Royals Hire Matheny as Their New Manager…and You Shouldn’t Be Happy About That

The inevitable and expected happened on Thursday, as the Kansas City Royals announced that Mike Matheny would be their new manager, taking over the for the retired Ned Yost. This move can be traced all the way back to last November, when the Royals brought him into the organization to be a special advisor to player development.

While this was expected for months, it has also been a very unpopular hire within the Royals fanbase, with many like myself pointing out many of the issues that led to his dismissal in St. Louis. This hire has left many shaking their head and wondering why the Royals braintrust felt giving Matheny a second opportunity at managing was wiser than taking a chance on a younger option like Pedro Grifol or Vance Wilson.

If I am truly being fair here, lets look at some of the positives that pop up on Matheny’s resume. Under his leadership, Matheny guided the Cardinals to the playoffs his first four years at the helm, including a World Series appearance in 2013 and leading baseball in wins in 2015 (when the Royals won the World Series over the Mets). He accumulated a record of 591-474 over his six and a half seasons in St. Louis, which is impressive for someone who had never managed before and was following in the footsteps of the legendary Tony LaRussa.

What eventually led to his dismissal in St. Louis has been well documented and feels like a list of ‘Do-Nots’ for any manager to follow. He showed a preference to veterans, struggled with communication when met with resistance, was not open-minded to advance analytics, showed poor decision-making when it came to tactical decisions, neglected fundamentals and was not open to outside advice. If you really want a window into why so many Royals fans (and analysts within the game) have been against the hire, this is probably a great way to start.

So with all that said, why was Matheny Dayton Moore’s choice? For one, he is an old school leader who follows in line with Moore on how the game should be played. Both are firm believers in a style that focuses on putting the ball in play, bunting runners over into scoring position and a love of the sacrifice fly. In some ways Matheny is an extension of Ned Yost, at least when it comes to the tactical side of a managers job. As a baseball fan, this part isn’t the worst thing in the world, as the ball being put in play more has proven to be a more exciting product to watch and one that was very successful for the 2014-2015 Royals teams.

The issue lies in the problems that arose in St. Louis near the end of his run. The Royals are in a rebuild (whether Moore acknowledges it or not) and with that comes a higher focus on young talent. Matheny showed a tendency to lean toward his veterans while the younger players would ride some pine if met with any struggles. At this point of development, the younger players in Kansas City will need the playing time and a long stint on the bench won’t really do them any good. Yost was great working with the youngsters, even going back to his time in Milwaukee. This was one aspect of Ned’s managerial style that he was praised for and one that Matheny would be smart to adopt.

Maybe this will change for Matheny since he is in a different situation than the one he was anointed in St. Louis. Matheny was thrown into the pressure cooker when he was hired by the Cardinals, as he was replacing a legend in Tony LaRussa and left with a roster that was playoff-ready. There was no rebuild going on during his stint in St. Louis and the expectancy to win was much higher than it is going to be in Kansas City the next two years. We should know pretty early whether or not Matheny has changed in this regard and it will be interesting how he handles a different side of the game, one that can expect more lows than highs.

Another issue that has to be addressed would be his communication skills. Matheny was known as someone who would shut down for long periods of time and sometimes even ignore certain players. This can’t happen in Kansas City and is a big part of my concern with him taking over this job. He will be working with younger players who need feedback on what they are doing correctly and incorrectly and having a manager that isn’t there to teach them is a major problem. During the press conference on Thursday, Matheny talked a lot about “growing” and acknowledging his “blind spots” and for this to work, this can’t be just talk.

So is it just talk? Obviously at this point there is no way to tell but Moore saw enough that he felt the change was real. Matheny did take an analytics course to grow his knowledge and even hired a consultant to help him deal with the media. At the very least, these are signs that Matheny wanted an opportunity to manage again and was willing to take the steps necessary to make it happen. He was very stubborn during his first managerial job when it came to not only the use of analytics but also taking any other comments, opinions or suggestions as a form of growth. Matheny would be wise to soak in everything that is tossed his away and at the very least consider the advice that is sent his way. If he is serious at growing, he needs to be an open-minded manager.

With this said, the biggest reason I don’t feel Matheny is the right hire for Kansas City is because to me he isn’t the best choice. To me, the best choice has been in the Royals dugout for years now and his name is Pedro Grifol. Grifol has been with the big league club since 2013, when he was brought in as a special assignment coach when George Brett was hired as interim hitting coach. Grifol has also served as the quality control coach, catching coach and hitting coach during his tenure in Kansas City. While he was with the Mariners organization, Grifol was a manager, scout, coordinator of instruction and Director of Minor League Operations. You could probably name it, and Grifol has done it.

So why do I feel he is the best choice? Not only does his wealth of knowledge in all aspects of the organization help, but he is also bilingual, has the respect and admiration of the current players and has watched many of the players move up through the organization as well as watching the current crop that is still down in the minors. Grifol has shown an ability to learn and grow and is someone thought highly of not only within the Royals organization, but other organizations as well. Currently he is on the short list of candidates to become the new San Francisco Giants manager and has been considered for managerial jobs in the past in both Detroit and Baltimore. Grifol would have walked into the Royals managerial job with a leg up on everyone else while having all the tools that organizations look for in their field generals.

So with that said, why the choice of Matheny over Grifol? Managerial experience is almost certainly one of reasons, but there is another reason that isn’t talked about as much but one I addressed just last weekend. Dayton Moore is a deeply religious man and so is Mike Matheny. We have seen over the last few years Moore get more and more aggressive with this beliefs being pushed out in public, most publicly with his battle against pornography. As Royals fans, we have known about Moore’s faith for years and for the most part it has never been a big issue. Craig Brown at Royals Review talked extensively about this the other day (which I highly recommend you click that link) and I felt better after reading it because I wasn’t alone in believing that Moore hired Matheny in part because of his religious beliefs.

I know some will disagree with this, but much like Matheny talked about his “blind spots” when it came to managing, I firmly believe Moore’s “blind spot” is his faith. Part of that faith is believing in second chances and in my opinion that is what is going on here. Moore sees Matheny as a good Christian man and wants to reward him for that by giving him another managing job. By no means am I saying Matheny shouldn’t be given a second chance at some point. Far from it. At some point I do believe he should be given that second chance, as long as he has shown that he has learned what failed him during his first managerial job.

But he is just 15 months removed from that firing, which feels too soon. Add in a candidate in Grifol that feels like the superior choice and you start wondering “why Matheny?”. It seems very apparent where the dots are connected here and why Matheny was Dayton’s choice. Personally, I have no issue with anyone and their religion. As comedian Katt Williams would say “You do you, Boo-Boo”. But when it comes to baseball and hiring coaches or signing players, I care nothing about religion. I want the best person for the job, the person who will give the team the best opportunity to win. Unless they are just an absolutely deplorable human, it doesn’t matter to me whether you praise Jesus, Buddha, Allah or any other deity. I want the best person for the job and Matheny is not that person for the Royals.

