A Bargain For Relief

Editors note: This originally was on Royals Review a week ago, so obviously a few of the names mentioned have signed with teams since then.

On Thursday, one of the bigger reliever names out on the free agent market, David Robertson, agreed to a two-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. With the Robertson signing, it would appear the rest of the relief pitchers available this winter might start following suit and see a bit of movement in what has been a pretty tepid Hot Stove this winter.

That would mean names like Craig Kimbrel and Zach Britton could start falling off the board. Even a former Royal, Kelvin Herrera could find a home and get ready for the upcoming season. These are all great relievers and guys that any team would love at their disposal in the late innings with the game on the line. But these are also all names that won’t be coming to Kansas City.

Because while the Royals are in search of help in their bullpen, the help they are looking for is, well, could we say, [ahem] cheaper. In fact, Jeffrey Flanagan wrote about what GM Dayton Moore is looking for to bolster the pen this offseason:


Typically, some bullpen arms hold out through January in hopes of landing $5 million or $6 million deals. When there are no takers, that’s when the bargains come. Expect Moore to land a veteran arm or two in the $2 million range to bolster a bullpen that clearly was the weakest link on the 2018 team.

So if Dayton will be roaming the bargain bin over the next couple of months, who should he be keeping tabs on? While this is never a perfect science, there are a few lesser known names on the market that could be had to fill out the rest of the Royals bullpen.

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Blake Parker

Parker would appear to be a great candidate for a bounce-back season in 2019. Parker saw a slight increase across the board when it comes to HR per 9, hard hit rate and walk rate, but there were a few hints that a turn around is possible. Parker saw an increase in his BABIP, which at times can be attributed to a bit of luck and he also appeared to strand runners at a higher rate.

Maybe most intriguing is a pitch he started utilizing more near the end of the season. Here is former Angels bullpen coach Scott Radinsky talking about some of those results:


“He started to utilize his breaking ball a little more toward the end of the year, and a lot of that had to do with data. His breaking ball was just as good to righties and lefties, so we told him, ‘Don’t be afraid to use it.’ Blake has been around the league for a bit, so guys knew it was going to be either fastball or split. When he started throwing that breaking ball in there — and not just in early counts, but late counts as well — he froze a lot of batters.”

Parker is a durable veteran that could be a good fit on a team like the Royals, looking for some value at a cheaper price.

Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press

Cory Gearrin

Gearrin is another reliever who saw his numbers go up where they shouldn’t but not enough to scare teams away. While pitching for three teams last year (Giants, Rangers and A’s), Gearrin put together a pretty pedestrian season that at the least saw his walk rate improve.

His velocity appears to be on par with previous years and the possibility of a new, steady home with some stellar defense might be a good fit. For Gearrin, his 2018 might have been just a case of too many environments in a short amount of time.

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Alex Wilson

Wilson is a familiar name for some Royals fans, as he has been toiling in Detroit since 2015. Wilson is a bit different than some of the other names on this list, as he actually improved a lot of his numbers this past season and has proven to be a durable and reliable arm out of the pen. A great description of Wilson was given a few weeks back by David Laurila over at Fangraphs, who writes a weekly ‘Sunday Notes’ column that I try to never miss:


He’s not one of bigger names available, but Alex Wilson will almost assuredly add value to one of the 30 MLB teams next season. The reliable reliever was non-tendered by the Detroit Tigers this past week, despite a track record of dependability and durability. In four seasons with the AL Central club, Wilson averaged 62 appearances annually and had a more-than-respectable 3.20 ERA. Heading into his age-32 campaign, the Hurricane, West Virginia product represents a cost-effective option for teams in want of a no-frills bullpen depth.

If Moore is looking for a reliable, veteran piece for the Royals pen, he could do a lot worse than Wilson.

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Tyler Clippard

Clippard will be entering his age 34 season in 2019 and is a reliever who has pretty much done everything out of the pen throughout his career. Clippard is coming off of a solid campaign where he tossed 68.2 innings for Toronto, posting a 3.67 ERA and 0.5 fWAR.

In fact, it’s a bit surprising Clippard hasn’t seen more action this winter. 2018 saw him raise his strike outs and lower his walks while stranding runners at a higher clip. Clippard tends to allow a bit more fly balls than those on the ground, which could be a benefit if he wanted to come to Kansas City.

I would expect Clippard to have at the least moderate interest from other teams, but taking a flyer on Clippard at the right price could be a good call for Kansas City.

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There were a couple other relievers that the Royals might want to at least keep their eye on over the next couple of months. One is the Royals former closer Greg Holland. Holland was absolutely putrid for St. Louis last year but saved some face late in the year for Washington.

During his short run for the Nationals, Holland posted a 0.84 ERA, 510 ERA+ and 1.3 bWAR in 24 games. More than likely Holland will be too pricey for Kansas City’s blood, but if he is still hanging around once camp opens it could be interesting to see just how low he would sign for.

The other name of interest is Drew Hutchison. Drew hasn’t had a full season in the big leagues since 2015 and is still just 28 years of age. It’s very apparent Hutchison would be a reclamation project for whichever team signs him this winter and more than likely would just be brought in on a minor league deal.

One has to wonder what a healthy Hutchison could do, whether it be as a reliever or even a starter. I’ve always been intrigued by him and he could be a perfect candidate as someone who the Royals could stow in Omaha for part of the summer and see if he regains some of his old spark.

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So those are just a few names that I tend to think could help the Royals and be brought in fairly cheap. More than anything it doesn’t look like we will see a signing in the immediate future:


Royals general manager Dayton Moore has only a few million to spend to keep under his targeted payroll limit of $92 million, so expect Moore to be patient with the relievers market and wait until Spring Training nears before he makes his move.

At some point though, the Royals will need to add some arms for the bullpen. The question at this point appears to be who will still be available once Moore finally decides to strike.

