Tag Archive | "Red Sox"

Pete Kozma is the new Yadier Molina?

PeteKozma

This Labor Day weekend I was doing what I do pretty much every weekend during the season, watching baseball. I was listening to Dan McLaughlin and Ricky Horton call a Cardinals/Pirates game, which oftentimes is a chore. Now I realize the play-by-play guys are not there to get too analytical about what’s right and wrong with the Cardinals. I understand they are there to entertain and help add something to the game for people who just want to watch baseball. If you are reading this article, or any article online that you had to search for because you have a longing to learn more about baseball, you probably do not find the broadcasters of any team to be particularly deep. So I’m not picking on them. I understand their role. But regardless, they kept repeating something about a certain player that I found to be especially appalling. The same player who I cringe at when I hear any defense for.

Pete Kozma.

I don’t get Kozma. More so, I don’t get what St Louis feels it owes him. I was one who wanted The Cardinals to go after Stephen Drew in the off-season, as Rafael Furcal was aging and becoming too injury prone. After Drew signed with The Red Sox, and a few months later Furcal was reported to miss the entire ’13 season, the general consensus seemed to be that The Cardinals would be okay with Kozma at shortstop.

The season starts and the talking point with McLaughlin and co. was that he was going to surprise everyone, he was going to be better than we expect and any production we get from him will be a benefit (whatever sense that makes). Kozma started off relatively hot, and his defenders felt justified. But soon after, reality caught up. His numbers started plummeting. But, if you squinted, they at least weren’t  completely horrible. Then the talking point from McLaughlin and co. was that he was a number 8 hitter and his numbers were in line with other number 8 hitters, so what do you expect? Stop complaining. They basically made it clear that if anyone complained about him, they were picking on the poor guy.

But of course his numbers kept getting even worse and worse. Writers such as Bernie Miklasz of The Post-Dispatch (who has anyone noticed he is going through a full transformation into a sabermetrician this last year?) decided they were done defending him. The die-hard Cardinal fans decided that he was slumping too much to defend. Everyone was done with the guy. What he did late last year and in the post-season was fine and all, but he has squandered all goodwill he earned. There finally was a universal consensus:

Pete Kozma is absolutely terrible.

Except for McLaughlin and group who decided they were going to still defend the guy with a hail mary pass of a defense. They decided that:

“Pete Kozma was Yadier Molina from a few years ago.”

They claim he is a high defense, low offense player who will get better. They compare Molina’s poor 2006 season to this year for Kozma. The implication is that if The Cardinals stick with Kozma and continue to start him, he will became what we have now with Molina.

My jaw dropped when I heard this. And every time they repeated it, my jaw dropped even further. After the game, I went online to see if anyone picked up on it. Viva El Birdos jumped on it before I did. I was originally going to not write about it after I saw they covered it, but decided I still wanted to because I want to add to what they said. And it’s such an egregious statement, it needs to be covered even further.

There are so many things wrong with comparing Kozma to Molina. For instance:

Kozma is not Molina defensively, no one really is. 

Molina is just incredible at catcher. He is the best defensive catcher in baseball today, and makes an argument for the best of all time. Kozma is a decent defensive shortstop. Compared to his hitting, it’s his strength. But compared to other players in the league, he’s slightly above average. To even compare the two is a joke. In 2006, Molina’s Fielding Runs Above Average (based on UZR) was 6.3. And that was especially weak for him, as in 2005 it was 9.0 and in 2008 it was 10.0. But even in a weak year for Molina, it still trounces Kozma. This year his FRAA is 2.2. Comparatively, the best shortstop in baseball defensively, Brendan Ryan, posted a 13.8 last year (he’s only played 86 games this year).

In all honesty, I kind of wish we still had Ryan. As he is probably a much better comparison to Molina than Kozma is.

Molina was good prior to 2006, this is probably the real Kozma

In the Viva article, comparing both player’s minor league stats, points out:

In the majors, this year, Pete Kozma is hitting .215/.272/.272 in a league that’s hitting .251/.315/.390. In 2012, he hit .232/.292/.355 in a league that hit .278/.345/.430. 2011 was undoubtedly worse than 2013: .214/.279/.289 in Memphis while the Pacific Coast League hit .286/.359/.448

Yadier Molina, as a 20-year-old in the AA Southern League, hit .275/.327/.332. That’s not a .700 OPS, either, but it did come in a league that hit .255/.329/.374, and that struck out 19 percent of the time while he struck out 11 percent of the time. The year before that, as a 19-year-old in full season ball, he hit .280/.331/.384 in a league that hit .251/.325/.363, and that was, in aggregated, 21-and-a-half.

At 21-and-a-half, Molina was called up to the majors and hit .267/.329/.356 in 51 games.

