Friday, April 25, 2014

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: The Start

If we can take the start of the season as a microcosm of things to come the rest of the way, it is going to alternate between glimmers of hope and frustrating hours spent watching the Royals trudge their way through this season. The main problem is that we're watching almost the exact same team that we watched come up short last year; good defense and pitching contrasted against a pathetic offense. Not coincidentally, this is just about what everyone picked for the Royals going into the season. There just wasn't enough improvement to make them a real contender unless they got very lucky and the Tigers slipped. These things could all still happen, but nothing so far has made us believe that the Royals are anything but a .500 team, give or take a few wins. Obviously watching an average-ish team play baseball is much more enjoyable than a complete loser. However, you wonder where help is going to come from going forward and even more scary is that it's easy to see the Royals suddenly falling behind the Twins and White Sox as soon as next year. But let's not get ahead of ourselves, here is the PBR's Spaghetti Western™© analysis of the team's performance so far:

The Starting Pitching

The Good:  This area has been as good as possible so far. James Shields seems like he will pretty much go the whole season pitching 6-8 innings and giving up 1-3 runs every fifth day, even if he won't quite finish in the top 5 of Cy Young voting this is as close to an ace as we're going to get. Jason Vargas is taking over the Ervin Santana surprise pitcher of the year/make Dayton Moore look smart role. While Jeremy Guthrie is still inexplicably escaping major problems the most important part of the rotation is that we can still dream on the talents of Yordano Ventura based on his first three starts. We'll get to the bad and the ugly soon enough, but it should be stated that if this is your top four in the rotation, you can win the wild card or even a weak division. It may not be quite as good as Detroit, but the results aren't that much different. While we expect Jason Vargas to come back to normal at some point and after his last start Yordano Ventura my not be ready to be called "The next Pedro" it still seems pretty safe to say this area is covered.

The Bad:  There are innings eaters and then there are innings eaters. Last year Jeremy Guthrie was the good version of this illustrious title, however this year he's headed toward its bad incarnation. Last year it was 200+ innings of 4.00 ERA, this year that ERA doesn't look so hot at 4.7. Nothing much has changed with Guthrie, but going from lucky to unlucky makes all the difference in the world. This difference is exactly the kind of slight change that the Royals can't afford to have, they are a team built to win precisely because they aren't BAD anywhere. If the year continues exactly like this it will be hard to look at Jeremy Guthrie and say "He's the problem!!!," but if they turn it around and fall just short, him being bad instead of good enough is just enough to tip the scales.

The Ugly:  After a fifth inning implosion in Cleveland yesterday which lead to the Royals falling under .500 and losing a four game series to the Indians, Bruce Chen's ERA is a cool 7.45. This clearly qualifies as Ugly. As good as Bruce Chen was down the stretch last year for the Royals, he is still surviving by the slimmest of margins at all times. Bruce Chen has bought himself enough good will in KC to be given a couple more starts to right his crafty lefty ship. However, the same applies here as in the case of Jeremy Guthrie; a simple shift in luck is enough to move the Royals season into the disappointing category. Every year the Royals seem to have at least one pitcher who is among the worst in the league: Kyle Davies, Luke Hochevar, Johnathan Sanchez, Wade Davis and lets not forget Chen is only one year removed from 34 starts of a +5.00 ERA. Needless to say, winning teams usually avoid having these types of pitchers on their team. The Powder Blue Room has decided that Bruce Chen is off limits as far being the brunt of criticism and we wouldn't be surprised if he throws two complete game shutouts in a row on his way to a solid year as the #5 starter, but one more bad start and all Bruce Chen lovers will be foaming at the mouth to get anyone else into his rotation spot.

The Bullpen

The Good: Lots of strike outs and Greg Holland 6/6 in saves. What more could you ask for? When the Royals are winning the Herrera-to-Davis-to-Holland trio is unstoppable. These guys performing well should have been expected, but the Danny Duffy domination is really the best thing we can point to in the bullpen category. It means one of two things: either he's ready to take it to the next level as a starter or at the very least he might have found a very useful role for himself if it doesn't work out as a starter. Lets be perfectly clear, the PBR strongly advocates for a return to the starting rotation as soon as possible, but if Guthrie and Chen pitch well enough to deserve a spot in the rotation, this role works for now.

The Bad:  Way too many early season appearances from Justin Marks and Micheal Mariot. Collectively, they have done just fine. However, dings to Luis Coleman, Fran Bueno and Timmy Collins (not to mention born again Luke Hochevar) show that the Royals can be vulnerable here and are just another twinge or tweak away from AAA cannon fodder pitching meaningful innings. Still, without these dings the Royals might not have called up Duffy and if Fran Bueno going to the DL means that Duffy finally "figures it out," it's a win for the Royals. The other bad here is that this bullpen has no choice but to be one of the best in the league. With a rotation of innings throwers and a non-existent offense, the Royals have to allow nothing from their bullpen. NOTHING.

The Ugly:  It's difficult to really come up with anything ugly other than Tim Collins' one inning of work this year. However, there have been a few leaks which have led to some early season losses. Herein lies the dilemma mentioned previously: you can't expect them to be perfect, but unfortunately when your team doesn't score any runs, they have to be. This means you can't allow any inherited runners to score, you can't blow any saves, no walks, no HRs, no bad nights, no Aaron Crows and accepting that a two run lead is a blowout. Basically it means nothing less than perfection and a repeat of last season. Unfortunately, that is a tough act to follow.    

The Offense

The Good:  Just as expected Alcides Escobar is the Royals' best hitter. Also, Moose leads the team in HRs. Since this is the best I can do, you know The Bad and The Ugly are going to be hideous (But if you're reading this blog, you already know that much). I guess if we want to be glass-half-full people, you could say that Infante is doing pretty much what he's paid to do. Nothing fancy, but SOOOOOOOOOOOO much better than seeing Chris Getz out there. So that's a big win, but only by default and unfortunately that's about it for the good...