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Mondesi=Lindor?

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Credit: Charlie Riedel, AP

Hype, man. In the world of baseball, prospects are all the rage. Before one of these highly touted youngsters even step onto a major league field they are pumped up for what they “could be”. The hype is real and always appears to foreshadow their “ceiling” of what might be on the horizon.

But we all know the hype sometimes has nothing to do with the reality. The reality can be a real downer, a window into mediocrity that could be stamped on them forever. The hype can be just as much a detriment as a saving grace for these players hoping to be the future of the game.

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Adalberto Mondesi knows all about that. Ever since he was signed in July of 2011 (stop and think about that for a moment . Over seven years ago.) there has been a constant expectation that he was bound to be a future All-Star. The hype was that Mondesi would be a five-tool player who has the sky within his grasp. Mondesi was always expected to be the future of the Kansas City Royals.

But things have at the least taken a side road. Mondesi was called up in late July of 2016 and struggled. He hit .185/.231/.512 over 47 games while posting -0.3 bWAR. While defensively he appeared major league ready, offensively he still needed time to develop.

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That didn’t change last year, as he started the year as the Royals second baseman, hitting .170/.214/.245 over 25 games. He ended up demoted back to AAA Omaha while Whit Merrifield would step in and become the Royals best player.

But something has finally clicked for Mondesi in 2018. Since the middle of August, Mondesi is hitting .313/.340/.542 over 14 games, hitting two home runs while driving in six. One of the most notable differences was in how hard he is hitting the ball this year. His hard hit rate has increased to 42.2% (up from 25.7% last year) and his exit velocity has hit 86.9%, up from 80.6%.

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Maybe the most glaring difference is the big uptick in launch angle, which is at 14.0 degrees, up from 4.2. Mondesi is doing what most other players have picked up on, which is elevating the ball to gain more success. So far, that strategy is working.

The improvements by Mondesi really tell of a young player starting to find his way and opens up the door for a number of interesting questions. Maybe the most interesting was one posed on the Royals broadcast over the weekend. Royals broadcasters Ryan Lefebvre and Rex Hudler were discussing Mondesi and they made the comparison to Cleveland Indians star shortstop Francisco Lindor. Seems crazy, right?

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Ryan and Rex’s true intention was to compare Mondesi to Lindor athletically, not in the numbers. But their comment really stuck with me and it made me ask a bigger question: is it too far-fetched to think Mondesi could eventually be an elite player the caliber of Lindor?

I figured we would start with a comparison of their minor league numbers. At AA, Lindor hit .280/.363/.390 over 478 plate appearances. Mondesi hit .248/.294/.393 over 469 plate appearances at AA. At AAA, Lindor hit .279/.333/.396 over 442 plate appearances while Mondesi hit .292/.328/.527 over 551 plate appearances.

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If you are calculating their entire minor league careers, Lindor hit .279/.354/.384 over 1880 plate appearances while Mondesi accumulated 2299 plate appearances and hit .258/.303/.410. The takeaway from these numbers is that Lindor was the better overall hitter in the minors, while Mondesi had a slight edge on the power numbers.

There are a couple of notes here that we should remind every one of. First, Mondesi began his professional career at the age of 16, while Lindor was 17 years of age. It’s not a huge gap, but it does help explain the extra time Mondesi has spent in the minors compared to Lindor.

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Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

It should also be pointed out that Lindor debuted with the Indians in 2015, during his age 21 season. Mondesi (not counting the World Series appearance in 2015) would officially debut in 2016, his age 20 season. That one year might not make a huge difference for some, but it did for Mondesi. At that point, he had only appeared in 14 AAA games while Lindor had 97 AAA games under his belt before his debut.

It was long felt that the Royals had done a disservice to Mondesi by calling him up early, but he had been on a hot streak and the Royals were looking for a charge to spark their lineup. Instead Mondesi struggled and it’s taken almost two years to get to a point where he looks comfortable in the big leagues.

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With that in mind, I thought it might be more interesting to compare Lindor’s last stint in AAA and Mondesi’s just this season. Lindor hit .284/.350/.402 in 59 games at AAA before being recalled to the Indians in 2015. Mondesi was hitting .250/.295/.492 in 29 games before being recalled in June of this year. Once again, Lindor is the overall better hitter but the power numbers are comparable.

To me, that is the biggest difference in their games. Lindor’s power numbers really broke out last year, his third year in the big leagues. In fact, his slugging percentage jumped from .435 in 2016 to .505 last season while his ISO (isolated power) jumped almost 100 points, from .134 to .232.

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Mondesi has also seen a big jump this year in his power numbers. His slugging percentage last year was .245 while this year it sits at .451, over 200 points higher. His ISO has also taken a leap, .075 to .179. Mondesi has done his damage in twice as many plate appearances as last year but has seen his numbers increase.

Considering Mondesi is still a year younger than Lindor, it’s possible to see him continue to grow and improve on these numbers and while he might not quite reach the level of Lindor when it comes to power, he might not be as far off as you would expect at first glance.

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There is one more very noticeable difference and that is in their patience at the plate. Lindor has seen his numbers steadily climb throughout his major league career, going from 6.2% walk rate to this year’s 9.7%. Mondesi is not known for his patience, as noted by his 3.6% career walk rate. If Mondesi wants to continue to elevate his game, the first step is to improve his patience at the plate and swing at less pitches outside of the strike zone. Doing this should improve his numbers all the way around.

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It’s not hard to see how someone could compare Mondesi to Lindor: they are both middle infielders, with speed, play stellar defense and both switch hit. Athletically they are very similar. While on the surface it might seem crazy for Mondesi to soar as high as Lindor has these last two years, the numbers show that he appears to be on almost the same trajectory that Lindor took in his career.

