season where he produced very little offense. Now, all players go through slumps and it is rare to find a player who can be consistent throughout an entire season. But Hosmer doesn’t just slump; he looks lost for 4-6 weeks at a time. The biggest concern is his ability to adjust, which he never seemed to do in the second half of 2016. Pitchers started throwing him more breaking balls starting in May:

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It is very obvious that pitchers adjusted to Hosmer and threw less and less fastballs to him while giving him a steady diet of breaking and off-speed pitches through the rest of the year. If the Royals locked Hosmer up to a long-term deal, I would worry that these struggles would continue and it is hard to justify him being in the middle of the Kansas City order when he stumbles into another lull.

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The other concern with Hosmer is his inability to elevate the ball. In 2016, Hosmer led all qualified batters in baseball with a 58.9% groundball rate. In fact, throughout his 6 year career, his lowest rate has been 49.7% in his rookie season. In comparison, Mike Trout’s highest groundball rate is 44% in his rookie season. Now, no one expects Hosmer to be Trout (seriously, there is only one Mike Trout) but it proves the point I am trying to make: for Hosmer to be considered an elite player, he needs to hit the ball in the air more and less on the ground. Hosmer saw a major decrease in his line drive rate last year (23.6% to 16.5%) and a philosophy of more line drives and less ground balls would be a recipe of success for him. Sadly, I don’t know if that is possible, since he has averaged a 53% groundball rate through the first six years. For him to see a change, it is going to have to be a complete mental change-up to what he has been doing up to this point.

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So how serious is Kansas City about getting Hosmer locked up? It appears to be serious:

“We as an organization have a strong desire to extend Eric,” Moore said. “We’re confident in his desire to be here in Kansas City. As with him and all our players, we’ll work as hard as we can to execute a deal.”

The issue could very well be length of contract, as it appears as if Hosmer is asking for a ten-year deal:

Hosmer isn’t nearly as accomplished offensively as either of those players was, but the Royals anticipate that he will seek a 10-year deal, knowing that a number of high-revenue clubs — including the Red Sox, Mets and Phillies — could seek a first baseman next off-season.

I don’t know about you, but a ten-year deal just feels like the recipe for disaster. I firmly believe no player is worth that long of a deal and definitely not Eric Hosmer.

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Years ago, the Royals locked up another first baseman, Mike Sweeney, to what would eventually be a five-year deal that seemed a positive for the team at the time. Sweeney was a year older than Hosmer (he will be entering his age 28 season in 2018) at the time, and by the end of that deal, injuries had turned Sweeney into a shell of his former self. Go look at the Joe Mauer deal, or Prince Fielder, or any other long-term deal for a first baseman; outside of maybe a Joey Votto, most have not panned out. While Hosmer shows the ability to possibly be a major offensive contributor, there is a feeling that what we have seen these last few years is what we would end up with. When adding up the length of the deal as well as the money that would be involved (and there is no way his deal wouldn’t be a pricey one for Kansas City), it would make more sense for the Royals to spend their money elsewhere. Hosmer reminds me of that shiny novelty item you find while you have some spare coin in your pocket. Sure, it looks nice and shiny and you can already imagine what all you could do with it…but…after awhile you wonder why you wasted your money on something you won’t ever use again. So you end up trying to sell it on ebay and hope you can at least salvage 1/3 of what you initially paid for it. While some Royals fans would love to see Hos locked up long-term, I tend to think the deal would be a regret within just a few short years. Call me crazy, but the Royals could do better than keeping Hosmer in the fold. I’ll go a step further-I feel he is overrated. If Kansas City is serious about locking up anyone who could be gone after this season, all they have to do is look across the diamond. There is a third baseman who feels like a perfect fit for this team and has shown improvement over the years. That would be my choice, but I’m not the GM. By the end of Spring Training we should have our answer, as Hosmer has said he will negotiate until the season starts and if nothing happens by then he will take his chances in free agency. I tend to think no news before Opening Day is good news; Hosmer is not the savior Kansas City needs.

You Wanted The Royals To Sign Someone…

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It’s been a slow winter for the Kansas City Royals so far. Outside of the acquisition of Jorge Soler, the possible next biggest news for Kansas City might be the team re-signing backup catcher Drew Butera. Yep, that is how slow it has been. In fact, you’ve probably heard many a Royals fan utter the phrase “Just sign someone, anyone…”. Well…you got your wish, as Kansas City signed four players to minor league deals on Christmas Eve. On that list is pitcher Bobby Parnell, infielder Brooks Conrad, outfielder Ruben Sosa and…former Royal Jonathan Sanchez. Yes, the same Sanchez who was acquired for Melky Cabrera at one point. The same Sanchez who was absolutely atrocious during his short stint in Kansas City. We will get back to him in just a moment. But first, lets look at all of these signings and what to expect from them.