The Bad:  Sifting between the bad and the ugly requires making some difficult decisions, but the #1 thing the offense is missing relates back to the good category. The lack of anything to write there is what makes this team near the bottom in most offensive categories. Hooray, Eric Hosmer is hitting .300, but he's slugging .373 and still hasn't hit a HR. Alex Gordon just keeps making sliding/diving/running catchers all over left field and he's hitting doubles again, but he's still just an average offensive player. Aoki has the same OPS as Wil Myers!!!!!!!!!!, unfortunately it's .656. This extreme mediocrity from their best players is going to hold the team back just as much as any of what we're about see...

The Ugly:  Oh Billy! Billy, Billy, Billy. Watching Butler just smash the ball into the ground seemingly every AB easily ranks as the most disappointing thing so far this year. Two extra base hits, an average under .200, this is not the Billy we need. Just like Bruce Chen, Billy and his BBQ sauce have bought him enough leeway with the fan base to keep letting it go for another month or so before we get too worried. However, a bad season from Billy would undoubtedly lead to a quick end to his tenure as a KC Royal given the $12.5 million team option left on his contract. Also, if this happens, he will go out just like Joakim Soria, leaving us wondering if he could have brought something back in a trade? Could we have sold high on Butler and got a future star??? We'll never know and hopefully we won't have to worry about this as Billy turns it around and finishes second behind George Brett in all offensive categories as a lifetime KC Royal. However, from a personal standpoint, if we ever have to watch him ground into a double play swinging 3-0 again, we're making him PBR enemy #1! It will make our handling of Jeff Francouer/Chris Getz look very lenient. In this category we could have also thrown in Sal Perez's spiral from league leading hitter into John Buck territory or Moosey's .153 average, but really it's Butler by a mile.              

The Team

The Good:  It was questionable as to whether or not the team could pull off the extreme pitching and defense mantra two years in a row, but so far it seems to be working. Branding the team as such at least gives the Royals an identity. A relatively healthy team is also reason to be happy; knock on wood, fingers crossed, etc., etc., etc. I guess you could also say that there is a lot  of room for improvement and we just need a few players to turn it around. I'm drawing a lets move on.

The Bad:  While it's pretty irrelevant at this point, it's still worth noting that they are currently in last place, so a hot start is out of the question for now. Why are they in last place, how about a combined 3-9 vs. Detroit, Minnesota and Cleveland. So far, not so good against some of our division rivals. They'll be playing these teams about 50 more times so they have some time to get revenge, but if they keep that pace up James Shields will be on the trading block by July 1st.

The Ugly:  YOU AREN'T GOING TO WIN ANYTHING IF ALBERT PUJOLS HAS ALMOST AS MANY HRS AS YOUR ENTIRE TEAM A MONTH INTO THE SEASON!!!!!!!!!! It can't be overstated, but the extreme lack of power and overall offense is frustrating. It's not fun to watch, it puts so much more pressure on every other part of the team and we have to listen to our hitters continually talk as if the fences at Kauffman were 500 ft. Alex, Billy, Hos, hit the ball over the fence, it's not that hard, you've all done it before; 1 HR every 260 PAs is not going to cut it from you three. I realize that its not that easy either, but if the year continues like this and they're battling the minor league Astros for the worst offense in the league there is no way catching a few extra fly balls, being able to pitch 200 innings and striking out 50% of hitters in the 8th and 9th innings can save them.    

Monday, March 31, 2014

2014 PBR Over/Under Prediction Machine

Opening Day is here, the offseason is officially over. Now what? In an effort to avoid long winded descriptions of what the Royals need to do to win, or post a rally the troops piece about how the team is finally READY, we here at the PBR want to read the tea leaves for the future of the 2014 Royals by setting the Over/Under bets that will determine the success of this season. Lets get right into it, the season is about to begin:

James Shields Runs given up on Opening Day +/-3:  If Shields goes out and scatters three runs over six innings nobody will read much into that. However if he goes seven, gives up two runs and wins the game versus Justin Verlander then we can automatically assume the division is there for the taking and the youthful Royals will outlast the DL-prone Tigers to win the Division. In contrast, if he can't make it out of the fifth and gives up a handful of runs, the season is over and the Royals better start talking about 2015!

Omar Infante/Jason Vargas DL stints +/- 2: Instead of trying to make a semi-big offseason move the Royals tried the 2-for-1 30 something special by landing an aging 2B and a 4th starter. Thus the only way these two have value is in them actually playing and not sucking. That is being more competent than Chris Getz and Kyle Davis-Luke Hochevar-Wade Davis; tough acts to follow. So if these two amass anywhere near 30-50 days on the DL on the front end of their awkward four year contracts then go full steam ahead on the second guessing Dayton Moore bandwagon.

Hosmer RBIs +/-99:  We are purposefully going anti-sabermetric here because this stat will actually tell us about players other than just Hosmer. First, you have to be good to get 100 RBIs, you need to hit for some pop and this means that you actually played the whole season. Second you need players on in front of you, so with Infante and Aoki FIRMLY entrenched in the 1-2 spots in the order this number would lead us to believe that they are both having career years and Hos is getting them home often. Third, this means that whomever is hitting behind you is also having a good year and you aren't being walked all the time. So by extension this means that Billy Butler is hitting like the best version of previous Billy Butler years (last years walks, 2012 HRs and 2009-11 2Bs), i.e. KC's David Ortiz. And finally, it means that the Royals are actually scoring RUNS. After finishing near the bottom last year this would seem to be the missing ingredient when thinking about getting to 90+ wins.