When you tack on that Mondesi has improved the longer he has been at each level of his professional career, it doesn’t take much squinting to see him being one of the top shortstops in the league alongside Lindor. While the initial projections spoke of him being a possible future All-Star, the reality spoke of a different story. Luckily for us Royals fans, reality is starting to catch up to all the hype. Hype, man.

 

Younger Days

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This was it. This was supposed to be the beginning of a new era of Kansas City Royals baseball, an era of rebuilding that would shape the foundation of the organization for not only the next few years but years beyond. 2018 was going to be the year we all look back on and see the outline of a master plan that would come to fruition around 2021-2022. Instead, we are sitting almost five months deep into the season wondering what the point of this season was.

Dayton Moore has been preparing us for this rebuild for more than a year, knowing full well that the team would be losing a number of free agents after the 2017 season. He knew that financially it wouldn’t make sense to bring back the entire group and that it was time to move forward. That would normally mean allowing younger players to infiltrate the roster. But is that how it has gone down?

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Early in spring training the Royals went out and filled some holes on the roster with veterans, as they locked up Jon JayLucas Duda and Mike Moustakas. For the most part there was “no harm, no foul”, as Kansas City didn’t spend much on any of the three while giving the team trade bait for later in the summer.

For the most part that is how it has played out, as Jay and Moustakas have both been dealt and Duda is still a possibility to be traded later this month. So while these three have been taking up roster spots, they weren’t blocking a player who was ready to play in the big leagues.

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But there are some major question marks when it comes to a segment of the veterans still on the club and the amount of playing time they have been receiving lately. For example, over the last week or so we have seen Drew Butera make a couple starts at not only catcher but even first base. Yes, first base where he had started a total of two games before this season.

Four starts in one week for Butera feels like a lot. The guy is a solid backup catcher and appears to work well with the pitching staff. Should he be starting at a position he has played at sparingly when you have two youngsters (Hunter Dozier and Ryan O’Hearn) who actually play the position fairly regularly? Probably not. I won’t go as far as saying it is hurting their development but starting Butera over them this past week felt like a real head scratcher.

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How about everyone’s favorite punching bag, Alcides Escobar? It’s hard to justify his playing time with a line of .204/.257/.283 and -0.9 fWAR and yet he is in the lineup more often than not. Adalberto Mondesi has shown that offensively he is an improvement over Escobar and defensively has been superior for years now. Yet over the two months since being recalled, he has only started 31 games in the field.

Out of a group of six rookies (which does not include Mondesi, since he passed his rookie status before this season) that have played for the Royals this season, they have compiled 527 plate appearances, or only 108 more than Escobar. Whether it is allowing these players to ease into the big leagues or just not giving them a bigger role, these prospects have not gotten the experience many of us expected them to receive as the season progressed.

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It’s been a slightly different story for the pitching staff, as a number of rookies have been given more prominent roles. Brad Keller has probably been the pitcher of the year for Kansas City so far, posting a 3.57 ERA, 3.64 FIP and 1.3 fWAR. The Royals rookie pitchers (ten in total) have thrown 346 out of the team’s 1033 innings. Keller and fellow Rule 5 Draft Pick Burch Smith have thrown the most out of the bunch, 88.1 and 60.2 respectively.

Six Royals rookies have tossed 30 innings or more this year, including relievers Tim Hill and Jason Adam. It is hard to argue that the team is not giving some of the younger arms in the organization an opportunity to pitch this year when 4/5 of the current rotation are rookies. Then why does it feel like they could go even younger?

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The new “Black Hole of Death” appears to be in the bullpen, where Brandon Maurer, Jason Hammel and Blaine Boyer are taking up space. All three have struggled this year and have hurt the team on the field more than any value the rookies receive from their veteran leadership. It has been suggested that the club should cut bait with these three and give some of the arms in Omaha an opportunity…and at this point it is hard to argue with that reasoning.

Is there any reason not to give Eric Stout or Trevor Oaks a longer look? Are control issues enough of a detriment to see whether Josh Staumont and Sam Selman can have success out of a major league bullpen? What about new acquisition Jorge Lopez? And how are we in the middle of August and there is still no sign of Richard Lovelady? In my eyes, it makes no sense to employ veterans like Maurer and Boyer when they just aren’t getting the job done. Give them a bus pass and lets see what some of the inexperienced arms can do.

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Maybe my expectations were off course, but by this point in the season I presumed that the Royals would be employing one of the younger rosters in the league. Instead, they still feel really…old. By no means do I expect this team to be a cavalcade of 20 year olds, but I did expect the focus to be on the future. Instead, it feels like they are treading water.

Not every prospect is going to be ready and there is an appreciation for allowing them to develop at their own pace. But if the Royals are to contend again around 2021 (and that is the expectation in the front office) then they need to speed this process up. Giving at bats to Alcides Escobar or allowing Brandon Maurer another day on the roster isn’t helping anyone. For this to be a real rebuild, the Royals need to quit straddling the fence and move forward with players who could still be in Kansas City three years from now.

In Case You Hadn’t Noticed, the Royals are Bad Again

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It’s always a bitter pill to swallow when your favorite team isn’t good. Everyone handles it differently. Some people make excuses for why they are bad. Some accept it and move on. Others just flat out get angry but keep coming back for more.

This 2018 version of the Kansas City Royals is bad. Real bad. As in the numbers speak of a team reaching a new level of ineptitude. The Royals offense is last in the American League in wRC+, wOBA, slugging percentage, ISO, RBI’s, runs, home runs, OPS and RE24. The Royals hit a woeful .193/.253/.303 in the month of June and even those numbers feel a bit heavy if you have actually watched this team play on a regular basis.

The pitching numbers aren’t a whole lot better. The Kansas City pitchers are last in the league in fWAR, FIP, RE24 and ERA while having the lowest strike outs per nine innings and the highest home runs per nine. So it isn’t just the Royals bats that are pitiful; the entire package is one of the worst in baseball and a big part of why they have the second lowest winning percentage in baseball right now at .294 (my apologies to the fans of Baltimore. You understand what we are dealing with right now).

