I’ve been a bit short on time recently, but I did want to pass along a few thoughts on the recent injury to Salvador Perez and the effects that will be felt by the Kansas City Royals.
For Salvy, it is a frustrating blow that could see big ramifications on his career. Not only will he be missing a full year to the injury, but there are no guarantees that Perez will return next year “as good as new”. In fact, when it comes to catchers who have the ill-fated Tommy John Surgery, the history is bleak to say the least. For a guy who is most valuable behind the dish, this might be one of the worst injuries that could occur to him.
How will the aftermath of this injury effect the Royals? Obviously the loss will hurt, especially when you add Perez’s value on both offense and defense. Cam Gallagher was scheduled to be the backup to Salvy before the injury and now will carry a bigger weight as he shares the position.
Gallagher brings above-average defense to the table, especially when it comes to pitch framing. Gallagher has caught a number of the pitchers within the Royals system over the years and has a good rapport with many of them.
Offensively, he will probably be below league-average with the bat. He’s never been known for his offensive prowess throughout his minor league career although he did see a bit of an uptick his last few years in Omaha. As far as I’m concerned, the Royals should only be concerned with what he does on defense this year and anything he adds with the bat should be considered extra.
The Royals have also gone out and acquired veteran backstop Martin Maldonado to share time with Gallagher this year. Maldonado is a former Gold Glove winner and is a good fit for Kansas City, a veteran who can work with the younger pitching staff. The Royals have a number of up and coming pitchers in their system and fitting a veteran defender with them makes the most sense for their development.
The signing of Maldonado also gives extra time to Meibrys Viloria, the other catcher on the 40-man roster. Viloria had a cup of coffee in the bigs last September, appearing in 10 games while hitting .259/.286/.333. More time in the minors for Viloria is a good thing, since before his recall last year he hadn’t played above high A ball (Wilmington) all year. Viloria is entering his age 22 season and while he could see time in Kansas City later in the season, a bit more seasoning during a rebuilding year isn’t the worst thing in the world for a prospect like him.
So while the injury to Perez will hurt, there are a few silver linings to it. If anything, the time away will save Salvy some wear and tear on his knees and he will hopefully be rested and ready to go next spring. Honestly, the Royals weren’t planning on contending this year, so giving extra playing time to a Gallagner or Viloria should only be considered a plus and an opportunity to find out what they have when it comes to catching depth.
The biggest loss is the positivity that Salvy brings to the clubhouse. Not having his childlike attitude around during a long, 162 game season means the Royals are losing a great influence on their youngsters for the better part of a season. Hopefully they can find a way to keep him around as much as possible while he rehabs the injury. God knows we as fans will miss seeing his grin while attending games at The K this year.
While most of us waited all winter for something (anything!!) to happen on the free agent market, it appears that with spring games being played and the regular season just around the corner, teams have finally decided to spend a few dollars. This has become very evident for the Kansas City Royals, as they signed Lucas Duda last week and earlier today they locked inJon Jay, who played for the Cubs last year:
Jon jay: 3M, 1.5 M incentives. 100K 250 plate appearances and every 25 plate appearances to 600. #kc
The team also placed right-handed pitcher Jesse Hahn on the 60-day DL with a UCL sprain. Both moves are worth a discussion, so let’s start with Jay.
Jay is coming off of a fairly solid season, as he hit .296/.374/.375 with an OPS+ of 96 and 1.1 bWAR. Jay looks to be the new center fielder for the Royals, as Paulo Orlando has been the frontrunner for the job headed into the spring. Jay will also probably hit leadoff for the team, as he is has posted a career on-base percentage of .355 and appears to be the best fit for the job. Jay isn’t going to hit for much power (.383 career slugging percentage) but he will get on base and is able to play all three outfield positions:
Royals manager Ned Yost says Jon Jay will "play a lot … he can play all three outfield positions, DH, he's going to do whatever."
Jay is a quality baserunner who is also a near average defender in the outfield. He is also a left-handed hitter, which the Royals have been in dire need of as of late. Much like Duda, Jay should be a steady veteran that can help the team transition to someone younger later in the year. There could be a scenario later in the summer where Bubba Starling could be given a shot and that would allow Jay to slide into the fourth outfielder role or even end up on the trade market. While I have been a proponent for the Royals to go for a complete rebuild, they didn’t spend much on Jay and if we are being blunt about it, they really didn’t have anyone prepared to be the regular center fielder. While Orlando should make the Opening Day roster, he is a better fit as a backup for the team than as a guy playing on a regular basis. This signing allows Paulo to slide back into a backup role and should be seen as an upgrade for the center field position in general.
Hahn being placed on the disabled list has to be a concern for Royals management, as he goes on the 60-day DL with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. An injury to the UCL is normally a precursor to Tommy John surgery, which Hahn has already had back in his college days at Virginia Tech University. The good news is that it might not be as bad as it looks on the surface:
Jesse Hahn felt discomfort in his UCL after his last outing. He’s had Tommy John once before. The Royals are going to let him rest and start a throwing program before determining the next step.
Hahn on the UCL sprain: "That first day I woke up I had no range of motion at all. It was pretty tender to touch, to move, everything. And these past couple days, full range of motion back, full extension and the pain has gone down a lot, so that’s very encouraging."
Hahn had been competing for a spot in the rotation, although it appeared he might be ticketed for a bullpen role. While this might turn out to be more of a precautionary move by the Royals than anything else, it does mean Hahn will begin the season on the disabled list, with his availability appearing to be in the early part of May at the earliest.
While for the most part I have no issue with the Royals going out and spending very little money on a couple of veterans like Duda and Jay, there is one part of this equation that is bothering me. Over the winter the team made a couple of deals to lower payroll, dealing Joakim Soria to the White Sox, Scott Alexander to the Dodgers and Brandon Moss to the A’s. While dealing Soria and Moss made sense (considering the direction of the team), I was never on board with the trade of Alexander. Alexander was added because the Royals needed to deal something of value to rid themselves of Soria’s contract. The problem with that is Alexander would have been under team control for another five years and would have been very cost efficient. Then you throw this into the mix:
For a team that gave away Scott Alexander to save money, the Royals sure have a strange way of using those savings.
Most of us figured that the Royals were moving salary to keep Eric Hosmer but even then I was against the Alexander trade. His value was almost immeasurable last year and I’m not expecting Kansas City to have a player in their pen this year who can fill all the roles Alexander did in 2017. So to turn around and spend money on veterans and slide the payroll back to where it was doesn’t make sense, at least if the sole purpose was to get rid of Soria’s contract. I’m not saying I dislike the Jay or Duda signing and in fact I like both of them; I’m just saying they could have found a different way to jettison Soria while also keeping Alexander. Where there is a will, there is a way.
