From the Bleachers: Notes Around Baseball

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Here at Bleeding Royal Blue,  I spend a lot of time discussing my favorite team, the Kansas City Royals. But being a baseball fan in general means from time to time a little discussion around both leagues can do some good. So with that said, let’s kickoff the debut column, From the Bleachers!

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A Tight Race

Before the season started, most analysts picked the Cleveland Indians to runaway with the American League Central, with the Tigers, Royals, Twins and White Sox either floundering or fighting for a Wild Card spot. I even figured Kansas City and (maybe) Detroit would give them some competition. Instead, Minnesota still sits atop the Central (yes, I noticed, Pete!) with the White Sox holding up the rear, only six games behind. You read that correctly, only six games separate the top and bottom of the division. Minnesota should get some major props for their performance so far, as they improved their two main weaknesses from last year, the defense and bullpen, while getting All-Star contributions from Ervin Santana and Miguel Sano. The Indians sit 2.5 games back, Detroit 3.5 back and the Royals at 5.5 back. Will Cleveland eventually perform closer to their 2016 model and decide they’ve had enough of these silly games? Will Detroit decide if they are contenders or needing to rebuild? Will the Royals wake from their slumber and make one final run with their core group that led them to a championship? If we are basing this off of what has happened to this point, I don’t know if any of that will happen. If I had to use one word to describe this division to this point, the word ‘mediocre’ would seem fair; ‘eh’ would work as well. Maybe this pattern will continue over the next four months and my friends up in Minnesota will be super happy. No matter the result, it’s hard not to feel underwhelmed by the Central over the last couple of months.

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The Machine and 600

This past week, Albert Pujols clubbed his 600th career home run, an achievement only nine players have reached in MLB history. The Pujols we have seen the last five seasons pales in comparison to the one who was probably the best player in baseball in his first decade in the league. Despite that, Pujols is still a productive hitter, one who has averaged an OPS+ of 111 during that span. Injuries have taken its toll on him, and it’s easy to forget just how dominate Pujols was in his prime. According to the website Hall of Stats (which I highly recommend when determining a player’s value, especially when the Hall of Fame voting comes around), Pujols has a Hall rating of 211, which ranks him as the 30th best player (statistically) all-time and the 3rd best first baseman. Yes, we are seeing his regression right now, which should be expected in his late 30’s. But there are still some major goals he could reach before he retires, as he still has four years left on his contract after the current season. Pujols is 122 hits away from 3,000 and 140 RBI’s away from 2,000 for his career. Let’s enjoy the last few years of his career, because we are nearing the end of a Hall of Fame career.

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Have a Day, Scooter

On Tuesday, Scooter Gennett of the Cincinnati Reds joined some elite company, hitting four home runs in one game, going 5-5 while driving in 10 runs. This, from a guy who before the season had hit 38 home runs in five big league seasons. Scooter doesn’t fit the profile of a guy who would club four in a game, not like the last guy to do it, Josh Hamilton. In fact, Gennett is only the 17th career player to reach this feat, a list that includes Hall of Famers like Mike Schmidt, Willie Mays and Lou Gehrig. This list also includes the like of Mark Whiten, Bob Horner and the infamous Bobby Lowe, he of 71 career homers. Safe to say Scooter will never have another night like this ever again, so I hope he soaks in all the adulation and enjoys his moment. His name alone will be a fun trivia question to bring up for many years to come.

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Scherzer Meets Kershaw

As the season is unfolding, an interesting occurrence has developed that few probably saw coming: Max Scherzer is making a run at being the best pitcher in baseball. Clayton Kershaw has held that title for close to five years now and while Scherzer has compiled two Cy Young Award’s in that time-span, he still has not performed close enough to even have that conversation. But so far in 2017, Kershaw has put up an ERA+ (which is adjusted to the pitcher’s ballpark) of 185, which leads the league. Scherzer is right on his tail at 181 while leading the league in strike outs, WHIP and hits per 9. On Tuesday, Scherzer was dominate, striking out 14, walking 2 and allowing 1 run (unearned) in his 7 innings of work. In fact, Scherzer has three straight starts of 10+ strike outs, 7+ innings and 1 run or less. It’s going to be interesting to see if Scherzer can keep this up (which I believe he is capable of) and if he can continue to go toe to toe with Kershaw. I love watching Kershaw pitch, but I am always up for some healthy competition between two elite pitchers at the top of their game.

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McCutchen Has a Pulse

Over the last two seasons, there has been a lot of discussion about the decline of Andrew McCutchen. Hitters normally start seeing a regression when they reach their early 30’s, but McCutchen didn’t turn 30 until last October and while injuries have been popping up for him the last couple seasons, it was hard to fathom that his decline would hit this badly, this early. Myself, like many other analysts, felt that McCutchen would bounce back this year and produce at a pace closer to his best years than his lackluster 2016. Instead, Cutch stumbled out the gate this year and as late as May 23 saw his batting average sitting at .200. But over the last 10 games, he has looked like the Cutch of old:

If McCutchen has finally found his groove, that is great timing for him and the Pirates. I am a big fan of not only McCutchen the player but also McCutchen the person. Baseball is stronger with him locked in.

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The Elbow and the Damage Done

Finally, another alarming Tommy John  Surgery stat came out this week worth noting:

I’ve spoken many times on this blog about the dreaded Tommy John Surgery and it amazes me that there isn’t more pressure to figure out a more worthwhile solution to this problem. While the new surgery that was done on Seth Maness cut his time out of action down considerably (down to 7 1/2 months), I still feel there should be more research done on a solution, not just a quicker remedy. If you are a believer that a pitcher’s arm has only so many bullets in it, it can’t help that many youngsters are throwing more pitches while their arm is still developing than ever before. If you are of the Nolan Ryan school of thought, you believe pitchers need to throw more, not less. An excerpt from a Ryan interview done in 2014:

 

Ryan said that in September of 1988 with Houston, he began experiencing pain in his elbow and paid a visit to Jobe in Los Angeles, who advised him to shut it down for the last couple of weeks of the season and resume throwing in December.

“There was a partial tear there,” he said. “It still hurt in December, but when I got to spring training, the pain began to dissipate until it was gone. Dr. Jobe said it had scarred over and that helped protect the elbow. I pitched with that tear the rest of my career.”

Ryan had two more 200-inning seasons and led the NL in strikeouts with 301 in ‘89 and 232 in ‘90.

While Tommy John agrees with Ryan, he also feels like I do, that kids today are throwing way too much, especially year round:

“First of all, one of the biggest reasons for all the arm injuries in baseball today is the way young kids are handled by their coaches in grade school and high school, pitching them year-round,” said John by phone from his home in Syracuse. “They’re told if they want to make it, they have to play travel ball — and that results in the over-use of their arms when they’re body is not fully developed. Travel ball has taken over the entire country and parents need to be educated about what this does to these kids’ arms.”