Guthrie/Chen ERAs +/- 5.00:  This is a very generous number, realistically we probably could have put it closer to 4.5, but the PBR feels that the likelihood of one of these two putting up a +5.00 ERA is pretty high. In which case, they would be wasting a roster spot and replaced by the equally sketchy duo of Wade Davis or Danny Duffy. Also, it means that the Royals got shelled in some early season games and probably aren't getting off to the hot start they need to make it to the playoffs. Given Moore and Yostie's tendencies to stick with things too long, this would be a bad sign.

Alex Gordon HRs +/-25: I'm betting big here. Alex needs to settle into that OBP/Power guy we have been waiting to see for so long. First he blamed it on playing 3B, then he blamed it on hitting leadoff, now he needs to not worry about anything other than hitting 25 HRs.

Yordono Ventura innings +/-160: I hesitated to put this one out there, but really it is so obvious that it can't be repeated enough: "If the Royals are going to be good this year, they need a breakout performance from Ventura." There we said it too. If he goes under the 160 number, he has most likely lost his control at some point during the season, hit the DL for a hurty elbow, or failed in any one of twenty other ways Royals starting pitching prospects seem to do. If he gets over that number, the Royals have probably started to shed themselves of their reputation as murderers of pitching prospects.

Ned Yost undeniably bad decisions +/- 5: They are coming. Whether it be changing his lineup 57 times before the All Star Break, pulling pitchers at terrible moments, spitting tobacco on a beat reporter or shattering Sal Perez's knees from overwork, we know he is going to make a few. We'll give him five. After that, the season is lost.

Dayton Moore Trade Deadline important moves +/-1: Either he will be faced with the prospect of trying to make a move that gets the Royals into the playoffs or selling high on a lost season. We sincerely hope it is the former and Moore is looking to add the final piece at the All Star Break as the Royals lead the Division by 5 games. If so, will he have the guts to shed another propect for a big bat? In contrast, if things go terribly wrong, will Moore have the guts to cash out James Shields or others?


Monday, February 24, 2014

I guess that was the offseason

If you had announced to us here at the PBR before the offseason had started that the Royals would trade a reliever for a cheap undervalued upgrade in RF, sign a free agent pitcher to a four year deal and then give another four year deal to .300-hitting 2B, there would have been almost no way in which this wasn't going to be a monumentally better team starting in 2014. However, once you throw the names out there you realize that hibernating during the offseason was actually a good decision. It's not that they weren't good signings in some contingency based scenarios, it's that there wasn't one really overwhelming move in the whole lot (i.e. getting them to 90 wins). Since we here at the PBR are just waking up from Royal's Winter Hibernation we'll leave the "if Eric Hosmer turns into a superstar and Moose bounces back and Alcides is not the worst hitter in the league and Billy and Alex remember to how hit doubles and if Kyle Zimmer becomes Michael Wacha then we'll win the World Series" talk for another day. For now, we still are left wondering how any of the moves this offseason improve the team???

The Bruce Chen Question:  There are so many different questions to ask when talking about B Chen that it's hard to focus. Lets begin here: is it possible for B Chen 2014 to outperform B Chen 2013? Not a chance in hell. 2013 B Chen was the best version of B Chen that B Chen can be. A swing starter who comes on at the end of the season to give your team a boost while desperately trying to get into the playoffs. An almost 40 year old soft tossing lefty giving you 130 innings of 3.27 ERA. These things aren't easily replicated, and most certainly won't be bested this year. So the short answer is, NO, he doesn't improve the team from 2013. But the next question is: without him were the Royals worse? Here is where it gets confusing, specifically because signing Chen led to the release of Emilio Bonifacio. Lets take a look at part one first, because this really becomes a question of team insurance policies. Before Chen you had Shields, Guthrie, Vargas and two of the Duffy/Davis/Ventura/Zimmer/Hochevar/et. al. grab bag that was headed for Spring Training. We would love to say that obviously you give Wade Davis another chance, hope for Duffy to put it together and then Ventura gets the first crack after someone gets injured and/or leads the league in ERA. You were already spending $5 mil on Davis and you NEED to develop one pitcher from the organization eventually, so this seems like the proper course of action. However, we'll give Dayton some credit here and say that things never quite work out the way you want, especially with pitchers. Fine, sign Bruce Chen or more appropriately the Blue Cross and Blue Shield SP Full Coverage Plan. No problem, wait one problem. This resulted in Moore dropping their slightly cheaper Do-It-All Back-up Infielder High Deductible Coverage Plan and paying a $600K penalty for having pre-purchased it. So we have to ask: is B Chen really more valuable than Bonifacio? If he does what he did last year, probably. If the current 3B, SS and 2B all play 150+ games while hitting at career high levels, then Yes Bonifacio wasn't needed. If Omar Infante misses as many games as he did last year, maybe not so clear. If Alcides Escobar gets Jeff Francouer Depression Syndrome, definitely not. So now we have an extremely murky answer; Chen only makes us better if at least Duffy and Wade Davis suck AND the infield stays healthy and productive AND Chen is his same old decent self. This was the last and final significant offseason move in what can only be described as a quantity over quality strategy from Moore. Take this under consideration: Chen + Guthrie + Vargas + Hochevar + Davis = $30 mil. Carlos Beltran + Matt Garza will make less money this year. So it will be interesting to see if those previously mentioned insurance policies actually pay off or if they just end up taking up space that could be given to someone making 10% of their salary and the Royals are yet again left a few wins shy of the wild card.

