Sunday, June 1, 2014

Year Nine.

I may not have the time to write about the Royals nearly as often as I used to, but when the Kansas City Star asks me to write for the Sunday paper 1200 words of hot fire (TM, Sam Mellinger) on the developing nightmare that is the 2014 season, I’m there. If you haven’t read it already, you can do so here. I hope you like it.

Because newspapers are not printed on scrolls, I didn’t have the time to expound on every little detail about the Royals; fortunately, that’s why I have this blog. Let’s talk about some those other issues.

- To be completely fair, it’s a little early to characterize this season as a disaster quite yet, which is why I stepped just short of the line of calling for Dayton Moore to be fired this instant. The 2014 AL is just crazily compressed, more than I can ever recall a league being at the beginning of June. 

Yes, the Royals are in last place in the AL Central as I write this, but they’re also just two games out of second place. They’re in 13th place in the American League (!), but just 3.5 games out of the wild-card spot. Call it the 15-out-of-20 rule, in honor of Moore’s drop-the-mic moment from last year: so long as the Royals can reasonably expect to lead the wild-card race if they win 15 of their next 20 games, it’s premature to give up on the season – and the front office – entirely.

But I am becoming more and more skeptical that such a thing is possible by the moment. It’s not just that the longer the season goes on, the more likely it is that Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler and the newly-returned Mike Moustakas are not just in an epic early-season slump, but that this is simply who they are. It’s not just that the longer the season goes on, the more likely it seems that the Royals may in fact finish with fewer home runs than Barry Bonds hit by himself in 2001.

For one, there’s the schedule. As I wrote back in early April, the Royals actually had one of the easier early-season schedules in baseball, easy enough that it was entirely reasonable that they would be 34-22 at this point. Instead, they’re 26-30, and now it gets harder – with the necessary caveat that it’s not entirely clear which teams are good and which teams are bad this year. They’ve finished their entire season series with the Astros, for instance – and didn’t that go well! – but have yet to play the Yankees or Red Sox at all. If you believe the current standings, that doesn’t sound so bad. If you believe that there’s some relevance to the Red Sox being defending world champions, it doesn’t.

They just played a Blue Jays team which looks like it will be a force in the AL East all season, and were lucky to get a split – if Jose Reyes simply completes a routine throw from shortstop to end Thursday night’s game, the Royals would have lost three of four. From now until June 30th, the Royals play the Cardinals, Yankees, Indians, White Sox, Tigers, Mariners, Dodgers, and Angels. There are no patsies in that bunch. They could easily repeat their 12-17 May with a 12-16 June, in which case they’ll be 38-45 and the pressure will be on the front office to sell as the trading deadline approaches. Specifically, the pressure will be on them to trade James Shields. For a lot less than they acquired him for. It’s a lot to ask your general manager to make a move that almost by definition will acknowledge that the signature transaction of his tenure was a mistake.

Beyond that, there’s the stark reality that there ain’t no cavalry coming from the minors this season. While the farm system is pretty good overall, let’s not mince words: most of the Royals’ prospects have been disappointing this season, and the best of them are still in A-ball. The one who hasn’t, Yordano Ventura, gave us all a frightful scare last week, and while reports couldn’t be better – he might well be back on the mound this week – the reality is that the Royals are 26-30 with Ventura, and his availability the rest of the season is not entirely certain.

Kyle Zimmer, who was supposed to lead the cavalry, may not be on a mound until August after a strained lat muscle further delayed his recovery from “minor” arm soreness – and once again raised the question of whether the Royals are being entirely straight with us. Who else can the Royals call on? We’ve already seen their options in the lineup – Johnny Giavotella, Jimmy Paredes, Pedro Ciriaco – which are collectively so appealing that when Danny Valencia had to go on the DL today, the Royals brought Mike Moustakas back after eight whole games in Omaha and declared him fixed. (And it speaks volumes that through all this, Christian Colon – who’s hitting .280/.333/.372 – is the one guy we haven’t seen in Kansas City.)