“I absolutely agree with Nolan that more is better,” John said. “Years ago, I’d have gone along with the thinking that there’s only so many bullets in your arm. But we’ve ‘dumbed down’ our thinking today to believing that pitch counts and innings limitations are the way to go to preserve arms. Starting in 1975 with the White Sox, when Johnny Sain was my pitching coach, I would throw six days a week out of seven and it was the best my arm ever felt. For the next 13 years, I never missed a start, except once when I had the flu. Sain believed in throwing between starts and it’s no coincidence that one of his disciples, Leo Mazzone, subscribed to that same philosophy, practicing and throwing every day, as pitching coach for the Braves. The Braves had the best pitching staffs in baseball in the ’90s and all guys like (Greg) Maddux and (Tom) Glavine did was pitch and win and never got hurt.”

So is the answer pitching less in your youth and more once your body has developed? And if that is the answer, how long will it take before travel league or high school coaches actually worry less about winning and more about their kid’s future health? I don’t know if this is completely the solution to the problem, but it doesn’t appear to be a bad place to start.

 

My 2016 Hall of Fame Ballot

Newly-inducted National Baseball Hall of Famers from left to right, Craig Biggio, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez hold their plaques after an induction ceremony at the Clark Sports Center on Sunday, July 26, 2015, in Cooperstown, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
(AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Nothing is debated more intensely each year than who should and shouldn’t be elected to the baseball Hall of Fame. The last few years have been filled with a moral dilemma for some, as they struggle with voting in players whose numbers are ‘Hall Caliber’, but the scarlet ‘S’ (for steroids) looms around their neck. This has led to a backloaded ballot for BBWAA members as they struggle with the decision of voting in a player who they feel would tarnish the game. Some of us(myself included) am not bothered by this, since the Hall is all about the history of the game, good or bad, and it is hard for me to sit here and tell you these players shouldn’t be voted in when there are no positive tests, because baseball was not testing at the time. So right there, you see the dilemma. As a member of the IBWAA, we have our own Hall of Fame and do our own voting each year. Our voting has not been completely parallel to the BBWAA’s, as last year Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines all reached the 75% of the votes needed for election. In years past, Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza have been elected by us in the IBWAA, so they are no longer on the ballot either. As a group, we also decided that we can vote for up to 15 players on the ballot, which opens it up even more and has allowed the ballot not to get so clogged up. Before we get started with my votes, you can go back and read my last two years of voting: Here is 2014 and 2015.  Also, to keep up to date with all of the BBWAA votes that have been revealed, follow Ryan Thibs on Twitter. That way you can follow how the voting is going before Wednesday’s big announcement. Without further ado, here are my votes for the 2016 Hall of Fame ballot.

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Barry Bonds was also on my list the last two years and is easily one of the greatest baseball players ever, the all-time home run king and that is all tainted by supposed steroid use. To me Bonds was a Hall of Famer before his supposed use and was a 5 tool player early in his career. We can debate all day about whether or not PED users should be allowed in the Hall(and I am someone who believes the Hall of Fame is NOT sacred ground) but what is easy to decipher is that Bonds is one of the greats of the game. ‘Nuff said.

 

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Roger Clemens

Roger Clemens is another duel year vote for me and like Bonds, has the PED albatross around his neck. Clemens is thegreatest pitcher of his era, a 7 time Cy Young award winner and should have been a first ballot Hall of Famer. Instead we are stuck continuing an argument that might never finish and also like Bonds, might have to wait for the Veteran’s Committee to get voted into Cooperstown. Clemens deserves to have a plaque next to the Johnson’s, Koufax’s, and Gibson’s of the world. When(or if) that happens is another issue.

 

Seattle Mariners
(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Ken Griffey Jr.

Some votes are so easy you don’t even have to think about them before marking the box. So is the case with Ken Griffey, Jr., an easy first ballot Hall of Famer and one of the greatest players of his generation. Griffey came into the league as a wide eyed youngster, bringing his enthusiasm and childlike glee to stadiums everywhere. It would been awhile since the baseball world had seen a five tool player(outside of Bonds, of course) perform so easily and graceful on the field the way Griffey did. Griffey was a 13 time All-Star(10 as a Mariner, 3 as a Red), AL MVP in 1997, 10 time Gold Glove Winner and 7 time Silver Slugger award winner. At one point or another he lead the league in runs, home runs, RBI’s, slugging percentage, total bases and intentional walks. Griffey would finish 1st in the league in WAR once(1996, while finishing 1st three times for position players), while finishing 2nd three times(pulling a career bWAR of 83.6, 57th all time. The numbers just continue to stack up- 55th all time in OPS, 35th in slugging percentage, 33rd in runs scored, 50th in hits, 13th in total bases, 6th on the all time home run list and 15th career in RBI’s. There are some interesting stats that won’t pop out but are interesting nonetheless-22nd all time runs created, 7th all time extra base hits, and 6th all time intentional walks. The numbers show someone who is an easy vote for the Hall, but one has to wonder just how much higher Griffey would rank on all-time lists if not for injuries that curtailed him late in his career. It’s easy to point at his trade to Cincinnati before the 2000 season as the beginning of his decline, but that 2000 season was actually a solid one for Griffey. After that though, the injuries piled up and he went from being a player who could challenge Hank Aaron’s(at the time) all-time home run record to a ghost of his former self. In fact if you take out that 2000 season, Griffey only averaged 100 games a season during the rest of his time in Cincy, with an average of 22 home runs and 62 RBI’s per season. Even with these numbers you have a player who should be mentioned in the same breath as Mays, Ruth and yes, even Bonds, as one of the most prolific home run hitters(and all around best players) in baseball history. The question this year will be: will Griffey be the first player to be an unanimous selection to the Hall?

 

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Trevor Hoffman

I’m sure my pick here will cause some debate, since there are those that believe you have to be Mariano Rivera to be a Hall of Fame closer, but much like the Tim Raines debate(which I am a strong supporter of), you can’t fault Hoffman for not being the best closer in baseball history. Yes, the closer in modern day baseball is a defined role that is the guy who closes out the game for his team, not always the guy who faces the toughest part of the lineup. Yes, the save is probably the worst stat in baseball, based just off of its parameters on how you can get one. But when you are the second best player at your position for 16 seasons, you deserve to get more recognition than to be just tossed aside and scoffed at. Here is why I voted for Hoffman and why I feel he is a Hall of Famer. First, he was as consistent as they come. Outside of 2003 when he was injured, Hoffman posted 15 consecutive years of 20 or more saves and is second all-time(ALL-TIME!) behind Rivera. I know some use the argument “well, he was no Gossage or Fingers or even Sutter”, and to be honest, no, he wasn’t. But that is the whole point behind this; no one compares to those guys anymore, because closers aren’t used the same way they were in the 70’s and early 80’s. Why compare a pitcher to guys who faced completely different game situations 30-40 years earlier? It’s not a fair assessment and people sure as hell don’t use that same comparison when talking about Rivera and his place in the game. Second, besides the consistency he was also fairly dominant, which sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. Hoffman is a 7 time All-Star, placed 2nd in the National League Cy Young award voting twice(!), has the 8th best K per 9 percentage, 8th best WHIP, 14th best ERA+ and the 18th best WPA(Win Probability Added) ever. That’s not even mentioning he also blew just 76 career saves, which gives him a 88.8% save conversion rate. What about his out-pitch? Hoffman had a lethal change-up that was one of the hardest pitches to handle during this period. Sure, it wasn’t Mariano’s cutter, but it got the job done and normally threw batters off of their game. No matter which way you cut it, Hoffman is one of the great closers in baseball history, even if you took away the save stat. Very few pitchers have been able to do what he has done and do it for as long as he did. Bottom line is that ‘closer’ is a position filled by each team in the big leagues and Hoffman was elite at that position for a very long time. That is why he gets my vote for the Hall of Fame.