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Let’s start with Parnell, who is the biggest name on this list. Parnell used to be a solid contributor out of the bullpen for the Mets, including a four year run from 2010 to 2013 where he produced an average 140 ERA+ during that span. Injuries curtailed Parnell’s run after that, appearing in just one game in 2014 (due to Tommy John surgery) before returning to the Mets for 30 games in the 2015 season. That year was nothing to write home about, as Parnell posted an ERA+ of 61, a FIP of 4.18 and an ERA of 6.38. Parnell signed a minor league deal with Detroit last year but threw most of the year in AAA, putting up very pedestrian numbers. He did appear in six games for the Tigers, throwing 5 innings, striking out 4 while walking 5 in that short span and would eventually be let go by Detroit. The one positive in 2016 for Parnell was that the velocity on his fastball did increase, picking up to 94 mph on average, one mph faster than he racked up in 2015 and closer to the upper 90’s fastball seen by him before the surgery. I actually think Parnell could be a valuable asset in the Royals bullpen, as he could be in the vein of a Ryan Madson, who had been out of baseball for a couple of years before signing with Kansas City before the 2015 season. This is a quality signing by Dayton Moore in my eyes.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Chicago Cubs

Conrad is a veteran journeyman who has floated around baseball for about 15 years now and played in the Independent League in 2016. Conrad last saw action in the minor leagues back in 2015, posting a line of .190/.280/.319 in 83 games. Conrad has basically been used as a utility infielder throughout his career, seeing most of his time at third base. He has played parts of 6 seasons in the major leagues, putting up a line of .200/.271/.389 over 515 plate appearances. It’s pretty obvious that Conrad’s signing was a depth move, as he can fill a number of roles if the Royals end up placing him in either AA or AAA. In fact, I would dare to say there is a chance he was signed for the sole purpose of working with many of the younger players in the farm system and might even be a future coach in the Kansas City system. This might be a signing that was being eyed more for a future role in the organization than anything else, so I wouldn’t really expect to see him in Kansas City at anytime in 2017.

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Sosa is an outfielder who has spent most of his career in the Astros and Angels organizations. Sosa hasn’t had a horrible minor league career, posting a career line of .282./.366/.391 over six seasons. Sosa is a speedy outfielder who seems to take a good amount of walks, but also strikes out quite often (319 strike outs in 419 games). What probably caught the Royals eye is his work in the Mexican League in 2016. Over 70 games, Sosa hit .371/.458/.517 with 22 stolen bases. Sosa probably is a backup outfielder at best if he would reach the big leagues, used mainly as a defensive replacement and pinch runner would be my guess. Sosa would be a long-shot to get to Kansas City and has been assigned to the Kansas City AA affiliate, Northwest Arkansas.

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Finally, we have reached the main event, former Royal Jonathan Sanchez. I’m sure many a Royals fan cringed when they heard Moore had signed Sanchez to a minor league deal, as he is not fondly remembered by Royals fans. Lets not mince words-Sanchez was awful during his short span in Kansas City. In just 12 games (and yes, it feels like he pitched more than that for Kansas City), Sanchez 0.82 Strike out to walk ratio, an ERA+ of 54 (100 is league average) 6.45 FIP and a -1.3 bWAR. Before you ask, yes, Sanchez was as bad as the numbers indicate. The worst part of his run in Kansas City was that it just seemed like he didn’t want to be with the team, so he was dealt to Colorado in July of 2012 for Jeremy Guthrie. Incidentally, my first post on this blog was spent talking about that deal, a deal that was definitely one of Dayton Moore’s best. All this being said…it doesn’t really bother me that the Royals have brought Sanchez back into the fold. The honest truth is that the likelihood that he makes it to the big league club is slim and none. Sanchez hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2013, where he pitched in 5 games for Pittsburgh, throwing only 13 innings, allowing 18 runs and 7 home runs in that short amount of time. He was in the Reds camp last year for Spring Training, but was released at the end of camp. It is very simple math with this signing: if he is awful, the team will release him in Spring Training and that will be that. If he does good, then he can actually contribute to the Royals in 2017, something he didn’t do the first time around. Kansas City doesn’t lose anything by bringing him in, other than a small amount of time.

