by Kurtis Seaboldt
I don’t know what year it began – I can’t find a single mention of it anywhere on the internet – but, at some point, Major League Baseball decided that every team must have at least one representative in the All-Star Game.
That meant little to Royals fans of my generation; the Mid-Summer Classic was a showcase for our team. Four times in the 1970’s the Royals sent four players to the game.
And our guys played, too. From 1975 through 1982, 24 players played in the All-Star Game. George Brett was usually the only starter but the Royals had guys in the game, not just at the game.
But, starting in the late 1990’s, that quaint little clause that said every team gets a player was the only thing that kept Kansas City from being shutout entirely. From 1997 through 2012, the Royals had one representative in the game 14 times in 16 years. Five times in that span, the Royals’ rep never made it past the pre-game introductions.
The last two years have been a different story. For the second year in a row, the Royals have placed three players in the All-Star Game. The last time the Royals sent three players to consecutive All-Star Games? How about 1987 and 1988?
Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon and Greg Holland will make up that trio as they did a year ago. Perez will start at catcher – vote-winner Matt Wieters of Baltimore is injured – becoming the first Royals catcher to start in an All-Star Game since the late Darrell Porter in 1979. He will be just the third Royal ever to play in two All-Star Games before his 25th birthday.
Not only is Gordon the first Royals’ outfielder to go in back-to-back seasons since Willie Wilson, he’s the first since Wilson to make two appearances, period. Amos Otis is the only other Royals outfielder to make multiple All-Star Games. Holland got into last year’s game and could be the first KC closer to pitch in consecutive All-Star Games since Jeff Montgomery in 1992 and 1993.
The Royals are no longer an afterthought in Major League Baseball. They are contenders, and baseball has taken notice.
by Kurtis Seaboldt
Coming off of a three-game home sweep at the hands of the worst team in the American League, winning five of their next nine was an eye-opener for fans of the Kansas City Royals, especially since four of the wins were on the road against quality opposition in Toronto and St. Louis.
But that was nothing compared to what happened next. A ten-game winning streak, the Royals longest in twenty years, vaulted them into the national spotlight and into first place in the AL Central. Suddenly, fans who were about to bail on the season were in the unexpected spot of pondering a playoff run.
The Royals responded by losing four straight and falling out of first but, with Monday’s win over the Dodgers, they are just two out with five more home games left on this stand. They are a legitimate division title contender.
The pitching is clearly there. They are the only AL team with five starters sporting ERA’s under 3.90. The Dodgers are the only other team in the majors that can say that. They are almost unbeatable when they lead after seven, though Greg Holland may want to stop grooving inside fastballs to left-handed hitters.
The problem, of course, is the offense. Even though the Royals have greatly improved in 24 games under Dale Sveum, they still don’t have what virtually every division champion in the last ten years has had.
An MVP candidate.
In the last ten seasons, 55 of 60 division winners had at least one position player finish in the top ten of that year’s MVP voting. Twenty had at least two. Thirty-seven of 60 had at least one position player finish in the top five. Now, how many players on this Royals roster do you think are capable of finishing in the top five?
Not a single Royal is on pace for 20 homers. Not one is on pace for 90 RBI. Not one is on pace for 100 runs scored. They have one player – Lorenzo Cain – hitting over .300.
There pitching may be lights out. But, until at least one guy in that lineup takes off in a big way, they don’t seem to have what it takes for post-season.
by Kurtis Seaboldt
It was one of the hottest questions of the young Royals season: Would the Royals send down slumping third baseman Mike Moustakas and when? The answer finally came on May 22, when Moustakas and his .152 batting average were sent up I-29 to Omaha.
He did not stay long.
Just ten days later, Moustakas was recalled and inserted into the Royals’ lineup for the final game of a three-game series in Toronto. The reason? The placement of his replacement, Danny Valencia, on the disabled list with a wrist injury. Ned Yost insisted that Moustakas wasn’t going to be down long, regardless of Valencia’s status.