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…and yet I’m still watching most of the games. Call it loyalty or call it being a glutton for punishment; both are probably acceptable. Either way, I still find myself wanting to watch them most days and hardly ever does the little voice in my head question it with a ‘but are you sure?’ or a ‘does that seem like a good idea?’. At this point you might be asking why I would put myself through that…and I wouldn’t blame you for asking.

Sure, part of it is that the Royals are my team, and have been since I was seven years old and will still be if I reach the ripe age of 87. I truly bleed royal blue. But the other reason is that while things appear to be as bad as the worst Kansas City teams we’ve seen over the last 20 years, I also realize that it is possibly the beginning of some really important careers for the youngest of Royals.

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Hunter Dozier has been getting consistent playing time and is starting to look more comfortable, both at the plate and in the field. Adalberto Mondesi gets to play with less pressure and is hitting the ball a lot harder than he did during his previous stints in the big leagues. While Rosell Herrera might not be a part of the Royals future, he is being given the chance to see if he could be a part of it, at least.

On the pitching side, Brad Keller is making the case of being the best Rule 5 draft pick in Royals history (hello, Joakim Soria!) and has been possibly the brightest spot for this team so far in 2018. Jason Adam, Heath Fillmyer, Tim Hill, Kevin McCarthy and Burch Smith are all getting extended looks out of the bullpen, where in years past they might get just a cup of coffee in the big leagues or a small chance while someone was on the disabled list.

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There is more on the way, especially on the Omaha roster. Richard Lovelady, Josh Staumont, Frank Schwindel, Ryan O’Hearn, Nicky Lopez, Cam Gallagher, Donnie Dewees, and possibly even Bubba Starling are all names that could become a regular part of your Royals experience over the next year or two. Some of these guys will turn out to be regulars and others won’t reach the potential that some have expected of them. But the opportunity is why this team is still one to watch.

The Royals are in an interesting situation where they really have nothing to lose by giving these players a chance to prove their worth. I mean, it’s not like the team could be even worse, right? Right???!!! Maybe it’s a small dash of optimism, but one has to wonder if a few of these prospects could help churn out more runs for this team than what we have seen over the last month.

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It really hasn’t felt like a rebuild this year, not with all the veterans on the roster. But here before too long (maybe even by August), this is going to feel like a different team. I’m not going to sit here and try and tell you it’s going to be great the entire time, because you are going to see some bad baseball over the next couple of years. But the hope is also there to see some of these players blossom and become Royals legends.

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So yes, this team is bad. It’s even safe to say that come September they are still going to be as awful as they are at this moment. If you are someone who has already tuned them out this year, I can sympathize. There are times that some of us die-hard’s have to take a break from this team, no matter how much we love them.

But there are also still reasons to tune in and head to the ballpark. While they will lose more than they win right now, they are also starting to build the foundation. One of the greatest experiences of my life has been watching “my” Royals go from being the joke of baseball to winning the World Series in 2015. For those of us that stuck it out through the bad, we were rewarded.

The reason it tasted so sweet was because we were around for the rough times. Trust me when I say that Kansas City will get back to the postseason and it probably won’t take another 30 years. Until then, watch this team grow and enjoy getting to watch the younger players develop into staples of the organization. It won’t always be pretty, but there will be moments for you to grasp on for years.

 

 

Closing Time

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Last Monday, the Kansas City Royals dealt their closer Kelvin Herrera (and biggest trade chip) to Washington for three prospects. While the trade has come with mixed reviews so far, the one conundrum it left the Royals with was who would be the team’s successor to Herrera as closer?

The question was posed not too long after the trade to Royals manager Ned Yost and he gave the answer most of us would have expected:

“All of them,” Royals manager Ned Yost replied when asked who will get a chance to close out games. “Opportunity exists down there. We’ll have to see who takes advantage of it.”

This isn’t a shock and considering the state of the Royals bullpen (last in the American League in fWAR, the highest ERA & FIP, lowest strike out rate and third highest walk rate all among relievers), it makes sense to keep it an open race. The problem in my eyes is that Ned is holding on to a formula that might not be the best for Kansas City in this situation:

“I’ll look at different guys, but I would prefer one guy to emerge, take advantage of the opportunity,” Yost said. “But it’s wide-open right now.”

Yes, Yost at the end of the day wants one reliever and one only to end up with the job. But to be honest, that feels like an antiquated solution to their problem.

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In Ned’s eyes, there are four main challengers for the role: Brandon Maurer, Wily Peralta, Kevin McCarthy and Justin Grimm. Maurer is the only one out of the group with experience closing out games while the rest have combined for five career saves; for this conversation I’ll avoid the save stat, for the fact that it doesn’t really matter in the bigger picture.

So far in 2018, McCarthy and Peralta have put up good numbers out of the pen, albeit Peralta’s have been in limited action so far. I’ve been a proponent of McCarthy for a while, as just a few weeks ago I wrote about how the Royals should be giving him a bigger role in the bullpen. When McCarthy was asked about moving to the closer’s role, he said he’s “not really thinking about that at all, really. I think anyone in the ‘pen can get it done.”

Peralta has seen a slight uptick in his velocity since moving to the bullpen last year in Milwaukee and has looked good for Kansas City since being recalled to the majors on June 17th. Peralta’s strike out rate has been well above 20% so far this year (24.8% in AAA, 29.4% in the big leagues), which is a significant improvement over the 16.8% he has averaged over his career.

The walk rate is a concern (23.5%), especially considering it was also pretty high during his time in Omaha (13.4%) earlier this year. Hopefully that is just a symptom of a small sample size, but it could also be a trend that began for him in 2017. Either way, it will take more innings before we get a real feel for what the Royals actually have in Peralta.