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The honest truth is that moves like these are necessary for any major league ballclub. Most minor league deals are done for one very big reason: depth. A team never knows how the season will unfold and the more depth you have stored away in the minor leagues, the more likely you will stumble across someone who can contribute to the major league team. It’s a total win/win situation, as most of these signings are done very cheaply and don’t cost the team anything. Over the years the Royals have succeeded on a few of these signings, especially with a few guys who were coming off of injuries and were able to be a part of the big league roster. Ryan Madson is the most prolific, as he pitched good enough in 2015 to earn himself a lot of money from Oakland that following winter. So while these signings aren’t going to blow anyone away, you never know what might actually pan out. So I’m not going to get worked up about Sanchez being in Royals camp this spring; the honest truth is the Royals gave up nothing for him and he either pitches good or he is gone. This time around, Sanchez needs the Royals more than they need him.

Winners and Losers: My 2016 Year End Awards

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

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American League MVP: Mike Trout

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

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

IBWAA Winner: Mike Trout

BBWAA Winner: Mike Trout

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National League MVP: Kris Bryant

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

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

IBWAA Winner: Kris Bryant

BBWAA Winner: Kris Bryant

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American League Cy Young Award: Chris Sale

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

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

IBWAA Winner: Corey Kluber

BBWAA Winner: Rick Porcello

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National League Cy Young Award: Clayton Kershaw

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

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

IBWAA Winner: Max Scherzer

BBWAA Winner: Max Scherzer

MLB: MAY 21 Rays at Tigers

American League Rookie of the Year: Michael Fulmer

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

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

IBWAA Winner: Michael Fulmer

BBWAA Winner: Michael Fulmer

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

National League Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager

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

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

IBWAA Winner: Corey Seager

BBWAA Winner: Corey Seager

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

American League Manager of the Year: Jeff Banister

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

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

IBWAA Winner: Terry Francona

BBWAA Winner: Terry Francona

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National League Manager of the Year: Dave Roberts

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

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

IBWAA Winner: Joe Maddon

BBWAA Winner: Dave Roberts

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American League Reliever of the Year: Andrew Miller

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

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

IBWAA Winner: Zach Britton

AP METS CUBS BASEBALL S BBN USA IL

National League Reliever of the Year: Jeurys Familia

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

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

IBWAA Winner: Kenley Jansen

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

 

 

Royals Retro: Bret Saberhagen

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Back in the spring, I got to thinking about the history of the Kansas City Royals and how it was embedded into the fabric of my fandom as much as anything else. In the past I have done pieces on Hal McRae and have taken a look back at the history of the team, both at shortstop and a ‘Where are They Now’ piece as well. But I really wanted to dive into the past a bit more here on the blog and knew that during the season wouldn’t exactly be an opportune time to do that. Instead, I decided to wait until the off-season to get started with a monthly segment that will be called ‘Royals Retro’. Once a month, I’ll take a look back at the career of a past Royal who deserves to have a light shined on their career. I honestly couldn’t think of a better candidate to start off with than possibly the greatest pitcher in Royals history, Bret Saberhagen.

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Saberhagen wasn’t a glorified first round draft pick by the Royals as I assume many would think he was. Instead, Bret was drafted by Kansas City in the 19th round of the 1982 draft, a high school pitcher out of Reseda, California. Saberhagen would sign late in July of that year, but wouldn’t make his professional debut until the 1983 season. In fact, 1983 would be Saberhagen’s only year in the minors, starting 27 games, posting an ERA of 2.55 over 187 innings, averaging 6.3 strike outs per 9, 2.3 walks per 9 and a WHIP of 1.134. Saberhagen took the fast track to the major leagues, as he would make his debut in Kansas City just one year later in 1984, splitting time between the rotation and bullpen for the Royals. He would throw 157 innings over 38 games (18 games started), posting an ERA+ of 115, striking out 4.2 batters per 9, and a FIP of 3.64. As probably expected, Saberhagen put up slightly better numbers in his 20 appearances out of the bullpen, posting an ERA of 2.32 over 54 innings, while averaging 4.1 strike outs per 9. One aspect of his game that was evident even early on in his career was how Sabs was good about trusting his defense and making pitches for the batter to put in play. Spanning his career, Bret’s ball in play percentage was on average anywhere from mid 70% to upper 70%; during his rookie year, it sat at 79%. Saberhagen would also make his first postseason start, throwing 8 innings while only allowing 3 runs, 2 earned. Nothing overtly stands out in his 1984 numbers that showed how he would break out the following year, but it was at least obvious that the Royals had a keeper.

Kansas City Royals

Saberhagen would enter his age 21 season and it wouldn’t take long for him to become the Royals ace. By the end of the season, he would lead the American League in FIP, WHIP, walks per 9 and strike out to walk ratio. He would also rack up an ERA+ of 143, an ERA of 2.87 and would win his first Cy Young award while coming in tenth in the AL MVP voting…basically on two pitches:

“The year Bret won 20, he relied mostly on two pitches: his fastball and his changeup, which he throws extremely well,” said Kansas City pitching coach Gary Blaylock. “Even though he also threw a curveball and a hard slider, he never really had control of either of them. Too often they were just waste pitches.

