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What do we know?

The Kansas City Royals are a week into their 2012 campaign. Seven games is not a large sample size. However, there are some things you can infer from the Royals past behavior during previous seasons under the current administration. I’m going to make an attempt at discerning what we know about the Royals already, and what I’m not sure about.

Since Luke Hochevar got the start yesterday afternoon for the Royals home opener I’m going to use his favorite phrase; “ummm..You know?” to help facilitate this process. In honor of Luke Hochevar I’m going to list things I know about the Royals under the heading “You know”, and things I’m not sure about under the heading “Ummm”.



Before yesterday the Royals’ starting pitching has an ERA of 1.85. When your sample size is six games there are a lot of “yeah, buts”. You could say that the low ERA has more to do with Royals opponents than their pitchers. That holds up with the Athletics who might score the fewest runs in the AL this season. It doesn’t hold up with the Angels who are projected to score a lot of runs.

I don’t think the starting pitching is as bad as Hochevar’s Mazzaroesque 1st inning yesterday. Of course, the real answer is always somewhere in between. I think the starting staff will be better than we expected, but not as good as they’ve been outside of this guy….

You Know

I almost went off on this tangent last season. If you read between the lines of anything I wrote last season you might have picked up on it. Luke Hochevar is my least favorite Royal. There, I got that out there. I think it started with his holdout coming out of the amateur draft. It wasn’t the holdout specifically; lots of players do what Hochevar did, including teammate Aaron Crow. However, maybe it was the holdout and then his accompanying suckage at the Major League level. I’ve been waiting, and waiting, and waiting for Hochaver to turn a corner. Even though Dayton Moore’s people didn’t draft him, he continues to be treated like he was. I don’t know what it is.

Hochevar was starting to grow on me during the latter part of last season. He was finally becoming the ace pitcher that he was supposed to be, and the ace pitcher the Royals need him to be. Then yesterday’s bottom of the 1st happened re-enforcing my belief that Hochevar is a 1st round draft pick bust. Maybe I’m still mad about one bad inning in April, but Hochaver’s body of work doesn’t contain much for me to change my mind. I know the trade mark Luke Hochevar Inning will be something Royals fans will have to deal with as long as Hochaver is on the team.


Coming into the season we thought the Royals offense would be potent. However, that has not transpired. The Royals have been shut-out twice in seven games. For comparison, last year the Royals were not shut-out until May 14th, and did not get shutout again until May 21st. The players we thought would be producers have gotten off to slow starts. Two of those players, Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez are on the disabled list. I’m confident these slumps will not continue. Just like I expect the starting pitching to come back to earth, I expect the offense to get going.

You Know

I hate starting out on this tangent but this team’s base running is bothering more than anything. Ned Yost claims they’re just being “aggressive”. I think Ned’s reaction is just a front for the media. Getting picked-off is not aggressive, not watching the runner in front of you is not aggressive, it’s not paying attention. Even if the Royals running out of innings is a product of being aggressive, it’s troublesome that this organization believes that aggressive base running is a proper strategy.

I’m far from a Sabrematrician, in fact I’ll argue with some of their major tenants. However, one aspect I believe from their research is that stealing bases is the most over-rated offensive statistic in baseball. Stealing bases doesn’t lead to more wins, it doesn’t even lead to more runs. In fact, I’m sure stealing bases prevents your team from scoring runs. I wrote about this last season when I got tired of the Royals tooting their horn about leading the league in stolen bases. The Royals need to stop falling asleep on the base paths. They need to stop running themselves out of innings, and they need to stop being aggressive. But one thing I know is that the Royals base running continues to be terrible.

What do we know about the Royals? Aside from what I’ve discussed, not much. After the Angels series I was confident that this year was going to live up to expectations and we were going to enjoy it. Right now I feel like the Royals are going down the path of the 106 loss 2005 team filled with moments of historical suckage and comedy. I’m probably right on both accounts. Most experts expected the Royals to hang around .500. Right now they’re one game below .500. If this were a football season the Royals would have just finished the 3rd quarter during Week 1 and they’re down by a field goal. As fans that’s something we need to remember.

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2012 Opening Day: A game of opposites

For the first time since the incredible evening of September 28th, 2011 the Kansas City Royals finally took the field for a game that counted. How much should I emphasize finally? Our roommates here at I70 Baseball, the St Louis Cardinals, had completed two games in two different cities before Alex Gordon dug in against Jered Weaver Friday evening. Finally we can quit speculating about what might happen. Finally we have real games to watch and react. Finally baseball can show us why we why love it so much. Baseball shows us that when we think we know stuff about baseball, we really don’t know anything about baseball.