So with the Jay signing and Hahn injury we are getting a better idea of what the Royals Opening Day roster will look like. Dayton Moore has done a good job these last two weeks filling holes in the lineup without locking anything in long-term and leaving the door open for some of the youngsters to rise up this year. With some movement being made, one has to wonder if the possibility of Mike Moustakas coming back on a one, or even two-year deal is at least being broached. I’m still in the camp that the team should tear down even more and do a complete overhaul, but it appears Moore just isn’t in the business of tanking. Having some veteran presence around is a good thing, but at this point in the spring it would probably be best for Moore to be done. Then again, I wasn’t expecting these two moves sooooo…see you back here next week, when the next veteran is locked in to a one-year deal? Mark it down and save the date. Stay unpredictable, baseball.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Andrew McCutchen's last 10 games 14-for-37 (.378 BA) .478 OBP, .676 SLG 3 HR, 9 RBI 7 BB, 9 K Nice to finally write something good about him
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.
The Elbow and the Damage Done
Finally, another alarming Tommy John Surgery stat came out this week worth noting:
Over 87% of MLB games this season have featured at least one pitcher who has had Tommy John surgery. 100% of Cleveland Indians games.
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.
The 2017 campaign has been one filled with disappointment when it comes to the Kansas City Royals, whether it be their sluggish start, the sputtering offense or even injuries to key players like Danny Duffy. But one of the surprises of the season so far would be the resurgence of Jason Vargas. Vargas sat out most of the 2016 as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery, only throwing 12 innings in his three starts late in the year. Vargas was entering the final year of his contract and many were unsure just what he would be producing before he entered the free agent market. Instead, he has helped anchor the rotation, put up career best numbers and even leads the Royals in bWAR at 2.8. So how has Vargas gone from a steady arm at the back of the rotation to being one of the best pitchers in the league? That is a question that doesn’t have an easy answer.
First, here are some of the base numbers that Vargas has put up this season: 69.1 innings, 2.08 ERA, 3.17 FIP, 7.01 K/9 and 2.08 BB/9. Most of his numbers to this point are improvements on his career averages, within an obvious smaller sample size. But digging deeper finds that Vargas is posting numbers that are fairly similar to some of his better seasons in the big leagues. In fact, when looking at his performance, there are distinct similarities to his first season in Kansas City back in 2014. Let’s start with his strike out and walk rates, which have both seen an improvement this year. Vargas’ K rate sits at 19.7%, which is the highest in his career; the next closest season to that was his rookie campaign back in 2005, which sat at 18.2%. His walk rate is at 5.8%; his career best was 5.2% back in 2014, his first season as a Royal. Even better is his K-BB%, which sits at 13.9%; before this year, his career best percentage was 9.8% back in 2013 with the Angels. So this shows that Vargas is striking out more batters this year while walking less, which is always an optimal result for a player seeking success. But how is he doing it?
When looking at the contact hitters are getting off of Vargas, the numbers appear fairly normal. Line drive, ground ball and fly ball rates are all very similar to his best years, although his home run to fly ball ratio is way down, sitting at 5.8%, which is only beaten in his career by his rookie year in Florida. This would tell me that maybe hitters are not hitting the ball as hard off of him, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. In fact, Vargas’ hard hit percentage is sitting at 30.5%, the second highest of his career, while his soft hit rate is at 18.7%, which is about on par for his career average of 19.1%. Overall, there isn’t a big change in these numbers over his career and especially during his time in Kansas City:
The chart is just looking at his time with the Royals and as you can see, there isn’t a big change in his release speed…but there is a difference.
The numbers do show a slight decrease in Vargas’ velocity, which is a tad odd for a pitcher coming off of Tommy John surgery, which normally shows a slight uptick in velocity upon a pitcher’s return. Instead, Vargas is showing a decrease in every pitch across the board. His fastball was 87.9-87.3 mph during the five years before the surgery, while now it has sat on average around 86.6 mph. His slider has gone down from the 84-83 mph range to 82.3 mph, while curveball is down slightly to 73 mph, moving from 74.9-74.7 mph. Even his change-up has seen a decrease, as it has sat in the 79 mph range this year after being regularly around 81-80 mph. It isn’t a drastic decrease, but it very well could be a sign of Vargas having better control of his pitches and getting more movement on those pitches as well. In fact, the movement is very noticeable when comparing it to years past:
This chart is looking at Vargas’ horizontal movement on his pitches since 2011. Look at the curveball movement for 2017; if you want to get a better idea of why Vargas is having a bigger increase in success so far this year, the movement on his curveball might be the answer we are looking for.
Back in May Devan Fink of Beyond the Box Score took a look at Vargas’ season and one of the changes Fink saw was a difference in his arm angle, most notably with his change-up. But the effects haven’t only been seen from his change-up, but also the curveball:
In fact, his release point has appeared to help his curveball almost as much as his change-up, as pointed out by the graph. Vargas is also throwing his curve more this year than in years past, sitting at 19.4%, compared to his career average of 8% and the 14% he was averaging over the last 4-5 years. Both the change and curve have seen a big decrease in batting average during 2017:
Vargas didn’t allow a base hit against the curveball last year, but you also have to remember that he only pitched in three games in 2016. Going off his last full year pitched (which was 2014), Vargas had a .333 batting average against his curve while it sits at .227 this year. In comparison, his change-up has seen a drastic drop as well, as hitters had a .202 batting average against in 2014 compared to .135 this year. In other words, it appears the change in arm angle coupled with a slight drop in velocity has made Vargas a more difficult at bat than he was just a few years back.
So can Vargas keep it up? It appears on the surface that hitters are having a harder time seeing his off-speed and breaking pitches this year and as long as he can maintain the new arm angle it would appear he could keep it up. If that arm angle becomes less consistent though, it wouldn’t be hard to see him give up more solid contact and see his numbers trickle back to his norm. Jason Vargas isn’t going to blow much by hitters but he doesn’t have to if he is able to locate and maintain control. The continued focus on the curve and change-up appears to be a nice double whammy that hitters just have not been able to figure out. Maybe the bigger question isn’t whether Vargas can keep up his pace but whether he will be doing it in Royal blue. His value has never been higher and I wouldn’t be the least bit shocked if Kansas City dealt him sooner rather than later. When it comes to surprises on this 2017 Kansas City Royals team, Vargas is near the very top. It goes to show what a bit of deception and location can do for a pitcher who doesn’t rely on superior velocity.
Let’s be honest: Minnesota felt like a mirage. The Kansas City Royals played some of the worst baseball they have played in years during their three game series against the Twins and the general consensus was that the Royals weren’t as bad as they played. They would travel on to Houston to take on a very good Astros team…and would proceed to win 2 of the 3 games at Minute Maid Park. The offense woke up, the starting pitching continued to perform well, the defense was stellar and the bullpen would even improve on ‘The Walk Massacre of Minnesota’. Are we sure that set of games in Minneapolis really happened?