And on the pitching side…um, did you see Aaron Brooks’ start on Saturday? Actually, maybe it’s better if you didn’t. If you’re thinking of jumping someone from Double-A, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals are 18-36, so don’t. (Actually that’s not fair – Angel Baez could be the Royals’ next fire-breathing reliever, and it’s entirely possible that Orlando Calixte could be the Royals’ best option at third base by September. But no one's going to help right now.)

Realistically, the only way this roster is going to be upgraded is from outside the organization…which means doubling down on trading future prospects for present talent. That’s a fine thing to do if the Royals are in the thick of a wild-card race. Right now, it’s Russian Roulette with only one chamber that doesn’t have a bullet.

Making this season particularly frustrating is that, once again, the Royals can’t blame injuries – they’ve been pretty healthy ever since Luke Hochevar went down with Tommy John surgery. Lorenzo Cain has been on the DL, but that’s what you get with Cain, and the Royals are well covered there with Jarrod Dyson. Omar Infante has been on the DL, but that’s what you get with Infante, and the Royals got him back as fast as they could. And now Valencia is on the DL, but if the Royals’ chances come down to a healthy Danny Valencia, they might as well pack it in right now. And on the pitching side, Tim Collins and Francisley Bueno were on the DL, and Bruce Chen is on there now, but that’s it – the Royals’ #5 starter and two situational relievers.

Maybe the Royals’ individual players will show improvement, but that improvement is likely to be counteracted by injuries to core players. Losing Ventura for just one start showed how little pitching depth the Royals have right now. The Royals didn’t make much of it, but Danny Duffy’s velocity was way down his last time out, and forgive me if I don’t accept Ned Yost’s excuse of a “dead arm” until I see that velocity come back. And if Gordon or Alcides Escobar or Salvador Perez goes down for an extended period of time…God help us.

So I’m not convinced that the Royals can play that much better than they already have – and I’m fairly convinced that given their schedule, they’ll have to play better just to maintain their disappointing record so far. They’ll have to play a lot better to get back into the wild-card race, because eventually one of the other nine teams ahead of them will get really hot. The Tigers and A’s will almost certainly win 90 games; I think the Blue Jays have a good chance to get there too, particularly if they make a move to pick up a pitcher (you may have heard that James Shields would look awfully good there). The Angels strike me as a team that could get hot awfully fast, especially now that Josh Hamilton is ready to re-join their lineup. That just means one team – the Red Sox, Yankees, Rangers all seem like good candidates – needs to go on a tear, and the Royals will be left in their wake.

Even if it takes just 88 wins to make the playoffs in the AL this year (it took 92 last year,) that would require the Royals to go 62-44 the rest of the season. I’m not saying it can’t happen – they did go 43-27 after the All-Star Break last year. I’m saying that betting on another second-half rebound is betting on hope. And as the Royals have demonstrated year after year after year, hope is not a strategy.

David Glass doesn’t have to make any decisions now. He shouldn’t, quite frankly; the draft starts in a couple of days, and you might recall that Moore was hired just before the draft the last time around, and the lack of clear leadership in the war room led to Luke Hochevar #1 overall, and (nearly as damning) not a single major leaguer of note drafted between Hochevar and their final pick, Jarrod Dyson. For that reason alone the front office should be left alone for the next week or two.

But I don’t think I’m being unreasonable when I say that if 2014 was the make-or-break year for Moore, then June is his make-or-break month. If the Royals can climb back to .500 by month’s end, then maybe the grim reaper should be held back for a little while longer. If they get over .500 and are a serious threat in the wild-card race, maybe it will even be best to let the season play out, even if it means holding onto Shields and taking the draft pick the way the Royals did with Ervin Santana last year.

But if the Royals aren’t any higher in the standings at the end of June than they are at the beginning of it, it’s time for the owner to do what only the owner can do. I was 30 when Moore was hired; I turn 39 in two weeks. I’ve come to the realization that I may have wasted my 30s rooting for a payoff that never came. I have no intention of wasting my 40s the same way.


Mark said...

It's like a low grade fever. You have good days and you have bad days but it NEVER goes away.