Coming into the season we had this team figured out. The Kansas City Royals were going to hit. The Royals were going to be good defensively. The bullpen was going to be strong, and the starting rotation was going to be suspect. Then the first game of the 2012 season starts and the game unfolded like none of us thought it would.

Alex Gordon digs in and promptly flies out to center and begins a long evening for the Royals at the plate. Jered Weaver hamstrung the Royals for 8 innings, striking out 10, and never allowed a runner to reach third base. Granted Weaver is an ace pitcher and a lot of the Royals futility can be attributed to him. However, the top of the Royals line-up looked lost at the plate. Especially on Alex Gordon’s second at bat where he struck out with three check swings. The closest the Royals came to scoring was in the 7th when Jeff Francoeur doubled with one out…and promptly got picked off. There are some trends that seem to carry over from year to year. Horrendous base running appears to have not changed in the Royals organization. It was a disappointing offensive to performance. Oh well, we waited this long for the Royals to play a game. I guess we’ll wait a few more hours for the Royals to score a run.

Fortunately, there was a bright spot for the Royals. It was starting pitcher Bruce Chen, who threw six innings of shutout ball, striking out 4, and not walking anyone. A good performance from this starting staff is important. Since the Royals bullpen is supposed to the strength of the pitching staff I thought it was a good idea to not let a tired Chen face the heart of the Angels line-up. Chen was lifted, and Aaron Crow was sent out to pitch the 7th. To this point in the game there had not been a lot to cheer about. But then the fist pumping began. Aaron Crow struck out the side in dominating fashion. This performance was highlighted by a three pitch strike out that made the greatest active hitter in baseball; Albert Pujols, look flat out silly. I’ll take another inning of that please. Unfortunately, that was the high water mark for the Royals in this game.

Crow came back out to pitch the 8th. After retiring Kendrys Morales on a fly ball to left, Crow gave up three consecutive singles before being lifted for Greg Holland. OK, Holland is viewed by many fans to be the best arm in the bullpen. If anyone is going to put this fire out it’s Greg Holland. Instead, Alcides Escobar mishandled a weak grounder from Peter Bourjos allowing a run to score and keeping the bases loaded. Erick Aybar was the next hitter who uncorked a triple down the right field line and that was your ball game. The Angels beat the Royals on Opening Day 5-0.

This game just goes to show that in baseball anything can happen. That’s part of the sport’s mystery. This was a game of opposites for the Royals. The parts of the team we thought would be strengths; bullpen, offense, and defense let us down. The part we thought was suspect, the starting pitching, gave us something to cheer about. It’s too early to tell if this is a trend to buck the prevalent thinking, or it’s a one game, or even an entire series anomaly.

This was just one game of 162. It has been said that during a baseball season a team will win 50 games, lose 50 games, and their season will be decided with the middle 62 games. While I’m still irritated that Aaron Crow and Greg Holland didn’t hold down their end of the bargain. You have to remember the Royals did not score any runs for their pitchers. Because the Royals got shutout I have to put this game in the 50 they were going to lose anyway. Not every pitcher will be tough as Jered Weaver. It’s just tough when it’s the first game in six months. The good news is, the Royals get another crack at winning in less than 24 hours. This next is likely one of the coveted 62.

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Does Crime Pay?

If you’re looking for a hard hitting article that sheds light on crime in sports, you clicked on the wrong article. This article might be more to your liking.

Is stealing bases worth the risk?

This article is about a different crime; The Stolen Base. If you’ve watched the Royals for any amount of time this season, or previous seasons you’ve probably noticed that the Royals organization wants you to know that the Royals are pretty good at stealing bases. In fact as of this writing (mostly on Thursday 8/18/11, all stats referenced in this article are based off the games ending on 8/17. By the time today roles around they will have changed) they are tied with Yankees as league leaders in stolen bases at 120. The problem is the Yankees are tied with the Boston Red Sox in another statistic; Wins, 74. It’s nice that the Royals lead the league in a positive offensive category. However, as a fan I’d like to see that offensive category mean something. The Yankees are stealing bases and winning games. If the Yankees are doing it, it must be a good idea, right?

