The Royals are 14-16

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It’s May 5, and the Royals just wrapped up their first home series against the probably-going-to-win-the-division Detroit Tigers. The Royals got swept, and I found myself completely silent on social media because I didn’t have anything nice to say in just 140 characters.

When the game of baseball gets you down, it takes a lot more words than a simple tweet to keep you from spiraling into a deep depression. Comments like, “it’s a long season,” or, “we’ll turn it around,” or, “it’s a matter of time before Hosmer hits a home run,” just don’t feel appropriate when your team just got swept by the team they’re likely going to be chasing now for the rest of the season.

This weekend’s series was awful, sure, and I feel we wasted a major opportunity to make a statement early in the season, but I believe more strongly in the importance of taking a step back and evaluating the entire season on a broader scale. We get so caught up in the minutiae of baseball – lack of power, 0-5 against the Tigers, Moose batting .151, etc. – and forget that baseball is a marathon and anything can happen over the next 5 months.

You can call me overly optimistic if you want. That’s fine. But I continue to think this Royals team can win a lot of games and make the playoffs.

I want to look at each part of our team at this point of the season, give it a grade, and then make a final point about this team and be done with this post.

Starting Pitching

The starting pitching has been borderline phenomenal to this point of the season. Each of our pitchers has gotten shelled at one point – maybe save for Yordano Ventura who has just had one average outing – and that’s going to happen at some point during the season. But even with Bruce Chen’s 5 run inning last week, James Shields’s 12 hit/7 ER performance on Friday, Jeremy Guthrie’s abundance of HRs (7), and Vargas’s adventure on the mound yesterday, we have a team ERA of 3.42 – third best in the AL behind Detroit and Oakland. Our starters also have the second lowest BB/9 in the AL – 2.51, second only to the Yankees.

So the pitching is there. Ventura has been as advertised. Vargas has benefitted greatly from the large confines of Kauffman Stadium and has been arguably worth the contract we are paying him. Guthrie has done fine, save for a few mistakes that ended up in the outfield seats. Bruce Chen has even been alright so far – much better than your normal #5 starter, and Danny Duffy filled in nicely on Saturday throwing 4 scoreless innings.

The pitching is there, and will continue to be there. In fact, we haven’t even seen the best stuff from Shields yet. Last week they would’ve gotten a solid A. This weekend has dropped them a bit in my mind. Grade: B+

Relief Pitching

The Royals had the best bullpen in the American League last year. We all know this. And we also all knew they couldn’t reproduce their insane 2013 campaign.

The first two weeks were rocky, but the past three weeks have looked much better. Wade Davis has looked great in his role. Aaron Crow has been alright – he’s been Ned Yost’s jam guy to this point and has inherited a lot of base runners. Coleman coming back from the DL will help. And Greg Holland is still one of the best in the majors at his job.

The bullpen has given up the least amount of HRs/9 in the majors (0.34) and is second only to the Yankees in K/9 thanks to Davis and Greg Holland.

Early April was rough. The past few weeks have been okay.

I believe in this unit. But they’ve been shaky early, and I can’t give them a grade on 2013 or expectations. Grade: B-

Batting

This has been embarrassing to watch at times.

Mike Moustakas opens the season with an embarrassing hitless streak. Billy Butler is in an unprecedented slump. Hosmer hasn’t hit a home run yet. In fact, the entire Royals team has been in a power slump and have only hit 12 homers as a team. Dead last in the MLB. Jose Abreu of the White Sox has hit 11 by himself. The league average is 27 HRs. Colorado has hit 43. In fact, 5 different Colorado players have hit more HRs than the Royals leader, Moustakas, who has 4: Tulowitski (7), Morneau (6), Gonzalez (6), Blackmon (6), Arenado (5).

Sure, it’s the thin air up there in Denver, but the Giants, Blue Jays, Dodgers, Nationals, Brewers, Marlins, Yankees, Mariners, Cubs and Astros all have at least 4 players with 4+ HRs. That’s 11 different teams – two of them the worst in baseball. Embarrassing.

And what makes it more embarrassing: that’s all Moose has done this season. Four lousy homers. He’s still batting .151. He only has 14 total hits in 93 at bats. Dyson had 13 in less than half the ABs.

Speaking of Dyson, his .289 AVG has been a bright spot lately. I think it was Rusty Kuntz who said Dyson could bunt every time up and bat .300. He’s been bunting a lot. Clearly not quite enough. Kidding.

Infante and Escobar have carried way too much of this offense through April. We need to get Perez, Butler and Moose going. And we have to find some power because this is getting sad. Grade: D

Fielding

In my mind, the Royals have without question the best defense in the American League.

They handed out 2013 Gold Gloves this weekend. Gordon, Escobar and Hosmer all winning, and Lorenzo Cain and Salvy could have won GGs of their own. Escobar has already been brilliant on about a dozen occasions this year.