 

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(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Edgar Martinez

Edgar Martinez has been looked over for years but he was an easy pick for me the last two years. Edgar is the greatestDesignated Hitter of all-time, and one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. Apparently Martinez not playing much in the field hurts his case, but that honestly should be superseded by the fact that he was so good at one thing(hitting) that he is 76th in career WAR. Just like when discussing closers, Designated Hitters are a part of the game just as much as their late inning friends. Soon David Ortiz will be eligible for the Hall of Fame and you don’t hear anyone question whether or not he belongs. If he belongs, why doesn’t the guy who they named the DH Award after? Edgar is the GOAT and should be honored justly.

 

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Mike Mussina

Mike Mussina probably never dazzled anyone over his 18 year big league career. He wasn’t the most dominant, didn’t really blow gas past batters or have that one pitch that no one could hit(although his knuckle curve was a nice little out pitch when he needed it). But more than anything Mussina was consistent and stayed that way for the entire span of his career. In fact if you didn’t know better you would think Mussina was a ninja with the way his numbers jump up on you. So here are just a few of the numbers Mussina compiled during his (what should be) Hall of Fame career: 5 time All-Star, 6 Top 5 finishes in American League Cy Young voting, 7 time Gold Glove winner, 57th all-time in career WAR(24th all-time for pitchers), 19th all-time career strikeouts(2813), 89th all-time career ERA+(123), and 270 career wins. Mussina also pitched a large chunk of his career during the ‘Steroid Era’ and the two ballparks he called home during his career(Camden Yards and Yankee Stadium) were both hitters parks. I’ve always considered ‘Moose’ the right-handed equivalent of Tom Glavine, a guy who wouldn’t blow you away but put up solid numbers year after year. 2014 was Mussina’s first year on the BBWAA ballot and he compiled 20.3% of the vote, which I have to believe will go up again this year. If you want flashy, Mussina isn’t your guy. But if you want a top of the rotation starter who you can rely on year after year for quality starts and quality innings, Mussina was a lock. Eighteen years of that quality should also mean he is a lock–for the Hall of Fame.

 

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Curt Schilling

Just how much difference does a player’s postseason success factor into a Hall of Fame vote? In the case of Curt Schilling it matters a lot. In fact I would say without his playoff numbers Schilling probably wouldn’t get into the Hall. But when you add that to the mix, his true greatness shines through. A 2.23 ERA, .846 winning %, and a WHIP of .968(plus one bloody sock), all over 133 innings pitched in October shows just what kind of mettle Schilling really had. In fact, just go look at his postseason stats for 2001; ridiculous! When you then add in the regular season numbers it becomes much more obvious. Schilling was a 6 time All-Star, 1993 NLCS MVP, 2001 World Series MVP, 4 times was in the Top 5 of the Cy Young award voting, 62nd all-time in career WAR(26th for pitchers), 15th all-time in career strikeouts(3116), and 47th all-time in career ERA+(127). All this from a guy who floundered in the majors until he was 25 in 1992 with the Phillies. Schilling the person might not be a guy who we would agree with on a regular basis(and definitely don’t argue evolution with him) but none of that matters when it comes to Hall of Fame voting. Schilling was a front line starter in the big leagues for 15 years and has the numbers to prove it. That is ‘Hall Worthy’ if I have ever seen it.

 

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Alan Trammell

It took me a long time(almost too long) but after really studying his case, I believe Alan Trammell is a Hall of Famer. Trammell case has probably been hurt for a number of reasons. Trammell’s offensive numbers don’t pop out at you and he never reached any of the big milestones that voters look for when it comes time to fill out a ballot. The argument for Trammell though outweighs a lot of the negatives; Trammell has a career WAR of 70.4, which makes him 94th all-time and 63rd amongst position players. To go a step further, Trammell has a career dWAR of 22.0, which places him 34th all-time. Trammell was solid with the bat, winning three Silver Slugger awards and in 1987 probably should have won the American League MVP(which went to George Bell of Toronto). Trammell was a 6 time All-Star, the 1984 World Series MVP, a 4 time Gold Glove winner during a period where he competed with Cal Ripken Jr. for the award, and walked more than he struck out in 7 different seasons(and had the same amount of both in 2 other seasons). Trammell is the batter equivalent of Mike Mussina; he never blew you away with anything but he was so consistent for a long period of time that what he put together was a Hall of Fame career. Still aren’t convinced? Joe Posnanski has made the argument that if you are of the belief that Derek Jeter is a Hall of Famer, then you should compare his numbers with Trammell’s. Joe points out just how close Jeter and Trammell were as players, with Jeter holding a slight edge over Alan offensively, while Trammell was easily a better defender. If Ozzie Smith can get into the Hall on his defense, and Jeter will get in on his offense(and leadership; you know that will be brought up) then Trammell deserves to be in for being the better all-around player. The sad part is that this will be Trammell’s last year on the ballot, which means after this year his case will be handed over to the Veteran’s Committee. I wish I had really studied his case sooner, not that my lone vote would mean much. If anything I wouldn’t have underrated Trammell as much as I did, not realizing he was way better than the memory remembers. Now about his double play partner, Lou Whitaker…

 

2004 National Baseball Hall of Fame Weekend - Induction Ceremonies - July 25, 2004
(Photo by A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

So eight votes from me this year, which was less than last year. I did consider a number of other players for this honor, players who I feel are just on the cusp but not quite there. On that list that I heavily considered was Larry Walker, Billy Wagner, Jeff Kent and Jim Edmonds. All were great players but I felt for now they fall just short for me. Does that mean I could change my mind? I could, honestly. I did when it comes to Trammell and Raines and I could with any of these guys in the future. Sometimes it just takes a longer look to really grasp how important a certain player was to his era. This is a special honor not given to just any player, but only to the greats of the game. The eight I voted for this year I consider great; next year Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero will show up on the ballot for the first time. Oh, and Russ Springer. That means we have a year to determine who of that group should be inducted; yes, even Russ Springer. All these players add a certain element to the baseball Hall of Fame, good and bad. It is all part of the story that is this great game we call baseball.