Their article stops at that, but I would even extend it to his first full year on the team. In 2005, Molina hit a pretty bad .252/.295/.358 with a WAR of 1.2. But in comparison to Kozma this year who is hitting .212/.268/.268, Molina looks like a slugger. His slugging pct is still almost 100 points higher than Kozma’s. Even in 2006, Molina’s slugging is .321, much higher than Kozma’s.

Even when Molina hit rock bottom offensively, he was better than what Kozma seems to be as a player.

Molina was an anomaly, you should not count on that.

What Molina has done is incredible. He has gone from being a defensive ace with no speed and no bat to a hitter battling for the batting title. It’s unbelievable and rarely happens. So the idea that you should count on it at all is silly. Because how many players have come up and weren’t very good, worked endlessly with their hitting coach, never improved and left MLB forever? A majority of replacement level players. Even the aforementioned Brendan Ryan was a project of former hitting coach McGwire that didn’t produce the results of Molina. To say that anyone can do what Molina has done is both a logical stretch and a minimization of what Yadi has done.

At this point, The Cards are stuck with Kozma on the team for the rest of the year. Maybe Ryan Jackson comes up with the September call ups and takes over at short. Maybe Descalso. Maybe in the off-season, The Cardinals get another player. Maybe with Jose Iglesias playing so well for The Red Sox, Stephen Drew will be available again. Or maybe not.  But whatever happens, we cannot physically stand another season of Kozma.

He is not a major league shortstop. I wish he was, but he’s not. And he definitely is not Yadier Molina.

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Triple Play: Justin Upton, Jonathan Papelbon, Alex Rios

In this week’s Triple Play, we look at the hottest of several scorching Braves hitters, a closer who can’t put nor shut up, the man tasked with replacing Nelson Cruz, and plus more items like our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch and the Ichiro Hit Tracker. Off we go:

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Who’s Hot?

Justin Upton, Atlanta

Welcome back, Justin. It’s been quite a while. Remember in April, when the younger Upton was mashing everything in sight, single-handedly carrying the Braves’ offense (and fantasy teams everywhere)? That was the month he blasted 12 home runs with 19 RBI, scored 22 runs and posted an OPS of 1.136. Fans and analysts nationwide praised the Braves for “stealing” Upton from the Arizona Diamondbacks. In the following three months, however, Upton only hit four homers and drove in 29. All the “what was Arizona thinking???” noise quieted. Fantasy owners stopped even trying to deal Upton because he wouldn’t bring back equal value. Well, the April version of Upton is back. Thus far in August, Upton is batting a sizzling .395/.452/1.373 with six homers, 13 RBI, and 10 runs scored. The big difference this time, though, is that Upton has a LOT of support around him in the Braves’ lineup right now (more on that below).

Who’s Not?

Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia

Oh, it hasn’t been a pretty season in Philadelphia, has it? They lost Roy Halladay to injury and just never seemed to recover. They have strugged to find competent everyday outfielders and enough starting pitchers. Very little has worked. The motor-mouthed Papelbon has grown frustrated and said “he didn’t come here for this.” Well, after watching Pap’s performance the past two months, it seems safe to say the feeling is mutual – the team certainly didn’t bring the former Red Sox closer to town and pay him $13 million a year to watch him blow saves on a regular basis. In fact, Papelbon has Papelblown six of his past 13 save opportunities. Some of them have been spectacularly bad – take August 1, for example: on a night the Phillies honored Brad Lidge for his blown-save-free 2008 season, Papelbon entered the game after Cole Hamels threw eight shutout innings and immediately surrendered four hits and a walk. What had been a 1-0 lead turned into a 2-1 loss that left a sour taste in the mouths of players and fans alike.

Never one to bite his tongue, Papelbon said after the game, “Obviously I want to go in and preserve wins for these starters, man, because that’s what I take pride in. But some nights, you just go back in the dugout and you kind of scratch your head (and think), what just happened?”

Well, here’s what has happened: Papelbon’s fastball velocity has dropped a mile per hour each season since he left Boston (93.8 in 2012, 92.2 in 2013), making him far more hittable. His strikeout percentage has also fallen off a cliff: 34% in 2012, 23% in 2013. On a team with such poor defense as the Phillies, a “power” closer who can’t strike out opposing hitters the way he once could is just asking for trouble. There were rumors that Papelbon was being shopped around before the trade deadline, but there were no takers. Even the Tigers, desperate for a big-name closer to appease manager Jim Leyland, had no interest. For now – and the foreseeable future – it looks like Papelbon and the Phillies are stuck with each other.