The Omar Infante Question: As the writer of a blog that has dedicated hundreds, possibly thousands, of words to complaining about Chris Getz taking up a roster space over the past couple of years you would think we're ecstatic about this signing. Unfortunately, it seems likely to disappoint, even in the short term. The bottom line for me is that we outbid the Yankees for him, this being a year in which the Yankees spent almost half a Billion dollars on free agents. So I have to question how valuable a player is when the Yankees aren't willing to spare a few extra million on him when they didn't have a true 2B option AND spent that much money. That being said, I have to take the fact that almost no other team in baseball wanted Emilio Bonifacio as a pretty clear indication that he wasn't going to repeat his performance at the end of last season. Ultimately, the real question to be asked is how many games will Infante play? I'm setting the over/under at 135. Over = best Royals 2B since Alberto's Callaspo's Career Year. Under = bad sign of things to come. It's not that it doesn't make them better its just that he is a 30-something 2B who only played in 118 games last season, albeit 118 very good games. I would be the least surprised person in the world if he starts the season on the DL, still he could probably outperform Chris Getz while injured and not playing.

The Aoki Question: I would have loved this deal sometime last season when Jeff Francouer was making us cry. However, on a per game basis, David Lough and Justin Maxwell were one of the best RF combos in baseball. The possibility of David Lough repeating his Superman defensive levels and hitting just enough might have been slim-to-none. However, at least one other team in baseball thinks its possible. In the end, the Royals basically swapped David Lough for someone who has done what David Lough did last year for two full seasons (the difference is that Aoki walks more whereas David Lough has played better defense, but both come out as slightly above average RFs). Again, we must admit, for a Blog that has spent entirely too much time worrying about who hits leadoff to complain about trading for a solid leadoff hitter seems a little counter intuitive. So on the face of it we have to say that yes, the team should be better. However it will be difficult for Aoki to outperform the Lough/Maxwell platoon numbers from last year - no matter how unlikely it would have been for them to repeat those numbers - and that leaves you wanting more from a RF (nobody mention his name). The PBR proposed a way for the Royals to take a giant step forward in the outfield, but the Royals took what might amount to lateral move with slightly more predictability. So while this trade looks like a smart play, its hard to see the Royals making up ground on the Tigers (Oh yeah, and the Indians) with a RF who has 18 career HRs (and that was in Milwaukee).    

The Vargas Question: It never fails, the classic Dayton Moore jump-the-gun offseason strategy. He just can't help himself. I can imagine Sports Agents sitting around playing drinking games based on how many times Dayton Moore calls before the Winter Meetings. Now, more than three months later, Ervin Santana still hasn't signed and the Royals might not even get the draft pick he was supposed to bring them. The Royals thought he was going to be too rich for their blood and now he might go for less than Vargas. After seeing them sign Bruce Chen for nothing, Chris Capuano and Paul Maholm go for nothing, etc., etc., you have to wonder why this was necessary. Did Dayton do it just because he could? Is he the guy who buys things just because they're on sale? How many bad suits does he own? Does he have a time-share in every state? It's hard to see how they couldn't have done better. More importantly, it's nearly impossible to see him replacing the innings that Santana gave the Royals so even at the time he clearly didn't make the team better. Obviously Ervin Santanta wasn't worth $80 mil, he might not even be worth the Money Vargas got, but this is just another example of how Dayton's lack of patience rarely ever pays off. The chances of The Royals wanting Jason Vargas on their team four years from now are so slim that I wouldn't take 100 to 1 odds. However, we must again temper this by saying that it is hard to complain too much about paying a pitcher capable of giving you 200 league average innings less than $9 mil per year. This move, more than any, shows that for now Dayton (and ownership) are content to be just as good as last year and will leave the rest to pixie dust and four leaf clovers.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Let's get to work

The PBR is deciding to bypass a "wrap-up" post picking apart what went wrong and what went right for the Royals this season. I think it's pretty clear: good starting pitching + very good defense + rock star bullpen - substantially under performing offense = 86 wins. The math is pretty simple, the difficult part is how this team can sustain the positive parts of that equation, find some offense and add 5-7 wins to their total come October 2014. This is where the PBR comes in. Now that it is October, the one sustaining element we have left is to solve the world's problems as they relate to the very small world of KC Royals baseball.

Problem #1 - Ervin Santana is leaving the building: The first question Royals fans will be asking this offseason is how do you replace 200+ innings of 3.28 ERA baseball? Dayton Moore's answer early in the offseason seems to either be mid-level reclamation projects or one-last-hurrah veteran types or the ultimate high-upside injury riddled once-dominant starting pitcher. These would be the obvious answers, but we're not looking for obvious answers here at the PBR. These are classic small market team safe moves that sometimes actually work (see Ervin Santana, Scott Feldman, Bartolo Colon) but sometimes don't (see Shaun Marcum, Josh Johnson, Dan Haren). So while these might be tactically sound strategies, the PBR doesn't sit around all winter dreaming about Phil Hughes suiting up in a Royals' uniform. We advocate for more extremist strategies when approaching the market. Thus we recommend that the Royals go big or stay at home. Two years ago the Royals were coming off spending at a near Marlins level payroll, when Yu Darvish received his record posting fee. Now the Rangers have a two-time top ten Cy Young finisher under contract from the ages of 27-30 at a ridiculous 4yrs/$41 mil. That same time period will cost the Dodgers $102 million for the services of going-on 30 Zack Greinke, the Tigers $104 mil for 30-something Justin Verlander, and the Yankees possibly $96 mil for mid-30s CC Sabathia who is coming off a 4.78 ERA. What's the point? The Royals should try to hang with the big boys and shock the world by landing the latest Japanese can't miss import. We all know this will NEVER Happen, the Glass family has done nothing to show us that this is a possibility, but if there were ever a way to send a message this is it. This year alone the Royals can say that they have roughly $18 mil freed up from Bruce Chen and Ervin Santana and next year about the same from James Shields and Luke Hochevar, this isn't quite enough but it's not a bad start. Look we get it, the Royals might not be able to pony up $75 mil now, but they probably could have when Yu Darvish hit the market, and how good would this year look with Yu Darvish AND Wil Myers on the team? If teams actually knew how to just pluck 200 innings and 3.28 ERAs out of thin air and sign them to short term contracts at less than market value, a GMs job would be easy. However, Pitchers are a rare breed of expensive and unstable commodities and the Royals can't use Ervin Santana as a blueprint for future success in the pitching market; pitchers usually don't just shave two runs off of their ERA or suddenly get over past injuries. It happens every year, but if you rely on this strategy you'll never be sustainable, but going bold and looking for a real ace is how the Royals should operate. Thus, the PBR cautions against middling in the middle and either sign Masahiro Tanaka, trade for David Price or simply inform Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura that it's time to grow up because if the Royals farm system can't produce at least a #2 starter at some point, the problems aren't going to be solved by Phil Hughes. Now lets move on to the real problem...  

