Thursday, July 5, 2012

Royals Today: 7/5/12.

I feel like I owe you an all-positive post today, to make up for all the Sanchez-bashing last time around. So here you go.

Salvador Perez

We all missed Perez terribly, while he missed the first half of the season recovering from a torn meniscus suffered in spring training. (Perez tore his meniscus lunging for a pitch out of the strike zone. Who threw that pitch? Jonathan Sanchez, of course.) But I don’t think we realized just how badly we missed Perez, because I don’t think we appreciated just how good he might be.

I appreciated how good he was last season; as I’ve written before, he had the highest batting average by a 21-year-old catcher (min: 100 AB) in major-league history, and the 3rd highest OPS, behind Joe Mauer and Johnny Bench. But even I was concerned about what his performance meant. Batting average is a highly variable statistic, particularly in a sample size of just 39 games, and Perez hadn’t hit at that level at any point in the minor leagues.

His career line in the minors is .287/.329/.397; in Double-A last season, he hit .283/.329/.427. Those are fine numbers for an elite defensive catcher who is young for his leagues, but not the performance you’d project into an All-Star caliber player in the majors. Throw in the injury, and you had to be concerned that the player we saw on the field in late 2011 was a bit of a mirage.

That may yet prove to be the case, but we’re getting closer and it still looks like an oasis. Perez played 12 games in Triple-A on rehab and hit .340 – a soft .340, with just two walks and two extra-base hits (both doubles) – but still, .340. He was activated on June 22nd – and homered in his first game back. He hasn’t stopped hitting since.

Literally. Perez has played in 10 games since his return, and has a hit in all 10 of them – including one game in which he had a single pinch-hit at-bat. Perez has a ten-game hitting streak going, which is already the second-longest hitting streak by a Royal this season. (Eric Hosmer, surprisingly, hit in 11 straight from May 28 to June 9.)

Late update: Perez is in the lineup for the fourth straight night tonight, and singled in his first at-bat, starting a five-run inning. So 11 games, 11-game hitting streak, tied for the longest of the season.

He’s not just hitting, he’s hitting for power. I remarked on this a little last season, when I was in attendance at US Cellular Field in September when Perez hit an absolute bomb to right field. It’s rare to see any player hit a ball that far to the opposite field, let alone a 21-year-old rookie catcher. He’s shown that kind of power again this year. His second homer, on June 29, was an opposite-field homer at Target Field. Do you know how hard it is to hit a home run to the opposite field at Target Field? I don’t have numbers for this season, but between 2010 and 2011, according to the Bill James Handbook, Target Field reduced homers by 24%. For left-handed hitters, homers were cut 32%, which suggests that it’s even harder to hit homers to right field than elsewhere in that ballpark. (Since the ballpark opened, Joe Mauer has hit 14 homers on the road – and just three at home.)

Here's a link to the video. As you can see, it wasn't a cheapie.

On Monday night, Perez showed a different kind of power. He dropped the bat head on a pitch that was low and inside. Just keeping that ball fair was impressive enough – but he hit a line drive that somehow carried over the left field wall. I can’t do it justice with words – watch it here.

In ten games, Perez is hitting .371/.371/.714; for his career – all of 49 games – he’s hitting .339/.363/.519. There are warts to Perez’s game, certainly. He hasn’t drawn a walk yet, and he’s bounced into two double plays. Extrapolate his career to 162 games, and he’d have as many GIDPs (23) as walks. He’s only thrown out 10 of 44 base stealers (23%) in his career, although 1) his career rate in the minors was 42% and 2) that doesn’t count the three guys he’s picked off.

I realize the sample size is vanishingly small here, but my opinion on Perez isn’t simply based on the numbers, but on – perish the thought – my eyes. He hits everything HARD. His line-drive rate (and with the caveat that “line drives” are highly observer-dependent; what some people will call a line drive other people will call a fly ball) for his career is 27.6%, well above the league average of 18%. He’s earned his .339 average.