You may as well start cluing us in on potential general managers and field managers (if Yost bunts one more time...)so we can be prepared for rebuilding job #37. You know it's inevitable.

twm said...

Have not looked in a couple days, but when I did, the Royals and Blue Jays were the only teams over two standard deviations always from the AL average in home runs. And it was not close, the next closest was not even 1.5 SDs away, whereas the Royals were almost 2.5 away and the Blue Jays were more like 2.8 away. Home runs are not everything, but the numbers this season are embarrassing. Someone on another blog commented that the Royals play a fun version of small ball. That person must not actually watch the Royals. Like, ever.

Jayboid said...

Got quite a chuckle from a comment regarding your article in the Star. One wise man was concerned the paper had resorted to using a blogger.

Rany, you are the alternate voice of the Royals, thought it fantastic the Star went to you.

I've heard many times how the "pros" cite you on radio, and even television.

kcghost said...

This team is almost unwatchable on offense. The slide of Gordon and Butler into the lower levels of mediocrity and Hosmer's decline into a poor man's Hal Morris has produced an offense with zero middle of the order presence.

I still can't figure out how you can remove Francouer and Getz from the lineup and replace them with decent guys and have the offense fade into oblivion.

About all we can pray for is that Moustakas pulls a "Teahen" and just goes crazy the rest of the year. Not likely, is it.

Fast Eddie said...

What's appalling is how little there is in the minor league system now. (Because of injuries and failure to live up to promise)

SP said...

The chances of a wild-card caliber team (ie, with an end-of-season win% around .560) winning 15 out of 20 at any given time is about 4.6%.

So, he's banking on an outcome that has a <5% chance of happening. Cool.

Jesse Alkire said...

What are the chances the KC baseball media come together in an effort to put pressure on Royals management to hire an advanced analytics-friendly front office?

The media wields more power than you would think, and considering many of those on the forefront of modern baseball sabermetrics are either from the Kansas City area or avid Royals fans, one could assume that a reasonable case could be made to convince the Royals front office to go down a smarter road after Dayton Moore is fired. If the KC media came together, you could all really make a difference here.

You're writing articles for the Star, you've been in the national spotlight thanks to the MLB Network. Please use the influence you've built up to achieve a greater good -- you could start a movement, get this team's front office to embrace sabermetrics!

twm said...

Someone with serious smarts needs to do a postmortem on this team, particularly the 2014 version. Because I have no idea how this happens. Individual moves along the way I can kind of grasp - which trades and free agent signings pan out, which draft picks could have been used more wisely - but the big picture problem here is as Rany suggests, the team core of vaunted prospects almost all cratered either in the high minors or the bigs. How does that happen? We need a moneyball type book about these last few seasons to help explain why so much promise has seemingly evaporated. Maybe there is nothing overarching, maybe it is a confluence, but it sure looks organizational.

Unknown said...

still don't understand how glass can come from wal-mart where they were early adapters of computers and software that gave them an advantage over the competition & the royals themselves are the antithesis of this.

from the mid 70's through the mid 90's i was a 20 to 40 game a year attendee. now maybe 2 times a year.

glass took the cheap way out with the revised stadium instead of going downtown where the team belongs.

ned is grumpy, glad he isn't in charge of my customer relations.

moore may have drafted well, but he doesn't know how to develop players.

hudler and physioc (sp?) are not enjoyable to listen to on the air.

i enjoy joel, ryan, and denny on the air. like watching cain, gordon, escobar, hosmer, moustakas, perez in the field. like watching escobar & gordon at the plate. shields, ventura, crow, davis, & holland on the mound.

i don't understand the system wide aversion to power, walks, and plate discipline.

quite frankly i just follow the game on twitter and turn over from basketball, hockey, or soccer if something interesting is going on.

pretty sad state of affairs out at the k.

Unknown said...

You know the hope of more years for Moore has to play into his draft. I am guessing we go college heavy, regardless of best player available. Even worse blocking the few prospects in A ball that look like they have a chance. I think one could argue that by letting Moore draft this year it could set us back another year for the new GM. We need new coaches in the worst way. Manny Ramirez would have been a homerun hire for our AAA team. Hell, I'd take him for our big league squad.

