Saturday, October 24, 2015

Four Innings and a Pennant

They did it again. The Kansas City Royals have won back to back American League pennants. Really.

As recently as May of last season this didn't seem possible. But here we are, about to watch the boys in blue play in the World Series for the second time in two seasons. The run through this year's playoffs has felt different though. Last October didn't feel real, like a dream, a wonderful, wonderful dream. Don't get me wrong now, I don't believe the 2014 Royals were a fluke. They were a very good team who deserved to represent the American League. It was all just so unexpected. I think the miracle comeback in the Wild Card attributed to the dream-like state. That game, man. The game 7 loss to the Giants hurt. The season wasn't supposed to end like that, destiny's darlings and all that. I tried to write a post afterwards but to this day it remains unfinished in my drafts folder. I just couldn't.

This year they played, in my opinion, tougher competition in the playoffs. The Angels and Orioles had good teams last year but they didn't make me nervous. I thought the Royals would play them tough though I didn't expect sweeps. The Astros and Blue Jays both brought dangerous teams to this year's postseason. The Astros in particular terrified me. The Royals, however, held no such fear. Houston unsurprisingly pushed Kansas City to five games. It took six to dispatch Toronto. I don't think anybody predicted sweeps this season.

Four innings stand out this year. Four innings that would have changed the future if things had broke differently. Four innings that will long be remembered by Royals fans. I'll look at them one at a time

ALDS Game 4 - 8th inning

I didn't watch the Wild Card game last year until the next day. The difference between 1985 and 2014 was that in one I was a 14 year old with no responsibilities and in the other a 43 year old who worked nights. I didn't get to watch the epic comeback live. This year was a little different. I still work nights but MLB had my back and flooded the postseason with day games. I got to watch this one.

The Astros were six outs away from advancing to the ALCS. They were at home and had just turned a one run game into a four run game in the bottom of the 7th inning. The crowd was going wild, the players were amped in the dugout, it just felt over. As usual, the Royals ignored the memo.

The top of the 8th started out innocently enough with a single by Alex Rios (the Blue Jays and their fans may not believe this but nobody saw that hit coming). Then Alcides Escobar and Ben Zobrist followed with singles of their own and all the sudden the tying run was at the plate. Nine pitches into the inning and the Royals win expectancy had risen from 3% to 18%. Lorenzo Cain's single brought in the first run of the inning. Eric Hosmer stepped into the box representing the go ahead run. Think back to the aftermath of the Colby Rasmus home run a half inning earlier. Who would have believed the Royals would get the potential winning run to the plate a short time later with nobody out?

Hosmer has not had a great postseason but he's come through when needed several times. This was one of those times. His single to right field brought home another run and, just as importantly, put the the tying run in scoring position. There was still nobody out and the Royals win expectancy had jumped to a doable 45%.

Kendrys Morales was now at the plate. I imagine if there was anyone in that situation the Astros didn't want to see it was Morales. He led Kansas City in runs batted in with 106. He had clutch hit after clutch hit this season. But he also hit into 24 double plays. That led the team and was fourth most in the American League. He was either going to break Astros fans hearts or hit a ground ball tailor-made for a double play. He did both. Carlos Correa is a great player, and is going to be among the league's best shortstops for years, but that video above is going to haunt him for a long time. If he fields it cleanly, a run still scores, but there would be two outs. Instead two runs scored and the go ahead runs was just ninety feet from home plate. There was still nobody out and the Royals win expectancy had risen to 75%.

Mike Moustakas made the first out of the inning in a ten pitch battle with Tony Sipp. Luke Gregerson came in to face Drew Butera. Butera was in the game because Terrance Gore pinch ran for Salvador Perez an inning earlier. Gore stole second and third but was ruled out when the replay system failed. Nobody wanted Butera up in that situation. He needed to make hard contact to get the ball past the drawn in infield. You won't find hard contact hitter anywhere on Butera's resume. Gregerson and Butera also put together a ten pitch battle and when it was over Butera was standing on first base due to a well earned walk

Future Royals Hall of Famer Alex Gordon was now at the plate with the bases loaded and one out. Gordon has hit eighth in every game this postseason. During the regular season he had a .377 on-base percentage and 120 OPS+. He's not the type of hitter you normally find in that spot. Gordon hit a ground ball to the right side. Jose Altuve's only play was to first base. Hosmer scored from third and the Royals were leading 7-6. After Rios followed with a walk to reload the bases Escobar struck out to end the inning.

