Every day, it seems, I see emails and Tweets about how Billy Butler is the problem with the Royals.
By SAM MELLINGER
The Kansas City Star
This is craziness on a few levels, most notably that he is their best hitter and, even in (for him) a down year is seventh in the AL in on-base percentage, second on the team in slugging, third in home runs (two behind leader Eric Hosmer), second in doubles (one behind Hosmer) and second in RBIs (one behind Alex Gordon).
But Sam, maybe youre saying, he sucks when it matters.
Actually, Billy is hitting .313/.427/.434 with runners in scoring position. With men on base, hes at .305/.419/.412. With two outs and runners in scoring position, hes at .381/.500/.452. And in Baseball-References "Late & Close" situations hes at .258/.371/.455.
All of those numbers, judging by OPS, are better than his overall numbers.
One more time: the Royals offense has a lot of problems, but Billy is not one of them.
As always, thanks for your help and for reading. Lets get to it:
Well, see, thats what todays column is about. It totally depends on what your goals are for this season.
If youre in the playoffs-or-bust crowd, then, well, its not completely gone but its also not looking pretty. The Royals have 39 games left, and they would likely need to go about 28-11 (three games better than their best 39-game stretch this season) to make the playoffs.
But if youre like me and can see SOME progress in 85 or so wins, then its different. The Royals fly no flags for 85-77, but it would be their best season since 1989, and a start to knocking off the rust in how theyre perceived around baseball.Theres value beyond the self-esteem, in other words. Remember when Gil Meches best offer anywhere else was four years and $40 million but the Royals were desperate so they went to five years and $55 million? Or, last month, when they desperately needed a second baseman, and Howie Kendrick was available, but had the Royals on his no-trade clause?
If youre not losing 97 games every year, if youre a place where guys think they can not only have a good life and raise a family (many of the same perks often cited in St. Louis), AND have a chance to win the division? Now youre talking.
Money will always be the most important thing in attracting talent, but for too long the Royals have been short on money and long on losses. Thats a rough combination.
@mellinger Royals play 16 of their next 17 vs sub-.500 teams, then 12 in a row vs Tigers/Indians. How many of these next 17 must KC win?— Kansas City Stats (@KansasCityStats) August 19, 2013
Its a cop-out to say they MUST win a certain number. Like I say in the column, the Royals need to show progress this year and, sure, these next 17 games are a chance to show that progress.
But its too easy to say, like, THIS IS A MUST-WIN GAME, when the reality is that even after these next 17 the Royals still have 22 more.
I can tell you want a number, though. So how about 10. Ten is a good goal.
Mendoza is, to me, a good barometer about where the Royals are. Sort of like the team being good enough to put Luke Hochevar in the bullpen (where, as one of his biggest critics, I should point out hes been TERRIFIC).
If Mendoza is your long relief guy, and the one you call on to be your fifth starter at times, you probably have a pretty decent rotation. If hes your fourth or (help you) third starter, youve got serious issues.
Toward that end, it will be interesting to see how he fits in next year. Right now, Im expecting the Royals to try but fail to re-sign Ervin Santana this offseason, which would put them a starter short. Maybe Danny Duffy can fill some of that void
Im with you. Part of it is that hes still young, and cheap, and as such is exactly the kind of homegrown pitcher the Royals need more of.
But part of it, too, is that hes just so damn talented, the kind of guy who can be overpowering on any given day (like he was against the best offense in baseball last week) but also wild enough that the bullpen might need to go five innings (like it did his first start back from Tommy John surgery).
If Duffy can harness what he has and, damn, he seems on the brink of it, right? he can be a legitimate No. 3 or even 2 starter. Its fun to watch that kind of growth.
As it stands right now, and going by adjusted OPS (OPS+), the entire list looks like this:
Thats it. Pujols, in part because he plays in a hitters dungeon of a home ballpark^, has an OPS+ of 117. Butler, mostly because he ranks seventh in AL with a .382 on-base percentage, has an OPS+ of 122.
^ Remember, kids: Kauffman Stadium is actually a hitters park .
Eric Hosmer is catching quick, though. Hes at 114 and climbing (more on this later in the week, I think).
Cabrera is every teams monster. The Royals monster has also been called, over the years, Jim Thome and Shin Soo-Choo and Justin Verlander and Joe Nathan and, from about 2000 to 2006, David Glass.
You guys are the best, every few weeks giving me a gratuitous chance to link to this story.
Im good where I am. Look, I fully understand where youre coming from. If you look at a GM in his seventh full season in charge and think thats enough time, yeah, I get it. We can all see what the Pirates are doing, the Rays, the As, teams that win more than the Royals while spending the same or less and making the turnarounds happen quicker.
I just tend to remember how bad the organization was when he got here, and how much better it is now. Its not enough to give him a lifetime contract (or even an extension) but, at least to me, its enough to see what happens the rest of this year and, probably, next year.
I keep looking at how Terry Ryan did it in Minnesota.
I havent liked a show this much in a really, really, really long time. I guess this is the today version of Bill Simmons old VCR test, but I swear the episodes last like six minutes.
