For KC, These Are The Good Old Days

If you look back into ancient history, say a year or so ago, we fans of the Royals were happy. The team didn’t suck, wasn’t going to lose 100 games and had several genuinely likeable players who also happened to be pretty good at baseball.

Now, our Boys in Blue are the defending American League champions, have the best record in the American League, and we are as fretful as could be. Wade Davis and Greg Holland, closers supreme (and yes I consider Davis a closer. He slams the door after Morales or Herrera has shoved the opponents out, then Holland nails it shut), have been roughed up a couple of times and people are in something of a panic. This is completely foolish. These are the good old times we will look back on.

Lets look at the stumbles of HDH. They are to be expected. Those guys were pitching such perfect games, for such a long period of time that even one with the most rudimentary grasp of statistics would have to realize that sooner or later, there was going to be some sort of regression back to normalcy. Perfection is not normal. They were going to get hit. They have. The bubble has burst and KC is still in first. So exhale. Relax.

Alex Gordon went down with his groin issue. Oh dear. It almost calls forth a yawn. I mean, honestly. We have Jarrod “That’s What Speed Do” Dyson, who has more than earned a chance to play every day. And Alex Rios shouldn’t be nearly as bad as his stats so look for one of the statistical corrections mentioned above. And Paulo Orlando has certainly been serviceable. While I still miss My Man Aoki, the team did itself proud by grabbing Ben Zobrist. And Kansas City is, here in the last half of August, 12 games above second place Minnesota with, as I said, the best record in the American League.

Pitching? Well, I thought getting Edinson Volquez was a bad move. I was wrong. I thought getting Johnny Cueto wasn’t a good move, not because he was bad but because the Royals would only have him for, what, eight starts? Ten? And at too high a price, conscripting 22-year-old Brandon “Win Again With” Finnegan lost to the salt mines, aka Cincinnati’s AAA team in Louisville. But he’s been pretty good. And did I mention that the Royals are in first place? In the American League? With the best record?

So these are the good old days. What team scares you? Houston? Nah. The Angels? Nope. Toronto? Maybe. NY? Maybe sorta but not really. The Royals are rolling and we all should just hang our heads out the window, laugh and enjoy the ride. Because we will all of a sudden be waving Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas goodbye as they head for the Dodgers or the Mariners or the Yankees. And be looking back fondly at these good old days.

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All Star Game 2015

I’m sure you’ve read all the blogs and heard all the folks hooting at the idea of the American League All Star team being predominantly members of the Kansas City Royals. I understand their pain. I wouldn’t want to see an All Star Game if every player was from New York or LA.

But here’s what I wouldn’t do: violate the Tom Hanks Rule. There is no crying in baseball!  I find myself forced to agree with Ned Yost on this whole thing–if you don’t like it, vote! Then shut up about it. (The last part was me, not Ned.)

Seriously, my point is that the people bleating about how this situation is corrupting the process and ruining the midsummer classic frankly don’t understand the midsummer classic at all. It’s an All-Star Game. All-STAR. What makes a star? Popularity, not talent. Paris Hilton is a star. Justin Bieber is a star. Tiny Tim was a star. You get the idea.

The All-Star Game started back in 1933 as an event to give baseball an economic shot in the arm by reviving interest the Great American Pastime in the depths of the Great Depression. Proceeds were donated to a fund for retired players. In order to get people interested, Arch Ward, the Sports Editor of the Chicago Tribune, designed the contest as one where the fans would vote for their favorite players. (The Game was also a means to publicize the Century of Progress World’s Fair being held in Chicago at the time.) It wasn’t for the fans to pick the best or the most deserving, it was the favorites. If the Royals’ players get the most votes, we’re at the end of the analysis and the only conclusion can be that they are deserving.

Now should Omar Infante play? In my opinion, yes he should, if he gets the most votes. Is he the best second baseman in the AL? Heck, no. Frankly, I’m not even sure he’s the best second baseman on the Royals. But if he gets the votes, he’s an All-Star.