Playing the Name Game

Player A: .269/.330/.511, 27 HR, 76 RBI, 5 SB, 49 runs, 123 OPS+

Player B: .279/.331/.427, 12 HR, 57 RBI, 26 SB, 58 runs, 102 OPS+

Player A is the Rangers’ now-suspended right fielder Nelson Cruz. Player B is his replacement, Alex Rios. After failing to make any deals to boost their lineup before the non-waiver deadline, the Rangers finally got their man last Friday, acquiring Alex Rios from Chicago via a waiver claim deal. Two games in, it has looked like a brilliant move. Rios started his Rangers career by going 4-for-7 with a walk, double, triple, three runs scored and two RBI. While Rios doesn’t offer the same power as Cruz, he brings another speed threat to the lineup to complement Elvis Andrus (30 steals) and Leonys Martin (27). With Cruz sidelined for 50 games, the only Rangers hitter with more than 16 home runs is third baseman Adrian Beltre. Don’t know about you, but I can’t remember the last time a Rangers team had such a dearth of power. I wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t done searching for offense.

Team A: 18-5 record since All-Star Break, 2.83 ERA, 14 QS, 5.2 runs scored/game

Team B: 18-5 record since All-Star Break, 2.56 ERA, 17 QS, 4.4 runs scored/game

Team A is the Atlanta Braves. Since the All-Star break, the Braves have turned the National League East division race into a laugher, winning 14 straight games to open a 14½-game lead and turning the Nationals into overly-hyped also-rans. As noted above, Justin Upton has been red hot, but Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson have also been crushing the ball over the past couple of weeks. All four players have driven in at least 10 runs, scored 10 runs and have an on-base percentage over .400 over the past two weeks. After Tim Hudson’s horrific ankle injury, it was widely assumed that the Braves would trade for another starter. It hasn’t happened. Brandon Beachy was activated off the disabled list and stepped right into the void. The results have been mixed, as it typical for a pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery, but each start so far has been better than the last. Atlanta also has relied on prized rookie Alex Wood, and he hasn’t disappointed (2-2, 2.78 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, three consecutive quality starts entering Sunday).

Team B is…..are you ready for this?….the Kansas City Royals. Lost amidst all the Braves hubbub is that Missouri’s other team has been every bit as good as Atlanta since the break. All the Royals have done is: 1) reel off an eight-game winning streak (their longest since 2003); 2) twirl their way through the most successful road trip in franchise history (8-1); 3) take three of four from Boston, generally considered the best team in the AL; and 4) win seven straight series, the longest such streak since 1991.

Since the All-Star break, the Royals’ rotation has been the backbone of their success, with 17 quality starts in 23 games. Ace James Shields has spun five quality starts in that time, while Ervin Santana has four and Jeremy Guthrie three. The unexpected surprise, though, has been 36-year-old Bruce Chen; he has given the Royals five consecutive quality starts since being restored to the rotation on July 12. Kansas City also recently recalled fireballing lefty Danny Duffy to fill a rotation spot as well. Suddenly, Kansas City has one of the deeper rotations in the AL. And don’t forget closer Greg Holland (32 saves, 74 strikeouts in 46 innings, 1.57 ERA, 0.91 WHIP).

First baseman Eric Hosmer also has been terrific, sporting a .362/.392/.489 slash line since Aug. 1. After starting slowly the first two months, he has combined with left fielder Alex Gordon and designated hitter Billy Butler to give the Royals an imposing middle of the order. The competition on that July 26-August 4 road trip (White Sox, Twins, Mets) was surely sub-par, but the result perhaps should be taken with a small grain of salt, but one thing is certain: the team is giving its fans reason for serious optimism for the rest of this season and next.