Im really not sure what story Kevin had. I listened to his report last week, and if memory serves, he had a source telling him Tejada had an expired Adderall exemption, and looked nervous when asked to take a random drug test. Thats it, right? He had no failed drug test, no suspension, none of what was actually the story. Theres a reason no other outlet (far as I saw, anyway) picked it up.
From what I can tell, he sort of ran with the rest of the story. My bosses (and those at other news outlets) would need more than that to print something, because at that point youre still dealing with the kinds of uncertainties that will lead to a false report.
In this case, Kevin had what turned out to be the smoke coming from the fire that Jeff Passan first reported on Saturday, a few hours before the suspension was announced. Kevin is claiming victory, and I guess thats fine. But if you do this too often, you might end up reporting that Missouri is joining the Big 10.
My biggest problem with Kevins handling of the story is that he lied/fibbed/imagined/made up the part about anyone at the Star "sitting" on the story. I dont know why he did that, other than maybe to be Edgy Radio Guy.
No media outlet ran with his report. Not us, not ESPN, not Yahoo, not anyone. Why he wants to focus on the Star, again, Im not sure. But theres a reason nobody picked up his report. By any reasonable news judgment, Kevin didnt have a story at that point. He had a guess. Yahoo got the story, and thats when other outlets picked it up.
Dutton as B-Rabbit is just fantastic (NSFW-ish):
Part of the fun though, Chuck. And this is part of where Im coming from when I say that if the Royals were truly in a playoff hunt in September not just the fringe of one, like they are now, in August this city would lose its freaking mind.
Everything that people tend to not like about baseball slow pace, too many games, too much time between action becomes and strength and gets amplified in a playoff chase (or, help us all, in the playoffs).
I havent asked around enough to offer much more than a (slightly) educated guess, but I think ownership wanted to see how this season went before making a long-term commitment. And even if this season lands at 85 or so wins, the Royals still need to make a decision about whether Yost is more than the guy to get them to the edge of they need him to be the guy to push them through.
If you read the blog or follow me on Twitter, you probably know where I stand on Ned. Hes fine. Not as bad as many seem to think, and certainly not the manager of the year.
If I was in charge, Id be handling the situation the same as the Royals. I dont get the feeling that any players are treating him differently because of the "lame duck" status, so theres no harm in waiting. If it was up to me, Id keep monitoring whos available this offseason and only make a change if I thought I could hire someone I felt more confident could help the team from the fringe to the playoffs.
@mellinger Do you like to eat fruit?— Frank Schloegel (@FrankSchloegel) August 19, 2013
Love fruit, but all I can think of here:
@mellinger If you're Dempster do you plunk A-Rod in a close game, with your team in a pennant race? Glad he got drilled not sure how smart.— BG (@Garry_Ganu) August 19, 2013
No. Id actually be annoyed at Dempster if he was my teammate. Lets win a freaking game, not have this urination contest to settle some imagined score. Besides, you get one chance to drill a guy. If you miss, play the game. You just end up looking like a fool.
Honestly, I was glad A-Rod hit the home run. And I like A-Rod exactly as much as most of you.
I didnt know Martin well. I had, at least in my memory, only a few conversations with him. I wrote a few posts for his blog. He always struck me as an incredibly hard worker with very strong beliefs and opinions. What he did for us was valued by everyone. I was as shocked as everyone else by what happened. Im thinking of his family and friends.
@mellinger is a 2-14 season from the Chiefs worse than any season of baseball we've seen from the Royals in 25 years?— David Embers (@davidembers) August 19, 2013
I dont know that "a 2-14 season" from the Chiefs is worse than a few years of what the Royals have given us, but I do know this:
THAT 2-14 season was much worse.
Theres a difference between hopeless and infuriating, from fans being frustrated that their team is losing and fans actively hating their favorite team. I dont know exactly when the Chiefs crossed that threshold, but they crossed it. Jevon Belchers murder-suicide made it worse, for everyone involved.
I cant say I asked dozens of people the question, but everyone with the Chiefs who I talked to about it said it was the worst professional year of their lives.
The Royals, in some weird ways, had the kind of failure that you can look back on and laugh, like, "Hey, remember when the Royals LOST because they literally hit the cutoff man?"
Nobodys laughing at what the Chiefs did last year.
@mellinger you think Reid's feeble attempts to stretch the field Friday kinda felt like trying to fit a round peg in a square hole?— Christopher Sauer (@cjsauer) August 19, 2013
I think I understand what youre getting at. Alex Smith is not Tom Brady, or Ben Roethlisberger, the kind of big-armed quarterback the safeties need to play back on. The deep ball is not Smiths strength; its a weakness.
That said, hes not Chad Pennington. He has enough to get the ball downfield, at least occasionally, if for no other reason than to keep defenses honest enough that the shorter passes have a better chance.
Plus, part of the problem here is that the Chiefs dont really have a great deep threat. The strengths of their skill position players are in Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowes ability to get separation and catch the ball in medium routes, and a diverse group of tight ends.
Thats part of why the Chiefs traded Jon Baldwin for A.J. Jenkins. They need speed. Donnie Avery isnt the answer, at least not by himself. So I expect the Chiefs to get better at stretching the field (cant get much worse), but I dont think anyone is expecting the 2007 Patriots here.