You know what happened next. Hosmer homered in the 9th to put the Royals up 3 runs and Wade Davis was Wade Davis. The series came back to Kansas City where Johnny Cueto shut down the emotionally deflated Astros.

ALCS Game 1- 6th inning

Edinson Volquez was brilliant the first five innings of game 1. He was touching 97 on the gun with movement and was hitting whatever spot Perez laid down. The Royals led 3-0 going into the top of the sixth with Toronto's three best hitters coming up. There wasn't much concern due to Volquez's brilliance, and he had thrown less than 80 pitches. If he ran into trouble you'd figure Ned Yost would go to the bullpen to bail him out. There are situations when Ned doesn't do what logic suggests he should. Sometimes he's right, and sometimes Jose Bautista is hitting a game tying home run off Ryan Madson instead of facing Wade Davis.

When Josh Donaldson led off, the Blue Jays win expectancy was at a manageable 13%. This is a team hits lots of home runs. All they need is the tying run at the plate for a chance (see above). Donaldson worked the count full and then walked on the ninth pitch of the at bat. Jose Bautista came up next. He also worked Volquez for a nine pitch walk. Uh oh. So now the Royals were in the position they didn't want to be in, a struggling pitcher on the mound with Edwin Encarnacion, Chris Colabello, and Troy Tulowitzki up next. All three were capable of tying the game with one swing.

Every pitch from here on out would be huge, with each carrying game changing potential. The Blue Jays win expectancy sat at 24%. That's as high as it would get the rest of the game. Volquez struck out Encarnacion on four pitches for the first out of the inning. He was less sharp against Colabello and went to a full count for the third time in the inning. On the eighth pitch Colabello ripped what looked like a gapper but was caught by Gordon for the second out. Tulowitzki came up next and became the fourth Blue Jay to run the count full in the inning. I don't know his thought process on the pitch that struck him out but he sure looked like a guy who was begging to be walked.

When it was all said and done Volquez had faced five hitters. He walked two, struck out two, and threw 37 pitches. His Houdini act gave Yost the confidence to let him try a similar escape in the sixth inning of game 5. That one backfired and Toronto ended up scoring 4 runs.

I'm not entirely sure but I think the 6th inning of game 1 took about two years off my life. I don't think a person is supposed to hold his breath for thirty minutes.

ALCS Game 2 - 7th inning

As unlikely as the comeback in Houston was, this one was even unlikelier. David Price was dealing. After Escobar's leadoff single he retired the next eighteen hitters. Toronto entered the inning leading 3-0 and had an 88% win expectancy. The bottom of the 7th started off with a bloop into right field by Ben Zobrist. Miscommunication between Bautista and Ryan Goins allowed the first out to fall in for a leadoff single.

Lorenzo Cain, as he always seems to do, followed with a single to right field. Four pitches before, Price stepped to the mound with a three run lead. He was now facing the tying run, Eric Hosmer. Tom Verducci wrote an article for Sports Illustrated about how the Royals advanced scouting had picked up Price tipping his changeup. It's an informative piece partially about this inning. Like he's done many times in his postseason career, Hosmer stepped up. His single on a changeup brought home Zobrist and put Cain on third. With runners on the corners and nobody out the Royals win expectancy had jumped from 12% to 44%.

Remember when I mentioned Morales and double plays? Rusty Kuntz was ahead of it. He sent Hosmer and a ground ball up the middle only retired one instead of two. Cain scored and the tying run was on second base with one out. Moustakas came up next and drove a Price changeup into center field. Hosmer scored from second base and the game was tied. Perez came up next but struck out for the second out of the inning.

One way or another, Gordon would probably have been the last batter Price faced. The Royals win expectancy was now north of 50%. A battle of the bullpens would heavily favor the one with a cyborg. Gordon worked the count full before driving Price's eighth pitch into the gap in right-center. Moustakas scored the go ahead run and Price exited on the hook for another playoff loss.

