By Jeff Montgomery
During my dozen years in the American League, I would have made roughly 25 trips to Boston to play baseball against the Red Sox. I have several fond memories from those road trips to one of my favorite cities in our great country. None of the trips I made to Boston as a player will ever leave such a lasting memory as the trip I made last Friday for the Royals series against the Red Sox this past weekend.
On the Friday morning, my wife, Tina, and I were to fly to Boston for me to work the series for Fox Sports Kansas City. We woke to the news that authorities had been working throughout the night after developments in the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers had intensified. We initially thought our chances of getting to Boston that day were very slim but later learned our flight was scheduled to depart on time. On the way to the airport we both received numerous messages from friends wondering if we were still going to make the trip, most of them making the assumption we would never make it.
Upon our arrival at the Boston airport we were surprised to learn that taxi service was available and we were going to be able to make it from the airport to our hotel through a city that was on lockdown. We were both prepared for a long stay at the airport until the lockdown was lifted. Instead we made it in record time as there was virtually no traffic and as we got closer to the hotel, which was very close to the scene of the bombings, we saw every major news station set up and covering the events.
When we arrived at the team hotel we saw several of the players, coaches, and media members in the lobby awaiting word on whether or not there would be Friday night baseball. As it turned our there was no game on Friday night, but a much more significant event occurred later that evening when the second bombing suspect was apprehended. It was at that time when the city of Boston began its celebration. Normally a city wide celebration follows the Marathon on Patriots Day each spring in Boston but this celebration, which was delayed by more than five days will be one that no Bostonian will ever forget.
On Saturday there was baseball, but before the seemingly meaningless game started there was an on-field ceremony that brought tears to almost everyone in attendance when the victims were honored and those who responded to assist the injured were recognized. It was truly one of the most memorable moments any American could experience and certainly one that I will never forget.
As Boston used the American pastime to begin its road to recovery and return to normalcy, it made me proud to be an American and provided a memory that I will certainly never forget.
By Jeff Montgomery
There has been an enormous amount of talk about who should be the Royals’ fifth starter since Spring Training camp opened well over a month ago. In fact, the fifth rotation spot and the second base job seemed to be the primary reason for the Royals even having a Spring Training camp. Recently, manager Ned Yost awarded Luis Mendoza the team’s final spot in the starting rotation. Although Mendoza seemed to be the organization's least favorite choice to emerge as the winner of the three-man competition for the fifth rotation spot, which also included Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen, he did seem to be the fans' favorite choice for the slot.
At age 29, Mendoza is still at an age where he can contribute for a number of years if he is able to continue to improve at the Major League level. Over the past two seasons, Mendoza has evolved into a more complete pitcher who has the ability to feature swing-and-miss type “stuff” with his improved curveball and change-up. Previously, Mendoza was primarily a sinkerball pitcher who would attempt to pitch to contact, as he didn’t have the ability to consistently throw his curve and change-up for strikes in hitter’s counts.
To me, this also seems to be additional evidence that the organization feels it is ready to win now and not going with a rotation choice based on past performance or allowing a pitcher to prove he can live up to the potential that prompted a high draft selection. I do feel that either Bruce Chen or Luke Hochevar will have the opportunity to contribute as starting pitcher at some point during the season as a result of one or more of the starting five needing to miss some starts.
Based on a small Spring Training sample and the way Luke Hochevar has embraced his opportunity to prolong his career as a Royal in the bullpen, it will likely be Chen who is the first to be called on as a starter. This is certainly a good problem to have considering that Chen was the Opening Day pitcher last year and Hochevar followed in game two and now are both pitching out of the bullpen.
Let’s hope that Mendoza can prove the majority of the fans and Ned Yost were right in wanting him to be part of the revamped starting rotation. If the Royals are to contend for a post-season berth in 2013, the fifth guy in the rotation could be just as important in that quest as the top of the rotation guys are based on the depth the American League champion Detroit Tigers feature in their starting rotation.
By Jeff Montgomery
With Opening Day just around the corner, I thought it might be helpful to provide a brief description of a few of the fairly new baseball terms that one might hear or read about during the upcoming season.
Regardless of where one stands when it comes to using specialized analysis to grade or evaluate players, more and more metrics are being utilized each year for player evaluations.
Before getting into the description of the terms I should provide a little history on how they were created. A former KU student and Kansas native named Bill James (right) was a pioneer as it relates to objective baseball statistics. Sabermetrics comes from SABR, which is an acronym for the Society for American Baseball Research and was developed by famous “Stat Man” James.
We are only going to focus on three of the more popular examples of Sabermetric measurement even though there are literally dozens more that are used by Seamheads around the country. The three we are going to look at are the ones you have probably already heard of, or ones you will likely hear about when watching or listening to a Royals game this season.
1.) OPS (On-base Plus Slugging) – This statistic is merely the marriage of two of more common baseball statistics that have been used for several years, On-base Percentage and Slugging Percentage. So, OPS=OBP+SLG, therefore, getting on base and having a high number of extra base hits will yield a high OPS. The very best players in the game will have an OPS around 1.0000, however, it is possible to have an OPS above 1.0000 and anything around .9000 is considered very good. An average player will have an OPS around .7000. Not surprisingly, Babe Ruth has a lifetime OPS of 1.1636 which is the highest of all time. Albert Pujols leads active players with an OPS of 1.0220.
2.) WAR (Wins Above Replacement) – This term is becoming more and more popular around the baseball community and measures exactly what it sounds like, how many more wins does a player give a team in a season as opposed to the amount of wins the team would have had with a Minor League replacement or bench player in at that position. WAR is used to measure both pitchers and position players. There are numerous baseball publications that use different formulas to determine the WAR for a player, but the principle is the same for all. The Royals top all-time WAR leader is George Brett with a WAR of 84. This means the Hall of Famer was worth 84 more wins to the Royals in his 21 seasons than someone who would have been used as his replacement. Babe Ruth comes in at the top of the list with a 178.3 WAR. The active player (if you want to call him active) is Alex Rodriquez with a 111.4 WAR.