So really, I think one should only take the furor and fume someone is making over the situation seriously if he or she made the same indignant noise last year when Derek Jeter played. It’s a popularity contest friends and neighbors. And if the American League is represented by it’s reigning Champions, that simply doesn’t sound like that bad of a thing to me.

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Volcano Ventura Erupts Again

Oh no he didn’t! Oh yes he did! Yordano Ventura, ace fireballing right-hander for the Kansas City Royals got himself tossed out of another game last night. KC Manager Ned Yost has got to feel something like a citizen of Pompeii, looking up at Vesuvius and wondering if he’s going to get buried every time Ventura goes out to pitch.

The specifics are short and rather uneventful. It was a cold contest on the south side of Chicago, the game was tied 2-2 with two out in the bottom of the seventh when Pale Hose outfielder Adam Eaton hit a comebacker to Ventura. They appeared to exchange opinions as Mr. Eaton made his way to first base. The umpires wisely intervened by placing their large bodies between the two.  This should have ended the deal but then, all the other players, bored and numb with cold, came onto the field because they too wanted to mingle.

At this point it was still one of those baseball fight/cocktail parties where everyone mills around. And, again, it should have ended there. But Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija decided to go after Royal outfielder Lorenzo Cain since, of course, neither was involved in the play that started these things. (Unless you consider back on Opening Day when Samardzija plunked Cain after Mike Moustakas took him deep.) Some say punches were thrown but others say that Edinson Volquez was really just acting out Billy Idol’s old song “Dancing With Myself.” In any event, Volquez punched like a pitcher and never came close to actually hitting anything.

After the dust settled, five players had been ejected and KC eventually won the contest in extra frames.

Ventura admitted that he had let his emotions run wild. And so the Big Question is ‘what to do?’ from this point on, for the Royals at least. They need someone to pull in on the reins a bit. Unfortunately, I don’t know who that will be. James Shields woulda done it but…  Ned Yost should do it and he’s probably tried in his way but he seems to me to be more of a sweet-tea-have-a-chew calm-to-the-point-of-dull kinda guy instead of a kick-ass ‘follow me boys!’ type. And maybe that wouldn’t work anyway in this situation. I mean, can you even tell when Ventura’s upset? His face shows about as much expression as the Mona Lisa or the Sphinx or Jason Vargas. He looks either thoughtful or bored, and next thing you know, he’s getting sent off for conduct unbecoming.

But they must get ahold of the reins. Ventura’s the ace and, as such, whether it’s fair or not, he’ll set the tone for the staff. And it has to be done quickly. The team has seemingly morphed from a silly, lovable group of young guys goofing around and having fun and playing exciting winning baseball to a group of obnoxious sixth graders who are running unsupervised through a museum. If a grown up doesn’t intervene soon, things are going to get broken and somebody is going to get hurt.

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The Fact Regarding the Lawrie Incident That Everyone Missed

I had thought that this post would be the last time I wasted any time or energy thinking about someone like Brett Lawrie. But since he took to Twitter today to throw some of the blame for what happened recently on, wait for it, Royals’ fans, I think I may have to beat on him some more. What a jerk. I mean really, just plain stupid.

Which is the point I wanted to make in this post. It’s the point that everyone has missed regarding this whole Lawrie Incident. (By the way, has anyone called it Lawriegate? No? Good. I hate it when people call some controversy whatever-gate.) On to the point, which is the whole point and nothing but the point, and it is this: whether Lawrie was dirty or aggressive or whatever is beside the point. The point is that he was stupid. Baseball stupid. His slide was stupid. Why? Because he would have been safe. Escobar wasn’t in position to try for a double play. A smart player would have seen that. And in aiming for Esky, he blew his chance to reach second safely, which was his only job in the situation.

Now I will plainly and loudly admit that I missed this point too so I must give credit to my friend Mario who brought it to my attention. Well done young man.