The icing on the cake was during the Royals playoff run that October. During the World Series in 1985, Saberhagen would make two starts, throwing two complete games, including a complete game shutout in Game 7 to help Kansas City take their first championship. Bret would end up MVP of the World Series, while his wife would give birth to the couple’s first child, Drew William, on the night of Game 6. All in all, it felt like the beginning of a very prosperous career for the young righthander.

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But Saberhagen would fall back in 1986, as a nasty combination of struggles and injuries limited him to 25 starts and 30 appearances overall. Injuries were the biggest issue, as Bret dealt with shoulder, elbow and foot problems and contributed to a 4.15 ERA, a 102 ERA+ and just 2.0 bWAR, a year after racking up an impressive 7.3 bWAR. Many wondered  back in ’86 if success had spoiled Sabs, but Saberhagen was just as unsure as anyone else:

“Everybody’s trying to come up with a solution or theory of what I could have done to change things,” Saberhagen said before the Kansas City Royals met the Angels Tuesday night in Anaheim Stadium. “When you’re not going as well as you should be, everybody shines the light at you and asks why.”

1986 would also be the beginning of weird odd year/even year pattern where it concerned his success. It appeared over time that Bret excelled in odd years, while struggling during even years. This odd phenomenon would continue throughout his Kansas City career.

Kansas City Royals

1987 saw Saberhagen restore his old glory, throwing an impressive 257 innings over his 33 starts, compiling 15 complete games, a WHIP of 1.163, an ERA+ of 136 and 8.0 bWAR. Bret would also earn his first All-Star nomination and a WPA+ of 19.1. A big part of his success that year was the added use of a curveball, a new addition to his pitching repertoire:

“That’s why we decided to take the hard slider away from him in spring training and have him work on perfecting his curveball, which actually fits his mechanics a lot better,” Blaylock continued. “Now he can consistently get hitters out with his curveball, where before it was just there. I won’t say that’s the chief reason for Bret’s fast start this season, but that’s part of it.”

It also appeared that any distractions he had in ’86 were in the rear-view mirror:

Saberhagen reportedly is also a lot more disciplined on days when he is scheduled to work than he was last year, when on at least one occasion he came to the park early, not to work on some of his problems, but to film a car commercial. This year he definitely seems more organized, more able to block out distractions, and more willing to challenge the hitters with a fastball that has been clocked as high as 96 m.p.h.

The one downside to 1987 was a shoulder injury in the second half of the season that affected his performance on the field, as only 4 of those 15 complete games were in the second half. Saberhagen would also allow more hits, runs and home runs in the second half, all in 42 less innings than he had in the first half.

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The pattern would continue in 1988, as Bret struggled, allowing the most hits in the American League and giving up the most runs in his career. Saberhagen would post an ERA+ of 106, a FIP of 3.08 (which actually wasn’t that bad) and a bWAR of 3.8. The good news was that he stayed healthy and that health would remain as he ventured into 1989. ’89 would be his career year when it came to numbers, as he would lead the American League in wins, W-L%, ERA, complete games, innings pitched, ERA+, WHIP, FIP and strike out to walk ratio. His bWAR that year was the highest of his career, 9.7, as he would earn his second Cy Young award, while earning his first Gold Glove and finishing 8th in the AL MVP voting. From July 26th on, Saberhagen would compile four shutouts and only once in a game over that period would a team score more than two runs on him. In many ways, 1989 was the year that Saberhagen went from being a really good pitcher who won the Cy Young award at one point to one of the best pitchers in the game and an elite ace. Most Royals fans will discuss his 1985 campaign when talking about his greatness, but 1989 was easily his best year.

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1990 was the expected off-year for Saberhagen, as he would appear in just 20 games while throwing 135 innings. The one positive for him was his second All-Star game appearance, one in which he would pick up the win for the American League. Bret would pitch in one game during the second half before being shelved, as he would have successful arthroscopic surgery on his elbow in July. At this point, he was 26 and the litany of injury issues were starting to pile up.

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1991 would be Bret’s final year in Kansas City and as patterns go, it was another solid season. Saberhagen would throw 196 innings in 1991, with seven complete games, an ERA+ of 135, a WHIP of 1.070 and a bWAR of 5.1. The crowning moment for him that season was his first career no-hitter, as he blanked the Chicago White Sox, 7-0. All these years later and it is the last no-hitter thrown in Royals history. Bret really didn’t think about getting it until about the 7th inning:

“The funny thing is that once we got to the seventh inning — and I’d been at that point a few times before in my career (with a no-hitter) and I’d never been able to finish it off — I started to think about getting that darn thing,” Saberhagen recalled. “So at that point, I told myself I was going to go at every batter like he was the last batter of the game.