Oh, I think people remember that the preseason doesnt matter but I also think this:
The NFL preseason generally attracts more attention than even major league baseball because 1) America is OBSESSED with football, and 2) this is all the football we have right now.
If youre a jersey guy, I think you need an update. I recommend Smith, actually. Im very high on him^.
^ Long as he stays healthy.
@mellinger I feel like everyone just asks you sports questions.... how are you today? How's life? Feeling good? Wanna hook-up?— Drew Beaven (@alldayandyJ) August 19, 2013
Aw, thats nice of you. Thanks. I feel really good today, actually, had a nice dinner with the Smokeshow last night, night-capped a Blantons, got a great nights sleep, and
@mellinger You need to explain the Baldwin trade, asap.— Drew Beaven (@alldayandyJ) August 19, 2013
back to the grind.
My explanation of it is different than the Chiefs (public) explanation of it. My explanation would be that Baldwin was a bad player^, unproductive, an awkward fit for what the Chiefs need, and probably a very good candidate to benefit from a change of scenery.
^ "Bad player" is different from "bad guy," or even "player who doesnt work hard."
I also think the same sort of sentiment can be said about A.J. Jenkins in San Francisco. Only, if you can imagine, Jenkins was even less production there than Baldwin was here. At least Baldwin caught 41 passes in actual NFL games.
You have the same number of NFL catches as Jenkins. Actually, that might be true. You might be Marc Boerigter or something and have more. So Ill rephrase:
I have the same number of NFL catches as Jenkins. And one fewer drop.
There really are any number of jokes you can make with this
@mellinger Do you think this trade puts a damper on Pioli's time as GM of the Chiefs?— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) August 19, 2013
I mean, we could be here all day
@mellinger Do you credit Dorsey for putting aside his ego and admitting that Pioli was wrong?— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) August 19, 2013
this ones probably my favorite.
I think its because in football, more than other sports, we identify players with their teams. Like in baseball, especially after guys are out of their first few (cheap) seasons, we tend to think of them like independent contractors. Or, at least, I do. Ervin Santana is here in Kansas City occasionally dropping funny videos or quotes from war heroes and thats great but we also understand how baseball works and that theres a good chance hell be somewhere else next year.
In football, players tend to stick with their teams until it stops working out. Trades are rarer, because theres more factors that have to match baseball teams dont have to worry about whether the starting pitcher can fit in a 4-3 system. Those factors tend to keep players (at least, the ones we pay the most attention to) with teams longer.
I was in Detroit on Friday with the Royals but, yeah, the mess in the parking lot was impossible to miss even from there. That sucks, no way around it, and the Chiefs absolutely have to do better. Ive been told the team is taking it very seriously, and reviewing its process to find and fix the problem(s).
There were some contributing factors here. Friday night kickoffs at 7 pm mean a late-arriving crowd, plus rush hour on the highways. Very different situation than a noon or 3 pm kick on a Sunday.
That said, there was nothing out of the ordinary going on to cause that. No big wreck on the highway, no construction. It's surprising because I think the Chiefs have been especially good at this kind of thing the last few years.
Like all sports teams, and particularly NFL teams, they've been focused on improving the in-stadium experience as the improving at-home experience continues to provide competition. For the most part, I think the Chiefs have done very well with this. Friday night's parking lot situation was a whiff, and they know it.
They have until the Green Bay game next weekend to figure out what went wrong, and fix it.
@mellinger When national media swarm to KC do local writers enjoy them around or feel like their territory is being infringed upon?— Corey Anglemyer (@canglem) August 19, 2013
I dont have much of an opinion on this except: I think people in Kansas City (fans and other media alike, actually) spend far too much time worrying about what the "national" media thinks. Most of the time, the national stories are sort of an aggregation or one-stop-shopping way of telling stories fans and media here have already been talking about.
@mellinger Why isn't K-State getting any nat'l media love?? Seriously, pundits. We're not going to end the season #6 in the Big 12.— danedri (@danedri) August 19, 2013
Heres a good example of caring too much about what national media think, actually. You can make a logical case for K-State being sixth. There are, generally, six teams most all of us would pick for the top six spots. One of those teams has to be sixth, and if you look at the number of starters K-State is losing and Bill Snyders track record breaking in a new starting quarterback, well, sure, you can make that case.
Its just not a case Id make. I always believe in Bill.
Thats the first opportunity, anyway. Its a road game, at night, and those are always tough. I have no idea if Indiana is any good, but I see that theyre picked to finish fourth in the stupidly named "Leaders Division," which is the one with Ohio State. That puts Indiana behind OSU, Wisconsin and Penn State but ahead of Purdue and Illinois.
It really sets up as an interesting football season for Mizzou. I dont know what Gary Pinkel needs to feel safe about his job, but making a bowl would be a good goal, and the Indiana game is one of those swing-ish games that will dictate a lot of the surrounding morale with the program.
Ill root for the team AEG brings to the Sprint Center.
Such a Kansas City question.
And the Kansas City answer is 12.