My 2015 Hall of Fame Ballot

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On January 6th, the National Baseball Hall of Fame will announce their 2015 inductees, with expectations being that multiple players will be enshrined into the Hall this summer in Cooperstown, New York. There has been a plethora of debate concerning the voting process done by the BBWAA the last few years and how to handle possible PED users. This has cause a number of worthy players to be passed over, even without any evidence proving their taking of said substances. It has become harder and harder for voters to turn in their ballots, as the Hall allows up to 10 votes and many members of the BBWAA feeling as if more than that amount are worthy of the Hall’s honor. Last year I wrote up what my ten votes would have been if I could vote. This year I officially did get to vote, as a member of the IBWAA, and there were some notable differences between the BBWAA voting procedure and the IBWAA’s voting. For one, you can vote up to 15 candidates for the IBWAA, while the BBWAA has held fast to 10. Also, the IBWAA has already voted in Mike Piazza and Craig Biggio, while Barry Larkin(who is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame) has not. I ended up voting for 12 players and to save a bit of time I will be posting a link to my picks last year for some of the same candidates. Also, to get a better idea of just how difficult the voting process has become, read Jay Jaffe’s article on voting. So without further ado, here is my IBWAA ballot for 2015(in alphabetical order).

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1)Jeff Bagwell

Jeff Bagwell was on my list last year and I am still amazed he hasn’t gotten voted in. Many voters are suspicious of PED use, despite not evidence to any besides his body getting bigger between his time in the minor leagues and his ascension to the majors. Bagwell was not only one of the best hitters of his era, but also stellar defensively and on the basepaths. To me Bagwell is a slam dunk candidate and a major disservice has been done by excluding him from the Hall.

 

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2) Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds was also on my list in 2014 and is easily one of the greatest baseball players ever, the all-time home run king and that is all tainted by supposed steroid use. To me Bonds was a Hall of Famer before his supposed use and was a 5 tool player early in his career. We can debate all day about whether or not PED users should be allowed in the Hall(and I am someone who believes the Hall of Fame is NOT sacred ground) but what is easy to decipher is that Bonds is one of the greats of the game. ‘Nuff said.

 

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3) Roger Clemens

Roger Clemens is another 2014 vote for me and like Bonds, has the PED albatross around his neck. Clemens is the greatest pitcher of his era, a 7 time Cy Young award winner and should have been a first ballot Hall of Famer. Instead we are stuck continuing an argument that might never finish and also like Bonds, might have to wait for the Veteran’s Committe to get voted into Cooperstown. Clemens deserves to have a plaque next to the Johnson’s, Koufax’s, and Gibson’s of the world. When(or if) that happens is another issue.

 

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4) Randy Johnson

Randy Johnson is on the ballot for the first time this year and is a guaranteed lock to be voted in this year. It’s pretty easy to see why; 5 time Cy Young winner(placing 2nd 3 times), 2nd career in strikeouts(4875), 1st all-time in K’s per 9 inn(10.61), 23rd all-time in ERA+(135), over 300 wins and a 104.3 career WAR. Need More?

All this from a guy who when he started his career in 1988 it wasn’t guaranteed that he would be a top shelf starter. Sure, he had the stuff(an electric fastball that reached triple digits and a hard, biting slider), but Johnson was also known for having control issues. Even as late as 1992 Johnson still had a BB/9 of 6.2, but after that year he never got above 3.8 walks per 9 the rest of his career. Johnson threw 2 no-hitters in his career, the 2nd was the 17th perfect game in major league history. Randy would also dominant on the big stage of the playoffs, especially in 2001. During the playoffs that year for Arizona, Johnson would beat Atlanta twice in the NLCS and then pick up 3 wins against the Yankees in the World Series, the final victory coming in relief in Game 7, after he had pitched 7 innings the night before in Game 6. Johnson was as dominant in an era known for lack of dominance by pitching, and held that standard for a number of years. When you think of the greatest left handed starters in major league history names like Koufax, Spahn and Carlton instantly spring to mind. Randy Johnson is easily in that group and should easily slide into the Hall of Fame this year.

 

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5) Barry Larkin

As mentioned earlier, Larkin has already been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but not yet in the IBWAA’s version. It’s a shame really, because Larkin was the next evolution of offensive shortstop, following in the footsteps of Cal Ripken, Jr. in the 80’s. Larkin pretty much did everything(a 5 tool player), which was a big part of why he was one of my favorites of all-time. Larkin was a 12 time All-Star, 1995 NL MVP, 3 time Gold Glove winner, 9 time Silver Slugger winner, 5 times was in the top 10 of WAR in the NL(7 times for just position players), the first shortstop to have a 30 HR/30 SB season and is 22nd all-time in SB% (83.11). Larkin wasn’t flashy but he was consistent and was the blueprint for future shortstops like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra, combining offensive punch with defensive prowess. Larkin is what most shortstops of that era shrived to be, a Hall of Famer.

 

Mariners v Cardinals

6) Edgar Martinez

Edgar Martinez has been looked over for years but he was an easy pick for me last year. Edgar is the greatest Designated Hitter of all-time, and one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. Apparently Martinez not playing much in the field hurts his case, but that honestly should be superseded by the fact that he was so good at one thing(hitting) that he is 76th in career WAR. Still don’t believe Edgar belongs?

The stats easily tell a story, that of a Hall of Fame player .

 

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7) Pedro Martinez

Pedro Martinez is much like Randy Johnson, a man who dominated in an era(the Steroid Era) where offense was king and pitching was hard to come by. Pedro was elite in this era, posting numbers who by themselves are jaw dropping, let alone when stacked next to his cohorts.

Pedro’s list of accomplishments during his 7 year peak almost look like ridiculous video game numbers: 5 times lead league in ERA(twice under 2!), 3 times lead AL in strikeouts,  and 5 times lead AL in ERA+, FIP, and WHIP. Martinez was unhittable in a period where everyone and everything was hittable. Martinez was a 3 time Cy Young award winner(2nd two other times), an 8 time All-Star, 2nd in the MVP voting in 1999, twice lead the AL in WAR(3 times for pitchers), is 6th all-time in career winning percentage(.687), 5th all-time in WHIP(1.054), 3rd all-time in K/9 (10.04), 13th all-time in career strikeouts (3154) and 2nd all-time in ERA+(154). All this from a guy who most believed would throw his arm out due to his small stature. In a time where muscle bound behemoths ruled the game, a small 5’11” 170 lbs pitcher made them all look like fools. That greatness will propel him into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown this summer.

 

Mike Mussina

8)Mike Mussina

Mike Mussina probably never dazzled anyone over his 18 year big league career. He wasn’t the most dominant, didn’t really blow gas past batters or have that one pitch that no one could hit(although his knuckle curve was a nice little out pitch when he needed it). But more than anything Mussina was consistent and stayed that way for the entire span of his career. In fact if you didn’t know better you would think Mussina was a ninja with the way his numbers jump up on you:

So here are just a few of the numbers Mussina compiled during his (what should be) Hall of Fame career: 5 time All-Star, 6 Top 5 finishes in American League Cy Young voting, 7 time Gold Glove winner, 57th all-time in career WAR(24th all-time for pitchers), 19th all-time career strikeouts(2813), 89th all-time career ERA+(123), and 270 career wins. Mussina also pitched a large chunk of his career during the ‘Steroid Era’ and the two ballparks he called home during his career(Camden Yards and Yankee Stadium) were both hitters parks. I’ve always considered ‘Moose’ the right-handed equivalent of Tom Glavine, a guy who wouldn’t blow you away but put up solid numbers year after year. Last year was Mussina’s first year on the BBWAA ballot and he compiled 20.3% of the vote, which I have to believe will go up this year. He was one I had to leave off last year but with the extra votes this year it was easy to add him to the mix. If you want flashy, Mussina isn’t your guy. But if you want a top of the rotation starter who you can rely on year after year for quality starts and quality innings, Mussina was a lock. Eighteen years of that quality should also mean he is a lock–for the Hall of Fame.

