by Kurtis Seaboldt
How many homeruns have you hit in the month of April? Go around your office or warehouse or living room and ask everyone you see. The answer will be the same: One less than the entire Royals team.
Alex Gordon’s three-run shot off Jake Odorizzi last Wednesday snapped a streak of 249 at bats without a home run this season. The Royals’ current streak is 106 at bats. The historical precedent for this is alarming.
Only once in their history have they had just one home run through 11 games. It was 1972, their fourth year of existence and their final year at old Municipal Stadium. The second-lowest team total in the majors this season is five.
There are 102 players that have more home runs than the Royals’ team this season, including one player who made his MLB debut this year. Twenty-four players have had more than one home run in a game this year; two – Jose Abreu and Pedro Alvarez – have done it twice.
Thirty-one times a team has hit two home runs in an inning this year. The Pittsburgh Pirates, Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Dodgers have done it four times. The Pirates homered twice in an inning three times in one game!
Perhaps a three-game stay at one of the better home run parks in MLB history will help them out. The Royals open a three-game series against the Astros at Houston’s Minute Maid Park tonight.
Home runs clearly aren’t the only part of a team’s offense; the Astros have 15 homers this season and are virtually tied with the Royals for the honor of being the American League’s lowest scoring team. Still, the ball needs to start going over the fence if the Royals harbor any hopes of getting back in the AL Central race.
by Kurtis Seaboldt
Three weeks ago, in this very space, I proclaimed that the Royals needed a serious power surge if they were to make a move in the American League Central. Go ahead and page down. I’ll wait.
But what I didn’t proclaim was just how big of a surge was required. How many more home runs do they have to hit to build off of last year’s success? What else will be needed? The Royals will open their 46th season on Monday with serious – albeit lofty – expectations of winning a pennant. What does that take? What do American League pennant-winners do?
Fortunately, that stuff can be researched and, even more fortunately for you, I have done that. I looked at the past ten American League champions to see where they ranked in various batting and pitching categories. I wanted to see if there was a theme. Was any one category more crucial than others? Was any one more or less crucial than we thought?
My theory is that whatever category had the highest average ranking could be characterized as the most important. If the champions averaged roughly third in one category and ninth in another, that first category would be more important. Fair enough?
So here’s what I found. Over the last ten years, the most important category was ERA. The average rank of the ten pennant winners was 3.0. Only one team, last year’s Red Sox, ranked lower than fifth and the Sox were sixth. You have to be able to pitch.
The second-most important was WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) with an average rank of 3.6. That makes sense. Don’t let guys get on base and they won’t score. The next two categories are offensive: Slugging percentage and OPS (each 3.9). Extra base hits – especially when paired with walks – is the best way to score runs.
So, nothing too shocking. If you score a lot of runs and don’t allow many runs, you’re going to win a lot of games and if you win a lot of games, you have a good chance at winning the pennant. But there’s been an interesting trend if you limit it to the last five years.
The most important category over the last five years has been batting average. The last five AL champs have had an average finish of 1.8. Each of the last five champs has ranked third or higher. The second-most important category is on-base percentage (2.2). Slugging (2.8) and OPS (2.6) are still important but they have been surpassed by plain ol’ batting average.
That seems counter-intuitive to what you’d think was most important but the numbers are the numbers. No team that ranked lower than third in batting has won the AL pennant since the 2008 Rays. That means something. What it means is that, while the Royals certainly need more home runs in 2014, they can’t merely swing for the fences.
by Kurtis Seaboldt
If you took a poll asking for the most memorable moment from the Royals’ 2013 season, this would almost certainly be the winner.
It was September 22nd, a beautifully sunny Sunday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals were facing the Texas Rangers. It was the bottom of the tenth of a scoreless game. There were two outs and the bases were loaded. Jason Maxwell stepped into the right-handed batter’s box to face former Royals closer Joakim Soria. The shadows, as they do in late afternoons in late September, shaded both pitcher and hitter.
Then it happened.
Like a bolt of lighting, Maxwell swung and launched the ball into the sunlight and into the left field seats. The Royals had won, 4-0. It was their 82nd win of the season, clinching their first winning season in ten years and their second in 19 years. The fact that a home run – a grand slam, at that – was the signature moment of Kansas City’s season could not be more ironic.
Imagine the 2003 Chiefs winning a big game with a goal line stand and you have a rough equivalence of the oddity of Maxwell’s heroics. Power was not exactly the Royals’ calling card last year. The Royals finished last in the American League in home runs but even that doesn’t tell the entire story. They finished last by 32 homers. Kansas City hit 112 home runs in 2013; the Yankees had the next-lowest total at 144.