And with the benefit of this perspective and a few minutes of thought, I now see that Lawrie’s tweets are just further proof of his being not the sharpest spike on the shoe. And so despite what I said a few minutes ago, I think I will publicly hereby pledge to not talk about Brett Lawrie any more. It’s the smart thing to do.

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How MLB Handled the Lawrie Incident Wrong

MLB has handed out the punishments for the string of events that I will refer to as the Lawrie Incident. For those who don’t follow baseball or the Kansas City Royals and are, for some odd reason, still reading this, here’s a recap.

Oakland A’ third baseman Brett Lawrie slid into KC shortstop Alcides Escobar in what Lawrie claims was an attempt to break up a double play. Escobar was on the left side of the base, receiving a throw from third baseman Mike Moustakas. Lawrie slid with his spikes elevated about a foot off the ground and aimed approximately at Escobar’s calf. Lawrie was called out since he missed the bag and Escobar sustained an injury and had to be helped from the field.

Later in the same game, after surrendering some runs and trailing 5-0, Royal’s pitcher Yordano Ventura faced Lawrie and hit him on the wrist guard with a pitch. Lawrie trotted to first base.

Next game, A’s starter Scott Kazmir hit Royal’s CF Lorenzo Cain in the foot with two out in the first of a scoreless game.

Later in the game, when Lawrie was batting, Royal reliever Kelvin Herrera chucked a 100-mph fastball a foot or two behind Lawrie’s head or shoulders. He was promptly and appropriately ejected from the game but then childishly pointed at his head as he gave Lawrie the stink eye while being led off the field. Some interpreted this as a warning the future as in “I could have hit you in the melon had I wanted.” Herrera claimed he was channeling his inner Aretha Franklin and saying “think about the consequences of your actions.”

Now, MLB, in its wisdom, has fined Ventura and suspended Herrera for five games. Escobar missed two games with a mild knee sprain from the incident but played last night against the Twins.

MLB got it wrong. Lawrie walked away from starting the mess with no punishment and no injury. The Royals had their starting Gold Glove shortstop and lead off man miss two games. No telling if this incident will affect him going forward either mentally or physically. Kansas City will also now have to be without one of their key relievers, a situation made worse because closer Greg Holland just went on the DL.

The punishment does nothing to deter Lawrie’s actions. It  will only encourage him and others like him who believe that an assault on the basepaths is an acceptable part of baseball. My take is that aggressive base running–breaking up a double play or trying to jostle a ball loose–is fine, but if you injure someone in the process, you need to suffer consequences. Brett Lawrie, desperately trying to make a name for himself as he has been thrust into one of the rarified jobs of a starting major league baseball player, walks away from the damages he created (since he set the whole mess in motion) with only a glancing blow on a padded part of his anatomy from a relatively soft pitch.  Given the damage he did, this was not enough.

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Beans Are In Season Early This Year

Quite the weekend series, right? Some points and opinions:

First:

Brett Lawrie’s slide was dirty. Yes, that sort of play has been part of baseball forever. Ask Ray Fosse how he likes playing baseball as if it were a contact sport. Lawrie’s bleat that he wasn’t trying to hurt anybody is hollow. I mean, if you slide with a spiked shoe raised and aimed at an opposing player’s leg, what do you think is going to happen? In this situation, I’d like to see a rule that says Lawrie couldn’t play until Escobar did. You take a guy out, you sit as well. Penalty box.

Second:

Yordano Ventura’s hitting Lawrie was just as wrong but, since it was a punishment and a way to even the machismo score, I have no problem with it.

Third:

Scott Kazmir’s hitting Lorenzo Cain on the foot was not intentional. No one beans another player in the foot.

Fourth:

Kelvin Herrera’s throwing at Lawrie was a bad thing. It fired up the opposition, created sympathy for Lawrie and made the Royals’ look unprofessional and immature. The issue was closed.

Bottom line, I think the Royals, here in their time of maximum cohesiveness, need to start acting like a team that expects to win. If you win, perennially, people come after you. They pitch inside and sometimes push aggressiveness into violence. It is to be expected and should be handled by winning. Enthusiasm and team spirit is big. Elaborate hand shakes and Gatorade baths ten games into the season are small.