Since it is still early in the season, another ‘Fun with Numbers’ is still in order:
Salvador Perez-213 wRC+ through 6 games (4 home runs, all in 4 consecutive games)
Lorenzo Cain-25.9% Walk Rate (7 walks in 6 games)
Danny Duffy-200 ERA+ (In 13 innings over 2 starts)
Matt Strahm-40.50 Walks per 9 (6 walks in 1.1 innings pitched)
Okay, I feel like I am picking on Strahm. I swear I am not; unfortunately the guy is struggling in his limited use this season. The bullpen did improve in this series, although Kansas City still leads the AL in walks allowed (36), 8 more than runner-up Baltimore. The starters have held their own, but the bullpen still lies in the bottom of the league in almost every category, including WAR, FIP and BB/9. There is good news, though; Joakim Soria has been solid in his two outings, Peter Moylan has been a rock and Chris Young has been stellar in his 2.1 innings pitched. Maybe it’s just me, but it has felt like manager Ned Yost is still feeling out his relievers and what role would be best suited for them. I still think Strahm will be one of the main setup guys before the year is out and I could see Soria and Minor also filling that role. The one puzzling move is Yost’s usage of Travis Wood, a lefty who showed major splits in 2016 while with the Cubs. Lefties hit .128/.208/.239 against him last year while righties hit .263/.344/.521. It would appear that Yost should mainly use Wood against lefties, and limit the usage against righties. Instead, he has been using him against righties more and they are clocking him at a .400 pace. Like I said, it appears Yost is trying to feel his new relievers out, but a pattern is already showing when it comes to Mr. Wood.
Before we move on from the pitchers, I got to say a big kudos to Jason Vargas, who was spectacular in his start on Friday. Vargas threw 6 innings while striking out 6 and allowing a run. Vargas only appeared in 3 major league games last year as he was returning from Tommy John surgery and is entering the final year of his contract. If he can pitch closer to his 2014 performance, the Royals could have a sold rotation spot locked up for this year.
Maybe the best news was the resurgence of the offense, as the team put up 16 runs in the 3 game series. The most ‘Un-Royal’ stat from the year has been the power surge seen through the first six games:
Royals GM Dayton Moore said before the season that his objective was to go deep more often in 2017 and so far, so good. In fact, the Royals are slugging:
Mike Moustakas- .739 slugging percentage
Salvador Perez- .792 slugging percentage
Cheslor Cuthbert- .714 slugging percentage
While the Royals power numbers are good this year, they still aren’t great. In fact, they are next to last in slugging (.400) and last in wRC+ (88) and ISO (.139). The offense isn’t totally clicking yet, but this series at least brought some optimism. Also, some things will never change:
Eric Hosmer- 61.9% ground ball rate (already 10th in the American League)
Hey, I’ll quit picking on Eric when he learns to elevate the ball. If he starts doing that, I will be glad to start heaping praise and say I am wrong about him. Until then…
But if anything stood out this series, it was the defense. I could describe it to you, but it is easier just to show the proof:
Cain’s was the jewel, but this was pretty great as well:
…and it’s not really a Royals defensive highlight reel without an appearance from Alex Gordon:
That assist was the 75th of Gordon’s career, a great nod to a player who has only been playing the outfield full-time since 2011. One of the biggest head-scratchers for me so far this season is why the Royals pitchers aren’t throwing more strikes when they have this defense behind them. Let the defense shoulder the work; they can handle it.
The Royals are now 2-4 in the ol’ W-L column and are just a winning streak away from a respectable record. The main item that should be preached is ‘improvement’ and as long as they do that, there should be more ‘W’s’ to come. The Royals tend to be a team that is guided by their offense; if the offense is producing, they are normally winning. But if they aren’t…well, if they continue to stay cold, it will be a long summer in Kansas City that could be heated up by a fire sale. This next series against Oakland would be a good time for the bats to wake up and put them back on track. Two series’ are in the book and it has felt like two separate ballclubs. So the question has to be asked–which team is the real Kansas City Royals?
2016 was anything but a glorious season for the Kansas City Royals. Coming off of their first World Championship since 1985, the Royals spent most of last year trying to catch their footing and keep hopes afloat as long as possible. Injuries piled up, fatigue set in but more than anything, the fire the Royals showed in 2015 was few and far between. It wasn’t a huge surprise; one of the biggest obstacles for teams who reach the top of the mountain is to stay on top. Instead, the Royals fell and while there were positives for this team, there was mostly disappointment. So the question has been asked headed into 2017: how does Kansas City return to past glory? While the predictions and pundits aren’t glowing of the Royals chances, that is even more reason to bet on the ‘Boys in Blue’ to return to the playoffs.
Let’s start with the story of the winter, which was the unfortunate passing of Yordano Ventura. His untimely death left a giant question mark in a pitching rotation that already had a few questions. The Royals, instead of trying to ‘replace’ Ventura, went out and stocked up. First it was Jason Hammel. Then they went and signed Travis Wood. The rotation went from one with more questions than answers, to one of the deepest groups in recent Kansas City history.
Duffy will front this group and hopefully show that his career-turning 2016 was not a fluke. My money is on Duffy excelling as he grows into the ‘ace’ role. Kennedy, while not your normal number two starter, actually put up solid numbers last year and looks to continue that this year (this spring he has yet to allow a run over 17 innings). Kennedy will have his rough outings and will give up some homers, but he consistently racks up innings and at times looks amazing. Hammel strung together a good 2016 with the Chicago Cubs, with the only real concern being the fatigue that hit him near the end of the season. Hammel is another innings eater who will probably benefit from the Royals defense. Vargas returned in September last year from Tommy John Surgery and looks to pick up where he left off in 2015. Vargas will more than likely be what he was before the surgery, as he is in the last year of his 4 year deal. Karns won the 5th starters spot this spring, striking out 30 over 23 innings thrown. The back-end of the rotation is interesting, since I tend to believe it could very well be different by the time the Royals reach the All-Star break. Wood and Chris Young are both candidates to fill in while they are being stowed away in the bullpen for now. I also wouldn’t be shocked if Kansas City looks for a trade as they get close to the trade deadline and that could shake up the rotation even more. While this might not be the most dominating group in Royals history, it is a solid group that should eat a lot of innings.
While Fangraphs does NOT think fondly of the Royals bullpen (they have them ranked 28th in MLB), I lean the other way, thinking while it may not be as dominant as years past, they are a solid group that will do more good than bad.
Herrera takes over the closers role from the departed Wade Davis and should slide nicely into that role. Soria was a walking nightmare last season and Kansas City is hoping he bounces back and at the least, improves on his 2016 numbers. Soria did have an excellent strike out rate last year, but that still doesn’t explain this:
“The roles haven’t been defined,” Yost said. “If we were going to do it tomorrow, we’d probably use [Soria] in the eighth inning, depending on what the matchups are.”