And as crazy as this might sound, if you put a gun to my head and I had to predict which player in the Royals organization will go to the most All-Star Games in his career…I’d probably pick Perez. Moustakas, Hosmer, Gordon, Butler…all those guys play high-offense positions where the standard for offense is really high. If Perez is simply a .280-.290 hitter with 15-20 homers, he’s going to be one of the best offensive catchers in the league along with excellent defense. The two best catchers in the AL right now are probably Joe Mauer and Matt Wieters. (Mike Napoli starts the All-Star Game, but that’s a homer pick that’s unlikely to be repeated.) Mauer can’t stay healthy and might move to another position before long; Wieters has the sterling pedigree but is more of a very good player than a star.

Perez has a lot to prove, starting with whether he can stay healthy or not. But everything we’ve seen from him since he arrived in Kansas City says that he’s a budding star. And as for his minor-league track record…let’s not forget that he was 17 when he started playing. He hit .189 in A-ball in 2009 – when he was 18. He started 2010 in Wilmington when he was 19 – he turned 20 a month into the season. Hitting in the Death Valley of the minor leagues, he batted .290/.322/.437. Last year he hit .290/.331/.437 in the high minors and was in the majors three months after he turned 21. (If I’ve done the research correctly, Perez is the ninth-youngest position player ever to suit up for the Royals.)

While much of the reason why the Royals have been such a failure the last 15 years is because many of their top prospects have failed to develop, a contributing factor is that they really haven’t had anyone who wasn’t a top prospect who surprised in a positive fashion. Think of someone like Andre Ethier, who was a 23-year-old in Double-A that the A’s thought so little of that they traded him for Milton Bradley – and then arrived in the majors the following year as an above-average outfielder who improved until he was an All-Star. Or Robinson Cano, who hit .278/.331/.425 in the minor leagues and was made available to the Royals for Carlos Beltran, only Allard Baird decided on Mark Teahen because dadgummit, they needed a third baseman.

Well, Perez might be that guy. When the Royals placed nine guys on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospect List, we knew some of them would fail, but we hoped that those failures would be compensated for by players who snuck under the radar of that list. Most people would agree that Perez is one of those players. What is much more controversial is that Perez might prove to be as valuable as anyone the Royals had on that list in the first place. It’s way too early to say so with any confidence. But every time we think Perez has reached his ceiling, he builds himself another one. I can’t wait to see the perch he finally settles in at.

In the meantime, I suggest the Royals keep his knees in bubble wrap. Tall catchers and knee injuries go hand in hand. The Royals can’t afford another one.

Luis Mendoza

The quick prologue to the Luis Mendoza story: a journeyman right-hander going nowhere, rebuilt his delivery last season in Triple-A, led the PCL in ERA despite striking nobody out. We were very skeptical of his chances. He pitched very well in spring training, including an excellent strikeout rate, which might have indicated something.

Or not. In his first start, Mendoza walked four and struck out two, which set the tone. In his next start, he walked four and struck out one, and also allowed nine runs in four innings. He was bumped from the rotation after just four starts, but the same pattern continued in the bullpen. Through the 6th of June, Mendoza had 25 walks and 19 strikeouts, and it’s essentially impossible to be even remotely successful in the major leagues in the 21st century when you have more walks than strikeouts. Batters were hitting .312/.405/.399 against him; he was lucky to have a 5.36 ERA.

But then something funny happened. He went back into the rotation on June 12th when the dreaded Black Arm Death swept through the pitching staff. In his first start, he took a no-hitter into the seventh – and struck out four batters against two walks. In five starts since returning to the rotation, he has walked no more than two batters in any start. He has struck out at least four batters in all but one of those starts. Wednesday night, he struck out a career-high nine.

Here’s Mendoza’s line in his last five starts:

30 IP, 28 H, 6 BB, 25 K, 2 HR, 3.26 ERA.

I have no idea what this means. I have no idea if this is sustainable. But strikeout and walk rates stabilize as quickly as any stat in the game, meaning that you don’t need as large of a sample size to trust them. Something happened to Mendoza when he returned to the rotation. Whether it was something as simple as gaining confidence in his pitches, or whether it was trying to mix his pitches up more so that his repertoire wasn’t as predictable the third time through the lineup (where he was getting killed), I don’t know. Maybe he added a pitch, or subtly adjusted an old one. I don’t know.