Moore has made his decision and I will call it now: this move will be the beginning of the end for Dayton. Over the last couple years, he has made some questionable moves and we’ve seen his decision making become more and more questionable. It used to just be free agent signings or trades but now it has started to seep over into whether his personal belief system is on a higher plain than winning. Need more proof? Look no more than his defending of Luke Heimlich. Moore’s want to give people a second chance almost gave the organization a giant stain that would have been hard to recover from. It is obvious what his mission is at this point and on a daily basis I question more and more whether or not that goal is winning. The hiring of Matheny could very well be his eventual downfall, especially with new ownership getting ready to move in.

So it is very obvious that Matheny being hired by Kansas City was not well received at my house. The hope for those of us who dislike the move is that he proves us wrong and he has truly changed his ways. For the longterm health of this organization, I hope that his hiring won’t push back the progress that has been made these last few years. The good news is this: when Ned Yost was brought in, many like myself looked down on the hire and eventually Yost proved us wrong. Now it’s Matheny’s turn. For our sanity, I need to be wrong.

Musings and Opinions About October and Baseball

(Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports)

With the MLB postseason in the stretch run, I thought I would run through a few topics that are hitting the baseball news cycle this month and put a bit of a personal slant on it. With that being said, let’s start with our Kansas City Royals.

The Wrong Choice?

If you are a Royals fan, you are probably well aware that former St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny is the frontrunner to take over for Ned Yost in the dugout. You are also probably aware that Royals fans have been very adamant about their dislike of Matheny and the feeling that he would be a horrible choice to take the helm in KC. In fact, if you thought Yost caught a lot of flak, it’s nothing compared to Matheny and he hasn’t even been hired yet.

If you are unaware of why many of us within the fanbase are not fond of Matheny, it basically comes down to his dealings with the players near the end of his run in St. Louis. Matheny wasn’t even talking to outfielder Dexter Fowler and it even sounds like he allowed bullying to go on in the bullpen. Go ahead and read this to get a better idea of what was going on while he was with the Cardinals and there is also this from a few Cardinals fans. To say there is some skepticism about Mike and his handling of the clubhouse would be an understatement.

While I have concerns with all of this (and worry how this could effect a young team like the Royals), there is another issue that I have with the idea of WHY exactly Royals GM Dayton Moore would hire a man with this much baggage. It has to do with Matheny’s faith and how Moore seems to want to surround himself with people who are very religious and wear it like a badge of honor on their sleeves.

I almost hate to keep bringing this up, since I have no issue with what anyone believes in or doesn’t believe in. To me, it comes down to whether or not you are qualified to do the job at hand and no matter what team, you should hire the person best suited for the job. If Matheny was coming off a great run in St. Louis and was a good fit for Kansas City, I couldn’t care less what his religious beliefs were. If he was the best choice, he should be the man hired to take over for Ned.

But instead, it feels like Dayton is continuing to hire based more on faith rather than logic. I’m all for giving someone a second chance and the Cardinals job was Matheny’s first managing job. It would be ridiculous to think he didn’t learn anything from it. But the Royals are in a position where they are a young team that needs proper leadership to help them grow and eventually flourish at the big league level, to the point of them possibly contending within a couple of years. Hiring someone like Matheny, who doesn’t appear to work as well with younger talent as well as veterans, would seem to be a weird hire for a team that is in full-blown rebuild mode.

The Royals have two coaches in-house (Pedro Grifol and Vance Wilson) who have had their names tossed around in managing circles and would appear to both be good choices for any team that is considering hiring them. Both have been with the Royals organization for years and have seen many off the current roster make their way through the Kansas City farm system. Both have good relationships with the players and embrace advanced analytics, which every team is now using to help the development of their players.

This feels like a no-brainer, but you have to really worry about a team that thinks Matheny is a good fit to lead the Royals into the next realm of their development. Maybe Grifol has been the choice all along and we’ve all spent a ton of time worrying about nothing. But it doesn’t feel that way and it feels like the beginning of the downfall of Dayton Moore. I hope I’m wrong, because what awaits us if Matheny is hired could be tough to endure when all Moore has to do is make the best choice for the team.

Nationals Devil Magic     

The funnest team to watch this postseason has been the Washington Nationals. Not only are they an underdog (going from the Wild Card game to the World Series), but they are a jovial team that appears to enjoy each other’s company. In fact, it hit me the other day that part of why I like watching this Nationals team as much as I do could be because they remind me of the 2014-2015 Royals teams that had a little bit of luck on their side.

Offensively there appears to be a lot of the Royals formula in their style. This is a team that just finds a way to get on base and numerous times this postseason has managed to compile multiple run innings by “moving the line”. Washington has a bit more power than those Royals teams, but they know how to keep an inning alive and make their baserunners count.

Pitching-wise, their rotation is miles better than Kansas City’s was, but the Royals had an edge when it came to their bullpen. Switching around the roles, the Nationals lean on a dominant rotation while the Royals leaned on their dominant bullpen. There are slight differences (and it makes the late innings a bit more stressful if you are a Washington fan), but you can see enough of a similarity that it’s not hard for a Royals fan to cheer for their brethren in D.C.

If Washington can seal the deal, they would have a giant monkey off their back, much like the Royals did in 2014. The hard part for them was winning a playoff series, which they had never done before. Since then, they have been playing with house money and you can tell how much looser they are on the field…just like when the Royals won the Wild Card game in 2014. Bottom line is while they aren’t carbon copies, they are close enough that it has been easy to get behind the Nationals this October. I can only hope they are able to do what the Royals did in 2015.

Everything’s Coming Up Soto

(Credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The biggest joy I have received from this postseason has been the attention given to Nationals outfielder Juan Soto. Soto, who just turned 21 (I know, you hadn’t heard that yet), has flown under the radar these last two years, especially to the casual baseball fan. But for those of us that follow it more closely, his success is something we pretty much expected. In fact, he probably should have been praised more before even getting to the playoffs.

With all the hoopla for Ronald Acuna, Jr. these last two seasons (and trust me, it’s deserved), Soto is right there with Acuna. I would even go so far as to say they are very similar players, as the numbers will attest. First, Acuna:

Now, Soto:

As you can see, the two have very similar numbers, with Acuna utilizing his speed more and probably the better defender. With that said, it has been nice to see Soto get the attention that Acuna has been receiving since before his recall to the majors. In some ways these two will be linked together till the end of time, much like Harper and Trout or Williams and DiMaggio. I’m not saying these two are on that level, but in the same regard they could be at the level soon.

So enjoy watching Soto in these next few games. It’s a treat that we get to appreciate him on the biggest stage with the biggest spotlight.

The World Series is nearing the end. Award season is just around the corner. And after that? I would like to say Hot Stove season, but the last two winters it has been anything but hot. So enjoy this week. While Major League Baseball has dealt with the de-juicing of the baseballs, the fiasco with the Houston Astros front office, and the news of a possible restructuring of the minor leagues, baseball needs a strong finish to the postseason and hope for an active offseason. The ball is in your court, baseball. Be smart with your next move.