I’ve been writing for I70 Baseball for about six months. This will be my first attempt at using statistical analysis to make a point. Maybe I should clarify. I haven’t actually done the research yet we’ll find out together. The way I look at it, when a team is on offense the goal is to score runs. I do not fancy myself a Stathead, but I know one thing: Teams that score more runs than their opponents at the end of nine innings are undefeated. Because of this I’m going to look at the correlation between a team leading the league in stolen bases, and see if that means they end up near the stop of the league in runs scored.

To accomplish this I looked back five complete seasons; essentially the Dayton Moore era in Kansas City; and looked at the top five teams in stolen bases from the American League. Here is the Data:

1. LA Angels – 148 SB, 11th in RS, 766 R, 89 Wins, 2nd in ALW
2. NY Yankees – 139 SB, 1st in RS, 930 R, 97 Wins, Lost in ALDS
3. Tampay Bay – 134 SB, 14th in RS, 689 R, 61 Wins, 5th in ALE
4. Baltimore – 121 SB, 10th in RS, 768 R, 70 Wins, 4th in ALE
5. Seattle – 106 SB, 13th in RS, 756 R, 78 Wins, 4th ALW

1. Baltimore – 144 SB, 9th in RS, 756 R, 69 Wins, 4th in ALE
2. LA Angels – 139 SB, 4th in RS, 822 R, 94 Wins, Lost in ALDS
3. Tampa Bay – 131 SB, 8th in RS, 782 R, 66 Wins, 5th in ALE
4. NY Yankees – 123 SB, 1st in RS, 968 R, 94 Wins, Lost ALDS
5. Minnesota – 112 SB, 12th in RS, 718 R, 79 Wins, 3rd in ALC

1. Tampa Bay – 142 SB, 9th in RS, 774 R, 97 Wins, World Series Runner Up
2. LA Angels – 129 SB, 10th in RS, 765 R, 100 Wins, Lost ALDS
3. Boston – 120 SB, 2nd in RS, 845 R, 95 Wins, Lost ALCS
4. NY Yankee – 118 SB, 7th in RS, 789 R, 89 Wins, 3rd in ALE
5. Minnesota – 102 SB, 3rd in RS, 829 R, 88 Wins, 2nd in ALC

1. Tampa Bay – 194 SB, 5th in RS, 803 R, 84 Wins, 3rd in ALE
2. Texas – 149 SB, 7th in RS, 784 R, 87 Wins, 2nd in ALW
3. AL Angels – 148 SB, 2nd in RS, 883 R, 97 Wins, Lost ALCS
4. Oakland – 133 SB, 9th in RS, 759 R, 75 Wins, 4th in ALW
5. Boston – 126 SB, 3rd in RS, 872 R, 95 Wins, Lost ALDS

1. Tampa Bay – 172 SB, 3rd in RS, 802 R, 96 Wins, Lost ALDS
2. White Sox – 160 SB, 7th in RS, 752 R, 88 Wins, 2nd in ALC
3. Oakland – 156 SB, 11th in RS, 663 R, 81 Wins, 2nd in ALW
4. Seattle – 142 SB, 14th in RS, 513 R, 61 Wins, 4th in ALW
5. Texas – 123 SB, 4th in RS, 787 R, 90 Wins, World Series Runner-Up

The average rank in runs scored is 7.16, or a little worse than half. Average number of wins is 84.8, might win you a bad division. There are two World Series runner-ups in this group. There are the 2010 Mariners, who were one of the worst offensive teams in several years. Ten of the teams made the play-offs. There is no correlation between stealing bases and scoring runs, and there is even less correlation to overall team success. When I look at who the teams are on this list I make two observations. The first, teams with bad offenses use the stolen base to make up for their line-up’s weaknesses. As you can tell this doesn’t work that well. The stolen base will not make up for a weak offense. The second, is teams with good offenses do everything well, and will use the stolen base get better.

It’s obvious the Royals strategy to be aggressive on the base paths is coming from the front office. I thought the problem was a Trey Hillman thing, but Ned Yost has been even more aggressive. The Royals were 6th in stolen bases last season, see how well that worked out? Now that we have some evidence that stealing bases is a break even proposition at best. Let’s try and figure out if attempting a crime spree is hurting the offense.