High-leverage situations were a killer for Soria last year and I tend to think he should be kept away from those this year, or at least until he gets his feet underneath him. To me, Strahm will end up in this role eventually and has shown the ability to stop rallies. Those two might not be the only relievers in the setup role:
And Ned Yost also said Minor and Wood could be involved in that mix, too. He likes Minor's power stuff and Wood's massive cojones.
Minor battled throughout most of 2016 to stay healthy but has looked good so far this spring. Wood is an interesting choice, but he did prove valuable in Chicago’s pen last year. Moylan was a solid bullpen arm last year for Kansas City and while Young struggled, he is still a great choice for the long reliever/spot starter role. The intriguing part of the Royals pen are the ‘What Ifs’ that could contribute later in the year. Josh Staumont is a rising star in the Royals organization and has electric stuff. If healthy (stop me if you’ve heard this before), Kyle Zimmer could also factor into the pen late in the year and don’t count out someone like Eric Skoglund, a lefty who could be a great LOOGY down the stretch. While on the surface this wouldn’t appear to be a deadly pen, it could be a completely different story by July or August.
So what about the offense? It appears manager Ned Yost has already figured out his lineup for Opening Day:
Ned said he'll likely go this way Opening Day: Gordon 7 Moose 5 Cain 8 Hoz 3 Salvy 2 Moss DH Orlando 9 Esky 6 Mondesi 4
I’ve long been less than satisfied with Yost’s lineup structure, but I totally approve of this lineup. It is very interesting to see how the Royals and Yost came to this starting nine:
Royals manager Ned Yost likes to point out that the club’s batting order is an organizational decision, with input drawn from coaches, front office staff and members of the club’s analytics department.
Yes, I smiled to see the team used their analytics department to help structure it. There is also a bit of logic thrown in there as well:
“It gives us a nice left-right-left balance,” Yost said.
I have loooooooong been a proponent of Alex Gordon in the leadoff spot, as it only makes sense to put the guy with the best on-base percentage at the top. Gordon is coming off of his worst season since moving to the outfield and is hoping to bounce back this year. He also added some more muscle to his frame this winter and if spring is any indication, it has paid off (.351/.448/.509 with 8 walks and 5 extra base hits). Moustakas in the two-hole is a great choice, as he has some of the team’s most professional plate appearances while also adding extra base power to the top of the lineup. Cain and Hosmer at 3 and 4 respectively makes sense, although I would like to see Hosmer elevate the ball more this year and hit the ball much less on the ground (he lead all of baseball last year with a 58.9% ground ball rate). Salvy and Moss at 5 and 6 gives the team some thump in the heart of the order and hopefully they are able to drive in the guys who get on base ahead of them. Moss especially adds a nice power bat to the middle of the Royals order and I am excited to see him do his thing. Paulo Orlando will start the year in RF and will hold down that spot until Jorge Soler comes back from the disabled list. The lineup could shuffle a bit after Soler’s return, but I could also just see him slide into the same spot as Orlando, since that would keep up that L-R-L-R order that Yost likes. After years of attempting to keep Alcides Escobar in the leadoff spot, Yost finally has sent Esky down to the bottom of the order, where he is better suited. Rounding out the lineup is second baseman Raul Mondesi, a surprise winner of the job this spring. Mondesi struggled offensively during his short stint in Kansas City last year and the team is hoping that his bat will improve while adding much-needed speed and great defense to the roster. The offense is going to be different this year, as the team looks to provide more power and focus less on speed and a clustering of hits. Kansas City finished last again in 2016 in home runs in the American League and the additions of Moss and Soler should add more thump to the lineup and hopefully more extra base hits. This team has seven players capable of hitting 20+ home runs, which will be a big change of pace for the Royals(as will the strike outs that come with it). It’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out as the season gets underway.
I’ve been touting the team’s depth for a few months now and as much as this will be the immediate lineup, there will be more shuffling this year than in year’s past:
Christian Colon or Whit Merrifield
Cuthbert will get plenty of playing time shuffling between third base, DH and possibly even 2B. Butera is the perfect backup catcher for this squad, providing above average defense and is coming off the best offensive season of his 7 year career. I would expect Gore to only be with the team during Soler’s time on the disabled list, but when he is on the roster he provides a late inning speed threat on the basepaths. The final roster spot battle has come down to Colon or Merrifield, and it looks like we won’t find out the result until Sunday:
Just to reiterate about Peter Moylan and Colon/Merrifield roster decisions, Ned Yost said he won't make final call until Sunday.
Colon is out of options and would appear to have the inside track, but there have been some rumblings about a trade going down to procure a spot (not only a spot for backup infielder but also to open a 40 man spot for Moylan). I don’t know who of those two would get traded, although Merrifield’s versatility might be a heavier intrigue for some teams. Also remember, Peter O’Brien is stashed away in AAA and his big bat was all the rage this spring. O’Brien has massive power and if someone in the lineup would happen to go down with an injury, O’Brien would be an interesting name to insert into the lineup. He has his flaws, but if the Royals mainly used him against lefties he could be a big bonus to a bench that has never had much pop. Either way, the Royals don’t employ a large bench but then again Yost has never been big on using his bench players on a regular basis.
You won’t ever hear me talk much about intangibles here, mostly because at the end of the day they are hard to quantify. You can break down numbers and get a good idea of the performance of a player, but stuff like clubhouse chemistry and leadership are like a mystical potion that just floats around in the air. What I am saying is that those intangibles exist but it is hard to really figure out how much they affect the play that goes down on the field. That being said, there is no way to follow this team and NOT recognize the intangibles. Bottom line is this group is very tight-knit and loves being around each other. That is a huge plus and why some players are excited now about coming to Kansas City. There is also some big motivators this year. For one, the core group of this team (Cain, Hosmer, Moustakas and Escobar) are all free agents after the season and more than likely the majority (if not all of them) will be gone. This is their final chance for another deep playoff run together. Also, there is some motivation with the death of Yordano Ventura. The loss of Ventura hit the Royals hard and he was looked at like their little brother. If you don’t think there is motivation there to win one in his honor, then you aren’t looking in the right places. Finally, there is a bit of a chip on the Royals shoulders this year since Cleveland took their spot, or at least what they considered to be their spot. If you remember back in 2015, a big rallying cry for this team was them feeling like they came thisclose to winning the World Series only to come up short. They played the entire 2015 season like they were there to prove everyone wrong and I have gotten that same vibe from them this spring. These are all big factors into the makeup of this team and why they will more than likely be fighting for a playoff spot into the fall.