Aaron Sanchez came on to face the suddenly rejuvenated Rios. Interesting enough, the same situation would play out in game 6 with the same result. A Rios single would turn a 1 run game into a 2 run game. After Escobar made the final out, the Blue Jays left the field trailing 5-3. Kelvin Herrera and Davis closed it out and the Royals were two wins away from returning to the World Series

ALCS Game 6 - 9th inning

Even with the two improbable comebacks, and Johnny Cueto's gem in game 5 of the ALDS, this might have been the most entertaining game of Kansas City's postseason. Moose's controversial home run, Bautista's game tying home run, Cain's mad dash to home, I'm telling you, this game had it all.

Davis entered in the eighth inning because Madson failed to protect the lead. Yost wanted to avoid bringing him due to an impending weather delay. When the rain departed, and play resumed, Cain and Hosmer teamed up for an LCS moment that will be talked about for decades. The Royals led 4-3 when Davis took the mound in the top of the 9th inning. The Royals win expectancy was at 84%. The heart of Toronto's came up the inning before so things looked set up for an uneventful ending to the game.

Russell Martin led off with a single and was removed for Dalton Pompey. The tying run was on base and was fast. That Pompey would be allowed to steal not one, but two bases, is somewhat amazing. With the tying run on third, and no outs, Davis walked Kevin Pillar. The Royals win expectancy had fallen to 45.

Dioner Navarro pinch hit for Ryan Goins. With the count 1 and 1, Davis threw a pitch that looked outside but was called a strike. Recognizing the zone had widened Davis went to the same location. Navarro swung and missed for out number one. Pillar stole second base and now the go ahead was in scoring position for Ben Revere. With the count 2 and 1, Davis again went to his favorite new location and was rewarded with a called strike 2. Davis came inside on the next pitch, but instead of taking ball 3, Revere swung and missed for the second out.

This series was destined to come down to Josh Donaldson. It was inevitable from the moment he took issue with being pitched inside by Royals pitchers during the regular season. Donaldson had a good series. I mean, not Alex Rios good, but still good. Earlier in the game he hit an absolute missile to Moustakas. This time, with his team's season on the line, all he could muster was a ground ball. For the second straight year the ALCS ended with Moustakas throwing across the diamond to Hosmer. For the second straight year Donaldson's season ended on a roller to third base.

Sometimes, life is fair.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The best of the worst

Five times in Royals history a pitcher has tossed 100+ innings with an ERA+ below 70. Right now Jeremy Guthrie, with his 118.2 innings and 69 ERA+, is poised to become the sixth member of this notorious list.

Rk Player ERA+ IP Year
1 Jeremy Guthrie 69 118.2 2015
2 Luke Hochevar 68 143.0 2009
3 Rich Gale 67 101.2 1981
4 Brian Bannister 66 127.2 2010
5 Mike Hedlund 63 113.0 1972
6 Jose Lima 63 168.2 2005
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/13/2015.

As bad as Guthrie's been this year he's been even worse of late. In his last five starts he's sporting a 7.14 ERA and has allowed a mind boggling 65 base runners in 29 innings.

Rk Gcar Gtm Date IP H R ER BB SO
17 292 82 Jul 8 6.0 8 4 3 4 3
18 293 89 Jul 18 5.0 9 3 3 1 3
19 294 95 Jul 24 7.0 11 4 4 2 3
20 295 100 Jul 29 5.1 10 8 7 1 3
21 296 109 Aug 8 5.2 10 6 6 1 1
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 8/13/2015.

You have to believe he is fighting for his rotation life. The Royals can win the Central with Guthrie taking the mound every fifth day but this team needs to finish the season with the American League's best record. An ALCS game 7 in Toronto would not be ideal.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Great Royals seasons according to random internet guy

One of the more popular things happening on twitter this year is people pointing out the difference between Kendrys Morales and Billy Butler. Specifically, what Morales is doing right now compared to what Butler did last season. These same people are suspiciously quiet on Alex Rios/Nori Aoki and Omar Infante/Johnny Giavotella, but that's a post I'll never write for another day.