3.) UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) – The popular baseball website Fangraphs has developed a statistic to measure defensive abilities of a player. It makes comparisons between players based on what would be considered “average”. If a player has a UZR of zero he is exactly average for a player at his position in the same league. UZR is compiled by recording actual data that is recorded from games and divides the field into “zones” in which fielders are given responsibility for the respective zones. Last season, in which Yuniesky Betancourt played 382.1 innings at Second Base he had a UZR of minus 35. If that awful rating were scaled to reflect Yuni playing in 150 games his UZR would be minus 8.2. As a comparison, Mike Moustakas had a UZR of 16.8.
Again, regardless of how a person feels about advanced statistics, we are starting to hear more and more about them. For those who truly love the game of baseball and want to spend countless hours looking for more in-depth ways to grade their favorite players, there are many ways to do so in today’s world of baseball.
By Jeff Montgomery
Through this past weekend the Royals had a record of 9-0-1 which gives everyone great reason to be excited about the upcoming season. I am going to give the Royals the benefit of the doubt in the Spring Training Opener tie against the Rangers as we have a much deeper bullpen and certainly would have won that game as well even if it had taken 25 innings to do so which would give the Boys in Blue a 10-0 record to start the Camp.
One of the questions I get most during the month of March each year is “How important is the Spring Training record?” My response has always been pretty much the same: “It doesn’t mean very much”. There have been several years that teams at the top of the Cactus or Grapefruit Leagues have gone on to dwell in the cellar during the regular season and vice versa. The Royals have had just two Spring Training records below .500 over the past 10 years but during that time have only had a winning record for the regular season only one time, which came in 2003.
However, one reason I think this year’s Spring Training record is encouraging is the way in which the team is accomplishing it. They have gotten the expected quality innings from their revamped starting pitchers and they have received offensive punch from a variety of players. Billy (Butler) and Alex (Gordon) have been Billy and Alex but the performances from Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer have been most encouraging. Let’s not forget that even Chris Getz has gone deep this spring.
To me, Eric Hosmer is a key player if the Royals are to have a solid offensive season. It appears that he has put a disappointing 2012 campaign in the rearview mirror and is off to a great start this spring. It is important to note that Hosmer had a very solid Spring Training last year only to fall into a near season long slump after hitting into some bad luck early in the season.
If both Hosmer and Moustakas are able to carry hot bats into the season and have good starts, it will certainly ease a great deal of pressure on them and give manager Ned Yost a great deal of flexibility on how to stack his lineup. It should also make things easier for Billy and Alex to be themselves and not feel pressured to carry the offense.
Isn’t it great to dream big in the spring? Oh yes it is!
By Jeff Montgomery
Two years ago during the 2011 Spring Training, I had a chance to watch left-hander John Lamb pitch in a game for the first time and was very impressed with the composure the 20-year-old possessed in his outing against the Los Angeles Dodgers. I had watched two other left-handed prospects in Mike Montgomery and Chris Dwyer pitch but Lamb was the one that stood out the most to me. The way he attacked the Dodgers hitters was impressive to say the least as he struck out the side on about 12 pitches. By the way, this was the Los Angeles Dodgers he was facing and not the AAA Albuquerque Isotopes.
The Royals also had right-handed prospect Jake Odorizzi who they had acquired in the Zach Greinke trade with the Brewers but Lamb was the pitcher that I told everyone to look out for and the one I felt would most likely be a factor in the Royals rotation at some point in the future.
Now that he has recovered from the Tommy John surgery performed on his left elbow in the summer of 2011, his climb to the Major Leagues moves into a higher gear. He pitched in limited action last season but was not able to make significant progress or get the amount of work the Royals wanted because of an injury to his foot. Now that he is almost two years removed from elbow surgery he should be physically ready to carry the workload to get the necessary seasoning in the Minor Leagues to have a chance to pitch in the Big Leagues sometime in the next few seasons.
Lamb is not a flamethrower but just watching him in one inning of work it was apparent that he has the stuff and the ability to be a highly successful Major League pitcher. With the addition of new and experienced arms under Royals control it will be a challenge for Lamb to crack the rotation in the near term but I feel he is a prospect worth watching for the future. Stay tuned!!
By Jeff Montgomery
As Major League pitchers and catchers begin to officially occupy their respective clubhouses, not many in baseball will be as overhauled as the Royals’. It is the revamped starting rotation that has many around baseball and particularly in Royals County expecting the Royals to be one of the most improved teams in the game.
Although there were many who thought last year’s team would be much improved, injuries that started in Spring Training and a horrific April record made the season seem like an uphill struggle from the beginning. Last year’s expectations were based primarily on potential that young players like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain had shown in their debuts with the team the previous year.
It is my opinion that Dayton Moore and his staff have given Royals fans a legitimate reason to expect big things from the team this year. Going back to Dayton’s first press conference, he indicated that fans don’t want to hear it but it will take around eight years to completely rebuild the system from the ground up and he seems to be close to that mark as he was hired in 2006.
As a player I had a chance to play on some very good teams early in my career and some very bad teams late in my career. One thing that was consistent on both good and bad teams was that when Spring Training started, everyone on the team and in the organization believes the upcoming season could be a special year.
With the quality pitchers that Ned Yost should send to the mound every game (and possibly a little stumble by the Tigers), maybe this will be that special year every Kansas City Royals fan has been waiting on for almost three decades.