The toughest out might very well have been the final out:

“It was a breaking ball to Frank, and he hit the ball to Terry Shumpert at second base,” Saberhagen recalled almost 23 years later. “Terry got it and fired to first and that was it. Such a cool feeling.”

How ironic, 25 years later, that this would be just a few months before Saberhagen’s time in Kansas City would wrap up. It seems fitting that possibly the greatest pitcher in Royals history would throw a no-no in his final year as a Royal.

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On December 11, 1991, the Royals shockingly traded Saberhagen to the New York Mets (with Bill Pecota) for Kevin McReynolds, Gregg Jefferies and Keith Miller. Bret was entering his age 28 season, and while there were some concerns about injuries, this was a way to fill three holes in the Kansas City offense:

“Any time an organization gives up a player of Bret Saberhagen’s caliber, it’s a hard thing to do. But we had to take a risk and do some things that you don’t always want to do. But we feel we’re a better ball club because of it. We were able to fill three holes. The Mets probably were the only club in baseball talent-rich enough to do something like this.”

What is interesting to see all these years later is the reactions, such as this one from former Mets GM Al Harazin on whether or not New York felt like they overpaid for Saberhagen:

“I think we gave up an awful lot of talent, but we got one of the best pitchers in baseball. I’ll leave it to others to decide if we overpaid.”

It was a shocking move, even for Bret as he wasn’t expected to leave Kansas City:

“When you win a couple of Cy Young’s you start thinking maybe you’re a fixture and one of the main reasons they’ve accomplished what they have in the past.”

The move was equally as shocking for Royals fans. I remember being crushed as a 15 year old Royals fan to learn one of my favorite players was no longer a Royal. At the time I wasn’t as privy to the business side of baseball; all I knew was a player I had gotten attached to was now going to pitch in New York. So how did the trade work out? Not great for the Royals. Saberhagen would accumulate 11.7 bWAR during his time in New York, including a third place finish in the National League Cy Young voting in 1994. Miller would play parts of four seasons with Kansas City, raking in 1.4 total bWAR in that span. McReynolds put together 1.9 bWAR in his two seasons in Kansas City (and never endeared himself to Royals fans), while Jefferies had a 2.2 bWAR in his lone season in Kansas City. Jefferies at one point was considered a future star, but was a slightly above average player whom the Royals would trade the following winter for Felix Jose. Jose was an even bigger bust, posting a -0.2 bWAR during his time in Kansas City. It’s hard to say one move could lead to the downfall of one organization, but the Saberhagen trade didn’t accomplish what Royals management was hoping it would and instead began a downfall that would fall even farther in upcoming seasons.

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The Mets would deal Bret to Colorado during the 1995 season and would finish out the year with the Rockies, including pitching in a Colorado playoff game that fall. He would sit out the 1996 season due to injury, but would return to baseball the following year, joining the Boston Red Sox. Saberhagen would pitch part of four seasons in Boston, and while at times he would show a glint of his past success, at this point of his career he was a nice middle of the rotation starter. He did become the Sporting News Comeback Player of the Year in 1998 and would also win the Tony Conigliaro Award. He would miss the 2000 season and while he tried a comeback in 2001, he would only pitch in three games and retire at the end of the season.The latter part of his career was littered with injuries and stunted what at one time was considered a possible Hall of Fame career.

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So two questions have gnawed at me over the years: one, ‘is Bret the greatest Royals pitcher in history?’ and two, ‘how close did he actually get to becoming a Hall of Famer?’. Let’s start with the first question, his place in Royals history. In all-time career bWAR, Saberhagen is just behind Kevin Appier, 47.3 to 40.8. He is fourth in ERA (behind three relievers), sixth in wins, fourth in win-loss%, 1st in WHIP, 2nd in walks per 9, 6th in innings pitched and fourth in strikeouts. At this point, it is pretty close between him and Appier, so I’m going to venture to the advanced side of things. Saberhagen is 5th in team adjusted ERA+ (second behind Appier for starters), first in team FIP and third in WPA. With all these numbers at hand, I would say in a very close race that Kevin Appier might just slightly edge out Bret for being the greatest Royals starting pitcher of all time. That also tells you how super underrated Appier really was.

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So how about the Hall of Fame? Going off the great website Hall of Stats, Saberhagen is in, as they gave him a Hall Rating of 122, as they take the top 217 players (the amount of players currently in the Hall of Fame) based just off of their career statistics and nothing else. Their formula?:

The Hall of Stats uses a formula called Hall Rating to rank every player in baseball history. Hall Rating combines the value of a player’s peak and longevity into a single number that represents the quality of that player’s Hall of Fame case. It’s not perfect, but there’s a lot to be said for rating all players in history according to the same objective criteria.