Butler was the opposite of good in 2014, and 2015 has been more of the same. He is clearly on the downside of his career at just 29 years of age. It's heartbreaking. Fans, and Royals management, railed on Butler almost his entire time in Kansas City. How often did we hear about how sweet roster flexibility would be without a full time DH? When push came to shove though, Dayton Moore decided he'd rather have a legitimate bat instead of a rotation of backup players getting 4 plate appearances every game.

Enter Morales.

He's shown last year was a fluke and has bounced back in a big way. Which brings me to random internet guy (known as RIG from here on out). Every other day something is retweeted into my timeline about how much better Morales is than Butler. The tweet that inspired this post mentioned that Morales is on pace for 20 home runs, 40 doubles, and 100 RBIs - an arbitrary series of stats Butler never accomplished in a Royals uniform. He did come close a couple times. He was 7 RBIs short in 2009 and a home run and 5 RBIs short in 2011. He just couldn't nail down those nice round numbers baseball fans so enjoy.

RIG's trolling got me wondering how many such seasons have been achieved in Royals history. I assumed it had happened many times which is why RIG highlighted Butler's failure. Yeah, not so much. There have only been seven seasons of 20+ HR, 40+ 2B, 100+ RBI by a Royal.

Before I get to those seasons here's a list of players, who like Butler, were unable to achieve this seemingly simple accomplishment:

John Mayberry
Danny Tartabull
Al Cowens
Amos Otis


Alex Gordon
Eric Hosmer
Mike Moustakas
Jose Guillen

You're probably wondering why I put Guillen on there. Here's why - in 2008 he was 3 RBIs short of joining this club. His OPS+ that year was 95. Butler's OPS+ last year was 96. Judging players by RBIs will always be stupid. Stop doing that.

Rk Player Year 2B HR RBI OPS+
1 Carlos Beltran 2002 44 29 105 114
2 Jermaine Dye 2000 41 33 118 135
3 Jermaine Dye 1999 44 27 119 120
4 Mike Sweeney 1999 44 22 102 129
5 George Brett 1988 42 24 103 149
6 Hal McRae 1982 46 27 133 147
7 George Brett 1979 42 23 107 148
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/2/2015.

There are some great seasons listed above but they're not the greatest. Brett's 1988 season is the only one that cracks the top 10 in highest OPS+ seasons and it sits exactly 10th, which means noticeably absent are his four best OPS+ years.

Rk Player OPS+ Year 2B HR RBI
1 George Brett 203 1980 33 24 118
2 George Brett 179 1985 38 30 112
6 George Brett 158 1983 38 25 93
7 George Brett 153 1990 45 14 87
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/2/2015.

I think that might be enough to prove RIG's assortment of numbers aren't all that telling. By the way, Butler had four seasons with an OPS+ higher than Morales' current 124.

Moore did the right thing by not picking up Butler's option, and though I didn't love the Morales signing, he was a good bounce back candidate. It's worked out well, and I'm thrilled, but his season doesn't diminish the numbers Butler put up as a Royal.

What I'm saying is this, it's okay to appreciate Morales this year without trashing Butler's time in Kansas City.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Raising The Bar

Wild Card game winners.

Division Series winners.

American League champs.

8 wins, 0 losses.


Fans had different expectations when the playoffs begin. Some were just happy to be here and would have been content with a WC, LDS, or LCS loss. The Royals had made the playoffs. The years of wandering through the desert had finally come to an end. Others looked at the matchups and thought if the Tigers could be avoided a World Series appearance was a real possibility. Whatever the expectation, I don't think anyone predicted an undefeated run through the American League contenders. And now, we're at a point we never expected to be when the team was 48-50, or down 7-3 in the 8th inning of the WC game, an appearance in the Fall Classic isn't enough. We want the Royals to bring home the title.

The last two and a half weeks have been...........something. Improbable is the right word but even it fails to properly describe all that has transpired. We expected the team play good defense but one back breaking gem after another seemed to deflate their opponents. The Angels appeared to know their destiny when they could barely muster a fight in game 3 of the LDS. The Orioles displayed no passion, and looked as if they were merely embracing the inevitable, in games 3 and 4 of the LCS.