 

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9) Tim Raines

Tim Raines might be one of the most undervalued players on this list but he shouldn’t be. It took me awhile, but within the last few years I have come around on my thinking when it comes to Raines and where his true place in the game should be. The good thing is that I am not alone, as his numbers have steadily increased until this past year, when he dropped from a high of 52.2% to 46.1%, probably mostly due to the gluttony of players on the list and not enough spots for all the deserving players. There are so many reasons to vote for Raines(and I state my case in the link earlier) but to NOT vote for him because he wasn’t Rickey Henderson(who just happened to play at the same time as ‘Rock’) is the equivalent of not voting for a hitter because “he wasn’t Ted Williams” I mean, being the 2nd best leadoff hitter EVER should count for something:

Luckily it appears a bump could be in order for Raines and with the possibility of 5 players getting in this year it could free up votes for future years. It might take a few more years, but hopefully the #RainesForHOF is not in vain.

 

 

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10) Curt Schilling

Just how much difference does a player’s postseason success factor into a Hall of Fame vote? In the case of Curt Schilling it matters a lot. In fact I would say without his playoff numbers Schilling probably wouldn’t get into the Hall. But when you add that to the mix, his true greatness shines through. A 2.23 ERA, .846 winning %, and a WHIP of .968(plus one bloody sock), all over 133 innings pitched in October shows just what kind of mettle Schilling really had. In fact, just go look at his postseason stats for 2001; ridiculous! When you then add in the regular season numbers it becomes much more obvious:

Schilling was a 6 time All-Star, 1993 NLCS MVP, 2001 World Series MVP, 4 times was in the Top 5 of the Cy Young award voting, 62nd all-time in career WAR(26th for pitchers), 15th all-time in career strikeouts(3116), and 47th all-time in career ERA+(127). All this from a guy who floundered in the majors until he was 25 in 1992 with the Phillies. Schilling the person might not be a guy who we would agree with on a regular basis(and definitely don’t argue evolution with him) but none of that matters when it comes to Hall of Fame voting. Schilling was a front line starter in the big leagues for 15 years and has the numbers to prove it. That is ‘Hall Worthy’ if I have ever seen it.

 

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11) John Smoltz

In the 1990’s there was no better rotation than the Atlanta Braves three-headed attack of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Smoltz is eligible for the first time this year and he looks to be joining his former teammates in Cooperstown. Very few pitchers have done what Smoltz did in his career, be both a top notch starter and closer. In fact the only other pitcher I can think of that was able to do what Smoltz did was Dennis Eckersley and we know how he turned out. But there appears to be some writers and journalists who don’t believe Smoltz should get into the Hall on the first ballot. Ben Lindbergh wrote a great piece for Grantland on just this subject, and delves into not only Smoltz’s candidacy but also those of Mussina and Schilling. But near the end of the article Lindbergh points out something that should really be heavily taken into consideration when it comes to whether someone should vote for him:

While Schilling, Mussina, and Smoltz were all great starters, though, Smoltz’s story has a hook: As many voters mentioned, he did something unprecedented, becoming the first pitcher to win 200 games and save 150 more. And while he didn’t come close to the magic milestone of 300 wins, 200 plus 150 equals 350, which is greater than 300. That’s the kind of math that even the most WAR-averse voters don’t mind.

Smoltz accumulated 213 wins and 154 saves, which is quite the accomplishment for any pitcher. Add in a 2.67 ERA, .789 winning %  in the postseason, 1996 Cy Young award winner(2 other top 5 finishes), 8 time All-Star, 1992 NLCS MVP, 66.5 career WAR(39th career for pitchers, 44th all-time in career K/9(7.992), and 16th all-time in career strikeouts(3084) and you have a nice resume when looking for induction. It’s easy to sit here and say that Smoltz wasn’t as good as former teammates Maddux and Glavine, but who was? It certainly doesn’t take away from a career that is certainly ‘Hall Worthy’.

 

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12) Alan Trammell

It took me a long time(almost too long) but after really studying his case, I believe Alan Trammell is a Hall of Famer. Trammell case has probably been hurt for a number of reasons. Trammell’s offensive numbers don’t pop out at you and he never reached any of the big milestones that voters look for when it comes time to fill out a ballot. The argument for Trammell though outweighs a lot of the negatives; Trammell has a career WAR of 70.4, which makes him 94th all-time and 63rd amongst position players. To go a step further, Trammell has a career dWAR of 22.0, which places him 34th all-time. Trammell was solid with the bat, winning three Silver Slugger awards and in 1987 probably should have won the American League MVP(which went to George Bell of Toronto). Trammell was a 6 time All-Star, the 1984 World Series MVP, a 4 time Gold Glove winner during a period where he competed with Cal Ripken Jr. for the award, and walked more than he struck out in 7 different seasons(and had the same amount of both in 2 other seasons). Trammell is the batter equivalent of Mike Mussina; he never blew you away with anything but he was so consistent for a long period of time that what he put together was a Hall of Fame career. Still aren’t convinced? Joe Posnanski has made the argument that if you are of the belief that Derek Jeter is a Hall of Famer, then you should compare his numbers with Trammell’s. Joe points out just how close Jeter and Trammell were as players, with Jeter holding a slight edge over Alan offensively, while Trammell was easily a better defender. If Ozzie Smith can get into the Hall on his defense, and Jeter will get in on his offense(and leadership; you know that will be brought up) then Trammell deserves to be in for being the better all-around player. The sad part is that this will be Trammell’s 14th year on the ballot, which means he gets only one more shot after this year and then his case will be handed over to the Veteran’s Committee. I wish I had really studied his case sooner, not that my lone vote would mean much. If anything I wouldn’t have underrated Trammell as much as I did, not realizing he was way better than the memory remembers. Now about his double play partner, Lou Whitaker…

 

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So there you go, my 2015 IBWAA Hall of Fame ballot. I had also given a decent amount of consideration to Jeff Kent, Gary Sheffield and Mark McGwire but alas I wasn’t quite on board yet for either of those three. What I can say is that it is never too late to judge each case and compare and contrast with other cases in the past. Sometimes our memory fails us and doesn’t paint the entire picture we need to fairly assess the situation. I can only hope the logjam that has accumulated the last few years eventually gets weeded out and some deserving candidates get the call they deserve. I can honestly say I feel as if I put together a list of players worthy of the greatest of all honors, a plaque at Cooperstown. It’s not a church folks; it’s a museum that tells us the history of the game we love. These 12 players help tell that story, blemishes and all.