Now this factors in both longevity and peak of career, which has become more and more important over the years. Saberhagen’s case is 62% peak and 38% longevity and by their Hall Ratings he is 152nd all-time, 134th among eligible players and 45th among pitchers. Saberhagen will be eligible for the upcoming Today’s Game Era Committee, but the likelihood of him getting voted in is probably pretty slim. What this does tell us though is that his battle with injuries late in his career probably hurt his case and has made many voters ignore his numbers during his peak. The good news is that Saberhagen is already in the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame, which is a great honor in Kansas City and was also voted one of the ‘Franchise Four’ for the Royals back in 2015.

MLB: World Series-San Francisco Giants at Kansas City Royals

For a number of years, it felt like the Royals had forgotten about Saberhagen and his place in the team’s history. There were a few public acknowledgements, but that was about it. It always bothered me, considering his place in franchise history. Luckily, over the last few years while the Royals have made their epic playoff runs, Saberhagen has continuously been seen at Kauffman Stadium. After all these years, it is still great to see ‘The Kid’ at the stadium, even for just a moment. I’m sure a kid from California never imagined while he was growing up that he would become such a large part of the fabric of a team in the midwest, but he has. When you talk about great Royals pitchers, names like Splittorff, Leonard, Busby, Appier and Greinke are often mentioned. But for me, the conversation started and ended with Saberhagen…and it always will.

 

 

 

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.

Rooting Problems

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For the first time in 3 years I have no idea of who to root for when the Major League Baseball playoff’s start in a few weeks. As a Kansas City Royals fan, this is the first year since 2013 that our “Boys in Blue” haven’t been a part of the postseason and during that span I appear to have forgotten how to pick a team to cheer for come October. Since I need to figure out the team I am pulling for, I figured I would break down each team that will probably end up in postseason play and see which one I should be cheering for. Yes, this seems like a perfect scientific approach to this issue…said no one ever. I have no idea where this will lead me, folks; I guess we are going to find out together.

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Boston Red Sox

Boston is an interesting start to this experiment. For one, I really appreciate the fact that a big part of this team’s core was built from within, as up and comers like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are homegrown talent. It’s hard to dislike second baseman Dustin Pedroia and I can appreciate this team’s offensive approach. But the team’s pitching could be an issue, although the starters have held their own this year for the most part. The bullpen doesn’t seem as strong and we all know how important the pen is during the postseason. But more than anything, I am tired of the David Ortiz narrative that has been spewed this season. I am officially sick of the adulation and instantly shut my ears down once he is being discussed. With the expectation being that the Ortiz talk will only intensify as the team progresses, I can’t condone cheering for this team. I won’t put myself through that kind of mental hell. So Boston probably won’t be my team.

Chance of Cheering: 25%

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Cleveland Indians

The Indians have some big positives going on. For one, the starting pitching has been a force all year for them, although they are now down a Danny Salazar and a Carlos Carrasco, which might not bode well for them(sounds like more Trevor Bauer to me). I have always felt Terry Francona is one of the better managers in the game and knew it was a matter of time till he got this team on the same page. In some ways, this team reminds of those late 90’s Indians teams that were a young bunch of players blossoming at the same time. But…they are in the Royals division and despite the fact I don’t hate them like I hate the White Sox, I just can’t, in good conscious, root for a team in the same division as “my team”. There’s also that whole bad luck thing with Cleveland over the years. So the Indians are a no-go, no matter how many positives there are on this team. I. Just. Can’t.

Chance of Cheering: 15%

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Texas Rangers

The Rangers are the best team in the American League and it is easy to see how they have gotten here. For one, they have an electric offense, built around Adrian Beltre and Ian Desmond and have a great bunch of complimentary players. Hey, they get votes from me just for having Roughned Odor on their roster; anyone who punches Jose Bautista in the face is a friend in my eyes. They have also gotten a good season out of Cole Hamels, but the pitching is a bit worrisome. Starters are in the bottom fifth of the league while their relievers are in the bottom third, with neither posting the greatest of numbers. But I kind of like this team, and they have never won a World Series before, which makes them a bit more intriguing. I’m not completely ready to buy in, but my interest is piqued with Texas.

Chance of Cheering: 55%

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Toronto Blue Jays

No. Just no. Look, I have no issue with Blue Jays fans. I love Canada. But…all I can think of is Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista complaining about pitchers throwing inside, while wearing enough body armor that they could be considered part of King Arthur’s ‘Knights of the Round Table’. Or Bautista throwing Ryan Goins under the bus in last year’s playoffs. Or really anything Bautista says. Look, I’m sure there are reasons to root for this team. I just don’t see any of them and instead might be rooting against them. Sorry, Toronto.