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

Sometimes you can see moves happening from a mile away. It was well known for years that Dayton Moore had a fondness for former Atlanta Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur, all the way back to his days in the Atlanta front office. So when the Royals signed Frenchy to a deal in late 2010, it was a shock to literally no one. 

So it shouldn’t have been a surprise last week when the Kansas City Royals hired former St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny as special adviser for player development. The rumors of Matheny being brought into the fold go back a few months, as it was first brought up by Derrick Goold in August. Goold had this to say just last week after the hiring:

    


Matheny, 48, will take part in working within the Royals’ organization and the role will also have a scouting aspect to it, he said. Before becoming the Cardinals’ manager for the 2012 season, Matheny worked as a special assignments official for the Cardinals and spent time during spring training and the season working with the organization’s young catchers. Matheny won seven Gold Gloves during his 13-year playing career in the majors.

So in a lot of ways, we’ve been preparing for this move for quite awhile. Would anticipate be a better word? Probably not, since Matheny did not leave St. Louis with high praise. Our own Max Rieper covered many of the issues associated with Matheny’s time as Cardinals manager earlier this week and I touched on some of the problems he created about a month ago when discussing replacements for Ned Yost.    

So this move isn’t the most popular for Royals fans, but it also feels like a knee-jerk reaction to something that hasn’t even happened. The thinking is that while Matheny has only been hired as a “Special Adviser”, the true purpose for the Royals to bring him in is to make him the replacement for Yost, whenever he decides to finally hang it up. Call it a “Manager in Waiting”.

It’s easy to see why people have connected the dots. When Yost was brought in, he was also hired as a “Special Adviser”. He also had major league managerial experience. He was also someone that Moore spoke very highly of, just as he did with Matheny: 


“This is a great opportunity to have Mike become a member of our organization,” said Royals general manager Dayton Moore in a statement. “It’s always been our policy to hire the best baseball people we can and this is a perfect example of that.”

So it is easy to see why almost everyone has instantly assumed that Matheny will be the next Kansas City manager. But the truth is that this is all speculation and it even feels like people are jumping to conclusions.

Let’s start with the obvious: Ned Yost is still the manager of this team. That will probably continue to be the case until he doesn’t want the job anymore. From the outside looking in, that appears to be when the 2019 season concludes, but for all we know it could go on past that. The one thing we can probably place money on is that no one will be uprooting Yost from his seat except for Ned. 

There are also a couple of very viable options already on the Royals coaching staff that could replace Yost. Bench coach Dale Sveum, bullpen coach Vance Wilson and catching/quality control coach Pedro Grifol have been mentioned in the past as possible successors to Ned and all three have been in the organization for a number of years. In fact, after the 2017 campaign this statement was made by Yost after the coaching staff shake-up:


“We feel like we’ve got the right people to take over for me,” Yost indicated. “We’re not bringing someone in.”

Now, this comment was made over a year ago and things change. I’ve even made the comment in the past that sometimes people change their mind and decide to go in a different direction, even if they felt differently a month, a week or a day earlier. An organization can change their mind and often do based off of where they feel the direction of the on-field product is headed.  

That being said, it also appears that the Royals have discussed Ned’s replacement for awhile now and have someone in mind for the job. Considering that Dayton has the highest of respect for Yost and the years he has spent in baseball, it is easy to see Moore taking Yost’s recommendation under the highest of consideration. 

Along those same lines, it would make sense for the front office to also take the consideration of some of the veterans on the roster and who they feel would be a great fit as manager. Grifol has been a name bandied about these last couple of years as a candidate and he is someone the players respect and look up to. You don’t have to let the players choose the new manager, but allowing a few of them some input might not be the worst idea when the future of the team is in consideration.

Credit:  Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

One other item to consider is the effect that time could have on this situation. Matheny has been in baseball for a number of years and I’m sure still has a number of friends within the game. It is not out of the realm of possibility to see someone hire him as a coach somewhere, if that is something he desires.

Back in the day he was a great defensive catcher and it is easy to picture a team wanting him to come in and work with their young backstops. While he might have had a rough time communicating with some of his players when he was managing, it is possible that if you take the pressure of that job out of the situation, he could flourish with more one on one teaching. 

I could even see a team wanting him as a bench coach. Now before you snicker at that thought, remember how Trey Hillman did in his time as Royals manager and then remember that he eventually became the bench coach for both the Dodgers and the Astros. So yes, weirder things could happen.

The point of all of this is that there are no guarantees that Mike Matheny will be the next Kansas City manager. There is still quite a bit of time before that position is even open and things could drastically change between now and then. 

For all we know, Matheny was simply brought in as a fallback in case their first option becomes unavailable. Maybe he simply is just being brought in as an adviser and that is the only interest the organization has in him. Worrying about “what might happen” is dangerous and takes the focus away from the now and then.

So for now, don’t worry too much about Matheny being in the organization. As much as some of us don’t want him anywhere near the managerial position, for now he isn’t. That is where your focus should be. Don’t want to believe me? Then take the words of a man who has covered the team for quite a long time, Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com:  

In Flanny we trust. Now go on and worry about anything else but Mike Matheny. Trust me, it will help your sanity.

Who Should Be the Next Royals Manager?

kc1

On the last day of the 2018 campaign it was announced that manager Ned Yost would be returning to the Kansas City Royals to helm the ship for the 2019 season. This wasn’t a big shock, as there had been a prevalent thought that Yost wanted to come back for at least another season and continue the rebuild that is currently in place (I know, Dayton said it’s not a rebuild. We all know it IS a rebuild. But nice try, DM).

It appears from the outside looking in that the job is Yost’s for as long as he wants it. He has a good working relationship with both Moore and the Glass family, and the fact he led the Royals to back-to-back World Series’ gives him a certain level of leeway that many men in his position would love to have.

kc2
Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

But at some point Ned is going to decide to call it a day and go home. In fact, that day is probably closer than you think. For all we know, Yost could decide to retire at the end of 2019 and hand off the reigns to his successor. It’s hard to remember, but Yost has been in this position since May of 2010, which is a lifetime for a major league manager. Imagining someone else leading this Royals team is difficult to picture at times.

But we are going down that road anyway. Let’s imagine that Yost steps down and the Royals are on the hunt for his replacement. Who should they look for? Should they hire from within the organization? Should they go with a younger manager or one with experience?

Sam Mellinger  of the Kansas City Star recently took a look into just what the Royals would be looking for and in some ways it is a bit eye-raising

From what I can gather, the Royals would basically want Ned 2.0, an updated version of Yost for the future of a changing game.

They would prefer someone with previous managing experience, which is worth noting, because the trend elsewhere is for fresh faces. They want someone with respect, who’s a good communicator, has a feel for the game, all the typical traits you’d expect. The biggest difference might be that they’d look for someone with a little more feel for metrics, and the ways baseball is changing.

Using the term “Ned 2.0” made me chuckle because I might have pictured him as a cyborg for a moment. But it is very telling of what they are looking for and it immediately led some to think of former Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, including Mellinger:

My friend Derrick Goold was first to the scene on the Royals’ interest in Mike Matheny. Not that Derrick needs it, but I can confirm the interest. There will be other names that come up, too, and they don’t necessarily have to check every box.