If Orioles players were truly offended by Jeremy Guthrie's t-shirt then that was the most energy they showed after the series swung back to Kansas City. They had a grand total of 7 hits in the two games. Games started by Guthrie and Jason Vargas, pitchers who gave up over 9 hits every 9 innings during the season. They weren't exactly sharp either. They walked 5 in 10.1 combined innings yet not one of those free passes resulted in a run.

Both starters departed the game before the 6th inning, despite each giving up just 1 run and throwing less than 100 pitches. That's Ned Yost, the dunce, changing tactics for the postseason. He pulled a pitcher in similar circumstances just five times during the regular season and here he was doing it two days in a row in the LCS. I couldn't have been more proud.

Yost made a few decisions I didn't agree with but overall he's done a great job. Of course that's easier to do when Raul Ibanez isn't available to pinch hit or randomly start, or when Aaron Crow isn't sitting in the bullpen waiting for the call. The roster constructed for the playoffs was ideal and allowed Yost to pull the right strings. He's now four wins away from a guaranteed place in the Royals Hall of Fame and an eventual number retirement ceremony. Amazing. Yosted indeed.

I can't praise roster construction without giving credit to Dayton Moore. I mocked the process, you mocked the process, we all mocked the process. Look, it was easy and justifiable. He was preaching patience to a fanbase tired of 90+ loss seasons. And then he acquired Yuniesky Betancourt, twice. He could have used better words is what I'm saying. He had his hands in two of the biggest trades in all of baseball this decade. Both were heavily criticized, but now, well, where would the Royals be without Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, James Shields, and Wade Davis?

I liked the Zack Greinke trade then and I like it even more now. I was less than pleased when Moore traded Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi. Okay, I was downright mean. I always maintained, though, that a postseason appearance before Shields departs would make the trade worth it. See how low this organization reduced my expectations? A WC loss would have justified losing six years each of Myers and Odorizzi. That trade worked out so well because it partially didn't work out. Davis was brought here to start and failed miserably in that role. Shields has been everything he was expected to be in his two seasons. During the regular season that is. We're still waiting for him to live up to his unjustified nickname in the playoffs. The World Series is the perfect time to shine in a big game.

Allard Baird will have his fingerprints on the roster as long as Billy Butler and Alex Gordon are around. Baird's boys they may be but it was Moore who signed them to long term contracts. Butler has long been the whipping boy, for reasons I'll never understand, and will likely be playing elsewhere next year. At this point it wouldn't make much financial sense to pick up his 12.5 million dollar team option for 2015. You have no idea how much it wounds me to write those words. Moore may have randomly criticized Butler from time to time but he never traded him.

He never traded Gordon either, even when it might have been understandable before the 2011 season. Gordon went from unlucky to bionic that year and has established himself as the best left fielder in baseball. 24 of his 28.6 Wins Above Replacement have come in the last four seasons. If he was a no brainer Royals Hall of Famer before he provided his October moment then he's a legend now.

Moore didn't stick with Chris Getz, or Betancourt, or Kyle Davies, or Jeff Francoeur, or, well, you see where I'm going with this. He made mistakes, whether he admitted them or not, but eventually he moved on from those mistakes. He built a World Series roster, and one that has relatively few flaws. After the disaster of the 2009 season I didn't think he was capable of such a thing. If you recall, 2009 was the first year they went for it during his regime. They lost 97 games despite a breakout year from Butler and a Cy Young winning season from Greinke.

A less patient owner would have fired Moore but David Glass possessed the patience that many fans did not. It will be interesting to see how Glass reacts to a losing season in the future. He's tasted winning now and has seen his stadium full of passionate fans. I suspect he'll react less favorably to another plea for patience. Moore, if he stays, will now have the added pressure of making sure the team contends every single year.

He's made some truly mind boggling moves along the way, but now, he's put together a roster more than capable of winning four more times this month.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Come back, Billy

We miss you.


A few hours after I posted the above plea, this happened:

The next day this happened:

Since the evening of July 25th Butler has hit .344/.378/.548 with 4 home runs in 98 plate appearances. Anyone who has followed Butler's career with more than a passing interest knows this is just par for the course - he's always hit better in the second half.

1st Half253014155.286.356.421.777
2nd Half218113070.309.366.485.851
Provided by View Original Table

And this year has been no exception.