Random Thoughts

  • Wainwright Walk Watch: Once Adam Wainwright started the 2013 season by pitching 37 innings before allowing his first walk of the season, we started a weekly tracker to keep track of how few free passes the Cardinals’ ace hands out this season. He has led the majors in strikeout-to-walk ratio all season, and it hasn’t been close. In his most recent start, Wainwright lasted seven innings against the Dodgers, allowing seven hits, three runs and two walks while striking out five. For the season, Wainwright has walked only 21 hitters versus 156 punchouts, good for a 7.4-to-1 K/BB ratio (still the best in baseball). His next start is scheduled for Tuesday against Pittsburgh. In his last start against the Pirates on July 31, Wainwright pitched seven innings, allowing four runs and one walk. Given the Cardinals’ recent struggles, this start takes on even more importance than usual.
  • Ichiro Hit Tracker: as noted in last week’s column, 39-year-old Ichiro Suzuki is closing in on 4,000 hits in his professional career (including the 1,278 he tallied playing in Japan). As you probably know, only Ty Cobb and Pete Rose have reached 4,000 in their careers. Following Sunday’s game against Detroit, in which he went hitless, Ichiro sits at 3,993 hits. Next up for Ichiro and the Yankees: four games at home against the pitching-challenged Angels, followed by a three-game set in Boston.
  • If it does happen this coming weekend, here’s hoping that the achievement is appropriately noted by Fox Sports and/or ESPN.
  • I, however, am NOT holding my breath.
  • Pittsburgh entered Coors Field last Friday with the best record in baseball, facing a Rockies team that crawled home following a terrible 1-9 road trip that essentially ended their hopes of contending for a wild-card spot.
  • Naturally, the Rockies broomed the Pirates. Because, baseball.
  • Next up for the Pirates: another showdown with St. Louis, which might miss Yadier Molina more than even they expected. Since he went on the DL July 31, the Cardinals are 5-7 and have fallen into second place, three games behind the Pirates.
  • Chris Davis is on pace to belt 59 homers and knock in 153 runs.
  • Miguel Cabrera is on pace to hit “only” 49 homers and drive in 153. He is not 100% and may not be for the rest of the season. Detroit currently has a seven-game lead in the AL Central – nice lead, but certainly not safe. After all, Oakland had a six-game lead on July 29 and watched it fizzle away by Aug. 7. If the Tigers are able to open a division lead as large as Atlanta’s, you have to wonder if they would consider putting Cabrera on the DL  in an effort to get his abdominal injury healed in time for the playoffs.
  • Apropos of nothing, the only other major leaguer with at least 90 RBI entering Sunday was Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt (91).
  • News: Stephen Strasburg notched his first career shutout Sunday against the fading Phillies. Views: I half expected the Nationals to shut him down in the 7th to preserve his arm.
  • Random Baseball Statistic Guaranteed to Enrage Brian Kenny: on August 11, 1970, Jim Bunning became the first pitcher to win 100 games in both leagues.
  • Alex Rodriguez popped his first home run of the season Sunday and represented career home run No. 648 (or, 12 shy of Willie Mays). The two runs he drove in give him 1,952 in his career, passing Stan Musial for sixth on the all-time RBI list.
  • That means that A-Rod now has 648 career homers, which is 12 shy of Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time list. He also added an RBI single later in the game, giving him 1,952, which means he’s passed Stan Musial for sixth on the all-time list.
  • In perhaps the ultimate testament to his greatness, Mariano Rivera has blown three consecutive saves for the first time in his career. It took 19 seasons and 937 appearances for it to happen.
  • Still, I expect some dimwitted New York media member to suggest that it’s time to remove the Sandman from the closer role. Mike Francesa, maybe?

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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Chen making the most of move back to rotation

The Kansas City Royals continued their winning ways on Thursday night, getting a great performance from Bruce Chen. Chen shut down the best offense in baseball, the Red Sox, in 7.2 innings of dominant pitching.

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Chen didn’t allow a run against first-place Boston. He only recorded two strikeouts, but he continually changed speeds and forced weak contact from Red Sox hitters.

Chen, a 15-year MLB veteran, has been a revelation for the Royals this year since moving back into the starting rotation. He replaced Luis Mendoza in the Kansas City rotation, with his first start coming July 12 against the Indians. Chen earned a no-decision, despite not allowing a run, and the Royals lost 3-0.

After that loss, Chen reeled off four great starts, culminating with the win over Boston. Through five starts with the Royals this year, Chen is 2-0, and the Royals are 4-1 in those games.

Chen also excelled in his role as the long-man in the bullpen earlier in the year. But he is more valuable in the rotation especially when he pitches as well as he has over the past five games.

This season, Chen is 5-0 overall, with a sparkling 1.79 ERA through 65.1 innings.

The Panamanian-born lefty does have experience as a starting pitcher in his career. He has 208 career starts, including 34 for Kansas City last year. He was 11-14 with a 5.07 ERA in 191.2 innings in 2012.

Chen has three seasons with the Royals of more than 10 wins. His best season was in 2011, when he was 12-7 with a 3.77 ERA. He also won 12 games in 2010.

The Royals are Chen’ s 10th Major League team, and his stint of five years with Kansas City is the longest stretch with one team in his career.

The Royals clearly value what Chen provides. He is a quality pitcher, whether used in the bullpen or as a starter. He is in the midst of the best season of his career and should give the Royals’ rotation a shot in the arm as they continue their quest for the postseason.

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The Aftermath Of The First Half

Did you think the teams that are first in their division would actually be the ones there by the All-Star break? Taking a look at who is on top half way through the season, I am actually not that surprised with most of them.

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American League

The Red Sox and the Tigers lead their respective divisions. Both of these teams have proven to be strong contenders and they continually show their worth. They will need to stay focused and energized, because both are capable of getting rattled. They may find themselves having to climb uphill to get out of a mess if they obscure team unity, and lose sight of the ultimate goal.

The Yankees have been disappointing so far this summer, but they still have plenty of time to make up for it. The talent is there. They just have been hit with so many injuries that they are trying to get by with a skeleton crew wondering who is going to go down next. The Yankees have managed to not plummet to the bottom of the AL East during all of the broken bones, twisted knees, and MRIs. So, that says something about their team and the potential they have after the All-Star Break.