Chance of Cheering: 0%

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Baltimore Orioles
Credit: Tommy Gilligan (USA TODAY)

Baltimore Orioles

Alright, now we have the first team that I feel like I can really get behind. I’m not the biggest fan of teams known for their propensity for slugging the ball, but watching a player of Manny Machado’s caliber can change a man’s mind. Add in the likes of Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo and you have an offense that could rival Boston’s if given the chance. Baltimore’s starting pitching isn’t going to blow anyone away, but their bullpen is a different story. The pen is lead by Zach Britton, who has had a phenomenal season and could get a number of first place votes for the American League Cy Young award. Not many expected the Orioles to be where they are today, and for that I could easily see myself cheering for them.

Chance of Cheering: 75%

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Washington Nationals

Washington is another team I can see myself rooting for. I like their young core of players like Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon and enjoy watching guys like Stephen Strasburg (who hopefully will be healthy soon) and Max Scherzer in their element. This Nationals team seems like a perfect fit to make a deep run in the playoffs this year and should be a serious World Series contender. Will Daniel Murphy put on a playoff tear like he did last year for New York? Will Scherzer dominate like he does in the regular season? Will Jayson Werth cuss in a postgame interview again? The Nationals could be a fun team to follow this October and would be a good choice to cheer on.

Chance of Cheering: 80%

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Diego Padres
(Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers are an interesting team, as they are a weird hybrid of talent and dysfunction, and I’m not just talking about Yasiel Puig. Is this the year the Dodgers get over the hump and return to the World Series? Is this the year Clayton Kershaw dominates in the postseason? Hey, it could happen to worse teams. I would love to see Kershaw strap the rest of the team on his back as he leads them to the ‘Fall Classic’. This is a very talented team but definitely one that has their flaws. I could see me rooting for them, but a few other teams would have to fall to the waste-side for that to happen.

Chance of Cheering: 50%

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San Francisco Giants

We’ve all made the joke; The Giants have won the World Series the last 3 even years, so of course they will be accepting the trophy again this year, right? Hey, I might be inclined to tell you this team is different and could have some big obstacles in front of them if/when they reach October. But the other part of me knows that this is a team that has ‘been there and done that’ and should never be counted out. They still have Buster Posey. They still have Madison Bumgarner. They still have future HOF manager Bruce Bochy. So yeah, the odds might be stacked against this team, but they seem to like it that way. Sound familiar, Royals fans? Add in the quirkiness of Hunter Pence and Johnny Cueto and I can’t say I won’t root for them. They just don’t feel like my first choice, that is all.

Chance of Cheering: 65%

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New York Mets

Yep, these guys are back. In many a way, they feel a lot like last year’s team; great pitching, weaker hitting. I am not opposed to watching the Mets young fireballers throw shade in the postseason, in fact that seems like it would be fun. I would LOVE to see Bartolo Colon hit a walk-off home run to win Game 7 of the World Series, because “Big Sexy” is capable of anything. There really isn’t much with this team that I dislike, but there really isn’t a ton that compels me either. In other words, the Mets probably aren’t my ‘October Team’. Plus, I still hold it against Mr. Met for almost knocking me over at Kauffman Stadium at the All-Star Game in 2012. But that is another story for another time…

Chance of Cheering: 55%

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St. Louis Cardinals

As a self-respecting Kansas City Royals fan, I can in no way, shape or form, root for the Cardinals. It is against everything I stand for and everything I believe in. Plus, every ounce of my body hates them. Sorry, this ain’t happening!

Chance of Cheering: -1000%

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Chicago Cubs

…and we have our winner! Sure, a few of you would assume I am cheering for the Cubs since they are the odds on favorites to win the World Series. Nope, that’s not it. Hey, could it be wanting the team who hasn’t won the whole thing in over 100 years to finally come out on top? Nope, try again. It’s not even because one of my favorite players (Ben Zobrist) plays on this team, or my fondness for Joe Maddon. All these reasons, while solid, aren’t the real reason that I will be rooting for the Cubs this October. No, the real reason is simpler than all of that. As a kid, I loved baseball. By the age of ten, I was fully engulfed in baseball fever. It became the obsession it still is today. Back in those days, we didn’t always get to watch my favorite team, the Royals, as they only aired them maybe once or twice a week, at best. But what team was on almost every single afternoon, and especially when I came home from school? The Chicago Cubs. The Cubs were shown on WGN on a daily basis and in my thirst for baseball I would sit and watch an insane amount of games…or at least watch them until I decided to go outside and actually play baseball! So because of this, I still have a deep affinity for the Cubbies. They are a part of my youth, and I will always hold them in a higher regard than a lot of teams because of it. Yes, I want the curse to be broken and I want all those Cubs fans to have some of the joy that us Royals fans got to wrap ourselves around these last few seasons. They have earned it. Because of this, I’m rooting for the Cubs to break through and get their third world championship. You can think it’s me jumping on a bandwagon, but it’s me acknowledging that this franchise was a big part of my love of baseball over the years. I’m just looking to give some of that back.