So what should we expect from the 2017 Kansas City Royals? While the predictions and projections once again aren’t kind to the Royals, I see this from a different slant. What the projections miss some of the time is the value of defense and it’s counter-effect on the pitching. In that regard, Kansas City is still a top-notch defensive team. The other factor is that a number of the Royals hitters struggled last year (Gordon, Hosmer, etc.) or missed a good chunk of the season (Moustakas, Cain). In my estimation, as long as those guys stay healthy they will produce better than they did in 2016 and even if there are injuries, I feel the Royals are better prepared to handle them. Add in power bats like Soler and Moss and factor in a deep starting rotation, and I tend to believe they will be battling the Indians for American League Central dominance all season long. Unless things go horribly sideways (and the percentages tend to lean toward that being doubtful), the Royals are prepared for one final long playoff run. They might not claim the division, but there are two wild card spot for the taking and I have to believe this Royals team has a good shot to claim a playoff berth. One of the greatest joys of my life has been watching these Royals teams of the last few years play meaningful baseball for the first time in decades. While that contender door could be closing after 2017, I have to believe there is one more final run in this squad. Batten down the hatches, Royals fans; I have a feeling this 2017 season is going to be one for the ages.
Spring Training is so close that we can practically smell the freshly cut grass and see the perfectly drawn baselines. It’s that time of year when the phrase ‘Pitchers and catchers report’ is music to any baseball fans ears. Over the last few weeks, I have had a number of thoughts littering my head and figured rather than writing four separate articles, I would shoot out a few short notes on some Kansas City Royals related activities that have been going on. What better way to start than with the pitcher we call ‘Duffman’…
There are so many reasons to love Danny Duffy right now. Duffy showed himself to be a true front of the rotation starter last year and was rewarded with a nice new contract, which means he will be around for at least the next five years. There is his return to twitter where he is trying to do some good. Speaking of Duffy the good samaritan, if you weren’t already ‘Team Duffy’, than him meeting and talking to fans at Kauffman Stadium after Yordano Ventura’s death should have swayed you. But the story that made me really proud to know that Duffy is on ‘my team’ is the one where he bought a Yordano bobblehead. This story must be read, so click here. In short, a Royals fan in the Kansas City area sold his Ventura bobblehead on ebay and right before he mailed it off, he saw it was addressed to Duffy. He canceled the payment and sent Duffy a message, telling him he wasn’t going to charge him for the bobble. Duffy told the guy he was trying to buy up as much Yordano merchandise as possible and then mail it to his mom at the end of the season. When I first read that, a legit huge smile broke out on my face. I have long rooted for Duffy to succeed, if anything because the guy has shown again and again that he is an awesome human being. The fact that he was accumulating as much Yo’ memorabilia as possible because it would help her “remember the good times” was just phenomenal. Talk about being proud that he is in Kansas City; I have never seen an athlete who is so open about his feelings AND in such a positive way, to boot (Yes, that was slightly directed at Zack Greinke). We might love our Salvy, our A1 and our Moose, but dammit if I’m not a Duffy fan for life because of what he represents as a player and a person.
Speaking of Ventura, there has been a call amongst many Royals fans for the team to retire his number 30 this season. I understand that for most of us there is an emotional attachment to the group of players who guided this team to their first championship in 30 years. I was just as broken up about Ventura’s passing as most other Royals fans and I figure the home opener on April 10th will probably cause a few lumps in throats. That being said, it feels like the push to retire his number is an emotional thought and not a logical one. Over the team’s 47 year history, they have retired three former Royals: George Brett (5), Frank White (20) and Dick Howser (10). That’s it. In my eyes there have been a few worthy numbers that could have been retired by Kansas City over the years, but I do like that they aren’t just retiring numbers left and right. To me, if you are going to go that route, it better be a player who really marked their spot in franchise history. While Ventura had a number of big moments in his short career, he did only have three full seasons under his belt, and was just slightly above league average overall during that time. I have heard a number of great ideas in honoring Ventura this year, like leaving the ball on the mound opening day and letting manager Ned Yost make a “pitching change”, or naming a baseball academy down in the Dominican Republic after him. Those are just two great examples of honoring his passing and I wouldn’t even have a big issue with putting him in the Royals Hall of Fame in the future, even if it would feel like it was being done because he passed away while still with the team. But retiring his number feels like an emotional reaction to his death and I just don’t agree with it. I’m sure the Royals will honor his time in Kansas City this year and they should; but lets not overreact. Honoring Ventura is fine, but retiring his number is unnecessary and to be brutally honest, not really earned.
With the Royals signing of Jason Hammel this week, Kansas City has marked off almost every need that they were searching for this winter…that is, except for another bullpen arm. The thought has been that the Royals would possibly sign one more reliever and with Spring Training looming in just a few days, there could be a last-minute signing, especially if they bring Luke Hochevar back into the fold. Hochevar is coming off of Thoracic Outlet Surgery but it’s been thought all along that as long as he is healthy, the team would look to bring him back to Kansas City. If not Hochevar, there are a few options still available on the market. Guys like Travis Wood, Jonathan Niese and former Royals Joe Blanton and Jorge De La Rosa are still available. The Royals also checked in on Seth Maness last week, the former Cardinals reliever who bypassed Tommy John Surgery and elected an experimental surgery that would have him back on the field in 7 months. While I tend to think Hoch will be back fairly soon, Kansas City has many choices and with a group of young arms also in the running ( Josh Staumont, Kevin McCarthy and Eric Skoglund among them) there will be some definite competition in the bullpen this spring for the Royals.
The Hammel signing also meant that room would have to be made for him on the Royals 40 man roster, and Alec Mills was the unfortunate person to be sent packing. Mills was dealt to the Cubs for outfielder Donnie Deewees. Mills was a solid arm for Kansas City’s system but at best was probably someone who would have success out of the bullpen rather than in the rotation. Deewees is an interesting acquisition, as he is a speedy outfielder type that Dayton Moore continually covets. The scouts evaluation of Deewees seems to be on par with current Royals outfielder Billy Burns:
ESPN’s Keith Law recently rated Dewees 15th among Cubs farmhands, noting that he’s a 70-grade runner that can handle center field from a range standpoint but has a 20-grade arm that limits him to left field. Longenhagen ranked him 19th among Cubs prospects offering a similar take (albeit a 30-grade arm instead of 20), writing that without the power to profile as a left field regular, his best scenario is a Ben Revere type. B-Pro’s Steve Givarz was a bit more optimistic about his glovework but still pegs him as more of a fourth outfielder than a potential starter.
Deewees is still only 23 years old and more than likely will start the year in Kansas City’s High A Ball team in Wilmington. This could be a trade to monitor over the next couple years and see how Deewees has (or has not) developed. When all else fails, Moore will always lean towards speed.
Finally, Kansas City went out and signed Brayan Pena to a minor league deal this past week. Pena is a former Royal who played for Kansas City from 2009-2012 and spent most of his time as a backup catcher. Pena is a serviceable receiver who has a bit of pop in his bat and is well liked in the clubhouse. The honesty is that this is a depth signing and much like Tony Cruz last year, Pena will most likely be spending his time in Omaha this year unless something goes wrong for Salvador Perez or Drew Butera. It’s good to see Brayan back in blue, but I wouldn’t expect to see much of him once the season starts.