The last team to finish last in the AL by more home runs than the 2013 Royals was the 2000 Minnesota Twins who hit 116 home runs, 34 behind - of course - the Royals. Only four Twins hit 10 homers that year; none hit 20. But here’s where it’s interesting. The 2001 Twins did much better in the home run category, jumping from 116 to 164. They went from 14th in the American League to ninth. How did they do it? Did they go ink some big time free agent? Did they make a blockbuster trade?
Their younger players just got better. Torii Hunter went from five homers in 2000 to 27 in 2001, the year in which he turned 25. Corey Koskie went from nine homers to 26 in his 28-year old season. And their young DH went from 10 to 18 in his 25-year old season. His name: David Ortiz. Three players went from a combined 24 homers to 71. And it didn’t cost the Twins a red cent.
But who are the Torii Hunter, Corey Koskie and David Ortiz of the 2013-14 Royals? That seems pretty easy to identify. Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler and Mike Moustakas. They hit 17, 15 and 12 home runs, respectively, last season. Can Hosmer hit 32? The second half of last season and his rookie season suggest that he can. Can Butler hit 29? Well, he has hit 29 before so I’d guess that he can again; he’s only 27. Here’s the tricky one: Can Moustakas hit 25?
He hit 20 in 2012 at the age of 23; he certainly can. But last year was a setback for Moose as every power number fell, some in a big way. As he struggled to maintain a .200 average in the first half, it seemed that his priority shifted from driving the ball to not striking out.
That needs to change in 2014 and, through a week of spring training, it seems that is has. He hit two homers Sunday and hit another one Wednesday. The only problem with that is that Moustakas was a masher last spring as well. He hit .394 with five home runs and 16 RBI’s in 26 games. It took him 73 games to reach both of those numbers in the regular season.
I’d rather have him crushing the ball than not but it’s no real indication of what he’ll do once the games count. But, make no mistake. He – and Hosmer and Butler, for that matter – needs to have a very big year for the Royals to make another move in the AL Central.
by Kurtis Seaboldt
A year ago at this time, the Kansas City Chiefs were one of the biggest stories of the NFL’s offseason. The team had a new general manager, a new and very famous head coach and they had the number one pick in the NFL Draft.
The lights are nearly as bright this year – there will likely be no “Chiefs War Room” on ESPN’s draft coverage – but that doesn’t mean that this year’s draft holds any less importance for the team.
Most observers expected the Chiefs to get better in 2013 – it would have been nearly impossible to get worse – but no one foresaw what happened as the team vaulted the growth curve to finish 11-5, a nine-game jump from the previous season. They sent ten players – TEN! – to the Pro Bowl. Andy Reid won several Coach of the Year Awards.
When your first show is that good, what do you do for an encore?
Well, what most teams do is slide. Over the last twelve years, teams that go from a ten-loss season to a ten-win season in one year, regress in the third year by an average of four games. How do the Chiefs avoid that? Getting better on both sides of the ball would go a long way but that won’t be quite as easy as it was a year ago.
They are a team that clearly has some holes to fill. They don’t have the top overall pick. They don’t have a second round pick. Their only pick in the first 86 selections is at number 23.
So, what do they do?
The theory that most people subscribe to is that the Chiefs will use free agency to address their needs on the defensive line and in the secondary, leaving them taking a wide receiver with their first round pick. But that has been a hit-and-miss proposition in the past, especially for this team.
The last time they went wideout in the first round was in 2011 when they drafted Jon Baldwin, a player known more for catching Thomas Jones’ fist than catching anyone’s pass.
In 2007, the result was Dwaye Bowe. While Bowe has produced three 1,000-yard seasons, he’s only made one Pro Bowl. He hasn’t been a consistent impact player.
Before that, their last foray into first-round wide receiverdom – I made that word up – produced Sylvester Morris, who had the same number of TD catches in his career that Mike Vrabel had in 2005. So the Chiefs’ history of first-round receivers is spotty at best. How does the rest of the NFL do? The answer: kind of hit-and-miss.
Since 2000, there have been 55 wide receivers drafted in the first round. Seventeen (31%) became Pro Bowlers, totaling 44 Pro Bowl selections. However, nearly half of those (21) came from the trio of Larry Fitzgerald (8), Andre Johnson (7) and Reggie Wayne (6). Conversely, while 17 became Pro Bowlers, 26 are out of the NFL. Three of them – R.Jay Soward, Rashaun Woods and the aforementioned Sylvester Morris – played just one NFL season.