Just mentioning Matheny probably made you groan, right? I get it, since he isn’t my first choice for the job either. This past season really drove home the flaws in his managerial style, which was hit on ad nauseam this summer:

Even in the recent past, old-school managers such as Ned Yost, Dusty Baker, and Charlie Manuel have won not because they’re John McGraw, but because they can get 25 guys to pull together. For that reason, if you can’t get the tactics right, you damn well better bring the best out of your players.

Matheny was never able to do that. And ironically for such a young manager, he committed an age-old sin: inflexibility.

To me, that reads that Matheny is the exact opposite of Yost. Bizarro Yost? Very possible. So as much as we freak out when we hear Matheny’s name, I can’t imagine Dayton Moore will look past that, unless he can just charm the pants off of Moore.

kc3
Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

But there are options to replace Yost and some are definitely in-house. Pedro Grifol has long been a favorite and someone the players are very fond of. By the end of George Brett’s tenure as hitting coach in 2013 , the players had shown a strong bond with Grifol and preferred him to Brett when it came to hitting issues. He is also bilingual and obviously a good communicator.

Dale Sveum, the current Royals bench coach, is another option. Sveum has managing experience (he led the Cubs for two seasons, 2012-2013) and has been a coach for Kansas City for five seasons now. Sveum has obviously built a relationship with a number of the current players and would be able to slide right into the system the Royals have been utilizing these last few years.

kc4
Credit: MLB.com

My choice (and the person I felt was a future Royals manager from almost the moment he was brought into the organization) is Vance Wilson. Wilson managed Kansas City’s AA squad in Northwest Arkansas for four seasons and is the Royals current bullpen coach. Wilson has managed a number of the current players on the Kansas City roster and is familiar with their successes and failures. Wilson can be a bit old school, but has also been willing to use analytics as well to help the cause.

I found this comment from 2011 very telling into what kind of manager Wilson would be:

“I’m learning how to relate to the players, especially this new generation of players, and I’m learning to make guys better not only as players, but people. I will see where it takes me beyond this.”

This sounds like something from the Dayton Moore handbook. If anything, it fits the style of leader that Moore looks for in his managers.

kc5
Credit: Associated Press

Jason Kendall, a former Royals catcher, has also been mentioned as a future manager over the years. He currently works in the organization as the Special Assignment Coach and has long been a favorite of the Kansas City front office. Kendall is an interesting option, but he might be a bit too rough around the edges. I’m not for sure today’s players would be very receptive to his gruff managerial style, which I imagine is what you would get from Kendall.

We could also throw in former Royals outfielders Raul Ibanez and Carlos Beltran onto the list as well. Neither have any managerial experience, but both are highly regarded in the baseball community and great communicators. One has to wonder just where the Royals would be if not for Ibanez’s speech to the Royals clubhouse in 2014, a speech that motivated the team and led them on their run to the postseason that year. Could something like that motivate Dayton to hire Raul? Experience (or lack thereof) might not be the deciding factor if the Royals like a candidate.

kc6

There are a number of other candidates that Kansas City could consider when the time comes. Mike Maddux, Tim Wallach, Jay Bell (another former Royal), Bo Porter, Eric Chavez and Joe Espada are just a few more names that could be considered as the future Royals manager. The one thing to remember is that while the Royals might be looking for a Yost clone right now, that could change at the drop of a hat:

By the time Ned retires, the organization could have shifted their needs and desires in a different direction. Personally, I am fine with that. Deciding who leads this team moving forward shouldn’t be a hastily made decision and instead should be done with meticulous detail. Figure out where you want the team to be and decide at that point who is the best candidate to get you to your destination. That should be your choice.

kc7
Credit: Orlin Wagner, The Associated Press

But we aren’t there yet. This is all speculation on our part and it might change twenty more times before Yost steps down. But the future gets a bit closer everyday, a future without Ned. Hopefully the Royals are prepared when that day comes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Kansas City Miracle

kc1

If you are a Kansas City Royals fan you have probably uttered the question ‘is this really happening?’ more times than you can remember this past month. There were high hopes coming into the 2014 season, and even dreams of their first playoff appearance in 29 years floated in most fans mind, even if there were still concerns about this team. I freely admit I was a bit skeptical about their chances and whether a team with a wildly inconsistent offense and a tendency to focus on more old school offensive methods could stack up enough wins to lock up a playoff spot. Little did we know that the Royals would far exceed any of our expectations and cement themselves into our minds and hearts for years to come.

kc2

Early on it appeared the Royals were very Jekkyl and Hyde, as at times they looked like an elite team that could contend throughout the summer months and possibly even topple the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central. Other times they looked like the worst parts of the previous season Royals, struggling to score runs and being held back by a stagnant offense. Nori Aoki looked like regression had begun to sink in, Mike Moustakas looked like he had left his swing in Arizona, and Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer were both hitting well below expectations. May saw Pedro Grifol transitioned from hitting coach to catching coach(yes, that still seems to be a made up position) while 3rd base coach Dale Sveum would take over the hitting coach duties. At this point the pitching and the defense were keeping this team in games, but the offense just wasn’t carrying their weight.

kc3

June was another story though, as the Royals would go on a 10 game winning streak, even toppling Detroit and taking over the lead in the American League Central. Everything was falling Kansas City’s way, with hits dropping in when needed, hard hit balls being hit by opponents right at Kansas City defenders and even passed balls bouncing right back to Royals catcher Salvador Perez. Everything seemed to be on course and was the first sign that this wasn’t the Royals of old. Yes, they were a streaky bunch, but did enough things right during their lull’s that they weren’t going to fade away late in the season.

kc4

Maybe the highlight to this point of the season was the development of two young starting pitchers, Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura. Duffy had dealt with a number of setbacks over the years, to the point that some wondered if he would ever really put things together. After a short stint in the bullpen, the rest of baseball took notice in June when Duffy would keep Baltimore in check, pitching perfect baseball for the first 20 batters of the game, pitching into the 8th inning while only allowing 2 hits. Outside of a rough September, Duffy was probably the Royals best starter throughout the summer and made the case to be the team’s #1 starter in 2015. Early on Ventura showed the rest of baseball why there was a buzz around him with a fastball that could reach triple digits and a curve and change that was constantly improving. There was some concern in late May as Ventura would leave a start early due to elbow discomfort but the injury ended up being minor and Yordano would only miss one start. The concern did cause Ventura to pitch a bit smarter, choosing to “throw fire” a bit less and let the Royals top notch defense take care of things for him. Yordano would have his ups and downs during his rookie campaign, but there was more good than bad and it was easy to see why the organization is excited about having him around for years to come.