1st Half379193.273.325.355.679
2nd Half12484.302.347.474.821
Provided by View Original Table

Welcome back, Billy. Please stay.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Will To Lose

Remember all those times we joked that Ned Yost would rather lose than use Greg Holland in a tied game on the road? Even though it didn't work out, we applauded Yost's use of Holland on opening day. Maybe, just maybe, it signaled the dawn of a new Ned. It was a nice dream but, after last night's brutal loss, the Royals' skipper served up a dose of reality.
He also added that he's got "confidence in everybody down there". Maybe he shouldn't. It was fine to bring in Louis Coleman to face Nelson Cruz. Coleman has struck out 31% of the right-handed hitters he's faced in his career and has held them to a .191/.281/.355 line. He's fared less well against left-handed hitters. They now hit .243/.324/.442 against him while striking out 21% of the time. When Nick Markakis came to the plate it was time to bring in Holland. He's been tough on hitters of both persuasions, .216/.275/.315 vs RHB, and .192/.278/.281 vs LHB. But the game was tied, and Ned wasn't going there. The Royals lost but at least Holland wasn't wasted in non-save situation.

Knowing Ned, he'll likely reverse course and do the opposite the first chance he gets. The damage has been though. The Royals lost a game because Yost didn't really want to win. That may be a snarky and simplistic interpretation but I don't care. Kansas City fans deserve better than what's being forced upon us. The Royals haven't been to the playoffs since 1985 but management, and the team's broadcasters, continually criticize the impatience of the fanbase. They honestly believe that negativity on twitter affect the play on the field. That's just crazy, right? They sell us that garbage even though each season we are told this is the year they are going for it. Yes I'm impatient and I earned that impatience the hard way. Want me to lose that impatience? Then try to win them all and give me some postseason baseball.

Try to win them all, Ned. Try to win them all.


A small, but vocal, segment of the fanbase are rejoicing in Billy Butler's struggles. They have been saying since 2009 that he's a terrible hitter and they now feel this is their I told you so moment. It's all just so ridiculous. Here's where Butler ranked in OPS+ from 2009-2013 among American League hitters with 2000+ plate appearances:

Rk Player OPS+ PA From To
1 Miguel Cabrera 171 3370 2009 2013
2 Jose Bautista 148 2669 2009 2013
3 Joe Mauer 143 2672 2009 2013
4 David Ortiz 142 2821 2009 2013
5 Evan Longoria 138 2911 2009 2013
6 Robinson Cano 137 3429 2009 2013
7 Shin-Soo Choo 133 2375 2009 2012
8 Josh Hamilton 130 2746 2009 2013
9 Carlos Santana 130 2101 2010 2013
10 Adrian Beltre 129 2987 2009 2013
11 Edwin Encarnacion 129 2335 2009 2013
12 Mike Napoli 129 2369 2009 2013
13 Billy Butler 128 3370 2009 2013
That's pretty good and really shows the ignorance of the anti-Butler cult. Since all he does is hit, they say it's his job to hit 30 home runs every year (even though no hitter in team history could manage that). I say since all he does is hit then it's job to get on base. Here's where he ranks in on-base percentage in the same time frame:

Rk Player OBP PA From To
1 Miguel Cabrera .419 3370 2009 2013
2 Joe Mauer .410 2672 2009 2013
3 Jose Bautista .384 2669 2009 2013
4 Shin-Soo Choo .382 2375 2009 2012
5 David Ortiz .379 2821 2009 2013
6 Kevin Youkilis .379 2167 2009 2013
7 Billy Butler .372 3370 2009 2013
It gets even more ridiculous when they hold up Hal McRae as the DH Butler should be. It's ridiculous because that's who Butler has basically been. Want proof? Cool, let me provide it. Here are the career 162 game averages for both hitters:

McRae 162 626 561 73 163 38 5 15 85 50 61 .290 .351 .454 .805 123
Butler 162 672 601 71 178 39 1 18 89 62 97 .296 .362 .454 .816 120

Butler may well be in decline. His body type suggests that will happen sooner rather than later. If that is true, though, it doesn't erase the last five seasons. So no, weirdo, you don't get to say I told you so, because for five years you were wrong.