Problem #2 - Too much mediocrity: Here it is, you can imagine Dayton Moore thinking to himself that if you look at everything just right you can see how every single player on the Royals gets better on offense. This will lead Mr. Moore to convincing us that he doesn't even have to try to upgrade the offense other than a few minor tweaks. Of course both Billy and Alex will go back to putting up an OPS above .850 and Eric Hosmer is a rising star ready jump Prince Fielder and challenge Chris Davis as the best 1B in the AL. Naturally Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas will work so hard in the offseason that they turn into the .290 hitting SS and 30 HR mashing 3B that everyone wants to see. This is coupled with the a priori certainty that the David Lough - Justin Maxwell - Lorenzo Cain - Jarrod Dyson super platoon outfield will both improve offensively and not miss a step on the bases and in the field. And without a doubt Dayton Moore will finally solve his 2B black hole with a shrewd trade or free agent signing that adds three wins from that position alone. And if you even question the idea that Salvy Perez is turning into a Hall of Fame catcher right before our eyes, you'll be whipped with a wet powder blue jerseys for eternity. Combing back to earth, any of these things happening would be great, but everyone repeating the year they had last year is not out of the question. So again we recommend going big. While we may be losing interest in giving Carl Crawford/Jayson Werth contracts to Shin Soo Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury, we here at the PBR advise a Nick Swisher type buy on Curtis Granderson. The reason being is that he might be half the price of the previous two and its not entirely clear his production would be that much less. They also have about equal injury risk with Granderson probably going for a year or two less guaranteed money. He hit 40 HRs TWO YEARS IN A ROW. NO ROYAL HAS EVER DONE THIS IN ONE YEAR!!!!!!!!!! Okay, it was at the NEW Yankee Softball Stadium, but still if you put him in RF for the next four to five years he is a lock to have the best odds at beating the Balboni record in every single year. The Royals need a Jolt Cola/Monster/Red Bull power smoothie on offense, and it's not coming from the gang who came in last in the AL in HRs this season. Yes, Granderson is capable of hitting .230 and striking out 200 times, but he still walks and hits HRs, which are two things the Royals desperately need. He also fits the good guy-winner checklist that Dayton Moore likes and still meshes with the good base running/defense team philosophy. We recently read this in the NY Times or a similar publication:

"By far and away the best 30 HR value on the market", according to PBR Financial Advisers.

I'm not a GM, but I do read MLB Trade Rumors enough to pretend like I have an astute grasp on baseball's financial markets so I can't see Curtis Granderson getting more than a 4yr/$60 mil deal and if Cleveland can give out two of these contracts, there is no way the Royals can claim poverty. Also, getting these types of free agents to sign with us was supposedly one of the ancillary benefits to reaching 86 wins this season in the name of respectability. Finally, Dayton needs to do his best to make fans forget about Wil Myers; that's Rookie of the Year Wil Myers, starting RF for the Rays Wil Myers, officially here to taunt Royals fans Wil Myers.

Problem #3 - Luke Hochevar will cost $5 million: If you're a team that has a shaky bullpen and your top set-up man -- who is also theoretically capable of starting 200 innings -- is locked in for this price then you are absolutely ecstatic. However, this is the Royals and this is Luke Hochevar. A lot of things went right for the Royals last season, but near the top of the list of things least likely to happen was Hochevar's resurrection from leading the league in earned runs allowed one year to sub-2.00 ERA shutdown reliever the next. Also, this is the same Royals bullpen that had to keep Louis Coleman in the minors for half of the season because there just wasn't a spot for his 0.61 ERA. Hoch is just a luxury that is better allocated to other needs, we get how tempting it would be to keep him, but that kind of money can really separate the Royals from pulling the trigger on a free agent bat or getting gun shy at the last minute. We can still hold out hope that Dayton Moore gets blown away by a trade offer and we can finally say good bye to Luke, but after reading some recent comments it's more likely that he is back in the starting rotation than wearing another jersey. If Moore doesn't find a way to turn his bullpen assets into something this offseason it will be  a huge mistake.

Problem #4 - Guthrie's Backload: Guthrie's 2013 season was perfectly acceptable and he was a nice calming presence every 5th day, but it was a lot nicer at $5 mil rather than the $11 mil he'll be paid this season. I guess every team needs a Jeremy Guthrie and I guess with the prices of free agent pitchers you could make a case for him being worth it, but that number seems high to the PBR. This is a very Royalesque allocation of money: Guthrie, Wade Davis and Hochevar will make a combined $21 mil this season (roughly 1/4th of the teams Payroll). Wouldn't you rather have one ace starting pitcher making $20 mil and two rookies making the league min to be a 5th starter and bullpen arm? Sure, if Wade Davis and Guthrie combine for 400 IP at a 4.00 ERA and Hoch repeats last year, they are worth the money. However, there is a distinct possibility of getting a 180 IP at a 4.5 ERA and two bullpen arms that put up 3.5 ERAs, while singing the "we don't have enough money to sign big free agents" tune. Guthrie gave up the most hits in the league last season and combines that with the rare ability to only strike out a batter every other inning, but I'm sure he can continue to survive somehow. The point here is that if you are a good GM, Guthrie is the guy you're supposed to be able to find every year or pull out of AAA, but not the guy who is your second highest paid player (currently).