kc5

August saw another hot streak for the Royals, one that would push the Royals back up to the top of the Central Division. This time Kansas City would rattle off 8 straight wins, some would say partially because of South Korean super-fan Sung Woo Lee making his first ever trip to Kansas City. Lee would be in attendance for the Royals climbing back on top and seemed to re-energize the fanbase, watching one of their own get to experience this team in person for the first time. Alex Gordon stepped up big for Kansas City in August, pulling off a line of .292/.356/.585. As Gordon goes so goes the Royals as the entire team seemed to be picked up by A1’s hot streak. Even when the rest of the team struggled during the month, Gordon picked them up. Eric Hosmer would get hurt during this time which forced designated hitter Billy Butler to 1B where he has long wanted to return(Butler played the position before Hosmer made his way to the big leagues in 2011). The move seemed to energize Butler’s bat and his fielding was nothing to sneeze at. August was also the month that it finally hit some of us; this team had a real shot of making the playoffs. Not only making the postseason but to possibly even win the division. There was still concerns with this team, but they had put themselves into a position to make a serious run and it was close enough to get excited and take this run very seriously.

kc6

September rolled around and for all the excitement that August brought us, this month would make us question whether the Royals playoff drought would actually come to an end. The Boston series in particular sticks out as a series of one team making a push(Kansas City) and one team just playing to finish out the year(Boston). The Royals did not look their best during that weekend, with the Sunday game loss hurting the most, as Aaron Crow would give up a grand slam to Daniel Nava in the 6th inning and propel the Red Sox to a victory. Manager Ned Yost would make comments after the game to question the Royals and what could thwart them from reaching the postseason. If the Red Sox series felt like a left down, the Tigers series felt like a kick to the groin. Kansas City still had a chance of winning the division when the Tigers came to town on September 19th but a frustrating series dashed most of those hopes and questioned whether or not this team could hold up against a team like the Tigers. With a week left in the season, it seemed as if the Royals only hope was either for the Wild Card or for Obi Wan Kenobi…

kc7

…but then something happened. The Tigers lost on both Friday and Saturday against the Twins by a large margin, depleting Detroit’s bullpen. Kansas City would continue to win against the White Sox, locking up a playoff spot on that Friday night in Chicago and putting themselves in a position to tie Detroit on the final day of the season. If the Tigers lost and the Royals won, there would be a tie for the American League Central and game 163 would have to be played to determine the winner of the division. Unfortunately Detroit took away that opportunity for Kansas City by beating the Twins on Sunday, making them the Central champs and the Royals as the first Wild Card, as they would be at ‘The K’ to take on the A’s in a winner takes all game that would soon go down in history as an all-time great.

kc8

This game turned out to be a major turning point for this young team as it seemed to give them the confidence they needed and show that yes Virginia, the Royals really are major contenders. This game had a little bit of everything: stolen bases, home runs, injured catchers, questionable bullpen decisions, numerous comebacks, outfielder collisions, and a liner down the third base line that will go down in infamy. More than anything the Royals showed a tendency to defy logic. Back in August I had said that I was just going to enjoy the ride the Royals seemed to be making for a postseason appearance. I had waited 29 years to see ‘my team’ be on baseball’s big stage and felt it would be wrong if I didn’t enjoy it even if I didn’t always agree with Kansas City’s management. The Royals clinching a Wild Card spot meant the world to me; winning that game at home was icing on the cake.

kc9

So when the Royals started play in the American League Divisional Series I didn’t have lofty expectations. Sure, I wanted the Royals to win and advance in the playoffs but in some ways it just felt like an extra bonus and was enjoying it as such. What I didn’t expect was how much better they looked in this series against the Angels, the team with the best record in the American League in 2014. The Royals took the first two games in Anaheim, thanks to not the small ball they had prided themselves on but the long ball as both Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas came up with big blasts in Games 1 and 2. Game 3 was another story, as the series would move to Kauffman Stadium. I was fortunate enough to be in attendance at this game and the Royals showed they were for real, piling up runs early and helping them to an 8-3 victory to finish up the sweep of the Angels and advance them to the American League Championship Series. This team was playing their best baseball of the year and it came at just the right time. Seeing them in this position and seeing 40,000+ of my fellow Royals fans brought a tear to my eye and made me appreciate what was happening. I could pinch myself to make sure this was happening but I knew the truth; the Royals were winning and doing it when it mattered the most.

kc10

So now it was on to the American League Championship Series against the Baltimore Orioles. There was a little more concern with this series as Baltimore had many of the same strengths as Kansas City and could also trump them when it came to power. The Royals would win games 1 and 2 in Baltimore in dramatic fashion thanks to late inning heroics and the stellar defense and pitching the team had been touting all year round. Game 3 returned to Kansas City and would be another tight affair, with a solid outing by Jeremy Guthrie and Mike Moustakas doing his best impression of George Brett at third base, catching a ball and falling into one of the dugout suites. This would lead to game 4 and the Royals would score 2 in the bottom of the first and would never look back. The Royals had swept the Orioles and were headed to the World Series! What was amazing about this series was Kansas City’s offense went M.I.A. late in the series but it didn’t matter; they got enough offense while the pitching and defense continued to do their job. The Royals were 8-0 so far in this postseason and it almost seemed like they would never lose, even if we all knew they would eventually. I spent most of this year feeling like this didn’t have the feel of a playoff team but even I knew that if they got there(IF) they were a team made for the playoffs. So far they had shown it, and were now only 4 wins away from a World Championship.

kc11

The Royals were set now and ready to play the San Francisco Giants to be called champion. Honestly, none of us saw this coming. Just the fact they got to this point meant the world to us Royals fans, nevermind the shot at being World Champions. The Royals would battle in this series and even went ahead 2 games to 1 after Game 3 but the Royals just couldn’t solve the Madison Bumgarner rubik cube. It went all the way to Game 7 where they would lose by the thinnest of margins, 3-2. I felt so much pride that night but also sadness because of the loss. I had started to believe during the ALCS and really felt like the Royals were going to get themselves a new trophy to put in the Royals Hall of Fame. Instead they came up just short, as Alex Gordon was literally just 90 feet away as Salvador Perez popped up to end the game. I shut off the television and went to do something else; I couldn’t watch the Giants celebrate. As sports often do to you, the loss was breaking my heart. After 29 years I wanted to win it all. You can’t fault any of us for wanting this magical ride to end with the highest of honors. It just wasn’t meant to be.

World Series Giants Royals Baseball

But I’ve had almost a week now to get back to normal and I started to ask myself ‘what am I going to remember about this 2014 Royals team?’. I’m going to remember how good the pitching and defense was all season. I’m going to remember the excitement of finally getting to the playoffs after all these years. I’m going to remember how great this team played when they needed to, in October. More than anything I will remember how the team was energized by the Royals fanbase. This team fed off of us, the fans and they embraced it when they didn’t have to. They never gave up just as we never gave up, no matter how many times this team was down in the playoffs. I am going to remember how I felt watching this all unfold and how it reminded me that as much as I love numbers and how they can tell a big part of the book, they don’t always tell the whole story. More than anything I believed. I think I had forgotten how to somewhere along the way, but I believed this team could win the whole damn thing. They almost did. So thank you, Kansas City. Thanks for being you. You reminded me just why I bleed Royal blue. Now let’s win it in 2015!