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Credit: Carlos Osorio/AP

That being said, I tend to think we have a pretty good idea of what they have with both Maurer and Grimm. Grimm has seen his strike out rate fall and his walk rate increase, which is a recipe for disaster. He is also allowing more fly balls and less ground balls, another bad sign for success. The hard hit rate is about on par with last year, which already had a decent increase from the previous seasons.

Nothing for Maurer has worked this year: strike outs are down, walks are up and hitters are hitting the ball hard against him 50% of the time (his previous high was 39.1% back in 2016). If anyone should be immediately eliminated from the discussion for closer, it’s Maurer. You might be thinking ‘But he was a closer before, so shouldn’t he be a front-runner for the role?’, right? Hold that thought:

This was from last year, the day after the trade that sent Maurer and Ryan Buchter to the Royals from San Diego. Every time I see Ned bring Maurer into a high-leverage situation, this is what I think of. It is obvious from not only this scout, but also from what we have seen, that Maurer is better suited for a less pressure-filled situation in the pen. But because he has experience in the role, Yost wants to use him. This is part of why the whole idea of ‘one lone closer’ for this team isn’t really the best idea.

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Credit: John Sleezer

Ned is a big fan of roles. He likes to have his relievers set up to know what they will be doing and when they will be doing it. That is fine when you have a bullpen like Kansas City had back in 2015; unfortunately, those days are long gone.

This is a team who needs to keep an open mind about how they are using their relievers. While none of the names mentioned (outside of Maurer, of course) have experience closing, that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of doing the job. I’m pretty sure the Royals didn’t view Wade Davis as the absolute dominating beast he would become when they acquired him from Tampa Bay, even despite the success he had as a reliever with the Rays in 2012. But he had success, so the team continued to give him more opportunities.

Opportunities are what this current group need, most notably the younger arms that are inhabiting the pen. Roles can be a mental plus to some guys, but they can also backfire on you. Remember this great quote from 2014?:

“Because I had confidence in Aaron Crow,” Yost said. “That’s why. Aaron Crow’s inning is the sixth inning. Kelvin’s is the seventh.”

Ned was so rigid back then that he insisted on using Aaron Crow as his sixth inning guy, even if the match-up wasn’t optimal for Crow. This insistence on keeping routine was a pivotal turning point in the Royals season and led to Yost using the best match-up in a situation rather than who has what inning. Ned loosened the ‘old manager mentality’ of how to use relievers and this change helped lead the team to an epic run in the playoffs just a few weeks later.

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This Royals squad isn’t going to go on the kind of run they had in 2014, but it would appear to help their situation if they just continued to use the ‘closer-by-committee’ currently in place. Whoever he uses in the 9th inning should be determined by what the better match-up is for that situation.

Let’s say two or three left-handed batters are batting in the final frame? Sounds like a job for Tim Hill, who lefties are hitting .219/.265/.250 against. You need a ground ball? Give the ball to McCarthy, who has a 62.6% ground ball rate. Just need a big strike out? Someone like Peralta or even Jason Adam would fit the bill.

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The point is that while it is great if you have that one guy you can count on to fill the closer’s role, not every team has a Wade Davis or a Kelvin Herrera. Sometimes you have to work with what you have and right now the Royals are in that situation.

Maybe a guy out of this group will step up and prove to be fit for the role. It could even be someone we haven’t even seen yet, like Richard Lovelady who is currently down in AAA. Hey, it is definitely possible and wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen for the Royals.

But it could also take a while to find that one guy. So until then, it would be great to see Ned take a page from the playbook he used in late 2014-2015 and use the percentages to his advantage. I’m not counting on this happening, but it feels like the better road to take than that same, beaten, old path that managers have been taking for years.

Ryan Goins Might Not be What We Want, but He Might be What the Royals Need

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Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

We’ve all had that thought, especially us longtime Kansas City Royals fans. At one point of another, you’ve noticed a player on the roster that is receiving a bunch of playing time and you just ask ‘why?’. For whatever reason, these players seem to be a mainstay throughout Kansas City history.

Who will ever forget Willie Bloomquist, the definition of a utility player who became a lineup regular for the Royals in 2009, despite never posting an above average offensive season before or after (unless you count his 2013 season, where he posted an OPS+ of 101 over 150 plate appearances)?

The one that always bothered me was Chris Getz. If you want some amusement, go read some posts of mine from back in 2012-2013 at bleedingroyalblue.com; I even started a (fake) Q & A column around Getz based off of my confusion to the playing time he was receiving.

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The player who currently is taking up a fairly regular spot in the Royals lineup is infielder Ryan Goins and more than one Royals fan has deemed their displeasure with Goins, including old friend Craig Brown:

Craig pretty much sums up what a lot of us are thinking: why is Ryan Goins on this team? The simple answer is that Kansas City needs a backup infielder who can play multiple positions and Goins fits the bill.

But the true answer probably lies a bit deeper. Goins adds some versatility, as he has played every infield position in his career plus a few innings in the outfield. He also threw an inning of relief back in 2016, but we already have Drew Butera for that.

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Credit: AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

In fact Goins has been a plus defender for most of his career, mainly at second base. The defensive metrics don’t speak as highly of him at shortstop (-3.7 UZR at short in 2017), but luckily the Royals won’t need him there, since Alcides Escobar will be playing shortstop for the Royals until the end of time. I’m joking…I think.

Goins defense at second base allows manager Ned Yost the option of moving Whit Merrifield around and gives the lineup the overall flexibility they haven’t had for years. At the end of the day, Goins is a steady hand that Yost can rely on to keep the defense steady in a pinch.