But I want to see more. Given the state of the Royals’ rotation, it’s easy to say “well, he’ll certainly get the opportunity to show us more,” but it’s actually worse than that. Mendoza has a 4.50 ERA on the season, which is hardly great, or even good – the American League as a whole has a 4.04 ERA, and starting pitchers have a 4.37 ERA*, so his performance is still below-average.

Except that right now, Mendoza has the best ERA of anyone in the Royals’ rotation. Luis Mendoza, for lack of a better term, is currently the Royals’ ace. He is their stopper. Those aren’t the saddest words I’ve ever written, but if you’re thinking that the Royals might actually have a chance to get back in the race this year, I suggest you read the opening sentence of this paragraph a few dozen more times.

*: AL starting pitchers have a 4.37 ERA, but AL relievers have a 3.41 ERA. Relievers generally have better ERAs, because they’re more effective and because of the way inherited runners are charged to the outgoing pitcher, but the gap isn’t usually this wide. Just three years ago, for instance, AL starters had a 4.62 ERA, but relievers had a 4.17 ERA. The ERA gap was 45 points in 2009, and 96 points – more than double – in 2012. So if it seems like every team has a great bullpen…that’s because they do. It might be just one of those years – or it could be that teams are doing a better job than ever of identifying potential bullpen arms and deploying them correctly.

Bubba Starling

Any truth to the rumors that the Royals are keeping Starling in extended spring training to shield him from prying eyes that may notice he’s not very good? – May 2nd

You probably know about my growing concerns with Starling, the hometown kid who was the #5 overall pick in one of the deepest drafts in a generation last season. You probably remember my study from last year about the importance of draft age among high school hitters, and the implication that Starling, who turned 19 before he even signed, was a significant risk to underperform, particularly compared with #8 overall pick Francisco Lindor, who was just 17 when he signed.

My concerns only grew when Lindor headed straight to the Midwest League in April and performed well – he’s hitting .262/.349/.374 as an 18-year-old, and scouting reports are uniformly glowing – while Starling stayed back in extended spring training. They grew more when it turned out our expectations that Starling would head to Kane County as soon as the weather warmed up were unfounded, and that the Royals eventually decided he would be best served by debuting in the Appalachian League, a couple rungs down the minor league chain.

Swing remains long. Wrists very fast. – May 10th

Meanwhile, it felt like every 2011 first-round pick was crushing it. I’m not just talking about the four guys who went ahead of Starling, like Gerrit Cole and Danny Hultzen and Trevor Bauer and Dylan Bundy. I’m talking about Jose Fernandez (#14 pick to the Marlins, now the #8 prospect in baseball per Baseball America) and Matt Barnes (#19 to the Red Sox, #13 prospect) and Lindor (#14 prospect) and Archie Bradley (#7 pick, #16 prospect) and Javier Baez (#9 pick, #25 prospect) and George Springer (#11 pick, #45 prospect).

And then Starling got hurt, straining his hamstring after his first at-bat in an exhibition game two days before his season was supposed to begin. Let’s just say I was becoming less worried and more bitter. I was starting to wonder whether Starling was just the local version of Roscoe Crosby. Starling ranks #46 on Baseball America’s mid-season list – behind ten other guys in the 2011 draft.

Everything’s working except the bat. – May 19th

Starling finally debuted on June 28, and I knew I would violently overreact to his first pro game. Naturally, he went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts (and a walk). Beautiful.

But if I’m allowed to overreact over one game, I can also overreact over one week. And I will say, a week later, that I’ve lowered the DEFCON rating a slot on Starling. On Monday, in his fourth game as a pro, he homered – twice – and singled. On Tuesday, he went 2-for-4. Last night, he went 2-for-4 with a triple and two walks.