In just a few days pitchers and catcher will be reporting to Spring Training and we can actually start digesting some news on our ‘Boys in Blue’ and start getting a feel for what the major league roster will look like come April. I can say with all honesty that I feel better about the feel of this roster now than I did even a few weeks ago. For all intent and purposes, the Royals are looking to gain back what they lost last year, which would be the top of the Central Division. Next week, step one begins on a long road to their (hopeful) final destination, October baseball.As always, hope springs eternal.
So far, this winter has been a dead one if you follow the Kansas City Royals. There are many factors contributing to this. One appears to be the Collective Bargaining agreement between the players and owners, which is currently in discussion. Another factor is the growing patience of GM Dayton Moore, who once was an early ‘Wheeler and Dealer’ in the offseason. Moore has said he wants to wait until the Winter Meetings, which begin on December 4th, before making any major moves with the roster. All that being said, last week there were a couple transactions that piqued the interest of at least a few Royals fans.
The first was the re-signing of backup catcher Drew Butera to a two-year deal. Butera returns to Kansas City making $1.8 million in 2017 and $2.3 million for 2018. It was long believed that Butera would be back in Kansas City as the backup to starting catcher Salvador Perez:
“We made it very clear once the season was over that we wanted to bring back Drew,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “He’s been a valuable performer for us. We works well with our pitching staff and Salvador and our coaches.”
Butera is coming off of a career year offensively, posting new career highs in doubles, home runs, batting average, on-base percentage, OPS, OPS+, bWAR and WPA:
“He has made tremendous strides offensively,” Moore said. “We feel extremely confident with him defensively and feel like he can contribute in a lot of ways.”
In some ways Butera is the perfect catcher for Kansas City as he enters his age 33 season. With Salvador Perez entrenched as the starter, and knowing that manager Ned Yost is not one to rest his regulars too much, Butera won’t be seeing a ton of playing time unless an injury occurs. Butera is known for being an above average defender and a guy who pitchers like to throw to. He is the ultimate team player as well; last season it was discussed how in the past he has been known to do anything the coaching staff needs him to do, whether that be a bullpen catcher or warming up the starting pitcher while Salvy is getting his gear back on. Hell, he even pitched in a few blowouts in 2016 and more than held his own on the mound. Butera has flaws in his game but as long as he isn’t seeing regular playing time he is a solid receiver to play in 4o to 60 games a year. Add in the mutual love between the fans and him and it only makes sense for him to return to the Royals.
On the other end, Tim Collins elected free agency as the team was making room on their 40 man roster. Collins is coming off of consecutive Tommy John surgeries and hasn’t pitched since 2014. When healthy Collins is an above average contributor out of the bullpen, posting an ERA+ of 117 and 9.4 strike outs per 9 innings from 2011 to 2014. In some ways this hurts Kansas City, as it is not every day you run across a lefty reliever with mid-90’s fastball that averaged 60+ innings over the first three seasons of his big league career. On the other hand, there is no assurance that Collins will even be able to return from back to back surgeries and definitely not for the $1.5 million he was expected to make in 2017. I always liked having Collins coming out of the pen late in the game, as he a reliable arm. At this point, we can wish him the best luck and hope he doesn’t get to pitch against Kansas City very much.
Both of these moves, while minor, are a step in figuring the construction of the 2017 Kansas City Royals. So what happens next? No clue. Dayton talks like this could be it, but I find that hard to believe:
“There’ll be some moves that we make and present themselves for us the remainder of the offseason,” Moore said. “But I think what you see now is about what it’s going to be going into spring training.”
If this isn’t Dayton-Speak, then I don’t know what is. Moore is notorious for not tipping his hand during this part of the year and I am not surprised by his sly use of words here. Dayton likes to cloud suspicion on possible moves and I would not expect to find out about anything until a deal is almost done. What I do feel will happen is for the Royals to be more active on the trade market than with free agency. There just isn’t a great crop of free agents out there this year and Kansas City would probably be more successful making a deal or two at this point. What I can promise is that Moore is not done. There is no way that Drew Butera is the biggest move of Kansas City’s offseason.
Normally in this space I discuss professional baseball, breaking down the game in about any form or fashion. Without a doubt I am a ‘seamhead’, as everything about the game encompasses my life for the entire twelve months of the year. As much as I love baseball, I have a firm grasp of the bigger picture, which is that at the end of the day it is still “just a game”. With that being said, I have become increasingly disappointed with many of my fellow adults who can’t separate the level of importance for sports, most notably when it comes to our children playing these sports.
Traveling youth baseball squads have become all the rage in youth sports and it can start as young as 9 years old. Traveling squads have become year round for many areas and have taken a bite out of local community baseball leagues. Some of these teams can play up to 120 games a year, which is more than most minor league teams play. There are many facets of this that bother me, none more than the cost for these leagues. So if you want your kid in a traveling league, what will it cost you? From the Washington Post in 2014:
Travel ball, by contrast, is not cheap — participation fees average about $2,000 per player per year. And teams may invite players from anywhere in the region. Since tournaments and games are usually in other towns, players and their parents must spend many hours commuting.
The cost is a bigger issue than just what appears on the surface. One of the issues that plagues Major League Baseball is the lack of African-Americans playing baseball today. In 2016, only 8% of the opening-day rosters were of African American descent, which is miniscule in comparison with the mid-1970’s, when 27% of major league players were African American. Traveling squads can be an issue for many inner city youths, as can be attested by former National League MVP Andrew McCutchen. Back in 2015, McCutchen talked about how his parents could not afford for him to be on a traveling team when he was a kid, which would lessen his chances of a scout seeing him perform. McCutchen talked about how the money just adds up after awhile:
But all the scraping and saving in the world wasn’t going to be enough for my family to send me an hour north to Lakeland every weekend to play against the best competition. That’s the challenge for families today. It’s not about the $100 bat. It’s about the $100-a-night motel room and the $30 gas money and the $300 tournament fee. There’s a huge financing gap to get a child to that next level where they might be seen.
McCutchen was lucky, as an AAU coach saw him play and when he found out that Andrew’s family could not afford the squad, Jimmy Rutland paid for him to be on the team:
My dad told him that it was just too expensive, and coach Rutland basically took me in as if I was another one of his sons. He helped pay for my jerseys and living expenses. My parents took care of what they could, which was basically just money for food.
This is just one issue hitting low-income families, who can’t afford for their child to play on these teams. But it is just one issue that is on the table.
Another issue at hand is the effect this has on these players bodies. If you want to point at a big factor in the abundance of arm injuries in baseball these days, look at how kids are treated when it comes to pitch counts. Jeff Passan wrote a great piece for Yahoo Sports back in June (a piece I am going to recommend you read; just click on that link) about how a high school Junior was allowed to throw 157 pitches in a game for them back in the spring. Let me put this another way: a youth whose body is still developing was allowed to throw more pitches in a game than even a major league pitcher does:
Because Colby Pechin isn’t unique, and overuse in all forms – high single-game pitch counts, throwing multiple times the same day, too many pitches clustered among multiple days, playing competitively year round – pervades the youth-baseball landscape. This is the worst time of the year for it, with high school teams trying to stay alive and universities aiming for the College World Series. Previously the headquarters of arm abuse, professional baseball is today far and away the safest place for a pitcher.