I See Your Ballot, and I Raise You My Votes

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The announcement for just who(or won’t) be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame won’t be announced for close to two weeks, but the debate will only intensify during that time. I’ve written more than my share about not only the Hall of Fame but also my thought on cheaters in the game. Joe Posnanski even goes a step further, saying the Hall needs to take the lead. To be honest, in a lot of ways I’ve grown tired of the subject and the hypocrisy of the whole situation. So instead of discussing the whole reason the Hall is missing star players from the “Steroid Era”, I thought today I would go through the Hall of Fame ballot, and like the BBWAA has to, pick my ten votes for the Hall. It’s not as easy as you think, as a few deserving candidates have to left off due to the backlog of talent being left behind. So here are my ten votes, not in any particular order:

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1)Craig Biggio

Craig Biggio  didn’t get in last year on his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot, despite the fact that his numbers are those of a HOFer, & he is someone who was never thought of as possibly taken steroids. I mean, seriously–look at him! With that said, I understand why some voters are leery on Biggio. For one, he played for 20 years, with a lot of those years near the end nowhere near Hall of Fame caliber. The prevalent thought was that if Biggio hadn’t held on, he wouldn’t have reached 3000 hits, which normally grants you an easy slide into the Hall. Biggio also wasn’t a big power hitter, or just a pure great hitter like a Tony Gwynn or a Wade Boggs. No, what Biggio was was a consistent performer that went out there every day and gave his all. Sure, that alone won’t get you into the Hall. But when you add in him being a 7-time All Star, a 4-time Gold Glove winner, and was 3 times in the top ten of the MVP voting, you have a Hall of Fame candidate. But all this isn’t the most impressive of his feats. No, Biggio’s biggest feat was that he did all this while changing positions multiple times. Biggio went wherever the Astros asked him to go, whether it was catcher, second base, left field or center field. He was an All Star at both catcher and second base, which within itself is a huge accomplishment. Most players who get moved around that much don’t keep up their All Star numbers, let alone put together a Hall of Fame career. But Biggio did.

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2) Jeff Bagwell

If there is one player on my ballot that I feel has been robbed, it’s Jeff Bagwell. There has never been a sign that Bags used any illegal substance. No proof that used the same substances that so many of his peers did during that era. Yet…he is lumped in with them because “he looked the part”. Ridiculous. I’m not saying he didn’t; there is no way for me to know that. What I am saying is assuming because he had muscles that he used is putting the cart before the horse. Judgment like this is why I hate what the voting process has become for the Hall of Fame. Anyway, I obviously feel Bagwell is a HOFer, and looking at the numbers it’s not hard to see why. Rookie of the Year in 1991, 4-time All Star, won the NL MVP in 1994 and was in the top ten of the MVP voting another five times. Bagwell also won the Silver Slugger Award 3 times and won a Gold Glove in 1994. If that isn’t enough, his 12 years of being one of the top players in the NL and a career WAR of 79.5 ranks him at 63rd OF ALL TIME. Jeff Bagwell hit, hit for power, stoles bases and was an above average defensive first baseman. Bagwell should have been a no-brainer, and it does seem as if support for his HOF case is growing. In Bagwell’s first year on the ballot, 2011, he received 41.7 % of the vote. Last year it had grown from 56% to 59.6%. It has grown enough that it is realistic to think Bagwell will(eventually) get elected to the Hall and rightfully so.

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3)Mike Piazza

Mike Piazza , like Jeff Bagwell, was lumped in as a player suspected of steroid use more by looking the part than actually having proof. That can be the only reason, as the argument can be made that Piazza is the greatest hitting catcher of all time. Piazza wasn’t the greatest defensive catcher you have ever seen, but he worked hard to get better and was heralded more than once for being a good game caller behind the dish. Obviously the biggest argument for Piazza to be inducted is his bat. Sure, he never won a MVP award, but the list of accomplishments he racked up are a nice consolation. 12-time All Star(including 1996 All Star game MVP), 1993 Rookie of the Year, 10-time Silver Slugger award winner, and was in the top 5 of the MVP voting four times. You could read the numbers all day but few, if any, catchers can match up with Piazza. He should have been a first ballot HOFer, and eventually he will get in. The question is just when.

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4) Tim Raines

I’ll be honest–I showed up late to the “Tim Raines   should be in the Hall of Fame” party. Most of my viewing of Raines was late in his career, where he was a solid outfielder who wasn’t an All Star but was still a great addition to your roster. After really viewing the stats, Raines compares very closely to Rickey Henderson, who was a no-brainer HOFer. Raines led the NL in stolen bases  four times, was a 7-time All Star, won both a batting title and a Silver Slugger Award in 1986 and was Rookie of the Year in 1981. The reasoning behind my vote for Raines is easy; he did a little bit of everything, did it above average, and did it for a long period of time. You really didn’t see Raines have a drop off in production until 1994, which was 14 years into his career. “Rock” got on base, stole bases, hit for average, hit for extra bases, drove in a decent amount of runs for a guy who batted lead-off, and was solid on defense. If not for Henderson, Raines would have been the measuring stick for lead-off hitters of his era. Rickey unfortunately overshadowed Raines, which would be a big reason why he hasn’t gotten the vote support he probably should have. In Raines first year on the ballot(2008), he got 24.3% of the votes. Since then he has bumped all the way up  to 52.2% this past year, a lot of it thanks to a number of voters championing his cause. He only has a bit over 20% of the vote left to get, and it’s conceivable to see him get that within the next few years. Once you really sit down and look at everything, it  becomes very obvious that Tim Raines should be voted in. In due time, my friends, in due time.

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5) Greg Maddux

I’ll go ahead and say it; next to Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux is the greatest pitcher I have ever seen. This will be the first year Maddux is on the ballot, and it seems pretty apparent that he will get voted in this year. Honestly, anyone who doesn’t  vote for him just doesn’t get it. Sure, the accolades say a lot; 4-time Cy Young award winner, 18-time Gold Glove winner, 8-time All Star, won the NL ERA title four times, twice lead the league in win-loss %, four times lead the league in WHIP, nine times lead the league in walks per 9 innings, and has the 25th best WAR of all time. ALL TIME! Maddux is what every pitcher should strive for, even if they are unable to perform as well as he did. Maddux understood not only the strike zone, but understood how to throw batters off of their game. Maddux changed speeds, changed locations, and batters had no clue what to expect from him. I have never seen a pitcher who located the ball as well as Maddux did. This might have been my easiest pick for a vote. Greg Maddux is an easy pick for the Hall of Fame.