Starling’s had a hand dip in his swing his whole life. Will take time to unlearn and retrain. Easy thing to spot, don’t know how easy to fix. – June 14th

Through six games, Starling is hitting .360/.484/.680. More importantly, he’s showing at least a rudimentary understanding of the strike zone. In six games, he’s struck out seven times – and drawn five walks. Even in a sample size of just six games, those rates are somewhat meaningful. The #1 pitfall for tools demons who get drafted in the first round is plate discipline. As an example, Anthony Hewitt was the Phillies’ first-round pick in 2008 despite being very raw at the plate, because he was one of the best athletes the draft had seen in years. In his first pro season, he struck out 55 times – and walked seven times, for a K/BB ratio of nearly 8 to 1. Incredibly, it got worse each of the next two years – 77/9 in 2009, 158/13 in 2010. Hewitt is 23 years old and still in A-ball, his career jeopardized by a simple inability to tell balls from strikes.

I’d venture to say that there is no point in Hewitt’s career where he drew as many as five walks during a stretch where he struck out seven times. Simply ruling out an extreme case of plate indiscipline makes it more likely that Starling will reach his considerable ceiling as a hitter. It’s certainly not enough – Donavan Tate, the #3 overall pick in 2009 and a worst-case scenario for Starling, has had pretty good strikeout-to-walk ratios throughout his career; he simply hasn’t hit worth a damn.

Bubba Starling’s swing is transformed. In like a month. Whoever’s been coaching him has worked wonders with it. He’ll match the hype even if he doesn’t improve his technique any further. – July 5th

All quotes in italics are from a Baseball Person whose opinion I trust greatly. If anything, the evolution of his opinions are more dramatic – and more optimistic – than any amount of statistical evidence that six games can provide.

I’d still rather have Dylan Bundy. I’d still rather have Francisco Lindor, frankly. But then we knew on Draft Day that Starling was a bigger risk than either of them; it’s just that he had an upside that bordered on historic. It’s still doubtful that he’ll reach it, but I’m feeling a heck of a lot better about him than I was a month ago, or even a week ago.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Royals Today: 7/1/12.

My apologies for the long gap between posts, though this time, I have an excuse you’ll actually appreciate: I’ve been writing a review of the 1985 World Series for 810 WHB’s All-Star Program, which I’m told will be available (free!) in various outlets around Kansas City over the next 7-10 days. So pick one up if you get the chance. It was a weird sensation to write about a Royals team in a completely positive manner.

And now back to what I hope will be shorter, and more frequent posts going forward.

- Rooting for this team right now is an incredibly frustrating experience, because they seem determined to maintain a bipolar existence, playing like minor leaguers for a stretch, then like contenders for a stretch, often within the same week. Of their last seven series, four have been sweeps – two each way. After winning four in a row to close to within four games of .500 – their best record since their 12-game losing streak – they’ve lost three in a row to the team with the worst run differential in the majors. And for whatever reason, since June 7th, the Royals are 9-1 between Monday and Thursday, and 3-10 between Friday and Sunday – with the result being that the analysis you hear from me on 810’s The Border Patrol Monday mornings is completely different from the analysis I give on The Program on mid-day Fridays.

The Royals are currently seven games under .500 at 35-42, which is appropriate, because they’ve stayed within a tight band between four and ten games under .500 every single day since their losing streak ended. The random streaks disguise the fact that this is pretty much what they are – a below-average, but not terrible, team. They’re on pace to finish 74-88, which would make them the 8th-worst team* in the majors. If they draft #8 next season, it would be only the second time in the last nine drafts that they didn’t pick in the top five. So…um…progress?

*: Though they currently have a better record than the Philadelphia Phillies, who are suddenly in full-on sell mode. This seems like a good time to link to this. Murky at best, y’all.

- One of the biggest reasons why the Royals are unable to sustain any kind of winning streak is that they insist on trotting Jonathan Sanchez out there every fifth day. Their allegiance to Sanchez long ago passed through “annoying” territory, then “exasperating”, and now is quickly moving through “destructive”. I can’t make this any more clear than to go to all caps:


In 46 innings, Sanchez has walked 40 batters. He has struck out just 32. His walk rate is 55% above his career average AND his strikeout rate has been cut by a third. He’s allowed 52 hits. He’s hit five batters. He’s thrown four wild pitches. He’s made four errors, for a tidy fielding percentage of .600. He’s averaging barely 4.6 innings a start. He has a 6.80 ERA. There is literally nothing he has done well this year.