If you aren’t alarmed yet, read on:
A 2015 paper in “The American Journal of Orthopaedics” found 56.8 percent of Tommy John surgeries between 2007 and 2011 were on 15- to 19-year-olds, and doctors say that number is bound to rise in coming years.
Now think about this: would you want your child to play on a year-round team if that high risk of Tommy John Surgery could be looming in their future?
One of the most resonant messages of the silly season came from an Illinois man named Thomas Blamey. In a Facebook post that has been shared more than 70,000 times, Blamey wrote what amounted to a public apology to his 17-year-old son Matt: “After I stopped being Matt’s coach at age 14, I allowed coaches to over use him. I take the blame. I knew his pitch counts like my own SSN. And because I didn’t want to embarrass him or have his coaches think I’m a crazy dad, I let him throw until the coach decided to pull him. And often times that was after the game ended. Here is what can happen.”
All this for what? The likelihood your child is going to play even college ball is slim, let alone playing professionally. So why are parents so gung-ho on having their kids be a part of a traveling team? Unfortunately, there is a selfish response to this question.
Now before we go into the factors that might be at play, I want to stress that I believe most parents believe they are being supportive of their kids and truly just want them to exceed past the level they accomplished. Unfortunately, many times it does not play out that way. Just in the short span I have attended games in which my son is involved, I have seen a number of different parents at these games. The ones that concern me are the super-competitive ones. They normally played sports themselves and probably have pushed their kid into playing as well. Hey, nothing wrong with that as long as you let them go out and play. But certain parents don’t stop there, as they are the ones constantly pushing their child, never being satisfied with how they perform. I’ve often referred to them as the ‘Al Bundy’s’ of the parenting world. Most were star athletes in high school and never accomplished more than that, athletically and in life. These parents are some of the worst because they are past the point of realizing it is just a game, and believe they know better than any coach or official that is in their child’s presence. There is also the parent that loves the social aspect of their kid playing at a higher level of athletics. This gives them a chance to be in a social group or club, all while acting like they are special because their child is on this team. Like the parents before, they focus on themselves quite a bit in these situations and less on the child’s level of interest in the sport or why they are playing. In many ways, parents are the biggest problem with youth athletics in this modern age. I for one can say I have seen my fair share of improper behavior by parents and am disgusted every time I see it.Once again, there needs to be some perspective here, most notably that your kid will more than likely never play baseball or any other sport past high school.
Not all parents are this way but it is always the bad seeds that you remember when it is all said and done. I have loved the fact that my son has wanted to participate in athletics over the years but we’ve started seeing a shift in how much he wants to play. He’s entered high school and played football this past season, mainly on the junior varsity squad. He initially wanted to quit early in the season, but we talked him into staying in, mainly because we wanted him to hold up his commitment. When he was talking about quitting, one of the phrases he uttered to me was “…they just take it way too serious. I want to play, but I want to just go out and have fun.” It is very obvious that he enjoys the social aspect of sports but you probably won’t find him putting in extra work for it. He is just not competitive in that manner and we haven’t pushed him to be. You wonder how some of the kids who are pushed would feel if their parents sat down with them and discussed what they really wanted to do.
By no means am I saying kids shouldn’t be competitive or want to push themselves harder to win. I believe being involved in sports has had a positive effect on my son and I’m glad he has at least gone out and attempted to see what he can do. But I also feel like there needs to be more regulations and maybe a lesser focus on traveling squads. When you really sit down and think about it, if you have your kid participating in a traveling team, they have a certain set number of hours they have to set aside each week for practice and/or games. Add in school and you factor in time spent at school, school activities and homework. If your kid is also in high school, throw in a social life and possibly even dating. Then…remember how you were as a teenager. Those teenage years are some of the hardest years of your life, as everything is changing and changing on a constant basis. So you want to toss in the pressure of being on a traveling team and everything that involves? I know I couldn’t have handled that as a kid and it feels like a lot to throw at these still developing humans. Keep your kids in sports and encourage them to work their hardest. Teach them the wrongs and rights and playing these games that are a fun getaway from reality. But also teach them that it is just a game and just a small piece of a much bigger picture. I always tell my son I have just two rules when he plays: try your hardest and have fun. Asking anything more of them just feels like you are trying to accomplish something for your own cause.
“I’ve had some wins. And been knocked down with defeats. Glimpsed views from the top of the mountain. And walked through the darkest of valleys. But through this entire ride called ‘a life’ – I’ve refused to give up.”~Robin S. Sharma
Everyone knew from the beginning that it wouldn’t be an easy task. Some would even say it was highly unlikely that the Kansas City Royals would repeat as World Series champions, a title they carried all throughout the 2016 campaign. The last team to repeat? That would be the 1998-2000 New York Yankees, a dynasty of a team that even tried to make it four in a row. So when the Royals came into the season, the hope was that they could make it back to the promise land. Instead, they were forced off their perch at the top of the mountain. There was a litany of factors as to why that was, but it wasn’t as if Kansas City had an awful season. In fact, the team wasn’t officially eliminated from postseason play until the last week of the season with four games to go. There were even some positives that came out of the season that will help the foundation of the 2017 Royals team.
What Went Right
First and foremost, Danny Duffy became the team ace that had been hoped of him for years now. Duffy started the year in the bullpen but it wouldn’t be long until he was summoned for starting duty. Duffy would make his first start of the year on May 15 against Atlanta, shutting out the Braves in his three innings of work. Duffy would continue to excel, gradually building up his arm strength while taking the lessons he learned in the pen into his starts. No longer was Duffy a man of inefficiency, racking up high pitch counts in a limited amount of innings. Instead, Duffy would post the lowest walk ratio of his career (2.1) while also increasing his strike out numbers as well (9.4 strikeouts per 9). On August 1st, Duffy would throw the game of his career, holding the Rays hitless through seven before finally giving up a hit, all while striking out 16 batters. Duffy would leave after 8 innings of work, just a mere inning away from throwing the first complete game of his career. He would get that complete game just two starts later, holding the White Sox to 1 run and 7 hits in a 9 inning gem . When it was all said and done, Duffy would post career highs in innings, strike outs, walks, FIP, BB9, SO9, SO/W and will go into the 2017 season as the ace of the Royals rotation.
Cheslor Cuthbert was a welcome plus for the Royals this year, as he ended up with the third base job after Mike Moustakas went down with a season ending injury in May. Cuthbert’s numbers weren’t at Moustakas’ level, but did put himself into a solid position come Spring Training. Cuthbert hit a respectable .274/.318/.413 with an OPS+ of 93 (slightly below league average) and a bWAR of -0.2 (1.1 oWAR, -0.9 dWAR). Cuthbert could be a man without a position in 2017, but the team has sent him to the instructional league to get some work at second base, a chance to build up some versatility. Considering he is out of options and Moustakas will be back next year, Cuthbert could be dealt in the offseason; the good news is that 2016 really elevated his value in many people’s eyes.