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Just Who Is This Paulo Orlando?

I’m sure I’m not the only one asking this question and no, for those of you of a certain age group, he’s not Tony’s brother. (Which I think would have made him Dawn’s cousin, but I don’t know—that whole arrangement confused me.) Anyway, he filled in for Alex Gordon in left field today since Go-Go has not been on fire (1 for 13 so far this year), might still be having some issues with his wrist and the Angels had tough lefty C.J. Wilson on the mound. (Gordon, you might recall, had the extensor retinaculum of his right wrist (throwing hand) repaired on December 30, 2014. The extensor retinaculum? It’s the band of fibrous material on the back of the wrist that binds together the tendons leading to the fingers and thumb. But you already knew that.)

It’s the second time this year Kansas City has used Orlando instead of Gordon and while he hasn’t exactly been magic, he’s been more than adequate–3 for 8, 3 runs, one walk and one K.  The notable thing is that all three of his hits have been triples. The man has wheels.

So this led me to wonder where the heck he’s been? Of course, with Dyson backing up the tremendous KC outfield already, it’s not like another outfielder was really needed but it still made me wonder.

Turns out the Brazilian Orlando is from Sao Paulo and has been in professional baseball since 2006 when he was 20.  At that time, he was basking in the glare of the white hot spotlight of Kannapolis, NC, a city of about 45,000 that lies 21 miles northeast of Charlotte, give or take, and playing for the White Sox Class A affiliate Kannapolis Intimidators. He has spent the intervening years trudging his way through the minors, helped by his speed but hurt by his apparent propensity for swinging at just about anything that left a pitcher’s hand.  He became part of the Royals’ system in 2008.

And through all those years, never an at-bat in the Big Leagues until now, playing and starting for the first place, defending AL Champion Royals, displacing Jarrod Dyson. This is the head scratcher. KC signed Dyson to a one-year $1.225 M contract in the off season after he appeared in 106 games last year. In fact, Dyson has been the go-to fill-in OF for the last five years, has fantastic speed and a good OBP.  Why not use him? Maybe it’s because he has no power. But Orlando, despite being 6’2”, only has meh power. He’s speedy like Dyson but then, many outfielders are. So what led to Paulo filling in for Gordo instead of Dyson-o? My guess is that it was because he has only played left field whereas Dyson has only played center. They are different positions but I still thought the ball woulda shoulda gone to the guy who’s produced in the past. But then again, it’s early. Good time to grab a look-see at someone.

In any event, the Royals are undefeated, 6-0 with two sweeps under their belts and a series with the Twins upcoming. I’m glad Orlando has been given a chance after all his toil in the minors. I’m even more glad that he has done well.

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The New Guys In KC

So it’s Opening Day and high time to shake off the rust and begin the random commentary again.

The Royals, as you know, won the American League pennant last season.  (What a pleasure it is to write that sentence.) The question of course now becomes whether or not they can repeat. I think it’s going to be tough. Do-able but really, really tough. I’m not betting on it.  But honestly, I don’t like making predictions. All one can really do is ask two questions: “Who is gone?” And “Who are their replacements?”

The key departures were RF Nori Aoki, DH Billy Butler and SP James Shields.

Nori was my man.  I think we should have kept him.  He was cheap, did a decent job in the outfield, ran well and got on base. It’s the last bit that will be missed the most. The pastures at the K are too big to seriously believe that we can build a team around home runs.  We need guys who can drive the ball into the gap and run like deer. And while defense is nice, offense wins games.