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6) Tom Glavine

When mentioning Maddux, you pretty much have to mention his former teammate, his left handed counterpart Tom Glavine. During the Atlanta Braves heyday in the 90’s, Glavine was just as important to those teams as Maddux was. Glavine is also on the ballot for the first time this year, and although not quite the no-brainer that Maddux is, Glavine is just as deserving to go into the Hall. Glavine was a 2-time Cy Young award winner, ten time All Star, the 1995 World Series MVP, and even a 4-time Silver Slugger winner. Glavine wasn’t overpowering, but he knew how to pitch. He was also about as consistent as they come. Up until the last five years of his career, Glavine was a consistent 200 innings pitcher who always gave his team a chance to win. He didn’t have a fastball that popped the glove. He didn’t celebrate on the mound or draw attention to himself. Tom Glavine just went out there and won. For that, he should be in the Hall of Fame.

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7) Frank Thomas

Frank Thomas (nicknamed “The Big Hurt”) is the last of the players who are on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time that I would vote in. Thomas was not only a great hitter, but a great hitter with a good eye at the plate. Frank would just as likely take a walk(he led the league in walks four times) as take you deep. Just how good of an eye did he have? He led the league in OBP four times, OPS four times and OPS+ three times. Sure, the last half of his career was spent at DH, but he isn’t going into the Hall of Fame for his defensive prowess.  No, Thomas mashed the ball, and in some ways, took the art of hitting to another level. He was a 2-time MVP winner, but also finished in the top five four other times. It’s actually amazing he only won one batting title(1997), since he was as just a good a hitter as Gwynn, or Boggs, but had a ton of power as well. Late in his career, after it seemed like Thomas was washed up, he bounced back and had a monster season in Oakland in 2006. He parlayed that into another solid season the following year in Toronto, but after that he would last only one more year in the majors. Thomas had a ten year stretch where he was one of the best hitters in baseball. Dominance gives you a plaque in the baseball Hall of Fame.

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8) Edgar Martinez

Edgar Martinez is that interesting case that is very polarizing for the voters for the Hall of Fame. On one hand, Martinez being a full-time Designated Hitter for the majority of his career hurts him in the eyes of some voters. But does that matter when you are the greatest DH of all time? The argument for or against is logical, so it comes down to how you feel about a guy who hardly played in the field. Me? I feel like if a player is so good that he is considered the benchmark for that position(to the point the award for Designated Hitter of the year is now named after him), then it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t play a defensive position. Edgar hit, then hit some more, and just kept hitting. He hit so well that he is 76th in career WAR amongst position players, a stat that combines offensive and defensive stats. His hitting was so good that it didn’t even matter that he didn’t add anything defensively. That is raking. The honest truth is that the Designated Hitter is still a position, whether or not he wears a glove. The position isn’t going away, so the voters should realize they have to acknowledge it exists. Maybe they should look at it from this view: they wouldn’t be voting for a DH. They would be voting for one of the greatest hitters of his era, a player who’s numbers match up with the all time greats. If that doesn’t mean you should get a vote, then I’m not for sure what voters should be looking for.

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9) Roger Clemens 

My last two picks are possibly the two biggest lightning rods of the entire ballot, but I honestly believe they both deserve in. First on the list is Roger Clemens , one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Obviously, the steroid issue looms heavy over his consideration, and maybe even more because he so steadfastly denies everything. Taking the needle(or the lotion) out of the equation, Clemens stands tall as THE pitcher of his era. His 7 Cy Young awards(SEVEN!!!) alone should get him in the hall. In my eyes, Clemens is up there with the Walter Johnson’s and Sandy Koufax’s in baseball lore. I get why some don’t vote for him, and they have every right. Personally, I think it looks bad that after all this time he denies everything so vehemently. Normally where there is smoke there is fire. But maybe the most intriguing part of “The Rocket’s” case is that the argument could be made that he was a Hall of Famer before his supposed steroid use. To me, that makes the case even sadder. No one is arguing that Clemens should be in the Hall. No, the argument is the circumstances, circumstances that I feel baseball allowed to happen. So in my eyes, he should be in.

Barry Bonds Convicted Of One Count Of Obstruction Of Justice

10) Barry Bonds

Speaking of polarizing, there is no player more polarizing than Barry Bonds. Here are the facts: Barry Bonds is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. He is the all time home run king. He has also always been a major league jerk, which never helps his case in these situations. And like Clemens, Bonds was a Hall of Famer before his supposed steroid use. In fact if you have read “Game of Shadows” , you know that a big part of why Barry supposedly  took steroids was because he was jealous of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa getting all the attention when he knew he was the better all around ballplayer. Barry was right; he was. Barry was that one talent who could do everything; hit, hit for power, run, and field. In all honesty, his name should be discussed with Ruth, Williams, Mays and Mantle. Instead, steroids is all that is discussed, and is why he already isn’t in. Like Clemens, he is the best player of his era. Like Clemens, I would still vote for him. Doesn’t mean I like what he did, but he wasn’t the only one, and it was allowed to happen. You can’t just erase a part of history because you don’t like it. You can’t erase what Barry Bonds accomplished.

So there are my ten votes. There were a few other players I would have voted for, like Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and Mike Mussina, but you have to go with the ten best. I also wouldn’t have voted for Jack Morris, who seems to be a hot button topic. I just don’t feel he is a Hall of Famer. It will be interesting to see how the voting goes on January 8th when the ballots are tabulated. I think at least a few of these players will get in this year, but not as many as they should. Hopefully sometime in the near future, the Hall of Fame decides on set rules for the writers to vote on, so we aren’t stuck with the limbo the voting is in now. The “Steroid Era” happened folks…it’s not any worse than the racism that permeated baseball for many, many years. Acknowledge the era and put in the best players of that period. Doing what they are doing now just puts more attention on what is already a subject most of us are tired of. Do what’s right and let’s move on.

 

Royals Come to Play…But Will They Contend?

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In December, Kansas City Royals GM Dayton Moore pulled off a blockbuster trade, acquiring pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis from Tampa Bay for top prospect Wil Myers and three other minor leaguers. With this trade, the Royals pushed all their chips in, declaring themselves contenders. But can this team really contend? Was pitching all this team needed to be taken seriously? Will the offense bloom under new hitting coaches? and will Jeff Francoeur find his swing? Time to take a magnifying glass to the 2013 Kansas City Royals and decipher whether they are contenders or pretenders.

James Shields

Let’s start where the Royals focused their attention on this offseason: pitching. Obviously, the Royals have improved their starting rotation with the additions of Shields, Davis, Ervin Santana and re-signing mid-season acquisition Jeremy Guthrie. This rotation is not the same one the team sported in 2012, not even close. James Shields gives the Royals a top of the rotation guy, while Santana and Guthrie have both been solid starters in the past. As much as this rotation is better, it’s not like it’s the reincarnation of the old Atlanta Braves rotations led by Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz. Shields has always been a number two guy in Tampa, while Santana had his worst season last year with the Angels. Guthrie was atrocious in Colorado last year before being acquired by Kansas City, but he seemed to get the train back on the tracks by the end of the season and was quite possibly the best pitcher for the Royals in the second half of the season. Wade Davis is a bit of a question mark. Davis had a great 2012 with the Rays, but that was in a relief role. The Royals are sliding Davis back to the rotation, where he struggled in 2011. He wasn’t horrible in that role, but the numbers look eerily like Luke Hochevar’s best season, which in hindsight still wasn’t that good. It will be interesting to see not only how Davis does back in the rotation, but also how long of a leash the Royals will give him if he struggles. That leaves the fifth spot in the rotation, and as of this writing it is down to Bruce Chen and Luis Mendoza. Now, looking at Chen’s stats this spring, and add in an underwhelming 2012, and it would appear that Mendoza should have this spot all locked up. But manager Neddy Yost thinks Mendoza is the perfect long reliever, despite Mendoza battling Guthrie in the second half of last year for title of ‘best pitcher in the Royals rotation’. With all that being said, my gut tells me Neddy will pick Chen to start the season. That is fine if Chen can show he is the guy who is a former Royals Pitcher of the Year. If not, one can only hope he is replaced before too much damage can be done. It should also be mentioned here that the team could get a bump in the middle of the season, as both Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino will be close to returning around that time. I say this reluctantly, as there is no guarantee that those two will be able to contribute much, as they are both coming back from Tommy John Surgery. Time will tell, but those two could help the team down the stretch if so needed.