Fast Eddie said...

It looks like K.C. is going to miss Tanaka when they play N.Y. and miss Sale when they're in Chicago. Wainwright and Wacha are scheduled in the Cardinal series, and Kluber is slated to pitch for Cleveland next Tues. So, a mixed bag of hitting and missing aces, to which the Royals may have a high probability of losing.

KHAZAD said...

Ever since the high ratings of the Royals minor league system, and the hype machine that followed, it seems like everyone just assumes that Dayton Moore has done well in the June amateur draft. One of the commenters here already said "Moore has drafted well, but..."

Rany said that we should leave things alone until the draft, because the rudderless 2006 was a disaster.

I don't really see the results. Jarrod Dyson from the 2006 draft has a 1.1 BR WAR this year, and every single player Dayton Moore has drafted since have combined for a -1.5 BR WAR in 2014. That's right, the sum total of Dayton Moore's June draft picks is 1.5 wins BELOW replacement level this year.

Fast Eddie said...

Somebody correct me if I'm wrong, but can the Royals buy out Billy Butler after this season?

twm said...

Yes, Butler has an option for next season. $1 million buyout.

Anonymous said...

I got 404ed on the link to the Star. Poked around a little on the site, and got 404ed again. Little help?

Jazzbumpa said...

I got to the Star article with no prob.

Well written and cleverly stated. Rany - you are good!

The way the Tigers are playing now, they might be struggling for a play-off spot.

Last post I said they didn't have 2nd half swoons. This year they did - in the 2nd half of May. Sadly, it's carried into June. The bull pen has come totally unzipped. But that hardly matters. You're not going to win much averaging 2.9 runs, as the Tigers have over the last 10 games.

Royals visit Comerica for 4 mid-month. We'll see who survives.


Ford said...

Good news! With any luck Dayton drafted Tim Collins replacement. Two leftys should ensure that. The other two you will never hear about again. This of course is if these four picks go with the grain of all previous Dayton drafts. I used to get excited about the baseball draft. No reason to now when you know the outcome.

Ford said...

For fun look at Bairds 1st round results vs. Dayton. Pretty interesting when you consider war and who has made impact in the majors. Baird had less resources and by all accounts a highly dysfunctional environment.

Unknown said...

Don't defend Allard Baird! Yes, he worked in a toxic environment; but he monumentally screwed up the trades of Beltran, Dye and Damon. All the players combined that the Royals received in those trades netted a sum total of 1 All-star appearance IN THEIR CAREERS! (John Buck, by the way.)

Rany (or anyone else who cares to respond), is it even possible for a GM to change his spots? Could DM embrace analytics at this point in the game? Can he develop a minor league SYSTEM? I mean a system where players get called up with key traits that you KNOW they learned on the farm because essentially ALL our players do it. (Like Minnesota pitchers who were clearly trained to throw strikes.) I mean, I say "Royals hitter" and what positive trait comes to mind? Am I wrong to observe that most of our young players seem to move through the minors based on talent, and when they get to the Big Leagues, it looks as if they have been taught nothing on the way.

John said...

Billy Beane just bought Justin Marks from the Royals, straight cash deal apparently. How long is it before we see Marks at the podium to get his Cy Young Award?

Unknown said...

It's much to early to give up on this team. Way to early to give up on Mike Moustakas. You need to dig a little deeper. If I were a betting man, I would bet that Butler gets back to normal. Same for Infante and Aoki.

Moustakas has cut his in field fly ball rate in half, improved his walk rate, and cut down his strike outs. His babip is under 200. Regression will happen. Everyone just needs to relax. They are probably roughly a tad above a 500 team. This could still be a fun ride, and it really hasn't been a bad ride so far.

MoreHRsAndLesNorman said...

I was looking for the old "15 out of 20" rant as the Royals have more or less just done it again (18-6 should count).......and this post is just a gem. If we could only go back and tell Rany and ourselves what was about to happen..............