We also got our first look at Matt Strahm and he was a pleasant addition to the Kansas City bullpen. Strahm appeared in 21 games this year, posting a 1.23 ERA over 22 innings, 12.3 strike outs per 9 with an ERA+ of 362. Strahm became a reliable arm in the pen but manager Ned Yost was reluctant on using him too much, as he threw only 94 innings in 2015 and had already thrown over 100 innings during his time in AA this year. Strahm could return to the bullpen next year, but the Royals have also shown interest in giving him a shot at a rotation job in 2017.
Paulo Orlando was another surprise this year for Kansas City, as the Brazilian elevated his game in 2016, putting him in a position to compete for a regular spot in 2017. Paulo hit .302/.329/.405 with an OPS+ of 95 and a bWAR of 2.3. Orlando sacrificed some power this year for more of a ‘spray the ball to all fields’ approach and that netted him a solid average but a dip in his slugging numbers. The Royals believe that Orlando is late bloomer and expect him to be in the hunt for the right field job at the ripe age of 31 next year.
Whit Merrifield showed in 2016 that he could hang with the big boys, hitting .283/.323/.392 with an OPS+ of 90 and a bWAR of 1.6. Merrifield saw a lot of time at second base this year and while he proved adequate both offensively and defensively, he is probably better suited as a super utility guy for Kansas City. Merrifield will probably get at least a shot at the second base job in the spring, but there is a greater chance of Whit holding down a utility spot for the team next year.
Finally, a slight nod to Drew Butera, the backup catcher for the Royals. It’s hard being the backup to Salvador Perez, as you see very little playing time. Perez did go down with a few injuries in 2016, so Drew saw some extra time behind the dish and performed admirably when asked. Butera got the most plate appearances he has seen since 2014, hitting .285/.328/.480 with an OPS+ of 112 and a bWAR of 0.4. Those are all career highs for Butera, who has long been known as a defense first guy with very little stick value. Drew will be a free agent this offseason and I can only hope he returns for another year in Kansas City. In a lot of ways, Butera is the perfect backup receiver for what this club needs from that spot.
What Needs Some Work
Let’s start here with the starting rotation. The rotation felt like a talking point for a good chunk of the season, but some of that was positive in a few good stretches. Overall, the Royals starters had the third highest BB/9, the highest HR/9 and FIP, and in the bottom third of the American League in innings pitched, ERA and WAR. Yordano Ventura and Ian Kennedy both had roller coaster years, with equal parts good and bad in 2016. Ventura is still a work in progress and Kennedy gave up the third most home runs in the AL this year. Both will need to work on their consistency, as they will be back next year. There will probably be some change in next year’s rotation, as Edinson Volquez is a free agent while the fifth spot was in constant flux this year. Jason Vargas, Mike Minor and Strahm could all be in-house candidates for next year’s rotation.
Also needing some work was the Royals bullpen. The bullpen was a key part of the Royals last two World Series’ teams, but this year they struggled. Luke Hochevar was lost for the season back in August, Wade Davis made a few appearances on the disabled list, and Joakim Soria struggled around a couple of strong stretches in his return to Kansas City. While some ranted and raved about the pen (mostly about Soria), I would like to point out here that we as Royals fans have been spoiled these last few years. The bullpen in year’s past were so insanely good that most seemed to just take it for granted. This was still a good bunch of arms for Kansas City, posting a HR/9 of 0.92(third lowest in the league), 77.3% LOB percentage (also third lowest), 3.45 ERA (yep, still third lowest), and 4.9 fWAR, 5th best in the league. The Royals have already talked about the bullpen being their main focus this offseason, so don’t be surprised to see some changes. Davis, Soria and Herrera will be back while Hochevar is a free agent, although it will be interesting to see if the Royals try to re-sign him. I also think there is a decent chance that Kansas City tries to bring Greg Holland, who spent the year recovering from Tommy John surgery, back into the fold. The pen is still a plus for Kansas City, but it will need some work.
What Went Wrong
Two items of note went horribly wrong for Kansas City in 2016. First, the offense. What was actually a strong point in 2015 (6th in the league in runs scored last year), went sour this year. The Royals offense was last in home runs, ISO, BB% and wRC+, while in the bottom third of the league in runs, RBI’s, OBP%, slugging, and fWAR. Almost the entire lineup could be looked at to blame for this regression; Alex Gordon struggled when he wasn’t hurt, Salvador Perez saw a dip in his offensive numbers while Eric Hosmer had a horrendous second half of the season, hitting in the low .200’s during that span, producing only six doubles in the second half while leading the American League in ground ball percentage. If it wasn’t for Kendrys Morales’ huge spurts of offense (and even Kendrys saw an early season slump derail his numbers)and Hosmer’s first two months of the season, one has to wonder how worse off this Kansas City team might have been. I believe some of the expectation of the Royals returning players is for them to improve on this year’s numbers in 2017, but there will need to be some changes before Spring Training rolls around.
But the biggest blow to the Royals success this season was injuries. After years of the Royals being fairly healthy, they were dealt a bad hand this season. Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez, Luke Hochevar, Jarrod Dyson, Chris Young, Kris Medlen and Wade Davis all spent some time on the disabled list this year at one point or another. Mike Moustakas collided with Gordon in late May, and while Gordon would miss a month, Moustakas would have a torn ACL and would be gone for the rest of the season. Lorenzo Cain, who was the Royals best player in 2015, had multiple stints on the DL and would end up missing about 1/3 of the season. While backups like Cuthbert, Merrifield and Orlando all performed admirably in their absence, they didn’t produce at the same level and it showed in the numbers. For the Royals to be successful in 2017, they are going to have to stay healthy and not have the level of injuries that hit them this season.
The Royals finished 81-81 this season, a clean .500 record. To be honest with you, when you consider the performance of the pitching and the offense, then add in the injuries, I feel like Kansas City ended up about where they should have been. A few years back, I made the comment that all I really wanted from the organization was a contending ball club, a team that was in the hunt for a playoff spot on a regular basis. After years of watching them lose and most of the time in an ugly manner, I just wanted a team that could make the playoffs. We’ve gotten that the last couple seasons and even this year, the Royals weren’t officially eliminated until after game 158. You can expect a large chunk of this same team to return in 2017, as that appears to be the last year the window will be open with the core group of players they have now. It will be an interesting off-season, as the team needs to build up a few areas while also taking a look past 2017 when making any signing or deal. The 2016 season will be remembered as the year Kansas City came down from the euphoric high that we have all been on the last few years. Now it’s time to take a breath, rebuild and prepare for what could be another wild ride next season. I don’t now about you, but I’m ready.