And he’s not getting better. The Royals already tried the gambit of giving him a month on the DL to rest his arm. He came back on June 13 and allowed just one run in five innings – but seven hits and two walks. Since then:

On June 18, he went six innings, and deserves a gold star for that given that the bullpen desperately needed a breather after a 15-inning game the day before. But twice he made errors trying to pick off a runner at first; the first throw was so wild the runner scored, while the second time he got to third base. That runner reached base when he was hit by a pitch, then scored on a single. With two outs and the runner on first, Sanchez hit a batter, then allowed a single to load the bases, then walked in a run. He allowed four runs, and was saved when a runner was thrown out at the plate. The Royals lost, 9-7.

On June 24, he allowed a three-run homer to Carlos Beltran in the first when he threw a 0-2 fastball right down the middle. In the second inning he allowed two more runs; both runners reached base on a walk, and the second one scored on a wild pitch with two outs. Sanchez escaped with a no-decision despite allowing 6 runs in 5.2 innings, because the offense bailed him out, but the Royals lost 11-8 because their bullpen is ultimately human.

On June 30, he gave up 10 hits and six walks in 4.1 innings. Twice he allowed a double steal because he wasn’t paying attention to the runners. On an admittedly-bizarre squib single that spun back into fair territory, he failed to cover home plate, allowing the speedy Ryan Doumit to score from second base on an infield single. The Royals lost, 7-2.

Since coming off the DL, including his successful first start, Sanchez has allowed 27 hits and 18 walks in 21 innings. Batters hit .325/.452/.506 against him in June. He’s not getting better. He’s getting worse.

I could mention here the terrible body language, the fact that he seems to have been uninterested in playing for the Royals since the day he was acquired. But honestly, it’s irrelevant. What’s relevant is when he does things like forget the runners or fail to cover a base, because those things cost runs, and runs turn into wins. And what’s relevant is that his performance is so bad that even if he had Jeff Francoeur’s personality and Bruce Chen’s sense of humor, he’d deserve to get cut.

And the Royals are circling the wagons around him. Here’s Bob Dutton’s lede from Saturday’s game: “The breaking point for the Royals with struggling left-hander Jonathan Sanchez remains, apparently, far down the road…”

I get it: the Royals know what they’re doing, they have information that we don’t, we’re just frustrated fans who don’t know what the hell we’re talking about.

I cheerfully admit that I’m not an insider, and that I don’t know the details regarding his struggles. But that’s sort of the point. The Royals are so close to the situation that they can’t see the forest for the trees. I’m sure they have a bunch of explanations for why Sanchez sucks so much, and with those explanations come solutions – if we just fix his mechanics here, if he just gets the umpire’s calls there, if every scalding line drive just happens to find a glove…he’s gonna be fine.

But if they would just take a step back, they would realize two things: 1) Few pitchers have ever been as wild as Jonathan Sanchez has been, and 2) Those few pitchers who have, never got it back. Never.

In the last 20 years, just six pitchers have walked at least 7 batters per 9 innings, while making at least 10 starts.

Jesus Sanchez walked 60 batters in 76 innings in 1999, as a 24-year-old sophomore for the Marlins. Sanchez really shouldn’t count; 11 of his 60 walks were intentional, and while he made 10 starts, he also made 49 relief appearances. In any case, Sanchez “rebounded” in 2000 to make 32 starts with a 5.34 ERA, but his career quickly fizzled out; he had a below-league-average ERA every year of his career.

Aaron Myette was, like Sanchez, a 24-year-old pitcher in 2002 when he walked 41 batters in 48 innings. He also allowed 64 hits, including 11 homers, and had a 10.06 ERA. He would throw a grand total of 7 more innings in his career, in which he gave up 11 runs. He finished with 154 innings – and a 8.16 career ERA. That’s the highest ERA by a pitcher with 120+ innings in major league history.