 

Two Dudes With Attitude: What Should the Royals do With Hosmer and Moustakas?

hayspost.com
hayspost.com

Maybe the most perplexing issue facing the Royals in this disappointing 2014 season is the struggles of two players who were supposed to be sure things:

tripod.com
tripod.com

No, not those two. We already know they are hard hitters. The two I am referencing are these two:

zimbio.com
zimbio.com

Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have to be two of the most frustrating players ever, if for no other reason than the fact that they were supposed to be the cornerstones of this franchise. Instead it’s getting more and more apparent that these are not the baseball players(droids) we are looking for. So where did it all go wrong?

yahoo.com
yahoo.com

Let’s start with Moustakas first, since I have chronicled his issues heavily. There was last year’s struggles ; aaaaand this year’s slump. You read that correctly; Moustakas has pretty much been in a slump for two seasons now. Moose had looked to really up his game in 2012, as his defense had drastically improved and his bat produced numbers good enough for consideration for the All-Star Game that season. But a knee injury in the second half of the season sapped his power and seemed to sap whatever lightning he had trapped in his bottle.  Since then he has been a mess at the plate, producing either a strike out or pop-up 30% of the time this season and producing these numbers earlier this season:

kc5

Moose’s numbers seem to be bottoming out this year and even a stint in Omaha didn’t cure whatever is ailing him, as he has only four hits since his return and his hitting .148 in those eight games. The bad thing is that even his newfound patience, which has raised his walk rate, seems to be of no use. Moose seems to have bad pitch selection, as he has a higher contact rate on pitches outside of the strike zone than inside the strike zone. The other major concern is that Moustakas can’t seem to hit fastballs at a regular rate, which is explained by his -10.0 wFB, or Fastball runs above average. To give you a comparison, Billy Butler has never had a wFB below 15.1 in a full season(besides this season where his numbers have taken a dive). More and more it just seems Moustakas can’t catch up to a fastball:

blessyouboys.com
blessyouboys.com

So the verdict on Moose? Moustakas is still young enough to bounce back and be a regular contributor in the majors. He is still above average defensively and has some pop in his bat. At this point, the Royals have given him over 1500 at bats and he still has a career slash line of .235/.288/.376. The team has given him close to a season and a half to break out of this “slump” and he is still putting up putrid numbers. There does appear to be some trade interest for Moose, with three teams interested. My guess would be that those three teams think a change of scenery would do him good. In my opinion it might be time to cut ties with Moose and let him get that change of scenery. If the Royals decide they don’t want to do that, they have to send him back to the minors…for real this time. His hitting obviously hasn’t improved from the ten days he spent in AAA, so a more prolonged time might be the way to go. The Royals are unfortunately thin at third base, at least in the upper minors. Cheslor Cuthbert is in AA Northwest Arkansas, but he still needs time to develop before he is major league ready. Hunter Dozier is the other major third base prospect in the Kansas City farm system, but he is currently in Wilmington, the High A team for the Royals. Dozier has been crushing the ball as of late, but he still has a way to go. So there isn’t a clear cut answer at third base for Kansas City in the minors, but it is also apparent Moustakas isn’t that answer either.

zimbio.com
zimbio.com

Now onto the other Kansas City problem child, Eric Hosmer. Hosmer struggled mightily in 2012 and started out 2013 about the same way, only he was able to get some hits but showed absolutely no power and seemed incapable of pulling the ball. Insert Pedro Grifol in as the Royals hitting coach at the end of May and we started seeing a new Hosmer, one who could pull the ball and hit homeruns. The difference was notable in his swing and stance:

kckingdom.com
kckingdom.com

The numbers are a bit closer, thanks to the change in June, but it is apparent there was a different Hosmer between the first and second half of last year:

Split       G GS  PA  AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS  TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
1st Half   90 86 374 344 46 98 18  2  9  40  7  3 25 51 .285 .332 .427 .760 147   8   1  1  3   2   5  .310    89   111
2nd Half   69 69 306 279 40 90 16  1  8  39  4  1 26 49 .323 .379 .473 .852 132   7   0  0  1   2   2  .368   113   140

 

So coming into this year, it seemed as if Hos was fixed and there were no worries with him…

i70baseball.com
i70baseball.com

…but there are worries. Hosmer has seemed to have lost his power(slugging percentage is down to .357 from last year’s .448) and his approach at the plate the last few weeks has been hack-tastic. I’m starting to think Hosmer went to school at Francoeur High, where their motto is “We have never seen a pitch you don’t like”. Hosmer’s strikeout rate is up, walk rate is down but the biggest fall has been his situational hitting. Hosmer’s RE24(Base-Out runs added, where zero is average) is at -3.5, compared to last year’s 25.1. while his WPA+(Wins Probability Added) is at 4.6 next to last year’s 14.3. What that basically means is that in situations where the Royals need a big hit from Hosmer, he just isn’t producing. His doubles are way up this year, sitting at 20 already compared to last year’s 34, but across the board he is hurting the team more than helping. His defense is still above average(although the advanced metrics have not been nice to him defensively over the years) but his oWar is at a -0.9. So whatever he is bringing to the table defensively is being negated offensively. This is a nice look at his “new” approach:

fangraphs.com
fangraphs.com

Hosmer has a bit different verdict than Moustakas at this point, as there is still value in Hos. It amazes me that the Royals continue to hit him in the 3rd spot in the order, as he is hitting only .171 in the last month, but there he is every night, near the top of the order. Does a trip to Omaha help? Possibly. I could see a scenario where Hos is sent down and Matt Fields  is given a shot in his absence. The likelihood of that happening is probably miniscule, as the Royals seem reluctant to admit their draftees need to be sent back down(Moustakas being the perfect case). Another option is to package Hosmer in a trade to a contender at the trade deadline. David Lesky(who is a great follow on twitter) first proposed this at PineTarPress.com and I was taken aback at first. I had never really considered the idea of trading Hos, as he always seemed like a possible future MVP candidate. But as we stretch into year three of him struggling for major portions of the year, I really started considering if this was the right thing to do.

zimbio.com
zimbio.com

On one hand, it’s obvious the talent there. When Hosmer puts it all together he is a middle of the order threat and can be a major factor in the direction this ballclub goes in. But the more he struggles, the more you start wondering what is fundamentally wrong to where he can’t just put it together. Why does his swing get messed up so often? Why is his approach at the dish a mess? Why does his power go on vacation at the worst times? You really start to wonder if mentally he just isn’t cut for this and if this is how he will be his entire career. The Royals are very much in “win now” mode and if they fall out of contention this move could be considered. Hosmer still has a lot of value and I’m sure some team is already salivating at the thought of working with him on his swing and untapping his true potential. I’m not saying the Royals should go out and trade him; what I am saying is that it isn’t foolish to consider that as a possibility.

kansas.com
kansas.com

Hosmer and Moustakas were supposed to be two of the main keys to get the Royals to the “Promised Land”, the playoffs. But so far we are left with two players who just aren’t producing like this team needs them to. I remember once having a conversation about which of the two of these hitters the Royals should try to sign to an extension if you could only keep one(the thought being they are both Scott Boras clients so there was no way the Royals would be able to keep both). This was early in the season of 2012 and I couldn’t make a definitive choice. Now in 2014, I seriously don’t think the Royals should sign either to a long term deal. As the old saying goes, it’s time to quit straddling the fence on these two; it’s time for Kansas City to either “Shit or get off the pot”, cause Hosmer and Moustakas are killing the Royals in more ways than one.