Chance of Cheering: 100%

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So there you go; I guess I should have seen where this was going but it was still a fun little experiment. It will be weird this October to not see the Royals in the playoffs, but it will be a lot less stressful. Here’s to hoping your team is one of the teams I mentioned  and that they have a deep run in the postseason. It’s a month of excitement, great performances and unbelievable results. It is the best reason to love baseball…and it is almost upon us!

 

 

 

New Look Eddie?

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In 2015, Edinson Volquez was the rock of the Kansas City Royals rotation. While Yordano Ventura got the attention for his fiery fastball and his antics on the field, Volquez was the true ace of last year’s pitching staff. It should be no shock that whenever manager Ned Yost needed a solid start, especially early in a playoff series, he went to “Sexy Eddie” to get the job done. What was intriguing was the increase in Volquez’s velocity in the playoffs, as October seemed to give him a big shot of adrenaline. In fact, during the postseason Volquez saw a velocity bump, from an average of 93.8 mph during the season to 95.2 mph in the postseason. It didn’t change Eddie’s game much, but the extra tick in his fastball was helpful. After two starts to this 2016 season, Volquez seems like he has changed up his game a bit with a little bit of that velo hanging around. So is Volquez a different pitcher this year? I decided to dive in and take a look.

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Before we begin, I feel I should state how this is based purely off of just two starts for Volquez, so we are definitely dealing with a small sample size. Just remember this as we look at the numbers that they could change with a couple more starts tacked on later this week. Okay, onto the numbers. It has seemed to me through Eddie’s first few starts that he has really been utilizing his off-speed stuff more and it has elevated his strikeouts. Looking at the Pitch F/X data, Volquez has been throwing his fastball pretty close to his normal rate(12.0 to 12.3 last year) while usage of his change-up isn’t too far off(23.4 to 24.7). The differences seem to lie in his sinker and knuckle-curve, one he is throwing more and the other he is throwing less. Volquez has thrown the knuckle-curve less(21.5 to 24.1) so far this year, although it has never been a big weapon in his repertoire. The sinker on the other hand is being used more and it shouldn’t be surprising.

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If Volquez has an “out-pitch”, it would be his sinker. The key to Volquez’s success truly relies on his ability to induce grounders with his sinker and let the Royals defense handle the rest. Last year Volquez used his sinker at a higher percentage than at any other time in his career, a solid 38.9%. So far this year, he has upped it to 43.1% which seems to signify how comfortable he is in not only throwing the pitch but also the trust in Kansas City’s elite defense. Not only is Volquez throwing this at the highest frequency of his career, he is also throwing it at the highest speed. In his two starts this year, Eddie is averaging 94 mph on his sinker, which is slightly higher than the 93.8 mph he was averaging in 2011 with the Reds, a season where he only threw the pitch 17% on average. It will be interesting to follow and see if this trend keeps up or it fades a bit as the season wears on. What will also be interesting to follow will be the upward velocity tick Volquez has seen since October.

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It was discussed quite a bit during the playoffs that Volquez saw an increase in his velocity, with most chalking it up to a surge in adrenaline from playing in the postseason. But early on this season, it seems some of that velocity has stuck around:

volquez velo chart

As you can tell from the chart, Volquez has seen his velocity spike over 95 mph quite often with a few pitches even coming up on 97.5 mph. Now, this could very easily be a situation once again of a pitcher being pumped up for a big matchup, as he did throw on opening night against the Mets. But with even a small bit of continuity from last year, one does have to wonder if there was a small adjustment in his delivery that pitching coach Dave Eiland found that has increased Volquez’s velocity. This is yet another item to keep an eye on as the season unwinds, especially since the velocity has an instant effect on his other pitches, including the sinker.

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Volquez is only two starts into this 2016 season, so obviously it’s a little early to get too excited about a slight adjustment in a game plan. What the stats are telling us at this point though is that Volquez could very well be in for an even better 2016 and it’s worth keeping an eye on. The Royals don’t need Volquez to go out and win a Cy Young Award to be successful, but any increase in production this year would be a bonus. Volquez has always been known as being a pitcher with great stuff but the inability to completely harness it. If he is able to reign in the inconsistent losses of control, we could be looking at a banner season for the man we call “Sexy Eddie”.

 

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