Problem #5 - The James Shields Catch-22: James Shields was exactly what every Royals fan hoped for, unfortunately Wil Myers is what every Rays fan hoped for. Without Shields the 2014 starting rotation would look very suspect, with Wil Myers the 2014 offense would actually look hopeful. Jake Odorizzi didn't pan out yet, neither did Wade Davis. James Shields is a leader, Wil Myers is young and exciting. The Royals had their best season in 20 years, the Rays were still better. The PBR fully supported the decision to go big last offseason and make the Wil Myers trade, and we still feel that the .290 and 25 HRs Wil Myers now seems likely to provide over the next few years is infinitely more replaceable than Shields' 230 IP and 3.00 ERA. However, if those numbers go in opposite directions this season, it will be less likely that we can still defend the move. The Royals can't afford to simply push on these big trades, it is well within the realm of possibilities that these two are equally valuable this season and the Royals are then left without an ace SP AND without a star RF in 2015. So yes, James Shields being the difference maker in the Royals making the playoffs this season is fairly important. Another year just like this one has to be the worst case scenario; we would still look upon James Shields time in KC fondly as he signs a $100+ million contract somewhere near the Pacific or Atlantic Ocean. By then, 2015 Wil Myers wouldn't really cause us to lose much sleep and a lot of credit for the Royals resurgence would be credited to him. That's a lot of pressure on the Royals, but it's high time we actually expect something good from them.

I think the coast is clear, I just refreshed all 17 internet browsing windows currently open on my computer and Dayton Moore still hasn't made a trade or signed anyone. Hopefully he will be getting his PBR new post alert soon and drop his pursuit of Phil Hughes and start begging the Glass family to sell a few shares of Wal-Mart stock so the Royals can enter into a bidding war with the Yankees and Dodgers for the next Yu Darvish!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

28 Years and Counting: I-70 Envy

So it's been a few weeks now, but we decided that it was finally high time the PBR got around to putting a bow on a season that will most likely amount to either  a forgotten blip like the 2003 season, or the most important season in 25+ years. Now that the season officially ended in pretty much the way we all expected, we know that it will ultimately be judged by the success of next season. It's easy to get swept up in the excitement of the best season in 20 years, but the reality is that this season is exactly what we should have expected. Do we applaud the team for actually doing what it was supposed to do? All of this came as a result of a team record payroll, the third season from two of the highest regarded position player prospects our farm system has produced, the magical 27 year old season from Billy Butler, swapping the ROY for another team's Ace pitcher, giving $13 mil to another #2-type pitcher and giving $30 mil to another #3-type, so really this season actually deserves more like a golf-clap than a standing ovation. All of the good things came with some bad: an 8-20 May, the firing of one hitting coach in order to hire two minor league hitting coaches, then promptly firing those two for saying stupid things, then begging our team icon to suit-up and coach the young hitters, then having him resign after a couple months of mixed results. All of this led to one of the worst offenses in baseball spearheaded by easily the worst left side of the infield in baseball, a big regression from Alex Gordon, less than nothing from RF for two months, very little from Lorenzo Cain (other than defense), more of the same from Getzie (that is to say one of the worst offensive players in baseball), the fewest HRs in the AL and overall a boring team to watch at the plate. There is no denying the great step forward made by the Royals this year, but it still leaves us envious of the others:

Envy #1 - The Cards: Who else. They are just a few hours down I-70, but it's like their living in a parallel universe where everything goes right. This year is a perfect example: before the year even begins they lose one of their best pitchers (Carpenter) and their starting veteran SS (Furcal); no problem their best pitching prospect will actually pitch like that (Miller) and of course their 13th round draft pick (Matt Carpenter) will step up and lead the NL in hits, runs, and doubles. Problem Solved. When their star player walks away, guess what happens to the Cards? He gets worse, and the supplemental draft pick received from the team who signs him turns into the pitcher who leads them to the Worlds series (Wacha), this pitcher was also drafted 15 rounds after the Royals pick who is not in the majors. They sign a veteran RF to a modest contract, and low and behold this player (Beltran) is actually worth the money and then some. We could go on, but I think we've made our point. Here the Cards are going to yet another World Series, they've been to the playoffs twelve times since that 1985 series, Since 2003 when the Royals had their last winning season, they've had only ONE losing season, which means that they have had exactly as many losing season in the last 10 years as we've had winnings seasons. They manage to get 1.5 million more people to show up to their games, they get to sign whomever they want, they are seemingly impervious any kind of bad luck, it's just not fair. The gap between us and them is what makes it so difficult to even get mad, but this is the team to which we should be comparing ourselves. Just 28 years ago, they were jealous of us.

Envy #2 - Cleveland Indians: We were supposed to finish 2nd this year! They couldn't even let us do that; we haven't been able to finish a season in 2nd since the strike year of 1995. That same year Cleveland had one of the best teams in the history of baseball and has made the playoffs nine times while the Royals haven't finished better than 3rd once. So how did they do it this year? By getting lucky and winning 11 games in a row to finish out the season? Maybe. By making strategic signings and trades designed to help them now and in the future? Possibly. By signing a manger who has actually been successful before? Doesn't hurt. A combination off all of that? Most likely. However, the point is that they've been down and out just like the Royals, but they find a way to get back to the playoffs and the Royals keep talking about progress. There is no real Cleveland way, and that is probably one of the best reasons to point to when asking how they have been so much better than the Royals during this period of time. They have been flexible and just not done so many things wrong like the Royals. It also doesn't hurt that they've got their trades right, while the Royals have managed just okay results in both directions; nobody can pronounce the Grienke deal a real win for the Royals and Shields cost us the ROY and maybe a cheaper version of the 5th starter they thought they were getting. The best path to success this season for the Royals might be to play the third-times-a-charm strategy with a big trade, only this time they have to fleece someone instead of the both teams win approach.  