 

 

Moose’s Struggles, Part Deux

kc1

Early on in the movie “Groundhog Day”, Bill Murray starts to realize that he is living the same day over and over again. Murray goes through different stages of realization, everything from anger, sadness and depression to hope and glee. Right now myself and most other Royals fans feel like we are living the same day over and over again; in this day, instead of a little furry creature popping out of the ground and telling us how much winter we have left, we get Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas continuing his struggling ways. His stats pretty much speak for themselves:

Year                      Age            Tm            Lg   G   PA   AB   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+  TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB Pos Awards
2011                       22           KCR            AL  89  365  338  26  89 18  1  5  30  2  0  22  51 .263 .309 .367 .675   86 124   5   1  2  2   0          5
2012                       23           KCR            AL 149  614  563  69 136 34  1 20  73  5  2  39 124 .242 .296 .412 .708   91 232   4   7  0  5   4         *5
2013                       24           KCR            AL 136  514  472  42 110 26  0 12  42  2  4  32  83 .233 .287 .364 .651   77 172  13   5  1  4   1         *5
2014                       25           KCR            AL  40  139  125   9  19  7  1  4  17  0  0  12  26 .152 .223 .320 .543   47  40   3

How did one of the Royals top prospects go from a sure thing to questioning whether or not he is even a true major leaguer?

kc2

In 2012 Moustakas looked like a future All-Star. During the first half of that season Moose had put everything together. His hitting was solid, his defense was surprisingly above average and he looked like a player who had put everything together. There was very serious discussion that he could make the All-Star team that season. Then Moustakas came down with a knee injury in the second half of the year and his numbers went in the tank. Going into 2013 it seemed that all of his struggles late in 2012 were purely from the injury and that he would be back as a key part of the Royals offense. Except that didn’t happen. Moustakas struggled pretty much the entire 2013 campaign and never looked like a guy who was locked in or confident. There were little spurts where he seemed to be coming out of his slump, but there never seemed to be a sustained stretch where Moose looked like the player he was in 2012.

kc3

Earlier this spring it appeared as if we would see a different Mike Moustakas this season. Moustakas had gone to the Venezuelan Winter League with Royals hitting coach Pedro Grifol, working on restructuring his swing. The early reports from Surprise, AZ were very positive. Even I was almost convinced that Moustakas’ approach at the plate had improved. The truth was it had changed this spring; his stance had changed at the plate and his swing was much shorter and more compact. It seemed that if he brought that approach with him into the season he would bounce back.

kc4

That approach was brought into the season, but a hitless first 21 at bats led him to falling back into old habits and straying from his short and compact swing. The one item that has stayed consistent is his new-found ability to work the count and see more pitches. Moustakas’ walk rate is up, 8.6% from a steady number around 6% the last couple seasons. The rest of the numbers are down and quite ugly. Whatever confidence Moose had coming into this season has evaporated and he looks just as lost as he did last year. It has gotten to a point to where the Royals have floated the idea of sending Moustakas down to AAA Omaha and have started giving backup third baseman Danny Valencia a few starts this week. It’s obvious the leash on Moose has gotten shorter and to be honest it should be. No matter how good his defense is(right now his dWar  is at 0.2, just a shade over average) it isn’t enough to compensate for how bad his bat has been. So the question needs to be asked: should Mike Moustakas be sent down to the minors?

kc5

In my opinion, yes. I am rooting for Moustakas to come out of this slump as much as anyone, but the honest truth is he is hurting the team more right now than helping. It’s one thing to say it’s early in the season and a small sample size. It’s another when he is over 100 at bat’s and it’s creeping up on June. Moose has been in the bigs now for close to three years now and can’t be coddled forever. We’ve heard a lot the last few years that we need to be patient with the youngsters on Kansas City’s roster, but they aren’t youngsters anymore. His confidence is shot, his swing is a mess and nothing is really changing. It’s time to make a move.

kc7

Is a trade a possibility? Personally, I don’t think it is. The Royals seem to believe that Moustakas can bounce back from this and prove his worth. That tells me that at least for the rest of the season they won’t part ways with him. There is a very outside chance it could happen, if the right player came along. Guys like Matt Dominguez, Chase Headley or Pablo Sandoval come to mind as third baseman that they could trade Moose for. The only issue is that Moustakas’ value is so low that it would probably take more than just him to get any of those players. There is a greater chance that the team sends him down to Omaha for part of the summer and call him back up if he gets on a hot streak.

kc8

It seems pretty apparent that the Royals are going to have to make a decision and make it soon. Moustakas’ continuing struggles are hurting a team that is already having offensive issues, even if you take him out of the picture. We are to a point in his career where you either pull your weight or the team finds someone that can produce. Loyalty is a great thing to have of your employees but it can also be a character flaw. The Royals have been loyal to Moose and have given him every opportunity to show what he can do. Unfortunately what he has shown the last few seasons is a guy who loses confidence easily and struggles with major league pitching. He might not be a AAAA player, but he is playing like one. At this point trying anything new(anything at all) would be an improvement. Maybe he should take note from “Groundhog Day”:

kc9

It’s time Moose. It’s time to let Punxsutawney Phil take the wheel. Can’t be any worse than what you are doing now.

Just One Fix: Helping the Ailing Royals Offense

kc1

We are through eleven games so far into the 2014 campaign and to say the Kansas City Royals offense isn’t clicking is a major understatement. It’s been awful. Disgusting. Weak. Punchless. Craptastic. Describe it any way you want, they are simply not getting the job done. The good thing? We are only eleven games in. Seriously. I get that as Royals fans we are programmed to expect the worst, but the reaction of the fanbase this weekend was frightening. The season is over already? Eleven games, people. Chill out.

kc2

I heard a lot of ideas that fans had yesterday to fix this club. Fire Yost/Moore/Grifol? Sorry, it’s none of these guys’ fault. For once, the blame doesn’t fall on their shoulders. Trade Butler/Moustakas? To who? For what? Their value has never been lower, but they should trade them? The Royals wouldn’t get anything of value in return for them, so that is a pointless argument. Bring back Brett? I love George Brett, but he isn’t coming back and he shouldn’t. He isn’t what elevated this team last year; Grifol is the one who worked on Hosmer’s mechanics, not George. George was just there for motivation, which he was fine at, but he was the hitting coach in name only. To be honest, why would the Royals bring Brett back? Is that the answer every time this team struggles offensively? When I answered that question in my head, I kept coming back to the same thing: no more hand-holding. No more coddling. The younger core of this group has been in the majors now for over three years. They need to either produce or lose playing time. With that in mind, it got me to thinking of what the Royals should do. Now, I’m not totally sure I have the answer to this; hell, maybe I’m not even close. But if I was in charge, or even just asked my opinion, this is what I would do.