I am not shocked that the Blue Jays are in dead last heading into the second half of the season. The team, suddenly packed with celebrity sluggers and household names, needs to learn how to work together before they can win the division. They certainly have not met the high expectations that come with the blockbuster trade headlines over the off-season, and now they are feeling the extra pressure. The good part is they know it, and they can start sewing the seams of the club and begin to make some progress together. They have the capability, they just need to smooth out the chemistry if they want to start inching their way closer to the play-offs. But it will not be easy.

The Royals were fierce in the beginning of the season, but has since cooled off. They can get that fire back if they just find out what killed their momentum. Perhaps, they lent it to Cleveland. There has been some contagious energy going around among the Indians. The confidence and attitude of the team as a whole, is making them intimidating. They seem to be doing something right at the moment and are on the heels of the first-place Tigers. Sometimes the mid-season break can put a hiccup in a team’s performance. Maybe the players get too relaxed? Or they lose their steam? But this club seems to have an extra boost of agility that might just last the rest of the year.

In the AL West, the always powerful Rangers have found themselves in second place to the Oakland Athletics. Although, Texas is only 2 games back at the moment, the A’s seem to have an unstoppable ambition about them this year while gaining MLB and fan attention with their Home-Run Derby winner, and the way they love to walk-off games in style.

I would not have thought that the Angels would be 11 games back by the All-Star break, but I do not doubt their drive to plow down those teams that are in the way of the pennant. They have a lot of talent and should be seen as a threat in the NL West.

National League

Defending Champions, San Francisco Giants, find themselves almost to the bottom of their division with the last-place Padres close behind. Making minor adjustments and amping the club up a bit might help them out considerably. It is just a matter of finding their groove.

Arizona has had a strong first half and leads the NL West. The amount of seemingly random changes the Diamondbacks made to their roster over the off-season, apparently was a clever plan. Collectively, the Diamondbacks have been fairly consistent and have learned how to lean on each other like a team should. They have average talent with some big potential sprinkled throughout their club, but they need to keep channeling that inner animal the entire season, or they can easily be tamed.

The Dodgers have been on a roller-coaster. The consistency is not quite there yet this season, but even while having to fight for each game, they are still in a close second at the All-Star Break. They too, had significant changes to their team, but are still ironing out the wrinkles. The Dodgers are getting healthy, pulling it together, and slowly creeping up to the lead. If they stay persistent, the Diamondbacks better have their defense ready.

Pittsburgh has been fighting to keep that division lead and fell short just before the All-Star break, taking second to the Cardinals. The Pirates have a history of coming in strong and simmering down a bit after the break. If they can forget about last years second half and remain at the top of their division, they will have a chance to finally end their play-off drought. But with the ever aggressive Cardinals, and the Reds with their boxing, er uh… baseball gloves ready, the NL Central is still up for grabs.

I honestly did not think the Braves would be this effective right away. I thought they would have had a little more chaos before they gained momentum, but they are ahead by 6 games while the Nationals and the Phillies battle for second. Atlanta’s adventure this season has had some curves, but whatever they are doing, it is working. Their recent injuries might create a weakness in the club and that will give the chance for the rest of the division to plot their attacks.

And now we enter the second half, where trades and attitude can change any team’s course.

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Royals Claim Kottaras Off Waivers

GeorgeKottaras

KANSAS CITY, MO (January 25, 2013) – The Kansas City Royals today have claimed catcher George Kottaras on Outright Waivers from the Oakland Athletics.  To create room on the 40-man roster, the club designated infielder Tony Abreu for assignment.

The 29-year-old Kottaras (kuh-tar-us) has played for the Red Sox (2008-09), Brewers (2010-12) and Athletics (2012), batting .220 with 24 home runs and 84 RBI in 249 Major League contests.  The left-handed hitter posted a .351 on-base percentage while drawing a career-high 37 walks in 85 games for Milwaukee and Oakland in 2012 while helping the A’s win the American League West after being acquired on July 29.  He blasted six home runs for Oakland in just 27 games and then appeared in four games during the A’s Divisional Series vs. Detroit.  Born in Scarbourough, Ontario, Canada, Kottaras now resides in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Abreu, 28, hit .257 in 22 games for the Royals in 2012 after spending a majority of the campaign at Triple-A Omaha.

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If the Orioles can do it, so can the Royals.

After the 2012 season, it’s easy to accept the Royals will always lose and nothing will change. It’s hard to be optimistic and defend a sports team who hasn’t been above .500 since 2003 and not in the playoffs since 1985.

So should I and other Royals fans be more optimistic? I think so. Look, if the Baltimore Orioles can make the playoffs, so can the Royals.

You could call the Orioles the Royals of the A.L. East. In 2011, the Orioles had a 69-93 record. The last time they won 70 games was 2006. The last time they went over .500 was 1997. This year, the Orioles went 93-69, winning the Wild Card play-in game against the Rangers before losing the ALDS against the Yankees.