I wish Aoki had a slightly better arm in RF, but that’s nitpicking.

The only real complaint here: pitcher fielding. Oh my, Danny Duffy. The errors from Duffy the other night were embarrassing – 3 in one inning, single-handedly giving the game away – and brought the Royals pitchers’ error total to 9 this year, by far the most in the majors (Dodgers are second with 6, Padres 5, and no one else has more than 4 E’s). Gotta get some PFP in immediately. Maybe that’s why Shields/Vargas had such poor outings this weekend; they were preoccupied with their fielding practice. Nah.

Best defense in the league has somehow underperformed a bit over the past month thanks to some pitchers botching easy plays. Grade: B+

Management

I don’t gripe about Ned Yost as much as most of the KC fan base does. It’s hard for me to blame the manager for poor decisions when it’s the players who aren’t executing. It’s not his fault Moose is batting .151. It’s not his fault Duffy can’t throw to first base. It’s not his fault the Royals can’t hit the ball father than 320′. One of the hats every manager wears is Team Scapegoat. My guy tells me he’s not as responsible for the underperformance as the fans say he is.

Jonah Keri had a great article on Grantland about Ned Yost’s decision making – specifically with the bullpen – and if it’s cost the Royals so far. I recommend giving it a read.

I believe the difference between a good and bad manager is about 4 wins per season. There have been a few moments where I have questioned his decisions so far, and most of them have been bullpen usage questions that Keri’s article smoothed over a bit for me. I don’t believe Yost had been a good manager over his career, and it’s really easy to point the finger and blame the man in charge, but I don’t think Ned is as much of a buffoon as my peers do.

My biggest frustration with the managing of this team comes in the player decisions Dayton Moore made at the end of free agency. Specifically one decision.

When Omar Infante got hit in the face with a fastball and missed a couple games, the Royals had no immediate backup available and had to roll with Danny Valencia at 2B until they could bring up Johnny Giavotella to save the depth chart.

Escobar got cleated and tweaked his ankle last week on a play at second, and for a moment it looked like he would have to leave the game. He toughed it out though, and it’s a good thing because the Royals do not have a backup SS on their roster.

Nevermind the fact that Emilio Bonefacio is hitting like .850 for the Cubs right now, that’s not the point. The point is that we desperately need infield depth, and we needed it to begin the season. Why we felt the need to give the last roster spot to another bullpen arm is beyond me. We don’t need Francisly Bueno in our pen. We need a utility player on the bench, and an insurance policy in case either Infante or Esky go down.

I get why we signed Danny Valencia – he hits leftys well and Moose is looking more and more like a bust every day – but there is plenty of room on this team for Bonefacio.

And what on earth will we do in an interleague series?! We don’t have enough bats to survive an early exit from a starter.

And I don’t even want to talk about what George Kottaras did yesterday. Cutting him was baffling to me.

Dayton Moore has done a good job turning this team around, but it took a long time for him to do it. He has convinced the ownership to pump money into scouting and build a terrific farm system. I think he has done it the right way. Honestly, I do. I’ve trusted The Process, and our organization is in a much better place because of it.

But we still aren’t winning the way our fan base wants, and it’s player decisions like this which can shift a really good thing in the wrong direction very quickly.

But Aoki was a great pickup this offseason, and Vargas is turning into a good choice too, albeit an expensive one. If Ventura, Duffy and eventually Kyle Zimmer can even remotely live up to expectation, then I’ll be speaking much more glowingly of the management by the end of the year. Grade: C

So where does that leave us? What does my Royals grade card look like on May 5?

Starting Pitching: B+
Relief Pitching: B-
Batting: D
Fielding: B+
Management: C

Which means overall, the Royals have underperformed substantially. And yet, they survived April and are hovering around .500.

It’s a long long season, and there is so much time to improve. I’m comfortable with where the Royals are right now. I don’t think they’ll win the Central, because Detroit is absolutely stacked, but I think they’re in a fine position to make the playoffs still.

And in the playoffs, starting pitching and solid defense rules all, and that is the a Royals best game.

We need to improve, yes. But as bad as our offense has been and as awful as the bullpen was early, and as rocky as the last week has been for our starters, I think we are in a good position.

Let’s take it one series at a time. San Diego next. We can’t allow this weekend’s performance to roll over into a crummy month of May.

The losing steak ends at 4 tonight in SD. Ventura and Guthrie are going against two pitchers with an ERA over 5, and Shields matches up against Andrew Cashner. We can win this series and move on to Seattle.

And I’ll be in Seattle on Friday.

Don’t lose heart, Royals fans. It’s May 5, they’ve had a pretty rough start, and yet they’re only 14-16. I still have hope in this team.

-apc.

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