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Credit: Associated Press

Before you think this is going to turn into a ‘Ryan Goins Appreciation Club’ article, don’t be fooled. Offensively Goins is a bit of a drag on the lineup. So far in 2018 he is hitting .234/.265/.319 with a wRC+ of 56. 56!! To put that in context, Alcides Escobar’s wRC+ is 55. Essentially, Goins and Escobar have put up similar offensive production, which is slim and none. So when both Goins and Escobar are in the lineup at the same time, it truly does create a black hole of death at the bottom of the order.

I thought maybe the deeper I dove into the numbers I would find something that would explain Goins’ playing time, but overall the numbers just aren’t pretty. Even the Win Probability numbers are in the negatives, which means he is probably hurting the Royals more than helping. Trying to justify those 21 starts is getting more and more difficult.

The small positives I could find offensively was a good BABIP (.324) and a noticeable increase in his line drive rate (up to 29.2% from last year’s 14.9%) combined with a lower ground ball rate (41.5% compared to 2017’s 50.3%). Whatever positives that come from his defense it is almost completely negated by his non-existent offense.

Kansas City Royals v Toronto Blue Jays
Credit: Getty Images

This shouldn’t be breaking news to you and more than likely it isn’t. But what I am going to say next might shock you: Goins is probably just what Kansas City needs right now. No, not the lackluster offense or the constant bunting. Where Goins has value right now for the Royals is as a stopgap.

It’s obvious the front office and coaching staff like Goins and see value in him where maybe we as fans don’t. It all really does come down to what you value as an individual. While on the surface we see a player who probably only has value on the defensive side of the ball, that might be enough for the higher-ups in the Royals organization. You and I might disagree with that, but we aren’t the ones making those decisions for the team.

That is not to say you are right or the Royals are right; there is more than one way to put together a contending baseball team. What I am saying is that occasionally as fans we believe we have the answers to how and why a team is successful, mainly based off of what we value. But we all value aspects of the game differently, and while on the surface it might not appear that Goins has value to this ballclub, his value might be part of a bigger picture.

It has become obvious that the Kansas City brass don’t feel that Adalberto Mondesi is quite ready for a bigger role on the big league club, a role that in part Goins is playing right now. While Mondesi shouldn’t be a backup infielder once he finally gets the call, he also probably won’t be in specifically one role for them once he is on the roster. There is a good chance that once he is recalled he will be playing all around the infield rather than just shortstop or just second base.

The good news is that it feels like Mondesi is getting closer and closer. He is hitting .257/.299/.514 at Omaha right now and his walk rate has seen a slight increase while the strike out rate has taken a dip. Mondesi has shown a proclivity of improving the longer he stays at each level over his career, and it appears that is what is going on in AAA as we speak.

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Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

So while you and I might not understand the ‘Ryan Goins Experience’, it is definitely not a permanent answer for the Royals infield. While Mondesi will probably leap over Goins and be a starter at some point, the role of backup will probably transition over to someone like Ramon Torres, who appears to be a younger and better version of Goins.

Sometimes we just need to take a step back and allow the bigger picture to show itself. I’m not advocating for Goins being a part of this Royals roster, but I do feel Kansas City is looking at the future more than we give them credit for. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the Royals aren’t going to get better just by ditching Ryan Goins. More than likely though, Rome will appear sooner once Goins is no longer an option.

Kevin McCarthy is Proving He Should Have Been on the Opening Day Roster

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Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

When Opening Day rosters are announced there are always a few surprises that end up heading north with the team. Sometimes though, it isn’t who made the team as much as who is left off. That was the case with Kevin McCarthy, who did not make the Kansas City Royals roster out of Spring Training and instead began the year in the minors.

It was a bit of a surprise, as McCarthy had put together a pretty nice rookie year for the Royals in 2017. McCarthy threw 45 innings last year over 33 games in the big leagues, posting a 3.20 ERA, 3.98 FIP and 0.2 fWAR. But what really impressed me was his ability to produce in tight situations:

Maybe the most impressive part of his game was that he only allowed a hard hit rate of 26.3% and proved to be a clutch performer, posting a 0.30 WPA and 0.45 CLUTCH. While the team will be bringing back a number of their relievers for the upcoming season, one would have to think McCarthy could see a growing role in the Kansas City pen next year.

In proper context, the WPA was 9th best on the Royals last year while Clutch was 5th best. Sure, not ‘blow off the doors’ amazing but steady and a good starting point for a pitcher during his rookie campaign.

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Credit: Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire

These were all reasons that it appeared a foregone conclusion McCarthy would be with the Royals to start the year, but the numbers game probably got the best of him. McCarthy had options left and the team wanted to keep Rule 5 picks Burch Smith and Brad Keller on the roster. Thus, McCarthy started the year at Omaha, appearing in 3 games before being recalled by Kansas City on April 13th. Since then, it is safe to say he has been one the Royals top relievers.

McCarthy has appeared in 22 games headed into play on Tuesday, tossing 25.2 innings posting a 3.16 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 3.31 xFIP and 0.2 fWAR (which ties him with his total from last year). McCarthy is keeping pace on his strike out rate this year, but has lowered his walk rate a bit (5.9%) and a 1.01 WHIP, which is down from 1.13 in 2017.

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But where it gets even more interesting for him is looking at some of the advanced numbers. Win probability is where McCarthy continues to impress. He currently sits second on the team in Win Probability Added at 0.40, and third in RE24, at 4.22. Both of these are accumulating statistics and should continue to rise as the season progresses, barring a major setback. It also shows how McCarthy easily should be one of the most trusted arms out of the bullpen right now.

In fact, McCarthy’s success appears to be coming on a slight shift in his pitch selection. Here’s a look over his pitch usage since the beginning of 2017 to today:

Brooksbaseball-ChartMcCarthy has gone from a pitcher that relies on his sinker and slider most often to one who is using his slide-piece less and less and using the change-up more. This shift appeared to happen around September of last year and he’s continued it into this season.