Nick Neugebauer was a flame-throwing right-hander the Brewers selected in the 2nd round in 1999, sort of the primordial version of Jeremy Jeffress. He threw as hard as anyone in the minors, and in 2001 struck out 175 batters in 149 minor league innings. Baseball America ranked him the #17 prospect in baseball before the 2002 season. That year, he made 12 starts for the Brewers, and walked 44 batters in 55 innings. He then blew out his shoulder something fierce, and aside from a single appearance in A-ball two years later, his career was over at the age of 21.

Unlike Sanchez, none of those three guys ever had success in the majors before their command disappeared. But Dontrelle Willis was a sensation – Rookie of the Year in 2003, second in the Cy Young balloting in 2005. But he started to go bad in 2007, with a 5.17 ERA for the Marlins, before the Tigers acquired him along with Miguel Cabrera for six prospects.

Willis then lost the strike zone completely. He walked 35 batters in 24 innings for Detroit in 2008, then 28 batters in 34 innings in 2009. By 2010 the Tigers had tired of him, let him go mid-season and Arizona gave him a shot, so for the season he made 13 starts, during which he walked 56 batters in 66 innings. The Reds gave him a chance in 2011 and he had his best season in four years, “best” being a relative term, since he had a 5.00 ERA and walked 37 batters in 76 innings. His career is somewhere between limbo, jeopardy, and the River Styx at the moment.

Speaking of sensations, Steve Avery was the #1 prospect on Baseball America’s first-ever Top 100 Prospects list back in 1990. He made the Braves’ rotation that year; in 1991, he went 18-8 with a 3.38 ERA and was beyond fantastic in the NLCS to pitch the Braves to the World Series. Too many pitches too soon took a toll, and his career started to go downhill in 1994, when he was 24. By 1999, he was pitching for the Reds and pretty much washed up – in 96 innings, he walked 78 batters and struck out 51. He spent all of 2000 in the minors and then took a couple of years off. The good news is he made it back to the majors briefly in 2003. The bad news is that he made it back as a reliever for the worst team of my lifetime, the 2003 Detroit Tigers. Steve Avery was done after that.

And finally…you may remember when I analyzed this trade back in November, I made the point that the range in what Sanchez could be was enormous. If you spliced the data a certain way, there were two people in baseball history that compared to Sanchez. One was Randy Johnson.

The other was Oliver Perez, who is an eerily good comp for Sanchez, because like Sanchez, even at his best he was uncomfortably wild. In 2004, Perez had a 2.98 ERA in 196 innings, struck out 239 batters…and walked 81. In 2005 and 2006, he was so wild that he had an ERA north of 6 over that span, but found himself a little after joining the Mets in 2007 and 2008. After the 2008 season they signed him to a 3-year, $36 million contract, even though he had led the NL in walks in 2008.

In 2009, Perez made 14 starts, threw 66 innings, walked 58 batters, and had a 6.82 ERA.

In 2010, Perez made 7 starts and 10 relief appearances, threw 46 innings, walked 42 batters, and had a 6.80 ERA.

(As a reminder, Sanchez has made 10 starts, thrown 46 innings, walked 40 batters, and has a 6.80 ERA. Spooky.)

Perez is back in the majors, having resurfaced with the Mariners as a reliever, and has pitched reasonably well in five outings. But when his command went, nothing could save him as a starter, and no amount of hoping could change that.

Perez, Avery, and Willis were all left-handers; all of them had above-average fastballs when they were young. All of them lost velocity on their fastball at the same time their command failed them, which is probably not a coincidence. Another pitcher comes to mind here: Scott Kazmir, who was never quite this wild, but in 2010 mysteriously lost his magic fastball shortly after the Angels acquired him from Tampa Bay. His strikeout rate plummeted that year, his walk rate was a career high, and he had a 5.94 ERA. Despite being just 26 years old, his career was effectively over. In 2011 he made a single start, allowed five runs in 1.2 innings, and hasn’t pitched since.

So, I’m sure you’re asking, what do we know about Sanchez’s fastball? I’m glad you asked.

In 2009, the average velocity on his fastball was 91.6 mph.

In 2010, it was 90.5 mph.

In 2011, it was 89.7 mph.