I tried to find a statistic of caught stealing runners that would eventually score had they remained at first and their out not been recorded. But apparently I’m not smart enough to find it. If someone knows where I can find it send me an email. I find it hard to believe no one is tracking this. But no fear, we’ll see if the Royals have enough caught stealing numbers to impact their runs scored numbers.

Remember when I said the Yankees lead the league in stolen bases? They do NOT lead the league in caught stealing. The Royals do, 47. Right now the Royals are 6th in the league in runs scored, 540. Even if all the 47 caught base runners scored; which is preposterous; they would only move up to 4th in runs scored, 587. If you use the Pythagorean Expectation this is worth 2.33 wins for the Royals. But that is a best case scenario. Let’s say all of those guilty base runners were in scoring position. A base hit would score them. The Royals are batting .267 as a team. This would net the Royals another 12 runs. Throw that back into the Pythagorean Expectation and you’re looking at .60, just a little over half a win.

I’ve been concerned that the Royals aggressive base running has been hurting their chances of scoring more than it’s been helping. After going through these numbers I’m not sure it matters. Bad offenses will struggle to score no matter how many bases are stolen. If you want to increase wins, preventing runs is the best way to do that. But I don’t need to write an article to spell out the Royals shortcomings on that side of the equation.

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The Cardinals In Time: Whiteyball

During the offseason we have been taking a look at the past, giving readers a timeline of St. Louis baseball throughout history. Last time we learned about a rather dreary portion of Cardinal baseball. The team was young and had a lot to learn, but they had some talent as well. Could it all come together?

When owner Gussie Busch went looking for the next guy he thought could maybe be the one to lead his team back to the top, he found a man so similar that he wondered where this man had been hiding all these years. He found Whitey Herzog. Kenny Boyer had been managing at the beginning of 1980, but once Gussie met Herzog he handed the team over. Herzog was actually both the manager and general manager for a good portion of the season, before realizing that he needed to step back from the field to figure out what was going on with this crazy team.

You see, in 1980, the team led the league in runs scored, but was second to last in runs allowed. Usually that is not a winning combination. But pitching was not really the problem. Hitting, defense, pitching, baserunning… all are obviously important, but when your clubhouse is in shambles, you have to start there. Herzog stepped back from the field to evaluate, but what he saw was not pretty.

Whitey Herzog

In Whitey’s words, the team had, “…a bunch of prima donnas, overpaid SOBs who ain’t ever going to win a <expletive-deleted> thing. You’ve got a bunch of mean people, some sorry human beings. It’s the first time I’ve ever been scared to walk through my own clubhouse. We’ve got drug problems, we’ve got ego problems, and we ain’t ever going anywhere.” Quite a grim look the new guy in town was handing down to the boss.

Whitey knew what had to be done. He went through the minors and found players that would be able to play in Busch Stadium’s big playing area. Speedy guys with good defensive capabilities – that is what Whitey needed. 1980 was another in a long line of lost seasons, finishing at 74-88, going nowhere fast. Herzog cleaned out the locker room, starting to burn up the phone lines before the last pitch of the postseason was over. Gussie let him do as he pleased, with one caveat – if Herzog wanted to trade for a big money player, a different big money player had to go. Herzog could play by that rule, and so many names went in and out of the payroll over the next few months, snappy headline writers had no choice but to run pieces with names like, “Whitey Shuffles The Cards.” Some players were in and out the door without ever putting on the birds on the bat! It was time for a change, and Whitey was the guy to do it.

The big pieces to move would be the loss of Ted Simmons, who had become an institution in St. Louis, in place of Darrell Porter, who had been one of the first to admit a drug habit and go through rehab, as well as Joaquin Andujar, who was – to put it bluntly – sort of a nut job (Bob Netherton has two fantastic pieces about Andujar’s rise and fall in baseball). Cardinal fans were confused, but they were also intrigued. What would this new look group of players look like on the field?

To put it shortly – they looked good. The hitters did not have a ton of power, but they sped around the bases and scored runs early and often. The pitching rotation also looked much more stable under veteran Bob Forsch and new closer Bruce Sutter, swiped out from under the Cubs in one of Whitey’s many offseason maneuvers.

1981 was an interesting year in that there was a strike that knocked out the middle third of the season due to the unresolved issue of free agency. When play resumed, the owners decided to split the season into two halves, and the winners of the first half and second half from each league would play each other to decide who went to the World Series. Would you believe the Cardinals were the best team in the National League East for the whole of the season, but were not permitted to play in the postseason? That is exactly how it went down. They were a game and a half back of the Phillies in the first half, and half a game back of the Expos in the second half. It was a cruel twist of fate, but that’s baseball.