Bruce Chen

From all appearances, it seems the Royals bullpen will be an above average unit once again in 2013. Last year, a bullpen lead by Holland, Herrera and Crow were one of the best bullpens in baseball, and they had to be as they accumulated a ton of innings in 2012. This was a big part of why the Royals needed to upgrade their starting rotation, as if not for the bullpen last year, the Royals would have been even worse than they were. Let that sink in for a minute. Luckily for Kansas City, most of the crew is back in 2013, and should be just as strong as it was last year. It will be interesting to see how former starter Luke Hochevar acclimates himself to a role in the pen. For all we know, having to work less and being able to go all out might be the thing to unlock some of the potential that Royals management have been talking about for years. Overall, this is a deep and solid bunch, and could be even better if the rotation holds up their end of the game.

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Now we shift to the offense. At first glance, it would appear that this would be another positive for the Royals in 2013. But not so fast. The same thing was thought last year, but this Royals bunch just didn’t score runs. I talked about it here. Funny thing is that Royals management made no changes to the offense this offseason, so what you see this year is the same as last year. Obviously, the Royals are counting on a turnaround by a bunch of their younger players and a few veterans. Billy Butler and Alex Gordon more than held their own last year. Either one could make the argument that they were the best player on this team last year. Alcides Escobar took another step forward as well, flirting with .300 most of the season, and Salvador Perez showed us that those last few months of 2011 weren’t a fluke. But for this team to really reach their full potential(and become a playoff contender), they need a number of things that went wrong in 2012 to go right this year. Mike Moustakas had a great first half of the season, both offensively and defensively. There was even talk that he was a candidate to be an All-Star. But Moose fell far in the second half of the season. There is a prevalent thought that a knee injury was a big part of that slump, and if that is the case then expect Moose to take another step forward in 2013. Eric Hosmer struggled mightily in 2012, to the point that he never found his groove. A lot of the team’s success this year will fall on Hos’ shoulders, whether that is deserved or not. This spring he has looked better at times, while at other times he has looked like the Hosmer of 2012. The big part for him needs to be consistency. If Hos can keep his swing consistent, then the Royals will feel comfortable moving him up in the lineup and taking pressure off of the rest of the lineup. If not, the team might be shopping for someone to fill in at first base until(if?) he can find that consistency. Another person they need to step it up this year is Jeff Francoeur. If Francoeur plays like he did last year, the Royals won’t be contenders. Period. The Royals were so confident that this would happen that they felt comfortable trading prospect(and probable Francoeur replacement) Wil Myers this offseason. If Frenchy can’t find his swing, then the team will have to look for his replacement. Second base is also a question mark, as it looks as if Chris Getz will be the second bagger for the team. The fact that management didn’t feel the need to go out shopping for this spot says a lot about how they feel about Getzie. The honest truth is that if he is starting, they can expect very little in the realm of offense with him. He is what he is, Royals management. The Royals have very little room for mistakes this year, and they need a different look offense in 2013 if they want to contend.

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The Royals were bit by the injury bug early and often last year, and they have to hope this year is a complete 180 degrees from last year. As much as this team has more depth than they have had in a very long time, this is still not a team who has a replacement ready for most of their positions. If a major starter(Butler or Gordon) comes down hurt, it will be a major blow for the team and probably push back their chances of being in a pennant race. The pitching has more depth, for sure, and even have options for a change, but there is a fall from their top starters to the relief that will be sitting at Omaha. As it showed last year when catcher Salvador Perez went down in Spring Training, the Royals just can’t handle a major blow to the team. The depth just isn’t there. So if someone goes down, it could spell doom for this ballclub.

Ned Yost

There is one more thing we should factor into this season for our boys in blue. I know not everyone agrees, but I am of the belief that having Neddy Yost still at the helm for the Royals factors into this season. The Royals can have a lot of the question marks mentioned above go right for them, and there is a good chance that will happen. But it could all be negated by Yost. Some might think a manager doesn’t make that big a difference on whether or not they win or lose, but it does. Very few teams get anywhere if they don’t have a good manager, or at least one that knows when to trust his players and coaches and step aside. Then there are managers like Yost. Yost likes to tinker when he doesn’t need to. Just look at all the lineup changes last year. He also doesn’t seem to handle pressure well. Anyone remember the Royals 12 game losing streak last year and the decisions Yost made? If that isn’t enough for you, how about in Milwaukee. The Brewers fired him with only twelve games left in the season and the Brew Crew pushing for a playoff spot. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t invoke confidence in Yost’s managerial skills come crunch time. Let’s say the Royals are contending in September. I would have to say there is a good chance Yost will find a way to screw it up and do something so monumental that we will be talking about it for years to come. I would almost guarantee it. Since his hire, I have thought Yost is not the guy to take the Royals to the promised land. He was a decent placeholder for this ballclub, but if the organization is serious about being a playoff club, then Yost must go. I would like to think when it comes down to the nitty gritty, Yost will step aside, not over-manage, and allow the talent to take over. But Yost likes to tinker–and bunt. He could make all the difference this year on whether or not the Royals sniff the postseason.

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This is, without a doubt, one of the most pivotal seasons in Kansas City Royals history, and one that will determine whether or not the current regime keeps their job or the Royals move in a new direction. Dayton Moore has thrown his chips on the table and it is .500 or bust. If the team falls short, Moore and probably Yost will be gone. If they reach that goal, they will probably be given 2-3 more years. There is a buzz about this team that hasn’t been there in the last decade, and it shows just how passionate Royals fans truly are. But to be honest, I don’t think it is enough. As much as Kansas City needed pitching, they ignored a lot of the other problems this team had in 2012. I do think some of those problems will improve this year, but there is no way you can expect all of them too. When you add in how the American League Central got stronger in the offseason, it is hard to see this team improving by 15-20 wins. Right now, this team seems to me to win 78-80 games, falling just shy of .500. There is a chance it could go a few more either way, but that is what I would guess as of right now. I do hope I’m wrong, and the Royals are able to contend. Lord knows Royals fans deserve it.

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