In 2012, it is 89.1 mph.

Hmmm…a left-hander with career-long command issues, who has lost his fastball and can’t throw strikes? Yeah, let’s keep throwing him out there every fifth day.

I know the Royals don’t give a damn about my opinions, but I’m still entitled to them. And my opinion is that JONATHAN SANCHEZ IS DONE. The evidence couldn’t be more clear. Look guys, I’m sorry that you gave up Melky Cabrera to get him. I’m sorry that Cabrera is making you look like the laughingstock of baseball, hitting .352/.394/.514, leading the NL in hits, and being elected to start the All-Star Game – back in Kansas City. I understand you want to get something out of the trade.

But accept the facts: Jonathan Sanchez is a sunk cost, and letting him continue to take the mound is throwing bad starts after good. I was supportive of the trade at the time, and so were many others in the KC media. I’m owning up to my mistake: I was wrong. And if you would admit to your mistake, or better still if you would have admitted to it two weeks ago when it was clear that this train wasn’t coming back to the station, we could put this behind us and move on. No team has a perfect track record when it comes to trades; if you make trades, you’re going to make some stinkers. So be it.

I’m not a fraction as upset about the trade as I am about your stubborn unwillingness to admit you screwed up. It’s over. Melky Cabrera is awesome. He’s also going to be a free agent at the end of the year. Just pretend you traded Cabrera for Ryan Verdugo, and move on.

The sad part of this? This isn’t even close to the worst case of the Royals sticking with a starting pitcher beyond all reason. You may remember 2005, when the Royals signed Jose Lima to a one-year, $2.5 million contract after they let him get away to Los Angeles following the miracle 2003 season. Lima then rewarded them with a 7.33 ERA heading into the All-Star Break – he had allowed 121 hits, including 20 homers, in 93 innings. And they just kept pitching him. Lima stayed in the rotation all season, making 32 starts. He was better in the second half – his ERA after the Break was all the way down to 6.57. For the season, Lima had a 6.99 ERA, the worst by a qualifying starter in a non-strike-shortened season since 1936.

And here’s the kicker: Jose Lima had incentives in his contract based on starts made. By sticking with him all season, he earned over $1 million in bonuses. If I ever get Allard Baird attached to a lie detector for ten minutes, the first question I’m asking him is…well, the first question is “Tell me about every single instance of the Glass family meddling in baseball affairs.” But the second question will be “WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING WITH JOSE LIMA, YOU IMBECILE?!”

We’re not at that stage with Jonathan Sanchez yet. But we’re on that track. And this is a track that should never, ever be used.

- I meant to cover a lot of things today, but of course Sanchez got me all worked up into a lather. So let me just finish with Billy Butler, the first Royals’ hitter to make the All-Star Team in seven years.

I’m not sure that Butler is the most deserving player on the Royals’ roster. Mike Moustakas has probably been the Royals’ best player overall, given his offensive and defensive contributions. Alcides Escobar has been an absolute joy, and I’ve done him a disservice by not talking about him (or his contract, which suddenly looks like a bargain) at all this year. And Baseball-Reference somehow has Alex Gordon as the team’s best player, although that’s because they’ve scored his defense this year somewhere in Andruw-Jones-in-his-prime territory. He’s good; he’s not that good.

But if the Royals were to only have one representative – and with the game in town, it’s a shame they only have one – I’m glad it’s Butler. For too long, people have focused on what he can’t do – play defense, or hit at a Pujolsian level – instead of what he can. Since the beginning of the 2009 season, he’s hitting .303/.369/.480. He’s averaging 45 doubles and 21 homers a season. And after years of people complaining that he just doesn’t hit enough home runs, he’s finally tapping into it this year – he has a career-high .512 slugging average, and 16 homers in just 77 games. He’s on pace for 34, and while he’s more likely to regress to the mean than he is to pick up that pace, there’s at least the possibility he could make the epic Chase For 37 a reason to tune into Royals games in September. So good for Billy.

Unfortunately, that may be the only reason to tune into Royals games in September. At least that’s what I think now. Talk to me Friday morning, and I may sing a different tune.