Thursday, October 16, 2014

Raising The Bar

Wild Card game winners.

Division Series winners.

American League champs.

8 wins, 0 losses.

Incredible.

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.

Incredible.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Come back, Billy

We miss you.



**UPDATE**

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.


CareerPA2BHRBAOBPSLGOPS
1st Half253014155.286.356.421.777
2nd Half218113070.309.366.485.851
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table

And this year has been no exception.

2014PA2BHRBAOBPSLGOPS
1st Half379193.273.325.355.679
2nd Half12484.302.347.474.821
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: 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:

Player G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
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.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

On Moves Small and Great

You forgot about me, didn't you? It's okay. I haven't posted anything anywhere since last July and I don't spend that much time on twitter anymore. You probably assumed I was selfishly keeping my opinions on the Royals offseason to myself. Your long personal nightmare is finally over, my friends. The Royals made some moves, and I have some thoughts, so let's get this party started.

Chris Getz

I'm sure more than a few tears were shed at The K, and at the Kansas City Star, when Getz was non-tendered but it was the right decision, even if it came a year too late. He was always a topic of lively debate on message boards and twitter. His skillset especially appealed to fans of a certain sensibility. I'm of course referring to those who grow infatuated with a mediocre player and build him up to be something he's not. I think it's called the Ross Gload Effect (if it's not, it should be). Getz's biggest weakness was his inability to play multiple positions. It would have been easier to forgive his offensive ineptitude if he was a utility infielder. As a starting second baseman, however, his weaknesses shown through. He had zero power and got on base as often as Jeff Francoeur. He was also more than a bit overrated defensively. It didn't help that his defenders always seemed to pull out the "he's better than Gio" card. I'm no expert but that might be the very definition of damning with faint praise.

As far as his legacy goes, well, here you go:
Rk Player SLG PA From To
1 Onix Concepcion .293 1130 1980 1985
2 Chris Getz .295 1124 2010 2013
3 David Howard .302 1586 1991 1997
Those are the three lowest slugging percentages in franchise history among players with 1000+ plate appearances. Awesome company.

Norichika Aoki

In acquiring Aoki, Dayton Moore did what good general managers do, he filled a hole by trading from a position of strength. More specifically, he traded a relief pitcher for a starting right fielder. What was shocking was that he traded for a player who can get on base. Aoki posted on-base percentages of .355 and .356 in his two seasons for Milwaukee. Those aren't as impressive as his .402 OBP in Japan but anything over .350 will fit nicely at the top of the order. Will Smith was fantastic in his 33.1 innings last year, and should do well in the National League, but middle relievers are replaceable.

Jason Vargas

I'd like the Vargas signing more if it was just for one or two years. But a four year deal for a 31 year old pitcher with a career 91 ERA+? Meh. Four years is long time for a player in his 30's. Throw in the fact said player is below average at his position and legitimate concerns start popping up. Moore is hoping that Vargas can be a league average innings eater, which is fine, there's value in that, but I think you have to want more from your #2 starter.

Omar Infante

Remember what I just said about four year deals for players in their 30's? That. It's a long time. Infante has hit .296/.331/.412 the last five seasons so he's not a total getz at the plate. He'll bring stability to a position that's been a cause of turmoil the last few years. This could potentially be a five year deal but I refuse to believe the next GM will pay a 36 year Infante ten million dollars in 2018. Like the Vargas signing, I'd like this better if it was for two years but that wouldn't have got the deal done. If Infante ages like Mark Grudzielanek then this could end up being one of Moore's better moves.

Danny Valencia

Repeat after me: Valencia is not Moose insurance. Except he totally is. Valencia has crushed left-handed pitching (.329/.367/.513) and he's only played third base in his major league career. If he's really not a potential platoon partner for Mike Moustakas then I doubt we'll see him on the opening day roster. This wasn't a throwaway for a throwaway deal though because the Royals gave up a useful player, David Lough, for Valencia. The numbers suggest they aren't going to carry Valencia and Justin Maxwell, two players with essentially the same skillset (right-handed, crushes lefties, play one position), so if Valencia ends up being the odd man out then I really don't understand the point of this trade.

Bruce Chen

Chen is back and appears to have already locked up a spot in the rotation. I really don't know why either. Last year we heard over and over about how Chen started the season in the bullpen so he'd be fresh during the second half. It was a great story and apparently completely untrue. I mean, if it Yost's gambit worked so well why wouldn't he try it again? Chen had a 0.93 ERA in his first six starts but a 5.73 over his last nine, so the whole keeping him fresh line was just that, a line.

The Lineup
  1. Norichika Aoki, RF
  2. Omar Infante, 2B
  3. Eric Hosmer, 1B
  4. Billy Butler, DH
  5. Alex Gordon, LF
  6. Salvador Perez, C
  7. Mike Moustakas, 3B
  8. Lorenzo Cain, CF
  9. Alcides Escobar, SS
This is the batting order Yost tossed out last month. When Infante was signed I was concerned that Gordon would get removed from the top of the lineup. I suspect Infante has an iron grip on the second spot even if he hits like it's 2012 (.300 OBP). Love it or hate it, but even with Gordon at the five spot, it does look a lot more dangerous than last year's lineup (removing Getz will do that to just about any batting order though).

Friday, July 5, 2013

Double Digit Runs, Single Digit Hits

Yesterday the Royals scored 10 runs despite only registering 6 hits. This was due in large part to a very unRoyals-like 3 home runs and 8 walks. It was the fewest hits they have ever recorded when scoring 10+ runs. Overall it was the twelfth time in team history they've scored in double digits while dabbling in single digits in hits. Here are all twelve:

Rk Date Tm Opp Rslt R H HR BB
1 2013-07-04 KCR CLE W 10-7 10 6 3 8
2 2006-06-20 KCR PIT W 10-6 10 9 0 11
3 2005-05-08 KCR BAL W 10-8 10 9 3 4
4 2004-08-13 KCR OAK W 10-3 10 9 3 4
5 1999-06-26 KCR CLE W 11-7 11 8 1 6
6 1999-06-11 KCR PIT W 10-3 10 9 3 5
7 1994-06-13 KCR CAL W 12-7 12 9 1 5
8 1994-04-16 KCR CLE W 12-9 12 9 2 6
9 1993-09-12 KCR NYY W 10-2 10 9 1 1
10 1988-08-23 KCR TEX W 11-7 11 9 1 6
11 1987-06-18 KCR CAL W 10-4 10 9 2 4
12 1983-05-14 KCR DET L 10-11 10 9 4 6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/5/2013.