kc3

First thing I would do is shuffle the lineup. Move Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler from 3rd and 4th to 6th and 7th in the order respectively. I would then bump Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez from 5th and 6th up to 3rd and 4th. Gordon and Perez are at least having good at bats, with Perez getting off to one of the few good Royals starts to the season. I would then move Lorenzo Cain up from 8th to 5th in the order(nice call, Dalton!). Cain is also getting some key at bats, so he should be rewarded for it. With all these moves, it would move Mike Moustakas down from 7th to 8th in the order. Here is the thing though; I actually think Moose had some of the best at bats of the Minnesota series.

kc4

Did I just say that the guy hitting .111 had some of the best AB’s in that series? Yes, yes I did. Moose had 2 hits in Friday’s game and a hit in yesterday’s contest. Moustakas was also able to accumulate a walk in games 2 and 3 of the Minnesota series. Mike actually looks like he has a game plan when he steps up to the plate(unlike Hosmer and Butler) and is still taking quite a bit of pitches compared to the rest of the team. We even saw him drive the ball throughout the three games, so there is reason to believe that he is just a tick off and about go on a bit of a hitting streak. I know Moose is struggling and not hitting even close to how he was in Arizona this spring, but he doesn’t look lost like others do. I know it’s frustrating, but I’m willing to be a bit more patient with Moustakas, at least for awhile.

kc5

With all that lineup shuffling, I also think it wouldn’t hurt to have a few of the hitters struggling to sit out a game or two. Nothing major, just take a day off, no pressure and sit with hitting coach Pedro Grifol and go over a few things. Sometimes it just takes a different perspective to get your head on straight. Maybe let Justin Maxwell play a few games at DH while Danny Valencia gets some reps in at 1B or 3B. I know Ned Yost thinks it’s better to be in the lineup everyday to get out of a slump, but at this point it is just hurting the team. It won’t hurt for guys like Butler or Hosmer to sit out a game or two. In fact, Yost has a habit of not getting his bench players much playing time. Who already forgot Brett Hayes is on the roster? It looks like there has already been some work being done, as Grifol talked to Butler about moving off of the plate and stand in his normal spot in the batter’s box. It’s good to hear that a veteran like Butler is open to trying something, anything, to help his situation. A game or two talking baseball with Grifol might just be the thing for a few of these hitters.

kc6

So it isn’t much, but that is what I would do to try and get the Royals offense going. Honestly, I don’t think a drastic event needs to happen for the hitters to come alive. They mainly just need to go out there, relax and try to keep it as simple as possible. This Royals offense has been living off of potential for years now; it’s time for them to either prove their worth or the team will have to consider Plan B. The Royals aren’t in a position where they can completely dismantle this team in the middle of the season, but something would have to be done if the offense continues to sputter along. The main thing is the blame needs to start falling on the players, not everyone else. 2014 could be the season we find out who really belongs and who needs to move on. But remember, we are only eleven games in; there is still lots of time to turn this thing around. Patience will be our greatest weapon.

The “New” Mike Moustakas?

2014 Spring Training_9274

Everyone knows during Spring Training is when hopes are the highest. You hope that one major prospect is ready to take the next step and make themselves part of the big league roster. You hope that veteran that seemed washed up has one more year of productivity in him. You hope this is the year Alyssa Milano finally notices you and doesn’t think you are “that creepy guy who gives me compliments”. Restraining orders aside, this spring is the time where most Kansas City Royals fans(and employees) hope that Mike Moustakas is for real and ready to be the player he looked to be in the first half of the 2012 season. This spring Moose has looked the part…but is he for real?

Mike Moustakas, Miguel Montero

It’s hard to judge simply by Spring Training stats, no matter how good they are. How good you say? Take a look for yourself.

Year   Tm Age GS  G PA AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB OppQual
2014   KC     25 20 57 45 12 21  6  0  4  17  1  0 10  6 .467 .561 .867 1.428 39   0   1  0  1   0     8.8

The most interesting is seeing how close this year’s Spring Training stats are to last year’s. Most don’t remember but Moose had a good spring last year and started off the regular season hitting well before his swing headed south. But there are a few things that are different with Moustakas this year from last. Manager Ned Yost has talked about how last spring Moose was hacking more and now has more of a game plan when he steps up to the dish. But there have been some very noticeable changes from last year.

kc3

Above is a GIF of last year’s stance. He’s always had a bit of an open stance, but not a prominent one. Also notice the amount of movement in his swing. We’ll come back to that later. Now, here is a shot of his stance this spring:

pinetarpress.com
pinetarpress.com

It’s not as easy to tell, but the stance is quite a bit more open. It’s open enough that it is noticeable when you watch him bat. I have to believe with the more prominent open stance, Moustakas is able to see the ball a bit better, especially against lefties. That is one of the other changes this spring. Moose has been hitting lefties a lot better than he normally does. Last season was maybe his toughest against lefthanded pitchers:

Split             G  GS  PA  AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS  TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
vs RHP              128 396 365 37 89 22  0 10  32  2  2 23 60 .244 .295 .386 .682 141  11   5  0  3   1   1  .265   109    90
vs LHP               66 118 107  5 21  4  0  2  10  0  2  9 23 .196 .256 .290 .546  31   2   0  1  1   0   0  .229    69    55

Moustakas’ struggles against lefties is why the team acquired Danny Valencia in the offseason. It must have been the kick in the pants he needed, as he has looked more than comfortable against all lefties, even the occasional LOOGY. Moose being able to hit lefthanded pitchers helps go a long way toward him being more productive in 2014.

kc2
Earlier I mentioned the amount of movement in Moose’s “old” swing. It’s always seemed a bit long, loopy and not as compact as it should be. This spring, his swing has been the other change that makes me feel better about him going into the season. From the few games I have watched, his swing looked more compact with a lot less movement. I mentioned this to David Lesky of pinetarpress.com a few weeks ago and he agreed:

Lesky spent some time in Surprise, Arizona this spring, so he got to see Moustakas up close and personal. To me, the biggest thing I’ve seen that gives me hope that this isn’t just a spring thing is the swing. It’s just a matter at this point of being consistent with his swing and not falling back into old habits.

kc3

There are a lot of factors that will determine whether or not the Royals have a successful 2014 or not, and the production(or lack of) from Mike Moustakas is a major one. So far this spring it is obvious that Moustakas put in a lot of time this winter to work on his swing, as evident by his time spent in the Venezuelan Winter League with hitting coach Pedro Grifol. If Moose can be consistent and continue to hit even close to how he has this spring, than it will go a long way to cementing his spot on the roster for not only this year but for the future. He might never be a .300 hitter, but a solid .270 with quality run production should make him a middle of the order guy for Kansas City. Soon enough, we will know if the “New” Mike Moustakas is real or just a figment of the thin Arizona air.

 

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