The Orioles weren’t supposed to be this good. Their Pythagorean win-loss record was 82-80 and many figured the team would finish towards the bottom of the A.L. East.

The Yankees won the A.L. East, but only by two games over the Orioles. The Rays played well, but “only” won 90 games, missing the playoffs. The Jays were Royals-like at 73-89. The Red Sox finished 69-93 and showed Bobby Valentine the door.

So what made the Orioles so good? It had to be their top-shelf starting pitching. Well, not really. The starters had a 4.42 team ERA, ninth in the A.L. and 21st in the the Majors. Their “ace” pitcher, Wei-Yin Chen, had a 4.02 ERA, a 12-11 record, pitched 192.2 innings with a 2.70 SO/BB ratio.

The Royals starters had a 5.01 team ERA, 11th in the A.L. and 26th in the Majors. That’s not too far off from the Orioles. The Royals “ace” was Bruce Chen, with a 5.07 ERA, a 11-14 record, pitching 191.2 innings with 2.98 SO/BB ratio. If Luke Hochevar wasn’t Luke Hochevar and Jeremy Guthrie had a full season with the Royals, The Royals starting rotation could be better than the Orioles rotation.

How about the bullpen? The Orioles had a 3.00 team ERA, third in the A.L. and fifth in the Majors. Just behind them were the Royals with a 3.17 team ERA, fourth in the A.L. and sixth in the Majors. The Royals had 535 strikeouts, the most in the A.L., but the Orioles had a 1.21 WHIP, compared to the Royals 1.34 WHIP. The Orioles bullpen was a factor, but it wasn’t the main reason they made the playoffs.

How about the Orioles lineup? Center fielder Adam Jones led the team with a .287 average, 103 runs and 16 stolen bases. DH Chris Davis led with 33 home runs and 85 RBI. As a team, the Orioles had a .247 average, 677 RBI, 270 doubles, 214 home runs, scoring 712 runs while allowing 705 runs.

Meanwhile, DH Billy Butler led the team with a .313 average, 29 homers and 107 RBI. Alex Gordon led the team with 93 runs and Alcides Escobar stole a team high 35 bases. As a team, the Royals had a .265 average, 643 RBI, 295 doubles, 131 home runs, scoring 676 runs and allowing 746 runs.

The Royals had a better batting average and more doubles, but the Orioles had 83 more home runs and 34 more RBI. And the Royals gave up a lot more runs than they scored. Having a good team batting average and hitting doubles helps, but scoring more runs wins more games. The Orioles did a better job offensively than the Royals, but it wasn’t a big reason the Orioles played so well.

So what was it? The Orioles had something the Royals didn’t have much of: luck. There’s a stat called Pythagorean Luck, which is the difference between the actual win-loss record and the Pythagorean win-loss record. The Orioles were the best in the Majors with an 11 luck score and played way above expectations. The Royals were -2 and played slightly below expectations.

When the Orioles were in a close or extra inning game, they usually won. In one run games, the Orioles had a 29-9 record, the best in the Majors. The Royals were 27-26, which is at least above .500. The Orioles also had the best extra inning record in the Majors at 16-2. The Royals were 8-7, once again above .500. And the Orioles never lost a regular season game when they led after seven innings.

And love him or hate him, manager Buck Showalter did a good job managing the team. He’s obsessively detail oriented and after a while he usually wears out his welcome, but he’s a frontrunner for A.L. Manager of the Year.

Now the Orioles were far from perfect. The lack of an ace showed itself in the playoffs, even with the Yankees being offensively challenged. And a team can’t expect to win a majority of one run and extra inning games every year. And outside of pitcher Dylan Bundy and third baseman Manny Machado, the Orioles farm system is pretty shallow.

But the Orioles prove with timely performances, a average starting rotation and some luck, a team can win and make the playoffs, even in a strong A.L. East. There’s no excuses for the Kansas City Royals now. If the Baltimore Orioles can do it, the Royals can too.

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The Royals and Mental Toughness

The Kansas City Royals have talent, but to they have what it takes mentally to win?

In watching the 2012 version of the Kansas City Royals, it is hard to deny that this is the most talented team they have put on the field in quite some time. This is not the same collections of “has-been’s” and “never-will-be’s” that Royals fans have become accustomed to seeing. But the fact of the matter is, the Royals are currently sitting with the second-worst record in the major leagues at 9-19. And it is hard to ignore idea that mental toughness is a big reason for the slow start.

Not just baseball, but all sports have seen supremely talented players who were not successful because they couldn’t hack it mentally. Whether that equates to a player buckling under pressure, a player’s lack of desire to properly prepare, or a combination of the two, there is no denying that the mental side of the game is absolutely critical to success. The two most recent demonstrations of a lack of mental toughness were put on display on Sunday agains the Yankees and Monday against the Red Sox by starting pitchers Luke Hochevar and Jonathan Sanchez. Both of these players have talent. And not just enough talent to be a big league player. These guys both have the talent to excel in the big leagues. They have each demonstrated that at different points in their careers.