Envy #3 - Tampa Bay: We took their most reliable veteran #2 starting pitcher, their best set-up man and gave them 90 games of a 23 year old right fielder and 30 innings of an emergency starter and long reliever. Still they finished 5 games better than us. We had a better starting Rotation, better Bullpen, better LF (maybe), better catcher, wait that might be it. The difference here is that they Rays didn't have sink holes in their team, everyone was an above average contributor. This is an extremely important lesson for the Royals next season, don't have any positions where you are HORRIBLE! If you are going to have a light hitting, good defensive SS, that's it.  You can't also have a light hitting good defensive 3B, 2B, CF and RF too.

Envy #4 - Pittsburgh Pirates: It was a good relationship for a while. We were both extremely pathetic for very long periods of time; the Pirates with their lack of winning seasons and the Royals with their lack of Playoff appearances in 20+ years. We always had each other to comfort us on long winter nights dreaming about miraculous turn around seasons only to be woken up again by the next season's pitiful reality. Then it happend, Pittsburgh didn't suck, they didn't blow it down the stretch, they actually made the Playoffs. It was short lived, but still they did both things in one season and the Royals didn't. We're still talking about next season as THE SEASON when we break the streak and they aren't. Now we're all alone, I guess we could try to include the Cubs in our company but they've been much closer to breaking that streak than us. It is lonely, but I guess we're happy for you Pittsburgh.

Envy #5 - The Tigers: I guess we have to be envious of them, they won the division. However, they just seem so much better that it is difficult to be too envious, but it wasn't so long ago that they were actually WORSE than us. During the season of our last winning record, they almost set a record for most losses with 119. Since then they have gotten better and now are clearly the perennial favorites in the Central. Since that time the Royals have gotten worse and only now can they finally at least say they're winners again. The difference is blatantly obvious: they have real stars and we don't. The gap between Miggy and our best hitter is about the production of Mike Moustakas; if you combined the HRs, RBIs and Walks of Hosmer and Moose you still wouldn't even be close to Miggy. James Shields actually outpitched Justin Verlander this season, unfortunately both Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer were better than that. Prince Fielder had a really down year, but it was still better than Hosmer's season. Torii Hunter is still a very valuable player at 37, Jeff Francouer is done at 29. These are the differences that the Royals have to make up this offseason. Good Luck.

The Royals still aren't playing meaningful October baseball, but they did manage a few interesting weeks in September and that is a good thing no matter how far away they still might be. Yes, we are jealous of these teams, but we are now close enough to at least throw our name out there as challengers. We can't wait see what happens this offseason, as we said earlier this season only means something if next season is better.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The September Issue: Peaks and Valleys

Full disclosure here, I've written and now rewritten this post before. I almost gloated about forecasting the end of the season (see last post) as the team got swept at home by the lowly White Sox on 8/22. However I was lazy and then they had a nice little winning streak just as the Rays and Rangers started their downward spiral. Again, I almost wrote about the inevitable end when James Shields looked like the Anti-Big Game James on 9/6, and then again after both of Nex Yost's well documented managerial disasters. But those posts didn't get written and now, more than a month later, the Royals have 10 games to play and three games to make up in order to get themselves into the two-for-one wild card game. Without getting too deep into the analysis, here is how this thing could go down in descending order from the most likely to the least likely:

Scenario #1 - The College Try:  This is where the Royals go 7-3 or 6-5, play well, but miss the playoffs by a game or two. All skeptical Royals fans see it going down this way. They finish something like 86-77, Ned Yost is hailed as a leader of men, the James Shield trade is justified, we spend all offseason talking about who we could get to make the team better: "we have to bring Santana back", "we gotta get a second basemen", "wouldn't Jacoby Ellsbury look good in a Royals uniform", etc. This is by far and away the most likely and palatable scenario. The PBR can't endorse Ned Yost coming back, but then again we also spent the entire year talking about how they were going to blow it and yet they never quite did, so we will default to results. Yes, we will get tired of hearing about how this was a great step forward and how the team is really "ready" to win now, but we'll focus on making outlandish trade and free-agent signing scenarios and hibernate until Spring, criticize Dayton Moore and then wait for them to play about the same next season.

Scenario #2 - The Decisions:  This is the inverse of the first. This is where the Royals go no better than 5-5, maybe 3-7, and we fans with short memories can start the fire Ned Yost riots. We could easily go out and get swept in the last homestand of the season this weekend against the Rangers, become out of the race and play apathetic baseball the rest of the way. This is an option we have to broach, even though it is the most difficult to stomach from the fan's perspective. This is where we get to see some intense panic after the season; Ned Yost gets fired and we fork over $120 million to resign Santana and pick-up Hunter Pence. This is just too drastic, nobody wants to see this happen.

Scenario #3 - The Vengeful Royal:  The Royals sweep the Rangers this weekend on their way to slipping into wild card. Meanwhile the the Indians choke, but the Rays limp in but finish tied with the Royals and have to cede home field because of the head-to-head match-up. This is where it gets good; James Shields pitches on short rest, throws a shut out against his former team, Wil Myers goes 0-4 with 4Ks, on his fourth K he breaks his hand slamming a bat in the dugout and is injured and humiliated enough to keep him from ever becoming anything more than another failed prospect. They predictably lose in 6 games to the eventual World Series champs, The Oakland A's. However, everyone rejoices and this does become the start of  another Golden Age of baseball in KC; they sign Shin-Soo Choo who makes us forget about RF for the next 5 years, Yordono Ventura does become the next Pedro, Billy and Alex age gracefully, Hosmer and Moose become 90% and 75% of what they were supposed to be, Bubba Starling finally becomes the Next George Brett, there is never another negative word written about Dayton Moore and the PBR is picked up by ESPN for exclusive Royals coverage. This is the third most likely scenario because only the first two have above a one percent chance of happening.