By doing that, he is inducing groundballs at a higher rate thanks to the change:

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For McCarthy, the higher rate of groundballs has led to a lower batting average against, pretty much all across the board:

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McCarthy has almost entirely ditched his four-seam fastball and is relying heavily on the sinker, tossing in the change-up, curve and slider to compliment it:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (3)

It’s not quite the extreme that we saw from Scott Alexander last year, but it does show that if you have a pitch that is working and getting outs, using it more often would seem to translate to more outs.

Image result for Kevin McCarthy Royals 2018

It also appears that the coaching staff is trusting him more and more as the season progresses. During May, the Royals used McCarthy 12 times, compiling a 2.25 ERA with batters hitting .179/.193/.304 against him. The bullpen struggled throughout the first month of the season, with a number of veterans like Blaine Boyer and Justin Grimm contributing to the bleeding rather than stopping it.

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Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

With Brad Keller shifting to the rotation, it would appear to be as good a time as any for Kansas City to give McCarthy a shot at being a setup guy for closer Kelvin Herrera. With Herrera being a heavily coveted arm this summer, it is as good a time as any to see what McCarthy can do late in the game.

The Royals bullpen is continuing its evolution and it appears McCarthy will continue to evolve as well. More than likely there will be a few more shifts before it is all said and done and McCarthy is as good a choice as any to be a major part of it. So far he is passing all the Royals tests with flying colors; there is almost no reason to stop the development now. Moving forward should be the mantra.

The Case for Trevor Oaks in the Royals Rotation

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Credit: MLB.com

So far in 2018, Eric Skoglund has held down the 5th starters spot in the Kansas City Royals rotation, albeit with mixed results. In his three starts this season, Skoglund has given up 14 runs in 14.2 innings while allowing 18 hits and five walks. The positive is that Skoglund has slightly gotten better in each start, with his best outing this past weekend in Detroit.

The negative is that outing still was below expectations: four runs, four hits and two walks in five innings of work. Technically the numbers are improving, but definitely not enough to forego discussing other options for the rotation. There is already talk that Clay Buchholz will more than likely take over for Skoglund this weekend against Chicago and he is as good an option as any that the Royals have right now. But if we are talking options we might as well throw Trevor Oaks’ name out there.

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Credit: Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports

Oaks is in his age 25 season and was the biggest “get” in the Scott Alexander/Joakim Soria trade that went down earlier this winter. Oaks has primarily been a ground-ball pitcher throughout his career and relies on a nice four-seam fastball (with some natural sinking action), a sinker, and a slider with the occasional change-up thrown in there as well. He’s not going to miss many bats, but his ability to induce groundballs would be a welcome change for the Royals rotation.

The Royals have relied on fly-ball pitchers over the last 4-5 years and back when the team was making regular trips to the postseason it made sense. The team was employing an outfield of plus defenders like Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson, so the thinking was as long as the pitcher could keep the ball in the ballpark, their outfielders would run it down.

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Credit: Brian Davidson/Getty Images

But since then the focus in baseball has been on getting the ball in the air and more importantly, home runs. When even middle infielders are focusing on elevating the ball, it only makes sense to try and swing the pendulum to the other side and work on keeping the ball on the ground. The Royals still have a good infield defense and it would seem Oaks could be one to take advantage of that.

To give you an idea of how often Oaks keeps the ball on the ground, let’s do a comparison to some of the top ground-ball pitchers in baseball today. Over the last two seasons, Oaks has been in the range of 64-50% of groundballs, which would rank him in the top 20 if he would be able to make that transition to the big leagues. Lance McCullers, Jr. of Houston has the highest rate so far this season at 63.6% while the highest eligible Kansas City pitcher is Jason Hammel at 43.9%.

Oaks did have some issues with his sinker when he returned from injury last year but former big-league pitcher Justin Masterson, who has also heavily relied on the sinker over his career, was able to pass on some words of wisdom:

“I was struggling to find consistent movement. In years past, it’s always just kind of been a natural pitch for me, so I hadn’t really thought much about it or really tweaked around the grips too much. So while I was going through that period of struggle, he was able to show me things. It was like, ‘Hey, why don’t you try this?’

“A lot of it was just little tweaks here and there, from stuff he had learned over the course of his career throwing the sinker. And he was also kind of calming me down. He’d say, ‘Hey, don’t freak out if it’s not your best stuff that day.’

“I think that’s why I still had a decent year. While I didn’t have my best sinker, I was still able to go out there and compete. I had the confidence to be like, ‘I can get these guys out, even without my best sinker, and then once that pitch comes back for me, I can really take off.”

So while Oaks’ sinker is a big part of his repertoire, he seemed to make an adjustment last year which is always a big part of the maturation process. While Oaks only had a 50.8% ground-ball rate in AAA last year, the lessons he learned seemed to help him grow as a pitcher.

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Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It’s still early into 2018, but Oaks has pretty much kept pace with what he did in AAA for the Dodgers last year. Groundballs, flyballs and line drives are all pretty much on par with 2017 while the strike out rate has been a tad lower (11.8% compared to 21.1.%) and the walk rate is a bit higher (6.5% to 5.3%). This is only over 23.1 innings in Omaha, so it’s a small sample size, but more than anything there does appear to be a hint of consistency.

I’m not against Buchholz getting his chance before Oaks and I even understand why it is happening. Buchholz cost the Royals practically nothing and if he can show a glint of his former All-Star caliber talent then it only makes sense for Kansas City to see what they have in him.

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Credit: MLB.com

While it won’t hurt Oaks to stay in the minors a bit longer, it’s just a matter of time until he is in the Kansas City rotation. He has thrown 170 innings in AAA over the last couple seasons while proving he can hang at that level.