Garry Templeton

The biggest disappointment had to come in the form of shortstop Garry Templeton. Templeton had become a prima donna in a major way – constantly feigning tired when there was a day game after a night game and refusing to play. When Herzog forced him out on to the field for a Ladies Day game, Templeton moped and lazily played the first few innings, then made a couple of lewd gestures to a capacity crowd, much to the chagrin of Whitey, Gussie, and all of the Cardinals organization. Shortly afterward, Templeton was suspended and entered a hospital for a “chemical imbalance,” which was the press’s way of toning down the three weeks he was in drug rehab. Once out of rehab, Templeton asked for a trade, and the still-angry Herzog gladly obliged. He made calls, but at first no one was willing to take the obviously imbalanced shortstop off his hands. That is, until San Diego Padres’ GM Jack McKeon became angry at the agent of his shortstop and told Herzog that he would swap the two players even up.

Who was that Padres’ shortstop? Ozzie Smith. It became a landmark deal for the Cardinals, bringing in a player who would spend the next fifteen years charming St. Louis and backflipping his way into the Hall of Fame.

The last two pieces of the 1982 team came by trade – first a young outfielder named Willie McGee was plucked out of the Yankees farm system, then a speedy outfielder named Lonnie Smith was picked up from the Phillies. Smith was an interesting fielder, but he could run the bases like a rabbit. The team had wheels, and they were going to use them. Cardinal fans now lovingly refer to this type of baseball as ‘Whiteyball.’

A twelve game winning streak in April launched the Cardinals into first place, and they rarely looked back, never really running away with the division, but never letting anyone catch them for more than a game or two. They ran and ran and ran some more, swiping 200 bases, racking up 52 triples, and being a general nuisance to pitchers everywhere. What about the pitching staff? Two years previous they were almost last in the league in every statistical category, but in ’82 they were at or near the top in runs, saves, wins and ERA. They ran their way straight to the World Series against the Milwaukee Brewers.

The two teams traded blows through six games, being tied at 1-1, 2-2 and then 3-3 to lead up to game seven. The Brewers were the polar opposites of the Cardinals, pitting their big sluggers against the Cards’ slick fielding and flying feet. Andujar was announced as the game seven starter, and Cardinal Nation collectively scratched their heads. The man nicknamed “One Tough Dominican” had last been seen on crutches, having been carried off the field during game three after being hit in the leg with a line drive. How he was pitching no one knew, but he gritted through seven innings and gave up only three runs. The Cardinals smashed fifteen hits and six runs, and with Bruce Sutter on for the two inning save, the Cardinals had reached the top of the pile for the first time since 1967. (For more on this game be sure to check out Bob’s way more in depth take on it here)

What could the team do for an encore in 1983? Well… they could stink. Badly. The highest WAR for the team on the year was Darryl Porter at 3.7 – the lowest since 1906. Halfway through the year Herzog got fed up with Keith Hernandez’s lackadaisical attitude (among other things) and shipped him off to the Mets. Somehow the team was actually in first place towards the end of July, but went 26-33 over the last two months, which dropped them down the standings into fourth, checking in at 79-83.

What went wrong? You need pitching to win ballgames, but when the pitching lets you down things fall apart quickly. The speedsters were still running but their bats were not putting them on base enough for them to really score runs like they needed to. They were a half game out of first on Labor Day, then went 3-12 on a brutal 15 game road trip, and that ended them.

Could it get worse? Yes it could. In 1984 the team quit hitting altogether. They were still speedy, leading the league in stolen bases yet again, but their hitting tanked. Bruce Sutter had a return to form after a crummy 1983, as did Andujar. Sutter had 45 saves and Andujar had his first 20 win season. Several players had managed to kick their drug habits, but it cost them their drive and will to win on the field, unfortunately. A new bright spot popped up in the form of Terry Pendleton, who turned in a fine third of a season for the team after being called up on July 18.

Overall the team finished a distant third at 84-78, but it felt like they were going nowhere fast. Was Whiteyball already a thing of the past?

Angela Weinhold covers the Cardinals for i70baseball.com and writes at Cardinal Diamond Diaries. You may follow her on Twitter here or follow Cardinal Diamond Diaries here.

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