“He just needed a break,” Yost said. “He got it.”
But another factor was likely in play. The Royals minor league system contains no player who is ready to step in and play third base, even for a short time. It highlights one of the biggest problems with this team’s progress from laughing stock to legitimate contender. Their farm system, one that has been referred to in recent years as “the best in baseball”, is dry. It is especially true when it comes to position players.
The Royals will make their first round draft pick tonight, the seventeenth pick overall. It will be the eighth first round pick made by Dayton Moore – I’ll go ahead and allow him to escape the Luke Hochevar thing. The Royals have gotten very little from Moore’s first round picks to date.
Mike Moustakas was the top pick in 2007 and, well, we just talked about him. Eric Hosmer was the top pick in 2008. The two have combined for just 91 home runs in 3400 at bats. By comparison, one player from each of those drafts has more home runs by himself. Matt Weiters (2007) has 92; Pedro Alvarez (2008) has 97.
But how about since then? Well, the average MLB team has gotten about 236 hits, 28 home runs, 108 RBI and 124 runs scored from players they drafted in the years 2009 through 2013. Seattle and Arizona have done the best. The Mariners have gotten 1103 hits, 119 home runs, 487 RBI, 551 runs scored from their draftees in that span. Arizona also has gotten over 100 homers and 400 RBI.
Sadly, the Royals have not been quite as productive. They have combined for 0 hits, 0 homers, 0 RBI and 0 runs scored. Not only have they not gotten a hit from a player drafted in that span, they’ve only gotten one at bat. Do you know who got it?
He struck out in the ninth inning of a 16-8 win at Colorado on July 3, 2011. The Kansas City Royals have not gotten a single game played from a position player drafted from 2009 to now. Amazingly, the Royals are not the only team to which that applies. The Los Angeles Dodgers have come up empty as well. It should be pointed out that they do have a little more cash to spend on established talent and players like Yasiel Puig.
The Royals have some players who could break that cycle but there isn’t one that you can look at and say, “Yeah, he’s going to contribute”. It’s a trend that has to be reversed soon. When a relief pitcher is your most productive hitter, you have a major problem.
by Kurtis Seaboldt
In the bygone era known as “Twenty Years Ago”, headlines used to jump off the page. Now, more often than not, they jump off the screen. One that certainly did that was the column written by Fox Sports.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan this past Friday.
“Royals’ Grifol: If we’re in playoffs, no one will care if we don’t hit homers.”
In the column, Royals hitting coach Pedro Grifol tries very hard to convince Flanagan and – by proxy – readers that the team’s notable lack of home runs this season isn’t really that big of a deal. “I don't think -- and anyone can correct me if I'm wrong -- anyone is going to complain if we're in the playoffs and we're worst in the league in home runs”, Grifol told Flanagan.
But there is one slight problem with that scenario. It never happens. In the history of the American League, just three teams have made the playoffs while being last in home runs. In reverse order, they are the 1959 White Sox, the 1924 Senators and the 1906 White Sox. Since the Wild Card format began in 1995, there have been 78 teams make the American League playoffs. Only three have ranked as low as tenth.
The Royals will not make the playoffs if they are last in the league in home runs. And if American League history doesn’t show us that, Sunday’s game against Baltimore should.
There were the Royals, being stifled for the third game in a row by Baltimore pitching. They had “scratched” – another comment from Grifol in that column – for a pair of runs by their usual manner – singles and ground balls – but were trailing, 3-2. In the fifth, a walk and a single had the tying run at second. For the third time in the game, the Royals were going to need three base runners to score a single lousy run.
Then Alex Gordon did something amazing. He hit the baseball over that fence they have in right field. One swing turned a 3-2 deficit into a 5-3 lead. Two innings later, he did it again. Another three-run shot and the score was 8-3 and now the bullpen had some wiggle room, which they surely needed as Aaron Crow was touched for three runs in the ninth.
But that was okay because, you see, the Royals offense had pounded their way to a big lead. The way good teams do. The way playoff teams do.
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.