The next couple seasons are all about opportunities for Kansas City and seeing what they have. If Buchholz turns out to be a find then that can only be a positive for the team moving forward. But if we are talking long-term, that is where Oaks comes into the discussion. Last year Jake Junis was given the chance to prove his worth. 2018 should be Trevor Oaks’ turn to shine for the Royals.

Lost Opportunities

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Kansas City Royals

The other day Matthew LaMar wrote about Hunter Dozier and the unwillingness of the Kansas City Royals to give him an opportunity when a spot has become available on the roster. Matthew wrote up a number of reasons why the team might have passed him over and some of them might carry some weight, especially among those in the Royals front office or even their scouting department.

But Dozier is not the first prospect in the Kansas City farm system to be passed over despite not having anyone of actual value holding them back. In fact, over the years the team has found a way to not see what they have with their younger talent. There for a long time, the Royals were infamous for bypassing younger players for older ones with more big league experience.

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Justin Huber was one of the first names to pop in my mind when I thought of players not given a chance to perform. Huber was a highly touted prospect in the New York Mets system when they traded him to the Royals before the 2004 trade deadline for…Jose Bautista. Huber was initially a catcher, but after the trade he tore cartilage in his left knee and underwent surgery that would end his career behind the dish. The Royals would move him to first base and eventually shift him to the outfield later in his career.

Huber consistently was slugging in the .450-.475 range for most of his minor league years in New York and during his first season in the Kansas City organization hit .326/.417/.560 over 527 plate appearances. He would get a slight audition with the major league club that year, playing in 25 games while hitting just .218/.271/.256  over 85 plate appearances.

He would end up back in Omaha to start 2006 but would end up only getting 11 plate appearances that year. I specifically remember the team recalling him in May of that year for a series against Minnesota and he would only get one at bat, a pinch-hitting appearance on May 3rd.

At the time the Royals had Doug Mientkiewicz at first base and while he was a good hitter with a great glove, he also was in his age 32 season and was a one year solution at first. In layman’s terms, no one of major value was blocking Huber from getting playing time. Alas it was not to be, as Huber would play eight more games for the Royals in 2007 before being traded to San Diego in March of 2008.

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Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Speaking of first baseman, Kila Ka’aihue is another player who the Royals dragged their feet on. Ka’aihue put up a monster year in 2008, hitting .314/.456/.628 with 37 home runs and 100 RBI’s while splitting time in AA and AAA. The Royals gave him 24 plate appearances that September and he looked to at least be an option in 2009.

Instead, Ka’aihue would spend the entire 2009 season in Omaha, hitting .252/.392/.433 with 17 home runs and 57 RBI’s. Meanwhile, the Royals had a 1B/DH combo of Billy Butler and…Mike Jacobs. Jacobs was awful during his only season in Kansas City, hitting .228/.297/.401 with an OPS+ of 84. He would be released by Kansas City in December of that year.

Ka’aihue would get a bit of a chance in May of the following year, as he was recalled to Kansas City but would still see the majority of his playing time in Omaha. He finished the 2010 season on a bit of a hot streak with 8 home runs and 25 RBI’s.

But we knew what would happen next. Eric Hosmer was on the horizon and with Billy Butler firmly entrenched at DH, that left Ka’aihue without a spot. He would end his Kansas City career with only 326 plate appearances in a four-year span, hitting .216/.309/.375.

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Finally, there is the tale of Johnny Giavotella. Giavotella moved quickly through the Kansas City farm system and by the end of 2011 had posted wRC+ seasons of 123, 108, 139 and 118 and was easily the best second base prospect in the organization.

Giavotella was recalled in August of 2011 and two days after would hit his first major league home run off of Max Scherzer. Gio would spend the last two months in Kansas City, hitting .247/.273/.376 with a wRC+ of 72. He would spend 2012 bouncing back and forth between AAA and the majors, compiling 189 plate appearances and a wRC+ of 55.

At the time, “Mistake Free” Chris Getz was the Royals second baseman and while he was decent on defense, he was below average with the bat. The Royals liked Getz’s glove and Giavotella’s defense obviously hurt him in the Royals’ eyes. The fact he hadn’t hit during his short trials probably didn’t help matters either.

By the end of 2014 he was designated for assignment and would end his Royals career getting 465 plate appearances (over four years), hitting .238/.277/.334 and an OPS+ of 67. It always felt like Johnny was never given a prolonged look at the position to truly see what he was capable of and the question was always what would happen if he was just told to go out there and play on a day-to-day basis.

That is the issue with all of these players and what appears could happen to Dozier. None of the names I mentioned above were ever really truly given a chance to get comfortable and play on a consistent basis in Kansas City. The chances they were given were sporadic at best and it was frustrating to watch replacement level veterans filling spots on a number of Royals teams that, to be honest, just weren’t going anywhere.

That is the point of this whole thing. I’m not saying that Ka’aihue, Giavotella or Huber (or even someone like Jose Martinez years later) would have been top shelf offensive stars and would plant themselves in the Royals lineups for years and years. For all we know they would have produced exactly like they did in their short time with the team.

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Credit: MLB.com

But they should have been given the chance to see what they could do, especially since no one was blocking them. We saw Hosmer and Mike Moustakas struggle for years to reach a level of success in the big leagues and the organization allowed them that time to figure it out on a yearly basis.

The players mentioned weren’t afforded that same chance and because of that we are forever left with questions with what could have been. The Royals have an opportunity over the next couple of years to give a number of players the chance to prove their worth and the time to let them fail and pick themselves back up. Sure, not every prospect is going to succeed and a number of them won’t be keepers. But you never know unless you give them the opportunity.

Not allowing someone like Dozier or even someone like Ryan O’Hearn an opportunity after all the time that has been invested in them feels like a loss of resources. At least find out what these guys can and can’t do; if the Royals want to cut bait after that then they are perfectly within their rights. But don’t leave questions left unanswered.

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