To replace Aoki in RF, KC signed Alex Rios for one year at $11M (with a mutual option for 2016.) He’s much taller–6’5” to Aoki’s 5’9”. (It seems to me that “real baseball men” (and announcers) always, ALWAYS seem to equate height with potential, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone expound on the values of a player and include “He just LOOKS like a ballplayer.” Oy.) Anyway, Rios strikes out. A lot. And doesn’t walk. (A 24/94 BB/K ratio in ’14.) Which isn’t good but he has more power than Aoki did and about the same speed and durability.  Rios is 34 (Aoki is 33)  Nonetheless, if this was the only move made in the offseason, I’d conclude that KC would’ve been much, much better off keeping Aoki.  (And this is even before considering the fact that Rios has a bum thumb—if it doesn’t heal, the Rios deal will bark like a sick dog all year.)  Rios will cost $8 million more than Aoki in ’15 and  has a worse OBP (.311 in ’14, about .320 over last 3 years whereas Aoki had a .349 OBP in ’14, .353 over the last three years.)  Signing Rios is not a disaster (unless he can’t play) but it doesn’t look like he can replace what Nori brought to the team.

So we move on. KC also bid adieu to fan favorite DH Billy “Country Breakfast” Butler.  I was not a fan of Butler’s.  He could get on base, but his lack of foot speed made that something of a problem. He was so slow you didn’t really WANT him on base. Now, if you hit homers and don’t get on base, you still are worthwhile.  But Butler’s power numbers tanked in ’14 and, like I alluded to already, KC’s stadium dictates the type of player that would be the most valuable and Billy Butler was no longer it.  If he had dropped twenty pounds—well, no use crying over spilled BBQ sauce.

So who was signed to replace Butler?  Ulp.  Kendrys Morales.  Oh boy. Not good.  He strikes out more than Butler, walks less, is waaaaaaay less durable and has a much worse OBP.  And it looks like, if anything, he’s SLOWER than Billy. Criminy.  Butler is three years younger too. The durability is the key– since 2006, Morales has only played 150 games a season twice. Twice. Butler was in over 150 games a season for the last six years in a row. Morales’ fragility makes it really hard to guess what he might be like. He had a great year in 2009 and was pretty good in ’12 and ’13.  But the other years he played less than 100 games. Which is a terrible thing for a DH.  Now maybe if the Royals had got him on the cheap, this would have been palatable. But they didn’t. They’re going to pay him roughly the same amount that Oakland is going to pay Butler.

James Shields could not be replaced. He logged two Hall of Fame-calibre seasons (as measured by ERA+ at least) in his two years in KC and pitched lots of innings. Not inner-circle HOF, but still superb. I think they were smart to not re-sign him though—with his age and tremendous career workload, he’s bound to get hurt of falter sometime. I think it’ll be later this year.  The NL will be more physically taxing since he’s going to have to bat and run the bases. He gets to pitch against pitchers but still, I think letting him go was the cold, hard, right thing to do.

Unfortunately though, the Royals swallowed some crazy pills and decided that Edinson Volquez was the guy to plug into the starting rotation. As Bill James once wrote: Whaddyer nuts?  Volquez has been in the bigs for ten years and has had two, count ’em, two good years—2008 and last year. 2008—a long, long time ago.  And the intervening years? He’s been bad. Not average but bad.  Really bad.  Hochevar bad. Wade-Davis-as-a-SP bad. He soaked up some innings but he stinked, stanked, stunk. I can only surmise that the Royals saw something because they threw $7.5 M at him for ’15, $9 M for ’16 and an option for ’17.  I suppose that is relatively cheap for a starter but he’s a righty to boot.  He hasn’t pitched in the AL since 2007 so maybe the league’s unfamiliarity with him will be a plus.  At least for the first time around the circuit. But I think this will be a nightmare. He has thrown 17.1 IP in spring training and has an ERA of, sit down please, 7.79.  Ouch.

So I think our starting rotation got quite a bit worse overall.  I like Duffy and Ventura a great deal but they can’t begin to replace Shields on the mound or in the clubhouse. Kris Medlen was, I think, a decent gamble but I was hoping that Brandon Finnegan would tear it up this spring and be another option but that didn’t happen and so he’s headed for the minors to work on things.  And KC is heading into the season with Edinson Volquez on the bump every five games.