Luke Hochevar was a #1 overall pick in 2006. In 2009 he threw an 80 pitch complete game against the Cincinnati Reds, and later in the season struck out 13 against the Texas Rangers. This is why the Royals continue to put up with his inconsistency and made him their Opening Day starter in 2011 and de facto “ace” going into 2012.

On Sunday, Hochevar made it only 2 1/3 innings into his start, giving up 7 earned runs on 7 hits. This was the 3rd time in 6 starts this season that Hochevar had put his team in a hole early in the ballgame that they had almost no chance of digging out of. His ERA for the season is now 9.00.

Jonathan Sanchez has averaged 9.3 SO per 9 innings over his 6+ year career. He also struck out 205 batters in 193 innings for the San Francisco Giants in 2010. This is why the Royals traded Melky Cabrera for him this past off-season.

In his start on Monday, Sanchez made it only 3 innings, giving up 6 earned runs on 6 hits while throwing only 35 of his 73 pitches for strikes. His ERA for the season is now 6.75.

There are other examples. Earlier in the season, over about a week period, Alex Gordon seemed to be coming up to bat on a nightly basis in key late-game situations. Each time he came up short-handed. While Gordon has begun to catch fire at the plate after an extremely slow start, his lack of success in these pressure situations is telling. This could be explained away by saying that since Gordon got off to such a slow start, he was lacking confidence in these situations which led to his inability to produce. Let’s hope this is true and now that he has snapped out of his funk that this pattern comes to a halt.

Last October, St. Louis Cardinals fans watched one of the most magnificent displays of the other side of this. On the largest stage in the sport, David Freese, Lance Berkman, and other Cardinals players showed the world the importance of mental toughness. Until the Royals have a team full of players who are not afraid to prepare for the big situations, and not afraid of the spotlight, they will be nothing more than a talented team that won’t win anything.

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Last Minute Anxiety: What If It All Goes Horribly Wrong for the Royals?

With the Kansas City Royals officially opening their 2012 season this Friday, the optimism for some fans is now being replaced with nervousness.

For a baseball fan, it is only natural to be optimistic during the off-season. The disaster of the previous year is in the past, free agents have been added, that overpaid free-agent’s contract finally expired, and well…somebody has to win next year, right? And for fans of most teams, eventually the optimism pays off. Your team comes from out of nowhere to qualify for the playoffs, and whether they advance or not, that can be considered a successful season (unless you’re the Yankees or Red Sox). But for longer than any other organization in baseball, Royals fans have had their off-season optimism shoved down their throat in the form of embarrassingly bad baseball. The Royals have the longest playoff drought in all of MLB. So one can understand why a Royals fan might eventually decide not to even bother with the positive thoughts.

Until the 2010 season, it was hard to envision a scenario in which Royals fans would be given any reason to believe they would see a winner in the near future. It was during that season, that things began to come together at the minor league level. Former first-round draft picks Mike Moustakas(3B) and Eric Hosmer(1B) began to emerge as two of the top prospects in baseball. 19-year old 3rd round draft pick Will Myers began to turn heads in A-ball. Other prospects began giving people to take notice as well, and before long, the Royals farm system was the talk of baseball. All of a sudden, that dark tunnel that Royals fans had peered into for so long started to show a faint light at the end. After the 2010 season, all the talk was about the Royals farm system. Not only was it considered the best in all of baseball, but some were calling it the best farm system that they had ever seen. And while the expectations for the 2011 Royals season weren’t great, fans were, for the first time in a very long time, allowed to feel legitimately optimistic for the future. 2011 saw the arrival of Hosmer, Moustakas, Salvador Perez(C), Johnny Giovatella(2B), Danny Duffy(SP), and a whole crop of young bullpen arms.

For the most part, all signs were positive. Hosmer impressed from day one. Moustakas went through his struggles, but by the end of the year, looked like he was figuring things out. Perez was very impressive, and while Giovatella and Duffy both struggled at times, both showed definite signs of promise. On top of this, Alcides Escobar(SS) emerged as arguably the best defensive SS in all of baseball. Lorenzo Cain came up for an impressive September call-up. Free-Agent Jeff Francoeur(OF) pulled his career out of the toilet with a fantastic year, and former top prospect Alex Gordon(OF) finally showed the promise he was thought to have when he was drafted in 2005. Looking at things from a long-term perspective, it is hard to imagine things going more positively in 2011. Everyone has pointed to 2012 as the year when the Royals will begin to ascend back to relevance for the first time in almost 20 years.