Wide receiver riches can definitely be found in Round One. But there are plenty of rags as well.
by Kurtis Seaboldt
I said this was going to happen.
It was seven years ago. Randall McDaniel, the great Minnesota Vikings guard whose resume includes 12 Pro Bowls and nine All-Pro nods, had failed to be a finalist in his first year of eligibility for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
At the time Will Shields had just played what would be his final NFL season and the prevailing notion on that February Saturday morning was that Shields, with his 12 Pro Bowls and eight All-Pro nods, would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
That Monday I said on “The Program” that anyone who thought Shields was going in on the first ballot was going to be in for a rude awakening. McDaniel’s career was as decorated as Shields’s was and he wasn’t even a finalist in his first year. No way was Shields going in quicker than McDaniel.
McDaniel moved up to finalist in his second year and then was elected in his third. I figured that was the timeframe for Shields as well but his exclusion from the Class of 2014 has ended that idea. The man who is arguably the greatest player to ever play his position will have to wait until, at least, his fourth year of eligibility.
Saturday’s announcement was supposed to come at 6:00 PM Central Time but, in the age of Twitter, the names always leak out early. Andre Reed was the first then Derrick Brooks. Michael Strahan and Walter Jones followed. Things looked bleak; only five modern day players can go in each year. When word came that Aeneas Williams had made the cut, it was official. Shields was out.
Twitter was then filled with disbelieving Chiefs fans, angry at the snub. I understand that anger. I felt it when Derrick Thomas had to wait until his fifth year to get in. But that taught me to understand the selection process for what it is: well-intentioned but terribly-flawed. You simply cannot apply logic to a situation that sees four-time Pro Bowl guard Russ Grimm as worthy but Shields as unworthy. That is, until you see that Grimm was elected in his 14th year of eligibility.
But, here’s the thing. In the end, it’s not going to matter how long Shields waits. Do you know how many years Buck Buchanan missed the cut? Nine. Len Dawson fell short seven times. Willie Lanier was denied three times, as was Bobby Bell. Does history view them any differently than first ballot guys like Gale Sayers and Bart Starr? Of course, is doesn’t. And it won’t view Shields any differently, either.
Will Shields will be inducted in the Hall of Fame. He’ll wear that yellow blazer. And, no matter when he gets to put it on, it will fit just fine.
by Kurtis Seaboldt
Don’t ask me when it happened but, at some point this past fall, it became obvious that the two best teams in the NFL were the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks.
It’s not often that the two best teams make it to the Super Bowl. This will be just the second time in the last 20 seasons that the two top seeds have played for the Lombardi Trophy so it should be a great game. It’s also one of the more intriguing matchups in the Super Bowl’s 48 years.
The Broncos are the NFL’s number one offense; the Seahawks its number one defense. The last time the Super Bowl pitted the team that scored the most points in the NFL against the team that allowed the fewest points was Super Bowl XXV. The New York Giants used a powerful rushing attack and a stingy defense to thwart the high-octane Buffalo Bills, 20-19.
Could that happen again in New Jersey? In the stadium where those Giants currently play? The matchups say it can – and I think will – for the reasons that follow:
1. Seattle’s secondary. Teams have tried all season to knock Peyton Manning off his timing. Virtually everyone failed as Manning had the greatest statistical year in NFL history. The one problem defenses had is that Manning gets rid of the ball so quickly, it’s almost impossible to get any heat on him. The only way to do it is to knock his receivers off their routes and, failing that, cover them with a blanket. Can you think of any other team that can do that as well as the Seahawks?
2. Marshawn Lynch. The 49ers have allowed just six 100-yard rushing games since 2010; four of them are by Lynch, who is a post-season stud. His four touchdown runs of 25 yards or more are twice the number of any other player in post-season history. The Broncos did a great job shutting down the rushing attacks of both San Diego (65 yards) and New England (64 yards) but there’s a measurable difference between Lynch and LeGarrette Blount or Ryan Matthews.
3. The Weather. It’s too far ahead to accurately predict what the weather will be like but the average high temperature for New York on February 2nd is 34 degrees. If any kind of wind accompanies that, it will be a day for the runners and that favors Seattle, who can get ground yards from quarterback Russell Wilson as well.
The Broncos set a new NFL record for points scored this season with 606. That’s 38 a game. However, in two playoff games on their home field, they’ve scored 24 and 26 against defenses not nearly as salty as the Seahawks. I don’t think Matt Prater will miss wide right from 47 in the final seconds but all of the other factors are there for a repeat of the Silver Anniversary Super Bowl.
Defense will win the day. Seattle 20, Denver 19