The last factor pointing to the Royals not being as successful is the bullpen.  It was great last year. More than great. Damn near perfect. The law of averages says that can’t happen again.  For one thing, Hochevar’s back.  The team seems hell-bent on getting SOMETHING out of him for all the time and money they’ve poured on him over the years. It might be disruptive. Plus, history teaches us that relievers rarely turn in lots of great years in a row.  The important thing is for people to keep their expectations under control.  It’s still a really good pen, maybe best in show. But it’s going to let in some runs at bad times. But I’m not making predictions, remember?

So overall, I think both the pitching and the offense is going to be, if anything, worse than last year when, I feel obligated to point out, the Royals were a second place team. They got hot at precisely the right moment and, frankly had luck on their side.  But the changes made look like they weakened the team. Of course, if Moose turns it around and Hosmer stops swinging like a crazy person at least once an at bat, the Royals will be much better off. They might not get back to the playoffs since the division got tougher, but they will be good. (They also need to let Christian Colon play second and not make Salvy Perez play every game but I’ve already blathered on too long.)  But I am not about making predictions, just looking at the replacements. I’d grade them as a C, D and an F.

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And So Ends The 2014 Season

The Kansas City Royals came within two runs of being the World Champions just an hour ago. But they couldn’t solve Madison Bumgardner, which is nothing to be ashamed about. So the title goes to San Francisco.

There is no disappointment here though. To be disappointed, one would have to have an expectation. I didn’t expect the Royals to be in the World Series. To be honest, I didn’t expect them to be in the playoffs after September 14th when they had dropped three out of four to the last place Boston Red Sox. But then things began to happen and, as we all know, they put on a postseason show for the ages, marching undefeated through the cream of the American League to capture the pennant.

Did I want to them to win? Of course. But they played well and just came up short. It happens. There is no goat to beat, no big gaffe to curse, by manager, umpire or player. There were issues that will be discussed at the proper time–the lack of adjustment to Bumgardner, the overswinging, the slide into first. But tonight is not the time to pick at the bones because, like I said, there is no disappointment. Just appreciation for the ride. Thanks fellas. It’s been a helluva trip.

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The Royal Backs To The Wall

On the morning news today, a commercial ran for a local sporting goods store that declared that the Royals had won the World Series and that the store was THE place to buy your t-shirts and what not. We’ll just call that enthusiasm.

I’m enthusiastic too, even though KC has it’s back to the wall, trailing the Giants 3 games to 2. Why? Mostly because the Royals don’t have to face Madison Bumgardner any more. He’s been tremendous for San Fran. Plus, I haven’t really seen KC doing anything egregiously wrong. Sure Escobar whiffed on a couple of grounders last night and Dyson should have been more aggressive on those sinking liners but overall, the Boys in Blue are holding their own against the best team in the National League. They’re coming home and I see no reason the Royals can’t take the next two and be done with it.

Of course, I have a few suggestions for Ned Yost.  Well, two.

  • I think we need to revive our commitment to small ball. We should have done it last night. We couldn’t hit MadBum with a paddle. Why not try bunting for a hit? Get on, get ’em over, get ’em in.
  • I’ve said this before but it’s still true–somebody needs to tell Hosmer to quit swinging so damn hard. It gets the announcers all in a lather about what a “good cut” it was when Hos swings from the heels. Problem is, they’re dead wrong. He misses every time he swings like that. It’s an out of control action and his bat doesn’t get close to the baseball. He needs to learn to trust that a smooth swing and the velocity of the pitch have enough combined power to get the ball out of the park.

Basically, it seems to me that the Giants are just doing what KC did in their march through the pre-Fall Classic postseason. Bloop hits are falling in. Beautiful bunts are being laid down. Pitches that should be taken for balls are being whacked for hits. Stellar defensive plays are being made. I’m not saying they have been lucky really, any more than the Royals have been. Those kinds of things happen in baseball. And since they do, they can happen for Kansas City.

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