But what if it all goes wrong? This is a question that Royals fans are conditioned to ask. While Hosmer is as close to a sure thing as there is, would it surprise anyone if Moustakas never fully came around? If Duffy can’t keep his pitch count down? If Francoeur returns to being a near useless hitter? What if Gordon also finds himself with an extended stay on the DL? Center-fielder Lorenzo Cain is thought to be ready to break out, but what if that doesn’t happen? Salvador Perez has already been injured and is out until June. Closer Joakim Soria is out for the year with Tommy John surgery.

Each of these things individually is a very realistic possibility. But what makes this year different from past years, is that rather than considering all of the things that would have to go wrong for things to go bad, Royals fans were forced to point out all of the things that COULD go right to help them contend.

This year may not go as Royals fans hope. Every single thing listed above could take place. But it sure beats sitting around hoping Juan Gonzalez regains his MVP form, Mike Sweeney‘s back finally holds up, and Benito Santiago and Reggie Sanders discover the Fountain of Youth.

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Gordon Signs Extension

ROYALS SIGN OUTFIELDER Alex Gordon TO A MULTI-YEAR CONTRACT
Four-Year Guaranteed Contract Also Includes Player Option for 2016

SURPRISE, AZ (March 30, 2012) — The Kansas City Royals today announced the club has reached an agreement on a multi-year contract with outfielder Alex Gordon.  The contract includes four guaranteed years through the 2015 season, then a player option for the 2016 campaign.  Consistent with club policy, financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

The 28-year-old Gordon won both the Les Milgram Royals Player of the Year as well as his first Rawlings Gold Glove Award in 2011.  He batted .303 (185-for-611) with 45 doubles, four triples, 23 home runs, 87 RBI and 101 runs scored in 151 games for Kansas City.  Gordon was one of five players in the Major Leagues to post a greater than .300 average, 45 or more doubles and 20 or more home runs, joining the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera, the Red Sox’ Jacoby Ellsbury and Adrian Gonzalez, and the Yankees’ Robinson Cano.  In his first full season as a full-time outfielder, he led the Majors with 20 outfield assists, also setting a single-season franchise record.

The Royals’ first-round selection (second overall) in 2005 out of the University of Nebraska, Gordon and his wife, Jamie, reside in Lincoln, Neb., with their one-year-old son, Max.

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Trade Suggestions For The Royals

The baseball winter meetings have concluded with a number of moves that significantly altered the landscape of baseball. While the Royals did not strike any deals, there are a few trades that would be interesting to see them explore in the coming months in an effort to help get them to the next level.

Photo Courtesy of Minda Haas

 

Proposed Trade #1: Royals trade Billy Butler and Jeremy Jeffress to the Rays for Jeff Niemann, Brandon Guyer, and Tim Beckham.

The Rays are looking for a right-handed bat to play at DH and first base, and Butler would be a perfect fit for them. He is young and talented, yet has a reasonable contract. Jeffress has the reputation of having a million dollar arm and a 10 cent head. Any sting from his departure could be absorbed by the deep Royal bullpen.

The right-handed Niemann has won at least 11 games in each of the past three seasons, and would provide sorely needed stability in the Royals rotation. Brandon Guyer, an outfielder, has a .297 career average in the minors, but has not yet been given an opportunity to play regularly in the majors. Beckham, the first overall selection in the 2008 draft started out his career in disappointing fashion, but has been building momentum the past couple of seasons, and could fit in nicely at shortstop for the Royals.

There could be concern that this trade would leave the Royals lineup too lefty-oriented, but the Red Sox had a potent offense this past year with six or more left-handed hitters regularly starting. Giving up a great bat like Butler would be a major loss, but a trade centered on a player of his caliber would bring a good return and could help restock their starting rotation.

Proposed Trade #2: Royals trade Greg Holland to the Blue Jays for Travis Snider.

The Blue Jays have been rumored to be hot after Holland, and improving their middle relief corps. A talented pitcher like Holland would be difficult to give up, but might be worth it if they could pry Snider away in the deal. Snider has had several unimpressive trials with Toronto, but will still be just 24 in 2012 and has a ton of talent. A change of scenery could be just what he needs.

The middle of the Royals’ infield could use some more punch after this past season, when Chris Getz and Alcides Escobar, their starting second baseman and shortstop combined for 4 home runs and 72 RBI in 1,027 at bats. Lowrie could be the answer. His game is all about versatility; from his ability to play any position in the infield, to his switch hitting. Although he has struggled with injuries in the past, he would be worth taking a chance, and could likely be pried away for Jeffress, who would be coveted by Boston in their effort to restock their bullpen.

Because of their need to operate with a set budget, the Royals have a slimmer margin of error when it comes to assembling their roster. However, they also have the assets to afford to entice a trading partner and take a gamble or two. Spring training is still two months away, so there is plenty of time for the Royals to evaluate and explore every angle, and determine if it is in their best interest to stand pat, or jump into the trade market.

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