Scenario #4 - The Emperors New Clothes:  This is where the Royals go 0-10 and fail to even have a .500 season. The Pittsburgh Pirates win the World Series and the Royals are left standing as the most pathetic sports franchise in History. Dayton Moore gets to blame one last manger, Ned Yost is fired and things get even worse. The Royals do nothing in the offseason more than resign Luke Hochevar, Chris Getz and Emilio Bonafacio because Dayton Moore is denied all other financial transactions by the Glass family and officially becomes a lame duck GM. The final nail in the coffin is complete when James Shields gets "shoulder tightness" in spring training, somehow Chris Getz wins the starting 2B job again and then they open the season 10-20. At this point Moore gets fired and is replaced by a former Marlins executive and Royals fans are promised they just need to restock the farm system and then there is a summer fire sale where everything goes for 50 cents on the dollar.

Scenario #5 - The 1980s Throwback Party: The Royals manage to go 9-1 over the next 10 games, beat Cleveland in the wildcard playoff game, then somehow ride their pitching through the rest of the postseason, obviously beating the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, and finally parade through the Plaza again. Whether or not they go the next 27 years without another playoff game becomes irrelevant and what comes next is not important because that is what happens when you win a World Series.

There will be no negative commentary by the PBR for the next 10 games as we observe a period of optimism to respect the 2013 Rollercoaster Royals. In my mind, all five of these scenarios are equal based on what we've seen so far this season.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Is this the end?

If you could draw up how the Royals were going to kill their momentum and fade back into their old ways, the last two days would be a pretty good start. Bruce Chen throws another shut out, but the Royals managed to put up ZERO runs and lose in extra innings on a fluke 0-2 beanball and SB off of our gold glove catcher. Then, as we were winning a sloppy game in typical Royals fashion on a lazy Wednesday afternoon, suddenly the defense lets the team down, Luke Hochevar goes with his vintage look and Alex Gordon strikes out as the tying run to seal losing two-of-three to the lowly Marlins. This of course all happened while the Tigers and Indians were looking like real playoff contenders by rallying for victories. The PBR has been very quiet of late, basically there is not much to say when everything is going right, you just watch and assume that it will continue, but when it doesn't you freak out and look to blame someone or something...

Blame #1 Miggy Tejada: We know it's not his fault, but basically this 39 year old was the shining example of how everything was working out during the great post All Star break winning streak that got us believing we could really stay in the race. In the end the paper clips and duck tape holding him together weren't enough to stave off the inevitable season ending injury. As Royals fans we should have seen it coming. He personified the unsustainable fluke that was our winning streak. Now he's being replaced by another 39 year old who is a very poor facsimile for what Miggy brought to the table and who will undoubtedly fail as so many veteran Royals pick-ups before him. A resurrection from Miggy is exactly what the team needed to propel them into the playoffs; another familiar face on ESPN promos that could make their relevance believable. Unfortunately, it didn't work out and now we're forced to watch lessor players try to fill his shoes, this was the start.

Blame #2 Ned Yost: I really have nothing to back this up, but when a team loses the manager is always to blame. Why did he lead off Chris Getz? Why didn't he pinch hit there? Shouldn't he have played Justin Maxwell at 3rd base? Ervin Santana should have thrown a complete game, right? Why does Greg Holland ever leave the game, is two innings of relief really asking that much? Can't Ned tell them to hit more HRs? Gordon in the four hole, again, really? Should Elliot Johnson ever be playing? Why not hit Billy Butler leadoff? Like the Royals of late, pretty much everything has gone right for Yostie, but he will soon be fair game again once we tailspin into a losing streak that ends the season. Honestly, this is pretty much the hand he's been dealt. Yes, batting Chris Getz in the leadoff spot is criminal, but it wouldn't matter if there were someone really that much better to play 2B, or if Eric Hosmer were Mike Trout, or if Billy Butler were David Ortiz, or if Alex Gordon were Miguel Cabrera. That being said, Ned is basically managing for his baseball future; continued good play would mean a big contract extension and possible Manager of the year votes, but stumbling down the stretch would almost certainly mean walking papers for Ned.

Blame #3 Chris Getz: Since his return the Royals are 1-2, can't argue with that. He is also responsible for world hunger, crimes against the state and the downfall of Network TV.

Blame #4 George Brett: Can he come back and re-remind us how to do it like 1985? If we're going to give him credit for "turning around" the hitters, he needs to be open to some of the blame as well.

Blame #5 Elliot Johnson: What exactly is doing to help the team again? No answer needed to the previous question, but now we can definitively point to his error today as actively hurting the team and likely starting them on a 10 game losing streak that will get people fired, start riots on the Plaza and lead to the team being sold and moved to Oklahoma City. I get it, he's an emergency back-up, but there are literally five guys in AAA who are better than him, Falu, Colon, Giavotella, etc.? His slugging avg. would rank near the bottom of the league's batting averages, there just isn't anything there.

The team has been going so well that this is all the PBR could come up with to blame for losing the last two against the Marlins. While the unprecedented five game sweep of the Tigers would change everything again, hoping for this might not be realistic. However, as Royals fans, the fact that this series has some semblance of meaning is monumental. If it's a success this little bump in the road against the Marlins will be forgotten, however if bad things happen in Motown then everyone will put a big red circle on the two games the team squandered away against the Marlins when we begin to ask where it all went wrong.